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?

Surgery 2.0: The play by play

Cancer is an adventure and one part of that adventure for many cancer patients is surgery.  Would you like a long, detailed update about my life since August 31st?  Ok!  Here we go.

Well, it’s been two weeks since I had surgery to remove half my liver (which, I’m told is almost totally grown back already!) and my entire gall bladder. Forgive me for the delay, but between the anesthesia, the pain and the side effects of the pain medication, it would have been a bad idea.  For example, a few days ago, I went to text a friend (Kelly Cooke) and realized that I had texted her in the middle of the night from the hospital “These pain meds are awesome.”  I’m not sure if it’s funnier that I wrote that or that she totally ignored it.

Surgery was…surgery.  I’ll give you some details because sometimes people get sent to my page because they have a similar diagnosis and they Google what to expect.

We arrived at the hospital at 4:45am.  It is always interesting to see the groupings of people there for early morning procedures.  Some people come with just one other person and are pretty quiet and grim-faced.  Others are calm or upbeat (probably the lucky laproscopic patients!)  I’ve noticed that Latino people with an older relative going in for surgery come out in droves – the whole family – and are pretty lively.  I’m happy to report I’ve never seen anyone in the early morning surgery waiting area alone.  That would break my heart.

My trusty driver and husband had his coffee, his newspaper and his laptop at the ready.  Shortly after we arrived, my lovely, loyal, generous friend, Jennifer showed up.  You really love someone if you wake up at 4am for them.  That’s an official friendship measurement unit of some kind.  We only got to visit a moment before they took me back, had me undress and stuck me with a bunch of needles attached to little tubes.  Kevin was allowed to come back and sit with me.  They started giving me the good stuff – the medicines that cause me to make every observation out loud and discuss such obscure topics as Fraggle Rock.  I get a little paranoid “Is that guy REALLY a doctor?” and a little silly “I can see that lady’s butt!”  And then they put the nerve blocks in and I get grouchy because that hurts, dude.  But then it doesn’t.  And things get dreamy, and off I go to surgeryland.  I have no memory between that and arriving on my room floor to see the friendly faces of Kevin, Jennifer, my mother-in-law and Kait.  Apparently my surgery and post-op recovery took about twice as long as expected, so everyone had been riding an emotional roller coaster.  That is the one time that being the patient is actually totally, inarguably easier than being the loved one.  Not that being the loved one in these situations is a piece of cake by any means.  Your friends and relatives take this journey with you, They drive you places, they help you organize your medication, they watch the needles go in, they hear you barf through the bathroom door, they hold your hand while you fight a battle of heartburn or nausea or aches and pains silently while your 6 year old tells you some rambling tale from the playground.  They are definitely in it with you and I would never say it’s easy or less scary than experiencing it yourself.  Love is like that – you sometimes fully care MORE about someone else than you do yourself.  But no one else actually feels the physical pain or ponders their own mortality in the immediate way life threatening illnesses and treatments cause one to, or puts pressure on themselves for every factor that might make a difference – take this supplement, don’t eat that pesticide-laden nectarine, get 5,000 units of turmeric into your body today or else!!  Being the patient is a solitary endeavor at times, even in the most supportive of circles.

But on surgery day, you, the patient, are in lala land and the fear, the waiting, the not knowing…it’s all placed squarely on them.  Them.  Your loved ones.  They walk with you, carry you, comfort you, spur you on, buy you nice stuff, feed you good food, clean around you, make you laugh, and run ahead of you on the path, clearing the way of everything but the largest, immovable boulders – they are in it with you.  But when you get wheeled down the hall on that gurney and you fade into unconsciousness, it is they who are left alone.

So, after hours of waiting and praying and hand-wringing, I am wheeled to my room. My crew awaits.  I make a few comments about how between Kevin’s beard and Jennifer’s stylish hat, they look like an Amish version of American Gothic, and I manage to wrestle my phone from Kevin and take a few pictures.

 

That day and the next are mostly a blur.  I remember two very good nurses, Alisha and Justin, who took excellent care of me.  Justin and I became very close because our first two experiences together were removing my catheter (is there much out there that is more personal?) and the tape holding it tightly to my thigh.  After about five minutes of his gently prying off that damned tape I looked at him and said “It’s like the world’s slowest Brazilian wax.”  He roared with laughter and we were best friends after that.  Even when he wasn’t assigned to me, he came by to check on me.  Good nurses are seriously the greatest people.  I didn’t have any bad nurses, per se, but the ones that clearly care and try to get what you need as quickly as possible, and treat you well are just so great.  It took everything I had to not ask Alisha and Justin to friend me on Facebook.  I know I’m just another patient, but I felt special because they made me feel special. Well, that’s not entirely true – I kind of always feel a little bit special.  🙂  But they made me feel like we had a connection, which is probably just them doing their jobs very well.

