Oct 14, 2021 Latest post:
Nov 27, 2022
This all started for me in late May 2021 when I started a cough. It seemed like any other productive cough. After some time, I had an upper chest sensation that reminded me of bronchitis years earlier. So, I waited. And coughed.
I've had allergies since I was four but not diagnosed until I was ten. Over the years, I've had two separate decades of allergy shots. I know that allergy mucus either drawn from my sinuses or hacked up from my lungs is clear. Any color other than clear means an infection. As the days passed, I'd check both nasal mucus (always clear) and chest mucus (almost always clear). I still thought this was bronchitis.
After a couple of coughing months, though, any bronchitis should've cleared. I went to the doctors. Because I had a respiratory issue during a pandemic, there were special protocols. I met a different doctor than my primary care. I met at a special location in the building. They met me with full protective gear. This exam didn't reveal too much. Yes, I coughed, but there was no fatigue and no fever. This doctor gave me a powerful antibiotic designed for chest infections. If this didn't fix things, she wanted some imaging. It was a short antibiotic course, only five days. Unfortunately, after two weeks, I had no difference.
This lead to a virtual exam with my primary care. He noted the previous treatment plan and offered a different, but related, plan. This plan involved a different antibiotic, a steroid and an inhaler with an allergy drug in it. This treatment plan took a month. After a month, I had no change. I still coughed.
Since these plans weren't making a difference, the next phase involved imaging. First, there was a chest X-ray which showed an opaque region lower in my right lung. I was surprised by this result since my sensations had been upper left. Next, a CT scan to home in on the opaque region. This found a 1 1/2 inch mass in my right lung. But, what was this mass? We needed a lung biopsy to determine. I read the odds were about four to five percent that it would be lung cancer.
During the lung biopsy, I was given "happy drugs" to relax me but keep me awake and lucid. I was placed back into the CT scan machine so the doctor could determine where to inject the needle to collect the biopsy. I was given a local and the insertion began. The doctor used a trajectory from my upper right chest going down toward the mass. I couldn't see much, but that was okay! The doctor would collect a sample, then give it to the pathologist across the room who verified the sample was of the mass. In all, about five or seven samples were collected. All this happened on Monday.
Wednesday afternoon, October 6, I got a call from my primary care. The diagnosis was lung cancer, specifically adenocarcinoma. This is a non-smoker's cancer. My doctor recommended two oncologists at Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. If they couldn't see me in a few days, I should let him know and he'd call them.
Fortunately, one of the doctors, Dr. Poole, saw me at the end of the next day, October 7. As most of the office, except a nurse from the lab, left for the day, we had a really good discussion. He said to determine a treatment plan, we needed to find out if the cancer had spread beyond the one mass in my lung and the associated lymph node. There would be multiple pieces of information needed. First, before I left, the lab would draw blood samples. These samples had multiple tests including genomic testing to see if genetic fingerprints from the mass were found elsewhere. Second, I'd have a PET scan to look for other regions in my body that had cancer activity. These areas would light up on the image should they occur. Third, I'd have a brain MRI to see any indications of whether the cancer had spread to my brain.
Carolyn and I were completely impressed with the doctor and the approach. After gathering the information, a team of specialists would examine it and then meet to finalize a treatment plan. Plus, at the end of our visit, I got a little teary-eyed talking about my early allergy experience. Dr. Poole asked me if I needed a hug. Yes, I said and he gave me a really good one--solid, unhurried. I turned around to Carolyn and asked if she wanted one? Yes, she did.