Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Phase Two in a Nutshell

A lot has changed since the last time I sat in front of this computer composing a blog entry. In my writing absence, I have completed the second phase of treatment which consisted of twice daily chemotherapy pills and one 35 minute radiation session per day. I have to admit that I went into this phase with the wrong expectations. I definitely talked myself into believing that it wouldn’t be that bad and that the worst was behind me. Sure, Phase One and the way the chemo was administered over a 48-hour period was tough to handle because the concentration of poison going into my body was so high, but the two week cycles allowed me to have a few days at the end of each period to feel better and function on some level. Even though the doctors warned me not to take the chemo pills lightly, I questioned how bad it could really be. Daily treatments had to mean much lower doses which my body could handle, right? Not so much. Maybe the doses were lower, but the cumulative effect starting setting in after about 3 days and I quickly started to take a turn for the worse. The overall crappiness I felt after chemo in Phase One had returned, only this time I had no breaks. Every day was a struggle and my body was deteriorating fast. I had hopes that I could spend time playing with my son and still have enough energy for my wife in the evening to maybe watch a television program or a movie. I even convinced myself that I would begin exercising again and start putting a little bit of meat back on my bones. Wow, wishful thinking! I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings and couldn’t wait until 8pm each night so that I could slither back into the sack. I was pretty much living each day one hour at a time on the couch watching reruns. All those hopes of physical activity were quickly shut down when I realized the chest pains would return anytime I decided to move around for more than 3 or 4 minutes. These episodes were slightly less intense, but severe enough to know that I better lay down immediately before an ambulance would be needed.

As previously mentioned, Phase Two consisted not only of daily chemotherapy, but also daily radiation. Through conversations with my radiation oncologist, I somehow concluded that I really shouldn’t expect a lot of side effects from this component of care. She mentioned that I may develop some skin irritations that would resemble a really bad sunburn and some serious fatigue. Well, I am a Florida boy, so what is a little sunburn? And, I was already spending 95% of my day lying in the bed or on the couch, so how much more fatigue could I really experience? It looked as if chemo was going to be my only problem for the first three weeks… until the skin irritations began. Let me just refresh your memory, I have rectal cancer, so you can imagine where the burns were located. A bad sunburn on your tushy is one thing, but this wasn’t just any sunburn. The burns were so bad and so deep that the skin would blister and bleed. Any movement whatsoever was a nightmare. When the blistered skin would shift during simple actions like walking, it would rub until layers of skin would rip off and expose rare tissue. I don’t know if all Northern states have the same problem, but the roads in Michigan are so beat up and bumpy from the weather conditions that my 25-minute drive to and from radiation everyday was very much dreaded, to say the least. The creams that I could use were helpful, but the skin just wasn’t healing fast enough each night before getting fried again the very next morning, making it progressively worse with each passing day. I was walking around like a newborn giraffe and struggling to find relief. I have never actually tried ripping off a big scab and pouring salty lemon juice over the open wound, but I think I now know exactly how it would feel. These burns also made me fear putting food in my mouth because I knew it had to come out the other end at some point. Trying to use the bathroom was such a painful experience. I found myself wondering what forms of torture could be worse. I imagine I could have tolerated the burns if they were on my arm or something, but the inconvenient location made for very trying times.

It makes sense to me that microwaving part of my digestive system and taking handfuls of poisonous pills on a daily basis may cause a few additional problems. Right around the end of week three of six, I started having tremendous stomach pains. I was experiencing bowel ischemia, which means the vasospasms that were occurring in my heart during Phase One had traveled south and started to cause spasming of my intestines instead. I was initially put on medication, but that didn’t work and the cramping and pain just kept getting worse. Doctors feared the cramping was so severe that my organs may have, in a sense, knotted up and started strangling themselves, so an abdominal CT scan was immediately ordered. Thankfully the scan didn’t show anything too major, just a really bad case of yet another rare side effect, so I was ordered to lay off the chemo pills for a few days. At first, the layoff was only to last 2 or 3 days; however, it took an entire week before the pain subsided. The big hoo-rah of this experience was that the CT scan not only showed no major damage to my organs, but the test actually showed a continued shrinkage of the tumor and liver lesion. I needed to hear something positive and those reassuring words made it a little bit easier to deal with all the other side effects. I know The Lord is with me and that he will never give me more that I can handle, but for awhile there I thought he was testing me, trying to figure out just how much I could take.

October 25th was the final day of both chemotherapy and radiation. As bad as I wanted to feel better immediately, it took just over a week to flush enough of the chemo out so that I wouldn’t feel its fury and also for the skin on my bottom to heal to a point of acceptable relief. Just knowing that I didn’t have to go to treatment the next day and knowing that things weren’t going to get any worse was a huge psychological victory. Each day since then has been noticeably better than the previous. Minor discomforts and pains still remain, but when you have been through the wringer, there are some things you can learn to deal with. I am so blessed to be feeling better, or dare I say almost normal? I get to spend time playing with Hudson, I have been able to get back in the gym for some light workouts, and I even have some energy left to stay up after Hudson goes down to hang out with my wife. Other than the fact that I have developed some sort of sleeping disorder or anxiety issue that has kept me from getting more than an hour or two of sleep each night for the past month, everything is great. It truly is!

The next couple of weeks will be packed with doctor visits and even a family trip to Florida. I have until December 10th to enjoy my family, feel normal, and get myself into the best shape that I can. Why December 10th? On that day I will be at the University of Michigan getting sliced up like a Christmas ham, undergoing one major surgery after another. First, the colo-rectal surgeon will cut me from sternum to pubic bone to remove Trudy and all the effected lymph nodes, muscle, and tissue in my pelvis, as well install my new colostomy bag. Second up is the liver specialist who will do a resection of the liver to remove the lesion. And finally, the plastic surgeon will come in and remove one half of my abdominal wall to use it as a patch to close up the voids in my pelvis which should not only keep my remaining organs in place, but also allow for much better wound healing. For you visual people, the docs describe this as turning a six-pack into a three-pack.

