My wife, Shellie, and I both sensed that God was going to send us in a new direction, but we did not have any idea what that direction would be.
August, 2016 On Monday, the 8th, I was at work at a nursery tying down a loose shade cloth about 12 feet up. As I descended the step ladder, I thought I was on the bottom step. As I stepped off the ladder, I realized that I was on the second step, but thought that an extra foot drop would not matter. When I hit the ground, I felt my left leg pop and I fell to the ground and landed on my seat, then on my back. Fortunately I did not hit my head and the falling ladder missed me. The gravel was rounded river rock, and I missed all the potted plants, so it was a pretty painless landing, except that I could not move without sending pain shooting down my left leg. A nearby co-worker called 911, then brought me two Tylenol from a bottle in my lunch box.
I could hardly believe that I had broken my leg from dropping two feet. The week before, I was thirty feet up on a ladder cutting the top out of a dead tree. It's a good thing I did not fall that far. When the ambulance arrived in about ten minutes, the EMT's began to speculate that it was multiple myeloma, which is a bone cancer that erodes lesions in bones. The x-ray at the local hospital confirmed their suspicions. My left femur was broken a few inches below my hip where there was a lesion. They decided to send me to a bigger and better equipped hospital for treatment. One of my choices was Oregon Health Sciences University, OHSU, so it was an easy choice.
I had lived for sixty-six years without breaking a bone or needing an ambulance. That day I rode in two ambulances.
I started calling people on my cell phone while I was still waiting for the first ambulance. I finally got through to my wife, Shellie, after the first x-ray and asked her to meet me at OHSU. She brought our children, Emma, Ellie and Nathaniel with her. The rest of the first day was a blur of blood texts, and vital signs. I gave blood so many times, that by the end of the week, I was joking with the nurses that I felt like I had been camping with a big crowd of mosquitoes.
On Tuesday, I woke up about four a.m. They just don't let you sleep at a hospital. I turned on the TV since we gave our TV away two years earlier. I watched political news and commentary full of outright lies and distortions, and wondered how we managed to get two such poorly qualified and disliked candidates in the same election.
Shellie brought Ellie and Emma, and her boyfriend, Patrick, and they spent the rest of the day. I went up to surgery about two p.m. and surgery started about three. I woke up in the recovery room after eight. I was not a very co-operative patient. I told someone to go away and let me sleep. About an hour later, I heard a nurse calling my name as she patted my chest, and I came too, fully awake and ready to go back to my room.
The x-rays show a titanium rod called a nail inside the entire length of my left femur from the knee up, with two screws near the knee and two screws near the hip joint. It held everything so securely that I was able to walk on it the next day and no cast was needed.
On Wednesday, my big accomplishment was maneuvering my walker about thirty feet from my bed out into the hall, then back to sit in a chair. The next day, I went down the hall about sixty feet to the physical therapy room and learned how to go up and down one step with a walker. The third day, I went about one hundred feet down the hall.
I was running a fever off and on, so they did not let me go home on Friday. On Saturday, the doctors decided that there were no signs on infection and the slight fever wasn't serious enough to keep me in the hospital over the weekend. We got home about four p.m. Saturday. Our house has a single step up to the door and it is plenty wide for a walker so that was not a problem. I settled into a recliner and wrote an email explaining to my family what had happened.
I am glad that our house is a ranch style so it was easy to get around in a walker. I went out to the front yard to help Nathaniel adjust the sprinklers. I could not go out the back door to the patio because the step is too small for the walker. I discovered that I could make it down the step into the garage by leaning on the freezer and water heater.
On Tuesday, I also had my first shower and it felt so good to shampoo my hair. There is a sturdy bar on the shower wall to hang onto if needed. Shellie had to wash my legs because they would not bend enough yet for me to reach them.
Getting out of bed was not too bad, but it was hard to get my leg into bed, so Shellie helped. She also had to put my left sock on and off.
Friends brought in meals for us for a few weeks. A long time friend brought a wonderful bean soup. She had just graduated from college in her 40's, shortly after her third child graduated from high school. It is so nice to have friends close by at a time like this.
