The Little Cough That Could

I’ve recounted this series of events dozens of times in the past 3 weeks. In fact, I’m relieved to commit it to ‘paper’ and direct all future inquiries to this website! WARNING: This post contains an obnoxious level of detail.

August 2011

  • I started to cough sometime in the middle of August. It was a tiny cough, 3 – 4 times a day. I remember it so clearly because coughing isn’t my usual M.O. when I do get sick. It was mid-month because I thought to myself, “this is okay, if I am getting sick, I will have plenty of time to recover before vacation.”
  • Towards the end of the month, I was feeling worse. I had missed at least 1 day in the office due to a general ‘blah, I’m coming down with something’ feeling. I had a low-grade fever, no other symptoms – except that tiny cough. Then, a day or two later, the fever was gone, I figured whatever it was had passed, and I packed to go on vacation.

September 1 – 6, 2011

  • Vacation! I flew into Las Vegas International on September 1. The approach was rough, and though that wouldn’t normally bother me, I felt positively awful by the time I was off the jetway. “Perhaps I’m not over that bug,” I thought. But, dammit, I was on vacation. I WOULD feel good!
  • My next hour was spent trudging to baggage claim (boy was that a long, tiring walk), waiting to buy a shuttle ticket, and seeking out an ATM. I also had to stop in the middle of it all to sit, tear up, and catch my breath. “I really don’t think I’ve gained so much weight,” I thought.
  • I struggled during our active vacation and blamed my fatigue and breathlessness on 1) my excess weight and 2) the high elevation. I didn’t say anything to Seth, but he certainly noticed when I couldn’t keep pace at the Grand Canyon.
  • At this point, I intermittently had trouble taking a satisfying, deep breath when at rest. And when I couldn’t, I secretly panicked. Wash, rinse, repeat.

September 2011

  • Once home from vacation, I fell back into the low-grade fever funk, missed another day or two in the office, and started coughing more frequently. I had a few of these days earlier in the summer too (pre-cough), and my family and I started to think we should rule out an autoimmune disease.
  • By the third week of September, the cough was productive.

October 4, 2011

  • I went to a CVS Minute Clinic to get some antibiotics. They had helped me with bronchitis a few years ago; but as I would learn, Minute Clinic won’t treat a cough 3 weeks or longer in duration. They took my vitals, listened to my lungs, and told me to see my primary care doctor for a full work-up.

October 5, 2011

  • I chose a primary doctor on convenience and availability. There was a new, networked, satellite office in the same complex where I work, and one of the primary care doctors could see me the same day. Perfect!
  • I presented the doctor with as much detail as possible and focused on my two symptoms: low-grade fever funk days and productive cough. He ordered A LOT of blood work – 7 full tubes. When I asked about the cough, he smiled, shook his head, and said, “just an allergy cough.” I replied, “I don’t have allergies.”

October 12ish, 2011

  • I received a return phone call from the doctor. The blood work “looked fine,” and he referred me to a rheumatologist to further investigate. That doctor couldn’t see me until the end of November, so I got a name elsewhere and setup the first available appointment.

October 31, 2011

  • By the time I got to the rheumatologist, I was coughing a lot, and I started coughing up blood in the morning. I was still missing time in the office, approximately one day per week. I had to figure out what was wrong with me and pronto.
  • The rheumatologist took a very thorough history and reviewed my blood work. He remarked that a couple levels were slightly elevated. After the exam, he concluded I didn’t have any signs of an autoimmune disease, but that I may have a condition known as fibromyalgia. I know this condition is controversial, but decided I would research it.

November 4, 2011

  • The cough was unbearable by the start of November (to the point where I was coughing up blood consistently and sometimes vomiting), so I made another appointment with the primary care doctor. By now I had also made a return visit to the CVS Minute Clinic (evidently the fever made me forget their 3 week cough policy), and they had politely turned me away again. This time, though, the nurse said, “tell your doctor you need a chest x-ray.”
  • At the doctor’s office, I gave the report from the rheumatologist and specifically requested a chest x-ray. His response: “I don’t need you to tell me. I was going to do that anyway.”
  • He listened to my lungs (“The good news is that you don’t have pneumonia.”), completed his exam and concluded, “I really think these are allergies.” He provided me samples of Singulair, a script for a z-pack, and orders for a chest x-ray. I was to try Singulair for 2 days before starting the antibiotic. I have no history of allergies or asthma, but I followed the instructions.

