Dec. 28, 2012
It’s still hard to believe this was my 3rd Christmas since my horrific experience of dealing with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy. I will never forget my many trips to the chemotherapy floor for my 5 ½- 6hr. treatments, seated in a room filled with approx 40 other recliners, filled by others also fighting their own type of cancer. Some of them were obviously losing their battle. Their loss was later confirmed not only by their eventual absence from the chemo floor but by their nurses. It was so hard to watch and wonder “what if”. I also remember during my December 2010 treatments being seated next to the Christmas tree the nursing staff had set up for the season to cheer up the patients. It all just seemed so wrong, the concept of a Christmas tree and chemo. I could not believe it was happening to me. Because of my diagnosis, I wondered it would be my last Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. A Christmas filled with nausea, severe neuropathy, and other side effects from the chemo. Based on my diagnosis with lymph node exposure, I just didn’t know.
The diagnosis occurred in June 2010 during what I thought would be a “routine” examination. I was told blood tests showed I was “anemic”, a symptom often displayed by the lack of energy due to excessive tiredness. I always felt tired, I worked “nights”. Further tests within the hour revealed colon cancer.
I was quickly referred to an oncologist and a surgeon. After my first visit with the oncologist, I learned of pending surgery and was quickly scheduled to attend a 3hr chemotherapy class which explained the treatment process for my specific diagnosis, including the different types of chemo I would be receiving, and their side effects. I learned I would be required to carry a portable chemo pump for 3 days after each chemo treatment, attached by surgical hose into a port surgically implanted beneath the skin of my upper left chest. I learned the types of chemo I would be receiving were carcinogenic, they could potentially cause another type of cancer later. I learned the CT scan machines produced a significantly high dose of radiation during each visit. Those exposures could also potentially cause another type of cancer later. After the class I asked to speak with my oncologist regarding new concerns after attending the class. During my brief visit with him, he suggested “getting things in order”. I immediately thought of my two young daughters, 13yrs and 10yrs old at the time. The possibility of having to say goodbye to the two best things that ever happened to me was really starting to scare me. I then remembered those PPB officers who have lost a child, and how difficult it must have been for them to say “goodbye”, that is if they had the chance.
Upon returning home after the class, the reality of everything really began sinking in. I couldn’t believe the cure for cancer could cause other cancers. I again thought about my girls. I thought of what life would be like for them if something happened to me. The fear of having to say “goodbye” to them was becoming more of a possibility, more so than ever before. I thought of what that “last hug” would be like. I worried about our finances, whether I would even make it to retirement though I was so close, or settle for disability, that is if I survived. I worried that the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas would be horrific and if they would be the last holidays with my family.
After my first surgery things got worse. I learned my diagnosis was considered “stage 4” cancer. Biopsies revealed significant lymph node exposure. Further CT scans, MRI imaging, and PED scans revealed an additional small tumor on my liver. During a post first surgery visit with my oncologist, I learned I would start with chemotherapy, followed by a second surgery to remove the tumor on my liver, followed by more chemotherapy.
I remember frequent calls to my East Precinct supervisors Sgt Daren Roeser and Sgt Steve Andrusko with updates. I remember their calls and e-mails. They were beyond encouraging and supportive. Visits and calls by Dave Doebler (PPA) and Brent Williamson (PPB) were just as supportive. They all were more of a blessing to me and my family than they will ever know. I will never be able to thank them enough.
I remember the day I began receiving medical bills, unfortunately the insurance deductibles started over July 1. I was shocked at the amount I owed. Coincidently, the first day the medical bills began arriving, I also received the first of several form letters from the City of Portland, explaining FMLA, disability, and requesting medical information before a deadline or face reduction or loss of benefits. They also requested a projected “return to work” date. I remember reading the city’s letter and the medical bills wondering if it could get any worse. I called Ofc. Brent Williamson, the PPB liaison to the Bureau of Disability and Retirement, to help me understand the process with the city. I will always be grateful to Brent for his many calls of support and helping me through the process of dealing with the city, on top of everything else.
I remember feeling such loss of control at the time of diagnosis, after the first surgery, and especially when the stage was increased to stage 4. That “loss of control” feeling was magnified significantly when I opened the city’s letter and those medical bills. I spent many nights after the family went to bed, crying out to God asking “why now, why me”. I didn’t want to leave my girls. I remembered how much I loved them. Both were already independent even before my diagnosis. My youngest however (10yrs old), is clearly “daddy’s girl”. She loves doing everything with me, running errands, fixing things, and even telling her mother and older sister to pick up after themselves. But most of all, I remembered her hugs. Every day after school, I knelt down and she would wrap her arms around my neck and bury her face into my shoulder. I would not be a 2-3 sec. hug, she would squeeze until she was finished telling me how her day at school had been. I could smell her hair against my face. I remembered many times closing my eyes and taking a “mental picture” of the hug moments knowing one day she would be grown up and gone. I never imagined it might be sooner, it might end like this. I again remembered those fellow officers who suffered their loss and again imagined their devastation. What it must have been like for them to have that one “last hug” and to say that one last “goodbye”. I know they would have traded with their child in a heartbeat if they could have.
