6 Months

Its absolutely amazing to me how fast time flies when you are having fun. Andrew is in Houston at MDAnderson again for his 6 month series of tests and scans, and I am at home holding down the fort and taking care of the kids and our zoo. To say that I felt absolutely sick to not leave the house with him at 4:05am this morning, is an understatement. Andrew is so strong, and he assured me (why the heck was he assuring ME?) that he would be fine on his own, and yet I feel strangely empty and scared tonight. And, yet, we both know and trust that his appointment with Dr. Swisher tomorrow will be cause for great celebration and a wonderful reminder of how fortunate and lucky we truly are.

The past 6 months have been a bit of a blur. Cancer is very strange that way. Time almost stands still at times, and yet when health returns, and normalcy appears, its easy to resume life as you knew it before and time begins to evaporate again. That said, its far too easy for me to talk about this, as I am NOT the one who has had cancer. I am NOT the one who has had massive thoracic surgery. I am NOT the one who has had part of his lung removed. I am NOT the one who has lost a father to the same cancer that I have had to fight. Its far too easy for me to talk about how the last 6 months have been. Quite frankly, its far too easy for me, as I am NOT the one fighting cancer. I am merely the spouse…

And, yet I will tell you that Andrew has been nothing short of amazing since his lung cancer diagnosis. He recovered from his surgery with such grace and such strength and as soon as he was able, he was walking the dogs, and hiking our local mountain, and then in short order, skiing at our local ski resort. And then before I knew it, he was skiing at altitude and pushing the limits of his lung capacity, and celebrating with quiet joy how far he had come in such a short time. All the while, feeling “different”, all the while knowing that his reality was forever changed. All the while, quietly aware that each day was a gift beyond anything he had ever been able to comprehend prior to last July.

Of course, we feel that tomorrow will bring nothing but great news. We have no reason to think otherwise, and yet cancer is this persistent shadow. Life goes on, and joy returns, and yet there is always this shadow. Sometimes its more noticeable, and sometimes, you can’t see it even if you try. Yet, its always there. A dull and sometimes even a dark shadow…

Just last week we lost a friend to cancer. A young father with an incredible zest and joy for life, and a very, very dear friend to two of our best friends. Why him? Why was this Steve’s story? Why is this Andrew’s story? Its been a horribly sad time to mourn the loss of Steve. And its also been another reminder of how fortunate we are…even if there is perhaps some guilt imbedded in our gratitude. Yet, our gratitude is DEEP. And we sincerely share in the collective grief for Steve’s passing.

So, I am here in Boulder, and Andrew is there in Houston. And I feel so far away from him, despite our consistent contact today. I know where he is. I can see it. I can feel it. I can smell it. And quite frankly, in all of MDA’s incredible amazingness  and magic, its a hard place to be, even worse alone. Cancer is not something I would wish on anyone, and I am also deeply grateful for our experience and journey with lung cancer, thus far. We are truly the lucky ones.

Love,

Brooke

 

 

9 Weeks of Healing

It has been a while since I/we have posted. We have transitioned into a new phase of the healing process, and the last couple of weeks we have been introverted home bodies. Our preference is to do much less, stay home, and be with each other and the kids.

Both Brooke and I have been driven “doers” most of our adult lives, now we are both feeling much more interested in just “being” and much less concerned about the “doing”. I am sure, like most of this process, this is but another step in the journey, and that this too will change. Right now, doing less and keeping life as simple as possible just feels right.

Now that I am getting back into circulation I have had a lot of people ask me how I am doing. I appreciate the support and caring nature of the question. Often it is in a public setting or in passing, and my stock response is that I am doing well (true) and that I am grateful to be so fortunate (also true). The reality of the situation is a bit more complex. I feel as if everyday I am aware of a barrage of different emotions washing over me, some a passing thought or twinge of awareness, and others more deeply felt, and a few just plain disturbing. Since there is rarely time to explore this range of emotions in a casual conversation I thought I would capture some of the range of emotions here.

At times I find myself struggling with patience. I am through 80% of the healing process, and the last 20% is going to take time and focus. I need to make sure I focus on that 20%, if I let it go and settle for a new status quo, I am going to lose ground that I need not cede. And it is quite clear that it is going to take work to build back where I am stronger than I was before going into the surgery.

The following is a summary of my general state of being on any given day:

Changed perspective about daily life, not as concerned about sweating the details.

Relaxed and at ease.

Energized and creative.

Reflective and  meditative.

Full of love for Brooke, family, and friends.

Conscious of being present and feeling.

Open to new possibilities.

God and the presence of spirit.

Aware of gratitude for so many blessings.

And…

Weary, especially in the mornings.

Uncertainty about the future.

Random shortness of breath, usually when I am not doing anything.

One in three who relapse…

Questioning everything.

Lethargic, and at it’s worse, apathetic.

