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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.