Unleashing my inner Joe Pesci

Dear Medical Team,

Thank you all for your hard work on my gamma knife procedure. That said, there is one small matter I would like to bring to your attention, and please, I ask that you listen, really listen to me because like Glenn Close in Fatal Atttraction, ‘I will not be ignored.’

As you may recall, the vertigo that led us to the brain tumours was a mystery. You prescribed me the standard drug for an inner ear imbalance. In case the vertigo was related to the tumours (it wasn’t), you also put me on Dexamethasone. Now I regularly take Dex after every chemotherapy.  Once a day for two days.  But never four times a day, for four weeks. I was surprised by the astonishing, relentless hunger. Some days I ate two lunches, three dinners and my son’s Gummi snakes. Don’t smile, that wasn’t a joke. Do you think I’m funny?

Funny, how?

Anyway, you all assured me the brain tumours were easily treated through gamma, and I appreciate that you scheduled the procedure around our Disney vacation. I had every reason to be happy. Instead, I was angry; what some might call “raging.” I got a little “hot under the collar” if someone cut me off in traffic. Or if there was a chance they were thinking about cutting me off. Or might do so at some later date. I believe I screamed at the dishwasher plug for not sliding easily into the outlet. But that was perfectly understandable, dammit. THAT PLUG HAS DISRESPECTED ME FOR YEARS!

Deep breath. Whew.

Okay, so why was I snapping at my wife, walking around in a funk, feeling like every nerve was a tightrope wire?

Because Dexamethasone is a steroid. Maybe somebody could have warned me I might feel a bit tense, a little overwhelmed, a tad homicidal. Don’t get me wrong. I love all you’ve done for me. But I sure find it odd no one mentioned it.

But everything’s fine now. I’ve been off the Dex a week, and I already feel bitter. Better. And I will never piss off a bodybuilder ever, since they feel that rage all the time and they can’t all win the title of  Mr. Winnipeg. I’m giving them all a wide berth.

Anyway, always nice to chat. Take care, and don’t ever disrespect me again or I swear…

Deep breath.



Head Case

Screwed in the head.
Screwed in the head. (Also, I have a metal brace on.)


I successfully underwent the gamma knife last week. The doctors found a third tumour, and gave it the radioactive boot along with the other two. All is well, and I actually look forward to renewing chemo in a few weeks.

Both the MRI and the Gamma itself are like Obama’s policy on eastern Europe: non-invasive. The only unpleasant part is when they used metal screws to attach a metal frame to my head, to prevent me from moving around during the procedure. Honestly, they could just tell you they will fire multiple laser beams of radiation into your brain and, trust me, people would not move a millimetre.

Here are some pics. (One of the side effects must be laziness, since it’s taken me five days to post this.)

"Hello Clarice . . ."
“Hello Clarice . . .”
Houston, we have a problem.
Houston, we have a problem.
Doc, this doesn't look like a tanning bed.
Doc, this doesn’t look like a tanning bed.




Another Saturday newspaper full of obituaries. Another roll call of compatriots who “lost their battle with cancer.”  Those lengthy, brief, dignified, painful battles.

(And why are they always brave or courageous? I plan on going out pleading, cursing and settling old scores, as there’s no real down side at that point, and it should provide some fun drama for those assembled bedside.)

Whenever I read death notices, I flinch wearily at the word “battle.” Framed that way, we predetermine that there shall be a winner, and a loser.

I understand some families want to remember their loved ones as fighters who did not go quietly into that dark night. Unfortunately, obituary sections, by their nature, only chronicle the dark nights.

Maybe we need a weekly section of ads that profile people living with cancer, getting stronger, shedding tumours, and entering remission. We could call it “Still Here.”  It could describe people retiring in Mexico, or becoming great-grandparents, flipping the bird to their former lymphomas, melanomas and othernomas.

Until then, how about a new word?

After two bouts of chemo, three operations, radiation and a pending gamma knife, plus many months of strength and good times, I think I am “negotiating” with cancer. We are “in talks.”  Cancer has been wanting to work with me for a long time, and we may green light that (more a red light, I guess). Or we may agree to “go in another direction.” “Consciously uncouple,” they call it these days. My people (doctors, nurses, counsellors) are in meetings with cancer’s  people (tumours, tumours and, um, tumours).

I will bargain with cancer. I will squabble. I will flirt, haggle, ignore and hang out with cancer. I will let it tag along while I travel, eat, sleep, breathe and love.

If this is the final act, let’s focus on Ireland, New York, Disneyland, beach trips, the McCartney concert and acting in the final season of HBO’s Less Than Kind wearing fake eyebrows made of rabbit fur. And Will and Robin and black coffee in the morning. And so many people working so hard to save me.

And if their efforts ultimately fail, please don’t say I lost a battle to cancer. I lost my life, and it’s been a winner.

One wobbly step sideways….

Need these in a 36" waist in a cotton- spandex blend.  (photo: whereibuyit.com)
Need these in a 36″ waist, cotton- spandex blend. (photo: whereibuyit.com)


Two weeks ago I began to experience vertigo. It wasn’t as interesting as in the Hitchcock movie. There was no murder and no Kim Novak — just a lot of swaying from side to side.

On Monday, it was worse.  I walked the dog around the block and I’m sure my neighbours concluded I’m a drunk.

Luckily, I was scheduled to enter hospital Tuesday for three days of chemo. I told them about it. They said, don’t worry, it’s likely an inner ear infection, not a brain tumour. They ran a CT scan on my head.

Tumours. Two of them, both small, sitting on the back of my brain, causing no ill effects at this point. (The vertigo was completely unrelated, which leaves me wondering what cosmic force gave me the spins in order to find two tumours no one knew existed.)

My oncologist called me with the news and did his best to put my vandalized mind to rest. These are tiny, very treatable, and “a minor setback.”  He told me I am an excellent candidate for a gamma knife procedure. That’s a newish technology that burns tumours with focused beams of radiation, without opening up the skull.

It sounded good, but later that evening I was struck by a frightening epiphany. Gamma radiation. Gamma rays? I know what that means. I’ve read the literature and I’m well aware of the risks.

I could transform into a hulking green rage monster with super-strength and an affinity for purple pants. I might turn into an elasticized man, a flaming torch or a walking pile of orange rocks. I could end up an invisible girl.

Where would I even find a pair of purple pants? I guess I could go clothes-shopping with my mother; she always found me clothes I wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Maybe my powers would be less jarring. Given the advances in medical science, they may have gained some control over the side-effects. I could, for example, gain semi-super-hearing, allowing me to listen in on conversations a full 20 feet away. (Maybe not the whole conversation, but enough to glean the gist of it.) Maybe I’ll be able to predict which elevator door will open first.

And then, how would I use those powers to benefit mankind?

With mediocre power comes a sliver of responsibility.

All right gamma rays, do your worst. Or best. And to the surgeon, please, don’t drop the gamma knife and cut my brain in half.

And thank goodness for vertigo. Now please make it go away.