Life Lessons Part 4-Fast Forward

As promised Fast Forward does just that, brings my merkel cell cancer journey to the present tense and picks up where Off Season left off.

New Season

A routine follow up on the skin graft of my hand afforded me the opportunity to ask my surgeon to look at the scar under my arm where they removed three lymph nodes in December. This for all practical purposes should have been a visual check and was initially, but in his words: “something told me to not only look at the scar but to also feel under the arm as well.” He said he felt a lump, but the look on his face told the story a biopsy later confirmed, that cancer was back in my life. A key thing not to miss and what I consider to be a blessing, had the surgeon only looked and not felt, most likely the cancer would have continued to spread unchecked for at least another six months when my next follow-up appointment was scheduled.

When cancer re-enters the picture you really can’t have another “Pin Drop” moment, but a fist through the wall moment is certainly justified. Unfortunately or fortunately there really isn’t too much time for that because your life becomes very scripted at that point and you follow the sequence laid before you. Biopsy’s bridge to scans, CT & PET; tests are followed by more tests confirming what your heart already knows. A script and a sequence are what you need to navigate those days because an idle mind is the breeding ground for doubt and fear….not only in the skills of your medical team but also in where God is in all this. The purpose of the scans was to see if cancer was present anywhere else including my organs and thankfully it was not. For me both scans lit up for cancer under my arm but in no other area of the arm. I took that as great news because that would have opened the door to a conversation that could have included the word amputation.

Calling An Audible

In August I traveled west , Seattle to be exact, to see a merkel cell specialist the merkel cell expert Dr. Paul Nghiem in an effort to confirm some of what I already knew and to learn more about what to expect moving forward. The tests done while at the Seattle cancer Care Alliance affords me the opportunity to be plugged into the research community and possibly on the list for future trials if they prove to be necessary. It’s said that early on mcc is a surgical cancer, and as long as it is in tissue that can be removed surgery and radiation becomes the protocol. For me that meant removing all the lymph nodes under my left arm. With such surgery you’re at risk of permanent nerve problems and ongoing issues with lymphedema.  But in my case the scans determined that two of the lymph nodes were already at 5-6 centimeters and most likely the cancer was no longer contained there which requires the removal of all and radiation of a wide area of the tissue under my left arm and chest. 


So within two weeks of my diagnosis I was back at Piedmont Hospital for surgery and within 9 days of that surgery I was back in the ER battling an infection that would yet again require another surgery.

Important side note: when you have a morphine IV it’s probably a good idea to have the nurse or your family restrict your access to your phone because access to Facebook and Twitter is probably not a good thing and you’d be surprised what updates and photos end up online…..just saying!

As I started to heal it was apparent that lymphedema might not be an issue and because it was an issue.

One of those morphine induced post said: it looked as if I bought the Dolly Parton breast implant starter kit but could only afford one and had the other on a Christmas layaway plan. Translation: The left side of my chest was really swollen.

Lymphedema is tough to treat on your arms and legs, but in the trunk area it gets very dicey, so it was decided that while I was receiving radiation they would insert a catheter to help remove the fluid from my chest that my system was having trouble redistributing throughout my body.

4th Quarter

As of today, my 25 radiation treatments are completed and from a burn stand point there were very few issues or side effects, which I count as a blessing. The fatigue factor was worse than I anticipated and the three areas receiving the radiation held up better than was expected. The problem with radiation is that even though the treatment ends the “cooking” still continues for a week or two but the discomfort dissipates a little each day. Radiation itself carries the potential for lymphedema as does the type of surgery I had and post surgery infection, so those three factors puts me at risk for more surgery if the physical therapy doesn’t correct the situation.

Post Game Press Conference

For those who made it to the end of this post, thanks for enduring the clinical side of this journey; for me I’d much rather be blogging about so many other things that are present in this journey and my life.

Since the beginning I’ve hoped what is shared helps inform and that information, be it medical-faith-life, displaces some of the fear. For some it may be those who are walking the cancer walk a few paces behind me, for others it may be those who are wrestling with questions of faith and where God is in their lives.

My prayer for you, my prayer for me, and my prayer for Leveraging Life the blog is that we all will see that by leveraging our Faith & Trust in God in all things…..not just in positive test results, not just in professional success, not just in our relationships, not just in our finances, but in God’s will for our lives regardless of any singular event or outcome, that is where we find peace and where we start to find our purpose. 

Have a great week! 


trusting God period

Some things you can be praying for this week:

~For all those who are unemployed and looking for work, may God open doors this week that lead to opportunities which produce immediate employment.

~For those who are struggling with any issue alone, may God put someone in their path this week who they can confide in who are equipped to lead them to the help they need.

~Continued healing for me with minimal side effects and for my body to adapt to its lymphatic reconfiguration, (bet God doesn’t hear the lymphatic reconfiguration prays every day) and positive results from the ultrasound test done on my neck last week.

Both photos courtesy of ©

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