What is going on?! I feel like I’m being attacked left and right and I am. Literally. There is something dark at work here and it’s getting worse by the day. It’s a physical, emotional, and spiritual on-going battle and I’m surrounded. I’m cornered and I have nowhere to run. Nothing to do but stand my ground where I am. That’s all I have left: my stand and my faith that someone bigger is still watching over me no matter what.
I’ll explain why I feel like this and you’ll understand. As of last week, the latest news was that I’d need to undergo several rounds of radiation for the tumor in my chest and that doctors had located a blood clot in my left lung. Remember, my left lung. This is significant considering the news that I received just two days ago. After the initial blood clot diagnosis, I was given an appointment to see another doctor on Tuesday, a cardiopulmonary specialist. That’s right: Dr. C. Make him number 4 on my highly specialized team of experts. I was expecting to see him about said blood clot but I was sorely mistaken. He came in, sat down, and asked me if I knew why I was there. I asked him, “Is it about the blood clot?” He smiled and said, “Well, yes that’s part of it but there’s something else going on and I need to show you.”
Oh God. My heart started beating so hard and fast I thought he could hear it.
Dr. C turned on the computer in the room and brought up two of my CT chest scans: the one from April and the most recent one I’d had on August 13, last week. He showed me April’s scan first to give me an idea of what ‘normal’ lungs look like. I thought to myself, ‘Normal?? What’s wrong with them now??’
This is an x-ray of a set of normal lungs. These are not my lungs but it’s the best representation I could find on Google. The dark parts indicate air so those are the lungs and the lines at the bottom drawn in are the diaphragm.
Now, a short medical lesson: the diaphragm is the skeletal muscle that separates your chest from your intestines and contracts up and down to allow the lungs to take in and expel air. Although not a very often thought of part of the body, it is a very important one. If your diaphragm isn’t working, you ain’t breathing. This brings me to the most important part of that conversation.
Dr. C then brought up the August scan and what I saw was frightening. You don’t have to be a cardiopulmonary doctor to see the difference. My right lung looked like this:
Again, this is not the actual x-ray of my chest but it might as well be. Isn’t that gnarly? “Why is my right lung way up there?!” I asked him.
Diagnosis: diaphragmatic paralysis. The tumor in my chest is squeezing the nerve that controls the right side of the diaphragm causing it to become paralyzed. My right lung is no longer contracting as it needs to so it’s only working at 60% capacity.
Bells started going off in my head and a lot of questions were automatically being answered in there too. The time after chemo when I was panting like a dog in my bedroom and all the times since then. Being out of breath walking across the house. Gasping for air at band practice when I tried to sing. This whole time I’d blamed the chemo for making me tired, therefore, out of breath. In reality, it was the tumor that had been causing all my problems.
Dr. C asked me if I’d been feeling out of breath and I told him everything. He nodded in agreement of the symptoms I was naming off for him, one by one. According to my symptoms and since my April scan was normal, it’s been since June more or less that my diaphragm became uncooperative.
So what does all this mean? We don’t know yet. Dr. C says that even if the radiation works to shrink the tumor, the nerve only has a 50/50 chance of returning to normal. He said we’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime I have to condition my lungs and body with moderate exercise to work with 60% capacity just in case it stays this way. Although Dr. C says this is do-able, that I can live with 60%, it’s still gonna be a huge challenge.
The things I love to do the most right now are most in jeopardy. I thought about dancing, my number two love. I dance like nobody is watching when everyone is watching. I sweat like a pig until I’m out of breath just to keep going. A 60% working lung doesn’t lend itself to that. How is my husband gonna spin me around on the dance floor without me looking like my eyeballs are gonna pop out from losing oxygen? Not a pretty picture.
And my number one love? Singing. It hasn’t been impossible to sing, but it’s definitely been a challenge lately. And that scares the living crap out of me. I haven’t been able to dance in over a year because of my bum hip anyway and I can deal with that. Not being able to sing? I can’t deal with that. It’s been the only thing that I can still do through all this; the only thing cancer has not taken from me.
Even though it’s being challenged, I am determined to not let this tumor take away the one thing I can still do well, the one thing I have left: my voice.
You might think it’s dumb, but Rachel Berry from ‘Glee’ read the script right off of my heart when she said,
Before you close the door, I need you to hear me sing. I have to. There’s nothing I’m as good at or as passionate about or that brings me that much joy.
Through this whole journey I’ve repeated to my husband time and again, “As long as I still have my voice and I can sing, I don’t care if I can’t dance.” Ironically, now that statement is being challenged. The ability to still be able to sing despite my situation means everything to me. It means I’m still me in spite of it all. So help me God, I intend to keep it that way.