Archive for April, 2007

least likely colon cancer candidate

Did I ever tell you I like alliteration? I do. It’s fun.

The Monday before my second hospital stay I met with my surgeon to go over my pathology report. It was then I was told I had colon cancer. They removed what he called “an angry tumor” as well as 19 lymph nodes that were all cancerous. He said I’d probably have to undergo chemotherapy (no radiation since they’d removed the tumor). Since they couldn’t tell if the cancer had spread I’d need an MRI, a CAT scan and a PET scan and he recommended an Oncologist.

My calm demeanor masked the inner voice that wailed ‘holy frijoles, colon cancer?!!’ WTF?! I’m a young, healthy woman! Young+healthy+woman does not = cancer!!! And certainly not colon cancer, I mean, isn’t that something your grandfather gets? I’m way out of my demographic here. I thought I must be the most unlikely candidate for colon cancer ever. I eat well, I work out 5-6 times a week, I teach aerobics once a week, and I don’t smoke. huhn. And is there a less glamorous cancer? Not that any cancer is glamorous, it’s all horrendous and awful, but come on. Colon cancer? sheesh…

It’s possible that this is genetic, but I am adopted. Fortunately I have met and know my birth parents. As far as they know there is no colon cancer in their histories, but now I have to dig. Or they do.

Here’s a shot after I got home from the hospital the second time. Our glorious fat cat Zachary is taking care of me. I swear he laid there for over half an hour, comfortable as you can imagine. My mom was agog, she said she’d never have believed it if she hadn’t seen it. We consider him a cat/bear/dog/seal/lion among other things. Love love love him.

here’s what happened - part 2

So that Saturday I got out of the hospital. My mom came up from Nashville to stay with me for two weeks. It was great to have her there. We played a lot of trivial pursuit, not enough Boggle, and had many good conversations. This was especially good as it helped me get my mind off the pain from my incision. They gave me percocet, but much as I *love* painkillers, I knew I needed to take as few as possible.

You might not know this, but a side-effect of pain killers is constipation. Even for tylenol and motrin. I don’t know about you, but to me, constipation is the worst. And hey, they did re-section my colon. Yes. They cut it, removed the offending portion along w/the tumor, and sewed it back together. Because of this we were all excited whenever I was able to go. No one had congratulated me on being able to go number 2 since I was a baby (I assume, I mean, I have no memory of it) so this was a strange experience indeed. And I was more excited than anyone, making an announcement each time.

So I was healing and getting better, slowly but surely. I was eating healthy food and eating as much as my shrunken appetite could take. Then something happened. My friend K8 was in town and we had lunch at Mr. Crepe in Davis Square. Suddenly I felt nauseaus. I had to skip our planned pedicures and go home. The pain in my stomach got worse and worse and by the time Todd got home from work I was in agony. He took me to the emergency room, my most hated of rooms, where I broke my vomit streak.

Vomit streak? you ask. Let me explain. Before this, the last time I threw up was in November 1988, over 18 years ago. That’s longer than Jerry Seinfeld! For some reason I honestly thought I might make it to the end of my life without ever tossing my cookies again. And because it had been so long, I had the experience built up in my head. I feared throwing up more than anything in the world.

At least I made it to the bathroom each time. Each of the 4 times I puked before finally being moved from the waiting room.

So they put me in a room and things got weird. Every few minutes another doctor or assistant would come in, lean in, tell me their name and ask what the problem was. And each time they would want to know my whole damn story. I must have repeated this to twelve different people! Meanwhile I’m lying on this ‘bed’ writhing in agony and asking Todd could he please just kill me. In retrospect it was like I was on Laugh-In, you know, like when they’d have people popping their heads out of those windows with zingy one-liners? Except it wasn’t funny.

Finally a nurse (btw, all the nurses I was in contact with were angels and saints; wonderful human beings who, if there is such a place as heaven, will certainly go) came in and gave me two shots of morphine as well as some anti-nausea medication she said might make me a little drowsy. A little? Man, it was beautiful.

Again, long story shorter, I got a CAT scan and then a room finally opened upstairs in the hospital and they moved me (and Todd, the other saint in this story) up there. I puked a couple more times, but eventually fell asleep.

The doctors didn’t find anything in the CAT scan so the next day they took some x-rays. When those didn’t show any reason for my pain and nausea they took what I consider to be extreme measures: They inserted a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach to extract what was on top. Gross. I looked like some weird elephant in a freak zoo and I couldn’t eat or drink anything except some ice chips. Swallowing hurt like hell anyway.

nosetube.jpg

The doctors kept that tremendously uncomfortable tube in me for over 24 hours because they were confounded. But Todd and I had figured out what happened. I’d eaten too much meat. I was backed up beyond belief. My mom made me hamburger pie one night and pork tenderloin the next and I don’t usually eat meat at all, per se, just poultry and not much at that. I mean, I knew better! Todd knew better! I do not blame my mom; she was trying to make things easier on me by cooking and she made comfort foods. But Todd and I both should have known better. We blame ourselves.And as you can imagine, the docs all recommended I go back to my usual high fiber diet…

Well, I won’t go into the ghastly details (and they are ghastly believe me), but I was finally able to go to the bathroom again and therefore able to go home. Another Wednesday to Saturday hospital stay under my belt and you know what, I don’t miss it a bit. I don’t miss being woken up in the middle of the night by an alarm on my IV, or a nurse needing to take my vitals or take more blood. I don’t miss the sound of the poor old guy in the room next to mine who wins the prize for most annoying cell phone ring ever and who had an hourly hack that would crescendo to what sounded like throwing up. I don’t know how those nurses handle having to deal with everything they deal with, but I’ll say it again, they are saints.

here’s what happened - part 1

What a surprise to find that the pain I was experiencing in my abdomen was a tumor.