November 5, 2011

  • Knowing that something was definitely wrong with this horrible, bloody cough, I scheduled the x-ray for the following day, Saturday. After developing the films, the tech asked, “have you had an x-ray for this before?” I responded that I hadn’t, and she had me wait. I’ve never had to wait after an x-ray. My brain went into the “if I only have a year to live…” mode.
  • Twenty minutes later a hospital employee handed me a phone with my primary care doctor at the other end. The films showed multi-focal point pneumonia in my right lung. He was going to phone in a stronger antibiotic, and I should follow-up with him in one week.

November 7, 2011

  • It was 3:30am, and I was in a state of mild distress. I drove myself to the emergency room, x-ray report in hand. They started me on fluids (I was certainly dehydrated) and gave me an anti-inflammatory and the prescribed antibiotic via IV. After running blood and urine tests, they ordered a CT to rule out a blood clot. At that point, they gave me a choice: admit me to be on the IV antibiotics for a couple of days or go home and see if I improved over the next 24 hours. I chose option B and went home.

November 8, 2011

  • That morning I called my primary care doctor and told him of my emergency room visit.  I asked him if I should be feeling any better yet.  He said, “you are on day 4 of a 14 day antibiotic.”  I thought to myself, ‘thanks, I could have figured that out.’  I pressed on and asked him if I should go back to the hospital.  His response: “If you feel shortness of breath, go to the emergency room.”  His response was mechanical – like the narrator on a TV ad listing the side effects of a medication.  I had a very serious case of pneumonia and my primary care doctor was reading off cue cards.
  • I wasn’t experiencing ‘shortness of breath,’ but I did feel awful.  I returned to the ER where they promptly agreed to admit me.

November 10, 2011

  • After meeting with infectious diseases and pulmonology the day before, I was having a bronchoscopy. This involves a flexible tube going up your nose, down your trachea, and into the bronchi. While there, they viewed the areas for signs of disease and collected three types of specimens for biopsy. The procedure went smoothly, but my recovery from it did not.

November 13, 2011

  • A new CT showed almost no reduction of the infection/inflammation.

November 14, 2011

  • I had been in the hospital for 6 days. On antibiotics and steroids for 6 days. Having blood work done daily for 6 days. And I wasn’t feeling consistently better. I would feel okay in the late afternoon but awful some mornings and nights.
  • Every single day I received a quality visit from three departments: hospitalists, infectious disease, and pulmonology. They didn’t know what was going on, but they weren’t going to stop until they figured it out. Tests started getting more exotic (maybe I picked up an odd fungus at the Grand Canyon?).
  • It was around 2pm when the pulmonologist visited me. “There’s no way to sugarcoat this, and it makes no sense at all, but you have lung cancer.”

18 responses to “The Little Cough That Could

  • Failure to Lounge « stage iv

    […] last September I started having trouble with the steps.  (If you read this post, you’ll recall I thought it was related to weight gain.)  I didn’t feel stable on the […]

  • Leon Ju

    Will be praying for you! My wife & I are battling Cancer now, she is in chemo & myself is one day at a time..

    • Jessica

      My thoughts are with you, too. Please find strength in your love for each other.

    • Sonya Bozeman

      Prayers r with ya my mom has stage 3 lung cancer . She was in remissio for a couple a months then it cmae back small their waiting for it to grow.

    • Jessica Rice

      Good luck to you and your mom, Sonya. Some cancers grow very slowly, and I certainly hope hers is one of them. Certainly there are treatments for everyone to try. Do your best not to get discouraged when it’s time to try something new.

  • Von Levy

    So sorry honey. I know the feeling! My heart, thoughts, and Prayers are with you…xoxo

  • irene

    I just was your post today….I am so sorry that the doctors were not aware that you can get lung cancer as a non smoker. Had they been educated to this perhaps you would be in a better position right now. BUT your story is an education and it will be forwarded. God Bless You dear lady. Irene Lung cancer Survivor.

