Category: Life

How Do We Change the World

Two weeks ago I unwittingly devised a trifecta of ways to put myself into a depression: I read Naomi Klein’s tome on climate change, This Changes Everything, which was hands down the most depressing book I’ve ever read, if only because of the subject matter. I watched the documentary Cowspiracy, which floored me by showing how destructive animal farming is to the environment. And I watched all ten episodes of Band of Brothers, which was a great reminder that no matter how noble the cause, war really is pretty dumb.

Climate change is an issue that leaves me feeling the most hopeless. I have two children, and both have recently become parents themselves. I worry what kind of world we’re leaving behind for our children and grandchildren. Many of us do everything we can as individuals to tread lightly on the Earth, but is it enough? While I do take seriously the idea that change begins with one person, I also know that when profit is your only reason for existing, greed is usually the result. And greed keeps the corporate machine very well-oiled.

Which is why I watched Cowspiracy on Netflix. I’ve made several attempts through the years to practice what I preach and stop eating animal products, but it never stuck. My main reason for not wanting to eat meat has always been the inhumane way our animals are penned and slaughtered. The wake-up moment for me, however, was when Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher, says “You can’t call yourself an environmentalist and eat animal products. Period.” This film really spells it out for me.

almkuh_01wiki(Photo courtesy of Johannes Kühnel, Wikimedia Commons)

(And I have to say, calling yourself an environmentalist these days is parallel with calling yourself a feminist. The labels have become so much more than the actual meanings of the words.)

I don’t know why it took me years to watch Band of Brothers. I love Damian Lewis, I love a good WWII drama, and I loved Band of Brothers. But nothing, nothing depresses me more than war. It seems these days that war is never-ending–and so little spoken of. We bomb, we use drones, we send our sons and daughters to the Middle East, and we pretend it isn’t happening. As a mother, I will never understand.

On a note of hope: I admire the nonviolent protests taking place on Standing Rock. I think this is the way we will change the world, by a group of like-minded people standing together against something they know is wrong. These brave people aren’t doing this on a whim, they’re standing up for all of us against the fossil fuel industry. I love how they call themselves protectors instead of protestors. I do realize we already have oil and natural gas pipelines snaking all across the country, but maybe it’s time to say enough is enough. We can do better.

There are so many issues these days that threaten to put me in a permanent state of depression, but that’s no way to live. And letting myself get depressed over issues that seem overwhelming and hopeless is neither effective nor helpful to anyone else. If adopting a vegan lifestyle and supporting those who stand up to the fossil fuel industry is all I have to offer at the moment, so be it.

I have no answers for anyone, only lots and lots of questions. And that’s at least a good place to start.

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Boxes with Bows

I have a very bad habit of trying to compartmentalize my life. I want everything settled, tied up in a pretty red bow, and organized neatly on the shelf. Running in one box, knitting in another, and cancer in that large box in the corner.

Apparently I do this with my blogs as well.Giftbox_icon

Rather than be happy with one all-encompassing blog, I periodically feel an overwhelming need to separate things out–kind of like when you don’t want the mashed potatoes touching the green beans on your plate. I felt like my cancer story took over this blog, so I started a new one–and then only wrote one post. And didn’t write anything here. Or on my running blog. And my knitting blog has also been severely neglected.

And that’s not to mention the gardening blog I tried out years ago, or the photography blog. I think I can still remember my husband suggesting that it might be difficult to keep up with all the different blogs . . .

Enough! Mind Margins has always been my home blog, the place where I can write my thoughts and experiences about anything I want. The byline “thoughts on being human” is there for a reason. The fact is, I can’t separate out anything that’s happened to me these past two years into separate little boxes. I think having all those boxes has actually kept me from writing–and I need to write. Running and writing are the best therapies, and God knows I need them both.

I will admit that I also needed this past year to process what I had gone through. Cancer didn’t end when I stopped chemo. In fact, in a way, that was the easy part. All I had to do was get through it. It was my 24 hr a day job for over six months. But once the chemo drugs worked their way out of my body (which took longer than I thought it would), I was left with a lot of what-if’s, whys, and what-nows. More than anything, I’ve spent the past two years learning to live with uncertainty. That’s something I’ve been working on my whole life, and will probably continue to do until the day I die.

Another reason I didn’t write was because I was embarrassed by the attention. You would think someone who shared every gory detail of having cancer, and who shares probably more than she ever should about everything else in her life, would love the attention. After all, no one made me write about any of it. Instead, I felt like a show off. And I have only myself to blame.

(Why did I never think of writing an anonymous blog??? Problem solved!)

My only intention in sharing so much about what I went through was to help other people who might be going through something similar. I found very few stories from other women who had ovarian cancer, and I felt the need to help someone else. That desire is still stronger than ever–and that’s why I keep writing about cancer. Life does go on, but it will never be the same again. And that big box in the corner, the one labeled Cancer? It’s getting smaller and smaller as the months go by.

Hitting the publish button is a scary thing. I cringe every single time I post something. The thoughts in my head range from Why would anyone care what I have to say to I sound like a complete idiot. Ultimately, I write for myself. I always have, since the day I first put my stubby pencil to a Big Chief pad. I write because I have to.

So I’m raising the white flag and calling a truce between me and my blogs. I’ll probably shut a few down. If surviving cancer has taught me anything, it’s to keep things as simple as possible, and to get rid of the stuff that’s not important.

Time to clean out some boxes.

(photo courtesy of petercui [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

This is What Happens When Cancer Takes Over Your Blog

Top searches that brought people to my blog this month:

– i’m 63 will i definitely lose my hair during chemotherapy?

– golytely not working kids

– i did my golytely prep but it feels like something is stuck

– chemo day 14

peach pit and seedling

Well, I have only myself to blame.

It’s been awhile. I’ve been busy. Very busy. So busy I pretty much stopped writing for six months.

Let’s just say, life is good. Very good.

Last year was an incredible year. I got married, was in the best shape of my life, had just come back from a vacation in Utah (one of my top three places on earth) with my son and his girlfriend, and had enough finished knitted items to toy seriously with the idea of starting my own little business.

And then at the end of May I went to the ER. And quickly discovered I had cancer. Ovarian cancer.

I won’t go into detail about that year. I wrote extensively about the experience here on Mind Margins. After surgery and chemo, I was declared cancer-free by December 2013.

It was an incredible experience. I am so lucky to have caught it early and to have survived. Two friends I made during that time, and the majority of women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year (all years, in fact), weren’t so lucky.

Looking back at this past year post-cancer, I suppose I went through a modified version of the stages of grief. During treatment I was nothing but positive. I never, ever thought I wouldn’t survive. Post-chemo, however, was another story. Looking back on what I had gone through, and survived, I initially felt scared. I thought a lot about dying. That turned to anger. Then sadness. Then just plain depression. It didn’t last long, but these past few months I needed a break from all things cancer.

