How long has it been???

I can’t believe that I use to write on this blog on an almost daily basis.  I really also can’t believe that I am almost complete with all treatment.  So lets play catch-up and get everything in order and up to speed.

My last chemo treatment was on the 6th of April, 2018.  It was on a Friday and I only remember this because Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) and the rest of his crew were performing on the 5th of April.  I guess they did a bang up job,  I wouldn’t know.  I was too much of lets get moving forward than to worry about some chemical spillage.  It was also pretty cool to know that there was a celebrity in town who was focusing his energy on the troops.

My last radiation treatment was on the 11th of April, 2018.  Yes a few days after Chemo ended, I ended radiation treatment as well.  So now that both treatments are complete everything is good to go right?  Not necessarily.  You see, both chemo and radiation keep doing what they are trained to do even after treatments are complete.  Wait what?  So after the doctors put me on the verge of death, they keep me there longer in the hopes that the CHEMO and Radiation long term effects will continue to wrack havoc on my body.

And it did!  Oh my glasses.  If I thought the previous weeks were hard or difficult, this past week was hell.  There are no words to really describe it.  Just that a constant fire in the back of my throat was raging on.  Every time I cough out mucos, I can see old blood in the cells or see some dark cherry blood clot.  Not a pretty site to see but I know that seeing mucos was good for the passage of time.  I tried to keep my mouth as moist as often and that usually meant adding a solution of water, baking soda, and salt and swishing it around my mouth after spitting out some mucos.  This helped to spit out some more or for record keeping itself.  I did this for about a week and at the same time I was having other issues.

The first issue I had was maintaining a healthy diet. My weight dropped down below 160 pounds.  That was too much.  Luckily for me, I have my port and I am using that bad boy even as I type this out.  I also use the port for my water intake.  It took awhile to get the weight back up and now I am hovering just above 165.   I know that the nurses are more concerned over my diet than I am but we agreed on a plan of action.  For the first week after radiation is complete, just focus on swallowing.  Don’t push it or over do it.  After the 18th of April, try drinking a small portion of water and then slowly add vegetables and fruits to your diet.

So that’s been me in a nut shell.  Am I exhausted?  Heck yeah!  Like I just finished running 8 miles.  Hopefully, due to time, I am able to over come.

Again, I thank all of you for your happy thoughts and prayers, positive energy and good Karma.

Taking water for granted

I have lived or explored and yes even deployed to locations around this world that really makes you think how do these people survive without a reliable source of water?  For example in Afghanistan, way back in the day as in Alexander the Great time period, he created a system of water wells for the local population to use.  And then say around 2001, a bunch of folks with tons of hate and discontent came by and destroyed a lot of these water wells plus other historical sites.

As many may or may not know, I am fighting throat cancer, and this brings me to a few points about water.  I am being treated up here in San Antonio Military Medical Center, SAMMC if you like abbreviations.  When I was initially diagnosed I had no clue what was in store for me.  I literally placed my health to people who have more experience in treating throat cancer than I have crossed the sun.  And I will tell you one thing, I am grateful for the doctors that I have who were aggressive in getting me started on my treatment.  Before I knew it, I had a stomach port for feeding and drinking.  It’s quite convenient especially when you can drink some coffee down the tube!

So when I first started my treatment back in February, and yes I am almost done with treatment, thank God!  I remember looking at that stomach port and saying to myself, “there is no way I am going to get stuck feeding and drinking myself thru that device.  Besides how hard could this be?”  Little did I know that radiation treatment accelerated and altered my decision to rely heavily more and more on the port for food and water intake for the last two weeks.  And that changes your perspective on a lot of things, especially when it comes to good ole quality H2O.

I noticed that over time, the ability to swallow a normal size gulp of water was slowly diminishing to simple sips.  But I had to keep swallowing otherwise I could lose that ability for a long time.  So with all the meds I have to take, I am ok that I will be able to swallow once treatment is complete.  But I look at a tall glass of water like a policeman looks at Krispy Kreme doughnuts and this is the worst part of throat cancer.  When your tongue, mouth and throat all feel like it is on fire 24/7 then your ability to eat and drink become a challenge.  And you look at that water and realize you will not be able to drink it down in one good swoop like when you are out working on your vehicle, honey do list or even some basic yard work.

