This past week has been CRAZY! The days have involved visiting new doctors and preparing for hyperbaric treatment. In addition, Mackenzie is having surgery on Friday so between her and me we are keeping the calendar filled. My first appointment was with the Infectious Disease doctor. It was at this appointment that I started to get answers and solutions as to what is going on with my skin. I learned that my bone had a staph and fungal infection in it. A possible cause of the skin breakdown on my face and the reason there was a chip in my bone. The doctor placed me on a course of antibiotics for 6 weeks and will be following me closely to ensure the infections go away. This discovery started to give me some much needed hope and a change in course of action that seemed to be better than the course I was on.
The next day I visited with Dr. Adkinson, the Medical Director of Hyberbaric Treatment at Hennepin County Medical Center, which is the location of the hyperbaric chamber. It was at this appointment that we learned about the positive results after going through hyperbaric treatment, especially on radiated skin. Many of you have been asking about the hyperbaric treatment so to better describe the treatment, here is an article that was given to me on the principle of hyperbaric treatment. The author interviewed my doctor and featured the Department of Hyperbaric Treatment at the Hennepin County Medical Center:
The principle behind hyperbaric medicine is simple. Treatment provides one common benefit for all patients: It loads up blood with more oxygen that patients can get in any other setting. "Hemoglobin is fully loaded up by breathing 100% oxygen at normal pressure," Adkinson explains. "Hyperbaric oxygen treatment dissolves additional oxygen in blood plasma. At 3 atmospheres of pressure on 100% oxygen, the partial pressure of oxygen is about 2,300 millimeters of mercury. This allows oxygen to actually diffuse from the capillaries into tissues rather than being released by hemoglobin. Even if you don't have any hemoglobin, hyperbaric treatment will provide oxygen to tissue." One area where hyperbaric treatment makes a significant difference is in preparing for surgical flaps and grafts or saving flaps and grafts, in an irradiated field. Early treatment is also critical when a graft or flap is not healing properly. "Whether or not the tissue is irradiated and whether or not it's vascularized, the sooner we can begin treatment, the more helpful we can be," Adkinson stresses. "In order to salvage a graft or flap, we need to treat when it looks like it's getting into trouble and not after it's already necrosing."
Today, I had my first treatment. The best way to describe the chamber is that it looks like a nuclear fallout shelter or a large submarine. I almost felt like I was getting on the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea ride at DisneyWorld. There are four chairs inside so there are other patients undergoing treatment at the same time. A nurse or tech is also inside the chamber during treatment to monitor our vitals and assist in case of an emergency. Upon looking around the room you see lots of hoses, fire extinguishers and valves. Once treatment begins, the first 10 minutes are called "going down" similar to being in a submarine. This is when the chamber is put under pressure and the room gets extremely warm. My chair is located by one of the gauges so I was able to watch the temperature reach over 90 degrees while going down. This was the time that all of the pain I experienced while they placed tubes in my ears was forgotten. I had no problems with equalizing the pressure in my ears and had no discomfort so I was thankful. Once going down is finished, I am placed inside a sealed "hood" which is attached to a hose sending oxygen into the hood. The treatment takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes total and during this time I need to take two 5 minute breaks from the oxygen hood to prevent seizures. Once treatment is done, going back up is a lot quicker and the room gets extremely cool. Fortunately, we are able to read or play cards during treatment to help pass the time. Below is a picture of the chamber and one of the patients is inside a hood similar to the one I wear during treatment.
I met a man today that was inside the hyperbaric chamber at the same time. The first time I saw him, I knew immediately that he had the same kind of cancer I had and has gone through a similar experience. After seeing his face, I realized how fortunate I was. My defects were not as noticeable and as severe as the ones he had in his face. It had been a year since his maxillectomy and he was still battling holes in his skin. He was a sweet and dear old man. We had a chance to speak to one another after treatment. We had a common bond and understanding between one another. When our conversation was done he said to me, "We are survivors." After a stressful and anxiety filled day, he made my day a little brighter.
This has been a common theme for me this past week. Not only has the week been filled with appointment after appointment, but it has also been filled with encounters with cancer survivors like this old man. The other day I was at Pier One, a store I have been frequently visiting as I am attempting to decorate our newly finished basement. I was at the checkout counter getting ready to pay for some pillows I had purchased to put on the spare bedroom bed. One of the workers looked at my face and asked what happened. I quickly explained (I have an explanation I typically use for situations like this to avoid going into much detail) about my cancer and surgeries. Soon after she began telling me about her own battle with Melanoma over 30 years ago. She was 22 when diagnosed and it was so advanced she was given only 6 months to live. Her Dad bought her a ticket to travel around the world so that she could live the rest of her life to its fullest. Six months turned into 2 years into 30 years and she survived. She defeated the odds that were given to her many years ago. She credited it to having a positive attitude. Hearing her success story gave me hope. While we were exchanging stories, the customer that was standing next to me was intently listening to our conversation. She was amazed at the battles we had fought and empathized with my current situation. She immediately asked what my name was and with sincerity said to my face, "I am going to pray for you." I was so touched by her compassion and I simply said "thank you." But what I really wanted to do was give her a big hug.
As I look back over the past year, I have had many encounters with cancer survivors. Each and every one of them have been very special to me and much needed at that moment in time. I will never forget the woman at my oncology clinic that saw me sitting in a wheel chair deathly sick and barely able to sit up as a result of chemo and radiation. She came up to me and looked me in the eyes and said "You WILL get through this". And I am so grateful for the neighbor God put into my life that went through her own battle with cancer years ago. She helped me to believe. I valued the messages that a fellow cancer survivor wrote on my blog faithfully validating my feelings and frustrations. And most of all, I am so thankful for a Dad that had battled cancer himself years ago and was able to be there for me in ways no one else could. These cancer survivors were angels God put into my life to help me get through this experience. I hope to some day be an angel for someone else, whether it be a friend, family, or stranger at the store, battling cancer.
Please continue to pray. Pray the infection will go away. Pray the hyperbaric treatments will work. Pray no more surgeries will be required and that my skin will heal! Pray for strength to get through these next 6-7 weeks. They will be tough on me and my family.
Blessings to you all!