Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Cancer? At 32?

June 14, 2019 will forever be remembered in our family - both for a very happy event and for a very scary event. 

Our first grandson, Leo, was born that morning at Swedish Hospital in Seattle. Unbeknownst to us, our 32-year-old son, Peter, was also at Swedish that morning. He and his wonderful new girlfriend, Shannon, had decided to do what mature, responsible adults in a new relationship do - get an STD screening. Peter, a healthy young male, hadn’t felt the need to see a doctor in a very long time - since moving away from home about ten years ago, in fact - so he didn’t have a primary care provider in Seattle. I had been urging him to have a check-up for years, but it wasn’t until this decision to be screened that Peter decided to finally make the call. 

It was a call that likely saved his life, prompted by a girlfriend who just happens to be, of all things, an oncology nurse. 

 On that call to set up a screening appointment, Peter mentioned “a swelling.” The intake receptionist immediately kicked into high gear, knowing (as we have learned since) that any painless lump and/or swelling in the testicle is to be taken very seriously, especially in young men aged 15 to 33, as this is the group most affected by testicular cancer. (Peter is actually on the old end of the spectrum!)

Suddenly, the low-key STD screening that Peter initially expected had become a “triage” day of blood tests, an ultrasound, and a chest x-ray. At the end of the day, all alone in a radiologists examination room, Peter was given the very distressing news that he almost certainly had testicular cancer. Regardless, he was told, his testicle would need to be removed (an orchiectomy) - and soon. 

Peter must have texted me soon after hearing that news. 

I sensed no urgency from Peter’s text, nor from his call about an hour later, which he began by congratulating us on becoming grandparents. 

“Thanks! And congratulations to you on becoming an uncle!”

Peter then mentioned something about also being at Swedish all day and having some tests, and... wait... something about an ultrasound that showed... what... wait — 



Yes, our oldest daughter had a baby and our oldest son was diagnosed with cancer on the same day and in the same hospital. How crazy is that? Talk about an emotional rollercoaster! 

Peter has since said that the phone call to us that day was the hardest part of his ordeal with cancer - including the surgery and all the waiting. 

Exactly a week after Peter’s awful day alone at the hospital, he underwent an orchiectomy.

Peter’s support team consisted of Erin, Alex’s wonderful girlfriend (Alex was in San Francisco house/pet-sitting while his twin sister, Kat and her SO, Ian, were in Thailand), Tom (not pictured), me, and Peter’s sweet girlfriend, Shannon. 

Fortunately, the surgery, which went well, was out-patient. 

That weekend, Peter had his own private nurse to take care of him at home. Thank goodness for Shannon!

A few days later, Peter received his pathology report. His cancer was staged PT2, PNX, meaning his primary tumor was relatively large and it was unknown whether cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. 

After Peter’s surgery, we identified a Testicular Cancer Specialist team at Virginia Mason Hospital - the same hospital where Shannon is an oncology nurse.  Testicular cancer is a relatively rare disease, and most urologists see one or two cases in their careers. We wanted Peter to be under the care of the best of the best, so his next move was to request an appointment with Drs. Porter and Flores at VM, as they see eight to nine cases of testicular cancer per month in patients who come to them from throughout the country. 

We all squeezed into an examination room a week ago today for our first appointment with this team. We were told, first, that testicular cancer is a highly curable (not just treatable) disease and that, ultimately, Peter would be fine. At that time they also ordered a CT scan of Peter’s chest, abdomen, and pelvis, along with a few blood tests, and made a follow-up appointment for today, when we’d get a definitive idea as to next steps. Possible next steps would be Active Surveillance (just keeping an eye on things, via regular blood tests and CT scans, for a few years) or, if the CT shows cancer, radiation or chemo. 

Today we all nervously met again with Drs. Porter and Flores.   

We were so incredibly relieved and thankful to hear that Peter’s CT scan is COMPLETELY CLEAR! The doctors found nothing of any significance on his CT scan! (Peter called that one small insignificant spot on his liver “college”!) 

Peter now refers to “that week I had cancer” - but that week (or rather, with all the waiting, that month) has changed him, I am sure. Like his dad, he will always now be a cancer patient. That, in itself, must change a person. 