And every time I sat down to write, my fingers wanted to write about having cancer. My brain didn’t.

So I did everything but write–which means I got a lot of knitting done. I started running again. I spent a lot of time just sitting and thinking about what had happened and the things I learned from it. I put things in perspective and reorganized my life. My husband and I finally went on our honeymoon.

I grew my hair back.

And I knit. I knit a lot, sometimes for hours and hours. These past six months have been filled with family and love, appreciation for life, and learning to pick up where I left off. It sounds trite, but things that used to seem so important really aren’t anymore. When little things get to me now, it’s easier to see how unimportant they are. I don’t brood for days over them, like before.

I know how short life is, and how every moment is a choice. Either we embrace what we’re given and move forward, or we stay stagnant in resentments and feelings of injustice.

Relationships are important. Being kind is important. Never forgetting how short life can be is really important.

Though I haven’t been writing, I’ve been reading. I may not have commented on my friends’ blogs, but I have been keeping up.

I’m running again, and am up to 10 miles. I’m slower than I was before, but that’s okay. My oncologist says I’ve inspired her to run, and we’ve run two 5K’s together, both of them benefiting cancer. I even have my future daughter-in-law running with me. I’m also doing strength training and eating much healthier than before. Except for some residual chemo brain fog, I feel great. I’m not the same person I was before, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve learned a lot from cancer, but it’s time to release its hold on my blog. Here’s to more writing, more questions, and more thoughts on being human.

– Angela

Super Bald

Everyone has told me that my hair will start falling out fourteen days after the first chemo treatment, emphasis on WILL. I await this momentous occasion with trepidation, false bravado, and magical thinking that everyone is just plain wrong.

chemo

At my first chemo treatment, with shorter haircut #1

Monday: I am aware of the fact that my hair should start falling out in three days. While sitting in the car, waiting to order a sandwich at Great Outdoors, I feel something on the back of my head. I rub the spot and think, “Great. I’m going to be bald and have a zit on the back of my scalp.”

But there is no bump. Then I realize my scalp hurts, like when you wear your ponytail too high all day and then take it down and your hair is confused as to which direction it should bend. I’m thinking this is the beginning of the end. I’ve heard this is how it starts.

My husband (who is bald) wants me to shave it off, immediately. He tells me to “own it.” He is chomping at the bit, over the moon that, finally, someone will understand how he felt when his hair started falling out in high school. I’m glad I’m talking to him on the phone and not in person so he can’t see my huge eye roll.

I tell him I’m not going to shave my head until I’m certain that my hair is really, definitely going to fall out. I’m still holding out hope that I’ll be one of the lucky ones, that Taxol won’t affect me like it does almost everyone. I know I’m deluding myself, but you never know, there’s always a chance.

Time to pull out the scarves and practice tying knots.

short hair

Shorter haircut #2, and looking mighty thin after surgery and the first two cycles of chemo.

Tuesday: My son’s girlfriend and I have a discussion about not shaving my hair until I’m absolutely certain that it’s really going to fall out. She uses the words “clumps” and “patchy.” She thinks if I cut it really short and it comes out in clumps, I might have bald spots. If I keep it long then at least the longer pieces might cover up the patches.

Am I really considering a female comb-over for myself? Has it really come to this?

The hardest thing of all is going to be losing my eyelashes. I can imagine myself bald, but I cannot for the life of me imagine myself without eyelashes. Eyelashes are pretty, and mine have always been long and worthy of mascara. I resolve to continue wearing mascara until I have only three eyelashes left. Less than that would look ridiculous, right?

Now, losing the eyebrows is an entirely different matter. I don’t mind losing them at all. Here’s to a pluck-free next three months! And how can I complain about not having to shave my legs for the next three months?

Wednesday: My husband can hardly contain his excitement about getting to shave my head. It’s like Christmas in July. Who knew he could derive such joy from such a weird thing? Is this every bald man’s secret dream, to have their wives lose their hair and get to shave it off for them??? I’m mildly disturbed but glad he’s willing to help.

Thursday: Definitely more pain on the back of my head why I wake up. Hair still hanging tight, though.

Friday: A trip out of town has put some distance between my husband and his razor, thank God. This trip was needed, if only for that reason. For the first time, after I wash my hair, I notice a small handful of hair. The exodus has begun.

While visiting relatives in Oklahoma, including an uncle who is battling cancer, my aunt shows us photos of his curly post-chemo hair. I can only dream of getting the curly hair I’ve always wanted. My aunt’s sister-in-law, also a cancer survivor, tells me how hers fell out within a week. Her advice: “shave it all off.”

Saturday: More hair loss. An unexpected trip to the ER later that night (due to an infection where they removed the IVF filter from my neck), and seeing the semi-long strands of hair all over the pillow are proof of the truth. This is really going to happen.

losing hair

It has begun.

Sunday: I’m not happy about being in the hospital on my “good,” non-chemo days. Maybe this colors my thinking, but I’m starting to feel very sad about losing my hair. I thought it would be no big deal. I’m actually dreading having to shave it off.

Monday: I’m released and get to go home. I tell Michael it’s time. Let’s do this.

I’m crying before he even starts shaving. I’m surprised. Why is this so hard? I realize that for the first time in my life I will be bald. I had a full head of hair when I came into this word, jet black American Indian hair my mom always said, so this is something completely new. It feels like the time I decided to ride the double loop roller coaster for the first time with my son, how I would have paid someone any amount of money to stop the ride and pull me off before we got to the top of the hill and descended into the first loop.

I do not want to shave off my hair.

He gets out the electric shaver and starts shaving. I cry the entire time. I hate it so much.

cancer scarf

I really, really hate this.

Afterwards, I look at myself and think of all the things my female friends have said when discussing this: You’re going to look great. You have such a pretty face. I can’t wait to see what you’ll look like.

I look like a concentration camp victim. I look like a bug. I look really ugly.

I don’t want anyone to see me. I am so embarrassed.

What is up with me? I’m a feminist! It’s just temporary!! I am more than my hair!!!

I am almost bald.

chemo hair

Fake smile. I’m still crying inside.

It takes me days to get used to the shock of seeing myself in the bathroom mirror. I wear a scarf or hat and never take it off until the lights are off. What I could hide before is now visible to the entire world: I have cancer. I could pick and choose who I let know what I was going through before. Now, there’s no hiding.

When I reached a certain age, namely 50, I noticed I suddenly became a little bit invisible. Ask most middle-aged women and they will tell you the same thing. There’s a certain threshold a woman reaches when male eyes glance and slide past to younger, greener pastures. But there is also a freedom that comes with being invisible, a more carefree kind of existence, and you learn to accept that you have to make yourself visible with more than just your looks.

