Cancer’s Ray of Hope

January 25th, 2014 10:19 AM

By now you might have heard I was diagnosed with cancer a few days ago.

Our dear friends at Twitchy, my buddy Andrew Klavan, and the Daily Caller’s Betsy Rothstein have the blow-by-blow of my first trip to the hospital, my eventual admittance, and the astonishing number of prayers that have come in for me from around the country and the world. To say the attention was unimaginable is an understatement of epic proportions.

So let me just begin with: THANK YOU!

People should next know that this disease came completely out of the blue. I had no symptoms other than what I thought was the flu going around. There’s no history of lung cancer or lymphoma in my family. And although I was a social smoker in college – who wasn’t? – I probably haven’t smoked a total of 20 cigarettes in the past two decades. My wife stopped in either 1997 or 1998, and never went back.

But let’s take this further: I’m an exercise and health nut. With the assistance of my now darling daughter-in-law, I reworked my entire diet and fitness program in 2012 to get me back to the kind of body I had when I was in my 30s. Since then, I’ve largely lived my life to improve my fitness and find healthier foods that would further that goal.

But the Big C didn’t care about my diet or fitness level when he knocked on my door recently, for quite obviously healthy living doesn’t prevent you from acquiring this disease, and that doesn’t seem very fair, does it?

A former business partner and long-time friend has smoked between two and three packs of cigarettes a day since he was 15. In the earlier years, his poison was unfiltered Camels. He’s never exercised as long as I’ve known him, and he loves his meat and potatoes. Yet he’s twelve years my senior living a far less healthy life than I currently do all of it free from the Big C.

How does that happen? I asked the pulmonary specialist yesterday where someone in my health with no family history of this could “catch” this. He said we really don’t know. Some things represent genetic predispositions. In my case, heck, I could have come across a high level of radiation somewhere years ago – in a medical lab, for example - and a mutation began starting the process. He wasn’t claiming this is what it was, mind you, but instead, this is how random the cause can be.

Not very reassuring, is it? Most of us try to live our lives along paths that are as predictable as possible. Having your life radically changed because of some random, unknown contact with radiation decades ago has to alter your view of the world, no?

So when I arrived in Florida on January 7 for a planned working holiday with my parents - unfortunately bringing besides my daughter the remains of what I thought was a flu that started shortly after the New Year - I had no idea that some random event that had little consequence to me decades ago – one that I mightn’t have even been cognizant of – was about to turn my life upside down.

What I’ve been through in the past five days I wouldn’t wish on a dog – an expression I’ve never understood considering America’s love for canines. To make some sense out of it, and to distract me from my pain and suffering, I took to Facebook and Twitter to chronicle the experience.

Truth be told, I wasn’t doing it to necessarily publicize the experience per se. Folks know me not to be much of a “status” tweeter. However, as I hadn’t brought my computer to the hospital – I was expecting to see a physician about the lumps that had developed on my neck overnight, be examined, take some x-rays, get diagnosed, and then sent on my way to the pharmacy with prescriptions for cure - I only had my smartphone on me. FB/Twitter fit the bill during the long waits between actually being around a human being.

The response was astonishing. Prayers and best wishes started coming in from everywhere.

In a word, I’m shocked, and wonder what about this incident has touched so many people. Is it the fragility of our existence, and how from each passing second something that profoundly changes your life in a positive or negative way may enter it? Will you know it when it happens, or can it lead or trail you by the tiniest sub-particle thereby having no impact whatsoever – or altering someone else’s life rather than your own be it fortunately or unfortunately?

And does such an event challenge your faith or strengthen it? If the Noel in the byline were your son, or your brother, or your father, or you, how would this experience be for you from a theological perspective?

Or does that miss the point, and instead, because of the internet, and blogs, and social media, I AM you? We’re all each other somehow due to this electronic connection we’ve created, and when one of us suffers, we all suffer?

I don’t know the answer to that, but let me tell you what I do know: I took a big step forward in this journey yesterday.

After the four worst days of my life, I asked Him for just one better day than the previous one to give me a ray of hope. That ray didn’t come early in the day. Hell no. Lots of pain Wednesday after a horrible, sleepless night. Parents had a lot of their own doctors’ appointments so couldn’t spend a lot of time with me.

You probably don’t know this, but a hospital can be a very lonely place, especially at night when they get dark and cold and the sounds from neighboring rooms are filled with groans of pain and tears. So I had been ruing nightfall since I had awoken Wednesday much as a kid still afraid of the dark.

