23 August 2008

if anyone ever tells you that your upcoming laparoscopic surgery will be a breeze...

...don't believe them - they are full of s--t!!!

I arrived at the hospital at 9am Monday morning, after an exciting Sunday of bowel prep and anxiety. I was taken into pre-op, and given an IV in my right hand, a spare IV hook-up in my left hand, and some really attractive tight white stockings on my legs. Before long, John was able to come sit with me, and we began our wait.

They came to move me at around 1:15 to the holding area. Here I was alone; no John to make me laugh and keep me safe. I met with my doctor, his fellow, the anesthesiologist, the anesthetist, and my nurse in a pink hat. All were very nice, comforting, reassuring. They all said "it'll be over soon," but they were all very very wrong. This was just the beginning.

I woke up after 7pm. They told me I was fine and that I'd be moving to a room soon. I was going to have to spend the night. Once they brought me to a room, John was allowed to join me and stay as long as he liked (the second bed was empty). I didn't sleep much. I couldn't turn the TV off with the remote, so Bob Costas talked to me into the wee hours. Various people came in and out to stick me and prod me and take my vitals. But finally morning came and with it, a visit from my doctor followed shortly by those heavenly words "you can go home."

But there was also pain - pain like you couldn't imagine. Not in my abdomen where the surgery was; but instead, the most incredible blinding pain in my shoulders. So sharp that I couldn't take a breath. Am I having a heart attack? I wondered. What they don't tell you when you're having laparoscopic surgery is that they are going to fill you up like a Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, and when they're done, some of that gas will still be in your body. And some of it will drift up to your shoulders. And there it will hurt like hell. So I'm telling you! Laparoscopic surgery may be a breeze, but it will still hurt like hell!

Once that pain goes away, it is just a matter of having a sore abdomen. I have four incisions - one in my belly button, and three in a row a few inches above. The only one that really bothers me is the top one in the middle. And it only really hurts when I laugh, sneeze, cough, hiccup, or blow my nose. Usually, it is just an uncomfortable feeling rather than a pain.

Luckily(?), Tropical Storm Fay passed through our area the same week as my surgery, which meant that the school at which I work would be closed and my precious few sick days would be spared. I am stuck at home. I cannot drive, I cannot lift anything, I cannot push anything, I cannot pull anything. But I can watch TV and read and sleep, and so I have.

I have also seen the radiologist. Dr. Factor entered my life at 10:30 yesterday morning. Wearing a smile that never wavered, he spelled out for me the reality of my next few months. My radiation & chemo will likely start on September 8. I will have 20 minutes of external radiation (IMRT) each weekday morning for 5-6 weeks. On Mondays, I'll get a dose of chemo first (Cisplatin). Beginning in the 3rd or 4th week, the Friday treatment will be replaced with high-dose internal treatment (Brachytherapy). I'll have 5 of those in total. About a month after that, I should start feeling more my old self.

Next week, I get to start with a chemo orientation, CT scan, MRI, and visit to endocrinologist to monitor my ovarian function. I'll also be getting a port, but I don't want to talk about that now. At least I find that each day, my abdomen is a little less sore and I am able to be a little more active. For now, that is enough.

Thank you all for your kind words of support. It means so much to me to know you are behind me (but if you'd like to stand in front of me, I certainly wouldn't stop you)!

21 August 2008

email updates

In March 2008, during a routine pelvic exam, my doctor found abnormal cells. This led to a second exam in April, which came up with the same results and led to a referral to an OB/GYN.

The OB/GYN was very nice and assured me that everything would be fine. I had a low-level of abnormal cells, a negative HPV test, and my exam the year before had been fine. There were four possible levels, the bottom two generally clear themselves up in a matter of time and just need to be monitored. The top two are more severe, with the top being the ultimate - cancer. My doctor was confident that I would be in the bottom two, most likely the bottom one. She was 99% sure that it would not be cancer; but to be thorough, I would need a biopsy.

On July 10, I was called back to her office for the results. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, in the nicest sweetest tones, "you have cancer." Just. Like. That. "You have cancer." She spoke of oncologists and hysterectomies and tests and more biopsies and surgeries and treatments and radiation and scans and the need for quick action, but it was all a mish-mash of sound against the repeating backdrop - "you have cancer."


Below are the email updates that I sent out in the beginning, before switching to this blog.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008
I had my first appointment with the oncologist today. Very nice man - let me ask 1000 questions and wasn't offended that I didn't want to look at the color pictures in the anatomical chart book :)

I am scheduled for a CAT scan on Monday and an exam under anesthesia on Wednesday. Once both of those are done, he will know what stage my cancer is and what my treatment options are. He really couldn't answer most of my 1000 questions today, but he listened to them all and reiterated that once the CAT scan & exam are done, he can answer most of them. And I won't forget to ask any because I have them all written down in my Vera Bradley notebook (I am such a dork!).

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Wednesday, 23 July 2008
I have had quite a Fear Factor couple of days - sans Joe Rogan and the big cash prize.

