Let's start with Tuesday, May 31.... here's the plan. Dad has a growth in his neck, probably needs surgery, so he is leaving Saudi and will arrive in Houston at 4:30pm. I arrive at the airport early with a cart for his luggage because I know he will be tired and he has had trouble breathing. Around 5:15pm I see him coming through the doors in a wheelchair with luggage on his lap and also wheeling next to him. He looks relieved to see me and very tired from the trip and tough attempts to catch his breath.
By early the next morning, June 1, we know that our appointment with ENT at 1:30pm won't be soon enough. Breathing has become more difficult and as much as dad likes to hang out at our house - oxygen is better! We head to The Methodist Hospital (TMH - www.methodisthealth.com) in the Texas Medical Center where we know the best physicians for his symptoms practice and operate. We even had a tentative slot reserved in the OR at Methodist for Friday morning just in case.
Dad and I arrive at TMH ER and from this point things kind of become a blur. Dad's ability to catch his breath and move around is extremely difficult and we are able to get him into a room immediately with some much needed oxygen. Sitting and getting oxygen allows the situation to relax and we can have a discussion with the ER docs and Dr. Donovan (Baylor Department of Otolaryngology Chair) about how to improve Dad's ability to breath....and then figure out what we are dealing with and why it has obstructed his breathing.
From the ER we move to pre-op where we know there will be some sort of intubation. Dad is moved from pre-op to the OR quickly where the ENT performed a tracheotomy and took biopsies of the tumor. About 45 minutes later Dr. Donovan visited me in the waiting area to let me know everything went well and fast. 20 minutes later I was allowed to go back to PACU and visit with Dad..... of course he was wondering when he could get a cold Shiner now that the surgery is over. From PACU dad moves to the Surgical ICU around 2pm and although he is tired he is feeling stronger with the abundance of oxygen filling his lungs.
Later in the afternoon we get a visit from Dr. Donovan reviewing the surgery from earlier in the day. He also lets us know that the initial review of the biopsy does show the tumor to be malignant, but we don't know the type until pathology completes their tests. We also hear Dr. Donovan will consult Dr. Lynch (Oncologist) and he will visit with us in the morning. We also receive a visit from Infectious Disease physicians who want to make sure there is not risk of infection from his trach.....and that's Wednesday at the hospital for Dad and I.
The physicians and staff at TMH were extremely competent, caring, and patient. I know from the minute we arrived dad has received excellent care and everyone seems to be attracted to his personality. I hear in the middle of the first night at the hospital, a nurse arrived in the SICU to say hello to dad and see how he was doing. We met this nurse for a brief minute as we asked her to point us to the ER.....but she remembered dad and wanted to see how he was doing before she left. How awesome is that! Pam and I picked up Mom later that night. She flew in from Tucson was very anxious to visit with dad, but we would have to wait until the morning.
Thursday, June 2. Mom and I arrive at the hospital to greet a tired but happy Steve. Shortly after we arrive, Dr. Lynch arrives to provide his examination and feedback on dad's thyroid cancer. He let's us know that we don't know what kind of thyroid cancer we are dealing with and we have to wait and see in order to develop our treatment plan. Dr. Lynch informs us of the remarkable status of dad's health. He quickly realizes that dad is strong, a fighter, and has already experienced many mini miracles to get where he is at that moment. It was frustrating this day to not know exactly what we were dealing with and not be able to act.... We all wanted to start fighting this cancer immediately with surgery, radiation, a baseball bat..something! We do receive a bit of good news that morning though and learn that we will move before lunch off of the ICU floor and a regular surgical bed in a private room with a decent view of the TMC and downtown. (see below)
Taylor, Gabriel, Rachel, and Pam also visit dad/grandpa in his new room and add some artwork to the wall along with artwork from Bryden.
Friday, June 3. Mom and I arrive at the hospital in the morning hopeful that dad was able to rest and build his strength. His color and trach site seem to get better all the time! When we arrived at the hospital this morning the ENT had already come through and discussed his concerns with the preliminary pathology report and informed him of a PET CT scan to happen mid-day. Before dad left for the PET CT we did receive a visit from Dr. Lynch and his team to discuss the pathology report and the confirmation of anaplastic thyroid cancer...... I think by this point the whole family has begun to become google experts on thyroid cancers, treatments, prognosis, clinical trials, survival rates, symptoms, complications, expectations, and so on and so forth. The oncologist explains that dad's good health and young age make them feel comfortable to do an aggressive surgery....as long as the PET CT does not show that the cancer has spread to any other regions. Unfortunately, the PET CT showed the cancer has moved to the lungs. Although this is a let down for a good treatment option, we meet with Dr. Donovan again in the early evening to discuss the next steps in our fight against this cancer.
We agree that we must start radiation and chemotherapy as soon as possible. We first must stop and eradicate the lung cancer, then we concentrate on surgical removal of the thyroid tumor. The clinical care team and TMH are the ideal for this battle! We are in one of the largest medical centers in the world and next door to a world leader in cancer prevention, treatment, and research (MD Anderson). The MD Anderson physicians have trained at Baylor College of Medicine and the Baylor docs have trained at MD Anderson..... true think tank of experts working on this for a wonderful father, son, brother, grandpa, friend!
So this is where we are now. My sisters (Echo and Monica) arrive tomorrow (now today Saturday) and I know they will be a huge help. We're lucky to have their kids make the trip as well. I will update this blog with posts and pictures daily (not all this long). Send your thoughts and prayers for Superman Steve!