At about 5:30 PM, the oncologist came to tell me they thought they had concluded that the cancer was a non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which would have been good news but not the best. Hodgkins at this point would be the most positive finding due to the chemotherapy strategies, recovery periods, and levels of success. However, just as they were about to close the case at NH-lymphoma, one of the analysts involved maintained that this could also be a carcinoma of the lungs, which would be far more serious. As such, they were sending the sample to another lab for additional opinion.

I was once again stunned, and cried heavenward with tears streaming through my eyes, “Well, thanks for one better day!”

The oncologist asked me to explain, and after I did, she said, “Well, today’s C-T scan revealed no growths in the abdomen or pelvis. We saw that as great news.”

And thus began my climb out of the abyss.

I already knew carcinoma was a possibility. Yes, we would rather have had this disease start in the lymph spreading into the lung and also likely impact lymph there. As we haven’t biopsied the lung yet, we don’t know what that mass is.

If it turns out the lymph extracted from the neck is carcinoma, the likely scenario is the illness began as lung cancer – who knows when? – and was recently absorbed by lymph in the neck to help “resolve” it. If for now it’s only moved into the neck, we’ll have fewer targets to go after and therefore a higher cure potential. That there’s nothing in the abdomen or pelvis – YET! – is great news if this turns out to be carcinoma.

With that, my oncologist left me, and I was once again alone with my thoughts – a very dangerous place of late. I suddenly jumped into business mode, and realized that I needed to establish some priorities.

I hadn’t slept in days, and the evenings were torture for a variety of reasons. If I was going to get a hold of this illness and myself, I first needed to conquer the evening so that it could become productive: able to eat without pain; able to drink fluids without pain; able to shift positions in bed or even sit up without pain; able to get out of bed without pain; able to get back in bed without pain; able to find a comfortable position so that I can sleep without pain.

On the left side above my collarbone currently resides about an orange-sized mass of swollen lymph nodes so large it’s occluding the jugular vein. On the right side are the remaining swollen lymph nodes post-biopsy. They continue to swell. Combined, the swellings make the neck very tight and very painful – especially if I cough. Then the pain is intolerable.

So I rang for the nurse, told her what was happening, and she suggested we go back to the morphine. I agreed, and rather quickly got back to sleep waking around 7:30.

Now that’s sleeping. All totaled, I probably had between 9 and 10 hours sleep. I felt much better. I even got out of bed Thursday to write this sitting in a regular chair. Yes, for the first time since Saturday morning, I was well enough to write.

What changed, you ask? I needed light.

You see, last Saturday, I was thrown into a minefield. I had no idea where I was or what to do. Every move I made resulted in a painful explosion. Each day, the explosions got more frequent and more violent.

Oh, and it was perpetually dark. So even if I knew how to navigate this minefield, I didn’t have the light by which to do it.

The negative C-T scan Wednesday turned on the lights. Once on, some of the puzzle that had totally confused me the previous days due to my pain, fears, and anxieties became a little less fuzzy.

For days I have been acting like a child because of everything that had been so unexpectedly thrown at me in such a short period of time. But with the light on, I saw what needed to be done to make my fifth night in the hospital much better than the previous four.

Maybe more importantly, I now have the tools to effectively manage the coming days.

This war is far from over, but I won a huge battle Wednesday night – hopefully the first of many. I’m now far better equipped to proceed, and believe fortifications are imminent as I continue to turn on more lights. It sure is wonderful to be out of the dark again.

Of course, now that I’m once again visible, it would be nice if they’d let me shower, wash my hair, and shave. I’m really quite concerned that one of these days I’m going to look in the mirror and it’s going to break!

Epilogue: This was written Thursday. Due to internet problems at my hospital, I wasn’t able to publish until Saturday.

Since then, not a lot has changed. We’re still waiting for the results of the biopsy. For those that think this is absurd, be advised that there are at least 30 different types of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Chemotherapy treatments are specific to each type. And, chemo treatments are different if this is carcinoma. So the most important part of cancer treatment is properly identifying the type or you’re not going to defeat it.

Unfortunately, I had another atrial fibrillation Friday – nobody knows why – that fortunately wasn’t that eventful due to all the heart medication they’ve got me on since the first episode early Sunday morning. But most importantly, I have a couple of possible rays of hope today.

I’ve asked for a C-T scan on the brain as a well as a bone scan. I no longer want to wait on this. If these come out negative, then we’ve identified that the cancer – whatever it is – is currently only in the lymph in the neck and in the right lung.

Yes, I understand that either or both might be positive, but I need to know what I’m dealing with. As I highly-doubt we’re going to find anything in bone or brain, we’ll be ready to attack my unwelcome invader immediately upon discovering what it is rather than having to wait for more tests.

Stay tuned.