The last quarter of 1988 was one of the worst times of my life, though I really should not set the bar based on that. 30 years ago, I was facing cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I spent the last two months of the year, undergoing tests to determine just how bad my cancer was. However starting 1989, was not going to be any better, because I was going to have to undergo one final diagnostic procedure, and it was going to be a big one, and recovery time was going to be an issue. Up until this time, proudly, I missed very little time from work. But this procedure was going to be much more extreme. My memories of this time period are just as vivid today as they were back then.
30 years ago, actually a week ago, the Philadelphia Eagles visited the Chicago Bears in a playoff game, nicknamed “the Fog Bowl,” because of the strange weather phenomena that took over the stadium as fog engulfed and dropped into the stadium, making it nearly impossible for us to watch the game, let alone, the players to actually see what was happening on the field. Today, 30 years later, the Philadelphia Eagles are again travelling to Chicago to play the Bears again in another playoff game, though no obscene weather is expected this afternoon. But who knows? No one expected that bizarre weather back then.
For the majority of my life, up until 1988, I was fairly healthy, only one minor surgery when I was six years old. And already in 1988 I had received many new surgical scars, just to determine what stage of Hodgkin’s I was dealing with. Now for those dealing with Hodgkin’s today, please, please appreciate the fact that you do not have to undergo this procedure, the laparotomy, to stage the cancer. You get the PET scan.
What was especially frustrating for me, because I was more than aware of the concept of wanting to get this treated sooner than later, especially with my wedding coming up in five months, but if this was going to be the end all and determining factor of treatment options, why not just have skipped all of the other testing, and go right for this? Of course, looking back, I can understand why now, but back then, it was just so frustrating.
For many of my readers who are long term survivors, this is deja vu for you, and for those who do not understand what exactly the laparotomy is, here you go:
There would be several biopsies performed through the 8″ incision on my abdomen. My liver, some lymph nodes, and with Hodgkin’s being a cancer of the lymph system, the decision was made to remove my spleen. Back then, the spleen was often deemed “unimportant”, able to live without, and to a degree, we can, I do, but it comes at a cost when it comes to fighting infections, and today, science knows this, and spleen removal is not done as often anymore because of those risks.
Up until this point, I had only one lymph node that tested positive for Hodgkin’s. I was currently at stage 1. Other biopsies and tests and blood work showed nothing. Just as trying to play football in fog, getting the proper staging for me was just as difficult to do. But just as there was a winner and a loser in that football game, my spleen was going to determine my outcome.
My spleen came back from pathology, fully involved with Hodgkin’s. My staging changed from stage 1 to stage 3b (which meant there were symptoms with the staging. The full diagnosis, staging, labeling, was “Hodgkin’s Disease, 3bNS”. The NS stood for “nodular sclerosing” which is one of the types of Hodgkin’s classifying its aggressiveness, determining treatment options.
There was one thing I had to get through in the immediate moment however, THE PAIN!!!!!! I had never had a major surgery like this before. And now having been cut from my chest, just below my belly button, my insides torn apart to allow the biopsies, the pain was unimaginable.
As I continue through this anniversary journey, my memories are quite clear of what happened and how.
And though I am glad this scar is just that, a memory, it is still there to remind me of where I came from, and a reminder to all the new patients dealing with this diagnosis today of the progress that has been made.
And just as my body has healed from that surgery back 30 years ago, I am routing for the Eagles to be passed their memory of the Fog Bowl, and have my fingers crossed for a victory today to avenge that loss 30 years ago.