I know the surgery will bring about new challenges, but it will take me one step closer to completing this battle with cancer. I am so grateful to be moving forward with my treatments. Moving forward means that I have successfully completed the phase before, which is never a guarantee. I know God has granted me this opportunity for a very special reason, and as I move forward it continues to become clearer. The timing of this process is also proving to be much more than just a coincidence. Because I have been fortunate enough to stay on track with my treatments, my surgery will be completed in enough time to have me home with my family for Christmas. Wow, just the thought of being home with my family and not in a hospital bed has brought me to tears. I would be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t scared of what is yet to come, and now that a surgery date is set, things are becoming far too real. I have felt The Lord’s hand on my back this entire time and believe he will continue to lift me up, but some funny jokes or words of encouragement are always welcomed. Humor has always been a coping mechanism for me and has allowed me to stay upbeat and positive throughout this journey. I know the next couple of weeks will fly by and the surgery date will be upon me, but without December 10th there would be no chance at another 50 years.

don’t give up…DON’T EVER GIVE UP

1 Corinthians 10:13 (The Message)
13No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Results Are In

What is a PET/CT scan? This test is very useful in determining where tumors may be within the body and also allows the doctors to see just how active the cancerous cells are. The process actually begins the day before the test with a controlled diet. I have to eliminate all sugars, breads and grains, which leaves me feeling hungry all day, but at least I get to eat something. Thank goodness they scheduled my test first thing in the morning. Bright and early the day of the test, I arrive at the cancer pavilion and get checked into my preparation suite. I hang out watching Sports Center for about an hour while the radioactive glucose they inject me with has time to circulate through my body. After that initial sixty minutes or so, they take me to the freezing cold exam room. They cover me up with several warmed blankets, get me aligned properly, and inject me with some addition contrast. The process is pretty cool. This stuff really warms your body, so you can feel it rushing through your veins. The test itself only takes about twenty minutes. How does it work? Well, keeping it very simple, any active cancer within the body will feed on this serum and literally glow on the scan like a little light bulb.

The results are in and we couldn’t be more excited. Although the scan indicates that there are still active cancer cells present each place they were originally found, the tumor has reduced significantly in size and the metabolic activity at the other sights has slowed down considerably. The two months of chemo did exactly what it was suppose to do. All glory be to God. Sure it would have been awesome to hear the doctor say that the cancer was completely gone, but getting the cancer under control and reducing the size of the tumor was really the goal of Phase 1. We are now ready to move on to Phase 2 of this process, which is radiation and daily chemotherapy.

Although I am extremely grateful for God’s mercy on me at this point, I can’t help but accept this news with a heavy heart. For the first time in this entire process, I am asking “why me.” Why is God putting me on the path to remission, but not saving others of strong faith? Don’t get me wrong, I feel so blessed and I am extremely thankful for the success that I am having, but I know others aren’t so lucky. Cancer is such a horrible disease and it can affect anybody. Over the past couple of months, my wife and I have learned about some great people around our age that are fighting cancer battles of their own. Some of them are having similar successes and I am so happy for them, but there are also some who aren’t receiving such good news from their doctors. My heart just bleeds for them and I feel so helpless. It’s hard to imagine how they keep it all together after more and more devastating news. The Lord is the ultimate physician and he is working miracles in my life, but because of the connections we’ve made, I find myself asking why he has chosen me. I am hardly out of the woods at this point and still have a long journey ahead of me with no guarantees, but right now I’m getting encouraging news with a hopeful future. This gift of life is so amazing. I have wanted to be a better man and a better Christian for a long time, but now it is so much more. I don’t only want to change myself, but I also want to find a way to bring all those who haven’t found the Lord into His awesome kingdom and forever change their lives as well. I have felt His love and His embrace, and there is nothing like it. I now pray that everybody can be so blessed, and experience His indescribable love.

So, as I move on from this PET scan, I will continue to praise God and pray that He will continue to keep me on this path to survival. I popped in my chemo pills today for the first time, so I also pray that he spares me of any heart-related side effects or any other painful side effects for that matter. As always, thank you for your amazing, continued prayers. God is answering them and I am humbled.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Phase 1: Completed

I take a deep breath and then sigh in relief, I have completed phase one of my treatment. Two months of inpatient chemotherapy and all the fun and fantastic side effects that came along with it are finally behind me. The last round in the hospital went just as I could have expected, exactly like all the others. It is funny that of all the treatments, this final visit was the most dreaded. I had so much difficulty focusing on the fact that this was going to be the end of a very rocky road. I guess I was just thinking about all of the crazy side effects that were inevitably going to happen, or possibly I was just so eager to be done that time seemed to stand still. The nurses were all so great and did everything that they could to make me feel comfortable and got me anything that I needed. Perhaps that is why it was almost sad leaving the hospital that Monday morning. I developed friendships with a handful of my nurses and it was somewhat bittersweet to say goodbye. I can’t say that I am going to miss a single element of the chemotherapy, but I know I will never forget the experience. Thinking back at all the curve balls and strange and unexpected surprises I endured, I have to say that I am proud of what I have accomplished up to this point and I am eagerly awaiting phase 2 of my journey.

