(This is part three of a series. You can read part one here, part two here, and the book that started it all — which is free, by the way — here.)
How could I forget to tell you about the tentacular chest dongles?
Before we went up to Seattle, I was told that I needed something put in me called a Hickman central venous catheter. So I went in for a quick surgery, and when I came out there they were: my own pair of tentacles sprouting out of my chest. I’m a huge fan of tentacles, so I naturally thought this was awesome. I immediately started calling them my techno tentacles. But then a few times I also called them my chest dongles. People seemed to really dig the second title, so I combined them. And thus the tentacular chest dongles were named. Between them and my bionic third nipple (also called a power port by those in the medical community who realized its awesomeness,) I was getting closer and closer every day to Robocop. Or at least Doctor Octopus. But I digress.
My initial gut reaction to the experimental treatment was “no.” I didn’t want to be in the hospital over the holidays. I didn’t know how we would survive for an extra month or more without income. I had no clue how it would all work. It wasn’t until I was talking with my dad about it that things started to click in place for me.
“So they think this will have a better chance of killing the cancer?” he said. I said they did. “And it’s only an extra month?” I affirmed. “Well, I don’t want to tell you what to do,” he said, “but it kind of seems like a no-brainer to me. We’ll figure out the money. It’ll give you more time to work on your writing projects. It’s only one Christmas. And it’s not that much more time.” I was, in a way, caught up short. He was right. With a little faith for finances, I’d have a better chance of beating cancer. I’d be helping advance medical science for others. And, in theory, I’d have more time to work on what mattered to me. Suddenly I found myself leaning toward yes.
We learned some more about the treatment. Basically they would take antibodies from mice, tweak them into little homing missiles, program them to seek out the cells that surrounded my cancer, attach radioactive isotopes to them, and then inject them into my blood stream. Here’s the way I looked at it: I thought of the radioactive antibodies as the mice, my body as the maze, and my cancer as the cheese.
In the end, I said yes. So we began preparation for an even more involved treatment.
To start with, we would need to have some chemo in the meantime to tide me over. So we did a third round of ICE after all. This time, though, it was at the University of Washington, not at Saint Joseph’s in Tacoma. And everything was different. We had become so used to Saint Joseph’s, with their nightly prayers and bright white rooms and round windows. The UW, on the other hand, was cramped, dingy and square. That wasn’t the only thing that was different: I found myself experiencing, for one of the first times ever in chemo, sickness from the chemicals. I suppose that’s quite a statement in and of itself. But it was unnerving to suddenly feel nauseated and topsy-turvy after so long of doing so well — including on the same treatment regimen. I left those three days feeling uneasy. How long was I going to have to be in that place again?
We did make friends during these months, and we were able to touch people’s lives. Especially lab technicians, for some reason. We befriended Beau, an awesome Christian guy with an attention span like a squirrel’s and a slapstick sense of humor. We also became close with Janice, a sweet lady with a lovely, steady nature and a faithful, deep smile. I gave copies of “The Cancer Diaries” to several people, and it seemed to touch their lives. (Having said that, by far the best evangelist for the book has without a doubt been my dad, Chris. My own efforts have paled next to his. He deserves a shout out. =) But it was incredible how much of our time was spent driving back and forth, back and forth. It was practically a full-time job in and of itself.
During this period, however, I did experience another miracle. I had a dead wisdom tooth extracted, and I felt almost no pain at any point during the procedure, after the procedure, or during the recovery. I stopped taking Advil after the first day when I realized it wasn’t doing anything. After all of the horror stories I had heard of intense agony for days, mine passed with barely a whisper. But I was okay with having this expectation dashed.
Could it have just been because the tooth was dead that I didn’t have the normal anguish associated with a tooth extraction? Maybe. But I don’t think that was all of it. As an aside, the accompanying tooth cleaning hurt far worse than having my tooth ripped apart and suctioned out of my mouth.
Finally we drew up to the main event. Since I didn’t know when I’d get out of the hospital, or in what condition I’d be in afterward, I convinced people to have Christmas beforehand. So we had our daughter Aurora’s birthday a week or so early, and then we decided to have Christmas on her birthday, December 7th. (She was totally okay with this arrangement, by the way. It was like two solid weeks of giving gifts to Aurora.) In-between the birthday party and Christmas, though, I had to go in for a test-dose of the experimental treatment. They wheeled in the lead-shielded vial of mouse cells and injected them into my arm. Man, those mice can punch.
I became very sick during the treatment, and spent the next two days sleeping at our friend Colleen’s house and fending off fevers. I was trying to avoid the hospital, because that would give our doctors the ammunition they needed to say we couldn’t go home for our little Christmas that weekend. I thought I was in the clear, but then I spiked a fever just shy of 103 degrees. I quickly got people praying and prayed in earnest myself. But despite everyone’s best efforts we ended up having to go into the hospital anyway. However, by the time we got there the fever had gone down by a degree. By the time a couple hours had passed it had returned to what they considered acceptable norms, so they kicked us out in the middle of the night (around 12:30AM) and we went back to Colleen’s.
The next morning I awoke feeling incredibly peaceful. Sarah took my temperature and it was 99.3. By the time we got to the doctor’s office again it had plummeted to 98.6. The nurses were shocked. They asked what medications I had downed to get it to drop, but we said I hadn’t taken anything because they’d told me not to.
Sometimes God answers our prayers a little late. And it’s always better when He does. I got some badly needed fluids at the hospital, and we still ended up being able to go home to our kids. (Though we did sneak out of Seattle a day earlier than we were told we could. My bad.)
We had our Christmas, and we lived up that those few days like we have rarely lived anything up. Sarah even let a new member come to join our family named Brain. She felt sorry for me, and so she was especially weak at the time. Perhaps I should be ashamed of taking advantage of this, but he’s just so awesome that I can’t be.
But, as all things do, this little bright spot of time slipped away. So Sarah and I once again packed our bags and headed up to the UW in Seattle. Apart from one tiny blip early on, I wouldn’t see home again for nearly two solid months.
(So apparently this will be four parts. Can you say you’re surprised? I can’t. I knew I was being incredibly optimistic saying it would be three parts…
See you again soon.)