On May 26th at 11:30am I had a quick and dirty lip surgery in our local ENTs clinic to remove scar tissue in my lip. Both my family doctor and the ENT specialist quoted "I have no idea what that is so lets cut it off". So I was on the doctor bed for about 30 minutes, received a topical freezing like going to the dentist, smelled some burning flesh to cauterize my lip and I left with 6 stitches in my lip just in time for my vacation home to Dundas and Toronto. While on vacation I did research and listened to my RN Mother-in-law and GP sister for all things about Squamous Cell Carcinoma. 94% of the time this cancer stays localized and is cured by removing the tumour. It is caused by excessive exposure to sun, smoking and alcohol. I was batting 66%.
"That's a big word doc" I said holding Meredith's hand in the airport, "what now?"
"I will see you in about 10 days and we do surgery to remove the tumour. Its not an aggressive cancer. I will have my secretary call you" and with that he hung up as I sat there. My next action I regret. I got up, and walked. I left my wingman sitting there. Probably more petrified than I was. I called my sister. We chatted. She gave me confidence. Joanne had that mix of big sis tone and professional calm only a Dr. can display.
I took a deep breath and head hung low walked back to Meredith. I can't believe I left her there. I sat down and told her I called Joanne and we should be ok. But it's cancer. That is all I heard. That is all she heard. I have cancer. And all I could think about was that 6%.
If I look back I have been in the sun training and racing for 20 years. And rarely if ever did I wear SPF/UVA lip balm. I used sun screen religiously on my face, arms, and neck; rarely on my legs and just never on my lips. I have had a lifetime of cold sores. What I was hearing made perfect logical scary sense. I am a red headed Welsh-Canadian who burns easy. Of course if anything I would effectively get it is LIP CANCER. I sat up a few nights just thinking. My runs and rides I did that week were 100% every minute of every km burning and thinking about 6% as the odds that anyone who has ever heard the word cancer would want. 6% is gold betting money in the cancer game and that is what I have to play with. Take it. Run with it. Feel good about it.
I was petrified. Meredith stood her ground.
I told my team at work. They were great. I told my boss. He was and is amazing. I shared with close friends back in Ontario and select peers at work too.
And I talked with my sister again and of course my dad. Both are solids.
Everyone around me were great. But I couldn't help but think everything, I mean everything, has changed.
Perspective. Outlook. What matters. What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? Who do I want to be around? What do I want to accomplish? What legacy do I want to leave? Crazy these are the thoughts that rumble endlessly despite my 94% odds. It still circles and permeates and seeps into every ounce of me irregardless of my inner voice fighting the drama of it all. On one hand were all these life changing thoughts and on the other was a quick surgery and life is all back to normal.
On June 16th we booked the surgery at the Penticton hospital for the 21st. I will have my choice of anaesthesia and my ENT Dr. will remove the tumour and quote "99% of the time we are done there". So far I like what I have heard. We have dropped from 6 to 1%. But then I heard, "It will be more evasive than the first time. We will talk more at the hospital"
More evasive? The first 6 stitcher was bloody awful! Now I am petrified not of cancer, of surgery!
June 21st my beautiful and super domestique wife takes and waits with me at the Penticton hospital. The staff right from the welcoming team, to the floor nurse, to the Anasthesiologist and the two nurses in the surgery room and of course, my ENT were top class. I felt really and truly cared for. More than a professional way; in a personal "are you ok what can we do to make you ok" kind of way. It was top class.
I thought of my favourite music and chose to be put under. As the mask went on I was playing Grateful Dead's Help on the Way in my head which starts; "Paradise waits on a crest of a wave..." As I awoke 90 minutes later I was hearing the song end "without love in a dream it will never come true..."
Quietly coming to grasp with where I was I heard, "his heart rate is really low....." as the machine beep, beep, beeps...."well his resting was 40...."
I turned to the machine and saw my HR. New PB....29! Then said, "then unplug it! Its bloody awful"
2 added drips of morphine. 2 Percocet and a bag of ice on my lip the pain began to subside. It was clearly more evasive than the first surgery. This hurt. A LOT.
As I was discharged and feeling very high Meredith drove up. I was put in the car. Then THIS happened....
A green hatch back car came screaming into the parking lot and nearly took out a pedestrian. She barely stopped the car before head on into us. Being so high everything was playing in slow motion. I could clearly see the sheer look of terror in her face and the passenger slumped over onto her shoulder. My immediate reaction was to get out and help as she ran into the hospital. Meredith was already in drive moving around the car. She had a job to do. That job was ME! I looked into the car and he was dead. Or as close to dead as I ever want to see. Blue in color. Froth in his mouth. Eyes wide open staring fixed ahead. Horrifying. Disturbing. Big-time Perspective.
I wanted to write my marathon race report. Instead I have written an experience about cancer because I want YOU TO LEARN A LESSON FROM ME. Wear SPF/UVA LIP BALM and leave a stick in your cycling jersey. Always. Don't be half assed about this. This is not a fun experience. Trust me.
As for the marathon. Here I am day after race with Meredith. The bump visible that they "cut off" my lip. I had a PB by 15 seconds but the whole race felt awful. I was off all day. Now I guess I know why!
Here I am day after the 2nd surgery with 10 stitches.
|June 22. A 10 stitcher.|
Rhys 1. Cancer 0. Another podium in this race we call life. #FUQCANCER