I’ve got lung cancer and I’m a lucky man.
Seems hard to put those two together, I know, but trust me that it’s true. I’m lucky as can be.
My medical diagnosis seems dire, but it might have been a death sentence and it’s not. At home, my house was battered by the hailstorm of the century while I was in the hospital. Did I mention my car was wrecked?
I swear, there’s no way for me to go but up from here, the way I see it.
Let me tell you the good news about all this that makes me say I’m lucky.
I went into the hospital with nausea, a low-grade fever and belly pain. Sounded like gallbladder or appendix or some such. Turns out it was a simple infection plus a little bad milk that took me to Presby/University hospital on a Monday and that was all fixed with some antibiotic. However, because it looked like gallbladder, the docs had me go through a CAT scan to see what condition my condition was in.
Because I went through the scan, they found a couple of tumors that would not otherwise have been found in my normal annual checkup. In fact, they would not likely have shown up for a couple of years and then it would have been too late to save my life.
As it is, there’s a better than even chance I’ll have surgery on Wednesday the 26th and, if I survive the pneumonia risk, I’ll be more well than I’ve been in two years AND I’ll be cancer free with no or minimal chemo as followup.
A gutter guard pounded off by hail
I came THIS close to just going to one of those AM-PM urgent care clinics, but the one near my house wasn’t open, so I went over to my Mom’s for a little TLC and she brought over her next door neighbor, the head of endocrinology at University, Dr. Tim Lyons. He saved my life by making sure I went to the ER and smoothing the way for my medical treatment and recognizing that something serious was going on.
There was some confusion at first about the location of my lung lesion, but now we’re pretty sure it’s in the lower lobe of my right lung.
Each of your lungs has three lobes: top, middle and lower. Each one is contained in a thin sack and they are connected by branches (brachae) off the windpipe. The best I can analogize, my bottom right lobe is like one of those thin plastic sacks you fill with vegetables at the grocery and the working parts inside look somewhat like a bunch of broccoli, with the small sacs at the floret end doing the actual work of oxygen exchange. My tumor is 3.5 cm of smear across the top of one of those broccoli florets, like a bit of cheese across the crown and dripping down into the little sacs.
Meanwhile, on the other side of my diaphram but also on the right side, I also have a 4.2 cm tumor on the adrenal gland, which sits like a triangular hat on top of my right kidney. We won’t really know whether this tumor is independent of my lung cancer or a product of it until after the surgery because the part that “lights up” my PET scans is inside the tumor and it could well be a necrosis (dead part) caused by the growth of the tumor or it could be another cancer. In either event, my prognosis is as good with both being cancer as if there were only the lung cancer and in either event any adrenal tumor more than 4 cm is, as standard practice, removed. The only difference is that my tumor will be removed by incision at the same time as my lung lobe is removed, while, in isolation, they would more likely try to remove the adrenal tumor by a laproscopic procedure.
hail blasted through the bbq grill
Before I blather on anymore about any of this, let me say something about my hospital stay of about 10 days: I have wonderful doctors, surgeons and the staff at Presbyterian treated me like a prince of princes. I met a lot of very professional, smart people.
I also met some patients that make me very grateful. Tony who was across the hall from me is a 34 year old with cancer literally from head to foot and he is very unlikely to survive very long. It’s nothing he did wrong and he is, in fact, a great guy with a wonderful family. It’s just the breaks and not catching it in time. Between his brain lesions and the drugs and the radiological therapy, he was seeing and hearing things he knew weren’t there. He knows he won’t ever get a chance to marry and have children. It makes him both angry and very sad. My heart goes out to him. A couple doors down from him was an Iraq (Desert Storm — the first Iraq war) veteran with pancreatic cancer. It’s inoperable. It’s unrelenting pain, despite massive dosages of medications. He’s terminal and knows it. Soon, he hopes, he’ll be going back to his beloved 5 acres near Ft. Smith to spend his last few days with his wife watching the deer and turkey come out of the woods to feed near their back porch.
Are you starting to understand why I feel lucky?
My cancer was caught extraordinarily early by mere random happenstance and good luck. Or, you may wish to believe (as I do) that someone up there is looking out for me.
Either way, my attitude is optimistic, fearless and resolute. I’m going to beat this. What’s more, for the past couple of years, I’ve suffered fatigue that I couldn’t understand or explain. Looks like that may well be the work of the adrenal gland trying to fight that tumor. With it gone, there a very good chance that a year from now, I’ll be more well than I’ve been in a very long time.
Hitting a parked car will take out a headlight, quarter panel and door
Of course, there’s something more to give up than a couple of tumors. I’ll quit smoking after 45 years of about 2 packs a day. There’s no other way. So far, it’s been pretty easy to get there, but a few milligrams of morphine every four hours seems like a radical way to toss the pack.
I’ll be in ICU on Thursday and Friday, as I understand it, and then spend an unspecified few days in a regular hospital room. My principal task will be to breathe. Sounds funny again, but it’s more than just stay alive breathing, I must breath so deeply it hurts to avoid a potentially deadly bout of pneumonia. I’m told this is going to hurt and hurt a lot and for quite a while and there’s just nothing for it. It’ll hurt even with pain medications. I won’t want to do it, I’m told, but I must. I’ll have to muster all the mental toughness I can.
Which brings me to another way in which I feel lucky.
I quit drinking 15 years ago and despite the end of my 30 year marriage and the death of my father, I didn’t go back to the bottle. I have some mental toughness and some training in facing adversity. That counts for something, as it turns out.
Second, I seem to have a wonderful support system of friends and family. Both my children will be coming into town. My Mom has been there all day every day and has been stalwart and has done those things for me I couldn’t do, like getting the insurance adjuster and roofer started on my house. I’ve received dozens of phone calls, notes and letters as well as emails, etc., from friends, especially my Oklahoma City friends like Gary B, Geo and Deb, Suzanne, Rena and others who actually came up to my room to visit. So many friends the nursing staff forced me to limit my visitors. If that’s not lucky, I don’t know what luck is.
Lots of folks at the hospital were facing their troubles all alone in the world. My heart ached for them when I listened to their stories. I met a bunch of folks like that, people who faced adversity far beyond what troubles I may have.
My surgeons are universally described as the best chest cutters in the country, bar none. Doctors Peyton and Stowell come as a team and the former will work on my lung while the latter takes out the adrenal tumor. Looks like I’ll get to keep my kidney and there’s a second adrenal gland on my left kidney that will compensate completely for the loss of the one on the right. Good on God to give me a failsafe backup gland, don’t you think?
A couple quick notes: my house lost a single, small kitchen window compared to Gary B’s two-story glass that’s out and my roof was only 3-4 years old and isn’t leaking compared to many of my neighbors who are living under blue tarps. My foilage took a beating, but even my heirloom roses will recover.
My car was being hurried home to get it out from under the storm. Too hurried, as it turns out, since the friend driving hit a parked car trying to pull out from the hospital parking lot on NE 13th. The hail at the hospital was pea sized and the car drove into golf ball and larger hail before it got into the garage. So much for human plans when the universe is doing its best to look out for your interests.
Don’t smoke. Quit now if it’s too late for that. It’s a sucker bet just like playing the casino or the lottery. Yeah, your great uncle smoked to the last day of his 93 year old life and someone wins the lottery every few weeks, but anecdote is not data. It’s a loser bet. That is all.