Friday, October 31, 2014

Dear Prudie--How do I begin?

Hi. It's me. This time I'm not being hacked.

Have any of you read the "Dear Prudie" columns? Or any advice columns? I wrote to one once, and never saw an answer to my question, so I feel like it would be a waste of time to do it again. If I did send in a question, it would read something like this:

Dear [Insert Advice Guru Here],

The past week has been an overwhelming roller coaster of emotions. I have cried nearly everyday, sometimes out of fear and anxiety, but mostly, because I'm overwhelmed with gratitude and have a heart that is full to bursting as friends, family, strangers, and others have rallied around me in a time of need.

Not with just kind words, notes and messages, and prayers--though, there have certainly been those--but with people who understand me and understand my need to be able to find the humor in this situation and find a way to laugh about the things that really suck. Monday was quite possibly the lowest day of my life, and if not my life, it was certainly the lowest I have felt since I discovered pesky Abner, the tumor, in June. I could not find a single thing to laugh about, and yet, a phone call to my mom (and a cry fest in my car) followed by dinner at Meghan's where she and Jared were able to talk me through some things, find something to laugh about, and turned my mind away from it all had me feeling a little more stabilized.

Tuesday was completely different. A particular coworker changed my mood entirely in what, I think, others might have found to be insensitive or inappropriate, and yet, it was the exact thing I needed to feel better about the coming weeks. I also received a most beautiful bouquet of flowers (seriously, stunning).

And then there was the fundraiser.

I saw a few comments on Facebook where people were wondering if I had any idea of what was going on, if I knew about the fundraiser.

The thing is, I did. But I couldn't quite formulate a message to put out there. It would be foolish for me to demand it be shut down simply out of pride; and it would feel too avaricious for me to encourage it or advertise it on my own in any way. But I've been watching as people contributed to the fund, shared the link to their friends (often accompanied with really sweet messages that also made me cry). Seriously, overwhelming is a gross understatement. 

There have been contributions from my family--biological and otherwise; from high school classmates that I haven't spoken to since we graduated; from friends, but also from their family members; and coworkers both past and present; and total strangers; and a myriad of anonymous donors.

My question is this: How do I begin to express my gratitude? 

I guess I start with this post. Thank you. A million times. If you sent me a card, wrote me a message, or said a prayer, thank you. And if you did donate to the fund, please know, that you are the answer to not only my prayers, but to those being offered in my behalf. Out of all the things (aside from the chemo, which has recently taken the #1 spot), how to finance this has been my number one anxiety. The fundraiser will help ease that burden. Things will always be tight, but the bills will not devastate me as they would have done.

I love you all. I love your willingness to help and to see me through this. And I love your willingness to laugh with me.

I hope you all will still love me when I don't have hair...or eyebrows.



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wherein I take over Shelli’s blog and Shelli learns she should not use the same password for everything

If you’ve been following Shelli’s Facebook feed, you’ll notice that I’ve been posting “on her behalf” (aka, I hacked her page and then wrote whatever I wanted).  I’ve now done the same to her blog—she should really learn that using the same password for all her accounts isn’t a good idea. BUT, it is good news for me because now I can use her blog to tell you a little story.

I met Shelli about six years ago. I worked at a local software company as a writer and it was her first day as the marketing coordinator. Our boss set her in the cubicle next to mine and I remember going over to make the obligatory small talk. I told her that if she needed me to show her around to let me know—little thinking that she would actually take me up on my offer.

A few hours later she popped in and said, “Ok, I’m ready for my tour.” I am notoriously unfriendly, so I was horrified that I would have to spend time with another human being. But Shelli approached our friendship the same way she approaches everything else: with enthusiasm and courage. Six years later we’re still friends—almost all of which I attribute to her incredible tenacity.

Here’s the thing: I know these qualities will keep her going during her chemo treatments. But no amount of enthusiasm, courage, or tenacity will help her pay the mountain of bills she’s already starting to incur.

The AVERAGE cost of one chemotherapy treatment is now approximately $10,000. She will need six. And that’s ON TOP of the doctors visits, CT scans, blood work, and surgery. Yes, she has insurance, but as we all know, that only covers so much.

So I’m asking again—please donate. Shelli shouldn’t have to worry about paying her bills when she should be focusing on getting well again. And she really shouldn’t have to put her life on hold once she does get well to pay off her treatments.

If you have any questions or have any ideas on how to raise additional funds, please contact me at

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Update -- Chemotherapy

I had my chemotherapy consult appointment today.

It was . . . overwhelming.

I made the choice to post my adventures in cancer on my blog and post updates on Facebook in an effort to hedge off questions and make it seem as though this were an ordinary, everyday kind of thing. But after today's appointment, it hit me that this is actually happening. And as grateful as I am that we are moving forward with the chemo--I want to make sure all the cancer cells are gone, so the likelihood of it returning is too--it's all a little terrifying.

The thing is, I still don't have a cancer that I'm going to die from. Not this year, nor in any future years. My cancer could come back, but that could be 20 or 30 years from now. Or, hopefully, it just won't. I'm not really "fighting a battle" against cancer. The battle is over, the chemo is just taking prisoners. But dying of cancer is not really the scary part. Living through the treatments is.

I start chemo on Monday. Treatments will last through February. And yes, I'm going to lose my hair. (Apparently that part is not negotiable.) And yes, it is probably going to suck. It's an excellent time of year, though, for chemotherapy. Navigating flu season with a lowered immune system sounds like just the sort of thrill I've been seeking. I'll also get to wear festive hats (actually, dying of cancer doesn't sound that bad) and scarves through all the best holidays, since starting on Monday means that I'm going through Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, New Year's, and Valentine's Day before finally being done.

I don't want to do it.

Today my stoicism broke and I'm having a hard time piecing it together. Maybe tomorrow will be better. If not, ask me again when my hair is back, at least, to the length of my collarbones. . .. I can't handle people being nice to me about it. Seriously. Stop it. Half of the tears shed today were from generous offers and well wishes. I am overwhelmed as it is.

In the meantime, if you find a giveaway and want to borrow my cancer as an excellent reason to win, as long as you promise I get to go too, then by all means. Let's milk this cancer for all it's worth!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Stage 1C

Two and a half weeks ago I had surgery to remove my ovary and tube and Abner, the tumor. At least, that's what I thought they were removing. I mean, they did remove those things. The left ovary, rather than the right, which is weird. And Abner is no more. Flash frozen and sliced, he's been run through a myriad of pathology tests and is now destroyed.

Side note: This is sort of sad, as Abner, the tumor, in a jar (with googly eyes) was destined for a life of adventure if only they had given him to me in a jar.

It turns out that Abner was not just any old tumor, but a granulosa cell tumor. All my research of this type of tumor proves that it is pretty rare, and even more so in a person my age. The tumor is a hormone (usually estrogen) producing tumor, that built up around my ovary, and as a little present, spread to my small intestine. They discovered that during the surgery, and were able to remove all presence of Abner, the ovary, and the tissue of the small intestine, before they closed me up.

From the research, it looks like all granulosa tumors are classified as cancer. This seemed at odds at what we had been told: that it was benign, and so I was pretty confused. However, when I went into my follow up appointment today, I was told that in fact, I am stage 1C. Meaning, stage one, ovarian cancer*.

Lucky for me, all the hard work has been done. The surgery removed all the cancerous cells from my body. The likelihood of it coming back seems to be low enough that the doctor doesn't think I'll have to do chemo, though, he will be presenting my case to a tumor board on Monday, and I'll hear back following that meeting to know how they recommend I be treated. (His nurse believes that the chemotherapist will recommend it.)

The chemo that I would be put through is not the type of chemotherapy you see on the movies where people are puking and hating their lives worse than they are hating the cancer. It's the "good chemo", and so, again, I say, I have been through the worst of it.

Which is why as everyone who so kindly comments for me to "stay positive" and that they are sending thoughts and prayers my way, I wonder if the Cancer Club of people who have really been through the ringer: the ones that have been fighting aggressive cancers for years with the "bad chemo" and surgeries and losing their hair, their strength, their money; the ones that have been through so, so much heartache and pain and misery . . . you know, those guys, are going to show up and say, "Stage 1? STAGE 1?! That's nothing! That's hardly cancer!" I would agree with them. And cower in my boots, and prostrate myself for their forgiveness for every time I intend to use the cancer card (like, such as skipping out on work today... #sorrynotsorry).

It's just a touch of cancer. And it's mostly gone. Chemo or not, I'm fine. The prognosis is about the same as every other healthy person who has to leave their house. So fear not, little ones. I'm still not worried, or nervous and you shouldn't be either. I'm not down in spirits and I don't need too much encouragement to continue being my regular old self. (Everyone likes a bit of flattery now and then, so please, continue to call me beautiful and witty and "a real catch" and all of that, but don't worry about needing to reassure me that I'm strong and I'll beat it--in my eyes, it's been beat already!--Abner, the tumor-foe is no more!)

*I had to Google a little further, and found the following:
Following is a description of the various stages of ovarian cancer:
Stage I - Growth of the cancer is limited to the ovary or ovaries.
Stage IA - Growth is limited to one ovary and the tumor is confined to the inside of the ovary. There is no cancer on the outer surface of the ovary. There are no ascites present containing malignant cells. The capsule is intact.
Stage IB - Growth is limited to both ovaries without any tumor on their outer surfaces. There are no ascites present containing malignant cells. The capsule is intact.
Stage IC - The tumor is classified as either Stage IA or IB and one or more of the following are present: (1) tumor is present on the outer surface of one or both ovaries; (2) the capsule has ruptured; and (3) there are ascites containing malignant cells or with positive peritoneal washings.

The Surgery

Ah, life. It never quite settles down like you think it's going to.

Two and a half weeks ago, I picked my parents up from the airport--a real treat to have them all to myself for the first time since I was 13 months old and blessed with a baby sister--and prepared myself for surgery. Huzzah! The thought of getting the overly large, fairly disgusting Abner, the tumor, out of my body was positive enough that I wasn't overly concerned or nervous. I had every confidence in my doctor, and the ideology that once Abner was gone, I could move on.

For the record, surgery totally sucks. My dreams of one day getting an internal bra are currently on hold, as I'm not certain that I will ever be able to reconcile myself to elective surgery.

Funny story: We had to be at the hospital ungodly early--6 a.m.!--and so as we were hustling out the door, and I was grabbing things I thought I would need in the hospital for my one night stay, I misplaced my phone. I knew I had several people to update, but could not find it anywhere and didn't have time to lose. We got to the parking garage at 6 a.m., and by 6:15 a.m., I was in the prep room changing into my beautiful gown and hairnet, and wondering what to do with my glasses, when my mom stands up and finds my phone in her back pocket!! I had slipped it in there before going downstairs to get something at home. You might have had to be at the hospital in the wee hours of the morning to find it funny, but truly, I thought it was hilarious.

All the TV shows and movies always show people counting backwards from 100 or being told to think of a happy place before they go in for surgery. But that's not true. The residents came in and made sure I knew what was going to happen, the anesthesiologist came in and explained what his role was going to be. We discussed that everything was going to go well, and only the worst scenario would involve an epidural and complete hysterectomy, and then I was wheeled out the door and promptly forget everything until I was in the recovery room.

Coming out of anesthesia is weird and not very fun. I could overhear the nurses saying something about my left ovary being removed, but had no way to ask, "Um--what the heck??!" since it was supposed to be my right ovary. By the time I got my eyes opened, I tried to focus on the clock to see how long I had been out, hoping that would indicate whether or not I had needed the epidural or not. But the clock was spinning on an axis, the same as though I were on a very fast Ferris wheel. I couldn't get my eyes focused, and for some reason, that made me cry. Actually, I was just leaky and weepy anyway. Not in pain, not uncomfortable...just confused and crying.

A nurse was near me, keeping a close eye and I managed to ask a few questions, "Was there an epidural?" "Are my parents OK?" and "Why the left ovary?" There wasn't an epidural, the surgery had gone well and there was just a surprise with which ovary had been enlarged and needed to be taken out, but everything was good. And my parents were OK. She noticed my tears and told me that it was normal for me to cry--that often happens with female patients coming out of anesthesia. She told me something that men were prone to do, but for the life of me, I can't remember.

At some point, I was taken to my room. I vaguely remember going into the elevator. My parents were there waiting for me, where I said--still crying--that they took the wrong ovary. I could hear the worry in my mom's voice as she was like, "WHAT?" but didn't have the control left to explain that it was intentional and that it was OK. I fell asleep after that, I think.

You can imagine that having a six inch incision is not a fun time, and it isn't. Especially if some of the meds make you nauseous and throw up. And if you cough. Or laugh. Or move. The first pair of nurses on shift had me control my pain meds as I felt I needed them, which was sort of a crappy move on their part, as there were then lulls in which I was hurting pretty bad. At one point, I was in so much pain and they had come in to give me meds, but they asked me what the scale of pain I was in. I asked them to clarify and they told me to classify it from 1-10. The problem with that is, what classifies as a 1? What's a 10? (Look up Brian Reegan's sketch on the ER, and you'll understand.) I didn't feel like I was dying, I hadn't given birth, or had a leg severed off. I imagined those were the tens. So I said a five. I'm certain they thought I was the biggest whiner. Then they asked what my tolerance level was and I just said, "Not this!" It was agony! And really, that was the worst of it. Except when I puked a few more times. That was pretty awful too, but once I figured out it was the IB Profin that made me sick, I stopped taking it and was fine.

My parents stayed with me during the day, and then left at night. My mom thought I was being a huge baby and told my sister who told me. Rude. I loved when Thelma, the best nurse, came on shift, because she knew how to control my pain and when she was in charge, I never lagged for meds and was kept nice and comfy.

They had me up and out of bed and walking around the next morning. It hurt so much to get in and out of the bed, but, it didn't take too long before I was up and walking circles around the hospital floor. Sometimes with my mom and dad, and sometimes by myself while they stopped at home and got some food. The TV didn't work, but whenever I took pain pills, I was passed out for a few hours at a time, and so that was easy for me to avoid.

I had a lot of visitors, which was pleasant and some were unexpected. It was a perfect way to pass the time between hazy pain pill naps. A couple walked around and passed the sacrament to LDS patients on Sunday and I went to their sacrament meeting in my hospital gown and blanket with no bra on. It was a half hour. And simply the best. Maybe we should revisit the whole three hour thing? They had two talks and the sacrament in half an hour with a "come as you are" attitude. Utterly brilliant.

After that, I was discharged from the hospital. Which my parents were very happy about. They were practically chomping at the bit to get out of there and be somewhere where they could get some work done, instead of watching me lie around in pain. I made it home, and really, just took a pain pill, slept, walked, slept, took a pain pill, then slept for about two days. Then I was sleeping a little less, and watching more TV, and occasionally walking. And mostly watching my parents blow through a to do list like crazy.

I was still coughing while at home, which was pretty awful. And we watched comedians and Miranda, which made me laugh so hard I cried, and then I cried just because it hurt to laugh. Oi.

By the time my dad left, almost a full week later, I was feeling much more the thing. So my mom and I were able to accomplish a lot the whole second week I was in recovery. Including, taking lots of naps and watching all the pilot shows that came on TV.

Really, I think that is the key to recovery: TV and sleep. And more sleep. And, surprisingly, getting up and walking about.

It was so wonderful to have my parents here to help and get me through this. For as many offers as I had for people to take care of me, I don't think I could have comfortably relied on them as I was able to my parents. I am so SO grateful they were here. It almost makes me want to cry again! (Apparently I do that a lot.)

My mom left on Sunday, which sucked...but what can you do? I was fit and ready to go back to work, and so there was not much more I could do--no relapse I could truly threaten--and she had to get back to real life as I did. Siiiiiiiiiigh.

If anybody hears of a job my dad would be perfect for in Utah, please let me know immediately. I would like to have them closer to me.

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