September 20th marks the first day of radiation treatments, which will be accompanied by daily oral chemotherapy. The doctors have warned me not to take the new chemo too lightly, though. They described the pills as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I won’t actually know for a few more days just how the new drugs will affect me, but I’m hoping the lower daily doses won’t slow me down nearly as much as the stuff in round 1. It is incredible to me just how far science has come and the amazing treatments that are available today. Just a few short years ago when radiation was administered, it was directed at the affected cancerous areas, but anything in the line of fire, healthy or not, would also get zapped. Think about all the goodies that are down in your lower abdomen and pelvic region: bladder, intestines, etc . Thank goodness for new age technology, hopefully now I won’t have to borrow any of Hudson’s diapers. Today they can actually avoid causing collateral damage to healthy tissue and focus the radiation on just the cancerous cells and tumors. Hearing that was sweet music to my ears. As you might expect, this phase of treatment is very precise. As part of my initial consultation and dry run of the radiation procedure, they made a body mold from my pelvis down and actually gave me three little tattoos as reference markers to ensure that my body will be positioned exactly the same way each day when I come in for treatment. I am told that radiation really doesn’t cause many side effects of its own. If anything, I may experience something like a bad sunburn on my keister where the radiation passes through the skin.

When this whole thing started, I was in so much constant pain that I couldn’t wait for the next time I could pop in another pain pill. Times were really tough and each day was a struggle. Over the past couple of months I have been feeling better and better. The pain is slowly diminishing and I have been able to become more active, which has granted me many more opportunities to play with my baby man. He is almost 10 months old now, which means he is changing every day and having many “firsts.” I am so grateful that I am able to spend more time with him and my lovely wife. It may not sound like a gigantic triumph to you, but this week I was actually able to take a walk around the neighborhood with my family for the first time. Other than my routine daily pills, I don’t take any additional breakthrough pain medications and haven’t done so for about two weeks. I believe that the chemotherapy has been destroying Trudy, and I know that the Lord has his healing hands upon me working miracles in my life. Yesterday morning I got up before the sun and headed down to the cancer pavilion for a PET/CT scan. It is time to see just how effective all the drugs have been over the past two months. Unfortunately, the results won’t come in for a few more days, so we will all have to wait for the verdict.

Even though I feel so much better, I haven’t forgotten about the bad times. I bring this up for a very important reason. When you are in constant pain or are constantly feeling like dog dookie, it is extremely hard to focus on anything else despite your best efforts. From the beginning, I have been showered with warm wishes and prayers from friends and family, which has meant so much to me. Often times people would state that they wish they could do more. I have to say, those emails and prayers were so much more than you could imagine. Every time I would read a message, even though it may have only taken a few short moments, I tried to think of a funny story or experience I had with that person. Sometimes those short one line “I am thinking about you” messages would lead to 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or even an hour or so of great memories. This is so important because for that period, I was able to think about something other than being sick or being in pain. I don’t know how else to explain it, but those words got me through what has been the toughest time in my life to date. Thank you so much!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Outpour

Errick’s hopes for this experience are pretty simple when it comes down to it: to inspire, to spread the Word, and to live. The lack of recent blog posts is not due to fatigue or a dive in his health, but rather due to the decreased amount of pain Errick has had with each week, which allows him to spend more time playing with Hudson as well as the ability to even work a little, which is great for his state of mind! Errick is currently undergoing his fourth and final round of straight chemo. This cycle and the previous cycle have both resulted in several heart spasms again, but he made it through last time, so we are very thankful he was still allowed to stay on the current treatment plan and are very hopeful he only has to press on through tomorrow (Sunday) and we'll be in the clear.

Errick will go on Monday September 13th for another PET scan to see if the 4 rounds of chemo worked to stop the progression of the cancer as well shrink the original developments. We will discuss the results with his oncologist on Wednesday September 15th and if all looks good, Errick will start his daily treatments of chemo (new drug, pill form) along with daily radiation for 6 weeks.

We wanted to share a few tangible gifts with you, but wanted to make sure we didn’t undershadow anyone or anything. From silent prayers and containers of tangerine Altoids to prayer shawls and photography sessions, each and every thought, action, gesture has touched our hearts equally. If we can help the business of a few folks, we’d love to show you the talent of some of our followers.

We constantly feel “wrapped in prayer”; however, we can literally be wrapped in prayer by the following items.

Our church group back in Florida made Errick a prayer blanket and many members of the class signed a patch that was sewn onto the fabric. Here is Errick at his first chemo treatment getting ready to "wrap himself in prayer."

The officiator at our wedding as well as close friend made a beautiful prayer shawl with various colors & meanings. I enjoy “wrapping myself in prayer” at the hospital because Errick likes his room as a meat freezer, but who am I to complain. ;-)

A buddy of Errick’s from high school married an incredibly crafty young lady that enjoys the art of quilting among other things and put out a “call to action” to create Trudy’s Arse Kicking Quilt. Here are pictures of the resulting front and back sides and the following link is to the making of this "wrap of prayer."


I also wanted to share a few of my favorite photos from a very special visit. 7 of Errick’s closest friends were all able to make a trip up to the lovely Grand Rapids, MI pretty quickly to spend some time with Errick just after his first chemo treatment. They literally flew over 1,000 miles to “hang out”… and, of course, to pray on him.

We had another special visit by two amazing friends that live near Washington DC, a fabulous couple that oozes love and respect for each other. The husband has recently taken up photography and happened to bring his camera along on our daily adventures. Here are a few favorite pics, but please see the links below for additional pieces of art.


Along the topic of photography, we’ve actually had two scheduled photo shoots. We are anxiously awaiting the masterpieces from a local photographer, but would like to share one favorite photo and the following link below from a local photojournalist that so brilliantly captured the love of our little family in a cherished slideshow.