  • Michelle Mastrangelo

    Jessica, My heart is weeping so for you right at this moment. You see, I had Lung Cancer also. I had the cough also, and I had beain to feel so tired for a couple of months.Then I coughed up blood and went and had an ex-ray right away. I went to a Urgent care, close by. The Doctor took two ex-rays and his Tech brought the films in and stuck it under the lights, and started to walk out, when I said that does not look good. He looked quite surprised and said you can read an ex-ray? I said yes when it comes to this. He ran out and the Doctor came in right away. I said it is Cancer right? He said yes, it looks like Carcinoma. I had to go and tell my Daughter, I was with her driving to pick up my youngest Granson from Kindergarden. She was so calm, and we got him and went home to her house. She flew upstairs where her husband was. About 20 to 30 minutes later she came down, and she had been balling. She said Mom, come on we are going to the Hospital. They once again took an ex-ray. You couldn’t miss it, it was the size of a golfball. They admitted me right then, and it was such a worldwind experience. I was there for 4 days, and had every test taken. then I went home and 2 days later I saw the Oncoligist and then the surgon and he said “we will do the operation next Friday.” That was like 6 days away. I didn’t cry, I couldn’t, because I caused this myself. I smoked for about 25 years. Even knowing I could catch it. I didn’t smoke in the house at all or around my Grandkids. But I got it.I felt so guilty, still do to this day. I am 7 1/2 years clear. And May 8th, 2014 will be my 8th year. I am not happy about this, why was I saved and so many lost? Like what you are going through. You.did not desearve this. I did. I have not been happy in all this time. I have lost friends and Family because I can’t cope with the thought of me living? i think I am selfish at times for feeling sorry for myself, because I am still here. Sometimes i pray to God just to take me. The guilt is killing me. i have tried to explain it to people but know one understands how I am feeling. I understand the pain you are going through, and I wish so much I could trade places with you. I have never attended a Help group due to the fact I CAUSED IT. I don’t feel I have the right to celebrate, can you understand that? I will have you in my prayers and I am hoping they have come up with something for you to be cured. They have come so far in these last 7 years. I have heard of several people with Stage 1V making it. I have a friend who just had surgery and now is going through Chemo at this time. I had a horrible time with the Chemo, but I felt I desearved every bit of pain I was in both from surgery and Chemo. I hope you can see the other side of the coin. You cry because you have it, and I cry because I caused it. Michelle

    • Teresa

      My father died from lung cancer 17 years ago, and he also smoked for many years, like the majority of people from his generation. For years, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to mourn him because he “brought it on himself.” My father was a good person, a very good person, who happened to have a bad habit. He did not deserve to die from cancer and neither do you. NO ONE does. I will tell you, do not feel guilty. GO to a support group.

    • Jessica Rice

      Thanks for your words of encouragement, Teresa. You are right. No one deserves cancer.

    • Jessica Rice

      Gosh Michelle, no one deserves to get any type of cancer. I can understand that you felt like your decisions led to the disease, but that’s not necessarily true. Truthfully, you could have not smoked a day and still had lung cancer.

      I try not to cry. Not more than absolutely necessary anyway. I didn’t cry today. 😊

    • Sabina

      Dear Michelle,

      Tell me, does the young father who dies in a car crash deserve it because he chose to use a very unsafe means of getting around with a high risk of severe injury and even death? No? Well, no-one who takes up smoking REALLY expects to get cancer. Regardless of the statistics, they all believe it won’t happen to them. It’s just human nature. Just like the millions who drive a car every single day don’t expect to die in one. You don’t deserve to suffer.

      I’m not a trained therapist but I’ve had an amateur interest in psychology my whole life and some personal experience with therapy. You seem to me to be suffering from a form of what I believe they call “survivor’s guilt”, with depression on top of that. It is possible to change how you feel right now. And you don’t need drugs to do it. PLEASE get some counselling as I believe a good counsellor can help you climb out of the black hole you are in. I recommend someone who uses a talking therapy rather than someone who immediately prescribes drugs such as anti-depressants. It is wonderful that modern medicine was able to help your body overcome the cancer. However, I believe one of modern medicine’s greatest shortcomings is that very few institutions address the fact that humans are a triumverate of mind+body+spirit and each part needs care and support, particularly during a life threatening illness. Your body is healed but I think your mind and spirit also need some help now to recover from what was a very traumatic event – fighting cancer.

