Tag Archive | hysterectomy

Why I Can’t Wait for My Colonoscopy

Photo Credit: abcnews.go.com

Photo Credit: abcnews.go.com

You’re probably wondering what’s wrong with me.  Why would anyone in their right mind look forward to a colonoscopy?

It’s simple.  I can’t wait for the “prep” to be over.  But it may not be for the reason you are thinking…

Of course the prep itself is rotten.  It has been three days since a morsel of food has crossed my lips.  And drinking this God-awful stuff that wrenches your insides and makes you feel as though you are tethered to toilet is no picnic.  And because Palliative Care (see Palliative Care at 30-Something: What Does it Mean? Part I and Part II) has me on around-the-clock opiates, I was required to do the “Extended Preparation” which includes “extra” days of not eating and of a clear liquid diet, a few different types of unpleasant liquid solutions that make you “go” with extreme urgency, pills that also make you “go,” and enemas.  Did I mention I’ve gone 3 days without eating any food and have been consuming only clear liquids?**  Can you tell this one is getting to me

Photo Credit:  pregnancy.lovetoknow.com

Photo Credit: pregnancy.lovetoknow.com

Right now I’m trying to drink the last 4 liters of yucky stuff from the pharmacy in the prescribed 3 hours, but I can’t keep it down.  I have been vomiting so much that I’m not sure there is anymore liquid to throw up — until I throw up again.  I stop drinking entirely this afternoon.  And then I have to give myself 2 enemas in the 2 hours before the procedure, holding the contents of the enema bottles “in” for 15 minutes per bottle before I can go to the bathroom.

If you’ve ever had a colonoscopy, you are probably nodding your head now.  You know how rotten the prequel to this procedure can be.  Or maybe you’ve blocked it out of your mind and forgotten?  If so, I’m sorry for reminding you.

I must admit that I had forgotten.  Tucked the memories of my last “clean out” neatly away in my brain.

Okay, really what happened was that they were replaced by much more traumatic scenes. The last time I did this it wasn’t for a colonoscopy — I honestly can’t recall my last one, let alone the prep.  I just remember waking up shocked that I was dressed and asking who had put my underwear back on.  The answer was “me,” but I was so out of it from the anesthesia that I had no recollection of the day’s events.  Sounds like spring break gone bad!

No the last “prep” of this kind that I am talking about was for my hysterectomy and salpingo-oopherectomy last year.

It’s no wonder the prep is not what I recall about the events leading up to this surgery.  I had complex pelvic masses.  One was so large that you could feel it when you touched my belly.

I needed to have my right ovary removed the day after Halloween two years ago thanks to the side effects of Tamoxifen* [see below].   The ovary was filled with a crap-ton (urbandictionary.com defines a crap-ton as “4 shit loads”) of septated cysts.

And here I was facing the prospect of losing my remaining ovary and my uterus.  At the age of 35.

A part of me wanted to be sure of what they were seeing before I went under the knife again.  This was the part that didn’t want to have to go through another major surgery and recovery.  And this was the part that was still holding on to the hope of giving birth to a little girl, the daughter I had dreamed of having from the time I was a little girl myself.  It was also the part that wanted to be absolutely sure of what they were seeing before I let them cut into me again.  And this was the part of me that was just tired of all of the cancer crap.

And then there was the part of me that wanted to shake some sense into the aforementioned part.  This was the part of me that, after each scan or exam, grew more and more fearful that what I might be dealing with was ovarian cancer [breast cancer increases this risk], or ovarian mets (metastasis) from the breast cancer to the ovaries.  I was also dealing with the concern that I could have a new primary cancer in my uterus.  I say a new primary rather than a metastasis in this case because Tamoxifen upped my risk of developing uterine cancer.  “Tamoxifen acts as an anti-estrogen in breast tissue, but it acts like an estrogen in the uterus. It can cause the uterine lining to grow, which increases the risk of endometrial cancer.” [Source: cancer.org]

In a short period of time I had multiple gyn exams, transvaginal and abdominal ultrasounds, an MRI, and a CAT scan.  Each of these tests confirmed the presence of these complex masses.  And they were growing.

At my last ultrasound appointment, the technician asked me to stay on the exam table while she went for the doctor.  When they came into the room together, my doctor told me that I needed to go to the hospital immediately, and she sent me to the emergency room.  I remember scrambling because it was a Tuesday afternoon and I didn’t know how long I would be in the hospital, but I knew it would be long enough that I would need to find somebody to pick my boys up from elementary school.

Another CAT scan was performed in the Emergency Room.  It didn’t look good.  The thought that these masses could be ovarian mets or ovarian cancer scared the hell out of me.  And there wasn’t really a decision to be made.

After meeting with the leading GYN oncologist in our area, my surgery was scheduled for the next week.

But a part of me wondered if there was any way out of this.

