Many have been asking for an update to my health, and this post is my attempt to bring you up to date. I had a tumor removed from my throat last month. Scary to think of, I know. Everything is fine now and I can finally say that I am fully recovered (praise God!). This is a long post, but I enjoyed writing it. It is nice to reflect on a traumatic experience and really see how God took care of me and my family.
January 27th was an exciting day. I drove Chris to Denver to fly out to Minnesota to help manage his first live Ken Davis comedy concert. I was planning to have fun with the kids: make popcorn and watch some Ken Davis videos (that’s who daddy is working for!). I returned home and got working. Without hardly a thought, I ate a raw carrot, a favorite snack of mine. As the evening wore on, I felt as if the carrot never made it all the way down. I kept swallowing, and the swallowing became difficult. We watched our movie and got everyone down for the night. By the time I went to bed, the swallowing was painful. I woke often in the night with this pain every time I swallowed. The pain shot up my chest and back and across my shoulders. It was a very uncomfortable night’s rest.
The next morning I tried to to push things through by eating a banana. It only added to my discomfort. I called my doctor, made an appointment, and asked a close friend to come over to be with the children. I told the doctor that I could not eat – only sip – and that swallowing caused me pain. He scheduled me for a dilation of the esophagus – a fairly standard procedure that I had five years ago – the next morning.
I needed to go in and have this procedure, but Chris was out of town (what bad timing!). My girl friends stepped up to help. I thank God for my church and friends; they are filled with wonderful ladies who helped by bringing over meals and watching kiddos. Poor Chris really wanted to be home for me but could not. I tried to tell him not to worry, that I would be fine, but he was still anxious being so far away. My friend Wanda took me to the hospital, such a good friend to take me in and even pray with me (she has six children herself!).
The procedure went fine. I woke up in my room and there was Wanda with a big smile on her face. Chris had already called and talked with Wanda. The pain in my esophagus was gone, finally! A nurse gave me juice to drink. I told her that I was a busy lady with 16 children. Pretty soon I had a couple nurses in the room all asking questions. Their curiosity helped me wake up. I was finally able to talk with Chris myself and I reassured him that I did feel better and that I was in good hands with Wanda and the room of nurses.
The Discovery of a Lump
We all thought the drama was over, but that was just the beginning. The surgeon discovered a lump in my throat, even took some pictures of it with the scope he used for the dilation. Another procedure was scheduled the next week to further investigate. This procedure Chris would be home. I was looking forward to him being with me. The thought of a lump in my throat was not reassuring, though I felt a peace about it and wasn’t too worried at the time.
This next procedure was an endoscopic ultrasound meant to measure the size of the lesion/lump and get a needle biopsy done. The lesion turned out to be bigger than first thought, measuring 5 cm, taking up about 3/4 of the space in my esophagus. This doctor was just as puzzled as the first. It was not ordinary. They started calling the lesion a “tumor,” but hesitated to call it cancer. It seemed like they didn’t want to say too much.
Another appointment was scheduled, an appointment to explain the news of the biopsy. We were told that some spindle cells were found and some atypical others that they just did not know much about. The biopsy was not conclusive, it could or couldn’t be cancerous. We began to wonder if the biopsy was even worth it. The doctors consistently seemed puzzled, insisting that the lesion was abnormal, unusually large, and “probably no big deal.” There was talk of the worst case scenarios – cancer and chemo – always coupled with the low probabilities. Still, hardly reassuring. All the analysis wasn’t adding up to much. The growth was in my throat, and any which way you looked at it, it needed to come out. But first, a CAT scan was scheduled.
Chris’s grandma had throat cancer in the 80s – so bad that she lost her voice box in the operation. He talked a lot with his mom, reconstructing the medical past that occurred back then in his family. The worst thoughts crept in. The CAT scan came and went, and we finally got a surgeon (a doctor who could actually do something about this problem). What a very nice man he was, he took the time to explain what needed to be done and he showed us a model of a throat and lungs and how everything in your chest area is so close together. He seemed very confident in what he had to do. He would go in through my right side through my ribcage and to my esophagus, peal from behind and capture the tumor in a mesh bag. The tumor was located in between the lining of my esophagus and towards the back off the left nearer to my heart. He, too, figured that the tumor was probably not cancerous and he would not be taking any lymph nodes.
After analyzing our calendars, we decided the best time for surgery was the very next day. Whew! What a whirlwind the rest of that day was. We went home but I had to be back at the hospital later for pre-opt and blood draws. That night I went to sleep pretty exhausted. I woke very early the next morning but once again had to fast, as I had to check in just before 7:00 AM and we had a 40 minute drive.
Soon I was tucked in once again to a comfy bed and ready to go back to surgery. I woke up and felt very cold and I felt like I couldn’t breath very well. I asked the person on my left if they could hold my hand but I don’t remember much else. When I woke I saw Chris and was very glad. I also looked at the clock on the wall and it said 4 PM. Wow! It was late. I noticed that I was pretty uncomfortable and sure enough I could not speak up. My right arm was so sore I could hardly lift it. I could not get a deep breath and my ribs ached. I soon found out why I couldn’t get a deep breath: the surgeon had to collapse my right lung in order to get to the tumor, and I had a tube to drain fluid from my lung. He had used video assisted thoracic surgery to minimize incisions – which was good – but towards the end of the surgery he had to use regular tools as the tumor was a bit stubborn. All of this was much more painful that I had mentally prepared for.
I don’t remember much of the night at the hospital. I was pretty out of it, sort of a blessing as I was in a lot of pain. It was a difficult night as I kept waking up. The hospital was noisy, reminding me why I enjoy home birth, all sorts of noises and buzzers and beeps.
I felt a bit better the next morning. We never did turn on the TV. Chris read to me from one of my favorite books, The Hiding Place, and he read it with a funny Polish accent. I enjoyed listening to him and it passed the time. Wanda had my 3 older boys and Hannah at her house and she stopped by once without them and once with them. It was nice to have a visitor and to see some of the kids. I improved greatly as the day rolled on. The tube was taken out of my lung and I was able to take a shower. My blood pressure improved some and I was ready to go home.
The week was slow to recover. It took longer than we had anticipated. Friends whipped up a meal plan schedule, so very nice of them, keeping our large family well fed. I was on a liquid diet not able to swallow as I was still healing, but the meals added excitement to our home. The kids would wonder what was coming next.
Prognosis: Cancer Free!
We went back to the surgeon one week later. Though the surgery went fine, he told us that it was a little bit more involved then he expected. The good news was finally validated: the growth was totally benign. Yippee! He did say, though, that the tumor was not what he thought it was. He even presented it at a medical board earlier that week. The growth was called a Schwannoma, a tumor of the nerves, very rare to appear along the esophagus. He said it was only the 15th one found in the US, which explained why all the other doctors were puzzled by it. The surgeon said my lungs look beautiful and that I am very healthy and I should go and have a wonderful life.
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. It was an unstable couple of months, but God’s hand was in it all the time. It means a lot to have good friends like you who will take time to pray and help out. I’m feeling very thankful and blessed.