Saturday, December 04, 2004

How it all began

I have known for a few months now that God had something "big" planned for me. This has happened before. He doesn't tell me what the "big new thing" is that is coming, but He lets me know that I need to prepare myself for a big change in my life. Once it was a great new job. Once it was that I was going to become self-employed. This time, I was totally shocked. I have cancer. Here's how this new chapter of my life unfolded:

I have had a rash on my head for a while. It started out small. When it didn't go away for several weeks, I went to my regular doctor. We both figured it was just some kinda fungus. He gave me some medicine to put on it every night. I was not consistently applying it and figured that was why it still didn’t go away. But it has never hurt or itched or anything like that; and I really didn't want to spend more on doctors for something that was a minor inconvenience. You couldn't really see it since it was in my hair. So I didn’t do anything about it.

Then, about 2 months ago, it started bumping up and changing shape almost daily. That’s when I asked a friend of mine to recommend a good dermatologist. He is an Ear, Nose, & Throat doctor -- and a praise singer at my church (Southridge Church) . I called the dermatologist he recommended and was told the earliest that I could be seen was December 6th (which was over a month away). I told my friend that I had set up an appointment. He was quite concerned. He said, “Come into my office, I have a physician’s assistant who knows a bit about ‘derm’; he can take a look at it. The least we could do is get some biopsies and send it in to the pathology lab to find out what it is/isn’t. If nothing else, it will give the dermatologist a head start” (no pun intended)

Doctor, Doctor, Gimme the News
So I did. They took two punch biopsies and sent it in to the lab. The lab said that it was difficult to diagnose and that they wanted a bigger sample. So I went back in to my friend the doctor and he took a bigger sample (I had to get 4 stitches to close it up). The lab ran more tests and said essentially that before they were willing to make a diagnosis, they wanted to get a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic. So they sent a bunch of slides and a little chunk of my head off to Mayo. Mayo did some DNA level testing. A couple of doctors there looked at it and said "the findings were consistant with a diagnosis of malignant lymphoma with a B cell phenotype".

On December 1, 2004. The results from Mayo were faxed to my doctor friend who gave me the bad news. He also got me an appointment the next day with "the one of the best oncologists in the area" Dr. Jeffrey Letzer. I was in shock. I went home and told my wife, Sherry and we held each other and cried.

Meet The Oncologist
The next day, Sherry and I met with Dr. Letzer (nice guy). He said that we know what type of Lymphoma it is (there are about 30 different varieties). So the next crucial step is to determine the scope of the growth of this stuff. Is it just on my head? Or did it start somewhere else and spread to my head? If it is just on my head, that's good. That means that it is in Stage 1. If it is in stage 1, then the treatment will be just radiation and there will be a 50% chance that it will CURE the cancer. If the lymphoma has spread or if the radiation does not work, then my cancer is not curable. In that case, the goal of treatment will be to get the cancer into remission and keep it there as long as possible. In that case, the treatment will likely be a combination of chemotherapy (can you say barf-o-rama?), radiation, and biotherapy (whatever that is).

In order to determine if there has been any growth, I will need to go through a bunch of tests. So next week I have a bone marrow test scheduled for Monday, and a full-body CAT scan scheduled on Tuesday. Then, later in the week or the following week, have to get a PET scan. I’m told that that kinda like a CAT scan only it’s a different animal :-) and that sometimes it can show things that the CAT scan does not.