My pulmonary masses are growing and are now blocking one of my airways

BREATHE! The procedure will give you that drowning feeling but you have to remain calm and trust the physicians and the procedure itself.

Last week I finally underwent bronchoscopy and biopsy procedures at the Philippine General Hospital – Department of Pulmonary Medicine and part of what was revealed was that I have two pulmonary masses inside what appears to be one of my bronchioles or air passageways in the lower left lobe of my lungs. What?

I mean, no I’m not surprised as this is just a confirmation of what they have found in my CT scan last month. The only thing that’s new is that now we were able to see in clear and colored picture what the pulmonary masses actually look like. So it’s real. And there are actually two of them. I just wanna scream right now.

Anyway, the two masses have grown bigger that they now appear to be entirely blocking that specific passageway which helps transport air in and out of my lungs and into my trachea thereby making it impossible for air to travel through that passage tube. My attending physician has not given advise yet (at least nothing final) but I am assuming this might be the primary cause of my frequent and heavy gasping for air especially when I’m talking.

A screen capture of what the pulmonary masses look like inside one of my air passageways. The dark or blackish buildup is confirmed to be one of the masses and the other one looks like a flesh buildup. Together, they block the entire passage way.

The bronchoscopy and biopsy procedures were done in one single session. Thanks to my pulmonary team at PGH because they know my pain. I am also glad that it was completely painless due to the local anesthesia that my pulmo had administered prior to the procedure. Moreover, it’s a relief that the anesthesia was administered as a liquid spray inside my nostrils and in my throat and not something that involves needles. You know what I mean. 

But the shocking revelation about the procedure is the fact that the pulmonary mass is now true and confirmed and there are two of them. Hell, I got two of them growing inside one of my air passageway. How crazy. 

I have always thought myself as a strong person but I have never proven it until that day. It took me a lot to swallow and accept the fact (without crying) that I actually have it and the next months of my life will be spent dealing with whatever impact it might have on my health and body and the treatment procedures that will be administered to try and cure it. Just the thought of it all makes me close my eyes and scream in my mind. What did I do? Why did it have to be me? Fuck, I’m fucked up.

My other air passageways pictured here appeared to be in normal condition. As you can you, they look like normal tubes that disappears into a dark alleyway unlike the one with the pulmonary mass which is completely closed.
 Like I said, the pulmo team that administered the bronchoscopy and biopsy procedures did not immediately provide an explanation to what was revealed on the bronchoscopy screen which clearly showed the appearance of the two pulmonary masses. That’s because they have to wait for the result of the laboratory tests. Waiting kills me. I have been waiting since July.

Liquid samples were taken from my lungs and placed in separate bottles. There were also glass-like panels which they call “slides” that bore my blood and labeled as samples as well.

The last and bloodiest part was the biopsy procedure where they had to get a sample tissue directly from one of the pulmonary masses. I am not sure if they took samples from both but what I know is that it caused internal bleeding for a minute or two but the physicians were experts in their field and were able to suction the blood from the inside and stop further bleeding. 

For me, the experience was like no other. And despite the painless procedure, it is something I would never want done on me ever again. To be clear though, I do not want to create a scare about bronchoscopy and biopsy procedures as these are safe and significant requirements in curing lung diseases. I just want to be honest and share my own experience here.

I’m tired of googling but this was taken from the video of my biopsy procedure and this is one of the tubes they inserted in my lungs to perform the biopsy on me.

Bronchoscopy uses a bronchoscope, which is a thin, lighted flexible tube that can be inserted into the mouth or nose (yes they inserted that tube in my nose and through my throat until it reached my lungs) and through the windpipe (trachea) into the bronchus (airway) of the lung. The bronchoscope has a very small camera at its end. Biopsy tools can be passed through the camera to reach the nodule or pulmonary mass. At least, they did not administer needle biopsy on me because that is more scary. 

So I wouldn’t say it was a traumatic experience given that like I said, it is a required process when treating pulmonary diseases but I do want to say that it was kind of scary at first. My advise to people who are undergoing this type of procedure is to prepare yourself for it mentally and physically. Condition your mind and brain before it happen. During the procedure, remain calm and think only positive thoughts. Do not worry because your doctors won’t do anything that would risk your life so trust them and cooperate. Follow every instruction, take a deep breath when they say so and cough when they say so. When the tube has penetrated your trachea, you will feel like you’re a bit drowning. I think it’s because of the saliva build up or sometimes, blood and pleghm combined that they are trying to clean or remove from your passage ways through bronchial washing. Again, don’t worry as they will suction the liquid from inside to avoid filling your trachea. If you feel like panicking because you cannot breathe, don’t try to open your mouth and talk. Instead, try to breathe from your nose or mouth whichever is more convenient. Right now, I am still waiting for the results and will provide an update once I get them. 

