Treatment is (finally) underway

Fatigued. Nauseous. Watery mouth. Emotional. Shaky. Clammy. Tightness in chest.

No, I’m not describing dad’s symptoms. I’m describing the things I’ve been experiencing since we learned of dad’s diagnosis 18 days ago. I’m 99.9 percent certain mom and Kelly would agree. These symptoms subside, but they never entirely go away. And they most certainly increase in intensity whenever we go for an appointment or test. Fear does strange things to a person’s mind and body.

As for my dad’s symptoms, they are actually pretty similar. The majority of them are caused by the same fear, but he does have some discomfort in his abdomen and lower back that is managed by morphine. But for him, I’d increase ‘fatigued’ to ‘downright exhausted.’ This process – the diagnosis, the back-and-forth to the hospital, the waiting, and the unknown – has been mentally and physically exhausting on him. On everyone, really. Because we’re in it together, remember?

Today, however, we finally have answers. And a plan.

The MRI of his brain that was performed on Monday was negative. Hallelujah! The pathology report from the biopsy of his liver showed that the cancer type is small cell lung cancer with liver metastases. While more rare, aggressive and incurable, small cell is treatable. So, within 30 minutes of our consultation with Dr. Weiss, dad was in the infusion chair and treatment was underway.

The following medications are admistered via a port in his chest over a three-day period:
– Zofran to prevent nausea
– Decadron steroid to prevent nausea and allergic reaction
– Carboplatin and Etoposide chemotherapy to fight the cancer cells

The chemo meds aim to attack all cancer cells, in both the lung and liver and wherever else they might be hiding out. On day four, he will receive an injection of Neulasta, which is a bone marrow stimulant that helps the body make white blood cells that fight off infection.

He will go through this same treatment plan every three weeks for four cycles. In early August, they will repeat the scans, and hopefully we will see that the medications are giving cancer a much deserved kick in the ass!

He handled day one well, and the staff allowed all three of us to join him for today only. Kelly and Garett had shirts made for the entire party of 11, and we all wore them with pride. (FRONT: Hey cancer, you picked the wrong family to mess with! BACK: Team Chuck)

One thing that I have always observed about dad is that he treats doctors and nurses with the utmost respect and admiration. And they love him for it. He has always found a way to make them laugh, no matter the circumstance. And he’s still finding the humor in things today despite the challenges he is facing. For example, the nurse asked if he had any questions before she started the treatment. He said in the most serious tone, “Yes, can someone tell me what the heck these ‘jelly bean jackers’ are doing here?!”

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One of many jelly bean jackers!

Since my first post, The day life handed us lemons, we have been touched by the amount of support we’ve received from near and far – in the way of comments, cards, phone calls and care packages. So many people have simply reached out to say they care, and that they are cheering for Chuck. We are very appreciative of your love and kindness, especially dad. In fact, the other night when he saw all of the comments on the Facebook post and the number of views this blog had received, he said: “That Prince guy ain’t got nothing on me!”

He’s right. And it’s that type of attitude that will see him through this.

Tonight, he’s resting comfortably. Hopefully, a little more soundly than he has been. His heart and mind have been heavy. And while we know the road ahead won’t be easy, we at least have a map to start following. And for that, we are thankful.

Until next time,
Mary Beth

mom and dad

Mom & Dad on Mother’s Day 2016

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The day life handed us lemons

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,

Mary Beth