The Journey Begins
It was almost 2 a.m. on a cloudy August morning in 2018 when I bolted upright in a fit of coughing. My throat was dry, and I was desperately thirsty. For the next 30 seconds, I was wracked with spasms as I gasped for breath.
It had all started, innocently enough, only weeks before — a tickle in my throat, a seemingly random cough. It was just another year of cedar fever or the standard allergies we all endure living in Austin, Texas — or so I thought. My journey had begun.
For the next several weeks, this painful episode repeated itself nightly. Sleep became a gift and NyQuil was my friend. A trip to my internist revealed that a nasty virus was going around. Oh, and the mold and grass counts were high. Maybe not a big problem … unless you live on Crackerdog Ranch in Wimberley with five dogs, one cat, one donkey, two horses, two mini-Hereford bulls and a couple of chickens — more on these guys later. After one negative X-ray that revealed nothing, I was on my way home with new optimism and hope that after some rest, fluids and over-the-counter allergy meds, I would ride out the storm soon enough.
The Gathering Storm
My nightly coughing ritual only worsened, and the storm did not abate. Finally one morning, my husband, Lou, a light sleeper to begin with, greeted me with red, swollen eyes and a worried look. He begged me to go back to the doctor and do some serious tests — and so my love affair with CT scans began.
Three scans and two visits with a pulmonologist later, my concerns magnified. The bad news was that there was a spot that appeared to be a cancerous growth on my right lung. The good news was that it was most likely a contained, slow-growing cancer. Being a breast cancer survivor from a Brac family (a cancer-inducing hereditary gene), I felt anything but reassured.
At this point, the storm looked more ominous than ever, but even with the chaos of my emotional state, I became surrounded with the calm of love and support from those around me. First, there were my family and friends whose emails and prayers fought my depression. Then, there was my oncologist who saved me from breast cancer a decade earlier and became my most ardent advocate. He guided me through a forest of issues and decisions along the way. Finally, I had my “furry” family who rallied around me in silent love and support — nuzzling, purring, licking and never being far from me with almost fanatical concern.
Over the next few months, I would endure several more CT scans, trips to Houston, meetings with surgeons and long evenings on the internet in search of further understanding and hope. Questions about lung cancer, malignancy, tumor sizes and types and recovery statistics were but a few of the myriad of unknowns. Would I lose a section of my right lung or a whole lobe? Would I face living with oxygen support? How serious was the surgery? What would my life be like?
The COVID-19 Wrinkle
Then, COVID-19 hit. Just as you think you have a path forward, the rug is pulled out from under you. Faced with a very contagious respiratory epidemic with impending lung surgery, I went into a deep quarantine. Like the rest of you, my weekly grocery shopping became monthly, and my relationships and business interaction were “Zoomed” — but my surgery was still scheduled for March 18, 2020.
The Day of Reckoning
And finally, the day came. Lou and I piled into our car for the drive to Houston. Four hours later, following my pre-op appointment, we were about to check into our hotel for a sleepless night before the next morning’s 4-hour daylight surgery. My phone rang. It was my surgeon who apologetically explained that the hospital had just released an edict that all elective surgeries were canceled for the time being.
A roller coaster of emotions describes my feelings that day — horror that the journey was being lengthened but relief that I could return home to my beloved world, unscathed.
Finally, 60 days later, with hospitals opening up somewhat, we repeated the trek (this time following a COVID-19 negative test result and strict quarantining) and drove straight to the hospital.
After a successful operation on June 10, great doctors, wonderful nurses and medical technicians cared for me over the next three days. That Friday, I came back to Crackerdog Ranch for my recovery.
An Unexpected Setback
The whole gang turned out for my triumphant return on June 12. Family, friends, AFM clients and readers all sent wonderful messages and emails. I felt beyond loved. Thank you all.
My beloved “furry” family was there in spades with a new attitude of “Mom’s home and all’s right with the world.” Considering my ordeal, I felt pretty good physically and even better mentally. While there were still risks in my recovery, I felt like I was on the “other side,” and the worst was over.
The following weekend was pleasant. I settled into my home at the ranch and looked forward to the relative normalcy that now seemed attainable. However, at 2 p.m. the following Sunday, I suddenly felt uncomfortable. My neck began to swell. By 4 p.m., my necklace was all but strangling me.
I called my surgeon and sent him a picture of my bloated condition. Assuming it was an allergic reaction, I took two Benadryls. My state did not improve.
Lou turned to me and said, “We’re out of here.” Only minutes later, I was in a 24-hour emergency clinic undergoing X-Rays.
Not an Allergic Reaction
What I thought would be a stronger antihistamine shot never happened. What did happen was a trip to the St. David South ER, more X-Rays and a 4-day stay with a drain tube inserted to remove air that was leaking from my lung surgery. Thanks to the prayers and awesome support of all of the healthcare professionals who cared for me and our lung tissue’s ability to seal its own leaks, on Thursday, June 18, I was released to continue my recovery at home.
Coming Back – The Recovery and the Journey’s End
Following my return home to my oasis at Crackerdog Ranch came the return of hope. My wounds were still painful, but each day improved. The air that leaked throughout my tissues slowly receded, and I began to look like my old self. Daylight began to seep through the clouds of my storm.
The Calm at the End of the Storm and a Rare Gift
It has now been one month since my original surgery, and I continue to get better every day. While I must remain securely quarantined for two more months, it is a small price to pay, especially when everyone is enduring the trials that follow the pandemic.
When the final pathology report finally came back, Lou and I were astounded to learn that the lesion was not cancerous. Wow and hooray! What was even more incredible was that it was an extremely rare, benign tumor called a papillary adenoma. Since its discovery in the ‘80s, there have only been 30 cases in the world. What are the odds of that?
Final Thoughts and a Treat
With almost two years on this trip, I have learned a lot and seen incredible kindness surround me from those I know and those who came into my life to help me through this journey, which, though difficult, has been inspirational. To everyone who has helped me, I am so grateful for all of you. I am indeed blessed!
If you’d like to meet the “furry family” that surrounded me with silent love and helped me through my storm, click here.