2010…my biggest resolution!

2010 has not started out as a normal 24 year old, like myself, would like it to.  Being young you think that nothing bad can ever happen to you.  You are on top of the world. King of the Mountain.  Anytime you get sick, you play it off as you are just sick.  You might sleep a little more or take some Tylenol Cold and vuala you are all better. I would never get worried unless I was vomiting all over the place or something like that.  Being young you do not really worry about being sick and ill.  Well on January 12 of 2010, I got diagnosed with some rare form of Cancer in my Parotid Gland.  Let me tell the whole story up to this point.

During the last week of August, I noticed a small lump behind my ear.  I did not think it was anything of importance.  It did not hurt at all, so I just assumed it was some kind of swelling of one of my glands when you get sick. Nothing to worry about.  I went to a local doctor in Thailand and they thought I had an impacted ear with the wax.  All righty then I thought to myself.  I got some drops for the ear wax and all was well.  A couple months went by, but the lump was still there.  This time it really started to bother my ear.  My ear was in a lot of pain.  I had to take a ton of tylenol to feel good.  I could not sleep on the right side of my face because I was in too much pain.  I went into Bangkok to go to an ENT doctor.  (Ears, Nose and Throat).  I told him the story and he took a needle biopsy and a CT scan of the lump to see what the deal is.  The doc told me to come back in a week to see the results.  Next week we went into Bangkok to go back to the hospital.  Now, the CT scan showed that my parotid gland on my right side was enlarged.  The needle biopsy showed irregular nuclei with pleomorphic cells or something like that.

Here is a little breakdown of my hospital bills in Thailand:

Supamitr Hospital is located in Suphanburi where I was living.  I went here twice.  1,265 Baht which is around 39 US dollars.  This accounted for me seeing the doctor and getting some prescription medicine.

The Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital is located in Bangkok.  I went here twice.  6,300 Baht which is around 192 US dollars.  5,500 Baht of this bill was for the CT Scan I got done there.  5,500 Baht is about 168 US dollars.  Lets just say that a CT Scan in America is more than 1,000 bucks.  Its crazy to compare the costs of CT scans in Thailand to America.

The last hospital I went to is the hospital that the King of Thailand goes to.  Siriraj Hospital.  1,535 Baht which is around 47 US dollars.  This was for seeing the doctor and some prescription medicine.

I did not need insurance to go to these hospitals.  I just walked right up to the hospital and got treated.  Also, you are able to buy your meds right there at the hospital instead of driving to another place to get them.  Now, the hospital in Suphanburi was not too great and the doctors could not speak that good of English.  The hospitals in Bangkok are way much better and those doctors could speak English and could be understood.

:End of hospital costs rant:

The doc told us to get a second opinion.  This is when I called up my parents and told them what the deal was.  I gave them all the information.  My mom got on the horn with her doctor friends and luckily she knows a doctor who is Thai, who happened to be in Thailand at the time of all this.  This Thai doctor called me up and gave me a name of a Thai doctor he knows.  All you have to know is that he hooked me up.  I went to the hospital that his friend was at. We went up and talked to him.  This guy spoke really good English.  He pretty much said that this tumor needs to come out with surgery.  OK! This is great news.  I am all the way in Thailand and this thing in my neck needs to be taken out.  On Christmas weekend, I was in sooo much pain.  I wasn’t sleeping.  The whole side of my neck was just stiff and in pain.  I could not do anything.  I was in such bad shape that I was looking at plane flights back home.  I talked to Anna about this whole situation and I said that I needed to go home.  I could not live like this anymore.  If we wanted to backpack SE Asia in March, this tumor needs to be taken out.

I flew home on December 30th and got home on the same day.  It is pretty crazy flying back in time  and you don’t lose any time essentially.  Really weird.  I got home.  It felt really good to be home.  I got to be with my little sister Grace and my parents.  I was just glad to be with my family and spend time with them.  I definitely wanted to get surgery with my parents along side me.  We set up an appointment with an ENT doctor in New Jersey.  We met with the man and he said I needed to get an MRI done.  He did not feel anything on me until I told him that my ear has been in pain.  OK, well the next day we went to see him because he pushed up my surgery to be on January 7th.  He said that the tumor was pretty big, but he could still take it out no worries.  He looked a little nervous to me, but he could still do the operation.

We went in on January 7th to get this thing taken out of me.  Coming out of surgery is a wild feeling.  You feel like you are waking up from a deep, deep sleep.  You also think that everything is all taken care of after you wake up.  You  are going to be cured of all your problems once you wake up.  Well, in my case, this did not happen.  It took me awhile to actually get out of my sleep.  It was hard to keep my eyes open, but I tried to over and over.  The tumor was too big for this doctor to operate on.  All he did was take a biopsy of the tumor.  A big chunk was cut out of me.  Then the doctor spoke the words that would change my life forever:

“We did a frozen sample of the tumor and a preliminary test to test for malignancy.  This tumor tested positive for cancer.”

Ummmmmmmmm……What?  Are you kidding me? I don’t think I believed him at first.  I am 24 years old.  How the hell can this happen to me?  I don’t really know how to describe the first day of living with this news.  I guess at first I didn’t believe it.  I just forgot about it.  I was still in the hospital because I had to stay overnight.  I did not really think about the cancer.  I guess I did not really think about anything.  I just wanted to get some sleep.