And then I began hemorrhaging just before my surgery.  There was so much blood.  I remember trying to get into the shower before an appointment.  It was just a few steps from where I disrobed to the shower, and just with those few steps, I managed to cover the floor with a large pool of blood.  I was as pale as a ghost.  And I felt like I was a stone’s throw from becoming one.

When I went in to see my regular gyn, she was clearly concerned that this was further evidence that I might have uterine cancer.  She did a biopsy that day and prescribed drugs that would help to lessen the bleeding until my surgery.  They didn’t really help, so I was almost “thankful” that my hysterectomy was just around the corner.

My gyn oncologist removed everything that was left of my female parts, with the exception of the one that starts with a “V,” but even “it” did not come out unscathed.   Since he took my cervix, the surgeon had to use the top of the vagina to create what’s known as a “vaginal cuff.”

Though I had signed all of the consents prior to my surgery, including the special one you have to sign when you are of childbearing age (indicating that you understand that you are undergoing surgical sterilization), I was still shocked to wake up to find that everything was gone.  Everything.

I spent 4 days in the hospital after the surgery.  It was a difficult 4 days, emotionally and physically.  I required blood.  I needed enemas and catheterization.

I could barely get out of the hospital bed, let alone make it down the hall — for days.  {The blood transfusions helped with this, thankfully.}

And I had a massive migraine.  As a chronic migraine sufferer, I am no stranger to headaches.  But this was worse than any headache I had ever experienced.  The consensus was that the cause was linked to the fact that my estrogen levels had soared in the year before my surgery, and then, suddenly, plummeted as a result of the surgery.  And nothing would alleviate the pain.  Not the morphine drip, not the oxicodone or the oxycontin, not the dilaudid.  Nothing.  I needed my hormones back.

A normally positive person who tries to see the good in everything, I lay in that bed, broken and empty, as I awaited the pathology report.  I felt as though I was a shadow of my pre-cancer self.  I pictured Hansel and Gretel walking on that path through they woods, leaving bits of bread behind so they could find their way back home.  I had been leaving bits and pieces of myself behind on the long and winding road since my diagnosis.  But I knew I would never find my way back home.

So doing this “colon prep” has been especially difficult.  Not just because it’s physically rough, but because it has made the memories of my hysterectomy flood back through gates I had sealed shut soon after the surgery.  As the old saying goes, “Denial (The Nile) ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

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There is more to this story.  But I will have to save the remainder until I am feeling better.  Thank you for reading…

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*Tamoxifen is an antagonist of the estrogen receptor in breast tissue via its activemetabolite, hydroxytamoxifen. In other tissues such as the endometrium, it behaves as anagonist, and thus may be characterized as a mixed agonist/antagonist. Tamoxifen is the usual endocrine (anti-estrogen) therapy for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in pre-menopausal women, and is also a standard in post-menopausal women althougharomatase inhibitors are also frequently used in that setting.[1]

Some breast cancer cells require estrogen to grow. Estrogen binds to and activates the estrogen receptor in these cells. Tamoxifen is metabolized into compounds that also bind to the estrogen receptor but do not activate it. Because of this competitive antagonism, tamoxifen acts like a key broken off in the lock that prevents any other key from being inserted, preventing estrogen from binding to its receptor.

[Thank you, Wikipedia, for this Tamoxifen info!]

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**In case you are interested, here’s the list of approved clear liquids:  water, Sprite, apple or white cranberry juice, clear or yellow Gatorade/Powerade, chicken broth (nothing in it — NO beef broth), black coffee/tea (no milk or cream), Jell-O (yellow, orange, green only), or popsicles (not red or purple).

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P.S.  As much as I’ve struggled with the prep, I know it’s worth it.  IWith symptoms like pain and rectal bleeding (and with my cancer history), I know it’s better to do this than risk the alternative.  Please don’t let my post deter you from having a colonoscopy.  The “extended prep” is usually not necessary, and the procedure and the prep are over before you know it (and I think my reaction to it is rare?).  They are also far easier than dealing with cancer would be.  So please follow the recommended screening guidelines and do this important test (generally beginning at age 50).  In some cases (like mine), a colonoscopy may be necessary before you turn 50 (or in between the recommended 10 year gap from screening to screening).  If you have a family history of colon cancer or if, like me, you are experiencing issues (i.e. rectal bleeding or a change in bowel habits), please consult your doctor to see if you are in need of a colonoscopy.

“Almost all colorectal cancers begin as a small polyp. If a polyp is found during colonoscopy, it will be removed and this prevents the polyp from every turning into cancer. But if you don’t have your colonoscopy in the first place, then you are throwing away the chance to detect polyps when they are easily treated.” [http://www.columbiasurgery.net/five-reasons-not-to-get-colonoscopy]

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Palliative Care at 30-Something : What Does it Mean? (Part II)

This is a long overdue post, so I will have to backdate it…  I’ve actually been back two times since!

Photo Credit: pcdsys.com

Photo Credit: pcdsys.com

See Part I here.

