The Lord had been gracious to me when I was diagnosed with oral cancer the first time. I had the best oral cancer surgeons in America work on me by removing a portion of my tongue and rebuilding it with a skin graft in a way that I could still speak and eat and remain close to a normal existence. I was told if I could go five years without getting cancer again, I would be considered healed.
I was so grateful to the Lord for He had shown Himself mightily
to me in the aftermath of the surgery and impressed upon me the great love He had for me. Not everyone is healed and on the day of my surgery, not everyone received a good report.
Some speak of fighting cancer. I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as just following the Lord. I was following, not fighting. He was doing it all for me. He was leading me through the cancer.
I was to go every six months for follow-up exams. Each time, Terrie and I would pray and ask for God’s mercy yet another time. I would have the exam and the doctor would say everything looked fine and he would see me in six months. It was always very humbling to receive this news. It was that way for four and a half years.
During the summer of 2010, my sister-in-laws health began to fail. She was taken to the hospital in July and diagnosed with renal failure. At some point, they put her on dialysis. Terrie and I spent many hours at the hospital trying to take care of Paula and her needs, but she was not a good patient. She would refuse the physical therapy and as a result, she developed bed sores, which complicated her situation even more.
Paula was moved to a assisted living facility, which could give her dialysis, but she still refused to do her physical therapy. At one point, they refused to treat her anymore because of her lack of cooperation. She was moved to another assisted living facility for a month, but she then was transferred to a hospital to treat her wounds. It was hard on Paula, Terrie, and for me.
In September of 2010, she was moved to her home for care with 24 hour nursing care. I was working, trying to take care of my home and take care of all of Paula’s needs. During this time, the Lord used Paula’s illness to heal the wounded relationship we had had for over thirty years. We developed a love for one another that had never been there before.
It was in early November that I had my fellow-up appointment. Four and a half years since my first cancer. The doctor said I had another tumor, still on the left side of my mouth. This time it was between my tongue and my jawbone. He said it was Stage 2 and would require a eight to ten hour surgery. Because of the holidays, the surgery would be scheduled for right after Thanksgiving. They scheduled me for a CT scan to see if they could take a portion of a bone from my leg to place in my mouth. While I was on the CT bed, I got a call that Paula had died at home. Hospice had been with her and they had predicted it would be soon and it was. It was November 22, 2010.
We had the funeral just before Thanksgiving day. It made for a difficult holiday, but we choose to give thanks.
While I was in the hospital, my sister, Brenda and my sister-in-law Jean came to help Terrie with her electric scooter at the hospital and to make sure she was doing okay when they got home. Their help was invaluable to me and I didn’t have to be concerned about Terrie’s needs being taken care of. The day of the surgery came and I was surprised by how many people from our church and from work came to check on me.
I was moved to the pre-op room, Terrie and my Pastor were with me and we prayed and waited. And then the time came to take me in.
The eight to ten hour surgery ended up taking twenty-two hours!! Oh, I could only imagine the stress and worry this placed on Terrie. At some point, Pastor and Sami, began walking through the bowels of the surgery area trying to find someone who could give them an update on my status, which they were able to do.
I had three teams working on me. The first team removed the tumor and the affected part of my jawbone. The second team removed a bone and a muscle from my left wrist. The third team put the bone and muscle into my mouth and closed up. To accomplish all of this, they opened me up from the center of my lower lip, down to below my chin, making a left turn and followed a line below my jaw and stopping at my left ear. They laid my facial skin on my forehead, like opening the hood of a car. Sounds pleasant doesn’t it?
I was told I looked like “Jabba The Hutt” from Star Wars, due to the amount of swelling to my face and neck. The family made a decision not to let me look at myself in a mirror, fearing it would depress me greatly. As it turned out, I never asked how I looked.
I don’t like to be restrained (who would…well maybe some) so when I coming out of anesthesia I had limited vision, like what I remember on cartoons and movies when they were looking through binoculars, black all around with just two small circles of vision. I was also aware that my left arm would not move and I thought they must have tied me down, when in reality, it was heavy bandaged and weighed too much for me to pick up.
I was unable to talk, but was able to write on a white marker board. I had a tracheotomy, but didn’t know that had I covered the opening, I would have been able to speak.
God showed me through this surgery how much I was loved by Him, my family, my church family, and my work family. It was very, very humbling and I will not forget the kindness shown to me.
If your normal lifestyle was to be strong, active and to take care of yourself and others, it is quite a change to have to depend on others to help you. To know you have drain tubes in your arm and neck, to not be able to move yourself in a bed, and not to even go to the restroom was a drastic change for me.
Those taking care me was like a medical United Nations! I had people from around the world working with me daily and I found it fascinating that God brought them to this one place to work on me. My head surgeon was from Peru. My plastic surgeon was from Spain. I had intern surgeons from Russia and Belarus. I had nurses from India, Africa, and the USA. I had one nurse from Choctaw, that had very bad breath, who I thought may have eaten horse meat, but then I thought, “You know what? YOUR breath is probably not sparking either!”
Well, I could write of many other things, like hearing “Cajun Folk” songs being sung across the hall in the middle of the night, but I did want you to know, I never felt like giving up. I always thought I would make it and return to a modified normal life. I seemed to have an assurance from the Lord that I would be alright.
I was challenged by the doctors, to sit up in a chair, to take walks down the hallway, even when I didn’t have the strength.
The tracheotomy was something they wanted me to prepare to live with after I was released. The cleaning of the trach was very painful to me. I told them I didn’t think I would be going home with the trach, but they insisted I learn about it anyway. One day, my tracheotomy therapist came in to further discuss care at home. I had since been told if I put my finger over the opening, I could speak (I remember after hearing this, I called Terrie and said “Hello, baby, it’s me.” We both cried with joy.) so I did that and said I wouldn’t be taking the trach home because I could do this…a song popped into my head from Walt Disney’s Jiminy Cricket singing these words – and I sang to the therapist “But he had high hopes, he’s got high hopes, He’s got high, apple pie-in-the-sky hopes. So any time you’re getting low, ‘stead of lettin’ go, just remember that ant, Oops! there goes another rubber tree plant!” The therapist was a young woman and she jumped up and down and clapped. She said, “Wait, I’ll be right back!” She came back in a short time with all the nurses from the nurses station and said, “Sing it again!” And I did and they all clapped and smiled. The next day I was schedule for a swallow test, which I passed and the trach was taken out.
Again, through this whole experience and the follow-up home care, I always felt that I was only following the Lord on a path that I was unfamiliar with, but He knew it quite well.
Perhaps you are on a path that you are unfamiliar with and haven’t any idea how it will turn out, may I encourage you to place your trust in the Lord, for He knows your path equally as well has He knew mine. He will guide you to safety. Who knows, maybe He will remind you about a song called “High Hopes”.