“911, What is Your Emergency?”

Since my chemo ended in Dec. 2013, I’ve seen my oncologist every three months. This is so he can find out through blood tests how my body is recovering and rebuilding from what turned out to be predictably onerous side effects of strong chemotherapy, and whether or not the cancer has returned.

On one visit, I asked the doctor what would happen if the cancer did return. He said changes in my body would tell me sooner than any medical test could, that the cancer was again on the move. Fluid would begin accumulating in my abdomen, and I’d have a growing belly. In that event, he said I should get to his office quickly for a CT scan.

Some things you don’t have to tell me twice.

Since that visit, I’ve been checking intently for an expanding abdomen, looking at myself sideways in the mirror every morning and evening. It seemed things were “flat”, and with that, so were any concerns. Until recently. I began to detect more shape in the southern hemisphere than before. My clothes began to fit a little tighter, and my concerns grew commensurately. So, a couple of weeks ago, I called the doctor and expressed my worry.

They had an opening that day, and there was time to get to San Antonio from Beeville, so I took the slot and headed north. I had time before my appointment to run to Discount Tire and purchase a tire warranty on the new BMW I’d just bought. That, however, took longer than I thought, and suddenly I was about to be late for my critically important appointment with the oncologist!

The adrenaline began to pump. I got in my car, pulled out of the Discount Tire parking lot and was almost side-swiped by another car, forcing me into the curb. Alas – one of my tires and expensive wheels took a severe scrape…thank goodness I’d just bought that warranty! But, nothing like adding a heap of nerves on top of more nerves…on top of MORE nerves! I recovered from that trauma and made it to Cancer Care Centers of South Texas in the – pardon the expression – nick of time.

The familiar routine ensued…sign in, have a blood draw, take vitals, and see the doc. Apparently, I’d calmed down, as my blood pressure didn’t break the machine. The doctor came in and after a brief visit, he said he wanted a CT scan now…not so much that it was an emergency, but that I’d driven 90 miles to be there and if they could do it right then, so much the better.

The insurance gods approved the test, and I entered the cold, dark, white room containing the doughnut-shaped CT scanner. I removed jewelry, changed clothes, and got on the table. Since I’d just had a blood draw, the CT tech was going to use the same vein to inject the contrast solution. So she put her needle in and tried to make contact with my blood stream…wasn’t happening. But that didn’t mean she didn’t try, and try. If you’ve never had the irritating and painful experience of someone digging around unsuccessfully to stick your vein with a needle, it is pretty horrible. She finally gave up and went for – you guessed it – the hand.

By now I was fairly agitated, and having the distinctly unpleasant sensation of a needle going into my hand didn’t help. But, at least she found the vein! So, here we go with the scan. I was rolled into the doughnut and out, and in, and out, with a strangely God-like booming voice telling me to “Breathe In! Don’t Breathe!” I felt like yelling back, “Don’t Worry, Your Tech Took Care of That!”

Then came time for her to start the contrast flow into my body that would light up my innards and let the doctor see what was going on. Well, when that crap began flowing into me through my poor little hand, it hurt like absolute hell, like someone lit my arm on fire. I guess the sound I made was a little alarming, because that tech came running out of her booth and began squeezing my arm to see if the contrast missed its target. I was secretly glad she was rattled…kind of evened things out.

So, she confirmed that the contrast was flowing properly and admitted that it can hurt going through hands. Really? The test continued, and in and out of the hole I went. And about one minute later, it was over. All of that pain and frustration for one minute.

I got dressed and got the hell out of there. I was supposed to return the following Monday to see the doctor and get results, to find out if the cancer had returned. I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with the anxiety, but somehow I managed to put it out of my mind. Then the next day, the doctor called. When I heard his voice, I immediately assumed the worst and my body reacted accordingly. I braced myself for the news.

In a phrase I’ll never forget, with his Indian accent he said, “Everything looks fine, but you’re really constipated.”

With that, I was practically overcome with relief and then, embarrassment! The doctor took it much more seriously than I, and proceeded to suggest how to get things moving. With all that was suddenly running through my mind, I barely heard him. However, he said something I actually did hear, which was that the tumor marker number was excellent…no reason to think there’s any cancer.

I’ve implemented the prescribed constipation relief measures, and my girlish figure has returned. I feel a little badly that the insurance company was saddled with a bill for an expensive test, only to find out that I was constipated. But I guess there’s no shame in being vigilant to some extent, like dialing 911 if you really think there’s trouble.

I can never forget that the cancer can return. With that, I seek to live a balanced life, one where I relish moments with people I love, but act with expedience to get things done, for time might one day be short. In fact, it is short no matter what.

Next time I think something is amiss, I’ll do exactly the same thing, prepared for whatever the outcome may be. But for now, this was truly one time that it was a welcome thing to be full of shit!