Part II:  [April 13, 2013]

First Visit:

So I had my first visit with Palliative Care a few days ago. This Palliative Care department has been touted as a great group. They are located in the Cancer Center at the largest and most lauded hospital in our region, so I had high hopes.  I was both nervous and excited about the appointment because I had also heard the director of the department speak at a breast cancer conference a year or so ago.  It was a refreshing talk and I figured that if everyone shared his attitude, this was going to be an informative appointment at the very least.  And, at most, it could change my life in some way.

It got off to a slow start.  The specialist took a good look at my medical record — every last bit of it is available through the hospital’s online database.  Then he asked a series of questions to ascertain what my life quality is like these days.  We discussed the ‘why’ behind my oncologist’s referral.  He did a physical exam and then talked with me about a treatment plan.

Before you read on, I will let you in a little secret.  I used to be what my past doctors referred to as “medication non-compliant.”  I did not (do not) like to take drugs — especially painkillers — unless I REALLY needed to.  And I would just go off pills just because I didn’t want to take them anymore [despite those yellow and black warning labels that said scary things like, “Do not discontinue abruptly,” or “Do not skip a dose of this medication.  Serious complications could occur.”]  I may have pretended to be a good patient, but I was not.

This newsflash may be a little/lot surprising when you look at the list of medications I am currently — and dutifully — taking.  Since the two hospitals and the independent cancer center I go to all share the same electronic charting database (e-Record), a complete list of all of my meds is available in my virtual chart.  And every time I sit down with any of my doctors, that list of meds is reviewed and I am asked if I am taking everything as prescribed and a box is ticked to indicate my answer for each. There is nowhere to hide.  And they print this list for me every time I walk out the door, so it’s easy for me to just whip it out to count the number of prescriptions I’m on.

The back corner of my kitchen counter...

The back corner of my kitchen counter…

21.  I just counted 21 different prescriptions.  That is a lot of pill bottles for someone who doesn’t like to take drugs. And a lot of pill bottles to open a few times per day. But life has changed in every way in the past three years.  Taking pills I don’t want to take is just par for the course. But I still haven’t given in to the painkillers entirely.  I say that I take them as prescribed.  But I don’t.  And I’m sure my oncologist has figured that out.  If I took the percocet as prescribed, the 180 pills she writes for each month would only be enough to get me through 2 weeks.  But somehow I always manage to stretch them all the way to our next visit… I’m sure she’s noticed that.

So when I decided that I would be completely honest and tell these doctors what I actually take, I figured it would be a painful appointment. But it wasn’t. Dr. H thought that continuing with the Percocet (Oxycodone) I finally surrendered to taking two summers ago was a good plan.  But he said that it would be important for me to begin taking the dose actually prescribed. He also said that rather than waiting until the last possible moment to take a dose, I should be on a regular schedule of every 4-6 hours.  The premise is that keeping your pain under control is a much healthier way to live than chasing the pain and poorly managing it.  It is apparently much easier to keep pain under control than it is to get it under control. But I knew all this from the countless times it had been explained to me in appointments, after surgeries, in the hospitals, etc.  This was just the first time I was really prepared to listen.

Dr. H also asked that we increase my Neurontin (Gabapentin) prescription from 300 mg to 600 mg per dose. 3 times per day and at bedtime.  This would help with my nerve pain and issues (left over from Taxol chemotherapy and a left-sided radical mastectomy — I did have both breasts removed, but the mastectomy on the right side was far less invasive).  It might also help with the hot flashes and energy-sucking night sweats I have been experiencing since an emergency hysterectomy / salpingo-oopherectomy last year at the age of 35. Dr. H said that we would do this for a few weeks until I had adjusted and then we could increase.  He also said that when I returned, we would discuss the addition of methadone or morphine to the schedule.

Whoa.  What was that?  Methadone or morphine?  Really?  From what I’ve heard of this group, it’s difficult to get drugs out of them, so I have to say that hearing this was a bit of a shocker.  Dr. H stepped out to get the Director of the group.  I figured Dr. Q would set the record straight and take the morphine and methadone off the table.  I mean, I am 30-something years old, I shouldn’t be preparing for a life on these drugs, right?

Photo Credit: Stinkin-Thinkin.com

Photo Credit: Stinkin-Thinkin.com

Then my doctor’s boss came in, reviewed my chart, and gave his take on what the treatment plan would be.  It matched up identically.  Even the morphine/methadone part.  They seem to feel it is time for this and that there is no point in suffering needlessly anymore.  That was a sobering thing to hear.  I will have to do some research for next time because all I know of methadone has to do with recovering heroin addicts lining up to get their methadone so they can cope with the drug withdrawal. I’m hoping they have something a little different in mind for me?!

In the meantime, I am going to work on getting on the prescribed schedule and on being a decent patient!  Something tells me that I may have to add a column with my name to the sticker chart I keep to help the boys behave.  Maybe if I take all my meds as prescribed I can get a Hot Wheels car, too!

