The Story So Far

Eight months ago today, on October 18, during a routine colonoscopy my doctor found a tumor in my sigmoid colon. One week later biopsy results came back confirming that it was malignant. I have cancer.

We soon met with a surgeon who scheduled a robotic, laparoscopic surgery to remove the tumor about a month later.

About two weeks after that, my body decided it wasn’t going to wait for the scheduled surgery when an acute bout of diverticulitis caused a perforation in my colon. A few hours in the emergency room and it was determined that I needed emergency surgery. They would remove the tumor as well as the portion of my colon that was perforated. The surgery was successful and nine days later I was back home.

In the following weeks we had many visits from the home health nurses who showed us how to tend to the surgical wound as well as how to manage the changing of the colostomy appliances. Gina was an excellent pupil and before too long, the visits ended and we were on our own.

In the interim, we started seeing an oncologist who had ordered a slew of tests and he determined that even though it appeared that the tumor had been fully removed, he believed it to be best if I had a full regimen of chemo therapy to ensure that the cancer wouldn’t reoccur.

I had some minor surgery to have a chemo port installed and proceeded to start my chemo cycles, 12 sessions, one every two weeks over the course of six months. Things proceeded somewhat normally for the first seven of the twelve cycles before I threw a big old monkey wrench into the mix.

On May 21 Gina had run out to the store while I stayed in bed resting up. I heard my phone ring downstairs so I got up and went down to answer it. Somewhere on step three or four I think I slipped and rolled down the rest of the stairs. I noticed I was bleeding from my ear but couldn’t get up to reach my phone to call anyone. Around twenty minutes later Gina got home and immediately called for an ambulance.

The fine local paramedics took good care of me and got me to the nearest emergency room. A couple of CT scans and exams and it was determined that the hospital had no neurologist so I should be transferred to Rush Medical downtown who had a special department specifically for this type of injury.

They loaded me into another ambulance who brought me on the nearly hour long drive in to the big city.

It turned out that I had fractured two bones in my skull and had some internal bleeding. They monitored me and determined that surgery wasn’t necessary but I still had three days of ICU treatment to be sure that things were healing and not getting worse.

And that’s my friends is where we stand right now, today, eight months after that first mention of cancer. It’s been about a month and I am still recovering from the fall. I have a scheduled appointment this week for yet another scan and meeting with the neurologist. Hopefully things have progressed to where I can resume my chemo treatments soon. I have already missed two cycles which now puts me toward the end of August when I will complete them.

My story won’t end there though, I still will have post chemo recovery before I will go in for more surgery to do the colon reattachment, followed by that post surgery recovery. It’s a long story with much yet still to tell, but I think you’re all caught up with what has happened so far.

I think if there is a takeaway from all of this, it’s how much respect and admiration I have for everyone who has been a part of this healing journey. The medical staff in the emergency room, the paramedics, the nurses at both South Suburban and Rush Medical who took care of me during my overnights, and the wonderful nurses who administer my chemo at the infusion clinic. My oncologist and everyone in his office have treated me wonderfully. Everyone has not only treated me respectfully but have displayed nothing but compassion and professionalism during each and every encounter. That makes this process so much easier to endure and for this, and to them, I am grateful.

Chemo Songs #5

Today was chemo treatment #5 and along with it a custom playlist I created just for the occasion.

Tom Waits – ‘Get Behind the Mule’
Traffic – ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’
Wilco – ‘At My Window Sad and Lonely’
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – ‘Here Comes My Girl’
Dire Straits – ‘Expresso Love’
Stephen Stills – ‘Go Back Home’
Santana – ‘Europa’
R.E.M. – ‘Driver 8’
Poi Dog Pondering – ‘Complicated’
Toad The Wet Sprocket – ‘Crowing’
Todd Snider – ‘D.B. Cooper’
Joe Walsh – ‘At the Station’
The Honorary Title – ‘Everything I Once Had’
Peter Frampton – ‘All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)’
Robert Earl Keen – ‘Feelin’ Good Again’
Bob Mould – ‘Heartbreak a Stranger’
Robin Trower – ‘Bridge of Sighs’
The Cure – ‘Close To Me’
ZZ Top – ‘A Fool For Your Stockings’
Todd Rundgren – ‘Couldn’t I Just Tell You’
Queen – ‘Dragon Attack’
Band of Horses – ‘The Great Salt Lake’

Update

Today would normally be my regularly scheduled bi-weekly chemotherapy but when I got there they determined that my most recent blood work showed my white cell counts were too low and that I needed a shot to boost them up before I could get my treatment. They also put me on an antibiotic and told me to wear a mask over my mouth when leaving my house. It’s scary to think about how suppressed my immune system must be for them to be this concerned for my general health.

My biggest concern is that this just pushes everything back at least a week. I’m looking at end of July now for end of chemo treatments and any further delays are likely to push my reversal surgery on to next year.

I did get some chocolates from my friend Christelle today though so that was good. It’s nice to know people are thinking about me and wishing me well.

sb

The Numbers

I met with the oncologist yesterday and he advised me to undergo a series of chemotherapy treatments to help minimize the chance of recurrence. There was a fancy test he ordered that broke this all down to numbers. It took in to account the pathology of the tumor that was removed along with other conditions such as the overall aggressiveness of the tumor and how far it had attached itself to the colon walls.

With a standard treatment the chance of recurrence would stand at approximately 21%.
With a more intensive treatment the chance of recurrence would stand at approximately 16%.
Without further treatment the chance of recurrence would stand at approximately 25%.

So with the intensive treatment the chance of recurrence goes from 1 in 4 to 1 in 6.

I start in a week or so as soon as the insurance approval comes through.

Photo by Martin Brosy on Unsplash

I’m Feeling Bionic

One of the things that is happening because of my cancer diagnosis is that I’ll be undergoing chemotherapy treatments. To facilitate this I just had minor surgery to install a catheter port – but not just any port. This is the Power Port!

Unlike other technology, I can’t talk too much about the features and benefits of such a device over others but it is interesting to me to see how such a device is marketed and branded. Apparently this one is the gold standard.

This port will allow me to receive the chemo treatments directly though the port, bypassing the smaller veins that would be damaged by the chemicals. It allows faster throughput and can be used for other IV purposes which will come in handy for my reattachment surgery later this year.

It’s odd to think about this device being implanted in to my body and I feel sort of bionic or borg-like with what looks like an ethernet port in my chest.

I feel pretty good for now. The incision from my first surgery is nearly healed, the tumor is gone, and I am symptom free. The chemo will mess me up I’m sure but it’s a necessary evil to keep the cancer from recurring.

I’ll try to keep you posted on my progress as things progress.

Things Change

So we were here – but things change.

A day or so after my last update, and 3 weeks before my scheduled surgery, I experienced some intestinal trouble which led me to the emergency room, prompting full surgery to remove the tumor and to resolve the perforated diverticulitis.

During the hospital stay I had some additional tests including a CT scan of my chest. This led to the discovery of a spot between my lungs that couldn’t be identified. I’m scheduled to have a PET scan next week to determine what this might be.

It appears that Chemotherapy is likely so with the Chemo and the followup intestinal surgery I’m looking at about a full year of days I need to get through before this is ultimately and hopefully resolved. I’m scared but I have faith in my doctors and with my lovely and wonderful wife Gina am confident we’ll get through this.

More as I know it.