Tuesday, October 29, 2013

At the End of the Journey

I am that point where it is time to finish my journey through cancer.  Today was the culmination of all of that as Dr. Goff removed my portocath which means since I have been cancer free for a year, the hope is that I will remain that way for the rest of my life.  So now what to do?  We are champions and so are each and every one of you that has shared this journey with us.  Had it not been for your prayers, thoughts, support, faith, and love, this journey would have been much more difficult and may not have had the outcome it did so THANK YOU!  May God Bless you in all your righteous endeavors. 

When you come to the close of a really good book or movie you want more.  When a life experience has come to an end it can be bittersweet.  It is bittersweet for me to end this blog through my journey with cancer.  Bittersweet because through this experience I have come to realize so many things like how awesome it is to have nose hairs so that you don't have an eight month long runny nose, or how much better I look with eyebrows, or even how nice it is to be able to walk around without any foot pain.  There are many more things on a temporal scale but I won't bore you with those today.

What I have come to realize more than anything is God has a plan for us and we shouldn't fight it. Of course something like cancer wouldn't be the ideal thing anyone would want to learn that lesson but I was okay with it from the beginning because I have faith to trust in his will and not my own understanding.  Was I afraid I could possibly die?  Absolutely I was afraid but I know that this life is but a blink of an eye in terms of His eternal plan for us and I'm grateful to know that even though we go through trials and challenges in our lives, we all have the opportunity to seek His love and comfort through prayer.  I'm grateful for the my faith and belief in the Plan of Salvation that we are here to gain earthly experiences so that we may return to live with Him one day as eternal families. 

I'm grateful that God allowed his son Jesus Christ to suffer for our sins so that we may be able to enjoy all the blessings of families and happiness that this life has to offer and in the life to come. One of the things that kept me positive is that the Lord Jesus Christ said to the Prophet Joseph Smith that the Son of Man hath descended below all things, are ye greater than him?  I take that as we may be asked to go through trials in our lives but to remember that Christ suffered greater than we ever will.  That gives me comfort to know he can comfort us because he knows exactly what we are experiencing and it proved to be true to me.  One of the church hymns I grew up with is called Abide with me tis eventide.  The hymn states, "Oh Savior stay this night with me behold tis eventide" and He did stay with me during the toughest times.

If there is anything to take away to help any of you in your personal lives and struggles when it seems why me and how come others seem to have it so good I would say, God sees potential in us that we may not see ourselves and sometimes our suffering is like a refiners fire.  We're being polished just a little bit more so that in the end we may shine like a beautiful stone that was meticulously perfected but only after being put through a rigid process of purification. With that being said, how we will react and what will we do when we are face with this process will determine our heavenly reward. May God bless each one of you according to your needs.

Fast Forward to September 2013

If I could turn back time I would have taken better steps to keep an more up to date journal so that I could relate all the things that have happened but I guess I haven't updated this blog like I wanted to because a part of me wanted to just enjoy my time with my family.  Being cancer free you have a different outlook on life and the things  you may have taken for granted you try to remember in the good times and to never take for granted again.  I guess I've been enjoying life so much I forgot to write it down here.  So please forgive me for that and here is an update of what has happened in the year 2013 thus far.  Not much of this is cancer related but I share it with you because these are things that might not have happened had we not have been triumphant:

February:  We went to Ecuador and took Zoe to meet all of her relatives that have so long anticipated her arrival in this beautiful South American country.

May: We set off some balloons marking the one year anniversary from when I was diagnosed with cancer.  We let go of white balloons to symbolize hope, faith, and love.  It was a tender moment and a beautiful one at that. We also celebrated our 10th Anniversary of marriage and what a great way to celebrate by having beaten cancer together and to be free of it.  We went went back to New Jersey to the place where Gloria and I met.  It was awesome to see the places we had been, what our lives have transpired to now, and how bright the future looks going forward:

June: I had the opportunity to participate in the Relay for Life Run at my alma mattter Bonneville High School.  It was a great opportunity to show my support for cancer research and at the same time celebrate with my family the blessing of being cancer free for the past 9 months. I was able to walk a lap with a care giver and that was Gloria and Zoe walked with me in Tia Lucinda's place.  Gloria's aunt came to live with us just a few months before I was diagnosed and what a blessing she was and support to us during the tough times.


August: We celebrated Zoe's 2nd birthday and what a blessing to see her grow everyday and the joy and happiness she brings to our lives. It was divine intervention that she came to us when she did so that she could be both of our motivation to get through this and to fight day in and day out.  Gloria and I knew we needed to beat cancer just as much for her as for both of us so that we can enjoy the blessing of having earthly experiences together day in and day out. We love you Zoe!

