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How I Got Cancer and Other Tales of Woe

By Lon D. Campbell, 2008

Let me tell you about my cancer. In 1960 when I was 13 years old down by the brook along the spillway where my sister Alta’s imaginary friend “Katy McKatcha” lived. This was where the old railroad line terminated. Where the 1800s saw a terminal spur designed to cut ice in the winter for all of the small town’s needs. This was also where the herrin’ ran in the spring and we came to be called “herrin’ snatchers” if we lived in the town of North East, Maryland. Where Johnny Pugh and I played and smoked short Kools with the fake filters that I now realize he stole from my Dad’s store where he worked, and stole, and sneaked around being a bum and we kids dipped herrin’ and tried to sell them at Harvey’s and Boyd’s Wharf for a nickel a pound.

That spillway was where I first smoked a cigarette stole from my Dad’s store and supplied by my cousin Johnny Pugh. Although I have no proof that he stole them, he had that type of style and matter of life. Johnny gave me my first drag on a smoke, an unfiltered Kool. I held up a handkerchief and blew the smoke through the handkerchief. It turned the handkerchief a brown color. This was at Johnny’s suggestion and Johnny said, “See, that is what goes into your lungs every time you inhale.” Nobody ever accused Johnny of being stupid. So you see that is truly where my cancer started. If I had stopped that day, I would not be writing this story or at least not be writing it as I am writing it.

Flash forward to another time and place. In this time warp, I am now 60 years old and the year is 2007. I don’t know it yet, but the old body is ready to fail me and I have multiple types of cancer, bladder, lung, and bone.

I have just completed four days of a conference that concludes 40 years of government service with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Most of my colleagues have either moved on to bigger or better things or have retired from federal service. I have elected to serve 40 years and retire. This is my final year and I am very happy with my service. My good friend Jack Earnhardt retired three years ago and with 25 years of federal service from the VD as well as VA Service Connected Disability. Jack and I became true friends on our initial meeting at a conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was named as a team leader in 1985 in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Take Route 13 North. I stop at my friend’s seafood store, but he is closed for the season. The traffic is light and I make good time. I am home by Thursday, late afternoon. We as a conference group travel to all points on the map. I get home dragging ass tired on that Thursday of Memorial Day weekend. I take a leisurely break. Cut my grass that weekend. Drink a few beers, manicure my yard, etc. Go to the Crab Shack. Drink a few more beers, etc., and drink a few more beers, etc.

Monday is the holiday. Crab Shack again and drink a few more beers at the Shack!! Hang out with the boys. “Nothing shaking.” Jerry and Matt steam a few up! I went to work on Tuesday the 2nd and began passing raw blood and clots in my urine. That’s when I closed the office, called RMO, and was transported by ambulance to Union Hospital in Elkton, Maryland, to their emergency room.

As luck would have it, an elderly gentleman also had the same problem, and both of us were treated at the same time for the same thing. A urologist met with me and said that I had an obstruction in my bladder that needed to be removed, at which time he also aspirated the bladder and removed numerous clots and obstructions. The treatment post-op also consisted of a bladder vent collar, bird call sounds, and post-op delirium of the children playing in the river.

My surgery was a complete success. It included an injection to kill cancer cells done in six sessions lasting approximately two hours. After this, my surgeon scoped the bladder and found it to be cancer free. The entire bladder was clean as a pin. I’m free and clear.

It was here that my life took a turn for the best! I had beaten cancer! This was in the spring of 2007. I have never felt better in my entire life. I had really won out over the big, big “C.” What was the fuss about? What was the fuss? Well, I was soon to begin to discover what the big fuss was about. Yes indeedy, yes, indeedy!! For you see I was to discover that yes, cancer can kill or reoccur when you least expect it.

You see, that fall I began to have back pain and somehow my health started to fail.  My primary family doctor was Dr. Timothy O’Donnell. He referred me to Dr. Masters, my lead oncologist at the Helen Graham Cancer Center, a subsidiary of the Christiana Care Center at Christiana Hospital. Dr. Masters suspected that I had cancer in the “T” eighth vertebrae of my spinal column. The lung x-ray showed no cancer, but the spinal column was not clear of obstruction. Further examination of a multitude of tests showed that I had a problem in that area.

MRIs, Cat scans, bone scans, x-rays, blood tests, colonoscopy (free of cancer), etc. Eric Ameston drove me to the clinic in Delaware. All clear. My doctors, in order of their priority, are Dr. Van Zail, my urologist, who initially operated on me for my bladder cancer and cured me of my bladder tumor; Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, my doctor; Dr. Masters, my lead oncologist whom Dr. O’Donnell had referred me to for follow-up for cancer evaluation; Dr Sugarman, my thoracic surgeon for surgery; and finally Dr. Kaprowski and Dr. Ruben, my radiologist who did all of my x-rays for my radiology concerning my cancer treatments.

I had ten treatments in all for my eradiation to my right lung, once it was discovered that I have lung cancer in my right upper quadrant of my right lung. The treatments are going as expected, 10 in all, painful, but nevertheless much needed for full medical care. I also may need further radiation treatment, but until I meet with Dr. Masters, I won’t or don’t know.

I also need to talk with the powers that be regarding my desire to stay at my current domicile. I do need financial assistance for room and board, and as of now I don’t know how I can pay for it all. Suggest Carl Hansen may be of assistance, since he is friends with the lady who is in charge of cancer care at Christiana Care Hospital, Newark, Delaware. I will follow up tomorrow, 2/28/08. I will also need to follow up with my family concerning my bills and costs to all billing.

I have been shut off from all social contact with a variety of circumstances, which is common in this type of trauma. Lack of contact with a whole group of folks. The next problem became my lack of knowledge of what to expect when it came to being crippled. This apparently is common with cancer patients. Trying to put it all together. My cancer is terminal in my right lung, my T-8, thoracic 8 vertebrae, and my left hip. I will hope for the best.

My most grueling endeavor had to be the two-hour MRI without moving that I endured at Union Hospital on 2/16/08 to secure the blueprint for Dr. Sugarman, so that he might operate on me microscopically, which he did successfully do as he said by shaving the bone on the spine sliver by sliver. He also used the surgical glue, using a technique known as kyphoplasty, which glued the bone and caused it to fuse using its own moisture. Fascinating process. The technique, according to my office manager, Wendy Brown, was lass than 5% effective on that day when myself and another man were operated on. He didn’t make it and I did. Very scary experience for me!

I have decided that I won’t be doing a lot of risky actions taking my life into my own hands. I will stop doing that sort of thing!


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