Update from Costa Rica

Get yourself a cup of coffee. This is a long one.

It’s been a long time since the last blog. We have been in Costa Rica since January 4th. Missed all the really cold weather. It’s generally 25 degrees every day here so Linda is happy.

This is a cancer blog. No more taking about the weather.

A lot of progress has been made as far as recovery is concerned but it’s mostly pretty subtle and slow. I will detail some of that for those readers who want to know how recovery progresses.

But first, let’s get to the surfing. Isn’t that why I am here? The idea is that if I enjoy surfing enough I can make it my new sport  so Linda can enjoy the sunshine and flowers and have more summer in her  life. So far her plan is working.

Those  of you who are my Facebook friends already know I am getting up on the surfboard and looking like an old man learning to surf. I like it. It’s hard to do but not impossible. I have taken seven private lessons and have made good progress. On the last day my instructor’s friend did a video of me that is almost ready to go on you tube. It’s well done and makes me look like a an old man who could eventually learn the basics of surfing. Actually being a good surfer would be a whole different unattainable realm.

But I am hooked. Bought the Tamarindo Surf boarder T-shirt. And proudly wear a hat that says, “I surfed Costa Rica.” I am even reading “Barbarian Days: a surfers life”. It is a book that won a Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography. It’s high on Barrack Obama’s  reading list in 2016. Did you know he is a voracious reader? 79 books just last year. Mostly novels.

I was worried that I would not be strong enough to learn to surf and that was almost true. I needed a day of rest  to recover after each time out on the water. Each session was two hours long and by the last few  sessions I did not need the to break up the two hours with shore time. I am definitely much stronger now. It’s amazing how the body responds when you put big demands on it.

It also turned out that at Tamarindo beach we could walk out in the water far enough to surf so there was not much paddling. It’s the paddling out to the waves that is exhausting. So I was lucky on that count. The next places I go, Jaco, also in Costa Rica and Playa Venao, in Panama, may not be so easy on me.

That I am stronger is a good thing but it does not mean I have recovered or that my life has not been changed, probably forever.

Let me put it to you in terms you will likely understand.

I can’t drink beer. Can’t drink wine. No hard liquor. Probably never will. True fact.

My throat is still tender, so the alcohol has a sharp bite. Also, my taste buds have changed so my days of being a wine conniseur are over. Ha ha.

The taste buds may come back but apparently most throat or tongue cancer patients never do  get back to their old drinking habits. Probably a good thing for me. I used to have a drink or three every night and more on weekends.  I guess I am that designated driver guy now.

And eating or rather swallowing will continue to be an issue. Actually my swallowing  has improved since we got here but I can see that I will never eat like I used to.

The food I chew just does not want to go down. I chew but there is not enough moisture from my lower saliva glands to carry  it down my throat. So I often have to use a swig  of water to get the food to go down. Also, the saliva glands at the back  and top of my mouth which were less affected by the radiation actually produce a thicker more mucus like saliva. That mucus collects with some of the food and just clogs up the back of my throat after each swallow. Somehow water does  it clear it away immediately and I often find myself clearing my throat and spitting to get rid of the junk, especially after meals. Sort of disgusting. I disguise it well in polite company so don’t worry we can still have dinner together.

The saliva issues mean that food sticks to my teeth and gums so I have to swish a lot of water after each meal to clean my mouth out. And the gunk at the top of my throat often backs up into my mouth. It’s food, so no big deal but it’s a bother.

It is also not uncommon for bits of food to back up into my  nasal passages and cause my nose to run like I have a bad cold. Two or three kleenex’s later I am OK. I do not use much Kleenex at all compared  to the bad old days.

Food particles in my nasal passages can also cause me to sneeze suddenly and uncontrollably. Particles can sometimes be ejected from my nose in an untimely manner. Also disgusting.

There has been slow steady improvements. My swallowing is better but as I have said before even with better saliva my throat has lost some of its sensitivity and I will continue to aspirated or choke  a bit every now and then to stop the aspirations. (Food or moisture going down my wind pipe)

We will see how it goes. I still have five more months to the anniversary of the end of radiation. Where I am at then should be my new normal.

I have gained some weight. Was 146 lbs coming here and now I see some fat starting to collect again on my stomach. Welcome and not welcome at the same time.

We have been eating some great meals in Costa Rica. Eating may be challenging but what I do eat is great food. Linda feeds me well there are great restaurants. My favourite meal is now ribs. Mmmm! We eat three good meals a day and I still down two Ensures or a smoothly every day. Trying to keep my calorie intake just below 2,500. I would guess I wiegh about 152 now. I would be happy at 155 or 160 with more muscle.

i hope some of my recent gains are from muscle. I am still on my high intensity interval training (HIIT)  program. That is building up muscle. Since we left Tamarimdo about 6 days ago I can’t surf so I do HIIT. It is short bursts of high intensity exercise  and intermittent rest that I do for 20 minutes. I am up to  26 good push ups now. From only 4 in late November.

I know that most of you think I am pushing myself too hard but I am not. Remember the physiotherapist who does research on exercise and cancer patients. She told me I could get back to the former me if I worked at it. I am working but also resting. (Yoga) I was in great shape when cancer hit me. I lost 30 pounds of mostly muscle so I have a long way to go.

My first recovery goal was to surf in Tamarjndo. Met that. Next goal is to go on a cat ski snowboard trip in March with the guys I was with the days before I was told I had cancer. I think I will be strong enough. The next goal is to be able ride with the F’n riders again. That gang of mountain bikers are super fit. Give me a year.