Then we went to a prayer meeting at Orenco Presbyterian Church arranged for us by a friend from our previous church, Hillsboro Presbyterian Church. There were hard feelings between the people who stayed and the people who left, but there was a very good turnout of people from both churches, about 40 people in all. It was good to see so many friends again, and they were being friendly to each other again. Shellie and I spoke a little about what we were experiencing. Then we sat in a half circle of chairs and the people laid their hands on our shoulders and each other as various people prayed.
It was a very moving time. It is in a difficult time like this that we really appreciate our need to have shoulders to lean on. It was so great that they let us lean on their shoulders last night as we prayed to God, our ultimate source of hope and strength. I told them some things about the most memorable time when God was our only hope, when we were adopting Ellie from Vietnam. Many of them were praying with us that God would move U.S. Immigration to give us a visa so we could bring our baby home. If you want to read the story, it is on our website at http://www.rodsgarden.50megs.com/ElliePray.htm
On Friday, the 23rd, I met with the oncologist at OHSU. She outlined a treatment plan starting with radiation to knock down the cancer, then nine months of chemotherapy. The next option would be to kill the bone marrow and insert my own stem cells back into my bones. This would be followed by maintenance chemotherapy to keep cancer cells from redeveloping. She gave me a thick sheaf of papers describing the chemos and possible side effects.
One important piece of information I got was that sometimes Workmen's Comp will pay for bone cancer treatment, and sometimes it stops after paying for the broken bone. If Workmen's Comp does not cover cancer treatment, my health insurance does not include OHSU either. I began looking at other options.
On Tuesday, I met with my primary care physician to do the blood work that OHSU wanted so my insurance would cover the cost. I asked him to request that my insurance would extend coverage to pay OHSU as if it was a contracted provider. They already had put in the request and my health insurance refused and directed us to use a doctor in the provider list. We chose a doctor who is board certified in hematology/oncology at Tuality Hospital in Hillsboro that Shellie knew. I also learned that one of the doctors in radiation at OHSU works at Tuality Hospital on Fridays. It would be nice to get some of the same doctors with a ten minute drive instead of an hour drive into Portland.
My doctor gave us an interesting bit of advice when Shellie asked him about diet. He said that we should not go overboard at cutting out foods, because losing weight weakens the body even more. This got my attention since I lost ten pounds in the hospital. Shellie's cousin sent information about a diet which includes about a pound of fresh vegetables and fruit every day, good fat, not low fat, lots of fish along with some red meat, and very little processed food. That makes good sense to us.
I had to learn how to get around with a walker. At my doctor's appointment, I started heading for the doctor's office with the walker, but Shellie got a wheelchair and I rode the rest of the way. At our favorite restaurant, there was not an out of the way place to leave the walker, but I discovered that I could fold it up and stand it on its edge under the table. At the grocery store and I used the electric shopping cart to haul my walker and groceries. We were getting this figured out. However, it is very hard to pull weeds from a walker. It is even harder to dig potatoes.
We went to church on Sunday. The guest preacher gave a moving sermon about asking in prayer. He used the example of Caleb from Joshua 14 and Aksah from Joshua 15. I asked God for five things: that insurance would cover the cost of treatment, that I would live long enough to see all my children trust in Jesus for salvation, that I would live long enough to see all my children launched in a career, that I would live long enough to play with my grandchildren, and that I could be a witness to the grace of God through this illness. We had to trust God to guide us step by step as we travelled this new road.
On Monday, the 30th, I went back to OHSU for a post op checkup with the orthopedic doctor. She was pleased with the way the incisions are healing. She had me swing up my lower leg and raise my entire left leg. Then she watched me walk in the walker. She gave me an A+ for my progress. Her only concern was strengthening my muscles.
In the afternoon, Shellie and I met with Dr. Eliana Kozin of Hillsboro Hematology & Oncology. She seemed very knowledgeable and competent. Her treatment plan is very similar to OHSU's except that one drug is injected once a week instead of a weaker dose twice a week. That sounded much better to me. The other two drugs were pills taken at home. Then there was a once a month IV of Zometa to strengthen my bones. I am also taking calcium and Vitamin D3 for my bones.
