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  • Billy Michels

A New Mountain to Summit

Updated: Jul 1, 2019

An introduction to the mountain.

The practice climb to 8,000 ft before summiting Mt. Hood. May 2018

Here we go...

I have started this blog as a documentation, communication, and reflection place for my next big climb here in 2019, of which I have already begun. So, to be like a cool movie, we'll start in the middle, then jump back to the beginning. I have been diagnosed with Classic Hodgkins Lymphoma, a nice nonthreatening name for a particular cancer of the lymphatic system. I am on a chemo treatment plan that will take me six months into mid July (it is now February). I plan on reflecting on my experience, as well as adding specifics on the process, answers to questions people have, and other interesting shit.

How I Found Out

Well, this past fall, and really back a few months on and off the last year, I have had a cough that never seemed to go away. I have a habit of aspirating stuff ("swallowing the wrong way") and thus usually chalked it up to just talking too much when I'm eating - yeah, go figure me talk too much. Well, this fall it got more intense so I sought out medical help. I went through all the protocols in Western medicine order - treated for allergies, nope, treated for asthma, nope. And all this time I was also getting Eastern help via acupuncture, Chinese herbs, osteopathy, massage, chiropracty, essential herbs and more. Many of these helped ease the cough, kept me healthy in many ways both mentally and physically, and made my life easier, but the cough persisted.

It was at Wingsgiving XXV when I had a coughing fit that was too much (and it was not due to the "homicide" hot wing I actually licked but did not eat), so that Monday, Dec 1st, I headed back to the doctor. An x-ray revealed a spot on my lung, so it was diagnosed as pneumonia - got 2 kinds of meds and told to check back in 30 days. Well, all meds taken, 30 days and no change. Back to doc, she is thinking to try the aspiration route and talks about sending me to an ENT, a gastroentologist, and a speech pathologist to see if there is something up with my throat not working right. Before that route (which I probably would still be on), she recalls I had a CT scan 3 years ago for broken ribs and a punctured lung (sorry, mom) and felt that "if it were someone in her family" she would order another just to check for any differences.

So we do that, and I get the second worse phone call of my life. The first worst call was four years ago when my brother called to tell me that my dad had died. This second worse call was from the lovely Dr. Laura Moreno, born in Guatemala, and a sharp and brutally honest person (just my type). In her entrancing accent, she straight up says that the scan was not what she expected, and that "it was bad." Yes, she said that and I actually appreciate it. She told me that I'd better have insurance and be ready for a long journey because at best this was tuberculosis, but in all reality it was cancer. I swallowed my heart. I know you can't actually do that, but it's the best way to describe it. I will never forget the moment. I was alone at home, sitting in my office, turned to the left and attempting to take notes when I dropped the pen and simply stared at my plants with my phone halfway to my ear. I was numb and couldn't hear what she was saying. All I heard was mumbo jumbo medical terms, parts of words, explanations that sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher with a Spanish accent. Cancer. Did she just say cancer? ME? CANCER? That is not in the fucking plan. This is not the information I want to hear. I imagined I never picked up the phone never heard this, like I could wish away or ignore the words and they wouldn't be real. I wanted a do-over, and I was panicking. Wasn't it just fucking pneumonia that a pill could fix? And wasn't pneumonia bad enough? Did I ever actually have pneumonia? How the FUCK do I "possibly" have cancer?

So the next step is a bronchial biopsy where they go down my throat and pick off some of this shit to see what it is. Of course, at this point I am doing my own research as to what other possible shit it could be, and I land on fungal pneumonia - often caused by aspiration, and mimics the look of cancer on CT scans. Perfect, this is the slim chance I am going to meditate on and manifest into reality. I have beaten very slim to impossible odds before with positivity, so why not again? After all, I have NO other symptoms consistent with cancer - no night sweats, no flu symptoms, no coughing blood, no unexplained weight loss... It is just going to be some dirt in my lungs.

Well, after a very positive and amusing meeting and session with the delightful Dr. Sy Sarkar and his right-hand girl Lisa, they unfortunately walked into the results meeting like their eyeballs were stuck to the floor. The usual friendly handshake was a dead fish, and it was obvious that the circus was not coming to town. Erin and I had planned to dance out of the building with the good news, but alas, baby was put in the corner. The results: Classic Hodgkins Lymphoma (cHL). My heart sank again. My thoughts swirled as I did my best yoga-Buddha breathing to remain calm. They did tell me that cHL is the lottery winner of cancers and that it is the most curable one there is. I sarcastically did a Tiger Woods fist pump and cheered as if this was exactly what I wanted to hear. The realization was indescribable, and now unarguably true, I have cancer in me.

My last few years of work on my breathing control and deep thinking paid off for sure. I didn't really react. I didn't scream. I didn't fall to the floor and cry. I didn't panic. I calmly found out the next steps, shook their hands and walked out of the office, thanking them for being so kind and fun through the process. I kept deep breathing until I got into the elevator and the doors closed, then I fucking lost it. I might have displaced a few disks in Erin's back with my bear hug of WHAT THE FUCK? Mini release over, I got my shit together and calmed down as we sat in the car in the parking lot for almost 30 minutes, sometimes talking, but mostly staring out the window at the rain.


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