This post is a stream of consciousness update. Please excuse the lack of my usual attention to the conventions of acceptable language and grammar. I’m banging this one out. Dr. Pippas walked into our exam room this afternoon at about a quarter ’til 6 and we got down to business. I think today was our longest clinical conversation of the entire 8 years of our doctor patient relationship. This brilliant, good man has never disappointed me. He called us late last night with the sole purpose of giving us a night of good rest in advance of our meeting today. He knew a word from him and the better-than-we-thought-it-would-be news about my latest wrasslin’ match with kidney cancer.
We talked for over 40 minutes, not rushed, open to our questions about what we’re dealing with, what courses of action we could see coming, how to beat it again. His usual greeting, a pitch-ascending, “Michael” then he tips his head back, engaging his bifocals to get a sharp look into my eyes. He gets right in there, knowing the eyes are the window to one’s soul. I answered back, “Andrew,” and thanked him for being the kind of physician who calls a worried patient after a brutal day at the office seeing no telling how many other worried people.
I know we’re special to him, too. We have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds together, to date avoiding life-altering, permanent physical debilitation. I’ve had multiple surgeries (left kidney radical nephrectomy, lymph nodes, corpectomy of L2 spinal vertebra, laminectomy (8 weeks later) from L2-L5, thyroidectomy, knee scope, 32 grays of radiation beams and countless hundreds of needle sticks, claustrophobic rides in giant metal tubes, gallons of barium, bucketsful of pharmaceuticals. Yep. I knew early that my job was to stay alive until something that can cure me comes along. Already there are many more drugs than were available in mid-May, 2009. We have choices, based on my case.
I made a decision on June 9, 2009 to write our way through this. Last time I tried to measure my writing output, I was north of 300,000 words. I tried to tell the story the way it went down. From December 5, 2010: “Back From the Snake Pit.”
I wanted to leave electronic breadcrumbs for the ones coming behind me. Kidney Cancer is a tough diagnosis. Faith in God, trust in your medical team, support from your friends, understanding creditors, a rock-solid marriage, children who tested us as parents, but who are always present, and loving, and engaged in our familyness. Those four sons possess characteristics that indicate our every prayer for them to be smart, kind men has been granted. What a blessing it has been to have spent relatively few hours of our lifetime as parents worrying that one of them had gone off the rails and were going down a bad road. Today I realized with complete clarity how much more difficult these last 8 years would have been if one or more of them had gone bad.
“Make good choices.”
My spine is being attacked by an aggressive, fast-growing renal cell carcinoma metastasis in my L1 vertebra. The screw that Dr. Michael Gorum put there on August 19, 2011 during spinal fusion surgery is now embedded in this new tumor. Regardless of what procedure/medication is used to kill the tumor, I will imminently require another spine surgery with longer hardware that can bridge up into my thoracic vertebrae in search of solid bone that will hold a screw. We haven’t met with Dr. Gorum yet, so this is our and Dr. Pippas’ discussion about what will be needed. The tumor has broken through the outer lining of the vertebra and my spine is dangerously unstable at the moment. No horseback riding he says. Don’t fall he says. Some quick decisions need to be made and we need them to be the right decisions. No pressure.
Tomorrow I’ll send several packets of information to several kidney cancer specialists for an independent review and some remarks on how they’d recommend we proceed. Thank you Dena Battle and KCCure. At this moment, I’m not sure where treatment will take place. If we can do it here, we’ll be at Midtown Medical and the John B. Amos Cancer Center. If we need to travel anywhere but outer space, we’ll be traveling. We’ll be praying for the right people to be placed in our path. At this moment, more so than at any other crossroads of my medical life, we will be in a state of complete faith, untethered, but not unhinged. Enveloped in God’s arms with an army behind us.
We’ll see Dr. P in 10 days. The plan will be in place by then. We left Andy’s office today encouraged by his soothing words, his sincere grief for our plight and his heartfelt hope, conveyed in looks, hugs and purposeful touch. I love him for what he has done for me and for our family. I still have both of my parents and I hate cancer for flipping our lives upside down. Jill’s mom, Betty Owens has had to live with losing a son, and because we have sons, I can imagine the emotions that our parents are living with. This isn’t the way it should ever be. It hurts too much. I want to live so that my when my parents leave this world, they will leave it without ever having known what losing a son feels like.
I want this post to speak to Ann and John: Thank you for giving me everything I needed to make it to today. You have given Eric and me a good name, a joyful home, the gift of your strong marriage and spiritual, financial and emotional support in good times and bad times. There will more good times. I’m sure of it.
Jill is by my side. Always. When she grabs my hand will her thumb or mine be on the outside?
Let’s go write our next chapter.