It’s kind of a blur to me now, this quiet meeting between three people in a sterile, bright hospital room on the first of June. I have a good recollection of the conversation until the doctor spoke the words stage four adenocarcinoma; after that, she was sort of a disembodied, floating, talking head.
Since that day, we have blown through sixteen different emotions, ranging from resolute to terrified. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t experiencing “caregiver guilt” on some level; I half expected my hopeful talk to be greeted with something like, “Sure, you can be a cheerleader; it’s not happening to you.” Of course, I never heard that, and never will, because the Thriller isn’t built that way. Still, it’s the mosquito buzzing around the back of my brain. I need to work on that.
So to begin my chronicle of this journey, I’ll start at, well…the beginning.
Over the last year or so, Michael’s health began a downhill slide, specifically with regard to his breathing issues. All along the way, we both thought it was part of his progressing emphysema: the rough coughing, some shortness of breath, decreased appetite, general malaise. By late winter, he’d lost over 20 lbs. in several weeks. In retrospect, I am horrified that I never once suspected cancer as the underlying cause, but I was focused on his COPD to the exclusion of all else.
Then all of his activities stopped. Things he loved to do, like yard work and taking care of our dogs and cars, were too much for him physically. One by one, his routine chores fell by the wayside. I’d come home from school and find him sitting forward in his easy chair with his elbows on his knees and head hanging forward, just struggling to breathe. It was around that time that I noticed a huge air leak in the sound of his voice, as if his vocal folds weren’t fitting together properly in order to vibrate. He is a chronic sinusitis sufferer, so we decided he needed to see an ENT to find out what was causing his constant coughing issues and hoarse voice.
The ENT examined him and noticed his left vocal fold was paralyzed, and said the nerve controlling it was likely being impinged upon by something. Then he made a startling request: Michael needed to see a pulmonologist. That was the day (4 April, 2017) that I started to really worry that something was seriously wrong (as if emphysema wasn’t “serious” enough). We selected a lung doctor at random from the Cleveland Clinic website, and finally got in to see him on 31 May.
We met with him for maybe 3-4 minutes, max. He looked at the CT scan the ENT had ordered, and informed us that the next stop we make should not be home, but rather the emergency room. We were gobsmacked. This total stranger, in three minutes, had already dropped the word. It looks like you may have cancer of the throat. We were speechless and in shock. Then I flew into mother bird mode, and wanted to get him out of there and to somewhere safe. We thanked the doctor and walked to the parking lot. In the car, I frantically searched on my phone for the address of the Cleveland Clinic ER, while simultaneously fighting the pressing, selfish urge to have a complete meltdown right in front of the person who’d just received the most devastating news of his life. I found some calm and started driving.
Twenty or so minutes later, we arrived. I dropped Michael at the door and parked. Inside, I found him in the processing office and on his way to a room. For the next seven hours, we waited. Test after test later, the attending ER doctor came in and shut the door. He broke it to us as gently as he could that all tests pointed towards cancer — but of the lungs, not the throat. The mass in the back of his throat turned out to be polyps — but I am grateful for those polyps, because had the pulmonologist not mistaken them for a tumor at first glance, I’m not sure where we’d be right now.
Stage IV lung cancer is no minor affliction; there is no cure, and as it’s the most advanced stage, surgery and other curative measures are off the table. We know we’re in for a fight. But we have a fantastic, supportive, loving family, and incredible friends and colleagues who are praying and sending all kinds of positive energy our way. We really like our oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic, and the Thriller is getting the best care in the country. His attitude is 100% “can do,” and even though he continues to suffer physically, his mental state and focus on healing are outstanding. On many occasions, he has comforted me when I have a breakdown about how unfair this is to him. How screwed up is that??
Anyway, our hope is high and our resolve granite; we plan to beat this cancer down at every turn, and we’re ready to begin right now.
I’ve been there and seen Michael’s resolve. It’s absolutely amazing. So many others would give up, but not our Thriller! We will all be with you both, fighting and encouraging. God isn’t finished with “His” Thriller yet! I love you both so much!
We love you too, Mave — and you’re right: we ain’t finished by a long shot! Thank you for always being there.
My Fink of a Friend…from the moment you told me I have not stopped praying for the two of you! Praying for healing, strength, patience and peace! Fight the fight!
