cancer

The Invader – #13

****FYI**** I wrote this post in early July 2020. I’ll be writing another post soon about my recent hospital stay and current condition. 🙂

 

So I’m on chemo again – a somewhat different kind of chemo than before. It’s not as hard on me as the one last summer/fall……except for the fatigue. I’m just wiped out most of the time. Some of the other side effects are making things taste weird, nausea – still losing weight because of this and not on purpose :(, and my skin – especially on my hands and feet – has taken on a kind of papery/leathery condition so that callouses peel right off and I must use a lot of lotion, especially when combined with the handwashing we need to do now. In addition to the neuropathy in my hands -pain and numbness together, some is from diabetes, some is from chemo – the leathery skin is quite sensitive, so I cannot knit and can barely play guitar. I’m determined to play guitar though – I do not want to lose whatever skill I’ve so painstakingly acquired over the years. I could probably sew, ‘cept all my sewing stuff is in boxes at the moment (we took up the carpet and haven’t really decided what’s next, so everything is in boxes in the garage). I also seem to have become a little bit allergic to one of our dogs. She sheds plenty, so my nose runs a lot. What an adventure this all is…….I keep telling myself this – it does help most of the time.

In my mind I can run like this anyway…

The fatigue is a real grind though. I get up and try to act normal for even 15 minutes – say, just making a cup of tea – and then I have to go lie down for at least 15 minutes. I also have to be careful, if I fall asleep, that means I’ll have trouble sleeping at night. I guess I should say *more* trouble, as insomnia has been a nearly constant companion my whole life. The chemo is over a 3 week period – I have one week where I’m not taking anything and I start to feel a little more normal, a little less fatigued and then then next week, I’m back to near-zombie levels. Fatigue is really, really boring. You’d think oh now I can read a lot. Nope – can’t really concentrate well enough. Audiobooks are good at night if they’re not too interesting; if they’re too interesting I stay awake. If they’re too boring, I get frustrated. I tried to take part/watch an online conference I was very interested in, but like a fool I didn’t sign in on my tablet, I signed in on my ‘puter. So I’d watch for a while, then go lie down for a while. If I can drink a little caffeine it helps but it’s hard to drink right now since everything taste so strange. It seems to me daily just a waiting game for me – when will I feel better? I want to work in the garden just a little and even the thought exhausts me. Writing this post is taking 50 times longer than usual. AND I’m even more forgetful now – chemo brain is REAL. Whinge, whinge, whinge…..I know. it could be worse….

This cat looks how I feel most of the time……………

I do have some good news. My CEA is down. Still not in the normal range – I’ll be on chemo unless and until I hit that range (0 – 10 mmg), but down to 35! Previously I was hovering around 100, so it seems the chemo is working. All this is worthwhile if I’m beating the Invader. Truly, I don’t think it would be happening without all the prayers. I can FEEL them and I cannot thank you all enough.

Thank You!

The Invader – #11

Hey everybody! How y’all doin’? It’s been a minute and some things are happening so I guess it’s time for another health update from me.

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Because of the spread of the corona virus, I have been staying at home almost all the time – only out for doctor visits, walking the dogs and the occasional joyride in the car wearing my mask of course. The radio station has been automated for several weeks now so I cannot do my radio show either – I’m definitely missing that. I had a conversation with Studmuffin yesterday about just how long I’m prepared to stay at home. This discussion was difficult to have because he & I have been reading different things from different sources and I think also because he’s never been seriously ill. Please don’t get me wrong – he has been an absolute solid rock of support to me during this whole cancer thing! I do tend to minimize my discomfort to him, for why tell him? He cannot do anything to help and it will only distress him. So he doesn’t know just how bad I have been feeling and that’s OK I think. But as far as Covid-19 goes, he’s a lot less concerned about it than I am. Not only am I a Stage-4 cancer patient undergoing serious treatment but I am a diabetic as well. If I get the virus, it is likely – even with excellent health care – to be fatal for me. He doesn’t think so – he thinks I’m “tougher” than that, whatever that means.

I may be a tough cookie…but even cookies crumble!

Unlike me, he has not read the first hand accounts of those who have had the virus, or from front-line doctors and nurses as to how bad it really is.  Just by personal inclination, I have a greater interest in biology, life sciences and medicine than he does; yup, I’m a nerd who reads medical journals for FUN. Over the years, including the various medical problems I’ve had personally, I’ve acquired  perhaps a patchy but still somewhat greater understanding about immunology than he’s got, and I can point him in the direction of good information, but in my experience he won’t read any of it; he’s just not that interested. Fortunately, he’s not so far gone as to be advocating the cure of drinking bleach or Lysol! In short, I will be staying home and away from others most likely until there is a far greater understanding of this virus’s infection vectors and quite possibly until there’s a good vaccine.

Overall, life is pretty good because it’s spring.  Plenty of blooming things and pollen and birds and such. That always gives me a boost. I’ve really needed it because I’ve had a LOT of physical reaction to the liver microwaving and radiation treatment – pain, nausea and fatigue; basically the usual but it has been particularly intense since the microwaving. Generally speaking, I often have an unusual, personal reaction to drugs and procedures that the vast majority of people do not. Turns out, one of my aunts is the same way so I’m not even special! 🙂 So the duration of the nausea and pain is somewhat idiosyncratic but still on the outer edge of the range of normal.

Sick as a….frog

A bit of good news in that the “marker” in my blood which can indicate the presence or growth of “my kind” of cancer dropped significantly after the microwaving. The marker value isn’t yet close to the normal range, but it is the lowest since I got my cancer diagnosis so that’s all good.

