It was early in the summer...the beginning June. Steve came into our bedroom to bring me bring me a cup of coffee and wake me up for work. He knows how terrible I am at waking up in the morning! You see, we have a deal. I make the coffee in the evening before bed and set the timer to 4:15 am. Then he wakes up at 4:30 am, goes downstairs, pours himself a cup of java and heads into the den to read his Bible and pray. Then he makes his way to the living room to exercise and stretch. About ten minutes to six he arrives in our bedroom with a hot cup of coffee, forces me sit up, and administers to me my first coffee fix of the day. He then turns on our television to the local news so I can be brought up to speed on the weather, traffic and news headlines for the day. Steve is an amazing and wonderful creature of habit. One of the most dedicated, disciplined, and loyal people that walk the face of this earth. However, this particular morning was different.
As he approached our bed to awaken me from my slumber, he did not sit me up and give me a sip of coffee. Instead, he woke me up by saying, "Michelle, feel this. I have this strange lump in my groin." (I know what you are thinking...it wasn't that kind of lump!) He guided my hand to a hard, pea-sized fleshly mass that was just about a couple inches from the top of his thigh. He told me he discovered it when he was doing his daily leg stretches. We talked about the strangeness of the lump and speculated on what it could be. He then proceeded to hand me my coffee and went on with our morning routines.
The days and weeks went by, and he would occasionally comment that his little lump had not gone away. He still wondered what it was. It didn't hurt or bother him at all, but it was peculiar.
And then something odd began to happen. The lump began to grow, daily increasing noticeably in size. It seemed to go from the size of a pea to the size of a small egg in a matter of two weeks. Steve would come to me more frequently in the morning, placing my hand over his leg and showing me how much it had grown. I told him he needed to get it checked out -- he agreed. This was not normal.
He scheduled himself for a check-up at a urgent care facility the day of our 24th wedding anniversary, Monday, September 12th. The physician's assistant that examined him said he needed to see a doctor of internal medicine and referred him to Dr. Nam. Three days later, Steve saw Dr. Nam and was told some rather disturbing news. Dr. Nam suspected that Steve had a swollen lymph node and discovered another mass that had mysteriously appeared close to the lump in his upper thigh. This one was now the size of a marble and was near his right pelvic bone.
Dr. Nam told my husband that he would need to get a biopsy done right away. He told him of his suspicions of cancer and said he probably had Lymphoma. He scheduled him for an emergency biopsy with Dr. Kim the very next day. That was last Friday, September 16th.
When Steve told me the news from Dr. Nam, I was shocked and horrified that the doctor would have the audacity to tell Steve he had cancer without a biopsy to confirm his prognosis. I was not willing to accept anything this man had to say.
Steve told me he did not want me to take time off of work to be with him for the biopsy. He was able to rationalize this: if it was cancer, we would need to save all of our sick days we could. When Dr. Kim examined the large lump in his groin, he told Steve that he would not mess around with a biopsy. He said the lump needed to come out right away. He scheduled Steve for surgery the very next day. That was last Monday, September 19th.
I was there for Steve's surgery; I wasn't going to let him go through the surgery alone. He was in good spirits -- joking with the nurse about his swollen groin. (Something along the lines of removing his third testicle I believe.) He did well through the surgery and the surgeon was able to remove both masses without complication. We now had to wait a grueling 3-5 days to get the biopsy results to be made known to us.
His recovery from surgery proved to be much more challenging than first thought. He thought he would be able to return to work the very next day. The reality has been much different. He was very sore and swollen, causing him to become greatly concerned. Thursday night he was in a lot of pain and Friday morning was no better. The swelling was not going down, even with a vast quantity of ice. He decided he needed to stay home. I made the decision to stay home to take care of him.
Steve got in to see Dr. Kim on Friday at 9:00 am. Dr. Kim took a look at the incisions and the swelling. He told us that it looked good and the swelling was normal. We then asked him about the test results. He checked Steve's file and glanced back at us with a solemn look on his face. Yes, the biopsy results had come in. He did not hesitate in telling us: It was confirmed, Steve had diffuse type B large cell Lymphoma. Apparently this is the non-Hodgkin's, fast growing variety.
BAM!!! In an instant our lives had changed. Our hopes, dreams and ambitions now put on hold while we were instantly plucked from a road to career development and retirement to a road we never asked or ever wanted to travel. This road was marked with a sign that said, "Warning! Road Contains Many Hazards that May Result in Injury, Even Death."
What a shock to the system. I grabbed Steve's hand a gave it a hard squeeze. I saw him swallow deeply and begin a series of questions about what this diagnosis could possibly mean. Dr. Kim was calm and patient, carefully addressing our questions and helping us to understand the what this new reality would mean to us. He said we would need to schedule Steve for surgery to get a port put in for the Chemotherapy. He would be able to do that for us. He told us that he works with a good oncologist who was just across the hall and they would schedule us in for an appointment later in the day. After setting up the surgery to have his port installed on Wednesday, October 5th, he sent us down the hall to get blood drawn and do the pre-op work. This all happened in an hour after hearing the news.
We were thrust into this crazy, new world like Alice in Wonderland, sliding down the rabbit hole. Where have we landed? Is this the land of Oz? Is there a yellow brick road or maybe some small jar labeled "drink me?" So much has happened and we had little time to digest.
After getting Steve's blood drawn, we had some time before we would meet with Dr. X. Michael Liao, the oncologist and hematologist. Steve immediately made his first phone call to a colleague at work, who shared with him that he had been diagnosed with the very same type of Lymphoma one year ago. He encouraged Steve to consider getting treatment at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where he received inpatient treatment. Once year later, he is now cancer free and doing quite well.
We arranged to have an appointment with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance on Monday and met with Dr. Liao (pronounced like "meow" with an L) at one that afternoon. Dr. Liao spent a great deal of time with us talking about Steve's diagnosis and treatment options. He explained the benefits to being treated locally, which included immediate care and access to him 24-7. He even gave us his personal cell phone number, which he does to all of his patients, and said we could call him anytime. He impressed us with his knowledge and experience -- said he was a doctor for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for 4 years and then transferred to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas where he both practiced and taught as a member of the faculty. He has been a leading cancer researcher, is well published, and speaks around the world. How he landed in Puyallup, Washington...well, he said, "that's a long story for another time." I just knew that after meeting him, he was a gift to us. It wasn't coincidence or chance. This was a Divine encounter -- arranged in advance by a God who loves Steve passionately and wants the very best for him. I feel as if Dr. Liao is going be a guide along the new road we are now traveling.
God only knows why Steve must drink this cup he has been given. He has been and remains to be one of the healthiest and fit 55 year old men I have ever met. I believe there is a purpose in all of this that remains unseen. Steve will be challenged and tested, and without a doubt will come out on top. Steve was a state wrestling champion in high school; he is a born fighter. But more than that, Steve is a faith-filled, God-fearing man who has a deep and passionate love for his Creator and Savior. At the end of the last round, his arm will be raised and he will be declared the champion.
Next week will be filled with lots of testing, scans, and even a bone marrow biopsy. He will start his chemo after his port is installed. Please keep Steve in your constant prayers as we cannot and will not travel this road alone. We want you here with us -- we need you here with us -- encouraging us, praying for us, and standing with us as we take on and conquer this invisible enemy called cancer.