August 14, 2013

Flashback to 2004

The beginning of August has us celebrating two very exciting days; the birth of the quads and mine & Paul's anniversary. But each year as August turns into September I recall what was taking place during these months in 2004. The life Paul and I had 'planned' was being put through our first test. One we never expected we would have to take but in hindsight we are okay that we had to pass this hurdle because without it we never would have ended up going through fertility treatments which gave us 6 of our 7 kids.

July 2004 started out so exciting for us. We had been in California for a little over a year. I was loving my job as a trauma nurse and Paul was finally working in the engineering field. We had just closed on the perfect starter home and were waiting to move into it in September because we were renting it back to the previous owners for two months. We were starting our picture perfect American dream.

Paul had noticed a small lump on the outside of his throat and had shown it to me. I blew it off and told him it was probably an enlarged lymph node due to being sick. He insisted it was more and told me it was cancer. Being a loving wife I told him if he was so concerned to make an appointment and get it checked out. He is a male this wasn't going to happen and in a couple of days his lymph node would be fine. Well my theory was wrong and he did make an appointment.
A month before his diagnoses

Our 1st home
He went in and saw our primary who felt is was a blocked salivary gland and it was now about the size of a small grape. Paul got a prescription for antibiotics and came home. At first we thought the antibiotics were working but about day 7 we noticed it was getting bigger so he made another appointment with the same doctor and she still felt it was a blocked salivary gland so gave him a new antibiotic to try but also referred him to an ENT. He saw the ENT on July 30th, 2004 and had a biopsy done on the lump that was growing quite quickly.

Fast forward to August 4th. I am at work and I was having the busiest day I had ever had as a nurse. My patient was so sick that it took two nurses to care for her. I will never forget the day that Brian and I had tag teaming to keep that patient alive. Around 4 in the afternoon Paul calls me and his first words were, 'What is non-Hodgkin lymphoma?' I told him cancer and asked him why he wanted to know. Thinking about the next words he said still makes me tear up and I get a pit in my stomach because he then said, 'I have it'. I stayed strong even though my world was crumbling. What do you say to someone who had just been told he had cancer from a doctor over the phone and they were totally alone? You tell them they will be okay. That they can fight this. That there are awesome drugs out there. But deep down inside you do not believe a single word you are saying. Instead you are SCREAMING how does a 23 year old get cancer? I held it together and got off the phone. I told Brian I needed to go to the break room. I made it to the door and my knees finally gave out and the sobbing, choking tears came. I immediately called my mom. I needed my mom more that day than I had ever needed her before. I honestly don't remember what she and I said. Probably not much. I have a feeling we cried together. I made it back to the nurses station and thankfully the patient I had been working on all day had finally turned the corner because I was useless the rest of my shift. I know I told someone about the phone call I got and then said I needed to go walk. I walked the halls for I have no idea how long. A co-worker came and asked if I wanted to go home and I remember telling her no because if I went home Paul would know it was serious. I made it til 7:30 when my shift ended and when I got home Paul was sitting in a video rocker staring outside. I crawled into his lap and we cried together. This is the only time we cried together during his whole treatment. I cried two other times and those were the two times I left Paul to spend nights in the hospital alone. That night was also the only night we looked stuff up on the internet. The statistics didn't matter anymore because Paul was not a statistic, he was my husband and I needed him to survive.

He ended up having another biopsy the next week which still did not give his doctor the necessary information needed. The ENT would not transfer our case to an oncologist no matter how hard I tried. He was scheduled for a surgical biopsy for August 12th even though we had never spoken with an oncologist yet. I was not comfortable with his doctor and did not feel good with how things were going. I was able to speak with one of our trauma doctors on August 11th who had just come back from vacation. I asked him his personal and professional opinion because he and his wife were both cancer survivors. Within an hour I had an oncologist at the nurses station, PET and CT scans ordered for the next day and when I called to cancel Paul's biopsy for the next day the ENT called Paul and told him that his wife had no clue what she was doing and was risking his life. His response was, 'She is my wife and I trust her and good bye.' We still to this day have never gotten over the fact that a doctor first gave a cancer diagnoses over the telephone and then treated Paul the way he did. To say we don't like him is a huge understatement.
This is the funniest picture ever because if you know my husband you know the chemo must be the reason he is holding a book. My husband never reads unless it is in a magazine form!
Baby Ella and her brother-in-law

A break in chemo for some family time
Over the next couple of weeks Paul underwent many different tests, scans and more biopsies. He donated sperm because I knew the chemo could destroy any chance of having kids once he was cancer free. On September 15th Paul was admitted to the hospital to begin his fight against cancer. The small lump that Paul first noticed the middle of July had now spread from ear to past midline of his chin and stuck out  so far that he appeared to not have a neck at all. His tumor was rapidly growing which would give him a huge advantage to beat this thing. We knew his first round of 8 would have to be inpatient but we thought he would complete the rest on an outpatient rotation. Oh how wrong we were. I remember day 2 of treatment when we realized we would be spending the next months as residence of the oncology floor. He would have one week inpatient and then be home for two weeks then repeat this 7 more times. It didn't take take us long to realize that those two weeks would be interrupted with multiple blood draws, and overnight stays in the hospital to get blood and plasma. The best thing was that 3 days into treatment we were already seeing the tumor shrinking. You may of heard us shouting Hallelujah on that day in September.  