      Michelle, every decent person alive deserves to be at peace with their life and to seek happiness. Notice I said decent person. Since I’m not a Saint or the Dalai Llama, I admit I don’t really care if those that take pleasure in making others suffer are miserable. But I don’t think you are one of those. The mere fact that you are reading Jessica’s blog and are willing to offer your life for hers (I don’t think God does those kind of deals because he/she/it loves you too!) tells me that you are kinder than average. I think you have a LOT of love in you. You should stick around and give out some more of it. Your world needs you, even if the limits of your world are small. It’s not important how many you reach, or how much of your time you give, but the quality of what you give. I have prayed for you to be guided to the right help so you can lay down your burden of guilt and start to fully live again.

  • Debby Caroccia

    Jessica I had stge4 lung cancer, I fought for 8 years, had 11/2 lobes removed (they got it all). I went through the post chemo to make sure it was gone…4x in 3 monthes, took a new scan and it was back. The chemo didn’t work. My Dr. luckily tried a new combination with Avastin, and Navibine, I have been in remission now for 13 monthes. I just took a new CTScan and hopefully still cancer-free. Please don’t give up there is Always something New! God Bless you, I will be praying for you…

    • Jessica Rice

      Thanks for sharing your INSPIRING account, Debby! You sound like you’re doing pretty well, although maybe you won’t run any marathons. 😉

      Keep up the fight. Make sure you get tested for genetic abnormalities / targeted therapies if chemo stops being an option.

      Good luck!

  • Michelle Mastrangelo

    Thank you Jessica and Teresa, for understanding. I just can’t explain it on how bad I feel. It is a pain so deep within me. i will try and find a Lung Cancer Group near me. Maybe talking about my feelings will some how get me the help I need. I wil be praying for all of you for we are Sister with a terrible infliction either we just got for no reason and some of us who caused it themselves. I just wish Cancer would catch Cancer and die. Thxs again for listening ~

  • Sabina

    Hi Jessica,
    As a late follower to your blog, you know me from my comments on some of your later posts but I wanted to read this, your inaugural entry, as well. I hope you don’t mind me replying to Michelle at length on your YOUR blog (see above), but I felt a strong urge to do so. Now on to your story. What a cute title you chose for your tragedy. You have a wonderful sense of irony, I think. Can I just say how much I DON’T like your primary care doctor. I always get extremely frustrated when I hear of intelligent, sensitive patients being spoken to like children, and rather dumb ones at that. I know all doctors do have experiences with under-educated, uncooperative patients who would try the patience of a yogi master, but I wish more of them would give the patient the benefit of the doubt in the first instance, and speak to them as an intelligent adult, allbeit a worried one. Well, I will close by saying how fond I have become of the Jessica who reveals herself to me in tantalizing little snippets with each blog, and I will walk this road with you as far as the internet allows.

  • Michelle Mastrangelo

    Sabrina, Thank you so much for your wisdom and speaking so frankly with me. I had to re-read what I wrote, and I sound like I am having a pity party for myself. But please understand the guilt I do feel. And yes I would change places with Jessica. I do not like to see people suffer, and it hurts to know that there is so much pain out there. What I have gone through, and how I feel now is not normal and I know that. I have no interests, desires or feelings about how to go forward,. I will talk with my Doctor about seeing a Therapist. I have been on Anti-depressions for quite some time due to the repurcussions of Chemo. I suffer from nerve damage under my skin. They gave me a nerve conduction test and it showed all my nerves under my skin are damaged. I itch so bad that I have torn my skin and veins out, so they put me on Zanax to stop the itch. I have tried everything and I see a Dermotoligist every 3 months. I have spent more money on potions, creams, oils and nothing works. Apple Cider vinegar helps somewhat, but it burns so bad when I apply it on my skin. Because I have scratched myself until I bleed. I have the Gallon jugs of Vinegar. I use it that much. If any of you know someone who is suffering from nerve damage and is itching please let me know if you have found something that has worked. Blessings to all of my Cancer sister out there. You are all in my prayers ~ Hugs to all of you ~

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: