Tag Archives: Richard Nixon

My personal experience with cancer—Cancer III, II, I

New York, New York, Saturday, April 13, 2013: My third cancer is new. It did not present itself as a suspicious sign the way the lump (tumor) did under my right arm leading to a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease followed by major surgery and two rounds of radiation treatment when I was 28 years old. I am now 65.

My first cancer

The radiation did not prevent me from fathering a daughter Joanna (who graduates from nursing school next month and marries in October).

My second cancer

Then, 13 years later, an unpleasant surprise. A lump (tumor) appeared in my groin. My orthodox Jewish oncologist said, “It is a sheylah [a Talmudic term meaning a question which does not have an answer] whether this is a new case of Hodgkin’s disease or the return of the old one.”

Out of hubris, I had published an article in The New York Times under the title Learning to Live Again boasting of my cure, a boast to be repeated on ABC’s Good Morning America after an impressive limousine ride to the studio followed by a book with the same title (available on this site http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/books/learning-to-live-again-my-triumph-over-cancer/) with the subtitle, My Triumph Over Cancer.

Now, with the arrival of my third cancer, Joanna expresses a familiar refrain over the phone from North Carolina, “Everyone knows nothing can kill you, Dad.” Then, she says, “Learning to live again and again and again.”

Amelia (whom I fathered after my cancer at age 42), who is teaching English in rural Spain, continues the theme calling on Skype (revealing her hair is growing long): “And again and again.”

As directed, finding an expert on Cancer III

So, here I am in New York City, a week and a day after I was diagnosed with renal cancer. My urologist had opened her laptop with the CAT-scan showing a very large tumor surrounding my right kidney.

The vividness of the image is startling—large tumor, large large tumor.

Will it kill me?

Can I avoid death?

The answer appears with an insistence:

I am told that I must find a surgeon better than any surgeon in town [i.e. State College]—the kind of skilled surgeon available at Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, only Pennsylvania has a limited number of surgeons of that caliber and finding one able to operate in April is unlikely.

I must go out of state—have an operation in 30 days or else the cancer from the large tumor wilI spread and kill me.

Run don’t walk to the best surgeon who can operate.

That’s the advice I follow.

Diagnosis on Friday at 4 pm.

I am on the phone on Monday to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Yesterday (yesterday) I consulted at my urologist’s suggestion (yesterday) with Paul Russo a surgeon specializing in kidneys and cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). As he puts it, “I am a kidney surgeon warlord.”

A digression on traveling to NY by bus

It is worth pointing out—before getting to what the Kidney Warlord said—that getting from State College, PA to New York City is not easy for me. I cannot walk. The cumulative radiation from Cancers I and II burned a hole in my spine making me a paraplegic.

I can stand but I have to hold onto something. I get around on a scooter—a power operated vehicle (POV) scooter invented by Al Thieme (CEO of Amigo Mobility) to help his wife who had multiple sclerosis.

The scooter I used for the trip is a lightweight travel scooter which means that it folds apart easily, has remarkable power—climbing easily Manhattan’s hills and steep (sometimes very steep with deep cracks in the payment) curb cuts– is relatively light weight and is narrow (the place at which I slept last night had narrow hallways).

My friend PH came by my State College apartment shortly before 9 AM Thursday to take me to the bus. Megabus runs a double-decker (reminiscent of the buses I used to ride as a child down Fifth Avenue).  One problem with being disabled and riding Megabus is that to secure officially sanctioned accommodations one has to call the special disability number which in my experience takes as long as an hour for a simple bus ride plus the information does not reach the bus driver and on and on.

This time I decided to follow the rules that if I am willing to store my wheelchair (or other vehicle) in the luggage compartment of the bus, then I do not have to call the Disability Office.

I brief PH on what to tell the driver (who fortunately does not freak out as others have done). He removes the lift from the closet next to the bathroom, hooks it on the bus floor (so it does not slip when a scooter or wheelchair goes up or down).

I drive up the lift, move from scooter to chair, and PH, who knows how to take the scooter apart does so after leaving me on the bus chair and going down the lift to the luggage area. PH explains how Frank will have to put the scooter together when we arrive in New York.

This detail should make it clear (repetition is bad writing but good pedagogy) that traveling is not easy for me. The desire to save my life (as I saw it) overcame obstacles including the reality that I could not walk to the bus’ bathroom and had to tax my bladder to the limit. Enough said.

