My Story for The Pink Arrow Project in Lowell

This story originally ran in the Lowell Ledger and Buyers Guide.
As part of our annual Pink Arrow effort, the local paper(s) publish stories
of Lowell folks who have been affected by cancer. (They also have
stories of other people who are dealing with grief at Gilda's Club.)

Anyway - they were nice enough to let me tell my story - here it is:

The Pink Arrow Project was the brain child of one Noel Dean, the varsity football coach at Lowell High School. He noticed how many families in the community were being hit with cancer and he decided his team, the Red Arrows, could turn their uniforms and name to pink for one game in the season and use the money raised to help local people in the fight. If you want to appreciate what "Pink Arrow" has done, spend a few minutes doing an internet search on the subject. Be prepared, get a box of tissues. The results in Lowell are fantastic and the concept has been copied and modified all around the country.

Our weekly newspaper honors the Pink Arrow effort every year by telling the stories of survivors. Here is my version as printed in the Lowell Ledger:

Before we get into the nasty particulars of my trip to Dr. Bott's Weight Loss Camp - I want to acknowledge the power of community. Lowell and the Pink Arrow Project are truly a force to be reckoned with. Frankly I hope no one reading this will ever have to experience the wallop of cancer and the counter-punch of the care and concern of the people that make up the Pink Arrow Nation (PAN). While we were happy to support Pink Arrows with t-shirt purchases and by selling a Pink Arrowbead in our jewelry store, I never dreamed of being the beneficiary of Pink Arrow gift cards or the outpouring of support from the people of Lowell.

Were it not for the support of my wife Julie, our dog Otter, and the PAN, I probably would not be sitting here typing this message. I tried to represent the community support that sustained me by spreading out a sample of the cards on the table when Dan took our picture for this story. 

The diagnosis of cancer was a real kidney punch. How in the heck could a non-smoker be hit with throat cancer? Lesson #1 - Cancer is a cheating SOB and does not play fair.

After almost 18 months of trying to figure out what the heck was going on in my throat, Dr. Lixie at Lowell Family Medical sent me to a specialist. Before we got to that point I tried a bunch of different methods to deal with what I wrongly assumed was some type of allergy that would make me feel like I was choking when I slept on my right side or that would make my voice all but disappear sometimes - especially if I was under some form of emotional stress. We started with a week’s worth of antibiotic and then I tried acupuncture, a naturopath, energy work, and even a chiropractor. I must say that I did benefit from each and every one of these alternative methods of healing, but nothing solved the puzzle. Very grateful that Dr Lixie took the time to listen and to follow her instincts when I finally returned to her practice. She listened to my symptoms and immediately recommended a specialist.

When I described my symptoms and lifestyle to the Ear, Nose, and Throat doc, he was pretty certain he was not going to find anything when he scoped me. After all, I didn't smoke, didn't have any health concerns, took no medication and drank very little. For a 55 year old I was in pretty good shape thanks to a regular walking, eating good food, and some form of exercise 4 to 6 times a week. His story changed once he fed the fiber optic thingamabob through my nose and into my throat. But even after seeing something there, he was not overly concerned. He told me we could leave it alone or remove it during a 45 minute outpatient procedure. I opted to get it gone.

The 45 minutes turned into almost two hours. The mass was much bigger than he thought and they got as much as they could. Then we had the Ultra Fun Waiting Period - is it cancerous or not? My surgery was just before the 4th of July so that delayed the answer from the lab. I had a Monday appointment, but could not stand the suspense and called Friday and made them tell me. POW - right in the kisser! It was really hard to concentrate on changing a watch battery in the store a couple of minutes after that phone call. My head was in a fog and my hands were shaking.

One of the absolute worst things about finding out you have cancer is having to tell your family and friends. That first week or so, I sent emails that basically said "Hey - it is cancer. Don't know all the particulars - please don't call with questions because I have no answers. Will update you when I know the story."

The story was good. The location and type of cancer I had meant that it was beatable. During our first meeting with Dr. Bott, she used the word "cure" three times. I double checked that with Julie when we got out. They do NOT toss that word around lightly. NOTE: Always take at least one other person with you to cancer related appointments - the more ears to hear what is being said, the better the chance that SOME of it will be remembered. The Plan was daily radiation for 7 weeks combined with 3 chemo sessions to be done at the beginning, middle and end of the radiation. I was fitted for a plastic helmet that formed to my head and the top of my shoulders that would attach me to the radiation table in exactly the same spot all 35 times. Yup, it is about as fun as it sounds to be literally bolted to a table, held in place by a form fitting goalie mask.

The highlights of my fight include: feinting once; two visits to the ER - one visit included the Worlds Shortest Ambulance Ride and one concerned a buildup of pus where the feeding tube went in; one two night hospital stay; loss of 45 pounds; a several week stretch where I ate or drank nothing – I was kept alive by a feeding tube; and me telling Julie I was going to QUIT treatment at least twice.

Did I mention all the wonderful notes, calls, emails, text messages, and cards that sustained me?

On the Plus side we made it. My PET scan at the end of 2013 was clear. On the Dark side - Lost my sense of taste. The lingering side effects include depression, memory loss and blah blah blah. 

To wrap it up – Cancer sucks canal water. It is a cheating, back biting, and thief of a killer disease. Avoid it at all costs.

I am going to close with a quote from Dr. Heather Gietzen. She moved her family here from the East side of the state to open her Orthodontic office. “We love Lowell,” she told me. “This community looks for ways they can help each other.”


Don’t I know it.

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