But now, suddenly, people were looking at me again. Their eyes would linger just a little longer than they should, noticing my scarf and lack of hair. It wasn’t mean-looking, it was more curiosity-looking. It’s summer in Texas and she’s wearing a scarf. Something must be wrong with her.

chemo head

Almost gone.

And that’s the problem right there. I hate having to show my weakness to the world. Even against something like cancer, I hate having to show others that there is something that may be stronger than me, something I can’t fight off or wish away.

Being bald is the manifestation of the weakness one has to accept when they have cancer. It’s the loss of control that’s on display for everyone to see. Before, I didn’t have to tell you unless I wanted you to know. Chemo, in addition to all the other harsh effects on your body, makes it visible for everyone to see. It takes your choice away.

It’s really okay, it’s been a great lesson for me, especially in giving up control. But when you’re forced to make yourself so vulnerable to others, to show them what you’re dealing with, there’s a lot of pity that comes from that–and I do not want anyone’s pity over this.

All I really want is my hair.

last chemo

Leaving my last chemo treatment. By this time I’ve lost almost all of my eyebrows and eyelashes.

Even Rock Stars Trash Their Hotel Rooms

I’ve been strong. I’ve been positive. I’ve been a “rock star” patient (according to the nurses in the hospital). But today, finally, reality is starting to set in.

I have cancer.

It isn’t something that is just going to go away. I may battle this for the rest of my life. I will heal from surgery and jump right into chemo. I will essentially poison all the cells in my body to get rid of the cancer cells and hopefully trick them into submission.

But one day they may decide to come back. Then, the battle begins all over.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic. Today I take a hard look at what I’m up against. It’s all part of the show.

Rock group

They’re not trashing their hotel room, but they look like they might be thinking about it.

Photo courtesy of: Ted Van Pelt [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Last night I ordered some scarves and hats from the American Cancer Society so I will be prepared when my hair falls out. For the past two weeks, since the doctor told me my hair will most definitely fall out, I’ve thought it’s no big deal that my hair will fall out. Today I know that’s BS. It’s going to be a HUGE deal for me. My hair is below my shoulders. What is it going to be like when my hair starts coming out in clumps? When I wake up and see clumps of it on my pillowcase, or see clumps of it slide down the drain in the shower? What will I look like without eyebrows? Without eyelashes?

And something I thought I’d never do: I’ve even found myself getting angry and thinking WHY ME? I did everything right: I had children, I breastfed them both for a year each, and I took birth control pills when I wasn’t pregnant–all protective factors against ovarian cancer. I’ve run ridiculous distances for the past seven years, I don’t drink, I’ve never smoked, never done drugs, and I eat organic as often as I can afford to. All that wasn’t enough to protect me from cancer.

Why am I having to go through this?

I don’t always believe that things happen for a reason. Sometimes bad things just happen. No rhyme or reason, they just do. It sucks. I understand that. I accept that in the Russian roulette of life and disease, I got cancer.

But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The outpouring of support since I started sharing my story has been incredible. Overwhelming, to a point. It’s hard to hear over and over how “strong” I am. I don’t feel strong, I feel realistic. I am a fighter by nature. I won’t roll over and play dead. I’ve always said: I’m going to live forever. Cancer certainly isn’t going to change that.

But today, after weeks of smiling and staying positive, I’m allowing myself to feel this exhaustion, this numbness as I accept that I have cancer and that the battle has just begun. I think that I’ve been very positive up to this point, but this is my reality today. And as I’ve stated over and over, I’m not one to sugarcoat anything. There will be days like this. I knew there would be, and that’s why it’s not a big deal. It will pass.

So having a bad cancer day can be like trashing your own hotel room. You put on a good show, do everything that’s expected of you, then you go back to your digs and get a little crazy.

Despite this one bad day, in the end I will win, and I will win big. And I’m going to bring as many women and their families over the finish line with me as I possibly can. I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to make it happen.

Pacing the Tiger’s Cage

My legs want to move, my brain says it’s time to do something, but my incision and internal organs say, heck no, all we want to do is lay around on the couch. Grrrr.

I definitely overdid things on Thursday after getting good news from the doctor. The staples came out, we found out the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes or internal organs, and I thought I was all that. Okay, I still had cancer, and a rare form at that, but death wasn’t knocking on my front door. Heck, he wasn’t even in the neighborhood!

So what did I do? I had lunch with my sister, my son, and his girlfriend. I went to Half Price Books, walked around the store, and bought knitting books (full disclosure: I did have to text everyone and tell them to come find me under the Arts and Crafts sign, sitting in a cushy, padded, wingback chair, probably fast asleep by the time they got there). I met my running group for drinks. I had a late dinner with some of them. I had brunch the next morning with my closest friends.

Beer at Fuzzy's Tacos

Some of the WRRC when they’re not running.

I had a blast. Seeing friends and family has kept me sane throughout this entire experience. But yesterday I was exhausted. My incision hurt and it was uncomfortable to walk. Today is the same. Setback. I was doing so well. A rock star. Now I’m just restless and impatient.

I haven’t had a really bad day since this all began. I haven’t had a meltdown about having cancer. I haven’t gotten angry and shook my fists at the gods screaming, “WHY ME???” I’ve been surprisingly accepting and realistic about the whole thing.

Cancer can happen to anyone.

I’m reading the Gilda Radner book It’s Always Something about her battle with ovarian cancer. It’s a great book, but shocking that it took almost a year before she was diagnosed. Things are better now, almost 30 years later, especially as far as treatment, but I can’t help but be saddened that there is still NO screening for ovarian cancer.

Dr K told me that being diagnosed as stage 2 is very rare. She only has ONE other patient who is a stage 2. The majority of her patients are either stage 1, when the cancer was caught early either accidentally or because of torsion (twisting) and pain, or the more advanced stages 3 and 4. To me, that’s shocking.

The torsion, rupturing,  and pain I experienced were the best things that could have happened to me. They literally saved my life. On the flip side, I have a rare form of ovarian cancer, and I fear that the doctors won’t know exactly which drugs to treat it with during chemo to send it into remission. I will get more information the next time I go to the doctor, but it scares me.

A good run would do me a world of good, but that’s out of the question. In the meantime, I’ll keep pacing the tiger’s cage, back and forth, over and over, until I can one day break free and return to my “normal” life once again.

Photo courtesy of: Dcoetzee (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Best Bad News We Could Get

You know how you buy a new car and you love it? And then someone hits your car and it’s in the shop and you get it back and it’s just never the same again?

That’s how I feel lately about my body.

I was happy with my body. It’s been a good body for 53 years. It gave me two children, produced food for them, and got me through eight marathons and one ultra marathon. I even had other surgeries, an appendectomy on my 27th birthday and a hysterectomy five and a half years ago.

This latest surgery and a cancer diagnosis and impending chemo have been the big car accident that makes it seem like I’ll never quite be the same again. My stomach is lumpy, for God’s sake.

