So where have I been, and what’s the story on this hiatus, anyway???

8 01 2009

Hi folks!  Look who’s finally come up for air!!!  Yes, believe it or not, I’m still alive and kicking.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, and there’s a pretty good reason why.  Initially, I wasn’t planning to tell it (because quite frankly, I wasn’t exactly sure when, or how, it would end), but after a fair bit of soul-searching, and a few well-placed comments from some really important people in my life, I’ve changed my mind.  So without further ado, here’s what’s been going on. 

(Warning: this is a bit of a lengthy post.)

For the past five years (give or take), I’ve been battling cancer – and I didn’t know it until mid-November. 

It started with a little lump on my arm that I didn’t worry about because a) it didn’t get in my way or cause me any pain, and b) I thought it was a fat deposit.  Over the years I thought it might have been getting a little bigger, but my family doc said that it was nothing to be worried about unless it started to get a) a fair bit bigger fairly quickly, or b) started to cause me pain and/or get firmer.  Actually, two doctors told me that – my family doc and the general surgeon that I was referred to about a year ago when it had gotten a bit bigger in size (and firmer). 

It kept getting bigger over the summer and finally it seemed like it was a rock, and it started to hurt if I bumped it (or leaned in a doorway or something where indirect pressure would be applied).  I went back to that surgeon this past October, and we agreed that it needed to come out (still thinking it was a fat deposit).  On November 6, they did an in-office procedure and while they didn’t tell me this at the time…they got more than they bargained for.  They removed a full-fledged tumor that was just about the same size as a baseball (maybe a bit bigger).  They didn’t lead me to believe that it was anything to be worried about, but said that they were sending it to the lab to have it analyzed – per routine procedure.  Two weeks later, and after the local pathology lab had analyzed it and then sent it to the Mayo Clinic to confirm, they informed me that it a) wasn’t a fat deposit, and b) it was cancer. 

The surgeon told me that it wasn’t a killer-type cancer; it wouldn’t spread, it wouldn’t kill me or decrease my life expectancy (and this is all true), but that there was a slim chance that it could re-grow in the same place.  He told me to do monthly arm exams, sort of like how women are supposed to be doing self exams for breast cancer (not to get personal, but if you’re of the fairer sex…you’d better be doing them!), and if I felt anything, to call him back and we’d start talking options.

This didn’t sit well.  At age 30, hearing a doc tell you that you have cancer…well, how would you react?

One of my cousins is a nurse here in town, and when she found out, she came to my rescue and pulled some strings (probably more like big ropes – I don’t know how kosher it is to slot relatives into the fast-track for consultation with a surgical oncologist, but she did it anyway, bless her heart) and got me in to see the best surgical oncologist in the city (perhaps the state) just before Thanksgiving. 

He respectfully disagreed with the “wait and see” attitude.  “Cancer like this is aggressive,” he said, “and with a 15-20% chance of re-occurrence (in my mind, this is not a “slim chance”), we need to fight back pretty aggressively to try and keep those odds stacked in your favor as much as we can.  We gotta do surgery again and clean up what might have been left behind.”  And thus…surgery was scheduled for his soonest opening (Dec. 15). 

When it was all said and done, the surgery went pretty well, but while I was in recovery, the doctor pulled my wife aside and said, “I hate to say this, but I don’t think we got it all; we’ll let the lab do the testing to make sure, but we pulled out a LOT of infected tissue before we got to clean stuff – and I don’t think that we got it all.  I think we’re looking at another surgery to go in and finish the job.  Not right away, but as soon as the incision has healed up, we’re probably going to have to go in again on the perpendicular axis to get into the corners that we think we left, and probably follow it with a pretty amped-up dose of radiation afterwards to make sure that everything is dead.”

Great…a bad situation gets worse.

The holidays, and my recovery, went okay (pretty well, actually, all things considered), but obviously I was pretty stressed about the whole thing (as was my loving wife and my extended family).  I have to confess that I spent most of December doped up on pain meds; suffice it to say that I would have sounded like a blithering idiot if I’d tried to post anything of value here on Brassing.  Pain meds aside, though, my mental outlook was a bit “pressured.”  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t focus for more than about 39 seconds.  I was, and still am, very thankful that this isn’t one of those “big-time” life-threatening cancers, but I was pretty uneasy when I walked into the doc’s office for the followup on December 31.  I knew that one thing was certain; the stitches were being taken out (hallelujah for that!).  Aside from that, though, I wasn’t sure what to expect. 