A sense of loss…

Often I find myself in the midst of one of life’s mundane tasks, such as driving, and I hear a voice in my head asking if this is all for real? Did I really have lung cancer? Am I really missing 15% of my lung? And of course the answer rings in my head…YES! And I am reminded that one of the gifts of this experience is to stay present with the reality of my own mortality. To not slip back into the trance that this life is infinite and old age assured. To appreciate the beauty and gift of every moment and every day. And when I have that awareness if often seems as if my daughter’s smile is just a little brighter, the sky a tinge bluer, and it is that much easier to take a deep breath and be relaxed and present in the moment, grateful for the beauty of the life and love all around.

If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you can not achieve.

– tao te ching

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday…Relief

Saturday…

In the vein of no coincidences…today is the 12th anniversary of the accident that almost took our lives when Brooke, Miller and I were run over by our car, an accident we were not supposed to walk away from. By the grace of God we did.

Saturday Sept 7th, 2013. I am discharged from MD Anderson, the lung cancer removed. A chance incidentally finding of a cancer that would have gone undetected and then most likely killed me. Survival rates for stage II-IV lung cancer are dismal.

I have lost all track of time. The last few days have been a blur, blending together, contracting and expanding. At times it seemed as if I was making great progress, moving through the post-operative stages well. And then a setback. Usually accompanied by significant pain.

Since Wednesday I have had one singular focus, to get discharged as quickly as possible. As I mentioned in my previous posts hospitals are not my favorite place. Brooke aptly described yesterday as a roller coaster. So many ups and downs it was hard to keep track. At 8:15 on Friday, after a chest x-ray, I had a sudden onset of the worst pain I had felt since the surgery. It was as if a hot sharp knife was being stabbed into my upper back. Even after several quick IV doses of narcotics it wouldn’t go away. I was concerned it meant we had had a setback, some degradation of the incisions, or worse. In fact it was my body still awakening from the heavy surgical anesthesia, I was starting to feel the tube in my chest. When they transported me for the x-ray the chest tube aggravated the lining of my chest wall. So what was awful pain was actually a good sign. Symbolic of this entire journey, that the pain was a pathway to healing.

As the day progressed we received better news. The chest tube would be pulled out, a major step towards discharge the following day. An RN from the surgical team came to perform the procedure. Sonia, a skilled RN on Dr. Swisher’s surgical team. Another one of the many angels who labor 12 hour shifts at MD Anderson in service of others, all with the singular mission of helping people afflicted by cancer. She has been on Dr. Swisher’s team for 6 years, and from what we can tell works continuously. She has been a big advocate and source of support over the last few days.

A few days in the hospital really makes me appreciate the work of nurses at all levels. The doctors may be the stars but the nurses are the foundation of this institution. I have been blessed with amazing care from two nurses in particular, Haril and Teny. MD Anderson veterans and both unbelievably skilled and kind.

At 4:00 pm Sonia showed up to take out the chest tube. As she was prepping we talked to her about the surgery. Brooke asked if during the operation, when they confirmed it was cancer and that the lymph nodes were negative, do they give a little cheer? She said that in fact they did. Especially in my case, because if the lymph nodes were positive that would have dramatically changed the course of the operations duration and complexity. We asked her what the cancer looked liked and she said my lungs were a healthy pink and then they saw the cancer, it was a deep dark purple, puckered, and necrotic, about the size of a quarter. In total they removed clean boundaries around the cancer and removed approximately a 3×3 inch section of my lung.

She then asked me to take a big breath let it out and then take another deep breath, and then I felt the chest tube slide out. It was the most incredible sensation of relief I have ever felt. A full somatic relief. I was literally on a high for hours afterward. We asked her to show us the tube. It was stitched into my back, a foot and a half long, and ran along the inside of the lung next to my heart and up into the apex of my left lung. Brooke and I were shocked to see that much tubing come out of my lungs. Immediately after the tube was removed the entire pathway of the tube went numb, zero sensation. It is still that way 24 hours later. They assured me it was normal and would resolve.

I slept peacefully Friday night, completely unattached to any machines, back in control of my body and on greatly reduced pain medications. With a clear chest X-ray on Sat morning I was scheduled to be discharged, 3 days after being admitted into the hospital. On to the next phase of healing.

I awoke Saturday am just before 7. Brooke arrived shortly afterwards. We walked the ward for almost 40 minutes, making our rounds, chatting, thankful that the end of this phase was in sight. The digital board had me listed as discharge pending. Brooke waited while I went for my last chest X-ray. I was gone no more than 20 minutes and came back completely exhausted. I collapsed into bed and was asleep in seconds. When I woke again 1.5 hours later Brooke told me we were good to go, she had packed everything, and there was a wheel chair waiting. I was happy to be leaving, yet I could not believe how tired I was, completely exhausted.

As we departed Brooke shared that she and the nurse had been talking while I slept. It was clear to her that I had put a lot of energy into getting to today’s milestone, and now came the let down. She thought the exhaustion would be catching up with me, and I would be really tired for quite some time going forward. If today was any indication she was right. Stage II of the recovery, the healing sprint is over, and the marathon has begun.