A moderate start to 2023

We saw Dr P this afternoon for the first appointment of the year. (He had been on holidays in January. Rather than being referred to someone else for a one-off consult, he and I had agreed to skip the January appointment.) Anyway, my PSA had risen slightly at the blood test a week ago, to 14. However, a rise of 1.2 over two months is nowhere near doubling. So no-one was bothered by this development.

The only complaint I have had since my last consult is the sciatica, which has become quite persistent. I had been told about various stretches, all of which I have been carrying out. The sciatica just keeps coming back, so persistently that it kept me awake last night. So yet another medication is called for. With Dr P’s blessing, last week I started a short course of prednisolone. (Family members will remember that our mother was taking this steroid for yonks.) According to Dr P, this drug is used in chemotherapy, and could well bring down my PSA a bit. My initial impressions of it were positive — it seemed pretty efficacious. However, this seems to be wearing off. (No-one wants me to be on it for long anyway. I am well aware of its effects on bone density and so on.)

These early efforts having proved ineffective, today I booked an MRI of my lumbar spine to see whether there is any disc compression going on. Fortunately the scan clinic had a vacancy for tomorrow afternoon. I will be seeing my GP the following Monday (20th) to see what, if anything, this scan reveals. As far as I know there are not that many treatments for sciatica other than a steroid injection. If this is appropriate — bring it on! TBC.

Splitting hairs

I was a cataloguer for over 25 years. This means I am a serial quibbler, arguer of the toss, and professional pedant about stylistic and linguistic matters. Thus I enjoyed David Astle’s piece in this morning’s Age, ‘A beginner’s guide to redundant acronyms‘. Covid-inspired expressions such as “RAT test” and “face masks” (as opposed to those worn on the knee) are called out. Astle also lists common tautologies such as “clenched fist”, “minor quibble”, “past experience” and “end result”.

Pedants will all have their lists of personal irritants. Mine includes

  • local residents (as in, “local residents expressed concern about the spate of accidents at the intersection”). If those interviewed were not locals, i.e. living near the intersection, they wouldn’t have been interviewed. Hence “local” is redundant.
  • band together, join together, etc.
  • sleeveless vest
  • unfairly maligned (it’s difficult to malign someone fairly)
  • reverting back
  • ISBN number (a favourite among librarians who have forgotten that ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number)
  • very unique (qualifying an absolute)
  • very adjacent (ditto; restricted in practice to cricket commentators believing that a batter was out leg before wicket; possibly ironic by now)
  • predicting the future (what else?); and
  • long standing (or established) traditions — is there another kind?

I am a bit exercised about “small select group”. The notion of a large select group seems counterintuitive, but not impossible. Therefore I will give it the benefit of the doubt.

This is not a redundancy exactly, but has anyone noticed the increasing incidence of sentences beginning with “So”? (For example, “So, at the beginning of last century … .”) I suspect this is an Americanism. So, I’ll leave it there!

Strike a light!

We saw Dr P on Monday. The blood test I had had last week showed that my PSA has risen from the preceding test four weeks ago, but only slightly — 1.44 from 1.29. Dr P was at pains to say that this didn’t worry him. If the PSA keeps increasing at this rate, it would take a fair while to reach 2.0. I mentioned that I wanted to take off a few Covid kilos. He thought the weight gain was a good thing; it was much better for a cancer patient to be putting on weight than losing it, and this showed the disease was well under control. (I said he deserved to be doctor of the year for finding a positive side to being a bit fat around the middle!) He thought I also looked very well, as, fortunately, I feel. I’m sure that my continuing with exercise classes is keeping me in as good a space as can be.

About a week before this appointment I bought a new kitchen radio, from an outfit called Australian Digital Radio in Geelong. They make very high class reproductions of 1940s era mantel radios, but with extra features for the digital age. The model I bought, called the Retro, has DAB+ as well as FM, Bluetooth, and a USB socket from which one can either play music or change one’s phone. A 20 watt RMS amplifier and a twin cone speaker means that it sounds excellent — as good as the Bose Wave Radio, at a fraction of the price. For anyone who likes the look of 1940s bakelite radios, as I do, I think it looks really dope, as the young folk say nowadays.

