I was in Brazil when it happened. Standing in line at a laboratory waiting to find the results of a specimen I submitted the week before after a colonoscopy. The girl behind the desk was attending an older couple in front of me, I recognized her from the week before, she was young probably no more than 22 years old and you could tell she was very nice and personable with everyone she attended probably somewhat unaware of the news she was delivering them. The old couple left and it was my turn, I greeted her and before I could tell her that I was there to pick up my results she asked me my name right away, “Sr. Timothy neh?”. Yes, I responded and she immediately got up to go in the back and get something. Then I waited, and I waited, and I waited. When she returned she handed me a sealed envelope and asked me to sign that I received the envelope. Having signed the envelope, she very cheerfully wished me a good weekend since it was Friday and I walked out of the office into the hall where the elevators were. I couldn’t wait another minute, I finally would find out what it was that made the past 8 months the most uncomfortable of my entire life. I would finally find out why I had the urgent need to go to the restroom constantly and why only mucus and blood came out. I opened the envelope and the letter was only about four sentences long filled with Portuguese medical terms I didn’t understand, but one word stood out and when I saw it I knew instantly what it meant, it hit me like a hammer; “Adenocarcinoma”. It was cancer, or to be more precise colon cancer. On the drive home I was out of mind with panic and nearly crashed my car three times.
In the year and a half that followed I returned to the States to stay at my parent’s house in Anaheim, where with their help and the American medical system, we managed to save my life. The news at first wasn’t very good and there were a lot of questions, the results from the colonoscopy I brought from Brazil used medical words in Portuguese that I had trouble translating and misinterpretation made it seem like the tumor in my colon was in a bad location and I was told to prepare for the possibility that I would receive a permanent colostomy bag. I remember the doctors going out of their way to tell me that the colostomy wouldn’t be that bad and that plenty of people with it lead normal lives, but it had that feeling of someone trying to convince you of something they didn’t really believe and that you could tell it simply by how much they were trying to convince you otherwise. Fortunately it was found that I wouldn’t need a bag, they performed another colonoscopy and discovered that the location of the tumor made it possible for them to cut out that part of my colon and then reattach it together and I would more or less be back to normal. The surgery was a success but a new complication entered the picture. Cancer cells were discovered on my liver during the surgery, so the surgeon performed a second procedure to remove the cells from liver. The discovery of cancer in my liver means that the cancer cells in the tumor in my colon entered into the blood stream and then attached themselves to my liver. Colon cancer likes to spread to either to the liver or to the lungs, once there if it takes hold the possible good outcomes decline rapidly until only an unfavorable one remains; death. In spite of the metastasis to my liver my possibilities were good because the cancer cells found on my liver had clear borders meaning they hadn’t penetrated deep inside my liver but rather were sitting on top and so the surgeon was able to remove them. In the ensuing year I did six months of chemotherapy, which I will say is one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life, but it wasn’t horrible or painful like what you might think. I didn’t lose my hair, I didn’t vomit once, and I didn’t waste away to an emaciated state. The bright side of colon cancer is that it’s “curable” and it looked like I was a good candidate for a cure in spite of my stage 4 metastasis.
I finished chemo and months later was recommended to see another surgeon who is a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California and specialized in cancer of the liver. PET scans showed that their was some sort of mystery spot still sitting on my liver and it was difficult to tell if it was cancer or just an ordinary harmless cyst. The possibility that it could be cancer on liver meant that I might need another surgery. I was relieved to find out that the professor looked at the scans and didn’t see anything that made him worried, he suggested that it was premature for surgery and I should just wait and they would reassess the situation in a few months to see what the mystery spot was doing over time. It was a huge relief and I thought the best possible outcome was going to be my reality and I would be returning to the life that I left eight months before. Then I got punched in the stomach in a way that it seemed like fate was setting me up only to knock me down even harder.
The very next day we found out my father had bladder cancer. Bladder cancer I’m told, is an extremely rare form of cancer to contract it’s rare like being diagnosed with colon cancer at age 38 which I was also told. My father underwent a major surgery which involved removing his bladder and then cutting a portion of his colon out and reforming it into a new bladder. The end result impacts life in that he would never pee the same way again but the outcome for this type of surgery is good and the lifestyle change was doable. The surgery went fine, and then my father spent the next three weeks in and out of the hospital with some complications that eventually worked themselves out. For me the experience was like doing all five rounds of an MMA fight only to find out at the end that they changed the rules and now you would fight ten more rounds. It was around this time that I felt myself kind of losing it emotionally, it hit me harder dealing with the possibility of losing my father than it did with the possibility of losing my own life.
Fortunately over time things worked out and life returned to some normalcy. My father’s condition improved dramatically and he went from a delicate state after the return home to up and kicking and being the dad that I’ve always known. The surgery was enough to cure him and he didn’t need to undergo any further treatment like chemo. I should mention that the one who saved both of us was my mother. She endured having her oldest son and then her husband both contract cancer in the same year and she did everything she could to bring us both back, and she succeeded, I know it wasn’t easy for her.
When it seemed like my father was able to do alright on his own, I decided it was time for me to return Brazil and pick up life where I left off. I was looking forward to returning and reuniting with friends and a couple of days before I was schedule to fly back, I received a call from the professor’s assistant telling me that the professor wanted have a consultation with me regarding my lastest PET scans which showed that the mystery spot on my liver had reduced in size. Wanting to take the good news with me to Brazil I went to the office expecting to be told that the reduced size was further indication that my condition was improving and I was in good shape for my trip, instead I walked out with surgery scheduled two days later. Apparently the reduction in size wasn’t a good sign like I thought because it meant that the spot might be cancer instead of a cyst and it’s getting smaller might have been due to the effect of the chemo treatments. Since cancer on the liver is so dangerous we couldn’t afford to wait any longer and whatever it was that inside of me needed to come out right away. The second surgery was more complicated because it involved reopening incisions from the first surgery where scar tissue had developed, the outcome this time was also good, more than good, in fact I’ve not really thought about what would have happened if they found cancer but I’m sure glad they didn’t. The mystery spot was not cancer. Life goes on.
The big question of course is what does it all mean? Honestly, I have no idea yet. While you’re going through something like this it’s impossible to step back from it and see how it impacts your life. I’m definitely and irrevocably not the same person as I was before and I don’t know who I am at this point as strange as that sounds. Last week I returned to Brazil finally and I feel like the next phase of my life began however I concede that I might be still be in the phase that came before, it’s that kind of uncertainty I have just have to deal with for now. I have a chemo port catheter installed in my shoulder still because my oncologist felt it was premature to take it out, implying that cancer comes back a lot, and maybe I’m not out of the woods yet. I feel like I am based mainly from the results of the last surgery, and I’m not scared much anymore. Mundane stresses and worries about what life had to be melted away and there’s a certain power in something like this. It was a heart wrenchingly painful process but I feel like in the future I may look back at this time and consider it the best thing that ever happened to me. The possibility of that coming true is the road I’m on right now and I want you to know that if you read this far then you are someone that knows me well and I appreciate having you in my life. Thanks for reading.