My broken bone must have healed some because I could swing my leg up without any shooting pains. I could put a little more weight on it, but I still needed my walker. I could drive an automatic to take the kids to school and run errands. Three trips to Ace Hardware in one day.
On Friday, the 2nd, I took my first Revlamid pill for cancer. I took it for 14 days, then took a week off before the next cycle. It never caused any noticeable side effects. Then, a friend picked me up at 6 a.m. and took me to a Men's Bible Study where they prayed for me.
Next, I went to the cancer radiation center for a CT scan to determine the exact positions of the places they want to treat with radiation. The technician tattooed four little black dots on my stomach so they could line me up with the machine exactly the same every time. They chose to treat four spots in my left femur, right femur, pelvis and the right side of my pubic bone. The pubic bone showed the most bone loss, so I slowly lowered myself into even a padded chair to avoid breaking a bone.
On Thursday, the 7th, I had the first of seven radiation treatments. I drove myself to the appointment and had no problems. However, about three hours later, my thighs felt tired and I had to sit and rest for awhile. Friday was the same story, except that my thighs ached, so I took two Tylenol and went to bed to rest for two hours and listened to Christian talk radio to keep my mind off of my aching thighs. I finished my seven radiation treatments on Friday, the 16th, with no other noticeable side effects.
I started my first round of all three chemos. There are lots of possible side effects, but the doctor highlighted: blood clots, shingles, damage to the lining of the esophagus and stomach, either constipation or diarrhea, and nerve damage. Also, crankiness for a day after I take the steroids. She gave me additional prescriptions for the first three side effects. I prayed that none of the possible side effects would affect me.
My broken leg seems to have healed quite a bit. I could limp on it a little without the walker if I had too. One oncologist warned that multiple myeloma might prevent the bone from healing, so I praised God for that the bone was healing.
I continued to do what I could around the house and yard. Two families from church graciously brought over fire wood. I split some firewood while sitting down, but leaning forward made both hips ache. The next day, I piled up some sections of tree trunk so I could split wood standing up. Much better.
Ellie came down with a fever and some vomiting Wednesday morning and was home sick the rest of the week. She stayed at least six feet away from me so I would not catch it since my immune system was weakened from the chemo.
Shellie revised her menus and cooked healthier food. I was eating better, too. Two of my doctors mentioned the importance of eating well to keep my weight and strength up. I lost ten pounds the week I was in the hospital, and two more pounds in the two weeks after that. But I gained back two pounds in two weeks. I did not have much appetite, but I can always eat when it is mealtime. Apparently the spice, tumeric, has an ingredient that fights multiple myeloma cancer cells. It tastes pretty bad even mixed in lemonade, but I drank it anyway.
On the 24th, I traded my walker for a cane, so it was easier and faster to get around. That day, we went to a memorial service for the daughter of a close friend. She discovered that she was pregnant about the same time she discovered that she had cancer. She delayed starting treatment until her baby had developed enough to withstand chemo. The baby was born perfectly healthy, but her cancer had already spread too much to stop it.
On the 26th, I had my last appointment at OHSU for my broken leg, 7 weeks after it broke. X-rays showed a line of denser bone healing the break. There was quite a bit more of the break to heal, and the doctor guessed another two or three months for complete healing.
On the 27th, I was inspected by a doctor for Workers' Comp. Among other tests, he had me lie on my back and bring my knees up toward my chest. He was surprised that the broken leg could bend closer to my chest than the other leg. I mentioned that I normally drive a pickup with a clutch, but he cautioned me about driving it anytime soon. After the appointment, I drove to my workplace and spoke with the owner about going back to work as soon as Workers' Comp. and my doctor approved.
On the 4th, Workers' Comp. informed me that they denied my claim as being caused by my work, based on the doctor's opinion that the leg would have broken anyway, even if I was just walking. Actually, this was an answer to prayer, sort of. I had prayed that my employer would not be stuck with a big increase in Workers' Comp. premiums after they more than doubled the previous year when one of our trucks was rear ended and three guys missed weeks of work.
