So week two post surgery had me fairing much better pain wise with only a pill or two a day to help with the soreness. I went back to Passavant for my post op follow up with Dr. Landreneau's group, Dr.Schaubel's group, Dr Chen the radiologist, and with Dr. Osborn, the oncologist.
Dr. Landreneau's assistant Kim and Maria went first. They told me that the surgery went really well. The artery was not involved, nor was any of the bone from the 1 1/2 ribs they removed at the site to get at the tumor. The tumor had shrunken by 1/2 it's size from the radiation and chemo prior to surgery, probably explaining why things went better. They had removed the top 1/3 of my left lung as well. They removed 5 lymph nodes and 4 of them came out clean with 1 having shown a "stain" which may mean the start of some bad cells. Removing it pretty much ended that issue, but as they had said back in July, they wanted to run another course of chemo as the "slam the door" move to ensure best chances. Hey, you've been right so far, who am I to say no???
I asked Maria about the 27 metal staples in my upper chest/neck that had me doing an incredible imitation of Frankenstein's monster. Having never even had sutures in my life, it just did not seem like it was going to be a fun thing to do. She told me "About half the people say it hurts but women don't complain much..." Oh, OK then......I get the message. She said that she would remove them after all my Dr. visits.
Next was Dr. Chen to tell me that he did put in the radioactive mesh and gave me the AEC paperwork so I could fly after setting off radiation sensors. I would be "hot" for about 6 months.
Dr. Osborn was next. She is captivating by her manner and the fact that she is just so tiny. I'm thinking just over 5 ft tall, surely less than a hundred lbs, and just a really properly attractive woman, professional in her manner and look. She told me that she was glad to see that I had a good post op report, and that she would like to run at least one more run of chemo, maybe two if my bloodwork works out OK. I laughed at the bloodwork statement and she asked me if there was a bloodwork issue. I replied, "Dr., have you ever heard of Institutional Anemia?" She looked quizzical for a second and then broke into a big smile..."Oh no.....did they take a little to much blood from you?" I laughed and just said that I just felt like it was an audition for a new vampire movie.
She wanted to know if i was Ok with the chemo and I told her sure. But the strangest thing...I just had a big wave of emotion come over me and I teared up instantly. She said "Mark, what's wrong---did the chemo bother you?" Really fighting hard to hold back the tears I told her that no, quite the opposite, I had virtually no reaction to it aside from thinning hair that I had shaved ahead of time. I fought through the tears to tell her how heartbreaking it was for me to see my chemo "roomies", the 32 year old mother of three little ones just devastated and looking like an Auschuitz survivor, or the strapping 20 something young men reduced to such emaciated forms. "Dr., how can I possibly say that my shoulder is sore, or my appetite has fallen off when I see these brave souls fight so hard with so much to lose...." I just started to weep. "How do you deal with this? what about the kids" I struggled to get out. Dr. Osborn came over to me and put her arms around me with tears in her eyes. "Don't you worry about the kids, or the Moms or the others...they are here for me to help. And I can help them because I have patients like you. You just work on your recovery"
That was one of the most human, compassionate moments I had ever experience in life, let alone in a medical setting. What a feeling woman and consumate professional she is. We agreed on the chemo for the week before Christmas and maybe the second week into January.
Next was Maria with her little plastic gun that looked like a pricing gun used to ticket clothing. I swallowed a little hard but I'll tell you what, there would be no whimper, no little jerks, or any sound of any kind from me on this little procedure. So here we go....
Click, down into the tray it went. Click, into the tray. Hmmmmmm this is going well. She got well over ten of them out with virtually no feeling at all....then there the the click that missed.....I ground my teeth together and Maria made eye contact with me----hard not to do when my eyes were probably the size of paper plates....that had hurt. She smiled and laughed.."Mark, that was my fault, the gun had slipped off the staple...it's allowed to hurt" she said with a wink. Another dozen clicks and no more zipper neck......
