Once we made it to Houston to seek consultation from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the first appointment was an ear test, and I thought to myself, “Yup, I’m busted”—I knew my hearing in right ear had been affected by the malignancy. The test confirmed my suspicions, as the specialist shared with me and then also with my parents that the right ear had less function than the left.
Following that test I had an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Going into this appointment, I expected him to elaborate on the effects the tumor has had on my hearing and maybe a treatment plan for that. However, he went right into explaining how he was going to maneuver around the ear to OPERATE on his portion of the tumor. This blew me away; I went in without even expecting surgery to be a topic of discussion. I had been told on my last visit that surgery was not a possibility unless we could get the chemo to shrink the tumor, and the latest scans showed that this didn’t happen.
Along with a myriad of possible side effects, they explained to me a type of hearing aid they would place a month after surgery that would go on the back of my head as a small computer chip-like attachment. I wasn’t sure at first whether I’d rather be deaf in one ear or wear this device. However, I then realized that as I grew old, and my hearing deteriorates further, I might really need that chip.
In the days before surgery, I tried to enjoy myself as much as possible. It was great to have Mom, Dad, Lainey, Lindsay, and Aunt Tracey all down there with me to share my final days of normalcy for a while. I indulged in all the kit-kats, wine, and oatmeal cream pies my little heart desired, and we indulged in some of Houston’s restaurant scene: a lot of fun together at a Hibachi restaurant called Benihana’s as the chef put on an entertaining show preparing meals in front of us. The night before surgery, I had my favorite meal of the trip at a fancy seafood restaurant in downtown Houston shortly after Lindsay got in.
Further. it was also wonderful to get to the beach in Galveston. Sometimes simpler is better, but this was a scenario where being sure a couple extra steps will improve the situation is totally worth it. We decided to explore a different beach from where we went the first time, but I wasn’t diggin’ it and didn’t see myself enjoying my time too much. With that, I complicated things by asking to drive back about a mile to where we went the first time, and we ended up really enjoying ourselves. Between the sounds of the waves crashing to the shore and my guitar, it was serene for my family and me.
On the day of my surgery, the Thiel College Relay Leadership squad sourced a Ryan Hart Day on campus. Altruistic acts spread wider than I'll ever know the day.
After surgery, the first thing I recall a remarkable amount of pain. This compared to my first memories of ICU after my first surgery when I was plenty sedated and peaceful. The lack of care from my nurses (not giving me enough drugs) made me angry, so I threw my dry-erase board at the nurse in the doorway to get his attention and get my medicine. NOW. As days went on living with wires and tubes, the struggle that gave me the biggest scare was that of the breath of life going through this trach tube, and at times being an extreme struggle, and when it clogged, the painful suction to try and facilitate the airflow. It was such a liberating feeling when they took that trach out and I could finally breathe without extensive effort. It made me really appreciate the good feeling of oxygen coming into my lungs and releasing freely again in exhale. It’s amazing how much we take for granted. Life comes from a far different perspective when you have gratitude for each breath.
After maybe ten days or so, I was free! That extended stay Holiday Inn might was such a relief: Jello and Netflix for days. We were there on Thanksgiving actually and it was hilarious because Sam and Aunt Tracey snuck out for a spell, then Mom. They did not want to eat turkey in front of me! Eventually I was allowed some jello and light drinks; jello had never been so glorious and painful all at once.
Once I got home, it was time for finals week at Thiel. I was bummed to have only that short amount of time to spend with my friends before Christmas break, especially considering I would be gone until the following fall semester. My professors were remarkably helpful and understanding. I finished the semester with a 4.0, and little added stress. I’ll never forget the care and effort put forth by Thiel College to make my life as convenient as possible during that rough patch; people were tugging on my side of the rope from all over—from campus police to administration to AVI food service to professors to friends.
With that said, I was very thankful to be home for the holidays. When it comes to best places to lay low and rest—which is what I needed to do at that point, still very much in recovery from surgery—Hart compound is where it’s at. With just that month or so in PA for the remaining majority of the winter, I really want to get out skiing one time before going back to Houston for 6-7 weeks. However, I had to re-strengthen my leg from the muscle graft they took from my right thigh. So I did the exercises prescribed by the physical therapist from the hospital daily plus other additional exercise until I felt my leg was to the point it could handle the strain created by a making a turn while downhill skiing. Cardiovascular exercise was crucial to my healing process. It was important to get blood flow going so that scar tissue wasn’t sitting stagnant. Rather, blood flow allows vital healing nutrients to reach the wound.
Winter months of 2014 were spent in Texas, receiving radiation treatment at the first-rate M.D. Anderson institution in Houston. I lived in a quaint little house in the outskirts of the city. On his way home from my surgery, Dad met an extraordinary person, Brenda and her husband, Doug. When they learned of the reason for Dad’s trip, they told him they have a house with no one living in it. They opened it to us for all of my treatments and really seemed to enjoy having us there. Loved ones came and stayed for a bit in rotation. I refined the doing of my thing: between the bass and acoustic guitar, exercise, nutrition, and golf; I had a rhythm. I took that time of simplicity to get a feel for what my flourishing looked like, thus promoting optimal immune system function.
A gradual singe. Heading home to PA with a choice to be made. Chemo? When? Summer? Shit.