Today was definitely an unexpected day.  I got seated and they drew my blood to get some labs done just to ensure that everything looked normal and they could proceed with my 4th treatment.  We waited for probably about an hour and a half and learned that my Neutrophil counts were low, so they couldn’t give me the interferon today.  Neutrophils help the body fight off infection and since mine were so low, they couldn’t continue to give me treatment this week.  We talked to Dr. Dillon and he assured us that this is pretty common so there was nothing to worry about.  The two days of treatment that I miss today and tomorrow will just be tacked on to the end of the month, so I’m still going to get the full 20 days of intense interferon.

Bittersweet news.  It prolongs the whole process a bit, but I do get a 4 day weekend.  Right now I feel great.  The next few days I’m mandated to be a germaphobe because I’m nearly Neutrophiless (Webster should probably add that word to his repertoire).   That means if you come knocking at the Norton residence this weekend, don’t be alarmed if you’re greeted by this guy:


Day 3- My Queen, The Wife of Noble Character

Proverbs 31:10-12, 29-30- “A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm all the days of her life.  Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

I first met Mary when I was about 15 years old.  Obviously, as a teenage boy raging with hormones, the first thing I noticed was how gorgeous she was.  As our friendship began and developed over the next couple of years my eyes were slowly opened to what true beauty was.  She was kind, compassionate, soft-spoken, wise beyond her years, full of conviction, and love for the Lord.  She definitely set herself apart from a typical teenage girl, and I quickly knew that I wanted her for myself.

We engaged in so many “talks” about our feelings.  Nearly all of those “talks” consisted of me expressing my desire to date but her politely refusing because she wasn’t ready.  She let me down and shut me down about a half dozen times over the next few years, until one day on July 12, 2003 she was ready to give it a shot.  I knew right then that she would be mine forever because there was no chance I would ever let her go.  I loved everything about her!

The rest is history and she is now sitting beside me day by day supporting me through my treatments.  She’s more adorable than ever, especially since she’s carrying our first little girl, Reese.  She sits here with me, Bible open, yearning to know Christ better.  She prays with me daily and encourages me more times than you could imagine.

Obviously she didn’t sign up for having a husband who has cancer while at the same time carrying our first child.  But she has never complained.  She has been a consistent rock all the way through this.  Shame on me for the days that I forget to thank and praise the Lord for this wife of Noble Character; my drop dead gorgeous queen.  She’s my bride and I consider myself the most blessed man alive.

Day 2- The Setting

Not only do I teach my 4th graders to write an entertaining beginning, but I also stress the importance of adding elaborative detail to their stories.  So I the teacher will try and elaborate on the setting that surrounds me at the hospital.

Walking back after hearing my name called for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect.  I walk into a giant open room filled with nurses and patients.  The room is separated into about 7 pods with 4 stations in each pod.  Each station has a number hanging from the ceiling that they direct you to.  I’m at station 23 today, ironically today’s date.

Each station owns a stone colored recliner with black arm rests for patients to remain comfortable in.  Resting next to each chair are IV poles with IV pumps attached to them.  Bags of fluid, chemo, and interferon are being carried around from station to station like candy.

The stations in each pod can be closed off for privacy, but most choose to keep theirs open.  Sitting across from me yesterday was an elderly woman who was starting her first day of chemo.  She was a happy little lady…put a smile on my face.  I couldn’t help but wonder what was ahead for her.  Would she still be wearing that same smile a month from now?  Does she know Christ?

Sitting to the left of me was an elderly man and his supportive wife.  I love seeing couples their age who still genuinely love each other.  Their love has stood the test of a lot of time and probably a lot of trials.  I could quickly tell that he had been through a lot though.  I’m not sure what type of cancer he had, but overheard that he was on his 3rd type of chemo.  He appeared weak and at times muttered responses that were difficult for the nurses to comprehend.

Today, I sat across from a teenage boy and his mother.  He seemed uninterested in striking up a conversation with even his mother.  For an hour or so he was deeply engaged in a magazine called “Science Illustrated.”  I can’t help but wonder what this young kid’s dreams and passions are in life.

As I walk around I continue to see patient after patient going through their treatments, some appear strong, some appear very weak, but we all have one thing in common; we all have cancer.  Sadly the one thing that everyone doesn’t have in common is a common bond with our Creator God.  If there is ever a time to know Christ, his grace, and his love, that if accepted assures us life after death His kingdom.  If there’s ever a time to be assured of that, it has to be now sitting in these cozy stone colored cancer recliners.

Lord use me to proclaim your name!

Day 1- The Beginning

One  thing I  teach my 4th graders in writing is the importance of an entertaining beginning that catches your audience captive.  So here we go 🙂

I wondered with much anxiety the night before my first treatment what I was suppose to expect.  My heart and my mind were filled with reluctance.  It was an eerie feeling realizing that this was going to be the last normal night for me for a while.

The first day of treatment went okay.  They injected 1 liter of fluid into me before and after the actual interferon.  Within a period of 3 hours, I think I had to pee a dozen times…no joke!

