Category Archives: Loika

Completely Cured!

As Alice and I prepare to celebrate Christmas Eve with my cousin Margaret Johnston, here’s a Christmas tale of good fortune and considerable divine providence to share:

On Monday morning, Dec. 12, after having my bladder and prostate removed, I met with surgeon urologist, Dr. Daniel Janoff.  When Janoff walked into my patient room, he looked directly at me, beamed and uttered two words summarizing my pathology report: “Completely cured!”

Omigod!  Am I hearing correctly?  Then, like a proper surgeon, he muttered, “Well, unless something microscopic gets through.”

That’s as good as it gets, and the insurance I bought into by undergoing major surgery seems to be worth this post-procedure pain and rigmarole.

Cancer Affects Everyone Differently

The elation I allow myself to feel adds to the joy of this 2016 holiday season and causes me to count my blessings.  How many cancer sufferers endure the diagnosis of a malignant body part without years of heartache, excruciating pain and mind-numbing self-doubt?  For many of them, they’re always looking over their shoulder dreading the day when it’s confirmed that cancer has made its way into other vital organs.

On the other hand, what are the ramifications to a cancer patient when he or she loses a reproductive organ?

At an art exhibit opening in Bucks County, I once became attracted to someone related to one of the most famous show-business families in America.  We were so instantaneously enraptured that we began making out passionately on the second floor of the Lambertville, NJ gallery next to the Delaware River, in full view of everyone there, and I entreated her to see me again.

Upon calling her for the first time, though, she expressed inconsolable shame at having contracted ovarian cancer, saying she was no longer a real woman because her ovaries were being surgically removed.  She asked that I never call her again, and hung up the phone.  What horrible expectations some of us have while fighting cancer!

Other friends and relatives have faced the “Big C” diagnosis with far worse implications and over a far-longer period of time.  Therefore, it makes sense for me to be stoic about sacrificing certain body parts.  After 73 years of life in this state of consciousness, I rationalize that some organs can be regarded as irrelevant.  Considering I was diagnosed with “high-grade” cancer – somewhere between Stage 3 and Stage 4 – this was no time to play coy with life choices.

Earlier This Year

My cancer ordeal started in March, after Providence primary care provider, Dr. Mathew Snodgrass, confirmed another in what was a series of urinary tract infections.  He referred me to Dr. Janoff, a master urologist/surgeon.  Janoff, one of the busiest surgeons I ever met, ordered a CT scan, and in May diagnosed my urinary problems as being caused by bladder cancer.

The wicked carcinoma, he said, was caused by the chemical additives U.S. cigarette manufacturers put into their products to enhance addiction.  Throughout life, I always concerned myself with lung cancer.  But bladder cancer?  No way, I thought!

That’s why I recoil whenever I see anyone smoking a cigarette, and I retreat as far as I can get from the sweet seductive scent of tobacco smoke.

Looking back, I am grateful.  My ordeal lasted only nine months.  How many other cancer sufferers can say the same?  My late uncle underwent years of deteriorating health from Lou Gehrig’s disease.  How can I put my health challenges on the same plane as his?

I am one lucky guy.

Undergoing Chemo

Janoff recommended that before surgery, I undergo four rounds of chemotherapy, and oncologist Dr. Daniel Gruenberg at Compass Oncology kept an eagle eye on my changing blood work.

Three-and-a-half months of intense chemotherapy – consisting of Cisplatin and Gemzar – followed in July through early October at Compass’s location adjacent to Providence St. Vincent Hospital.  When my white blood cell count dropped precipitously in September, an injection targeted my bone marrow to precipitate increased white cell formation.  The stratagem – although quite painful days later – worked, enabling me to finish the course of treatment.

The surgery followed, and its results are now a matter of record.

Alice has been my confidante and partner throughout, although she would have preferred to see if cannabis oil alone would cause me to turn the corner.  I decided otherwise, and she shares this victory without mollycoddling me through the rehabilitation process.