Next would be Dr. Schaubel, the Pulmonologist and trying to schedule a time to remove the blood filter in my chest. It can only be in there for a month or less as a temporary, any longer means potential "issues". I need no "issues".
Dr Schaubel visits have become a favorite. He and Dr. Osborn have that unique ability to calm, inform, enlighten, and pick up your spirits with a kind word, or even a smile.
Dr. Schaubel had been monitoring my INR clotting factors while I was on the blood thinners, brought on by the clots that showed up prior to surgery. He was now telling me that the filter that had been put in to cover for no Cumidin while the surgery would be going on. He told me that I was running out of time as the filter I had was temporary. They decided that it could come out on one of my "short" chemo as it was just down the hall from the Cancer Center.
Chemo started out just like the times before, pretty uneventful. So Thursday came around and it was time for me to go see my bud, Alleryk, and get the filter out.
Bummer, Alleryk was on vacation in Puerto Rico I heard. Other staff members stepped in and filled in quite well. Very soon I was in the operating room, with my IV in feeding me my "La La drugs". As it was a week before Christmas, I felt I was entitled to "Fa La La" meds, voiced my request-----and I got it!!!
This procedure was a local anesthesia shot (yep, I still hate neeles), a quick and truly painless puncture of my Juglar veil on the right side of my neck, some pressure, but no pain. I had my face turned left and covered with a kind of tent. They were done in a minute or two and there was little if any discomfort. Of course at that time I just had to ask them for the filter. "But Mark, it's medical waste....." "Yeah, but the waste it was in was my body up to 5 minutes ago....I want to put it on my Christmas tree.....Hey, it cost me $20 grand!!!" Two minutes later I had my shiny little umbrella in a prescription bottle.
Yep, it's on the tree....... Now let's enjoy Christmas
So I skated thru the chemo in August, September, and October with little more than some light headedness. I actually felt guilty when I looked at some of the suffering I saw around me everyday. So when I finished up on December 21st, I knew my schedule had me off from anything until my last 6 days of chemo on January 11th. Can you image....nothing being injected, punctured, removed, inserted, cat scanned, MRI'ed......just time to heal.
Well time ran out on day two. I started feeling more bouts of lightheadedness. Then came some light nausea and loss of appetite. By day three I was just so fatigued that I did not want to get out of bed...but could not sleep. By Christmas Eve it took me everything to get up and get out for Kim and my annual trip to the nearby Outlet Mall to grab some last minute bargains. I didn't feel up to make my little surprise crabmeat patties for all my wonderful nurses in the Cancer Unit. I couldn't even get our traditional cookie baking done.
Christmas Day had us going out to Kim's Mom and Dad's to open presents. I felt a little better but more like a sick witness than a participant. Within an hour or so I ended up under some blankets in a bedroom upstairs until dinner. Dinner was wonderful...Prime Rib and potatoes, all the veggies I liked, just a wonderful spread. I could only get down about a third of what I thought I wanted. No real nausea, just the perfect definition of "eyes bigger than your stomach".
Over the weekend I saw a little improvement all around. Monday came and I actually went to "work" on Hotline calls of of my laptop and my phone. I ended up on the phone for over 7 hours and was pretty beat by the end of the day. Tuesday spelled the same schedule, but by 2 in the afternoon I completely lostt my voice! This had never happened in all my life (much to the chagrin of my family and coworkers I am sure!).
Heading to bed that night I thought I felt a little feverish and sure enough my temp was over 100.7 degrees. With the blood thinners I was on, virtually all the over the counter remedies were out, with only Tylenol being acceptable. They only Tylenol I had in the house was a component of one of my pain killers, a Percocet. That would have to do.
New Years Eve came with a fever still there and the added bonus of of some yellow mucous coming up with my newly present cough. This would be a good time for a call to the the Dr. I was due for an INR blood test for my Cumidin levels so during my call talking with the Physician Asst., I asked if they wanted me to have a chest Xray. She would talk to the Dr and call back, which she did. Yep, go for the xray and he was calling in an antibiotic to be on the safe side against pneumonia.