Happy Valentine’s Day

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com valentine's day breast cancer thirties 30's 30s young

I thought I would take a minute to wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day.

I was unable to eat and drink today because of a test I needed to fast for.  So when H and my sons came to pick me up from the hospital at 4 this afternoon (and I was cleared to eat & drink again), I was both hungry and thrilled.

I had big plans for the evening with my two Valentines (my twin sons).  But I was too tired to follow through.  I could barely keep my head up at the dinner table.  It wasn’t long before I needed to retreat to the coziness of the couch and my thick blanket and loyal dogs.

I thought my boys would be disappointed — they usually are when I need to lie down.  But they amazed me by understanding my exhaustion.  They thanked me for making their special Valentine cards (I stayed up all night last night crafting Valentines for them and for their teachers) and for the little gifts I made for them.

And then they brought me the gift they made for me.  They found an unused box and filled it with 2 new rolls of Scotch tape, a giraffe-shaped soap dispenser, and some special things from around the house (seashells, bits of coral, a photo of a sea turtle).  They then decorated sheets of copier paper and wrote “To Mom” and “Love, Us” on them.  They wrapped the box in their creations and topped it with an old Christmas bow.

They were grinning from ear to ear when they presented me with their box.  They were taking a rare reprieve from bickering with one another, so I knew this was important!

Struggling to keep my eyes open, and soaking wet and shivering from alternating hot flashes and night sweats that are really day sweats (thank you, radical hysterectomy and Tamoxifen!), I thought I was letting my kids down.  But when they presented me with that special box, I knew I was wrong.  They were happy to have me as their valentine, whatever my condition.  And I realized how lucky I was.

Their squabbling soon resumed and we had to get the homework show on the road, but I still felt like a lucky girl.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30's 30s young twins valentine's day flowers

Tonight I realized that I have two very special valentines.

I hope that you, too, have a special person/child/dog/cat/friend/goldfish in your life.  Good night & warmest wishes, dear readers…

The Daily Post: Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise

surprise the daily post weekly photo challenge cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer feeding the stingrays philadelphia camden, nj Adventure Aquarium thirties 30s mom motherhood family sting ray tank touch wading

It was April 12, 2012.  It was the anniversary of terrible surprises.

I won’t name them all.  Just a few.

It was the anniversary of the day I was certain that my unborn babies and I would die in the hospital.  It was the day after Easter.  I had been hospitalized with preeclampsia since the week before when I had gone to my check-up and was told that I needed an emergency induction.  I was sent next door to the “best” hospital in our region.  The hospital with the Level III NICU.  The hospital that people traveled across counties and hundreds of miles for.  I had been in active, induced labor for 4 days by April 12, 2004.  By then, the preeclampsia had become severe.  I was so sick.  I was shaking.  I was bleeding (from a yet-to-be diagnosed placental abruption).  I was being pumped with high doses of pitocin to keep me in active labor — and competing doses of magnesium sulfate because my blood pressures were so dangerously high.  And I had gained an inconceivable almost 100 lbs in edema weight since my admission into the hospital.  My organs were shutting down.  I was hearing Christmas music when there was no sound.  I was dying.  And my babies were, too.

Fast forward to April 12, 2005.  One year later.  Two days before my babies’ 1st birthdays.  The day the woman who was like a second mother to me took her life… a woman who also had breast cancer young (but for her, her diagnosis came in her 40’s)… a woman who was also the mother of one of my two very best childhood friends.  I had known her for what felt like my whole life.  I had lived with her during a rough patch in my life.  And now she lived around the corner from me in a house matching mine.  And she had reached out to me and asked me to spend more time with her…but I was so wrapped up in my own traumas and exhaustion that I didn’t see her as much as I should have.  I thought there would be more time.  And then the call came on April 12 that I was too late.  We all were.

And fast forward ahead again to April 12, 2010.  This was the day before I learned for sure that I had breast cancer.  Nuff said.

But…

I had to put these difficult/horrible memories the back burner because April 12, 2012 was 2 days before my twin sons’ birthdays.  It was also their Spring Recess from elementary school.  So we wanted to do something special and make some happy memories for their birthdays.

We packed up the car the day before and set our sights on Philadelphia.  I never been there, but we had free passes for the nearby Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ.  Since it was “only” about an 8 hour drive and we had heard the aquarium was something special, we couldn’t pass the opportunity up.

April 12, 2012.  After a struggle with traffic and an almost unsuccessful quest to find cheap parking, we arrived at the aquarium much later than I had planned.

And I was already exhausted.  You see, only a couple of weeks before I was lying in an operating room while my gynecologic oncologist was performing a radical hysterectomy and oopherectomy on me.  I was 35 and wanted another baby.  But what all of the breast cancer crap would have made unwise and extremely difficult, large masses that we were all certain would come back as ovarian and pelvic metastasis, made perfectly impossible.

surprise the daily post weekly photo challenge cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer feeding the stingrays philadelphia camden, nj Adventure Aquarium thirties 30s mom motherhood family sting ray tank touch wadingDespite this, I entered the crowded aquarium in a wheelchair and with a twinkle in my eye.  I was planning to enjoy the day with my boys.