I will never forget one specific night was the worst. The family was in bed, it was late, and the house was quiet. It was during those quiet times I became my own worst enemy. This time was worse than the others. I thought about the chemo class, the possibility that the chemo and the scans could each cause their own types of cancer, the horrific side effects of chemo I would be experiencing, the oncologist suggestion for me to get things in order, the significant lymph node exposure, a pending second surgery on my liver, the medical bills, and the city’s letters. Things seemed to be getting worse. I began to cry for my girls more than ever before. My faith in God was at an all time low. I felt nothing I could do could change what was happening to me. I remember crying out to God pleading for some type of direction. I wondered if I would eventually lose this battle with cancer no matter what I did, or if I still had a chance. I so needed to know. Late that same night, out of utter hopelessness, I did the one thing I felt I could still do, I took one more step of faith, gave my family back to God, and decided to wait for an answer.
The following day I received another call from Ofc. Brent Williamson. When I answered I assumed he was calling to again offer support and encouragement as he had done so many times, but I discovered this time was going to be different. When I answered the phone, Brett’s first words were, “Marlow you won’t believe this, guess what East precinct is doing for you”. He then explained that Sgt Roeser had organized the officers at East Precinct and they were lining up to work my shift/nights for me so I could concentrate on fighting the cancer. I couldn’t believe it. I felt so undeserving and unworthy of so much grace by so many. It was that “answer” I was waiting for, the first “spark” of hope since my diagnosis. That “spark” caused me to actually start believing I might be able to beat the diagnosis after all.
I subsequently began the horrific chemotherapy, followed by a second surgery to remove the tumor in my liver. At that time they were surprised to discover the tumor had not only shrunk in size but had died. More chemotherapy followed through Thanksgiving and Christmas, ending in March 2011. I was then released to return to light duty (TRU) in April. I returned to nights at East Precinct in May after in-service. I could not believe I had made it back. During the preparation stages to return to work via TRU, I began to struggle with ideas of how to say “thank you” to everyone for that “spark”.
During my chemo treatments before and after my second surgery, I learned many had lined up to volunteer to work for me in my absence, some were even turned away because the dates had already been filled. I learned those included the Commander of East at that time (Bill Walker), Lieutenants, Sergeants, uniform officers not only from my shift but other shifts, other assignments, other precincts, including Daryl Turner (PPA). Several of those that volunteered for me I didn’t even know. Again, how and where could I begin to say “thank you”.
Unfortunately, in late June 2011, I returned to the surgeon after experiencing abdominal discomfort. I learned a 3rd surgery would be required. An internal incision made during my second surgery hadn’t healed properly as a result of the chemo still in my system. The incision was turning into a hernia and it could not be delayed. The recovery time was estimated to be approx 4-6 weeks. After the shock of learning of a pending third surgery, I thought of East Precinct. I didn’t want to put them through it again. After immense soul searching and discussion with my family, I concluded that God was saying it was time to walk away. My time to say thank you was going to be cut short. It was time to say goodbye to a 27 ½ yr career.
It was so hard to tell Sgt Roeser, who worked so hard to pull the resources together that he did to support me and my family during the cancer fight, that I was going to have to leave (retire). Telling Sgt . Andrusko was just as difficult due to his efforts. I’ll never forget my conversation with Commander Walker when I advised him of my decision. He was not only understanding but supportive. He was so happy he was retiring in July.
Since the worst seems to be over, and since my retirement, I’ve still struggled with how to say “thank you” enough to all of those who did what they did for me and my family. For that “spark” that helped me fight my way back. Though I tried to reach as many of those I could before I left to say “thank you”, through catered lunches and dinners at East Precinct, I knew then I would not be able to reach everyone. I’ve struggled with finding a way to still give back for what was so graciously done for me. I finally came up with another idea, volunteering for the Sunshine Division.
It was great connecting with Ofc. Phil Kent again and I thank him for the opportunity he has given me. For all of those who fought cancer and won, I now volunteer for you. For the PPB members who have lost family members during their fight with cancer, especially those who have lost a child, and for the families that have tried to survive in spite of their loss, I volunteer for you, you’re my heroes. For all of the PPB Command staff, Lieutenants, Sergeants, and Officers who not only volunteered for me but dealt with scheduling nightmares, and understaffed shifts because of my absence, I do this for you.
Today, I’m still being watched closely by my oncologist, and as recently as a few weeks ago, the CT scan and blood tests have returned clear. I’m still dealing with the long term side effects from the chemo. Because I received permanent sutures internally as a result of my third surgery, I still feel their pinch if I move the wrong way. The good news is, per my oncologist and surgeon, I’m now considered in “no evidence of disease” status. The other good news is I can use the “chemo brain” defense (forgetfulness) when my wife gets upset because I forgot to do something.
I will always remember those many nights as I mentioned, after the family went to bed (after my diagnosis and during treatment), when the house was quiet and I struggled with “why” and “what if”. As a great friend pointed out, those times were never a matter of what God was doing to me, it was a matter of what he wanted to do through me. I guess I’m just a slow learner. Those hugs from “daddy’s girl” by the way, they’re stronger than ever. Those pictures, I still close my eyes and take them. They will never fade. Neither will the gratefulness of my family for what you guys did for me, for delivering that “answer”, by giving me the “spark”.
Marlow Fischer / #14343-Retired-East Precinct.
P.S.: Shake some trees for me.