I was shocked to read two facts about ovarian cancer on the NOCC (National Ovarian Cancer Coalition) website:

Cancerous epithelial tumors are carcinomas – meaning they begin in the tissue that lines the ovaries. These are the most common and most dangerous of all types of ovarian cancers. Unfortunately, almost 70 percent of women with the common epithelial ovarian are not diagnosed until the disease is advanced in stage.

Epithelial ovarian carcinomas (EOCs) account for 85 to 90 percent of all cancers of the ovaries. 

Also, epithelial ovarian cancer rarely happens to women under the age of 60. This is why Dr K keeps saying “because you’re so young” when she talks about treating me aggressively, even though I’m not really “so young.”

Removing surgical staples

Removing the staples. It didn’t hurt at all. Really.

So. Based on the stats I mentioned above, we got VERY good news at my first post-op visit with the doctor. All the biopsies were clear; no cancer cells were detected in any of my internal organs. Even better, 40 lymph nodes were removed (not 25, like we thought) and every single one was clear of any cancer cells.

In other words, the cancer cells have not spread anywhere else in my body.

The bad news is that I have a rare form of ovarian cancer, called mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer. The tumor was a mucinous adenocarcinoma. Something like less than 5% of ovarian cancers are mucinous, which means it may be a little trickier to treat if only because they have so little data to go on.

Dr K presented my case to the Tumor Board, and there was talk of being able to take part in a clinical trial (I’m not eligible because of the blood clots), but it has now been officially determined that my cancer is only Stage 1C.

1C, y’all. THIS. IS. HUGE.

This means that I only have a 20-25% chance of the cancer returning after remission, as opposed to the worst case scenario that Dr K spoke of in the hospital of an 85-90% chance of it coming back.

I feel very, very fortunate.

Staples

The removed staples.

I will still do chemo in a few weeks, and she wants to treat it aggressively because of my age and my fitness level, so I have a rough six months ahead of me. But chances are I’m going to live a long, healthy life.

Which means I have many more years ahead of me to help other women who have to go through ovarian cancer. And that is very, very good news indeed.

Back Home Again

Thursday, 6/13/13: FIRST MORNING IN MY OWN BED

I feel split open. I have no walls left, no boundaries, no anger. I have razor sharp focus. I feel pure love at my core. It all sounds so new agey and I could care less. There’s no room for anything but honesty, love, happiness, and acceptance. Amazing how coming face to face with your own mortality can change you overnight.

After the surgery, when we stayed up until 3:30am talking, I told everyone that this cancer has been a gift. I really meant it. It’s been a gift in that it’s cleared away a lot of cobwebs, that I can suddenly see what’s important in life and what’s not. It’s very much like that scene in Contact (one of my favorite movies because it’s from a book written by Carl Sagan) where Ellie travels through a series of wormholes on her way to  the aliens who have made contact with planet Earth. In between the various wormholes she has the chance to look around at the solar system, at the incredible beauty and magnitude of the universe, and all she can say is “I had no idea. I had no idea.” That’s how I feel.

The first few days after surgery, while I was on morphine, I had a strange experience. Repeatedly, throughout the day and night, I would “see” something out of the corner of my eye, always in the same area, at the foot of my bed in front of the door. It was a tall, thin man wearing a hat like men used to wear during the 30’s and 40’s. I never “saw” this man, I just always knew he was there. It wasn’t scary or creepy, it was more protective. I never had the thought that this man was there to take me to the other side. He was just there, watching over me. I didn’t tell anyone about it until later.

Blame it on the morphine.

On the flip side,  I never felt the presence of Bob or Arshad while waiting in the pre-op room before surgery (Bob and Arshad are two running friends who died in the past five years, Bob from lung cancer, Arshad from a car accident.) For some reason I always imagine Bob and Arshad coming to get me when the time is right, kind of like they’re bringing me into the heavenly running group they’ve started up there. I somehow “knew” I was going to be okay because Bob and Arshad were nowhere around.

[Do I sound really flakey and new agey? I do sound really flakey and new agey. I have no idea if ghosts and spirits exist or if there’s any sort of an afterlife. It’s all a fantasy in my head, but somehow it made sense to feel that way at the time.]

Michael and I had a great talk at midnight last night. We’ve never been able to be this open, to talk about our issues with patience and understanding. I guess we were both too defensive. He cried and told me this cancer is very serious, much worse than I think it is. Even if it’s only stage 2 it will be a battle. It may kill me in the end. He loves me so much. He is prepared to go on this journey with me. I am so incredibly lucky.

I’m procrastinating writing about the surgery and post-op. It is somewhat hazy and dark. Not sure I’m ready to go back to that place, but it has to be done. It’s time to rest, recover, and build my strength for the fight ahead. I’m also procrastinating reading about chemo and what to expect. I need to use all my strength to staying focused on today. Tomorrow will come, and I will be ready, but one step at a time. One day at a time.

Friday, 6/14/13: ONE WEEK POST-OP: HARDER THAN I THOUGHT

Took a shower this afternoon and took a true look at my body. First thing I notice is that I am skin and bones. My calf and arm muscles are flabby. My boobs are almost nonexistent. My incision scar is almost 9 inches high, from pubic bones to middle of ribs. My abdomen, waist, and upper hips are bloated and swollen.

But my skin is clear and acne-free and my hair has stopped falling out.

Stayed up until 3:30am watching The Notebook with Dom. Woke up feeling much better than yesterday. No stomach issues, and I ate well all day with no gas, no nausea.

The blood thinner injections are starting to become tedious. There is something very odd about sticking a needle in your body and injecting something. I have to admit, the blood clots kind of ick me out. The thought of something traveling through my body to my brain, lungs, or heart and possibly killing me — with no warning — is disconcerting. Maybe worse than knowing I have cancer.

Did a full loop of walking around the neighborhood. At 9:45pm it was still 91 degrees and no breeze whatsoever. My speed has certainly improved, though it is still uncomfortable to walk.

Eating in bed

Donut pillows make the best plate holders for eating in bed.

Looked at some photos Michael took when I was in the hospital. I am slowly starting to think about what happens next. I have a booklet I picked up at the hospital about chemotherapy and will begin reading through it. I also want to listen to the recordings Michael made of Dr K talking to the family right after surgery. Michael says she lays it all out and I need to know exactly what I’m up against.

One step at a time.

Very excited because tomorrow morning Bill is picking me up at 6:15am to meet WRRC for our very first Saturday Run My Hood in Sunnyvale at Kevin’s friend’s house. I won’t run, of course, but I am hoping to walk a little. Mostly, I just want to see everyone again and get back into some semblance of a “regular” life again.