Monday, fear factor #1 was that I had to drink two bottles of barium suspension "vanilla smoothee" (it says so on the label but they LIE) to prep for my CAT scan. One 10-oz bottle at 12:30, the other 10-oz bottle at 1:00. Then when I got to the CAT scan, fear factor #2 was lying there calmly while they tried 3 times to get the IV in. But the rest of the scan went fine, and other than being simultaneously nauseous AND hungry most of the day I was alright.

Tuesday was a fun day! All I had to do was face fear factor #3 - drinking 10 ounces of cherry flavored magnesium citrate. That's laxative to you and me. Wonderful stuff, I tell ya. And to make it that much more challenging, I wasn't allowed to eat anything all day! Yipee! But MT Jeanne & Troy visited, so that made the afternoon a lot nicer :)

Today, I had my "procedure" - exam under anesthesia. That whole thing was fear factor #4. Only one needle stick, so that was good, but I'm no good with fluids going in or out so none of it was pleasant. I think my doctor came & talked to me, but I might have imagined it. I didn't have contacts or glasses, so it was all a big blur. Plus I was highly medicated. He did a cone biopsy, but that's all I know for sure.

What, you might ask, is the prize for completing all these fear factor challenges???
I don't have to see another doctor until Aug 1st :)

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Friday, 1 August 2008
Today was the big day - the day of my staging. I had gone a week without any medical involvement and I was good and ready to get going on some treatment. Or at least I was until yesterday afternoon. Then the nerves set in.

My sister Diane came up (her birthday was yesterday), which provided a nice diversion. But the nerves were still there. Even Vitamin-X didn't help. I was having trouble falling asleep, and when I did I had awful dreams. At about 4am I woke up and noticed that there was a light on in the other room. Diane had fallen asleep reading; I tiptoed through, turned off the light, and went back to bed. And then I had the following dream:

Diane and I were at MT Bee's house for some shindig - there were tents and tables set up in the back yard. We got our plates of food and went to sit near MO Leo and Bert Labbe. After talking and eating for a while, MO Leo said something like "hey Linda, I thought you didn't eat pig?" I looked at my plate and it was pork. I was HORRIFIED! I ran up the stone steps to the bathroom (think of a 6-stall public restroom located in the master suite) to find that they were all in use. So I puked up my pork shoulder on the top stone step. Everyone was grossed out - I started scrambling all around looking for paper towels to clean it up, but there were NO PAPER TOWELS! ANYWHERE!!!

Needless to say, I woke up feeling a bit nauseated and then the nerves set in.

Finally, it was time for my appointment. I will spare you further anecdotes and get right down to it.

I have stage 2 cervical cancer. For you look-it-up-yourself types, it is the squamous cell carcinoma variety. The two main treatment options are radical hysterectomy (including pelvic lymph system) OR radiation. There is a reluctance to do both because of the healing complications with whatever procedure comes second. Before either can occur, I have to be completely healed from the cone biopsy he did on the 23rd, which generally takes about 4 weeks.

My next appointment is on August 15, and between now and then my oncologist will meet with my pathologist to go over all the biopsy results and scans and tests and data etc. and decide which treatment will best suit my case. Surgery is generally preferred because of the physical removal of the whole infested bit. But he doesn't want to jump to surgery if I will need radiation anyway afterward.

So I'm still in treatment limbo, though at least I know now definitively where I'm at and that I'll be taking one of two forks in the road. He didn't tell me anything I didn't expect to hear, including the part when he said that my case was enigmatic and outside his expectations and didn't follow conventions - heck, I hear that all the time! He also commented on my sense of humor, which I guess has been kicked into overdrive now that I have something to be funny about. (Wasn't that vomit dream hillarious???)

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Friday, 15 August 2008
Getting right to the point:

I am stage 2B. Treatment is radiation with chemo. I will have surgery Monday - a laparoscopic ovarian transposition to move my ovaries out of the path of radiation. After that, I'll meet with the radiologist to discuss the specifics of my treatment. It will be 5-6 weeks of external radiation 5 days a week. With that, I'll have a once a week low-dose chemo drug (Cisplatin). After the 5 or 6 weeks, I'll get a 1-2 week break. Then I'll do 5 internal treatments of high-dose radiation once or twice a week but no chemo. He said generally, side effects of this treatment are minimal.

Sunday I get to have another day of no eating but instead drinking 20 oz of magnesium citrate (that special cherry-flavored laxative) in preparation for Monday's surgery. Fabulous. And for every oz of that I drink, I drink 8 oz of clear liquid. By the end of the day, I'll be like a human water balloon! I may be able to come home Monday, but there is a possibility that I will have to stay overnight. I hope to be back to work Wednesday.

So that's about it. It is somewhat unreal to me that I'm going through all this because physically, I feel fine. No pain, no symptoms. But here I am, heading down a road I never imagined I would be taking. I'm hoping for a smooth ride...