Robert L. Humbel
Robert Louis Humbel passed away peacefully December 3, 2005 in his home as he wanted. He has had thymic cancer for four years and it was his time.
On August 12, 2002, I reported to my local Network Provider for my HMO reporting a breathing problem. A mass was discovered on an x-ray, note was made of it but no follow up was done because I didn’t know about the note or the mass. I especially bring up the subject of HMO because the second hospital was a non-network provider. The medical bills from that facility were over $150,000. Insurance paid roughly half. I was very fortunate the hospital/clinic was willing to make an offer for payment I could live with. We all but cleaned out our savings accounts.
August 25, 2002, I reported to another local hospital (thank God we have two excellent facilities in my area) with breathing problems and swelling in my face and neck that took awhile in the a.m. to clear. When bending over, it would feel as if fluid would flow to my face and stay there. I was told to go home and come back the next day. I asked what to do about the swelling and was told to sleep in a recliner. August 26, I was given a ct scan and the large mass showed up. I was knocked out and a biopsy was done, finding a large malignant Thymoma mass. I was placed in a drug-induced coma until September 3rd. I had no knowledge of what cancer it was even though in the drug induced coma I knew I had cancer. From September 3 – 10th I was unable to use most of my muscles; my coordination was shot. Someone laying that long without moving loses most of their muscle mass. Because the Thymoma was pressing against the arteries in my neck, they were collapsing causing the retention of blood in my head. My wife said my face had turned black and blue before much of anything was done. Stents were placed in my chest to open the arteries. Twice they clogged and had to be reopened. I was placed on a respirator until my throat could heal enough so I wouldn’t rip it open. I was removed from the respirator but stopped breathing without it. The respirator was jammed back into my mouth, knocking out two front teeth (beat the death alternative.) My family was told the next time the respirator was removed, it couldn’t be replaced and if I didn’t breath on my own, I was dead. Lots of family and friends were praying for me. Obviously, prayer worked since I am writing this.
After the stents were located in me, I was placed on blood thinners to prevent them from clogging again. Almost two weeks later, bleeding started to occur in my left leg. It was a long time before I could even move it and still don’t have full range of motion.
I had 28 doses of radiation to my chest. I was considered “cured” in early November. I was told I would have to have a ct scan done in three months. On January 31, I was still clear. In early March, I complained of a growth in the area of my Adams Apple. A biopsy was done and it proved once again to be malignant Thymoma. I have started Chemotherapy. I was hospitalized because of breathing and swallowing problems, being fed steroids via IV.
I was told malignant Thymoma is quite rare I’ve seen numbers as low as .02% of cancers reported and not many doctors being familiar with it. The bleeding into my muscle tissue from blood thinners is more rare. To have the cancer spread outside of the chest is even more rare. Frankly, I am sick of rare. I’ve also seen numbers as high as 90% for remission and 40-50% for cure. I am going with and focusing on those odds.
This letter is long. My intent is to tell the reader that this cancer is not a death sentence. I finally had to come to grips with it, because of my age, any cancer was still being thought of as a death sentence. It isn’t. Faith in God and His will as well as the love, compassion and understanding by your friends and relatives is paramount. Keeping an upbeat attitude works. There are good and bad days. After being diagnosed with malignant Thymoma the second time, I was crushed. Then I realized there was only one outcome worse than the first time and I wouldn’t know it.
My Oncologist Appointment Went Well Today And The Options Were Discussed. Surgery Is Not Considered An Option Because The Danger Far Outweighs The Advantage. I Have To See My Original Radiologist From Gundersen Lutheran On July First. Good, Kathy And I Like Him And Have Confidence In His Work. The Oncologist Says The Cancer Appears To Be Localized To My Neck So That Is Good News Too. The Chemo Has Not Completely Killed It But The Difference Between The Last Treatment And This Is Very Marked.
I’ve done the radiation planning and treatment is scheduled to begin August 6th. That is one day before my 57th birthday and 39 year anniversary of my joining the Navy in 1964. Wasn’t expected to make it this far and am making plans for a concert in April 2004. That’s confidence.
