The Inside Scoop

On vacation with Armando’s family in June

Hi. Hello. I’m back!

I haven’t posted anything for almost two months. The world seems like a scary, evil, and mislead place to be in right now. I needed to shut off the noise for a little while and here’s why…

In January of this year (2020) my husband, Armando, had a major surgery to remove a tumor on his adrenal gland. A tumor we found out about just two months prior. His 3-4 hour surgery turned into 9 hours with me in the waiting room joined by my sister in law. Well, turns out this tumor they removed was not only stuck to the surrounding organs, but it was also cancerous – Adrenocortical Carcinoma. A rare form of slow growing cancer that attacks, you guessed it, the adrenal glands.

Here’s some back story: Armando had complaints about stomach pain and cramping for 2 years before this time. We were making long drives from Pittsburgh to Virginia Beach every few weeks for 3 months back in 2018. Every time we got in the car he felt this weird cramping that he couldn’t pin point. Fast-forward about 8 months after that, we moved into a condo in Virginia, newlyweds, trying to jump start our careers and navigate being in new state with no family and just each other.

One night shortly after, at about 2AM Armando wakes me up in excruciating pain and tells me to call an ambulance. He is sweaty, shivering, clammy, doubled over in pain, and half naked kneeling over the toilet in our bathroom throwing up. I call 911 and they come to the house. Armando can’t walk at all from being weak and in pain that I help him down the stairs and the EMTs get him on a stretcher to check out his vitals. All clear, but we head to the hospital and they give him some potassium drink and fluids to hydrate him.

Two weeks later, repeat at 3AM. Except we drove ourselves to the hospital this time (hello ambulance bill). We were told for him to find a PCP, and they gave us a referral for him to see a Gastro-Intestinal doctor. We don’t have insurance in Virginia at this point so no PCP, but we go see the GI doctor who puts Armando through a colonoscopy and endoscopy with still nothing they can see wrong with him. They do an empty stomach test and an ultrasound – nothing.

All the while, life is happening. We both lose our jobs within two weeks of each other, traveling once a month to Pittsburgh for Armando’s National Guard duties, trying to figure out marriage, and having no friends or local support system.

After the GI doctor visits, we researched and decided to go gluten free. Things got better! No more intense pain episodes, but he was still having a lot of cramping and it was more painful than before that it would inhibit his entire day. At the time, he was working a labor job – if you’ve been in this field, you know how un-forgiving this field can be when you call off the morning of work in so much pain you can’t move.

Gluten-Free seemed like the game-changer. Until it wasn’t.

Armando had started a new job in September of 2019 with out of state required training for at least 8 weeks. Fast forward to another training week in November and Armando is on his way home Friday night about a 5 hour drive. He calls me and says something is wrong – he can’t breath and his chest hurts so bad he feels like it is going to pop. We chat on the phone for a while and I tell him to pull over and call an ambulance. His family has a history of heart disease, and while he is only 25 years old, at that point in life, we weren’t ruling anything out. He calls an ambulance and they take vitals and an EKG which all look good, but he was in so much and clutching his stomach they take an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital (2 hours from our home) and Armando tells me where they are headed. I hope in the car, on the phone with my mom to calm me down, and I make it to the hospital in record time – sorry not sorry.

I get to the ER just in time that he is squirming around on the bed in pain and they finally come in to give him some pain medication to calm him down. Their expert diagnosis is either 1) He is a drug addict asking for pain meds or 2) He is passing a kidney stone and he’ll be fine in a few days. Literally what they suggest to us. I tell the PA about his history and she says the Urologist recommended they keep him for a few hours then let him go to pass the suggested kidney stone(s).

Here’s the part that gives me chills every time.

The PA comes back into the room a little while later and Armando is resting/sleeping now (thanks to the pain meds). She tells me the radiologist took another look at his scans and saw something strange so they want to take him for another test real quick.

They come back and start rushing around. It’s about 9pm at this point and Armando is in pain again. The PA tells us that the last test they did showed that his abdomen is completely full of blood/fluid. What. She says they cannot see what is causing it or where it is coming from so they tell us they are calling a helicopter to life-flight him to the closest equipped hospital for an emergency procedure to stop the bleeding. The PA pulls me aside and tells me how sorry she is that they didn’t believe him and she tells me that this radiologist very well have may have saved his life. If they had done what was planned – to let him sit for a few more hours to “pass a kidney stone” he could have bled out internally. *Chills*

At this point, I’m holding it together by a thread.

