A severe set of aspirational events prior to Christmas made my lungs burn and ache. The sensations were pretty similar to those I had had with aspirational pneumonia – not pleasant, by any stretch, but familiar territory – being brought out of a dead sleep into full wakefulness by the sensation of a bubble of acid descending rapidly into my lungs (no esophagus means zero heartburn, and zero warning time), followed immediately by my vaulting into a fully upright position as I try to expel the liquid, and any particulate matter, from my lungs as quickly and as violently as I can, and knowing that I have not succeeded completely by the bouts of frequent coughing that could last for hours – or days. I stubbornly held off going into see the local doctor (my regular doc is a 30 mile trip to Sioux Falls), but finally gave in to the urging of my wife, who could no longer cope with the frequency of either the coughing, or my complaining about it.
A couple of things made complying with her wishes a bit easier – I could see a doctor I knew here, and the pain in and around my chest was getting worse by the day. It also helped the motivation a bit when I went through three more such events in rapid succession two days before I could get in to see him. We sit, chat a bit about things we have in common, I get sent to X-Ray, come back and get a prescription for a pretty strong anti-biotic, chat some more, and go home. All’s well that ends well…
Except this time. I was coughing up blood, and a fair amount of it each time. My sides, under my arms, felt like every childhood bully was beating me with regularity, and that sensation was lasting longer than the coughing jags. My right hip started hurting badly when I coughed as well – as best as we have been able to put it together? Most – but by no means all – of that pain was likely caused by a pulled muscle from lifting Warren from the floor; three times since Christmas he has managed to lose his balance almost the same way toddlers seem to get knocked down by dust motes. When I coughed, there was something else in the hip that was hurting. The worst thing? This was still happening a week after the anti-biotic course was done and over with.
As things have a way of turning out in our lives together, I had to take Joy over to see our family doctor. She mentioned what was going on with me to him, and when she came back out I was told – in no uncertain terms – he said I was to call my pulmonologist, describe what was going on accurately, and make an appointment. I did it while I was sitting there beside her (she had two different visits in one sitting), and that appointment – along with a CT scan – were for Monday, January 26th (which was quick by local terms).
I think I knew it was not going to be good news, on some level; once you are moved from the category of cancer victim to cancer survivor, you have a far greater sensitivity to what’s going on with your body – and over the last few years there have been more than a few moments that I was half-prepared to hear that the disease had returned. Unexplained weight loss, or change in appetite? Been there, had those – all false alarms. Not this time.
There appears to be a rather enlarged lymph node and some other surrounding tissue that was not in evidence in my last CT scan, nor would it have shown up in the chest X-Ray. There is a 2% chance it could be a bacterial infection that the previous antibiotic couldn’t touch, but the likely explanation is lung cancer. A bronchoscopy is scheduled for Tuesday, January 27th in the afternoon; results will not be available for two to three days.
My mom died of esophageal cancer when I was 26. My kid brother died of lung cancer before I was diagnosed with esophageal myself. It is a lot to take in, and the last thing in the world I am willing to do is to intellectualize this away. My chest still hurts. I am still spitting up blood, and my ribs still hurt as if Brian Cuddy was wailing on them with both fists while sitting on me.
This post? Mostly, I’m writing it for the folks I know who blog that do not go on Facebook or who I have not gotten in touch with yet one way or another – I contacted my family members first. The broadcast news only goes out after folks who needed – and have a right to know first were told. What next? We wait – but, while we wait, we remember that cancer is a diagnosis, not a destination. Christ is my destination – how I get there is in God’s hands, in His plans, and on His timetable.
Joy asked me, when we got home from the Mayo Clinic after the last time something this big happened in my life, what I wanted to do with my life. One of the things I wrote down was to write, another to travel, but the top of the list was to write. The biggest reason I could think of wanting to write was to give others hope – here has been my journey from the dark side of life towards the high country. Some of that is documented here, on the posts of the blog. Some of my best writing has been in email exchanges – private correspondence, as much as we consider anything private these days if it happens electronically – but the point of all my writing, whether private or public, was to move people who saw themselves the way I had seen myself for so long – to see that, regardless of their transgression or the seeming depths of the pit they felt their life was in, John Newton’s succinct message of the Gospel was as true for them as it has proven for me. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. If I, by my words and example, can move someone to live like they were dying, or to change that swear word forming to one that blesses another? Then count me among the blessed.
Almost as blessed as I am for having all of you as part of my life – this one here, a shield bearer, This woman beside me, my strength. That man? A standard bearer. That child? Gifted and talented and beautiful – not because she was sold a bill of goods but because her very life speaks these self-evident truths into visible life.
-  On the screen, which compresses everything down a bit? The node looked about as large as a quarter, and almost spherical. ↩