As mentioned in my first blog post, I want to go more in depth (without boring you of science) on what type of cancer I have and (maybe) try and explain how I got such a demon living in my body.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the blood. It starts when your body creates too many white blood cells in your lymphatic system in response to an invader or illness. There is essentially no ‘off switch’ and the cells grow out of control thinking there is something they need to fight off when really, they are the problem.
In my particular situation, something triggered a response for cells to fix something in an area of my body called the mediastinal, which is near the center of the chest. It includes both lungs, the heart and the superior vena cava (the major artery which supplies blood from your heart to your brain).
The rapid speed at which the cells were dividing caused a tumor to form. The age of the tumor is unknown, but my doctors believe that it ranges anywhere from twelve to six months resulting in it’s grapefruit-like size.
What were the cells responding to? I have no fricking clue. Unless the tumor starts talking to me and speaks for itself, I will never definitively know for sure what the root cause of this cancer is from.
I have large B-cell, high-grade aggressive lymphoma, meaning that the cells are growing and spreading at a much faster rate than normal throughout my lymphatic system. The human body has lymph nodes which are interconnected throughout it’s entirety. All the way from your head, to your feet. What does that mean in my case? The faster I can kick this cancer’s ass, the faster it will stop spreading through me and hopefully go away.
Now, why didn’t I know it was there? My first thought exactly. You would think something so large, growing in such a prominent part of your body would cause relatively significant symptoms immediately.
In fact, I was running and lifting weights for months prior to my diagnosis. The tumor had free range to grow without affecting any other organs surrounding it, leaving me symptom free. This enabled me to continue my daily activities without knowing anything was wrong and allow the tumor to spread many of his minion friends to other parts of my body, primarily my lungs.
President’s day, Monday, February 19th, is a day that will live in infamy - in my world.
It was a three day weekend off from work and I had decided to redo the extra bathroom in our house. I set out to sand and repaint the vanity, install new hardware, replace light fixtures and a host of other things to spruce up it’s appearance. It was about a day and a half project which included a lot of wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Hell, I thought I was just breathing in a little saw dust or something, nothing to worry about.
It wasn’t until the day after my weekend project that I woke up with what looked like a face similar to the character ‘Sloth’ from the 1985 movie ‘The Goonies’ that I knew something was wrong. Coupled with a bloody cough from hell, a doctors visit was in store.
The next day, I went into work (still with ‘Sloth’ face) and scheduled a same day appointment. During my appointment, my doctor and I went down the list of what could be wrong - cancer being at the bottom of the list, of course. It wasn’t until my doctor ordered me to get a chest x-ray that we really started to discover the bigger issue and thus begin my schedule from hell (see blog post #1).
WHERE I AM TODAY
Losing your hair (even though I barely had any to begin with) was one of the most bizarre feelings I have ever experienced. I would be in the shower and literally have hair wipe off of my scalp. This gave me really sore hair follicles, resulting me to shave my head completely. At this point, no hair seems to be growing back and I am okay with it! I’m sporting the bald look well. I have my days where I feel like ‘Walter White’ from the TV series ‘Breaking Bad’ and would rather watch the world burn than have cancer, but on the other hand, I have days when I feel like ‘David Dunn’ from the 2000 movie ‘Unbreakable’ and I’m invincible. Regardless, the hair was falling out with or without the cancer - the bald pseudo character acting is just for fun and passing the time.
My diagnosis is stage four. This is because the primary tumor in my chest was found to have spread and create another tumor in the upper lobe of my right lung. This secondary tumor is about the size of a fifty-cent piece coin. Along with numerous other nodules and spots in my lungs, the second tumor is a cause for concern because the lymphoma is now outside of my lymphatic system and in a separate, primary organ. More to come on this next time.
Currently, I am two treatments into chemotherapy. The type of chemo I am receiving is called ‘R-CHOP’, which is just a fancy acronym to dumb down the names of the medicines I receive through the port in my chest. Every three weeks I go into the oncology office for a visit with the doctor and an approximate six hour treatment. I am scheduled to have PET scans (which show how the cancer is reacting) after every two visits. My first one is coming up soon.
Chemo is weird. Fighting a disease with poison doesn’t seem right to me, but all implications show positive effects so far. It’s working, I think. My symptoms have been minimal, but are definitely present. I have yet to lose my original, pestering cough and shortness of breath. This makes simple tasks very hard, but at least I no longer have ‘Sloth’ face. The cocktail of medications I am taking makes me feel pretty good throughout the day, but gives me more side effects to deal with in the long run. I can’t sleep, my appetite and emotions are all over the place and I’ve developed restless leg syndrome.
It’s like fighting fire with fire.
I continue to have visitors come to Arizona from my home state of Michigan which is simply amazing. Most recently, my sister, Lindsey (who is probably one of my biggest advocates and supporters in kicking cancer’s ass) and brother-in-law, Cliff, visited for their Spring Break with my niece and nephew, Claire and Carter.
Words really cannot describe my gratitude for the love and support I have received from everyone - family, friends and co-workers alike, thank you.
As I move forward to round three of chemotherapy, I’ve picked up my camera more and more and started making pictures with a new perspective. It feels good. I am excited to get back into doing what I love on a daily basis, but that will come with more time.
Stay in touch, visit again (or not) and witness cancer through my lens and keyboard.
Until next time…