On Thursday, I’ll be having another PET scan and starting a new round of chemotherapy. The PET scan will help us see more clearly all the changes in my liver and the lesions there, and the chemo will be of the pills only kind, so it won’t be as difficult to go through and I probably won’t lose my hair again – surprising how important that is to me even now.

If you have a spare prayer around, please send it in the way of my dad. He’s had pneumonia and some serious heart problems (not covid-19 thank God); he’s back in ICU for the second time in 2 weeks and he hates hospitals and I hope not only that he gets better but that he gets to go home much better than he is now. I’m trying not to worry about him or my mother.

Lastly, I can never tell you – because the words don’t exist! – just how grateful I am for all of the comments and prayers and support that all y’all have given me. It means EVERYTHING. My heart overflows with love and gratitude to each one of you.

The Invader – #10

How is everyone? I hope you’re being very, very careful with yourselves, sanitizing everything and washing your hands a LOT! I know I am. I doubt my bathroom has been this clean since we moved in here! I am doing my best to fill my days with laughter, joy and South Korean boy bands (it’s way fun – the music is great and can they DANCE! #BTS ).

 

 

I pray that you can find those things too.

Since I’ve had the Y90 treatment I told you about last time, there’s been a fair amount of pain over the last month, coupled with fatigue and nausea. I have good days…..and less-good days. My body doesn’t seem to like direct application of radioactive material – always makes me feel like I’ve got the flu for at least a week and a half. Studmuffin keeps saying that I should call the docs, but everything I’ve been experiencing is what I was told to expect – I guess the husband wasn’t paying enough attention or something. 🙂 On the less good days, I feel like ABC gum (if you don’t know what that is, ask an 8 year old), and it’s very difficult to get out of bed and function at all normally sometimes. On the good days, I’ve even been doing some work in my long-neglected garden. Heck I have snap peas and parsley growing right now. So it’s a mixed bag.

 

How I hope my liver will be after all the treatments….

Now that there is a pandemic of the corona virus, most all of my doctor’s appointments have been canceled and in lieu of in-person visits, the docs and I speak on the phone. I say it feels a little weird, but I’m grateful that it is possible. Because of my weirdo reaction to radioactive agents coupled with ongoing hormonal hot flashes and the arrival of clouds of spring pollen, I wonder daily if I’ve got “it”. Did that sneeze mean anything? Was that cough the beginning…? I take my temperature daily – so far so good.

Since I’ve been home like so many (including Studmuffin, who at this late date -very nearly the end of the beard trend – has decided to grow a beard ….I could write a whole post on that development *alone*….), I’ve been doing what I can to reach out to others. My friend Eric Dozier and his family had an online singing devotional 3 weeks ago on Instagram, and I enjoyed it so much, I decided to do one on Facebook on Tuesday nights. I’m so much more an audio – radio person, not so much a video person, but I am learning. It’s been fun and I have gotten really wonderful feedback from those that have seen it. I did them over Facebook live and then left the recordings on my FB timeline, so you can check ’em out if you’re interested.

I do have just a little bit more hair than this now….

I won’t be doing a Facebook live devotional this week because Tuesday (tomorrow) I go in for laser ablation to my liver, or as Dr. FirstName calls it : “microwaving the liver”. This will treat the cancer lesions in the “pointy” end of my liver, which up to now have only been addressed generally and not specifically. Then we wait a few weeks/months and see what we see. Dr. FirstName said I could probably wait a month to microwave my liver but that there’s no guarantee that the local hospital systems will be able to handle anything but the expected surge in Covid-19 victims. As it is right now, all elective surgeries and procedures are not permitted at this time, but as this is cancer treatment, I can still get it done.

I wish that the apparatus they’re gonna use on me looked like this, but alas, it does NOT. :::sigh::::

Friends, I cannot even begin to thank you all for the prayers and support all y’all have shown me. It means EVERYTHING to me. THANK YOU!

 

The Invader – #9

Just another update on the ever-changing landscape of my cancer treatment! Sorry I didn’t get to share any knitting; right now my knitting game is PATHETIC…..

This is Kristine the cancer cell. Apparently there’s a whole series of cartoons about her. Perhaps it’s in bad taste, but you know I laughed at this!

So tomorrow I go in to have radioactive pellets placed in a few of the artieries in my liver. This treatment is called Y90 – there’s loads of info on the Web about it and much of it is accurate so I won’t tell all about it. This is the first of two Y90 treatments – I’ll have another one in about a month. Why two – well I think if they gave me all of the pellets at once I might die of it, so they’re doing 2 treatments. I’m fine with that. This will essentially kill off about a third of my liver.

Perhaps I’ll glow in the dark……
(That’s a joke folks. I won’t be glowing inthe dark.)

Then in another month after the second treatment, something else will happen: perhaps another round of chemotherapy, or it may be an ablation (laser burn off of cancerous lesions) on the other end of my liver that isn’t receiving the Y90, or it may removing more of my liver from the Y90 side.  Or it may be a liver transplant. So, you may be wondering, why is this all up in the air?

It’s a balancing act….

Essentially, we – me, Studmuffin and the oncology team- are making a decision to do a more aggressive treatment schedule in order for me to actually become cancer-free.  If we didn’t do anything other than a maintenance  kind of chemotherapy at this point, the oncology team’s best guess is that I’d live 3 or 4 more years.  But since I’m relatively young and have responded unusually well to the treatment thus far, we’re gambling on the more aggressive treatment. This is NOT a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination; I don’t have even a guess as to how likely it is that I will become cancer-free. All anyone can say is that I have a chance….and we’re taking that route.   So at every point along the way, the team has to reassess what’s working or what isn’t and then make the next decision about what to throw at the Invader in hopes of killing it completely. That’s why there’s not a predictable schedule to follow.