This is the crux of this blog: We take a lot of things in life for granted in life.  Our loved ones, family, health, education, even our ability to make money.  And the worst part of our society is that we idolize those with fame, money, and good looks.  You take that away from them and watch their true color; their true character and realize that there is more to life than what people wants us to believe in.  Take away the basic necessities for life and you realize everything that we take for granted such as hearing, seeing, touching and yes event tasting that basic glass of water.

A turn…for the worse? or for the better!

Living with throat cancer has it’s own unique challenges and struggles.  Mine is no different from anyone else.  Last week, after I ate dinner, I had a coughing fit so severe that I coughed up bright red cherry blood.  That is all I needed in my decision making process to get driven down to the ER at San Antonio Medical Center.

When I arrive at the ER, I tell them I am a cancer patient, they check my blood pressure  and other vitals.  Then they rolled me to a room.  After a few visits with the doctors they came to an early decision for me to stay overnight.  So staying overnight came with some good and bad benefits.  The good benefits of me staying over night is that I will have 24/7 patient health.  Really, I didn’t see an issue in staying over night as having any bad benefits, the only being is that my granddaughter will be on the road soon and I want to be home when they arrive.

So I was admitted and I didn’t think much of it since again the scopes were going to be done around noon on Thursday.  So again, your truly, didn’t question about the lack of an IV fluid.   So I asked my attending nurse and she was like there is nothing about you needing fluids in your admittance paperwork.  I told them that I am a throat cancer patient and I needed to drink about 3 Liters of water a day.  I also informed them of all the different medication I use.  I was given that blank stare that I knew I was in for a miserable time.  They look me straight in the eye and said, “We will let out doctors know but if it’s not in their notes there is nothing we can do.”  I have used this same technique especially in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

So let me recap it for you.  When I went to sleep on Wednesday night with no food and no water intake because GI (Gastroenterologists) wanted to do an upper scope and they would need me to go under.  ENT (Ear Nose Throat) also needed to do an upper scope but I don’t need to be on any food or water restrictions.  Now it is Wednesday, ENT came by and did what they had to do and pretty much I was clear from their view point.  Still no word from GI.  Then around 4pm, I was given the ok to eat from the menu as the nurse was hooking up an IV now.  But at this point in time I was no longer hungry.  I tried to eat but I couldn’t.  GI came in put me under did what they had to do and found the source of blood which was in the back of my tongue.  I was released by 4pm on Friday with maybe a whole litter of IV fluids over those two days.

By Saturday, I was running a low fever ranging from 99.9 to 101.0 and somewhere at 10pm, I checked my  temperature and it was 101.3.  It was time to get checked out as they ran a series of blood cultures, blood draws and more x-rays.  I was too happy to be going back home even if it meant being released at 4a.m. on Sunday morning.  I was enjoying the sleep when I felt my body temperature rise and took a quick body temperature; 102.8!!! Time to go back to the ER.   I was fortunate that common sense doctors were in charge.  They verified all the blood work was complete and if further blood draws were needed; then it was done at that time.  Again the doctor came in and asked if why not stay the night.  I told the doctor that the last time I stayed I almost lost it because I was denied fluids and food and ended up missing a lot of my necessary medicines.

So that happened about 2 weeks ago and this past week was just as flustering from visiting my Primary Care Doctor who again had to hear my rant as I don’t was to get admitted.  There was more concern of my weight lost and ok of me throwing up old blood versus bright cherry red.   Well despite having a horrible previous weekend, this past weekend was just as frustrating and unique with their own skills and challenges.  I attribute the attitude I have based on the military training, attitude, and spirit.  You learn a thing or two about yourself with every promotion one receives.  You learn to grow as a person, as a leader and at times even as a follow.

This past week I was more of the follower, I relied on my wife more than ever to ensure I was at the right place and time.  I didn’t give any healthcare provider a hard time but rather just my normal guessing my blood pressure which gets them to a relax a bit.  I met  a fellow cancer who we call affectionately Sister Jones.  To see her make it gave me hope when I needed it the most.  She was my inspiration with her love of life and her positive spirit.