I trust and pray that this Odyssey has the happiest of all endings! Love to you and Thriller!
Thanks dear friend — we need those prayers (especially for the patience part!), and will continue to fight. Much love!
I’ve been following you quietly for a while now…thank you for sharing your story. We need to normalise conversations like this and make them part of our everyday language. But more importantly, know that our little family is praying for you. For strength, for light-hearts, for healing, and for comfort. <3
Glad to “meet” you today. (Do I know you in “real life?”) I initially wondered about letting this tale unfold as the weeks and months go by, but from a caregiver standpoint, I thought it was important, at the very least to let people know that others share their feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, frustration — and hope! Thank you for commenting today — please do so more often!
We don’t know each other offline. Unfortunately, I can’t remember how I found you – but I’m glad I did! Big hugs…and yes, I’ll be around!
Just finished reading your blog Linda. It made my eyes glisten. Your gaumet of feelings is natural. Your Mike is big and strong with a 100% great attitude. May Jesus lift you both up in prayer. When the going gets too tough so not be too proud to ask for help. I am right around the corner from you ????
Thanks so much, Jeanne, and I promise we will not try to shoulder this just the two of us. It’s way bigger than that, and prayers and love from our friends and family have really sustained us, even in the early going. Neither of us knew anything about cancer, and learning about it can be daunting. I’m glad you’re there! (I’m on Sandusky…where are you?)
This is a difficult journey you’re embarking upon. May you find strength, peace, dignity and love in each other and those whose hands and arms are outstretched. May you both be in the comfort of the Lord. Thank you for sharing this with us, as we love you and Mike so much, even from this distance. Let’s rise up and conquer! #teamthriller
I love you too, Candy! Thank you for your prayers and encouragement, and especially for your friendship and for hanging around at RtB all these years! We take great comfort in knowing our friends are thinking of us and praying for us. I plan to fight forever for #teamthriller!
There are not words strong enough to ease the pain and the “new normal” you are now experiencing. L., you and The Thriller are loved so much, and you shall not travel this road alone. I can honestly say that there are few people as motivated and as committed to anything as Michael is, and I believe that he will fight and see this through with wit, resolve and courage. Please know that if you need any of us, it’s not a burden. We exist for one another because we are family. Family supports, loves and provides for one another. Simply sharing this story reflects the dedication that the two of you have, and it is a symbol of the strength you have in facing this challenge. You are loved. Unquestionably. Unfailingly. Unequivocally.
Thank you so much for this, luv. And you’re so right — what really matters in this life except those we love and who love us? We sure have felt your care for us during this time. Michael is a tank engine — he wants to overcome this and keep it under his feet for years. I’m behind him 100% — thanks for being there for us! We love you!
What they all beautifully said. All I can add is…..love you both!
We love you too, Suzi — as much as the miles that separate us!
Many thanks to all of you for the prayers, love, light, and support. Linda and I very much treasure each one of you, and always will.
^^^What this guy said! <3
We love you both, sweet man!
Your title for this blog “Odyssey” is indeed very apt. You and Thriller have enjoyed your various summer odysseys. Now you embark on a radically different type of odyssey for it is, indeed, a journey. Dealing with cancer is certainly a journey full of a whole range of emotions including shock, wondering about the unknown, believing in the treatment, maintaining a positive attitude, hoping and praying for a victory and placing your faith in the Lord. Thriller and you have tremendous support and are loved by many. Bonnie and I love you and Thriller and are praying for you. You have a host of people who in a variety of ways will support you and Thriller in this “Odyssey.” Fight the good fight and keep hope alive.
RD, you are a longtime, true friend, and we love you and Bonnie! We feel so fortunate to have this great support system around us. We will definitely keep fighting on this very different summer Odyssey. Hugs!
Jax, I am just now getting caught up on all that we missed while we were in Canada. In reading your blog I am certain that you and the Thriller have the resolve to get through this. Just know that so many people are praying for you and Michael on a daily basis. You are loved by so many. If there is anything Bryan and I can do for you, please let us know. Hannah is working at AU this summer so she is just minutes away from you if you need anything. <3 Hugs to you both. #teamthriller
Thank you Wendell — I love you! #teamthriller