Wow, you clicked the gory details link... I am only including this because I feel that if you have made it this far listening to my music, you pretty much know my inner soul and I don't want there to be any confusion when I become rich and famous. Although I strive to not make cancer a part of my life today, it changed the person I was into the person I am. I am also writing this page to urge anyone with health issues that they know is "just not right" to seek professional medical help. Strange things can happen to any of us at any time.
In early November of 2011, it was a normal day at work - at the age of 50, I was an equipment operator preparing for another long day by filling my huge coffee mug so I can nurse it up to lunchtime. About an hour into the day, I noticed that I had to urinate again for the 3rd time in about a half hour. And right after that, I had to go about every 15 minutes for about 2 more hours. I had been to the urologist before for frequent urination and they usually said it was bladder infection, or just family history. But this time just felt different - I called the urologist office and said I need to see someone right away and I don't care if it is the janitor. They made an appointment for that afternoon.
Like every other appointment, the urine screen came back normal. The difference this time was, I was not able to see the "real" doctor, but seeing a physician's assistant. Well that assistant was my Angel, because she erred on the side of caution and decided to do a CT scan (without contrast). She was very friendly and we did the normal chit-chat in preparation for the test. She ran the test and when she came back into the room, all of the funny banter had disappeared and she had an ominous look on her face. She said we were going to do an immediate CT scan with contrast. She said they usually have the patient fast before this type of test because people have a tendency to get nauseas and puke all over the equipment, but they were going to inject me with a type of dye that shows up more details. I told her I was a big bad construction worker and I could handle any news and to not hold back on me. I wanted to know what was going on. She said "well, we see something on your left kidney". I asked her "what, the size of a dime or a nickel?" She said it was 11 centimeters. I asked her how big is a kidney, and she said about 10 centimeters.
Within 20 minutes, I had an appointment with the oncologist (cancer doctor) for the next day. My fist question to him was can we save the kidney or part of the kidney? He just laughed... No time for biopsies or second opinions - One of the best robotic surgeons made an appoint for 5AM November 29, 2011.
Well in one day, I went from being a bad-ass equipment operator / construction worker to a blubbering cry-baby. People that have never had cancer do not realize that cancer is about 10% physical and 90% mental. I had about 3 weeks until my surgery. This was the longest three weeks of my life. I felt completely helpless. No one can tell me anything because they don't know. Has it spread? Am I going to die? This all hit me like bricks and I had to go through the motions of telling my boss, co-workers and friends what was going on. And every time I tell the story and can't tell them any details, it just gets worse. My mind was racing with every scenario and I couldn't stop from thinking the worst. I did not sleep for three straight days. I would lay down and almost fall asleep, then jerk awake and look at the clock. Wow, two minutes have passed. I could not stop my mind from racing. And God bless my wife laying there snoring like a baby.
I did visit my family doctor to get me something, anything to knock my ass out. But he also had to relate to me a story of one of his patients that had the same thing. He said when the surgeon "bagged" the kidney for removal, the bag broke as he was removing it and spilled the contents all over inside the abdomen and the guy died in like six months. Why on Earth would he tell me that? I did finally get a good night's sleep, but it was a drug induced sleep and now I am dealing with that. After about a week of the hard drugs to help me sleep, I realized that this was not a long term solution. I was lying there about 2 AM and I don't know if I was delirious, hallucinating or what, but I had the strangest experience. The voices in my head now were clear as day. There were two guys, Clifford and McNeil, in the back of my head. One was in the upper right and the other was in the upper left. They didn't specifically say this, but it was clear they were there to hang out with me as I was dying. No hard feelings, but that is what they did. As I would lie there trying to sleep, thinking maybe if I scratched my foot, I could finally relax. Clifford or McNeil would laugh sarcastically "ha, he is dying and he is worried about his itchy foot." It was at this point I knew I had lost it. I quit the hard drugs and beat down the door at Redi-Med to get some Lunesta - yeah, maybe that would work. Lunesta did help me make it to my surgery day, but man that stuff leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. On a side note, as I looked in the mirror, I could see that my belly button was being pushed over to the right and looked scary - that can't be good.
