My wife and I moved from Utah to Oregon in June of 2016. The moved was partially based on my job hunt, which was becoming very difficult in Utah, but mostly on a feeling of inspiration. Perhaps I’ll write more about the details of the why and how in another post. Suffice it to say that we took a leap of faith in moving here without friends, family or job in the area.
After finding a place to live and getting comfortable in our new ward family, we were able to be accepted for the Oregon Health Plan, which is basically Medicaid in Oregon. Soon after receiving our cards I went to see the doctor about swelling in my leg.
By the time I went to the doctor the swelling had gone down substantially. I remember talking with the Elders Quorum president one night earlier and the leg being nearly twice the size of the other. The swelling had nearly disappeared by the time I visited with the doctor, but she ordered an ultrasound done just to make sure. The fear was blood clots forming. The edema, or swelling in the leg, is a symptom of Deep Vein Thrombosis which can be very dangerous. Even fatal.
During my visit with her she asked me about the growth that was on my throat. There had been a sort of swelling at the base of my throat for some time. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly how long it had been there while I talked with her, but thinking about it later I realized it had been there for a year to a year and a half. No longer than that. But it was pretty good sized and she wanted to take some samples biopsied, just to be on the safe side.
An ultrasound was performed on the 18th of November 2016. they indeed identified several clots in my lower right leg. A little surprising as most symptoms had lessened or disappeared. The result is that I get to take blood thinners for an extended time until they clear up. They also performed an ultrasound on my neck and thyroid. That’s where the growth was… on the thyroid. The results of that scan were concerning enough that a biopsy was scheduled.
A couple of weeks later I found myself on the 10th floor of the hospital at Oregon Safety and Health University. Inside the imaging facility where doctors inserted needles into my neck to retrieve samples of the fluid inside the largest growth, the harder shell of the growth, as well as one of the surrounding lymph nodes. I must say, I was expecting a little more pain during the procedure than I really experienced. The real discomfort came later that day and occasionally for the next few days. Swallowing was difficult at times, as well as having a nearly constant soreness. But it cleared up soon.
The Very Big News
It was December 2nd that I went with my wife, Lynda, to an appointment with a new doctor. His office is still on OHSU campus, but down near the waterfront instead of on the hill where the hospital is. We arrived to check in and I noticed the department name: “Surgical Oncology.” I was trying all that morning to have positive thoughts about the situation. You never want to hear the word “cancer,” but at that point I had to start steeling myself for what I felt was coming.
When our turn came and we went into the back to meet with Dr. James Lim (who looks almost half my age, to tell the truth) we were a little nervous. I really think Lynda was more nervous than I was. She was being a trooper though. You couldn’t really tell. Dr. Lim got right to the point and discussed the results of the biopsy. They had come back positive for cancer. Papillary Thyroid Cancer. He softened the blow some by saying, “If you HAD to choose a cancer to have, this is the one you would want to choose.” This cancer grows more slowly and does not require chemo therapy for treatment. Even though it’s a one on the cancer scale, it’s still cancer.
Anyway, he did an ultrasound while we were there and wanted to schedule me for another biopsy. This time for the lymph nodes on the left side of the neck and a CT scan of the neck and chest. Event hough we knew the cancer had spread to the right side lymph nodes the doctor wanted to make sure it hadn’t spread any farther.
I had those tests done the next week. It was interesting because I think the resident who performed this biopsy was doing it for the first time. It didn’t hurt much, but she was having a little trouble guiding the needle to the right spot. The supervising doctor took over for her and used it as a teaching moment though.
Making Plans for the Future
A week and a half later Lynda and I were back in Dr. Lim’s office. The second biopsy and the CT scan had both come back negative. That meant the cancer had not spread to the left side of the neck or into the chest. So that was some good news. I was actually a little scared that it was going to be much worse.
So surgery is scheduled for the 12th of January 2017. Some of the risks of this type of surgery include: damage to the nerves controlling the larynx, which could cause me to permanently speak with a hoarse voice or need a breathing tube; damage to the parathyroid glands (four of them, no larger than a grain of rice) which could cause hypocalcemia, forcing me to be on calcium supplements for the rest of my life; bleeding, which is an even greater risk for someone like me who is taking blood thinners to treat DVT; and infection. The doctor said that most of these risks are such small risks that they are almost negligible, but they’re still there. We just pray that all will go well.
There is one lesson that has stood out the most as my wife and I have gone through this situation. The whole situation of moving without knowing why, the difficult time finding a job and the cancer. God knows where we needed to be and when we needed to be here. I know that in Utah, even with health insurance through work or other means, we would be paying a mountain of money to cover all these medical expenses. Doctor visits, prescriptions, surgery, etc. Because of the way Oregon’s Health Plan is structured we have not had to pay anything out of pocket and saved, literally, thousands of dollars. On prescriptions alone we have saved more than $3,000! With a job it may be different, but being unemployed has given me the time I’ve needed and allowed us to qualify for OHP. Who would have thought joblessness would be a blessing!
As a final thought, I must say that there are aspects of this situation that frighten me. I am not one who goes to the doctor very much at all. The last surgery I had was when I was a teenager, 33 years ago for a broken leg. It’s far beyond my comfort zone. The thought of things taking a turn for the worse during surgery is also scary. Not just the slight possibility of leaving this world, but the possibility of permanently losing my voice or needing a breathing tube is shocking and overwhelming. I don’t know how things will turn out. But what I do know is that Heavenly Father is there, and He knows what will be best for me and my wife. He knows what will help us to grow and become better people. He has helped us and been with us to this point, I see no reason why He would leave us now. So there is nothing more for me to do but put my head down and go to work. Continue on with life the best I can no matter what may happen. Always trusting that He will be there to catch me when I fall and lift me back to my feet.