For about two years before my diagnosis, I had high fevers and night sweats like clockwork, every three to four months. I would start getting teeth chattering, body shaking, chills, and my temperature would glide upward. Over time, I also developed a cough and very itchy skin. To any oncologist, this would be recognized in seconds as symptoms of lymphoma (my variety was Hodgkin’s). But to my general practitioners, it was a mystery.
The fevers could get into the 103 to 104 degree range. I remember waking up one night, feeling like I’d been microwaved. I looked around for strange shadows, because, I reasoned, I’m so hot, I must be giving off light. A couple times I nearly passed out. The first time, I was urinating. I can’t imagine a worse time to pass out than urinating (other than while having sex, which, I guess, would be worse). I don’t know if I gathered myself sufficiently (as it were), while yelling out to my wife for help, while I felt consciousness quickly melt away.
While I stood at the toilet, my peripheral vision blackened, and it seemed like I was looking at the world through a straw. It felt like a plug had been pulled, and all the blood was draining out of my head. I staggered back and to my right, then felt myself pitching backward. Instinctively, my right hand reached back to cushion my fall, and it found the valve to the cold water for the shower. Water started to flow just as I was falling backward. The cold water hit my face, and for a moment, I gathered myself, and lowered myself into the tub. If not for the water, I suppose I may have given myself a concussion while my head hit the tiled wall of our tub. I remember sitting in the tub, clothed, soaking wet, thoroughly enjoying the cool water.
I’d have these fevers for two to four days, be back on my feet in a week. My doctors told me it was due to viral infections. The itchy skin had no explanation. I just took the viral infection explanation as gospel. I was busy at work, with our new house and our new daughter (she was six months old when I had my first fever in December 1998). I was just plain stupid. I think after the first year, I should’ve figured out that normal 34 year olds don’t burn with fevers at regular intervals.
In late summer 2000, another fever came, but it wouldn’t go away. I was exhausted all the time. The itchy skin and coughing were uncontrollable. I lived in bed, or on the sofa in our living room, for about three months. I went back to my doctor, who thought I might have pneumonia. He ordered a chest x-ray. After it was taken, the radiologist pulled me aside and showed me the film. “You see these puffy white things?” he asked, pointing to my lungs. “I don’t know what they are,” he continued, “But they shouldn’t be there.” I had no history of cancer in my family, but out the left field of my brain came the question, “Could it be cancer?” “No,” he replied, “You’re too young to have cancer.” I got medication for my pneumonia. It didn’t do me any good.
I was next sent to a chest specialist, who gave me every test in the book and a full body CT scan. A few days later, a call came. I was sitting on the toilet. Now normally, I’d tell whoever answered the phone, to tell the caller I’d call back. But, it was the chest specialist, and I needed to know what was wrong with me. He’d gotten the CT scan results, which showed the lymph glands in my abdomen to be way too big (along with the puffy white things in my lungs). He went over my symptoms with the radiologist (a different one, one who knew what he/she was doing), and they guessed I had lymphoma, type unknown. The moment cancer officially came into my life, I was on the toilet.
Surgery was scheduled to get a biopsy of a gland in my chest, and to scope out my lungs. A night or two before the surgery, in my sleep I received a revelation. From the great beyond, my situation became crystal clear.
I grew up in a medium sized town in west central Connecticut. The job of town clerk, for over a hundred years, was in my father’s family (my grandfather, grandmother and aunt). Small town, Republican politics was part of my childhood. My maternal grandfather was also very conservative (he’d make Rush Limbaugh look like Teddy Kennedy).
During the three months of my body’s shut down, was the Presidential election of 2000. Texas governor George W. Bush competed against vice president Al Gore. As you may recall, the race for President boiled down to hanging chads, absentee ballots and law suits in Florida. The news became the sound track of my unconsciousness.
In my sleep, I received the revelation that I was not stricken with cancer or suffering through persistent viral infections. I was poisoned by Democrats. I didn’t know how. If my food was poisoned, I assumed my family would be ill too. Perhaps a member of this grand Democratic conspiracy had secretly injected me, at least once, with some powerful and mysterious poison. It was a fiendishly evil concoction, because its symptoms baffled my general practitioner and only created the appearance of cancer to the chest specialist and radiologist (the second one). It gave me fevers, night sweats, made my skin itch and made me cough. It was draining me of my life and I couldn’t stop it.
The most terrifying part of this evil plot, was that my life was in immediate, mortal danger. Members of the conspiracy included the surgical team. After I received general anesthesia, became unconscious and defenseless, the conspirators would kill me and make it look like an accident. Perhaps they’d overdose me with anesthesia, maybe they’d finish me off with the final dose of the poison I’d received over the past two years. Whatever the means, I knew I wasn’t going to be leave the operating room alive.
This was vitally important news. Who do I tell? The police? The local Republican committee? Since It was about 3:00 am, I decided my wife should be the first to know. I woke her up, and revealed the truth of my horrible situation. I told her of my poisoning by Democrats and my fears that I wouldn’t survive the surgery, due to the evil team of Democratic assassins that had infiltrated the hospital staff.
She told me the surgeon was probably very rich and Republican, and I shouldn’t worry about it. That sounded logical enough to me, and I went back to sleep. I woke up the next morning, wondering where my whacky ideas came from.
I never warned the surgeon of the shadowy Democratic forces arrayed against me. I survived the surgery. The official Hartford Hospital pathology report stated I had nodular sclerotic Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This was later confirmed by a pathologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and a doctor at Memorial Sloan Cancer Center in New York City.
I really did have cancer, or, perhaps, the conspiracy is far more evil, wide spread, complex, devious and astounding than I originally believed. Maybe the true nature of my situation will never be known. Am I truly a cancer survivor, or just a pawn in some dazzling Democratic conspiracy that I can barely comprehend?
Last year, I switched voter registration from Republican to Democrat. Maybe I really didn’t have cancer…