My Incredible Journey
Grey Cup Sunday, November 2003. I woke up to go to the washroom. I had a great deal of burning pain as I tried to urinate. It got progressively more difficult as the day progressed. My friend, Burke, a registered nurse, encouraged me to see the family doctor the next day, which I did. My doctor classified it as a prostate inflammation, but set up an appointment with a specialist out of Orillia for the first week of March, 2004.
Throughout the next three months, I played hockey twice a week with a bunch of “seniors” getting my exercise for the winter months. I remember saying to one of the players how I must have had too much Christmas dinner because I felt over-weight, had a hard time catching my breath after my shift, and feeling tired. I left it at that.
March 3, 2004 came and my appointment with the specialist was for 10:00am. I had not had any further problem with my urinary function since treatment in the fall. While we were waiting for my appointment, my wife, Rita, noticed a small lump on my breastbone. I went to the washroom to inspect myself in the mirror. Sure enough, I saw the small lump. I returned to the waiting room, saw the specialist, was told my previous problem was a urinary infection and I was free to go home. Once home I called my family doctor for an appointment re: the lump. The next day, he diagnosed it as an inflammation of my breastplate, prescribed some medication and told me to come back if it persisted.
I left for a two week holiday in Florida with my friends, Burke and John. While there, I experienced a great deal of pain when I laid down on my side and when I golfed. I also noticed that the lump was getting bigger. Once back in Canada on April 13, I made an appointment to see my doctor for the day after Easter Monday.
On April 18 he again diagnosed it as inflammation and prescribed a stronger inflammatory to be taken for the next two weeks. Nothing changed and the lump continued to grow. I went on my yearly fishing weekend in May, attended my step-son’s wedding, but told no one about the lump. After the wedding I made another appointment with my doctor. When he saw the size of the lump he arranged for me to have a biopsy done on the lump. This was done the following Friday. I received a phone call for my doctor to come and see him at the end of the day on the Monday. I called my wife, who worked in Toronto, and asked her to come home. I was beside myself with worry. I cried for a long time. I made arrangements for my nine-year old daughter to be cared for while Rita and I went for the appointment.
Dr. Donald informed me that I had a Solitary Plasma Cytoma a form of blood cancer. Arrangements were made for me to go to Royal Victoria Hospital to see Dr. Presnell. Two weeks later, Dr. Presnell did a number of tests on me over two days. One was a bone marrow extraction, a very strenuous procedure. He had a great deal of trouble drilling into my hipbone and informed me that my greatest pain would be when he removed the apparatus from my hip. What an under-statement! It felt like someone hit me in the back of my head with a baseball bat. The pain was excruciating! Shortly thereafter I was referred to Princess Margaret Hospital on Toronto.
Rita had taken pictures of the tumor and brought them along to my appointment at PMH. We met with the oncology team and treatment was prescribed. I immediately was put on a drug, Dexamethisone. After one month the tumor had shrunk to half its size. Most SPC’s are in the range of 3-5cm by 5-7 cm. Mine, was 16cm by 20cm! They had heard of big ones but had never seen one. I was headed to the Medical Journal record books! After the second month, the tumor was no longer visible. I remained on the drug for another month. Radiation followed for five weeks in September and October.
Throughout all of this I had to tell our children, my brothers and sisters and Rita’s siblings. The most difficult was telling our Nine-year old daughter. She had lost her mother to cancer at the age of four. However, my faith in God helped me immeasurably. Rita and I prayed. My church prayed for me and friends and family prayed for me. In December 2004 I was in remission.
In the spring of 2005 I underwent a Stem Cell Transplant, a procedure whereby they extract 10 million stem cells from my blood, give me a heavy dosage of chemotherapy, knocking my immune system down to zero and then re-introduce my healthy stem cells back into my body. The hope is that all cancer cells will be killed off. I was hospitalized for 16 days and then released. I was happy but very tired and weak. For the rest of the summer and fall I recuperated, played some golf and refereed hockey, even played some hockey.
In the spring of 2006 I felt an obstruction-like feeling in my swallowing function. Rita noticed it swelling more as the weeks passed. We made an appointment with my doctor, who, upon seeing the swelling, he immediately called my oncologist, Dr. Mikhael at PMH. Dr. Joe, as we called him, made arrangements for me to see him the next Tuesday. I had an aspiration done on the swelling in my throat, and two hours later was informed I had another SPC as well as a secondary tumor which was wrapping itself around my thyroid gland. I was devastated! I was put on the Dexamethisone again followed by four weeks of high dosage radiation. In September, we met with Dr. Joe and made the decision to go onto a maintenance program. I was put on Thalidomide, 200ml a day and Prednisone, 100ml every second day. I would be on this for the rest of my life. By December I had to cut back to 50ml of the Prednisone because my moods were too volatile and I was extremely irritable.
During this time, another medical problem was discovered. My sugar count was rising leaving me weak and very tired. At 24, I was put on medication to control the high sugar count to get it back down to an acceptable level. I have bought a glucometer to test my sugar level each day, watch my diet as much as possible and drink less beer. What a sacrifice!
My faith, in God, the support of my wife, Rita, and the love of my children and our families has seen me through these trials. Our positive approach to the cancer was instrumental in my journey. The future is in God’s hands.
TO TALES OF THE BATTLE