Trust me. I would never belittle prostate cancer. I am a survivor. My Gleason scores were all sixes and sevens on a scale to 1-to-10…and I was only 49. The choice was tough and easy at the same time; take the most aggressive course possible, what is known as Radical Prostatectomy to surgically remove my prostate and thus, the cancer.

I am happy to report that my follow-up PSAs (prostate specific antigen) tests are a big fat zero, and that’s where I want to keep it. The admonitions for men to submit to a simple relatively painless blood test are all true. Early detection saved my life in 2004.

prostate

And just when I thought the coast was clear, I went to Fresno in California’s Central Valley for a football game on September 9, 2006. I will never forget that date. The Oregon Ducks won 31-27, but I lost big time. Little did I know I had breathed in the spore that is (un)commonly known as Valley Fever.

Before I go further let me reveal that I am not a physician, so everything that follows comes from me, the two-year Valley Fever patient; my hard-earned knowledge (40 lumbar punctures; one head shunt and counting); my plethora of conversations with a wide variety of doctors; and my extensive reading on the subject.

First point: Valley Fever is a misnomer: It is not a virus. It is a fungus. The name hails from the Valley of the Sun as in Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding desert communities.  Valley Fever is not contagious; it can only be transmitted by breathing in the spore that just digs the arid climates of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas and Northern Mexico. Only one-out-of-every 25 people who come into contact with the Valley Fever fungus will get the full effect with all the fixings…that would be me.

valleyfever

Three months after the September Oregon vs. Fresno State game, I was meeting with a CEO to discuss preparing a speech and PowerPoint graphics for his upcoming keynote in China.

When I drove home, I had the worst chills I ever experienced in my life. I threw on a hooded sweatshirt and went to bed. Waking up two hours later, I realized that I had completely soaked the sweat shirt with…ah…sweat. And I really don’t sweat. Next up was breaking out in what looked like measles on my torso. Something was wrong, very wrong.

And yet being a guy under the influence of testosterone, I kept on trying to combat a flu that went on for two weeks. Influenza doesn’t last two weeks and yet I kept on fighting…until… Two days after Xmas I was admitted to the hospital. There is just something truly special, something magical about watching the Rose Bowl from a hospital bed…just kidding. Ten days after being admitted, I was told that I had Valley Fever; it sounded kind of benign. In reality, the nightmare was just beginning.

In the next year, I was admitted to the hospital two other times (Thank Darwin for health insurance; I would have been wiped out financially). During 2007 and well into 2008, I suffered fainting spells, instances of severe dizziness, lost my ability to even toss a tennis ball over my head in order to serve, couldn’t walk down the steps of Michigan Stadium (“The Big House”), and then my memory started to fail me. The docs gave me three words to remember: “Roller skates, love and Beatles.” Five minutes later, I could only remember the band.

I was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus or “water on the brain.” A shunt was weaved up through my nose (under anesthesia obviously) to regulate the build-up of water…and like magic, my memory was back. Alas, my problems were not over.

There was still a wild build-up of white blood cells in my spinal column. Something was obviously wrong. What was causing this? The answer was Valley Fever and in particular, Meningitis spurred by the fungus. We had to reduce these white blood cells pronto. That led to 40 lumbar punctures, spinal fluid coming out for evaluation and Amphotericin B (an anti-fungal) going in. To humor the situation, my doctor Larry Mirels of the Positive PACE Clinic in San Jose and a political animal just like me, equated each puncture with a president. We stopped when we reached Ronald Reagan. Lumbar puncture #40 was one for the Gipper.

Before 1958, the one-out-of-every-25 people who were vulnerable to Valley Fever and came into contact with the fungus was a goner…and there is a good chance they or their doctors never knew what hit them. Reportedly some German POWs sent to Arizona in World War II mysteriously bit the dust. Ditto for GIs training at Camp Roberts near California’s central San Joaquin Valley. The spore loves these spots.

Medical science (thank you Dr. Mark Avon of San Ramon, CA) saved me from prostate cancer as it did for Valley Fever. Unfortunately, Valley Fever is not curable. I take three 100-mg anti-fungals (Itraconazole) in the morning and three more in the evening. Even with insurance, they cost me $292 per month. The alternative, allowing Valley Fever to come back in an even stronger form, is not an option.

For awhile I was thinking if I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. And then I remembered the docs and the nurses who helped me win a battle against cancer (so far) and wrestle a nasty fungus to a draw. Dr. Mirels and Dr. Avon will always be my friends for life. In fact, I have already used up two or my nine lives…guess I have seven more to go.

http://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/tc/prostate-cancer-topic-overview

http://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/guide/prostate-cancer-grading-prostate-cancer

http://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/prostate-cancer-radical-prostatectomy

http://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/guide/psa

http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/definition-of-valley-fever

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/tc/congenital-hydrocephalus-topic-overview

http://children.webmd.com/vaccines/tc/meningitis-topic-overview

Advertisements