Life Lessons

The Low Point

It was a very rare form of lung cancer. Mine was only the second case they had seen in the last ten years at Marquette General.  Slow growing and non-invasive but cancer just the same.  No Chemotherapy, no radiation, just resection. Because of where it was they had to remove the entire lower lobe of my left lung.  The surgery entailed an incision about twelve inches long from the middle of my left side across my back following the ribs.  They then spread my ribcage apart and took out what they needed to, stapled the incisions on the inside and glued the incision closed from the outside.  It wasn’t till the next day that I was fully awake and aware of my surroundings.  I was still a bit out of it but I definitely knew when the pain killers wore off.  I had a large bandage across my back and a smaller one where a chest tube had been and a couple of IV’s that they had to keep moving because they were irritating my skin.  Jaime and her mom brought the kids to see me the next day so I put on my best face.  I didn’t want them to be scared or worried at all.  Kenzie was 7 and Jericho was 5 at the time.  I’m not sure how much they really remember but they have mentioned it a couple of times since then saying how scared they were.

Jaime, her mom and the kids, and the hospital chaplain were the only visitors I had in the hospital.  The only phone call was from Jaime’s sister. I could not understand why none in my family had been to visit or even called. Not only were they not here during the surgery but there had been no phone calls over the last few months leading up to it; no questions, no concerned expressions, or offers of help. When my sister died three years earlier of lung cancer the whole town showed up. Granted, I had not died but I had just gone through a major surgery and had a long recovery time ahead of me and no one seemed to bat an eye. I could have called any one of my brothers or sisters but I thought since mom had alaready told them what was happening, if they cared they would have shown up so what’s the use now? I loved Jaime and the kids being there and her mom for volunteering to help out, but still I felt very alone and forgotten.

Time in the hospital gets long. My days were mostly spent in bed with a pillow under my left shoulder. Each morning, as soon as the pain killers would kick in, I would be wheeled down to radiology for an x-ray of my chest and then go back to my room. The doctors would come in and check the incision and my range of motion and then I would take a slow walk, with help, around the ward and sometimes sit in a chair for a while before getting back into the bed. Every night I would be sure there was a medevac helicopter flying in and out of the hospital constantly.  I even got out of bed one night, with much struggle, to look out the window to see what was going on and saw only a parking lot. It wasn’t till the last night that I realized that it was the air conditioning unit in my room kicking on and off and the pain killers playing tricks on me. It was a very strange feeling. I slept a lot, stared out the window a lot, and cried a lot. I had no idea what the future held and was so afraid of what may be next. I was barely holding on and if Jaime had not been there with me I do not know what I would have done. The last night in the hospital was spent calling the nurses in over and over because I was sure I was having a heart attack. I could hear and feel my heart beating almost out of my chest. It was beating so fast and I was getting so scared that I would pull stitches or reopen the incision that I kept panicking, thinking things were much worse than they were. There was one nurse in particular, her name was Cherokee, who came in several times just to talk me down from my fears. She told me over and over that my blood pressure was fine and that it was common for patients to panic a bit on their last night unsure of how they would survive when they got home. She assured me that I was fine and that they would know before I did if there was anything to worry about. Eventually I drifted off, dreaming of medevac choppers…and home.

I was in the hospital for five days after the surgery and then sent home with pain killers, wound dressings, and instructions not to drive for six weeks but to move around as much as possible, being careful.  On the way home we stopped in to see my mom and let her know how it all went.  She seemed oblivious to what was going on.  We had woken her up from her afternoon nap when we got there.  I showed her the scar and we explained to her just what kind of cancer it was and what it meant and her response was, “wow…you’ll have to take care of that.”  We only stayed for a half an hour or so. I was tired and I could feel the pain medication wearing off and the ride home on rough roads had not helped.  When we got home I had a quick bite to eat and sat on the couch with the kids for a bit.  Jaime had a night shift that night so her mom was going to look after the kids…and me.  After Jaime left I said goodnight, went upstairs, took some pain medicine and crawled into bed.  It was about seven in the evening when I went to sleep and I woke up with the sun in my eyes the next morning in the same position I had laid down in.

For a moment it was just like any other morning with the sun in my eyes waking me up because I had forgotten to pull the shades.  Then…I moved. The medicine had worn off during the night. The pain I felt sent immediate shockwaves through my body as tears began to flow. Every muscle and nerve in my back and chest seemed to scream in unison, “NO!” I laid there for a several minutes, waiting for the pain to ease and wondering how I was going to get up and out of bed.  I slowly rolled onto my right side toward the edge of the bed and gently slid my feet off of the bed.  Then with my right arm I pushed myself up into a sitting position and sat there on the edge of the bed crying like a baby.  I had never and have not since felt that kind of pain.  Just about every muscle on the left side of my back had either been cut or torn or stretched and then sewn back up.  I had to get some medicine and I needed it now!  I slowly went into the bathroom and took a couple of pills and went back and sat on the edge of the bed till it kicked in.  I did not want to go downstairs and see the kids and Jaime and her mom without being at least able to move about on my own.  This was the absolute lowest point of the whole experience.  I felt alone and abandoned, forgotten about and cast aside.  I knew that wasn’t the truth but after all that had happened in the past three years and all of the pain I was in right now, I could not help but plead with the Lord, “please let this be the bottom…”

And it was.  Jaime’s mom stayed around for a few more days and then it was just Jaime and me and the kids again.  It wasn’t until I had been home for 4 days, almost two weeks after the surgery that I got a call from my sister in Arizona wondering what had happened and why I didn’t tell anyone. She said she had talked to one of my other sisters who told here that I had surgery of some kind but all was well and I would be alright. I told her what was going on and she was stunned, to say the least.  She said that mom had told her that I was having some kind of a cyst removed from my chest but that it wasn’t too big a deal and there was no need to worry.  I began to get more phone calls and questions from my brothers and sisters all of them with the same story and the same apologies.  I was grateful that they all knew finally but confused about why mom hadn’t told anyone what was really going on.  It wasn’t until about a three months later and many other confusing and inaccurate stories from mom that her doctor began to look a bit deeper.  She was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and whether my lung cancer was just something she could not deal with because she had already lost a daughter to lung cancer or if she really did not understand what was happening I can’t be sure, but she wasn’t herself and we all recognized it now.

(This happended almost 13 years ago now…still cancer free!!…I was reading through some old writings and was reminded of just how terrible this experience was, but now – looking at it in hindsight – just how much I learned through it…I hope it brings you courage and hope that life goes on – pain is only for a season…)


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