In mid to late 2010 I believe doctors missed an early opportunity to diagnose Pete’s cancer. Pete suffered from a myriad of what we believed to be “minor” health problems: among them were candida (an overgrowth of yeast in his body), irritable bowel syndrome, and infrequent, yet severe chest pains.
During that time, I researched endlessly because I wanted him to be as healthy internally as he appeared to be externally. I devised a special diet to kill the yeast in his body complete with oregano and garlic supplements, the elimination of sugar from his diet, and introduced more whole foods. This didn’t last long with his hectic work schedule. He didn’t feel like it was something he could maintain so he went back to dining on chow hall junk and stuffing his face whenever he had the opportunity. But, one thing continued to bother both of us, and that was his chest pain. There was no rhyme or reason to when the pain would strike but when it did, it would stop him in his tracks. His face would wince and his breathing stop momentarily. It was clear he was in pain. Finally, a friend and coworker suggested he see his cardiologist, to which he agreed.
During that appointment, a few tests were done including x-rays, an EKG, and an overall physical. At the end, the doctor reported that Pete was fine and was clearly too young to be suffering from any sort of heart related issues. So, we went on our merry way and threw ourselves back into life. Meanwhile the chest pains persisted. Looking back, I now believe those chest pains were the start of the cancer metastases to his lungs.
When my mom came to visit a few months later, for Lucas’ birth, she mentioned how tired and weary Pete looked. She even went so far as to say that she was worried about him. Unfortunately, despite my concerns over the state of his health, I believed he was fine. I saw him every day, therefore I did not notice any change in his appearance. On the other hand, my mom didn’t see him frequently, and she did notice a change. I chalked it up to his long work hours and severe insomnia.
Unfortunately, her intuition proved to be correct when, a year later (almost to the day), he was diagnosed with advanced stage colon cancer. I was in Idaho at the time, and will never forget the words the doctor told me over the phone. He said, “Fortunately, he’s young and can fight this. This is one of the better cancers to have as it is one of the most curable.” Yet, it was so advanced that the doctor didn’t even need to await the results of the biopsy to diagnose him. He knew immediately, upon doing the colonoscopy, what it was.
Later on I posted this to my Facebook page to confirm the news.
“Please pray for our family but specifically for Pete. They discovered a tumor in his colon this morning and are pretty sure it’s cancerous. He’ll have a CT scan tomorrow and we’ll know the results of the biopsy on Friday. The good news is that it’s one of the better cancers to have as it is very curable. This is a very tough time for us so any prayers would be appreciated.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe there is any “better” cancer to have, but at that time I did because, well, that’s what the doctor told me.
Throughout the cancer journey I witnessed a lot of blank stares from doctors across the medical profession. There were many times they simply did not have the words to say. Not even to say, “Go live your life…this is all you have.” They couldn’t even muster that much. And for that, I will be eternally frustrated that they did not have enough compassion to even call it for what it was. We lived in the dark, in constant fear of the inevitability of the situation, yet had not one tangible answer to draw from; only assumptions. As a result of my fear, I would often get angry with the doctors and demand answers. I didn’t want to hear deep sighs, silence, or see worrisome glances; all I wanted was a little reassurance, whether good or bad. Yet, they rarely delivered.
And, in the end, not even his age was going to appropriate for the fact that he’d been given a death sentence. No, his youth was not enough to save him.
Oh, and this survival rate they speak of, does not mean an actual cure as in the afflicted will be cancer free for all of eternity. The survival rate is derived from the amount of people who are still living with and without cancer, 5 years after diagnosis. Doctors never speak of a cure, because there isn’t one.
When taking this all into account, it’s no surprise I’m a little jaded when it comes to modern day medical care.
When I sat in the doctors office the other day with Lucas I realized how sad it was that I cannot even depend on the professionals. Through tears, I questioned the doctor profusely, asking her why there has been no proper solution for his chronic ear infections, to date. Her response, “Well, some kids just have difficult ears.” Really, really? This is what I’m paying you for? Is this an exact medical term? What exactly does “difficult” mean? If I could get paid hundreds of dollars a day to suggest that, perhaps your child just has “difficult ears” well then maybe I should have been a doctor.
I believe doctors are lacking one essential characteristic to patient care and that is connection. Believe it or not, typing away on your computer while I tell you of my child’s afflictions isn’t helping. In fact, despite ALL the visits to specialists, modern medical care has only provided temporary relief for his ear infections, in the form of two sets of ear tubes. Sadly, they have also caused permanent damage by leaving a hole in his ear, which can only be repaired through surgery (don’t believe me… check this out). All this, and they still have yet to figure out the underlying cause of these infections.
Upon leaving the doctor’s office, I became determined to take matters into my own hands. Why, would I subject my child to something that has proven its inability to work? Since then, he has only received one dose of the high-powered antibiotic prescribed for his ear infection, but after dousing him in essential oils for days, he has declared, “Mommy, my ears don’t hurt.”
Now, I’m no doctor, but if I could get paid to diagnose someone with “difficult ears” only to pawn them off on another specialist they have already seen, I might just be a millionaire.
My friends, this is our health and we cannot take it lightly. We must advocate for ourselves and search for the answers. Sadly, my experience has proved we cannot always depend on those whose promise is to make us better.
PS- Since I wrote this post I met a woman who, in her former life, before kids, was a pharmeceutical sales rep. She rep’d antibiotics for none other than ear infections. When I told her about my Pete, his chronic ear infections as a child, and his subsequent cancer diagnosis and death, she responded, “Oh, I believe it.” Although I may never know the exact cause of my Pete’s cancer, her response left me believing my assumptions weren’t too far fetched.