In hindsight, I noticed something in February.
There were three books I kept trying to read. But there was no getting into them. As much as I tried to focus on what I read, nothing helped. I switched back and forth between the three books, but couldn’t finish them.
At the time, I didn’t think too much of it.
Then I started getting tired.
I’d come home from the office and plop on the couch to sleep. This would happen multiple times a day. Now, I knew I hadn’t had a vacation in a while. For months I had said it’s time. I know my limits and when I need to take a big break. I thought it was the culmination of a year’s plus of work catching up to me. Normally, I’ll take a quick nap a couple of times during the week. But no matter how much I slept now, there was no relief.
And this was more than tiredness.
I recall finishing a video call for our podcast. Once I was sure I had logged out, my head fell to my desk. On another occasion we did a church clean up. Going up and down a small flight of stairs did me in. I didn’t feel like going out anywhere. We had wanted to take a few quick trips to see family and friends out of town. But I couldn’t muster up the energy.
The fatigue impacted my thinking, too. I recall leading a funeral service. Afterwards the service at the church, right before I left to the graveside, I asked my wife if what I said made sense. The thoughts weren’t clicking in my mind like usual.
Then my breathing changed.
I’d lose my breath easily. Breathing was hard. That was a scary feeling. I’d hear myself wheezing. Then I developed a persistent cough. It was a dry cough that interrupted me a lot. I’ve never been big on taking medicine and I don’t get sick a lot. Usually, when I’m feeling a little under the weather, I chug some Nyquil before bed. But nothing helped this cough.
Then came the chills and fevers.
I’d get cold and start to shiver. These were full-body shivers I couldn’t stop. Blankets didn’t help. I’d sit outside in this Texas heat and still be shivering. At first, this would last about thirty minutes. About twenty minutes after that, I’d get a fever. I could feel the heat throughout my body. I began sleeping on the floor in my bedroom, right under our ceiling fan. It’s the coldest spot in our house.
But the fevers took a while to go down. I say fevers because this became a cycle I endured a couple of times a day. Then the shivering started lasting longer. The temperature seemed to get higher.
I went to the doctor several times through all this. Cough medications, an inhaler and antibiotics weren’t helping. All the while, the exhaustion got worse. The cough didn’t go away.
It finally got to be too much for me during Holy Week. At our Maundy Thursday service, I’m surprised I didn’t pass out from washing a few feet. Gloria told me people worried about going up to participate because I looked bad. I could hear myself breathing heavily throughout the service.
Oh, and Good Friday!
I brought my Nyquil with me that night. Five minutes before the service, I took my chug dose. Again, it didn’t help. About a quarter of the way through, I decided to stop singing. I couldn’t catch my breath.
On Saturday, I did something I hadn’t done in more than twenty years. I decided not to go to Sunday worship. I was too tired. The fevers were too consistent. I wasn’t well.
Somewhere in there was another trip to the doctor and a trip to the ER.
I was diagnosed with double pneumonia. That would account for the breathing issues and the coughing. But what about the shivering and the fevers?
I’m going to repeat a sentence to you. Not merely to repeat something but because the same thing happened: All the while, the exhaustion got worse. There were several moments I wondered if I’d ever be able to literally hold my head up again. I didn’t have the strength.
OK, I had been a little stubborn through all this. Only because I listened to the doctors. I knew another trip to the ER would only mean more tests and another dose of antibiotics. But my family and I made an agreement. If my temperature rose to 103°, I would go in.
It was about three in the morning when we went to the ER for the final time. By then, I had already been in the hospital for a week. My two days at home didn’t make anything better. Still coughing. Still shivering. Still fevering.
Now, a lot of what I’ll share with you from this point I owe to my family. I don’t remember much at all about the following two weeks or so. I can piece together some memories, but not enough to fill out exactly what happened. My family has shared with me a lot about that time.
In the ER, we found out I was dehydrated. So much so, delirium set in. Hey, it wasn’t all bad. I did score a life-time of brownie points with my delusional thoughts. You’ll have to ask Gloria about that one.
I stayed in the ER until a room became available in the hospital. I would be there for two weeks. During this stay, the shiver/fever cycles increased. My whole body would shiver for more than two hours! Shortly after that stopped, a high fever would kick in. Each episode would last upwards of five hours. After a couple hours of break, they would start again. So, I went from this happening to twice a day to now going through it four or five times a day.
My family would cover me with blankets for the shivering chills. Then they laid ice packs all over my body for the fever. The greatest invention ever is a cooling mattress pad. I loved that thing. It didn’t seem to cut the time I had fevers, but the coldness did feel better.
These cycles took a toll on me. I’ve said since that I was at 0%. I had no energy. I didn’t feel like I could do anything. At one point, it took four people to help me in and out of a wheelchair.
All my numbers were out of whack. Jaundice set in my eyes. My stomach, legs and feet were swollen. Apparently, I was not a pretty sight. I was also anemic, and received a blood transfusion.
Then came the final diagnosis.
Yes, I had double pneumonia, but that was masking a bigger issue. The doctor was happy to finally have something more concrete to explain my symptoms. My symptoms were the manifestation of Hodgkin’s lymphoma classic. When the doctor came in and told us, I politely said, “Thank you,” and went back to sleep.
Because of my numbers, it took a few days before I could begin my first dose of chemotherapy. A few days after that, the shivering and fevers stopped. Once we finally got a hold on that, I was able to go home. Let me tell you, we didn’t turn on that ceiling fan in the room for weeks. It scared me to think a chill would trigger another cycle.
My wife bought a bed lower to the ground. Even then I struggled. I still had to use a wheelchair and walker around the house. Most of my days weren’t spent in my recliner. I couldn’t put the footrest down by myself.
A five-minute shower felt the equivalent of a three-hour training regime. I did physical and occupational therapy at home. Whew! That was tough. It bummed me out when I struggled to lift a two-pound weight.
A common refrain is if you’re gonna get cancer, this is the cancer you want. It’s treatable and you can expect a full recovery. Praise God, I’m already in full remission.
A lot of people get their diagnosis and get back to life. What was different for me was the weeks of exhaustion and those crazy cycles. At one point, I dropped to 207 pounds. I was 250 in January. I lost muscle and strength through all this as well.
So, that’s been my recovery. I’m grateful because I’m slowly getting to some of what I did before. Getting comfortable walking again, gaining energy and strength to do those everyday things we all take for granted. Just recently, I returned to lead worship at my church. I can drive again! If I had to put a number on it, I’d say I’m at about 75% energy wise. Although there’s still a way to go, I’m thankful I’ve already come this far.
And I can’t thank God enough for so many of you who supported and encouraged me and my family along the way. You are a blessing, and I love you all.