Christmas and about half way done with chemo. (These are the walls we would paint mid-chemo. Oh how badly they needed color!)

We finished round 1 and were sent home. He only had one bought of nausea and that was when they served him zucchini one night and from then on out he learned to keep meals to things such sandwiches, mashed potatoes, chicken fingers, muffins and other items that had no smell. Refusing any breakfast trays to come in until he asked for them also kept the nausea at bay because the smell of bacon and eggs at 8:00 in the morning was more than he could handle. 
Our life became the hospital. We would get the phone call to come in and we would check in with suitcases packed with everything we would need for the week. I often would not leave the hospital except for occasional runs to Chipotle. We would forget that life was still going on outside the four walls of the hospital. We would bring our own sheets, our own towels, our pillows and enough clothing to have choices. Paul refused the hospital gowns because he did not want to admit that he was a patient. Hard to do when every time he got out of bed he had to drag along an iv pole! My work commute was shortened from 5 miles to two long hallways. I would get up and shower in Paul's room then make the walk from the oncology unit to the trauma ICU five minutes before the start of my shift. For all my breaks I would stop by Paul's room for a quick visit and then back to work I would go. We often got the knock on the door at 3 in the morning asking if I could come in early. I really had no excuse to say no since I was already there. 

We had date nights, they were just in the hospital cafeteria. We had friends over, we just all camped out and watched American Idol in our favorite room of 123 or 100. We had favorite nurses and we had some we asked not to have. I was never Paul's nurse. I was always his wife. I never ever turned off his pumps even when they drove us nuts because the nurse was taking too long. There was one night when his call light had been on forever because his chemo had ended and a new one needed to be hung. The beeping of his pump was driving us cray and I needed to work the next morning. I told Paul he needed to go out and find a nurse to turn the thing off. He walked out and came back with the dang thing still beeping. When I asked him why he didn't find a nurse he told me they were all in a room down the hall doing cpr on a man. The beeping no longer bothered us that night and we realized that not everyone would win the battle with cancer. 

On days of discharge we would literally watch each drop of medicine drip into his iv. We counted down the hours and then the minutes until Paul signed the discharge papers. Why? Because when we weren't stuck in the hospital we were busy living the life of newlyweds who had a new house, no children and lots of free time. We went to movies, went out for dinner, spent weekends picking paint colors and painting all the white walls in our house. Paul also went to work everyday in between his sessions. We did not see Paul as someone who was sick. We use to tell people that he doesn't look like your typical cancer patient because to us he was still just Paul but with a totally bald head. Now we look at pictures and he so looked like a cancer patient!! 
Good times in between chemo

Steriod puffiness in full effect


Chemo & radiation done and the hair was growing back!
One year from diagnoses.
It seems like so long ago since we received that diagnoses of the big "c" word. Like maybe it actually happened to someone else but then his annual checkup and lab work roles around and reminds us that another year has passed and we question whether he will remain in remission for another year or will he have to fight the battle again. It has been 9 years but today as I made the appointment for this years scan the pit in my stomach has returned. It will remain there until September 9th when he will meet with his oncologist. We pray for another year of Paul being a survivor but if the battle needs to be fought again he will come at it with full force because he has seven amazing reasons to fight that he didn't have back in 2004!





5 comments:

  1. You guys are an amazing couple and this story was so touching. Reminds us not to sweat the little things and to live for every day. You're a wonderful wife, Krista!

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  2. I love stories with a happy ending! The both of you, so young & strong. Praying for good news on his check up.
    Mary/Boston

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  3. You have an amazing story and both of you are so strong!! I admire you, as a wife and mother! Praying that you get good news in September.

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  4. You two are so cute and sweet to read about. You are amazing and I am always impressed with how well you handle things. Since you have talked about donating sperm and doing IVF, may I ask how Drew came about in your next set of reader questions? Just a miracle/special boy in his own way!

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  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Krista! Amazing to look back and recount all the blessings, and I bet it made you & Paul all the more strong in your marriage & faith. Will be praying for C-Free news!

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