A CANCER Story: Part 1 by Jeff Schrembs 2011 All Rights Reserved


It has been saidcountless times that hindsight has “20/20 vision”. Well, I have come to learn that this statement is true but does not entirely take into considerationall of thefactors nor all of thelessons that true reflection teaches us and more importantly what we can share with those we love and to our fellow man. Let me explain.
From the time I was young I always believed that anything in life was possible through God. I also believed that as long as one had their health everything was also…possible. I have since come to the understanding that to bea healthy as one can it must include; ones physical health – mental health – spiritual health – and the daily interaction with those we love.
A few years ago I received more bad news about my personal health, this was in addition tohaving major spinal fusion surgeries (i.e. C3, C4, C5, L4, L5, S1with the removal of L6)and the permanent nerve/physical pain/permanent limitations/etc., it was not surprising as I knew that something “more” was wrong.
Besides not feeling well, and being depressed about not feeling well and not giving my best, some of the things I had enjoyed eating (for decades) lost their appeal. On the rare occasionwhen I would vary my diet, from the daily staple of oatmeal, the taste was bland and the food never sat well. In fact it made me nauseous.
I had experiencedproblems swallowing and the constant weird taste of metal and being endlessly fatigued. As much as I knew something was “wrong” I (wrongly) assumed it was wholly the end result of other medical problems/diagnosis. What they say about when we “assume”, at least in this case, is true (i.e. it makes an “ass of u and me”).

Last year I had some scans done which showed a large mass on the right side of my throat. I had never smoked and couldn’t believe that there was the remote possibility that the mass COULD be cancerous.

I scheduled a biopsy, which entails having a large needle go into the mass and collect cells from various parts of the mass, which was donetowards the end of last year and I awaited for the results which I was told would be forthcoming in a few weeks.
A few weeks later I was told that the biopsy was “ok”. They did confirm that the size of the mass was very large and some of the symptoms I had mentioned were “routine and customary” after having a biopsy done (i.e. I tasted more metal and I felt like I was swallowing blood and my problems swallowing had gotten worse).
Out of the blue I received a phone call saying that “4 out of the 5 samples of the mass were benign but that one part came back as cancer”. I was shockedto hear this over the phone because; it was contrary to what I was toldpreviouslyand the person telling me this was sincere but nonchalant. I was toldthat the Doctor wanted me to make an appointmentASAP which I did and I made a request for a copy of the report.
I called the office which performed the biopsy and asked for a copy of the report. I was told that the “wet report”, which is a preliminary report, came back “ok” but that the finalreport came back with cancer AND the mass contained HURTLECELLS METAPLASIA (which is a “red flag” for cancer).
I met with my Primary Care physicianwho never received the “finalreport”. But even on the report that was in my file, to my surprise, when we looked at it together it clearly showed POSITIVE FOR HURTLECELLS METAPLASIA. My physicianstated that prior tothat moment this was a fact previously unknown. Then they called over to the office of the radiologists/biopsy and received a three page fax confirming that on one part of the mass was indeed…Cancer. I was hurt, shocked, frustrated, and wanted to know “how and why” a diagnosis of Cancer could “fall through the cracks”. These questions remained unanswered to this day.
I did receive the “wet report” and ultimately the final report which confirmed the Cancer and after confirming this directly from the source I scheduled a surgical consultation.
When I met with the Surgeon I was given copies of reports that I had never seen before. These reports confirmed the Cancer and the HurtleCells Metaplasia and confirmed that this was “known” PRIOR to me being told that the biopsy was “ok”. As much as I was impressed with the amount of documents the Surgeon had obtained I internally questioned WHY the other Doctor had not obtained the same document(s).
The mass in my throat was growing, was leaking blood/fluid, and was Cancer. Fortunately the entire mass was notCancer which I was thankful to hear. I learned that having Cancer can beequated to one being “pregnant”. You are not “just a little pregnant” either you ARE pregnant or you are not pregnant. The same is true with Cancer. Either you have Cancer or you do not. Anyone who tries to undermine, or minimize, this fact I can only pray for because the only thing “worse” about dealing with having Cancer is having Cancer without “support” from family/friends/loved ones/etc.
The professionalism, experience, and positive attitudeof the Surgeon and their entire staff afforded me great comfort and I choose to focus on the surgery and doing whatever else they asked of me. To be specific it was a mass on my Thyroid on the right side.
My Surgeon had told me that due to the size of the mass that DURING the Surgery they would have a team of physicianswho would performCancer tests on the cells/mass/thyroid and their plan was to remove the mass and the right side of my thyroid. They stated that they would only remove the entire thyroid IF the testing, which again was done while I was in the operating room, was positive for Cancer.
As planned I checked into the Hospital the morning of the surgery and the last thing I remember was being askedto count back from 10 to 1. I got to 8 and then it was “lights out”. My next memory was the Surgical Team informing me that they had to remove my entire thyroid as the tests confirmed the Cancer. My medical diagnosis, confirmed by each member of the team of physicians, is “Thyroid Cancer”. They were optimistic that they removed the entire thyroid and over the next few days they would speak with me in greater detail.
As I motioned for the Nurse to write downa requestfor ice chips I thought about, as I had many times each day, my children and those I love/loved and all the things I should had done before. To say that this experience was “life altering” would be an understatement and as weak as I felt I closed my eyes being thankful for having this mass removed and for all the blessings I had been given in my life.
As I reached out to receive the styrofoam cup of ice chips I leaned over to the table where my personal possessionshad been stacked. I grasped my Bible and a few family photographs and with a renewed appreciation of the beauty, the talents, and the qualities of each of my children and loved ones. As much as I wanted them to bepresent, and to share with them that everything would be all right, I knew that this journey was one that was taking place not only deep inside my throat but also in my mind, my attitude, and in my resolve.
I knew, from the pamphletsI had read as well as what the Surgeon/radiologists/Thyroid Doctor at the Hospital had told me, that having the thyroid removed was the first step in the process and that it could take a year or more for my thyroid levels to stabilize. At the time these were just letters grouped together on paper or the result of verbal sentences falling upon my ears. Little did I know what would be forthcoming and all of thetrials and tribulations resulting from having Cancer.
Before 99.9% of the time wheneverI thought of Cancer it was; the result of habitual smoking of cigarettes, the display of a simple pink ribbon raising awareness, the rubber bandsold at 7/11 engraved with “LIVESTRONG”, or the memory of Cancer being the cause of death of my GrandFather from three decades before. Now, Cancer was much more “personal” to me and it is a part of who I was and who I am. It does not define me as my intentions remain to reach the highest level of “health” that I can and along the way being thankful for being given the chance at a new day.
*** END OF PART 1 ***
My heart goes out to those who are undergoing treatment for Cancer, or just learning they have been diagnosed with Cancer, and to their family members and loved ones.
My story is not “woe is me” but to the contrary it is just the facts. I don’t know how this story will end, pertaining tomy treatment for the Cancer, but I do know that Cancer knows no age limites, doesn’t discriminate, and can betreated effectively IF it is caught early.
It is my hope that by sharing some of what I have endured that others will know that they are not “alone” and most importantly that being tested for Cancer and/or being PROACTIVE in testing (along with conveying to your medical care providers ANY changes or symptoms) is something that must be a priority. And ALWAYS if you don’t believe that your medical care provider is “listening” to what you are saying OR not ordering tests then please go out and get a second opinion.
Take care and may God bless you.
Jeff Schrembs
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