It was when I was handed a map at the admission desk that I first saw it.  There was something special going on today.  At precisely something-o’clock (I don’t remember when the something was!), a few lucky aquarium goers would be selected from the crowd for a special stingray encounter.  Now this wasn’t your average aquarium encounter.  This was an opportunity to wade into the large stingray pool to hand-feed the rays!

I was determined to be one of the lucky few.

But there were a few major issues with my plan.

  1. My plan wasn’t a plan.
  2. I generally don’t win things.
  3. The place was packed.  And I mean packed.  Everyone with kids on Spring Break clearly had the same idea as we did.  It seemed like the whole east coast was in the aquarium.  There was no way I would be able to get anywhere near the stingray tank, let alone in it.

Nevertheless, I told my husband and my boys that I would be in that tank that afternoon.  My husband told me to give it up.  There was no way.  So we visited the other exhibits and made our way through the aquarium.  We were looking at the hippos in a giant tank filled with hippos, fish and hippo poo when I said, “Oh no, it’s 5 minutes til something-o’clock!”

Unable to run because of the surgery and my post-chemo fatigue, I asked my husband to push me over to the exhibit, an exhibit located almost all the way over on the opposite side of the aquarium.  He told me that it was impossible to get there in 5 minutes and that even if I did, I would never get near the tank and I would certainly never be chosen.

No matter.  I called in all of my favors and groveled, something I never ever never do with him.  I was determined.  So we weaved in and out of the crowds and crowds of people and finally made our way around after what felt like an eternity.  When we arrived near the entrance of the giant stingray room and pool, I emerged from the wheelchair and we left it outside.  I walked into a densely packed room filled with children and adults alike.  It was chaos.

And we were late.  They were asking the audience 4 questions.  4 people who were given the opportunity to answer the questions and who answered correctly would be invited into the tank.   The selection process had already begun.  I had already missed question 1.

Question 2 came and at least 50 hands shot up in a crowd of many more than that.  The tank-keeper wouldn’t even see me.  She selected a child in front and, with the assistance of her dad, the girl gave the correct answer.  Question 2 came.  50 or 60 more hands.  She chose a teenager in front who also answered correctly.

The final question came.  “What kind of seastar is this?”  I knew the answer.  My hand shot up with about 1,000 others.  She asked a child.  Wrong answer.  She asked an adult.  Wrong answer.  I was so buried in the crowd that she would never see me.

But then she pointed in my direction.  “The young lady with the longish red-brown hair.”

“Oh, that’s not me,” I thought.  “I have ugly short not red-brown ‘I’ve had lots of chemo’ hair.”

But then I remembered that I was wearing my lovely wig.  It was me.  She was asking me.  “A chocolate chip seastar,” I shouted!

It was the right answer and I was invited to come out of the crowd to get ready for my encounter.

It was incredible.  I changed out of my winter boots and into the crocs they offered me and we walked up the ramp to be debriefed.  We would be given dead fish parts to hold between our fingers and the rays would glide across our hands and take the carcasses into their mouths.

I could barely contain my excitement.  I had never done anything like this before.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com thirties 30s stingrays sting ray weekly photo challenge surprise hysterectomy twins aquarium camden, nj philadelphia mom motherhood infertilitySo I waded into the tank and began feeding these beautiful creatures.  It was an incredible experience.  And I made a new friend, a giant ray who seemed to want to climb into my lap like one of my dogs.  He didn’t take the food from me, but let me pet him as he slid up my shins and splashed me.

When it was over and we were washing our feet off and changing our shoes in the little prep room, I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of the experience that I felt the need to say something to the tank’s keeper.

I told her that I was surprised to have been chosen.  Shocked, actually.  I told her that this was such a special experience for me because for the past 2 years I had been battling breast cancer.  She told me that I was so young and she gave me a hug.  She said that she was a 10 year breast cancer survivor.  She said that though they caught hers early, she still looks over her shoulder, wondering if it will return.  But she said that it also makes her grateful for every day that she is here.

I thanked her with tears in my eyes and we parted.  She felt good about her choice.  And I felt grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity to wade with the stingrays.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s weekly photo challenge surprise motherhood mom young

Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise

If you would like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-surprise/

$50 Straws AND How Cancer Changes Everything

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer mastectomy  hospital port

A different day. A different place. In a less hospitally-looking reclining chair at the Cancer Center.

This will probably seem like an odd post, but I’m going to present a snippet of my afternoon from two different perspectives for no other reason than “just because.”  Thanks for indulging me.