A better Trach

So yesterday after my radiation treatment, I went over to the ENT clinic to see about removing my trach because it was very bothersome.  Trachs come in different sizes and my first one was a size 8.  It was pretty significant and I can really feel it inside my throat. Before I started treatment they downsized my Trach to a size 6.  Yesterday, I am down to a size 4.

There is nothing wrong with a size 6 Trach, however it was becoming bothersome to a degree.  At night, I was able to sleep with little discomfort but over time it became unbearable.  It was like my body knew there was a foreign object and was coating it with mucus.  Of course, the mucus became to much and I would have to expel the mucus.  The size 4 Trach is much smaller and I don’t really feel it inside my throat.

But the shrinkage of the cancerous growth in my neck also enables me to clear my throat by sucking the air thru my nose .  Now the last time I was able to clear my throat using this method was back in 2006 after my deployment to Kosovo.  Now, almost more than 10 years with no ability to clear my throat, I find this a great relief.  If I am laying down and get a coughing fit, I normally can clear my throat and sinuses clearly.

This is exactly what I needed right before I get into the final stretch here.

It’s my Fight, my Battle, my Plan

I received a call as I started this journey from one of my Aunt’s who is a cancer survivor. She gave me the best advice ever, which was “don’t listen to what they tell you what is going to happen to your body.  It is your body and it is your fight.  And whatever you do, always listen to your body’s needs and feed that.”

My body is stomach is lactose sensitive and of course all these protein shakes they want me to drink has some form of milk in them.  So naturally, my body rejected it and it was not a pretty sight to behold.  And of course I am losing weight so now the doctors are all concerned and want me to get on a feeding pump.  Still waiting for that one to come in and I haven’t heard from them yet.  Not going to rush that order any time soon.

So what do I do?  I still need my calorie intake and I still need to gain my weight back.  Well I am going to do this on my terms.  I will drink my shake, currently Boost Ensure Plus because it has 360 calories and 14 grams of protein.  It’s the calories I tell you that my body needs.  And with every little sip I drink of it, I will drink some water as well to help dilute it a bit.  At least that is what I am hoping for anyways.

Bottom line is this, when facing a significant emotional event, like cancer, all the rules are thrown out the window.  Yes, I dialogue with my doctors on a daily basis it seems and they are tracking it all as well and it was one of my doctors who even suggested to dilute the shake somehow.  So this is no way me being a rebel without a cause but rather me finding a way to fight for my life as we are heading towards the final stretch here.

Again, thank you all for your positive thoughts, good karma, and prayers.  There are some days I don’t understand where I get the energy from but I know it’s there and I appreciate it all.

Why I serve; My Father

My father is a Vietnam Veteran and served two tours.  After graduating from McAllen High School in 1963, he enlisted into the Army and went to Fort Leonardwood (Lost in the woods) in Missouri (edited…for some reason I said Kansas, I don’t know why but I had Kansas on my mind) for Basic Training.  Somewhere along the way, he was selected for a unique Military Occupation Skill (MOS) for a unique organization.

The organization was called the United States Army Security Agency or USASA for short.  Their motto is, “In God we trust all others we monitor”.  It is hard to find his units because they were all given false names.  He was always assigned to a Radio Research Company or unit and trust me, the Army spends no money on research especially with a platoon of men.  I know that his first duty station was in Okinawa and that he was assigned to the 101st Security Detachment, thank you very much military yearbook!  But really that is all.

You see, what Father did in Vietnam was just recently declassified and well, dad being an old spook and spy, will still guard those secrets.  And I am ok with that.  But here are some stories I learned while growing up prior to me joining the profession.  So what this unit did, based on open sources, was to triangulate the enemies radio communication signals to determine their location.  You had those that worked specifically on that requirement while others did morse intercept and linguistic work as well.  Dad was neither one of these.  I think now I know what he did but because it is still an active MOS I will just leave it at that.

