Top-Notch Medical Teams

Of the numerous amounts of people on my care teams, those which have had the greatest impact on me throughout my journey would have to be my wonderful surgeons. They have not only strived to heal my body physically, but have helped me in so many other ways. From the moment that I walked into Dr. Song’s office, he has shown such genuine concern for my well-being and progress and what he can do to help in the process. He has never wavered in ALWAYS, ALWAYS giving me the encouragement and support that I so desperately needed, especially during those times when things have just not been in my favor. He has consistently given me one-hundred and ten percent and beyond and I feel so privileged to have him as my doctor. I am very grateful to him for his persistence and patience. I believe it must have had to take a great deal of patience on his part when he was faced with the myriad of challenges in trying to find this cancer during my surgery. I can imagine that he must have been frustrated; however, I believe that he was persistent and did absolutely EVERYTHING in his power to find this blasted cancer! His tireless efforts are to be commended and I appreciate him more and more each day for all that he has done and continues to do for me.

In addition, my daughter has benefited from his expertise as well. She was having some thyroid issues of her own; we were not really happy with her current doctor and felt as though they were not taking a very proactive approach to this, especially with our family history. However, I knew bringing her to Dr. Song for a second opinion was the right choice. He has been very instrumental in helping us get to the bottom of what was really going on with her thyroid and has always consistently ensured that her condition is being continuously monitored very closely. He is one incredibly intelligent and wise man who never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge and talents!

Moreover, Dr. Bentz has always been such a positive influence on me and I can always count on him to lift me up. He has really taught me about always having a positive attitude even amid the circumstances and challenges that I have faced with this cancer. After all, attitude is everything, especially for a cancer survivor! The medical community has not only benefited from Dr. Bentz and his excellent surgical skills, but more importantly by his huge and caring heart. He really cares about his patients and it shows in the way in which he interacts with them. This is a doctor who takes his job seriously and shows such dedication to his patients and will do EVERYTHING he can to help you. Anyone who is fortunate enough to come in contact with him benefits a thousand times over, because of his knowledge and the compassion he demonstrates consistently for people, as he truly has a heart of gold. I am so thankful to have had him as my surgeon and I appreciate his continual advice and wisdom!

I really did hit the jackpot with these two impeccable surgeons as I know many people have not been so lucky and have had their surgeries not turn out so favorably. Having surgery in the neck area is very delicate and you need to have a skilled, experienced surgeon to ensure that you can have the best outcome possible. I am so fortunate and count my blessings every day to have had two of the best surgeons around.

What sets these two exemplary doctors apart from other doctors is that they never make you feel like you are just another number passing through the system. I have felt like that with some doctors and others I’ve talked with whose doctors just dismiss them as though they are not important and just push them out the door. With these doctors you immediately feel like you are being treated as though you were a family member, rather than some random stranger because of the great concern and care they show towards you and make you feel as though you do matter.

I want to give these doctors the recognition that they are so deserving of; they are truly gifted doctors that use their God-given talents and abilities to the fullest extent possible in helping and providing hope to others. They are the epitome of what it means to show compassion for people and are making their mark on the world. I thank them both for being the phenomenal doctors and unique individuals that they are; truly they are a rare breed and we need more doctors like them in our healthcare system. I really respect and admire what they have to do on a continual basis, day in and day out; they are men of great integrity and character and I feel so fortunate to have them on my side.

Both of these exceptional docs have been such an integral part of my journey and have played such a key role in my outcome. Words just cannot express the gratitude that I have for these two wonderful men, who have taught me much. One of the most important and lasting things that I have learned from them both is that there is ALWAYS hope which has truly been the guiding force that has seen me through this whole ordeal. They have always encouraged me to NEVER give up no matter how bad my situation has seemed and that I can and will conquer this! Encouragement goes a long way and sometimes what helps you the most to get through whatever challenge you are facing. Medicine is so much more than just the physical healing of the human body, and for me it has been the support and encouragement that these doctors have provided which has meant the world to me. You treasure those who mean the most to you and these two outstanding docs are definitely at the top of my list. To me they are my heroes as they have saved my life and have helped me in many more ways than they even realize; I would not have made it through this journey without either one of them!

