Being able to breathe again

21017025I’ll never forget that day. It was Saturday, September 15, when I was able to breathe again (10 days ago as I write this.) As the diagnosis of my cancer proceeded my breathing problems became increasingly worse. Not being able to breath had almost become a part of me, even it was a part I didn’t like. In this post I will share my experience of being able to take a full breath of air once again.

As I have noted many times writing about the diagnosis phase of my cancer experience, I have been having problems breathing for a number of months. It got so bad that I looked forward to having a port surgery performed just so I could get a break from the breathing problems. A lymph node in my neck was pushing against my windpipe. That restricted the amount of air I could breath. It got so bad at the end that even getting up from a chair or taking a couple of steps would leave me breathless.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of that week I had my chemo treatment. Then for two days I basically slept my days away. So on Saturday when I woke up in the morning I was expecting to just lay around all day. I was actually feeling pretty good that morning and decided to go out to my pickup truck to grab something out of it. As I opened the pickup door I had to stop and think about what had just happened. I had walked all the way to pickup truck from the house without my walking stick and without stopping to catch my breath. My pickup was at least a hundred feet away from the house on that day. I was so excited that I decided to keep walking to make sure I hadn’t somehow tricked myself (I know that might not make sense, but that was the thought I had).

I spent the next half hour walking all over. My wife and I have two quite large gardens. I walked out to those gardens and walked around them several times. I walked to a neighbor’s house and checked out the progress of construction being done on his house. I walked down our very long driveway to check the mail. I kept finding excuses to walk around and would have jumped for joy if I could have.

After all that walking I was starting to get a bit tired, but that tiredness seemed to come from my chemo recovery and not from breathing problems. Actually, I think I almost hyperventilated from trying to see just how fast and long I could take breaths of air. It was a good day.

The thought occurred to me that my lymph nodes must have gotten smaller. It was then I touched the very large lump on my neck. Or rather I went to touch the very large lump on my neck, but it was gone. Between my neck, armpits and groin there were at least seven lymph nodes I had been able to feel previously. All of them appeared to be gone now. I knew the cancer was still in me, I had only one chemo treatment so far after all. But I now felt energized by being able to breathe and having the lymph nodes pushed down to a normal size.

Later that day I did some very light yard work. I still had to be careful as I can’t be in the sun too long and I would still get tired very quickly. But for the first time in months I felt halfway normal again. Nobody was going to take that from me. Not even my well-intended (and correct) wife telling me not to overdo it. In the end I probably did overdo the activity that day because I was very tired again for all of Sunday. It was worth it though.

As I end this post I can’t help but be thankful for being able to breathe again. I vaguely remember someone once saying the secret of life is to keep breathing. At this point I really can’t disagree with that statement.


I also couldn’t get the Pink Floyd song Breathe out of my head. In particular I couldn’t stop thinking of the first two lines:

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care

Recap of the posts documenting diagnosing my cancer

20011163Over the first week of this blog I have been documenting what I call the diagnostic phase of my cancer experience. In this post I will briefly recap those posts. I am doing the recap today because I am upgrading the software this blog runs on, and if something goes wrong at least I’m not losing any new content. Tomorrow I will be back to blogging as normal.

Besides my welcome post, the first post about my cancer experience had me asking whether I should have discovered my cancer sooner. This post documented my experience up until middle August of this year. In the end I came to the conclusion that I would not likely have discovered my cancer any sooner due to the lack of cancer-specific symptoms. Really until a lymph node stuck out of my neck it looked like I was having some sort of lung problem.

My next post began with getting the results of a CT scan. This was the first sign of something more serious than just lung problems. My continually deteriorating breathing problems appeared to be caused by a lymph node pushing against my windpipe. I also started to experience (or perhaps started to notice) new symptoms.

After the CT scan I had a biopsy done on the large lymph node sticking out of my neck. In that post I documented my experience getting the biopsy. Going into the biopsy I wish I had read something similar to my post so I knew what to expect.

When the biopsy results came back I had to get a PET scan. The PET scan was necessary due to my biopsy showing I had follicular lymphoma. In this post I not only documented the PET scan experience, but also some of the anxiety I had about the scan.

Yesterday I posted about meeting my oncologist for the first time. I only focused on the first half of that meeting, since the second half will be the subject of my next post. Most of what I remember from first meeting my oncologist was my wife and I determining whether we trusted the oncologist to properly treat my cancer. In the end we both decided the oncologist could be trusted and that doing my cancer treatments locally was a good idea.

At the beginning of this post I noted this was just small recap post. Over the next few days I will blog about seeing the PET scan results, the rush to chemo, getting a port inserted into my chest, and my first chemo experience. For those of you wondering, that all happened in just the last two weeks.

Welcome to my new blog as I learn to fight against cancer

22092894Hello everyone, and welcome to my new blog. My name is Ken Santema and I have recently been diagnosed with lymphoma (wow, it sounds like an opening line in a support group, which this blog kind of is perhaps). I have been blogging for many years about technology, project management, and South Dakota politics. Now that my life has been turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis I am placing almost all of my writing energy into blogging about dealing with cancer.

On this site I will blog about a variety of topics. First I will be doing posts giving status updates so family, friends, and any other interested parties can keep up to date on my current health. Additionally I will be doing posts about how I am dealing with cancer emotionally. There will also be posts about how my family is coping and what we are doing to get through this as a strong unit.

Finally I will be sharing insight I have found on other blogs of this type. Reading blogs from other people fighting cancer has really helped me get through each day. I have hope that this blog may help others fighting cancer as well.

This welcome post is the only one I plan to do today, as I am getting quite tired. My first round of chemo started yesterday and even though I felt really good this morning I definitely am not feeling like writing anymore today.