Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Part of Our Story

I've mentioned before in Trey's Birth Story that David had cancer a few years ago. I'd like to share the story here because it's a story worth telling. It changed our lives and how we view things. I made a scrapbook about our cancer journey after it was done and I'm going to share pages of it. The book has both mine and David's perspectives in it, which of course gives a more accurate picture.

Our story begins in 2004. In March we had finally followed through with our conviction to get life insurance. Blood tests were done and we were both healthy enough to be covered. In April, my dad severely cut his arm on the job. This caused his almost expired health insurance to be extended. He was in the Air National Guard and had returned from active duty in Germany months before.

In May we found out that my maternal grandma had stomach cancer. In September my grandma died and we found out that my dad had prostate cancer. Because he cut his arm he had insurance when he found out he had cancer. My parents decided to seek proton therapy which at the time wasn't available in Oklahoma (thankfully it now is) and would be going to California for the treatment in December. (he beat his cancer and is healthy now)

This is where my scrapbook begins. The text is below each picture.

One of my favorite things to do is drive fast when the weather is nice. You know the kind I am talking about…cool breeze outside, windows down, and the radio turned way up. There has been many a day when I could hop in the car and let my cares grow smaller and smaller in my rear view mirror…

For the past 2 years that is how my life had been…there had been ups and downs, but I was enjoying myself. Not too many worries, plans for the future were looking up, the road was stretched out in front of me and I had my foot down on the pedal.

I didn’t see what was waiting around the next bend in the road…and it brought my tires to a screeching halt.

I have to admit, at 26 years old, there is a certain air of invincibility that surrounded my life. I have always been fairly daring. I was willing to take risks now and then. Not afraid of what the future held, because I knew it was all going to be good. Have I mentioned that I am an optimist?

When life stopped around that bend my invincibility proved mortal. An ugly beast stood in the middle of the road…a beast I never thought I would see was staring straight down at me…his hot breath made me stumble back…and I suddenly didn’t know what the future held for the dreaded monster. Testicular Cancer was now in my way.

It was late November when David came to me and said that he felt a hard spot, a lump and it was very sore.  So we made him an appointment with the doctor.  The doctor gave him a check up and said he didn’t think anything was really wrong, just an infection or something like it.  But he’d send David to an urologist, just in case.  So he went to see the urologist and he didn’t like what he was feeling.  He told David he wanted to remove his left testicle in 3 days.  He wasn’t sure what it was but it needed to come out.  So on Friday, December 10, 2004, David had his first surgery.  We had to get there early so they could get him ready for the almost 3 hour surgery.  The urologist was going to remove the testicle then have a biopsy done to it during surgery to find out if it was cancerous.  He called me during the surgery to tell me it was cancerous.  David had cancer.  I was in shock I think for a long time.  It’s hard to process something like that.  Paul and Cherri were there for the surgery as were a couple of friends.  David did great through the surgery and we took him home that evening. 

I remember staring in the mirror. “No, they have to be wrong,” I told myself. “I am too young to have cancer.” Dumb statement, I know now. There are hospitals everywhere filled with kids fighting this stuff. But, this was me. It couldn’t happen to me could it? Yes, it could. And did for that fact.

Looking back now on the day I found out I am surprised I handled it as well as I did. After the initial shock wore off, the doctor asked me what I wanted to do. I told him if something is broke, then it needed to be fixed. That was 12/7/2004. Three days later I was in surgery. The tumor was removed.

I wish I could describe to you fully the feeling you get when you know part of your body is no longer with you. I am thankful that it is not a part of my body that is seen. It is not like losing an arm, or a leg, but it definitely affects you. I don’t like the feeling of being broken. Like I need fixing. But that was exactly what I did need. As far as I knew, the cancer was gone.
I have always hated being the bearer of bad news. I never wanted to be the one to tell somebody that something wasn’t going to go their way. It was hard. You would tell them the news and then watch as the disappointment and hurt spread across their face. Like telling a kid that you won’t be able to take that camping trip after all…it just leaves you with a sick feeling inside knowing you were the one who told them.

Having to tell people that I had cancer was a lot like that. The expression of fear spread over their faces. The disbelief. In the minds of many people cancer is an automatic death sentence. It is a shock to hear that news about someone you love. It is hard to tell the people that you love that you have it.