September: We and mainly Gloria deserved a long vacation and in celebration of our 10 year anniversary went on a cruise to the Caribbean.  Our anniversary was in May but we since we went to New Jersey we wanted to do something extra fun and spend time relaxing and having fun in the sun. 

November - December 2012 - A Little Chemo Goes A Long Way

As I mentioned in the post Radiation Man it was decided that I would do a few additional treatments of Chemotherapy to ensure better success of the cancer not returning. The good thing was I didn't need to be admitted to the hospital anymore for this chemo, the bad is well its chemo.  I started in conjunction with the radiation and did three days in a row of chemo out patient and then three weeks off.  This started in November and went through January 2013. Each time chemo would happen Wednesday-Friday and then I'd have the weekend to recover so I could work for three full weeks again before another round. A little chemo goes a long way because only 4 hours each day for three days is not that bad but the effects lasted a few weeks.  I'm not complaining just explaining how strong these drugs are. I can't begin to explain how blessed I was feeling at this point.  The surgery had been a success and I could start to see a light at the end of the tunnel in the sense that soon I would be done with all treatments. I was a little bummed about doing chemo the day after Christmas but hey I'm glad to have made it to another Christmas which many with cancer do not have that blessing. 

Dr. Johnson and his staff have been great to watch over me and make sure that my body is healthy that my levels are where they need to be in order so as not to have to worry about things like low white blood counts, infections, or low platelets. They have been amazing and I couldn't be happier to have them on my team to kick cancer's butt!  It was decided to do 4 more rounds of chemo and I only made it to three.  After the third the neuropathy in my feet had gotten so bad that I wasn't able to walk very well without appearing to be an old man.  So after three rounds Dr. Johnson left it up to me and I said I'll live with the decision to forgo one more round.  I finished chemotherapy on  December 28, 2013! What a great surprise when I got home the second love of my life my daughter Zoe. Thank you to the #1 love of my life, Gloria for being the true Rocky through all of this.  Your courage, composure, faith, and beautiful smile is one of the greatest medications that I had to keep me feeling well and to keep my spirits high. I LOVE YOU!

November - December 2012 - Radiation Man

After my post-op appointment to Dr. Goff and a follow up visit to Dr. Johnson (Oncologist) it was decided since my cancer is rare and we want to make sure it stays gone and that it got such a butt kicking it never wants to show its face again, I would have post radiation and chemotherapy as a safeguard. I started radiation with Dr. Whipple and his amazing staff the first week of November everyday except Saturday and Sunday for six weeks completing it on December 13, 2012. 

Radiation is a different monster in itself in that the side effects creep up on you little by little at least in my case.  They map you out with tattoos, yes the permanent kind but not the ones you'd be ashamed to show your mother because these are just dots and they are made to save your life so I think momma would make an exception. Little by little the radiation wears on your skin and the areas close to where they are treating. The area they treated was near the heart and by the esophagus so within a few weeks everything I swallowed including water hurt like I was swallowing tiny needles with anything I ate so that made eating a chore by all means.  Maybe the perfect diet regime for anyone looking to lose weight because even though you are hungry you don't want that needle feeling so you try to eat less and less.  As they say all good things must come to an end and thankfully I like to say all bad things come to an end including radiation.  I have to compliment Dr. Whipple and his staff.  They were awesome to work with and celebrated my six weeks of radiation when completed.  They even let me have a knock out!!!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Post Surgery Second Update

For those that may not know, even though the surgery was a total success, there were still pathology reports that we were waiting for to see if the margins around the tumor were clean or free from cancer.  That report was given to us on Tuesday by Dr. Goff.  All the margins were clean and no traces of cancer in the tissue around the tumor were present! There was some residual cells which is not uncommon but that can be treated with a combination of radiation/chemo and in my case hopefully will be very minimal.  It is interesting to note that Dr. Goff placed clips inside my chest wall where he thought the areas that would most likely have cancer in the tissue and all of those places came back negative for cancer.

From a spiritual perspective, my father has given me many blessings through this fight with cancer and every time he has specifically blessed me with "clean margins" around the tumor.  I am grateful for those blessings of a loving father and his faith in the Lord's ability to treat me and make me whole again.

I have a follow up on October 22nd, and from there we'll know what post surgery treatment I will have and we will go from there.  Thank you for your continued thoughts, faith, love, support, and prayers.   

Miracles Never Ceased and Continue Today!

