Friday, March 27, 2009

My drains are out!

I'm now 9 days post-op and Dr. Monson's office called me to get my drains removed. They were taken out this morning, and man did that hurt! There's a lot of pain and a burning sensation while they get pulled out, but the whole thing is over in about 15 seconds. I'm just glad to have them out and not taped to my knee any longer.

The PA also took off the other gauze pads covering the incision / staples and said that it would be best to just leave those uncovered. I was also given the "all clear" to take a shower, which is really nice since I've had to take bird baths for the last 9 days.

With my incision now clearly visible, I was able to measure it and it is exactly 12 inches long (not 16 as previously reported). Evenly scattered throughout those 12 inches are 34 staples, which come out in another 11 days (April 7).

"Zipper Leg" -- That's gonna leave a mark! (click to enlarge)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Are you ready for some good news?!?

I know that my family sure could use some . . . and this afternoon that good news finally came. I got a call this afternoon from Dr. Monson’s PA to say that “we got it all!” Yes, the pathology came back today and I indeed have negative margins and the high kill rate everyone was praying for. I was told that the kill rate was determined to be 95%, which I was informed is a very high percentage. Yeah! I couldn’t be happier (at least not without taking a few more Percocet)!

This means that my treatment is essentially over (all but the healing) and that I will now shift from active treatment into close monitoring. Yes, I will need full CT Scans and thigh MRIs every 3 months for the next 2 years, but the chemo, radiation, and surgery should all be over (forever, in fact, if I they find no recurrence). I for one can’t wait to put this all behind me.

As to my recovery from surgery last Wednesday, my pain seems to be fairly well under control, though my drains are still in. Once the drains slow down sufficiently, the doctor will remove them (likely Wednesday or Thursday). My only concern at this time is that my leg has noticeably stiffened over the past few days. As of last Friday, I could bend my leg 90 degrees without any problem; today, I can hardly bend it even half that distance. That and the area up to two inches left of my incision feels almost numb (kind of like I got a Novocain shot in my thigh). I attribute the numbness there to the surgical requirement of removing the thin layer of tissue between the tumor and my skin. (Here’s an old MRI showing how close the tumor was to the surface.) But the PA was not concerned, so I have to assume that this is all within the range of normal and expected consequences (hopefully all temporary) of this sort of surgery. But otherwise, I’m doing fine and getting around well with just one crutch.

Thanks again, everyone, for all of your care and support. I’m so glad to be able to say that this story is going to have a happy ending . . . and I owe so much to you for helping me to stay strong throughout.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'm back home now and have a new “tricep”

Yeah, the “tricep” comment in the title is another lame attempt at humor on my part (i.e., 4 muscles [quad] – 1 muscle = 3 muscles [tri]). Yeah, still not funny . . . especially if I have to explain it . . . but I’m trying.

As Holly mentioned yesterday, the surgery went well. In fact, Dr. Monson said that the surgery was made easier by the fact that there was no surrounding nerves or major blood vessels. I take this to mean that my recovery time could be even faster than normal, with fewer long-term complications.

But what really shocks me is that after just one night in the hospital, I'm back home and feeling much better than I could have ever expected. Yes, the Percocet does help, but I have fairly good mobility too, being able to walk with crutches and even climb stairs. With any luck, I should be able to shed the crutches within a few weeks.

Funny thing is I have not even seen the incision itself. That’s all carefully wrapped up within several layers of dressings, the topmost of which is an Ace bandage. I suspect that they will change that when I have my drains removed next week. From what I can tell though, my guess is that the incision is about 16 inches long.

The worst part of the entire experience was the nausea I experienced after the surgery. I ended up getting sick a couple of times yesterday and really could not eat anything all day. This was likely the anesthesia, morphine, or both. But I’ve been fine in this regard since last night. I owe a lot to my sister Barbara (the Oncology nurse), who spent the night with me in the hospital and helped me with countless issues, including pushing me with the Physical Therapy. When you're stuck in a bed with nowhere to go, this type of support is priceless.

And speaking of family, everyone in my family has come into town to show their support. My Mom and Dad from Knoxville, my sister Diane from Lexington, and my sister Deborah from Cumming. All have been tremendously helpful. And many thanks to the rest of you for your emails, letters, and words of encouragement and support. Encouragement and hope really is the best medicine!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Tumor is Out of Here!

Hey there - this is Holly...I can honestly say that today such a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Dave's surgery went off without a hitch...we were at the hospital at 6:30 AM, surgery started right on time at 8:30 and was finished at 10:00 AM. Dr. Monson told us that the surgery went so well he was ready to go and do it again on Dave's other leg! No need, one was enough! Instead of a quadricept (sp?), Dave now has a 3 and 3/4 cept...just a small part of one of the muscle had to be taken, but nothing significant. We'll have to wait a few days for the pathology report, but the doctor said that he felt really good about what he got out so hopefully this will be it and all the bad cancer calls are gone!

