Surviving Cancer and a Good Attitude
the sun rises on another day
Faith not Fear
Well, here I am again. I sat here last year about this time writing articles and trying to create income from them with no idea of what was fixing to happen to me. I am here to write this article to hopefully give some encouragement and hope to other facing what I faced this past year. Before you continue, I think God wanted me to do this, if that turns you off, so be it.
A little background info
My story starts like this, 51 years old, non-drinker, smoker (not anymore), father and husband. In late February of this past year, while shaving I noticed a lump on my neck. I knew it wasn't normal but there wasn't any pain associated with it. This was on a Sunday, Monday I call my primary physician Dr. Renata Batko and made appointment to her look at it. On Tuesday i was at her office. She examined me and because there wasn't any pain associated with it she gave me antibiotics the thinking it was just an inflamed lymph node.
A blessing in disguise
I filled the antibiotic prescription and began taken them according the label on the bottle. After the first couple of days, I began to get sick, I was allergic to medication she had given me. I never been allergic to any medication before, but there it is. I went back to the office to maybe get another prescription for lump on my neck. While I was there she suggested just to make sure nothing was going on, maybe I should go have CT scan. I agreed and her office mad the arrangements with the hospital to have the procedure done.
The day the results came back from the hospital the doctors office called me on my cell and said that I needed to see my doctor. So I did and the next day I was back to the doctors office assuming that she was going to give me more antibiotic to take care of what they had found. I was wrong. She was pretty blunt about it, you have cancer. I guess I didn't really realize the words coming from her mouth, I heart didn't drop, I didn't panic, I didn't think much at all really, she offered me a prescription for something to help me sleep, I said , "that's OK, I'm fine." But I took the prescription and had it filled anyway. She also suggested that I go see an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist. She gave the number of one she knew, I called from my cell phone when I got back to my truck in the parking lot. The doctor wasn't available, but his associate was and so I made appointment with him, looking back that was great decision.
Enter Doctor Craig Richmond, ENT and surgeon. I had been online reading about what it could be and the techniques available. The robotic surgery was what I wanted, less evasive, quicker healing time and less down time, I am self employed and that seemed really important at the time. I met with him and needless to say I was less than accommodating toward him when I found out that he didn't do the robotic surgery, he wasn't swayed and carried on the examination anyway. He told me that I had stage 4 cancer, it was on my right tonsil and my lymph nodes and suggested that I go to see a radiation doctor and Chemo doctor, he gave the names and I agreed to follow up.
Telling your family
Walking out of the doctors office I was starting face the facts of what was really happening to me. I still had not told my wife and family anything other than that I had a possible infection that I had to a specialist for. I think my wife kinda had an idea, but when the words came out my mouth that I had cancer, I could almost feel her heart drop and the anxiety take over. I told her about the other appointments so she could be there with me. This was more for her than me, I was still not afraid or worried about the outcome, I guess I felt from the beginning that everything was going to be ok. I had to still my parents and my son, the biggest thing was to show no fear I guess, that made it a lot easier on them. I basically told them that I was going to be real sick for awhile, but I wasn't going to die. I always felt that way, I never intended to die or go anywhere anytime soon.
Treatment and Recovery
I met with my Radiation doctor, Doctor Chad Levitt and he said that he could take care of the cancer with radiation only if I wanted to go that way. I didn't. I was like this, get out what you can get out, and then we will kill whats left. Throat radiation is problably the worst treatment you can have he told me, it was going to be tough so be ready for a lot of pain, they were going to dang near kill me to save me. I said, "so be it, let's do it."
Then it was time to see the Chemo Doctor, or Oncologist if you want, Doctor Seekath Reddy. Dr. Reddy met with me and my wife and suggested a very rigorous attack that required the installation of a port in my chest to handle the strong chemotherapy. He also informed us that the cancer was due HPV (the human papalona virus) that there had been over six thousand cases over the past year. If I did everything that I was suppose too, I had about a eighty percent survival rate. I really don't think I heard that, I never thought I wouldn't survive.
After the way I treated Dr. Richmond on the first visit, I wouldn't have blamed him if would had told me to find someone else. But, I guess with what I was about to face he expected an attitude, looking back. He operated on my neck and throat for over eight hours and was, by all accounts of everyone there, given completely out when he finished. In my opinion, he gave all he had to me and then some. He told me that he was able to remove about 95% of the cancer during surgery, the remaining amount was on my carotid artery and Juggler vein. and I was told that older patients had a real problems with having their tonsils out, but I never flinched and was eating mashed potatoes and gravy the day after surgery. I was bound and determined that this wasn't going to keep me down, attitude was still in check.
