Friday, April 25, 2008

I Lost My Ass!

Today was a great day for me!  Why then the title of this post?  Stay tuned.

This morning I went to the South Riding Golf Course and joined several of my West Point classmates in supporting
 the Inaugural Kelley Thoden Memorial Golf Tourney.
Of course, Rick Thoden, Kelley's grandpa, was there, joined by Mo Faber, Jim Morrison, Mike Fellenz, Buck Coates, and perhaps one or two others I missed due to my late arrival.  A glorious weather day here in NOVA. Here's picture of me with Mike Fellenz, a classmate that Victoria and I served with in Berlin.

Although more classmates couldn't make it as players, we were a tourney sponsor, a hole sponsor and , according to Rick Thoden, we donated a very substantial amount to the three cancer charities being supported.  Proud of my amazing class, as usual, but also touched deeply at honoring the little 9 year old whose greatest fear was that "no one would remember her."  Today, we remembered and celebrated her courage and love, despite her altogether too short a life...

I rode the first nine holes with Jim, Mike and Buck, but  I am not yet ready to play.  My PICC Line won't allow for a fast swing without coming loose - an immediate, life-threatening  disaster. Also, my PEG won't permit a full body turn without creating a torque problem.  So, no  golf until after they do the probable neck dissection to remove any residuals, and of course a recovery period as well.

Nonetheless, it was great to be out in the fresh air, look at the course, and make strategic suggestions to my three classmates.  As I told them - the theory of golf is really straightforward; it's the execution that causes all the problems.  I really look forward to the day when I can get back to trying to improve my execution.

So, if I didn't play, how did I lose my ass?  Victoria was getting  me ready for a bath by covering my PICC Line in plastic wrap (it can't get wet) when she noticed that much of my almost 50 pound weight loss had come off my butt.  So much, in fact, that I have lots of wrinkles  below the cheeks.

Now, for me - always called a "buttless wonder" by my wife and daughter - this represents a total loss of ass.  It has been accompanied by a four inch loss around the waist and an unmeasured loss of muscle mass around my biceps/triceps.  Thankfully, I had been working out at a local gym for almost a year before the cancer diagnosis, so I had built up some bulk which I could lose.

Right now, our priority is to aid my recovery by trying to increase the number of calories I am ingesting to regain some weight.  We are having mixed results, but I am taking in more and greater variety by mouth.
No tastebuds yet and no return of the saliva glands, so eating most normal food requires rinsing my mouth between each bite.  No spicy food, not even black pepper, since my tongue is still shedding the dead skin and exposing the new, which is VERY sensitive.  Of course, the never-say-die mucous membranes are still firing away, so almost all my cancer related problems are directly mouth related.

Hope all of you are well.  We are making noticeable progress and I'm feeling better.  Even the gout, which jumped from left to right big toe, is now coming under control.  Thanks again for your prayers and support.

I'll see you on the high ground!

Friday, April 18, 2008

The 18th of April

"Listen, my children and you shall hear
 of the  Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.
'Twas the 18th of April in '75
 and hardly a man is now alive
 who remembers that famous day and year..."

Yes, Friends, today was Patriots Day in Boston.  I wonder how many of you can remember how many lanterns were hung in the Old North Church to alert Paul Revere of which way the British were coming?

Not much to report on the cancer recovery scene this week except that a new (to me) side effect showed up last Monday when I developed a painful bout of gout in my left big toe.  I can't recall anyone or anything I read telling me that gout was a side effect, but it is.  Too much dairy in the liquid diet apparently, because I am 100% certain it was not as you recall from your "royalty movies" - too much red meat and alcohol...  I am limping around and on a eight day regimen of steroids, which, of course, has side effects all its own.

On a lighter note, I went today for my first haircut since February.  I am very fortunate to have lost hair only in two small spots near the bottom of my neck hairline.  The 35 radiology treatments and the 12 chemo sessions produced instead a situation in which I no longer have to shave!  Oh, except for two small spots the treatments appeared to have missed - just below my left sideburn and just below my left nostril.  No thanks, I don't want any more treatments to address those two places!

In just 15 days, my daughters Samantha and Audrey will walk a marathon and a half over two days in support of cancer patients, victims and survivors.  They each had to raise at least $1800 to be enrolled in the Avon walk.  Over 79% of the funds raised go directly to the cancer programs being supported.  I just want to thank all of you who donated to these two wonderful young women.  It chokes me up to think that they are doing this, in part, for my recovery. 

Speaking of choke ups, one week from today my West Point Class is one of the title sponsors for a memorial golf tournament for Kelley Thoden, the 9 year old granddaughter of a classmate who died from cancer several years back.  As she valiantly fought the disease, she continually expressed the concern that, if she died, no one would ever remember her.  Well, we remember and honor Kelley, even though most of us never met her.  I will be present at the tournament, at least for a while, although I can't yet play.  

Thanks to all of you for your continued prayers and support.  This cancer recovery stuff isn't much fun - and it seems to be far too lengthy - but it is made easier knowing that all of you are in my corner while I go back into the ring for the next round.  

Enjoy your gorgeous Spring and remember the patriots, both past and present, who have paid the price so that we may live in this free and wonderful Nation.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Medical Arcana

Hello everyone!  Kernal Ken back at the keyboard, writing the truth for justice and the American Way.  

One problem with such writing is that my audience is a mixed lot.  Many of you I know from the military or are in my extended family, some of you I know from my time in the Wall Street World, some are Church friends and/or neighbors, and some go all the way back to the days when I was a high school stud.

