It’s Showtime…Again

Here we go again.

The call came in at about 4:30 from Admissions at HUP. Bed ready. Report for chemo right away. Yes, sir!

We got to the hospital to find out that I was assigned to a shared room, which means that Jacqui cannot stay the night with me. The amazing nurses here on Rhoads 6 promised to switch me into a private room at noon tomorrow. A pregnant belly goes a long way in these parts. I’ll have instant messenger opened all night, plus my phone on, so Jacqui can contact me at any time.

As happy as I am to be back on the road to de-lymphomatization, I am not happy being back in the hospital, especially since that means a night away from Jacqui, and a few nights away from Otis. Plus we have water in our basement, and a parade of plumbers later, we have determined that the leak is external, and tomorrow the foundation guy comes. Don’t we have enough on our plate?! At least the exorcism peformed last week seems to be working.

This treatment is a little different from the last one. Tonight they’ll start me on Rituximab, and by early morning I’ll get my chemo chaser–a 24 hour drip of a nasty drug called methotrexate, for which they give me a secondary drug to help me secrete it. I can’t leave the hospital until the meth… is almost completely secreted. After the meth… is done, I get a different chemo, the name of which I am forgetting, for 2 days. Then I should be free to go home, maybe late Saturday night, but in all likelihood, Sunday morning.

I’ve been getting nice comments on the new bald Mike look, but I’d, of course, rather have a full head of hair. The strangest part of being bald is that my head gets cold, so as it gets cooler out I’ll definitely be switching back to the bandana and other head gear. I’ve got a bunch of new hats and such to take me through the winter. Here’s one…

Bald Mike (or Jeez, My Head is Cold)

Hair is now gone. Over the weekend, with just a few wisps of hair left, I started to look like a cross between Homer Simpson and Darth Vader under the helmet. Not a good look.

So last night, not wanting to spend the next six months underneath a hat or a bandana, I took out the clippers and shaved the giant Yudell head. The photo that follows may be shocking at first, but I do a mean Kojak imitation… “Who loves ya, baby?”

Once completely shaved, I discovered that Jews really do have horns. I have two moles on opposite sides of the back of my head that are located where it looks like my horns once were, cut down to little stubs. Mom, is there something you’ve been wanting to tell me all these years?

So what do you think? Who do I look like bald?

a) Telly Savalas;

b) Yul Brenner;

c) Sinead O’Connor;

d) Andre Agassi; or

e) Mr. Clean

Post your responses.

I go back in for the next round of chemo either tonight or tomorrow. Feeling great (save being a little tired in the mornings), and looking forward to getting a little closer to having this behind me.

Bad Hair Day

I am not a particularly vain person. I am a casual dresser (although I’ve been known to buy a nice suit here and there), I think botox and plastic surgery are signs of the apocalypse, and I know that my nose sits somewhere on the schnoz-scale between Cyrano De Bergerac and Jimmy Durante. Having lost a few pounds from puking last week, my proboscis is looking especially large these last few days.

But I have to admit that the thing I have found most repugnant about chemotherapy, even worse than the vomiting and neutropenic fevers, is the fact that I am going to be as bald as a baby’s bottom by this time next week. I know, I know, it all grows back. Thicker they say. And maybe even of a different texture. But at 38 I still have a great head of hair, and watching the remnants of my mane take the long, circular march down the drain each morning, and knowing that I am just days away from looking like Kojak on a bad day, stinks. I know it’s all for the ever-important cause of de-lymphomatization, but still. Couldn’t the makers of chemotherapy have come up with a different side effect? Like instant six-pack abs, X-ray vision, or the ability to travel back in time to set right what once went wrong (insert George Bush joke here).

On Monday night at dinner my scalp started feeling tingly, and by the time I got home, my temporary membership in the “Hair Club For Men” was already active. Just a simple tug at the follicles, and out would come a small clump. After a visit to Jacqui’s OB/GYN the next morning, where we listened to our baby’s beautiful heartbeat, we headed off to the barber. When our baby is born in just 2 1/2 months, he or she will have more hair than me.

Teri, my barber, gave me my chemo-cut on the house. Just another example of the wonderful acts of generosity and kindness that, despite the discomfort of chemo, have made the last few weeks extraordinary. I can’t wait to pay for a haircut again in 6 months or so. That will be a good day.