It has been nine days since I had my surgery and I thought today would be a good time to update everyone on what has transpired since my last post as well.  As you know, September 26th was the big day of surgery and it was a total success!  Before I elaborate more on the success of the the surgery there are some things I would like share.  The first thing is I have always maintained that miracles do exist even in our day and time.  Even as pessimistic or unbelieving that society has become, it doesn't change the fact that God continues to perform miracles today just as in biblical times. 

Secondly, until about two weeks ago, I had thought that faith was the main factor in whether miracles happen or not.  I have learned in my experience that it is more than just faith.  It is having the faith that the miracle sought out is possible, and accepting God's will unconditionally even if his will is not to perform the sought out miracle.  When Dr. Goff met with us a few weeks ago before the surgery, he said that the reduction of 60% was great news and that we should be happy about that.  He also said there was a chance he may not be able to remove all the tumor because of its location so close to the aorta and left subclavian artery.  He said he'd do his best but that was the possibility to be aware of.  After months of chemotherapy, after being emotionally and physically tired for so long, it took some time to take in that the tumor may not be able to be removed in its entirety.  It was probably the hardest thing for me to say, "Heavenly Father, I have the faith that the surgery will be a success and the tumor will be removed in its entirety, if it is thy will.  I accept thy will whatever the outcome may be."  Once I truly accepted it in my heart and my mind I was very much at peace and went into the surgery very calm still not knowing what the final outcome would be but knowing that a loving Heavenly Father was with me and watching over me. 

Returning to the success of the surgery.  The surgery lasted 6 hours and I am glad I was the one having surgery because had I been in the waiting room, I'm sure it would have been the longest 6 hours of my life.  Dr. Goff was able to use his great talents and I feel God blessed him as well so that he'd be sharp and precise and he removed the tumor in its entirety. He did have to do some grafting on my left lung and inside the chest wall.  There was even removal of a great portion of the innominate vein.  There also was some dissecting around the nerve that is part of the voice box and Dr. Goff thought my voice would be soft or hoarse for many months and that I would even need speech therapy.  None of that was the case and I was sipping water and talking to my nurse within a few hours of being transferred to my room.  I count that as another miracle, and the miracles have been many.

I was suppose to stay in the ICU for at least two days depending on my recuperation and progress.  Within about 15 hours I was transferred to a regular room with the ability to eat anything I wanted.  Previously I had been restricted to no food and only able to take liquids by sucking on a sponge. Last time I had the sternotomy, it lasted only 2 hours and I was in the hospital for 5 days. This time it was 6 hours and I was home within three days.  I got home Saturday and have been up and walking around, and going up and down the stairs by myself.  The first time I had the surgery, Gloria had to bathe me for a week, and this time she only had to bathe me on Saturday and I have been blessed to do it myself everyday this week. 

What I have taken from this whole journey that started back in May is there are little miracles that happen everyday of our lives.  The question is do we have our eyes openly spiritually enough to recognize them?  I am so grateful for this experience as it has taught me to treasure life on a deeper level and to recognize what a blessing it is to just go for a walk or sit down to eat dinner with the ones you love. I look forward to each day looking for that miracle whether big or small because they are there, we just have to keep our eyes open long enough to see them.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September is Here

We are now in September and we have met with Dr. Goff the surgeon on September 10th.  He was very thorough and explained to us the risks and scenarios that might take place during the surgery.  There is probably one nerve and vein that they will have to sacrifice but he feels they are already not working because of how my diaphragm on the left side isn't working and the vein is where the blot clot was and the tumor had it closed off as well and the blood has re-routed itself and so I haven't been using it for some time.  He did say he wanted to check with some other cancer centers to make sure that there isn't some other treatment they should be doing per-operation.  He said it was good that the tumor shrunk 60% and he had hoped it would have shrunk more to make sure that he can take out all of it.  Worst case scenario, he may have to leave some of the tumor in if it is close to some arteries that they can't mess around with.  If that is the case then there may be some treatment of chemo with radiation but we won't know until we get the surgery. 

The surgery is scheduled for September 26th.  Dr. Goff has already spoken with the National Cancer Institute in D.C., and the medical oncologist who authored the papers on how to treat thymic cancer.  This medical oncologist said that Dr. Goff and Johnson have done everything he would have done and that surgery is the best option now.  He said he would look at the CT scans and let Dr. Goff know if there is anything else he can offer in terms of input after reviewing them.  Dr. Goff said it was comforting to know that the person who authored the treatment of thymic cancer agreed that they have done the right treatment.  So until then to all my friends and family, we'll be looking towards the 26th and from there I promise to be more prompt in getting an update on the blog.  I ask for your continued prayers, faith, and thoughts on behalf of myself and my family.  As my dad told me on every letter during my two years on a mission: "Keep the Faith"