I did go on mountain bike ride here in Atenas. A young Costarican  working on Lorna and George’s property had a nice new Scott mountain bike so I paid him for its use and went out for an hour of not too hard riding. It was nice to be riding again.

Enough about fitness. Let’s talk about what normal is these days.

There are still teeth cleaning issues do discuss. I have brush my teeth after every meal to clean and protect them. Remember radiation is the enemy of teeth.

And my mouth always tastes kind of funky. Not sure why. The gunk in my throat I guess. I drink a lot of club soda and Perrier water with meals, and after because the fizz seems like it’s cleaning my mouth.

I also chew a lot of gum. Trident is my favorite. It generates saliva and takes the gunk taste away die a while.

The real discipline I have cultivated is giving myself a flouride treatment every day. Gotta keep those teeth healthy.

My new friend Freda, a one of my mother’s bridge partners, and tongue cancer survivor, broke a tooth last month. They fixed it for her but we know that our teeth are not the same as before radiation got to them.

Bowl movements? Every three days seems normal now, whereas it used to be once a day.

Sleep? I sleep well now. Again, something to be thankful for.

Be aware that now that I have decided to publish this blog in book form for new oral cancer patients to read I have decided that getting all the detail down, as gross as it might be, is important. They will want to know everything they might expect to have to experience.

Also new for us in Costa Rica is going to bed early and getting up at 6:00 with the sun. Nice sunrises. And I have recommitted to a daily yoga program which I do, first thing every morning.

I do  a yoga program which I learned from a book called Power Yoga. I have done it off and on, mostly off, for many years. In Tamarindo I attended a Power Yoga class with an advanced group of young women who inspired me (and  fascinated me) with their flexibility. Actually I  was pleasantly surprised at how well I kept up with those pretzel girls.

Pretty well for an old man. It is surprising how your body responds if you continually tell it to work.

How is Linda? She loves Costa Rica. Loves the sun and the flowers. Also loves the people. She speaks Spanish fairly well so she engages easily. She loves the farmers’ market.

We are enjoying visiting with her twin sister Lorna and her husband George. They have recently moved to Atenas from Atlanta, Georgia.

Lorna has had heart problems this year, now under control. Just after arriving in November, she broke her ankle.

She is recovering nicely from that as well. She is now walking without assistance. She is showing remarkable resilience. George has started to experience Vertigo. He too is remarkably resilient and carries on despite the Vertigo.

Resilience seems to be a theme here. Take it, make the best of if, carry on and don’t quit.
Too bad George and Lorna did not blog about their move here. It would have been a rich story.

That is another thing happening. I am exploring my options for turning my blog into a book.
If any of you have experience or advice on how to do that I would welcome your input.

Our hope is that the book will find an audience with new oral cancer patients and their professional care givers. Apparently over 50,000 people in the USA get my kind of cancer every year, up to 100,000 if you broaden the category.

It is time to start immunizing boys, not just girls against HPV cancers. Women typically get cervical cancer while men get throat cancer. And it is sexually transmitted.

Sex life. Another casualty of cancer recovery. That too comes back slowly. More on that next blog. Nah. Just kidding.

Meanwhile check out the video  of me surfing. It will be on you tube shortly under:

69 year old man learns to surf in Costa Rica

I had a great instructor; Julio from the Costa Rica Surf Club.

Linda’s plan to turn me into a surfer as an alternative to snowboarding is working.



13 thoughts on “Update from Costa Rica

  1. Hi John: Been off fighting my own health problems for a while; too tired to e-mail. BUT
    I am slowly getting back energy, also. Not up to your pace–that’s for sure–but enjoying the things I’m able to do again very much. Hope your time in Panama will be great.
    Will you be in Edmonton in mid March?
    So pleased that you and Linda (and Lorna and George) are enjoying their new world in
    Costa Rica! Freda Wapple

    1. Thank you Freda
      Always great to hear from you and know that you are following my progress with interest.

  2. Wow, so nice to be caught up. Things are sounding good and I’m so happy you’re spending this horrible winter in Costa Rica. Hoping your blog will inspire Sandy to stay positive. Loved our time in California, not so happy to be back. Snow storm and housebound.

    1. Hey Rita, sorry i have not responded to this. I had a wordpress problem that just got solved this morning. Could not approve comments or respond to them till today.
      Thanks for allways being there for me and expressing your best wishes on the blog. Thanks also for being there for my brother as he deals with his tinnitus issues. I would rather have gone through what i did than what he has to contend with. He is lucky he has you, as I am equally fortunte to have Linda to help me through this. Love.

  3. Bravo Hombre! I love reading about anything but the cancer. But I know, that’s not what the blog is about. Maybe I should sign up for Facebook?

  4. Sounds like you are bouncing back pretty well…..if you are going to see Gary and Shenta in Panama give them my love! Have fun…I’ll be hiking in Cuba!

    1. Not exactly bouncing but I am back.
      We see Gary and Shenta in a couple of weeks.
      Enjoy Cuba! Nice life you got going on.

  5. Google Tara Torchia-Wells. She is a Winnipeg breast cancer survivor who turned her blog into a book, The Compression Garment Diaries. I was given the book when I was diagnosed. She has now opened a store on Portage Avenue called The Unexpected Gift which is a one stop shop for all women and I guess men going through treatment. I am very glad to hear you are doing so well. I will check out your video on You Tube.

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