Q & A

I’ve been meaning to dust this old thing off for a while, and even more so wanting to switch the whole thing over to Word Press like the rest of the world, but until I get 10 free hours and 50 other things done first, here we are.

So a few months ago, my doc notified me of some funk in my lungs that he wasn’t sure was cancer.  So we kept an eye on it.  Eventually we decided we were tired of keeping an eye on it, and we thought we would crack me open and scoop that sucker out.

Lung surgery is about as icky and painful as you might imagine.  They put a camera down my throat and into my bronchial tubes and injected dye into the tumor.  Then they went in through my ribs on the left side and back.  They performed a lung resection, removing a portion around the mass and sewing it back together.  I woke up with a chest tube sucking blood and gunk out, snaking across the floor to a little plastic suitcase I had to carry with me to the bathroom.  I took one look at that thing and said “Leave the catheter in so I don’t have to go anywhere.  And can I have more pain medication, please?”

I left the hospital in a few days, stayed home recovering, staring at my cat and working from home.  Then I got a colonoscopy because, why not?  🙂  Three days later I headed to LA for a work trip and some fun catching up with friends who insist on living way out there.

I got home late last night and headed straight to the doc today to find out that the funk was, in fact, cancer.  Sigh.  This is my THIRD time having cancer.  Sometimes I honestly cannot believe this is my life.  On one hand, I can’t believe it’s my life because I’m 38 and super active and eat pretty healthy and I have cancer.  And not one of those “good” cancers that just needs to be treated and probably won’t come back.  One that keeps coming back and attacking different organs.  And on the other hand, I can’t believe it’s my life because I have persistent stage 4 cancer that keeps trying to kill me, and yet I just ran my fastest two miles of my life 2 weeks ago, had major surgery, got on a plane 13 days later, and the same day was swinging around my friend’s loft apartment on aerial silks like an acrobat.  An enthusiastic but mostly unsuccessful, hysterically laughing acrobat.

I stayed out until 1am in Hollywood at the coolest jazz club I’ve ever been to, and managed to get up the next day and make it through a full day of meetings that I actually fully enjoyed.

I’m three and a half years into this cancer experience.  (I will refrain from using the word “journey” because even though it totally makes sense and often it seems like the only apt word, I just really hate it.  You can totally use it if you want.  In fact, if you want to send me a card, good luck finding one that doesn’t have the word “journey” in it.)  Anyway 3+ years in and the third round is on.  Treatment for now is “watch and wait” but chemo may be in the future.  My goal is to get through the Spring and Summer without needing treatment and then, come September, if it’s back to the chemo bar, then back to the chemo bar we shall go.

People ask me the same few questions, so I will post them and the answers here for you:

Are you ok?  Yup.  I am.  I’m not thrilled.  I would plan things out differently if it were up to me, but that is God’s job.  Most of the amazing stuff in the Bible I would not have been able to plan out, so I leave that to Him.  I am not always happy.  I am not always filled to the brim with joy.  But I am definitely ok.  And even when I’m not, good, familiar company, delicious healthy food, a song I love, a trip to the beach or maybe a nice Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc cheer me right up.

Are you scared?  Generally, no.  Sometimes I get scared about a specific thing, like an aspect of surgery, recovery or a chemo side effect, but between prayer and bugging my nurse friends, I usually get over that stuff quickly.  As far as being scared to die, I want to live as long as I possibly can.  And I feel hopeful that it might be quite a long while.  But heaven awaits. Then the real adventure begins, I am very convinced.

Are you mad?  Nope.  Occasionally, I am mad if I have to miss something I want to do, but I have been fortunate to minimize that. I get upset if I feel like I’m letting everyone down because I can’t do as much as I am used to being able to do.  I get frustrated when I can’t be as productive as I would like to be.  I think you are only mad about this kind of thing if you somehow think that you don’t “deserve” what is happening to you.  I do not believe that challenging circumstances are punishment, and therefore the whole “deserve” it idea is very foreign to me.  No one deserves it, and yet we all do.  And, also…there is SIGNIFICANT growth and maturity and strength that comes only from suffering.  I basically don’t put a whole lot of weight to the words of those who have not truly suffered.  It’s the only way to show what you’re made of.  And it makes you tough as hell if you let it.  I don’t choose my suffering but the results of it, when faced with the proper attitude are a blessing you can’t get another way.