The truth is, I’m really scared and it is stressing me out so bad. Not to mention, I have been feeling very depressed these past few months. I am unable to work and unable to do stuff that I used to do such as working out or just about anything that ignites my passion. In other words, this disease is slowly paralyzing and immobilizing my life. 

I try to google causes of pulmonary masses and all I get is lung cancer. Who wouldn’t be terrified by that? Lung cancer, according to “is far too common, and is currently one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in men and women in the world. Lung cancer may occur even in people who have never smoke, and in fact, the majority (around 80 percent) of people who develop lung cancer in the United States do not smoke; they are either former smokers or never smoked.” Fuck it, I have never smoked.

This disease is really testing the toughness of my character. There are days when I just can’t comprehend why it is happening to me. I would question my lifestyle for the past ten years and find that I have always been health-conscious. I never drink or smoke in my life ever. I never engage in risky or physical activities that would jeopardize my body or whatnot. I have always been careful about what I eat or do. Yes, I have been choosy with the food I eat that sometimes I would skip meals but don’t we all sometimes? In addition, I didn’t think my eating habits would be that serious it could cause a lump or mass inside my lungs. But anything could happen. And it is happening to me.

Despite my faith, these are the times when it is easier to just think how unfair the world to me is. But what good is it to sulk in one corner and drown yourself in negativities? What good is it to regret everything or cry about it now? Right? Nothing. I’ll get nothing but sadness and that’s the last thing I want to be engulfed with. If anything, I want to stay calm and collected. I want to stay happy and find reasons to be grateful that I’m still alive and breathing. If anything, I want to be more inspired and amazed about life and believe that I have a purpose in this world and until I am able to fulfill that purpose, I won’t die. So let’s continue to hope that I do fulfill that purpose and live a little longer, okay? 😊


There is a lump in my lung and I’m not backing down on this fight

I’ve felt as if a super tsunami came to where I was standing and swept me out to sea, never to be found again. I wish it was that simple.

Just three weeks ago, the doctors who were looking into my pneumonia case found out through a chest CT scan that I have an unidentified lump (pulmonary mass) on the wall of my left lung. The lump can be anything benign but it can also be cancer.

As soon as I’ve learned the bad news, I’ve felt like the heaven and earth had collapsed their entire weights on me. I’ve felt the rush of tears desperately wanting to come out from my eyes. I just got the results of my HIV test a couple of days ago and I was very glad it was negative and now this.  I have never felt so defeated in my entire life. I’ve felt as if a super tsunami came to where I was standing and swept me out to sea, never to be found again. I wish it was that simple.

READ: The big fear that is HIV

Prior to these shocking findings, I was admitted to the same hospital three times in two consecutive months and for the same diagnosis: community acquired pneumonia.

Two weeks prior to my first hospitalization, I started experiencing asthma-like symptoms at random times when I’m at work or when I’m just about to go to bed. I had wheezing issues accompanied by shortness of breathing. After five days, the shortness of breathing worsened to the point where I could no longer complete a single sentence without being interrupted by my fucked up breathing patterns. I didn’t like it at all. Additionally, I’ve acquired a dry cough. It was tolerable at first and it seemed like just another ordinary cough that would soon go away after a week. Only it didn’t.

After two weeks, the cough was still there. At one point, I had serious difficulty breathing at work and had to run to the clinic a couple of times during my eight hour shift just to nebulize. The nebulizing helped a lot during the early stage of my sickness. But it didn’t cure it.

One Saturday morning in the second week of March, right after my Friday night shift ended (I’ve been working graveyard shift for the past eleven years), I came home feeling weak and my breathing pattern was worse than ever. This time, I’ve felt like it was never going to stop and the nebulizing did very little help. That’s when I’ve felt the alarm inside of me. I need to get to the nearest hospital. Now.

I mustered every remaining strength I have and through struggled breathing and coughing, I approached the entrance of the hospital. I was alone.