But…the doc walked in with a big toothy grin (he’s a little guy from New York with a small frame and a pretty dry sense of humor – but a big smile…extra big at that moment) and says to me, “Well, whaddya know?  The margins tested clear!  I don’t know how we did it, but we got it all!  For now, my friend, you’re cancer-free!” 

I nearly fell off the exam table. 🙂

Furthermore, he told me that he didn’t think that radiation was necessary right now because he didn’t think that the benefits outweighed the risks if the tumor did come back.  He said that radiation would probably only cut the odds by (best-case) 50%, which would still leave me with double-digit odds, and it would make future surgeries tougher to do and would make healing not go as well as it has this time around.  Still, he wanted me to see a radiologist so I could hear their side of the story and make my own decision on the matter. 

I had a consult with the head of Mercy Medical’s radiology department here in Des Moines yesterday and got a different story.  He’s recommending the treatment and says that it’ll really be the best thing I can do to stack the odds in my favor.  With tumors the size of the one I had, and narrow margins of clear tissue, I’m apparently closer to the 20% end of the re-occurence scale (maybe even higher, given the size of the tumor), and he thinks that by nuking ground zero right now, we’ll be able to cut the odds by 60 – 70%.  He left the decision up to me, though.  So…while I’m free and clear of cancer (for now)…it sounds like the final chapters of this story have yet to be written.  I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I’m sort of leaning towards going through with it as I bang away on this keyboard.  Time will tell…stay tuned.  I can’t guarantee that my posts will be super-regular in the foreseeable future, but if I’m able (and I feel like I’ve got some value to share), I will.  In advance, I appreciate your patience as I get things sorted out. 

So…I guess I spent a couple of months beating cancer…sorta. 

(And if this story sounds a little re-hearsed…well, I’ve had to tell it quite a few times; I’m getting pretty good at it.) 🙂

Additionally, I’d like to add one more thing to this (already) very long post, and it’s truly from the heart.  There are a number of you readers out there that I know on a personal level, and many more who I frequently exchange emails and letters with.  There were a number of emails, notes, letters, and phone calls from those of you who just wanted to make sure I was okay during this little life-imposed sabbatical; whether I responded or not (and if I did respond and I appeared to have lost my mind – thank you Vicodin!)…none of you will ever understand how much that meant to me.  You (my beloved wife of almost 7 years, my friends, family, loved ones here and elsewhere, and acquaintances who I barely know, co-workers, and all of the medical staff who took such good care of me) were, and still are, the Earthly support staff that I’ve come to rely on to keep me pointed in the right direction (mostly mentally, but sometimes physically too!). 🙂

On the surface, this kind of cancer is a relative light-weight (dermato-fibro-sarcoma protuberans – DFSP for short).  It’s not life-threatening, and it absolutely pales in comparison to some of the cancers that you folks have experienced (either personally or through those around you); frankly, I feel really sheepish by putting myself in the same category as those who’ve beaten lung, breast, prostate, liver, and other cancers that are the really big-hitters.  I don’t say this to make light of what may/may not be in my life now and in the future…it’s more to say thank you for doing what you do.  Being strong and supportive of those who have suffered or continue to do so, or living your life to the fullest despite battling cancer yourself.  Whether you wear the yellow wristband or not…living strong is a demonstration of the utmost character. 

You’re making it count, and you’re teaching me while you’re doing it. 

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Ryan @ Brassing Adds Character

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24 responses

8 01 2009
dowdyism

Wow Ryan – what a story. Glad you are doing well now and I hope it continues that way!

8 01 2009
Glenda Conner

Wow Ryan, that is quite a story and we are so thankful for the outcome and will continue to pray for you and the decision ahead 🙂

8 01 2009
Doug Castell

Wow Ryan! I’m thrilled that the end of this post is positive and that your medical experts apparently are better than even they think they are!

Here’s to this thing fading into a bad memory and never coming up again!

(this is now officially known as the “Wow Ryan” comment thread, by the way!)

8 01 2009
Speedmaster

I knew you hadn’t been posting but didn’t realize you were ill. VERY glad to have you back. You are in my and my family’s prayers this evening. stay well.

