My Husband is a Cancer Survivor

While driving home from work on Colorado’s US 34 in terrible (as usual) traffic, I received two texts from my husband, Mark, that said:

“Wow…”

“They found a mass in my lung”

I read the texts and almost rear-ended the car in front of me after. I thought to myself, “A what? A mass?? My 29-year old husband could have a tumor in his lung … a cancerous one.”

At that point, I started to disassociate from reality and panic, so I quickly turned down a side road and sped home. That entire drive home felt as if it took forever to get home to him despite speeding down the country roads back home.

Mark in Alaska
Mark posing for a photograph in front of Denali, merely a week away from learning about the tumor.

See, we had just returned from a camping trip in Alaska, and Mark strained his shoulder picking up a bag. He went in for an x-ray at a local urgent care and came out with the discovery of an unknown, large mass in his lung (the size of an egg) that was situated in between three pulmonary arteries.

How could Mark have a tumor? Is it cancerous? What the hell is happening? These thoughts were circling in my slowly dissociating mind. After a biopsy, it turned out to be a non-aggressive, slow-growing, typical neuroendocrine cancer snugly sitting in his right lung’s lower lobe.

Example of tumor of the lung
An example of near the location of where the typical neuroendocrine tumor sat in his lung.

After many sleepless nights, three separate hospital stays that resulted in a total of almost three weeks, lots of blood, fluids and tears, uniportal vats surgery, and two surgeries over three months, Mark is cancer-free and recovering. Luckily, he didn’t need chemo or radiation, but the idea that this rare type of cancer was developing in him since his early twenties with no symptoms was (and still is) an absolutely terrifying thought.

We believe the turmoil has finally ended, and normalcy looks to be within our grasps again, but it was such a strange, emotional and deadening three months. It feels as if the Alaska trip we took in the summer was years ago.

The journey isn’t over as he still has to heal and regain his ability to breathe normally as well as take it easy to avoid any further mishaps. You can never truly prepare for such terrible, medical surprises such as this, but here are 5 things I’ve learned from the experience:

  1. The possibility that something absolutely terrible could happen during surgery
    I didn’t want to let go of his hand right before he was wheeled off into surgery, and when I did, it struck me that if one of those pulmonary arteries was accidentally cut, then he could very well bleed out, and I could very well be a widow. However, you must trust the doctors and medical staff to do what they think is best as well as keep your mind occupied while waiting for it to be over. The panic that loomed over me was too vast for me to even face, but luckily the surgery went well despite it being one of the most difficult surgeries the surgeon has experienced.
  2. Understanding how he/she feels about his/her body and situation
    When I was told that Mark has cancer and must undergo an intense and life-changing surgery, I felt absolutely useless and helpless. I tried and tried to act positive and somewhat normal around him, but in the end, he was the one who had to go through the procedures, stay in the hospital for days or weeks, and face the potential for reoccurrance. The best you can do is stay as strong as possible while keeping on top of those main priorities, such as bills, pets, cleaning and work. Gently remind your spouse that it is okay to let out emotion and stress in front of you and to encourage it.
  3. Physical and mental impacts of the entire experience
    It’s all said and done, right? Not so much. The healing process for lung surgery is delicate and long-term. Mark lost his right lung’s lower lobe in the surgery and can easily tell that he can’t breathe in as deep as before and gets winded easier. Understanding his new needs and limitations takes some time to adjust to especially since we’re both not even 30 years old. With patience, support and laughter, it makes it easier for them to retain control and adjust to their environment again.
  4. The number of people who care about you
    We all get locked into our normal routine of waking up, working, cleaning, eating, sleeping, etc. to the point of taking for granted your relationships with other people. After Mark was diagnosed with cancer, we had outpouring support from family, friends both near and far, coworkers and neighbors. It brought tears to our eyes when Mark’s coworkers donated money to help with future medical bills as well as using Meal Trains to deliver fresh, hot food to us on a daily basis. We were touched when friends would text or call one of us to ask how we were doing along with having neighbors offer to help with yard and housework. It opened our eyes to just how many people care about and support us while going through these absolutely stressful events.
  5. Life pre- and post-cancer and surgery
    Mark looks at life with a different viewpoint after his experience with these events where he is wiser with the concept of mortality, living life and overall love, which isn’t surprising. Getting back up to speed with work and exercise is going to be a rough, but not impossible road. After he completely heals, he wants to train to hike his third Colorado 14er (a mountain over 14,000 feet) next year as a goal … and I’ll be right there beside him along the way.

I hope this brings comfort to others who are dealing with a loved one who has a debilitating illness as you are not alone. I highly recommend finding support groups and legit research articles out there and not click on the first result that pops up in Google Search. My love and strength to you.

We’d like to give a shout-out to the amazing medical and nursing staff at Medical Center of the Rockies and UCHealth. Dr. Ronald Smith is one of only a handful of surgeons in the U.S. who can perform the type of noninvasive surgery Mark experienced. Thank you all for taking care of Mark and making him laugh during his long, long days and nights in the hospital.