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Heavy, Man

11.13.14

I found this draft of a blog post I started on Nov. 7, 2013. Why I didn’t post it I’m not sure, except that metaphorically, I guess I ran out of gas. I hope you enjoy it anyway!

Time…Doesn’t Fly

One week ago today was my most recent chemotherapy treatment; with what feels like an anvil chained to each leg, I haven’t pulled out of the side effects as quickly as I have before. In the past, within a week after the treatment, I could count on feeling close to my old self, with energy and drive; this time, I feel stuck.

I’ve been told that the effects of chemotherapy are “cumulative”, meaning that with each treatment, the impact of the effects will increase. If there’s nausea, there will be more nausea; if there are aches and pains, there will be progressively more aches and pains. If there’s fatigue, well, blah. It seems that whoever came up with that idea, well, they were right.

Lately, my legs have felt very heavy, and doing anything feels like a big, breathless effort. Versus other times in my life, when nothing could possibly stop me from doing anything, now everything requites a major effort. I don’t like it.

Yesterday, I figured if I took a nap, I’d have more energy…no. Then I thought if I took a hot bath or shower, that would pep me up. Negative. After all that, I found I’m just more rested, and cleaner.

There’s just not a whole lot I can do about this, except one thing. I can realize that even though physically, right now I’m pretty inert, mentally, I can do anything. That’s thinking I’ve used before to get me through challenging times, asking myself, “What else can I do besides xxx?”

If You Don’t Like the Floor…

This reminds me of when I worked at the ABC affiliate station in San Antonio, KSAT 12. One day, we were being pretty critical of the carpet, which really was horrible and being held together in places by duct tape, totally wrong for the top revenue-generating station in the Post/Newsweek family of stations.

Just as I made a pointed comment about the tattered surface beneath our feet, the General Manager walked through the area and overheard it. In response, he said, “If you don’t like the floor, look at the ceiling”.

So, in response to not liking the floor, I cast my eye upward for a change in perspective. I may not be able to do much physically right now, but there’s nothing to stop me from exercising my right to think, write, create, work on photos, and achieve.

I’m not so weak I can’t make a list. So, I made a list. Amazingly, I’ve gotten a lot done since yesterday. There’s a lot of power in realizing that just because you can’t do “x” doesn’t mean you can’t do “y”.

 

 

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“…and much more”

When I started this blog, after being diagnosed with cancer in July 2013, I made my subtitle, “Updates & reflections on cancer, treatment, and much more.” By adding, ‘much more‘ to the subtitle, I wanted to create an open space for myself, to write about more than cancer and treatment, for I was then and am now, much more than a cancer patient.

I felt compelled to write about my cancer journey, for it seemed to be healthy to get things into the light of day. I needed to write about it, because I felt that there was value in others learning through my experience, and I needed to do it to let people know what I was going through – I needed support.

All of that said, I often struggled with writing about cancer – the gaps in time between and since my postings is a testament to that struggle. On the one hand, it often felt to me like taking the time to write about cancer gave it more power than it deserved; sort of glorified it. On the other hand, it seemed that telling cancer’s story through sharing its manifestation in my life took its power and mystery away. Certainly, cancer it is a complex subject, well beyond just the medical.

Through my writing about cancer, both in my blog and on Facebook, my objectives thus far have been achieved. It seems that others have indeed learned from my experience leading to and through diagnosis, treatment and side effects. And no doubt about it, though putting myself out there, people have rallied to my side, offering love, support and prayer. The strength which that support gave me to push through to the other side of treatment, past the last chemo and those final days of pain and discomfort, was and is something I will never, ever forget.

Almost a year has passed since I completed treatment, the last being December 11, 2013. By that point, with the effects of treatment being cumulative, I was physically pretty weak. Just going up one step took all the strength I could muster. Of course, I had no hair and over time, my eyebrows and eyelashes had also disappeared. I used to say I looked like a bowling ball!

I brought in the New Year of 2014 with great hope, and happily put 2013 behind me. It was a tough year! My goal for the new year: grow hair, get strong, and get to work…in that order!

Next time – “and much more” on life after treatment, so far!

 

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Cancer, Chemotherapy & Irrelevance

I’M BACK

I haven’t blogged in quite some time, not even since I had my first treatment, which was Aug. 28. I don’t know why. Having no experience with chemotherapy, I didn’t know what to think or expect. With four treatments in the history books, I’ve learned a few things.

DOCTOR AS PARTNER

For one, I’ve learned that a caring, compassionate, involved medical oncologist is imperative to success in treatment. He or she will be on top of things, will listen well when issues are reported, and will respond with medication adjustments. On the patient’s side, it is their responsibility to pay attention to ups and downs after treatment, whether caused by treatment or some lack of, or imbalance in, side effect remedies. As with most life situations, it all boils down to communication. The patient must report issues to the doctor, and the doctor should respond.