This does make it a challenge to plan my immediate future, and I’m also trying to plan for what happens if the treatments don’t work as we hope, so that if I do die sooner rather than much, much later, my family will not have to make lots of decisions that I could’ve have made. I don’t want to leave a heavy burden for my family if I can avoid it. Kind of like “hoping for the best; expecting the worst.”

Did I mention that all of this is EXPENSIVE?!?!?!  I mean we’re OK but I can easily see how medical expenses are the number one reason that private citizens in the US declare bankruptcy….

 

Thanks a MILLION BILLION SKADILLION times for all the prayers.  It means EVERYTHING.

 

The Invader – #8

So last time I was telling you that I’d know more about my upcoming cancer treatment by the third week of January – turns out, nope I didn’t learn any more! I think some communicative wires got crossed; Murphy’s Law seems to be involved.

Keep calm & accept Murphy's Law

Studmuffin was traveling when I had my December date with the oncologist, so he wasn’t there to help me remember stuff and to ask good questions that I never think to ask, so it’s very possible I could have forgotten what the oncologist told me to do next, or perhaps the oncologist didn’t communicate the next step to me/what I was supposed to do. Apparently after the scans I had in early December, I was supposed to go see an Interventional Radiologist and I didn’t. Plus, I had a touch of the flu on the day of my appointment, so we made a date for a week later, with the possibility of my starting a new round of chemotherapy on that appointed day.

Friends, I won’t lie – as the date drew nearer, I became quite terrified. It’s one thing to know about chemotherapy intellectually; having lived through it and to know what’s gonna happen is a whole ‘nother thing. You see, they have to 2/3 kill you to get the cancer to die and I felt really awful for months. To voluntarily say OK to doing it again…… well, I was DAUNTED. I think I was even hiding how anxious I was from myself, because on that next appointment when I didn’t start chemo again, I immediately went home and slept for 4 hours and the whole next day I was kind of a limp noodle – with relief.

We did go see the Interventional Radiologist. This fella is an M.D. to be sure – I didn’t know if Interventional Radiologists were docs or not – and he seems very competent and caring. Nice man but……I think he’s younger than my oldest offspring is plus he didn’t introduce himself as Dr. Soandso, he said, “Hello. I’m ‘Trevor’.” No, Trevor is not his real first name, I don’t think it’s fair for me to use it here, but it’s one of those more recently popular names for men like Dylan, Lucas or Ryan. It’s weirded me out a little. I’ll call him Dr. Firstname here on de blog.

kid as a doctor

He didn’t look *quite* this young……I’m getting old I know!

 

My hair is growing back, thinner and more grey than before but I’m looking forward to having it back because my head gets cold. Of course if I have more chemotherapy it will all fall out again. I’ve been intermittently trying to find a wig that doesn’t inspire immediate gales of laughter….with no success. I’d post pictures for your amusement, but it turns out that I’m a bit vain about my hair and so haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. I wish I could – somebody oughta be laughing. Y’all certainly deserve something for wading through all my complaints! I’ve just sent off for 2 more wigs so we’ll see. Maybe I’ll post some pictures……

punk rcker with black and purple mohawk/mullet

Wish I had the guts to wear this as an everyday wig…..

And as far as knitting goes, I’m not doing a whole lot of it. I have some neuropathy in my hands from the chemo that makes it uncomfortable to use my fingers. I was warned of this side effect and it doesn’t bother me too much, but it does s-l-o-w-d-o-w-n my knitting terribly. I’ll try to put up something here about knitting in the next few weeks.

Anyway, what’s next is that later this week, I get to go to the hospital, go under general anesthesia ( for the fourth time in eight months!), and Dr. Firstname is gonna run a scope up from my femoral artery in the groin up to the blocky end of my liver and see what’s what. This is in preparation for implanting several packets of radioactive beads – a treatment known as Y90 – that will kill off not only cancer but about a third of my liver. I already know that radiation makes me ill, so I’m not looking forward to this experience. By the way, did I mention that this is the most expensive test yet? Even with really good health insurance, our out-of-pocket costs are in the thousands for this one. Yes, I’m whingeing aplenty today, but friends, please know that I WANT TO LIVE to whinge another day so don’t take it so seriously. 😊

As for future treatments, there’s other things being mentioned: more chemotherapy, liver surgery or even a liver transplant. All is up in the air. I know that, generally speaking, the news about my cancer went from awful to pretty good last year and so a few people have been confused about what it all means. I’ll try to be clear. I have cancer. It has not gone away; I have not been cured. BUT I have responded far, far better than the docs had hoped to chemotherapy – I’m MUCH healthier than I properly should be at this point. I really attribute this to everyone’s prayers and the skill of my medical team. Make no mistake – this cancer will probably kill me – none of the docs have given me an estimate, but my guess is that there’s 90% or more chance that it’s gonna do me in. When that will happen is really an unknown and un-guessable at this point. Makes it a little challenging to plan anything but oh well. Perhaps the best way to look at it it that the docs have an array of tools/treaments/therapies and one by one as circumstances demand, they are using them.

Thanks so much for your kind attention and prayers. It means everything to me. And I simply adore it when you leave comments. Bye for now.

The Invader – #7

First off – Happy New Year!

In the depths of winter, I find New Year’s celebrations and the making of resolutions to be very hopeful things, and I like whatever will promote hopeful things!

Just a quick update on my health – in the first 2 weeks of December ’19, I had the 2 scans that the docs wanted to see. However, I won’t see my oncologist til about the 20th of January so I won’t know about future steps to take (chemotherapy, surgery, radiation) til then at the soonest. I figure if things had gone badly, they would’ve called to make a sooner appointment! No news is good news as they say. But also at my last appt. with my oncologist he told me that he really thought that I would be having the liver surgery and ablation in the near future, but the scans would tell us for sure. So I am preparing myself mentally for serious surgery again, though I have no date or timeline for it at the moment.

“T’inquiete” essentially means “Don’t worry”

Overall, I’m feeling a bit better everyday. The fatigue is far less as the chemo drugs s-l-o-w-l-y leave my system. My appetite has returned – just in time to be surrounded by holiday temptations and feasting of course. Because of all the nausea and chemo, I’ve lost about 65 lbs., which is almost 5 stone for the Brits and nearly 29.5 kg for the rest of the world.

Back in 1987, when I had two separate jaw surgeries (TMJ problems) and had my jaws wired shut for weeks after each one, I was convinced that *that* was the worst way ever to lose weight**. Nope, chemo is a much worse way to lose weight than that. But now that the weight is gone, it’s gonna take new habits to keep it gone and to hopefully and sensibly and healthily to lose more weight as I still have plenty to lose. FYI – I probably won’t be talking any more about my weight loss here; our cultural obsession with how much we weigh and in particular how much women weigh and should weigh…..let’s just say I have ISSUES!

I spent New Year’s Day walking (almost hiking if I’m honest) with Studmuffin & the dogs in the morning. Then cooking a bunch (mostly spaghetti and meatballs, but there was also a chicken dish and other things) all while watching the Doctor Who marathon on BBC America (actually been watching the marathon for days now- love love love it since I was little), and working on a 1000 piece puzzle with the hubs – which we finished. I put up the new calendars too. It was a good day, especially since I didn’t have to do all the dishes. 🙂 What did you do?

My hope for everyone in 2020 is for all of us to practice much greater kindness to one another- individually and collectively. I notice that there is a tremendous “kindness deficit” in the world today, and that the fearmongering going on is very LOUD. Kindness is so often quiet it can be easy for us to miss, and I think there’s a tendency to dismiss its importance because it is quiet. Which is kind of NUTS because it takes strength to be kind, to be gentle. Any idiot can bellow loudly/indiscriminately about how terrible everything is and how much worse it’s gonna be…..WATCH OUT! WATCH OUT! WATCH OUT!

And then too, thoughts of fear often chase away thoughts of kindness… Here’s to a much kinder year!

That’s all for now. 🙂


**Also back in 1987, when my jaws were wired shut, absolutely every girl or woman that was aware of my surgeries (with the notable exception of my own dear mother) commented on how having one’s jaws wired shut was *such* a good way to lose weight. This was in rural New England where people are very reserved and are far less likely, in my experience, to make personal remarks of this kind. I found these comments terribly sad, depressing and kind of disgusting because it was every single one of us. I realized then how brainwashed we females all are on this topic. It’s tragic.

The surgeries were necessary and I’ve benefited ever since from the results, but just in case you’re thinking that having your jaws wired shut to lose weight is a great idea, my total weight loss from 7.5 weeks of my jaws wired shut was 13 lbs. If I had had my jaws wired shut for weight loss I would’ve been sorely disappointed with that result. Just sayin’.

The Invader – #6

PART ONE

So I have completed chemotherapy as of mid-October. Hooray!

text that says hip-hip hooray!I have to say that last round really took it out of me! It has taken me a month to start feeling half-way normal – but I’m not really complaining. I’m still not myself but each day is a little better. I’m hoping my hair will grow back soon, but in the meantime I’m looking for a wig. It’s harder than you think….

blue fright wig

What most wigs look like on me

What my oncologist was aiming for with my treatment was to get me to a point where I could have liver surgery and ablation. To back it up a bit, all of the colon cancer was removed during the colon resection last May, but the cancer had spread (metastasized) to my liver. As of July, I was borderline on the criteria for liver surgery and ablation – I might be able to have the surgery or I might not. The chemo was designed to keep me eligible for liver surgery and/or ablation once chemo was done. More specifically, the scans (both CT and PET) showed 3 large lesions in the left lobe of my liver and and another possible lesion in the right lobe (the pointier one) of my liver. My oncologist told me that the option of surgery was only possible after this first scheme of chemotherapy; generally the liver would be too damaged after subsequent rounds of chemo for it to heal and regenerate after surgery.

cartoon of a smiling liver

Doesn’t everyone want a happy liver?

Now if the liver lesions I had were all located in one lobe of the liver, they probably would have removed that lobe and called it done, but since I had lesions in both lobes, a combination of surgery and ablation would be done. I may not have this bit right, but my understanding was that the surgeon would remove the larger lesions surgically from 1 lobe and the special oncology radiologist would use a laser to burn out the lesion on the other lobe -that’s the ablation part. This is very serious surgery. I was gonna be in the hospital for at least 10 days post-op (the longest hospital stay I’ve ever had) and the recovery period for my liver was gonna take a number of months.  I learned shortly after the Invader #5 update that I was still doing well enough to have the surgery (above the cutoff line – yay!) AND that if the surgery was successful, I would have a 30 – 50% of being CANCER-FREE!!!! What terrific news!  The only reason I didn’t immediately post about it here was that i did not have a date for the surgery; I only knew that we were aiming for late November.

My fantasy is that laser ablation would be joyous and fun like a laser light show……

PART TWO

So last week we met with the surgeon again (lovely guy he is, as is my oncologist) to discuss the surgery and set up the date. When he came into the examination room, the first thing he said was that my scans looked REALLY good. We’d already had some indications that I had responded quite well to the chemo; a couple months ago the oncologist had seen no new lesions and some of the old ones had shrunk- all good news. As of my most recent PET scan, the surgeon told me that they could no longer see the lesions….so NO LIVER SURGERY FOR NOW.  This is fantastic news!!!

giphy

He showed us the most recent scans, contrasted with the older scans and it’s a miracle. You can see some scarring of the liver where the lesions were but no lesions.  He said that it doesn’t mean that there are no cancer cells left in my liver, we cannot say I am cancer-free, but that we will take a wait-and-see approach.

keep calm and just wait and see

I will have another scan in mid- to -late December to see if more needs to be done – if the lesions reappear, grow or new lesions show up. Depending on the results of that scan, I may need surgery, more chemo, radiation, perhaps some other therapy or maybe nothing else at all. Again, this is wonderful news. In one sense, I feel somewhat ambivalent about it because I was focused on having the surgery – surgery is something I have had a good bit of and I understand it fairly well I think. And it is something concrete with a before and an after, with some odds of being cancer-free to go along with it. The wait-and-see approach, as great news as it is and as happy as I am NOT to be having major surgery this month, is more vague and uncertain to me. I don’t have any odds or percentages at the moment and it’s harder for me to get my head around it. Still, it’s TERRIFIC news!


Back in July when I was told this was incurable cancer, I didn’t believe it. Over the months since, the news has gotten better and better, and I believe with all my heart it is all the good energy and the thousands of prayers that so so many of you have sent my way. I am SO GRATEFUL.

thanks a million

Thank you fifty skadillion times over.

It means EVERYTHING to me.

I’ll keep you posted.

Je vous remercie

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Invader – #5

Since last I told my cancer story, the news has been cautiously good. Sorry for making everyone wait so long for this most recent update – I’ve been caught up with a bunch of things and frankly, since working on my book (7 years now – gotta get serious and fininsh this thing!) I’ve fallen out of the habit of carving out writing time to do a post here and there.

I hope you know, and I’m telling you now, the comments I receive about the blog are deeply encouraging and I am so grateful. It really helps me to find the time to write. I usually have the posts all in my head – I’m just lazy about the typing. If I ever get speech-to-text for my ‘puter, well just WATCH OUT! But back to the Invader.

Since last I wrote, my chemotherapy regime has changed to a more intense therapy and so the side effects have been a good deal more serious. 80% of my hair has fallen out – let me tell you the hair coming out in locks in the shower is a really tough moment. I bought a wig over the Internet – it was a bargain – and oh my was that a mistake – wrong color big time and the style well let’s just say it inspired laughter.

Did you know you can get stones in your salivary glands? I had no idea….until I got one. So I’m already kind of a zombie because it was chemo week and Friday afternoon, while having yet another expensive scan (with radioactive dye which makes me sick every time – did I mention that they are hella expensive?) I got that twinge one gets when one’s salivary glands are gonna swell – like with a cold. I didn’t think much of it til later. By 8:30 that evening, I was in serious pain, even after taking painkillers, so we went to the ER. After hours & hours of waiting (whilst whatever pain killers I had taken wore off) I finally got in to see a dr. They gave me a pain shot which eased it for just a couple of hours, and another CT scan with radioactive resist – my second in less thatn 12 hrs (different parts of the body were scanned each time) and I learned that 1) I had a stone or some blockage of the left side parotid salivary gland (I was unfamiliar with this gland – it’s sort of kidney shaped and kind of wraps around your ear) and 2) the treatment consists of warm moist compresses, massage and chewing lemons and sour candy. The idea behind the lemons and sour candy is to get the gland to produce more saliva to flush out the blockage. And they gave me a prescription for some narcotic pain meds and a course of antibiotics.

I knew I’d be seeing my oncologist on that next Monday, so I tried to follow the instructions….but the pain was SO INTENSE. We called the after hours number for the oncologist to let him know what was happening and Studmuffin spoke to the nurse – she said I could take a double dose of the pain med – THANK GOD. Finally the pain was bearable. Meanwhile my face was swelling more and more – I was producing lots of saliva but it was backing up as the duct was still blocked The swelling was interfering with not only chewing but my breathing. I was sleeping sitting up on the couch so I could keep breathing!

My oncologist upon seeing me postponed my chemo treatment for that week and immediately whipped out his phone and called an ENT friend of his – got me in to see him THAT afternoon; a near impossible feat. I *love* my oncologist for doing that. Anyway, got into the ENT dr. and he affirmed the diagnosis and almost immediately put on gloves and got his hands in my mouth (in my experience as a kid, some ENT’s are quite reluctant to be hands on) to massage and see what was happening. That was very helpful to me because it showed me how much pressure I should be applying (hint: it was a lot more than I had been doing). He essentially told me to keep doing what I was doing, gave me another prescription for the pain meds and to come see him in 5 days. I admit that I cried right there in his office because I felt so hopeless at that point. I felt so awful and this was all the treatment they could offer in 2019? And the pain….

Well let’s talk about pain. I’m not a pain weenie. Every surgery I’ve had, except the colon resection last May, I wound up not taking all the pain meds I was prescribed, because I don’t like taking narcotics unless I absolutely have to and I can bear a fair amount of pain – the crusty New Englander part of me feels the need to point this out. 🙂 Anyway, I have saved those leftover medications over the years and they have come in handy on several occasions – earaches, somebody throws their back out, that kind of thing. I am always very, very, very careful with dosages; these medicines are serious business. When I started taking double the pain meds to make the pain bearable, well I was running out and I am very thankful that I still had a few tablets left from my heart surgery 10 years earlier (FYI – tablets are very, very stable over decades if kept in a reasonable environment (not too hot or cold and low humidity). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any kind of “stash” at all, just a very few tablets left over here and there. This helped me get through. Truly, this has been one of the most painful things I have EVER experienced – and I’ve had heart sugery and given birth 3 times!

So just as I am taking the antibiotic (a pill so big I have to split it into quarters to swallow it) I develop a yeast infection as well. This is TMI I am certain, but I feel I wanna say it because it only added to the over all misery. I had this as well as “elimination follies”* and I was not at all interested in eating; in fact I ate nothing for 3 days at one point. I did, because of a great sacrifice on my husband’s part, get to go to the Affrolachian On-Time Gathering, which was probably the best medicine I could have had. The gathering deserves its own post but I don’t have the energy to do that right now. Just know that all y’all oughta be going next year!

Eventually I was sent to Birmingham to see another ENT who has a nifty scope for this gland – the Duke of Curl had to drive me down and back, and the doc was running WAY late (2.5 hrs late) so none of that was fun. He told me that I was too swollen to scope and that I should take about 2 weeks more antibiotics to clear this thing out. He did not see evidence of what I have been calling my “face rock” so presumably it has passed. I can breathe normally, sleep in my bed and chew normally again, too. I am off narcotics and am not taking anything other than Ibuprofen for pain and inflammation.

This is the really gross part so you might wanna skip this paragraph. I started having some swelling go down and some relief after my first ENT visit and the much stronger massage. The most painful area, and the most swollen, is just in front of and just behind the ear. So the day after I finish the 7 day course of antibiotics I got from the ER doc, I’m massaging behind my ear and the skin ruptures and all this bloody pus comes draining out. I had actually given a good deal of thought into opening that area up myself with a large, sterile needle, but I’m just as happy not to have to do that and that it occurred naturally. It is still draining (almost 2 weeks now) and the B’ham ENT cultured the pus and has as of yesterday given me a new antibiotic to take (very large pills that cannot be split and are quite challenging for me to swallow).

Last week was chemo and it hit me wicked hard. When I can sleep, I have lots of vivid nightmares (my therapist calls them “poison dreams”) and I am much, much weaker than I have been – so weak that I have been afraid to drive myself places. I’m tryna take a trip to NH to see family in a week – it’s a little iffy that I can even go. Still I am feeling better today than in the last 3 weeks.

It’s been six months since my diagnosis so I guess I’m officially down to 18 months life expectancy – that’s not what I say it is and of course God has the final say in all cases. I thank you from the bottom of my soul for all the prayers and I hope you’ll keep on praying for me; the prayers are keeping me going. Next up will be the big liver ablation in November, if I’m well enough to do it. I’ll try to write more frequently and briefly in the future.

The Invader – update #4

Sorry it has been so long! I have been traveling around with family and Studmuffin, and I won’t be back for another week as I’ll be back at the Augusta Heritage Festival for Blues & Swing week again this year. Not doing keys this time – voice and guitar….maybe even learn to play the bones…..

The Invader gazes upon his realm….soon to be taken from him, but he doesn’t know it yet.

So I began chemotherapy on July 2nd, when I also received my diagnosis and prognosis. I get an IV infusion every 3 weeks and the rest of the time pills – lots of them. And thank goodness! The drugs? They are really expensive! Yay! This course of chemotherapy is supposed to last 3 months, but more on that later.

The first 4 days after the IV infusion I’ve now learned that I am so groggy I am pretty much comatose/useless, which made me WAY fun at Studmuffin’s family reunion I can tell you. Studmuffin was fantastic about the whole thing I have to say. And for my own family members, yes, there’s now another thing that will stop me from talking – believe it or not! So now we have: 1) general anesthesia, 2) sleep or coma and 3) a 4 day long course of a particular anti-nausea medication. Seemingly nothing else will.

I rather think Studmuffin enjoyed the respite from the usually never-ending flow of words exiting my lips on our 13-hours-over-2-days drive to West Virginia from Aba-lama-ding-dong.

The rest of the time I am more fatigued than usual, and have been greatly disturbed in my own digestion, over and above the aftermath of the surgical colon resection I had in May. Let me just say that I now understand all those commercials I saw on tv as a kid where older folks were discussing “regularity”. What the heck was that – regularity? Why was it such a topic of interest? When I finally figured out what they were talking about, maybe age 10, I thought they were NUTS because you know, I’d never had that trouble before and how could *that* really even be a thing? Got it now, thanks. Experience is a real fine teacher!

So now here’s the diagnosis as a result of the recent PET scan – I have Stage 4 colon cancer that has metastasized to the liver. Remember my adorable liver? My sweet, untroubled by alcohol for decades liver? Turns out I have cancer throughout the liver – can’t just hack off a lobe of it either as the lesions are all the way through and all over the liver.

So what does that mean? This is kind of cancer is considered incurable…though the docs don’t like to say it. There are things that can and will be done to prolong my life depending on lots of different variables. Generally the estimate of life length is 2 years. I believe I have 4 years….but that’s a whole ‘nuther story.

There may be more surgery, more chemo – a lot depends on how I respond to treatment. What I hate about this whole thing is that I am yet again, 10 years after open heart surgery, a person who talks about their health all the time. Don’t get me wrong – I am glad to talk about it with all of my friends and family, answer questions- please don’t take this to mean that I don’t want all y’all to mention it freely or whatever, but my goodness – I learned years ago that talking about my health is very boring eventually. I may start carrying around a pre-printed FAQ page with me so people can read it and I won’t have to repeat it again.

I’m doing well I think. I absolutely know it’s because of the prayers. I am constantly lifted up in prayer by many folks I don’t even know and many who I’ve never met in person. I’m weepy with gratitutde at some point every day. Thank you!

Now let’s talk about something else for a bit, shall we? Thanks.

The Invader – Update #3

So when last I wrote, I hadn’t heard back about the MRI. Well now I have and the news is WEIRD and possibly bad. They found loads of lesions on my liver, but they cannot tell if they are cancerous without a needle biopsy. To do the needle biopsy – you’re never ever gonna believe this – they have to do ANOTHER TEST.  So it was a PET scan I had last week and yes – more radioactive contrast.  OH BOY MY FAVORITE!

 

So in the last 7 or 8 weeks, I’ve had 2 CT scans, an MRI and a PET scan, all with radioactive contrast and all of which has made me feel quite ill and has the added bonus of giving me about 12 years worth of regular radiation. There’s a certain amount of radiation you get from just living on the the planet every year, so I’ve now gotten 12 years’ worth. Hurrah.  My spirits are good but sometimes things that don’t usually hurt start hurting and the thought does cross my mind – is that a cancer pain?  Plus the radiation has made my saliva taste bad 24/7. No bueno.  All this before actual treatment (other than the surgery*.) Makes me a little nervous as to how bad the treatment might be……

So tomorrow – Tuesday, July 2nd is when I start chemotherapy.

PROS – treatment has begun, supposed to last 3 months only, no radiation treatment in the forecast, taking mostly pills and I’m not supposed to lose my hair.

CONS- the medicine is EXPENSIVE, pills everyday (my track record on taking pills daily or even on time is abysmal), plus I’ve been prescribed not 1 but 2 medications for nausea so that’s gonna suck, IV infusion every 3 weeks which takes 3 hours (which I’ll get to do tomorrow too), no firm diagnosis yet (means more tests) and so no prognosis yet, and based on last week’s PET scan results, ALL OF THIS COULD CHANGE.

After I get done with the IV infusion, I get an hour to find food (I am a diabetic so even if I feel super nauseous I still must eat) and then go over to the hospital for the pre-consult for the needle biopsy, which hopefully can be scheduled for after our trip.

YES I am travelling. I got back last night from a working weekend in Mississippi, then Wednesday, we leave for West Virginia and Studmuffin’s family reunion. Then a week of visiting family and friends as well as some sightseeing – Studmuffin LOVES LOVES LOVES Frank Lloyd Wright homes – we’re gonna *stay* in one overnight and I wanna see Fallingwater. Tomorrow’s promised to no one so I’m going to Pennsylvania and upstate New York so there. Studmuffin was looking at all the things he’d like to go see – battlegrounds and the site of the Johnstown Flood but I told him I just cannot do that. This time out I need nature, music, light and laughter, not disasters, grief and wars if I’m gonna beat The Invader.

Yes, he was cool.

After PA and NY I come back to Elkins for Blues & Swing week at Augusta and he flies to CA for work. I am determined to haul myself to Augusta, though today I decided not to take any Blues piano this year – I don’t wanna have to haul my keyboard around this time. So I’ll take pretty much all vocal stuff – or perhaps Ukelele. I have a pretty good one, they are compact and they are fun and easy to play. I won’t stay out nearly as late as usual or maybe even at all, but I want to do this for my mental and spiritual health. Then we head to Virginia to see my folks for a day before heading home. Of course I am gonna try to eat at as many restaurants that have been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” as I possibly can, and am booking some rather unusual AirBnb places to stay. There may be a couple of yarn or fabric shops in there too. Studmuffin said he wants me to choose and not ask him. OK – no problem!

Two of the progeny are going to the reunion and the Duke of Curl will take blacksmithing at Augusta the week we are swanning around the Alleghenies. I’m really happy about them coming – they weren’t at the last one- and I think it’s gonna be a good time. And I very much hope the Duke has a blast at Augusta! He started getting involved with blacksmithing last year and seems to really love it.

Since my diagnosis in late April I’ve had a few moments of deep anxiety, but very few – perhaps 3?  I absolutely know that this is because so many of you are praying for me. It’s truly a RIDICULOUS number of people – I need to do something pretty amazing to be worthy of it at all and I’ve got zero ideas of what it might be at this point. Maybe single-handedly fixing the broken US immigration process? Reverse climate change?  I don’t know. If I could I surely would….Thank you all very very very much.

If I have a few working brain cells left on the trip, I’ll try to take pictures and share….maybe even write an update, but I can promise nothing. Isn’t that nice of me?  Until next time…..

 

 

 

 

 

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*By the way, I had the surgeon look at the incision that’s been bothering. Well, MORE than bothering, but the details are really quite disgusting and you really don’t wanna know. It took me 3 weeks to get in to see him. He glanced at it for perhaps a whole second and then said something I really didn’t appreciate. When I told my mother – she’s a retired nurse and wants to know all the gory details, plus she is rather fond of me – she exclaimed, “Surgeons!” in such a way that 1) made me laugh and 2) indicated a certain frustration borne of long experience with surgeons.   It’s been my experience that surgeons like to cut, not to stitch up, most of them are men and do not know much at all about sewing, and they’re not very interested in wound care. Don’t get it twisted – I like my surgeon, he did a really god job on me and I am very grateful, but this last bit was not as helpful as it might have been. I will continue to treat it as I have done which has made a big difference. I *still* can’t go to water aerobics yet, though (no open wounds in the pool, right?) and that irritates me no end.