Neuroendocrine cancer awareness

3 SEO Ranking Factors to Consider ASAP

What are the most important SEO ranking factors you can focus on for your site? Many people assume that by conducting keyword research and optimizing each and every landing page with said keywords will increase better their overall SEO ranking; however, that couldn’t be further from that truth. SEO is more than merely stuffing keywords into a blog post and hoping for the best. Instead, it can get downright technical and into the nitty-gritty of a site’s structure.

To begin with, the three most important SEO ranking factors to consider for your site include the following:

3 Important SEO Ranking Factors to Consider:

  1. Mobile Responsiveness

    The percentage of smartphone searches has increased worldwide making it impossible to ignore this rapidly rising technology:

    According to a report published on Statista, “In 2018, 52.2 percent of all website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile phones, up from 50.3 percent in the previous year. Mobile currently accounts for half of all global web pages served.”

    Mobile searches statistics in 2018.
    Figure from Statista.

    There are many ways to approach a responsive site to smaller resolutions, and some quick and easy ways involve utilizing WordPress themes or mobile-friendly plugins that can make the journey much easier.

  2. Convert to HTTPS

    If your site is e-commerce or contains any forms that users would fill out with personal information, transition your site over to HTTPS with an SSL. Not only is this becoming an increasing weight ranking factor within Google, but your non-secure, HTTP site will have an uncomfortable message in the search bar next to your domain:

    What a non-secure website will look like as Google continues to roll out its update. This is another big SEO ranking factor to consider.
    Image from blog.ezoic.

    Having 301, one-to-one redirects from the non-secure version of your pages to secure version seems difficult at first, but it’s well worth the efforts (and will make your visitors feel more comfortable, as well). Here’s a great tutorial by Dave Taylor published on Ezoic Blog.

  3. Site Speed

    Google is releasing The Google Speed Update that includes mobile page speed as part of their mobile search ranking considerations this July. Site speed is already a ranking factor for desktop searches.

    Site speed affects user experience especially on mobile phones and is a huge SEO ranking factor.
    Image from Crazy Egg.

    It shouldn’t be any surprise that having a site that loads within a few seconds is vital to, not only SEO and Google but to the overall user experience, as well. There are many actions that you can take to increase site speed. Here are a three out of 20 ways to increase site speed recommended by Crazy Egg:

    • Clean up any unnecessary or old HTML, such as tables or unneeded HTML tags.
    • Optimize your images prior to uploading them to Magento or WordPress. Crop the image to the correct size, save it as a JPEG, and with a resolution of 72 dpi.
    • Optimize a page’s above-the-fold content so it’ll load quicker and is the first thing that users will see after landing on the page.

These three items are urgent for your site. By making your site responsive, fast and secure, you’re taking the best design and development steps forward in improving your site’s standing in Google Search.

Other ranking factors include:

  • Dwell time: How long do users stay on a page after clicking on it from Google Search results or further explore the site after landing on that page?
  • Domain-Level Link Features: High-quality links that point to your site is seen as a ‘vote of confidence’ from Google; your site is seen as a top player in its associated market. Link building and gaining external links has always been a huge factor in ranking.
  • Optimized Pages with Keywords: The more intelligent Google search bots become, the more effort site owners must make in producing naturally-sounding and expert content with related keywords strategically placed. This is the on-page optimization factor where landing pages are updated with keywords in various places within the page, such as meta-title, meta-description, URL, body text, subheaders, image titles and alternative tags, etc.

There are many other SEO ranking factors that go into SEO; however, focusing on these will most likely benefit your site and how Google renders your site the most.

Free SEO tools to use for your site!

18 Free SEO Tools You Should Use

Search engine optimization (SEO) is vital in getting ‘free visibility’ from Google and other search engines. Getting started with SEO is easier than you think especially with the vast amount of free SEO tools and resources available. However, you and/or your organization do not need to pay top dollar to analyze your site’s SEO and other technical needs and status. Below is a list of free SEO tools and resources that will give you the insights you need to know what’s happening on your site, what to prioritize, and how to move forward:

Free SEO Tools and Resources

  1. Moz: How Your Business is Listed Online
    More so for local SEO tools and needs, this is a free listing report to better understand how Google is seeing your business. Per Moz, “4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information.”
  2. Keyword Tool
    Free keyword research tool that gives you over 750 Google Keyword Suggestions! You can also search in other search platforms outside of Google including YouTube, Bing, Amazon, eBay and App Store.
  3. Google
    • Google Keyword Planner
      Through Google’s AdWords, you can use the free SEO tool Google Keyword Planner that gives you an average monthly search volume range. You merely type in your keywords and hit ‘Get ideas’! You can even conduct local SEO keyword research with the location targeting option (see image below).

      This tool can be a bit confusing to use at first since it automatically redirects you to the AdWords platform after signing up. Here is a helpful article on how to get to and use the keyword research tool.
      How to use the Google Keyword Planner tool, one out of many free SEO tools available to you!

