Roy Exum: No Cancer! So Now What?

Saturday, July 20, 2013 - by Roy Exum
For the second time this summer, Mayo Clinic doctors have assured me I don’t have any form of cancer but are as perplexed why I am so sick as the doctors in Chattanooga who were certain I had the curse before I came running back to Minnesota. A chest CT scan on Thursday showed my increased bone marrow is simply trying to heal my broken shoulder and ribs.
Six weeks ago the Mayo wizards said my broken bones, my dramatic weight loss, and my constant pain and nausea were not cancer related.
But a routine MRI follow-up in Chattanooga 10 days ago showed some lesions on my ribs. The fear was the irritated bone marrow was a sign some disease like Multiple Myeloma – I already exhibited every symptom – had finally presented itself.
Late Thursday afternoon my team of Mayo doctors, graced by the prayers of hundreds of well-wishers who have emailed me after following my story, promised I don’t have the dreaded disease but remained mystified why just in the last eight weeks I have lost over 20 pounds. So the next place we are going to look is at the fastest rising cause of death in America – prescription drugs.
Ever since December, when I had two surgeries for osteomyelitis (a bone-borne infection I have struggled with for years) I have taken prescribed pain medicine. I had hardly finished my course of pain medicine for “osteo” when I had back-fusion surgery in January. Afterwards, I went to Dr. Rett Blake, a Chattanooga pain expert, and he got me through the aftermath with more hydocodone, which was exacerbated by mononucleosis. When you are 64, “the kissing disease” is terrible.
Then came the fateful day in May when I woke up with a sore shoulder. By that afternoon I found out my shoulder had broken in two places while I slept and – bingo --- more hydrocodone. Eight weeks later, one theory is that maybe, even though it is prescribed and I never take more than one pill every four hours, I have inadvertently become addicted to the stuff. I know that’s a stretch but maybe, just maybe.
No one can explain why my bones broke, nor can we know why my pants fall down every time I unbuckle my belt. In the past eight weeks everything has “gone south” and could it be that every four hours I go into some type of withdrawal – my entire body in pain and the nausea rising – unless I take 10 milligrams of pain medicine?
I hate hydocodone, I really do. About four weeks ago without telling the doctors, I tried to carefully wean myself off the drugs, thinking the pills might be why I was still so sick. I was down to one per day when I went to the doctors and said my pain and nausea had gotten much worse. When I revealed I’d tried to stop taking the meds, they gave me a ribbon that said “Moron” and explained my broken arm and ribs were not yet healed. Until I accepted the fact, I had to understand they didn’t have any pills for stupid.
I resumed taking the hydrocodone and – hello – the drug worked like it is designed to do. Now Mayo doctors are thinking that maybe it is the underlying problem in a complex treatment. Any pain expert will tell you that 10 mg. every four hours does not an addict make. But in the strange way narcotics can ruin otherwise very smart people, could the pain be a result of a craving for the drugs? I believe that is a possibility.
Being assured I do not have cancer is a huge blessing. When I learned about the questionable MRI, I was devastated after watching two brothers succumb to cancer and couldn’t talk about it for the first three days. Finally I got my “game face on” and was ready to be brave when I came to Mayo Clinic earlier this week. But now that I don’t have it, in a way that is bittersweet. What in the world is wrong with me?
Mayo doctors readily recognize there is still a problem. Why the broken bones, the weight loss, the constant thirst, the pain? They explained the symptoms are seen in other diseases (“so quit thinking cancer is the only answer.”)  My weight loss? “You are in pain and you have nausea. You probably aren’t eating like you should.”
With cancer off the table, pain management is logically the next step. Drug interaction, another growing problem in America, is unlikely so with no blood indicators glaring, we forge on. I’m ready to try anything. I’ll eat apricot pits, wear red underwear … I gotta get better.
Finally there is this: if God has allowed this to happen, He will see me through it. We will win.


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