At least, Workers' Comp paid me 2/3 of my normal pay for 8 weeks while I was healing. It is a God thing that we switched treatment to a doctor and hospital covered by my medicare insurance since they only cover OHSU for emergency care.
On the 6th, I finished my first full round of chemotherapy. The only side effects were that I got a rash on my stomach where I got the Velcade shot, and it gave me the hiccups the next day. Considering the long list of serious side effects, I got off pretty easy. God answered all the prayers that I would not have serious side effects from the chemotherapy. A few days later, I finished giving myself the 42 shots of Lovenox blood thinner in my stomach. The nurse that gave me the Velcade shot in the same area was surprised that there was no bruising on my stomach.
On the 10th, nine weeks after I broke my leg, I went back to work at my old job, but I was not spraying weeds or blowing leaves like the previous year. I sat at a desk and worked on a computer, mostly entering and updating the work schedule for the crews. And, I drove my pickup with the clutch to work. God was answering our prayers.
I never asked God, "Why me?" Before I broke my leg, Shellie and I sensed that God was about to head us in a different direction, and we prayed that He would lead us in a new direction. He just chose to lead us in a direction that we would not have chosen for ourselves. We do not know where this will lead us, but we know Who is leading us.
On the 16th, we went to Cannon Beach and had a nice walk on the beach. On the way back, I stopped to take a picture of flowers. I hopped out of the van without my cane and walked about 100 feet. I must have over done it, because my leg started to hurt as I drove to work the next morning. I must have re-fractured the bone that had partially healed. My leg does not hurt much more than before. It did not stop me cutting down a tree for firewood. However, I was concerned that it would be harder for the break to heal since I was working and driving.
At my doctor's appointment, I got confirmation that chemotherapy is working. While healthy white blood cells make antibodies, cancerous white blood cells make abnormal proteins. A blood test on 9/22/16 showed two abnormal proteins. On 10/13/2016, only one of the abnormal proteins was found, and the amount had dropped from 0.6 gm/dL to 0.4 gm/dL. On 11/3/16, the abnormal protein had dropped to 0.2 gm/dL. The target is 0.0 gm/dL, so chemotherapy was working very well.
At church, a friend from prayer group sat next to me. She pulled out two silk handkerchiefs that had belonged to her mother and laid them on my arm. Then she prayed that my bone cancer would be healed. It was touching and powerful, and I thanked her.
Meanwhile, life continues. Nathaniel was coughing and sniffling, and missed school. Ellie had missed quite a few days of school already. Shellie had nausea and a headache. I was the healthiest one in the family, not counting bone cancer.
I got some really good news from my oncologist. My blood levels of abnormal protein had been steadily dropping since I started chemotherapy. The last test, the level was undetectable. My doctor said that my response to chemotherapy was very good to complete. Side effects were minimal, mainly a rash on my stomach where I got the Velcade shots. I also had two episodes of hives from head to ankle. Both times were when I spent a long time in front of the fireplace and got overheated, so I learned to shed my flannel shirt. Prayers were being answered!
I was working one day a week at Garron Grounds. I also resumed teaching an evening gardening class each week at Portland Community College which I have been teaching since 1993.
It was almost time to move me into the third phase of treatment. The first phase was seven treatments of radiation in September. The second phase was chemotherapy with Revlamid and Velcade which started the end of September.
The third phase was the bone marrow transplant. I met with my original oncologist, Dr. Medvedova, at Oregon Health Sciences University, and learned more about the bone marrow transplant process. It was a complicated process which took two months.
Our church, Living Hope, in Aloha OR, prayed for Shellie and me during their conference. At least 6 pastors prayed for us as
I went to OHSU for tests to check my heart, lungs, kidneys and veins to see if I could stand the procedure. They also took a bone marrow biopsy to send the results to my health insurance to make sure they would cover it.
Shellie and I took a day of training classes at OHSU to learn about the challenges involved in the transplant including the special care I would need at home after the transplant.
I had hoped to begin the process in February as Dr. Medvedova had originally thought. Yet, I prayed that the treatment would begin according to God's timing, and it worked out fine. Shellie would not have been able to visit her sister before she died or attended her cousin's funeral if I was in the hospital. I would still be able to recover before the trip to Iowa the end of July. It is a good thing that I am now on Medicare and Social Security. I could not afford to be this sick two years earlier.