*For best viewing, hit “pause” first, then change the “360p” to “720pHD” at the bottom right of the picture viewer, then make it “fullscreen,” then “play.”

We hope this brings you up to speed on the amazing things that are happening in our life and truly hope everyone is fully aware that the shortest of prayers to the big man above is incredibly appreciated and never held on any other level than the rest of the outpour of love and generosity we’ve been receiving.

God Bless,

(Here are a
few more
to document
The Outpour.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cancer, a gift...

A year from now when I look in the mirror at all the scars on my torso and think back to this time in my life I am going to thank God. This isn’t something that I have to go through, it is something that I get to go through. This opportunity has already been such an amazing learning experience for me. I have learned so much about who I am and who I want to be. Proverbs 3: 5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” I can remember times in my life where I felt as if I was just going through the motions, just kind of wandering around aimlessly. I don’t know what the future holds in store for me; however, looking back over the past couple of months I can see clearly how God has paved this perfectly groomed path for me to be exactly where I am today. Thank you Lord. This experience is going to give me a second chance on life as well as the opportunity to be a better Christian, a better Husband and Father, and a better friend.

I have focused my writings mostly on the physical aspects and have spent little time describing the mental and emotional components of this roller coaster. I have really struggled with my own perception of my value to my family. The various surgical procedures and the relentless pain Trudy has gifted me has really limited the amount of time I have been able to spend with my family and has made me essentially useless with regard to everyday tasks. As a man, I feel needed when I am doing things and I feel worth when I am able to contribute. Being held captive by pain has stripped me of those opportunities to do things for my family, which in turn has given me a sense of worthlessness. It is extremely difficult watching my wife shoulder all the responsibilities and take on the duties that I would typically handle. I don’t know how to express to her just how grateful I am for all the effort she is putting forth daily.

One of the sweetest sounds in the world is hearing my son laughing and it breaks my heart when I know he is just a room away yet I am physically unable to play with him at times. I know that he won’t remember these days when he is older, but not being able to spend more time with him is so difficult for me. All I have ever wanted to do is be the very best father that I could be. I want my son to know that I love him more than anything in the world and that I will be there for him and I will do anything within my power to make him happy. These are precious moments and I hate feeling like I am missing them. I want to make my wife and son feel special. I want them to be proud of me. I know that they understand what I am dealing with right now and that they don’t think negatively about me and my contributions; however, that doesn’t keep me from judging myself.

I know in life it is so easy to get caught up in work, finances, or so many other issues that we sometimes lose track of the most important things in our lives, our families. As unintentional as it may be, we take what we have right in front of us for granted. We just assume that there is going to be a tomorrow, we assume that we will have another chance, but tomorrow is not a guarantee, it is a gift. I pray that this stays in the forefront of my mind for as long as I shall live, and I hope that all of you will pause for a few seconds each day and count your blessings. Take a moment to really hug your spouse, hold your children next to you where you can feel their hearts beating, and just say thank you.

I just returned home from completing my second round of intravenous chemotherapy. Given the fact that things didn’t exactly go as planned the first time, I decided to try my luck as an impatient for this treatment while also testing a few tweaks in my meds. As if dealing with the boredom of being confined to a bed in a small room with only a few TV channels to select from and having to eat hospital food for 5 days isn’t enough, I was unable to avoid a repeat of the previous chemo reactions. Despite our best efforts to prevent the re-emergence of Dumbo, the chest crusher, we were unsuccessful and I felt his wrath four times in a 12 hour period. Having the nurses a push of a button away did minimize the severity of the situation, though. The pain got pretty sporty at times, but I would say the quick responses from the staff really helped downgrade the intensity and duration of the attacks. Of course I had a gazillion wires hook up to me and the physicians were watching my scans and heart actions like hawks, but there is a silver lining. My oncologist still has concerns, but the cardiologists don’t believe that these episodes will cause any permanent damage to my heart or surrounding tissue. This is significant because it means that we can remain on the current chemo cocktail without making any major changes, giving me the optimal drug therapy treatment. All in all I would have to say that this treatment went much better than the first. Nausea did slap me in the face this round a lot more than the first, but I will take that over ambulance rides and a bursting catheter site in my leg any day.

2 rounds of straight chemo, 6 weeks of daily radiation and chemo, 6 weeks of recovery, and 3 major surgeries away from being a cancer survivor. Don’t give up…DON’T EVER GIVE UP!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Wife Chimes In

“Faith makes things possible, not easy.” I bought a plaque with this saying on it awhile back, which got me a good eye-rolling from the hubby (not the saying, but because I bought ANOTHER item for our house). Little did he know just how meaningful this plaque would become to us…

Errick and I met in Los Angeles in 2004 where we worked at a fitness club together. Started out as friends that turned into something more. That friendship has proven to be such a key in our relationship currently. We have to make each other laugh, lean on each other for comfort, and just sit with one another for long periods of time. I love that we don’t have to say a word all day to each other. Just his presence can rock my world. Errick and I have grown together in so many ways over the years, and one area specifically is in our faith. Many people and factors have brought us to the point we are today, the point of recently growing from baby Christians to toddlers. We have leaps and bounds left to grow, heaping loads left to learn, and an enormous amount of works left to witness. But one thing is very certain about this experience so far… God has a plan… and it’s so good. {Proverbs 19:21 – You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.} God’s timing can occasionally be confusing, but tests of your faith can be incredible, truly incredible. Allowing God to take on your worries, frustrations, burdens, concerns, fears can be really tough, but I’ve felt very little worry, less frustration than expected, not much burden, only a few concerns, and hardly any fear. {Philippians 4:6-7 – Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.} I keep asking myself why I’m not freaking out more, but the answer is simple. God. I have God.