The future ahead, she declares, lies in writing my own book, and she asks that I focus more on such an effort.  She is right, because we cannot continue our lives without seeking some semblance of adequate compensation for my creative work.

But on the eve of another Christmas Day, it’s time to spread some holiday cheer with my personal accomplishment.  It’s no accident that Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve this year so whatever Jewish blood I inherited simultaneously shares season’s greetings with Christianity everywhere.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

RELEASED!

“They say ev’rything can be replaced
Yet ev’ry distance is not near
So I remember ev’ry face
Of ev’ry man who put me here

“I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

Bob Dylan

This photo was taken two days ago after I walked into Alice’s and my apartment on Portland, Oregon’s west side.

I am a post-operative rejuvenated human surviver after Dr. Daniel Janoff, an eminently qualified urologist, removed my diseased bladder, prostate and a nearby lymph node in an operating room at Providence St. Vincent’s Hospital on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

I am left to wonder what life will be like without ordinary manly attributes.  Will my creativity be compromised?  Will I be a shell of the man I once was?  Will I be fun to be around?

Well, the true relevance is being able to contemplate essential questions.  That’s a gift.  No matter my mood, at least today I ponder such questions in my Mason Loika way.

I am alive.  And a team of doctors and nurses in one of this nation’s great hospitals is responsible for that mean feat.

So let’s bless today and every breath I take.  I have been RELEASED.

Waxing Philosophical

My hair is coming back!  And my surgery takes place tomorrow morning, Tuesday, Nov. 29.

So what’s a one-time author and former lifestyle journalist to do?  Wax philosophical?

Yes, indeed, so here goes.

Recruited to Be a Christian

After I opted for surgery a few weeks ago a few weeks ago, my brother Chris phoned and asked, “Have you accepted our Lord, Jesus Christ, as your personal savior?”

I did not take the question well.  I responded by saying I went through the Christian born-again process at the age of 5.  My conversion to matters about the Cross took place in 1948 in a Hialeah, Fla. assembly hall on a Sunday evening.  My mother from English and Scottish descent, maiden name Johnston, had taken me to a Billy Graham crusade in a town infamous during the ’40s for notorious KKK-leaning denizens.

Graham’s ministry partner/music director was Cliff Barrows, who routinely set a tear-provoking introduction.  Well-rehearsed words and background music inspired me to walk down an aisle along with others to dedicate our lives to Christ.  With my penchant for singing in the shower, I eventually became a featured boy soprano on some of Miami’s more-notable, South Florida-produced religious TV programs.

At the age of 11, I attended the Columbus Boychoir School (now American Boychoir School) in Princeton, New Jersey, and played the piano for the First Presbyterian Church of Hialeah’s early-morning Sunday worship service.  Without question, I was regarded then as a Christian.

But eventually, my spiritual practice metamorphosed during my hippie years in Los Angeles at the same time I became a deejay for K-POT, where “you’re always one hit away from another hit away.”  I had my share of experiences in Southern California environs, some of which I’m planning to relate in my book, including becoming pals with three witches, one of whom worked in the district attorney’s office during Charles Manson’s reign of horror.

Looking Forth, Looking Back

Tonight, though, I come face to face with mortality, and I ask nobody in particular, “Was the promise of future everlasting life predicated on one Christian moment of testimony when I was a child?  That’s what Billy Graham promised the assemblage – and me – back then.

But looking back at what I became, a few childhood experiences where I witnessed men and women being denied basic human rights because of their skin color, or religious practices, affected me greatly.  It offended me even more than the pedophile encounter in Princeton.  And as I grew up, I shuddered when my peers uttered crude remarks to people unknown to them.  Unlike my brothers, I turned as brown as a berry on weekends on South Beach in the 1950s.  That physical characteristic taught me plenty before my tan faded.

My family still related to me back then as a fellow Caucasian.  Yet my musician father, Virgil, instructed the family to never make eye contact with an inhabitant of Miami’s Central Negro District when he drove us downtown.  This was at a time when he wrote arrangements and played trombone for Louis Armstrong!

