If You Think You Are At Risk of Getting Cancer


IMG_2290Sort out your insurance before you get tested, so that you know you will be covered if you do get cancer. As some of my friends know, it’s a very expensive condition. One of my friends had to sell her house to help cover the costs of treatment because her insurance cover only paid for 60% of the treatment costs and whilst going to public health is an option, this is something you want to deal with as quickly as possible.

Perhaps like me, there is cancer in the family, or you are getting into your 30’s or 40’s it is worth checking out cancer insurance.

We just found out that Southern Cross has optional Cancer Assist insurance. I wish they had told me a few years ago, although, like you, it never occurred to me that I could get cancer. It’s always someone else that I feel sympathy for.

Unfortunately by the time I found out, I had already been told “You have cancer“. Fortunately I did have income protection insurance with a one-off cancer payout, because the first thing that my insurance broker, Tom told me when I let him know that I had cancer was “You are now officially uninsurable.” Ironically I didn’t know that I had a policy that included cover and my broker volunteered to look for me, even though he didn’t sell me the particular policy. I am extremely grateful to Tom Fox of Canopy Group for helping out. If you need a broker, tell him I recommended him. He took a huge weight off my mind in a stressful time.

Fortunately Southern Cross medical insurance has paid a large chunk of the many biopsies, MRI, CT and other scans, radiation treatment, countless specialist visits and more, but if I hadn’t had those insurances, I’d be under some serious financial pressure right now.

As a male in New Zealand, you have a 1 in 9 chance of getting prostate cancer. If you had those odds of winning a lottery you’d think that was exciting right? Not quite so exciting with those odds of getting an illness.

I can’t remember how many people got tested because of my pushing and prodding, it must be getting close to 20, but I would be horrified if some of those people didn’t have cancer cover before they got tested and found they did have it.

EarlySo here’s my plea to you. Get cancer cover. Sort out your life insurance, then even if you feel perfectly healthy, get tested. Mine was found early and probably saved my life. We begrudged paying the premiums for years, saying what if we had put that money in the bank, but you don’t right?

 

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This is Intimidating! I Need Help! A Cancer Journey EP/Video to Help Others Sounded Easy.


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The entrance to the radiation therapy room at Mercy Hospital, the start of my days for 8 weeks

Do you know anyone with cancer, depression or other debilitating conditions? Do you suffer yourself? Perhaps, like me you have a health condition yourself; and like me want to create something positive out of it, including coping strategies and fighting to find yourself back.

Would you like to be part of something that resonates with your values and help support me on this HAG (Hairy Audacious Goal)?

Yesterday I posted about Item #2 of 150 on my Life List inspired by Danny Dover author of the Minimalist Mindset, other books I have read like The Happiness Trap, podcasts like The Hidden Why by Leigh Martinuzzi, people I saw on TV programs like The Voice who had been on much tougher journeys than me and dared to dream of achieving lofty goals during the time I have been on my prostate cancer journey.

With the help of some good friends and family, some also still suffering from cancer I dragged myself out of feeling sorry for myself and decided that number #2 on my 150 long Life List of values based activities would be to created an EP and Video set of songs that were part of my catharsys and development, such that it will resonate with and help other cancer sufferers and their friends, family and support network.

I’m wondering if I have created a monster. How will I achieve this and 149 other things to boot, let alone find the energy for it, without detracting from my day job, which I can’t financially do without (and am passionate about)? How will I achieve this when I still frequently have to be woken up in the evening after my day at the office?

The answer, which is the same one as my cancer journey is that I can’t do it alone. In order to help other people, I need help from a team of people with a rich source of experience and some that can help with less specialist areas of support. Everything from project planners, musicians, vocalists, videographers to sound engineers, artists, production, social media, marketing and crowdfunding. Are you one of those?

I also just need supporters who can help spread the word, connect with members of the team, make cups of tea (or Texas Honey), run around after us and keep us on track and provide emotional support. We’ll need studio’s, technology, sound gear, meeting space, This is a pay it back or pay it forward exercise and should be a lot of fun.