The Retro arrived the day of my appointment with Phillip. It was very professionally and securely packaged; Ron, the manufacturer, had previously SMS’d me a copy of the package label, and included his mobile number with the enclosed documentation. The latter was fortunate because the user interface isn’t the greatest feature of the Retro: even after reading the manual, I had to contact Ron to work out how to tune in the stations. He was very helpful, however, and I am now really enjoying listening to ABC Classic and 3MBS-FM. The tuner has very good sensitivity — 3MBS is usually quite difficult to receive clearly on the FM band, but the Retro pulls it in extremely well. The sound is quite rich and a bit rolled-off on top, obviously modelled on the mantel valve radios predecessors, but without the hum and hiss. There are five sound modes (Normal, Classic, Pop, Jazz, and Rock) which can be selected. The dial displays an analog clock when in standby mode (albeit a smallish one), so you get a kitchen clock as well.

In my conversation with Ron I said that, although I really liked the Retro, I found it looked possibly a bit big for the shelf on which I had put it in the kitchen. Australian Digital Radio also makes a slightly smaller model called the Lil Lottie, and I asked whether I could return the Retro and exchange it for one of the former. Ron offered to send me a Lil Lottie to try out, at no charge, to allow me to see which worked better in our kitchen! I think this was outstanding customer service, and only gives me further reasons to recommend either model to anyone who would like a great sounding and looking kitchen and/or bedside radio, designed and manufactured in Australia! (For those thinking of ordering a Lil Lottie, Ron supplied the dimensions — 23 cm W, 15 H, 15 D. These are a few centimetres smaller all round than the Retro. I have no connection with Australian Digital Radio other than as a customer.)

As part of the packing around the radio, Ron included an issue of Australian Radio and Hobbies from December, 1947. As well as numerous articles and advertisements for radios, valves and so on (the transistor was yet to be developed), the issue contained an article, ‘Fire making through the years’, the title of which is fairly self explanatory. (The link points to my scan of the article in my Google Drive. The copyright holder, Silicon Chip Magazine, has kindly agreed to my publishing this link.) The author of the article, Calvin Walters, was described in an article in Wireless Weekly, May 31, 1935, as a “well-known experimenter” — the latter link points to a Trove page. If you have ever wondered how the safety match came into being, or what people did beforehand, look no further! The illustration, dated references to “primitive people” and “the natives”, and a few grammatical howlers, remind us that Australia was a different place 85 years ago. These solecisms aside, this is actually a pretty interesting piece, and transports us back to a time when radio hobbyists also took an interest in most scientific topics. (A burning question, if I may so put it — was it supposed to be unlucky to light three cigarettes at once?)

To finish off the GT repair saga, I finally received the monies from the transport company’s insurance company about a week ago. So the car has an entirely new bonnet and repaired front guard at no cost to me, apart from the week when I couldn’t drive it. It’s heartening to report that there are some honest operators, and ingenious and reasonable folk in general, out there.

Less good news

I have been procrastinating about writing this, so I am just going to get it over with. We saw Phillip P on Wednesday 9th (about 8 days after my appointment with Pat B). Unfortunately the “gains” that Pat reported, in terms of a reduction in PSA score, have entirely been lost. The score that we got from Phillip was 6.5, which is back to where it had been before the radiation treatment.

Phillip made several points about this. (Sorry, I have forgotten how to do numbered lists in this infuriating blog editor.) First, he found the increase “not upsetting”, and he hoped we were not perturbed by it. Second, he understood also that people made a fetish (my word) of the PSA score. However, the metric that he is focused on is the doubling rate, i.e. the time interval in which the PSA score doubles. A doubling rate of 6-8 weeks would cause him concern, but he feels I am a long way off that. Third, 90% of his consultation time is spent reassuring patients and their carers about PSA scores. So he gets that people find these increases worrying. (He was at pains not to ridicule or downplay our concern.) But he would like us to look, not just at the quantum of the score, but at its rate of progression. Fourth, he has many other treatments up his sleeve.