Everyone keeps telling me how strong I am, how inspirational I am, what a great wife I am… Wouldn’t you do it, though? Do everything you can for your spouse and child? I tell people that it’s his job to deal with the pain, endure the meds, suffer fake heart attacks, etc. It’s my job to do the rest. Find the docs, make the appointments, fill the scripts, take care of Hudson, update friends & family. Who has the tougher job? Seriously. And I came home from the hospital after the first round of “heart episodes” and told my mom, “I honestly think I could take on more if God needed me to.” Then bam, cork in the leg burst… hematoma. Sometimes it might be best to keep those comments to myself. Sorry, babe, I may have caused that one.

I wanted to take this opportunity as you all wait patiently for Errick’s next blog entry to thank each and every one of you for every single thought, prayer, kind word, offer, nice gesture. The outpour of support has been overwhelming and I know what it feels like to want to help, but be helpless. Please know that just being here with us as we travel down this path is enough. It’s more than enough. I would also like to thank my husband. Thank you for being an even better version of yourself. Good ol’ Trudes has provided us some serious laughter. Trudy in the Booty. Could there be a better name? Thank you for opening up this very personal part of your life.

Faith is what’s allowing us to get through this, what’s allowing us to hope, dream, and make “positive goals” (i.e. a trip to Florida before surgery!)… I have faith in many things: my family, my friends, my marriage, but best of all God. As mentioned in the beginning, faith makes things possible, but it certainly does not make things easy. I love you, sweet husband. We all love you. Most importantly, God loves you.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chemo Throws a Surprise Party

Despite what you are about to read regarding my first dance with chemo, I am still excited that I have begun treatment. Everybody knows that chemo has side effects, but I personally should always look at the “rare” section for possible adverse reactions. For some reason, I get the good stuff. My wife jokes that I’m “one of a kind.” I am not naive, so I knew I wasn’t going to be feeling so hot for awhile; however, I experienced a few things that I will never forget, but wish had never happened. In the spirit of disclosing all pertinent facts, I will take you through my last couple of days.

Thursday morning started out pretty normal; breakfast, shower, a few minutes with the dog, and a solid 30 minutes watching baby Einstein with my precious little man. Then I got to mosey on over to the fertility center for my second “deposit” of the week. That’s right. Just in case the chemo or surgery messes with anything, my wife and I decided to have some of my men frozen. Should you or a loved one ever go through this, don’t forget this factor, it’s can sometimes be part of the process. Then I headed back to the house, scooped the wife, and took off for the cancer pavilion. Things were moving along smoothly and pretty much without a hiccup. Actually, after anxiously waiting for what seemed like two days (a half hour), I miraculously scored my own private room with a bed. Check me out! My nurse was great, too. I don’t know what I thought the moment was going to be like when the meds got started, but it did seem a bit uneventful. After I got comfortable in my bed and got the TV tuned in to SportsCenter, the nurse came in with the IV stand and the drugs. All the drugs cannot be given at the same time, so the sequencing is explained to us again. The shirt comes off, a two inch needle is jammed into my port, and the chemo starts to flow. Four and half hours roll by and we don’t experience a single problem. I actually took a little nap and the wife was able to spend some time catching up on emails, phone calls, and of course FaceBook. After all the IV bags were complete, they set me up with my super stylish chemo pump. This pump, still connected to the port in my chest, allows me to take one of the drugs home as it will dispense a small amount of meds continuously. In fact, it was about every few minutes and it sounded a bit like an old Polaroid camera, not really an issue until it was time to sleep. To transport this high dollar piece of medical equipment, I got a $1 black fanny pack to carry it in, don’t be jealous. All in all, it was a good day and the only thing I felt was exhaustion.

Friday comes and goes with very little to discuss besides some pretty nasty nausea and a little fatigue. Saturday morning and we’re back to the cancer center to return the pump and sweet fanny pack. Needle comes out of my chest, and we’re heading home completely unaware of what is about to happen over the next 24 hours. Here is where the la-tee-da story starts to get interesting. We arrive home from the cancer center at about 10am and it is getting close to Hudson’s nap time. As he’s sleeping, the wife and I to lay in bed and chat for a bit. 11:00am, Hudson needs some coaxing to get back to sleep, so I zip upstairs to grab a drink. 11:15am finds us having a nice relaxing talk again, but then 11:30am… I am hit in the chest. Not a little hit, but more like a sledge hammer crashing into me at full speed. At first I thought I drank my drink too fast, but it wasn’t just a one-and-done thing. The pain persisted as if somebody decided to let their pet elephant park it right on my chest. I had no idea what was happening, so I rolled around on the floor in agony hoping it would just go away. The wife got real concerned, so the call to 911 went out. Rescue workers showed up and the next thing I know, I got an oxygen tube shoved up my nose and my mid-section is smacked full of these sticker things with little silver buttons on them, like those on a baby’s onesie. Wires are clamped to them hooking me up to a heart EKG machine and I am being whisked to the hospital via ambulance. A few minutes into the ride the pain subsides and I start to feel like a big boob and think we made a huge deal out of nothing, but since we were already on the way to the hospital, a few tests wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The back doors to the ambulance open up and I see the wife standing there. I had no idea she was riding shotgun, so I got a little emotional as they wheeled me into the ER. Once again, got my own private room in the back because chemo makes me more susceptible to infections, germs, etc, so that was nice. Several people came and went, trying to figure out what had happened. At this point, I had what seemed to be another 50 wires hooked up to me and I am feeling a bit like I’m trapped underwater in a big fishing net. A second EKG was taken and came out completely normal. All vitals looked great, but a chest CT is still performed.

