Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Getting back to consistently blogging has been considerably more difficult that I thought. I believe the scope and magnitude of being diagnosed with cancer and learning what the future may look like, as well as the many conversations with doctors, other cancer patients, cancer survivors, etc. overwhelms your mind with a cluster of information that needs to be sorted, evaluated, categorized, and either saved or discarded. It's kind of like that show hoarders, you have a clutter that contains things that are worth keeping, things worth selling or donating, and a lot of things that just need thrown out.

Going through that process creates fresh space for generating new thoughts and feelings that are easier to transcribe to words and rekindling that fire and passion to share my experience with others, in the hopes of demystifying the cancer process of cancer diagnosis, surgery, and treatment.

Even though cancer is the toughest battle people will ever face, I also hope by sharing my experience, that others will be inadvertently enlightened, empowered, and better equipped to cope with their own battles in life and/or support others in need.

I arrived at UPMC Shadyside Hospital the morning of Tuesday, March 3, 2015. I was promptly ushered into a surgical prep room, gowned up and taken into the surgical suite twenty minutes later. I was taken aback by how quickly it all happened. In fact, there was little time to sit there worrying and becoming fearful. Avoiding surgery was not an option, as the primary tumor was blocking most of my transverse colon, making eating solid foods difficult. Because I had already pushed worry and fear out of my mind and given it to God, I found that I was more relaxed and at peace with the surgery than I normally would have expected.

As you can imagine I don't remember a thing about the actual surgery. The last thing I remember is hearing music playing, and I asked the doctors and nurses if the music gets to be left on during the procedure. They replied yes, Dr. Holtzman always has music on during his surgeries. approximately 3 hours later I woke up in surgical recovery and the first thought that came to mind and words out of my mouth were "PAIN!"  There's just no sugar coating it! The pain is immense, but as medications are administered, it slowly becomes more tolerable. I think it's worth mentioning here that the surgical recovery was quite amazing, as I remember it. it was like an assembly line of patients being evaluated, monitored, administered pain meds, and one by one shuttled off to the room in which they will spend the rest of their recovery time. Other than this, quite honestly, there's simply not a lot to share about the surgery itself, because you don't remember a thing!

There's really a lot of blur and fogginess between being transported from surgical recovery to my primary room. For example, I don't remember much of the trip, which included an elevator ride. My first real recollection was being in the hallway outside of the room that was initially being prepped for me, and then seeing my wife, who came out of the room to say hi. It wasn't long after that I realized I had a tube up my nose and down my throat, oxygen in my nose, and a catheter in. The tube down my throat was actually a drain tube that normally isn't needed for colon (large intestine) surgery and resection, but because I also had cancer removed from the small intestine (duodenum), the drainage was necessary to aide recovery of the organ/tissue, without being constantly exposed to gastric juices and enzymes. Other than the pain, that damn tube became my greatest nemesis! It was so uncomfortable and the pain in my nose felt as if there was an over-sized rock jammed way up in there! Luckily about 3 or 4 days in, they removed both the drain tube and the catheter. Perhaps I should let you know that I was seriously worried about the catheter being taken out. After all, I'd never had one and quite honestly, just the thought of it being removed was enough to make me cringe. I was completely unconscious when it was put it..thank God! Anyway, despite an awkward and slightly uncomfortable feeling when they pulled it out, the entire process only lasted about 3 seconds or so. I can also say that as much as I was ready to have that drain tube out, the thought of that coming out was nauseating...but again, it only takes a few seconds, and wow...what a relief!

My total hospital stay was ten days. On the second day, the doctors wanted me up and out of bed trying to move. Now, if you can imagine, having all these a tube up your nose and down your throat, oxygen in your nose, and IV's in both arms all hooked up to machines on a pole that you have to walk with. It's almost as if you're a prisoner...handcuffed and shackled! So, not only do you have the restriction of all this stuff hanging from you, but the pain upon standing and trying to walk for the first time is like nothing I've ever felt. That first time out of bed, I only made it maybe ten feet to my hospital room door and back to my bed. I remember asking myself, "oh my God, how am I ever going to get through this and out of here?!"

