Our family has overcome sudden tragedy. And we’ve pushed through long-term obstacles. But we’ve never dealt with something as scary and unknown as cancer.
On April 22, 2016, our family was rocked to its core. We received the official diagnosis from Dr. Kenneth Weiss at the Cleveland Clinic that our husband, father and papa had Stage IV lung cancer that had metastasized to his liver. WTF.
Let me back up…
On March 4, dad went to see our family friend, Dr. Nilesh Shah, to finally have his shoulders evaluated. After 20+ surgeries on his right knee and years of relying on crutches and walkers to move around, his leg was finally healing well. And, he was ready to address his upper body. X-rays showed significant damage to both shoulders. It also showed something abnormal in his right lung. We were floored. The very next day, his knee replacement failed yet again and a few days later, the very difficult decision was made to amputate his leg. This was one of the hardest things we’ve ever faced as a family. In hindsight, it was a piece of cake.
Once dad and mom made it through the physical and emotional healing of the amputation, a CT scan was performed on April 18 to figure out what was going on in his lung. That scan led to the official diagnosis we received on April 22. Cancer. I hope you’re following along…
As a side note, and something that is so simple yet illustrates the strength and resolve of both my mom and dad: the very next day after diagnosis, they both came to Braden’s baseball scrimmage. Not a game, a scrimmage. That’s just the type of people and grandparents they are.
So several tests and appointments later, here is what we know:
- There is a 1.5″ mass in his right lung. It has a weird arm-like thing that is wrapped around his bronchial tube. The tumor is adjacent to his vena cava, a main artery that leads directly to his liver, which is where the cancer has found a nice home.
- The liver is very enlarged and involved, which is what is causing the pain in dad’s abdomen and lower back. (Here, we thought it was a kidney stone or pulled muscle from moving his body around with one leg.)
- A second CT scan showed that the cancer is not present in his adrenal gland, kidneys, stomach or bones. So we celebrate that the cancer is limited to two organs. Yay.
- A biopsy was performed on Monday to determine the type of cancer and treatment plan. We went today to learn the results and next steps. The sample they pulled from a lesion in his liver was surprisingly low of cancer cells (I like to think that’s a good sign, but…). Further pathology tests need to be performed, and we’ll get those results next Tuesday. A MRI will be performed on Monday to confirm that the cancer is not present in the brain.
- A treatment plan will be agreed upon on Tuesday and meds will be administered via a port that has been implanted into his chest.
Jeesh, in writing this, I realize that so much has happened in the past 12 days, yet still the process is…so…slow.
I think one of the hardest things about cancer is that you relinquish all control to a nasty disease, to doctors and to the man upstairs. The 12 days that have passed since the official diagnosis have been long and excruciating. We wanted treatment to start, yesterday. But we also know that in order to properly treat the cancer, we need to know what type we’re dealing with. Where we have gained back some sense of control is with diet. Dad has agreed to avoid sugar, white flour, processed foods and red meat. (If you know our dad well, you know this is NOT easy but he’s open to it and doing it). Like my mom says – we used to live to eat, now we eat to live. Thanks to recommendations from good friends, we are also experimenting with essential oils and macrobiotics. We are choosing to believe that we are doing what we can to fight the cancer ourselves until medicine can do its thing.
One of the most profound statements came from one of my best friends on the day we found out the news. She recently lost her mom to cancer, but she said “Mary Beth, this is not a death sentence.” And I believe her. And so does my dad, mom and Kelly.
So, we are choosing to live with cancer. And fight it together. One thing I’ve realized through this process is how rampant the disease is, how many people have been impacted by it. And not just in the “I have a friend of a friend” kind of way, but through first-hand experiences with moms, dads, spouses, siblings, children. It’s gut wrenching.
So, where do we go from here? We go forward. We make lemonade. We know the seriousness of his diagnosis. But we also know the strength he has displayed in the last decade and the love and strength of our family, especially my mom. We are a party of 11. We often call ourselves “browns cows” when we go places because you get the entire herd. We are in this, together. And really, isn’t that what counts?
People often comment on how lucky we are to be so close as a family. There is a lot of truth to that, but being this close also means that the pain and hurt cuts so much deeper. But our love and strength is our best form of attack. And, like another friend told me, who has also been touched by the disease: cancer, you picked the wrong family to mess with.
So what can you do? It’s simple. We ask that you pray. We’ve been doing that a lot lately. Individually and as a family. And if you don’t pray, send healing thoughts and good vibes our way. We’ll accept them all and hold them tight as we take our next step forward in this journey.
Until next time,