On Thursday January 6th I sat alone in a basement room of the Nuclear Radiology Department at Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital. I was waiting to have the radio active solution injected into my head and the thought came to me what others have thought as they were about to go through the same process. I noticed the manufacturer's name on the nuclear camera next to me. It's an unusual name - Picker. The last name of one of my best friends.
This day was our son's 30th birthday. He's our youngest and the father of two. He's beginning his career as a policeman and he and our daughter-in-law are saving for a house. Amber and I are thankful for our family.
I've had surgery on both knees as a result of running injuries but all three of those times I didn't have the peace that I felt on this morning. It wasn't a peace that was conjured up either, but a conviction that whatever was going to happen that day everything would eventually work out for good. This comes from my faith that God has every detail of our lives in His loving hands.
This morning was to be the first of three hurdles that I felt I had to cross. Within an hour the radio active liquid would make its way to a lymph node which would be determined as the sentinel node. Later in surgery the node would be removed for biopsy to test if cancer cells are present. If the cancer had spread then this one would have the evidence first in the chain of the nodes that follow. There was a strong chance that the solution would make its way to the left perotid gland located where the upper and lower jaws meet. This would be more risky as facial nerves run through the middle of this gland. These nerves would have to be disrupted to extract the lymph node so partial facial paralysis would be a possibility.
I grew up in Southern California's LA suburb San Fernando Valley. The 60's was a turbulent decade but one of the best for fun, sun, and rock n roll. I was the drummer in a band that played a lot of Rolling Stones, Beatles, and other songs from bands of the day. I was both a surfer wannabe and a hippie wannabe. The hippie part came from being in the band and having a handlebar mustache. The surfer part came from body surfing at Malibu and Zuma beaches and having a 1963 VW Bus. I guess I've always had a German vehicle. It's the engineering. I sure wish I still had that bus!
This was my Great Aunt May and me circa 1969. I had been washing the bus and she came out to chat as she usually did. In this photo she was in her early 90's. She was about 5 feet tall, a talkative bundle of energy and always had a positive outlook. Maybe that's why she lived well into her 90's.
Growing up in SoCal I had my share of sun exposure and even got scorched a handful of times. Five years ago I had a spot of skin cancer appear on my left temple. It wasn't the type that spreads so I had it removed with mohs surgery and that was that. The doctor highly suggested that I wear sun blocker which I did for a month or two then stopped. I shouldn't have stopped.
Sometime last spring a mole appeared almost overnight. It was just above my forehead and a little left of center. I remember thinking, "Oh well, I guess this is another side effect of growing older." Every so often I would Google melanoma but the mole didn't fall into any of the descriptions I found.
The early part of November at the urging of Amber and one of our daughters I made an appointment with a dermatologist. He took a biopsy. In the late afternoon on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving the doctor called to say it was melanoma. And it was deep enough to be concerned about it spreading. What stood out from that conversation was when he said, "Melanoma is not the death sentence it use to be." Everything else sounded ominous. Those of you who have had a cancer diagnosis know what the thought process is like.
I went in the next morning to have a full body screening. One more suspicious mole was on the side of my right calf. The doctor sliced it off and we waited another 5 days to find it wasn't melanoma. That was a relief.
The first hurdle was crossed successfully the morning of the surgery when the radio active material made its way to a lymph node behind my left ear. I was grateful it didn't go to the perotid gland and ready to get on with the surgery. Amber and I would wait another three hours before I was taken into surgery. The surgery lasted about two hours. The second hurdle was crossed.
When I woke up in recovery two nurses were having a friendly argument over whether the Oregon Ducks or the Auburn Tigers would win the national championship. It's funny how during surgery time doesn't pass like it does when sleeping. There is no concept of time.
The afternoon before surgery I had an appointment with the doctor. After that they directed me to my pre-surgery physical in the medical building at the bottom end of the Portland Area Tram. It was a nice drizzly beautiful ride.
It's interesting how in the midst of our troubles life still goes on around us. Sometimes it seems like it should stop. Once the diagnosis had settled in I found it to be humbling. All the areas of my life that were about me were diminished. The important things in life were separated from the non-important. I also lost the urge to ride. Part of that was due to the cold weather we were having and partly because I just didn't have the desire to ride. The other factor was I didn't want to risk getting sick and postponing the surgery. Eradicating the cancer was my overwhelming goal.
This last Monday afternoon the surgeon called with the biopsy results. The sentinel lymph node taken from behind my ear was negative for melanoma. The cancer had not spread. It took a little while for that to settle in. I'm grateful that God has spared me from this cancer. The third hurdle was crossed.
I'm not one for long posts. Some might wonder why all this talk about lymph nodes and glands over an episode of skin cancer. Melanoma is serious but like most cancer it's preventable. I wanted to go through the development of this because our sport/hobby of motorcycling takes us outside and although we're covered head to toe with riding equipment, at some point we're taking in sun exposure. This is meant to show the consequences of not being diligent about sun protection. I wasn't careful, but wearing a hat and using sun blocker are now part of my daily routine.
I rode yesterday for the first time in almost a month. I worked at the jail in the afternoon and came home a long route that was new to me. What a nice time of being back with machine, camera, and beautiful scenery. I rode today too and the old feeling is back. Lord willing I'll be putting the miles on again.
I hope the weather allows you to ride these January days.