In March of 2016, I went back to Vietnam a second time, this time as a tourist and a veteran of the war. My first trip to Vietnam, in April 1967, was as a soldier of the U.S. Army and I served there for a year, arriving home on Easter Sunday, 1968.
Until now, I had viewed myself as a survivor of the war in Vietnam. When I went back in 2016, I wanted to see a country in which I had been in for a year, but had never really experienced as a visitor. My hope was to gain some good memories of Vietnam to replace some of my earlier memories. The Vietnam of today is a beautiful, welcoming country and I enjoyed my return there enormously.
Although I viewed myself as a survivor of the war, I had friends who were wounded there, by both enemy fire and friendly, and friends who had a variety of effects from their service, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and disabilities due to combat injury. Of course, there were others who were killed, their names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial along with the more than 58,000 other American who gave their lives in service to their country.
More recently, I have been hearing of others who were also casualties of that war but whose name are not on the “Wall.” Those who apparently have suffered a variety of ailments, many life-threatening, which are attributable to their service in that war. These conditions range from ischemic heart disease, diabetes, Hodgkin’s, Parkinson’s, certain liver dysfunctions, prostate cancer, leukemia and certain other cancers. The Veterans Administration has recognized certain cancers and other health problems as presumptive diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange during these veterans’ military service in Vietnam.
Apparently, in excess of 11 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed during the war, from 1961 to 1972, to eliminate and deny forest and jungle cover to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, and to destroy crops which might be used to feed them. Well in excess of 2 million U.S. Military Personnel served in Vietnam during that period.
So, a cousin and a friend with multiple myeloma, some friends with diabetes, other friends with prostate cancer, and a number of other friends, have been determined to have the origin of their disease arise due to their exposure to Agent Orange.
The Veterans Administration’s position is that veterans who served anywhere in Vietnam are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides, including Agent Orange. For some of us, we didn’t need to have the Veterans Administration inform us of that fact. We lived in some of the areas defoliated, which turned the lush jungle/forest into a brownish/red patch of dust, like something you’d see in a science fiction movie.
While for 50-years I had viewed myself as a survivor of that war, it now appears that the war, and its accompanying use of Agent Orange herbicide, has reached back across those five decades of time to alter my status as such a survivor.
I have been diagnosed as having Multiple Myeloma, a type of malignant cancer and one of the presumptive diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
For years, I’ve done a lot of hiking, backpacking, biking, mountain climbing, camping. trekking, traveling and other adventures. I love adventures and often will remark that there are good adventures and bad adventures. I also note that it’s often the bad adventures which you remember and share with others.
A person I know, in remarking about adventures, says that it isn’t an adventure until “shit” happens. Well, apparently the “shit” has happened, so I’m off on my ….
My diagnosis began, as is often the case with this disease, with a fall. I fell when a chair slid out from beneath me, landing hard on my backside. Subsequent X-Rays and scans over the next few weeks disclosed that I had compression fractures of two of my vertebrae, one thoracic and one lumbar. The unstable nature of the fractures resulted in my being put into a hard-shell brace around my torso. The pain is terrible, off the charts, and it’s been difficult to find the right combination of drugs to allow me to get from day-to-day.
Those same scans, however, have also disclosed a number of other conditions, the most relevant of which was that I had lesions, known as lytic lesions, in my lumbar spine, thoracic spine, ribs and pelvis.
Numerous blood and urine tests, and scans (CT, PET, bone density, X-Ray, etc.) followed, along with a bone biopsy and thyroid biopsy.
The lytic lesions weaken your bone structure, putting weak spots in those bones. On scans, the bones look a bit like Swiss Cheese. With the bones in such a weak state, a fall can easily lead to the type of fractures which I have. That is often the beginning of the search for “why” and the ultimate diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma.
Multiple Myeloma is a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells, which are the white blood cells usually responsible for the production of antibodies (proteins).
Normal plasma cells help to defend the body against infection by producing antibodies. Antibodies typically consist of 2 heavy chains and 2 light chains. Plasma cell are normally found in the bone marrow but become cancerous and grow out of control. They multiply at dangerous rates and produce tumors and affect your bones, imperil kidney function and deplete your energy. In short, in Multiple Myeloma good blood cells become bad cells and no one yet knows the cause.
Multiple Myeloma is not something which can be cured. There are treatments, however, that can be used after the condition is “staged.” There are three stages of Multiple Myeloma. A number of factors will influence how effective treatment may be. Working with my doctors over the coming weeks will result in a review of treatment options and the creation of a treatment plan. And, as they say, your results may vary. Some treatments may work, other may not.
I have never been fond of people saying that someone is fighting cancer or battling cancer. In many ways, malignant, life-threatening cancer is your body attacking itself. I prefer to refer to it as an adventure. Life is an adventure, and death is so much a part of that.
So, I’ll invite you to join me and Joan on this adventure. I have created this CaringBridge site where people can follow along with the latest posts about how we are weathering this adventure. We will, of course, appreciate your support as we journey into this latest unknown. We must warn you though, there may be a few obstacles along the way …………