This photo was taken of Jacq and I just before the big cut. Notice the extra-thick hair.


Uh, oh. Do I really want to do this, or do I want to wake up tomorrow with all my hair on my pillow?


Ah, the unibeard. A good look if it was 1994!


Thanks, Teri! See you in 6 or 7 months with a big ‘ole mop of hair.

Mmmmm… New York Bagels

Having lymphoma has some benefits, I’ve found out.

Some of them are fairly obvious; gifts from friends, old and new, which has resulted in a stack of DVDs several feet high and the rapid expansion of my personal library.

Then there have been the acts of kindness and generosity. Friends bringing over meals, visits in the hospital, my cousin Emily starting a fundraiser (see earlier blog), offers by almost every last Philadelphian to walk Otis, my barber giving me my chemo cut on the house (tune in tomorrow for that story), and my colleagues at the Drexel Univ. School of Public Health offering to do whatever they can to ease any work-related challenges.

I have to admit though, that one of the most touching gifts came on Tuesday from a new friend, Carolyn Razanno, who is the Chapter Development Program Associate at the Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF), the nations largest non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and research dollars for lymphoma: (http://www.lymphoma.org/site/pp.asp?c=bfIKIVMIG&b=36832). As some of you know, I am currently President of the LRF’s Delaware Valley Chapter, and Carolyn has been among those helping me with the logistics of getting the chapter off the ground.

As we chatted at our Chapter’s first organizational meeting a month ago, I complained loudly about the poor quality of bagels, knishes, matzo ball soup, and other Jewish foodstuffs in the Philadelphia area. Carolyn must have been listening, because the day after I got out of the hospital, two dozen delicous New York bagels arrived at my door like manna from Heaven delivered by the UPS man. Jacqui, her dad, and I have been feasting on bagels and cream cheese ever since. Thanks, Carolyn. You made my day. Now if one of you can get Zabars to open in Center City Philadelphia…

A final note, I am feeling great. Went to the gym tonight, have been sleeping well (save the strange sensation when I wake-up that I need to wheel my IV with me into the bathroom), and am looking forward to a relaxing chemo- and neutropenic-free weekend.

Going Home

White blood cells well on the road back to normal. I am no longer welcomed at Penn (for the moment, at least). Time to take care of my pregnant wife (who, at almost seven months pregnant, slept by my side on an air mattress every night in the hospital), go to the beach for a walk with Otis, and eat lots of sushi. Next treatment scheduled for late next week. Until then…

My Cousin Emily


It’s been a good day. No fever. Blood count rising. And Chad Pennington’s arm looked good in today’s NY Jets’ season opening victory. J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS! Still, I am more likely to wake up lymphoma-free tomorrow morning than the Jets are to win the Superbowl this year. Oh, well. More important things to focus on at the moment.

With me in the above photo is my cousin Emily. She, her siblings Steve, Greg, and Meaghan, and their parents Rob and Margot, are my home away from home in Los Angeles and I miss them always. Since college I’ve tried to visit them as often as I can, and with six months of treatment ahead, I probably won’t get to see them all until later on next year.

Emily, who started the seventh-grade this past week, is so special to me. Whether it’s been our trips to Zuma beach in LA, talking on the phone, or flying her to Florida to spend a week with my family, Emily and I are always laughing and joking. I know that its been hard for her to learn of my lymphoma diagnosis, and I wish I could just fly to Los Angeles to give her a big, reassuring hug.

Emily has not run away from my diagnosis, or seemed paralyzed with fear of my treatment. Instead, last week, Emily and her friend Charlotte started a fundraiser in her neighborhood for lymphoma research. First, she called me and asked where to donate the money raised (I told her the Lymphoma Research Foundation, which has a fund dedicated specifically to support research on my subtype of lymphoma: http://www.lymphoma.org/). She and her friend designed a flyer that they put in mailboxes, on stop signs, bulletin boards, etc. around her neighborhood. In just one week Emily and Charlotte have raised almost $300 for lymphoma research.

Emily’s initiative, and her dedication to doing what she can to make me better has touched me at such a fundamental level that I almost do not know what to say to her other than thank you and I love you. Emily, you are wise and caring beyond your years, and I am lucky to have you in my life.

