The best birthday present ever

28 Jul

It’s funny how things change as you go through life.  When I was younger, I eagerly awaited my birthday party each year.  I would plan it meticulously down to the theme, the cups, the napkins, and the friends I invited. As I grew older, it wasn’t the parties that mattered so much, rather the cultural milestones such as my 16th and 21st birthdays.

And now here I am turning 30 years old today.  Despite the lack of balloons and streamers hanging from the ceiling, I was elated when I learned my sister Jane would be getting a colonoscopy on my birthday.  It arguably runs a close second to the Pretty Pretty Princess showing up at my 8th birthday party, however, knowing my sister is getting screened for and could potentially prevent the hereditary onset of colorectal cancer is quite possibly the best birthday present imaginable.

The patient is all prepped and ready to go! Seriously, how many people can manage to look this good in a hosital gown?!

Fortunately the procedure was over just as quick as it started and the results were in…she had a clean colon, making it an even better birthday present!  Just having this piece of mind will let me sleep better at night.  And now there’s just one sibling left to go in for the screening process, my brother.  I’m sure he’ll surprise me with a really great Christmas present…right Bill?!

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On the up and up

1 Jul

Aloha! Since my post two weeks ago, I’m happy to report that I’ve returned to work full time and even managed to make it to Hawaii for the State Bar of Nevada’s Annual meeting.  With my husband – a.k.a. male nurse, bell boy, and official island tour guide – in tow, we left a week ago Sunday for Kaua’i.  I’m an infamous over-packer, but I managed to reach new heights on this trip, as I had packed enough medical supplies to set up a remote triage center.  Thankfully everything went incredibly well and I only needed a fraction of what I brought.

The Hawaiian culture has a rich history filled with stories legends. I’m typically not the kind that gets caught up in any type of mythology; however I must say, there is definitely something magical about the islands.  Immediately upon arriving, any aches and pains I was experiencing from my wound (which is still approximately an inch wide and an inch deep) immediately vanished for the entire week I was there.  I was blown away by the amount of energy I had, and the physical tasks I was able to perform.  Even a week prior to the trip, I wouldn’t have even fathomed being able to accomplish half of what I did.  Interestingly enough, on our way back home, we had a layover in Los Angeles and the moment we landed I began having a dull pain in the wound area.  I got to thinking…might it be best if I went on disability and moved to Hawaii?!

Our week in Kaua’i was very busy, filled with meetings, seminars and work-related social activities, but we managed to find a few moments to escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy the island as tourists.  One afternoon we went kayaking on the Wailua River and after an ill-described ‘amateur’ hike, we arrived at a secret waterfall.  I’m sharing this photo in hopes that everyone can enjoy it, because it literally took blood, sweat and tears to reach this location! (Okay well maybe not tears, but you get the point).

The 'secret waterfalls' of the Wailua River

The next day we were in need of a more relaxing excursion and opted for a catamaran boat tour along the Napali Coast.  You may be familiar with this scenery if you’ve ever seen Jurassic Park – much of the movie, including the scenes from the helicopter were shot from here. (Please ignore the distended stomach and matronly bathing suit…I’m hoping they both are temporary!)

Em & Nick along the Napali Coast of Kauai

All in all, it was a successful trip – personally and professionally. I am so fortunate to have such supportive colleagues that aided and encouraged me the entire time. Being able to return to work is so therapeutic for me, as it represents a sense of progress and accomplishment.  Now that it has been a month since my surgery and I’ve had a few weeks to heal, next week I’ll begin the first in a series of IV treatments to help prevent any continuous metastatic disease.  Then, at the end of summer I’ll have another PET scan to asses the current situation…fingers crossed the scans are clear and there is nothing to be seen.  I’ve had enough of this cancer thing.