Scenario 1:

Across the room, a girl sits in a recliner with a small table beside her.  She is sipping a large cup of tea.  The tea bag tag dangles gently over the edge of her cup. The girl stares off into the distance and a smile crosses her lips.  What is she thinking about?  Perhaps she is remembering a lover from her college days?  Maybe she is picturing a basket of puppies?

Wait… judging from a frame most would describe as thin and a belly that is unmistakably large and rounded, it’s clear that she must be pregnant — she must be thinking of the baby growing in her womb.  Yes.

Her eyes light up as she thinks of the “baby duckling yellow” paint color she and her husband chose for the baby’s room this morning.  “It’s not too masculine, not too feminine, and it will be easy to paint over if we decide to change it when the baby gets a bit older.”  She bites her lip as she wonders how she is going to wait for the next three months to meet her new baby.  She has slipped her calendar out of her purse and is making a list of baby names now.  It’s the same list she and her husband have been coming up with every night before bed.  But she thinks she might have a revelation and “the one” might pop into her head today.

She continues her list.

She is mostly alone as she relaxes in the large open room filled with beds and curtains and chairs just like hers.  Mostly.  She has a number of visitors over the course of the next hour.  Each one stops by to chat briefly with her.  She laughs and talks with them individually.  And then her visitors move on, one by one.

She continues to sip on her unusually large cup of hot tea. Her final visitor is dressed in white and bears the name of her grandmother.  Her hands are full, but with what?  It’s hard to say.  The visitor dressed in white sits across from the girl and then leans toward her for an unusually long time.  She holds what looks like a long, shiny pin or needle in her hand.  Odd.  But when she stands up to walk away, her hands are empty and she and the girl are both smiling.  She now has something pinned to her chest — a flower perhaps?

Just as her name is called she looks at her list.  She is clearly pleased with her accomplishment and is excited to share this new name with her husband.  It was her grandmother’s name.

She slides gracefully out of the chair (well, as gracefully as a pregnant woman can) to meet the woman who beckoned her.  They walk happily down the hall together and slip into a room nearby.  The door closes behind them.

When they emerge, they are smiling and walking again.  The girl is stroking her belly, as if to comfort the baby inside.  She returns to her chair as the lady in white brings her a cocktail with one of those cute little paper umbrellas poking out from the rim of the glass. She relaxes for a bit longer before rising from her comfy chair, bidding adieu to her friends and walking out to greet her waiting husband.

————————————————

cancer in my thirties cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer 30s cartoon

Cartoon Credit: chibird.tumblr.com

Scenario 2:

I am sitting in a large, sterile room.  Across the way, I see a girl…or a woman, really.  She looks biologically young, but I can tell she has been weathered by experience.  Something tells me that she probably still thinks of herself as a girl in the quiet morning hours when everyone else is asleep.  So I will indulge her and call her “a girl.”  It’s the least I can do.

The woman, uh, girl, is sitting in a reclining hospital chair.  Beside her is a small table where alcohol swabs and some medical paraphernalia sit. She holds a large, lidded Styrofoam cup, the largest one I have ever seen, in her hands.  Dangling on the side of the cup I see a tea bag tag.  She looks at the bit of wisdom the tag has to dispense, rolls her eyes, and takes a sip from her straw.  Odd that she is drinking hot tea through a straw.  Maybe she’s one of those women who don’t want to stain their teeth so they drink their tea and coffee through straws?

Just then a nurse walks over to her and asks her to sign a form stating that she understands the risk of drinking this tea.  WTF?

Well, it’s not your average tea.  It’s tea that has been infused with a radiocontrast agent.  Is it radioactive tea?

The girl stares off into the distance and a smile crosses her lips.  She is thinking of a sandy beach in a warm place far away.  “If this is more cancer,” she thinks, “I am moving to that beach.”

She puts her hand on her protruding belly and secretly hopes one of the nurses will ask her if she is pregnant when she signs the next consent form.  It’s an odd thing to hope for, almost masochistic, really.  She pictures what she would say in response to the question.  “Of course I’m not pregnant.  I’ve been gutted.  Every part that makes me a woman (except the “V” one) has been stolen from me.  I am empty inside.  Dead inside.  And, oh, this?  It’s edema.  My belly is swollen with fluid.  No baby.  I’m here to see if it’s cancer in here, not a baby.  My fate was sealed at 33 when those lumps in my breast were written off as nothing.”

Of course no one asks her if she is pregnant.  They all know the answer.  They all know why she is here.

And she wouldn’t have the guts to say what’s on her mind, anyway.  She wouldn’t want to hurt or bewilder anyone.  She wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s day.  So she thinks about what she would really say.  “Nope, just fluid.”

She snaps out of her daydream when a second nurse asks to see the port in her chest.  They’ll need it later.

She slips her calendar out of her purse and tries to recall the appointments she has scheduled for next week.  Her fuzzy chemobrain has made it impossible for her to remember much these days.  She soon finds herself drawing seagulls and starfish in the margins.  “Oh, to have my toes in the sand right now and to be anywhere other than here,” she dreams.