The first two days, I was on a liquid diet.  That is fine – I have no problem with those kind of restrictions.  They exist so you don’t send a pork chop barreling down your tender, healing insides.  Here is what I have a problem with, though.  You have just had surgery. You haven’t eaten real food in days and what do they bring you?  Processed junk.  Off brand Jello, which is simply corn syrup, which actual Jello also is, only in the case of the Yum Yum Jel Jel or whatever it’s called, the corn syrup is…syrupyer?  Beef broth (blech!) made out of a boxed powder – more sodium than you can shake a stick at.  Pudding (ok, I’ll admit, vanilla pudding, junk filled as it is, is a treat I let myself have about once a year.)  But still!  Sugar, and a list of at least 12 unpronounceable fake chemical ingredients.  Does it really seem like this is what our bodies need then?  Don’t we need nourishment?  Vitamins?  Minerals?  Nutritional TLC?  I barely ate anything because I just couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be any good for me.  (Hey-ay – guess who is down a dress size?!  Not the best way to lose a few, but I’ll take it.) We moved on to “soft foods” which included mashed potatoes and an egg sandwich.  That is what I ate for two days because they seemed the closest to actual food out of my options.  Let’s look the other way on the probability that the taters came out of a box.

I think it would be awesome to really revamp what hospitals are doing with food for patients.  To really think through what is appropriate, nutrient-rich and promotes healing.  What a cool job that would be.  Ahem, Natalie Ilkin Coale.  Just sayin’.

Visitors were probably the highlight of my experience besides, of course, doctor-ordered pain medication that makes you just not care about anything at all – my blood pressure never ventured past 120/80 during my entire visit.  I had a few visitors.  More like, a bunch.  It was so nice to see those who came by.  I fell asleep during half of the visits and have fuzzy memories of others.  Some visits were planned, some pleasant surprises – Jim Lokay gets the award for “furthest travels” and we will just pretend he didn’t come home for some fancy event, and not solely to see his ailing high school musical partner in crime.

I got to be a guinea pig for some nursing students.  And let me tell you, being a student’s first ever laxative suppository patient is a wild ride.  A ride you wish you weren’t tall enough for, where a balding, grumpy, middle aged instructor stands by and utters the phrase “Insert, insert, insert…and…stop!” to a trembling, stuttering blonde girl who probably wished she could click her heels and head back to Kansas where no one needs suppositories because of all that corn they eat.  That was a glamorous moment.  Believe me.

My abdomen has never been particularly attractive.  I carry my weight there and have always been kind of puffy around the middle.  Even as a teenager, when your body is about as good as it’s going to get, I never donned a bikini.  Well, even if they invent the actual magic bullet of weight loss and I get tight like Jillian Michaels, there will still not be a bikini in my future.  You guys, I kind of look like a shark bit me!  I have this incision that will eventually be a scar from my sternum, heading down a few inches, and then sweeping out to almost my hip on my right side.  The bruising and swelling make it look like I’ve been a victim of a mob beating.  It’s currently turning from that deep blue/black and purple to a sickly yellow with some spotty red like I have a bunch of hickeys on my belly.  I assure you, I do not.  When the bruises fade away, I’ll have a deep red scar that will probably change to white, and one day, when this is all behind us, make a very good story.  Ready for pics???

 

The only other noteworthy thing that happened at the hospital is this:  I had a drainage container that they call “the grenade” that is a clear tube inserted in your side, going deep into your belly where all the oozy, bloody junk gathers.  The grenade sucks it out.  Oof.  That thing was gross.  A clear grenade shaped ball dangling from a hole they made in your side.  They were nice enough to pin it to my gown so it didn’t drag on the floor when I went to the bathroom.  The nurse would drain it every few hours and it changed eventually from a dark red to a light red.  The disturbing thing is that they would drain it into a plastic cup like out of which you might drink, say, a spiked punch or cheap red wine at a picnic.  And then they would stand there and talk to me, holding it casually.  I almost vomited each time, because I worried that they would forget what they were doing and take a swig.  Arghghghgh!!!

