Picture of Barney Norwick

Barney Norwick

Phone: 796-6579
UAS Academic Technology Manager
Email: jncrn1@uas.alaska.edu
Home: http://www.uas.alaska.edu/faculty_support
This page has been created to provide information to my friends at UAS as I make the journey from cancer to cure and to give them a means of offering support. If you are affiliated with UAS please sign in so I can see who is visiting my site. Thank you.

I first became aware of a medical problem after running a 10k on April 1st 2006. I felt fine during the run, but I was going much slower then expected - nearly a minute/mile slower. Since I had trained during the winter, I knew something was wrong. Working with my doctor it was decided a treadmill stress test was a good starting point. Since I was going through Seattle in during the summer, I had then test there. A sonogram of my heart under stress showed no problems. It was then back to my local doctor and more tests. Many tests later it was discovered during a colonoscopy that I had colorectal cancer on November 30th. Since the tumor was too large to remove at this point they started me on chemo and radiation January 15th. The chemo is injected 24 hours a day 7 days a week with a small pump that I carry around with a line into my arm. (Very cool technology) Radiation is 5x week with the process ending February 26th.

I am happy to say my prognosis is good and they expect me to deal well with treatments. Consequently, I am working 1/2 time from Seattle providing faculty training with Elluminate and writing documentation.

I will use the Weblog below to keep everyone informed of my progress.
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Monday, July 30, 2007

The Rest of the Story - Colostomy

I debated for sometime whether to advertise the fact I had a permanent colostomy. I don't have any privacy issues about it that made me feel uncomfortable, but I thought it might be a case of my readers learning "more then they want to know".

What changed my mind was a discussion with a UAS staff person about their spouse who was dealing with serious intestinal medical issues that could lead to a colostomy. The spouse's view was they rather die then have a colostomy. I don't know what the issue was with a colostomy that made them react so radically, so all I can do is tell you what  the effect wearing a colostomy bag has had on me. I do so in hope that others who may have loved ones facing such a decision can understand some of the issues.

Ones viewpoint is dramatically impacted by where you are in life. It is important to keep in mind that I am 63, single and don't  date. I am years past the time where I worrying about how other people view me. My views of self and my life are stable. While I don't see any reason for a colostomy to be viewed as a life changing event, (unless you're porn star, professional wrestler or belly dancer) getting cancer certainly can be.

So here's the quick summary of my views about wearing a colostomy bag: it's annoying!

Yep, that pretty much sums it up. Not much else I can say. It does not prevent me from hiking, running (ran 7 miles Saturday) or lifting weights.

But it is annoying. I have to wear suspenders because my stoma (opening where the intestine exits the abdomen) is located at my belt line. It seems most people have theirs below the belt line which prevents this hassle. So now I have to buy larger pants so they fit loosely over the bag. Annoying.

I am rebuilding my deck, digging out large stumps, cutting, splitting and packing heavy, wet firewood.

Sometimes it itches. Sometimes it itches a lot. Annoying, definitely annoying.

I am currently searching for a sailboat to do extensive cruising of Southeast Alaska in the years to come. This has been my plan for many years. Can't think of any reason to change it.

If I am wearing a bag without a filter for the gases it will inflate like a balloon. Nothing like a couple bowls of chili to test out the seams! Did I mention that it can be annoying?

I am hoping next year to run the Klondike (110 mile 10 team relay foot race) with a team of guys all over the age of 60. (I've got a name "Over 60, not the Hill")

In the process of cleaning out the bag last week my hand slipped and the bag emptied itself on my bathroom floor. (Fortunately, my roommate doesn't read this blog!) Funny now, now so funny then.... Annoying, very annoying.

Life is full of annoyances. This one allows me to stay alive and does not radically impact my life's activities. That makes it a lot easier to deal with. There is also a huge market with many styles of bags to deal with every sort of issue one may have. I have been trying different solutions and will continue to do so until I find the one that works best.

Remember, it is just an annoyance and you have considerable control over it: scratch it when it itches (lot better scratching my belly, then where I use to scratch), get bags with filters, start a new fad with everyone wearing suspenders (how about suspender Fridays at work! How cool..... ) or buy support underwear that is crotchless for those of you who want to keep flashing, but don't want to make anyone ill! See, there is equipment to work around every problem!


Monday, June 11, 2007

Big Decision

This morning I had an appointment with an oncologist to help me decide whether to take 4 months of chemotherapy or not. I want to make sure the facts as I understood them were correct. The decision is mine to make, but I want to make sure I was basing it on the facts.