Background on Kidney Warlord consultation

So, there we are at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) having arrived through a cold rain early for a 10 AM appointment. Since its founding in 1884 as a New York hospital devoted to treating cancer patients, MSKCC has established itself as a world-famous research and treatment center benefiting from the funding cycle created by President Richard Nixon and Congress. Nixon (of whom I cannot resist making disparaging remarks)–in what the White House press office described as “a Christmas gift to the nation”– began the War on Cancer by signing the National Cancer Act in December of 1971.  [Expect a return to this subject.]

I keep mentioning Sloan Kettering (as if it were a mantra) because it is regarded as one of the most distinguished cancer centers in the world (which also means it has its critics [and I have the opportunity to repeat myself again]). The surgeon I was scheduled to see is a hot-shot by any standards and (sadly) I have experience with cancer hot shots (remind me to tell you about the time…).

Paul Russo is on the staff of Cornell’s College of Medicine as well as Sloan Kettering and is widely published—see PubMed [an online index of biomedical articles maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health] for a full listing of his journal articles. One article is entitled, “The Role of Surgery in the Management of Early-Stage Renal Cancer.”

The first sentence reads: “There were an estimated 58,240 new cases and 13,040 deaths from kidney cancer in the United States in 2010.”

Here is how Dr. Russo describes his work: “I am a urologic oncological surgeon known for my academic work in kidney tumor surgery. My expertise includes partial nephrectomy, removing only the tumor using small ‘miniflank’ incisions while preserving maximal kidney function, and cytoreductive radical nephrectomy for patients with advanced kidney cancers. I also lead a kidney tumor surgical research team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering that has created nomograms predicting survival and renal functional outcomes.”

If you want to see a YouTube on cancer surgery for kidneys, go to Dr. Russo’s link: http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/doctor/paul-russo

The Consultation

Dr. Russo’s office suggested that I invite someone to the appointment which is an excellent idea because there were moments when I did not really hear what the doctor said. My friend Kathy graciously agreed to attend and Dr. Russo spent a surprising amount of time talking to her, which made sense because I was annoyed by how the appointment began.

“Are you irritated at me?” he eventually asked. “Yes,” I answered.

This is what I want: I want you to operate on me immediately, confirm that losing a kidney does not matter, that recovery from the operation (as I have been led to believe) is minor, and a swift operation will cure me of renal cancer by eliminating the tumor before the cancer has a chance to spread.

Dr. Russo said that I may not be suitable candidate for surgery—especially since the surgery he would perform is MAJOR surgery. I may not be suitable because I had a heart attack and have a pacemaker and am a diabetic.

Dr. Russo said that there is increased evidence that individuals such as myself who have multiple health problems do not follow the preconceived view that one kidney is enough. Losing a kidney might cause me significant problems.

Dr. Russo said that he orders his patients to walk a mile on the first day of surgery and two miles on the second. Since I am a paraplegic, I cannot walk at all. Not being able to walk could lead to significant complications.

Dr. Russo said that there is no rush. The tumor surrounding my right kidney is very large and could have been growing for 20 years. It is a good sign that the tumor was found by chance rather than as a consequence of symptoms. Perhaps, the tumor will continue to grow slowly and without causing cancerous damage. The thing to do is proceed slowly, and cautiously.

On Monday morning [remember, today is Saturday], Dr. Russo scheduled me for cardiac tests. In a month I return to New York to see him.

My reaction

I have been staring off in the distance looking at nothing thinking no thoughts. This was true a week ago when I was diagnosed with renal cancer and urged to rush to cut it out and it is true today after being told to proceed slowly and perhaps not have the operation at all.

The advice to rush and cut out the cancer immediately was comforting in its way. Once again I would be doing something to save my life. Doing something is better, in my book, than doing nothing—than waiting and seeing.

As it turns out, I believe Dr. Russo. He has performed more kidney operations than are performed by most countries. He is rewarded by the hospital when he performs an operation—discouraging operations is not good for business or reputation (at least, in the conventional sense).

Dr. Russo has convinced me to rewrite my figurative book and acknowledge that doing nothing may be better than doing something. As I type this, I have difficulty believing what I am writing in large part because I really do not see myself as a 65 year-old man with health problems. I see myself on many days as 16 and on most good days as capable of doing anything. Anything.

I am not 28 anymore as when I was treated for Cancer I. The decisions I make for the future ought to be made carefully because a well-lived life (the kind of life I want to live) causes joy and adds to the productivity of the gross domestic product. [This ongoing story will continue.]

