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"You may likely be going through chemo then" was my family Dr's response to my synopsis of upcoming spring plans.
"What?" bamboozled, startled, disbelief, angry. How dare he even suggest cancer. Doesn't he know who I am? I eat right, exercise like a madman, get plenty of rest, pay attention to my health, have a loving family, strong faith. I don't get $%$##& cancer!
I came in for a possible hernia for goodness sake! I didn't come in for cancer! Besides, all you have is your suspicion. Sure I'll take the tests, get the sonogram, the biopsy, the bone marrow biopsy, the PET scan, tolerate the prodding and probing, answer the same questions twelve times, check my health insurance, check my life insurance policy, hand over 2 years of health care savings and I don't even feel sick, practice saying "we're not sure" 12 thousand times,
And cancer didn't care. All the testing confirmed what my observant general practitioner Dr. Dobratz suspected immediately. In shock.... I cried a little.
Then came the anger. Then the determination to fight. And fight I will. Along with many friends and family we'll see this through.
Late November 2016 I noticed an enlarged lymph node in my groin. It seemed normal after just recovering from a recent bad cold. Weeks later it was still there. It didn't hurt so I didn't think it could be much. Internet research brought up suspicion of an inguinal hernia. "That's it! " I had increased my training significantly for an upcoming spring marathon. Too much too soon. Of course! A simple outpatient surgery and a few days rest should fix all that.
The Dr. visit in late Dec. brought up the specter of possible cancer and life became weeks of "hurry up and wait" First the tests, then the wait. Tom Petty had it right "the waiting is the hardest part"
The cancer has been confirmed and I can't wish it away. I can't cry it away. The early tests revealed several large lymph nodes in the groin and our initial hope was that localized radiation could arrest it. Subsequent tests showed the bigger picture. My PET scan looked like a Christmas tree in the shape of a body with my lymph nodes being the lights. Brightly lit and widely dispersed evidence of Stage 4 Follicular Lymphoma. It showed it's ugly presence in all of my lymph system and 20% in the bone marrow according to the Oncologist.
My heart sank. I cried a little more. "I feel fine" I kept telling my wife. To prove it I signed up for a 1/2 marathon on Jan 1, 2017 which was also my 54th birthday. I took off at a conservative pace. By halfway I was hurting badly. By mile 10 I was walking. I shuffled across the line 30 minutes slower than my recent TRAINING time for the same distance.
After meeting with the oncologist several times I was given 3 options. The early stages of Non Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL) often have few symptoms other than a few swollen, but not sore, lymph nodes.
1) I could wait and see. It's a slowly progressing type of cancer. (which means I've had it a while unawares) I may be able to continue normally for a year or more with few additional symptoms. Or it may progress into a more aggressive form. That's why it's called "Wait and See"
2) I could adopt a Rituxan (non-chemo) regimen for 3 years that sometimes alone is effective enough for remission.
3) Go through a six month chemo + Rituxan regimen that has the highest chance of success but the most side effects and interruption of normal life.
We chose door # 3. It was tough to decide. The greatest factor for me is that the rest of me is relatively healthy. I'd much rather go through chemo at the height of my current health than face it later when I'm likely suffering more severe effects of the cancer going in.
Chemo begins in 8 days on March 14th. I waited 3 weeks to start chemo so that the timing of the treatments would allow me to possibly participate in a bicycling event on June 3rd. That would be at the end of a treatment cycle and the time you feel the strongest. I have this crazy notion of still trying to compete, or at least participate, in the Dirty Kanza 200 gravel bike race. Right in the middle of chemo.
I have no idea how the chemo will effect my everyday activity. I've read accounts that range from very being tired, to couldn't get out of bed for a week, to sometimes unexpected death. It's not like getting a tooth pulled and this disease doesn't care what I think.
The Dirty Kanza is an extreme long shot and perhaps unrealistic. But it also gives me Hope and something to focus on. Personally I will always opt for trying with a strong possibility of failure versus not trying at all. The Doctors have told me to do as much activity as I can muster during the chemo and it will minimize side effects.
I have Faith that if I'm willing to do whatever I can in the right direction that everything will work together for my good.
I have Hope that, though difficult, I will learn invaluable lessons on how to be a better person and of service to those around me.
I have the Love of Friends and Family who are already showing their support and willingness to be a part of the healing process. You know who you are. If you're in that category and I've neglected our relationship, please accept this apology now. I can't fix the broken past but can definitely strive for a better future. Faith, Hope, and Love. And the greatest of these is Love.
Below is the first stanza of a song I wrote about 3 years ago. Right now, it just seems to fit.
"Standing at the bottom of a mountain so tall Doubting if a man could ever climb it all If I'm gonna try, I've got to swallow my pride and find a pair of hiking shoes my size"