Just since yesterday, I have already had firm offers of help from people, which is awesome and I will take them up on it. I’m going to need a pretty big team with a wide range of skills and it’s a labour of love, a not for profit venture.

Check out this short video with Danny Dover and see if it resonates with you. Is your life meaningful? For some of us it takes a reminder of our mortality and human condition to force change. Then you have to do something about it. You might like to take a similar journey and if you do, some elements may overlap. I’d love it to be this one.

So, this morning I started documenting what I am going to have to do in order to achieve this goal and it is huge. It could almost be a full time job in itself, which  is intimidating, but if I can find plenty of experts in different fields who will support me and donate time and energy; and find funds for the parts that I have to pay for, I’m going to make this happen. I’ve done it before with The Wireless Forum, Glenfield Music Centre, parents committees, sport club committees, Auckland ICT, SMEI International and more, all while keeping down a job. Anyway:

This is what I came up with for starters and it’s by no means complete:

Plan for Cancer Music EP / Video Project

  1. Concept Document and elevator pitch
  2. What help do I need at each phase of the project
    1. How can I even do it while keeping my job and energy?
    2. Project Manager
  3. People or organisations that can help me
    1. People who have raised their hands
    2. Influencers
    3. People I would like to approach for help
    4. Mentors
  4. Finance
    1. How much do I need?
    2. Where do I get it from?
  5. The songs
    1. Finish them
    2. Practice them
    3. Write a story about each one
  6. What do I need for each song
    1. Record basic demos
    2. Identify the sounds I want for each song
    3. What instruments / vocals do I want for them
    4. Find artists
    5. Find a producer
    6. Find a studio
      1. Engineer
      2. Mastering
    7. Record in conjunction with videos
    8. Video the entire process, not just the songs
  7. The video/s
    1. What is the story for the whole production
    2. What is the story for each song
    3. Find a videographer
    4. Write each song story
    5. Find an editor
    6. Production team
  8. Presentation
  9. Publishing
  10. Marketing
    1. Facebook Page
    2. Promo/merchandise
    3. Raising awareness
  11. Launch event and concert gifting the outcome to the Cancer Society
    1. How would they use or benefit from it?
    2. How will it reach patients and their supporters?
    3. How will it endure

Want to be on the team?

Life List #2 Record an EP and Video of my Songs about my Cancer Journey


I know you are a caring person wanting to make a difference like me, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. I’m looking for advice and assistance on this project and I want to gift the results to the Cancer Society so that many people can benefit from it.

Music is a great healer and I used it as one of the tools that helped me and continues to help me through my journey. When I first was told “You Have Cancer” and got past the initial shock, I watched shows like The Voice and saw the stories of people who had turned horrific times in their lives to good purpose, wondering what did it take for me to do something positive and values driven.

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Where we leave our clothes when we go in for radiation treatment

I decided I wanted to do something too, which started with setting up the Facebook page Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies, I also wanted to try to do something really positive for other cancer patients and their families and friends.

 

So my Life List goal #2 is to complete an EP and music videos to help tell the story of my journey in terms of a cancer patient that may help other people relate to this horrible illness.

It’s 24/7, it’s scary and in many cases results in anguish, fear, depression, pain and death. The story isn’t unique, it applies to other conditions too like dementia.

Last night I watched the movie ‘Glen Campbell I’ll Be Me’ on TV and had tears in my eyes throughout the whole movie and my heart goes out to people suffering from dementia, which our family is also dealing with.

One of my songs for the EP is called “Who Stole My Words” which was about an experience I wrote about recently about falling out of an ocean kayak and due to my condition wasn’t able to come up with simple words like current and tide after I swam it to shore, not having the strength to get back in because I am not producing cortisol (i.e. no adrenalin). For a wordsmith, not being able to recall simple words is pretty scary.

