By Phillip Whitten
SAN JOSE, Calif., May 30. SWIMMING writer P.H. Mullen is spending this Memorial Day weekend recuperating from surgery that removed a large, carcinoid tumor from his lung.
Mullen, 38, writes frequently for Swimming World and SwimInfo and is the author of the best-selling book, Gold in the Water. A former college swimmer at Dartmouth College, he is an accomplished open water swimmer and masters competitor.
In excellent shape and a lifelong non-smoker, Mullen was perplexed when he twice came down with pneumonia within a period of a few months. Finally a physician diagnosed his lung condition not as pneumonia, but as a result of a large tumor growing in his lung.
Mullen described his experieence to SwimInfo: "I spent nine days in the hospital, including three days in the ICU. They successfully removed the lung tumor, which was larger than expected — the size of a golf ball.
"They also removed part of a rib and one-third of my right lung. Ouch. They entered through my back, and the scar is a doozy — it looks like a huge fishhook and travels about 12" from near the top of my back, under the scapula, to my armpit.
"The only post-surgical complication has been the lung repeatedly collapsing (three times). Finally on Friday night in the ER, a very apologetic physician hammered (literally) a second chest tube into my upper breast to stabilize things.
"This is what it sounds like to receive a chest tube using only topical
anesthesia: 'Gasp…Gasp…Hi…Doc…Hey, what are you–HEY!…No, Ow!
OWWWWW!! AAAAAARGHHH!!!…Aaaah, sweet air.'
"Overall, I am sore as hell. Sore in ways you could not imagine. But this
does not matter because the good news is that the tumor was a 'typical
carcinoid lung tumor.'
"A lung carcinoid is a rare, slow-growing mass that metastases infrequently. It is not exactly carcinoma (cancer), although it is not benign either. Only about 600 new U.S. cases are reported annually and it strikes men/women equally, often between ages 40-50. There are no known causes or contributing factors. In many cases, a person resumes a normal life after removal — Albeit, it'll be months before I know how much activity I can enjoy with my squirt lung. And for the mid-term, I suspect I will be rushing to an MRI machine with every chest cold.
"So. Now we smile and move forward. I hug my daughters constantly and slip them chocolate at every chance. When not in a Vicodin haze, I work on the
canonization petitions for Karen and my amazingly helpful family. I'll soon
start writing a bit, maybe later this week. And soon I want to find a way to raise awareness with the American Lung Association, since the majority of lung-disease patients don't have the opportunity.
"I sure wish it didn't happen to me. In the grand scheme, I don't
particularly think it's fair. But what can you do? Life happens — our job
is to respond to it.'
Mullen thanked friends for "the incredible love and support you've showered on my family. Your prayers, visits, dinners, calls, flowers, and cards touched us deeply. And your ability to sneak a pack of beer past four nurses and into the ICU was sublime."
Well-wishers may e-mail Mullen at: firstname.lastname@example.org.