365 days and counting

16 Jun

I woke up this morning knowing that although today should seem like any other ordinary day, it wasn’t. Exactly one year ago today I was diagnosed with cancer.  I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Tuesday and I was anxiously awaiting biopsy results from the mass the gastroenterologist had found during the colonoscopy I had the previous Friday.  It had already been four days and I had no more patience – Jesus managed to rise from the dead quicker than these results were coming in. Around 10:30 in the morning, I couldn’t wait any longer and finally called the doctor’s office to speed up the process.  Now, it is not customary to receive these type of results over the phone.  However I was not about to go through the process of setting up an appointment, paying an unnecessary co-pay and going in for an office visit just to obtain this tiny, yet oh so important piece of information.   When the nurse informed him I was on the phone, he obliged and took my call (in hindsight, probably the first indicator of the news that was to come – doctors are never available to take patients’ calls).  I was ready with a pen and paper in hand to take down notes throughout this highly anticipated conversation, however when all was said and done, I had only managed to write down one word: malignant.

After having been pacing around my office, I found myself frozen in my tracks.  I numbly dialed Nick’s cell phone and tried to relay the conversation but it was at that point that the information caught up with me and I was swallowed up by tears. Nick, on the other hand, was able to remain calm and reassuring (at least on the outside), and was at my work just a few minutes later with the most comforting embrace imaginable.  It was at that very point that the fight began.

Throughout these past 365 days, I’ve learned why the word ‘battle’ is often used when describing one’s dealings with cancer.  You don’t typically hear people say “She is working on cancer” or “He’s making his way through cancer”. It truly is a battle in every sense of the word, and I have no doubt that I have become stronger person as I’ve fought my way through this.  I am constantly reminded, though, that not everyone’s battle takes the course that mine has. Just yesterday, I stumbled across the blog of a young woman whose fight against cancer had too many striking similarities to mine it was scary. She grew up in Minnesota and was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in her 20s, just weeks before her wedding. She underwent the same course of chemotherapy (same drugs and all), and radiation treatment, followed by surgery and then had an ostomy bag. Like me, her cancer spread to her liver and her lungs, but her organs eventually failed and her battle ended less than two years after it started. I had chills as I finished reading her CaringBridge website.  (The foundation her family launched in her honor can be found here.) While I do my best to maintain a lighthearted approach and positive outlook throughout this process, I am also keenly aware that there is also a very real and nasty side to this beast, and I thank God everyday that I have been as fortunate as I have.

June 15th is a date I will never forget, yet I hope it will soon return to being just another day, and be replaced by other memorable dates, such as the date I am told I am free of cancer – the date I kicked ass cancer’s ass.

No laughing matter

8 Jun

I’ve been home from the hospital for nine days now and am happy to report that recovery is going well. In addition to sleeping at least ten hours each night, I nap anywhere from 2-4 hours everyday.  Probably the hardest part of recovery is the inability to utilize my abdominal muscles.  It’s not that I’m purposely trying to craft some chizzled abs for summer, however one doesn’t realize just how often you rely on your stomach muscles to get through the day.  Sitting down and standing up has become a tedious effort.  Sneezing is the most painful thing in the world. And laughing is anything but fun; in fact, it’s rather excruciating.

To help the wound in my stomach heal as quickly and efficiently as possible I have a home health care nurse that comes to the house everyday to pack and redress the opening in my stomach.  Basically, an open wound heals quicker when it is ‘touching’ something, so 7-9 inches of shoestring gauze, pre-soaked in iodine solution, is inserted into the 2 cm deep hole.  This is referred to as ‘wet to dry’ packing because the gauze is wet when inserted, then dries while inside the wound and is removed the next day. To be honest, I haven’t noticed a huge transformation in how the surgical point looks now compared to the day of surgery, but the nurses assure me it is healing nicely with no sign of infection.

Speaking of transformations, my husband has turned into a new person over the past few weeks, becoming a gourmet chef and household caretaker right before my eyes.  True story: a month ago Nick called me because he had gotten lost on the way to the grocery store that is all of 3 miles from our house that we’ve now lived in for 4.5 years.  I’ll be honest, I pretty gave up any remaining hopes of him becoming a skilled homemaker at that point.  However he has since turned over a new leaf and become a handicap patient’s dream, preparing freshly cooked meals and cleaning the house from top to bottom!  Now only if he would stop trying to prove how funny he is by making me laugh…

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.

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!