I woke up the next day, January 8th, and was ready to get the hell out of the hospital.  My mom came by and we waited for the doctor to come by and talk to us.  The doctor explained to us what we needed to do.  He gave us one name to look at and the rest of the research was up to us.  It was at this point where everything hit me.  I started crying and my mom started crying.  I just could not believe that this was happening.  What do I do?  What do my parents do? Where do we go?

We finally got home and I could not contain my emotions. I was crying when I pulled up to my house.  My brothers came home to see me.  Mrs. Moore came by and informed me that Mr. Pizzuto and Mr. Nyhuis were thinking about me.  I lost it then.  I lost it walking into the house.  I think every time I walked into the bathroom I started tearing it up.  It was a very emotional day.  That day my mom was already on the horn with all kinds of different people.  She was getting names of any kind of doctors she could.  We needed a head & neck surgeon along with a skull base surgeon.  How the hell do we find one of those?  Well anyway.  My mother was on the horn with so many different people.  Everyone was giving us names of people they know.  Everyone in my family was calling to find out the news.  It was a crazy day.  We got some names of doctors and some names of good hospitals to go visit.

I had this new development in my life that I had to now deal with.  I am living with cancer.  This was hard to handle; however, I think the hardest thing for me to do was actually coming out and telling my friends that I am living with this.  I felt like I would be disappointing them.  The first person I told was Anna and it was so hard to do.  Admitting I had this awful cancer was just hard.  I was real hesitant at first to divulge this information to my friends.  I guess I was living in denial and just did not want to believe that this was happening.

The weekend came and went.  My uncle and aunt were up to come visit.  My other uncle stopped by also.  I was depressed about my situation, but I was still thinking to myself that I need to get through this.  My aunt asked if I was thinking about joining some cancer group online to help me through this.  I said probably not.  I had my friends and family to help me through this.  Their physical contact was more important than me talking to some people online about stories.  I thought all I needed was my family and friends.  That is all that mattered.

Monday January 11. We had our first appointment with a surgeon.  My parents drove with me to the city to go to Mt. Sinai Hospital.  We met with some doctors.  They told us to get a CT scan of the tumor.  The doctors were nice and very kind to us.  We were the only ones that this doctor had scheduled, so I was the only one that mattered.  This was our first doctors appointment, but not our last.  Tomorrow we have another appointment.

On Tuesday January 12, we were off to St. Lukes Hospital.  It took us a while to get into see this man.  We have heard amazing stories about this doctor.  He was a Head & Neck doctor along with a skull base surgeon along with a facial reconstruction surgeon.  The other hospitals would include two doctors to do the whole surgery.  This guy was just ONE guy.  The man.  Well anyway we met with this surgeon and he just blew our mind.  In good and bad ways.  This doctor was very honest and straight with us.  He explained what he would need to do in the surgery and it did not sound good.  A lot of cutting and drilling and some scary stuff.  He said he would have to cut through my facial nerve which meant that I would lose control of the right side of my face.  The doctor was very technical with his lingo and just blew us out of the water with his knowledge.  My mom and dad were a little teary eyed because the doctor was really candid and up front with the information.  The doc also told us we needed to get a PET CT scan.  A PET CT is a full body scan.  It looks for other signs of cancer.  We had to drive across the city to go to a new office to get the scan.  The city was cold that night.  There was not much to talk about.  We were all so overwhelmed from our meeting with the doctor.  We got to the PET CT scan office and sat in silence.  I went to a room to drink some special shake and an hour went by and off I went to the scanner.  Another half an hour went by as my body got scanned.  Here is where I did some prayers, praying that this cancer has not moved anywhere else to my body.  We drove home and just waited.  I could not eat.  I could not speak.  I was down and sad.  I was depressed.  Waiting for the results of this scan was the scariest thing.  I was talking to Annie and just saying how scared and nervous I was.  I was really lost and just did not know what to do.  My parents were being so great in this whole situation, but I still just felt alone.  Annie said that she was going to get in contact with her friend who was diagnosed with cancer and have her contact me.  I said OK hesitantly.  The email came no more than twenty minutes and it was a life savior.  That email really changed my outlook on everything in my life.  It was like Alyssa knew what I was thinking and said the perfect things to comfort me.  That email made me feel good about being nervous and scared.  It just made me realize that as long as I have a positive attitude that I will get through this.  So thank you much to Anna and Alyssa.  You two are the reason for me turning this thing around.

Wednesday January 14 – Today we had to go back into the city to meet with the radiologist.  It was a pain in the ass, but we needed to go.  The hospital was around Union Square, so we drove on in.  We got to the office and were waiting to see the doctor.  I was signing in with a nurse in the back when my mother got a phone call.  I heard a phone ringing and I knew it was hers.  I got back to where my parents were and I asked my mother who called.  She told me it was the doctor who called.  The doctor that is going to do the surgery.  He said he got the PET CT scan and it came back negative.  There were no signs of cancer anywhere else in my body.  That single piece of news was the best and happiest thing that we could hear.  That made my day.  Nothing could bring me down.  I was on top of the world.  We met with the radiologist and he told us the plan for the treatment after the surgery.  He is from Ridgewood, so that was nice to hear.

2010 has been a roller coaster ride so far and I have no idea what is in store.  All I know that everyone that I know and everyone I have met have been so great.  My family and friends have been so loving and caring so far.  The people that we have met at the hospitals have been so comforting.  They have taken care of us and have made us feel at home.  I will be getting surgery soon to get this evil thing out of me.  The doc said that he is going to WAR with that tumor.  My face might be droopy and I might not be able to hear out of my right ear, but that does not matter.  As long as the cancer is gone then I will be happy.