Archive | May, 2011

Pipe dreams

31 May

Well as Jane reported, everything went well with the surgery and I left the hospital yesterday afternoon, exactly 72 hours after the procedure. I began eating solid foods the morning following the surgery and the doctors predicted I should start passing gas later that afternoon, and should have my first bowel movement the next day.  I was right on schedule with everything and have never been so excited to use the restroom and test out my newly restored plumbing.  I have several friends who are in the process of potty-training their children, and I felt just as elated as they are when praising their child’s first excrement…maybe even more so!

Getting rid of my bag has been the greatest feeling in the world, however there have been several times where I’ve experienced ‘phantom leaks’ – the sensation of my bag leaking, even though it’s not there any more.  The area on my stomach where my stoma was protruding is now a hole about the size of a dime.  Before going into surgery, the doctors gave me the option of having the hole closed completely, which would heal relatively quickly but leave a significant scar. Or, they could leave a small opening when closing the wound in order to let it heal on its own from the inside out, resulting in a longer healing time but less scar tissue.  I opted for the latter.  The resulting wound actually looks like a bullet hole.  I joked with my nurses as they were changing the bandages, “you should have seen the other guy!

Today was my first full day home, and I slept most of the day.  After my horrible experience coming off pain killers following my previous surgery, I vowed I would never go through something like that again. I’m hardly on any pain meds at all; I would prefer some minor pain and cramping any day over the grueling detox process of the pain killers.

While everything has gone well so far, I know I still have a ways to go before my bodily functions can even remotely be described as normal, and all the wounds heal.  Thanks to everyone sending their love, prayers and support these past few days, as well as to all the visitors I had.  While in the hospital, the doctors encouraged as much walking and activity as possible.  During one of my many strolls through the corridors, I found myself hoping that the next time I’m a patient in the hospital is when I’m ready to deliver a child…not a moment before then.  And a new goal is set.

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No More Sack Attacks

27 May

I’m glad to be designated to blog duty to report some much-anticipated news…the surgery went off without a hitch! I was at work all day, so much of what you’re reading is what has been relayed to me.

The surgery in it’s entirety was about an hour and a half long procedure and included a little more than reversing the ileostomy.  Dr. Browder, Em’s surgeon, was prepared to essentially blast or cauterize any cancerous lesions she could see on the liver.  Fortunately, she didn’t have to put her light saber (or whatever it is they use) to use because she couldn’t see any lesions to attack!  Given the position of the liver and surrounding organs, however, she was only able to see about 50% of it.  If there are any lesions on the top and/or back side of the liver, they wouldn’t have been able to be burned during this surgery simply because they are inaccessible from the location Dr. Browder was working on.  We’ll talk about that another time.

Once Em came out of surgery Nick met her in the post-surgery recovery area while they waited for a room to be assigned.  In true Emily fashion, her first words to Nick were (while still being groggy from the anesthesia), “So how are my double-D’s?”

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I got here shortly after 6:00 and the nurse was trying to control Em’s pain and administer correct doses of pain killers.  She’s comfortable now, and was slightly drowsy…until her red Popsicle arrived.  Last fall, she was on a strict diet of water, ice and Popsicles for quite awhile, but this time around that diet will only last for the duration of the day.

Nick and I grabbed a bite to eat at a little Louisiana kitchen down the street called Lola’s while Em snoozed for a while.  The place was quaint and felt like we were in New Orleans…even though neither of us have ever been there to compare it with.  Anyway, there was a live band playing some classic Southern music and a little Stevie Wonder (one of my personal faves) and the music, as good as it was, was so loud that we couldn’t hear each other talk.  I said to myself, “For once!  There’s something that keeps my brother-in-law’s mouth shut!”, because if you know Nick, you know how much he likes to talk.  He knows I’m teasing, and he knows how grateful we all are that he’s taking such good care of Em and is there at her every beck and call.

Anyway, after 174 days of carrying an unpleasant accessory/annoying apparatus, my sister is finally ileosotomy-free, looking forward to a future of no more sack attacks!

Until next time, folks!