First, Dad was very popular with the North Vietnamese.  The story is this.  My mom was able to get command sponsorship to travel to Okinawa to be with Dad.  I think the first thing they bought was a small stereo for their newly acquired military housing.  And well Mom had to go to the commissary (grocery store) from time to time to buy food.  See, dad drove the one car to work and they lived down below the Non-Commissioned Officer’s Club.  So everyday, at 5pm, mom would look out the door up the hill and if she saw the car coming down then she knew he was coming home for the night.  Otherwise, Dad was busy with something.  So one day, mom is at the commissary, it’s a small base where everyone knows everyone and she strikes up a conversation with someone and they informed her, “Oh you are Pancho’s wife, oh yeah he has a bounty of $50,000 on his head by the North Vietnamese”.  Not something one would say to a newly wed bride.

When Dad was in Vietnam in one of his tours, they went on a convoy.  Dad packed extra ammo and mind you, these were 20 round clips.  So he probably took about close to 400 rounds of ammunition.  Again, an officer made fun of him because he was taking all that ammo.  To put this in perspective, every mission I went out on in my tour to Afghanistan, I carried 300 rounds of ammunition on my kit plus an additional 90 rounds in my go bag.    Of course, his convoy gets ambushed and that officer finds my dad and begs for ammo.  My dad politely told him no.  Of course I am sure it was more colorful than that!  I also remember him one time talking about how tracers are cool to look at when you are firing them but not cool when it is the enemy’s and trying to kill you.

There are other stories as well, but the last memorable one was when my son was going to get ready and head off to basic training with a military intelligence MOS.  My dad said, “You know when I was in Vietnam, I had to brief a gentleman from the CIA on enemy activity.  Of course we never used his real name because he had a false name so we all took turns briefing Mr. CORDS.  Eventually, he became the head of the CIA.”

Even though I don’t know much of what my dad did during the Vietnam War, it was what he did afterwards that really inspired me.  We all have heard the motto “leave no man behind”.  Well Dad did just that.  He volunteered most of his time during the 1970s and 1980s with the American G.I. Forum when it was run by then Dr. Hector P. Garcia.  Dad rose up through the ranks and was always caring and reaching out to his fellow veterans.  That sense of selfless service even out of uniform was evident.  I can’t recall the number of parties we had at the house just full of veterans.  And I was just in awe at all these great men of valor and honor.

Lastly, it was my Dad who taught me to be quiet and listen to my NCOs.  As a young officer, I would always get a complemented by Sergeants if I ever went to OCS.  I would always say, “Sadly, No.  But my Dad was an NCO and he taught me well.”

Best News of the Week

Earlier this week, when I went for my daily radiation treatment, I was asked if they could do some imaging of my throat.  I said ok, but as events would turn out, as I am trying to lay down I get a coughing spell.  Again, I was asked and I gave them the thumbs up to proceed with the imaging.  Eventually, I was able to calm down, relax and breathe and they were able to image my throat.

Why is this important?  You see, it is hard on cancer patients to know the progress of the treatment.  Imaging is one way of doing it.  But in my case, because it is throat cancer, the doctors can actually look down with a camera thru my nose.  So of course, yesterday, that is exactly what happened and I was able to see the progress!  For the first time in my life, I finally saw vocal chords, well mine actually.  And that is some unique creation there I tell you what.  Previously, I couldn’t even see my vocal chords because a cancerous mass was in the way.  Yesterday, I saw my vocal chords in all their glory!

Next, my doctor showed my the scanned images from the first day of chemoradiation treatment and up to today.  You can easily see the mass shrinking over time in my throat.  When all this begin, my airway was compromised.  It was half the size and moved over to one side.  As of today, it is normalized.  The airway is no longer compromised and is normal, the right size and location.

I cried when I left the hospital yesterday; tears of joy.  I wanted to shout it out on top of the mountain top that “JESUS ANSWERS PRAYERS!!!”  And He does.  But we are not out of the woods to say the least.  There is still more cancer to kill.  All in due time, everything will end and this too shall pass.

For now, I am recharged and motivated to continue this fight.  I thank you all for the positive thoughts, prayers and good feelings.