I was having low-grade stomach pain for months. I decided it was stress related, since I carry most of my stress in my belly and back. It was bad enough that I even cancelled a couple of the classes I was teaching at the HealthWorks Foundation, but I still never quite took it seriously enough to let a doctor diagnose me. Oh, I went to my primary care physician, but I let her let me diagnose myself. What a mistake. (I’ve since switched primary care physicians, btw.)

But the pain got worse. The week before the Super Bowl I had three instances of sharp pains, bad enough that I was doubled over. Tuesday I attributed it to being dehydrated and hungover from MND at TOAD. Friday I figured I’d pulled a muscle doing too much ab work at the gym on Thursday. Sunday I stopped at the gym to do a little running before the game - I wanted to give myself an excuse to eat yummy, unhealthy Super Bowl snacks.

After about 15 minutes on the treadmill I could feel some major pain. I got off the machine, wobbled doubled over down the stairs, changed clothes in the dressing room, and took about 30 minutes to shuffle home - a walk that usually takes about 10-15 minutes. The pain was becoming excruciating.

I’m still not happy that the Patriots didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, but I was glad the game I missed didn’t involve them. I’d have been even more pissed than I was. I couldn’t even sit up in front of the TV. I just laid on my bed and moaned, essentially. My brother, Michael, was with me as he was in the middle of an 8 day visit. He suggested I go to the emergency room, but I hate emergency rooms. (I’m using the word hate here.) And I knew I’d be able to see my doctor the next morning (her office is 2 blocks from me), if I could just make it through the night.

So, to get to the point, I saw a different doctor and the pain subsided, aided by motrin, and the following Monday I got an ultrasound. In it they saw what they called a dermoid tumor on my ovary. Dermoid tumors are conglomerations of fat tissue and bone, essentially a bodily trash heap. It measured, in centimeters, 9.4 x 5.6 x 6.5. No wonder I was in so much pain. I had something the size of an orange pushing on my internal organs! How did it fit in there?! Amazing.

I was relieved to have a reason for my pain, honestly. It was the mystery of it all that was vexing me.

They said I should schedule surgery to remove this tumor. On February 14 I met w/a very nice gynecological surgeon who seemed ok with waiting on surgery till the next week. But after I described my escalating pain (using a heating pad every night and whenever I would lie down to read, taking 4 motrin every 6 hours, waking up in the middle of the night from pain and taking more motrin, and the latest, the previous evening I woke up dripping sweat. The sweat was in the process of rolling down my face when I awoke.) and she got a nervous look on her face and said she’d check on the surgery schedule for that night.

Happy Valentine’s Day!! I went in that night for what was supposed to be a 45 minute procedure. But the tumor was not on my ovary as it appeared in the ultrasound, it was in my long intestine and had tangled up in my left ovary and fallopian tube. Another surgical team was called in and the surgery went to 5 and a half hours.

And there was Todd in the waiting room, poor guy, just waiting and waiting. Evidently my surgeon came out and discussed some things with him. He told him it was very likely that the tumor was cancerous. They had to remove the tumor, a portion of my intestine, my left ovary and fallopian tube.

Todd held on to the cancer idea and didn’t even mention it until I pressed him and even then, he didn’t go into any detail. He wanted to wait until I’d had my meeting with my surgeon to discuss the pathology report. I find that very impressive because I don’t know that I could have kept that information to myself.

I was in the hospital from that Wednesday until Saturday. Wednesday night I was put in a room w/someone else, but around 9AM they moved me to a private room. I knew it was 9AM because the woman in the bed next to me was switching channels on her loud TV and skipped over Ellen. I remember thinking, Hey, lady, whassamaddahwidyou! Don’t you like Ellen? Keep it on this station!

So I was lucky to get my own room and they set up a cot for Todd, who stayed with me the whole time. As my friend Melissa G. put it, he’s such a mensch!!! I agree and then some.

more staples close up of staples my favorite bouquet

I took a lot of pleasure in showing people my staples, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I think the human body is pretty amazing. They used 39 staples total, I counted. If you don’t want to see them close up, just don’t click on the picture. The bouquet here was from my bff K8 and her husband Peter. They were my favorite of all the flowers I received. They were just awesome; huge and fragrant and bright.

More later. That’s just where it all began.

why a blog?

I keep a journal, but I never thought I’d keep a blog.

It’s funny: things you never thought you’d do, you might do; things you never imagined happening to you, just might happen.

It never occurred to me I’d get cancer, but I did.

It takes a lot of time and effort to keep my many and beloved friends and family up-to-date with everything that’s going on with me, so, suddenly, a blog seemed like a good idea.

Once I kick cancer’s ass I may just keep this up, therefore I thought it best not to give it a name that included the word cancer. My first thought for a blog name was rootheday.com. Clever, but perhaps too bleak. I was on a walk w/Todd and he told me he admires how I always seem to look at the bright side of things and the bright side of people, giving things the benefit of the doubt.

Bright side, eh?

Lightbulb!!

So here we are. I plan to be blunt and straightforward here, warts and all. If you know me, you’ll expect nothing less. Since so much has happened since February 14, the date I had my cancerous tumor removed, the entries may volley around in chronology, so please bear with me.

Hey look, mom, I’ve got a blog!!