8 01 2009
Kate

That’s rough. I’m glad to hear you’re doing better. I’ll keep you in my thoughts!

8 01 2009
Scott

Same for me- i did wonder about the absence of “Brassing” from my inbox, but I just figured you were busy. Hopefully you recover fully and are in no way hampered from driving a 6-speed or using all of your beloved pens. Let me know when you’re free to go out and chat.

8 01 2009
rroossinck

Heavens, no! I’m expecting a full recovery and I’m pretty well finished retraining my right arm to row through those gears, buddy. Have I thanked you lately for selling me this car last summer? 🙂 I’m able to write, too. No issues there. The Good Lord has spared me from giving up those two guilty pleasures…spirited driving is so much more therapeutic than you non-car-geek people realize (Scott knows this already; that last bit was directed at you non-car-geeks!)!

Thanks, folks, for the comments and the shots of confidence in the (right) arm. 🙂

8 01 2009
Deirdre Saoirse Moen

I don’t remember the kind of cancer my cat had precisely (some variant of fibrosarcoma), but it came back in less than three months, so I’d go with the radiologist on this one.

Here’s some of my notes from that experience, though it is relating to a cat, which is somewhat different.

http://dsmoen.livejournal.com/95571.html

Here’s to your continued good health.

9 01 2009
Mark

Hey Ryan. I’d been following your intermittent tweets and gleaned some of the story, but didn’t want to pry.

Thanks for telling your story, and I’m glad it’s not life-threatening. I hope your recovery continues well, whatever you do with the decisions.

9 01 2009
Michael Montgomery

Welcome back, happy new year(s), and I’m also glad you’re on the mend. Thanks for writing this post.

Best regards and best wishes.

9 01 2009
Kim

Hello,

I’m a new reader, I came here via links on other pen blogs, but I’m glad to hear that you were able to find a supportive and vigilant doc! Welcome back and I wish you the best of health for the new year!

9 01 2009
Sharon

Wow Ryan!!
I am so glad that everything has turned out positively for you!! I didn’t know you were going through all that!!!
Hope you have continued good health and hugs to you and Kara!

10 01 2009
S.Otto

Welcome back, & may you live long and prosper!

Your, blog has been a wonderful insight into FPs & it has helped me in between study sessions, maintain focus.

It is always wonderful when you have support and you should really treat your wife, family, and friends to some FP written notes. You’ll get to pour out your thanks and they’ll receive something special. Win-win situation.

Peace be with you,

S. Otto

10 01 2009
Brian Gray

Wow, Ryan.

I’m glad to hear that things have come to a bright outlook.

Keep us updated. Glad to hear that things are well.

Brian

11 01 2009
Alan

Thank you so much for being willing to tell the story. You will continue to be in our thoughts as you keep getting better. Glad to have you back!

22 01 2009
Erin

So glad you came through that struggle with a such positive outcome and thank you for coming back!

24 01 2009
Rick

Congratulations and continued good luck! Stay positive! Remember that every day is a gift and that this is not a dress rehearsal.

29 01 2009
Zoe

Peace and health be with you.

5 02 2009
TAO

Hi, I just happened across your blog doing a search for some info on a pen. However, I wanted to wish you the best possible outcome! I hope your wellness continues.

19 02 2009
Adam

Well thanks so much for following me on Twitter to replace my lost follower. I hope my random babbling (and it really is random) is of some value. Or at least amusement.

Well, what a story this is. I can’t imagine what you and your family have been through but I’m glad you’re back from the brink. And (sheepish guilt), I’ll try not to whinge on Twitter about being tired again.

Great blog by the way.

Adam

27 05 2009
Okami

Ryan

I’m glad your back and that the prognosis is good. Look forward to reading many years of posts on Brassing!

7 08 2009
Rasmussen

Ryan

Terrific news. I wish you the best and am glad to see you back!

11 08 2009
Kimberly

Ryan –
I’ve been following you quietly here, and on FPN as well, for quite some time. Thank you for sharing your story, and best wishes to you and to your family.
I’m working (albeit slowly) on a relocation to IA. I can’t imagine a better pen neighbor to have. Cheers!

KB

13 08 2009
Zoe

Just catching up myself and sooooooo glad to read all is well.

Take good care+.

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