After Virgil’s suicide, in 1960 a Native American Mohawk, Ed Walters, tried to court my mother and catered to my brothers and me.  Nevertheless that proud Mohawk was mercilessly humiliated in front of me and my brother, Jon, by two Village of Medley cops as we set off on an Everglades camping trip.  Granted, Ed was full of “fire water” at 9 in the morning, but yes indeed, I saw enough cruelty to turn my blood red.

Over 40 years later, I enthusiastically auditioned as an extra for the 2013 movie “The North Star.”  I wanted to portray a Quaker, but was cast instead as a cruel slave hunter, circa mid-1850s.  The historical movie was shot in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the northern end of the Underground Railroad.

(I hate to admit what a bad actor I was, because saying the N-word with bigoted passion turned out to be contrary to my Quakerism, even with a mostly black production crew urging me on.  The movie was released on schedule and, although you cannot identify me in the film, my name does appear in the credits.  I know, because I bought my own copy of “The North Star” through Comcast.)

Putting It in Perspective

But that’s all history.  As an openly professed devotee to meditation, I tell prospective joiners whereas prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening and opening oneself to a higher power.  I find contemplation without any set agenda to be a pure spiritual practice, capable of raising one’s self-awareness.  Albert Einstein’s spiritual leanings, I believe, are superior to much of the blather served up to spiritual wannabes.

That’s all the time I have left for musing, though.  In a few hours, urologist Daniel Janoff and his surgical team will perform a six-to-seven-hour operation – beginning at 7:30 am – to remove my bladder and prostate at St. Vincent Hospital in Portland.  I believe Creator will guide those hands to cut out the offending body parts and put the rest back together.

And if I’m approached by any more fervently proselytizing evangelicals as I face after-life issues, I will be tempted to tell them, “Please don’t bother me.  I’m Jewish.”

My father’s origins are wrapped in mystery, so it could be true.

Meanwhile, I live in the present.  Alice will keep my family and friends up to date with post-operative progress, and eventually I will write more – at least, I hope I do.  I continue to tell friends that I deserve to survive longer so I can irritate people for a substantial period of time.

With age, I evolved, and I trust my closest allies will entrust St. Peter to welcome me through the pearly gates when my time is up.  Personally, I will not deny Christ, but I intend to walk with arms outstretched welcoming the primordial ooze from whence I came.

Bodies might decay, but our spirits reign supreme forever.  The only request I have about my demise is that, when it’s time, the end shall be simple, straightforward and as painless as possible.

Like Danawa, Grandfather Many Crows, and others before me, the spirit in this body identified as Mason Loika will never die.  It shall pass over.

 

Surgery Looms Ahead

Chemo is done.  Finis.

I survived four rounds of chemotherapy without one bout of nausea.  My oncologist, Dr. Daniel R. Gruenberg, observed that I endured chemo better than 95 per cent of other patients who undergo the same cancer-killing infusions.  Score one for the Loika and Johnston genes!

What lies ahead, though, is a surgical date with urologist Dr. Daniel Janoff, ostensibly in mid-November, to remove my bladder and prostate.  A second opinion with a different surgeon seems to be all that lies between consciousness and a scalpel as I cross my T’s and dot my I’s.  What will life be like without the essential tools of procreation?  What will the effect be on my creative spirit?

Cannabis oil is quickly becoming a competitive industry in Oregon, as growers race to develop a product totally free of THC.
Cannabis oil is quickly becoming a competitive industry in Oregon, as growers race to develop a product totally free of THC.

Bladder Surgery, Cannabis Oil or Both?

Alice is opposed to the surgery.  She monitors my daily intake of cannabis oil, reputed to keep cancer cells at bay, in hopes I will change my mind and follow that approach instead.

I disagree, even though I have more questions than answers.  Sufficient evidence is being gathered that documents what Alice has learned: Cannabis oil helps fight cancer, but marijuana remains nationally labeled by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 substance.  Because it’s been so vilified by law enforcement, in vitro observations in the laboratory remain the only medically factual evidence.  Sufficient data must be gleaned through future human trials to learn precisely how much cannabis oil is needed to keep a high-grade cancer at bay.