As to when it comes time for me to move to the next treatment, as he has said previously, Phillip wants to keep me on Zolodex for as long as possible. Let’s call the its successor “Treatment 2”. Say Treatment 2 has an estimated efficacy of a year. If I go onto it now, I will get a year out of it. If I go onto it in six months, I will get eighteen months out of it. So that is why he wants to defer Treatment 2, and its heirs and successors, for as long as possible. (Phillip has said to me before quite bluntly, that the fewer treatments I have, the better.) Treatment 2 will be deployed at a rapid rise in my PSA. But we ain’t there yet.

I was due for another Zolodex implant after the consult with Phillip, which I had without incident. I will go on having these every three months until I move to another treatment. I will continue seeing Phillip every 6 weeks, and having a CT whole body scan every three months. (The next one of these is booked in for 12 July.) So I remain under close surveillance.

It took us a while to digest this news. On hearing it, and the rest of that day, we both felt a bit stunned. What made me feel better, actually, was doing some German homework. Everyone deals with adversity in their own way, and this is mine. We both felt more positive the next day, having had some time to get a better grip on the situation.

It was obviously disappointing that the radiation treatment didn’t have more effect. However, Phillip has many arrows left in his quiver, and we are confident that he will deploy these as the situation dictates. I am still feeling fine, exercising, doing stuff on the home front, and all the other things I have been doing. So there are a lot of positives to focus on — take it from me, we are doing just that! To this end, I would also like to maintain the moratorium on questions. I say this for two reasons. One, I just don’t have any more information to add to what I have written above. Two, I don’t want to give the situation more mental space than it already occupies; we don’t want to delve into it further.

Good news story

We saw Pat B, the radiation oncologist, this morning. The news was good: the PSA has gone down from 6.5 to 5.1. This may not seem a large reduction, but it is more than 20% (relative to the previous score). Pat said that the radiation treatment will continue to have an effect for 6 to 12 months. Therefore, assuming that the cancer doesn’t start behaving aggressively again, the PSA should continue to decline.

The radiation treatment I had after Easter was focused solely on the metastasis on the sternum. The rationale for this was that this spot was identified from the CT scans as dominant (i.e. having “progressed”, which I guess is a nice way to say “grown”). Apparently there is a lot of research which indicates the value of just treating these dominant spots. Each spot or cancer site can be regarded as having its own population. The population of a spot that has become dominant has figured out a way to resist the Zolodex treatment. The idea is to stop this population from colonising other spots.

The Zolodex treatment continues to keep the other spots quiet, and I will continue with this. (I am due for the next implant on 9 June.) I will also continue having a CT scan every three months. These will identify any other spots that might become dominant. Phillip P will remain my medical oncologist; I will go on seeing him every 6 weeks. Pat B is my radiation oncologist; he said I didn’t need to continue seeing him as well as Phillip. Pat will be available, however, to be brought in again should that be appropriate. So it is good to have a team approach to my treatment.

I have explained how the radiation treatment has worked as best I can from the notes I took at the consultation this morning. I appreciate everyone’s interest and concern. Please bear in mind, however, I neither have special knowledge of oncology, nor do I have anything to add to the explanation I have given above. If people have questions about this treatment, there is a lot of information available from free and reliable sources. (I list some of these under Resources in the blog sidebar.) If I received questions about the treatment, I would just be consulting these sources. It has been a worrying six weeks for us since the radiation treatment finished. I would quite like to have a break from thinking about prostate cancer for a bit, and enjoy this little bit of medical sunshine.

Following on

Cricket fans will recognise “following on” as something that a team can legitimately ask another team to do. So the phrase is not redundant — unlike “watching on”, for example, or “off of”, as in “Get off of the couch”. (Incidentally, I might have to rethink my objection to “meeting with”. I had always regarded this coinage as not only redundant, but a Americanism, and therefore to be resisted. However, I recently met with it, you might say, in Northanger Abbey. So if Jane Austen uses it, it surely must be OK!)

