Sunday, April 27, 2014

Realizing You Are Not In Control, Again

As I write this, my laptop is perched up against my knees. My knees have two pillows beneath them and their are three pillows behind me as I am reclined in my hyperbaric chamber. The pressure dial has just reached 4lbs per square inch and my ears have been popping all along the way, just as they do when my flights reach cruising altitude. 

My hyperbaric chamber treatments are in full swing now as I have completed my second week and have 4-more weeks to go of Monday through Friday, 9am to 10:30am sessions. When you add the time for getting me situated as well as the depressurization phase plus drive time, it is well over 2-hours a day of commitment. As I mentioned in my last post, the idea is to build blood vessels so that my tongue can heal and recuperate from the radiation treatments that ended this past December.

I really hope this therapy brings me relief soon though as I never expected to be in the amount of pain I am experiencing now. It's past the middle of April now, for crying out loud. What's the deal? As I brush my teach each evening, blood leaks out from my gums surrounding each tooth and splashes into the sink. I'm not seeing the evidence of healing, but I know I am healed. My body hasn't received the message just yet. 

Literally for the past 3-weeks, I have been on the most pain medication that I have ever had to take in my life. For the second Sunday in a row, I've found myself sobbing at a family meal. My parents, my three daughters, my oldest's husband and middle daughter's boyfriend. They watch me folded and broken from the pain, not knowing how to help, not knowing what to say. I love my girl's attention, but getting their attention because I am unable to control the emotions that come from debilitating pain isn't okay with me.

On more than a few nights I have found myself being wide awake at 3 and 4am, the searing pain nudging me, reminding me that I have a ways to go before my healing is complete.  But the fact that it lingers on... it makes me realize that maybe we are all in a state of continual healing. Life happens and we recover to varying degrees, dealing with the ramifications of what each stage brings. It feels like we are never completely well, but thankful that we are not as bad as we once were.

I have been so frustrated too. I love being productive and getting a lot done, but pain medications make it hard to concentrate and get my work done. Even writing this blog... I fall asleep as I type, wake up and continue on again, trying to regroup and get my train of thought back to continue on. It's like drug-induced Alzheimers. My dad calls it "Haase-heimers"

It is nearly May, nearly five-months since my chemo and radiation treatments were complete and here I am still dealing with pain from the treatment itself. Seems hard to encourage others when the strength that has held me isn't always there. I'm a grown man and should be able to handle all that life throws at me, but I'm not doing so well lately and while I know I'm not a failure, I also know I am not in control of this process either. Learning to let go and realize that I lack control has been an ongoing struggle. 

Seems like a platitude... but "one day at a time" is all I can handle right now and sometimes, it is hour by hour.

Thank you for your prayers. They mean the world to me. 

~Robert B. Haase,
A Blessed Man

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Power of the Tongue

Please do not read these next words as a slick attempt to get you to donate to my fund. I want to tell this story because out of absurdity, wisdom, life lessons and more can emerge...

The short story:  After my January "brush with death" (systemic sepsis, pneumonia and respiratory failure) the hospital charged my insurance company over $80,000.00 for my ICU care. Group Health adjusted the bill with the hospital and I was billed the balance, which was over $5,300.00. I had asked for financial consideration towards the remainder of my bill by filling out a long application as well as providing profit & loss statements for my business as well as personal and corporate tax returns for 2011 and 2013. 

After reviewing my application for help, I was told "No", I would not receive any help whatsoever. The reason? Because I had earned a good wage in 2012, I should be able to make a good wage now. I told the adjuster, "Ma'am, I am a public speaker who has lost half of his tongue..."

She interrupted me and said, "Yes, but you made a good wage back in 2012 and you should be able to do that now..." 

I asked her, "Ma'am, if I were a professional baseball player that lost his throwing arm in an accident, do you think that might affect my ability to earn a living playing baseball?" My logic didn't get through and I realized that I was getting more stressed as I continued to try to get the woman to understand. It was at that moment that I realized I needed to let go.

I tell you all of that to say this... You cannot force benevolence, and sometimes, you have to let go and realize that there is a bigger lesson to be learned in what we are traveling through. I tell others that God will provide for our needs, but I wasn't believing that for myself. There I was, trying to convince the woman that I couldn't earn as much as I had before and I started to believe my own words. If I cannot see a way out of this, then I have truly convinced myself that I will fail. My words direct my thoughts, and my thoughts direct my actions... I was believing my own words.

I am not talking about speaking reality into existence or quantum physics. What I am trying to say is that we are prone to believe our own negative talk. If I believe I am damaged goods and I am unlikely to earn an income capable of supporting myself, I will make choices that will support that belief, or just stop trying. On the other hand, if I believe that losing half of my tongue has given me a new vantage point in life or that the lessons I have learned will make me a better public speaker with a more amazing story to tell, then I will act accordingly. Our words have power.  That was last week.

This week, as I write this, I am just days away from leaving for Des Moines, Iowa, to teach my injury treatment seminar with my lead assistant, Charity Lisherness. Have I fully returned to my old self, able to speak with a resounding voice that fills the room? No. Does my message have more intensity and is it delivered by a man that has a changed view on life? Absolutely. 

Truth be told, as I write this, I am also in a great deal of pain. The pain is different from a few weeks ago. Until this past Friday, March 28th, pain had been building in the left sublingual part of my tongue. I say "tongue", but it is the part that was rebuilt from my forearm. How could I have pain there? It is the same spot that the cancer had returned so many times before. I had my local ENT take a look at it and he was concerned. So concerned that he referred me to my surgeon at Virgina Mason. 

When I felt that pain, in that place, I grew more and more fearful. A near-paralyzing fear. Had the cancer returned? My mind was spinning and traveling through every possible outcome. In the days before March 28th, I changed my life insurance policy so that my girls would all receive equal proceeds as beneficiaries. I went on to order software so that I could write my will. My mind was racing. 

On the 28th, I traveled up to Virginia Mason for a biopsy. With the suspect area so difficult to get to, I had to have general anesthesia and have the work done in an operating room. It wasn't a simple tissue excision. It seemed like only a moment had passed from when I climbed onto the operating table until I began waking up in the recovery room. The words from the nurse sitting by my side were the first sounds I heard as I emerged from the haze of anesthesia. She kept repeating, "You need to breathe, Robert... breathe... take a deep breath for me... Robert? I need you to breathe..." Apparently I was so relaxed I wasn't breathing much at all and the oxygen sensor was picking up dangerously low blood levels. Breathing deeper became easier as I became more and more conscious. When I finally felt completely awake, it was then that my surgeon walked around the corner and with a big smile he said, 

"There is no cancer. You are cancer free." 

Wow. Those words can bring tears to your eyes, peace to your mind and a drop in blood pressure, all at the same time. But there it was, my pain wasn't from cancer. 

Apparently the tissue is not healing well due to the effects of radiation and the lack of circulation in my "new tongue" impedes the healing process. I am still waiting for confirmation from my physicians, but it looks like the suggested treatment is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Not once, but 5-days-a-week for 6-weeks for a total of 30-treatments. Virginia Mason is said to have the largest hyperbaric chamber in North America.

So now I sit at home in pain recovering from my biopsy. But this pain is worth putting up with. After all, I am cancer free. I can handle anything.

~Robert B. Haase,
A Blessed Man