I get back from the scan, it’s happening again, the sledge hammer and Dumbo are back. I grab my chest and the wife darts off to get the nurse, who pages the doctor, but apparently feels that eating her muffin takes precedence over responding immediately herself. My blood pressure and heart rate were threw the roof on the monitors. When they finally come in and find me shaking uncontrollably from the pain, they tell me to lay completely still, not an easy task at all, so they can get another EKG reading. The doc says it appears as if I might be having a heart attack, so they grab me and my bed and literally start running me up for a cardiac catheterization. We are cruising through the hospital wings and it seems that just as everybody pops their head around to see what the commossion is, they have to dive out of the way. This is happening just like in the movies. For the first time in this whole process I get scared and start to wonder if I will ever see my wife or child smile again. Wow, just thinking about that long enough to type it, brings a tear to my eye.

In the operating room I am injected with a local anesthetic, although it doesn’t seem like they wait for it to start working before they tap into my femoral artery and thread a catheter up into the areas around my heart. The nurse in the OR is telling me lay completely still and instructing me not to lift my head up for any reason. I swear, I could not grasp this concept and every few seconds the nurse is smacking me on the forehead telling me to keep my head down. The procedure is over pretty quickly I think, just in time for the local anesthetic to really start working.

I am taken to a recovery room and again instructed not to move or lift my head or I could cause enough internal pressure to blow the plug in my leg. Four hours of lying perfectly still on my back was not a good thing for ol’ Trudy, but I made it through. We come to find out that I was having spasms, more specifically called cardiac vasoconstriction and it was hindering the blood flow to my heart. A rare side effect of probably THE most important chemo drug that I’m taking for colon cancer. They admit me and keep me overnight for observation.

When I wake up the next morning, I think the worst is behind me and that I am in the clear, so I start preparing myself to go home. As I go to sit down, I feel an explosion in my leg, almost like a cork popping free from a champagne bottle. The pain is so intense and immediate. I look down at the incision sight and this thing is throbbing with every beat of my heart and is growing larger by the second. It looked like an alien was hatching out of my leg. I call for the nurses and luckily they respond very quickly. They react without hesitation and the one nurse places the palm of her hand over my incision and then presses down with all of her weight. As one nurse is keeping my leg from filling up with blood, the other nurse injects me with as much pain medicine as she can. At this point I am told that I am not looking so great and that the grayish-green tone to my skin is a good indicator that I might lose my breakfast soon. To avoid this, they tilt my bed back (head low, feet high) right as my wife walks in prepared to take me home. The pain starts to let off a bit and the nurse explains to us that I have developed a hematoma and that she must hold pressure for 30 minutes. What a crazy unexpected event, but needless to say, I’m there for another night.

It’s Monday and now I’m home. The “normal” side effects of the chemo meds are setting in. Nausea, fatigue, and just complete icky-ness. My oncologist will consult with his colleagues to determine if I should try a new cocktail of meds because of my pseudo heart attacks. Through this process I know I will experience many highs and lows, but I trust that God never gives us more than we can handle.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chemo Eve

Choosing the right doctors in a situation like this is absolutely critical. It may literally be a life and death decision. I am so blessed to have the supporting cast that I do, making it possible to meet with a handful of doctors before making my choices final. Credentials were not the only things we looked for during our search. I am sure all the doctors we met were extremely intelligent and fully capable of providing us with quality health care. That is not enough, though. If somebody is going to be pumping my veins full of poison, blasting my body with radiation, or slicing my abdomen into two halves, I want to make sure that I get a great vibe from them as a person, not only as a physician. I was not only searching for somebody that was completely confident in their abilities, but also somebody who was completely confident that they could return me back to family with a future. If I am ever in a position to give advice to somebody, I would tell them that they need to meet with as many doctors as it takes until they are completely comfortable. This is your life, your body, and nobody else should be making these choices for you, except maybe your wife.

Our team is selected at multiple locations and we are set to begin our journey. On Monday July 19th, I had a port surgically implanted in my chest. This port looks like a miniature computer mouse. The base of the device is about the size of a water bottle cap. From this base, there is about 10 inches of very thin tubing. The port was implanted about two inches under my right collar bone right under the skin. The tubing runs up over my collar bone and into my neck. It is fed directly into my jugular vein and is threaded down several inches where is rests just above my heart. The port acts as the primary access point for the chemo to be injected and also keeps the nurses from having to stick me in the arms every time they need blood.

Today is Wednesday July 21st and time couldn’t be moving any slower. I feel like I am six years old again and tomorrow is Christmas day. I am so anxious for chemo to start, I wonder if I will get any sleep tonight. The doctors have spoken to me about how I may feel after the treatment, but of course everybody reacts a little differently. The uncertainty is a little freaky, but I am still so excited to get these treatments underway. If Trudy responds well to the chemo, not only will the disease become more manageable and the surgeries become less invasive, but most importantly at this moment, the reduction in overall size should help greatly in terms of pain relief. Currently, as Trudy is all large and in charge, she is compressing on several nerve endings. For anybody who has ever had any sort of nerve pain, you know just how excruciating it is. Too bad I can’t inject Jim Beam directly into my port tonight, I am sure that would help me get some sleep.

The battle of my life begins tomorrow. There is message that has a tremendous amount of meaning to me, and I have been clinging to it since I originally heard the news. It comes from the “Jimmy V acceptance speech from the ESPY awards,” which I highly encourage you to read. I actually can’t even speak the words without getting emotional. I am adopting it as my own and will live by the message not only through this fight, but for the rest of my life.

don't give up...DON'T EVER GIVE UP!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How bad is it?