After about three weeks of recovery it was time for the radiation and chemo to start. I had the port installed about two weeks after the throat surgery, out patient surgery to put it in my chest and connect the line to the main artery feeding my heart.
Dr. Levitt's office had to make a mask for me to wear during the radiation, that was a challenge in it's self. The mask was to hold me still while they radiated my neck in a certain location to kill the remainder of the cancer. I was to have 30 treatments. The last ones were the worse, it's an accumulative type thing, at first it doesn't seem bad at all, but when it's done it isn't done for a couple more weeks. I was told that I was probably going to need a feeding tube, that when they radiate your throat, it was going to hard to swallow and I was going to loose my taste buds and saliva glands, which would also make swallowing very difficult. I refused. I would not give up on eating, I eat mashed foods, soups and lots of water. Then there was the pain pills, they helped tremendously, but they are very addictive. I'm just saying.
I also would go once a week for six hours a trip to the Chemo doctor for treatments. They plugged the line into the port and I would sit with my lap top and read or do something for that time. Then after they were done, back over to the radiation doctor. Six weeks of this, seems like a long time ago now, my last treatment was June 19th, 2011. Less than six months ago.
Now here I am
I had another CT and PET Scan back at the first of September. Me and my wife met with Dr. Reddy the Oncologist, right now neck is clean and clear of cancer. I am eating well, taste buds are back, port has been removed and saliva glands are slowly getting better. I am trying to put on a few pounds, lost a bit of weight during this whole process, but that was to be expected when you can't eat anything but liquids for a couple of months.
Through all of this I had great doctors and the one doctor that I treated the worst Dr. Craig Richmond has been great. I feel like that we are actually friends now as much as doctor, patient. Doctor Reddy and Doctor Levitt have been great as well, they have been super to me and my family. If you are in the Atlanta area and are looking for doctors, I would recommend these doctors to anyone. They have my vote 1000 percent. They are great and very understanding and make everything you face much more tolerable.
I have to add this. The prayers. The church that my Mom and Dad go too prayed for me. My mom and dad prayed for me daily. My cousins, my brother and sister in laws, everybody I know prayed for me. I never was afraid of dying, it was like God told me when it all started not to worry that it would be ok. That helped me to be strong and have a great attitude through the whole thing. My doctors all marveled at how I handled this thing and how I never let it get me down or depressed. Yeah, sure there was some bad days, but I never let anyone or anything keep me down long. I was always trying to help myself recover. God would give me the strength to work a little while every day. I would pressure was the deck one day, couple of hours of work, get off the couch. Paint the bedroom over a couple days, get off the couch. Go out in the yard and do something, get off the couch. God gave the strength to face a new day every day, I would thank him every day for that day and every day to come.
Keeping on track to get my strength back to full on of what it was back last February when this all started. I am trying to work a couple of day's a week now, by all accounts, I wouldn't to be where I am until at least a year after chemo and radiation. Even social security has given me full disability from the letters that they received from the doctors back last April. But, you know what, I feel pretty good and have pretty good days now. I thank God everyday for his blessing and think he left me here to share my story of faith and triumph with those who are facing this very terrible disease. I want those who are finding out that they have cancer that it's not an automatic death sentence. Keep a good attitude, keep in faith and don't sit down and give up. I really think that is a big deal, don't sit down, keep doing something when ever you can. If you can give yourself a day or two a week where you can accomplish something, you will be amazed how that will help your attitude. When you sit down and give up, it may mean that you will never get up again. Yeah, sure there will be bad days, days when you don't feel like doing anything, but you have to try. If you can, force yourself to get up and walk around the house, do a load of laundry make yourself feel like you accomplished something that day and the days will feel a lot better. Thank God every day for the blessings that you have had and the one yet to be recieved and remember the next day be the next great day of recovery.
God bless you all and if you ever need any inspiration, remember me, God left me here for a reason, if you need to talk, I'm here. Russ Cochran
Me less than six months after last treatment
cut from ear to throat back in March 2011
I lost my brother to heart problems at 30yrs old
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