Please go directly to Update 2 for the latest on our cancer fight. Thank you, Darryl and Sandy.
To my dearest friends,
I know that it’s been sometime since I’ve spoken with many of you. And, clearly this letter to all of you is less than ideal.
However, you know those moments in life where you think “Whew… so glad THAT didn’t happen to me!”
I’ve been blessed to live a pretty amazing life… with some pretty amazing experiences and have been blessed to know a lot of amazing people.
Yet, despite all that… my wife and I had one of those moments where… it DID, in fact, happen to us.
Last year I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lung Cancer. (I’m currently doing Radiation every day… and then Chemo once a week. It’s a fun life, so please don’t be too jealous.)
But let me back up for a minute, because there’s actually a fairly (I think) entertaining story about HOW we actually discovered said cancer.
About a year ago I started having some shortness of breath. After a trip to a cardiologist and a prescription for Nitroglycerin, I realized that when I took the nitro, my chest pain subsided – bad sign for my heart.
Whenever you have heart issues, there are a series of steps they go through. First, they schedule what’s called an “echo” test… which is kind of like a “let’s kick the tires” and see how they’re doing.
This is followed by a stress test. Well, when I did my Echo test, the technician asked when my stress test was scheduled. I figured that was a bad sign. I suggested that we let the Doc look at the results before we did the stress test. He did and the next day canceled the stress test and scheduled me straight for Heart Catheterization on May 17, 2017.
I figured that I would go in, get a few stents if need be, and be out in 24-48 hours and feel great. However, as I was laying on the table I asked the nurse if they put in a stent.
She said “No Mr. Howard, you need more work than stents will fix.” When the Doctor came back to the room he said I could not be fixed with stents because it would take about 50.
Instead, he informed us I was not leaving the hospital because I was such high risk and were instead scheduling heart bypass surgery within 48 hours. (Apparently, my widow maker artery being over 90% blocked was what they like to call a “red flag.)
The surgery went great. And here’s where the story gets (to me) very entertaining…
The surgeon came in to brief me and said everything went great except…
(Funny word that… “except”… Is except ever followed by anything good?)
While doing the surgery, they felt a lump on my lung that, in her words “was not supposed to be there.” (I was curious, because are there lumps that ARE supposed to be there?)
Anyway… since it was a heart surgery… they couldn’t do anything about the lungs. Which kind of sucks, because, you know… while your chest is split open right down the middle can’t they just take care everything while they’re there?
But alas, such was not the case. They gave me two months to recover from the surgery, THEN they did schedule a biopsy.
The biopsy revealed Adenocarcinoma and a follow up PET scan revealed a lymph node next to my heart that was likely (and was) cancerous.
Yay! Time for another surgery!
This one was way more exciting, as I was actually operated on by a robot called Da Vinci. Da Vinci removed a wedge of my lung, the cancerous lymph node next to a main artery next to the heart and several other lymph nodes that were not cancerous.
Which meant another month recovering from that surgery. At the time, all the doctors collectively, said I should do chemo and radiation.
If any of you have had to make that decision, it is not an easy one.
I decided to wait and see.
In December, we did another PET scan and, well, there it was – back.
This time I was told if I did nothing, I had 6 months to 2 years to live. Needless to say, that was a very emotional day.
One of my concerns I shared with the Doctor was that, even if you survive the cancer treatment and recover, you end up broke and homeless because of all the costs that are not covered, not to mention the money you lose from not being able to work.
And that is why I am writing you today.
Last year my deductible (maximum out of pocket not counting Sandy) was nearly $7,000.00, which maxed out quick with two major surgeries! (We are still paying that off.)
This year, after barely a month in, we’ve already maxed out again. However, it’s not just the medical bills. Every day I have to drive the 40-mile round trip to make radiation. And you’d be amazed at how many “little” expenses pop up every time you’re at the hospital.
During the last few weeks through this first part of radiation and chemo, I have been doing pretty good. I am beginning to have some pain in my chest from the targeted radiation.
The chemo has not been too bad. Usually a little nausea follows the chemo by a few days. I guess everybody reacts differently.
The Doctor says the effects are cumulative, so I can't tell you how I will feel next week, but today is a little nausea day and not too bad. For now, I still have my hair, what little I still had anyway. My oncologist says I will likely lose it, but that is okay.
I am doing my part to get and stay healthy.
I am walking about a mile most days. We have a treadmill in the house so that makes it easy. I have plenty of Dr. Hawkins DVD's on my iPod, so I have been making good use of the time to enjoy some spiritual study.
Sandy and I both quit smoking when I had my heart operation. Interestingly, the doctor said my heart problems were due to bad genetics and had nothing to do with smoking or cholesterol. That surprised me. Plus, we’ve made some substantial changes to our diets. So, we will see how that all works.
There is a woman named Anita Moorjani who went through her own cancer journey. She released a book about it called WHAT IF THIS IS HEAVEN – an experiential journey.
In there she says this:
“Getting cancer or any other illness can either be a gift or a curse, depending on how we look at it. Illness is our body's way of communicating with us and showing us a better path.”
For those of you not familiar with her story, I encourage you to find out more about her. One thing I did learn from her was to not live in fear of cancer, which is where I was at first. There are good things that come out of life's journey's, we just have to look for them.
I have had some wonderful folks offer to help write a note to the people I know to ask for some financial help to offset all the expenses we are incurring.
As you can see, I wanted to do it myself. That way I could let you know the whole story.
My goal, is to raise enough to simply help offset the medical bills and costs of daily travel.
For Sandy and me, that would be one less worry and stress.
A lot of people have already stepped up to ask if they can do anything.
My first request is for your prayers for both Sandy and I. All shapes and forms are appreciated and accepted.
My second request is financial. If you can help, we’d like to raise $15,000.
This will cover our deductible for 2017 and 2018 and will be a huge relief for us.
We’ve set up this gofundme.com page where you can donate.
While it may seem a bit silly in hindsight, I really did decide against getting chemo the first time it was offered because I had read the horror stories of people who survived the treatment only to find themselves unemployed, broke and homeless.
Originally, I had planned to do Chemo and radiation and keep working. But that, it seems, is not the best idea.
So, we are learning to live in the moment. God has given me today. I am trying to make the best of what he has given me.
This has been a tough last year, but I have learned a lot.
Thank you in advance for anything you can do.
P.S. And if you know other big-hearted souls willing to help a stranger, we’d appreciate you passing the word.
P.P.A. We have had to pay over $1,000 in just last 3 weeks alone for radiation and chemo. Anything you can contribute is greatly appreciated!