Do you need anything?  There is not anything specific that I need right now.  But occasionally, I let my friend, Kait, know if there is anything that would be helpful.  If you know me, you almost definitely know Kait.  🙂  For example, sometimes lending me a book is very welcome.   (I’m all set with books right now, fortunately, thanks to a few thoughtful friends.)  🙂

What is the hardest part?  Not knowing if or when it will hit again.  I struggle with long term planning.  Like…you should plan a vacation a year ahead.  That is stressful to me.  That’s when I know I’m in a different life than most people.  You don’t not plan a trip to Fiji because you MIGHT get hit by a bus.  But I honestly would not plan an expensive trip six months out.  More like…can we go next month?  Great, I’m in.  Long range planning makes me nervous.  The other hard part is people I love worrying about me.  This worrying business is endless.  They worry about me, so I worry that they’re worrying, then they feel bad that they’re making me worry.  Everyone stop worrying, ok?!  Just pray and trust God.  Seriously.
How do you do it?  I don’t know.  Focus on what’s right in front of me.  Appreciate each day.  Refuse to miss out on something amazing.  Buy every shade of red lipstick ever invented.  Basically I choose to throw myself into all that I do, reject fear, love as hard as I can and embrace the adventure. So, who’s with me?

Let's talk colonoscopies

One thing I hope comes out of the ordeal I have been through over the past year, is that not one single person I know will procrastinate when it comes to getting their colonoscopy.