My first treatment set the pace for the next four: I arrived at the treatment center, a blood draw was taken to check blood levels, my vitals were taken, I saw the doctor, then went to the infusion room to receive treatment. This pattern would repeat with every subsequent visit.

Prior to each course of chemo, an infusion nurse would prepare the port under my skin to receive the needle that conducts the chemo into my body. That prep consists of a thorough disinfecting, then administration of a freezing spray to deaden the area so the needle won’t hurt going in. That strategy is, for the most part, effective. Those are some of the mechanics.

While receiving the treatment itself, I’ve felt nothing – except the big belt of Benadryl that’s part of the “pre-meds” that are administered to reduce side effects. That much Benadryl does cause an “out of body” sensation that is actually pretty pleasant. Other than that, it’s just a matter of having to sit there for four or so hours, rolling the tower of bags into the bathroom when nature calls, and knowing it won’t last forever.

PHYSICAL vs. EMOTIONAL

As I’ve gone through this, I’ve come to expect that by about Friday or Saturday after treatment on Wednesday, my body starts to feel side effects. Those seem to last several days, so that by the following Wednesday, I’m more or less back to normal.

Initially, nausea was part of the mix; communication with the doctor resulted in some medication adjustments, and I’ve had no more nausea since the second treatment. No matter what, I have had bone and muscle pain, and a small amount of fatigue. The degree and intensity of this discomfort has varied; it seems there are some things I can do for myself to ease it, including Epsom salts baths and massages.

The physical part of this I’ve been able to handle, but by now, the emotional and mental parts have become more difficult. My energy level fluctuates with treatment; some of the medications given to ameliorate side effects can cause depression. So, my ability to be vital and fun and interesting – to be good company – comes and goes. Living alone doesn’t help. Having no hair is a challenge too, because to go out means some degree of exposing this deficit. People look at you. No matter what you do, you can’t hide the fact that you’re a bald woman.

THE ISSUE OF IRRELEVANCE

I’m not sure people know what to do with folks in their life who have, or who are receiving treatment for, cancer. I’m pretty sure I was like that before the “C” word entered my life. Even when my own mother was dying of cancer, I had very little idea what to say to her. I’ve had friends with cancer since then, whom I was afraid to talk to because I didn’t know what to say. I think of myself back then, and I think I was afraid of saying something stupid or hurtful. Now that I’m on this side of it, the worst thing you can say to a cancer patient is nothing. To leave a cancer patient unto themselves to deal with this alone is very painful for the patient. It may take a lot of courage to approach a cancer patient, but if you do, you will make their day.

I’ve lived alone just about all my life, including now. This episode is causing me to question the wisdom of that kind of life, and what I’m gaining by having all this time and space to myself. I think about getting into the dating world again, and I realize I’ve got some baggage now, like cancer. So, I go to my faith about this. I welcome and honor God’s will for my life, including whether or not I survive this, and whether or not I am alone.

Before treatments began, and the physical and now emotional rigors of being a cancer patient set in, maybe to me cancer was just a bump in the road. Now, I see it will likely cause that path to change completely and forever. God only knows.

