The Great Cancer Adventure

September 19, 2017

- 5 min read

I discovered really quite by accident and coincidence just last week I have cancer. My urologist was looking for something in my bladder which wasn’t there, but the scan showed something wrong in my throat. Having already had a routine colonoscopy scheduled, I called the GI Doc, who agreed to scope me on both ends, which is why I was able to have this done so quickly. I woke up from the procedure with blood stains all up and down my left arm (having been placed on that side during the procedure), so I wasn’t surprised when told several biopsy specimens had been taken, all of which looked like cancer, though this was subject to verification by a pathologist.

The GI Doc further explained I needed to schedule appointments with various specialists, all of whom were waiting on my call. (If it wasn’t apparent already I was really, really sick, when doctors tell you to call other doctors, explaining their colleagues are waiting to hear from you, you know you’re in deep kimchi. Yes, this was an effective phone tree and I am grateful for the Doc being so forthcoming and helpful, but there is no misunderstanding the seriousness of the situation.) He said we’d have a rough road ahead for the next couple of months. Curious, Betty and I were both present at this conversation, but have dramatically different recollections of important details. She heard “tumor” for example, whereas I heard “mass”. And maybe he used both terms, but she heard “cancer” and I heard “problem”.

(While recognizing my original notes, observations and social media postings/rants about the Great Cancer Adventure accurately reflect my state of mind, and therefore my perceptions, at the time, it’s also important to include herein, at least from time to time, some reflective comments for perspective. So here goes the first instance of these….

Yes, that I was just then coming out of the fog of anesthesia might explain some part of my distortion, or that one or both of us stopped listening carefully when the bad news was first articulated, but even though we’re each still convinced our version of events is the factually accurate one, this difference in what we each heard led Betty, aka The Champ, to record on her cell phone all medical conversations, something she now does routinely and shares with immediate family. These recordings are all done in full view of the Docs, some of whom have even commented on the wisdom of doing this, and there’s never been an objection; as of mid-September 2019, she’s recorded 50 of these.)

Things happened quickly from there, and the chronology is a little fuzzy, but all of this happened between mid-September and early October 2017:

Betty and I learned from the Oncology Doc the news is even more dire than it first looked like it might be, as I have cancer staged at 3B. He also said, while I’d be working with and seeing other specialists, he was the quarterback of the team and would be calling the plays; whereupon I told him I was the center for my high school football team (Dreux American High School, France –Go Vikings!) and the play didn’t start until I hiked the ball. Which is another way of saying, after consultation with loved ones and medical experts, any treatment decisions ultimately were mine and no one else’s. Having had that conversation, we’re going to get on fine.

I asked him my prognosis, to which he responded, if we did nothing, I might have six-twelve months, but by treating it aggressively I might have three-five years of good quality of life, since what I had, adino carcinoma of the esophagus (we had the biopsies by then), was “hard to treat and liked to come back.” He pointedly never said anything about remission or cure, a frank assessment I have always appreciated. Dealing with a fatal malady was not exactly how I expected to spend the rest of this calendar year and into retirement (previously scheduled for May 31, 2018), but knowing I would likely never get beyond this, gave me a certain comfort, since I knew what was in store, generally anyway. Not deluding myself, not chasing some fantasy cure, I could focus on the fight and let the outcome take care of itself. I would play this all the way through.

After the Oncology Doc. we met with a Thoracic Surgeon, who explained that attempting to remove the tumor prior to chemotherapy (six rounds of one weekly session each) and radiation (28 week daily sessions) wasn’t prudent, in as much as the surgery itself, even if it got all the cancer, was a life-changing event, e.g., a typical hospital stay for this surgery, actually two surgeries performed by two different specialists, is nine days.

Two of my life’s goals are to live a long, happy and at least remotely successful life without ever playing a round of golf or getting a tattoo. The first of those two is still safe, but now I have three tattoos, each about the size of a dot from a ball point pen, one on each side of my rib cage and the other just below my sternum. These’re used to line up the radiation. Also, the radiation oncology techs made me my very own plastic mold to hold me in place during treatment. Even has my name on it.

I went under anesthesia, even if only lightly, so a port might be inserted in my neck and chest to allow for easy access for blood draws (for lab tests) and chemotherapy infusions. It’ll be there at least for two years or more if I live. Another sign I’ll be engaged in this struggle for the long run.

Somewhere along the line in these early days, shortly after having told of my illness, daughter Elizabeth, son-in-law Sam, granddaughter Ramona, son Peter and daughter-in-law Nicole showed up at our house on short notice from two different, eastern US cities. They were with us, Betty and me, when we met with the Onology Doc and the Radiation Oncology Doc as they outlined the treatment plan ahead, i.e., six rounds of weekly chemotherapy (Carboplatin and Taxol) and 28 dosages of radiation.

I don’t know how this will end (other than I will play this all the way out, as I’ve already said) and I’m not afraid, at least not now. And I’m not alone. I have Betty and the kids (well, my “offspring” and their spouses as they’re all adults in their 30s!) on my side, so I know I’ll be OK no matter what happens. Nobody gets out of this alive, anyway, and this diagnosis would suggest I will not die from the infirmities of old age which strangely is some comfort of its own.

(Social Media posting from my son, Peter, today.)

“Please keep my Dad in your thoughts and feel free to send any good wishes you may want his way. He's my biggest influence and the reason I've become the man I am today (for better or worse, har!). So even if you've never met, please send encouragements via FB, it would mean a great deal to me.”

I am a lucky man!