Chasing Hope in Ecuador

After five years of a retired vagabond life on the dusty and muddy backroads of Latin America, I decide to change my lifestyle to help other people and advanced lung cancer bites me and hard. 

(My blog gives the complete background: www.thebigmozey.com  )

So here's the story:

In Peru, I was getting lost more often that usual. Missing turns, not understanding the maps and what was in store for me when I took off down the road.

The cost of maintaining my worn out Ford Explorer, and at 67, I didn’t feel like I wanted to travel this way anymore. The straw that broke the camels back, so to speak, was having to spend the night in a small town, no hotels and I was low on gas.

I thought to myself, “Self, what the hell are you doin? “

“Do you want to continue on missing turns, ending up low on gas with no place to stay?”

And I came to the conclusion that, no, I didn’t want to travel anymore like this.

What I would like to do is have a place to hang my hat, take off for a week to visit some place, and then have a place to go back too. Kind of like “normal” people, ya know?

Colombia seemed like the place to try hanging out, working with some people to make money online. Well, it turned out to be a bust. All in all, a nice visit to Santa Marta, Colombia. But the plan I had in mind for Colombia was not meant to be.

While I was trying to “hang my hat”, I developed a pain in my side. Nothing debilitating, but aggravating enough where I wanted it to stop.

It started as soon as I arrived in Colombia from Peru. Nothing major, mind you, but it was like someone poking you in the side to let you know they were always there.

I stopped into a clinic in Santa Marta for an X-ray. Doc said I had fluid around my lung. Sent me away with a dosage of pills. After 30 days, pain was getting worse, not lessening. My first inkling that my life was about to change.

I did a little investigating. I discovered that Bucaramanga had a fair amount of hospitals and clinics. And I thought, “Hey, I should be able to find out some answers to the pain in my side there”. 
So, off to Bucaramanga I went.

Rents there are relatively cheap – Bucaramanga is “off the map” for expats. Prices don’t reflect the nice weather, less traffic than most cities in Colombia and still a lot to do within and around the city. I figured I could spend the time here getting questions answered, and still be able to do some photography, eat at some nice restaurants, etc.

My landlord (who’s renting me a nice studio on the 15th floor for $500 per month!) recommended a doctor by the name of Gustavo. He spoke excellent English and hence, an appointment was made.
He looked me over – prodded and poked. Asked the questions – How’s the urination? How’s the breathing? Etc. etc.

He scheduled a Cat Scan and an ultrasound for the following day.

Relatively efficient – got done with everything in about 2 hours and back to Doctor Gustavo’s office. He look at the pics and immediately referred me to a hematologist, Doctor Bolivar. 

Doctor Bolivar looked at the pics and said, You have fluid around your lungs and you have cancer. And he thought the cancer was on the inside of my lung.

Here’s the x-ray - the right side is the size of my lung when pressed on by the fluid build up.   

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There it was, the big C. And yes, my life was absolutely different. Not scared yet because no one had told me yet how serious this is.

Sooooo, the next step. Drain fluid from my lungs and do a bronchoscopy. And a bronchoscopy is where they run a tube down through your airways and into your lung to clip a piece of the tumor. A nasty bit of business, let me tell you. They freeze your throat and then run this tube down through your windpipe. And your lucky enough to feel it going all the way into your lung. Yucky experience!! 

Literally a “gagging” experience.

Draining the fluid is not so bad. They stick a needle in your back, and let the fluid drain through a small tube. I had it done twice and both times, they drained over 2 liters of fluid from around my lungs. No wonder I was having a hard time breathing!! Turns out that the fluid builds up in the lining of my left lung which shrinks the size of the lung to where I can hardly breathe. Meanwhile, the right lung is normal size, but I can barely breathe. 

Here’s a photo of how much fluid they got out of my chest

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Unfortunately, the bronchoscopy showed that the tumor was on the outside of my lung, not inside. Therefore a different procedure has to be done. A mediastinoscopy – a small camera goes into your chest to take a look at the tumor and get a piece of it to do a biopsy. This runs around $3,000 to $4,000.

