My plan today was to really enjoy my last day before classes started. Unfortunately, something happened that pretty much ruined any chance of that happening. As many of you may know or remember, back during my senior year of high school I contacted the movie voice over god, Don LaFontaine ("In a world. . . "). I asked if he would do some voice over work for a slideshow I was making and he graciously did, free of charge. Everybody I ever spoke with agreed that he was really just a nice man. Since then I've subscribed to his e-mail blog where he sends updates about what he's been up to. I've read about new trips, movies, gone behind the scenes at the Oscars, and have enjoyed chatting about these adventures with others. Everything he writes is positive, everything is genuine, and I've really enjoyed the fact that he cares enough to write directly to people instead of just keeping a website.
He's been having lung complications lately and has been writing about them in his e-mails. His last e-mail was on August 11th and was as follows:
I thought it was about time that I brought everybody up to speed with what's been happening in my world.
You haven't been hearing a lot from me lately, and that's because I have been fairly seriously ill for the last several months.
In order to give you the complete picture, I need to go back over some material of which many of you are already aware, but this thing needs to be seen in its full context.
Last fall, I began to notice that I was having trouble catching my breath during exercise. Subsequent tests revealed a suspicious growth on my lymph nodes and left lung. This required an exploratory surgery called a Media Stenoscopy, which was performed At Cedars Sinai Hospital in late November of '07. The biopsy ultimately proved negative for any tumor, but there was a spot on the lung that still needed to be checked. Unfortunately, sometime during the operation, one of my lungs was nicked, and I developed Pneumothorax, which basically means that the lung collapsed, releasing all the air into my upper body, causing a condition called Subcutaneous Emphysema - Which blew me up like a balloon from the ribs up to my eyebrows. This happened three times over the next six days. The "cure" for this condition is to place chest tubes and small catheters under the skin to drain off the excess air.
Unfortunately, all that air also accumulated around my vocal cords, causing me to sound like an ambassador from Munchkinland. This condition, I was told, could last for a number of weeks.
We decided to put off a Bronchoscopy to determine the status of the spot on my lung until after the new year, by which time, my breathing had become even more labored.
Again, the test failed to reveal anything more than a few "suspicious" cells - but no cancer. I had also scheduled, months before, a standard Colonoscopy, which I had in January. This revealed a growth on my colon.
Are we having fun, yet?
So - I go back to Cedars to discuss laparoscopic surgery to get rid of that growth, after first undergoing CAT and PET scans. During my consultation with the surgeon, my Oncologist came in with another doctor to tell me that I had a tumor growing under my lung and threatening to encircle my Aortic Valve to my heart.
Suddenly, the surgery was put on hold, and I was scheduled for thirty-seven sessions of intense radiation and four sessions of Chemotherapy, which stretched over the next seven weeks. This included four blood transfusions.
During this time, the effects of the Subcutaneous Emphysema had worn off, and I was able to work again.
After treatment, I was told that it was completely successful, and the growth had been completely eradicated! I was also told that the radiation therapy would continue to work in my system for a number of weeks.
Well, it did.
In rare cases - like mine - it spreads into the lungs and causes a very persistent condition called radiation pnuemonitis. This reduces the lungs capacity to about a quarter, making it almost impossible to walk ten paces without having to stop for air.
The treatment for this condition is massive doses of steroids, which balloons the face and body, and it also settles on the vocal cords in a major way, creating a good deal of gravel and hoarseness. In short - it has brought my career to a near stand-still.
Steroids can also have a major effect on one's heart rate, and blood sugar count - each of which sent me back to Cedars on two separate occasions for four and three day stays within a week of each other. Because of the blood sugar influence, I now have a temporary form of diabetes, and need to take insulin.
This condition will pass as soon as I get the pnuemonitis under control, but it's a balancing act between doses of steroids and insulin.
As I mentioned earlier, this lung thing is incredibly resistant, and to this date, I am still looking for some improvement.
I do work from time to time, but my voice is nowhere close to where I need it to be. Fortunately, I have incredibly faithful friends and clients who have shown me what loyalty really means by working with me, even in my diminished capacity.
I am now recovering from the recovery. When this is cleared up, I still am facing the laparoscopic stomach surgery, but that will be a cakewalk.
But the real point of all this is the Genisis of the condition. I was a smoker, on and off, for thirty years. I quit nearly twenty years ago, but that crap has a tendency to lie doggo in your system. It finally caught up with me, and as you've just read - it ain't pretty. For those of you who are in the Voice Over business, and you think that smoking is adding some wonderful quality to your instrument - WAKE UP! Quit! Today! Whoever you are - if you smoke - Stop! All you are adding is garbage to your vocal cords, and a nice deep layer of tar and poison on the linings of your lungs.
I tell you all this, because I need to clear the air, because there has been a lot of speculation out there, and because it should serve as a cautionary tale. Even though the growth on my lungs has been erased, there are still a few miles to go before I'm back to 100%.
But that, I can assure you - is going to happen!
Yesterday, Don passed away in the hospital, out of the blue, from complications due to a collapsed lung. I'm sick of it guys. Bernie Mac and now Don LaFontaine, both genuinely good people who are now just gone. Don dying is actually really messing with me. This is somebody that I've communicated with and been following and have always held in the highest regards.
I really want to finish by repeating his last point. Don't start smoking. Ever. You don't look cool, you're poisoning yourselves, you will die, and you will only hurt the people you care about and know.