Since it’s been over ten months since my last post in Medical Adventures, and this post has been in draft mode for nearly that long, I suppose it’s time to actually finish it up and hit that Publish button!
My surgery date was December 16 (where did that time go?!?), and it went smoothly, but I did end up staying an extra night in the hospital; they like to have patients who have had this surgery pass some gas before being discharged, and my gut was a little slow to wake up I guess. But it finally woke up, and I was out the door.
I got a phone call from the surgeon the evening I was released — December 18 — and he told me the pathology report had good news; all the “margins” were clear, which is to say the edges of the excised tumor were clean and showed no evidence that any cancerous tissue had been left behind. I’m now considered “cancer free”! And that’s truly cancer free, after beating the lymphoma in my jaw last summer. Woot!
Of course “cancer free” is a somewhat transient condition, especially for a cancer survivor. Two years ago I would’ve thought myself to be cancer-free, but in actuality the tumor in my jaw had already begun to make itself known, and who knows how long that thing had been growing on my kidney… Plus there is the outside chance that some of the lymphoma in my jaw survived the chemo and radiation therapy, which is why I’ve been back a number of times for blood work and the occasional PET or CAT scan. Statistically, the people most likely to get cancer are those who have had cancer before; a recurrence of the same cancer, and often different types of cancer will hit a survivor later in life. If nothing else, last year’s experience have made me realize that my days are numbered; I will live forever, but this body is just dust.
I just rewrote that last paragraph; what I wrote months ago (but don’t really remember writing it) made me sound like a bit of a pessimist — a the-glass-is-half-empty kind of guy — and I don’t think I typically think that way. I guess that’s one of the things that cancer does to you, makes you think differently about life; I don’t take for granted that I’ll live to 90 any more (in my younger days I joked that 30 was dead, and was surprised when I actually hit 30.) An early demise is a very real possibility, from cancer or from any other cause for that matter, but it’s wrong to dwell on that. God graciously gives us every day of our lives, no more, no less.
Since surgery though I’ve visited with the surgeon once — all is well — the oncologist twice. I had a CAT scan in the spring, which was clear, and Dr. Bleeker said my blood work was “stellar”! The most recent visit with the oncologist only involved blood work, and the only anomaly there was a low Vitamin D level — a normal level is between 30 and 200, but mine was 23. Low Vitamin levels are associated with cancer, but whether it’s a cause or an effect of cancer isn’t clear. Why mine is low at the end of summer is a bit of a puzzle though; I do get outside, but I also tend to stay in the shade. I also take a 1000 unit Vit. D supplement every day. Dr. Bleeker put me on a 50,000 unit megadose once a week for 8 weeks to see if we can boost those numbers a bit. We’ll see. My next appointment is in November, long after the last of the megadoses, and long after the last of summer. This time I meet my old nemesis, the PET scan machine. This time with a happy pill, and more importantly, without the Hannibal mask.
Since surgery I’ve also visited with an oral surgeon about having some bone reconstruction done and having tooth implants installed. I’m still unsure about having that done though. The doctor wasn’t sure if the bone in my jaw would be stable enough for grafting and an implant after the cancer and radiation therapy damaged it, so took some time conferring with colleagues and the radiation oncologist about it. I’m also nervous about having anyone dig around in there again; during the biopsy in April of 2013, the nerve in my jaw suffered some damage, which left my lower lip numb and tingly ever since. I dread the possibility that it might get worse. When I last spoke with the ENT doc who did that biopsy he said it probably won’t get any better, but I should be happy that it’s not worse; some patients end up with the muscles paralyzed as well. I really, really, really don’t want that. The whole reconstruction and implant process would likely take about 9 months and cost roughly $7,000. I got approval from our health insurance carrier though, which was a welcome surprise, so that would help considerably, but I’m still hesitant…
It was really good to be able to do “normal” stuff this summer. I am able to go out in the sun and do normal summer things… Last year I had to minimize my exposure to direct sunlight as much as possible; I was surprised at how much I missed doing that, and how much I’ve enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my skin. And this spring/summer we’ve done some nice normal things, like go on vacations. Yvonne & I flew to California in April for a long weekend, and in May we drove to North Carolina with the whole family. I got to dip my toes in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before, let alone in the same year.
With all of this cancer business almost a year behind me, I’m thankful for all that’s happened, thankful for all the people that were involved in my cure, and most thankful for the blessing of a great God who watches over us all, and was fully involved in my cure. And it is in Him that I trust the rest of my days, whether they be many or few. Thank you, Lord.
There has been a story in the news the last couple of days about a 29 year old woman with terminal brain cancer who has chosen the path of assisted suicide to end it all before the pain she’s been told she will have becomes unbearable. Brittany’s story is a heartbreaker, and I can understand her desire to avoid what’s likely in store for her, but I still disagree with her choice. I read an open letter to Brittany today that does an excellent job of expressing my thoughts on the subject; I hope she reads it, and I pray with the author of the letter that she will ask “the question that is most important. Who is this Jesus, and what does He have to do with my dying?“ After my ordeal with cancer and its treatment, I’m convinced that God teaches us the best things through the hardest circumstances. Walking the valley of the shadow of death will be a lesson that none of us should miss.