So my challenge is that I need to fund this work and then make it available at no cost to people who are going through the same experience, because even with insurance, having cancer is very expensive and many people have to sell their homes or spend their life saving to help pay for their treatment or even to travel for treatment if they don’t live in a town where it is available. We had to spend a 5 figure sum to top up the gap for my treatment to date, so I know what it’s like. So I’d like to gift the album / video to the Cancer Society when it is complete.

I’m going to need additional musicians, possibly a backing choir for one of the songs, a videographer, editor and more people to help me. I’m going to need a studio, a sound engineer, a cast of several people and then there’s production and distribution. It’s pretty scary.

I’m keen for advice and help. First of all, where do I go for money? I’m thinking about whether to use New Zealand’s ‘Give a Little’ service. To raise funds because this is a charitable exercise. The finished product will be gifted to the Cancer Society and anyone who can benefit from it for free. There won’t be any profits.

Then I need a bit of a team to help me make this happen. Can you help with advice, or would you like to join the team? I can write the songs and I want to perform them with various artists, but that’s about the limit of my expertise.

So will you help? I need people and I need advice. You can contact me via Twitter Facebook by joining the group Musicians with Cancer and other Maladies, LinkedIn or Email.

 

I need a little help from my friends


Mercy ScannerSince I was told those words “YOU HAVE CANCER” I have been wondering how I could turn it into a positive. I’ve seen so many people on TV on shows like The Voice and they all have a story of troubles that they turned into amazing success stories.

It’s taken me two years to come up with a HAG. It’s not fully fleshed out yet and it is full of challenges and I’m hoping for my friends to help me out.

I’ve always considered myself a survivor, but I’ve struggled at times and often feel embarrassed when people suffering 100 times more than I am, try to make me feel better.

I’ve been reading an awesome (but huge as friends and fellow sufferers I have bought copies for) book called SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal which is all about using gamification to help yourself deal with chronic illness and trauma. Between that and two sensory deprivation floats over the last 2 days at FloatCulture in Auckland, I’ve come up with 4 ideas. I will flesh them out later, but I’m looking for a little help now and a lot in the future and I’m hoping you will find a way to join me.

Another Stretch in Iraq

  1. I am a singer songwriter, or at least I was before I got sick and I want to be again. Over the last 2 years I have struggled to play my guitars. I typically pick one up, play for a few minutes and put it down again. I struggle with chronic fatigue. In recent times I have often had to go back to bed during the day and even if I have slept most of the afternoon, I’m likely to be asleep again around 7:30-8PM. Here are some things I want to do:
    1. In about 9 months I want to do a gig somewhere with great acoustics, playing my originals (including new songs about dealing with cancer) with some backing from other musos.
    2. As per the SuperBetter program, I need 2 or 3 people (close friends) to check up on me and help me stay on track. That might be texting me or giving me a call each day and asking how my music is going to make sure that I stick with it, even if it’s only for five minutes.
  2. I’d like to help other musicians with cancer who feel the same way and would love to get back into their music but are struggling like I have. It might be that I can put together some sort of guidelines (everyone is different and it isn’t paint by numbers) based on my own experience, such that they can come up with their own model and get help from their friends to achieve the same results.
  3. If  we can achieve that, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could put together a gig/s of songwriters and musicians who have cancer or are in remission around New Zealand? Wouldn’t that be something amazing to aim for!
  4. I need a lot of help. At the end of this year I had most of the last 2 weeks off sick because of fatigue. I spent most of that time sleeping day and night. I need my job (both because I love it and because I need the income) but I’ve been struggling to front up. I need help putting together and maintaining a website or Facebook page to tell people about this initiative. Bottom line is it is going to be a struggle just for me to play every day (and keep my job), let alone grow this thing into something that will give energy and bring a spark back into people’s lives who are suffering and struggling just to get from one day to the next.

So what do you think? Is this a good idea? Do you know anyone who is a musician with cancer (or in remission) who has struggled like I have to motivate themselves and get back into it? When I have been able to play and write, like the song I wrote, which I blogged about here in a Cancer Meltdown,  it was extremely cathartic. Music is a healer.