Finally, the day of my discharge, the docs came through and said it was time to take out the grenade.  I had been briefed on this by a kind surgeon and he strongly recommended I up my pain meds before removal because it is “quite painful.”  The docs came through early that day and I had requested my first pain meds of the day, but they had not yet been administered.  The nice surgeon said “We’ll come back in a half hour, ok?”  I smiled gratefully and was about to thank him when the obnoxious PA with him ROLLED HER EYES and said “It doesn’t hurt that much.”

Look, Britney.  First of all, Britney?  Lovely name, but I just can’t handle the idea of someone young enough to have that name involved in life or death decisions about me.  Maybe the life or death decisions of a hamster or reptile no one cares about.  But Britneys may not operate yet.  See me in 2020 and we’ll see how it sounds then.  Secondly, SHUT UP.  I just had my whole body forcibly ripped open.  I have not complained one single time, unlike my neighbor down the hall who screams all day and calls all of the nurses “jackasses.”  I am a pretty docile patient.  Third, when A SURGEON tells you something will be QUITE PAINFUL, you freaking listen.  So shush.  And come back later, after I get my pain meds and I am less likely to smack you when this thing comes out.  I narrowed my eyes and said “That’s not what I heard from the doctor.”  He smiled and said it was no problem and they would be back.  So, of course, a half hour later, my door opens and here is Britney, by herself.  Sigh.  So I endured what probably could have been a kinder, gentler procedure by a physician’s assistant that I just annoyed.  So, new levels of pain were experienced for about 45 seconds.  Oh well.  I’ll consider it a teachable moment (be nice to the PAs even if they are little brats) and a character building exercise, which is the only benefit of physical pain.

I have enjoyed convalescing at home, receiving visitors, incredibly thoughtful packages and cards and catching up on reading and phone calls and napping.  You really can’t rush your liver healing, so I’ve had to go against my instincts to “bounce back” and just lean into the healing and rest.

Today was my first doctor’s appointment.  It was great to see my oncologist.  He has just the right mix of cautious optimism, humor, hope and diligence.  He talks about me to other doctors with pride.  He believes in me, my strong spirit and iron will.  He says I’m tough and laughs when I joke.  I like it that he gets me.  It is so important to like your oncologist.

He says we start chemo in two weeks.  I plan on fully enjoying the rest of my chemo hiatus.  Thanks for reading.  Until next time…

 

 

Here We Go! Surgery Monday.

Tomorrow night or Monday morning, however you think of 3am, I will get up, shower with this weird stinky pink antibacterial soap, leave the house around 4am and arrive at the hospital to have one and a half significant organs removed. 

My life is so weird. 

I remember, recently upon getting this diagnosis, saying to Kevin “Well, it’s never going to be normal again.”  These are true words.  But they are not bad words. 

When I said “normal” what I meant was the idea of waking up in the morning and going through my day without worrying about something major and specific.  Sure, we all worry our child will run into traffic or that argument with a friend won’t get resolved.  But there is this “normal” kind of living that you do when you feel you have control.  You have a general idea of how the day, the week, the month will go.  You confidently plan activities for next summer without wondering if you will be healthy, functional, alive?  You have a sense that all is well, nothing terrible is about to happen.  Life feels pretty predictable. 

When you have cancer, or had cancer that might come back, you live with this sense of dread.  Is it coming back?  Will it be worse?  Can I beat it again?  Cancer is so disruptive and unpredictable.  Do you know how many tests they do?  SO many!  And one wrong number – one field in a huge spreadsheet, can throw everything off.  And every single thing you do (port placement, chemo, surgery, doc appointments) requires so many things to go just so.  And organizing your schedule around it while trying to minimize the impact on everyone around you is just so incredibly difficult and stressful.  Cancer makes life so darned unpredictable. 

But the truth is that none of our lives are predictable and the control we think we have, well, a lot of it is an illusion.  Cancer (and other hardships) just pull back the curtain a little bit. 

I just heard from a friend that her good friend’s husband passed away very suddenly from a heart attack.  No warning.  He leaves behind a stricken wife and a handful of stunned children.  It sounds like no one saw this coming.  Getting the rug pulled out from under you.  It feels so unfair and so wrong.  We turn away from God entirely, or, toward God in rage, in total despair.  

