Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sharing Our Stories

A first post is always a hard call, but I wanted to summarize my experience before I explore how I will beat back cancer, one strategy at a time, one day at a time. Please stay in touch; I hope to include guest bloggers and welcome posting your experiences. Cancer touches every family's life, and in this blog I hope we can share our stories and find a common place where together we can begin (and continue) beating back cancer.

Very few things in life are truly perfect, but the Fourth of July, 2009, was all that and more.

2008 Burlington Independence Day FireworksImage by found_drama via Flickr

But like the fireworks that mark Independence Day, my life became a series of ground-level firework markers that reverberated for eight months, before burning themselves out. On July 5, my story began as I entered the hospital with a dangerous fever spike and coughing with pyrotechnic output remarkably like Mons Vesuvius. A CAT Scan and several x-rays later, I was released, only to reprise the visit in three days. That's when the real fireworks erupted. Five white lab coats entered to inform me that beyond pneumonia in both lungs, I should "get my life in order...arrange for a living will...and did I need counseling." White Lab Coats have a way speaking beyond the person, in an impersonal objectification whose subtext is your clock is ticking (did I mention I was alone).

A bronchoscopy, more tests than April's PSSAs, and a four-day hospital stay that was my best experience with compassionate care and cooking, and I was released with a life sentence, aka, nothing significantly wrong. My summer was iconic and idyllic; I looked out on 185 acres, my girls, and a wonderful life. For the duration of time from then to now, I was monitored. CAT Scans, PET Scans, and more hematology-sticking repeated at regular intervals led to a mediastinoscopy because my lymph nodes had grown. Subsequent to a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin's Follicular Lymphona, Grade 2, a bone marrow test was administered as part of the staging for determining treatment protocols (would prefer surgery to another bone marrow test). The following video of a bone marrow biopsy is graphic, perhaps not for the fainthearted.
If the video above is too graphic, try this animation.

Throughout my journey, I gained a newly-found respect for many aspects of my experience; the treatments and the people who administer them, but most of all, I respect bone marrow donors. Truly, I am not certain I could be that brave again.

My next step is a second opinion appointment at UPenn Hospital, and then a conference with my oncologist to determine appropriate treatment as a result of my staging tests. Since childhood, I have been an optimist, determined to live my life fully, on my own terms, accepting the responsibility for my informed decisions. Nothing has changed. I will survive, I will endure, and I will begin beating back cancer. The fight has already begun.

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  1. Thank you for choosing to share. Keep a curious, and positive outlook and you can't lose.

  2. Thanks, Mr. Walsh. I intend to follow your advice.