Brentuximab Chemo 2018 | Cancer Journey Updates | Cancer-- Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Cancer Update 07-14-2018

July 17, 2018

July 11, 2018 Wednesday

Yesterday was a full day as Mom and I prepared to leave for our 9-day Mexico trip. Mom picked up my oxygen concentrator and a few odds and ends at the grocery store. Afterwards, we packed our stuff. We each took 1 checked bag, 1 carry-on, and one personal item, in addition to my oxygen concentrator. We packed sufficient clothing for the whole trip, as we were not planning on washing during our stay in Tijuana. We also packed some food items. My eating needs are a bit like a baby: I need to eat every 2-3 hours. If I don’t eat, I regret it and so do the people around me. I get extremely tired and cranky and go into violent coughing fits. We packed a few snacks for our carry-ons to get me through the day and put the rest in our checked baggage.

We left for the Baltimore/Washington International airport at 3:45 am. Unfortunately, we had only had about 4 hours of sleep prior to leaving. Our packing took us longer than we had figured the night before! I caught a bit more sleep while Mom drove to the airport. We arrived around 6 am and parked in the long-term parking lot. It took us a bit to sort and organize our luggage, plus I had to eat a snack (told you I’m like a baby!). Then we waited a bit for the shuttle bus to the terminal. Till we arrived at the United Airlines check-in counter, it was nearly 7 am.

All went smoothly from there on. Check-in went swiftly and our bags were all under 50 pounds. They had a wheelchair waiting for me, and I rode in style and comfort with Sam (my oxygen concentrator) tucked away on the bottom of the chair. He vibrates when he runs, so he gave me a mini back massage! Unbeknownst to me, the airline had approved me for something called Pre-check. Basically, it means that the passengers with those designations can breeze through security! No removing shoes or belts. No removing electronics or liquids from bags. They double checked my concentrator and waved me on through. It was so handy!

We arrived at our gate in time. They were already boarding when we got there. Mom ran quickly to a food stand for some food since I was already hungry again, but we waited to eat till we were situated on the plane. Mom managed the two carry-ons while I maneuvered myself and Sam. Boarding went smoothly. We had a middle and window seat on the 737 Boeing airplane. They certainly don’t make the aisles, leg room, or seats any bigger than they absolutely have to! Sam barely fit under the seat in front of me!

My biggest complaint on this plane was how hot it was. I felt a bit queasy as we took off, even though I had taken anti-nausea medication prior to boarding. Thankfully, the queasiness never got worse, and both Mom and I caught a nap on the flight. We left Baltimore at 7:50 am and landed at the Chicago-O’Hare airport at 8:45 am! The flight was over an hour, but due to time change, it didn’t appear to be.

Once again, they had a wheelchair waiting for me. The layover was only an hour, so till we stopped at the bathroom and purchased some more food, they were almost ready to board. I could have pre-boarded due to my disability, but I didn’t want to sit long on a hot plane. As it turned out, it would have been fine. This plane, an Airbus, was pleasantly cool.

The flight to San Diego was about 4 hours. I slept most of the way again. Due to time change, we landed in San Diego at 12:30 pm. Once again, my chariot was awaiting me, so Sam and I climbed aboard. We stopped at Qdoba, a sort of Mexican fast food place, for our lunch/supper. Remember, our bodies were still on Eastern time, not Pacific time. My chariot driver wheeled me to baggage claim and then outside to the curb. A few minutes later the shuttle van from the clinic pulled up. We loaded up and headed across the border into Tijuana.

As to the border crossing, there was nothing to it. The customs agents didn’t check ID or anything. They peered into the back of the van and waved us through. That’s the benefit from crossing in a shuttle van connected to a clinic that often crosses the border with patients. The border crossing at Tijuana is one of the busiest in the world. From my reading about Tijuana, crossings can be a nightmare, especially in the evenings or on the weekends.

We arrived at the Contreras Clinic and were shown to our lodgings nearby in the compound. We deposited our stuff in our room and then headed to the dentist’s office on the 2ndfloor of the clinic building. The dentist, Dr. Julio, examined my teeth, told me what work was needed, and gave me a price quote. Afterwards, Mom and I unpacked our stuff and got situated in our room.

I guess I should explain where we are and how this works. The dentist’s office doing the work on my teeth is on the 2ndfloor of the Contreras Clinic. If I understand correctly, Dr. Contreras built this clinic specifically for Amish and Mennonite patients. It is a compound with a beautiful courtyard around which are situated the clinic and the houses for lodging the patients. People come here for treatment for cancer, Lyme disease, etc. in addition to dental work. Basically, it’s like a little Plain People enclave in Mexico. It amuses me. Even in a foreign country, people prefer to stay in/create their own comfort zone. I hear Pennsylvania Dutch spoken almost more than I hear Spanish!

