The homestretch

For some time now I have had the surreal feeling that I am in a horse race. I can feel the power of the horse beneath me, legs stretching, hooves pounding, sweat flying. It’s been a long race and both my horse and I are growing weary. We round the last corner and I look to the finish line…only to find it has been moved. Ugh. What can I do? I must stay in the race. So I loosen my grip slightly on the reins, crouch a little lower and give the horse his head. At some point I realize I can not control it all, and that is OK.

The stark reality is that life is not a horse race, until you die there is no finish line. There is always that next thing up ahead, both good and bad. For over a year “the finish line” has been the end of my job. When I reach that milestone I will accomplish X and Y and Z. Wrap it up, put a bow on it. And then my mother’s Alzheimers worsened …

Things that had been easy to laugh at were suddenly serious. This is not amusing anymore. Things are rapidly becoming more than my 88-year-old father can be expected to handle. Difficult decisions must be made. Life changing decisions affecting both my mother and my father. Let’s bump that finish line out a couple more laps. I tuck my knees into the horse’s side and push through. OK, my job is going to end giving me more time and capacity to get my mother placed in memory care; my dad placed in an independent living community and disperse the contents of their home. At that point I will head to the winners circle and collect the purse. What? My husband has cancer? Are you fucking kidding me?

100% honesty here. After the shock wore off I was pissed. Angry in a selfish, poor me, kind of way. I had plans! I had this forced retirement all mapped out! My to-do list was a mile long! And then it hit me. Life is not about control. Life does not present itself in a neat package complete with a well written instruction manual. If we are provided any guide at all it looks more like something from an IKEA manual – what exactly is that chubby little guy trying to tell me?!? Life is not always an easy journey.

I have to adjust my plans. I have to cut that to-do list down to what really matters. Mike’s surgeon said something to us that touched a spark in my very soul. “After your surgery you need to plan on being off work for six weeks. Technically, even with your line of work, you could probably go back sooner, however, you have many years to work…take six weeks off to heal from cancer.” 

How often do we push through? Get back to work as soon as possible? Grip the reins and steer the horse? What if…? What if we not only give the horse his head but also relax our knees and sit upright? Or maybe we need to let go completely and lay boneless against the horse’s neck, arms dangling to each side, trusting that the horse will find its way back to the barn?

Mike is going to take his six weeks off to heal from cancer and guess what? I’m going to do the same. This is not a vacation, there are things that will need to be done, but my approach will be different. I will move forward with settling my parents; I will need to do whatever needs to be done for Mike; I will also do what needs to be done for me. I will ask for help as necessary, I will admit when I am not strong. For the first time in 30 years I will not have to meet the challenges of life while also managing a career.

I urge you all to assess what is important at this time in your life and focus your energy there. Let the other stuff fade in importance or even fall completely away. What is important will be different for each of you. Don’t judge yourself by what is important to your friends and family. Realize that over the years what is important will change often so be flexible. I’m winding down and am at the end of my career years, but for some of you, your career and building financial stability for your family may  be important now. Maybe finishing school is high on your list. Maybe building relationships, or focusing on health or paying off debt is on top for you. Make room for the things that matter.

You have many years (or not) to do X, Y and Z…but you only have a limited time to [insert priority items here]. You define your winner’s circle. You, and you alone.

Fuck the C-word.

My husband has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. So, there’s that. I know it is hard to hear but I have decided there is no way to slip that delicately into casual conversation or ease it into a post.

In this post my goal is to just give you the details as we know them and the promise to return often to tell more of our story. A lot has happened between and during each step below. We encourage you to share this journey with us and feel free to ask questions; we welcome the chance to share what we know. Knowledge is power.

It begins:

  • Mike had a blood test that showed elevated PSA levels – moderate but not off the charts.
  • Then a second blood test – slightly higher PSA, hmmmmm, we need “next steps”, which means a biopsy.
  • A prostate biopsy is a minimally invasive, 20 minute, office procedure. Mike calls bullshit on that statement. He was on the business end of having 12 core samples taken from his prostate. He was awake for this procedure. He says “Minimally invasive my ass!” Literally.

The results:

  • They found indications of cancer in the 12 core samples. In each instance of cancer that they found they ranked the severity from 1 low to 5 high. The majority of what they found was at stage 3 but there were some occurrences  of stage four giving Mike a Gleason score of 3 + 4 = 7 which is better than a 4 + 3 = 7 as that would mean the majority was 4 with lesser amounts having 3. So, that’s a win for our team.
  • Statistically he is young for this stage of prostate cancer and to do nothing is not an option. The choices are either radiation or surgery.

The options and final decision.

Surgery pros:

  • It is done, one fell swoop. Remove the prostate.
  • They remove the surrounding lymph nodes and test them as well.
  • They get a visual of what is going on inside you and can take additional tissues samples if there is any indication the cancer was not contained to the prostate.
  • Afterwards you have an expected PSA level of zero and testing routines to detect additional cancer or reoccurrence. If not, prostate cancer cells are on the loose.

Surgery cons:

  • Very invasive. One or two day hospital stay.
  • Catheter for two weeks. (Mike is thrilled about that one!)
  • Six weeks off work. (Did I mention Mike just started a new job at the end of January?!? No sick leave, no FMLA coverage.)
  • All the normal risks of surgery.

Radiation pros:

  • Less invasive.
  • Equally as effective as surgery.

Radiation cons:

  • Treatment is 5 days a week for 9 weeks. I love my husband, but ya’all know that he is NOT a patient, long-haul kind of guy.
  • If not successful it makes surgery a more difficult process.
  • Ongoing benchmarks and testing are more difficult. PSA levels can fluctuate, therefore, not being a good indicator of additional cancer or reoccurrence. It can create many false positive situations.

The decision.

Oregon Urology and OHSU (more on their role in a future post) agree that Mike, as a younger, healthier man would be better served by surgery and we agree. Radiation is a better choice for someone older or whose health would be compromised by an invasive surgery.

Yesterday we met with the surgeon we selected, Dr. Kollmorgan with Oregon Urology Institute. We feel very fortunate to have him. He has done over 600 prostate removals and will be assisted by another physician who is just as skilled as he is. Mike is scheduled for surgery at RiverBend Hospital on April 5th.

The game is on.

NFQ*

*Never Fucking Quit. You will see this a lot in my blog and on Facebook… both in my posts and in many of my friends’ posts… in honor of our friend and the fiercest cancer fighter ever, Chris Olafson. It was his mantra and we carry it on in his memory.