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Port in the Storm

It’s a pretty almost-Fall Saturday morning, the day after out-patient surgery to implant a medi-port into my chest through which chemo will be administered. I didn’t want the port; I wanted no more surgery, no more wear and tear on a middle-aged body that had already been through so much, and which was going to be facing a potentially radical chemotherapy assault soon. But, the wisdom of infusion nurses and the experience of friends who have had chemo prevailed, and I capitulated. I now have a port, officially called an “Implantable Venous Access System”. It’s under the skin and since I don’t have much if any body fat, it is a large bump on my chest…sort-of like a third boob. PATIENT PATIENT The process leading up to getting it wasn’t so bad. My wonderful and kind sister-in-law Karole accompanied me; we arrived on time to Northeast Baptist Hospital in San Antonio, and after a bit of a wait (I am learning why we are called “patients”), we were directed to a room for me to change into a gown, receive an IV, and wait a little longer. Soon, through my door came the anesthesiologist, who was a jolly older fellow with bit of a lisp. He said he’d been doing this for 30 years, rare nowadays to encounter a medical person older than I. His relaxed and jovial demeanor set me at ease, and his explanation of exactly what he would do was comforting. He answered all our questions and said he’d see me in the OR; I appreciated having a familiar face to look for. THE FINGER Next, in came the lady wanting my vitals – BP, temp, pulse. She was a Black lady who looked like she didn’t take anything off anybody. As she prepared to take my blood pressure, she said, “Finger”, meaning she wanted my index finger for the pulse monitor. I jokingly asked, “Which one?” She leered at me, held the thermometer up in the air and said, “If you give me the wrong one, I’m going to Plan B”, and looked at my bottom. The surgeon hadn’t shown up yet, but they were going to wheel me to the OR anyway, as his arrival was imminent. While waiting, I looked him up online and found his professional profile with photo, which revealed a career as an Army trauma surgeon and some impressive credentials, along with a handsome photo. En route, I looked up and there he was, Dr. Mike Albrecht, as handsome as his photo, and whose shirt needed ironing. We had a fun little chat about where to put the port, and since I didn’t really want it anywhere, I told him to surprise me. THE INNER SANCTUM We descended to the hospital basement, to the area that houses the operating rooms – the inner sanctum. As they wheeled me in, I realized I’ve never entered an operating room so wide awake as I was yesterday. I got to look around at the whole arrangement and thought it wasn’t anywhere near as sensational-looking as the ORs in Grey’s Anatomy. In fact, it looked more like a small white store room for big equipment. Then, I noticed the trays full of forceps of every size and type, and got in tune with the details, and hoped all of those instruments weren’t for me. They slid me onto the operating table, and I wondered how they managed with people who weren’t as physically able as I am. They covered me with a wonderfully warm blanket, and  started the IV to the clouds. I gradually drifted off, and was totally in their hands. BACK TO THE FUTURE I awoke to the welcome presence of Karole. My right chest and shoulder felt tight, but I wasn’t really hurting. Seems Dr. Handsome had used a lot of local anesthetic, so there would be really no pain…for a while. I became more wide-awake by the moment, and was aware of the time and that soon it would be rush hour on a Friday…and some serious traffic. So, I got dressed and we bolted that joint. We made our way through increasingly heavy traffic, then onto Hwy. 181 to Beeville. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since midnight except graham crackers they administered to me at the hospital (probably the most expensive graham crackers in the history of medicine), I was hungry and so was Karole. We stopped at a place just outside Floresville called Iguanas or something; as we parked, I could feel myself getting a little shaky. SEE FOOD We sat down to order, and I thought I’d better go for something easy, like soup. When my tortilla soup arrived, I knew even that might not be with me very long; a few bites later, I was praying to the porcelain god. The prayer, which came in several heaving verses, wasn’t pleasant, but the answer was heavenly. I suddenly felt waaay better! I guess the stress, lack of sleep, the drugs, the impending pain and everything all taken together just caught up with me, and my body revolted. I bundled up my food in a to-go container, and we got back on the road. Home never looked so good, as I greeted my loving puppies, got into my jammies, took a Lortab, and slid into my own wonderful bed for a long and welcome sleep. I’m still in some pain, but I’m healing. I’m in awe of my body; it’s taken so much this year…an appendectomy, a hysterectomy, cancer then no cancer, and now, the implantation of a port, and it keeps bouncing back. If my continued healing over and over is any indication, chemotherapy will, with the grace of God, will be quite manageable. With my first treatment this Wednesday, Aug. 28th, stay tuned for much more to come on that!

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Better Living Through Chemistry

Yesterday, Aug. 14, I drove to San Antonio to see Dr. Vijay Gunuganti at Cancer Care Centers of South Texas, to discuss my treatment.

I arrived there on schedule, and as I approached the front door of the building, I noticed what appeared to be vomit, yes, vomit on the driveway of the building porte-cochere…this was not a good sign. I thought of the poor soul who must’ve been nauseated after their treatment, and just couldn’t hang on. I hoped I was wrong about what the substance was, and maybe I was anticipating seeing something like that as I entered a chemotherapy facility…kind-of like expecting to see ghosts when visiting a haunted house.

I opened the door to the treatment center, and a blast of cold air hit me like I was entering a walk-in freezer. From there on, however, the receptionist, the doctor and all the folks I encountered were quite warm. I completed the ever-present paperwork, and took a seat; I was called in very quickly and threw out my arm so the lab tech could draw tons of blood for testing, and they got my vitals.

From there, I went to an exam room and waited. And waited. Unable to sit still for very long, in medical waiting rooms if left to my own devices, I start exploring. I open drawers  and cabinet doors and check out all the contents, read the medical literature, etc. My rationale is that as soon as I am doing something I shouldn’t, the doctor will come in. And voila, in mid-drawer, here came Dr. Gunuganti.

SIDE EFFECTS

He was just about the most pleasant doctor ever, which was wonderful. We discussed my diagnosis, prognosis, and any other nosis that needed discussing. He went down the list of treatment side effects and explained the chance of getting each one. The potential good news is that there’s a decent chance I might escape this life-saving quagmire relatively unscathed. He explained that with medication, he could control all but fatigue. There’s also neuropathy, some numbness and tingling in fingertips and such that might disappear, or it might not. Or I might never get it. As long as it doesn’t affect my picture-taking, I think I can tolerate that.

I thought that all sounded pretty good, or at least better than I’d anticipated. He was realistic but positive about the whole thing, the way I’m trying to be. I think he and I will make a good team.