I have always dreaded hospitals and the smell of antiseptic in their hallways. I have been admitted only once in ten years. I didn’t want to get admitted anytime soon but I knew it was time. I had no idea I have pneumonia. I thought it was a chronic type of asthma just because the symptoms were the same. After listening to the wheezing sound in my breathing, I was confined and rushed to the emergency room right away. It didn’t come as a surprise. I was a total mess during that moment and I seriously did not think I could last another hour.

After 24 hours, the attending physician confirmed I had pneumonia. The first thought that came into my mind was HIV. Recently, I’ve had a number of people in my acquaintance circle who died suddenly after being diagnosed with pneumonia-related diseases. Rumors quickly spread within our circles that they were HIV positive and that the pneumonia had complicated it. It was a nerve-racking thought but I couldn’t help thinking about it.

I was treated with different antibiotics such as Cefalexine, Cefexime and Supime in vials. With the IV included, I literally had three bottles hovering above me while my body consumed the injected medications. I was discharged after ten days. I still have the cough when I received advise that I can already go home. At first, they had me take Levofront syrup for my cough but later endorsed a granule solution called Flemex. The shortness of breathing was still there although the attacks have lessened considerably. I asked the doctor why I was being discharged when I still have the cough and shortness of breathing symptoms but was told that it was because my x-ray showed clear and they could not see anything. She said that the take home medications should eventually cure whatever was left of my pneumonia. I knew right then that nothing has been cured. I wasn’t feeling well at all and yet I had to follow the doctor’s advise.

After one week of rest, I went back to work. And after two weeks, just after I have consumed all the prescribed antibiotics and cough medications —the shortness of breathing and cough started to get worse again. I had to come back and get admitted once more. It was like an ordeal I had to go through. I hated every minute of being in the hospital.

For my second hospitalization, the doctor waived my IV and any injected type of medication. I was asked to take oral medications such as Bactrim Forte and Azithromycin. For my cough, they prescribed a new mucolytic. A 200mg granule solution called Acetylcysteine Fluimucil. I stayed in the hospital for ten days and was discharged again —by the same attending doctor. The take home instructions said I was to take the medicines for another two weeks. I’ve followed it and was relieved that for the first time in a month, the shortness of breathing disappeared. The cough was still there although it lessened and seemed on its way to healing as well. Only it didn’t. After a few days the antibiotics ran out, and the shortness of breathing came back like a thief in the night.

In that moment, and in the middle of my prayers —I cried buckets of tears because I was so lost. It was very difficult for me to understand what was going on. Why am I experiencing this pain? What did I do?

Another week passed by, I delayed my consultation with my physician because I was afraid they’d confine me again. I had work and corporate commitments to attend to. Eventually, my sickness got worse again and I had to get checked up. The doctor who looked into my case issued Bactrim Forte and Cefalexine again for a week because I told him I can’t afford to be admitted due to work commitments, at least not yet. He told me to go get an x-ray after I finished taking the antibiotics. A week passed and nothing changed. I went back to the hospital and had another x-ray procedure done to me. This time, they saw scattered cloud of mucus around my left and right lungs. The doctor asked me if I was willing to get confined again. I didn’t know what to say. Is this a joke? What the fuck is going on? Of course it was just my rebel self but seriously I knew I needed to be admitted and get treated asap.

The doctor asked if I knew my HIV status. I said no I didn’t. He advised me to have myself tested and I did. That’s when I learned I was non-reactive (negative) to HIV1 and HIV2 —something I have fervently wished and prayed for. Thank God! That was a major hope booster.

Knowing my HIV status gave me some kind of weapon to fight the fears that’s engulfing my whole being. If I was reluctant to come back to the hospital for the third time, the thought that I am HIV negative made me feel powerful and resistant to the pneumonia. I knew I wasn’t going to die. I knew they will find a cure and I’ll get back to my old healthy self once again. Only I didn’t.

My third hospitalization was more of a traumatizing experience rather than a road to healing. I was treated with various antibiotics such as Levox (500mg vial) and S-Omipin (40mg vial) and again, Supime (1g vial) which they injected through my IV. At first, the antibiotics felt a little painful when they enter my veins but I got used to it after a few days. I was also on oxygen 24/7 to help with my breathing and had nebulizing sessions three times a day. After reading the result of my latest x-ray, the doctor said I had to undergo a CT scan procedure on my chest. The process costs around PHP13k and includes an eight hour fasting and injecting a serum that apparently cleans up my blood veins so that the CT scan results is clearer or something to that extent. I agreed to the procedure. The next day, they broke the bad news to me.