I will be approaching a few close friends directly to assist me in my immediate journey to play every day. But for the other things I can do with a lot of help. Do you know songwriters and musicians with cancer? Do you know people who want to help them? Can you help in some way?

Can you please share this post with people who you think might be interested?

I’m going to try with a little help from my friends, actually a lot of friends if possible and friends of friends, because it’s 10 in the morning and I’m already tired. But I am going to play today.

Thanks for sticking with me. There is a lot of work to do and I can’t do most of it. We all know music is good medicine and can help drive a positive attitude. A lot of beating cancer is about attitude.

For now you can contact me through my blog. I don’t want to put my email address on here and attract phishers. Since I wrote this blog, I now have a Facebook group called Musicians with Cancer and Other Maladies. Please check it out and share the word.

Again, please share this so that we can help other people in a similar situation to me. Thanks a million.

 

Christchurch Cancer Patient Denied Test by TWO GP’s


 

After all the effort that the Cancer Society commits to educating people about the importance of catching cancer early, two doctors telling a patient that he didn’t need tests, as told in Stuff a couple of days ago amounts to malpractice in my humble opinion.

There was a comment about a GP who might have felt uncomfortable with doing a DRE, I’m not comfortable having one and it’s a level of relationship I never planned to have with mt GP. That wasn’t what raised the alarm bells for my cancer, it was the fact that rather than fluctuating as normal, my PSA levels from a tiny little blood test, had increased consecutively over 4 tests.

All credit to my GP because I was still within what is considered normal levels, however biopsies found 3 then 5 tumors.

Mercy ScannerI’ve since had radiation treatment for 8 weeks and am now on hormone treatment ad my latest test showed a small improvement for the first time.

EarlyMy Relay For Life team is called the Early Birds, because if we hadn’t found them then, I would probably be in a similar condition to the person in this story. Now I have the possibility of a full recovery. At the pace the multiple biopsies showed the tumors were growing, un-diagnosed, I would have been facing a potential death sentence.

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I know a lot of people don’t like the idea of a finger up their jack-see but all I had to start with was a PSA blood test that takes about a minute at your local test lab.

To the doctors, I say read your journals, attend your local local GP group meetings and have at least one person in your practice that is up to date with Prostate Cancer. For the rest of you mortals, did you know it’s BLUE September? The Cancer Societies on many countries around the world are running events this month. Find the info for your country here. I’m going to a Poker Night at Sky City Casino. I used to go to a tournament every month but these days I am too fatigued and generally fall asleep at around 7:30 every night, but I’ve told my boss that if I do any good I will be sleeping in the following day:)

Don’t freak out about getting tested. You can just go for the PSA test for starters if you don’t have any other problems. Do get the test, BUT:

Sort out your insurance before you get tested if you have never been tested. 

When I told my insurance broker that I had been diagnosed with cancer, he said “Luigi, my friend, you are now un-insurable.” Imagine getting tested getting a positive result and not having health insurance. Even with health insurance we have had to top up the gap in terms of tens of thousands of dollars.

Bottom line, I choose life. I have a chance and in fact for the first time in 18 months my PSA levels have dropped 12%. Obviously I want 100%, but its the first positive sign towards recovery. If I had visited one of the GP’s that Graeme Pollard went to, my options (I don’t know anything about his prognosis) right now would probably be either prostectomy surgery (with high risk of nasty short and long term side effects) or hormone treatment at much higher doses than the pills I’m taking now.

I don’t know what our rights are in cases like this and it sounds like a GP can do and say what they like and not be held accountable.

Yes, there is a school of thought that it is better not to know. Sir Paul Holmes the renowned Kiwi broadcaster said on TV that he would rather not have known. I know my life expectancy is now longer than it would have been if I didn’t know and knowing has changed my attitude towards life. I want to enjoy it and am no longer thinking about what I might do if I save my pennies for when I retire at 70.

Here’s a couple of facts for a small country.