Mom and I are in House #2 on the first floor. We have our own bedroom but share a bathroom and kitchen with the others in the house. Bedding, towels, laundry services, and cleaning are supplied. We have to supply our own groceries for cooking. While Mom and I brought a number of snacks along, we didn’t bring any food food as we didn’t have room in our suitcases. So, this evening we had nothing to make for supper, and I was too exhausted to go out to a restaurant or food stand. We walked across the street to Oxxo, a little convenience store. We picked up some basic groceries, enough to make a bit of supper and breakfast tomorrow morning.

We are very grateful for a good day of travel. I had prayed before leaving for enough energy to get through the day. I had also asked that everything would go smoothly. It did. Very smoothly. I was tired, but not so exhausted I couldn’t keep going. Thank God for answered prayer.

July 12, 2018 Thursday

I’m loving the climate and the culture and the language. The weather is pleasant, hanging around 80 degrees with a pleasant breeze, cooling off to 67 or so at night. It all makes me think of my year in Guatemala 8 years ago. I’m enjoying trying out my Spanish. I haven’t used it much for a long time, so I’m pretty rusty. However, I’m surprised how much of it is coming back already. Most of the personnel at the clinic know enough English to understand and be understood, but they don’t seem to mind if I try out my rusty Spanish. It makes them chuckle, I think, but that’s okay. I like the challenge of making myself understood. I’ve been brushing up on my verb conjugations since I got here. I am surprised that I still know enough to make myself understood, at least for the basic things. Rapid conversations and dental terms go over my head, but I expected that.

We did my first dental work today. Yesterday, they had told me to be at the clinic at 12 pm to do the first set of fillings. Mom and I were both exhausted last night by the time we went to bed. We sacked out around 8 pm, which was 11 pm Eastern time! So, we slept in this morning and didn’t get our day started very fast. I was still lounging around in my nightgown at 9:30 am when the dentist’s assistant, Casandra, came over to tell me they are ready for me, two hours earlier than what they had said yesterday. I then remembered that the Latin American perception of time and the North American perception of time are very different. After that, I moved a bit faster.

By 12 pm, they had finished with the first set of fillings. They worked on the upper right teeth. The back molar on that side they did confirm is decayed to the nerve, so they can’t fill it. That tooth will require extraction. They filled one molar and sealed two more. Sealing a tooth means that decay has only started, so it doesn’t need a filling, just a bit of grinding and then using sealant to prevent any more decay. They also fixed my canine tooth on that side too.

They asked me if I was okay with doing the upper left quadrant later on today. I said “Sure!” because I really don’t want to draw out the dental work longer than necessary. So, at 4 pm I showed up for more dental work. This time, they filled two teeth and sealed two teeth.

I was a bit apprehensive about the dental work since I have a chronic cough that can trigger into violent coughing fits if not careful. A violent coughing fit isn’t very advisable when pointy tools are in my mouth! I also have a very sensitive gag reflex. Plus, my mouth is small so they have to force my jaw wider than is comfortable to work in my mouth, which can then trigger my gag reflex and then trigger a coughing fit.

However, it went very well. I concentrated on focusing on something else while they did the dental work. I requested that they don’t lay me back the whole way on the chair. Lying too flat triggers coughing. They were very accommodating and let me tell them how far back I was comfortable with. I gagged a few times, but nothing major and had no coughing fit. Aside from being numb for a while afterwards and a dull ache now this evening, I’m not much the worse for wear. My prayer was that it would go well, and if it didn’t, that God would give me the strength to get through it. He answered both! He is good.

Another prayer of mine was that the apartment we stayed in would have a recliner. When we arrived, I was blessed to see there were two recliners in the living room! I chose the soft, comfortable one that feels like a pillow and does not have a weirdly angled head rest. It reclines just right too. The handle for the footrest is a bit persnickety, but we are managing. Mom maneuvered the recliner into our bedroom, and I slept well last night. Thank you again, God!

