Friday, March 14, 2014

Wait, what?!

If you're reading this blog then it's safe to assume you've heard the news: I have cancer. Lymphoma, as far as we know at this point and we'll find out the specific type in a few days. It's still fresh and I'll admit we had a period of disbelief because it totally came out of nowhere. "Wait, what?! How can I have cancer? I'm only 34 years old! I run! I drink green drink every morning! I have two young children and a third on the way! That's impossible!" So this blog is going to be my way of chronicling the journey. I want to be able to look back on this in the future and it will also provide a source to keep family and friends updated along the way. 

Before I get started on the background and details I want to say that we are doing well. The question we get asked most often is "how are you handling it?" Well, to say we were blindsided is an understatement. We had big plans for this year, I was training to run my first marathon and we were seriously contemplating a move to a different part of the country. And oh yeah we'll be welcoming our third child into the family in September. Despite all of that, I will say that my faith in God and His plans has never been stronger. As the verse in the blog descriptions says, He didn't say bad things would never happen, only that He would be with us when they did. So I know He's with us through this and there will be good that comes out of it, even if I don't understand it now. So we shift priorities and keep moving forward.


Background
We came to learn of the diagnosis when it showed up on a CT scan I was getting for what I thought was residual pneumonia. Last year I came down with pneumonia on two separate occasions. Once after returning from a family camping trip in June and the second time right after Christmas. Now I had never had pneumonia before in my life, so this was really bizarre. Over the past three years, I had really focused on my health, losing around 40 pounds by changing my eating habits and taking up running.

So after a week on the couch and another round of antibiotics, I was feeling almost back to normal, but not quite. Precious time was ticking away and I was anxious to jump into my marathon training plan. I figured my lung capacity would come back with time and I would just take it slow the first few weeks. Unfortunately, my lung capacity didn't bounce back this time as it seemed like every run was increasingly more difficult. I had a scheduled physical with my doctor at the end of February, so we talked about my symptoms and he ordered a chest CT scan for the next week as a precaution.

CT Scan #1
I should mention that my mother is a nurse (aka Mama Pit bull), so she had listened to my lungs before the scan and suggested that I get my own copy of the results from the imaging department. So early in the morning on Wednesday, February 26th, I went in for a quick chest CT scan and then headed in to work. The hospital notified me that the results were ready, so I stopped on my way home from work and picked up the CD and report that went with it. They had also sent a copy to my primary care physician, but he wouldn't be back in the office until the following Monday.

The report looked fine to me and I was happy to see that my lungs looked good. After that I stopped at my parents house to share the results with my mom. Her first words after reading the report were "we need to pray," which I was not expecting. At the very end of the report were the words "retroperitoneal lymphadenopathy - recommended enhanced CT scan of the full abdomen" which meant they saw swollen lymph nodes under my lungs and needed to get a better picture. Thanks to Mama Pit bull, I was able to get the enhanced CT scan scheduled for the next day.

CT Scan #2
So the day after my first CT scan, I went back to the imaging department for the enhanced scan. This one required drinking a specially formulated drink that would light up my insides for better visibility on the scan along with an injection. They called me when the results were ready, so I went to pick them up after work as I had the day before. It was deja vu all over again as I stopped at my parents house to review the results and my mom's first reaction was that we really needed to pray now. The results showed a significant lymph node swelling with a 19cm x 10cm tumor (about 7.5in x 4in) in my abdomen area that was wrapped around my aorta, interior vena cava, renal arteries, and pushing on my lungs and kidneys. The report indicated a strong suspicion of lymphoma and request to follow up with an oncologist.

At this point my head was spinning as it did not seem possible that I had lymphoma. I was  told by my primary care physicians office that he would call me on Monday to talk about next steps, but Mama Pit bull was already working the phones and calling her nurse friends to find the best hemotologist oncologist (blood cancer doctor) in the area. Tiffany and I were probably in a state of shock and did not want to believe this report. That night our pastor, Ed Hiers, came to our house to pray with us and provide some encouragement as we tried to process everything.



The Lahey Clinic
I began to see God's hand on the situation as I was able to get an appointment with one of the hematologist oncologist from the Lahey Clinic for the next day. He happened to be in one of their satellite offices in Derry, NH that day, which is about 20 minutes away for me. That day has enough to fill it's own post, so I'll save those details for the next entry. This journey has started very quickly for us and I will spend some time writing about where my head and my heart are in a later post, but I wanted to lay out the background first.