Here are some of the facts I used to make my decision:

1. My current prognosis using a standard 5 year survival rate is 80%

2. Adding the 4 months of chemo provides another 3 - 5% benefit.

3. My surgery was very successful with no lymph nodes effected or any visible breaking through of the intestinal wall.

4. Since my surgery was done AFTER the chemo and radiation there wasn't any way for the surgery to determine if the cancer had broken out previous to the chemo. There isn't any guarantee that it all was found.

5. The chemo/radiation/surgery has ravaged my body in many ways that I have not discussed in this blog.

One area we did not agree on was the possible long term effects of chemotherapy on cognition. The common term for this is "chemo brain".  This is a condition where patients on chemo demonstrate an inability to concentrate or remember as they did previously. Unfortunately, there are other issues with cancer that also effect cognition and that is the stress of dealing with a life threatening illness. Since many of us with cancer are also at an age where declining abilities are common, it is hard to parse out  what is the cause of  memory or concentration problems. Many of the cognition problems I suffered from while undergoing chemo have disappeared, but I still have a few "duh" moments. My confidence in my intellectual abilities has always been something I took for granted. I don't any longer and it scares me a lot more then cancer. Cancer just kills. Losing your cognitive skills (Alzheimer's as an extreme) takes away who you are and leaves the meat behind.

So I admit, I may be reading too much into the research I found on chemo brain, but I wasn't convinced the doctor was up to date on some of the most recent research. None of it was conclusive, but it does seem to point to the possibility of long term issues. I will consider myself biased on this.

My decision to not take the chemo is based on the low possible benefit of a 3 - 5% gain, being sickly for another 4 months and possibly (very little weight) dealing with cognition issues. I had decided going in, if they made it a 10% benefit I would go for it.

I will be making an appointment this week to get my port-a-cath removed and then continue my focus on getting stronger.




Monday, May 28, 2007

Report - 40 days after surgery

40 days have passed since my surgery and 24 days since I arrived back in town.

My goal since I have been back is to gain the muscle mass and strength I have lost since treatment started in January and especially the weight and muscle loss I suffered from during surgery. On arriving back in town I started lifting weights nearly every day. The idea was to ease back into working out without causing fatigue or injury to my core. I wanted my body to be shocked into developing muscle as a response to the daily workouts. I also made sure my diet consisted of a higher percentage of high quality protein. (very little red meat with emphasis on salmon, nuts, chicken - lots of Omega 3) I also walked 45 - 60 minutes every day. By day 24 (starting from surgery) I was able to speed up the walks to the point I graduated to machines since I can't get my heart rate up high enough walking. From that point on I was able to work out in my moderate aerobic heart rate zone of around 80% of max. At day 34 I was able to run again on our indoor track. YAHOO!! I am just doing a run/walk at this time using the same process I would advise any new runner to follow. I will be adding mileage and speed very slowly.

Since I have become stronger I have changed my workouts to 4x a week for lifting weights with a 2 days for push and 2 days for pull exercises. I am doing aerobics on machines 4x a week and walking or hiking most days between.

When I first arrived in town I needed 10 -11 hours of sleep a night and I was very cold all the time. That has diminished greatly and I am now back to near normal.

My strength and endurance are still very low. Last year I was able to do 60 strict push ups and 20 good chin-ups (grip with palm facing you).  After chemo/radiation I could only do about 14. I can't do any push-ups or pull-ups now due to the stress they put on my core which could cause a hernia due to the impact of the surgery. I need to continue with my slow build up until my core is well healed. At that time I will shift my emphasis to the core to build its strength back to normal. Core strength is key to overall strength and fitness.

And yes,  I am a fitness buff! I started studying last year for a new vocation as a fitness trainer with materials from the American College of Sport Medicine. Their program is considered the "gold standard" for fitness certifications. My illness has delayed my studies, but I will be resuming shortly. It is my intention to use my knowledge to help those over the age of forty become fit and healthy.

When I got out of surgery, I had lost so much muscle mass that I had loose skin hanging from my biceps. This was very shocking to me. Of the 14 pounds I lost I have gained about 5 back and the skin is tightening up, but still has a way to go. I am attempting to put the weight back on slowly at this point, since I want it as muscle, not fat.

In summary, I am back to near 100% as far as functionality is concerned. Meaning I can hike the trails including the steep ones, work in my yard, do gardening, etc. I would not consider lifting my body weight off the ground, doing a sit-up or riding a bike. (more on that later)

Chemo begins again June 4th. UGH.....


Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Support

As an older, single man without any living relatives a sense of loneliness can compound the challenges of dealing with a life threating illness. It is hard for me to put in words how important the interactions I had with the staff at IT and my old friends around the country who supported me through the treatment process. Thanks to my boss, Mike Ciri, I was able to work part time during the chemo/radiation treatment in Seattle. It was wonderful having a distraction to keep my mind off how I felt. Calling IT staff and checking in gave me a connectedness that kept me from feeling isolated living in a hotel in a town far away. I also made some new friends in Seattle. A son of one of my long time friends lives there with his wife Courtney. The last I saw Luke was over 20 years ago when he was only 10, but he and Courtney took me out to dinner and continued to check in with me during my stay.

The most difficult time for me so far has been the surgery. For that two long-time friends came to my rescue. Wally was there to deal with the surgery and hospitalization. Don came to relieve him and supported me through the recovery in the hotel until they took the last of the stitches out and then he escorted me home. These guys were life-savers.

I realize that this was very hard for both of them. They had never seen me sick like this. Wally had to deal with the extra long time I was in surgery and also sweat-out the extended time I had in the recovery room. Due to the challenges I had in surgery, I was very weak and sick the first couple of days after surgery. When I got sick he was there with the pan to throw-up in, not a nurse. In many ways I see it as an easier task to be sick then have to watch a good friend suffer.

Don, who has run, climbed mountains, hiked and played competitive volleyball with me had to deal with a very slow, stiff, sore, scrawny, old guy who could hardly move. He fixed meals, did dishes, shopped and joined me on my verrrrry slow walks. On the flight back I had terrible stomach pains where I couldn't walk more then a short distance without stopping. I broke out in a cold sweat from the pain. It has to be very difficult for a friend to see this and be unable to do anything about it.

Don and Wally, thank you so very, very much.

My Guardians
Wally Don
Wally Piotowski
Chippewa Falls, Wis.
Friend for 40+ years
Retired HS Biology teacher
Don Hernandez
Petersburg, AK
Friend for 30 years
Monday, May 07, 2007

Home and back to Work

Arrived back Seattle Friday the 4th around 3:00pm. Nice to be home. Feeling pretty stiff, but outside of not lifting anything heavy I can get around pretty well. The surgeon thought I would be able to run in another 2 weeks. Hard to visualize that at this time. However, considering the amount of cutting they did I feel fortunate to feel as good as I currently do.

I started working today (Monday). My plan is to just work afternoons this week and see how I feel. I have missed not being involved with the UAS community and especially all the great people in our department. It will be wonderful to get involved again.

I have about 4-6 weeks before they put me back on chemo. Due to the success of the previous chemo and radiation the tumor was shrunk to pea size. This greatly increase my 5 year survial odds. Doing the chemo will only make a small difference in my odds. (5%) Consequently, if I find it very dehabilitating I will stop the treatment.

But, that is for consideration at another time. My efforts now will be to get strong and put some muscle back on. I lost 14 pounds after being in the hospital for only 6 days. I wish I could say it was only fat, but it wasn't. My normal workout regime before surgery was to lift weights (hard) 2x week and do aerobics 4x-5x a week. When I got out of the hospital I had loose skin hanging from my biceps. I couldn't believe it. Fortunately, I am experienced at weight training so I know how to proceed. But, I don't expect at my age and body type I will be able to recover fully. It's a small price to pay for staying alive.

I am looking forward to seeing everyone around campus!
Sunday, April 29, 2007

Out of the Hospital

I had the operation April 19th and was released April 25th. My hospital time was not any fun.
However, they provided great care during my stay. It appears my surgery was very successful along
with an excellent pathology report. Very encouraging.

I am staying in the Baroness Hotel until I get my go ahead from the doctor which I expect may come
after my next appointment Thursday. I am walking about three times a day. Did my longest (and very
slow) hike today for about 1 hour with frequent stops. Backing off on the pain medication
rapidly. Today I was only using acetaminophen without any Percocet. Stiff and sore, but not too bad.

Weather has been great. Today was sunny and near 60 degrees. Flowers are blooming everywhere. Nice
time to be in Seattle.

Here are some pics that my friend Wally took at the arboretum while I was in the hospital.

Photo Album

Uploaded: Sun Apr 29 20:17:17 2007
by Barney Norwick

Photos of the Baroness.

Photo Album

Uploaded: Sun Apr 29 20:28:09 2007
by Barney Norwick
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Phase Two

I am leaving today for Seattle for the second stage in my treatment. I will be going to doctor appointments tomorrow and the surgery is scheduled for Thursday. The surgery is a common one so I don't expect any problems. My good friend Wally Piotrowski who I just visited in Wisconsin will be my patient advocate during the first 10 days. Another long-time friend, Don Hernandez from Petersburg, will join me for the next 10 days and escort me back to Juneau.

The surgery is expected to keep me in the hospital for 5 - 7 days. They want me to stay in Seattle for another 10 days to keep track of the healing process.