One of the things that I have noticed over the past couple of months having all these fancy tests done on these big expensive pieces of machinery is that the exam rooms are all freezing cold. To combat the frigid air in the rooms, the facilities offer you these heated blankets. These things are awesome. If you ever have to go into the hospital for any reason and they offer you one of these blankets, take it or you will regret it. It doesn’t matter if you are cold or not, these things have special powers or something. You feel better almost instantaneously.

I am not sure what is worse, though: the preparation or the tests themselves. I have always been a big eater and skipping a meal just wasn’t something that I ever did. In order for some of these tests to be accurate, the instructions state that I wasn’t to eat any solid foods for several hours prior to the procedure, usually 8 to 12 hours. I wasn’t allowed to have anything in my stomach or my colon. They didn’t want anything trying to push the scopes back out, if you know what I mean.

Living in a house where gourmet meals are prepared nightly for dinner, the sweet aroma of food fills the air, making it that much harder for me to follow instructions. Breakfast hours are typically accompanied by some sweet smells as well. It’s not like I couldn’t fill up on chicken broth and liquid jello, but you can image how unsatisfying that would be when you are sitting at the same table as somebody with a plate full of eggs, bacon, buttermilk biscuits with homemade jam, and fresh fruit. There was also no hiding from the scent of freshly brewed French vanilla coffee.

The week is moving pretty fast and I am bouncing from one exam room to the next. Each test has its own specific purpose, which is to give us detailed information about the size and severity of Trudy. After a colonoscopy followed by an ultrasound as well as a pelvic MRI, Friday morning’s PET CT was the final test. Not expecting to hear the result until after the weekend, surprisingly the call comes in around 10pm Friday evening. Turns out, Trudy is quite the aggressive little tumor. I am told that I have stage 4 colorectal cancer and that the tumor has made its way all the way through the tissue of the colon and is starting to effect the muscles on the pelvic wall. As if that wasn’t enough, greedy little Trudy has also made her way into the lymph nodes of the pelvis and she has also traveled up into the liver. Somewhere along the way we determined the definition of Trudy is “strong spear.” I’ll say…

As you might expect, this news was pretty devastating for my family and me to hear. Several hugs, a few tears, and a good night’s sleep later, I wake up with that same unbelievable inner peace that I experience when I was first diagnosed with cancer. This battle is going to be a lot tougher than originally expected, but I am ready for the challenge. The bigger the battle, the bigger the victory, the bigger the celebration. Now we must start meeting doctors and select the team that is going to be managing each phase of this treatment. Right now we are looking at a four stage regimen that should take somewhere in the ballpark of 9 months: 1) chemo for 2 months 2) chemo with radiation for 6 weeks, followed by 6 weeks of “cool off” time 3) multiple surgeries with approx 12 weeks of recovery 4) 4-8 weeks of chemo. Does anybody know if Santa makes trips to the hospital?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

From The Beginning...

How does a small pain in the ass turn into a life threatening disease? My answer to you is, I don’t know. Present day we know exactly what I am dealing with; however, I wanted to take everybody back to the beginning, back when Trudy was in hiding. Trudy is the name my wife and I came up with for the tumor that has been causing me so many problems. We felt a female name was more suiting given the fact that she really is a bitch.

Late February, early March I started having minor discomfort in my lower abdominal and around my tailbone every night when I would start to relax for the evening. Given the fact that I was working out frequently and had a pretty laborious job, I justified the pain, assuming it was just a small muscle pull. As the weeks passed, the discomfort started becoming pain that was limiting what I was able to do. After a “small push” from the wife, I decided to go see my family doctor and get things checked out. As I expected, the examination was pretty routine, and nobody was thinking that this pain was anything more than possibly a small hemorrhoid. After taking the hemorrhoid meds for a few weeks, I ended up right back where I started: in pain and in the doctor’s office. This time we started treating for a possible infection. Once again, I completed the course of medication that now puts us around the beginning of May and as you may suspect, the pain is getting worse and we are no closer to solving the mystery.

Now it is time for the fun stuff. At this point I have been referred to a surgeon who brings me in for a routine exam, yet again. Finally, someone wants to do a colonoscopy! These things are not pleasant at all, but at this point the pain was affecting every aspect of my life and I was willing to do anything to find some relief. I remember telling myself going into the procedure, “ I don’t care what he finds, as long as he finds something so we can begin treatment.” My prayers were answered on May 21st and the doctor tells me he has found some masses in my colon and that he believes that I have Inflamed Bowel Disease (IBD), leaning toward Ulcerative Colitis. Of course, I was hoping that what he found was something very simple, but either way, at least now we knew what it was and we could start treating it. In case you’re wondering, biopsies were taken of the masses, but the results showed no signs of cancer. In our minds, we were dealing with a disease that is more of a nuisance rather than something that is life threatening. With this diagnosis, we decided things were going to be just fine, so my wife packed up with the baby and moved to Michigan as planned the very next day, not because we found out I was sick.

About a week later, times are really getting tough for me and I am handling this on my own. I couldn’t walk without pain, I couldn’t sit without pain, I couldn’t even use the bathroom without pain (number 1 or number 2). The meds aren’t working and my doctor’s response is simply to give it some more time. To avoid sounding like a big sissy, I continued working and just dealt with it and got through the days the best way that I could. The last week in May I started noticing a hard bump on my butt. No, it wasn’t growing on the outside of the skin, but the kind of bump you feel pushing out from the inside. This thing started out painful and seemingly got worse by the minute. I could literally feel this thing growing significantly larger with each touch. I haven’t been able to sit down for three days at this point and kneeling on all fours was about the only position I could find any relief in. I wasn’t sleeping at all and I was actually scared to eat because that inevitably meant I would have to use the bathroom some hours later. When I needed to urinate I had to take a shower in order to go. The mass was so big that it was messing with my bladder and pretty much any other structure from the hips down. There is now a grapefruit in my buttcheek, so I finally decide to go to the emergency room, again with a “small nudge” from my wife. Looking back on the situation, there is no way I should have driven myself to the hospital, but luckily I got there without causing an accident. Doctors take one look at my rump and immediately order me to be admitted, and an operating room is booked.