We discussed administering the treatment through a conventional IV, and he discouraged it. He said the chemical they’re using is pretty hard on veins; he took a look at mine and said he’d let his infusion nurses decide. Clearly, they’re the bosses at that outfit! We concluded our chat, and visited the infusion area.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I saw wasn’t it. The room was large, open and airy, with lots of natural light; it felt like a peaceful spot. There were rows of lounge type chairs with IV poles by many of them; there wasn’t a full house when I was there, but the people I saw who were receiving treatment seemed to be doing well. I thought they looked strong and calm, and probably even grateful for this chance to vanquish the enemy.

The infusion nurse looked at my veins, and she looked at me, and she said no, you need to get a port. Ugh. One more invasive procedure to endure. For those who don’t know, this thing is called a medi-port, which is placed in the upper chest, under the skin, and connected to a vein or artery. I’ve heard it really does make receiving chemotherapy a whole lot easier, so I guess I’ll have to join the human race and get one. That procedure is scheduled for Aug. 23 in San Antonio.

THE LITTLE CELL THAT WON’T

With yesterday’s visit, I am inching closer to this cancer thing becoming real; ironically, according to the CT scan done at MD Anderson, there is no detectable cancer inside me. I asked Dr. Gunuganti about not having chemotherapy at all, and he said that was a good question. He explained that absolutely nothing could happen and I could be fine. But what if there was one little cell left behind after the surgery…one cell becomes two, two become four, four become 16, and on and on. Well, then, suddenly chemo is a no-brainer!

It is interesting to me how the pace of activity has moderated since my cancer was found. When it was suspected, things couldn’t move quickly enough to get the SOB discovered, and out. Then, things slowed way down. Dr. Gunuganti explained that treatments should start six to eight weeks after the date of diagnosis, not the next day or the next week. But, what if that little shit is in there right now, multiplying like rabbits?? He said not to worry, the chemo is powerful medicine.

So – on Aug. 28 I run out onto the field in full pads to get this game rolling. As soon as that treatment is over, I will only have five more! If I calculated the schedule correctly, I’ll be finished on Dec. 11, in time for Christmas and a celebration of the birth of the ultimate giver of life.

RETAIL NIRVANA

After my visit concluded, I raced to the new Super Target on Austin Hwy. It was like entering retail nirvana, especially compared to the seamy Wal Mart in Beeville, where the dress code requires some part of bedtime attire, especially house slippers, and no un-tattooed skin is allowed to show unless you’re under age three, or you’re me.

I filled my basket with things I could never find here, and headed to the checkout. The checker ran each item under the scanner, but the process came to a screeching halt when she got to a bottle of wine. She entered my DOB in the register, and for some reason it wouldn’t process it. The manager was called, but didn’t appear, and here came that prickly feeling of being the one holding up the check-out line, the dolt who did something stupid and who deserves the laser-beam stares of the gathering crowd in line, and who doesn’t dare look back at them.

The nice man who had the misfortune to get in line behind me had one – count ’em, one thing to check out. He finally said to the checker, after the manager never showed for what seemed like hours, to card him for my wine. At first, we all thought he was kidding, until he whipped out his driver’s license and held it out for the clerk. Muttering under her breath, “We’re not supposed to do this”, she ran it through and I bought my wine.

I shook this nice guy’s hand and thanked him profusely; he made what was the most brilliant remark I’ve heard in ages: “I know better than to get between a woman and her  wine”.

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Cancer Takes a Holiday

I’ve been on vacation from cancer.

Except for a couple of days seeing the good doctors at MD Anderson, over the past few weeks I’ve wiped cancer out of my mind and put it on the back burner. Hopefully, it’s put me on the back burner, too.

I figured that with chemotherapy starting soon, and finally recovered from the Horrid Hysterectomy from Hell, I’d better do what I want and have a little fun: get out to the ranch, take some photos, and enjoy life. I don’t know how chemo will affect me, whether or not I’ll have none/some/all of the effects I’ve tried to avoid hearing about. I therefore thought I should take advantage of a time when I feel great, and have lots of energy. It’s been wonderful!

So, as my vacation winds down, tomorrow I travel to San Antonio to see the oncologist to discuss treatment and establish a schedule. Since I’m getting down to business in tackling the cancer with which I’ve been diagnosed, I thought I should discuss it.

FALLOPIAN TUBE CANCER

I was diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer, which spread to the ovary. Fallopian tube cancer is considered to be quite rare; it is so rare, in fact, that when I went to cancer.org (the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health) to do research on it, I discovered that fallopian tube cancer isn’t even listed as a type of cancer! Upon this discovery, I immediately hopped on online “chat” and asked, point blank, why fallopian tube cancer isn’t listed on their site. They had no satisfactory response, except that it is rare.

Even though the poor lady on chat wasn’t to blame, I quickly and pointedly advised her of my concern about this egregious and unthinkable omission. I obtained contact information for the director of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Harold Varmus who, as his name suggests, resembles a varmint.