I know that cancer has changed me this year, too, as two men who I love most have dodged it - Tom, as he beat prostate cancer earlier this year, and Peter, as he beat testicular cancer last month. 

Can we now please just be finished with cancer for a while?!  That would be nice. 

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Announcing... Leo Thomas-Rex!

He’s here! Our first grandchild, Leo Thomas-Rex Markus, announced himself to the world with what can only be described a grand entrance. 

At 8:30 on the evening of June 13th, I got a phone call from Elisabeth. I had just talked to her an hour or so earlier as she headed home after three consecutive days of 13-hour shifts as a nurse anesthetist at University of Washington Medical Center. She was exhausted, she’d said, and would be in bed within moments of being home. 

‘Hmmmm,’ I thought, ‘Why is she calling now?’

“I think my water just broke.” Elisabeth said calmly. “Danny called me from a business dinner and when I sat up to answer my phone, I felt a POP! I don’t think it’s pee...”

“It’s not likely pee,” I told her, drawing vaguely on my training 20 years ago as a doula and childbirth educator, but mostly as a mom. ”Maybe you should call your midwives. No real hurry, though; contractions will likely take a while to start. Have you felt any since this happened?”

“No,” Elisabeth replied - followed immediately by, “Oh wow. Yes, maybe this... is... one?”

Tom and I went about our evening, excited that our grandchild would be born by this time the following evening (once the water breaks, the baby must be delivered within 24 hours, as the chance of infection increases after that), but fully expecting to have a full night’s sleep. Still, I was so excited I had a hard time drifting off to sleep. 

Danny’s text, sent at 11:33,  made it pretty clear that we wouldn’t have to lie awake, excited, but just waiting. 

Elisabeth had gone from no labor to hard labor, with contractions two to three minutes apart from the get-go. 

Precipitous labor. There’s a misconception that a precipitous labor means an easy labor, but it is far from easy, as mom has had no chance to deal with lighter, further-spaced contractions. Instead, she is thrown into a frightening whirlwind that can be very scary, as she attempts to keep up with this powerful force from which there is no rest and no escape. Oddly enough, Elisabeth’s labor seemed to be progressing much as my labor with her did: I popped into hard labor at 10 PM, arrived at the hospital shortly after midnight, fully dilated, and she was born after a very short, but very intense labor, at 2:38 AM. 

At this point, Tom and I quickly packed a bag and waited for another communication from Danny. It came barely a minute later: 

Waiting for the next communication was hard. Was everything OK? Forty minutes later, it arrived:

And we were on our way! Traffic would not be an issue as we made our way across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, headed from Gig Harbor to Swedish Hospital in downtown Seattle. 

When we arrived, Elisabeth was working hard, with assistance from Danny and his sister, Michelle. One thing was for sure: it was too late for an epidural. 

I took hundreds of photos in the next (very) few hours, which Elisabeth and Danny will have to look back on, as things happened so quickly that it was hard to keep up. Very few are internet-suitable. 

This is the wonderful midwife helping Elisabeth stay on top of her frightening, powerful, very precipitous labor. Throughout the entire labor, Elisabeth had no meds if any sort! She had wanted to have an unmedicated labor, if possible, and now there was no doubt that she’d have one!

At 3:53 AM, Leo finally arrived, fully awake and with his eyes wide open! 

Needless to say, we were all instantly in love - especially Leo’s mommy and daddy! 

I have been proud of Elisabeth many times in the past 35 years, as her accomplishments have been great. But I don’t think I have ever been as proud of her as I was after she birthed our first grandchild. 

And Danny! He was surely a bit frightened, too, as nothing had really prepared either of them for this sort of labor. But he was amazing as he calmly attended to her every need and provided uninterrupted support and advocacy for Elisabeth. 

Elisabeth said to me a few weeks before Leo was born, “Don’t assume that I’ll have a strong maternal instinct like you did. We might not be alike it that way. It might take me a while...” Ha! From the moment Leo was born, Elisabeth was a loving, natural mommy, full of maternal instinct - and oxytocin. 

And Danny! What a wonderful father - right from the very first moment! 

We see this new little family every chance we get, and love every second of watching our grandson grow and change each day. 

I must have a thousand photos of Leo already. Here are a few of my favorites. Isn’t he a cutie?

I’m a little late with this blog post, because today...

I think we’re gonna love this grandparenting gig!

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