The future suggests more-informed treatment options will be available for the next generation.  In the meantime, though, I suspect my bladder’s integrity is compromised beyond repair, and enough successful bladder-removal surgeries have been performed that the prognosis is good for me to aggravate the world for years to come.

But isn’t it a bitch to know my cancer was caused by chemicals added to American tobacco products to make cigarettes addictive, but such deadly tobacco products are still legal to purchase over the counter?  Whenever I see a sizable segment of the population huff and puff cigarettes here in Portland, I shudder at the future human cost.

Marijuana as Cancer Therapy

In the meantime, how many lives have been trashed through the enforcement of archaic marijuana possession laws that incorporate “Reefer Madness” propaganda into a ban on love, peace and happiness?  DEA’s diehards dispute current scientific studies with the same fervor as climate-change deniers.

My Medical Marijuana Card enables to purchase all kinds of marijuana products without being taxed.
My Medical Marijuana Card enables me to purchase all kinds of marijuana products without being taxed.

One great thing about living in Oregon: Medical and recreational cannabis is legal here.  Also, I now possess a valid Medical Marijuana Card.  That means my consumption can be discussed openly.

You might notice from recent photos that my hair has thinned considerably, although Dr. Gruenberg promises it will return.  Because I prepared for bouts of nausea, without any occurring, my weight is up 15 pounds!  Where’s the irony in that?

Local farmers are perfecting the process to completely remove THC from cannabis, because it’s been found to be a legitimate pain reliever.  But more data is needed to let cancer sufferers make informed alternate decisions that avoid surgery.  And I refuse to consider radiation.

In the meantime, what about Alice?

Alice’s Speech Continues to Progress

The woman who accosted me romantically six years ago is doing fine, but tremendously bored.  Some aspects of her stroke, though, have become a godsend.  Because of those invested in her therapy, as well as fellow couples comprised of a stroke survivor and caregiver, we occasionally encounter people who deal with the same issues.  Most of them are well educated and a joy to be around.

In late August, Alice and I attended another aphasia camp on Oregon picturesque coast.  As new hair grows in, I might not have to hide the top of my head.
In late August, Alice and I attended another Aphasia Network camp on Oregon’s picturesque coast. Self-consciousness caused me to wear a Cape May cap to hide my balding head..

We met a few of those at Alice’s aphasia camp that we attended on the Oregon coast the last weekend of August.  In addition, while Alice took a nap, I sat in a rowboat while two nubile physical therapists took over the vessel using muscle power and shoulder grease galore.  Should I feel ashamed to accede how idealistic, determined women can flaunt how much they are in better shape?  Before we left the dock, I bragged how well I could row, but I proved useless.

Alice had an encounter with a two-foot-high yellow pole while swerving to avoid being struck by a tractor-trailer.
Alice had an unexpected encounter with a two-foot-high yellow pole while swerving to avoid being struck by a tractor-trailer.

Alice Steers ‘Betsy’ Into a Pole

One last piece of news: Alice tore up our Ford Escape’s right-hand front panel against a two-foot-high yellow pole to avoid a tractor-trailer swinging its load wide.  For six days, our Ford Escape has been sitting in a repair shop waiting for The Hartford’s adjuster to approve its own surgery.  It will take a couple weeks before I can Uber again, so Alice and I are pinching pennies accordingly.

In the meantime, I can use this time to sit in front of my computer and write.  This post on my blog is long overdue, and I thank everyone for being patient while I find my writer’s cap again.

Pragmatically, I feel guilty about not making money to pay all the medical bills that are piling up, but I feel emotionally satisfied that I can renew my former identity as an author.  Who can say what the future will bring?

Only Creator knows.

The beast within

If Uncle Richard could see me now.

Frankly, it’s good he cannot; otherwise, he would be crestfallen.

