The past few months have brought a return to good health and strength.
Following the incidents shared here, I had a lymphectomy in the summer of 2015 showing evidence of lymphoma within the swollen lymph node removed from my neck. I was referred to a cancer specialist who said there was so few of the cancer cells present, that specific diagnosis was impossible. Admittedly, it was hard to visit the cancer center and be one more patient among the many dealing with cancer. Some were there for chemo treatment. Some had lost their hair or physical strength. Sitting in the waiting room, I counted my blessings, knowing that my problems were small as compared to those of others, and my prayers were more focused on the needs I saw around me.
Concerned about a lack of follow-up by the oncologist, I reached out to another physician for direction. Her research and connections led me to a lymphoma specialist at University Hospitals’ Seidman Cancer Center. The experience there has been amazingly supportive and positive. The oncologist and his staff made me feel understood and well cared for. A bone marrow extraction again confirmed the presence of lymphoma, but still so few bad cells that definitive typing is elusive. Rheumatological and glandular problems were ruled out. So there. I have lymphoma. It’s a non-Hodgkins variety, likely something akin to Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. As we narrowed options leading to diagnosis, I was feeling better week by week.
And then the inflammation struck again. Back pain made it nearly impossible to get off the couch. Nightsweats made it hard to sleep. Swelling of limbs and joints made climbing stairs at bedtime–and even the 3 steps leading to the pulpit–an event of Olympic proportions. My left knee swelled to the size of a small tree trunk and required an ER visit and much testing. But I pushed through with the help and support of friends and family, and my determination to fulfill duties at work gave me a sense of drive. I missed one Sunday when I could not function off the couch, and it bothered me to be away. It’s not that I couldn’t let go of the work; more like a point of personal pride. And not in a good way. The caregiver-pastor in me didn’t want others worrying or praying for him.
The extreme inflammation in my body was likely due to the lymphoma, but after a few intense weeks, the pain and swelling was subsiding. Energy was growing. The treatment plan, agreed upon with my doctor, would be “watchful waiting”; no serious medical intervention–no chemo or radiation–unless or until the inflammation symptoms return. I have regular checkups and blood tests now that are, blessedly, spaced further and further apart.
Some people live with this condition unscathed for many years. Others deal with flareups occasionally, and still others require intensive treatments. I’m happy to be back to full strength and feeling good. Every now and then I remember back to how low I felt; thankful for my current condition; grateful for the prayers and support of church, family and friends.
Meanwhile, a small spot noticed by a dermatologist on my left cheek was determined to be Squamous Cell Carcinoma, later removed from my face via Mohs surgery with minimal scarring. Doctors agree that I am more susceptible to other cancers and conditions because my immune system is weakened by lymphoma. And the lymphoma symptoms can be triggered again by anything that stirs up the immune system.
Now, in the summer of 2016, I’m back to 100%. I thank God for the many ways I’ve been strengthened through this process and I remember that I’ve got some living to do.