Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Back Home...Not Exactly by Choice

Japan is now a memory. A very good memory, at least until the very end. We're back home. Things don't seem so abnormal. Besides having a lump in her neck, Rach feels pretty good. It is really hard to understand how she is so sick when she doesn't feel like it. We're now staying at her parent's house in Hubbard, OH. It's a po-dunk town a few thousand folks short of 10 grand. There's probably more bars than traffic lights here. Rach and I grew up here, went to school here, made lifelong friends here, and made many memories here. We both made decisions in life that got us out of that town...years later, here we are, waiting for the unknown.

The day comes for us to meet with the docs up in Cleveland Clinic. We're to meet with an ear, nose, and throat surgeon and oncologist, Dr. Walter Lee. He's a young looking, soft spoken, gentle man who has a relaxing way about him. He calms us as we initiate the myraid of tests Rach will be going through. She starts by getting her throat, esophagus, and stomach looked at with a strange looking tool she had to get placed in her nose and down all the way into her stomach. It looked quite uncomfortable, but as she does commonly, she "troopered" through it. She concurrently went through various scans; PET, C/T, MRI, etc...and her doctors reviewed her case.

By looking at the scans, it was evident that Rachel's cancer had spread throughout her body; the largest mass being in the lower left neck area (the size of a tennis ball), and an assortment of relatively small tumors located throughout her lymph chain in her abdomen. Due to the location of the mass in her neck and the location near major arteries, it was decided to remove the lump via surgery. Rach hadn't had surgery since we were in Virginia. Those surgeries were all on her legs and lower extremities - away from anything vital, whereas this one would be quite dangerous - near many vital areas of her body. It was the first very scary experience we had since this second bout with the beast has come about (besides the lump finding of course).

I waited in the waiting area with Rachel's parents and our Pastor from our Catholic church (St. Pats in Hubbard, OH), Fr. Tim O'Neil. After 4 long hours, Dr. Lee came out and told us the surgery was a success; she made it through fine. That was the good news. We had been told prior to the surgery that this cancer could have been lymphoma - due to the location exclusively in her lymph system. That would have been a much better diagnosis. Dr. Lee broke it down for us, and the news was quite sombering. The mass came back as being positive for melanoma. That meant she was diagnosed with Stage IV, distant metastisized, malignant melanoma (a1c). Needless to say, we all shared a good cry.

The thing that kept us strong in that time of excrutiating emotional anguish was the fact that Fr. Tim was there to comfort us and Rachel's surgeon, Dr. Lee, said something so simple yet so powerful to all of us. He said: "Those who make it through tough times such as these do so because they rely on the 3 F's: Faith, Family, and Friends". That philosiphy of his had held true throughout our entire ordeal.

After a few week of recovery and ensuring the area of her surgery was healing properly, Dr. Lee recommended we be seen by the Melanoma Specialists at The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Hillman Cancer Center. Her lead oncologist would be Dr. Ahmad Tarhini, another soft spoken, kind man who has a way of putting us at ease. With my next entry I will bring the story up through the current time and will continue to update this blog with frequent storied of our experiences while Rachel fights her battle with the hardest foe she (or any of us for that matter) have faced.

  • If you must be in the sun, exercise "sun sense." Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when ultraviolet (UV) exposure is greatest, and use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) no less than 15.
  • If you must be in bright sun, sunscreen alone may not provide adequate protection: Keep exposed areas of your body covered. In addition to protecting your arms, legs, and trunk, remember your head, neck, and shoulders. Wear a visor or a hat with a brim. Melanoma usually occurs on the head and neck, on men’s trunks, and on women’s legs. Do not ignore changes in moles in areas of the body that are not exposed to sun. Melanoma can occur in these areas as well.
  • Examine your skin regularly, and have your health professional check your skin during any other health exams, or at least once a year.


Linda said...

Hi Rick - Thanks so much for the comment on my blog. It's posts like yours that keep me going. I must say that I have read your blog and am so touched. I can see so much of my own life & struggles in you blog. Just the name of your blog alone is touching - my husband has the exact same thinking. You are not alone. Keep the 3 F's....