How. Could. You?  
Why us?  Why this?  Why now?  We rattle off our good deeds and offer them up feebly.  Wasn’t this enough?  What did we do to deserve this?  Is it because of that terrible thought I had?  That argument I didn’t resolve?  Was I not grateful enough?  Selfless enough?  I didn’t pray enough, did I?

But God is not much of a transactional God.  There was one significant transaction to wipe out the rest.  We sin.  Jesus went to the cross to wipe out all of those sins for those who believe.  They are gone.  Erased.  You don’t have to pay for them again.  Scripture makes this clear.  God does not punish us for a debt that has already been paid in full.  He is not up there in the clouds doling out punishments to smugly teach us lessons.  God is not mean. 

So, what is He up to?  Well, I wish I could explain it in a way that made everyone feel better but I can’t. I have a few things to share that might help a few people a little bit. 

Grief is real and big and purposeful.  One must walk through grief.  There is something about grief that changes us, makes us deeper and realer and more whole, eventually.  Even though it feels as though your very heart and humanity have been forcibly taken from you.  But grief is functional, and it must be experienced.  No shortcuts.  I believe this may be part of why there are not easy answers.  We simply must  move forward through the very human experience of grief.  It equips us.  Strengthens us.  Makes us softer, wholer and better somehow. 

No way over, under or around.  Just…through.  However, there are some things to consider as one walks through grief, that I believe are useful.

We don’t know what God is up to in the short term.  We just don’t.  Romans says “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  THEN (emphasis mine) you will be able to test and approve God’s will.  His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Ok, so what this means, I think, is that once we ditch our worldly ways of thinking and doing, we are much better at seeing what God is up to.  But most of us are a long way off – still early on that journey of getting our minds renewed.  But.  If you really want to understand what God is up to, focus on Him and His ways.  Seek to understand His character and how He moves.  If you’re watching trashy reality shows and reading crappy romance novels and you’ve let yourself get brainwashed into expecting certain kinds of neatly wrapped up happy endings, you’re on the wrong track.  I love movies and books and all kinds of entertainment – I just have to make sure I don’t let those fairy tales strongly guide my expectations and how I think life works.  In the Hallmark movie, they always get together in the end, the kid gets rescued and they find a cure before it’s too late.  Not so, at least not always, with life.  In the meantime, while still fledglings at the whole figuring out God’s will thing, we simply have to trust Him.  I pray each night that I could somehow “Trust Him more each day.”

One path to trusting God more is thankfulness.  Grief and gratitude (for the grieving) or fear and gratitude (for the worried) seem like unlikely neighbors.  But they can be.  I can tell you with deep confidence that finding something to be grateful for, even the smallest thing to start with, changes your mindset.  Gratitude begets more gratitude.  It is easier to trust God when we intentionally reflect on all of the blessings we have received.  It seems weird, but I have worked myself into a near gleeful frenzy when I’ve started thanking God for everything I could think of.  Sometimes it happens differently.  For example, I love receiving thoughtful gifts, especially unexpected ones.  When I come home to a box or two on my doorstep addressed to me, and I tear through them to find fun Wonder Woman accessories or soothing spa products or a gift card somewhere fancy I’d never buy for myself, even if I’m worried about test results or feeling discouraged, those gifts can just lift me out of my funk and remind me of how much I’m loved and how God cares for me through other people and how thoughtful and generous people can be, how fun can burst out of nowhere, and how incredible and wonderful my life is, and all of a sudden this Stage 4 cancer patient feels on top of the world.  Because I feel thankful.  Gratitude lifts us up, toward God.   

God is in it for the long game.  What happens short term is PART of the bigger picture, but you may not see or understand how it all fits in.  Scripture clearly tells us that He works ALL THINGS for OUR GOOD if we love Him.  I’ve seen some of that.  There are incredible examples of God using evil for good.  Tim Keller says that God gives Satan (and us, our bad choices, etc) just enough rope to hang himself with.  I love that.  Think of Job.  All was taken from him.  He wrestled with it, debated with his friends, argued, even with God Himself.  God never gives Job the WHY but he does restore him and bless him.  This story has impacted millions of people for thousands of years.  Many a sufferer has gone to that Old Testament book in a desperate state of grief, anger or despair and said “OK, help me.” 

