Monday, June 25, 2012

Ravioli in my chest!

Before I could begin my chemo I needed to get a port put directly into my chest. The best I can describe it as is a hard piece of plastic that feels like a ravioli noodle.

I went to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and they sent me to the radiology department. I was given some medication to help me relax. The medication didn't put me all the way to sleep just sort-of asleep. They then made an incision and inserted the ravioli in my chest. From there they put a line from the ravioli up through a vein in my neck. They then leave a line sticking through the ravioli and out of my chest so that I could start the chemotherapy the next day...

Where to get treatment?

For us the next step (and I believe the most important step) was deciding where to get treatment. Based off of recommendations from other people we decided to see three different oncologists. I was pleasantly surprised at the time each and every one of the doctors took with us. The initial meeting with each of the three doctors was about 3 1/2 hours per meeting.

In the end we decided to get treatment up at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake. My wife and I felt like it was the best facility for our needs. They have one area that only deals with lymphoma and leukemia. The Huntsman cancer Institute in Salt Lake is a world class facility. The area is clean and inviting and the people who work there are friendly and cheerful. The two facilities I checked out in Provo are also very good however we felt most comfortable with the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tang and the Devil

Contrary to popular believe a PET scan cannot tell whether you're a huntin dog, a wiener dog...or even a cat. A PET scan is used to detect where the cancer has spread in the soft tissue areas of your body, it is a pretty cool process. You are taken into a room and you are stabbed with a needle in the arm so they can put an IV in. You are then injected with some radioactive sugar water, I believe the radioactive sugar water is Tang that the astronauts brought from the moon. You are in a room with a lounge chair and they turn the lights off and tell you you cannot read to and try to relax and while you are at it try not to think.

While I was laying there not thinking, I decided that Hodgkins lymphoma must be caused by too little fishing and listening to just enough old-time rock 'n roll. Of all the medical articles I had read about Hodgin's lymphoma they all stated they weren't sure what caused Hodgkin's lymphoma, well problem solved.

Apparently the radioactive Space Tang goes to places where there is activity in your body, it sort of finds the hot spots. After a minimum of 75 minutes (in my case it was 87 minutes) of sitting there doing and thinking of nothing you are taken out of that room and put in a machine that is able to read the radioactive Tang. Other than 87 minutes of my life I'll never get back it  really was not a bad experience at all. It's then a game off hurry up and wait, on Monday of the following week I got a call and was told all of the cancer that could be detected was above my diaphragm.
My last and worst test was on Tuesday May 15, it was the bone marrow biopsy. For those of you that don't know this is what happens during a bone marrow biopsy they start by having an innocent looking lady come into the room, with an assistant (that also looks harmless.)  Both of these people must watch a lot of horror movies, might I add. I'm not sure what exactly they had in their torture bags, but I'm quite sure they had jackhammers, ice picks, an electric chair and some salt to sprinkle on any wounds they inflict. You see, you are forced to lay down on your stomach (I guess so you can't see these children of the devil go to work?)  The next thing you know they are sticking you with an ice pick in the hip bone, then they fire up the jack hammer and do a little road construction right into your hip bone. After you think they are finally done they stick a probe from the electric chair in your hip and crank up the power.Wow that was not a lot of fun.  It was excruciating.  I'd much rather lie around and think about not being allowed to think.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Hammer Drops

Noid free, since May 2012.

On May 2, 2012, I called the ear nose and throat specialist that my brother Mitch had referred me to. The receptionist told me their next available appointment was May 23. I then asked her to go tell the doctor that this was Mitchell Albrecht's brother. The receptionist then came back and said "What time can you come today?"

I went in to see the doctor on that afternoon and he ordered an MRI for the following day. Having an MRI is like being made into toothpaste. First they strap you down, then strap your head down and push you through a tube like machine (I'm sure that's exactly how toothpaste is made.)

On May 4 I went back to the ear nose and throat specialist. He had the results of the MRI, he came in and told me "it looks like you have lymphoma". He then left the room for a about five minutes. I wasn't sure what lymphoma was but the look on his face told me it could be a little worse than my cute little Neck Noid. I seemed to recall that lymphoma was some kind of cancer and to me cancer was synonymous with "you're about to die."

