4 years ago today, I had surgery to remove my cancerous right kidney.
Too much chewing tobacco or mishandling old school electrostatic plotter ink or too much or not enough of something caused a tumor about the size of a golf ball to grow on the upper lobe of my kidney. Discovered I had it after going to the doctor because if some serious issues I was having with sweating of all things. At night I would wake up drenched from head to foot – felt and looked like someone had taken a 5 gallon bucket of water and dumped it on me. During the day, especially after lunch or dinner, it looked like I had just run 5 miles in the heat and humidity of a Missouri summer. My shirt would soak through and the area around my belt, all around my waist, would act as a gasket to catch the sweat literally streaming off my upper body. You could say that my body was telling me that something was wrong.
I made an appointment with my doctor because I am also a diabetic and the gushers of sweat pouring out of my body were rather concerning to say the least. She had a battery of blood tests run and I was informed that it looked like, maybe, kinda sorta that I had a form of lymphoma. Great, just fricking great. She wasn’t sure and they needed to run some more tests on the blood samples. Another 10 days passed before I got another call from the doc, letting me know that it in fact wasn’t lymphoma but something was going on with my kidneys or my liver.
Too this day, it is hard to communicate how incredibly good that news felt. I hadn’t told anyone about the possibility that I had lymphoma – didn’t see a need to get my friends and family worried or to get myself worked up over something that they weren’t sure about, so the “not lymphoma” news felt like a last second pardon by the governor as they strapped me in to the electric chair. Everything else in life that others see as BIG DEALS don’t bother me anymore after having to deal with the emotions and fear and what-if’s I had to deal with during those 10 days between the “may be lymphoma” to the “not lymphoma” diagnosis. I thought I was going to have to start divvying up my stuff and writing a will and figure out who was going to take care of my dog! It’s only Kidney cancer! Hah! Bust out the champagne and cigars!!
I was sent out to a radiologist for a sonogram. A cute little gal performed the procedure and I could tell when her eyebrows knitted together that she had found something and when she said she would be right back and had to go talk to someone I knew that there was definitely something going on. A radiologist came in and looked at the image and told me that yes, there was a growth on my right kidney and they needed to schedule me for a CAT scan or MRI – can’t remember which. It involved an IV of radioactive material that allowed them to see if there was blood coursing through the growth. We did the scan the same day and yes, there was a tumor and it needed to come out.
The oddest thing about the whole deal is that my project manager at the time at work had just returned from some serious peel-you-open-like-a-unraveled-baseball surgery to deal with his second cancerous kidney tumor. No, we didn’t work in a hazardous area, we just sat on out butts doing PM work on a contract management system.
I was referred to a urologist who them thankfully referred me to a surgeon who specializes in kidney transplants which was great. My urologist is this big guy who would look at home on a tractor or loading hay on a farm truck and he has these gigantic hands – fingers the size of Costco hotdogs - shaking his hand was like trying to shake a hand with a baseball mitt on it. I imagined that they would have to cut me open from stem to stern for the urologist to get his giganto-mitts in me to remove the kidney. The kidney transplant doc had little tiny hands like an 8 year old girl – that made me feel a lot better. Plus, the doc had done over 750 kidney transplants and I figured that if he had done that successfully 750 times – taking one out and putting it back in, he could easily handle just taking one out.
So, the surgery was scheduled for the morning of the 14th. They had told me that no, they would not have to cut me open front to back, that they could use a laparoscopic method that involved a few holes and a relatively small 4 inch incision. After exercising my Google-fu, I found some great videos online that showed the procedure, start to finish and it didn’t look that bad at all. A hole for an air tube and a couple of holes for their little Swiss Army-knife-on-a-stick gadgets that had a clipper, stapler, cauterizer and who knows what else. One of the holes was used for the camera and the longer incision was to allow them to pull the kidney out with this gadget that when inserted, looked like an ink pen but when some button or lever was thrown, opened up into a little winged basket/spoon thing to scoop up, enclose and remove the kidney. It was all pretty slick.
I am having a hard time remembering the night before the surgery. I am sure I was nervous and anxious and I do remember having a hard time falling asleep. My bro picked me up in the morning for the trip to the hospital in Tacoma and my boss, who I mentioned earlier had just gone through the extreme version of all this met us at the hospital. After getting checked in and into the gown, the process began. I remember being rolled in to the surgery room and the whole place being filled with women, 4 or 5 of them. I asked them to please be gentle when they did the catheter and that got a couple of chuckles out of them. Next thing I know, they have the mask over my face, I am counting backwards, the process is over and I am in the recovery room!
Everything had gone well, no issues and they said that I would probably be able to go home in couple of days. I got lucky and got my own room with a TV, bathroom, the whole 9 yards. After getting settled in, my bro and boss stopped in to see me and to make sure I was doing ok. I had a couple of books, a laptop and I was all set. The food in the hospital wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and I had a great set of nurses checking in on me quite often. I still had the catheter because they needed to check the urine for blood and I had all kinds of wires and IV’s and other things plugged in to me. As the day wore on, they removed various attachments which was a good thing.
I had lots of friends stop by to see me and bring me various little gifts, all of which I still have. One of the best was a “Big Racks” calendar from one of the local hunting stores. Healthy, buxom ladies wearing about 3 square inches of clothing holding Boone and Crockett-worthy racks of elk, whitetail deer etc. My buddy had the gals at the store sign all the photos as if they were the gals in the picture – “Hey big boy, get better soon so we can go hunting – from Crystal”.
Recovery at the hospital was fairly fast. The catheter came out late the next day and I got to finally get up and shuffle around and use the restroom for real. During one of my shuffles around the hall, I ran in to another guy out shuffling around in his gown and socks, pulling an IV rack along with him. I asked him what he was in for and he said that he had Crohn’s Disease and just had the majority of his intestines removed. That kind of put things in perspective for me and I wasn’t feeling as sorry for myself anymore.
I had gone in for surgery on a Friday and they let me head home on Sunday. Pretty damn amazing when you think about it. My bro picked me up and got me home in one piece and damn, it was good to be home. Due to the scheduling of the surgery, I had done most of my Christmas shopping and had decorated the house with some lights and all that, plus the house was clean! I knew that folks would be dropping by and my friends at work had put together a food delivery schedule so the place had to be presentable. The pain meds were wonderful but I did not want to be on them very long so I started weaning myself off the serious stuff right away. Getting in to and out of the chair was the most painful thing with the stitches and all that, but after a while I figured out a way to do it less painfully.
I am still amazed at how lucky I am – I have wonderful friends and family, a wonderful woman who loves me and I can’t imagine life without them. I sometimes feel like I am just stumbling through life and that I am one of the luckiest men you will ever meet. I reckon that I have been living my life right and that I must be doing something to be living this blessed life. I do, however, feel that I am not making the most out of my second chance and that I need to buckle down and try to make a bigger impact, or difference. I have let life’s winds buffet me in one direction or the other for quite some time, getting by on luck and the kindness of others! There has been quite a bit of hard work and perseverance tossed in there and I get that from Mom and Dad – I just feel that I need to do more and I will continue to strive towards that goal. When is enough enough? I don’t know and I hope that I never know. A challenging life is good – it builds character!
Ok – that is enough reminiscing and self reflection for now! Thank you once again, for your friendship and thanks for stopping by and reading my stuff. I don’t post as often as I have in the past but that is only because life is keeping me busy. I have lots of things to post about over the Christmas break so please check back in and I promise there will be some gun pics that you don’t want to miss.