Saturday, 6/15/13: A SHOT OF ADRENALINE

Spent the morning visiting with my running group in Sunnyvale. Bill picked me, Michael, and Susan B up at our house and we drove in together. Bill realized he might have left his phone on top of his car and had to leave immediately afterwards. He located his phone via GPS signal later in the day, in the median at Highway 80 and Big Town exit, smashed and pretty much destroyed — which meant a new iPhone 5.

WRRC

White Rock Running Co-op, my running group

It was so wonderful to see so many of my friends again, even if I couldn’t run with them. I managed to take about a three quarters of a mile walk with Michael and Katti (and her baby bump) and spent the rest of the time sitting and visiting with everyone. I was actually glad that I didn’t have to run because it was humid and a hilly route. Strangely, Stacy B was there with her busted up ankle and told me she also has blood clots and has to give herself injections of a blood thinner. She even has to have them twice a day. No fun.

Runners

The fast guys at the front

I am thanking the Timing Gods for making this all happen during the hottest part of the year. I have probably lost a lot of muscle not only from not being able to run, but also from not eating for three weeks and my muscles being used for energy when the fat reserves ran out. Not sure how scientific that is, but my calf muscles are super flabby!

Kilt

The indomitable Dane, who’s really a Scots, who proves that real men do wear skirts.

Appetite was great today, so Operation Fatten Up Angela is in full swing. After spending the entire morning in Sunnyvale, came home and took a long nap. It was the most activity I’ve done in weeks. Ran some errands with Michael (shoe shopping and buying dog food) in the afternoon, then finally got around to watching Alien with the family in honor of the alien monster baby I gave birth to a week ago. Just call me Angela Ripley Turnage.

Marine Corps Marathon 2013 shirt

Hoping there’s some way I can still be ready for Marine Corps.

First popcorn since surgery!

Sunday, 6/16/13: FATHER’S DAY VISITORS

Best sleep since I got out of the hospital. Slept four hours straight through, got on the iPad for about 45 min, then slept for another three hours. I felt great all day. Am trying to stretch out the pain meds to 5 hrs or more. It’s only tough when I walk around and the pain meds have worn off. I’d really like to get off of them as quickly as possible.

Feeling sad because my daughter flew back to Portland today. She will be back in a few weeks, but I will still miss her.

Completely forgot to take my blood thinner until after 2:00pm, the first time I’ve done that. I made the kids buy me a pill case the other day so I could keep all my morning and afternoon medications straight. I’m going to put the alcohol wipe in the morning section to remind myself of the injections.

Treated ourselves to What-A-Burger for dinner after the dog park (first junk food post surgery!), called my dad, and watched Smoke Signals in honor of Father’s Day. I pretty much napped off and on all evening on the couch. Nick loves to make fun of me for falling asleep all the time. Woke up at midnight just as The Shining was coming on, so Nick, Nicole, and I watched it until 3am. I, of course, fell asleep repeatedly.

6/17-19/13: SETTLING IN

The rest of the week the family and I tried to settle back in to our lives. I have had a lot of visitors,  but this Monday we managed to have our first visitor-free day since being admitted to the hospital. I continued walking in the evenings and made it up to 1 mile.

The stress of dealing with everything hit Michael the other night and he had a little meltdown. It’s to be expected. Everyone deals with tragedy in their own way.

I finally sat down and listened to the 45 minute recording of Dr K talking to my family directly after surgery. It was tough. While my family was celebrating the fact that she got all the tumor, she brought them down to earth with the reminder that this is still serious. The most sobering moment for me was when my daughter asked what are the chances the cancer will return, and she answered 85-90% chance it will return. I had no idea. I’d rather know the truth than have everything sugarcoated for me.

She took 25 lymph nodes to be biopsied, in addition to tissue from all my major internal organs. Now we wait until the pathology report comes back to see if it has spread. In the meantime, I need to start reading up on chemo.

The Birth of the Alien Monster Baby by Vertical C-Section

6/7/13 Friday:  RELEASING THE MONSTER

On the morning of surgery I woke up at 3:30am, more than likely because someone came to take blood, my temperature, or my blood pressure. The nurse said they wanted to do an ultrasound on my legs before surgery to see if there were any more clots. They had scheduled me for 5:00am, but had asked if they could go ahead and get me early since they were very backed up. Since I was already awake, I didn’t mind at all, so I pulled out my iPad and checked emails until they came to get me. In reality it would be 5:00am before they actually got to my room.

Despite the fact that I was going to have major surgery later in the day, I felt great.  The song Safe and Sound (Capital Cities) was playing incessantly in my head. I had started hearing the song on the radio a few months earlier and loved it, and we heard it in the car on the way to our first meeting with Dr K. It was always in my head in the hospital, and the morning of surgery I played the YouTube video and posted it on my facebook wall page, asking everyone to play it and sing it while I was in surgery. It had become my own personal anthem.

Being in the hospital had made me start to think of the tumor as being something from the movie Alien. I have no idea why this was. I really didn’t have any bad feelings towards the thing, but I did keep envisioning that scene from the movie where the alien pops out of the guy’s stomach, slimy teeth and all. I started thinking of it as the Alien Monster Baby.

Dr L came by later in the morning. Dr L is very serious and very matter of fact. I made it my personal mission to catch Dr L off guard, ask him random questions, and make him laugh whenever I could.  Since I had just posted the Safe and Sound video as my personal anthem, I asked him if he listened to music in the operating room. He said sometimes, depending on the type of surgery and the procedure. I asked him what kind of music they played. He kind of smirked and said the technician played Top 40. I really wanted to ask him what kind of music HE listened to, but thought it might be too much.

He tried to escape, but I wasn’t done. When getting my ultrasound at 5:00am, and calculating how little sleep I had gotten (again), I had thought of another random question that would be perfect for Dr L: If I got three hours of sleep last night, and the surgery lasted five hours, would that count as my eight hours of sleep for the day? He shuffled and looked away nervously, laughed and said, “No, those are two completely different kinds of sleep,” and left as quickly as he could get out of the room.

Dr L is my very own personal Christina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy.

I felt anxious but also relieved that the tumor would soon be removed. I was tired of being in pain and tired of having no appetite. More than anything though, I was ready for a shower. The nurse disconnected my IVs and covered both forearms in plastic, taping them shut so no water could get into the IVs. That shower was the highlight of my hospital stay.

Hospital gown

All taped up for my first shower.

After the shower the rest of the morning was spent relaxing with family before surgery, which was scheduled for 1:00pm. A doctor had come by earlier to initial the side of my abdomen where the affected ovary was located, and I was in good spirits.

I played Safe and Sound one last time before surgery. Another song played and we kept talking. The third song was Coldplay, Warning Sign. My son suddenly stood up and said, “Okay, I think I’ve had enough of the music.” I thought he just didn’t like Coldplay, but quickly realized he was crying. I looked over at Michael and his eyes were becoming red and he had a panicked look on his face. I diffused the situation as quickly as possible.