She shifts gears and makes a list of everything she needs to do when she leaves.  Her 3rd graders — twin boys — will be waiting for her.  It will be dinnertime.

She is mostly alone as she sits in the large open hospital room filled with curtains on tracks and not rods, hospital beds and hospital reclining chairs just like hers.  Mostly alone.  A number of nurses stop over to check on her progress with “the drink” or to ask her to sign a form.  She smiles and makes small talk with each of them.  And then her visitors move on, one by one.  She continues to sip on her unusually large cup of hot tea.  Through a straw.   That’s probably so she doesn’t spill the giant cup of lukewarm possibly radioactive tea on herself.

Her final visitor is dressed in white and bears the name of her long deceased grandmother.  Nancy.  Her Nanna was one of her most favorite people in the world.  She watched her die a painful death from cancer when she was 8 through 9 years old. “My kids are 8, too,” she thinks.

The nurse sets up a tray with everything she needs to access the girl’s port.

She holds a long shiny needle and asks if the girl likes to hold her breath or if she applied the EMLA cream in advance to make it hurt less.

The girl laughs, “No, no need.  Just go ahead.”  She has been poked and cut so many times it’s not even funny.

The needle punctures her upper right chest skin and enters her port.  Now they will be able to push the intravenous radiocontrast agent through her chest.

The nurse dresses her port with a tegaderm and gauze.  With the little yellow butterfly clip sticking against the transparent tegaderm, it almost looks as though the girl has a flower pinned to her chest.  An ugly flower, but a flower nonetheless.

Just as her name is called, she looks at her list.  She is already tired, but smiles at the thought of being able to sit down with her kids when she is done.

She drags her body from the chair to meet the woman who beckoned her.  They walk quietly down the hall together and slip into a room nearby.  The door closes behind them.

When they emerge, they are smiling faint smiles and walking again.  The girl is doing that thing she does — looking dizzy and as though she is going to hit the deck.  She strokes her sore belly.  The nurse asks her to lie down until she feels better and says that people who receive the contrast through their ports need to wait 10 minutes for observation before they can leave anyway.  The nurse brings the girl a drink.  This time it’s plain cola.  Nothing added.  The nurse puts a bendy straw in the Coke.  The straw wrapper bears the name of a famous medical supplier.  “Yikes, a straw from a medical company!  It probably cost $50,” she thinks.

When her 10 minutes is up, she is so ready to leave that she walks out in her disposable drawstring hospital pants and stuffs her slacks in her bag.  It’s time to go home.

———————————–

So I was sitting in one of those recliner-type hospital chairs drinking oral contrast in preparation for my CT scan when I started thinking about perspective.  Of course the “girl” above is me…

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Oh No, I’ve Been Robbed! Did Cancer Steal My Compassion?

cancer in my thirties young 30s hospital

Cartoon by Robert and Donna Trussel http://donnatrussell.com/cancer-cartoons/

So I spent Thursday night through Friday morning in the E.R. with one of my sons.  I was reluctant to go in, but his 106.2 degree fever and listlessness made it necessary.  Though no one likes the emergency room, I have a developed a particular and overwhelming distaste for the whole hospital scene.  And, sadly, this hospital overnight prompted me to realize how “jaded” I’ve become when it comes to the severity of symptoms and illnesses in general.  Call it another side effect of being a cancer patient.

What I am afraid to admit out loud — and even really hesitant to share in this, my somewhat anonymous blog, is that I am beginning to wonder if cancer is interfering with my ability to be the kind of parent and person I want to be (and the kind of parent/person I used to be).

While procedures and blood draws and surgeries and medications and side effects and…(well, you get the picture) have become the norm for me, they are not the norm for everyone.  And, fortunately, they are not the norm for my children.  But I sometimes lose sight of the fact that everyone hasn’t spent what amounts to months (when you add up all of my time as an inpatient and outpatient since my cancer diagnosis in April 2010) in hospitals and cancer centers for surgeries, life-threatening infections, chemo, radiation, appointments, monoclonal antibody infusions, port blood draws, tests and procedures.  Or that not everyone is waiting to find out if that lesion in their brain is malignant or if their liver function and lab values are so poor because the cancer may have metastasized to a vital organ.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s funny medical cartoons I see my new perspective reflected in my everyday life.  Someone will tell me about a symptom they’re experiencing or about their cold or papercut and I try to be supportive and kind.  In my mind, though, I sometimes find myself wandering off to thoughts of how upsetting it might be for them if they had to have their breasts cut off and their lymph nodes dug out, if they faced each day with a constant headache, if they had to manage life with lymphedema, or if they lived their lives with unrelenting neuropathy (a leftover gem from the chemo) that gets so bad that it interferes with their ability to concentrate/type/hold a glass.