  • Around 3,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in New Zealand a year. That’s 10 a day!
  • Around 600 men die in New Zealand from prostate cancer every year.
  • There is no miracle cure but research is happening at a fast rate and looking very positive.
  • Whilst we are a society that says (It won’t happen to me) 1 in 3 people in New Zealand will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in New Zealand.

Here’s an interesting little exercise. If you are catching up with your family or friends today. Play a little game. Put them in a line and get them each to consecutively call out 1,2,3. Every person who calls ‘3’ goes and stands on the other side of the room. Now tell them they have cancer, because we don’t have a choice over which one it is. If you wanted to make it interesting you could include all regular smokers. My father in law died from throat cancer from being taught how to smoke in the war and we believe another uncle has lung cancer from the habit he developed with free cigarettes while serving his country in Korea, but I digress.

If you are male, over the age of 50, get your insurances in order and go and tell your GP you want regular PSA tests, at least once a year. If he refuses, get a new GP that cares about you. Prostate Cancer is not a death warrant, especially if you get it early. Never knowing you have it, will very likely reduce your life expectancy. If you had a choice to live a bit longer, would you choose life?

Be an early bird.

 

A Cancer Meltdown


So a couple of weeks ago I felt like things were going OK. I had my cool car and whilst I was feeling really fatigued, I was coping. Then a pile of little things got the better of me. I was late with my tax (which I hate doing, because I normally do that at the end of the calendar year, when I was doing 8 weeks of radiation therapy and was too tired any other time. I’m between test results, so anxious about what the next result will be. My arm is really sore after taking the splint off my wrist from a thumb strain (which impacts on everything from using a mouse to playing guitar. Super busy at work and a number of other things, nothing that would be beyond the norm for any of us in isolation.

20160503_161554.jpgI had words with my wife, something that is very rare and after she left the music room, I lost the plot. I picked up my office chair and flung it at the floor breaking the base and ripping the carpet.

This was not good for our relationship and the following night I was away on business, which was probably s good thing to allow us to both cool down. It was totally on me and something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. I do not have an anger problem, it’s just one of the many emotions that you go through with grief and with cancer. Some people cry a lot (I only get emotional like that when giving speeches at weddings or when I’m watching an awesome concert). I might get slightly bloodshot in the eye when I’m passionate about something, but again that is when I’m happy.

So the following night I found myself in a hotel in Wellington after a 4:20AM start and a long working day. I sat in my hotel room looking out the window and pondering the meaning of life from about 5-7:00, went to bed. No dinner, no TV, a few SMS’s with my wife and slept for about 11 hours.

Bottom line, I really needed to let off steam. But I wasn’t finished and this is the good part. Right through summer when I usually write and play a lot of music, play a few gigs,  I couldn’t play, I had lost my mojo. Well after this exercise I got it back and over the last couple of weeks have written the backbone of a new song, which was the catharsis I needed.

Here’s what I’ve got  so far. It’s a country song, I really like country as a genre for telling stories. I hope to fine tune it enough over the next few week to start recording it, because I like the song as a song, not just a form of letting off steam.

If I Could Turn The Tables

Verse 1

If I could turn the tables I’d un-throw the chair that I just smashed

I’d un-rip the carpet that it tore when it flew down and crashed

Sometimes I feel that I can take no more, sometimes I derail from my track

I’ve got to get this cancer in control and find my way back.

Verse 2

If I could turn the tables I’d unsay the words that I just said

I’d turn down the volume of the voices that keep crashing through my head

Sometimes I feel like I’m OK, then the doubts start to shiver down my back

I’ve got to climb out of this hole and find my way back.

