These past eight months have been like heaven on earth. Eight months without vomiting. Eight months without diarrhea. Eight months of razor-sharp taste buds. Eight months of date nights with Jill. Eight months of normalcy. Eight months of cancer on the back burner. Eight months without taking a medication that costs $10,000 per month. Eight months of sunshine without being afraid of burning my skin. Eight months of the occasional taste of beer. Or wine. Or bourbon. Eight months of being able to tell people I’m doing well and eight months to thank them for their continued love and concern. Eight months of being able to work, think and contribute to our publishing company.
July 23 was the day we had a follow up appointment with Dr. Pippas to get the results of the CT scan we had the day before. What had looked like another good, stable scan took a screaming left turn when Dr. P’s eyes took in the slice that showed my left adrenal gland. We both saw the lump at the same time.
Three years ago, a discovery like this would have set me on my ear. But, these last three years have turned me into a tough sonofabitch. Yeah, I got a lump in my throat about the same size as that tumor. Yes, I could feel the dampness in the pits of my arms. Even before I knew what needed to happen next, I knew that when cancer’s in the house, ain’t nothing good comin’ from it.
Then Dr. Pippas did what he does best. He pushed back in his chair and we talked. With a waiting room full of patients, we talked. With treatment rooms full of patients, we talked. He gave Jill and me as much time as we needed to get our heads around the fact that some drugging, some cutting, some irradiating or some other, yet unknown medical torture, was about to visited onto our family in general and onto me specifically. He gave us time to see this new challenge from every angle while we were still in the room with him and able to ask questions of the leader of our medical dream team.
Dr. Pippas said he thought surgery was my best option. “Local disease requires a local treatment. Systemic disease requires systemic treatment,” Andy would always say. So we planned to scan again in five weeks time to see if the tumor was moving fast or hanging back, growing slowly like my disease has pretty much always done. We left his office feeling like a surgery to take out the adrenal gland would be a piece of cake. Probably a robotic, laparoscopic kind of thing that I would get over quickly and get behind me.
I made a decision to consult with Dr. Andy Roddenberry at St. Francis Hospital. He is a young surgeon. Full of promise and not full of himself, which made me instantly like him. I wasn’t real thrilled with what he told me, though. Dr. Roddenberry is a skilled surgeon and after a good bit of discussion, he concluded that if we wanted him to perform the surgery, he would begin the procedure hoping for a minimally invasive operation, but we needed to know the surgery would likely not be able to be completed that way.
There is considerable scar tissue left over from the massive nephrectomy that cost me my left kidney, twelve lymph nodes and a lot of digging around looking for cancer. Additionally, the organs in my body have recognized that there is some stuff missing now that used to be there and they’ve wiggled around and taken up that space in my abdomen. So, scarring, colon, pancreas and a mass of arteries and veins are all congregated in that area, as well as a vascular renal cell tumor that is very much like a 2cm bubble of blood inside the thinnest tissue paper you can imagine. The surgery has been described to me like a person trying to pick up a balloon full of blood with razor sharp pins. One prick of that bubble and I’ve got cancer cells released all over my body and my prognosis suddenly would take a big turn for the worse.
That surgery, if it turned into an open procedure, would land me five to six days in the hospital and would require about a six-week recovery. UGH! I’ve been doing research. Asking questions of people I felt might have answers. We have been fearful of a surgical option because of my weakened immune system. Andy Roddenberry explained the concerns of surgery with a weak immune system better than I have ever heard it explained.
I know this post is getting long, but I’m on a roll now and you can just close your tablet and go to bed if you’re tired of me.
Here’s what Andy Roddenberry said. “Chances are that you have small clumps of cancer cells in other places in your body. Your immune system is standing guard over them and keeping them in check. Then, you get a big 10″ incision across your belly and suddenly those immune system guard cells leave their post and race over to the site of the incision to help your body heal. The cancer cells are left alone and they have the chance to begin to grow unchecked.” That makes a hell of a lot of sense to me. Suddenly, surgery isn’t such an elegant solution to my problem.
A couple of weeks after our meeting with Andy Roddenberry, I got a call from a radiologist friend of mine who suggested that we take a look at microwave ablation as a course of action. We met with a young interventional radiologist at Midtown Medical Center named Dr. Nishant deQuadros. Much like Dr. Roddenberry, Dr. deQuadros took us through our options in a calm, thorough discussion. We left his office feeling good about him and interested in the possibility of a minimally invasive option to remove this tumor.
In the meantime, last Friday I got a phone call from Dr. Pippas. He wanted to discuss our last office visit and his comments about surgery being my best option. After a great deal of thought, he said he wanted me to look at another option than surgery. He felt surgery would be better left as a next step, after a less invasive attempt to remove the lesion.
So, we’ve listened to all of these experts and have come to a decision. We’ve made plans to go the microwave ablation route this coming Thursday, August 28. The plan is for me to spend one day in the hospital and if all goes well, I’ll be back at work on Monday, September 2. I’m nervous, not so much about the procedure, but that this disease might be about to kick it up a notch. I have enjoyed these last eight months and I want to keep living just like that — free.
So, don’t give up on me. Keep the prayers coming and pray that the microwave ablation is a success and that it kills the only remaining disease within my body.
Now, let’s go kick cancer’s ass for the seventh time!
1) nephrectomy, 2) metastasis in spine, 3) radiosurgery in spine, 4) metastasis in spine #2, 5) radiosurgery in spine #2, 6) chemotherapy, 7) microwave ablation