This post does follow the previous one, though, in containing something I forgot to add to the latter. A further reason to expect that the radiation will be successful is that it was successful previously. The first batch of radiation treatments was also at Epworth Eastern, a couple of years ago. I say “successful” in that the spots on my left femur and hip (those being treated then) are now no longer active. Unfortunately other spots came up subsequently. Instead of continuing to hand-weed the garden, so to speak, a defoliant was instead required. This came in the form of a whole-of-body treatment, the chemotherapy and hormone combination, which I had under Dr P. (I continue on the hormone treatment alone, which kept me in remission for a couple of years.) So anyway, there is a reason for hope to spring eternal.

We saw a very good movie recently on Netflix, The good liar. I say “very good” rather than “outstanding”, because it is really carried by the performances of the two leads, Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. There is a fascinating number of parallels with the Ring Cycle, though. Listing all these in my mind kept me awake from about 4.45 this morning! However, I had had a good sleep from about 9.45 last night. What seems to be improving my sleep? Exercise (no surprise there) and going on the wagon. The latter might seem counter-intuitive — doesn’t a drink help us get to sleep? Unfortunately, the sleep that follows is disturbed. The worst thing is I feel awfully foggy the next day. I now look forward to a mineral water after I have cooked dinner. Truly!

Go back, wrong way!

I saw Dr P in the middle of last week, and the news was appropriately middling too. The PSA has continued to creep up, from 4.8 at the previous test to 6.5.

Immediately following these scores in my notes, however, I have “BUT” written in caps! This was pointing out that the radiation treatments which I had in the weeks following Easter have not yet had time to have their full effect. This will need about six to eight weeks after the last treatment. So the next PSA test should show a decrease.

Dr P went on to say (as he has since the PSA started heading north) that he’s happy with where I’m at, he isn’t worried, and my beloved and I shouldn’t be either. Of course we are trying to take his advice. He has a high opinion of Dr B, the radiation oncologist who was in charge of my treatment. (I have a further appointment with this gent on 1 June, just to see how things are going.) Everything else continues treatment-wise.

Obviously this was not the news we had hoped for, and I would be lying if I said I was totally sanguine about it. But it is what it is. Everything is being kept under close surveillance, and I remain hopeful that, when the effects of the radiation treatments have percolated through, the numbers will turn around. I am still buying green bananas! I feel fine, and am continuing with exercise and language classes, book group, and so on, just as normal. There is no shortage of other stuff going on as well. I was even feeling a bit wistful about the days I used to bake bread, make marmalade, and all those other time-absorbing things. However, I would rather be busy — not so much that I don’t get time to enjoy what has been, so far, a mild autumn. It was 24 degrees yesterday — we were sitting outside a restaurant having lunch — pretty unusual for Melbourne in May.

Been there, done that

The culmination of an intensive fortnight of medical activity came this afternoon when I had my first COVID19 vaccination.

Family members may be surprised at this, given that I had previously said I was in no tearing hurry to get it done. This was partly based on advice that radiation treatment is immuno-suppressive. As previously posted, however, my radiation oncologist’s advice was contrary to this. In fact, he urged me to get the vaccine (he didn’t suggest any particular one). I subsequently checked on the web site of my usual GP clinic. They said that patients in category 1B like me should wait to hear from them. My beloved, however, rang them; in this way she got the names of a couple of clinics nearby which were getting a much bigger supply of doses. I was able to get an appointment at one of these.

I didn’t know whether I would experience side effects from the jab. My appointment was in the afternoon. When vaccination day rolled around today, I therefore did the food shopping and washing in the morning. The clinic was in Kew Junction, a suburb I know a little (my tour of duty in a public library service had included a stint at Kew Library). As well as filling in the usual registration form, I had to take along some proof that I was a cancer patient. I was a bit stumped by this requirement at first; no-one has written me a letter saying I have cancer. However, I took along the results from my last CT scan, which the clinic accepted as fulfilling its requirements. After only a short wait, I got my jab.