The Invader – update #2

That’s what my mother calls cancer – the Invader. I wanted to title these updates something more interesting than “Health update” or “cancer watch 2019” or whatever. I like how Mom puts it.

Remember these guys? I do. Still, they are 2 cute to represent cancer….

So when I last wrote about my health, I was just telling y’all about my surgery and recovery. Still going fairly well….I’m having a little trouble with one of the incisions, it hasn’t healed quite right but that’s minor.  Even tho’ my oncologist has been on vacation for a couple of weeks, I was supposed to start chemotherapy almost 2 weeks ago. However, I got some unexpected bloodwork numbers; a number that was supposed to go way down after the surgery went way up – it almost doubled.  So the hunt for cancer elsewhere begins………..I had a CT scan a week ago Monday (that radioactive agent they give for the ‘contrast’ always makes me ill for about a week and a half; no, it isn’t an allergic reaction).

No felines were involved in my CT scan…

There’s some good news – almost everything looks perfectly normal. And then there’s some weird news: there’s something strange about my liver. It doesn’t look like a tumor there, it doesn’t look like the cancer has metastasized to the liver; it’s just unusual so YAY! I haven’t drunk alcohol in 30+ years and I quit smoking nearly 25 years ago – you’d think my liver would be in great shape! Now I wouldn’t say my liver is weird; I’d say that it’s quirky.

Quirky – like King Kong & Godzilla having a dance party…..

What does it all mean? More tests of course. Fortunately the tests at the moment aren’t invasive; unfortunately, the next one requires more radioactive contrast…….and we’ll learn more about my adorably quirky liver. I had an MRI last Wednesday – I was hoping that I might know something more by yesterday but no.

I know chemotherapy will begin soon – I’m hoping I can tolerate it well; there’s things I wanna DO this summer. I already told Studmuffin that if all the hair goes, I will be wearing wigs. but I know how this goes; I’ll get a wig hoping to look something like this:

But I *know* that I will end up looking much more like this:

 

-/-/-/-/-/-/-

Along with my title of the Invader, I’ve chosen my character/ logo/ drawing to represent my personal Invader. Why? Because he makes me smile. I admit I came very close to using Sheldon J. Plankton from SpongeBob Squarepants (below) – he makes me laugh; he’s so dramatic and nuts, but he’s only generally, hilariously evil. He’s not a true invader…..

 

So for those of you with kids or who are into animation, you’ll already know who this guy is. For those of you who don’t – his name is Invader Zim and I encourage you to check him out, especially if you enjoy dark humor…

Until next time, please wear your sunscreen and eat carrots and kale and drink plenty of fresh, clean water. The Invader doesn’t want you to, but I do. xxxooo

I have “it”; “it” doesn’t have me.

What is “it”?  Cancer, y’all. Tho’ really, I’m just not that upset about it.

It’s been TEN YEARS since I had heart surgery – I was so much sicker then and heart surgery is way more complicated than a colon resection. Probably the biggest thing is that my children are all ten years OLDER. This is huge for me.

Two things:

-first, I have been overwhelmed with all of the support I have gotten from friends, family, acquaintances and strangers from all over the world.  It occurs to me yet again that the English language really needs more words for gratitude other than “thank you”. I mean, I do not have words for how grateful I am – “thank you” – even a million times over – does not seem to really convey how I feel.

 

 

 

-second, the amount of well-intentioned advice on what I need to do to beat cancer that I have received has been nothing short of astonishing. I cannot begin to follow even a tenth of it.

 

About half of the advice that I have received contradicts the other half of the advice…..  I receive it all as expressions of love and caring, truly sincere efforts to assist me.  I am grateful.

Here’s the advice I *am* following:

“Whenever ye fall ill, refer to competent physicians.”

(Baha’u’llah, Kitab-I-Aqdas, Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 275)

I have really good doctors and I’m gonna do what they say. Sometimes my docs are surprised by this; apparently lots of people do NOT follow their doctor’s advice……


Just a few more particulars……

  1. I had NO symptoms. NONE.
  2. I turned 50 and was scheduled for my first routine colonoscopy in April. They found a cancerous tumor.
  3. Please please please get your colonoscopy done. Do NOT put it off or think it’s not important. Of course it’s embarrassing. Of course you don’t wanna.  However, cancer is far more inconvenient (among many other things) and may deprive you of your life. It’s way more fun to tell your family the embarrassing tale of your colonoscopy than to have them plan your funeral.
  4. I had surgery May 9. Along with part of my large intestine, 39 lymph nodes were removed and biopsied. 2 were found to have cancer cells in them.  My cancer is considered Stage 3a.
  5. I will have chemotherapy – what kind is still being determined.
  6. I am recovering well. The weirdest part is how confused my digestion is……..
  7. It is quite possible that there is other cancer elsewhere in my body – the docs are starting the process of looking for it.  It also could be something else.
  8. I haven’t knit on anything in a month.
  9. I have zero gardening mojo. I never even *looked* at single seed catalog this winter. I feel bad for my new-ish next-door neighbor who is very tidy, but not so bad that I am doing anything at all to improve things. I may actually take some pictures b/c it’s so bad; I find it somewhat humorous actually…..
  10. I have remained true-to-form as with all my other surgeries, in that as soon as I start feeling better, I do too much which sets me back days or weeks. I so want my stamina back. Right now, I feel pretty weak, in that I do something – like make the bed, and then have to take a nap to recover.                                                                                                                                                                       
  11. I realize that my lifelong precociousness in various areas has continued into my middle age – I am an aging overachiever.

 

I hope to write more regularly; we’ll see. 🙂