Magic Mouthwash and other ailments

So, now that I am starting another week of radiation treatment and things are very interesting to say the least.  Of course the whole appetite is still an issue and those that know me know that I love food.  I really can’t wait to sink my teeth into a pizza, a great homemade salad or even into a steak.  But those items are going to have to wait for now. Instead here are some new updates to what is going on in my body.

First, my hearing in my left ear is all but gone.  It is muffled.  It is like constant ringing going on and there is not much I can do really.  You see, the radiation around my throat has closed that little canal that goes in your throat that enables you to hear.  So right now my left ear is out of commission until further notice.  It will come back in time.

My memory is also shady.  Like I go into the restroom and then I am trying to figure out why I am there.  Yes it has happened more than once.  I go somewhere and I am thinking what was I suppose to do?  This is the effect of what chemo does to your body and cisplatin is one of the hardest of the chemo’s so I was told.  I have a pretty good memory but I will tell you that a short stubby pencil beats out a long term memory any day.  I write a lot of things now so I don’t forget in my calendar notebook.

So prior to the weekend, the folks at the radiation clinic gave me this great stuff called “Magic Mouthwash”.  Of course it is pink.  It is liquid lidocaine and it numbs up my mouth and throat and it enables me to eat which is a plus.  There really is no bad side effect only that it last for a few hours.  But at issue is that my throat feels like it is on fire 24/7.  No bueno.  I talked to my radiologist about this and he was like, “Ok we need to give you something better.”

Yours truly is now on some narcotics, yes the epidemic type that everyone is calling to stop prescribing to patients.  I have 2 types, a long lasting type and one for short duration.  I will tell you that as soon I received my meds, it was way past lunch time and I was starving.   I took the short duration one and we drove to get some noodles at Panda Express.  It is abut a 20 minute drive from the hospital to Panda Express and I will tell you that by the time we get there, my mouth, throat and tongue felt much better.  I was able to eat a bowl of noodles and I was happy.  After my first feeding, I took a much needed nap.

I know a lot of people are against using narcotics in treatment because of the addiction factor.  But I will tell you, that was the best relief I had in awhile.  I know the dangers of addiction and it is something you just have to plan for and overcome.  Don’t let things get in your way of your goals but rather focus on the journey and the end result; being cancer free!

The Last 48 Hours…

So I survived the weekend with my second round of Chemo treatment.  But it wasn’t easy.  It was interesting to say the least with my symptoms and what not.  So here is a quick recap.

First, I had the return of the hiccups.  Yes they came back and breathing did not help.  Again, everyone told me the hiccups are a by product of the steroids.  I really don’t think so now.  I think the real reason for the hiccups is rather the body’s response to your dead cancer cells sitting in your gut.  Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of it is easy the back end or up front.  And because the type of my chemo makes me constipated, that leaves only one way to get rid of these dead cells, yup by the toilet.  It’s not really a pretty site and I won’t get into the gory details but trust me you will know what dead cells look like.  The benefit, no more hiccups for a long time.  Easy breathing and relaxing.

But let’s go back to that chemo and constipation issue.  Now remember I said there was a second route.  Well I already had some on the way and let’s just say having diarrhea and constipation at the same time is an oxymoron but I can tell you that is what I had yesterday.  That was no fun knowing you have to go but yet you can’t!  Frustrating I tell you.

And because of these issues, my appetite was gone.  Like totally gone with no desire to eat or drink.  Needless to say, I lost more poundage than I cared for.  I woke up today weighing in at 181 pounds.  That is not good at all.  Luckily, I gained some of my appetite back today.  I was able to eat more foods aside from using my feeding port in my stomach.  I am also switching my diet to more softer foods such as those found in the baby aisle.  I had some crazy stares but if I need to eat soft foods what better aisle to go than those who are learning how to eat.

Again, I thank you for all your positive thoughts, kind words, and prayers.

Why I serve; my grandfather

This is a going to be a weekly blog posted on Saturdays on why I served.  I hope I am able to bring light as to why “I joined the Army” but more importantly the people who played a huge influence in my life.  So the first one is my Grandfather, a World War II veteran.

