A winding road that has many pitfalls and dead ends

A Cancer Journey

It all began with a misdiagnosis by an emergency room doctor at 4 AM who announced that the pain radiating from my chest to my back was the result of metastasized pancreatic cancer. Nothing like some good news when you are traveling out of state and on vacation.

It happened that my wife and I were visiting family in Virginia and thanks to the “diagnosis” it was suggested that we cut the trip short and get back to Connecticut as soon as possible. Within days I had a meeting with a pancreatic cancer specialist who looked at me and said, “I know what you were told but I have my doubts so we need to do some testing.”

Good news?

A week later at 6 AM, I arrive at the hospital and shortly thereafter undergo a fun-filled endoscopic biopsy. Everyone on staff is very happy and pleasant while I am a nervous wreck. A few hours later my wife drives me home. All the while, the shock of the original diagnosis still hangs heavy in our minds.

Days later at 8:45 PM, the phone rings. It is my MD who says. “I have good news: you do not have pancreatic cancer and you have stage 2 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is treatable.” My head is still spinning, and I am asking myself how a different cancer diagnosis can be good news?

My first chemo infusion

Since it is non-Hodgkin, I am referred to another specialist who I meet a week later. He puts me at ease by saying it has been caught early but that I needed to consider getting a port installed ASAP. Days later, a chemo port is installed and the following day I am seated in the infusion center looking up at collection tubes and infusion bags. A nurse, totally encased in protective gear from head to toe, assures me that the poison she will soon inject into my port will begin to kill the cancer. She lets me know it is extremely dangerous if it ever came in contact with her skin. Why am I not calm?

Some 8 hours later, my first infusion ends. Apparently, I tolerated the infusion well and did not need emergency hospitalization. I feel ok but the ride home turns out to be very eventful. I learn that hurricane winds have knocked out power to thousands of homes in the area. Fallen trees and downed power lines have blocked most of the roads leading to the hospital. Hours later my wife arrives and we slowly wind our way back through the snarl of debris and reach home at midnight. All homes in our area are without power but somehow, we managed to still have lights and air conditioning – a nice discovery with high humidity and temperatures in the 90's. I view the good fortune as a positive sign for the future.

Treatment side effects began

Days later, my journey with the R-CHOP chemo gets rough. Due to a low white blood count and challenging bowel issues, I spend the next 7 days in isolation at the hospital. My reactions to the first chemo treatment are significant – enough that the oncologist decides to cut back on the toxicity of the mix. Deep down I am silently asking if this reduced dose will kill the cancer. By the time the fifth and sixth infusions roll around, my doses are increased without any negative result.

Summer slowly turns into fall, and my final infusion date is November 23, 2020. I am still wondering if it really worked. The answer I learn will take the form of a PET scan to actually look inside my body to see if the cancer is gone. Due to COVID and my lowered white blood count, we celebrate Thanksgiving at home. We can not visit family for Christmas nor can we enjoy New Year’s Eve with friends. We are not feeling very festive at this point in the journey.

"The best possible outcome"

Finally, January 11, 2021 arrives along with my growing concerns as to what the PET scan will reveal. Naturally, no one on the scan staff can give me any information on what they saw. On January 13, 2021, I nervously meet mask to mask with the oncologist and hear “The scan shows no sign of non-Hodgkin, you are in complete remission plus the results indicate you have the best possible outcome.” I am overjoyed and call/text everyone who supported me on this journey.

While routine follow-ups will continue, my wife and I agree that the best New Year’s Celebration this year happened 13 days after the official start of 2021.

I hope and pray each of you also will also find inner peace this year.

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