It hurts to watch someone that you love process the information you are sharing with them when you are telling them that you are sick. People that love you hurt with you. So when I started telling people what it was I was overwhelmed by the love and support I got, but I was also touched to see how the ones I loved hurt with me. It was tough because I felt like a broken person. It made it much easier because there were loved ones there to walk through these times with me.

You ever have that feeling that you are safe and find out later that you are not? That is how I ended up feeling after I had surgery. I was sore, but from what the doctor told me there was a good chance that they had gotten everything and I wouldn’t have any more problems. Slowly I began to feel confident that all was going to be ok and the worst was behind me.

As you can imagine, it came as a bit of a shock when I got the phone call. It must be strange for some doctors to have to call their patients and give them bad news over the phone. My bad news? The cancer had spread.

We assumed that after the surgery that he was done, that it was gone. We did the check ups, the blood tests, the CAT scans. But in February, his doctor called to tell him we needed to come in. The doctor showed us his most recent CAT scans of his stomach and there were little dots, cancer spots in his lymph nodes. This is pretty common for testicular cancer to travel up through the lymph nodes in the stomach and then to the lungs and so on. We had to keep them from moving into his lungs, where his survival chances were much lower.

The doctor wanted to do surgery to open David’s stomach to remove the lymph nodes. Or we could do chemotherapy. We didn’t like either choice but were planning on the surgery. After a couple of weeks, we didn’t feel very comfortable about surgery. So, we opted instead for chemo.

When David started chemo, he decided that instead of letting the chemo make his hair fall out he would shave his head. He wanted to be in control of his hair. So we went to Kellina and had her shave his head.

On March 10th David had to have surgery again, but this time to put in the port they would be accessing for his chemo treatments.  Four days later he was starting his first chemo treatments.  He was prescribed 4 rounds of treatment, each round lasting all day long, for a full week, then 2 weeks off, then to start over again.  He had to go sit all day in a recliner with a handful of other chemo patients and have that stuff pumped into his port, into his body.  At first it didn’t seem so bad, but towards the end of the week he started feeling the affects of the chemo.  He was sick to his stomach, his body ached and he was so wired he could hardly go to sleep.  By the middle of the next week he started to feel better.  This was the process through all 4 rounds. 

It didn’t scare me to find that out. I have kept a solid attitude for the most part. It was something that needed to be beaten, but was I feeling up to the challenge? Honestly? No. The prognosis was that I needed to have surgery yet again to remove the lymph nodes from my chest. The cancer spreads through the lymphatic system. To keep the cancer from spreading through my body they needed to be removed.

You ever have a feeling that you just couldn’t explain? A voice going off in your head telling you not to do, or to do something specific? I have heard that voice on different occasions. I heard it loud this time. It was screaming, “Are there any other options that would prevent surgery?” It was also screaming something louder than that. I came to realize that I did not feel comfortable with the idea of surgery. I had a feeling deep in the pit of my gut that I should stay away from it. Again, I don’t know why I felt this way, I just know I did.

So I prepared myself from that point for my second option: chemotherapy.

Were you ever scared of monsters as a kid? Under the bed? In the closet? The neighbor’s dog? Whatever your monster was, it was scary. I remember the feeling I would get after the lights went out…a rustle just outside my window…a dog bark…the tension hung thick in the air…a monster was outside, I just knew it…slowly I would build up courage to look out my window…what could be lurking near, I didn’t know…there I saw my monster…a couple of old people walking down the street for their evening exercise…oh yeah, and it so happened the wind was blowing too.

What did you do after frightening, albeit unjustified, times like that? Take a deep breath and roll over. Remind yourself it was just in your head. Nothing to worry about at all. It was all in my head…

Cancer isn’t like that. It doesn’t just go away. Wishful thinking doesn’t get rid of it. Wishing it wasn’t there doesn’t get rid of it. Unfortunately that is what gets a lot of people. They fear they may have it, but don’t act quickly enough. They have a hard time admitting to themselves that it could happen to them. They try so hard to ignore the monster living inside their own body.

I thank God my case was not like that. Not long after I discovered something was wrong the tumor was taken out. Not long after I was told the cancer had spread I was in treatment. God has taken care of me every step of the way and I am extremely grateful. He has taken my monster and rid me of it.