I remember trying to be strong for Armando who is laying next to me on a hospital bed, exhausted from pain, worried about me of all people and our future and whose going to take care of me. Talk about a selfless man. We are both sitting in that ER hospital room hoping the helicopter shows up in time to get him where he needs to go and praying that this is not the plan God had for us.

The flight team arrives, gets him transferred over to the stretcher and taken to the pad for his life-flight 15min by air, 60 minute by car for me. This was the hardest “goodbye” moment in my life to date. Neither one of us had any idea what to expect. I took a video of him taking off in this helicopter and it breaks my heart to this day listening to my voice break and sobbing on that video while I watch Armando fly off.

I make my 60 minute trek in 30minutes – again, not sorry. I have my mom on the phone with me praying in my ear and trying to soothe me enough to drive through blurry eyes. I call Armando’s sister and brother who jump in their car and start driving to meet us from 3 hours away. I honestly couldn’t even tell you what happens when I got to the new hospital in Richmond. My next memory is sitting in the triage bay waiting for him to go back and then sitting in a tiny waiting room with Armando’s siblings, eating some snacks, and distracting each other. Armando gets out of the procedure around 1AM. It went well, they stopped what they could see, but they also saw an unfamiliar mass they weren’t sure about. This part is a blur – I think we went back to the triage bay waiting for a post-op room? I don’t remember to be honest. His siblings headed out for the night and I know I sat in an uncomfortable folding chair until about 5AM when Armando got a private room. I slept for about 30minutes in that post-op room when his siblings showed up again in around 7AM when we got a sent up to an actual room and spent three more days in the hospital. The conclusion was that they stopped the bleed, and now his body needed time to re-absorb all of the blood/fluid that was floating around freely in his abdomen. They would have to wait for the body to re-absorb this blood in order for them to take a closer look at the mass they saw. They also decided this was a great time to throw the C-word [cancer] around without even seeing the mass so that was a lot of fun (total sarcasm).

Armando and I got home from this hospital trip the day before Thanksgiving. I made a few side dishes for the holiday and one of Armando’s coworkers actually brought us 2 plates of their own family’s Thanksgiving meal which was really sweet. Armando was put on light work duty for two months while they wait for the blood to re-absorb and we spent the next two months driving back and forth to the hospital that was two hours away for more scans, scheduling surgery, and talking to every possible specialist that was involved. Lucky for us, we got one of the top surgeons in the U.S. assigned for his surgery.

The new year comes around and surgery is scheduled mid January for 3-4hours, which turns into 9hours. One week of recovery in the hospital and Armando is down a 13cm cancerous tumor, one adrenal gland, a part of his kidney, and a small hole patched up in this diaphragm. He had to relearn how to breath, stand up straight, walk, and use his abdomen for everyday tasks. After this week in the hospital, it was another two weeks off of work, and light duty for at least 6 more weeks. He now has a scar of about 10inches across his stomach, little to no feeling in his lower left abs (totally normal), and as of July 2020 he is a cancer survivor with his first post-op scan completely clear!! Praise the Lord!

So, this. This is why.

Life is short. Life is precious. Life is scary.

Life is an adventure.

This is an adventure Armando never imagined. It’s an adventure I never imagined. But. It’s part of our story now. It’s a part of Armando’s history now and our children’s history for their medical charts someday.

It wasn’t the adventure we expected or booked a plane ticket for. It wasn’t the adventure of a honeymoon we strived to go on or an item we picked from our bucket list as newlyweds.

Regardless.

It’s the adventure we were dealt. Despite all of the hard, the stress, the pain, the tears, and the frustration – this “adventure” grew our marriage and strengthened our relationship in more ways than we thought possible.

Sometimes we all need time to breath. We need time to step away from all of the outside noise, and come back to the things, people, and experiences (good and bad) we are grateful for. For me among others, I pray for the radiologist at that small town hospital and thank God for using them to save my husband’s life.

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