28 comments:

  1. Hey Joe..I am sure you will be a winner and soon on the road to run....Good Bless you!!!!!

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  2. Hey Joe..I am sure you will be a winner and soon on the road to run....Good Bless you!!!!!

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  3. Hey Joe, who is the oncologist you are seeing? A very good friend of mine has been battling lymphoma for over 7 years and was getting treatment in Derry. I also know and have seen a wonderful hemotologist/oncologist in Nashua at the Norris Cotton cancer center if you ever need his name. I am praying for you!

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    1. Hi Joan - Thank you, I appreciate all information anyone might have as well as personal experiences since this is obviously new territory. I'm seeing Dr. D'Silva, who I've been really happy with. He is also sending me to Jeremy Abramson at Mass General for a second opinion.

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  4. Good luck Joe. you will emerge as a winner. you have my strong and true prayers. Lots of positive energy will flow. God bless. If there is any help that i can offer don't hesitate a bit.. srivatsan.s78@gmail.com

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  5. With the love of your family and positive attitude you will conquer this. Much love and prayers from Connecticut.

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  6. Will be praying for you, Joe! Also, I had a smoldering cancer in my bone marrow. I knocked a whole point off my count-(1st patient of my oncologist to do this) by eating only organic everything and NO chemicals in the house! Do it!

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    1. Thank you - that is great advice, I am doing it!

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  7. Sorry that have to go through this, but you can do it. You can't have faith and fear at the same time, so I'm sure you will choose faith. Praying for you. You can beat this!

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    1. I choose faith and life. :) Thank you for your prayers!

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  8. Foremost the cancer as picked the wrong guy to fight with.. you will surely emerge out stronger than ever before.. As they say "You have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life." BELIEVE soon there will be a day when you can take the word cancer out of your vocabulary...

    All prayers with you...


    http://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorshipduringandaftertreatment/storiesofhope/index

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    1. Thanks for that link and your encouragement Ravi!

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  9. Joe, I am so sorry to hear this news! Not that a Cancer diagnosis is ever fun but sounds like it's coming at what should otherwise be such a great time for you which really sucks! I'm not sure if you're aware but I went through something very similar few years ago so if I can help you out in any way please let me know! I had a rough year and a half but I came through it with flying colors and I know you'll do the same!

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    1. Thanks Tara. I don't know the details of your situation, but this is definitely all new to me, so if you have any info or advice to share I'd absolutely be open to it. You can e-mail me at delangiejoe@gmail.com when you have time.

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  10. Your strength and courage are amazing! We want read your last blog post as "I BEAT IT! " you have an ocean of support behind you and think about you everyday. ☺��

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    1. Thanks Meggin - I can't wait to make that post!

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  11. Joe, This blog is amazing already. Thank you for making this to keep us far away "Team Joers" in the loop too!... I will pray for you endlessly. You are so great and so strong. Beat this like a Spartan race.

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  12. Joe, thoughts of you and your family. Thanks for sharing your story, this is an incredible read.

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  13. Hey Joe... You are already a winner!!! Its just that God is planning for the right time for you to write the 'I beat it' post!!! All the very best!!!
    My prayers are with you and your family!!!

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  14. Catherine MadrigalMarch 25, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    Hi Joe-- still in total shock upon learning this news. I'm amazed at your unrelenting positive attitude and outlook, and it's truly inspiring. Training for a marathon has been one of the most challenging things I've ever done, but next to this journey you're embarking upon, it's not to be compared. There's a lot of times in those last few miles I think about giving up. This year as I run Boston I'll be keeping you in mind at every mile, and your determination to keep moving forward. Thank you for keeping us up to date on your journey! You'll be running your marathon soon enough!

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    1. Thank you Catherine. Good luck running Boston, I'll be rooting for you from here!

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  15. Hey Joe, just wanted to check up on you. I am so glad that your allowing your friends/family be with you on your journey. I know that it has been helpful with me and mine (injury). Everyday I am wishing for you, the BEST. You, as well as, your family are worth that and more. Love you guys.

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