Sammy, What Have You Done To Yourself?

Well here it is Sunday May 23rd and I am sitting in my hotel room trying to keep myself calm. Drinking decaf coffee and planning my diet for today not to include ANY salt and if you know me at all you are aware that I hate decaf and love salt. I only brought enough blood pressure for 5 days and today is the 6th day. That said, I will try to fill you in on what Sam has been through these last few days of May.

We arrived at Mayo last Sunday night, prepared for the colonoscopy that was ordered for Monday. We thought the results would come fairly quickly but they did not. Ultimately (I think it was Thursday) the results came back and there was no cancer. BUT there was displactia which means irritated cells that could cause cancer if not watched. So guess who’s having another test in 3 months and it’s not me.

He went down early Tuesday morning for the procedure (5:45). Procedure is not the right word, major surgery is the correct one. He was in surgery over 6 hours. They removed his tongue tumor which was the size of a baseball, his lymph node tumor which was by then 8.5 cm, and his thyroid gland which was also cancerous. Along with all that they took out his jugular vein on his right side, a neck cord that I can’t remember the name of right now and some other nerve in his neck which he will need physical therapy on so his shoulder won’t droop. When he got to his room at around 7:00 p.m. I was waiting for him and he was a mess, what with the feeding tube in his nose, 2 neck drain tubes on the right side, and a trach tube. I almost fainted he was so swollen.

I get up every morning to be in his room by 6:00 a.m.. That’s when all the doctors start to roll in and I can talk with them. He is getting better every day. We have learned how to feed him through the feeding tube and how to clean out his trach. I am thankful that this is all only temporary.

Well yesterday morning he got the “Have you thought about, when all this is done, what you are going to do to live a healthier life style” talk from Doctor (the big cheese) Moore. Perhaps it was an unfair question for a man who at that point could not talk, but it was a fair question, in that it has to be done. I mentioned to the docs that there was indeed a new sheriff in town and if it did not happen, I would be resigning.

Over the last 10 years I have been trying to get him to lose weight. He has succeeded but then gained it back and then some. Being overweight contributes to cancer. He has a lot of other risk factors, but he loves sweets, and sugar FEEDS cancer.

When I met Sam (at the “Y” I might add) he was 220lbs. and 6’3″. He was a former football player and lifted weights on a daily basis. His arms were was big as my thighs and he had a great looking waist. Suffice it to say he was in great shape and I figured he would continue to care about his health. The man I married is in there somewhere.

If we can take anything from this, it is to care for the body that God gave you. Don’t rely on pills and the medical community to fix you. Do it not only for yourself, but also the people that love and care for you.

A Mecca Of Hope

We loaded up the car and took off last Monday about 12.30 p.m. for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

It took some research and a whole lot of soul searching to make the decision on where to go for a second opinion and treatment. We knew we weren’t staying local as the treatment would be very disjointed, going one place for surgery and another for radiation plus we weren’t really swept away by the experiences so far. All the doctors locally said they would not recommend surgery due to the fact the tumors were so large he would lose his tongue and would not be able to talk or swallow.

So here we go on a 5 1/2 hour road trip to our nirvana of sorts. As we drove across the Mississippi River in La Crosse, WI, the topography gets quite flat and the Minnesota grass lands begin. It is easy to imagine the Plains Indians wandering the prairie and hunting for their food. Nothing but farmland for as far as the eye can see.

As you get close to the Rochester exit, a city not unlike the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz rises out of the landscape. When you enter the complex a feeling of peace comes over you, even though the clinic employs 29,000 people at this location alone. Sam and I felt as if we were the only patients there. All the patients are the number one priority of this facility.

From the moment we walked into our first appointment with the Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon, we had a sense of hope. There was none of the gloom and doom we got from the local doctor, who told Sam the surgery was not an option as the tumor on his tongue was sized so that he would lose most of his tongue, and the cancer in his lymph nodes was wrapped around his carotid artery. Dr. Moore saw no problem with removing both tumors. The tongue lesion is actually on his right tonsil. He saw no reason not to expect a full cure after surgery and radiation.

We ran into a snag when he had a PET scan and it lit up like a Christmas tree. His thyroid showed nodules so I am sitting in the waiting room waiting for his ultra sound and biopsy on his thyroid. If it is cancerous the doctor will remove it when he takes out the other tumors. (No big whoop.) His colon also had a large spot on it, so guess who’s having a colonoscopy Monday? (And it’s not me.) If he has colon cancer, all bets are off. The surgery would be postponed and radiation and chemo would be done, with “salvage” surgery afterward to clear out the remainders of the tumors. The prognosis is much worse in this case. So for the third Monday in a row we are praying for Sam.

I feel like we are navigating a maze, never knowing what is around the corner. I know in my heart of hearts we made the right decision coming here. Nothing will fall through the cracks here, all the care is coordinated, (the right hand knows what the left hand is doing). We have some of the best minds in medicine treating Sam. Mayo is #1 in treating tonsil and tongue cancer. Dr. Moore looked looked me in the eye, shook my hand firmly and told me, you’re in the right place, and that was that.

This will not be a walk in the park for Sam. After surgery the pain will be bad, he will have a temporary tracheotomy, and a feeding tube through his nose.

So boys and girls, here is a little unsolicited advice. If you smoke, quit today. If you drink in excess, cut way back. If you use smokeless tobacco, stop it! For the most part this is a preventable cancer and it is hideous. Sam’s cancer came about because his immune system was weak and he contracted a virus that most of us would fight off, but it caused cancer for him.

We will celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary on May 21st and it brings to mind our vows of “in sickness and in health, for better or worse, in good times and bad.” Suffice it to say, I now know my God-given purpose in life.

Cancer Rears Its Ugy Head

“The results of the biopsy were not what we had hope for” the doctor told me as I sat with him in the physician consultation room. He was still in his scrubs with his shower cap- like head gear on, having just got the results from the pathologist after the surgery.

He explained that Sam has Squamous Cell Carcinoma, a cancer seen mostly in heavy smokers. Sam has not smoked a day in him life. I know that it is not unheard of for people to develop Lung cancer if they didn’t smoke, basically anything is possible. The fact that he is on anti-rejection drugs for his transplanted kidney compromises his immune system and makes him susceptible to cancer. To say we are devastated, is an understatement.

God threw us a curve ball and we will deal with it. Here we were thinking that things were finally going better for us, and they are in some instances, and this comes along. We are not giving up, we will fight this and hopefully win. It is in an advanced stage which will make it tougher, but not impossible and besides miracles do happen.

Sam is keeping his sense of humor, stating that this will ruin his plan of becoming a porn star. “Do you want to know what my name would be?” he asked. “Buck Naked.”