–30–

Copyright © 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

This posting is the second part of the ongoing story of my third cancer–kidney cancer, a story that follows this expanding outline:

1. http://www.joelsolkoff.com/who-i-used-to-be/

2. http://www.joelsolkoff.com/my-personal-experience-with-cancer-cancer-iii-ii-i/  [You are here.]

3. http://www.joelsolkoff.com/my-fear-of-the-future/

4. http://www.joelsolkoff.com/my-man-mozart/

 

Raquel Welch, “Sex Goddess of the 1970s,” and my younger daughter Amelia

March 10, 2013, State College, PA., 7:40 PM. I was asked this afternoon why I nearly went crazy before each of my daughters was born. The lapse of judgment—mentioning Raquel Welch to my 22 year-old daughter this afternoon—is a good example of why I worried about becoming a father.

As anyone who is a parent knows, it does not matter what we say.

What matters is how we behave.

If I behave as a father should behave—instead of telling my daughters what to do and then provide an opposite example—then my poor behavior condemns my status as a Good Father.

Kansascitybomberposter

Hence, regard this confession of the error of my ways (and the circumstances surrounding it) when I made mention of the film Kansas City Bomber to my daughter this morning (over an often clear Skype connection). A movie review of sorts is contained within this plea for forgiveness. Mea culpa.

The stimulus for my poor behavior is the fact that Amelia, who is currently teaching English in rural Spain, is training to be a roller derby contestant.

My daughter Amelia in her Spanish roller derby You Tube debut

Sadly, this video is no longer available.

 You will clearly recognize Amelia at the end of the video. She is haming it up holding up a sign that reads “500″ and then getting knocked off her feet. Just goes to show what a fine woman I raised her to be.

I was directed to this Riedell Skates site this morning when Amelia showed me an impressive pair of Riedell Skates along with much of the impressive protective equipment required to prevent physical damage which can result from falling on concrete. See http://www.roller.riedellskates.com/ProductDetail.aspx?ProductName=SuzyHotrod

I had been reading Amelia’s postings in Spanish on Facebook—Spanish sadly being a language I do not yet speak nor read. The Bing translations are dreadful (compared to Microsoft’s competitors in this emerging software market. (Microsoft, which owns Bing and also owns and does an excellent job with Skype, appears to take little effort to improve; I have asked Bing).

The gist of one such posting was that Amelia complained that the only area of her body for which protection is unavailable is her ass—the idea of strapping a pillow to it had not yet occurred to her.

I had not realized until this morning that Amelia is in training to be a roller derby contestant. Until this morning, the only thing I knew about the subject was a dimly remembered fact that Raquel Welch had been in a roller derby movie widely publicized decades ago which I refused—at the time I was a film snob–to see.

So, the first trigger to the error in judgment was the desire, as a father, who when his daughter mentions a subject on which I am a complete and total ignoramus was to pretend I knew something.

The second trigger was the vivid memory that when I was her age, a graduate of college, on my way to presumably be adult and mature, I became obsessed with an oddball sport—different from Amelia’s, but given my upbringing distinctly unusual.

Unlike many of my friends and contemporaries, my memory of my past is vivid. At 65, I remember distinctly the follies I committed at 22 among them being the failure to wear a helmet while riding horses (for which I had no talent), the insistence I had in riding horses that I knew I could not control; and the frequency with which I fell—risking concussion in one instance. When, on the beach of the Pacific Ocean under an absolutely beautiful horse threatening to stomp me out of existence, I gave up being an equestrian forever (parenthetically, influencing my elder daughter Joanna to become a superb rider and trainer of horses).

It is not bad parenting to say, I neglected to take necessary precautions to prevent a concussion. Concussions are dangerous. The moral of my reminiscence Amelia not only appreciated but observed with wonder, “How did you ever survive to be 65?” [And presumably burden our country’s economic future by being both a social security recipient and a Medicare beneficiary—Social Security, Medicare, and housing for the disabled are discussed elsewhere and are indeed the theme of this site (a site one diligent reader observed is “scattershot”—connecting all postings in the site is a planned posting {once I figure out how to do it}; perhaps Raquel Welch is on Medicare and would appreciate a well-positioned grab bar].Raquel_welch_1millionyearsbc

Now for the movie review. The movie, Kansas City Bomber was released in August of 1972 at the same time a white horse stomped me into abandoning horseback riding permanently. The 1970s were a pathetic decade during which undergraduates were jealous of people like me who went to college in the tumultuous 1960s. Some reacted by pretending it was the 1960s still; others wore bell bottomed pants wide belts, ghastly ties or longer skirts; still others became Watergate junkies. By and large the 1970s was a very boring decade.