The Unshaven Face of Neutropenia


With my white blood count now hovering at .3 (a jump from yesterday’s low of .2), and the high fevers gone, I am on the mend and feeling much, much better today. Jacqui and I both had good sleep last night, and had a nice nap together in my hospital bed this afternoon. Jacq and my mom are at home now making me dinner, given that the hospital’s version of dinner looked like something I barfed up earlier in the week. No thanks, I’ll pass.

Last night and today Jacqui’s old pal Ivy was in for a visit solely for the purpose of bringing me delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies, which, I’ve been told, are a scientifically proven way to reverse neutropenia and enhance the beneficial effects of chemotherapy. Thanks, Ivy! For those of you out there wondering, brownies (without nuts) are also known to do the same.

Here’s a nice shot from earlier today of (left to right) Ivy, my mom, and Jacq. Check out Jacq’s belly. Little junior is growing by leaps and bounds. Also notice, that despite the fact that her son is stuck in the hospital with chemo-induced neutropenia, my mom is actually smiling. Go mom! It’s gotta suck watching your son be poisoned to save his life. One day we’ll look back on this together and vomit.


Zombie Breakfast

Fever broke at 7am. Feeling much better. Blood count dropped even further, but will start bouncing back over the weekend.

My doctor, who we adore, joined us for breakfast in my room this morning. We love chatting with him, but having slept just a few hours, and having sweat off 40% of my body weight, I could barely stay awake. We filled him up with an omlette and some coffee, and sent him off to do rounds. Godspeed Doctor Stephen J. Schuster. Keep up the good work!

My Dad, The Comedian


It’s almost 6am and I am riding out a neutropenic fever that got up to 103. Totally normal for why I am here, and I am now sweating it off like Richard Simmon’s “Sweating to the Oldies,” save the dancing Richard in tiny shorts and tank-top with the bad 80’s moves.

Many of you have sent emails and left postings commending me for my great attitude and sense of humor through this all. I told you in an earlier posting that for me this is the only option, “that the best way for me to slay this beast is with determination, optimism, and laughter.” Lying awake, sweating off a fever, I suppose is as good a time as any to reflect on where my attitude comes from.

Almost eight years ago my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He has survived this often deadly disease, and despite a few speed bumps along the way, continues to be successful in his career, win a club golf tournament or two, and remain the number one Sunday buffet-eater in South Florida.

That my father and I now share a cancer diagnosis is probably no accident. We share genes, a nearly identical environment from my birth to when I left for college, and a penchant for sprinkling asbestos on our ice cream sundaes. Research has even suggested some type of link between lymphoma and kidney cancer.

But the more interesting link for me is the relationship between adversity and humor that I have taken from my father’s own challenges. Just after he was diagnosed, I tried to publish the below piece on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” They were planning on bringing me in to record, and then someone was worried that their listeners, including cancer patients and their families, wouldn’t find cancer funny. They missed the point of the piece. Cancer is not funny. Life is.

So thanks dad, for amazing survival skills. Read on folks:

MY DAD, THE COMEDIAN

By Michael Yudell

My dad, to no avail, has always wanted to be a comedian. Once, in a moment of humorless desperation, he answered a newspaper ad for comedy lessons. I discouraged him from following up on it, convinced that any comedian with the time to give private lessons was a hack, and probably had a repertoire filled with dated 1950s borscht belt humor, or, even worse, knock-knock jokes.

I imagined my father at a family gathering, his material fresh from that afternoon’s comedy lesson:

My father: Knock-Knock
Me: Come on, dad, I’m not five.
My father: (with the conviction of a professional) Knock! Knock!
Me: Dad?!?
My mother: Michael, just humor your father!
Me: Give me break! This is the seventh knock-knock joke of the night.
My father: (Dejected) Knock, knock.

Over the years my father has had his comedic moments–even without the assistance of a comedy professional. It usually happens on car trips, when we’re all together, too many of us crammed into the back seat of my parent’s car. He’ll have our rapt attention for a few minutes of good standup, soothing the soul of our dysfunctional clan. But instead of saying “thanks, you’ve been a great audience, goodnight!” he inevitably starts laughing the loudest at his own jokes, a sure sign of comedic hara-kiri, and quickly our guffaws and cackles turn into pleas for him to stop, or even the occasional threat by one of us to jump out of the speeding car.

