Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Three Hurdles

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.

God's speed.


  1. {Big hug} - I'm very thankful that things turned out okay. What a scary thing to go through.

    Ya know there are easier ways to take a ride on the tram! Don't have go and get all sick or anything... :)

    Funny how these kinds of things change priorities and what was once important becomes absolutely unimportant in the scheme of things. Our world comes to a screeching halt in the midst of crisis, yet the rest of the world goes on without a blip.

    I'm glad you're back on the bike, but mostly I'm glad everything turned out well!
    Take care!

  2. Excllent post mike, and very realative to this country. New Zealand has the highest melonoma rates of the developedword, our sun is fiece. That aside I am glad you have come through it okay. I wish you all the best, enjoy your riding.

  3. Glad it all came out okay at the end and it's nice to hear that you are back enjoying your time on the road. These type of events really let us discover again what is really important. Having also grown up in southern CA (San Gabriel Valley) this has also been a concern. Especially with all the time I've spent out in the high desert and the Sierras. Maybe there is a benefit to all this darkness we have around here ;-)

    Take care!

  4. Oh wow Mike....
    So happy and praising God for your healing! So awesome to hear of the peace you felt through it all. I'm sure it wasn't easy for you or your family. Praying for continued healing!

  5. Hello Mike,
    I am glad that things have turned out for the better. What an ordeal that must have been for you and your family while waiting for the results. When things like his happen it is somewhat scary to notice that the world keeps on turning, and live continues around you, only yourself seem to be out of phase. You focus on what is important at that time, and everything else fade into the background.
    Best of luck to you! SonjaM

  6. Mike,
    I rejoice with you that all three hurdles were cleared. And, I am glad to hear you are back riding and enjoying it!

    Thanks for sharing, this is a very encouraging story.


  7. Mike,
    Like everyone else, I was so pleased and relieved to see this latest post as I was rather fearing the worst since your last post. I'm not religious in a conventional sense but I did say a few words in my head in the hope that all would be well for you. As Roger (Raftnn) said, NZ'ers are very aware of the high UV levels here and most people over the last decade or two now take precautions.

    Very good news my friend and take care....

  8. Kari,
    Thank you! Riding the Tram was something I wanted to do this year anyway but when I found out that day I "had" to ride it, it was a bonus. Hope you're enjoy this warm but rather wet weather!

    Thank you! I've heard that NZ has a high rate of melanoma. Everyone must be taking precautions I hope. Just yesterday I heard about a guy at our church whoes barber informed him about a mole on the top of his head. It was melanoma. He's now has brain cancer and is fighting for his life. My case was very minor compared to his.

    Thank you! Good point about your lower exposure in Alaska. The LA area is closer to the equator but yet that warm sunny weather is what draws people there. Our cloudy weather in the Northwest is deceiving because we don't feel the UV rays. Take care!

    Thank you too! And thank you for your prayers. I hope you're doing well too.

    Thank you! When the end looks like it could be coming relatively soon, it does change ones thought process. I didn't want to share my concern about this with the family buy I could talk with my friends about it. Had there been cancer in the lymph node I figured we'd just deal with it and hopefully it would work out. I gratful, though, there weren't more hurdles this time.

    Thank you as well for your good wishes. Regarding the riding, I didn't give it too much thought but I was wondering why the desire wasn't there. This might be way off base but maybe riding truely is more than a means of transportation. It must get linked somewhere deep down inside of us.

    Thank you too for your well wishes and good thoughts. I hope you both wear sun blocker while out on your boat! I think this experience will make me some sort of a sun exposure awarness advocate. Sometimes I feel mentally challenged about the fact I didn't take the first skin cancer incident seriouly. I'm humbled and grateful for my outcome but feel terrible for others who suffer with it.

  9. Mike:

    thank goodness you are all right. You're right about the sun block, I should use it more often. the UV is stronger than what we think it is. I also used to have a VW Westfalia and I wished I still had it. You learn to view life from the slow lane. All of us are so busy trying to make a living but forget about what's important and sometimes it takes a jolt to put us back on track and straighten out what is important in life.

    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

  10. Bob,
    Thank you! You're right about the jolts we get sometimes. Although most times we don't like them they seem to come just at the right time.

    Those Westfalias are nice. That would be just right for camping.

  11. Mike, I loved the tram ride when I was there, I'm sorry you had to ride it for a different reason but I'm glad all is good with you. You have to go ride it again in the summer and take nice pictures. I also got some nasty burns when I was younger but now I use protection. Now let's get back on the road, still much to be enjoyed :-)

  12. George,
    Where have you been!? Good to hear from you! I plan to ride the Tram again. Although the weather was wet I managed to get some interesting shots as the Tram docked on the top-side.

    I imagine in South Africa a person could get burned pretty bad. Thank you for your comment!

  13. Firstly, congratulations on successfully clearing the hurdles. I am sure you are tremendously relieved.

    Isn't it funny in a sick sort of way how we humans have the tremendous capacity to build things up in our head? We imagine ourselves in every horrible outcome that soon becomes something reality could never come close to matching. No comment on the seriousness of your situation, merely on how we can scare ourselves beyond reality.

    I have been in the somewhat unique position of being close to losing my life more than once. On the other side of the coin I have done something that only God should probably be doing. That's not a discussion for here. I do want to offer this thought if I can presume to do so. I feel I a unique perspective to speak from.

    I am fully aware that life is a gift. We are to hold it sacred. Part of that duty is to take measures to ensure we are not frivolous with it. Prudence fits in here.

    On the other hand, to put a gift back in the box and never enjoy it is an insult to the giver. We are given the gift with the expectation that we will fully enjoy it in appropriate ways. Large and small things. The steak, sure, but just as importantly to savor each and every nuance of the spices and flavors.

    So keep eating my friend. Ride your bike and hug the family. Offer charity to strangers. In other words, the things you have been doing. Jump back into the meal as soon as you can. That is the point of the gift, I believe.

    Your fellow servant.

  14. Dan,
    Thank you! I know what you're saying about how we generally think the worst but this time as I said I had a peace about it that I've not had before. The thoughts were there that this could be the way God takes me out of here but except for concern for my family I wasn't worried about it. I was surprised by this.

    Life is definitely a gift and all the more to be savored and to be grateful after this kind of experience. Thanks for stopping by!