Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day!



(corrected 3/1/16)

LEAP DAY! What an appropriate day to start my journey proper. Today I embarked "SS Optimistic"! It's a luxury cruise liner complete with world class health care facilities and specialists — destination CURE.

Today's schedule:
7:45 am chemo pump hookup & fillup
9:00 am radiation (daily Monday through Friday)
R&R*

I was nervous about the chemo hookup only because my medi-port scars are still somewhat fresh and tender ... not helped by the fact that I haven't taken it quite as easy as directed this past week. {Mothers know what I'm talking about} So, now I have a chemo pump on a belt — imagine a {new} Kindle Fire folded in half lengthwise for size/weight — with a line that leads to my medi-port via a 90° needle, with a 5" x 5" adhesive dressing over it to protect it from accidental removal. Did I mention I'm allergic to first-aid adhesives?!? The doctors know, but what can you do? They applied some kind of skin prep to 'help'. Needless to say I am a little itchy right now, and the whole medi-port area is a little more tender. Weekly refills on Mondays...

On a much happier, and entirely different note, I've just come from a full weekend of YMCA league championship swim meets with T and our best friends (swimmers and swim parents) ... complete with a 2-night hotel stay! Preliminary events were held Saturday & Sunday mornings, with a couple hrs to eat/rest before late afternoon/evening finals sessions. T made finals (top 8) in all 5 of her individual events over both days.
Final results are in:
  • All 9-10 year old girls events
  • T's relay teams came 2nd in 200 yard Medley Relay, and 1st in 200 yard freestyle relay 
  • She was 3rd in 100 yard backstroke (first time she has swum it in competition)
  • 7th in 50 yard freestyle
  • 8th in 100 yard individual medley
  • 6th in 100 yard freestyle
  • 1st in 50 yard backstroke (by 5/100ths of a second!
A very sleep-deprived but exciting weekend! And a wonderful distraction from pre-thinking today's events ;) My 2-hr nap today (aka "R&R") was recovery from the weekend!!

So by the end of this week I should have an idea of what chemo side effects I will experience ... most likely fatigue, possible sore mouth, smell & taste aversion, and the 'runs'. The doctor promised no nausea. The diet suggestions to "help" with the 'runs' are in significant conflict with our high-fibre, fresh fruit & veggie, low-processed/refined foods diet {sigh.} At least I can still include cultured dairy (I culture kefir regularly), bananas, and eggs (fresh, daily from our own chickens)!!

Many local friends are asking how they can help - with meals, getting kids to/from extracurricular activities, designated drivers for my appointments, etc ... My dear, awesome, and wonderful friend Denyse is taking charge of coordinating that effort. If you'd like to help, you can let her know by emailing denysemiskin@gmail.com, or she has set up a "Time-to-Sign-up" page here: https://www.timetosignup.com/ptovolunteer1/folder/3694
  • Meal help would be welcomed on our busiest nights: Mondays & Wednesdays over the next 6 weeks. (Matt teaches & Tyya swims Mon & Wed eve's). Soup & bread or slow-cooker type meals are best for these nights as they can be heated/served at split meal times (4:30pm & 6pm)
    Sun & Tue eve delivery (after 3pm) for these meals would be appreciated!
  • Swim families could help with bringing T home after late practice on Friday nights. We can get her there, as Kaeden has earlier activities) Mon & Wed eve's we should be OK.
  • I am not sure of my need for 'designated drivers' for appointments (daytime), but if you would like to be on my call list, let Denyse know. My mother-in-law has volunteered to be my primary go-to for this effort.
  • That's all I can think of, but you might be able to think of something else?!
Your love, thoughts, prayers, and words of encouragement and hope are the most valuable and cherished gifts. Thank you doesn't begin to express my gratitude! With that I will sign off for now and head off to a good night's sleep so I can work tomorrow!

By God's grace,




Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Itinerary

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." — Ecclesiastes 3:3

Soon I'll be embarking on a journey to healing from Stage 2, T3 rectal cancer. I've got my ticket ...

The metaphor for my journey is a cruise ... there will be some smooth sailing, but I can also expect some rough seas and storms ahead.

Here's the itinerary as I know it, subject to changes as they arise:
  • Medi-port installation: February 19, 2016
  • Boarding date: February 29, 2016 - Leap day. How appropriate!
  • Five and a half weeks of radiation - five minutes a day, 9am, Monday - Friday
  • Five and a half weeks of chemotherapy - via port and pump, 24/7, continuous low dose
    (radiation and chemotherapy to shrink tumor and stop potential spread)
  • Ten weeks healing ... tumor should continue to shrink during this time
  • ~ July - Surgery to remove tumor & install ileostomy - around 5 days in hospital
  • A month of recovery before starting
  • Chemotherapy every 2 weeks, 8 sessions
  • Lots of follow-up appointments for 2-5 years

How am I doing right now? Apart from having cancer, I am in great health, and I feel strong. God has my future planned, so I am hope-full. And I am full of gratitude for, and overwhelmed by, the abundant expressions of love, support, and encouragement I have received. 

Did I mention I got my first tattoo today? Yeah, three dots as reference points for aiming the radiation treatments in the right place. I know, I'm a rebel ;)

Life goes on, and I plan on living it as normally as possible, and calling on help when needed (most likely surgery time and beyond). 

I am ready for the journey ahead! 