It wasn’t entirely bad news though especially since the status of the lump is unknown. A lump can either be benign or malignant. I’ll be lucky if my lump is benign. But according to my doctors, “the only way” to determine if the lump is cancerous is to undergo a biopsy procedure. I immediately told my mom and my sisters and they instantly declined the idea. Despite advise from doctors not to turn to Google, I just couldn’t help it.

A quick search through Google would tell me that 50% of biopsy patients are diagnosed with some type of cancer. Medical forums argue that this percentage is due to medical malpractice or the disadvantage of biopsy where it breaks into the cells inside to get a sample thereby potentially breaking the body’s defenses and triggering an otherwise benign lump into a real life cancer. I knew for a fact that I should not be assuming my real health condition. I knew that not everything that’s written on the internet is true. I still need to listen to the experts eventually. But I was horrified about what I’ve read. I told the doctors I’m not convinced I needed the biopsy procedure. At least not yet. I was acting out of my own instinct. I was throwing my best judgment based on what I feel physically and mentally. The doctors at Victor Potenciano Medical Center in Mandaluyong did not introduce any other alternatives even though I asked for it. It’s 2017, I could not believe there are no other alternatives. I have read about other medicines that can melt the lump inside our body. They kept telling me that a biopsy is needed in my case.

The following day, my corporate health card ran out of funds. It has a P200k limit per sickness and I have consumed every cent. Really? Where did it go? I don’t feel better and I’m far from it. But I had to make a decision to get discharged immediately otherwise, I’ll shoulder the remaining expenses on my own. It was too late though. Before I was able to finally walk out of the hospital, my excess bills have piled up. The doctors were adamant to make me stay so I had to explain to them that I could no longer afford to shoulder the excess which at the time had accumulated to almost PHP100k. I had to pay it using my personal savings because My corporate healthcard does not allow limit extensions. Despite my physicians’ opposition, I asked to get discharged without knowing the status of my lump. They were unable to provide final diagnosis due to my decision. In addition, my attending physician had me sign a waiver that basically says the hospital and their medical team are not to be held accountable in case something unprecedented happens to me. Of course, why should they care when they’re all for the money, right? It seemed to me that the hospital only cared about the business more than helping their patients in times of need. I can’t help thinking that perhaps the reason why it took me three hospitalizations for the same complaint before the doctors at VRP Medical Center finally get hold of their senses and endorsed me to undergo a chest CT scan was because they know my HMO would pay for it anyway. Three hospitalizations at VRP Medical Center and they were not able to heal me. Nothing in my condition changed. I felt robbed and betrayed by the doctors who attended to me.  Nevertheless, I paid all the bills, signed the damn waiver and went home just so it would be over.

I have been at home for three weeks now while I’m getting ready to check in to a state hospital, most probably the Philippine General Hospital or the Philippine Lung Center. In these trying times, I am grateful that I have enough savings and multiple insurance policies to cover my expenses, at least for emergency situations. This is the time where I knew I made the right decision to invest a portion of my hard-earned money to get at least three insurance plans when I was still in my twenties.

I wrote this article on June 12th, which is the day my country, the Philippines received its Independence from Spain. I do hope though that one of these days, a miracle —some sort of an alternative cure, would liberate me from the curse of this lump as well.

Despite the fear, I am determined to fight this disease. My family needs me because aside from the fact that I play the role of a breadwinner, they simply need me alive. I can see how painful my situation is for them especially to my mother who is 65 years old and has been fighting diabetes herself. Most importantly, I am young and still have so much dreams and hopes in life. There’s just so much things that I want to do and accomplish. I know I can make it. I hope I could find help before it’s too late.

UPDATE (As of November 2017):

After two CT scan tests, three HIV tests, various X-Ray and PTB including GeneExpert tests, a bronchoscopy including bronchial brushing and washing, and one bronchoscopy aided biopsy procedure, all the results turned out to be consistently negative. One of the tests called bronchial brushing says I have Acute and Chronic Inflammation of Cells in an Amorphous Background but no other infectious diseases or malignancy was discovered. I was thankful for this but the battle isn’t over. My new pulmo specialist at Makati Medical Center advised me to undergo another biopsy procedure, this time it will be CT Scan guided biopsy to make sure my lungs are clear of any malignancy. The reason for this is because I still have difficulty of breathing and still have the mass inside my left lung. I went back to work (remotely for now) while waiting for that biopsy schedule.

—King Ray, the Ninja