Then a few days into my stay, upon the obvious pain of the surgical procedure itself, I began to get a build up of gas pain. It was explained to me that air is actually blown into you during the surgery for whatever reason(s). It get trapped in there and because of the internal and external incision pain and because the muscles are not quite strong enough to literally force the gas out, getting out of bed and walking becomes essential to relieving the pressure and pain. So, at some point, no matter how bad it hurt to get out of bed and walk, it was worth it because on the back end of it, your pain becomes reduced each and every time you're up and moving.

At this point, it really becomes a mental game, of convincing yourself that you can do it and literally forcing yourself out of the hospital bed. I would walk at least twice a day, and as the days passed, up to four times per day. The fourth floor Main of UPMC Shadyside Hospital is the oncology recovery unit. Interestingly, it was set up such that the entire floor had a loop that went around both sides of the central nursing station, and twelve laps around is equivalent to walking one mile. Each day I would walk further and further, eventually walking two plus miles per day. I told one of the nurses that I was going to do three miles before being discharged. However, I actually ended up being discharged a day earlier than expected and had to finish my goal at home on my treadmill.

I will say that ten days is a long time to be in the hospital, especially with such a major surgery and the mental and emotional magnitude of being diagnosed with an aggressive stage 4 colon cancer. I didn't want my wife to miss work (she's a chiropractor with her own practice) and honestly, we couldn't afford for her to miss work. Despite juggling her patient schedule and taking care of our kids on her own, she managed to get in almost every day, even if it was just for a couple of hours. So, I'm super proud her commitment to holding everything together through this stressful time.

I'm also thankful for my father-in-law Bob Alcorn, who came to see me on several occasions and made sure the kids were picked up from school each day, as well as driving the kids to the hospital to meet up with my wife so we could spend time together as a family. Thank you to my sisters-in-law (Jennifer, Rebecca, and Amanda) for visiting. I also want to thank one of my best friends from college, Bill Bell, for his unexpected visit and the same to Chuck Yorks who was in the area from on business from Bellefonte, PA and stopped in to see me. Thank you to Ryan and Farrah Hankey for the surprise visit and spending a couple of hour with Kelly and I one evening. Thanks to my dad, for calling every day to check in on me. Lastly, a special thank you to surgical oncology nurse Mandy Fleet, who went to high school with my wife Kelly, and who became a friend of mine a couple of years ago. Despite not having anything to do with post operative care, Mandy came to see me every day that she was working. It was nice to see her familiar face each time!

Despite having visitors, most of the time, it was for very short periods of time. This left much of the day in which you're on your own, and it does get lonely. So, if you're ever a patient, let people come see you...it helps a lot! If you're a friend or loved one of a patient, please make time to visit, even if you think they may not want visitors. Some patients simply just need to swallow their pride and let others be there for them. The support and visitation from family and friends goes a long way in bridging the gap between your typical social life and the long hours spent alone in your hospital room. I think there's a definite therapeutic effect from the company of others and definitely helps with your mental and emotional stability.

Lastly, I want to thank the many nurses and nurse aides who took such great care of me. In particular nurse Becca and nurse aide Steve, both of who regardless of whether they were assigned my room or not, came to see me every day. There were many other great nurses who took great care of me...Danielle and Kim come to mind. It's hard to remember everyone, but my point in bringing them up is that these are the people who are there for you when nobody else is there, taking care of you, getting you anything that you need, encouraging you, and overall truly invested in your recovery and seeing you get back home as quickly as possible. I am indebted for their care, support, and encouragement. Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, even though it's great to be home with my family, I miss all the great people who took such good care of me during my stay. So, whether you're a patient or family member of a patient, remember to thank the nurses and nurse aides!

Thanks for reading my blog and following my journey. If you're on social media, please feel free to share my blog posts. Together we can reach more people and potentially help change or even save a life!

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