I texted my sister, who was in charge of offering comic relief while I was in surgery. My text said: Please hurry up and get here! The men are falling apart!!!

Hostpital bed

On the way to the pre-op room.

Eventually, my husband, my kids, my sister, and my friend Liz were all hustled upstairs to the pre-op room. Two anesthesiologists came in, then a third, to discuss the risks of anesthesiology and the decision not to have an epidural port put in because of the blood thinner, Lovenox, I was taking for the blood clots. I hadn’t been thrilled about the idea of having an epidural anyway, so I was relieved the option was off the table. Someone talked to me about donating part of my tumor for research, which I agreed to do if it could help someone else in the future, and I signed papers for that.

I told every doctor who came into the room not to give me any more IV’s unless I was asleep. I was pretty adamant about it. After having to have another IV put in for the CT scan, I was down on IV’s. I was tired of being hurt. I wanted to be sedated.

Laughing through surgery.

Lots of laughter before surgery.

It was like a party in the room. I had somehow morphed into a stand-up comedienne during my entire hospital stay, and I had no idea why. Maybe it was the pain meds, maybe it was nerves, or maybe just my way of coping, but my entire family and I were constantly cutting up and laughing. We were still going strong in the pre-op room, and I had to make everyone promise not to get us kicked out of the hospital while I was in surgery. I needed a room to come back to!

Dr K stopped by to initial my abdomen again (the previous doctor’s initials had come off in the shower) and to check in with me. When she left, I saw she had forgotten her marker on the table beside me. Oooohhh, very dangerous move on her part. The wheels started spinning and I asked the family what they thought about writing a little message or picture on my stomach for serious Dr L. Of course they jumped all over the idea and I quickly had to rein them back in from wanting to turn my abdomen into a graffiti filled billboard. I had my daughter draw a small smiley face and write “Hi Dr L!” underneath it.

Message for surgery

Our little surprise for Dr L.

I had visions of him being so shocked he passed out in the operating room, so when he checked on me just before surgery I fessed up and told him what we’d done. He was genuinely delighted and amazed that we thought he needed to “lighten up.” I finally asked him what kind of music he likes to listen to and he said we “might be surprised.” Thinking he was going to say he liked country music (no way), he admitted he likes to listen to 70’s classic pop, like Neil Diamond. Not quite the Yo Yo Ma that I suspected (though he said he had seen him play in concert before), but not so surprising. I would have loved it if he had said he liked to listen to country music.

I apologized to my family for anything I might say after the surgery, before the anesthesia wore off. From the moment I entered the hospital I seemed to have no filter. I knew it could get me in trouble if I was zonked out on anesthesia and pain meds.

Hair cap for surgery.

Things are getting real now.

My daughter’s flight from Portland was delayed 25 minutes, but as one o’clock came and went, and we learned that Dr K’s three small surgeries had taken longer than expected, we realized Dominique had a real shot at making it to the hospital before I went into surgery. Indeed, we got to spend almost an hour with her before they finally wheeled me out of the room around 4:30pm — three and a half hours after our planned time of 1:00pm.

Saying goodbye.

Liz and Dominique looking worried as I’m wheeled away to surgery.

Saying goodbye to my family and Liz was strange. Everyone looked so worried. I had to keep reassuring them that everything would be okay — and I really meant it. I wasn’t worried at all and knew that I would be fine. I remember someone telling me they were going to give me something to relax me, me saying “good, I need that,” and someone putting a cap on my head and trying to shove my hair underneath it.

The last thing I remember is asking the doctors if they could sedate my husband so he would stop taking so many photographs.

On the way to surgery.

On the way to surgery.

Waiting room worry.

Nicole and Nick worrying during surgery.

In the next instant, my eyes were closed and Dr L was telling me that everyone saw our little joke on my belly and thought it was hilarious. The clock above my head said it was 10:30pm. How could that be? I was conscious but I could not for the life of me open my eyes. It was too much effort. My entire upper and lower abdomen was one huge white bandage. I had new IV’s on both wrists and arms. I had a hard plastic thing inserted under the skin below my left breast.

I don’t remember how I got back to my room. I do remember Michael leaning into me right after surgery telling me that we will be staying in Dallas for a long time, that I will have to see Dr K every three months for the rest of my life. I reassured him not to worry about that now. I wondered why he thought that was so important. I didn’t care where I lived as long as I was alive.

I was in my room surrounded by my family. I told them just because my eyes were closed didn’t mean I couldn’t hear them. I was alive. I was so out of it.

We stayed up talking and had “Family Therapy.” Dominique said I looked like the Dalai Lama sitting up high on his throne, eyes closed, dispensing clairvoyant information. We talked and talked. I told everyone some changes we needed to make as a family. Some things seemed crystal clear, others completely unimportant.

I knew the anesthesia was going to make me act weird. If there were any vestiges of my verbal filter left before the surgery it had been nuked out of existence once and for all by the time I got back to my room. Nothing seemed more important to me at that moment that getting my life in order and setting some things straight.

It was hard to talk. My mouth felt like it was one big cotton ball. Michael and the kids had to keep swabbing my mouth and gums with these little sponges on sticks that the nurse gave us. This cottony dryness lasted for days after the surgery and was very unpleasant.

We talked. We laughed. We cried. My family is so patient with me. I am bossy and selfish and they waited it out with me.

Finally, at 3:30am, I couldn’t stay awake any longer. My sister and the kids drove home and Michael slept on a cot in the room. Apparently I moaned a lot in my sleep. I remember having nightmares in my sleep, dreams of lions eviscerating another animal as I watched.

And for the record, the alien monster baby was officially 13.8 cm long and weighed half a pound.  We might have photos of the little beauty, twisted and ruptured in all his glory–but I’m pretty sure you won’t want to see them.

To be continued . . .

Defeated By a Clear Liquid

6/5/13 Wednesday: A CHANGE OF PLANS

I woke up around 5:00AM and checked my email. I felt an instant wave of love and caring when I read all the messages from my friends and family. I am truly blessed to know so many good, kind, caring people.

Strangely, at that moment, going through this experience felt like an incredible gift I’d been given. It was an affirmation that people are good, life is good, and not to mess it up by being mean or cynical or hurtful. We’re all here to help one another. Anything less is unacceptable. Don’t waste time worrying about stupid stuff. And everyone has their own stupid stuff, so don’t worry about someone else’s stupid stuff either.

The doctor’s office called in the late morning to give me a few more instructions, to tell me my potassium was low and I needed to eat bananas, and that I was dehydrated and needed to drink Gatorade. I had been drinking water like a fiend and felt constantly thirsty, especially since the weekend, so the Gatorade was a nice change. Bananas, not so much. Nicole always eats bananas, so luckily there was one perfectly ripe one for me to eat before she got up. I felt bad about eating her breakfast, though.