I started the bone marrow transplant process on Sunday, April 30th with the first of three daily shots of Neupogen to stimulate bone marrow to produce stem cells. May, 2017
The only noticeable side effect of the three Neupogen shots was a little more aching in my legs, which was good because one possible side effect is that the spleen would swell and rupture which could lead to death. I am glad I dodged that bullet.
After the second Neupogen shot, I went back Monday afternoon to get a Hickman line, which is a tube that connects to a large vein near the heart. This allows easier blood draws and injecting medicines which is a big plus. I had so many needles stuck in me that I started referring to nurses as mosquitoes. One drawback is that the line has to be cleaned every day. It was also used to filter the stem cells from my blood. This was a big improvement over the alternate which was to have a needle stuck in each arm. When they checked my veins to see if they were good, the nurse asked if I could hold my arms straight for three and a half hours. I replied, "Yes, unless my nose starts to itch." She agreed that itches often appeared during the procedure.
They were not able to collect enough stem cells on Wednesday and Thursday, so I had to come back an extra day on Friday, which allowed them to collect about three times the stem cells they needed. They always want to collect at least twice the number of needed stem cells in case the first transplant fails. <\p>
On Saturday I celebrated my 67th birthday with my wife and kids at our favorite restaurant, Happy Panda. I also got the good news is that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society included me in their program to pay most of the expenses that my health insurance would not cover. Praise God!!
On Monday and Tuesday I got the injections of Melphalan to kill the bone marrow. This was the harshest chemo. I had to suck on ice cubes before, during, and after the half hour injections to reduce the blood flow to my mouth because one of the side effects is open sores in the mouth. I also lost most of my antibodies and disease resistance. Right after the second injection, I went into the special isolation floors of the hospital as they watched me closely for infections until my white blood cell count recovered.
On Wednesday about noon, the stem cells were injected back into my blood stream as they were frequently checking my vital signs. One concern was a reaction to the DMSO preservative in the stem cells which can cause a drop in blood pressure, but my vital signs stayed steady. I had a long nap after that.
Not much happened on Thursday. The only noticeable side effect is loss of appetite. I ordered too much for breakfast and lunch, so I skipped supper. I spent most of the day scanning slides to the computer and watching TV. The high point of the day was when a double rainbow appeared. I had prayed that I would get a room with a good view, and I certainly had that.
Not much else was happening. The nurse said that I was her healthiest patient. It was kind of boring, but boring can be good. I heard that there is a toast among geneticists, "May your DNA be boring," as in nothing that would cause concern.
The biggest event was Friday evening when my temperature hit over 100. They took me downstairs for lung x-rays, collected a urine sample, and put me on antibiotics. The tests were negative and my fever was gone the next morning. I had a mild fever off and on since then, but not enough to get excited. They gave me a breath tester to encourage slow, deep breaths to open up more lung areas and discourage pneumonia.
My red blood count began to recover after several days but my white blood cell count fell to zero for two days in spite of white blood cell injections. It finally increased for the first time on Saturday. It was up again Sunday. The doctor surprised me by saying that if everything continues this way, I can go home on Tuesday. I was expecting to be here another week, but some patients do stay as little as two weeks. The doctor also said that I would come back to the clinic twice a week for checkups and any medicine. That usually continues for about a month.
Thank you for praying for me that I would not have serious side effects and a quick recovery. God is answering your prayers.
May 25, 2017
I spent two weeks at OHSU, and the doctors sent me home on Tuesday. The time there was mostly uneventful. I developed some crusty spots in my mouth, but they never broke open into mouth sores. I felt some nausea and definite lack of appetite. Most meals had to be eaten slowly and I skipped two suppers until I got rid of the lump in my stomach. I lost ten pounds, then gained two back when my appetite got better. Next, I got mild diarrhea, which continues to this day, but Imodium keeps it in check.
Thank you for praying that I would not have serious side effects.
