Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the tag “lung cancer”

If I Had Only Known…


Growing up, I had this uncle with a very warped sense of humor. Back in the 60’s and 70’s no doubt we were all exposed to the “they will do it just once” and our parents let us find things out on our own, such as touching the burner on a stove when it was hot. The thought being that the really smart ones would learn from that scorching mistake in judgement.

Around eight years of age, I pondered what would happen if I held on to the prongs of an electrical cord and plugged it into the wall. My uncle told me he did not know and I should try it if I was curious. After all, I did know that the cord was connected to a lamp, so I knew it could turn the lamp on. And then of course there was Uncle Fester on the TV who could light up a bulb by just sticking it in his mouth.

Fortunately, there was nothing in the path of my tragectory as I was thrown backwards from the jolt of 110 volts going through my hand. I hated that uncle ever since. He could have just said “no” and in theory I would have listened.

Then why is it, that as adults, we have such a hard time, knowing better with our judgements if we are to guide our younger family members. A patient recently diagnosed with lung cancer seemed genuinely shocked to find out, when asking the doctor what could have caused the lung cancer, that the answer was smoking. The patient wanted to present any other kind of explaination. Major denial.

My generation had the subject “Health” in school. And during the elementary years, a good portion of the class was committed to “smoking”. Looking back, it was really a harsh class. As part of the demonstration, an actual, preserved lung was displayed, that was riddled with emphasema. It was awful. Compared to the healthy lung which was not black and hardened, clearly the message was to get to the children, and then the hope was that the children would convince their family members to quit. Emphasema, COPD, and lung cancer… three major reasons to never start smoking, or to quit if you can.

And that is the tricky part, if you can. Cigarettes are one of the most addicting habits one can ever be trapped with, physically addicting and the cigarette companies know that. So, when someone has been smoking for decades, is most likely going to be unable to quit, or restart. And no matter who brings the message home, that person is practically powerless to do anything about it.

I did come home from elementary school one year, following the anti-smoking campaign lesson. And I begged both my mother and father to quit, and why. I got several reasons why they could not, one of which was, “nothing will happen to me”. And that is what happens to people when they make that choice to start smoking. They do not believe that they will be the ones to get cancer.

Funny… I thought the same thing too. But no one knows what caused my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. With lung cancer, it is usually an obvious answer.

It is sad really, to hear these words from someone who has just been diagnosed with lung cancer, “If I had only known…” I guarantee both my parents knew, but just as I held onto the prongs of the cord, I did not listen.

It is a horrible thing to watch anyone die. But even worse when it is from something that could have been prevented. And the sad thing is, there are those in my life, that my children will see smoking, and feel sorrow for them, because their grandfather is battling lung cancer from smoking. And that is what they will remember about him, and worry about anyone else that is smoking.

Smoking is not just a bad habit, it is a deadly habit. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, quit now.

And here are a few other things I can let you know now, you can prevent later:
Sun burns skin – wear sunblock
Fast Food burgers – not good for your cholesterol
Clean hands – less germs spread
Reality TV… not very real

Now you know.

The Value Of A Visitor


It is only common sense to think that the most important people in the hospital are going to be the doctors and nurses. I want to present the argument for the family member as one of the most important visitor of a patient. It can be a spouse, a parent, a sibling, but someone who has spent more time with the patient and knows the ins and outs, the norms, what is right with their family member.

Case in point. My father had gone into the hospital for lung cancer surgery. Everything had gone as well as could be expected for a lifetime smoker with other health complications, but overall, the news we had been given was actually quite good. The surgeons had extracted all of the cancer and though originally not planned, were able to leave half of the lung in tact. My father had spent a little extra time in the recovery room as he did not want to come out of the anesthesia as quickly as the doctors would have liked, but overall, it seemed we would turn the page successfully.

When my dad was brought up to his room, clearly he was not comfortable. This was to be expected after being cut from one side of his body to the other, his one arm being placed above his shoulder for an extended period of time, and unfortunately a few drainage tubes. Medication would help with his discomfort. But by the next day, the doctors would want him moving and eating. It was not happening. The doctors chose to give him a little more time. My father was not fighting them, and for the most part, he was able to communicate with them.

But on the third day I got a phone call from my brother asking me about my father’s eye glasses and if I had them. I told him that I did have them and was bringing them with me later that day. When I asked my brother why, he told me that my father could not see the cup of coffee right under his nose. Though my brother should know better than I, my father’s eyesight is not that bad. But my brother was adamant about it, my father could not see the coffee right in front of him. I got to the hospital later that afternoon, and upon finding out that my father had not eaten, in spite of the food being placed in front of him, hunger should have been an issue after three days.

I noticed he was not wearing his dentures. Maybe this was why he was not eating. “Dad, here are your dentures,” as I had the case in my hand. He looked up at me, “I got ’em in”. We traded “no you don’t” and “yes I do” a couple of times, and then in spite of me holding the open case with his dentures in it, he proceeded to put his hand to his mouth and started yanking at his gums as if he were trying to remove them to show me that they were in his mouth. And then he abruptly stopped trying to show me.