I have bladder cancer.  And, according to urologist/surgeon Dr. Daniel Janoff, who specializes in this aspect of cellular malignancy at Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Portland, my 40 years of cigarette smoking – which ended on Nov. 14, 2000 because of an inspiration while visiting my now-late uncle – is to blame.

How could that be?  People who smoke are at risk for lung cancer – not this – right?

Wrong.  In my case, almost dead wrong.

But I’m lucky.  My cancer was caught early, due to a urinary tract infection (UTI) that required over two months of antibiotics.  Since I had a history of UTIs over 10 years in Pennsylvania – relegated by a urologist there as prostate-related – I underwent a standard surgical procedure here, known as a TURP.  While under the non-invasive laser, a tumor was detected and sent to pathology.

Janoff was quickly direct.  “You have cancer,” he announced, as a matter of fact.  I appreciate the news wasn’t sugarcoated.  And I am planning on following doctors’ orders and the road ahead.

Bladder cancer exposed

This particular grade of cancer is aggressive and vicious.  I write this post as a warning to anyone who smokes corporately manufactured cigarettes.

It’s not the nicotine that causes bladder cancer, Janoff says.  The chemical additives purposely put in cigarettes to enhance their addiction are to blame.

I credit the use of cannabis in 2000 for enabling me to quit tobacco products.  I even wrote a poem about it in 2006 dedicated to my uncle (the poem needs further editing to develop a more consistent meter, but it’s time for these preliminary lyrics to see the light of day):

“Muir Woods”©2006
by Mason Loika

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

Redwoods been ’round since time began,
Way before the first human,
Poisons can kill both trees and men,
The question’s not if but rather when,

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

Light up a monster and breathe deep the scent
How deep shall it go till the intrusion is spent
Enough is enough, how sick must you get?
Blocked windpipes and cancer are a good bet.

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

Next time you light up, better think again,
You won’t feel better, cigarettes ain’t your friend,
Wheezing and coughing, hear my point of view,
Smoking’s no good if it takes something from you!

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

The road ahead

I began the first of four rounds of chemotherapy on June 29; it continues Wednesday, July 6.  Each round consists of three weekly injections through my blood stream.  After the final injection, I am given a week off, preparing for the next round to begin.  That means each round takes four weeks.

Needless to say, chemo can get old in a short time.  But I will persevere, and eventually undergo a major operation in Portland.  How appropriate, eh?  Was I a real pisser growing up?  Irony serves as my dearest companion.

I sense that Creator became impatient with my lack of written copy for a book I had set my sights on producing.  This way, I am being given a divine deadline to meet.  Deadlines are a writer’s curse – as well as a blessing – because they force a writer with a work in progress to eventually say, “It’s done.”

Well, the work needs to be done, before I am done, right?  And so on Independence Day 2016, I announce that I will charge ahead – into the wonderful world of oblivion – because that’s how we were meant to live life.

As someone once wrote, “Growing old is not for wimps.”

Photo above by Spitzi.

Final installment added

My mother’s account of life with Virgil and the birth of all three sons has finally been posted.  You can read the final part at Part VIII.

The photo at the bottom of this post captures my grandfather, Mason, and grandmother, Grace, with their five offspring: Gladys, Richard, Grace Wiley, Bill and my mother, Thelma.

Oh yes, the small interloper sitting on a log is yours truly.  Alice placed this family picture in a frame, and it sits prominently on my dresser bureau.

(l-r, top) Gladys, Richard, Mason (grandpa), Grace Wiley, Bill, and Thelma Johnston. (sitting on log) gramdson Mason Loika.
(l-r, top) Gladys, Richard, Mason (grandpa), Grace Wiley, Bill, and Thelma Johnston. (sitting on log) gramdson Mason Loika.

 

 

Additions to Virgil’s Story

Over the last couple of weeks, I added two additional parts of Virgil’s story as chronicled by my mother, Thelma Johnston Loika.

The latest addition to the Loika family, brother Jonathan Virgil Loika, pictured above, would need less wintry gear in the new Florida climate.

Part VI was added two weeks ago; the latest, Part VII, earlier today.

