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Robert & Darcy Sweetgall
4/30/2017 Latest post:
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Robert thought that he had pulled a muscle from playing pickle ball. He loved the sport and was a big promoter of the game. For a sixty-eight year old, he was very active and, aside from the aching shoulder, appeared to be in very good health. He was a vegetarian, a non-smoker and non-drinker, took no prescription drugs, and was very physically active in sports, daily walks, and work-outs in his home gym. He had the youthful presence of a man much younger than his years.
Before I had met Robert, sixteen years ago, he had walked across America seven times. Since then Robert traveled frequently as a walking and wellness motivational speaker, presenting to corporations, schools, wellness groups and hospitals. He was known on the speaking circuit as ‘the real Forest Gump’. When Robert’s father passed away of heart disease during the nineteen-eighties, Robert left his career as a chemical engineer with DuPont , where he had worked on nuclear plant designs, to walk across America promoting walking for heart health.
With his increasing shoulder pain, Robert was worried that he may have to cancel a couple of his upcoming speaking engagements. After discussing what might be done to reduce the inflammation in his shoulder, we decided to remove wheat from our diet to see if that might improve his condition in time for him to fulfill his speaking commitments.
Robert made a third trip to his chiropractor on Monday, July 18th. Each week his shoulder had gotten worse, so he requested an x-ray to see why the shoulder was not responding to treatment. The x-ray showed a dark mass across the scapula, extending inches down his humerus. His chiropractor explained that his x-ray machine was an old model and images often came out unclear.
The following day we drove to a clinic in Cascade where a doctor’s assistant looked at the x-ray and examined Robert’s arm. However, much to our relief, the assistant said that the quality of the x-ray from the chiropractor was of poor quality and that Robert would need to get a CT scan of the shoulder. However, in the doctor’s assistant’s opinion, Robert suffered from a muscular or nerve problem and not an issue involving the bone. On Thursday we were back at the clinic for the CT scan of the shoulder. Robert was to see his physician Saturday morning, July 23rd, to go over the results.
That Saturday I was out-of-town teaching a two-day medicinal-plant field class. I called home after work the first day to find out what Robert had learned from his physician.
Robert told me that there was a large tumor, approximately eight centimeters long, growing on his humerus and that it had fractured the bone, causing the excruciating pain that he had been experiencing. His physician believed the tumor to be malignant and had ordered some blood work done. We were to meet with the doctor on Monday. Once home we discussed the diagnosis. I longed to wrap my arms around him and hold him close, but he was in so much pain that I was unable to physically approach him. At Robert’s request, we started a strict macrobiotic diet immediately. He had known of individuals who had overcome cancer by eating a restricted diet.
Monday, July 25th, when Robert had his consultation with his physician, we sat stunned as we were told that Robert’s PSA level was high and that it was probable that my husband had prostate cancer which had metastasized to his bones.
That Wednesday, July 27th, we were sent to the Imaging Center of Idaho in Nampa for a shoulder MRI.
On Friday we headed the hundred miles back to Boise for a full bone scan at Saint Al’s Hospital. Afterwards we had a three-hour consolation with a radiologist that a close friend of ours had recommended.
The radiologist discussed Robert’s condition, based on the MRI and bone scan. The mass in Robert’s shoulder was believed to be a metastasis from a large tumor that had manifested in Robert’s prostate. There was an additional tumor on Robert’s sacrum around eight centimeters long. The diagnosis was Stage IV prostate cancer; the prognosis was that it could be treated—not cured—with radiation and chemotherapy. However, radiation therapy could not be started before the shoulder was surgically stabilized. The tumor, having shattered the bone, was all that was connecting the humerus to the scapula.
Monday, August 1st, we met with an orthopedic surgeon in McCall. Robert had waited a full month for the appointment after contacting the surgeon’s office when he had suspected rotator cuff issues. The orthopedic surgeon requested pelvic, stomach and lung CT scans. They were scheduled immediately at the local hospital. After the scans were completed and looked over by the surgeon, he referred us to a colleague, an orthopedic oncologist, in Boise. An appointment was scheduled for the following week.
Before meeting with Robert, the orthopedic oncologist had requested that Robert schedule a biopsy. This was arranged at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise the day before Robert’s morning appointment with the surgeon.
For two weeks we had been making two-hundred mile round trips to Boise and dog-paddling through the medical system in a state of shock and disbelief. Our journey, however, had just begun.