I have heard my father laugh so I know that he has a sense of humor, but he is not a “slapstick” humor kind of guy. My brother witnessed my father’s struggle and we agreed something was not right and brought this to the attention of the nurse who then consulted the doctor in charge who then felt it would be a good idea to bring in a neurologist. I had no idea how that would tie into oncology or pulmonology. But the neurologist came in, took a look at my dad, who at that particular moment offered nothing off-the-wall in form of commentary or behavior, and the neurologist felt there was no issue and moved on.

As time went on, having a conversation with my father was only as long as the attention span of a flea before he would seem to drift off. We would get his attention and resume the conversation. Later that evening, I told my brother that we needed to get my father to eat some how and that I would go down to the cafeteria to get him whatever we could to get him to eat. I knew he liked fried mozzarella sticks and in spite of them being unhealthy, I needed him to eat.

I put them in front of him, and again, he did not even look at them. So I placed a stick in his hand, and he proceeded to take a bite. “Hmm… these are good. How did they make them so soft?”, he asked. I asked, “what do you mean?” He responded, “these carrot sticks…they’re so soft.” I looked at my brother and we were both horrified. Again, my dad does not have that level of sense of humor that both my brother and I possess to make a joke like that. Something was wrong. “Dad, that’s a mozzarella stick.” “No, it’s a carrot stick. It’s orange see?”

Again, my brother and I raised the concern with the nurse who again made the doctor and neurologist return. The neurologist sat down in front of my father with a piece of paper and a pencil and drew five columns of horizontal lines and then handed the pencil to my father and told him to draw a perpendicular line through each. My father happily complied and then said, “finished.” My brother and I looked at each other, then at the neurologist who then said to my dad, “what about the rest of the lines?” My dad said that he had finished what he was asked, and then the neurologist moved the paper two inches to the left and just then my father realized that he had missed the last three columns on the right. “Hmmm…I didn’t see those” and proceeded to cross another two columns missing the third column. We went through the same process one more time.

The neurologist told us, your father has had a stroke, clearly on the left side as he was not seeing anything on the right side. And as he walked, he also veered to the right as he could not see, nearly walking into the doorway in his room.

As we are all told, the key to recovering from a stroke is timing, how quickly it is recognized and treated. My father went for an MRI that evening, fought it, and had to have a CAT scan the following night which revealed not one, but two strokes on the left side of the brain. Just two days before, the neurologist had said that my father was fine. But my brother and I knew something was not right. And these strokes very well may have occurred in the recovery room or during the surgery. We will never know, nor does it matter at this point.

There is more to this story from the recovery point of view, but the point of this post, is proving the value of having family involved as much as possible when a loved one is in the hospital.

Going Home


It is a homecoming of sorts for me tonight on many fronts.  I grew up in the Lehigh Valley and tonight I return to the Bethlehem area for a special occasion, one that affects me personally, the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life.

I have been doing a lot of public speaking appearances over the past few years, but on a different level, in a different arena all together, local government.  Tonight, I return to inspirational talk, cancer survival.

It will no doubt be an emotional evening not just for myself, but for everyone in attendance.  Everyone will have their own reason for being there.  Just a few miles away is the hospital where I was treated and cured of my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  This will also be the first time that I have publicly spoken of my survival other than in written form since emergency surgery necessary for a late side effect.  I am giving a survival speech tonight that of all the people that I need to hear my speech this evening, will not be there to hear it, my Dad.  Just a few short weeks ago, he recieved news that he has lung cancer.

It was kind of a good news/bad news situation that should not really have come as a surprise to someone who has been smoking for over 57 years.  He had a cough that has been persistant since the Fall.  Annoyed with the fact that his doctor was ordering a CT scan, which of course costs money, just to check for a cough, seemed outrageous and unreasonable to my Dad.  But as obvious as the answer to my Dad’s first question, “so Doc, what do you think caused this?”, the results for a CT scan for a cold were also quite obvious.

Fortunately, further testing (called staging) would declare that my Dad has no signs of further disease elsewhere.  This is great news.  He will have a great chance at remission, something a lot of 50, 40, 30, and even 20 year smokers do not normally get.

This will not be the first time my father will hear the word “survival”.  He has been my stepmother’s caregiver since a tragic accident nearly decades ago.  His own health path had him face a major heart attack.  Now, he faces once more, one of the toughest fights he must take on for those that count on him.  Most of us would consider ourselves fortunate if we ever only faced one crisis in our lifetime.  Yet my father is now on his third crisis.  But of all things that I hope that he recalls of survivorship, I have his blood.  He has witnessed nearly every day of my twenty three years of survival.

The answer to my Dad’s question to the doctor, “smoking”.  With a positive outlook on his upcoming weeks, and not wanting to take advantage of the opportunity, I am proud of my dad, that he has finally quit smoking.

So when I speak tonight, it will be in honor of a man who has demonstrated endless courage and stamina, a true survivor who must take on yet, another fight.  You will get through this Dad.

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