The severed nerve

P6150076.JPGWhen I was going through cancer treatment, I followed a few blogs of other cancer patients. When the blog ended abruptly, I feared the worst. In some cases, I was right, but in at least one case, the person was fine but had just stopped posting. So, in case anyone undergoing cancer treatment follows my blog, I want to encourage them by posting at least a few times each year, so they know all is well still.

While at my one-year check up this past February at MD Anderson in Houston, my doctor asked me if I had any unusual symptoms to report. I mentioned that I huffed and puffed a lot, and that it had started almost exactly one year earlier. I had mentioned it to several other doctors during the year, but no one had been able to detect a cause.

One doctor had sent me to a cardiologist to see if it was due to congestive heart failure, but it wasn’t that.

The inability to breathe was especially concerning to me because vigorous exercise can help ward off cancer recurrence. I could only use my elliptical machine for about 3 minutes before I doubled over in pain and couldn’t breathe. I tired easily from simple tasks and needed naps. I couldn’t climb stairs or walk far, and I certainly couldn’t jog. Even tying my shoes made me breathless. It wasn’t like that before. I knew that radiation gave people long-term fatigue, but fatigue and breathlessness are not the same thing.

My doctor ordered a chest x-ray.

The radiologists discovered that my right phrenic nerve had been severed, and it almost surely happened during neck surgery the previous year. A severed right phrenic nerve paralyzes your right diaphragm. Instead of laying flat, the paralyzed diaphragm juts up into your lung in the shape of an upside U, and keeps your lung from filling up with air.

It is medically irreversible. They can do surgery to pull the diaphragm out of the lung, but it isn’t able to repair the diaphragm itself. Plus, it is risky surgery and no one seems to think I should do that.

My newly-enlisted pulmonologist at MD Anderson suggested I try to live with it, and stick to light housework and office work. I can’t run, but he hopes I can build my strength by walking. He said I can’t lift weights because of the nerve damage to my right shoulder and the tightened muscles/tendons in my right neck. (The whole upper right side of my body is abnormal and gives me pain.)

I huff and puff tying my shoes because when I bend at the waist, I am cutting off what little air supply my right lung has. Certain sitting and lying positions work better for me than others.

I’d lived overseas with it for a full year before it was diagnosed. Knowing what the cause is sure makes life easier though. I know how to work around it better. For example, I know not to go jogging. Seriously. I cannot.

Overall, I have some challenges, but it is, as always, good to be alive! I am amazed and grateful that God spared my life.

For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
    in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.

— Psalm 143:11 (NIV)


Time for my one-year check up


One year and two days ago, I finished my cancer treatment. Praise God for His care and for this victory in my life! I was able to move back overseas nine months ago, and I am slowly but surely increasing in strength as my body recovers from the chemo, radiation, and nerve damage suffered during my neck surgery.

In early February, just a few weeks from now, I will travel back to the U.S. and have my one-year check-up. I have 10 appointments at MD Anderson, will have at least two road trips from my parents house to there, will have one surgery on February 15th, and will have two procedures that involve anesthesia.

I knew last year that this surgery was going to happen. It is not a cancer surgery, just a reparative surgery.

Please pray:
–Pray there will be no cancer in my body for the doctors to find.
–Pray for protection during surgery.
–Pray for protection from the dangers posed by anesthesia.
–Pray for safe travels both in the air and on the roads.
–Pray for my brother J who will have to take days off work to take me to Houston. It is pretty inconvenient for him, yet he is willing to give up his time to help me. Pray that things will work out for his good in regards to his work and time off.
–Pray I will quickly recover from the flu that I sadly obtained three days ago. I’m not famous for quick recoveries from respiratory problems. I need to be completely well before I have surgery.

–Thank God that my brother and I have friends in Houston who will let us stay with them. Also, I am thankful this was not scheduled a week earlier, as Super Bowl attendance the previous week has maxed out all hotels and things will be a mess. MD Anderson is very close to the stadium.
–I am thankful because, even if I use all my vacation time for surgery and recuperation, it is still not enough (since 4-6 weeks is the norm for recovery), but the medical department of my work has allowed me a little extra time back home to fully recover before flying back to Asia. They are so helpful and kind and have blessed my life tremendously in recent years.

Thanks for your interest, prayers and love!