Sunday, July 22, 2012
Departure Part #1
#1. Primary Battle: Colon Cancer
(To explain the graphic, it is the CADD-1 inter-venous portable medicine pump, which is faithfully attached to me 46 hours every two weeks during the outpatient part of my chemotherapy. I call it the "kitty," because like a cat, it is usually in the way, and annoying, but will purr every once in a while to remind you it is there.)
Background: In April, I began having odd symptoms (stabbing pain during inhalation) just below my ribs on the front right side. Being someone who prefers NOT to do to the doctors, I self-diagnosed as pleurisy (inflammation of the lung lining) as it fit everything going on. I medicated with ibuprofen and ta-da everything is better. This happens 2-3 times during April, but stopped so all was good, I thought..
I had a vacation planned to pick up my children from my (x)wife in GA and go to LegoLand in Winter Haven, FL. Right before the vacation started, the symptom returned; however, it was slightly different. Shallow breathing was fine, but a normal breath would cause the stabbing pain. It would occasionally be relieved by shifting position, but generally just controlling my breathing and maintaining the shallow pattern would work-ibuprofen wasn't doing the trick anymore.
Instead of doing the "smart thing" and going to the doctor before leaving on vacation, I decided to wait, because I wanted NOTHING to potentially get in the way of seeing my kids. It had been almost a year and I missed them. So, off I went, a couple flights, a rental mini-van (which I am not too proud to admit I LOVED), and the vacation began.
I love my children VERY much. I wanted the vacation to be a good time, and to build some memories with them. The last thing I wanted was to let them know I was in pain or hurting. Of course, the plan never seems to work out like I want. Mainly because son #1 is extremely observant. When I would breath just a bit too deeply and a minor (I thought disguised) wince would cross my face, he would ask me "are you alright Daddy?" to which I could only reply, "I have to be."
Well, the vacation went off without a hitch, good times had by all, and pleasant drive back up to GA. Kids were reunited with their beautiful and wonderful mother, and I prepared to return to TX. By this point, I had been yelled at by several people to go to the doctor about this and I agreed I would. I made a compromise that I would return to TX before doing so in case I needed to stay for something. I promised that if it was still terrible, I would find a hospital in El Paso as soon as I landed, or if I thought I could make the 4 hour drive to home, I would hit the hospital there.
Well, upon landing in El Paso, I knew I had to get back home. I could make the drive. I succeeded, though it was not the most pleasant drive I have made. As I rolled in to home town, I drove directly to the hospital ER. Thankfully, it is a small town regional hospital so there was nothing going on and I was able to be seen immediately. For reference, it was 1:30 am, June 4, 2012.
After initial triage, where I also discovered my blood pressure was through the roof (though in hind sight from pain, stress, and lack of exercise), I was sent for an X-ray of my torso (even though I told doctor there is no chance I have a broken rib as he suspected. I had experienced no trauma to that area i a very long time. But, whatever, I have insurance so they were going to use their equipment to get it paid for.
Shortly after the X-ray was completed, I was given a med for the blood pressure just to "relax" things for now and advised to seek care for it from a local general practitioner. When X-ray was read, there were some "spots" just below my right side rib cage which seemed out of place, so a CT-scan was ordered. I underwent the CT with little issue (except for the "now, take a deep breath and hold it" part: I am here because I CAN'T take a deep breath!).
After what seemed like an eternity of just chilling in a triage room, the doctor came in and sat down. He explained that the CT scan needed to be digitally sent off to be read by an on call imaging specialist in Dallas and the read results just returned. He said, and I quote (mas o menos), "there is no easy way to say this, it appears from the CT scan that you have something going on with your liver, and cancer is suspected. You need to see an oncologist as soon as possible." Time: 5:30 am, June 4, 2012
That hit like a ton of bricks. I was not expecting that at all. Yes, I cried. But only for a few minutes, then I was surrounded by peace. I accepted the opinion of the doctor and imaging specialist, but they were just looking at pictures which were not very clear. I would go to an oncologist and get things straightened out.
I immediately headed in to my office to let my superiors know what was going on and to request the time off for the medical fiasco I was sure would be beginning. All was approved by 8 am, June 4, 2012, and I have not worked since.
My first thought was M D Anderson in Houston, being a premier cancer treatment center, would be great. Especially since I have some support in that area and EP (Exalted Patriarch-my father) had been through there several times for various and sundry "C" issues. I attempted to self-refer, and found out they don't work that way. Ok, plan B. I looked up oncologists in Midland, Texas, since it was the nearest "real" hospital from where I live (171 miles one way). I made a phone call and explained my situation to the LPN of the oncologist I had chosen. She asked me some basic information and the location where I had the initial diagnosis. She took my phone number and said she would get back to me. That eased my mind.
Of course, being a pretty concerned person at this point since I REALLY wanted an answer, I decided the following day I would drive up to Midland and pop in to the doctor's office just in case I could get an appointment. Pretty risky these days with the way things work, but I had nothing to lose but gas money.
On Tuesday, June 5, 2012, barely 24 hours after the ER doctor dropped the news, I was underway to Midland (a 3 or so hour drive). By 9 am, I located the doctor's office and walked in and requested to see the doctor without an appointment. The receptionist looked at me like I was crazy, but called back and thankfully talked to the LPN with whom I had spoken. The LPN brought me back to her office and we chatted for a few minutes. She had received my records overnight-ed from the hospital at which I was initially seen, and-she excused herself for two minutes-the doctor had them in her hands right now.
About 20 minutes later, I had an appointment set up for a more exhaustive CT scan and if needed, a liver biopsy, for the next day. Thankfully, I had the foresight to pack several days of clothing just in case. The doctor's office set me up to stay in a free visitor room at Hope House.
CT scan confirmed initial imaging from ER. Biopsy was rescheduled for the next morning. So Thursday morning, I was in the hospital imaging center with a doctor using ultrasound to guide a large needle into one of the "innumerable" (from imaging report of new CT scan) spots on my liver. Afterwards, I was set to recover in a room for about 4 hours then back to Hope House for the night to await pathology report and initial appointment with oncologist on Friday.
God showed His hand in all this, since this is NOT the way the process normally works, as I was assured by several people in the oncologist's office and Hope House as we discussed how things were just falling into place for me.
To be continued...