So long, stoma

27 May

The day has finally arrived…tomorrow I FINALLY get my ileostomy closed!  While some might be apprehensive about an upcoming surgery, I am giddy with excitement.  What was initially set to be a 4-6 week inconvenience has turned into a 29 week nightmare. I think most would agree I’ve maintained an upbeat attitude throughout this entire process, however I have definitely struggled to have a positive outlook when it comes to my stoma and ileostomy. Perhaps my outlook may have been different if I knew it would be a permanent fixture on my body, as some people have; however because I knew this would be temporary, I’ve been finding every reason to be annoyed with it. Not only has my bag resulted in unacceptable tan lines this spring, it has also been the cause of numerous trips home from the office in the middle of the day due to leakage…ugh. Well, in 12 hours from now, the process of closing the ileostomy and reattaching my small intestine to make a complete digestive track will be well underway.  The surgery is scheduled for 1pm Pacific and should last about an hour.  After that, it’s estimated I’ll spend the next 2-5 days in the hospital before being released.

Tonight Nick and I went out to celebrate a ‘Sans Stoma’ dinner…a nice hearty meal before the clock reaches midnight and I can no longer have any food or drink.  Of course, my bag started leaking towards the end of dinner and we rushed home to change it.  As I showered and replaced it with a new one, I took one final look at the two ends of the small intestine protruding through my stomach in hopes of never having to see it again (the next time my ostomy bag will be removed is once I’m finally under anesthesia). Nick will be at the hospital with me during the procedure, and Jane will be on blog duty afterwards.  As usual, I’m just asking for your thoughts and prayers as we get through this next step. C’est la vie, stoma!

NPR debut

27 May

There are certain causes and organizations that Nick and I support in any way we can.  One of those is National Public Radio (NPR), and its Nevada affiliate, KNPR.  While we’d love to be in a position to support their efforts financially, lately all our fiscal resources have been going towards medical institutions and pharmaceutical companies.  Instead, I decided to donate my story.  Recently KNPR put out a request seeking stories from those who had undergone fertility treatments.  I responded with a cliff notes version of the past 11 months as well as a link to this blog.  Not long after, I received a call from one of the producers with further inquiries about my situation and an invitation to sit on a panel with others who had sought out fertility options for various reasons.

While it’s now been almost a year since we started the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process by freezing our embryos, the idea of parenthood and taking the next steps of implantation is something that crosses my mind on a daily basis…actually, it’s probably more like an hourly basis.  However, before we can even think about trying to implant any of the ten embryos we’ve frozen, I first need a clean bill of health – which translates to 18-24 months of clean PET scans, with no trace of cancer whatsoever. Even once I have the go-ahead from my doctors to  get pregnant, there’s no guarantee I’ll even be able to carry a child.  Pelvic radiation can affect the integrity of the uterus, and at this point I have no idea just how, or if mine has been impacted; this is something we’ll find out in the coming months. In the mean time, we keep our fingers, toes, and stomas crossed in hopes that we’ll soon be able to take the next steps toward parenthood.  Until then, our canine children have no difficulty keeping us occupied…

You can out the podcast of the KNPR interview by clicking on the link below. It’s approximately a 45 minutes long and I come on during the final fifteen minutes, however the entire panel is quite interesting…enjoy (may take a little time to download).

Website link:

http://www.knpr.org/son/archive/detail2.cfm?SegmentID=7881&ProgramID=2241

MP3 download link:

http://www.knpr.org/audio2011/SON-mp3/110526_fertility-options.mp3

Third time’s a charm

19 May

There’s been a lot that has taken place these past few weeks, and it seems like each piece of information has hinged on the next.  I had my fourth (and final!) round of chemotherapy on April 15th.  Once this step was completed, it was time to assess the progress of the treatment I had just survived.

Step I – The PET Scan

After a grueling recovery from chemo and its symptoms, I went in for a long-awaited PET scan.  This test would measure the progress of the 12 weeks of chemo hell I had just been through.  Similar to all the other scans I’ve had done in the past, I always look for some sign of immediate results from the radiology technician, but by law they are not allowed to directly provide me with any information or interpretation of the scan.  Instead, the radiology technician provides the radiologist with the scan images, who in turn must interpret the scans then send a written report to my doctors outlining the findings.  Then, my doctor has to find time – in between a triple booked schedule – to call and relay the results to me.  This process takes at least 48-72 following the exam, even when I talk them into putting a ‘rush’ order on the results.  Despite this ‘rush’ order, the information can’t come soon enough. I often find myself questioning whether or not my doctors have ever been in the position of waiting on a written report to tell them whether or not they have cancer…I doubt it.  While awaiting the results, I make every attempt at questioning the radiology technicians via some method of reverse psychology  in an effort to achieve some sort of reading to my scans.  I find myself psychoanalyzing their facial expressions and asking myself if their arched brow means they saw something of concern.  I ask childish questions such as, Okay, while you can’t tell me what you saw on the scan, can you tell me what you didn’t see? Ugh. They never fall for it – and I’m left waiting.