I e-mailed Dr. Varmus with my comments about the fact that they are withholding potentially life-saving information by not adding fallopian tube cancer to the list of cancers on their site. I received an insipid auto-response stating that he was out of the office. Nonetheless, I will march on with e-mails and phone calls until fallopian tube cancer is added to one of the most visible cancer web sites on Google and in the USA!

FALLOPIAN TUBE OR OVARIAN?

Since fallopian tube cancer isn’t listed on cancer.org, if you visited there you wouldn’t learn that there is growing evidence that a number of cases of ovarian cancer are really fallopian tube cancer that were incorrectly diagnosed. This is important, because early-stage fallopian tube cancer may present with symptoms, while ovarian cancer typically does not until the disease has spread to become deadly late-stage cancer.

In post-menopausal women, certain types of discharges are a danger signal. I had something going on for a while in that regard that should’ve alerted me to get to the doctor; only until the cancer got into the ovary did I notice a tiny bit of spotting. Even though I got to the doctor as soon as the bell rang in my head that something was amiss, had I been more in tune with this sign, I might’ve gotten there even sooner. My only regret: not having enough information about fallopian tube cancer. I intend to rectify this on a national scale as soon as I can.

ON A MISSION

I am taking on as a mission the urgent need to educate women about fallopian tube cancer and its symptoms. In any post-menopausal woman who is at all in touch with her own body, she should know if she is having a discharge, whether clear or tinted. If she is, she needs to run, not walk, to the doctor and insist that she receive a trans-vaginal ultrasound, an MRI and a CA125, a blood test to detect the presence of gynecologic cancer.

As for my situation, with a stage IIa diagnosis and a rare form of cancer, it is challenging to find reliable information about prognosis. As my brother correctly pointed out recently, nobody has a 100% survival rate. So, with that I place my prognosis squarely in the hands of God.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

Just as I understood my responsibility for getting myself to the doctor for diagnosis, I now understand my responsibility for my part in treatment. It may not be pleasant, but I must do it. God blessed me with good judgment and a strong spirit, as well as access to the best medical care on the planet, and I take these things with me as I confront where the rubber meets the road in this journey.

When I pray about this, I ask God not to cure this cancer, because if that isn’t His will for me, then I will have placed a lot of hope in something that will never happen. Rather, I pray for grace and peace in accepting whatever God’s will for me may be. I pray for a grateful and humble heart when I receive the outpouring of love and support that have come to me in unbelievable abundance.

WE GOT SKUNKED

Last night in the middle of the night, my dogs leapt off the bed and raced out the doggy door, and barked like hell. I was too tired to care what about, until the unmistakable and odiferous scent of skunk musk came wafting through the house. With that, I shut the door and let the skunk-busters sleep elsewhere.

I wondered what effect breathing skunk fumes might have on me, other than possibly causing me to dream about Pepe Le Pew…this morning, I awoke to the stinky house where I fell back asleep, and sprayed Febreze into the AC intake. While there is still a little smelly hangover, most of it is gone. For now.

“DON’T HURT ‘EM, JUST SQUIRT ‘EM”

The War on Deer continues here at Casa de Cissy. Not only did they strip my county fair-winning Hibiscus plants, but they found their way to the other side of the house where they hadn’t yet discovered my other bountiful plants, and began their late-night assault on those.

Not to be out-deered, I got out my new Yard Enforcer motion-sensing impact sprinkler, the slogan for which is, “Don’t hurt ’em, just squirt ’em”, and set it up. That thing is impressive! I put it about 15′ in front of the plant bed and set it for night, and to hit the entire front of the house when anything enters the radius of its amazingly sensitive electric eye.

I left town for a couple of days, and returned last night. The eating seems to have stopped, and the plants are all growing once again.

Here’s to plants growing, and cancer not!

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Deer – God

DEER

I realized yesterday, for those of you hanging on the edge of your seats regarding my Hibiscus plants, that I have failed to provide an update. As you may recall, deer had discovered my big, beautiful plants and had chomped them almost to oblivion.

After a moment of eye-popping fury at the destruction, I launched into action. I ordered and received a motion-activated sprinkler, the intent of which was to detect movement within the device’s effective radius, and start spraying like hell. Here is an example of how it works (This is an Amazon review with a video, no need to read the review unless you just want to, but do watch the video.):

http://www.amazon.com/review/R3KNN2M4523G4N?ie=UTF8&videoPreplay=1

So, I got this sprinkler, but hadn’t hooked it up yet. Then, I wondered how it would work to just shine a light on the plants all night…and lo and behold, it seems to have done the trick! My plants are regenerating, and there has been no munching since I implemented this simple measure. So, the deer saw the light, and it was good.

GOD

I also realized that I haven’t said anything in my blog about God, and that needs to be corrected, too.