There was nothing funny about my dad’s diagnosis with kidney cancer a few months ago. He required immediate surgery. It was, the doctors said, his only option. Kidney cancer is an often untreatable malignancy, and if the disease has spread, it is often deadly. That made the two weeks following the tumor’s discovery until surgery and prognosis an incredibly painful time. I was terrified. I had never really considered my dad’s mortality, and had never thought that I could be denied the chance to share with my father the watersheds of adulthood, the joys and growing pains of life.

The day of the surgery came quickly, and all of us were extremely tense as we accompanied my father to pre-op, asking the doctors the same questions over and over again in a repetitive stupor. My father, meanwhile, spent his time nervously asking the young looking doctor how old he was, as if convinced that he was sixteen and held the Doogie Howser Chair in Anesthesiology. I thought I was going to vomit as I watched the nurse and doctor wheel my father away. I remember it all now in slow motion, like a bad movie. My dad slowly extending his hand toward us in a dramatic “everything is going to be OK” gesture. Then watching him look up at the young doctor, saying with as much energy as his drug induced body could muster: “Take me to your leader!”

I’m still not sure whether it was the fear or the morphine, but in the hospital my dad was hilarious, snapping off one liners that might land him a gig at The Improv, or maybe even qualify him for a membership at the Friar’s Club. Was cancer then the secret to his comedy? Would comedians hear of this cancer-comedy symbiosis and rush to my father’s bedside to nourish their comedy reservoirs? I imagined the comedy great Milton Berle, who, after all, discovered the relationship between comedy and cross-dressing, honoring my father and his discovery.

At a Friar’s Club Roast Berle, chewing on his cigar, would say: “We’d like to welcome into the Friar’s Club fold comedy genius Allen Yudell, who will always be recognized for discovering the relationship between humor and a good tumor.” (ba-dum-dum) My father would rise, cheered on by his new comedy colleagues, and walk to the dais victoriously holding his blighted kidney high above his head, stopping to shake a few hands, and show those who could stomach the sight, the tumor that had destroyed his now former kidney. Once on stage my father would thank the audience and remind them just how funny life could be. He’d then go into his routine, briefly heating up the audience. But like our car trips before, the jokes would quickly deteriorate and the Friar’s “hook” would have to be deployed.

In the wake of this near tragedy I’ve realized that the root of my father’s comedy prowess lay not so much in fear or in a drug induced stupor, but in his ability to disarm a tense situation. In a packed car he always worked hard to neutralize some battle that was flaring up among his children in the back seat, or between any of us and my mother. In the hospital, he saw the look of terror in our eyes, worried that we might lose him to a virulent disease, and the jokes sprang forth.

I know that the jokes to come will be excruciating, mind numbing at times. But I’d sooner sit through a barrage of bad knock-knock jokes than a right radical nephrectomy any time.

Hey dad, know any good Buddy Hacket jokes?

Neutropenia Here I Come

Sure glad we didn’t go to the Cape. I don’t want to knock Cape Cod medicine, but it would have been a rough week if we were up there. Lobsters and low white blood cell counts don’t go well together.

After gaining strength for the last few days and getting briefly out of the house a few times, the predicted white blood count drop (called neutropenia) came late last night/early this morning, and I have made a triumphant return to the Hospital at Penn. We got here early this morning, and they kept me in the ER for 10 hours until a bed opened up. 10 hours of listening to the lunatic in the ER room next to me scream for help, bang her arms on her bed, and yell at the doctors and nurses. I was also examined by 17 doctors, 25 nurses, 15 medical students, and the UPenn Quaker Mascot. Ah, life in a teaching hospital.

We finally got up to a room at 4pm, and now we wait for my blood count to come back up. It may take a few more days of uncomfortable IVs, multiple blood draws, and getting weighed at 6am, but this is all part of the important and ongoing process of de-lymphomatization. A good cause with a steep price. I need a vacation.

By the way, today’s white blood count winning guess was .8 or 800 white blood cells per cubic millimeter. Congratulations Sabine Eustache, my doctoral student and colleague at the Drexel University School of Public Health. A BBQ for you in the next few weeks.