The scene is Kaiser Sunset—the primary cancer hospital in the Kaiser system located in the “beautiful” cesspool of Hollywood. Dana and I have just dropped my mom off at LAX, grabbed a bite of lunch, and are now waiting to see the Radiologist/Oncologist. We hear him on the phone in the other room—loudly asking other departments for my various test results. A few minutes later, he steps in, looks at Dana, and says, “So, you are Cary Schmidt?”
I forced a smile, looked at her, and flatly said, “Yes, I am…”
Bewildered he looks at me, then her, then his chart. Awkward pause. “Oh… ok. I guess that could go either way couldn’t it?”
I casually say, “I guess it could…” Awkward moment continues. Then we all move on, and Dana is laughing at me once again.
And so the name thing strikes again! (Thanks Mom and Dad, for that special gift in life. What a blessing!)
The appointment was filled with news—some AWESOME, and some not so awesome. In many ways the whole day was an experience in juggling two emotional extremes at the same time—extreme delight at the good news, and extreme soberness at the heavy news. So let’s start with the good stuff:
Bone Marrow—after hearing the doctor request my results “immediately,” and after getting the gender thing straight, the conversation went like this. Doctor—”So what tests are you still waiting on?” Me—”Just the bone marrow, but that’s not done yet.” Doctor—”Well, it is now… it’s negative.” (He continued to talk as though he has just said something as mundane as “water is wet” but as for me and Dana—we celebrated!) High five! I wanted to jump through the roof! That’s HUGE news! There’s no cancer in my bone marrow. I’m still stage 2A—not stage 4! This was a wonderful answer to prayer, and I just thanked the Lord and wished the doctor would have paused long enough for us to relish that news.
A few moments later, the news was a bit heavier. For the first time, a doctor actually pulled up PET scan and CT scan images and explained them to us—showing us every area that was cancerous. Sobering. I had never seen a PET scan image before, but the long story short—there’s a whole lot of cancer in my upper body—a lot more than my other doctors were revealing.
Now before you go too far with that—the staging and prognosis doesn’t change. The prognosis is still good. That’s probably why the doctors didn’t go into detail with me. But essentially what I thought was a few swollen lymph nodes in a few regions of my torso, is actually five relatively large areas where clusters of lymph nodes have morphed into bulky masses of cancer. The largest of these is actually located on top of my heart and between my lungs, wrapped around my trachea (wind-pipe). This explains a lot of my bronchial challenges and energy fluctuations over the last couple of years. As we viewed the CT scan, the doctor showed us exactly where this is and how it’s pressing against both lungs between my heart and my throat.
So the good news—it’s not in the bone marrow, it’s only in my upper body, I’m relatively young, incredibly strong ;), and I’m definitely a MAN! The tough news—I have five regions involved and larger clusters of tumors which they consider “unfavorable.” Gotta love these medical classifications. (Personally I would call the whole thing unfavorable… but either way I know I have God’s favor!)
As for treatment—I will require radiation to all five of these areas, after chemotherapy is complete. The chemo will greatly reduce these masses, making radiation less damaging to my throat, heart, and lungs which will unavoidably be impacted. Radiation will happen several weeks after chemo, every day for a month (except weekends). The whole “radiation in five areas” thing was a surprise to us—we went in thinking there was only one smaller mass to radiate. So the story is quite different from what the Lancaster oncologist expected. The radiation doctor also wasn’t too sure as to whether four months of chemo would be enough. So I guess that’s up in the air once again.
In summary, the Kaiser Sunset team is now clear on my gender. My bone marrow is clear. My chest is pretty crowded with a lymph node mutiny, but a curable one. My spirit is encouraged in the Lord and grateful for all that He is teaching me. My family is doing well. My treatments start Monday, November 15—chemo. My radiation will begin in approximately six months, give or take a couple. And my God is good!
I told Pastor Chappell last night, “For the next six months, I’m going in for my 60,000-mile service. After that I’m planning to be good for another 60,000.” I’m thankful for his kindness and care for our family through all of this, and for every expression of prayer, love, and encouragement from our church family and friends around the world. Every single message, letter, voice mail, text, twitter, comment, etc. has been read and received with grateful hearts! Forgive me for not having the time to respond to every single one individually.
The Lord woke me up at about 5:30 this morning. (I’m normally not that spiritual.) I resisted for about thirty minutes, protesting that I needed more sleep. But He kept nudging me awake. He just kept saying, “Hey, you’ve got cancer and you need to spend some extra time with me. Come see what I’m doing for you!” So about thirty minutes later I stepped out my front door to the most gorgeous sunrise I’ve seen in years. It was just one of a hundred ways that God has reminded me of the power and presence of His hand in all of this. I watched the sun come up, talked to Him, and then went to McDonald’s to have breakfast, spend some time with God, and type this update. Trying to process all this “stuff.”
Strange stuff for sure. But in a marvelous way, God is very real in all of this. And I trust Him.
(PS – I’m working on a separate “blog” where I’ll move all this cancer stuff soon. I don’t want this blog to be cancer central. I’ll keep you posted. The address is hodgkins.caryschmidt.com)