The injection itself was not painful; most of the people giving them out will have done a fair number by now. The nurse gave me the usual warnings, among which I was delighted to receive one that I may become nauseated! On my way back out to the waiting room, I congratulated the nurse on not having said “nauseous”. She asked me if I had learned Latin; I replied that I hadn’t, but was a former librarian, and therefore a pedant. We then had a brief but satisfying exchange about our respective lexical crotchets. This must have gone down well: while I was waiting the recommended 15 minutes post the injection, the nurse sought me out and gave me a Freddo frog. (Being a professional, she would possibly have done this anyway. She did say it was for medicinal purposes.) This was actually my first ever milky top Freddo, the top half of which had an unexpected but rather nostalgic flavour of condensed milk. As Dad would say, I manfully forced it down.

By now, a few hours later, I can say that neither the vaccine nor the Freddo was troublesome. I can feel that something a bit unexpected has gone into my arm. The arm isn’t exactly sore, however; I am just conscious of it. Generally I feel fine, and was easily able to pilot myself back to base, with a short detour via Maling Road for a late lunch. So, if anyone isn’t sure whether to get the jab, I would say “Go for it!”. From what I can work out, someone in my age range who has the Astra-Zeneca vaccine has about one chance in a million of dying from a blood clot. This seems like pretty good odds, and compares favourably to my risk of developing the same complication were I to contract COVID19.

Final radiation treatment today

I had the tenth and final radiation treatment today.

To repeat a phrase I have no doubt over-used: so far, so good. The treatment itself seemed very refined, and I didn’t notice any side effects. Apparently these can occur within a few weeks of the last treatment. I have a nursing treatment plan, which basically says to go on applying the MooGoo lotion to the area on the chest where the radiation focused. I can call if I need further assistance, which I doubt I will. In six weeks or so I will have a blood test in which the PSA will be measured. This will be the proof of the pudding. A few days following this test, I have a follow-up appointment booked with the radiation oncologist. I will continue seeing Dr P (my medical oncologist) as usual. I will post the results of all these consults here.

The radiation oncologist (Dr B) advised me to have the COVID19 vaccine as soon as possible. This was different advice to that which I received from the radiographer. The basis of the advice to defer the vaccine was that any vaccine can have an effect on the immune system. And my immune system is a bit lowered by the radiation treatment. However, Dr B said that radiation treatment is not immuno-suppressive. Therefore there is no reason not to have the COVID vaccine.

It is a bit academic, of course, given that, for most folks, there is no vaccine to be had. I did ring a clinic that I found via the federal government vaccination finder web site. On getting through to a human, however, I found they are only offering these to existing patients (something not mentioned on the web site). It must be a damn nuisance for clinics to be bombarded by people wanting vaccinations, when they are not getting enough supply to give out these jabs. I am not that bothered about it, actually. I checked on my regular practice’s web site. When they get enough supply, they will contact patients under 70 who are in group 1B — my situation. When my number comes up, it comes up.

1st treatment down, 9 to go

I had the first of 10 radiation treatments this afternoon. It seemed to go well, without any noticeable side effect. I felt just maybe a bit out of it afterwards. But getting home on the tram was no problem. (Given that it goes right past the hospital, tram is really my preferred way of getting to these appointments. Thankfully, it is school holidays here. Otherwise, with a mid-afternoon return trip, I would be sharing the tram with boisterous school kids.) I will only post subsequent appointments if I experience anything side effects.

I saw a nurse afterwards who checked how I had found the treatment. I asked her whether I should have the COVID-19 vaccine while I was having the rest of the radiation treatment. She said I should defer that, should I be offered a jab. They think the vaccine has a temporary impact on people’s lungs (although they haven’t seen enough cases to be sure of this.) I am having radiation to the sternum, an area obviously close to the lungs. The radiation treatment can knock the immune system around a bit — although not as much as chemotherapy. She also suggested I defer the flu vaccine also until after the radiation treatment. However, the rollout of the COVID vaccine is so slow that I think I am unlikely to be offered a jab any time soon.

Sending this off as is without further checking or embellishment.