My diagnosis.

For some time now I have been thinking that I needed to do a post on how I found out that I had cancer in the first place.  As I read through many other blogs, written by cancer patients or survivors, they almost all start off by saying that they found a lump in their breast, or had a swollen lymph node in their neck, or had pain here or there, or bad headaches, or some other type of symptom that led them to go see their doctor.  In my case there was nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I was feeling as "normal" as ever.  But God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that it was time for me to get my unknown problem identified and dealt with.

Keeping in mind that I was diagnosed June 6th, Holly and I had spent much of April and early May with our daughter and her family in western North Carolina.  Jill was expecting her third child, and with very active 2 and 5 year boys already around the house, we figured she could use the help getting ready for the delivery and for a week or two after the baby came home.  All went according to plan.  We returned home on May 5th and began settling back into our routine at home.  The next morning I got up and took a shower and Holly started some ironing.  After my shower I sat down in a chair and started talking to her, but she noticed I was acting strangely.  There was a period of about an hour there where I don't really have any recall of what was said or what I did.  So how does all of this relate to my cancer diagnosis?  It was just God tapping me on the shoulder.

Being somewhat concerned about the possibility that I had experienced a stroke, we went to the emergency room for a checkup.  After answering a seemingly endless list of questions, I began getting various tests - CAT scans, MRI's, ultrasounds of my neck and chest x-rays.  Knowing that they were looking for any evidence of possible damage in my brain, I was a bit puzzled by the chest x-ray.  In fact the first x-ray was not quite right so they had to take another one.  The tests were then followed by a long period of waiting, while the results were evaluated.  Finally, the doctor came in and indicated that they could find no evidence of any type of stroke or brain damage, and indicated that I could have experienced a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) or mini stroke.  I needed to check with my family doctor to discuss this further.  And, OH BY THE WAY, the chest x-ray showed some evidence of enlarged lymph nodes in my chest/abdomen so they sent me back for still another test, a full chest and abdominal CAT scan.  Then more waiting until the doctor returned and confirmed there was evidence of enlarged lymph nodes and that I needed to followup with my family doctor.  Tap tap.

Two days later my family doctor referred me to a neurologist for further TIA evaluation, and also scheduled me for a full body PET scan and an appointment with an oncologist.  After further tests and studies, the neurologist indicated he could find no evidence of any brain or circulatory abnormalities, nor any evidence of brain damage.  He said that no further followup was needed and that I should call him if I ever experienced any future problems.  So the reason that I went to the hospital in the first place was totally unexplainable.  But, OH BY THE WAY, look what else we found.  Tap tap.

The PET scan showed an enlarged lymph node in my neck, so it was decided that would be the source for the biopsy.  After the biopsy was taken, but before the results were available, my local oncologist indicated that he suspected that the results would show some type of early stage non aggressive low grade lymphoma, which would be easily treatable.  His reasoning: I was totally asymptomatic, not showing any signs or symptoms of any type of cancer.  You can imagine how surprised we all were when the diagnosis indicated stage 4 (very advanced) Non-Hodgkins Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma, a very aggressive and rare form of cancer.  It was the fact that it is so rare (only 340 cases reported world wide in 2011) that caused us to pursue treatment at Duke as part of a clinical trial.  How we wound up at Duke with Dr. Beaven is still another story about God's guiding hand.

Some might say that the whole episode that led to my diagnosis is just coincidence.  I choose to view it as just another example of how God can and will guide and direct our steps and the events that surround our everyday lives.  He is not a distant God, sitting way up in heaven looking down at us like a spectator at a football game.  Rather, He is actively involved in every aspect of our comings and our goings and has a perfect plan for each of us.  We may not understand the how's and the why's, but all He asks is that we trust Him and surrender to His will.  It is my sincere belief that if God had not sent us to the emergency room that morning, and my very aggressive cancer had stayed undetected, it would not have been found until it was so far advanced that any treatment would have been pointless.


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