I am a bit of an oddity here. There’s something obviously wrong with me medically due to being on oxygen. Most people assume I’m here for something related to that, since the reason most people come here is for medical care. Instead, I’m only here for dental work. Already, Mom and I have been asked why I haven’t come to Mexico for cancer treatment. It’s a little hard to know what to say in response as I really don’t want to offend anyone. For me, it simply never worked out due to how sick I was when first diagnosed, and too much of the info that I came across looked and sounded too much like scams/hype. In addition, I had gone the nutrition and supplement route for about 6 months, and it didn’t help long term. The lymphoma simply relapsed so there wasn’t any point in continuing. Everyone has to find their own path and make their own decisions regarding their health. So far, my path hasn’t led to “alternative” treatments.

July 14, 2018 Saturday

It is such a gorgeous evening! I’d love to go to the ocean to watch the sunset, but I just don’t have the energy today. Tomorrow, I don’t have any dental work scheduled, as it’s Sunday, so Mom and I are planning on staying most of the day at the beach tomorrow. I can hardly wait!! The ocean is barely two blocks away; we can see it from the compound courtyard. However, the 2 blocks are downhill, so that means climbing back up the hill when returning to the compound. I’m hoping we can get a taxi tomorrow morning that can take us right down close to the water.

The last two days have gone well. Mom and I were awakened again at 8 am by the burrito man hawking his wares in his singsong voice. He’s a pretty dependable alarm clock! Yesterday morning, Mom heard him coming and jumped out of bed. She dressed quickly and went out to purchase some burritos for our breakfast. They were delicious: bean and cheese burritos. We ate them along with our eggs.

By now, all of my dental work is finished except for the tooth extraction. Yesterday, they did the lower left quadrant. That required 2 fillings and 2 sealants. Today, they did the lower right quadrant: 2 more fillings and 2 more sealants. They also gave my teeth a good cleaning and polishing. My teeth look whiter now! On Monday, they plan to extract the back molar on the upper right. That will give me a few days of recovery before we go home.

Tonight, Mom and I went shopping in Walmart. We called a Taxi Libre. Juan picked us up and drove us the few minutes to Walmart. He dropped us off and came back an hour later for the return trip. The sights and sounds are all so familiar and interesting. The challenge of navigating a different store in a different country with different brands and a different language is fun! We picked up some more food for the weekend and pure water since we can’t drink the tap water.

We bought some mangos, real ones, not the hard, green ones you buy in the States. These are smaller, orange-yellow, and slightly soft. Yum! Can’t wait! We bought some pan, but it did disappoint me. In Guatemala, the pan (bread) is a sort of sweet roll, sometimes slightly like a cracker or cookie, that you dip in coffee and eat. They are delicious, and I’ve missed them since I left Guatemala. In the bakery in Walmart here, there was some pan, but not like I’d hoped. The cuisine in Mexico is different from Guatemala, so I wasn’t surprised. Tomorrow for lunch, we plan to eat chicken, rice, beans, and tortillas that 2 of our housemates picked up today.

Our excursion to Walmart today was my first time leaving the compound since our arrival. If I was healthier and more energetic, I’d be doing all sorts of research and heading out looking for tourist-y stuff to see and do. As it is, I’m content to get my dental work done, gingerly chew my food with my numb, sore jaws, and relax by reading or writing. It’s turning out to be bit of a relaxing vacation in between all the dental work, something I hadn’t expected.

I am amazed what only a few days back in a Spanish-speaking country has done for my Spanish. My brain spits out the words faster than it did on the first day. Words I forgot I knew pop up with ease. On the first day, I caught nothing of conversations. Now, I pick out words and sort of catch the drift. Give me another month, and I’d easily be re-acclimated. I’m determined to make as much of this opportunity as I can, even if it is only 8 days. Maybe I’ll find a way to practice in the States?

I have been feeling relatively well. The travel on Wednesday was almost more than my body could handle. By the time we went to bed that night, I was running a low-grade fever. Thankfully, it hasn’t returned since. My energy levels are holding about steady, as is the hip and joint pain in my legs. That comes and goes. I take ibuprofen on the bad days. So far, I’ve not seen any improvement in the neuropathy. I keep hoping and praying….I’ve had some violent coughing fits, the worst one happening last night. I’m sure the whole compound heard me coughing, followed by my gagging and retching, as all windows are wide open at all times to take advantage of the breeze.

The compound is mostly full of Amish, who are having their own church service tomorrow morning. There are only six Mennonites here; four of us are in our house. The others are in some other part of the compound, and we haven’t had much contact with them. The Amish here in the compound are having their own church service, but none of us were very enthused about sitting through a German/Pennsylvania Dutch service, so we will spend our time in the beauty of God’s creation at the ocean. That will be more than worship for me!

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