My dream day when I was a teenager was to be able to sit around all day, watch TV, read, snooze, and do as little as possible. It was the ultimate goal to be so lazy. What could be better? They were few and far between, but what fun they were. Ok, that is a lie. During the summer there were plenty of those days. We could be as lazy as we wanted to be.

I thought of this as I sat in the chemotherapy sessions. There I was sitting in the therapy room in a big blue recliner. I had my laptop on my lap. A TV across the room. Plenty of stuff to read. Plenty of time to snooze. It was the worst days I have ever spent.

There were many days that I would have called in and told them I was not coming had that been a feasible option. With each day that passed I dreaded the next even more. I had to sit there while various bags of liquid streamed into my body attacking the cancer.

The best part about those endless summers of fun was the freedom you felt. The worst part of chemotherapy was being trapped in that blue recliner and having to subject myself to the medicine. The sick feeling that came just hours after the first treatment of any round. I tried my best to hold my chin up. Some days I did better than others. Some days I didn’t do so well at all. It was all I could do to put the blanket over my head and pray that sleep would come to my eyes to help me pass the time.

I felt sick and useless all at the same time. All I could do was sit there. Sit there and wait and hope that the chemotherapy was doing what it was supposed to do.

Have you ever been really thirsty? So thirsty that you started to see hallucinations? Not many of us have reached that point, but I do know how it feels to be so thirsty that your throat is dry. You tongue is cracked. Your lips are too. You long for that next drink of cold cool water…

That is how I felt sitting in that chair. I didn’t lose my hope. I didn’t feel like I was going to die. I was just a thirsty man who was sick and in need of a good drink. In my case, some positive news as to how the treatment was going.

That news came after round 2 was complete. I was sick, didn’t feel good. Deep down inside me, though, I knew everything was going to be ok. I just needed to hear it out loud. And I did. They took a blood test on me after round 2 was complete, just before I started round three. My blood test results that had been out of whack when all of this started were back to normal. The chemotherapy was working.

My spirit felt the cool sensation of the good news hitting it. I have never doubted that God is able to do what He says He can do. I knew He could heal me. The hard part for me was having the patience to wait and believe that He would. Patience paid off. God answered my prayer, and chemotherapy was only half over.

After his second treatment, they took blood tests and CAT scans to see how he was responding.  The blood tests came back normal and his CAT scans were clean!  It looked like he was cured!  But the doctor said he wanted David to finish up his treatments, they wanted to be sure he was cured.  So he took the next two rounds.  Finally, on May 20th, David took his last treatment.  He was done! 

 When I think of the people I most look up to I come to a couple of qualities that make me want to pattern my own action after theirs. Perseverance and Character. Can you make it through something and can you do it with your character still in tact?

There are many people I have read about and many I have known that stick out in my mind. In reading one person crosses my mind who emulates these two characteristics: Job.

Here is a man who had everything he could ask for. He had a large family. He had a profitable business. He had a good home. He was in a great position in life. Then in one swift moment all of it was gone. His children were dead. His business was stolen from him. He was flat broke. His wife told him to curse God and die. His close friends told him that he must be a bad person for God to punish him like he was being punished. What did Job do? He honored God. He persevered through the adversity. He was an example of godly character. A man I can look up to.

When looking for a man in my own life that has emulated these characteristics I don’t have to look far. I call him Dad. And by the way, Dad if you are reading this, I just want you to know that you are my hero. Always have been, always will be.

My Dad was a police officer. He got hurt arresting someone. He had to have surgery to fix damaged bone in his spine. He had the surgery 3 times. Did it hurt him? Yes. Did he persevere through it? Yes. Did he see God’s plan unfolding through it? Yes.

Dad told me once that God was trying to get his attention when he got hurt. He took the experience he had had and knew that God was in control. He dealt with pain and anguish, but I know that his faith in the God who loves him is stronger for it. I admire that. I want to be like that when I grow up.

I pray that through the times I have had with cancer I have been able to exude these qualities like those I look up to. It has been hard at times to keep my head held high, because frankly chemotherapy is awful. I did not want to go to the doctor’s office those days that I went. If I could have called in a personal day I would have. I kept going though. One foot in front of the other is all I could make myself do, but I wouldn’t stop doing that and I found myself out on the other side. Done with chemotherapy.