At 11:30 Dr K personally called to tell me there was a change of plans. Based on yesterday’s lab work, my tumor marker test seemed to indicate higher numbers than last week. More worrisome was an elevated CEA (something to do with the colon). She had mentioned the possibility that this could actually be colon cancer that was manifesting in the ovary, so hearing this news was worrisome. Even worse, based on this new information, she wanted me to be admitted to the hospital that afternoon for a colonoscopy first thing the next morning, one day before the scheduled surgery. She had told me last week that she ordinarily would have had me do a colonoscopy before the surgery, but that we didn’t have enough time. She had decided that we needed to make time for one, and the only way to do this was to admit me to the hospital.

I don’t take unexpected changes well, and had a short freak out session about having to check myself into the hospital two days early. I calmed down, started packing, and the kids and I arrived around 2:15, with my sister, who just happened to pull up in front of the house as we were backing out of the driveway.

Checking myself into the hospital was a strange, surreal feeling, almost like checking myself into a health spa–but not really. An orderly came and I was taken by wheelchair to room 377, my home for the next seven and a half days. I settled in while friends sent texts, emails, and phone calls. Doctors came and went, and an IV was set up, with two attempts needed to make it happen (as usual).

IV machine

Me and Big Al, my companion for the week.

There was a new party in the house. Cindy, Nick, and Nicole kept things lively and fun. Liz and Allison came by, and Allison brought gifts: a big sippy cup and a plush, deep red blanket. She has been such a wonderful source of understanding and advice, having just had a double mastectomy herself. She chose her card very carefully because it highlighted the words courage, strength, and hope. She said I would need to remember those words and tell them to myself over and over. I put the card next to my bed on the table.

The kids decided to go out to dinner in the early evening. Taking our nurse’s advice, they went to The Mint in Highland Park, leaving me alone for the first time all day. I was glad for the quietness and the time to myself, but now that there were no distractions, I felt sorry for myself, too. Not much, but a little.

I was in the hospital, with an IV in my arm, and I was having a bowl of red jello for dinner.

The kids eventually returned and Michael was finally able to make it to the hospital after going home from work and feeding the dogs. More doctors and nurses came and went (the shift had changed), and just after 7PM they brought the colonoscopy liquid, GoLYTELY. Someone must have thought they were being really cute when they came up with that snappy brand name.

Holy moly. I had heard it was a lot, but it was 4 LITERS. In a jug! For me to drink 4 liters of anything, even water, would be a big deal. I had already been primed by lots of people, including the doctors, on how disgusting the solution is. I was pleasantly surprised. It really wasn’t that bad. A little salty, a little warm, but not half as bad as I expected. I had expected thick, chalky, and maybe brown. One doctor had even told me it smelled bad, but I didn’t smell a thing. It looked like water. I had the thought that it would probably taste better if it were chilled.

GoLYTELY

Why am I smiling? Because it’s still early in the evening and my stomach hasn’t turned on me yet.

I chugged. I took deep swallows by straw. I wanted to get this over with. When I asked the nurse what time I should have it finished by, she said midnight so I wouldn’t be on the toilet all night. I was shocked. Midnight! I planned on having that sucker finished off long before then, and peacefully sleeping shortly thereafter.

After drinking about five cups, my stomach decided to revolt. I started to gag. I almost threw up when I tried to swallow. I tried every mental trick I could think of. I told myself it was just water. I held my nose, didn’t take a breath, and sighed. And sighed again. Everyone tried cajoling me to drink, as if I were merely a petulant child who was too stubborn to drink any more. My stomach had had enough and was shutting down.

I put out an SOS on facebook and asked my friends for tricks on how to drink a jug full of this disgusting liquid. Several people suggested Crystal Light, but the hospital didn’t have any. The nurse suggested Sprite, but I always associate it with being a kid and my mom making us drink it when we had upset stomachs, which makes me feel instantly nauseous, so I refused the Sprite. Marilyn the nurse, who was so very patient with me, brought some apple juice to mix into the solution, but I still felt like hurling every time I took a drink.

By midnight I had reached my limit. I told Marilyn I couldn’t drink anymore, that it just wasn’t possible, and sent Michael and the kids home. Another nurse came in and told me they might be able to give me an enema or two in the morning to finish the job. All I wanted to do was try to get some sleep in between trips to the bathroom.

Ten minutes after Michael left Marilyn the nurse returned. She apologized and said that she had called Dr K who had told her I had to keep drinking. I wanted to burst into tears. I had sent everyone home and somehow had to do this on my own.

IV

If I close my eyes and pretend I’m asleep will the jug of GoLYTELY disappear?

The pity party began. I poured another cup and asked for a Sprite. I turned on the TV and tried to find something to take my mind off what I had to do. It was a very bad night for TV. Warlocks. Zombies. Infomercials. Political news.

I devised a system that enabled me to drink more liquid. I would take one tiny sip of Sprite, the biggest gulp of GoLYTELY I could handle, followed immediately by another sip of Sprite, all without taking a breath. By 3am I had only managed to drink two more cups of the stuff. I turned the TV back on and saw more shows about  warlocks and zombies. I found the hospital channel and a short informational show called How To Breastfeed. This will be great, I thought. I loved nursing my children. It will bring back good memories.

Within the first five minutes I was sobbing. Seeing all the babies smiling up adoringly at their mothers as they nursed certainly did bring back good memories. In fact, all I could think of was how I would give anything to go back in time to the first few days in the hospital after giving birth to my son and daughter. I cried remembering the love I felt holding my new babies, and how quickly time passed, and how could I now be in the hospital fighting cancer?

I felt utterly and totally sorry for myself.

By 5am I was exhausted and called it quits again, this time for real. Nurse Marilyn called Dr K again to tell her I was still struggling with the vile GoLYTELY, and she asked if I was at least trying to drink or just plain refusing to drink. I was proud that I wasn’t being so stubborn that anyone would think I was “refusing.” I just couldn’t muster another drink.

I had probably had a total of three more cups since midnight, amounting to just over half of the four liter jug. GoLYTELY had indeed done it’s job, but I had failed. Hopefully it would be enough to have the colonoscopy done later that morning. Nurse Marilyn was kind and patient with me, and remained positive and upbeat until her shift ended at 7am.

After pills, vitals, and blood work at 5am, I finally slept.

hospital

Ready to get the colonoscopy over with.

6/6/13 Thursday: MY FIRST COLONOSCOPY

I was nervous. Surgery to remove a tumor I could handle. It was the unexpectedness of having to come in early for a colonoscopy that threw me, coupled with the not-knowingness of doing something for the first time.