Well, Dave can write more when he gets home and is up to it...he may be discharged as early as TOMORROW! The Physical Therapist had Dave standing up about 4 hours after he got in his room and he was doing leg lifts for her and for Dr. Monson...I was absolutely amazed at how well Dave was doing and am so thankful everything went well...Thank you for your prayers and ongoing support!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hoping for negative margins and high kill ratio

The clock is ticking and I am now only 12 hours from surgery, which is scheduled for 8:30 Wednesday morning. Though I am confident the surgery itself will go well, I just hope that the pathology for what they remove all looks good.

When the surgeon removes the tumor, they remove a little extra tissue surrounding the tumor as well, which they call the "margin". The margin is then tested for any signs of cancer and the hope, of course, is that these tests are all negative. A positive test here would indicate not only that the margin contains cancer, but also that my leg still contains some cancer. Bottom line -- we want to see negative margins here.

The tumor itself will then go though testing where the Pathologist will determine the "kill ratio" of the cancer cells. Obviously the chemo and the radiation killed some or all of the cancer cells, but we just don't know how much at this time. Though I don't know what a good kill ratio is (90%?), the more dead cancer cells they find (or the fewer living cancer cells they find) the better! So, please pray for a high kill ratio.

Should the margins end up being positive or the kill ratio be lower than expected, chances are good that I'll be asked to go though more chemotherapy. I for one would like to avoid that.

I should know more about the pathology either late this week or early next week.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Like a surgeon

Hi Everyone --

Well, I'm just a day and a half away from my surgery now and feeling a little nervous. BUT, I found the following video on YouTube and it helped lighten up the mood:

Crud, it won't let me embed this video. Well, you don't want to miss this one, so just click here,, and view it directly from YouTube.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Damn . . . Just Damn

Hi folks – sorry to start a new post off with that sort of tone, but I’m not sure there’s really any nicer way of putting it. My wife (and co-editor of this blog) Holly was recently diagnosed with Breast Cancer. A routine mammogram revealed the abnormality a few weeks back but it wasn’t until last week that we got the results of the biopsy, which showed the lump was cancerous.

Yesterday Holly had a lumpectomy at Gwinnett Medical Center, under the care of Dr. Wallace Martin. The surgery went as well as could be expected. The surgeon removed only 3 sentinel lymph nodes (the fewer the better), all of which (at the time) were negative for cancer. The tumor itself was about 2 centimeters in size and was removed along with the surrounding tissue (a.k.a., the margin). No drains were installed, which should make the healing easier or at least less complicated.

The lymph nodes, margins, and the tumor itself were then put though more exhaustive tests in the lab. We got a call back from the doctor’s office this afternoon with the pathology of these tissue samples. The good news is that the margins were negative, though we learned today that the surgeon had to cut into the chest muscle in order to ensure negative margins. The bad news, however, is that the lymph nodes were positive for microscopic cancer cells. As a result, she will need to go back in for a lymph node dissection, where they’ll surgically remove more lymph nodes and then put drains in. This is scheduled for next Tuesday (3/10).

Prior to that, however, we have a follow-up appointment with Dr. Martin on Monday (3/9). It is then that we should learn more about the type of cancer cells we’re dealing with and learn of a proposed treatment plan. All indications are that she will likely undergo radiation therapy, though chemotherapy has not been ruled out.

All I can say is it feels different when the shoe is on the other foot. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m fighting (and I believe winning) my battle with Sarcoma. That was OK with me. But now Holly has breast cancer?!? That really hurts. I guess I never really understood how she felt when she learned of my diagnosis until just yesterday in surgery when her diagnosis began to sink in.

I’m sure many may wonder why this is all happening to us. Some may even speculate various environmental theories as to the cause of a husband and wife within the same household both going through cancer at the same time. Yes this is rare and it’s only natural to think along these lines. However, to be quite frank, I really don’t care why this happening or what the cause might be since nobody can definitely answer such questions. I’ve never seen anything good come out of pondering such topics (especially as a cancer patient), which was one of the themes of my post on 2/23/2009. Instead, I’d much rather focus my energies on beating this thing and being a supportive, compassionate husband.

My next challenge will be to figure out a way to break this news to my two boys (neither know anything beyond the surgery). If I can just manage to hold them off for a few more weeks (until after my surgery), perhaps then it will be easier for them to bear such news (knowing that I’m nearing the end of my battle). But I think I should just stop overanalyzing the situation and take my own “one day at a time” advice here. I just pray that my kids will have the strength to handle such news . . . whenever it comes.

I’m planning for this to be my last post regarding Holly. Hopefully she will start a blog of her own, which I will add to the list of blogs that I follow.