The hardest part of the actual treatment session was when it was time to access my port.  To access it and start my IV they needed to use a special type of needle…and boy, was it SPECIAL!  I made the mistake of actually getting a good glimpse of it before it was placed in.  Now, I know I’m not the bravest man in the world when it comes to needles and knives…actually I’m quite a pansy sometimes…BUT boy o’ boy that needle was big.  Knowing that  particular needle was going to be put in my chest made me curl my fingers and toes in extreme discomfort.

As the nurse placed it in, it brought Mary to tears and it caused me to wrinkle my face like Popeye the sailor man.   But when all was said and done, the moment had passed and the process was a ton better than the anticipation of it all.

As we left UNC and drove home I began to experience a horrible headache, I was shaking with chills, and I quickly felt a little nauseous.  After a couple of hours the nausea dissipated but the body aches and my physical weakness inflated.  At one point in the night I was burning up and my fever was 100.1%.   I felt like horse manure and coming to terms with the fact that this was only day 1…well, it wasn’t a fun feeling.

I haven’t sang this song, nor have I even heard its lyrics in a long time.  But for some reason these words were stuck in my head for most of the night.  This is my prayer:

12 Jesus, Lover of My Soul

“It’s all about you, Jesus, and all this is for you, for your glory and your fame, It’s not about me, As if you should do things my way, You ALONE are God and I surrender to your ways.”

The Port

Yesterday around 4:30, I had a procedure to put the “power port” in my chest which they access every time I go in for  treatments.  Below is a picture showing what the exact port looks like.  I actually got to hold one right before I went back to get it placed.  My very first thought was, “this thing is going in my chest?!”

Supposedly, there are different types of ports and this is one of the best in the biz.  During the procedure they did an ultra sound on my neck to find a vein that they could access for the catheter.  Sitting on an operating table realizing that they’re looking for a vein to cut into and feed a small tube through is not the most comfortable feeling in the world.  The whole point is that they want to gain access to a central vein close to my heart.  I found a diagram that shows in a nutshell what this is all about.

Pretty crazy stuff.  I was expecting to be sedated the entire time, but I remember being awake for most of the procedure.  Immediately before any type of surgery or procedure, one of my biggest fears is remembering any of it,  but it actually wasn’t that bad.  It was a pretty mind boggling experience and I was actually pretty jazzed afterward because I did remember most of it.  One of those man full of pride moments!

I’m actually pretty sore and stiff today, but anything beats the last surgery I had.  Maybe soon I’ll be able to take a drink of water and shoot it out the port like Old Faithful…BAM! (I owe Mark DeCicco for that one).

The Scoop

This past November, I had a mole removed on the lower left part of my back that turned out to be Melanoma. I was quickly referred to a medical Oncologist, Dr. Keith Amos, at the University of North Carolina cancer center.  On New Year’s Eve, I had surgery to remove the remainder of the Melanoma on my back and a lymph node located under my left armpit.
The mole ended up being a lot deeper than expected during surgery and when all was said and done, measured 5 mm which is considered thick.  A week after surgery we also found out that there were small clusters of Melanoma cells that had spread to that lymph node that was removed.  At this point, we knew that I had at least stage 3.
In the following weeks, I had a PET scan and an MRI to ensure that the cancer had not spread to any of my major organs.  Waiting for those results were in fact the longest days, hours, minutes of our entire lives.  Everything in those tests came back clean, except for a small area that lit up on the PET scan on my right side.
On January 25, I had a lymph node dissection done on my left side to remove the remainder of the lymph nodes in that same area.  Dr. Amos explained that it could be anywhere between 20-30 lymph nodes.  When I came out of surgery, to my surprise, I had the dissection done on both my left and right side.  During surgery, Dr. Amos made a small incision under my right armpit as well to ensure that none of those lymph nodes had cancer in it.  He noticed a lymph node, that was black in color, took it out, had it tested right away, and learned that was indeed cancerous.
The drains were in for 2 weeks, they were taken out on Feb. 9, and immediately after, I met with my medical oncologist to discuss treatment, Dr. Dillon.  By far, the heaviest part of this entire process for both me and Mary was the conversation we had with him in that 60 minute time frame.  We learned that my cancer was stage 3c, it has a 70-80 percent chance of reoccurring the next 5 years, and that I was going to be starting interferon treatment very soon.
I will undergo interferon treatment for an entire year starting on the Feb. 22.  The first month will be 5 days a week at UNC.  The treatment sessions will each be an hour long and be given through a port.  The next 11 months I will be giving myself the treatment 3 times a week with quick injection.  More than likely, I’m going to feel like I have a bad case of the flu during treatment.  Obviously,  the first month is going to be the most intense.  Biologically, my body is going to go through a lot during this stretch, and it’ll probably be physically draining after a while.

James 1:2-4 says, “2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Obviously, not a trial I planned nor wanted to ever go through, but I’m fortunate enough to know that God the creator has an even better plan for my life here on earth, no matter how long that may be.  This blog is truly not to bring more attention to myself, but ultimately to proclaim the name of Christ and how He uses situations like these to reveal His grace and His greatness.  I hope to use this as an avenue to share, not only my battle with cancer, but how the Lord is growing and strengthening me during this trial.