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It's Been A While, but I'm Back...
Can you say, “Impaired Immunity Responses”? I can, because I’ve had some, these last few weeks and I’ve heard them described and defined enough times to clarify their meaning and their pronunciation…
It’s been quite some time since I last set foot here in the web site, and even longer since I’ve logged a Blog entry, and in that time I’ve had a number of adventures . . . though misadventures would be a more appropriate term for them. I started out fine, at the end of last month, on November 30th, thinking and hoping to have come through the ordeal of surgery with flying colours, but then the first of a series of things went sideways and from that point onwards, it seems that the progression went surging forward like one of those endless, engineered cascades of falling dominoes. And so it’s been several weeks, I believe, since I last said anything in here, or anywhere else, about my condition, and that’s a situation that has to change here and now. Here goes, then, with a full report on the status of my health, past and present, and before I get into it I want to say a heartfelt “Thank You” to everyone who wrote to me, offering support and encouragement on the threshold of what I was facing.
We have known for three years (my thoracic specialists and I) that I had an indeterminate but clearly defined “mass” in my left lung that might or might not have been there since my boyhood. It resembled old scar tissue and for as long as we had been “watching” it—beginning late in 2009, it had appeared to be dormant. This year, however, in a routine CT scan taken at the beginning of November, there were definite signs of activity and growth in the mass; sufficiently so for it to be redefined as a definite tumour rather than a simple mass. My specialists decided immediately to go in there and root the thing out as quickly as possible, while it was still dense, small and self-contained. The location of the thing, close to the outer wall of the upper lobe of my left lung, indicated that there was a good possibility of going in arthroscopically, through a series of small holes rather than a major incision, and extracting the entire lobe of the lung with the growth in situ. None of us could see any point in postponing the event once the decision had been taken and so the procedure was scheduled for the morning of November 30th. I presented myself at the hospital as scheduled and the operation was performed successfully, the lobe removed cleanly and precisely. Everything looked good and everyone felt optimistic.
Then, though, 48 hours later, something went wrong and my lung collapsed. I don’t remember anything about it by that point, but I spent the next eight days in Intensive Care. There was blood in my lung cavity and they had to get that out of there before they could attempt to reinflate the lung itself, and while the medics were struggling with that, I developed pneumonia, just to add a little spice to the mixture… I now know I was really sick for a while, because my wife was there all day every day for the entire time and I don’t remember seeing her once. And the word was out among my friends that I was in deep trouble (I live in a small community wherein there are few secrets) but as I said earlier, I have absolutely no recollection of anything during that entire period other than a few nightmarish flickerings at the back of my mind that I’ve no wish to acknowledge or explore… And that, in itself, probably says more about the experience than anything artful I could dream up.
Anyway, my specialists were magnificent; their efforts were successful, I started breathing again and we licked the pneumonia, so that I came through it all to find myself back in the general population of the hospital, where I spent several more days gathering my faculties and being watched by a horde of vigilant overseers to whom I’ll be grateful for ever. Funnily enough, those three or four days in the general ward now strike me as being longer than the rest of the time I spent in hospital, and they were days of great discomfort in which I was hooked in a dozen different ways to an entire array of machines and devices, from monitors to intravenous drips. I was full of plumbing, too, with two chest tubes inserted into my body—one from each of the two procedures I had undergone—and until all of that gear and paraphernalia was removed there was no question of my being released to go home.
Finally, though, the day came when, after one final, confirmatory X-ray, I was released, unencumbered by extraneous devices and showing only a number of incisions—all healing nicely—and a few sutures left over where they had removed the last of the surgical tubing/drains from my incisions. And I came home a week ago, thinking, “Hallelujah, free at last!”
Well, not quite free at last, as it transpired… And that’s where the phrase, “Impaired Immunity Responses” comes back into play. See, you can’t just go home after having a few pounds of flesh traumatically removed from your innards, and take up where you left off. It hurts too much, and you wouldn't believe (unless you've been there) just how much it hurts and how many varieties of hurtfulness the pains can use to present themselves . . . and for days on end, that's how it goes: pain, unbelievably intense at times, rapidly followed by sudden, utter exhaustion as you quickly learn what people are talking about when they speak of "hitting the wall". Hard as it might be to believe, reading that, I didn’t know that until I tried it. Thank God they gave me powerful medications to combat the pain and the strain! But even the meds caused problems of their own, because they, too, are toxic in their own ways, and the old body very quickly developed a mind of its own about what would, could, did and didn’t interest or engage it. And so I’ve been dawdling along, going from one low-grade infection—not dangerous but cumulatively debilitating—for the entire week since coming home... Couldn't sit upright, or stand for long; still can't walk far and haven't been able until last night to sleep lying flat.
I've been so sick I couldn’t even read, and that’s a major glitch, because I can’t remember ever having spent as much as a week without reading something and now I’ve been wordless for more than a month. I’ve had three books by favourite authors going since I came home and I haven’t been able to get involved in any of them. As for writing anything, I don’t think I have the words to describe how disinterested I’ve been in even thinking about writing anything at all. I managed to grind out a couple of short emails to various people, because I felt hag-ridden with guilt about being silent, but that has been the total extent of my output until this evening, and I can’t even identify why I’m able to write this tonight, unless it has something to do with the fact that I haven’t taken any pain medication since this time last night. That must be it, because I haven’t done anything else that’s different. I’m not going to be able to hold out much longer, though, because I can feel pain now that hasn’t been there all day today…
Anyway, the pathology report on my surgery came back yesterday: The growth was definitely cancerous and malignant, but it appears to have been tightly self-contained and removed successfully. There are no signs of contamination or infection in any of the surrounding lymph nodes, and the liver and kidneys are clean and clear, and all of that adds up to a conclusion that I have no need to undergo either radiation or chemotherapy, and that I should be back to health and fully functional in six weeks’ time. That six weeks is a time period that everyone keeps emphasizing, insisting that I have to take it easy from now until then and give my old frame time to heal itself. But that’s it: if all goes well (and I intend to make sure that it does) I’ll be back in charge of myself by the end of January and striding forward from there, I’ve lost a bunch of weight that I couldn’t afford to lose in the first place, so my priority now is to build up my strength and my haemoglobin, exercising every day, and to regain the weight and muscle tone I’ve lost while concentrating on getting back to fitness.
Of course, I’ll be under the eye of the microscope constantly from now on, with ongoing supervision every three months for a couple of years, then semi-annually for another couple and once a year after that. But hey! I’m now a lung cancer survivor and I want to tell the world it feels good!