Byron & Eden - January

The Cancer Journal

I don’t know exactly when the itching began.  I do know, however, that it started inconspicuously as some mild irritation on my calves.  My wife, Sarah, thought it was an allergic reaction to body wash, so we started cycling through all sorts of different soaps to get rid of it.  Strangely, nothing seemed to work.  The problem seemed pretty tame and was largely ignored for quite some time.  How long I’m not sure, though Sarah tells me I started itching prior to the birth of our second daughter, Eden.

In any case, things continued to escalate until the Fall of 2013 when the itching became a definite issue.  It spread off my calves to other parts of my body, and with each passing week grew more intense.  I continued to live with it, trying to find other solutions, and slowly I became more and more miserable.  In late October or early November the itching had blanketed my entire body.  I had hundreds of bloody open wounds ranging across just about every inch of my skin.  Sleep was a fleeting thing both for Sarah and me as my incessant scratching kept both of us awake.  I did develop some really awesome, creepily thick fingernails on my thumbs and pointer fingers during this time, though.

Around this same time I began to cough.  I thought to start with it was just a cold, or possibly a consequence of an ear infection.  But then it stayed.  And stayed.  And got worse.  And worse.

By Thanksgiving time my family finally talked me into doing something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager: they convinced me to go to the doctor.  And what an enlightening experience it was.  We went to an urgent care clinic where I was promptly diagnosed with scabies, a highly contagious burrowing parasite similar to but nastier than head lice.  With healthy doses of skepticism and hope we took home our pesticide cream and slathered it all over my body.  I still have scars from where it burned my already ravaged skin.  It was hilarious, though, watching Sarah “come down with scabies.”  Almost nightly she would start uncontrollably itching, which was then followed by, “Do you see this?  Does it look like a spot?  Or burrow marks?”  Ah, the power of suggestion.

As the hope that the scabies medication would work faded, another thought kept creeping into my mind: I had read online that if you are itching all over your body, it could be something very serious.  I tried to stuff that thought deep down, but it refused to go away.

And then I found Nebraska.  Nebraska was the lump under my right arm that I found in the shower one day.  I named it Nebraska because that was about how big it was.  Okay, so in reality it felt closer to a sand dollar both in size and shape, but that’s still pretty big for something that’s not supposed to be there.  Suddenly my hot shower felt very cold.  Sure, it could be other things.  But any time someone mentions a lump, the first thought that comes up is cancer.  Cancer kills people.  And it takes insurance or a hefty sum of money to combat: two things I did not possess.

Around this time I also started losing weight.  A lot of weight.  Like, probably 60 pounds.  About the time half of me disappeared was when many people started thinking there might be something really wrong with me.  If only I hadn’t worn that tight Christmas sweater I might have gotten away with it for a while longer.

Christmas drew closer, and as it approached I continued to lose energy.  The cough also got increasingly worse until I was coughing so hard and so much that it would make me throw up.  A couple of weeks before Christmas I started getting night sweats, and then the week before Christmas I started getting fevers.  I would get two to three a day.  I didn’t completely mind the fevers, though, because when I had them I didn’t itch nearly as badly and I didn’t cough as hard.  Who knew a fever could offer such relief?

The Monday before Christmas Eve I was dealing with a fever, and did something I don’t know that I had done in all the years I had worked at my job: I called in sick.  Or, rather, I told them I would come in as soon as I got the fever under control.  My Pastor’s wife, Pastor Joel, who also happens to be a registered nurse, called me back to find out what was going on.  After talking with me for a few minutes, she convinced me to go to the ER.  So the day before Christmas Eve, we trekked into the emergency room.  They thought Nebraska was a fatty tumor, and that the itching wasn’t probably too big of a problem.  They gave me a cough medicine that didn’t work, took a CT scan they didn’t see anything on, and sent me on my way.

Then the ER doctor left me a message on Christmas Eve and told me to call her right away.  Morning or night, Christmas or not.  I didn’t get the message until Christmas day, and by then I figured what’s one more day?  The message would be the same regardless of a few hours.

The next day I talked to the doctor.  She told me that she had not received the actual report from the CT scan until after I had been discharged, and that the actual report was really rather engrossing.  She was forwarding me over to one of their cancer doctors, because this definitely looked like an advanced form of lymphoma.

In the interest of this not taking you forever to read and me forever to write, I have broken this story up into a couple of parts.  The next part will be out in a few days (or as soon as I get it written.)  Thanks for your patience, and stay tuned!  The best is yet to come!