Many people are uncomfortable talking about this part of our bodies. I understand. Over the past year I have become more and more comfortable talking about these kinds of things. And I refuse to be quiet about it just because people might feel weird talking about rear ends. Honestly, if more people had talked to me about this kind of thing, I may not have felt compelled to ignore what was obviously becoming an increasingly serious medical situation.  I was scared. And most importantly, I did not understand that the earlier I addressed it, the better my outcomes would be!!!  So, I am writing this in the hopes that someone who is having any kind of medical issue that concerns them, might take that courageous step to get it checked out.  Most of the time, you go to the doctor and find out everything was fine. That brings peace of mind. On the off chance that something is wrong, it really is always better to catch it early. I promise.  As a 36 year old mom diagnosed with advanced stage colon cancer, I can tell you…if I could go back and catch it early, boy, would I.  
The purpose of this blog post is to explain what happens during a colonoscopy, the reason it is important to get one and who should get one.  Let’s begin with the latter.
If you are approaching the age of 50, you should schedule your colonoscopy.  Do not procrastinate about this. It’s important. Do it.
If you have anyone in your family who has had colon cancer, or a number of polyps discovered during a colonoscopy, you should schedule your colonoscopy at the age of 40.  
No matter what your age is, if you have had any bleeding when you are going to the bathroom, you need to talk to your doctor. They may tell you you have hemorrhoids. They may even confirm that you have hemorrhoids. However, you should ask your doctor how they can be sure that that is the only issue going on.  Most people have hemorrhoids to some degree. Unfortunately, as in my case, this can cover up a major problem.  If my doctor had been more diligent in 2003, I may have avoided cancer or at least had a much less serious case to manage.
If you have hemorrhoids, see a specialist and get them taken care of. It is not very pleasant. However you can handle it.  The process is done in a doctor’s office, and takes about five minutes. It’s a little uncomfortable, because what is happening is they are basically putting tiny rubber bands around the hemorrhoid. After a week or so it dies and falls off and should not cause you any further problems.  Once the hemorrhoids have been taking care of, the doctor should absolutely perform a lower scope procedure to see if additional screenings are needed.  If the doctor sees something he or she does not like, they will schedule you for a colonoscopy.
A colonoscopy sounds scary. Let’s be honest. They are putting a camera up your rear end.  I mean, that sounds terrifying, and very upsetting.  But before you freak out, let me walk you through the whole process.
If the doctor wants to look at your colon, it stands to reason that they don’t want it to be occupied by the digested food you have eaten. Know what I’m saying?  Put another way, your doctor doesn’t want your poop to be in the way while he’s looking around in there.  So you must do the famed colonoscopy prep.  Depending on the doctor, they do this a few different ways.  One thing that is common, however, is that you cannot eat anything for about 36 hours before your colonoscopy is performed.   For some people this is the most difficult part. Not eating for a day and a half kind of sucks. You are allowed to drink clear liquids. This includes things like chicken or vegetable broth, Jell-O, water, popcicles, apple juice, soda water, Sprite, Gatorade, coconut water without the pulp, etc.  many doctors ask you to avoid the colors red and purple in things like Popsicles or Gatorade, just because they can resemble blood in the digestive tract.  
Next, the food that you ate the previous day needs to come out. This is when the  laxative comes in. Different doctors have different types of laxative that they want you to use. My doctor’s instructions are to take four Dulcolax tablets, and then two hours later, begin drinking a solution 8oz every 15 mins that is made from a laxative powder and Gatorade.  This totals 18 doses of laxative over about 4 hours!  The next couple of hours are rather inconvenient. You do not want to stray too far from the bathroom. Everyone is different, but it is recommended by some web sites/literature that you go so far as to not wear pants, in order to have as few barriers as possible between you and the toilet.  Better safe than sorry.  
I don’t suppose it’s necessary to go into a lot of detail about this part, but let’s just say that you are going to go to the bathroom many many times over the next couple of hours. As time goes on, what comes out transitions from solid to liquid to clear.  Using flushable baby wipes as opposed to regular toilet paper is highly recommended.
As you approach the evening of this day you will be hungry, sick of drinking (although it’s very important to remain hydrated!) and tired of going to the bathroom, however the hard part is done. Still no eating until the procedure is over, and no drinking at all after midnight!  You’ll probably fall asleep and wake up dreaming of pancakes and everything else you can’t eat.  
Outpatient check in
You need to have someone take you to have this procedure done. You cannot drive afterwards. When you arrive at the surgery center, or wherever you are having the colonoscopy done, you will meet briefly with a staff person to get checked in. You will then move to a prep and recovery room, where you will undress, put on a hospital gown, climb into a hospital bed, and meet with the anesthesiologist.  A nurse will insert an IV. If you are extremely anxious, you can ask for an anti-anxiety medication to be administered through the IV while you wait.  
When it’s your turn, you will be wheeled into the room where this procedure takes place – a cross between a doctor’s office and an operating room.  At this point, you’ll be given anesthesia and very quickly conk out.  I do not remember anything from this point until about a half hour later, when I wake up in the recovery room.  There is no pain, no discomfort.  No memory of the procedure.  As far as I know I was asleep peacefully for both of my colonoscopies.  
At this point, your family member can come back, you get dressed, speak with your doc who will tell you if they found anything of concern or removed any polyps that will then be biopsied.  Once you are done talking with the doctor you are free to go have a giant stack of pancakes.  
Finally, the importance of getting your colonoscopy:  if you have polyps, they start out small.  Non-cancerous.  But they can grow and become cancer.  If you catch it early and remove it, it won’t become cancer.  If you let it grow, unhindered, it may slowly become cancerous.  The more progress the cancer makes, the more likely it is to KILL YOU.  
I wish I had read ^^ that paragraph ^^ ten years ago.  Please, don’t make excuses.  If you have something weird going on, just get it checked out.  You’ll either be relieved, or have a better chance of fighting whatever is wrong.  Every day you let go by makes the battle you might find yourself fighting a little harder.  
If you know someone hemming and hawing about a medical issue, send them this blog post.  Maybe it will give them that push they need.