Or when I hear a pregnant woman my age talking about heartburn or swollen ankles and I am consoling on the outside, but inside I am thinking about how the large masses in my pelvis and ovaries prompted two painful surgeries and the loss of what remained of all but one of my female parts (in case you are wondering, it rhymes with bagina).  And then I drift off to a mental picture of the baby girl I will never get to hold in my arms because:

a.) You need a uterus to have a baby — and ovaries and Fallopian tubes and a cervix lend something to the process, too.  But all of these things filled my gynecologic oncologist’s specimen jars and were sent off to a lab and probably a garbage bin somewhere.

b.) Who would allow someone with my medical history to adopt a baby?  As much as I would love to be here to raise a new little baby, let’s face it, I am clearly a flight risk.

I thought of a “c”.

c.)  I know surrogacy has gained popularity.  But that’s not even an option for me because my eggs were stolen.  Okay, they weren’t stolen.  But it feels like they were.

And I have that heartburn and those swollen ankles (and legs), too.  Two years of chemo and Herceptin messed up my kidneys and made edema a big problem for me.  And I have my dusty bottle of Nexium for my acid reflux disease, but I stopped taking it because I take so many pills that I’d rather look at those pretty purple capsules than ingest them.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s funny medical cartoons

Cartoon Credit: Robert & Donna Trussel
http://donnatrussell.com/cancer-cartoons/

The bottom line is, even though I want to feel sorry for you because you have a cold, inside I am dreaming of what it would be like if a runny nose and congestion were my biggest medical problems.  Not so deep down I am wishing I could just take some NyQuil, hop into bed, and wake up the next day and be all better.

This is NOT me.  This is NOT who I am.  I am was a kind and thoughtful person before cancer left my spirit beaten and bruised.  Even if I felt like I like was dying, I would put your illness ahead of mine.  I would comfort and take care of you.  I would ask what I could do to be there for YOU.  Even if I had just had surgery myself, I would gladly and altruistically chop vegetables and brown chicken for your homemade chicken soup.  And I would do it without a second thought.

Though my ovaries weren’t technically stolen, I feel like the deeply compassionate person I used to be was.

While this isn’t great news for most of the people in my life, it is worse news for my twin 3rd graders.  I fear that there will come a time when I devalue their medical experiences, their illnesses, their scrapes and bruises, their throat cultures and their trips to the doctor for a flu shot or a blood draw, or the sessions with the nebulizer to that help with their asthma.  And that’s just not good.

cancerinmythirties@yahoo.com breast cancer thirties 30s mom hugging roo baby hysterectomy death dyingSo I am trying my best to undo some of what the cancer has done.  I am making a conscious effort to put the severity of some of my experiences aside to look at things as they are for other people and to avoid comparisons.  I am trying to give my boys the special hugs they need for their scraped knees and to talk them through their fears of having blood drawn or shots given.  And, as was the case this week, I am putting my own exhaustion and pain and sickness aside (as much as I can, anyway) to care for these boys who need me.  Case in point — even though my brain shouted, “Don’t do it!” because I am leukopenic and neutropenic, I climbed into my son’s hospital bed to cuddle with him because he was worried about what was going to happen to him… While I can’t guarantee that it always will, my heart won this time.

I am really trying to do what counts for my kids.  But I may still look at you with envy when you tell me you have a cold.

*Special thanks to Donna & Robert Trussell for allowing me to use their fantastic cartoons*

How the Hell Did I Get Here?

breast cancer is not my friend

I just learned that a friend of mine is expecting.  She is a wonderful person and such a good mom.  And I am so happy that things are falling into place for her and that she is going to welcome a new baby into her family…

So why am I so sad?

Other friends have been pregnant since the chemo made pregnancy questionable… and since a radical hysterectomy and oopherectomy made it impossible.  I see pregnant people and babies all the time.  My oncologist is even on leave to have her baby right now.  These things have made me a little sad… but just a little.

So why is this news bringing this non-crier to the verge of tears?

It’s as if it has finally just sunk in that this part of my life is over.  I will never have another pregnancy.  I will never have a “normal” pregnancy (my twin pregnancy was far from normal and my others ended in miscarriage)…  I will never have the little girl I waited my whole life for…  This is real and there is nothing I can do to change it…  Sure, I could adopt — if anyone would be willing to adopt to someone with my medical history.  Not likely!  Cancer has taken one more hugely important thing from me… and it hurts… it hurts almost as much as the surgeries did…

There are times when I can’t believe this is my life, when I feel that I’m SO far from where I expected to be…  There are times in the haziness of the night when I think “this” is a dream and that I will wake up to my “real” life in the morning.

Too Young for Breast Cancer -- Can't Have a Baby

Maybe that’s just the chemo-brain or the Percocet or the brain lesion talking?

Or maybe this is just how I cope with loss?

I know where I have been…  

I know where I am…  

But for the first time in my life, I don’t have an  f-ing  clue as to where I am going…

I HATE CANCER…

Holding my sweet little nephew… October 2010