Raquel Welch was listed as the most desirable woman of the 1970s by Playboy readers. Wikipedia defines Raquel Welch’s profession as “actress and sex symbol.” She was not a good actress. Kansas City Bomber was part of a wave of films about offbeat sports. I had not heard of roller derbies until the movie was released (three months before Richard Nixon won re-election by carrying every state in the Union except Massachusetts).

Having made reference to Kansas City Bomber, I rented it this afternoon on Amazon and with great difficulty (washing many dishes and performing many chores while stopping and starting) reached the conclusion.

Kansas City Bomber is of one of the worst movies ever made. For aficionados of the movie review genre, I hereby make the declaration that if you are worried about my spoiling the plot for you (not that there is anything in the plot that can be ruined), stop reading now.

Clearly Raquel Welch is an attractive woman—far more attractive in still photographs then when she is actually moving. There is, to my point of view, nothing wrong with a father saying that sex between consenting adults can be pleasurable. But, I can never imagine making love to a woman who is chewing gum—which Raquel Welch does constantly throughout the movie and I suspect throughout life. (Now that she is 73, I wish her well, hope she does not have dentures, and hope she continues to enjoy chewing gum.)

The Riedell Skates Company would be advised not to mention the movie in any of its promotional literature. Kansas City Bomber depicts roller derbies as a sport in which the results are fixed, there is little skating and a great deal of fighting. The owner of the primary team for whom Raquel Welch (KC) plays encourages attractive women to fight each other. There is nothing at all erotic about the movie. KC and the owner have an affair, but there is no nudity and the kisses are bland. Bland kisses. At one point, KC is reproved for using the word “hell.” The minimal amount of profanity is so limited the film would probably receive a G rating today.

The most interesting (and shocking to me) scene is when KC, who has two adorable children, roller skates with her daughter during a transition period between beating up women on roller skates. The two skate beautifully on astonishingly smooth concrete given the distressed neighborhood she calls home. The shock, her daughter, age 8, is not wearing a helmet even though the danger of falling on her head is ever-present.

++++

Forgive me, Amelia, for ever mentioning Kansas City Bomber. Please do not watch it. Continue to watch Bunuel instead.

Dear reader, I will now attempt to make this site less scattered by focusing on the housing problems of disabled and elderly individual (primarily, Baby Boomers like me, whose karmic future may be decided by whether they voted for Raquel Welch as the most desirable woman in the 1970s).

Note: The photographs here are of Raquel Welch and I assume they are in the public domain. If not they will be removed.

For photos of Amelia see: http://www.joelsolkoff.com/digressions/countdown-to-amelias-graduation/

Joel Solkoff, mea culpa

Exclusive: Former USDA Secretary explains why he said there was not enough food to feed the American people

This 1986 unedited interview with Earl Butz [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Butz] took place nearly 10 years after he resigned in disgrace as Secretary of Agriculture for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. It also took place after Butz, as a private citizen, had served a brief term in federal prison for income tax evasion.

The interview contains Butz’s description of his relationship with Presidents Ford and Nixon and with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose inept meddling in agriculture policy was the subject of media coverage about the political infighting between the two cabinet secreatries.

The most significant part of the interview concerned an embargo Butz imposed in 1973 against soybean shipments to Japan. At the time, he explained that the embargo was necessary to protect the American people against running out of food.

In the interview, Butz described his decision as “a big mistake” and explains why he imposed it. The interview begins with the sound of the digital dial tones as I called Butz from the second story of my house on Capitol Hill where I lived with my wife and my two year old daughter Joanna. The call went to Butz’s brother’s house; his brother answered the telephone and then connected me to the former Secretary of Agriculture.

The conversation begins with a discussion of President Ronald Reagan’s appointment of Richard Lyng [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Lyng], previously President of the American Meat Institute, to be his second Secretary of Agricultre, after Reagan’s first Secretary proved inept at the job. Butz calls him “naive” in the interview.

My pretext for the call was an article I was writing and later published in Newsday profiling Reagan’s then new Secretary Lyng, an article that was shamelessly flattering. The interview begins by a description of Lyng’s credentials for the job and confirmation hearing., The interview also includes Butz’s appraisal of the agriculture policies of Presidents Carter and Reagan.

Hear it now: http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/audio/interview-with-earl-butz/