Friday, July 30, 2010

As it turns out, I don't suck.

Warning: this is kind of a long one

Hey there, its me again. I know that most of you know what has been going on, but for those of you that don't, i ll let you know whats been up with me

In a word, Cancer.

That's whats been up with me.

Those of you who read the last blog i posted know that i had just discovered that i was suffering from some thyroid issues. As it turned out, it was a little more serious than that. Shortly after diagnosing me as being hypothyridic, the doctor decided to do an ultrasound of my thyroid to make sure that nothing was wrong with it. That led to them finding some suspicious areas and that led to a biopsy. I was told not to worry, that only about 4 percent of these things turn out to be cancerous and i remember thinking that 96% was pretty good odds. I should have played the lottery that day...
My cell phone rang at about 8:30am which is well before i am normally awake and i heard the voice of my good, but annoyingly indifferent doctor. He was saying something about biopsy results and papillary something and other big sounding words. I was still fairly bleary and only processing about 20% of what he said. At some point I'm pretty sure he paused, and i said "what" and that's when he dropped the cancer bomb on me. In hindsight i think it might have been a good thing that i was not fully awake when he told me because hearing that you have cancer at the age of 30 is kind of rough. Anyway, after he hung up i took a few moments to sort of consider what he had said to me. I then called my parents and called Becky and everybody was surprised and upset.


Like this. It landed like this.

Of course Becky rushed home from work to be with me and later Alden, my brother in law joined us. I sat there that morning with them and we talked about how all this might go down. Alden knew other folks who had gone through this type of thing before, so he was doing the best he could to let me know it wasn't the end of the world. As our little impromptu meeting ended i decided to call the doctor back and ask him to repeat the stuff he told me since i was now very much awake. I put the phone on speaker so everyone could hear it, and the smallest part of me hoped against hope that i had maybe misheard him earlier that morning. Nope, i still had cancer. I thanked Alden for coming over and crashed back down on the couch again. At this point, i admit that i was upset, but i was sort of ok. When i collected my thoughts a little bit i sat down to do some research on my disease.

PRO TIP: if you think you might have any kind of serious illness, what ever the hell you do, DO NOT look it up on the internet. Nothing good will come of it. In my case there are 4 different kinds of thyroid cancer, and one of them is absolutely horrible and almost always fatal. You can imagine where my mind went with that.


These guys are nothing but fear peddlers.

The next couple of weeks were emotionally up and down. If i thought about it too much i would start to freak out a little bit. All in all though i think i managed to keep a fairly positive outlook on the whole thing. Its not like i had a really aggressive cancer or anything. What i had was extremely treatable and chances were that i would recover and be just fine. Since I'm a lazy person, i was just dreading having to go through all the crap that i knew was going to happen. Like the surgery and the recovery, and the diet and the radioactive iodine treatments, endless blood tests.....blah blah blah.

I was right to dread it though....

Fast forward to July 13th when i actually had my surgery. I really don't remember much of it. I know that we got to the hospital early in the morning. So early in fact, that the damn doors to the surgery center weren't open and we had to walk around the entire hospital to get in. (Honestly, is it too much to think that if the surgery center schedules you to be there at 5am that maybe the doors to the surgery center be open at or before 7am?) Once we got checked in i remember that i really wasn't nervous or anything. Once my name was called we went in, and i changed into my surgical gown.

Side note: Is it only me or does it seem like hospital gowns are designed to be both physically and psychologically uncomfortable?

I got on the bed and stared into the stupidly bright lights and waited. Various nurses and doctors came by and it was pretty much the general pre-surgery dance. Ill tell you, it just never gets old verifying my name and birthday to every single person who opens the curtain. I know its for my safety and all but for the love of all that's holy there has to be a better way...anyway, before i knew it, it was lights out.

Those of you who contacted Becky on that day probably know more about my surgery than i do but what i do know, is that it took waaaay longer than they initially thought it would. The doc thought the surgery would be 4 hours or so, it ended up being a 10-11 hour surgery. The cancer was apparently much worse than anyone thought and it was wrapped around seemingly every structure in my neck. Oh, and at some point i think i had a lung collapse and things got a little scary. (I'm still not too sure what happened there, all i know is i ended up with a chest tube and a hole in my chest that is still healing.) All in all though, I have to thank god that i had such a good surgeon because he managed to save all of the important structures. He managed to avoid all the major nerves in my neck, and anatomically speaking, i still have both my vocal chords even though cancer had wrapped its way around one of them. When he was done, he had taken out my thyroid, a couple of parathyroid glands and a boatload of other cancerous tissues along with it. I guess the surgery went relatively well which is good since waking up from that surgery was a different story....

I honestly don't know how long it took me to wake up after surgery but i woke up in the intensive care unit, and i was not too happy to discover that A) i still had a breathing tube in me and B) i was restrained. I'm still not terribly sure why i was restrained, but i remember fighting it pretty hard. And everything hurt regardless of the fact that i was on a morphine drip. My shoulders hurt, my hips hurt, my neck hurt (imagine that) and the worst part was i couldn't say anything to anyone because of the breathing tube. It was a really long first night as i recall. I couldn't really sleep even though i was exhausted and on boatloads of painkillers. My biggest obstacle to sleep was this freaking alarm that went off when my oxygen level got too low (i think). I guess i wasn't breathing deep enough and that put me at risk for pneumonia or something. On some level i knew that that alarm was for my safety but the fact that it went off every time i started to drift off pissed me off. The nurse wasn't helping either when he told me that i would have to breath deeply for several hours before the breathing tube could be removed. So i breathed. Eventually the tube did come out and the restraints came off and i was able to get some sleep.