I do not know if my grandfather enlisted or was drafted.  I do know he served in World War II in the European theater as a logistician of some sort.  Grandfather did not talk much about the War and he didn’t have to.  It was just understood growing up, you really didn’t talk to him about those things unless he wanted to share them with you, which he did with me on a couple of occasions.

The first story he told me was this and occurred sometime after D-Day because they were in France.  His commander came up to him and said, “Garcia, take my jeep and go down to that chateau we passed up and get some wine for us.”  So PFC Garcia drove the commander’s jeep down to the chateau, found some wine, put them in the crate, placed them on the back of the jeep and drove back to unit.  Of course, on the way back, the MPs had set up a checkpoint.  So here they see a PFC, driving a commanders jeep, with cases of wine in the back.  Someone is having a party.  So the MPs questioned him and didn’t believe his story that the commander told him to go get the wine.  Right about the time they were going to confiscate the wine, his commander showed up and said, “Hey what are you doing with my wine!?”  The MPs were of course confused now and grandfather just smiled.  Of course the commander had his wine along with his company.

The second story occurred in either North or South Dakota.  Victory over Europe was already celebrated and now his unit was being reassigned to the Pacific Theater.  So the unit had a lay over in one of those states and one of his buddies was from that area.  He told my grandfather, “Hey Garcia lets go to town and grab a beer before we head out.”  Grandfather agreed and off they went.  They arrived at a local watering hole, nothing fancy but they served cold beer.  PFC Garcia’s friend asked the bartender for two cold beers.  The bartender wasn’t smiling because of PFC Garcia.  He took one beer out, served it to PFC Garcia’s friend.  His friend said, “Hey what gives?  We are both in the Army, just got back from Europe and now heading off to Japan.  Why can’t you serve my buddy here a beer?”  The bartender said, “Because your buddy is Indian and when Indians drink they get mean.”  PFC Garcia’s buddy laughs, “He’s no Indian, he’s Mexican!” Bartender said, “Oh well in that case here have a beer!” and served my grandfather a beer.

The last story was much later in life.  We were flipping through some old photos of his and there was one when grandfather was in basic training.  He was standing tall in his uniform wearing a campaign hat (round brown) and he had a MP chevron on his left arm while around his waist was a belt with a baton stick attached.  My wife, Maria, asked, “Papa Nene, were you in the Military Police?”  He responded with, “I was whatever they told me to be that day.”

I am named after my grandfather.  He is the Junior and I am the third.  They skipped a generation but technically, one of his sons is called Daniel Oscar Garcia.  But my grandfather doesn’t have a middle name nor do I.  We grew up calling him Papa Nene and that is what we did.  After the War, I heard stories from the family that Papa Nene worked from sun up to sun down.  He worked multiple jobs to keep a roof over the heads of three kids; my dad, my Tia (Aunt) Marta, and my Tio (Uncle) Oscar.   Growing up, I knew he worked at The Monitor as a janitor when it was still located on business 83.

He drove on old 1950s 5 window Chevy Blue Truck which he called “la pinchirilla” (I really don’t know a good translation but it’s a term of endearment but I know it’s bad) because that truck drank oil like no ones business.  After his retirement from The Monitor he kept working.  In the late 70s, 80s and early 90s, you could see that old “Pinchirilla” driving up and down 2nd street (Now Col. Rowe Blvd) as he was out mowing yards.  Come summer time, us grandkids would rotate to work with him.

And that is when I learned of the first two stories.  I admired the adventure he had and I too had my share of adventures in Kosovo, Iraq and in Afghanistan.  But I also learned the value of hard work and to never give up.  After work, he would sit outside his house on his stairways and just watch traffic go by.  If I was with my mom and we drove by, she would turn the car around and we would drop in for a quick visit.

Papa Nene passed away when I was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba back in 1995.  He worked every day of his life and that is what I really admired about him.  And I attribute this work ethic to his time in the Army and coming home to raise a family.  He worked until the good Lord told him it was time to come home at the age of 83 so he can rest.  To this day, when I travel down to the valley, I still drive by the old house hoping to catch a glimpse of him.