    • Google Trends
      This user-friendly tool analyzes the search term you enter for user interest over time and location. From there, you have limitless options to filter results including countries, time period, and device and search type. Also, you get a handy list of top and rising queries related to the search term you entered, which is helpful when you are looking for fresh, new content to write about based on trends!
    • Google Webmaster Tools
      Search for site errors, technical SEO items, search analytics, queries to your site, top pages and more. You’ll get complete control over how Google sees and analyzes your site and be able to find and quickly correct any technical SEO errors including broken links, robots.txt file, sitemaps, URL parameters and more! This is a must-have tool for anyone serious with their web presence and performance.
    • Google Analytics
      This is probably the most well-known tool that is used for everything analytical. From different source types users are coming from to behaviors and more, this platform has it all. It’s useful for SEO purposes, too, where you can get an inside look at how organic traffic is performing. Here’s a quick guide from Moz on tracking SEO with Google Analytics.
    • PageSpeed Insights
      Having a site that loads and responds quickly isn’t just important for SEO and ranking, but it is a must for great user experience on both mobile and desktop. This helpful tool analyzes the speed of your site and offers fix suggestions to anything that’s not optimized or didn’t quickly respond. There are many other page load time tools out there, as well.
    • Mobile-Friendly Test
      Having a site optimized for mobile is vital since more and more searches are from such devices. Test your website in this free mobile-friendly test from Google to see any optimizations or updates needed to be more responsive to any and all types of devices.
  4. Quick Sprout
    This free website analyzer tool lets you see optimized and non-optimized content on your site. This includes meta-titles and meta-descriptions, headings (H1, H2, etc.), images (image alt tags and titles), etc. You can even update non-optimized content and save it as a reference for when you go through and update it on the actual site!
  5. SimilarWeb
    This is all about competitors and emerging trends. You can research known competitors in your market and see how your site compares in terms of search engine rank, traffic volume, country rank, sources and referrals, and more! You can even download a PDF of the report and change the time range for more insights. This is a very insightful report and will give you a great idea of how your site is performing in terms of sources and referrals as well as how your top competitors and their sites are performing, as well.
  6. SERPs’ Rank Checker
    Enter a keyword and the site domain with the option of choosing Google vs. Yahoo, desktop vs. mobile, and local SEO with an exact location. You can download a CSV of the report, as well, which comes in handy!
    SERPs rank checker tool is a great free SEO tool that looks at how your domain ranks for a specified keyword.
  7. Internet Marketing Ninjas
    Part of technical SEO and site errors, use this free SEO tool to conduct an overall crawl of your site that includes the discovery of broken links, redirects and more! You can enter your email that will then send you the findings, which may be a good idea since it can take a while for the crawl to finish—depending on the size and depth of your site.
    A snipit of the Internet Marketing Ninja tool that can crawl your entire website!
  8. Yoast
    • Yoast Google Suggest Expander
      Yoast offers a TON of free SEO tools and resources, and this one can help you in finding long-tail keywords. Simply enter a keyword and press ‘Submit Query,’ and a list of long-tail keywords will show to give you an idea of what users are searching for based on the keyword you entered.
    • Yoast SEO Free WordPress Plugin
      This is a MUST HAVE in terms free SEO tools and for optimizing your WordPress posts and pages. The free version is still very powerful and will ‘grade’ your page based on the focus keyword you entered into it. This is an amazing checker for on-page optimizations on each and every one of your posts and pages.
  9. Quix SEO Check
    This simple, free SEO tool will conduct a quick crawl of the domain you entered and analyze meta tags, HTML code, headers and more!
  10. Wayback Machine
    This tool can be a life saver if you’re searching for an older version of your site. You may want to use this to search for very old media files, pages or posts that are now deleted or for a backlog of your website, etc.
  11. HTTP Status Code Checker
    This ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ free SEO tool can conduct a mass check of URLs that are pasted into it. It lets you know the function and status of each URL, which can be handy if you’re trying to see the paths of redirects or discover 404 errors.
  12. Barracuda Panguin Tool
    As you become more in tune with SEO best practices, you’ll soon realize that Google rules all (we all bow to Google in the SEO rule). Because of this, any and all algorithm changes made by Google could potentially impact your site. These algorithm changes are usually animal names and can focus on local to overall changes to how Google ranks your site.

    This free tool needs access to Google Analytics, so if you don’t have a free account yet, then you won’t be able to use it. After allowing access to your Google Analytics site profile, it will show organic visits to your site over time and overlay all known Google updates to those visits. If there are any notable increases or decreases in organic traffic to your site that align with the updates, then you’ll know that your site is either performing really well in the eyes of Google, or your site was penalized.
    Another free SEO tool includes the Panguin algorithm tool that takes into account your site's organic traffic and known Google updates.

Do you have any other free SEO tools or resources you use and love? Share them in the comments!