I have had the BEST medical teams available to me and they are some of the most impeccable professionals I have been so fortunate to know. These amazing doctors and nurses on my care teams have helped me to understand and recognize that I need to be in constant fighting mode and that giving up is simply NOT an option, even though it would have been the easy thing to do. This has helped me to realize that my life is definitely something worth fighting for and I will do whatever it takes to kick this cancer to the curb! I will say that all of those on my care teams have played such a vital role in my journey and I consider myself extremely lucky to have so many people looking out for me.

Surgery & Complications

UCH 1-2

 

 

 

 

 

I had the neck dissection on Dec 19, 2011 at the University of Colorado hospital, but little did I know of the problems which were about to surface. I went in and right at the start of the surgery they encountered very extensive scar tissue. They scrapped all the area on the left side removing all the lymph nodes under ultrasonic guidance. All the frozen sections showed nothing but scar tissue. They could not find the little bugger! Dr. Song felt that it was lying on top of the laryngeal nerve embedded under extensive scar tissue. He peeled back all the scar tissue that he could, but he just could not get to it without causing injury to my left recurrent laryngeal nerve, which would create a whole other list of problems for me.

Dr. Song left the OR to talk with my husband and explained the situation and said that the only way to get complete clearance was to take the nerve. So after discussing this for some time with Dr. Song, the decision was finally made to leave the nerve intact and abort the rest of the procedure, as the nerve was still functioning. It was devastating to me to learn that they were unable to contain the nodule. They were in there more than five hours trying to find this stupid thing!

When I had woke up from surgery, I had trouble with my left eye as it kept drooping downward and it was a struggle just to keep it open which has been a continuing ongoing problem. Another issue occurred shortly following surgery. I remembered feeling very light-headed and sweating and then thought to myself, well dummy you just had major surgery of course you are not feeling in the best shape! However, there was I reason I was feeling that way. Somehow going from the OR up to the room they had me in, my IV was not connected correctly, or had become disconnected and so there I lay with blood leaking from my IV. There was blood everywhere and I was soaked from top to bottom. Being that I just had surgery they could not move me too much, especially around my neck area. The nurses had to do it very meticulously moving me only one side at a time removing my gown, removing the sheets and so on. I don’t think that I have seen so much blood in all my life!

I saw the head endocrinologist, Dr. Bryan Haugen who came in along with Dr. Song and many of his residents. Dr. Song was examining my eye and said that it should be temporary and I believe that he called it Horner’s syndrome. Why did this have to happen, why couldn’t Dr. Song find this blasted thing? I almost wished he would have just taken the damn nerve; at least this cancer would be out of me! I only had one drain in place being it was only on the left side and that was removed before I left the hospital on December 21, 2011. I was glad to be home in time before Christmas.

 

Decisions

I called Dr. Lund the next morning and left a message with him as I wasn’t scheduled to see him for three more months and explained to the staff that I had a recurrence that I needed to talk with him about. He called me back and he was able to fit me in for an appointment the same day, so I rushed back to Denver. This is a trip which usually takes ninety minutes to get there from where I live, but I think I made it in less than an hour. Dr. Lund did explain the same options to me in having surgery or the alcohol ablation. He explained that the alcohol ablation is a new technique where they inject ethanol alcohol into the suspected nodule which kills the cancerous cells. It is a fairly new technique that the University is using. He explained further that I really should contemplate what was best for me, but he seemed to be leaning more towards surgery as being the best option. However, he said that the decision was mine, whether to do surgery or the alcohol ablation procedure and that he would support me either way.

At this point I was more confused than ever on what to do and I decided to contact Dr. Bentz, just to get his thoughts on all of this. When I was able to get in touch with him I had a long conversation with him as to which would be the best option for me. I wanted to make an informed decision, by obtaining his opinion and feedback on all of this. After speaking with Dr. Bentz, I felt that surgery was probably the best route to go and feeling more confident with that decision. He has always had such a calming effect on me; it was such a comfort being able to talk with him, as it has been a difficult transition losing him as my doctor. He has been there every step of the way and to have that contact come to such an abrupt halt it was hard for me to deal with, even though I know that I am in very capable hands now.