Ill be honest, i was pretty blurry there for a long time. My recollection of the time line may be off if you talk to Becky or my mother but this is how it played out to me.

The ICU is a very strange place to recover in. Chances are that you are on a lot of drugs and things that would otherwise be sort of normal are amplified and can be a little surreal and scary. There were a lot of strange sounds and alarms and other noises. I would occasionally hear other patients moan in pain or whatever and I remember thinking at one point that that's what a Medieval dungeon would have sounded like if it had electricity. Some poor guy that i never got to see, had the absolute most annoying monitoring system on him. Every time his body did something unusual or tried to kill him the machine would "play" various notes. That's the only way i can describe it. It would play a different little tune every time his body acted up. I remember telling my dad that it was terribly disrupting when i was trying to sleep and he reminded me that the poor guy was probably close to death. I felt bad, sort of.

When i closed my eyes i could actually sleep, which was good, but every time i moved i hurt. I remember the nurse coming in to roll me on my side to reduce the possibility of bed sores or something (I'm still a little unclear about it actually) and it was just horrible. I couldn't lift or support my head because i had three brand new incisions in my neck, if i put any pressure on my shoulders it was horrible. In fact i had a hard time justifying the pain in my shoulders to myself. Does that make sense? The neck pain and some of the other things i could justify and accept as pain i should be feeling based on the procedure i just had, but the fact that my shoulders felt like they had been torn off my body and then somehow reattached with burning nails was beyond me. The pain and weakness in my left shoulder was so great that i couldn't lift my hand off my body for the first several days. Even now, i still cant lift anything heaver than a gallon of milk with my left arm.

Things did sort of get better though. I got used to the hurty parts on me and I was finally able to hold semi coherent conversations with people who were in there. One thing that i do regret is that apparently i had a cute girl for a nurse and i was too drugged up to remember or appreciate that. Oh well. I was finally released to a private room sometime around noon a couple of days after my surgery. I think.

If you are still reading this i can go ahead and skip through the next part of my recovery. There were lots of naps, and morphine and golf. The British open was going on and frankly it was kind of nice to be able to watch that for hours on end and forget about the fresh holes in my neck. The last real bombshell came on the day that I was released.

I went in for surgery on Tuesday and was released to go home on Saturday but before we (the family and i) left to go, my surgeon came in to check up on me one last time. He told us that everything seemed to be healing up ok, and that i was lucky since i had probably had the cancer for as long as 15 years. I couldn't help but take that as confirmation that i really did have the fat, slow kid of cancer. You know, the pudgy kid in your 1st grade class who always had crumbs from his last meal on his shirt? The kid and who was also kind of irritable and didn't do anything very fast and whined a lot? And his name was probably something unfortunate like Percy, or Duncan or Seymour? Yeah, my cancer is like that. To be honest i am lucky that it is so un-aggressive and slow moving. But 15 years, that's crazy.


This is how i imagine my cancer. Man boobs and all.

So, that's whats been up with me. Ive been home for the last couple of weeks trying to heal up and things are starting to get back to normal. I still don't have a proper voice which is a huge concern for me as I'm sure you all know. Just the other day, the doc told me that either it would come back, or it wont. Thanks doc. While i am able to get up and get around more than i did just a week ago, i still don't have a lot of stamina, and i get tired very quickly if i have to do anything very physical. For instance, i put away the dishes out of the dishwasher and had to have a nap after that. But again, overall things are improving.

So whats gonna happen now? Well that's a good question. The next couple of weeks will be preparation for the radioactive iodine treatment which will hopefully kill off the remaining cancer in my body. So far i have had to come off of the synthetic hormone that i was on and in a couple of weeks i will have to go on an iodine free diet. Ill blog about that sometime soon because its kind of crazy. After i hit a TSH level of 30 (thyroid stimulation hormone) i will have to have a radioactive Iodine treatment which will render me bedridden for 3-5 more days after. The crazy part of that whole thing is that i will be so radioactive that i have to stay 6 feet away from living creatures for 3-5 days. I have to stay away from children and pets for a week. Hopefully that will kill off the remaining cancer that the surgeon didn't get and i can be pronounced cancer free sometime after that. I'm sure that after Becky reads this, she will correct it since she has been my schedule maker/keeper, but that's the general plan for me.

At this point, I need to take this time to thank everyone for being so incredibly supportive to me and my family through this time. Seriously you guys, the support and love has been overwhelming and i don't know if i will ever be able to fully say how much i really appreciate all of you, but i do. I don't use this word very often, but i truly feel blessed to be surrounded by so many folks willing to to go out of their way to help me out. So, thank you, thank you, thank you so much for everything. Someday ill figure out how to repay all the kindness you guys have shown me.

I think I'm gonna wrap it up since this is the 4th time I've written this thing and i want to get it posted before i change my mind and rewrite it all. Again, thanks to all of you for everything and please feel free to email or text or whatever if you have any questions about anything.