The wifey hops back on a plane the second she hears the news and is there to take care of her man as he comes out of surgery. I don’t recall how long the surgery was, but I do remember about two seconds before I went under, and that feeling was awesome. The surgery consisted of a single two inch incision in close proximity to my “backdoor”. The mass turned out to be a gigantic abscess that was drained and the void was filled with packing gauze. So I go into the OR with a grapefruit-sized infection and I come out with a grapefruit-sized ball of cotton stuck in my wound. This type of wound needs to heal from the inside out, therefore the incision was not stitched shut.

Try to image having a wide open wound on your butt. Yeah, just the thought of it is quite strange. You could literally see the muscles and soft tissues of my rear end by looking into this incision. My wife, who agreed to be with me through sickness and in health, was given some instructions that most may see as rather strange too. Twice a day she was to pull out all the packing material in the wound and replace it with fresh gauze. I don’t feel as if I even need to say this, but this was an extremely uncomfortable procedure. I think pulling out the old stuff was the worst part of it; however, it wasn’t very pleasant feeling her push this stuff back inside my open wound with a stick of wood that resembled a giant Q-tip. I do feel a little of relief at this point now that the abscess is gone, but we still haven’t addressed the original problem. Again, I am ordered to keep taking the meds for IBD and be patient.

When I get home from the hospital, my wife and a great group of friends are working diligently in the blistering sun to pack up all of our belongings into a moving truck so that I could move to Michigan and be with my family again. After a couple days of packing, it is time to hit the open road. As you might expect, sitting for me is still a huge problem. Not only from the IBD, but also from this incision on my rear. To account for this issue, I create a bed in the back of the Acadia by placing a piece of plywood wrapped in blankets across the center row bucket seats to create a bed of sorts for the dog and myself. After a few hours of trying to sit in the front with my wife while the hound gets the pseudo-bed in the back, it’s time to switch. Now the hound is riding shotgun and I am laying in the fetal position across the two bucket seats trying to find some comfort so we wouldn’t have to stop every 20 minutes. This game of musical chairs continues for the full 18 hours of drive time from Florida to Michigan.

Finally we arrive in Michigan and the first thing we do is see a specialist. Keep in mind we are still under the assumption that I have Ulcerative Colitis (one of the two IBD diseases). The doctor here reviews the report and the test results from the doctor in Florida. Based on that information and how I am describing my symptoms, the Michigan doctor changes a few things with the meds, changes the diagnosis to Crohn’s Disease because of the abscess, but ultimately keeps treating me for IBD. More time goes by and I am not feeling any better at all, in fact things are still getting worse. My tailbone feels like it being crushed in a vice and any movement whatsoever is terribly painful. I describe what I am going through as suffering. At times the pain was so intense I would start shaking uncontrollably until I would literally pass out. After a few more calls and visits to the doctor she puts me back in the hospital to beef up my meds with some crazy strong IV treatments. Six fun-filled days (one of which was my very first Father’s Day) of laying in a bed and watching Fresh Prince and Reba re-runs, and one more small surgical procedure to remove another abscess, I am sent home with hopes that I am on the mend and will be as good as new in a few days.

June 29th, I am in so much pain that I can’t stand it and my family can’t watch me suffer any longer. I head back into the doctor’s office and politely demand that we start from square one and redo the tests and examinations that were done in Florida. At this point, I have been in constant pain, mostly horrible pain. I can’t eat, sleep, go to bathroom, or do anything. I am down 40 pounds from March and I am on the verge of a breakdown because I have no idea what is wrong with me, but I know something isn’t right. Doc agrees to start from scratch and we go back to the old scope in the rear end. It doesn’t take long before we see what is causing so much pain. A tumor, that will later be known as Trudy, is found in the lowest part of my colon (my rectum). A biopsy is done to confirm suspicion, but it is safe to say that the past four months have been a waste of time and that we have been treating a disease that I clearly don’t have. After the examination is completed, the doctor asks me to come up to her office. I wasn’t sure what she was going to say, but I knew I wasn’t going to be good based on the look on her face and the tone in her voice. After a few minutes of fancy doctor talk, the verbiage that I could understand comes out. She says she is very concerned and believes that the mass she found is cancerous and that the location of the tumor was not favorable in terms of saving my rectum. Again, not completely sure what all this means, but she did state that removing the rectum would require a colostomy bag. June 30th (my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday), the pathology report confirms the mass is cancer. Trudy the Intruder is now a reality, not just a suspicion, and certainly not a joke.

After crying with the family for a few hours, and putting things into perspective, I made the decision to remain positive, lean on my faith, and not let this diagnosis touch my spirit and mind. I know that feeling sorry for myself and wondering “why me” wasn’t go to change anything. The very next morning after hearing that I have colorectal cancer, I had a strange inner peace about the situation and I knew that I was never going to give up or let Trudy take control of my life. After spreading the news to family and friends, the prayers and support started flooding in. The power of prayer is amazing and I become stronger with each and every message I receive. The next week, a series of tests are scheduled and we will soon know exactly how big of a pain in the ass this Trudy is going to be.