Cancer Journey Part 1

Cancer journey

As I look out my foxhole this morning I’m taken back in time.  You see I was in my early thirties, with a lot of life before me, when a moment came and stopped me on a dime.  I spent most of the next day, staring at the x-rays and wondering Why Me?  Cancer?  I can’t have cancer.  What the hell is an ependymoma and how did it get inside my spinal cord?  Was I exposed to something in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm?  Burn pits, chemical weapons, or anthrax pills?  

I’ll never know the answer as to how the ependymoma tumor grew inside my spinal cord.  Scientists believe they develop from precursor cells to the ependymal cells.  The cells line the ventricles (fluid-filled spaces in the brain) and the central canal of the spinal cord.  It’s a mutation of the cells BUT what caused the mutation?

My first surgery to remove this tumor was in October 1998.  Over 90% of the tumor was removed and my spinal cord was resected.  The surgeon had to remove part of the spinous process at C2 and C3 to get inside my spinal cord.  He used cadaver bone to fill the void in my spine.  I spent 10 days in the hospital bed feeling sorry for myself and not being sure if I’d ever walk again.  I had little to no sensation in my legs and my neck was still swollen to the size of Jabba the Hutt!  Eventually with the assistance of some very persistent spinal cord rehabilitation therapists, I was able to sit up on the bed and transfer in to a wheelchair.  I spent the next couple of weeks learning how to walk again.  It wasn’t easy but I was determined to try for the sake of my son.  In addition to going through this ordeal, I was a single father of my 10 year old son.  Thank god that my parents were able to assist me and keep Joshua with them through my hospital stay.

The next phase of my cancer treatment was to undergo 5 ½ weeks of radiation therapy.  It sounds scary and it is!  First they put you through a 3D simulation to calculate exactly how much radiation to administer and at what angles.  Complicated math to say the least.  Then due to the precise delivery method, they create a plastic, mesh-like face shield that covers your entire face and secures your head to the treatment table preventing any movement.  Due to my broad shoulders they secured wrist restraints to both of my arms and tied them around my feet to pull my shoulders down.  Sound like something from mid evil times????  I felt like Frankenstein’s monster!  Next they have to mark delivery points on my neck to align the treatment delivery.  At first I did not want to be permanently tattooed so I opted for the use of a sharpie markings covered with tape.  After realizing the markings resembled swastikas, I allowed them to put 5 tiny blue dot tattoos on my neck.  Ouch!

Interested in hearing more of my story?  Sign up for email updates and hear more about my journey.  Spoiler alert:  there will be 4 additional surgeries, chemotherapy, and 1 recurrence and 2 additional types of cancer over the next 20 years...

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