A few days later after speaking with Dr. Bentz, I had a follow-up appointment for surgery with Dr. Song. I was hoping that he could get the surgery done before the end of the year as I had already met my cap for the year and all of our insurance claims were now being paid 100%. Dr. Song, being the most wonderful doc that he is, did his magic and actually pulled it off in arranging his schedule to get it done before the end of the year! I was so glad that would be one less thing to worry about.

Second Surgery

It looks like we will not be able to get the girls back to the states as Jerome’s company will only pay for travel for him. We just can’t afford plane tickets from Japan to the states right now for them; it is just way too costly for our budget. I guess it is a good thing as they really can’t break from their classes and we need them to take care of the house. Jerome arrived in Utah on 19 February and it was such a relief to see him again as this separation from him has been really hard! I have my better half back with me now and I feel better and not quite so stressed out over everything that has happened; life is always so much better with him around.

The day before my surgery on Feb 21, 2011, I was able to meet up with some old friends from Misawa – Katherine Rollins and her girls, Susan and Christine. That was really wonderful seeing some friendly faces and catching up. They had moved from Misawa when Katherine’s husband retired and are now living in Orem, Utah. They drove up to come and see me before I went under the knife again. Jerome and I went to lunch with them and had a great time reminiscing about the good old times at Misawa. It is amazing to think I have many friends from Misawa that have come back to the states and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to see them again.

The next day was my thyroid surgery on February 22, 2011 at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital. They had me strip down to nothing, I’ve always been curious as to why they do that in surgery. Dr. Bentz came in just before surgery, which was the first time my husband had met him and he was explaining to him about the surgery and what was going to happen. The reality of all that was happening to me finally set in and I would be waking up in a few hours without my thyroid! When they starting wheeling me into the OR area, I don’t remember much after that as the anesthesia started taking its effect on me.

From what I was told the surgery was fairly lengthy as I was in there for over six hours. It was very extensive and very advanced; the surgeon could not get all of it and some tumor was left on my laryngeal nerve.   Following surgery, my throat was very sore and dry and they started me out with ice chips and I remember my husband being there in the PACU (post anesthesia care unit) with me. After being in the PACU for a while they finally moved me to my room on the 5th floor and I was able to see the rest of my family. It was a bit hard to sleep as they were constantly checking my vitals it seemed like every five minutes. Why must they constantly keep doing that?   It seems to me it would be more helpful if they would just let a patient get some sleep instead of bugging them so often. I had two drains in place sticking out my neck, due to having dissections on both sides and the drains had to be stripped quite frequently.

As the anesthesia started wearing off and I was becoming a little more coherent after surgery, I overhead my husband talking with my parents that Dr. Bentz was not able to remove the entire tumor and to hear that really devastated me. However, Dr. Bentz was hopeful that the Radioactive Iodine therapy would take care of what was left over which helped to ease my fears somewhat.   The first time I saw my neck after surgery I just about freaked out; I could not believe the huge scar I saw across my neck. I looked like I had a run-in with Jack the Ripper at least in my mind it seemed like that to me.

First Surgery

While coming to the states I also had another surgery done prior to my total thyroidectomy. I guess you could say that was another silver lining. I needed to get a cyst removed from my foot which was pressing on a nerve. I had several months of issues with it and was relieved that it was finally going to be taken care of. While back in Misawa, I was waiting on a referral to see a specialist about this issue and so now I am really grateful that this was finally being dealt with. I had that surgery on February 2, 2011 at University of Utah hospital by another great surgeon, Dr. Florian Nickisch. He was in the same practice as, Dr. Timothy Beals, the orthopedic surgeon which we had brought our daughter, Chelsie to in 2004 when she had a severe dislocation of her ankle, which required further extensive surgery. Dr. Nickisch was very comforting as he was aware that I was sent back to the states for cancer evaluation. I was not able to put weight on my foot for about two weeks and had to use crutches to get around. It was approximately two weeks after having the foot surgery that they removed the stitches and I was able to ditch the crutches. The good news is that I will not have to do physical therapy. They have given me exercises to stretch and strengthen my foot and unless I have any further problems I should be good to go and not require regular physical therapy.