Tuesday, March 3, 2009
"Our Experience"... Mike's Story Through Stephanie's Eyes
It started with the stifling of a sneeze on an airplane. My husband Mike was in the middle seat and stifled his sneeze so as not to disturb the people on either side of him. He felt his jaw pop when he did this, but really thought nothing of it. A few days later, the jaw was sore and beginning to swell. I began to urge my sweet husband to go see the doctor, but you know how husbands are and he refused for several weeks. A month later we found ourselves on vacation in San Francisco, home of sour dough bread, and Mike could not chew it. As I looked at him from across the table, his jaw appeared almost lopsided…just wrong. I laid down the law and told him he would be seeing a doctor as soon as we returned home and joked that this could be cancer.
Thank God the first doctor recognized something was not right and sent him the next day to the second doctor who took an MRI and sent us to the third doctor, an ENT who was a head and neck surgeon, who informed us that the MRI was suggestive of bone cancer in the jaw. One week later, Mike was in surgery.
The surgery was ten hours and very detailed as Mike’s tumor was around the seventh nerve of the face, which controls most facial expression on that side of the face. If that nerve is cut, the patient loses all control over that side of their face. Thankfully, the nerve was spared.
Ten grueling hours later, I was informed that the tumor was definitely cancer, but we would have to wait one week to learn what specific kind of cancer it was…Ewing’s Sarcoma. Did the stifling of a sneeze cause this? No, the doctors told us it was more likely that the cancer was there and that the stifling of the sneeze and the jaw popping just brought it to our attention.
I say that "we" went through chemotherapy and radiation because the whole family is so involved when a loved one has cancer. Chemotherapy was brutal and barbaric and actually worse than the disease my husband had. We were fortunate that the surgeon removed all of Mike’s cancer and full body scans assured us that the cancer was local and had not spread anywhere else in his body. But, as they explain, surgery can free tiny particles of cancer and for safety measures chemotherapy is necessary. I watched my poor sweet husband lose his hair over his entire body, vomit green bile, run high fevers and dwindle to a mere 118 pounds. It was horrible watching the person you love endure these treatments. The final round of chemo was so hard on Mike that it put him in ICU where his oncologist informed me that Mike was "hearing the angels sing." Mike’s chemo regimen was very strong as they told us they would be hitting him hard since he was only 34 years old. After watching Mike be run (literally) with a crash cart and a fever pushing 106, convulsions and a blood pressure of 50/0, I informed him that this had been his final round of chemotherapy no matter what the doctors said as this so called preventative measure was going to kill him faster than the disease itself and that if he wanted to go through another round, he would do so as a single man! Our daughters were 2 and 6 months old at the time and I so wanted them to know their Dad and this therapy was killing him. So, "we" quit chemo and scans showed that Mike was in remission. It took two years for Mike to get back to a normal weight and for his blood tests to show that his immune system was in the low range of normal.
I am humbled, delighted and teary eyed at the fact that I can tell you that this was 12 years ago. Yes, we will forever look over our shoulders, yes, I freak out when he gets a minor ache or pain and yes it was the absolute hardest time of our lives…BUT, as my mother has always said, "the strongest steel is forged from the hottest fire." Mike and I are blessed to have every day together and with our children, we learned at a young age that our priority in life was each other and our daughters and that nothing else on the face of this earth means anything without your health. This experience sometimes feels surreal to us as we occasionally allow ourselves to look backwards and reminisce. It can still be as fresh in our minds as though it was yesterday and I usually prefer to push it out of my mind. It has the ability to produce instant anxiety in my heart. Mike is now 46 and assures me that the random ache and pain is coming with age and I inform him he has one week for that ache to go away or he gets to humor me with an MRI or CT scan, because as we all know, time is of the essence with this disease.
Mike is a survivor, we are survivors and all of us touched by this disease are members in a unique club that unites us. We feel an instant connection with people we meet who have had cancer or are currently in the battle, there is just an unspoken bond, no doubt about it. Mike is proud of his scars and actually "shows them off" to people, cancer patients or otherwise as his badge of honor. And I am proud of all of us. We are stronger individually and as a family for having taken this journey. I am forever grateful for each year we’ve had with Mike since this experience and look forward with great anticipation to growing old with my dear sweet husband, sipping lemonade on the front porch with him while we watch our grandchildren play.