I have a confession to make…I am broken. Not completely, but there are days that sure feel that way. Why am I broken? Let me explain.
On January 11th of 2018 I ended up in the Emergency Room with severe back pain. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I did know that I hurt worse than I had ever hurt in my life. The pain was unbearable. What was causing it? I had a 12 cm tumor that had wrapped around the tube between my left kidney and my bladder. In short, my left kidney was not able to drain. Ouch.
I remember when the ER doctor walked in. His face was somber. He told me the news. I took the news without much reaction. I have had cancer once before in my life…the same kind of cancer…so, I guess I had an idea of what to expect. They got my immediate needs taken care of at the ER and referred me to an oncologist for further evaluation.
It took about a month to get in with the oncologist. In that time the blood tests/tumor markers more than doubled in severity. I wasn’t just sick, I was very sick. My oncologist didn’t tell me at the time, but he was uncertain how treatable this cancer would be. (I am glad he didn’t tell me any more than I needed to know!)
Between February of 2018 and April of 2018 I was in the hospital for 24 days for chemotherapy. My body that had always (most always) been robust and strong was being stripped of strength and vitality. During my fourth round of chemotherapy I did not eat at all. I was having such an extreme reaction, I decided to go on a liquid diet. By the time chemotherapy was complete I had lost 27 pounds.
After my chemotherapy treatments were complete, I had to heal up for 6 weeks before I could have the remainder of my tumor removed. In the first part of June 2018 I checked into the hospital to have all of the lymph nodes in my abdomen, including the tumor, (and possibly my left kidney) removed. The surgery went as planned and I now had a huge scar from my sternum to my waist to remind me that I am alive and I should be thankful.
One of the things that came out of my initial diagnosis and chemotherapy treatment plan was some spots in my lower spine where the cancer had gotten into the bone. Chemotherapy can work on cancer that has gotten into the bone, but as the bone is not vascular (no blood flow) the chemo can’t get into it like it can the rest of the body. For this reason, I knew that radiation was going to be part of my treatment plan. So, at the end of July, after a lot more healing up and starting to feel somewhat normal), I went in for a PET scan so they could baseline my radiation treatments and determine what needed to be done. The results of the PET scan were…alarming.
As I said before, the tumor I had was in between my left kidney and my bladder. When I went in for my scan, it was supposed to show that the spot on my spine was healing and that there was no further activity. As you can tell from the work alarming in the last paragraph, the scan was anything but normal. I now had four 3 inch spots in my lungs. I had a massive spot on my thyroid. I had random spots throughout my abdomen. From all appearances, the cancer had metastasized and I was in a lot of trouble. They sent me in for a biopsy. Now, I had to wait for the results.
Now, there were a few things that I clung to during trying time. One, I had a blood test a week before that PET scan. My blood showed that the cancer was not there. Two, the thoracic surgeon that did my biopsy made an off comment to me during my consultation with him. He was looking through the PET scans with me and says, “You realize, there are other things this could be aside from cancer…” Um, yes…I realized that there could be…but, would it be something else? Could it be? Hope started to rise.
My oncologist called me a couple of days after the biopsy procedure was done. I answered the phone in a solemn voice. The nurse told me to cheer up, because they didn’t always call with bad news. “They have run every cancer test we know of on the samples,” my oncologist told me. “They can’t find cancer. I am 98% sure this isn’t cancer.” I started crying right there on the phone. So, what is it? It took a few more weeks for them to come back with a definitive answer: sarcoidosis. Basically, it is an inflammatory disease that affects many different organs, but primarily the lungs and the lymph nodes. Short answer? Not cancer. Can be treated. It is more medicine that I have to take and it is not something to be taken lightly, but it is treatable.
After many bouts with my insurance company, which will remain nameless…., I was finally approved for and went through my radiation treatments. I had a scan just before they started and the spot in my spine is still there…even a bit bigger, but it appears to be healing. The radiation was administered to “mop up” any of the cancer cells in the bone that could have remained.
The problem that I am facing now? My body is tired after a year of surviving. I am in worse shape than I have probably ever been in. As I mentioned in my last post, I am pursuing Yoga for it’s low impact approach. Because of the sarcoidosis medicine that I have to take, I don’t heal as quickly as I would like. I ache all over my body in different ways. It is tough…or is it? I am still here. I may not be as fast or as strong as I once was, but I will rise again. In my mind, there is no other way.
I would never wish the last year that I have had on anyone. There has been more pain, more uncertainty, more tears, more fear than I have ever wanted to deal with. How have I gotten through?
• One, I believe that God loves me and has a plan for my life. That gives me hope. I firmly believe that He is watching over me and that He is my protective shade. (See Psalms 121:5-7)
• Two, I am married to the most wonderful person I know. She is my best friend and partner through it all. She has taken our wedding vows to the extreme and walked with me through the good and the bad. I am so in love with her and want so desperately to grow old by her side.
• Three, I have the best son I could have ever asked for. He is my pride and joy. He is so helpful and brings so much light to my life. Can’t even begin to express how much I love that boy.
• Four, I have the most wonderful/supportive family and friends that I could ask for. The love, support, prayers, tears, everything has been so awesome.
How do I deal with a repairing body? The same way I got through this last year. One day at a time, being thankful every step of the way. Facing the uncertainty knowing that I have purpose and daily pushing toward it.