The day finally arrived, time to pack up and head home for the first time in a month. I was so eager to get out of the hospital and thrilled that the walls were now just walls and no longer moving around as if there were snakes under the paint. I still had a ton of healing to do and my nutrition requirements were still extremely high. The nice doctors even allowed me to take some of my JP drains home with me, not as souvenirs, but still functioning and coming out of my abdomen. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts just how bumpy and beat up the roads are in Michigan. Driving home with fresh incisions and all kinds of internal and external stitches made the trip from Ann Arbor to Grand Rapids very unpleasant. I remember being so emotional as we were leaving the University of Michigan. I was so excited to be getting out of my “medical prison,” but once we pulled away from the hospital, my excitement immediately turned into fear. I think knowing there wasn’t medical professionals available at the push of a button scared me more than expected. Something about this whole experience has turned me into quite the crier.
Once arriving home, I headed straight for bed and stayed there for several days before trying to move. It was great to be near family, but for a while I wondered if leaving the hospital was a good idea. My body was so weak and I was in constant pain. Between the crazy surgery, removing a large portion of my abdominal muscles, and lying around in a hospital bed for a month, I developed chronic back pain. I needed to rest and relax, but I couldn’t ever find a comfortable position. I literally couldn’t sit or lay in any one position for more than 15 minutes without feeling like a ninja was stabbing a sword into my back. The imbalance that was created in my torso caused my spine to be pulled and contorted in such an awkward way. I thought the surgical pain was going to be the worst part of it, but I was wrong, it was absolutely my back. Just to add one more thing to the mix, I had a ton of internal gas bubbles throughout my back and stomach that I could actually feel moving around. It took awhile before all the gas was gone but each time one of those things would pop it felt great.
My fearful mind was paralyzing me when I first got home. I was so scared to move. I was so nervous of setbacks. Looking ahead, it seemed like my recovery was going to take years. My best friends were scheduled to come up one after the other right away to help in any way they could, but mostly for moral support. I strongly considered having my wife tell them to cancel their trips because I just wasn’t ready. For some reason I believed I needed to entertain and play host. I am so grateful that she didn’t ask them to stay home and that they were able to spend some time with me. We didn’t really do anything other than watch TV and talk, but it was so important to me that they came. Just having them there, encouraging me, and helping me get my recovery off to a good start while taking my mind off the pain, the fears, and the cancer was a Godsend. There are many times it would have been so easy to start having negative thoughts and start letting the cancer get the best of me. My friends did exactly what I needed them to do, and that was keeping me positive. It has never been easy for me to ask for help, but this experience has made me realize that I can’t do everything alone. If you ever find yourself in a time of need, I encourage you to lean on those who are closest to you.
About two weeks after being discharged, I had to return to Ann Arbor to have the remaining stitches and JP drains removed. The stitch removal was nothing, but the JP removal was another thing. Given that I had these drains in for quite awhile, my body started forming scar tissue around the drain sites. I had a couple of the drains removed in the hospital, but don’t really remember much about the procedure. After having the remaining two drains out, I realized it wasn’t really a procedure at all. The doctor first looked me over, then grabbed on to one of the tubes and said, “Are you ready?” Am I ready, what do you mean, aren’t you going to numb the area or anything first? Nope, she just yanked those suckers out on the count of three while I had a white knuckle grip on the exam table. The pain was quite intense, but over in a few seconds. That was a huge moral boost and almost instantly lifted my spirits.
About 4 weeks after surgery, it was time to meet with the oncologist to discuss the next round of chemotherapy. The doctor took one look at me and never even discussed the chemo. I don’t blame him though, I did look pretty bad. He just confirmed that I still had a pulse and told me to come back in about a month. So, four weeks later I return to his office and we planned out the next series of treatments. We agreed to a half and half type regimen where I would come to the cancer pavilion for a few hours to get some of the meds infused and then would be sent home to take some additional chemo pills daily. Well, this plan only lasted about five days. The pills caused daily heart spasms, which got worse with each day. We concluded this initial plan wasn’t going to work after a mad dash via ambulance to the ER yet again and chose to go back to the initial chemo regimen from last summer. Even though we knew I was still going to have Dumbo do a few jigs on my chest each session, being admitted into the hospital for a couple of days and having immediate medical attention seemed to be our best bet. This way I only had to worry about heart spasms for a few days instead of everyday for two and a half months.
The three months of treatment went just as expected. The vasospasms occurred with every treatment, but the nurses were amazing and were able to keep them relatively under control. I would feel pretty crummy for about a week, but then would have a fairly descent week to recover. I took advantage of these “good weeks” and started back to the gym. I was instructed by my surgeons not to lift anything over 20lbs due to the fear of a hernia, but it was still great getting back into the gym again. Honestly, I wasn’t really able to lift more than 20 pounds anyways, so their restrictions didn’t slow me down at all. The most amazing thing about this was the fact that I could start strengthening my back again. The chronic back pain of nearly 4 months was finally starting to vanish and it was a tremendous relief. My ego was slightly bruised watching 80 year old women lifting more weight than me, but I was so grateful to feel alive again that I didn’t let it get me down.
I know our merciful Lord has been with me on this entire journey thusfar, and I feel as if He should have been the one with the chronic back pain from carrying me during this time in my life. “Footprints” comes to mind when I look back on where I have been and compare it to where I am now. There was definitely only one set of prints in the sand and I know they were His.
Here we are in the middle of May and I feel better than I have felt in over a year. My latest scan results showed that there is some cancer affecting my right adrenal gland, but all the original cancer in my liver, lungs, pancreas, gall bladder, rectum, and lymph nodes seems to be gone. If that isn’t an amazing blessing, than I don’t know what is. To think that last June I was told there was a chance that I might not be around for Christmas is crazy to me. I still have a few battles left to fight with the new upcoming chemo and additional surgeries, but I have come miles upon miles and feel like I just have a few blocks to go until I can rejoice as a cancer survivor and honor our God for healing me.
I have so much to be thankful for and I am more positive than ever, but the truth is that I still really struggle with a few things. As much as we focus on the good, it is impossible at times to keep your mind from going places you don’t want it to. I truly believe that I will beat this cancer and will live a long happy life with my wife, my son, and hopefully another beautiful child to come; however I can’t control my mind from wondering about dying or wondering if today is going to be the day I am told the cancer is back and inoperable. My wife and child are my whole world and I just can’t imagine not being around for them. I know that I will be in a better place and my sadness will no longer exist if I die, but I will be leaving them to carry the sadness and pain on their hearts. I just don’t know how one can let go of their loved one’s hand for the very last time knowing their spirit is gone. I don’t know how one can return home to a house where everything reminds them of the one they just lost. I don’t know how you go out into the world where every song, movie, or meal stirs up a memory. I don’t know how my wife will tell Hudson that daddy isn’t going to be coming home. How do you say good-bye? I cry every single day when I am alone thinking about this. The tears aren’t for me, but rather for them. I can tell you that the physical strains of what I have gone through don’t even compare to the mental challenges.
I can make you all a promise, though. I will fight this thing with every ounce of my being and will never concede. “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.” Jimmy Valvano
don’t give up…DON’T EVER GIVE UP