Mark Girard

First post: 1/22/2017 Latest post: 9/14/2017
And I thought I was just constipated. :)  

In my defense, I was in good company  because my family doctor thought the same thing. In late Summer 2016, I started a Low Carb-High Fat diet. With my Type 2 diabetes, this would be perfect to keep my blood sugar in check while losing weight and not feeling hungry. Everything was going great and after only 2 weeks I had lost 12 pounds already. Problem was, I wasn't eating much fiber. This is where the constipation set in. I started having severe, and I do mean severe, cramps in my abdomen. These cramps were mostly in the lower-left quadrant and I rated them a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale. My doctor recommended more fiber and that I use Metamucil. Sure enough, a lot of the problems disappeared..... but not all. After three weeks on the LCHF diet, I decided to give that up for a while and go back to my normal diet until this passed. It didn't get much better.

During one of my visits to my chiropractor, she says something like, "...and you're bloated too." I never really noticed. I felt really full all the time but didn't notice the bloating. I made another appointment with my doctor and we tried to work through what the problem could be, without much success. After a couple more visits, my GP suggested we do a CT scan. It's mid-December by this time. The CT results come back and my doctor calls me and says, "Based on what we're seeing, the working diagnosis is colon cancer."  What was the smoking gun? There is some thickening of a section of my colon. Somehow, they managed to schedule a colonoscopy for the next day. You know, they're right when they say the prep for the colonoscopy is worse than the procedure itself. The results of the procedure? Clean as a whistle. While the doctor is telling me this, she says, "It's not colon cancer, but it's coming from somewhere." The 'it' she's talking about is the set of symptoms that they used to determine the working diagnosis.

The next step was a biopsy of the mass in my abdomen that's causing all of the pain. Again, the anticipation of the procedure is much worse than the procedure itself. It took two days to get the results back. If you really, really know me, you'll know that the longer it takes to get the results back the more time that gives my mind to conjure up worst case scenarios. Sure enough, after two days I get a call from my doctor again. The diagnosis is in and it's Peritoneal Mesothelioma.   There is a lining in the abdomen called the peritoneum that holds all of the organs of the abdomen. The tumors are located in the omentum, a portion of peritoneum. Well... this is how I understand it at least.  This is a fairly rare form of cancer with only 250 - 300 new cases diagnosed annually in the US.

Mesothelioma is best known as a cancer in the lungs caused by asbestos. Well, somewhere along the way the doctor hypothesized that I swallowed asbestos (he can really only guess).   I can't imagine how that happened. In the long-run I guess it doesn't matter. I can't use a way-back machine and change it. The other forms of Mesothelioma manifest in the pericardium around the heart and in some linings of the testicles. Of the four types a person can get, the type I have is considered the "best" in that it's the most treatable. Curable? No. Treatable? Often times.  

What is the prognosis? That depends upon a couple factors. These are (1) how invasive the cancer has become in the omentum/peritoneum, (2) how the tumors respond to chemotherapy (called the wonder drug around our house), and (3) the age and general health of the patient. Of these, the only factor I know I have going for me is I'm relatively young and in good general health (Often times, this diagnosis is in older individuals with other health ailments). Let's talk about best case first. In the best case, the tumor cells respond well to chemotherapy and debulks (or shrinks) what's currently in my abdomen. The surgeon will do an endoscopic exploration inside my abdomen and hopefully find the tumors are not too extensive.....which means surgery will be performed (Holly is confident this will happen!!)  I would spend 4 to 8  weeks at recovering (Netflix, anyone?!).  The average life expectancy is 5 years after that. There is a fringe case where the person has lived for 19 years. Of course, I want to beat that time frame. Someone has to, right? What is worst case? The tumors don't respond to the chemo (see one of my journal entries below for good news) or the cancer has become too extensive for surgery, e.g. it's in my small intestines. Life expectancy in this case averages about one year. As before, I'm going for longer if this is the case (Holly keeps reminding me that this is the average....that means people have survived longer!!). As of our last conversation with the surgeon, and the results of my CT scan in December, at this point everything is looking positive. Prayers, healing energy thoughts, positive thoughts, whatever you can muster, are greatly appreciated that best case scenario plays out.

Wanna know what the surgery entails? Me too! Seriously! I want to experience every painful, PITA part of it. I'll be opened up from just under the sternum to a couple inches below the belly button. The surgeon will completely remove the omentum, possibly remove organs I don't need, and he'll remove the portion of the colon with the thickened lining. The details are a little fuzzy here, but I believe he'll go through every organ that's left and clean it off. Finally, my abdomen will be filled with one of the chemo drugs at 103 degrees F for 90 minutes, attempting to kill all the little cancer cells that are in hiding. When it's all done, there will 8 to 14 days in the hospital giving nurses are hard time, watching whatever television I want, and all the ice cream I can eat! Alright, probably not the last one, but a guy can dream.


[This might get a little heavy. Sorry...]
Finally, a little about my family. First we start with Holly. I always knew Holly was a very strong person. Wow! I didn't realize just how strong she is. You know the saying, behind every good man is a better woman? Presuming I can call myself a "good man", I can tell you for a fact that I am supported by a better woman. Ally and Megan are taking things as well as can be expected. They both have had friends whose parents developed cancer and have been there to support those friends. Little did they know that someday they would need the same support. I had the opportunity to tell each of them separately, allowing me to tailor the approach. However, to both of them I said probably one of the most profound things that ever came out of my mouth. It probably not original, but I said, "There will eventually be a time for sorrow. That time is not now." I'm hoping that gave them some guidance. Finally, Ben and Gabe... it's one thing to be face-to-face with your mortality having raised two smart, talent, compassionate, beautiful daughters to adulthood. It's something entirely different to be looking at the possibility of your little boys growing up without knowing their father. Sure, Ben may have a couple fleeting images of his dad when he gets older, but Gabe won't remember anything about me. I've asked Holly, Ally, Megan, my family and Holly's family to please keep my memory alive for them if this whole situation doesn't go as we'd like. And lastly, there is never any mention of the words 'cancer', 'chemo', or any negative talk about this situation in front of them.

I've made the most solemn promise to my family that I will fight this with every ounce of effort I can.

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