I wasn’t sure I had made it through with much character. I haven’t cursed God through this, nor will I ever. I have had my bouts with anger though. I have not been happy about having cancer. Who would be? I wondered about making it through with character until I read a note that a very dear friend wrote to me. He told me that he appreciated the loyalty I brought to our friendship. He went on to say though, that he admired the loyalty that I showed to Christ by using God’s strength to overcome the situation. I had to sit back and soak that one in. By putting one foot in front of the other and trusting that God would lead me where I needed to be I found myself on the other side of cancer. So, if you are reading this, thanks man. I needed that encouragement.
Sitting in chemotherapy was miserable, but became less miserable when someone showed up to keep me company. It didn’t matter if we didn’t say much, I felt better because they were there. It was a way that the ones that care about me showed me in a real way. Thanks. I needed it more than you know.

And while I am on the subject of being thankful, I have someone special to say thank you too regarding the subject of this section. Marixa, had it not been for you these days would have been unbearable. I know there are times that you wondered if you were being or doing enough for me. You felt like you were doing a poor job helping me get well. You were dead wrong. You did more for me by loving me through this than I can ever express. You are my lover and my partner. My best friend and my soul mate. The vows we took on our wedding day are more real to me now than they have ever been.

We have had many days that have been truly bright. Those days were easy to walk through together. The dark days are where the love is tested. A fire of sorts that shows the true purity of the love. We walked through this hard time and your love never shined brighter. You loved me constantly through the worst time of my life. I pray that God gives me another 70 years to love you the way you have loved me in these months. You are my dream girl, and it is my goal to love you with all I am for as long as I am. Thanks baby, you did good. Real good.

In June, we took a much needed vacation with some friends.  It was a chance to be thankful and celebrate David!  When we got back from our trip, David’s boss threw him a surprise party to celebrate him.  And in August he finally got his port taken out, and for as much as the doctors can say, he was healed!
I will be the first to admit that God does not always work in ways that we understand. Sometimes he takes us through places in life that we would just assume not go. Cancer was not my choice. I would not have gone through it had I had the option. No one would. Surgery was not something that I ever planned on having. Chemotherapy was not on my to-do list. All of these things did happen though. Do I know why? Not exactly. Am I a different man because they did? Yes. Is there work to be done because of them? Yes.

There is no choice. Life is to be lived differently now. Little things are not to be taken for granted. Family is to be cherished. Time is to be spent wisely. Laughter is to be frequent. Tears are to be shed when needed. Love is to be given freely. There is no room for hate. God is to be worshiped, for He alone is worthy of it. There is no second chance in life. It has to be lived right the first time.

I never thought something like this would ever happen to us.  But then again, who does?  Going through this and watching David go through this was the hardest thing we have ever done.  But it did bring us even closer together, bringing our vows back to us, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.  God watched over us, took care of us and healed David. 

I'm very happy to say that with regular check ups through the years David is still cancer free and healed. He stills has reminders/scars from this time of our life. He has the surgery scars and nerve damage in his ears (by product of chemo). And it has affected our fertility.
After looking back and doing some research we are pretty sure we know what caused his cancer. Testicular cancer is most prevalent in men aged 15-35 and can appear anywhere in their body (Lance Armstrong had testicular cancer in his brain). David had held a job early in 2004 doing lawn spraying, you know the green spray that kills weeds and makes grass grow. That stuff would accidentally get all over the guys pants. All those chemicals would seep into his clothes and into his skin.
We were very different people then than we are now and I'm not sure if we would have made the same decisions now that we did then. I don't think we would choose chemo again. We have more options available to us now and I've heard of alternate ways of treating cancer that doesn't involve an extremely nasty chemical. (the dr. told David that he was going to make him very sick to get rid of the cancer). But at the time this was our best option and what we felt most comfortable with.

This is a big part of our life and our story. We work at living with more purpose (yes my blog title) than we did before. We don't take things for granted, our time together and the importance of our family time.

This time of our life doesn't rule our life now, it just helped shape us and gave us a different perspective on life. And I am so thankful that God healed David. We have Trey now because of it.

Comments make me Happy!

No comments:

Post a Comment[Reply to comment]

Please leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you!
I will respond to questions in the comments, Thanks!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...