After having had time to contemplate your e-mail and, while doing so, I came to the realization that, as time goes on, the specter of cancer is diminishing. I suspect part of this is because my radiation oncologist said, “you still have a quite a goose egg there.” I found it refreshing and have taken it to heart. My thought is a tumor implies growth. A goose egg, when found on the head, is usually caused by a bump of some sort and will go away eventually. I’ve come to realize that I am not in denial but am using all the tools available to put the disease in perspective.
I’ve said, I have lived a good life. I’ve taken chances I may have avoided and could have had a totally safe life. But it can NEVER be put on my tombstone, “HE WAS BORN AND HE DIED BUT HE NEVER LIVED.”
On the hair front, I never really lost the white hair. The colored stuff went almost immediately. I say the white hair because I still have “peach fuzz” and it is all white. I still think baldness is accepted by men more easily because we see bald men all the time.
My leg still reminds me it is not up to snuff. I fell once yesterday and almost fell twice after that. Kathy and her daughter were told that I had suffered a series of mini-strokes while in a coma. This was later denied but it may explain my leg’s behavior. Perhaps it quits working because the nerve impulses quit albeit momentarily.
A friend of mine complimented me on my clinical physical description of my cancer and my analysis of same. In its own right, I have found the subject to be fascinating as is the time I am having with my leg.
Ha, I asked if the chemo was done. The clinic has to get back to me on whether the chemo is finished or if chemo and radiation will run concurrently. Honestly, Alan, you wouldn’t believe the questions I asked the clinic folk say they don’t know. I can’t believe the questions haven’t been asked before. I have also discovered they have messed up on the blood tests for anticoagulation therapy and chemo. In the former, “developmentally disabled” was marked for diagnosis. That was news to me. The nurse was happy to change that. In the latter, one of my blood test requests indicated my having Thyroid CA. I asked them to change that. What they didn’t change and I didn’t find out until later was half of the blood test was requested. This meant a roughly 45 minutes addition to my treatment for that day. Most disconcerting to me was their response that the chemo shouldn’t affect the anticoagulation therapy. Wrong answer – it was affected in a very negative fashion. The reason? The red blood cells, in part, cause blood coagulation. Chemo destroys fast growing red and white blood cells (reason for the Nadir Test after ten days). This causes the blood to NOT coagulate so readily. After a period, the cell growth will return to normal. After I was suffering serious lack of energy, I was given Procrit. That drug induces the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. That in turn decreases the bloods ability to coagulate. Blood coagulation ability is very important because of the stents in my neck. To much coagulation and they can clog. Too little and there is a possibility of another bleed such as that which caused my leg troubles.
The chemotherapy was completed without much ado. Fortunately, the side effects from chemo remained at a minimum. It was somewhat successful having reduced the tumor roughly 50%. 28 doses of radiation to my neck, in four different locations, were completed in September 2003. I was declared in remission at that time. A note about the radiation was it was unpleasant with burns on my neck. During treatment I had to have a mask in place, which prevented me from moving my head and neck. As I said before, it beat the death alternative.
The local hospitals had a cancer survivor party in April 2004. At that time, I had the closest treatment completion date to the festivities. That made me wonder what happened to all the other folks that were in treatment when I was. Hopefully they just couldn’t make the party. I recognized a fair share of the workers at the event as care providers I worked with during my treatments.
Since that time, I have led a fairly active life. My energy, breathing and walking ability aren’t what they used to be. My left leg is functional but walking ability is not restored completely and hasn’t improved much since a year or so ago. This past weekend, I went to my first pro football game. The hard part was navigating the stadium steps. Shouting for the home team was out of the question since the radiation has left me all but speechless. Never mind the home team didn’t do anything worth shouting about.
As of October 5, 2004, I am still in remission. My neck and throat are a concern. However, as long as the swelling only goes up and down and I don’t have difficulty swallowing and only discomfort, I must be doing okay. I have another oncology appointment in three months after having done well on the last one earlier in September. I had another check up by my family physician about two weeks after the last oncology. He didn’t find anything to be concerned about either.
For my birthday, Kathy bought a flight lesson for me. That will occur on October 12th. Live life to its fullest.