After getting a few hours of sleep, I woke up and felt very emotional. Michael had gone to work and the kids hadn’t arrived at the hospital yet. I was all alone. I sat in the recliner and looked out the window–which had the worst view in the world, nothing but a flat roof, windows across the way, and not one inch of sky to be seen. I started crying, feeling scared and overwhelmed, but when the nurses came in they thankfully ignored my red eyes and told me someone was coming down soon to get me for the colonoscopy.

I HATE crying in front of others.

At about 10:30am I was wheeled upstairs for the procedure. I was comforted to see there were a lot of other people there, in cubicles and in various stages of anesthesia. My nurse wrapped me in warm blankets, asked me questions, and flashed a pink sapphire ring very similar to my wedding ring. Since I hadn’t been able to wear mine all week, and having never seen one on anyone else, I immediately liked the nurse. I told her I was nervous and she treated me so kindly, telling me everything she was doing, and I soon felt at ease.

Eventually they wheeled me into a large room. There were strange machines I had never seen before. Oxygen was inserted into my nose, and I loved breathing in the clean, cool, fresh air. I had heard it was active sedation, but I remember nothing of what went on. The next thing I remember is trying to open my eyes and someone telling me everything looked great, that my colon was clear and they found nothing, no polyps. What a relief!

I was wheeled back to my room, and for the life of me I could not open my eyes. I was very groggy, and when the orderly stood me up and walked me to my bed I felt a sudden wave of nausea and started heaving. I was so embarrassed, and I HATE throwing up, but someone managed to grab a plastic tub and I kept the room vomit-free. In hindsight, I felt that perhaps they rushed getting me back to my room and standing up again. I’m sure they have their reasons (lots of patients waiting for colonoscopies, probably), but I decided I had to take it upon myself to let others know the next time I’m sedated that I need to be eased back into consciousness slowly. I’m sure being sedated on a completely empty stomach didn’t help either.

The rest of the day was mostly one visitor after another, and there was another CT scan scheduled for later in the afternoon. Since the scan in the ER had been done without contrast, Dr K wanted another one done so she could see the tumor more clearly before surgery.

ANOTHER CT SCAN AND A NEW CONCERN

CT scans are easy and actually kind of fun. I used to think the CT contrast was gross and too much to drink (35 oz), but after the attempted 4 liters of GoLYTELY the night before, I knew it would be a breeze. Also, one of Dr K’s  assistants admitted that all I really needed to drink was at least half of the solution and, armed with my new ammo, I made sure to tell the nurse how much I was planning on drinking–and not a drop more! They had also spiked it with Sprite, which helped.

The worst part was they needed to insert another IV. Apparently the one I already had wouldn’t accommodate the larger needle they would use for the CT scan. I was not happy about getting another IV. I made sure everyone knew it, too. (See, I’m not perfect, I can get very grumpy about some things.)

I made sure to flirt with the CT nurse, a big, burly Jersey Shore kind of guy who took my hand and thanked me afterwards for being such a great patient. After the scan (I was surprised that this scanner had an American female voice instead of Methodist Hospital’s British Accent Man) I was taken back to the room and looked forward to a quiet, relaxing evening with the family in preparation for tomorrow afternoon’s surgery. I like to ease into scary situations and get my bearings first.

UT Southwestern Medical Center

Yummy red jello for dinner.

But, it was not to be. Within an hour or so of the scan, during dinner, Dr Lin came to the room with “unfortunate” news. Two very small blood clots had been discovered in my lungs. He explained about deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms being deadly, and told us this would have an impact on surgery. Dr K came by shortly thereafter and told us that blot clots changed the game, that they were almost always a marker for malignancy when tumors were involved. I heard the words “cancer” and “malignancy” used several more times, and asked her point blank if she thought it was cancer. She said yes.

It was a sobering moment.

We had two options: either take blood thinners for two weeks and postpone the surgery, or insert a filter into a major artery from my neck which would act as a clot catcher to catch any other clots that might travel up from my legs and into my heart and lungs before and during surgery. The filter would be removed a month or so later. Dr K didn’t want to wait two weeks; she wanted to remove the tumor tomorrow, as scheduled. I agreed. I couldn’t imagine another two weeks of worrying, not eating, and being in pain from the massive tumor (which the new scan now showed as being 13.6 cm).

My nice quiet evening had suddenly morphed into something very scary and unexpected. And dinner was shot.

The filter insertion would take place within the hour. More doctors came to the room to discuss the procedure, consent forms were signed, and Michael and I thanked our lucky stars that we had gotten married in January and switched me over to his much better insurance.

Nurses

Sean and Jay

I was whisked to a new room, and this one looked like something straight out of the movie Alien. The machines were huge, it was freezing cold, and it felt like I was in the center of a huge spaceship. There were multiple large TV screens around me. The nurses, Jay and Sean, were hilarious. One told me I had saved him from a really bad movie (After Earth) and the other was buying sod at Home Depot when he was paged. They seemed genuinely thrilled that they had been called back to work. You could tell they LOVED their jobs, which was very comforting. As they were preparing me for active anesthesia (I would be awake the entire time), a beautiful nurse from Africa showed up. When one of the men mentioned something about me being a runner, she leaned over and said quietly in my ear, “I am from Kenya and I am going to beat you in your next race!”

Game on. Oxygen was inserted into my nostrils, only it wasn’t the clean, fresh-smelling kind from the colonoscopy. This oxygen almost burned my nostrils and I made sure I told them about it. They said maybe it was turned on too high and it did seem to help when they turned it down.

One of the men told me the huge machine I was under was actually an x-ray machine. I was asked to turn my head to the left and a large sheet of paper was placed on top of my head. I must have involuntarily flinched because Jay asked if I was claustrophobic, which I affirmed. He made sure there was an opening I could always see out of, and at times I would see a face peering in at me, asking if I was okay.

The procedure itself wasn’t painful, but it was certainly odd. I felt pressure on my neck at times, and was aware that they were guiding a tiny octopus-armed filter down my vein, but I never felt pain. It was more uncomfortable than anything else, and maybe that was because it involved metallic things being inserted into major arteries in my chest. When it was over, I asked how come they hadn’t sedated me like they said they would, and they said I had been sedated. I asked to see the filter on one of the screens, and indeed it looked like a little octopus somewhere inside a vein in my body.

Afterwards, it was back to the room to inspect my new, huge neck bandage and a walk down to the entrance of the hospital. I needed fresh air. As we passed the gift shop, I couldn’t help but notice a large sign on the door: THE GIFT SHOP WILL BE CLOSED ON SATURDAY FOR INVENTORY. I joked with Michael about how I was having surgery on Friday and how would anyone be able to buy me gifts the next day if the gift shop was closed? Unfair! And who does inventory on a Saturday, the busiest visitation day of the week??? As I told Michael, the first of many times, I need to tell someone about that!

I was powerless against cancer, but by God I could at least try to control everything else.

To be continued . . .

hospital bed

Exhausted but ready for some sleep before tomorrow’s surgery.