A Cancer Journey

Main Salmon River July 2018 by Jo Cassin

Seems to me every cancer is as unique as the person it inhabits.

Cancer is not one disease afflicting many, it’s many diseases with seemingly endless manifestations.  

My cancer is my cancer.

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” – Kenji Miyazawa

The following are episodes from my personal journey. Partly because I’m older, in my late 60’s, and so much has been written about cancer, I’ve hesitated for many months even beginning a another story about cancer.  I don’t want it to be misused or misunderstood. While I am battling for my life, I have wonderful support and shoulders to lean and cry on. And while the ebb and flow of treatment has been dismaying at times, I believe my family, friends, doctors, nurses and caregivers are giving me their very best. To all of them, thank you for making this journey easier and filled with love.

Part 1: Paths to Diagnosis

I’ve quit smoking a dozen times or more over the years. And it was time to try again despite the pressures and distractions that “complicate” my life. The process is pretty easy too. Once you’re 65 and on Medicare, the doctor’s visit and the prescribed treatment is basically free. It’s just a matter of timing. I had my Medicare annual exam with Dr. Munn, my awesome “primary care provider” in late 2018 and we decided I could give Nicorette gum a try. One thing led to another and my start date got pushed back a couple of months to January, 2019. I picked a date, set aside my little cigars and bit into a piece of Nicorette and had a sudden shooting flame of pain down inside my esophagus! I spit out the gum, got a drink of water and cooled the flames. I Googled Nicorette and esophagus pain and got nothing. It was just weird.

It took a few days to call the doctor and almost 3 weeks to get in, but I finally got in to see Dr. Munn in early March. By then I was having difficulty swallowing anything too solid. I should say difficulty getting food to go all the way down. I love food pretty much like everybody, and swallowing is basically automatic, right? Sure, we all mess up the process by not chewing enough or eating too fast. By this time I was limited to eating mac and cheese, soup and other soft foods. And I was starting to loose a lot of weight. It would be just the beginning.

Dr. Munn referred me to see Dr. Phil Jensen for a procedure to see if there was an obstruction in my esophagus. What’s curious about this is Dr. Jensen was the last doctor to do a surgical procedure on me. I only vaguely remembered him from a problem I had with my colon bleeding in 2017. He performed an emergency colonoscopy on me at St. Lukes. So now Dr. Jensen and I would have what I call an end-to-end relationship. Okay, maybe that isn’t as funny as I think it is. The procedure was scheduled for almost a month out in early April.

An endoscopy is a procedure where you go under anesthesia and a tube with a camera is sent down your throat or other organs. I’d never had one before and, as it turns out, there are several different types of endoscopy procedures. This one was pretty quick and I got a call the next day from Dr. Jensen. He asked us to come in to discuss what he’d found. Things were about to get serious.

My most important friend and companion Jo accompanied me to see Dr. Jensen. We’d done a bit of research and knew cancer was a possibility. Not many other symptoms seemed to fit. We were hopeful it wasn’t. Dr. Jensen told us there was a tumor at the base of my esophagus the size of a golf ball and that it was constricting the passageway into my stomach. He reassured us that, despite calling it a “stage 4 cancer”, there were treatment options. Otherwise, he said, he would be telling me “get your affairs in order”. He outlined the next steps in the process, including that I would be referred to St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI), if that was my preference, and order a CT scan and a PET scan right away.

Part 2: My Beautiful Support Team

The time to think about what all of this would mean was upon me. I’d have to tell my kids, family and friends. And I’d need to think about what would happen to my business. The questions seemed to multiply – would I be able to get by on my social security, how much of what would Medicare and Medicare Advantage cover, would I need Medicaid or other help, should I close my office, how would all of this affect people? As much as we all think about a major illness, I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been.

On the other hand, I count myself as very lucky to have the people in my life I do. My two grown kids Kelsey and Ben are nearby, and I have Jo in my life, good friends, sisters and brothers.

Jo shining her smile for her surgery

Jo

For this chapter of my journey, it is most fitting to start with Jo. Not only is she my go-to friend and companion, my neighbor and a long time client, she’s my anchor. Because of our relationship, I also knew about her health challenges. Everything from hockey injuries, aches and pains to her recurring headaches and upset stomach. The latter a bit of a mystery for many years.

Almost simultaneously with my cancer diagnosis, Jo was diagnosed with gallstones. Idaho River Sports team member Kyle Little and his wife had recently returned to Boise after his wife Alishia had completed her Physician’s Assistant studies at UC Davis. As luck would have it, Jo had an episode at the store. Kyle called Alishia, she made a quick diagnosis and armed Jo with what she needed to take to her doctor. Mystery solved.

So, as my preparations for battling weight loss and cancer treatments were underway, Jo was facing gall bladder surgery… at least she had a smile on her face! Both of us were and are thankful for the awesome support from her best friend Deb. Deb too time away from work and came down from Garden Valley to nurse Jo through her surgery recovery.

Kelsey and Noah Nuptials

Kesley & Noah

My daughter Kelsey has become accomplished in many ways and had been just married in September. With her new husband Noah at her side, they stepped up to help her dad.

Kelsey has been at my bedside with Jo for surgeries and chemo, she’s chauffeured me to St. Luke’s and to Salt Lake City for appointments, made travel arrangements and more. Noah stepped up to help me move my office and do chores.

Kelsey working during chemo

All the while Kelsey continues to perform at a very high level for her ad agency DaviesMoore. And I need to add her work family at DaviesMoore has been awesome. Not only have they given Kelsey the flexibility to be with me for appointments and assist with the work for Jo’s business Idaho River Sports, the DaviesMoore team go together and raised money to help offset travel costs for Kelsey when we’re in Salt Lake for my “big surgery”.

And Kelsey made soup! As my weight dropped and my ability to get food down got more and more difficult, Kelsey put her culinary skills to work making me a variety of blended soups. The soups included my favorites – broccoli cheddar and tomato basil – and a variety of “root” soups. They were all prepackaged and frozen. Yum!

Grandson Mason and Ben at Camel’s Back

Ben & Mason

My son Ben has his own fish to fry and has helped me take care of many of the chores I would otherwise be unable to take care of myself.

His dad duties for my grandson are a priority and seeing them together is always a joy. Mason has a ton of character for a kindergartner. And he has Jo’s dog Lucy dialed in. Their visits always put a smile on my face and Jo’s as well.

My Cancer Mascot – Sasquatch

I also have to credit Jo for having my personal theme for my cancer journey, I quickly adopted the sasquatch. KAVU, a great line of clothing and accessories Jo stocks at the shop, came out with a new “color” named sasquatch. The name “Sasquatch” comes from an adaptation of the Halkomelem tribe’s in British Columbia term, and was coined by a Canadian journalist who wrote a series of articles about Bigfoot in the 1920’s.

By the way, a little note about what the word KAVU means. The original aviation saying is “clear and visibility unrestricted” or CAVU. A Northwest colloqual version is “clear above, visibility unlimited”. I really like the idea of what KAVU means.

As soon as I saw the shirt I adopted the sasquatch. I’ve worn the shirt to all of my surgeries, tests and chemo sessions. She also got in a sasquatch beanie which I will also be wearing as colder days are ahead.

Family Journey Pix

Part 3: Getting Ready for the Battle

There really isn’t anything you can do about it except go with the flow… accept it and get on with it. Surviving cancer and getting ready for treatment happens all at once. More here.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Richard Young says:

    Beautifully written Dave.

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