Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Daddy, My Hero.. [Part 1]

Early January of 2001 my dad went to Mayo Clinic to get an MRI for a nagging rib injury/pain that he had been dealing with for the previous 10 years. The pain was becoming unbearable, leading to the decision to finally get an MRI and see if they could find the source of the aching. If it weren't for the injury he had sustained.. Chances are we wouldn't have discovered the spots on his lung until they had progressed to a much more severe (& highly likely to be fatal!) state. That's the scary thing about lung cancer.. It is such a "sneaky" form of cancer because it typically doesn't cause/show symptoms until it has progressed to a very advanced state or until it has spread to other areas of the body.

That is why a mere 14% of lung cancer patients live past 5 years.. :(

Well, it wasn't until July 2, 2001 that we were informed that my dad needed to have surgery to remove the, Stage 1, Non-Small Cell, Lung Cancer from his right lung. It was two weeks later on July 17th, 2001 that the surgery finally took place.

How scary.. To have a beautiful wife, 4 young kids in grade school and a little 1 year old at home. Then to be faced with the most deadly cancer there is.. It doesn't hardly seem fair now does it? Especially considering that my dad has never smoked a day in his life. Meanwhile, there are numerous people in the world who smoke pack after pack of cigarettes and they somehow remain cancer free! According to his doctors, they are nearly 100% sure that the cancer was due to second hand smoke. :(
Well.. When you're faced with something like this.. You have two options:
OPTION 1: Let the cancer conquer you..
OPTION 2: Show the cancer who's boss.
My daddy chose the latter option. :)

He went into surgery on the 17th of July knowing the details of the surgery but not fully aware of just how painful the recovery was going to be. During surgery, the upper lobe of his right lung was removed (1/2 of his lung in total!). While operating they also found the cause of the rib pain he had been feeling.. Turns out he had swung so hard golfing that he broke off the tip of one of his ribs and it had embedded itself into the cartilage between his ribs!

Lung cancer surgery (Posterolateral Thoracotomy) is the most painful surgery to recover from. ESPECIALLY for a young, healthy, muscular man like my father. They start by inserting a tube down the trachea and into the lung to inflate one lung and cause the other lung (the one to be operated on) to deflate. Then they dislocated and contorted his right arm/shoulder above his head to create an easier access area for the surgery. A 5-10 inch incision is made under the arm/across the ribs. Then they burned each of his ribs and used a rib splitter to break them and gain access to the lungs. They then proceeded to remove 50% of his lung and used both staples and stiches to repair the severed muscles and skin.

A tube was left leading from inside the lung, through the ribs, then out of a incision on his side. The tubes purpose was to drain the excess fluids out of the lung to prevent pneumonia. This led to more pain later on, as they had to pull the tube out while he was awake. Talk about painful!

This story is far too crazy to not share.. It had only been 8-9 days since my daddy had gotten home. I was sitting out front of our house under this big tree with just my dad. We were just enjoying the nice weather when a squirrel.. I REPEAT.. A SQUIRREL falls from the tree right onto my dad! Not only on him, but right onto his fresh scar. I ran inside yelling to my mom that a squirrel had bitten my dad. LOL. But, even more bizzare? When my parents told his thoracic surgeon, Dr. Nichols, what had happened, he claimed the same thing had happend to a patient before!? Ridiculous.

Getting back to the serious stuff now.. My dad was restricted to sitting and sleeping most of the time because it was too painful to do much else. BUT, we were just happy to have him home and recovering. Though, this didn't last long. He was only home for a short while before he had to go back to the hospital because he had developed M.R.S.A. (a severe type of staph infection) internally. We didn't know it at the time, but M.R.S.A. is highly life threatening because it is resilient to typical medicines that treat staph and it can burrow itself deeply into the internal organs.

My daddy was in the hospital for about a week, then when he got to come home he still had to be hooked up to an I.V. (they had him on Vancomycin). After another 4-6 weeks his body began to have a adverse reaction to the medicine. His body was completely covered in hives. (On the outside AND internally!!!) He would get extremely high temperatures as well, 104 degrees!! He was a fit and muscular 199 lbs before surgery and he dropped to a mere 158 lbs post surgery. :(

Hives :(
MORE Hives.
So Skinny! He had lost so much muscle that it was hard for him to hold jack for long without getting tired.

Finally though, he recovered fully and our busy lives went on like they had been pre-surgery. He still had to go back to Mayo Clinic yearly to check and make sure his lungs were clear of any new spots. It was always such a relief when my parents would call and confirm that he had yet another clear check up. Each time, you try to just trust that God is going to keep him healthy and that He knows what he is doing. But it is virtually impossible to not be anxious.

I remember it clearly.. It was mid March, 2006, the day of my dads big 5 year check up. I was riding home from track practice with Hannah Poolman & Morgan Molstead and was so excited to call my parents to hear the good news that I decided I couldn't wait until I got home........... Bad idea.

Me: Hey mama! How was his appointment!?
Mom: Where are you?
Me:.......In the car with Hannah & Morgan... Why?
(tears beginning to swell in eyes)

She then proceeded to tell me his appt. didn't go like they hoped and that they were on their way home ASAP. Poor Hannah and Morgan.. I hung up and just busted out bawling... Not even telling them what was the matter.

The second time hit me harder than the first did. Mainly because I was older and better understood what cancer was and what the risks were.. Words cannot describe how it feels to fall into a situation where you have the possibility of losing your daddy. It's generally an everyday occurence that I pray for God to let me keep my dad here to walk me down the isle. To be the amazing grandpa to my kids in the future. God is so good. So faithful.

The new spot they found was on his left lung the second time. It was extremely small, 7mm to be exact. Dr. Nichols told us that this was the second smallest spot ever removed! What a blessing! Although.. Removal of the cancer required having another thoracotomy. :( My poor daddy. But he is so tough! Can you understand yet why he is my hero? Yes.. Im sure you can. :)

I have the best brothers in the world. My brothers in the world. My brother Josh and his now wife Cala had prom while my dad was still up in the hospital recovering. I remember going to grand march and taking pictures of them for my parents. Josh and Cala were supposed to go out to eat in CF, but they told the other 2 couples in their "group" that they were going to go to Mayo and surprise my parents instead! Even more amazing? The other couples they were going with said, "If youre going to see your dad, we all are going." So they all headed to MN (in a limo!) to see my parents! :)

What a blessing they were to my parents! :)

Well, my dad made a much easier recover after the second surgery. No complications, thankfully! He has been 100% healthy and cancer free until just a few weeks ago. He had a not so great check up at Mayo. BUT, considering this is already a ridiiiiiculously long post.. I'll save that story until next time. :)


Jeremiah 30:17
"But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds," declares the LORD.