"And we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose." — Romans 8:28


Part I: http://atr-sp.blogspot.com/2016/02/it-is-what-it-is.html

Friday, February 12, 2016

It is what it is

February 4, 2016

October, 2015. I was feeling kinda blah. Had been for months actually. Although exercising regularly, and getting around 7+ hrs of sleep per night, eating {mostly} right, and in overall good health, I was tired. EVERY. DAY. (since high school really, but really noticing it now.) My "crunchy" knees (going on 20 years) had starting to ache a little when navigating stairs. My brain was a little foggy at times. My bowel functions were off a little. I just wasn't feeling entirely right. I'm 44 — too early to be getting {and feeling} "old." So I made an appointment for a physical (general health checkup.) I hadn't had one in three years. I've only seen a doctor once in the last year.

In these parts, a physical is not an urgent matter, so I got an appointment January 14, 2016. Although I felt much better than I did in October, I talked about my issues and the doctor (whom I had never met before) listened intently. She ordered routine blood tests, prescribed physical therapy for my knees, ordered a sleep study for possible apnea and/or narcolepsy, and ordered a scope for bowel issues. Routine blood work came back normal, except low in Vitamin D (common for winter here.) Prescribed.

In the two weeks since, I have seen four doctors/specialists, had three blood draws, three physical therapy appointments, one rectal scope (Jan 27), an x-ray (knees) and a CAT scan (Feb 1), an EKG ... and as I write this I am undergoing a most vile human rights violation ... a bowel prep for a colonoscopy later today. After a day of essentially fasting, I've had to drink 16oz (about half a litre) of the most nasty-tasting {and nauseating} liquid ever created within 20 minutes, followed by 32oz (a litre) of water in 90 minutes ... done TWICE!! It's 3:30am and I just finished the second round and now instead of sleeping I am regularly visiting the porcelain throne as I countdown to a 7:30am check-in. I'm ALL. CLEANED. OUT. As I said ... a HUMAN. RIGHTS. VIOLATION.

Why am I telling you all this? Because if you're not feeling "right" GO get it checked out! And because the first scope last week revealed a tumor. Today's colonoscopy is to check if there are more abnormalities, as was one of the blood tests, and the CAT scan. I'll get the results on Monday, February 8. When the colo-rectal specialist told me he saw a tumor last week, "That's cancer," he said solemnly. He went on to tell me that I needed a colonoscopy to look for any more abnormalities, and that I would need surgery to remove the tumor, and possible other treatments like radiation or chemo, depending on what they find. I looked him in the eye and took it all in. I wasn't worried, even concerned really. I listened intently. "Okay," I said. "You're taking this rather well," he said quizzically. "It is what it is," I replied. "I feel great (aka. healthy) right now. There's no point worrying about it. Let's take care of it!" I think he was surprised.

February 8

After the colonoscopy on February 4, the [new] colorectal surgeon told me he saw the "mass" on the rectal wall, but he did not seem to think it was cancer. He felt pretty confident that my endometriosis had spread to the intestines. That was good news, right?! He did not find any other abnormalities in there, however he did take another biopsy of the mass, and confirmed my follow-up appointment today. I went home relieved, tired & hungry. I ate {too much} and slept the rest of the day away.

TODAY. "I really didn't expect this result," he said, "but the biopsy came back positive for cancer. We need to do an MRI to determine the depth of invasion, and that will determine the cancer stage, and treatment." "Okay," I said. We discussed briefly some of the potential treatments, and I had lots of questions, but he was hesitant to offer much detail ... "We're getting ahead of ourselves here. Let's find out the stage and go from there." Again, I was calm, composed, with an optimistic, almost cheerful, tone in my voice. "Wow, I wish all my patients were like you!" he said. I smiled.

The dumb "C" word (as coined by a "bonus sister")

It may seem odd, but for years I have pondered being diagnosed with cancer — not that there is any history of it in my family that I am aware of. Just intuition. I know many cancer battlers and survivors, and I have lost loved ones to it. I have had time to think about it. I had predetermined, heavily influenced by my faith, that I would take it in stride and be positive and optimistic. After all ...


And here I am.

MRI appointment February 11. Second follow-up, and diagnosis/stage determination February 12.

February 12

So, here's what I know so far ...

  • I have stage 2 (T3) rectal cancer. 
  • Treatment will involve 5 weeks of radiation and/or chemotherapy, followed by 10 weeks of recovery 
  • Then surgery to remove tumor & temporary ileostomy 
  • Followed by more chemotherapy

I have yet to meet oncologists (cancer specialists) to know when the radiation and chemo will start, but anticipate within a week or two.

I'm fine. My stomach is telling me otherwise (some heartburn likely caused by internalized stress/extra gastric juice production) but emotionally I'm fine. Hubby is taking this all much harder, so I ask your prayers for his strength and perseverance. We need him to be able to work, as that provides not only our primary income source but also our health insurance. My priorities are taking care of myself & my family.

You've heard of the fight or flight {or freeze} response? I am a FIGHTER. 

My faith will play a huge part in my healing. I draw strength from this verse:

Romans 5:3-5 NLT
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  

But the verse I've chosen to guide me on this journey is:


By God's power & spirit I will choose JOY, after all it is my middle name! And I have much to be joyful for! And at every 'appointment' — daily, medical, and divine — I want to share that joy with others! It's as simple as sharing a smile and a "Have a good day!"

I will most certainly PRAY continually — not just for my healing; but for the specialists and nurses caring for me; for those I know fighting this battle; for my family as we take this journey together; and for my friends supporting me through this; and for forgiveness for taking so long to re-embrace this powerful faith tenet.

And I will give THANKS for family & friends, for my needs provided in abundance, for health insurance, for excellent health care, and for a future with hope. There is no bad outcome here. Undesirable, yes, but not bad.

Will you join me on this journey?