, Salem, MA

December 21, 2013

Letter: Recovering alongside Boston, Red Sox

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

My husband, Craig, was diagnosed with retroperitoneal liposarcoma, a very rare cancer, at Mass General Hospital the third week of February 2013. He had been having problems with an enlarging waistline and other seemingly nonrelated health issues for some time. His primary care physician sent him for a CAT scan; they discovered a 17-pound malignant tumor involving multiple organs. Prognoses for this type of cancer have historically been grim. Life expectancy was no more than five years until the sarcoma team at MGH began handling these tumors differently. Each treatment is designed specifically for the individual patient. In Craig’s case, he faced six weeks of proton radiation, followed by radical resection surgery involving intra-operative radiation. The tumor would be removed along with his kidney, spleen, 10 feet of colon and part of his pancreas. Recovery would be a long and daunting process at best.

Craig is a die-hard Red Sox fan who always looks forward to spring training. This year was no different for him, even after last year’s debacle. He was rooting for them when everyone was still stunned by the previous season. At the start of spring training, we received the cancer news. We were overwhelmed by the diagnosis and proposed treatment recommended by the sarcoma team. Our world was pushed off its axis with the future now so unsure. Red Sox Nation also had no way to know where its future would lie.

Craig’s first day of proton radiation at MGH was the morning of the Boston Marathon bombings. With his heart heavy, Craig went back to therapy the very next day. Security was incredible with SWAT teams canvassing the MGH grounds and jets and helicopters overhead. The hospital itself was in a state of shock. Employees walked around disbelieving what they were experiencing. The atmosphere was surreal. As Boston began slowly absorbing the terror that had unfolded, Craig began slowly absorbing the radiation to control his cancer.

During radiation treatments, Craig suffered a heart attack, most likely caused by the stress the tumor was putting on his heart. He had a stent implanted in his artery and was back to radiation treatments within two days of his discharge. On May 30, our 31st wedding anniversary, Craig had his last radiation treatment. The radiation treatments and the heart attack had weakened him considerably. During June, he was feeling stronger, and we went to our first Red Sox game together in many years. We watched a winning game and witnessed two home runs within 20 minutes. Very exciting game. That was a good day. It gave us hope.

July 2, 2013, was the day of Craig’s surgery. It was a long and complicated surgery that took a little more than six hours to complete. Our surgeon and oncologist were very pleased with the outcome and the lack of complications during surgery. Recovery was very long and very painful with one setback that resulted in re-hospitalization. Craig had literally been cut in half and restructured inside. We are extremely grateful to his extraordinary team of doctors and nurses who worked so hard to give him a second chance at life. Not unlike many of the victims and families of the marathon bombings.

The atmosphere at MGH on July 4 was quiet and loud all at the same time. The unusual lack of people there on the holiday combined with the military lock-down atmosphere of Boston that day was most unsettling. Jets and helicopters constantly buzzed overhead due to the Boston Pops concert at the Esplanade right next door. (My worries about Craig combined with sitting on the outdoor patio with all this noise at this seemingly deserted hospital was so unnerving I had to go inside.)

When Craig was first diagnosed, we felt so much sadness and despair. We felt as if we’d hit the “bad” lottery, given the rareness of his cancer. However, we met so many wonderful people at MGH who were also experiencing their own life-altering journeys that we did not feel so alone. Our family and friends truly were the wind beneath our sails and rallied on our behalf and supported us wholeheartedly with love and support. We will remain forever grateful for their devotion.

During his recovery at home, we watched the Red Sox get better and better. We also watched with admiration and amazement as many of the bombing victims also began to repair and rebuild their lives. This inspired us to keep fighting for his recovery, as well. Craig finally went back to work on Sept. 23. His employer, Covidien, has been most supportive of him during this health crisis from diagnosis through his ongoing recovery. It is no coincidence that Shane Victorino sealed the Red Sox’s fate that Wednesday night with his three-run hit off the Covidien sign at Fenway Park to win the World Series.

Even as Craig was feeling better every day and had gone back to work, we still nervously anticipated his upcoming CT scan. On Monday, Oct. 28, we were informed that the cancer had not recurred, and all looked good. We had not realized how much we needed to hear this positive news. We slept soundly for the first time in nine months. Two days later, the Sox won the World Series. The road ahead for my husband is still long, but promising, and we are forever Boston Strong!

Boston is our home, our city and our salvation.

God Bless Boston.

Susan and Craig Lamkin