In my view, a thing like a cancer diagnosis is enveloped in mystery, with more questions than answers. Why did I get this? Is it going to come back? Am I going to be in pain? Is it going to kill me?

Discernment

Back in the early 1980s, when I joined the Episcopal Church, our new-member class went through an exercise intended to help us determine our spiritual gifts. Mine was “discernment”, which with all due humility, I thought was the very best gift of all. I equate it to the ability to hear and act on that wise inner voice I call the Holy Spirit. Over the years of challenges and triumphs since then, my gift of discernment has served me well; listening to it has enabled me to form a direct and personal relationship with the benevolent, holy and spiritual force I refer to as God.

Discernment helped me see that it was time to move home to Beeville last year, and when everything fell into place with that, I knew why. There are no accidents. I had a sense when I came home that something important was going to happen in my life. In April, I had an appendectomy; that wasn’t it, although from it I learned how much support and love for me there is here in Beeville. That seems to have established a precedent for current events.

Chosen

The cancer diagnosis seems to be that important thing, and it’s a big one! Discernment leads me to see that there is a reason for this. I am an instrument, a voice; my experiences with this are examples, hopefully sources of inspiration and faith. The other day, I was driving down to Rockport to join my wonderful family for our yearly reunion, and the word, “chosen” came to mind. I discern that I am chosen for this mission, and in that I feel honored and blessed.

I don’t know where this journey will lead me, but faith has me buckled in (thankfully, I am not riding the Texas Giant at Six Flags) and discernment helps me maintain a sense of peace. When the treatments start, and I have the bad days I’ve heard about, and my hair falls out, I may feel defeated and angry, and I’ll probably talk about those feelings here and elsewhere. Those feelings will pass; faith and confidence in God will remain.

HOUSTON

Tomorrow my dear friend Raymond Butler will arrive at my home, load me up and we will depart for Houston. Once there, we will drive around the Medical Center and find the Venue, where I will be staying, and connect the logistical dots between the Venue and MD Anderson. We will probably ride the tram that runs people all over the Medical Center area, like practicing for the first day of school.

Tuesday morning at 9:30 will be my first appointment with Dr. Pamela Soliman. From there, I don’t yet know what will happen. I will report back as those days come and go.

GRATITUDE

Thank you for reading my blog, and for caring about me. I’ve received many assurances of prayer and offers of help; just as I believe I am God’s instrument in my cancer journey, so are you in your expressions and demonstrations of love. God is love.

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Explorations and Discoveries

“C” HUNT

Yesterday I traveled to San Antonio for a visit with my gynecologic oncologist for a follow-up to my hysterectomy that occurred July 1. The original intent of that surgery was to remove my “lady parts”, including a problematic left ovary, but quickly became an all-out hunt for cancer.

When I arrived at the doctor’s office yesterday morning, I obtained a copy of the pathology report documenting what was discovered during surgery, and the results of studies that were conducted on tissue samples harvested during the surgery. Some of what the report contained, I already knew: the cancer was Stage IIa, and all tissue samples, including lymph nodes, were negative for malignancy. No surprises there.

G3 & LVI

As I sat in the waiting room, reading the report, there were two findings it contained that I wasn’t expecting: the tumor was Grade 3 (G3), and I learned a new phrase – “lymph-vascular invasion”.

On the surface of it, “G3” can be bad news. Depending on the kind of tumor, it can mean that the cancer is of a molecular structure that is fast-growing. Reading that in the waiting room, with no one there to ask for clarification, I got pretty rattled, especially after I looked up on my iPhone what was meant by Grade 3. I’ve got to put that rubber band on my wrist and snap it every time I head to the Internet to look up medical stuff!!

When I got in with the doctor, I asked him what I should’ve waited to ask in the first place: What does Grade 3 mean for me? If I HAD waited, I would’ve found out that the grading of tumors in ovarian cancer isn’t nearly as much of an indicator of prognosis as staging is, and the stage of my cancer, at IIa, is good. He said the grade is useful for formulating the chemotherapy I will receive, and that’s about it. Now I know there is not only a stage of cancer, but also a grade.

As for “lymph-vascular invasion”, which was reported in my case as being “present”, he again said not to worry about that. I was confused, because the report stated that there was no cancer found in any of the many lymph samples that were submitted, yet there is “lymph-vascular invasion”. I have arrived at an understanding that LVI means cells are present in the blood stream and lymph system; however, in ovarian cancer that apparently isn’t a real big concern, and chemotherapy should take care of it. In uterine or cervical cancer, it is a big deal, but not ovarian. This may or may not be something I choose to learn more about; for now, since I was advised not to worry about it, I won’t worry about it.

So, we know what the outcome of the surgery was; the experience of having undergone the surgery, and my understanding of what happened during that time, is remarkable to me in many ways.

