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My Journey With New Friends

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My journey into the world of lung cancer started with a trip to the emergency room at 2 a.m. on July 9, 2001. It was the night of our 35th wedding anniversary. I had been working on a major remodeling

project on our house since the start of summer vacation from teaching high school architectural and mechanical drawing. I had been on a jack hammer for five days removing the existing concrete porch and exterior bricks and siding. I had moved 15 yards of rubble and material into a construction dumpster on Saturday so Sunday was my day of rest and worship and a special day with my wife.

My heart was pounding, my left arm had shooting pains and I could tell my blood pressure was high. I have been taking blood pressure medication since high school because of a family history of high

blood pressure. Annual physicals always verified this so the multiple symptoms prompted me to wake my wife. I was beyond using biofeedback to settle my heart rate down so we decided to go to the emergency room. The nurses immediately hooked me up to the EKG machine. My blood pressure was at stroke level. The ER doctor was called in and immediately recognized me. He was a former student from 15 years earlier. Needless to say I felt very comfortable about the thoroughness of my care. The nurses had children who had attended high school where I taught and were giving me a lot of TLC. After the doctor got my blood pressure down and admonished me for working too hard he said “we’ll take a chest x-ray to finish and then you can go home and rest.”

Three days later my primary care doctor called to say he wanted to see me in his office. I thought he was going to check my blood pressure and tell me to slow down but instead said the x-ray showed a spot

on my right lung. He could not account for it from any of my previous exams. He was very surprised because I had been his patient for twenty years, a non-smoker, and never exhibited any lung related

symptoms. I always had TB tests taken in the arm and were always negative. He scheduled more x-rays. They continued to show the spot so he referred me to a pulminologist. He confirmed it was probably cancer

and scheduled a CT and bone scan.

My wife and I flew to Billings, Montana for a wedding in Red Lodge the week before my scans were scheduled. We then drove to Gillette, Wyoming to see the house our son and family had bought. On 9-11, 2001 we left Gillette to drive back to Billings. On I-90 between Gillette and Buffalo we heard the news about the Twin Towers being hit by the aircraft. When we arrived at the Billings Airport all the flights

were cancelled. How were we going to get home so I could get to the hospital Friday afternoon to get the stuff you have to drink before a CT scan? There was one rental car left that would allow us to drop the car

off at the Oakland, California airport. It would take us two days to get home so we rented the car and left

immediately. Needless to say there was a lot of anxiety on the way home.

Because of all the anxiety I knew I needed help from the Lord with the upcoming events. I searched the scriptures for wisdom and found Romans 5: 3-5 to be a comfort. “... we rejoice in our

sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” I already have the Hope of Glory in my heart so I looked at my situation as a character building assignment. At each event with the medical profession I asked the Lord to teach me

something new or to be a blessing to those who were in charge of my care.

So when I had my bronchoscopy the pulmonary tech taught me what those real long q-tips are for. The doctor confirmed the 2 cm tumor had cancer cells but they looked unusual. I was referred to a highly

respected oncologist who became a friend as we progressed through pet scans and second opinions at UCSF Medical Center, developing a plan of attack, and referrals to other specialists. We learned I had “an atypical

carcinoma tumor considered in the differential diagnosis, however the tumor cell nuclei are hyperchromatic with finely granular chromatin characteristic of small cell carcinoma, rather than having the coarse clumped chromatin seen in atypical carcinoid. In addition, there are other features more typical of small cell carcinoma, such as nuclear molding, scanty cytoplasm, and the smeared basophilic DNA around the blood

vessels. Also, there is probable mitoses and apoptic figures arguing for a diagnosis of small cell carcinoma. Two other pathologists reviewed this case and concur.” My case was staged IA. My oncologist was very

straight forward and learned I don’t like whining and indecision either so our discussions were always frank and to the point with a little humor thrown in. When he asked me if I was willing to go the distance, I

agreed. The plan was to have 6 sessions of Carboplaton and VP 16, 35 sessions of radiation to my right lung to shrink the tumor, which it did, and then surgery to remove the middle lobe of my right lung. I told

the thoracic surgeon before surgery good mechanics give you your used parts back but he said he could only give me pictures, which he did. After surgery the plan called for 15 sessions of brain radiation. The

radiation techs, who gave me the lung radiation, were so nice they agreed to come in 15 minutes early each day so I could get the radiation done before my first period class. I lost my hair for the second time. I was

declared “clean” and now see my oncologist every six months. When I told my oncologist that I wrote to this website about my PCI experience and that the brain was a “cess pool for cancer cells” he chuckled and

said, ”No, no, no, that’s a construction term, the medical term is sanctuary.” I have added a gastroenterologist and urologist to my list who have made sure my colon and prostate are clean and working

properly. My cardiac specialist continues to see me once a year.

During this journey my wife has been an anchor of support. I have met many new friends who “care.” I have learned doctors are human, don’t always have the answers we want, or information we think they should have at their fingertips. I have learned anger is not a healer. In retirement I continue to be the press box announcer at our high school, work on plans for remodeling projects, build things for the

grandkids and play my tuba in the community band. By the way, the country porch remodel turned out better than expected. It took longer than planned because of this little interruption but was recently written

up in the home and garden section of our local paper.

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