Port Insertion

June 29, 2009

Today I got a port put in for chemotherapy.  A port is – well, you can click on that link to wikipedia to get a real description of it, but basically it’s a little plastic cylinder implantend in my chest and connected to a vein.  It’s right under the skin, and they can do all my chemo injections through it, rather than trying to find a vein in my arm every time.  I am looking forward to fewer needles in my arms – I don’t mind them, but you do get a little sick of it.

Anyway, surgery went great.  Or at least I assume it did.  I was asleep for the whole thing.  I got into the operating room, got onto the table, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in a completely different room.  With the hiccups.  I got hiccups the last time I got anesthesia, too, for my wisdom teeth.  Apparently it’s pretty rare (according to the highly scientific google search I did just now), but it does happen.  I guess I was there for another half hour or so letting the grogginess wear off a little, then got a ride home.  I crashed on the couch as soon as I got home and slept for the next two hours, which was pretty great.  Now that the local anesthetic has worn off there’s a little soreness around where the port is, but it feels mostly like a stiff muscle – not much pain at all.

Tomorrow I start chemotherapy.  I can’t say I’m looking forward to the chemo itself – in fact I can say I’m NOT looking forward to the chemo itself – but I’m looking forward to it killing my cancer cells.  My appointment is for 8:30 tomorrow morning.  I think the plan is that I’ll go in, they’ll hook me up to an IV via my brand new port, and they’ll test to make sure I’m not allergic to any of the chemo drugs and give me some anti-nausea medication.  Then they’ll start the chemo itself, which will take about 2 and a half hours, since they have to let some of the chemicals drip in slowly.  I should be back home by noon tomorrow.

This week might be a little bit rough, but I’m excited for the end of next week, when the chemo side effects have died down and maybe some of the lymphoma symptoms are gone.  I don’t know for sure what I’ll be doing yet this summer, but I’ve been told that there is ministerial work for me around Bryn Athyn, and I can’t wait till I can start working.

Final Diagnosis, Bone Marrow Biopsy and PET Results

June 24, 2009

Well, I had the dreaded bone marrow aspiration and biopsy today.  It did hurt, but it certainly wasn’t unbearable pain, and it’s nice to have it over with.  The doctor should have some of the results next week, but he doesn’t expect to find any cancer in the bone marrow, since none showed up in the PET scan that I got last week.

Before the biopsy, the doctor told me that the results of the lymph node biopsy had finally come in, and it is indeed Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  He also had the results of the PET scan, which show that the lymphoma is widespread throughout my abdomen and chest, but that it is confined to the lymph nodes.  Unless the bone marrow biopsy shows that it has spread to the bone marrow (which is unlikely), that means I have stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Stage 3 sounds kind of scary, and it is for some kinds of cancer, but in this case it just means I have lymphoma both above and below my diaphragm, which I already knew from the CAT scan.  Treatment is the same for stage 2, 3, and 4, anyway, and cure rate with the standard chemotherapy is about 90%.  The 10% who are not cured can then take the next step, which is a bone marrow transplant.  Hopefully that won’t be me – I’m done with doctors fiddling with my bone marrow.

I start chemotherapy next Tuesday.  The doctor told me all the unpleasant side effects I might experience, but you can’t really know which ones will happen until you start, so I’m not worrying about them.  And he said that after two or even only one treatment the symptoms caused by the lymphoma (i.e. back pain, fevers, etc.) will start to go away, which will be very nice.  So all in all, I’m looking forward to starting chemo.  Although maybe in a weeks’ time I’ll be looking back on this and shaking my head at how naive I was…

How I Discovered I Had Lymphoma

June 20, 2009

About a year ago, I started experience back pain occasionally – maybe a few days every month or so.  As the year went on it would come a little more frequently, but still I could usually pinpoint a cause: a long drive, a long plane ride, too much football.  Then in February I got sick.  My symptoms were pretty similar to something that was going around at the time: fever, coughing, and generally feeling bad.  It went away, but then a few weeks later it was back, along with a complete lack of appetite and slight nausea.  Then it went away again … and then a few weeks later it came back again.  My back pain would come along with the other symptoms, but I assumed they were unrelated.  Also, I noticed that my right leg was swollen and much larger than my left one.

In the middle of May, I got an MRI to check out my back.  The doctor told me that I had a little bit of arthritis – but also that a swollen lymph node had showed up.  He ordered blood tests to see if it might be a virus, and they came back without any evidence that it was.  At the end of May I got a CT scan, which showed enlarged lymph nodes all through my abdomen and somewhat in my chest.  My doctor told me the news: he was about 85% sure that I had lymphoma.

The first week of June I met with my hematologist (a doctor specializing in blood diseases, including lymphoma), and he was even more confident than my primary doctor that it was lymphoma.  The next week they did a biopsy of one of the lymph nodes, and later in the week the doctor called and told me that they did not have the results yet, but that it looked like Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Earlier this week, the doctor called and told me that the pathologist still doesn’t have the final results yet – they need to finish up one slide – but  for all intents and purposes we can assume it’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  He got me to set up a pulmonary function test (which I got on Thursday), a PET scan (which I got yesterday), a MUGA scan (a kind of heart scan, scheduled for next Monday), a bone marrow biopsy (scheduled for next Wednesday).  Also, I need to have a port put into my chest for chemotherapy.  They have scheduled chemotherapy to begin on Tuesday, June 30th, in about a week and a half.

We still don’t have the final official diagnosis, but I’ll be very surprised if it’s anything other than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  In any case, the treatment will be about the same even if it somehow turns out to be non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: chemo every other week for about six months.  This means I won’t be moving to Toronto as soon as I had planned, but I’m still hoping to move up there after treatment ends.

We still don’t know what stage it is; we should get results from the PET scans on Tuesday, and that will show how widespread the cancer is.  Even if it is at a later stage, though, Hodgkin’s lymphoma has a high rate of successful treatment, and my age and relative healthiness other than the cancer will help out with that.

My family and my friends have been awesome.  I feel completely loved and completely taken care of.  And I know that the Lord is guiding me, and that He’s bringing good out of this whole process.  Already I’ve seen some of that good: a new appreciation for the people in my life, new insight into what it’s like for people who struggle with disease, a new sense of what it might REALLY mean to trust the Lord.

I’m going to try to update this blog fairly often to let people know what’s going with my diagnosis and then with my treatment, but I do have a poor record with regularly updating blogs… Still, I’ll do my best to keep it current.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for helping me out through this bump in the road on the way to the rest of my life.