WHEN MAN PLANS, GOD LAUGHS

The original surgery was planned as a conventional hysterectomy. The procedure was to be laparoscopic and robotic, and last about an hour. Things changed when, in the course of that procedure, cancerous tissue was discovered. At that moment, the whole protocol of the operation shifted – from laparoscopic/robotic to conventional surgery, including a real incision. Suddenly, there was much more work to do.

With the discovery of cancer, the emphasis of the surgery changed from removing the female apparatus to ridding the area not just of cancerous organs, but conducting an almost microscopic scrutiny of every square inch of my entire abdominal region. Indeed, the surgeon launched into a rigorous search for any more cancer, and focused on obtaining more than 20 tissue samples for biopsy, to detect any spreading of the disease.

INSIDES OUT

True to the surgeon’s mandated protocol, everything that could deliver a tissue sample for testing was clipped – every lymph node, the bladder, the abdominal wall; everything left inside was examined, inch by inch, bit by bit. There was a peritoneal wash that was analyzed for cancer cells. The surgeon paid an astounding degree of attention to every last molecule of my abdominal area and all of its contents. As a result of all of that scrutiny, it was clear that the visible cancer was limited to parts that were removed, namely, one ovary and related fallopian tube. As I would learn from the detailed 14-page report, everything else came back negative for malignancy.

As a side note, my surgeon is a type of specialist I’d never heard of before – a “gynecologic oncologist”. I recently read a piece in the NY Times which said that because many women go to traditional gynecologists for their “female” surgery, when cancer is discovered they may not get the thorough removal and sampling for biopsies from which I benefited. I feel confident that, had my surgeon not been trained to recognize the cancer and know what to do when he did find it, I might have a very different path ahead of me.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

As I look forward to my time with the good people at MD Anderson next week, I also look back. I have been through a lot over the last two months; my life has been changed forever. I am so deeply and humbly aware of how much love for me there is, and with that my heart is full and my spirit is peaceful. I am right where I am supposed to be.

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The Pendulum Swings

AN IDLE MIND IS THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP

Oh my…just as I thought I was calm about cancer, I realize I might not be, at least not all the time. I’m out here at the ranch in La Salle County, listening to turkeys peck the window right now, and taking a break from hoping something shows up outside to photograph. It’s real dry here but strangely, nothing is coming to the waterfall to drink, except Roadrunners. Yesterday three came at one time! Oh – and I did have two Bobwhite quail, the highlight of the day!

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Maybe I’ve had too much time to myself, or maybe I am having the time I need to connect with my real feelings about being a cancer patient. By the way, I’ve decided I’m not going to use the term, “cancer survivor”. I don’t like it. I prefer “cancer patient” or “former cancer patient”.

As I drove around the ranch this morning, it occurred to me that I’m close to the same age as my mother was when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. I believe she was 58 when diagnosed, and 60 when she died. I think that’s what set off my glum spirit. 

Anyway, today I have felt nervous for the first time. I guess that makes me a normal human being, with fears of pain and suffering, and a wish to deny my mortality.  

DR. INTERNET SHOULD BE SUED FOR MALPRACTICE

Perhaps also I should stay off the Internet. I went online today to read up on treatments for the type of cancer that was removed from my body, and up came information from research studies, one of which summarily stated that one of the study subjects is dead. No candy coating on that bitter pill! Reading that pretty much flushed what was left of my mood right down the toilet; never mind the rest of the subjects who lived! Going forward, I’ll try to stick to using the web to find stories about folks who are living, smiling, working, and playing, all with cancer somewhere in the mosaic of their lives. However, I need to allow my feelings about this to emerge; to me, that’s the healthy thing to do.

DEER ON CRACK

As I was about to leave my house in Beeville yesterday, I walked by a window and noticed that my big, beautiful Hibiscus plants that were bursting with giant red flowers, had been stripped of their foliage. I was shocked and mad! I called my landscaper, who said that Hibiscus are like crack for deer. Apparently, the damn deer have been sneaking in at night to ravage my landscaping. I asked what to do about it (besides kill the deer), and he said we needed to plant deer-resistant shrubs or plants. He’ll be there this week to take care of it for me. I’m not looking forward to seeing the green stubs that surely await me when I get home this evening.

WIGGED OUT

One of the things I’ve done to line up my ducks for treatment is to consult with my hairdresser regarding my impending loss of hair, investigating wigs and styling them. I inherited my mother’s fine hair, and I recall when hers came back after chemotherapy, it was thick and curly. But in the meantime, I need to figure out how I’m going to manage having no hair. It seems some women have their heads covered up in tattoos. Mmmmm, nah. Not for me. Another former cancer patient friend of mine said she wore a wig for half a day and put it up, and wore do-rags much of the time. I’ll  see if there’s some way I can have a little fun with this and not scare the hell out of everyone. Conveniently, I do believe I’ll be having treatment when Halloween rolls around…

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