Today, I want to post about my experience with the health care system.  For many of you, this will be old news.  For some, this will be an eye opener on the military health care system.  For others, you have already hit the escape key and are on to better things.

Someone once said, "A veteran, be he or she on active duty, in the reserves, the National Guard, or retired is someone who once, or many times, signed a blank check to the American People 'for any amount up to and including my life.'" 

 In return for that level of commitment, the government agrees to pay wages that are substantially below the civilian market, pay a housing and subsistance allowance that are inadequate for either purpose, move the soldier and family around every few years, whether they need it or not, and provide other benefits, such as retirement at an early age and healthcare -  both of which are substantial.

Active duty soldiers and families receive their healthcare at no charge,but must find their own dental and eye care.   Retired soldiers and families pay an annual modest fee, currently $498 for the same services.  Historically, I should note that one of the reasons the Queen Vee decided to marry me was because I had a plan for the future which included healthcare.  Her family had just gone through very difficult financial times when her mother died of cancer at age 46.  So, the healthcare benefit is a major player in why many soldiers join and stay in the service.

Nonetheless, all healthcare seems to share some odd quirks, many of which I have seen most recently in my 4 months within the "Beast."   Here are a few examples.

"Good morning, colonel.  Welcome back to the ABC clinic.  Let's take your vital signs."  "I just had those taken 15 minutes ago in the DEF Clinic."  "Well, let's take them again. Step on the scale, please."  " I weigh 210 lbs."  "Well, sir, our scale says you weigh 210.5 lbs.  Did you have a doughnut on the way here?"  "My blood pressure is 125 over 70."  "Well, our device says 135 over 80, can you explain that?" "Yes, you're making me crazy!"  I have had my vital signs taken four times with a three hour period - can that be efficient?

"Well, sir, we know you come from a long distance for these appointments, so we will try to make them for your convenience.  Would you like this one at 7 AM or 4:45 PM?"

I have discovered that the number of doctors in the room is directly proportional to how painful the area to be examined will be.  For instance, when the ENT doctor platoon wants to spray your nose with  industrial strength Afrin so that they can insert the ENToscope into your sinuses and poke around for a while, you can be sure that at least three doctors will want a look.  Each will say, "You may feel a little pressure."   You will feel it.

The more technical the explanation of what is going on will always be given by the more junior of the medical staff.  By the time someone starts explaining things in Latin, you can be sure that you are speaking to the most junior resident in the clinic.  Junior residents always seem surprised if you ask a question.

Despite what you might expect, healthcare providers are among the least sensitive to those, like me, who also having hearing problems.  I can point out hearing aids in both ears and note that I need to see their lips to fully understand what they're saying, but most doctors and nurses need several such pleas before they begin to get it.

The most critical prescriptions are the ones that come with the fewest pills per bottle and with the least number of refills authorized.

If you are an inpatient, your chances of communicating with the various nurses who will arrive in your room at odd times are directly proportional to whether or not you speak Spanish or understand English dialects from the Caribbean.

Well, enough for now.  I have some real questions about the differences between the bills submitted  by healthcare contractors, amounts allowed and amounts actually paid, to include patient share.  But that stuff is complex enough to gag anyone.  You may feel a little pressure.

Thanks for your continued support and prayers.  This recovery part is harder than I expected, but  not harder than I can take. 

Anyone who would like to contribute to the fight against cancer as my daughters Audrey and Samantha take a marathon and a half walk  in two weeks on my behalf, you can donate through their blogs at audrey at  or  Thanks to many of you whose support has already been received!

I'll see you on the high ground!


Saturday, April 5, 2008

I'm Not Dead Yet!

(The Queen Vee guest blogging again) The title of this blog entry comes from one of our favorite silly movies , Monty Python's "In Search of the Holy Grail". The scene above depicts plague victims being hauled off for burial and one of them proclaiming, " I'm not dead yet"!  Well, thank goodness Ken isn't dead yet, unfortunately he's not DONE yet either.

The Big Guy has been a bit discouraged by his recovery process this past week. He's been acting like the Knight who says "NI". What he should be saying is"I'm getting bettah" also from a plague victim in the the Grail flick, same scene.

So instead of a shrubbery (watch the movie if you haven't seen it), I bring to him
The Top Ten List of Reasons Ken is Making Recovery Progress .

10. Slowly reducing pain medication -- yep -- because there's less pain. May be off all of it in about a week.

9. Has started drinking small sips of clear liquids again -- ahhh. WATER!

8. Sleeping less during the day.

7. Made only 3 trips to Bethesda this week, next week maybe only ONE!

6. His neck has just about healed with new skin as soft as a baby's tooshie(pics next week.)

5. Actually ate some canned pears, and not through the pegster!

4. Made 2 trips to the store, driving himself.

3. Has resumed normal Ken activities, such as reading books and watching sports on TV.

2. Has been taking short walks outside for exercise.

And the number one reason we know Ken is making recovery progress is . . . (drumroll please)
1. He's able to put up a good ol' fashioned Ken Carlson arguement!

Two other highlights of our week included:

Our new granddaughter Tessa being blessed at church this past Sunday. (enjoy picture below)

Ken met up with his West Point classmate Jim Doyle who has been a great support during this experience. Jim has been fighting stomach cancer. The two of them met at Bethesda, where Jim had a 15 pound tumor removed a few weeks ago.  

In closing, let me leave you with a quote from King Arthur (again, Monty Python's version) that reminded me of Ken. "You fight with the strength of many men, sir knight. You have proved yourself worthy."

We'll see you on the high ground.