The prognosis is good to survive. But they need to do a biopsy of the cancer and seal off the pleural space – the space between the lungs and the chest wall. This will stop the re-accumulation of fluid in my lungs while the biopsy tells them the exact type of cancer I have so they can prescribe treatment.

With no insurance and not enough money to cover the costs of the procedure, I was beginning to think “I’m done.” 

I notified family members stateside of the news, which caused a bit of commotion across three cities.

My brother reminded me of some savings I still had in the United States. So I cashed that in - just enough to get that biopsy done.

Now I’ve been told by my Colombian doctors not to have the procedure in Colombia because due to fears of infection. Thankfully they are honest about what could happen. They recommended I get to Cuenca, Ecuador, which has excellent medical and cancer treatment facilities. Plus I have friends there - one who will provide a place for me to stay while I get all of this sorted out and the cancer attacked. 

I’ve also been told that my condition is serious and need immediate treatment - every day lost matters. (So now there is always this fear hanging at the back of my mind like a dark cloud, trying to creep forward and consume me. That part is a daily struggle - keeping the fear at bay, because when it takes over I am worthless to do anything.)

But getting a visa into Ecuador is a huge challenge. Since I was recently there they make it very difficult to get back into the country. We should have that resolved early next week - but Cuenca, Ecuador is the only place where I can get life-saving treatment. 

Returning to the U.S. isn't possible because I have no insurance - only basic Medicare. And that won't pay for either my surgical biopsy or my ongoing treatment afterwards. The cost would be astronomical and I have no place to stay. My total income is my social security. 

Recommended Treatment

The doctors have told me that there are only three possible cancers that I have. But before they can treat me, they have to do a surgical biopsy so they can diagnose my cancer. 

As soon as they diagnose the type of cancer I have, they will immediately begin chemo treatments. Without the chemo treatments I will die relatively quickly. With proper treatment and care I can live a more productive, hopeful life of some significant length.

How The Funds Will Be Used/How Soon Do I Need The Funds

My treatments will cost between $10,000 and $40,000 depending on the type and severity of the cancer. 

It will take 8 days to do the surgical biopsy once I am in Cuenca, and then shortly after that the treatment will begin. So I'll need to show them I am able to pay for the treatment within the next 21 days. That means a minimum of $10,000 and possibly as much as $40,000.

Other Ways To Help

Prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Even just a one sentence asking for God's help for me whenever you think of me would be wonderful!

Leave comments on my Facebook page - any encouragement means more than I can explain. Fighting this battle in a foreign country in a language I don't speak is daunting. It is easy to get discouraged and lose hope. So encouraging words and comments help my mental state a lot.

Urgency

I don't have much time to get the help I need. The cancer has already matastisised, but it is possible to either beat the cancer or arrest it - stop it from growing. If I don't get help by the end of June chances are the cancer will be so advanced I won't make it. 

I believe I can beat this thing with the right help, as long as it happens quickly. The cancer treatment facilities in Cuenca are world class. I already have a nurse waiting for me to arrive, a doctor on the ground there to send me to the best specialist, and a place to live while I fight this battle. 

Many things have fallen into place. I believe we'll get the visa sorted out this coming week, and I could be in Cuenca by June 5. I am so grateful for the people who have already stepped up to help me in this fight. 

My Hopes

to be able to continue photographing scenery, animals and birds that I love;

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to help locals increase their income by improving their internet presence;

to work with some expats in Ecuador to help them realize life goals;

to get and stay as healthy as I possibly can. But mainly to live a life more about others, and a little less about me. 

As I'm writing this, it's starting to rain. Is the city weeping because of my situation? As quickly as that thought crosses my mind, it disappears with the next thought of, "No, it's just a rainy afternoon."  The world will go on. The question is, will I?
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