May of 2012 brought with it news of a serious illness, Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The cancer won’t let you ever forget
The chemo won’t let you remember
The lumps I had discovered in October 2011 near my groin were tested by Ultra sound or whatever the device is they use to look at babies in the womb, you know the gel and the slick surface sliding around looking inside you. Any way I was told it was infection in my lymph nodes due to a recent appendectomy and prescribed antibiotics.
In November 2011 I had suffered an injury to my neck and underwent testing to see if there was damage to my discs. Those results noted, in addition to the disc damage a mystery lump in the front of my neck. Noted as not fully viewed, incomplete view as an additional note. A possible goiter of 2.5 cm. I was tested for thyroid levels and prescribed a drug to correct the slightly off levels that may help with the “goiter”.
May of 2012 was my follow-up from my November visit. The look on the doctors face said it all when I complained about the lump on my neck not getting any smaller and actually getting larger. Nurse! called the doctor. Get Rick over to a specialist to look at his throat.
The lump had grown to 9 cm. I was sent for an EKG and other test to see if I could survive a surgery to possibly put in a Traciatmy or and remove the growth. But first a biopsy, fine needle type. while I lay on the table after the biopsy told not to move . I can hear the clink of glass vials and a stirring sound and another doctor that I can’t remember his name came in and while this is all happening I can hear the doctor on a phone call saying medical terms and decimal point readings, that I have no idea of what the meaning is. I was not told anything other than my doctor would be in contact with me about my results.
This was a Friday at the end of May and was a long weekend due to Memorial day everything was closed on Monday. By the time I arrived at my home after the biopsy the throat specialist had called my house and left a message on my machine. I listened to the message that said: Rick our office will be closed on Monday but we need to see you on Tuesday first thing in the morning to test for cancer in other parts of your body. That was it I had not been told by anyone that I had cancer and still wasn’t sure but I was pretty sure that this means I have cancer and they want to look further to see the full extent of the cancer but I don’t know if it means that this was not cancer in my neck but they wanted to look in other areas of my body for cancer. I just didn’t know and the doctor’s office had closed for the long weekend. You see this long weekend is kind of big deal here, there is a little race called the Indianapolis 500. This would be one I won’t forget. Yet I can’t recall what I did this weekend what so ever.
Finding out you have Cancer is bad enough but not knowing for sure may be worse but you still have hope.
Tuesday I walked into the specialist office, that had left the message on Friday. Immediately the doctor started apologizing for the message because he thought I already knew it was cancer in my neck. Sorry we thought that your family doctor would have told you.
After a PET Scan and an introduction to the oncologist I was told what type of cancer I had and that the good news is, that the type I have is very treatable but there is bad news. Whats the bad news, I asked. We have to check your bone marrow to make sure it is not in your marrow. Hop up on this table. Now here? Yes it won’t hurt too much if you hold still. A doctor and two nurses to hold me down. Good job Doc, not as bad as I expected. What are your plans for the rest of the day? asked the oncologist. I don’t have any plans. By this point I was consumed with anxiety about what the future was going to be like for me and my family. Go check yourself into the hospital right now. We need to start treatment as soon as possible.
This was the beginning of the journey of my lifetime.
I can’t begin to tell you how many thoughts run through your head the emotional ones, the rational ones. Why me? how, what could I have done different and making sure all your affairs are in order, then reality of the treatments and the illness itself takes hold of you and you calmly succumb to the drugs and the poison that while it’s killing the cancer it’s slowly killing good cells as well.
I remember family and friends rallying around me. Praying for me and encouraging me to be strong. I remember the strength Carla showed and the sadness she was feeling, even though she always put on a positive front. I remember thinking after the first treatment, this is not so bad I feel ok lets go for a ride. And ride we did. Riding is the best therapy for the mind there is. You become consumed with the clutch, the gears, the curves and the grade of the pavement that for a short time you forget all about the cancer.
If you’re not living you’re dying
I don’t know where I read that but it’s the truth. Stay busy living and you won’t think about dying. It’s what we all do every day. Because in reality we are all going to die and during our life we keep busy with life and living that we never think about dying. Having said that: After your told you have a serious life threatening illness you tend to think about death more.
I would have to take 6 treatments of a Chemo called R-CHOP. The side effects included hair loss and all the other usual suspects with many Chemo therapies. Memory or Chemo Brain, nerve damage, Immune system weakness, possible heart damage. Just to name a few. My treatment would be intravenous in the Oncologist office every three weeks with blood test and scans thrown in to check progress and organ function. If the blood test didn’t make the cut for the correct levels I could not get the next treatment until my blood count was back up. I carried a note with me every place I went with instructions for medical personnel to follow incase my fever went over 101.5f I would need a blood transfusion. Infection would be more likely to kill me than the cancer at this point because basically the Chemo was destroying my immune system. I was told to stay out of the sun as much as possible and to avoid eating fruits and things that could not be peeled like blue berries or strawberries and buffet style dining.
Infection was my enemy as much as the cancer at this point. I was not as cautious about the food I ate and the places I would eat as I should have been. But I survived.
While all this was going on Carla would not let me slow down or give in, she would say it’s a nice day you know the doctor said you should stay active. And off we would go riding and sightseeing. Every doctors visit went the same the doctor would ask me how I was feeling tell me about my blood count and ask me if I still planned on going on my Sturgis trip in August. My answer was always the same, I feel fine and yes I plan on going to Sturgis in August. You should rethink your plans, you are going to be to tired to ride that far. You are going to suffer from fatigue and it’s going to be out in the middle of no where then what? the doctor asked me. I am fine I would say. This went on every visit and every treatment session until one day my door told me that if I didn’t change my plans she would make it so I couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to go period. Wow she is serious! So we compromised that if I would agree to trailer my bike out to Sturgis I would be ok to ride while I was out there and we could still make the trip as planned.
So trailer we did.
This is the shirt I wore every year on the ride out. Ooopps!
$100.00 for every 100 miles traveled in fuel when I could do this entire trip and only spend $350. for fuel on the bike. Details of the trip are foggy. It is strange the things I do remember are things I would not normally remember from a trip. I don’t remember concerts or musical acts or places we rode to. I am sure we did all the must see while in Sturgis I have a few pictures from the trip no where near the picture we would normally take. I remember Marco running into the back of a guys Harley and later falling over and sliding down an embankment. I remember meeting the tallest woman I ever met before. I remember driving home and struggling with the fatigue the doctor warned me about.
After returning from Sturgis I was at my 5th treatment and it was starting to get the best of me. This is when I thought: This is what it feels like to die. I could barely get off of the sofa. Eating became a chore. Family and friends would make food for me and bring it by the house. I swear to you that beef stew may have saved my life. I ate the stew and came back from the dead. I was ready to take my last treatment and keep fighting.
The best words I ever heard
Your scan looks beautiful!
When I heard those words it was like the weight was lifted. All in all we hardly slowed down a bit. I think staying active helped a great deal. Riding is the best therapy for me and always has been.
After surviving the cancer and the Chemo we started planing some bucket list trips and thats what we have been doing since. In 2013 we went southwest and in 2014 we went northwest. Those trips will be more interesting and nice to look at with the use of the GoPro and locations other than Sturgis.
Life is made up of peaks and valleys
this time of my life was a valley
Life after Chemo is a peak
We have been riding high every since