Only one more part of my mom’s chronicle remains, and it ends with a final addition to the Loika family, Robert Christopher.  Perhaps he will feel inspired afterward to add his own two cents worth.

 

 

A Statement of Purpose

Take a good look at the photo above.  In 2002, I wrote and co-published my first book, Gulag to Rhapsody by Paul Tarko, and appeared with Paul at book signings.  My name appears on its cover below his, because Paul Tarko’s life mirrors an ideal protagonist for my narrative nonfiction account entailing more than 300 printed pages.

Because my father, who took his life when I was 16, had an honorable lineage in Hungary, writing about Paul – 43 years later – reconnected me with my Hungarian/Romanian heritage.

The picture above is apropos, because my purpose in Oregon is to reappear in a similarly posed photo – this time, alone.  Alice brought me here to write another book – this time, about my own life.  “Write what you know best,” I once was coached by a writing instructor.  My life is what I know best; accordingly, I am destined to be its sole author.

I am here at the behest of Alice McCormick, who shed tears upon reading my early poetry, calling me a good writer.  Considering how writers/authors must endure a modest existence as part of their nature, I need to use my new location well.

Throughout all our struggles, Alice sees the best in precarious situations, and this attitude tempers my dark depression when it comes to our finances.  Whether it’s blissful unawareness or an unwillingness to comprehend simple math, she answers frequent moods of bottom-line depression with the kneejerk retort, “Well, everyone is in debt.”

I find her logic difficult to refute.  Her steady, rosy attitude snaps me out of darkness, because I am forced to dampen a torrent of fierce impatience.  Brightening my mood remains a constant challenge for her.

Frequently, I become so preposterous that Alice cracks up.
Frequently, I become so preposterous that Alice cracks up.

Sometimes, I make her laugh.  Other times, I frustrate her and exasperation leads into loquaciousness; on occasion, she expresses an emotional soliloquy without the usual speech aphasia frustrations from her stroke in March.  Whenever she appears to take one step back, she advances two steps.  And I rejoice!

I unintentionally piss her off for such breakthroughs to occur.  But I fervently wish our exchanges would not be so tempestuous, because emotionally they’re hard on me.

The last five weeks were a challenge.  I spent five days a week as an Uber driver beating the bushes for passengers in Portland, and at times its well-publicized phenomenon appeared to be slacking off.  Uber continues to seek more drivers, diluting demand; in its defense the “ride-sharing” service is also lowering the wait time for passengers who order its transportation on their smartphones.

The influx of revenue has enabled us to build up the required security deposit to move to an affordable apartment with a year-long lease.  And last week, I secured the funds to hire someone to move our possessions.

These added resources come with a heavy price, though.  Most days I am no longer home to work with Alice on speech exercises, so her path forward becomes lonely and treacherous.  She misses our camaraderie and stays to herself.

Creator gave me Alice.  Every time I get too full of myself, she brings me back down to size.  My head often gets too big for such a fragile body, so it seems like it’s her mission to make my personality tolerable.

Alice brought me to Oregon with a purpose: She would work in childcare, and I would write my next book.  Two weeks ago, the Hillsboro manager of KinderCare gave Alice a regular two-hour-a-day morning shift five days a week, and she began managing the babies and infants there with playful enthusiasm.

We are trying to lessen how much I drive, so I can be here to support Alice’s recovery while renewing a regular daily writing schedule.  There is much work to do to create a book about myself and my family background.  The pages on this website entitled “Virgil’s Story” are a sample of what is to appear in print.

In early August, Alice received a financial token of support from her best friend to help us.  We acknowledge the feelings expressed, and we promise to keep moving forward.

I have a working title for the book, which has been shared with only a few.  My close confidantes express support for the project, but it’s up to me to write the book and get a prospective publisher excited.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and proceed with the confidence that comes with following a well-traveled plan of action.  But every day offers a new challenge, so both of us keep putting one foot in front of the other.

For the next couple weeks, this website will not be updated until our move to new digs is complete and Internet service reestablished.  Stay tuned.