It should be a nice time to be in Seattle, with lots of the spring flowers blooming. I am hoping I will be able to function well enough to visit the arboretum. It should be beautiful this time of the year.

I don't have any major concerns about this phase. I am very confident of the surgeon and my oncologist. Virginia Mason is an excellent hospital where they provide very personalized care. My health is excellent and body is well prepared to deal with a major operation. My concerns lie more with the healing process and my gung-ho nature. I hope to work with a physical therapist to get  me on exercises that will help RESTRICT me. If I am given some borders I am less likely to hurt myself by doing too much. I need to make sure that I don't injury myself and set back my progress.

I will post again when I get out of the hospital.
Monday, April 16, 2007

Wisconsin Trip (Part II)

Arrived back home April 8th at 11pm. By 1am I was up sick with a nasty gastro bug. Laid me out for two days flat on my back. Another couple of days before I was functional. Ugh.... Welcome home!

However, the trip was great.
The first slideshow has pictures taken from my friends property in northern Wisconsin. The previous weblog showed the results we had with an automatic wildlife camera we had set up. You will see us in the following photos setting up the camera, view of the "food plot" where the camera was set, photo of me downloading the images to my computer,
Photo Album

Uploaded: Mon Apr 16 22:12:30 2007
by Barney Norwick
the road entering his property, the cabin, area where the maple syrup is cooked, view of the buckets, pictures of a beaver dam and other views of his property.
(A food plot is an area that has the trees removed so clover or plants that attract deer can be cultivated.)

I took Amtrak round trip between Seattle and Minneapolis. I found the trip to be relaxing with good food. The views were great through the Cascades and Glacier Park, but flat and brown the rest of the trip. Saw lots of wildlife including deer, elk, coyote, pheasant, antelope and the wildest of all - a 12 year old boy who mooned the train! God, I laughed when I saw that. I was so jealous of these 3 kids out on a trail in the woods having a great adventure and getting to moon a train full of tourists. Can youth get any better then that?

You also meet some interesting people since they seat you with other people in the dining car. At lunch one day I was sitting across from a young particle physicist (string theory was his specialty). Next to him was a gentleman who sponsored a professional wrestler and ran a recording studio. A couple of firsts for me.

The photos show the room I had which is called a "roomette". It is composed of two seats facing each other with a bunk that can be pulled down from above. The two seats make into a bed. Two people could sleep in the room, but the one in the top bunk better be about 5' tall and less then 100 lbs. The bed is very narrow. I had a terrible time sleeping on the train due to the motion. It had a very jerky sideways motion. Hard to sleep on my side in those conditions.

Photo Album

Uploaded: Mon Apr 16 22:40:02 2007
by Barney Norwick
Thursday, April 05, 2007

Wisconsin Trip (Part I)

Well, I thought I be telling everyone about the process of collecting maple sap to make syrup and showing lots of pictures of the big social gathering that is part of the process, but the weather changed those plans. For the sap to run the temperature needs to drop below freezing at night and warm-up during the day. The first weekend here it never dropped below 40. Finally the temperature did drop, but it dropped too much. Today its 16 degrees and blowing about 25 mph!. Brrrrrrrr.....

However, we still went up to the cabin and made some firewood and set up some cameras to take pictures of the wildlife. These cameras are waterproof andconfigured to take a photo based on movement. They use a flash at night.  Here are some critters the camera captured:

Photo Album

Uploaded: Thu Apr 5 09:05:44 2007
by Barney Norwick

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Taking a Vacation

While spending two months in a hotel room in Seattle may seem like a vacation to some people, the chemo and radiation took a bit of the fun out of the experience. Consequently, I decided I earned the right to do some  traveling. So, with the whole world open to me where do I plan on going - Wisconsin. OK, so this is not really about traveling, but enjoying the company of long-time friends.

I had hoped to help one of my friends with his operation making maple syrup, but this year turned out to be a bust. Instead of the usual 6-7 weeks of sap gathering it turned out to be only two before the weather warmed up too much. Oh well, we'll still have some fun playing around on his two hundred acres of woods.

I was hoping to dig into my MANY slides taken over the years from hunting, river boating, canoeing, sailing, fishing, hiking and work adventures, but I wasn't able to get to it. However, I have found a few samples that I scanned some time back, but they aren't very well done. I hope to do you better when I get back.

Here a few hunting, fishing and sailing photos for over the years. (We are going to make some enhancements in the slide show feature by summer that will include a description for each photo.) As you may notice, about the only picture where I don't have a beer in my hand is the one with the cane pole!

Fishing Hunting and Sailing
Photo Album

Uploaded: Tue Mar 27 20:55:55 2007
by Barney Norwick