Finally the phone rings and the results are in…starting with the lungs: previously there were 13 lesions…now there are NONE!  Liver: previously there were nine lesions…now there is only one!  Colon: just a lot of scar tissue (to be expected post-surgery).  All in all it’s great news and a phenomenal response to treatment.  Now, it’s onto the next step.  Can my ostomy be reversed and can we get rid of this bag…lord knows it’s long out of style and hindering my daily activities.

Step II – The Barium Enema

Now that my oncologist is satisfied about my response to the most recent chemo treatments, I have clearance to reverse my ileostomy. However, before that can be done, they need to make sure there is no leak around the area where the original tumor mass was removed and the colon reconnected.  This is my third time going in for this particular test, and it’s not a fun one.  Fortunately luck was on my side this time and the x-rays showed no more leakage…third time’s a charm!  Within seconds of learning these results, I was on the phone with my surgeons office to schedule my surgery.  I got the sense that her nurse was a little weirded out by the fact that this patient on the other end of the phone was so excited for surgery.  Despite this, I got everything booked and I will be bag-free and have my small intestine fully intact as of next Friday (May 27th).

Step III – Stay off the Internet

Now that I have my ostomy reversal scheduled, I can’t help but be inquisitive about what the recovery will be like.  I already watched a demonstration of the entire procedure (which will take 30-45 minutes) on YouTube so I will know exactly what will be done.  But then I took it one step further and started reading medical forums related to other patients’ experiences with ileostomy reversals.  The picture they painted wasn’t very glamorous.  Most complained of a lot of soreness and diarrhea following the procedure, and one person even reported having to work from home for nine months following his procedure because he couldn’t stray too far from the bathroom.  After reading this, my bag didn’t seem like that much of an inconvenience anymore.  Then I kicked myself, realizing that I can’t focus on these people’s accounts; after all, it is human nature to be far more inclined to discus our negative experiences than to tout the positive ones.  That’s when I closed the computer and tried to mentally reverse the damage that I had done by planting these negative seeds in my head.  My doctor indicated that I could plan to be back to work in 4-6 weeks following the procedure.  I haven’t told her yet that I have tickets and travel plans to Hawaii for a work event just three and a half weeks following surgery…I’ll save that news for another day!

A quick update

19 May

It’s been well over a month since I’ve posted any kind of news, so I figured it’s time for an update.  In the weeks since my last blog entry; I had my final chemo appointment (yay!), celebrated Easter with visiting family, enjoyed hiking through the snow before another Vegas summer sets in, concluded my spring semester teaching eager students on the intricacies of International Business Law, and of course – endured more and medical tests.

Over Easter weekend, we were so lucky to have my cousin Jill, her husband Patrick and their gregarious son Hank visit us.  It was a great weekend and Jill captured the details of it on their blog better than I could (click on the ‘photos’ and ‘blog’ tabs at the top for all the coverage)!  I don’t know of anyone more qualified to teach his refined skills and tactics on the art of picking up women than five-year old Hank – he had all the women at the pool swarming over him…it’s going to be fun to watch him grow up.

Most people don’t associate Las Vegas with an active outdoors lifestyle, but this is something that has always been important to us.  Several weekends ago, Jane and D.J. accompanied us and the dogs hiking up at Mt. Charleston – which is about a 35 miles northwest of the city.  Finding ways to stay active despite certain physical and physiological handicaps has been a priority of mine, and an uphill trek for several hours at elevations in excess of 10,000 feet was as much of an accomplishment as finishing the Fool’s Five Race.  We captured the hike with a bunch of photos – as usual – and upon reviewing them, I couldn’t help but think of the same hike we had taken four years prior.  It’s amazing to think what can happen in just four years time and everything we’ve experienced.  While it feels like we’ve weathered through the battle of the century, I’m proud that we’ve been able to maintain the same strength and composure as a time in our lives with much less stress and burden.

Family Hike - 2011

Family Hike - 2007

Most recently, Nick and I spent some time with presidential candidate Ron Paul.  While I have no intent on turning this into a politically-driven blog, it was a compelling experience that surpassed any economics lecture I ever had throughout college or grad school.

Campaigning with Congressman Ron Paul

This weekend we’re looking forward to another house call from our favorite doctors – my cousin Jessie and her boyfriend Dante.  We had a blast when they visited last summer, and I couldn’t think of a better way to de-stress on my last weekend before surgery than with them…stay tuned!