Grandma P and I have led a very blessed life. We have traveled. We have wonderful sons and daughters-in-law. We are fortunate to have fine grandchildren. All in all, everything is hunky-dory in our world.
The furthest thing from my mind during all of my years was cancer. Neither side of my family had a history of having cancer. Grandma P’s family was healthy except for her mother, who died at the age of 52 of ovarian cancer. That occurred at a time when detection was not what it is today, and she was too far advanced for anyone or any miracle to have saved her.
Oddly enough, Grandma P, during her medical administration career, supervised a large hospital cancer center. She was also the president of the American Cancer Society for our home state for a one year term. We were involved in fund raising events for the American Cancer Society.
But me…I was blissfully ignorant of cancer as I was not concerned about ever, ever having to face the prospect of dealing with it.
Then came 2014. Grandma P had a lump in one of her breasts. After having a biopsy, it was determined to be cancerous. So, after a lumpectomy and seven weeks of radiation treatments five days a week, she was cured. She walked away from this event with her positive and spunky attitude. Her attitude almost had the tenure of being ‘no big deal.’ I could not have been more proud of the way she handled the entire situation. Phew! Our first really big health hiccup during all of our time being together.
Then came 2016. Early in the year as I was sitting in my office, probably writing another titillating blog, Grandma P walked in. I said to her, “Put your fingers under my right jaw. What do you think that lump is?” She felt the lump that I was talking about, about the size of a small egg and said, “I think we better have our doctor look at this.” So, on Ground Hog Day as Punxsutawney Phil was jacking around the citizenry of Pennsylvania as to whether we were going to get six more weeks of winter or not, I was on my way to the doctor. Thus began my journey and my first hand experience with cancer.
Our general practitioner referred us to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at one of our local hospitals. After reviewing a CT scan, he referred me to another ENT doctor at a different health care provider, as he decided this was beyond his abilities. So now we met with that ENT doc, who told us it looked like I had four cancerous lymph nodes and may very well need surgery. Then he added, “five years ago, we would have done this surgery here, but now we don’t.” Say what? I now have gone through three different health care providing agencies, and don’t have one of them that want to do my treatments. I am beginning to think this is serious. He went on to say, ” I recommend going to Birmingham, Alabama; Houston, Texas; or there is a new hot-shot ENT doc in Pensacola, Florida. His inference was I would need some very delicate surgery, mostly because the size of the lump under my chin.
Holy Crap! So both Grandma P and I both did our ‘due diligence’ on the hot-shot doctor in Pensacola. After doing this, and because it is the closest to our home, we decided that we would see Dr. Hillary White at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola.
Now I need to back up a little. Even though we were going to see Dr. White at Baptist, we still intended to get any treatment we needed locally. We made an appointment with Dr. White. She had already reviewed all the documents and tests that were done from the other agencies before we got to her office. She inspected me, and we were scheduled for more tests, exploratory surgery, and a follow-on appointment. After the additional biopsy results, she informed us that she took my case before a ‘tumor board’ and it was determined that I not have surgery at this time, but would need seven weekly chemo treatments, and seven weeks (five days a week) of radiation treatments to reduce the size of the lymph nodes. Okay. Not good news by any stretch, but now we at least knew what was needed. We were feeling good about finally having a plan after chasing around for weeks seeing doctors that didn’t want to treat me and having a bunch of tests. We went home fully expecting to never see Dr. White again.
Now Grandma P put her medical experiences into ‘warp drive’ and began calling oncologists and radiation oncologists about getting my treatment going. It turned out the oncologist was with one health care provider and the radiation oncologist was with another. One could see me in 10 days, the other in two weeks.
As you can imagine, I am now thoroughly ensconced in the fact that I have cancer, and I wanted to get into treatment as soon as possible. One could even say that my ‘pucker factor’ concerning my situation was at an elevated level. My military and business experience told me that waiting longer was not going to make my situation better. I wanted action!
Then it happened. One of the two doctors we had scheduled called to say that he had to reschedule us later….about 10 days later! That was it. I had a major meltdown. I looked at Grandma P and said this was unacceptable, and she agreed. After my blood pressure got back to triple, acceptable digits instead of peaking at quadruple digits, I said to Grandma P, “Call Baptist Hospital and see what they can do for us.” It was 11:00 A.M. on a Monday, and Grandma P again put her talents into ‘warp drive.’ At 2:00 P.M, she received a return phone call telling us we had appointments with both an oncologist and a radiation oncologist the following Wednesday morning. Wow! Really? Do we really have appointments within 48 hours? (Yes, we did!)
We again went to Baptist hospital and had an appointment with Dr. Zheng Topp, our oncologist, and Dr. James Adams, our radiation oncologist. Both were professional and informative. AND (this is a very big AND), we were going to begin radiation treatments and chemotherapy treatments the following Monday! OMG! After being kicked around by various health care systems for over two months, I was going to begin treatment 5 days after meeting Dr. Adams and Dr. Topp.
After renting a condominium for 7 weeks overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, we began treatments. (I decided if I was going to be miserable, I was at least going to have a view.) My first treatment was the radiation treatment. The three radiation technologists were Amy, Lisa and Kyla. Because of the way they had to truss me up like a Thanksgiving turkey during treatments, I referred to them as the ‘Princesses of Pain.’ In reality, they were very personable and extremely knowledgeable. Now that I am at home and recovering, I actually miss them. They were very much closer to being ‘Charlie’s Angels’ than the ‘Princesses of Pain.’ We also met Nurse Pat, Dr. Adam’s nurse assistant.
After completion of radiation, we went one floor up to Chemotherapy. After meeting with Dr. Topp and her nurse assistant, Nurse Liz, we received our first chemotherapy. That was our schedule for seven weeks. On Mondays, I received chemotherapy and saw Dr. Topp and Nurse Liz. I received radiation every day of the week and met with Dr. Adams every Wednesday.
I want to say one more thing about Nurse Liz and Nurse Pat. They are the two most dynamic and knowledgeable nurses I have ever met. There was nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that would get by either of these two ladies. They reminded me of two Sergeants Major that would know about everything going on around them. With a little practice, I think both of them could juggle running chainsaws.
My reason for writing this? Cancer awareness, for one. But, if ever faced with a similar situation like mine, find yourself a health care provider that can do it all. The parts and pieces approach did not work for us. Baptist Hospital did my blood tests, CT scans, did my biopsy, inserted my port for chemotherapy, and installed my feeding tube. All routine, all timely, all in-house.
As for me? Life certainly throws some curve balls. I have had my ups and downs. I did not realize that the effects of chemo/radiation continue and multiply after completion of the treatments. I have lost my sense of taste. My throat was sore for a long time after completion. I couldn’t talk because of my sore throat. I have lost over 45 pounds. As I am writing this, I cannot eat solid foods.
But things are getting better. Grandma P will not allow me to sulk. And I need to heal as we have more travel to do and grandchildren to visit. In retrospect, we know we made the right choice by receiving treatment at Baptist Hospital.