Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Good News from the Oncologist

On Wednesday, 2/15/2012, I saw my oncologist and had another chemotherapy treatment. I found out that the tumor marker test is not reliable when the values get as low as mine are now, so the doctor is monitoring another lab test, the alkaline phosphatase. It is an enzyme whose values go down when cancer cells go down. In November it was 248, In December it was 239, and in January it was 192. Normal is 130. Again, I am on my way to remission! The doctor said I looked tan. I showed him a copy of my Galapagos valentine and the first thing he said was, “Which one is you?” He has a sense of humor! I pointed to the fur seals and said, “This one is me and this one is AL.” I showed my pictures on my laptop while getting chemo; I left the valentine with the chemo nurses.

Let me tell you more about our trip. The adventure began when we boarded a prop plane to fly to Miami! A prop plane!?!? It looks like a B-52 bomber out of a WWII movie, and sounds like one, too! You know that constant loud buzzing that sounds like a giant swarm of humongous bees? That’s not a Hollywood sound effect – that’s real and it took us 2 hrs to fly 300 miles!!! In cramped seats that felt like they were manufactured during WWII, when the average American’s rear end was significantly smaller! Al was sitting next to the window and said he saw seagulls passing us! There was 1 advantage to the prop plane. It only flew at 17-18,000 feet altitude and we could see landmarks on the ground – notably the launch pad and Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral.

Once we got to Miami things were better. American Airlines had someone meet me with a wheelchair and then we transferred to a golf card. That was nice because Al could ride too. When we arrived at Quito, Ecuador, Al and I both had trouble breathing because of the high altitude. Again I was met with a wheelchair, but the young man who was pushing it started off at a power walk pace and Al huffed and puffed to keep up, thinking, “Where are the golf carts?” When we finally stopped at an elevator, one of the Security guards came over to ask him if he needed medical assistance. All he needed was to rest and catch his breath. The nice thing about being in a wheelchair pushed by a native Ecuadorian was that we got through customs in about 15 seconds. We stayed in Quito for 2 days, saw many of the local sites, and then took a plane to the Galapagos Islands.

Quito was a modern city with a quaint historical section and several magnificent cathedrals. The Galapagos, in contrast, looked like things hadn’t changed since Charles Darwin was there, except for the electricity and airplanes. The airport was not air-conditioned; in fact, it was open to the air and so were the shops right outside. We had to take a boat from a smaller island to a bigger one, then a 45-minute bus ride to cross the bigger island, then zodiac boats to our cruise ship. The zodiac boats are rubber rafts just like the kind that the Navy SEALS use for their operations. The big ships could not pull up to the islands because they would disturb the vegetation and wildlife, so whenever we went ashore we had to go in the zodiac boats. Even the waters around the islands are protected because they contain wild life unique to the islands. Sometimes we had wet landings. The boats could not be pulled ashore so we had to wear rubber shoes and wade in and out. That was easy as long as the water was calm, but one day it was choppy, with three-foot swells and that was tricky!

As I wrote in the last blog, our trip ended with a wake-up call from God, an earthquake in Quito. At least this time we had plenty of time to eat and prepare for our flight home. We had some turbulence on the flight to Miami and a hard landing. It felt like the plane bounced two or three times on the runway! “Here we are, back in the States, “ we thought, “Ready for another two-hour flight to Jacksonville on a prop plane.” Again, we were met with a wheelchair in Miami and went through customs in about five seconds. As I was being pushed away from customs, I asked my escort, “Was that customs? Are we finished with customs?” She assured me we were. And we were pleasantly surprised for the next leg of our journey. We were on a jet to Jacksonville, to our home sweet home! The flight only took forty-five minutes!

Pictures show Al and me in the zodiac boat with the cliffs of Genovesa Island in the background, Al and me at the land iguana exhibit at the Charles Darwin Research Station. There is a yellow land iguana in the background. These reptiles are extinct in the wild now. Another picture shows Al resting on the black lava rock formations on James Island. Finally, there is a picture of Al on the ship with a volcanic island in the background and me on the ship standing between the bar and the life boats/emergency supplies. I guess if an emergency arises, you can grab a drink to calm your nerves before you get on the life boat, haha!

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