After a few days of antibiotics, yellow stuff went away, as well as any fever, and I generally improved to the point that I felt I could go out on service calls.
Looking back on that little two week period really brought into perspective what it must be like for those patients that do not do well on Chemo. During a follow up with Dr Schaubel on the Chest Xray (everything was great including the healing of some pre-existing scar tissue from the the clotting issues) I mentioned about what I thought was my reaction to this bout of chemo. He pointed out that it very well could of been the chemo, more likely a little dehydration then followed by my flu like event---(which strangely enough he had experienced with exactly same symptoms a week earlier--which he felt was a virus).
A follow up with Dr. Osborn a few days later on the first day of my last run of chemo, went really well.
She said that I had tolerated the chemo well, my lungs were in good shape, and my blood work was remarkable with only my red count down a fraction from normal. She was so bright and cheery to Kim and I and answered so many questions and in her very reassuring way. What a great manner she has about her. Earlier in the day as my fav nurse Linda was taking the blood samples, she was scolding me for not calling in when I did not feel right during the Christmas break. There was a good chance that I was just a little dehydrated with my loss of appetite (yes class, hydration is in the form of food as well as liquids..). I broke down at last and told her that I was leary of being admited for a couple of days right through the holidays and really flet I should just man up on these wimpy symptoms I had. That wasn't good enough for Linda and again she stressed that they are so geared up for these chemo symptoms that rarely are you hospitalized and usually it's just an hour or so of IVs. So guess what? I got virtually the same answers from Dr. Osborn as well.
So now I'm thinking if the roses don't quite smell right, maybe I'll pick up the phone.
Meanwhile, I have only 4 more days till the end of chemo, and my next appointment will be a follow up CT Scan in April. APRIL!!!! That's almost three months.....YEAH!!!!!
I made it right up to the last day of the last run of chemo. RN Linda was there as always with her endearing manner. She brought in my hydrating IV of saline that I always get first before the chemo drugs. She had to put the port needle in and then flush out he port with a couple syringes of saline. Under normal conditins I usually "taste" the smell of the flush...kinda metallic...but not this time.
Linda could not get my blood to backflow into the port's line like it always has. She then tried to access the port from a little different angle. Hmmmmm, still no good. Linda was so apologetic for the extra "sticks" (Did I mention I hate needles?) As are the rules, after two attempts Linda had to have someone else try. She went to Colleen who I think may have been the charge nurse on the floor.
Colleen tried as Linda had, although she added my moving my arms, laying flat on the chair, standing up, kinda doing a NO impact jumping jack....all for naught, the port was just not going to work. Colleen then just started a traditional IV lead so I could progress with the last day's treatment. I was not to let anyone try to use the port as it would have to be dealt with later.
After the good hour and a half of port messing, blood samples, etc., I rceived the last dose of chemo (I hope). Then came the time for me to say "goodbye" to my Cancer Center nurses. Linda gave me a big hug, and of course the emotional Gumby I was came right out front as my eyes teaared up. I knew I could see these nurses anytime I wanted. And, to their gratitude, they were only a couple of week's away from moving to the new ultra-modern new annex that had been under construction for years. It meant more patient stations, better logistics for the staff, and just overall a hugely better situation for the Cancer Center. But for today, I was done and going home. They gave me a script for a CT Scan in April to check on things. Good Lord!!!! three + months of no poking, inserting, biopsing, radiating, IV'ing, on and on. WOW.
The post chemo recovery period was a little rougher this time. A little more light headed, a little more squeemish were the rule. I watched over about 2 weeks as my black hair that had regrown from the weeks after my surgery, slowly faded away (translation: fell out) leaving a nice healthy covering of gray hair. Small price to pay I'd say.
I still was doing the blood work, referred to as Pro Time INR to monitor my cumidin blood thining medicine, but it started to be every two weeks instead of weekly (Did I ever say how much I hate needles). Then came the call from Maria.
They had decided that February 12th would be the day for me to have my port removed. Welp, I almost lasted a month.....