They did do robotic surgery, but had to make a rather large incision above my navel to remove the kidney. The doctor came in that afternoon and said that it looked like he got the entire bit of cancer. He removed everything that was in the area, lymph nodes, adrenal glands and whatever else he could find. The biopsy came back and we found out it was "clear cell" carcinoma and none of the nearby tissue was cancerous. So the good news was, I didn't need radiation or chemo therapy. But the fact is, I am catheterized or morphine and I can't walk, pee on my own or sit up. Son-of-a bitch that hurt. The consensus was, I should be the happiest person on Earth, I was just given a new lease on life. People can lead a normal life with one kidney. But the fact was I was still suffering from depression and the worst anxiety I have ever experienced. Every bump, swelling and anomaly just had to be the cancer coming back. You always hear the stories of "once you open them up", the cancer spreads like wildfire and that's the end.
They don't tell you a lot of things that are going to happen to you after major surgery. For one, they blow your belly up like a big balloon so they can work, and that air has to go somewhere once they seal you up. It creates some of the most scary gurgling sounds you will ever hear. Also the result of anesthesia is major constipation (I won't get into that, but it is terrible). My blood pressure was really low, I got dizzy when I stood up and yes, I still had frequent urination. Doctors go about their lives not realizing the pain of the patient. After all, he did his job. It still felt like my adrenalin levels were off the chart. The only thing I can compare it to, is when you were little and you got in trouble and mom said "wait 'till your dad comes home". That mixture of fear and adrenalin rush that won't let up. I would guess that is the clinical symptoms of anxiety.
At first, I was sure it had to be some type of chemical imbalance, maybe testosterone, adrenalin levels, vitamin B or something causing this feeling. I had my (new) family doctor run any test they could think of but everything came back normal. She finally said I should seek some therapy. Then she took a job in California. Once again I am on my own. Doing research on the subject, I found where some heart surgery patients suffer post operative depression when they were mentally stable before. I wondered whether the same thing could happen to other patients that had major surgery. There is not a lot of information on that subject and not a lot of therapists want to jump right into that. They want to know if I ever saw my mom naked and how I have dealt with family deaths (thanks Sigmund).
So I just laid on the couch and watched tv. The weird thing is, I could not watch any of the shows I used to watch that had death in it like "The First 48" etc. God bless my wife for allowing me to just vegetate while everyone else was telling her how to deal with me. They said I should get my ass off the couch and continue my life. In theory, that is a great solution. In practicality, that does not work. I tried to go back to work, and what should have been the best summer of my life, was unexplainably filled with sadness. On July 11, 2012 my older sister committed suicide in Florida.
So to sum it up, it boils down to having the susceptibility to anxiety and depression in my family history. In addition to my older sister's suicide, I had a younger sister commit suicide about 10 years ago. My mother also attempted suicide twice. So I had what they would have called back in the day, a "nervous breakdown". I used to have no patience or understanding for someone with anxiety or depression. I always thought they could just move to get away from a job they hated, or get a dog or ride a bike. Get over it, I thought. But when you experience it, you realize it is internal. You can physically feel it. The only analogy I can think of is if you were to own a monkey - you have no idea what is like to have a monkey until you own one. And once you have had a monkey, there is no way to not know what it is like to own a monkey. All it seems like is today is forever. There is no hope and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
I am still seeking ongoing therapy and as time goes by and I get farther and farther away from my episode, thing look a little brighter. I think my latest batch of songs is more focused. Especially the song "The Hardest Thing" deals with coping with mental illness. So God bless you for reading this. Writing this was therapeutic for me and really the only things that heals are trust in the Lord, the hands of time and music...
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