The biggest event was Friday evening when my temperature hit over 100. They took me downstairs for lung x-rays, collected a urine sample, and put me on antibiotics. The tests were negative and my fever was gone the next morning. I have had a mild fever off and on since then, but not enough to get excited. They gave me a breath tester to encourage slow, deep breaths to open up more lung areas and discourage pneumonia.
The good news is that my white blood cell count increased for the first time on Saturday. It was up again Sunday. The doctor surprised me by saying that if everything continued this way, I could go home on Tuesday. I was expecting to be there another week, but some patients do stay as little as two weeks. It was so nice to be home Tuesday evening.
However, I picked up a fever and a rash on Monday which continues. Also, there is a problem with my platelets, which are very low. I am not allowed to blow my nose in case it would start a nosebleed.
I was back at the outpatient clinic on Wednesday to check my blood counts. White blood cell count was up again, but my platelet count was zero. They gave me platelets, but on Thursday the platelet count was zero again. I will need to keep going to the clinic every day for more platelets until the numbers start climbing.
Platelets are not closely matched like blood transfusions. It usually does not matter. However, some people are sensitive to foreign platelets and they are destroyed, which is probably why my platelet cell count is so low. They ordered closely matched platelets to give me on Friday. It will be another two weeks before my new stem cells start producing more platelets.
I am not feeling sharp enough to drive in traffic and the nurses discouraged me from driving myself to appointments. Shellie's time has been taken up by getting kids to school and taking them to numerous appointments. Kent Callahan has been generous in giving me rides to OHSU, but there may be times when he is not available, especially since I need to go every day for platelets. Please let me know if you can be on call for taking me to OHSU.
Please pray that these platelets will match and last a lot longer. And please pray that God will give my family extra strength for all of the extra stress we are facing right now.
June 10, 2017
I got out of the hospital early, but had to go back every day for more platelets. My platelets were at zero three days in a row. I was warned not to blow my nose or I might get a bad nosebleed. They weren't sure if my body was destroying them, or just using them up, but the treatment was four days of steroids. I had already started producing platelets, so the count started climbing after that and continues to climb, so I have not needed any more platelet infusions.
Lately, I have been going to OHSU twice a week. Usually, they take blood samples and send me home. Yesterday, they gave me an IV because my kidney numbers weren't quite right, because I have not been drinking 2 liters of water or juice every day like I am supposed to.
I am feeling a lot better. I started a new project, repairing the bathroom. Water has been leaking between the tiles above the bathtub, running down the edge of the bathtub and seeping under the vinyl flooring. First, I will replace the grout between the tiles and caulk all of the joints to stop the water. Then I will pull up the vinyl flooring and see how much wood will need to be replaced. I have been removing the grout for three days now, so who knows how long this will take.
My Multiple Myeloma bone cancer is now in remission. Praise God. I discovered that I had cancer last August 8th when my left leg broke three inches below the hip. I was given seven radiation treatments in August and September to stop the largest bone lesions. Then I received weekly chemotherapy from September to April to kill off the cancerous cells in my blood and bone marrow. Chemo was pretty mild compared to most chemos and the worst side effect was a mild rash on my stomach and hiccups on the day after my Velcade shot.
Finally, in May, I received a bone marrow transplant. The hospital collected stem cells from my blood and froze them. Then they gave me strong chemotherapy to kill my bone marrow cells. The next day, the stem cells were injected back into my blood stream, and they re-established themselves in my bone marrow. I spent two weeks in the isolation floor of Oregon Health Sciences University as they monitored my reaction to the chemotherapy and to protect me from infections, since my immune system is all but gone. This chemo was worse and I had no appetite and eventually developed diarrhea. I also lost lots of hair and most of my whiskers. But I did not develop any of the serious side effects.
After two weeks in the hospital, my white blood cells began to increase, and they sent me home, but I had to go back every day because my platelets were very low. It took another week before my platelets began to increase. Now I go back twice a week for checkups and treatments as needed.
© 2017 Rodney A. Smith
This article may be downloaded and printed as long as no changes are made to the text, and proper credit is given to the source:
If you have questions or comments, please EMAIL me at rodandshellie (at) frontier.com.
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