I started to make a list of things to talk to the doctor about:
1) If I have the choice of living to June 1 of 2013 and having no treatment or having aggressive treatment that could cure me but I could die during treatment I would choose the no treatment. (June 1, 2013 is the date I can retire from State Farm and that would allow my wife, Marcy, to have some income for the rest of her life. If I die prior to that she gets none of my retirement.)
2) My son Kwin is getting married on July 7, I need to find a way to feel good on that day.
3) My Omaha grandchildren will be here for part of the summer, will cancer change that?

When he came back, he said I hate telling someone they have cancer and then leaving the room. I told him I wasn't surprised because I had a dream in December. He then had kind of a surprised look on his face and said that he was antagonistic but he believes dreams are part of a persons spirituality.

The doctor then informed me that there are over 70 different kinds of lymphoma and some of them if you were to do a traditional biopsy can spread immediately and I would be in a lot of trouble. After speaking and addressing my list of questions with me and telling me that most forms of lymphoma are highly treatable he informed me that we should do a needle biopsy, even though I hate needles I consented and he went and got a needle and did a biopsy. He reminded me that all we knew for sure was I had a lump on my neck. Of course all I could hear was a loud "YOU HAVE CANCER." He than gave me his cell number and told be to call or text him if I had any questions. He then asked if he could share the information with Mitch and I said that would be fine.

That was probably one of the hardest weekends I've ever had. It's very difficult knowing that you probably have cancer but you don't know what kind it is. I then came home and shared the information with my wife, it was a very difficult. On Sunday I felt like I needed a priesthood blessing. I debated telling my home teachers, but they were both out of town. So I decided to go ahead and tell my LDS Bishop. The Bishop has been a good friend of mine ever since we moved to Alpine.

As I went to tell him he said "Lets go outside" I said, "No, I think we better go in your office, because I don't know if I can get through this." I think he thought that I had been having an affair or something because I was having a hard time telling him what I needed to. Before I told him I told him had to promise not to tell anyone else, including the Stake President, his wife or any of his counselors. After he made the promise I then told him what was going on. He was quite shaken up, he actually turned white.

After he somewhat regained his composure, we had a wonderful talk. I told him that I had a wonderful life that I've lived a lot and a lot that I had been able to pack a lot of fun things in my life. That I have been married to a wonderful woman for over 31 years and have children that I love and grandchildren that I adore. I then said the Lord did not owe me one more minute on this Earth and if it was his will was for me to leave and if need be I was willing to leave this Earth right away. I also told Bishop that I would have no hard feelings whatever the outcome was.

He finally gave me a priesthood blessing, it was a sweet experiance and the spirit was strong, that gave me clearity which provided a lot of relief. When you don't know what your future holds or even if you have a mortal future it causes you to reflect on your relationships with your family and friends as well as the things that you have or haven't done in your life. The reflections are good for the soul and the clarity was an unexpected blessing.

The following Monday about 7:30 PM the doctor called me and told me that it looks like Hodgkin's lymphoma. However they still were not positive and needed a larger sample, he did say that all of the very dangerous lymphomas had been eliminated. He then schedule me for the following day to go have a biopsy where they would make a cut in my neck and remove the lump I could feel (as well as two others.)  So on Tuesday May 8 at 3:30 I was being prepared to be put to sleep so they could do the biopsy. The ear, nose and throat specialist did the surgery and after told me I needed get a PET scan, it looked like Hodgkin's lymphoma but he had to send it to pathology to be sure.

The next day I called my insurance company Blue Cross and Blue Shield to try and get approved to have a PET scan (which shows where the cancer is in your body), the insurance representative told me that if they rush the order it would take 7 to 10 days to get the approval. So the next day I called the doctors office and somehow he pulled his magic and I was able to get my PET scan on Friday May 11. As I was in having the PET scan my wife got a phone call from Mitch confirming that I did have Hodgkin's lymphoma.