Chorus

Positivity is the frame of mind I ought to be in all the time

Everyone is nice and they want to give advice

Of a treatment they’ve heard of on the vine

Verse 3

I’ve got a lot to live for and each day I add on to my bucket list

I have great friends and family, there are special dates that I don’t want to miss

Sometimes I just want to cry, sometimes I wonder what its like to die

Then I think of those I’d leave behind and find my way back

Bridge

Every day’s a gift

Every day’s a steal

You can’t be the driver

Unless you take the wheel

Take the wheel

Chorus

Positivity is the frame of mind I ought to be in all the time

Everyone is nice and they want to give advice

Of a treatment they’ve heard of on the vine

Repeat Verse 1

If I could turn the tables I’d un-throw the chair that I just smashed

I’d un-rip the carpet that it tore when it flew down and crashed

Sometimes I feel that I can take no more, sometimes I derail from my track

I’ve got to get this cancer in control and find my way back.

-I’ll share a link once I’ve recorded it. It’s great to be back in writing mode and I hope I stay there. I’ve missed writing songs (other than my Pi project). I feel so much better having transferred my emotions into music.

I’ve been wanting to write songs about cancer to share, which might also help other people, be they the patients or friends and supporters. I have one other that I wrote but haven’t recorded yet, it’s more of a soul/reggae number which I wrote about losing my father in-law (also to cancer), but I thought I’d like to do a few covering different aspects.

Anyway, that’s me. Now I have to transcribe the song and publish it. If you’re still here, thanks for coming  on my journey with me.

 

Shuffling of Papers


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HOPE

Yesterday I arrived at the Oncology office to see my specialist, confidently expecting good news. I thought that he would be telling me that my PSA had dropped to zero or thereabouts and we could start looking towards 6 monthly catch ups, despite the fact that the fatigue and frequent bathroom visits continued.

He shuffled the papers and took a little while, with a big confidence inspiring smile told me that not everyone gets over the radiation quickly. He reminded me that no one gets cured of cancer, the goal is to achieve remission.

I took confidence from his smile and asked him about my PSA levels. He had another look at the papers, frowned a little and then told me that they had increased by about 50%. He said that I am in the 5-10% of people who take 6-12 weeks to get over the radiation treatment, gave me a form for another PSA test and a script for more Ural and we arranged another appointment in 4 weeks.

So, not what I wanted to hear. I’m still digesting it and what it means. I need to take some action steps.

  1. I need to learn to pace myself at work and leisure. I’m not good at that. I’m at my best when I’m focused but when I get home I’m often asleep within an hour or less after walking in the door, even when I manage to get home early. Whatever I do one day impacts on the next.
  2. I need to drink more fluid. It was much easier when I was going to radiation for 8 weeks and had to drink my bottle of water before I got there.
  3. iPhone 145I’m starting to focus on Relay For Life and I hope you’ll join me in that, either supporting our team at Millenium on the 19th and 20th of March, either in person, or by making a $5 tax deductible donation Donation. $5 isn’t a big deal to any of us right, but I keep thinking what a difference we could make for people like myself if all of us gave $5. I’ve already used up the donations some of you have made with phone calls to the society, attending a support group (which costs money to run) and met people who get to stay at Daffodil Lodge for free because they don’t live in Auckland and it’s expensive to spend a couple of months here when you are getting treatment and not working.
  4. I need to see a podiatrist as I have a sore foot. I don’t expect to do 50km this year, that’s probably not consistent with pacing myself, but I don’t want to be cut short by a minor injury either:)
  5. As of this morning I’ve gone back on Pomi-T again. It didn’t help before, but I still have plenty and it can’t hurt.
  6. Focus on quality of life. Play my guitars more, write some more songs and have fun with my friends and family.
  7. Look forward to a better PSA result in 4 weeks time.

iPhone 274Thanks so much to you all for your support and positive vibes. It means a lot to me. I really am serious about the $5 donations. It may seem hardly worth the effort for the price of a regular flat white, but it truly is, both in lightening my spirit and in everyone giving a little, we actually give a lot. Can you do that for me? Don’t worry about the donations buttons for bigger amounts. I have so many connections, if each of us only gave that amount (which is tax deductible) it would add up to something meaningful for the Cancer Society, but each little one will also put a big smile on my dial and smiles generate endorphin which makes you feel good.