Imagine if my story, of struggling with cancer, made it into the volumes of history because I had a willingness to trust God and not a need to know why.  What if people, years from now, after the zombie apocalypse, went to this blog to read about how Jessi Marsh of ye old Monroeville, handled her suffering?  They probably won’t, and that’s ok – I don’t aspire to be Job.  I’d rather be known for doing something cool like inventing a teacup pig that would actually stay tiny so you could carry a wee little pig around with you wherever you go and let him out to run around the coffee table and teach him little tricks!  Heeeheeeee!  Or, you know, like, ending homelessness, than being known for suffering well (wouldn’t we all??)  But our stories, how we suffer, are important.  I hope to be authentic, to share my moments of doubt and fear (had a BIG one last week when an EKG came back abnormal.)  And share my sincere, honest hope in Christ.  My belief that God is WAY bigger than all of this but personal enough to look at me with love and care when I hurt and when I’m scared.  He reminds me that there are major challenges ahead, scary moments, physical pain, uncertainty, sadness, loss and strife.  But it’s my path, for my adventure.  And he is the activities director, the captain of the boat, the pilot of the plane, my doctor, my lawyer, my Sherpa, my advisor, my battle strategist and my friend. 

I love in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which Cass and I are currently reading, when the children ask the beaver if Aslan, the lion is safe.  The beaver says,  “‘Course he’s not safe.  But he is good.”

That’s God.  Not necessarily safe.  But definitely good. 

So, that’s how I’m approaching this surgery.  It’s an adventure.  I hope it all goes very smoothly but it might not – but I will make every effort to approach any bumps in the road with the mindset that God is always good.  He loves me more than I could dream, and He’s got an incredible story in mind for me that is slowly being revealed.              

 

Milestones on the Cancer Journey

So I had major abdominal surgery six weeks ago. It’s the thing that launched this crazy situation we’re in. We thought the surgery was The Thing to worry about getting through. Little did we know that was a cheerful, sunny walk in the park that led to the scary, poorly lit, ivy covered, rusty gate marked CANCER that we had to walk through. I have this tendency to wave my hand dismissively at that surgery. The surgeon who performed it did an excellent job and while his bedside manner made me want to hide under the covers, he removed not only the mass that caused this mess, by not screwing anything up, he also removed many obstacles for me. The connection could have leaked. I could have ended up with a colostomy bag (eeeeewwwwww.) There could have been a massive infection. All kinds of things could have gone wrong which could have jeopardized my life or delayed treating the cancer for six months.

I have been pain free from my surgery for about three weeks. I had a very fast recovery which I attribute to largely to God answering about one million people’s prayers and a little bit of my sheer, mule-like will. See, the doc not so politely noted that I am not a particularly thin person and lingered on the notion several times that due to that, it would probably take me a very long time to recover. To which I thought “Awww,that’s so cute how you don’t know who you’re dealing with, here.” And I basically said “Hey, you do the surgery right and then get out of my way.” Jagoff.

So, naturally, I was zooming up and down the hallways by the second day post-op, sweating and muttering swear words under my breath like a crazy person, with that stupid IV tower clunking along, just to spite him. I walked three times as far each day as they suggested I try to and they released me from the hospital 3 days earlier than expected. Take that, Doc. Also, I registered for a 5K that will take place a couple of days after my final chemo treatment. I will be there. I will finish. Even if I have to crawl.

Some of this post is about the will to accomplish that which seems difficult, overcoming obstacles and basically telling a guy with 12 years of post-secondary education who would go on to essentially save your life, to shove it. But it’s also about milestones.

Successful surgery. Awesome.

Getting discharged early. Great.

First “solid” food. Yum.

Returning to work to be with my crew.

Mort the Port is installed.

Starting treatment.

But the best thing, by far, happened yesterday. It’s been six weeks since I was allowed to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. That is, well, most things. Including a 40 pound preschooler. She’s been patient and understanding that she can’t torpedo down the hallway and launch her adorable self at me. She’s been gentle and careful. Until this moment…

On the Eve of Chemo-Smackdown-O-Rama-Fest

I have been the receiver of a lot of love and support as of late.  I was thinking that it might be helpful to list the things that have been helpful, touching, appreciated, fun, needed, etc.  Maybe someone will Google “How to help someone with cancer” and this will be useful.  that being said…here are a few of my favorite things:

Prayer.  Seriously.  We (I and much of my crew) believe in God, who heals, who is with us, who comforts us.  Pray for me, but pray because connecting with the Creator is good for YOU, too.  
Food.  It is hard to cook.  Surgery takes a toll.  So will chemo.  I have a couple of freezer meals from kind people – it’s a relief to know they are there.
Checking in on my husband.  He is strong.  But he needs community, too.  The man is my hero.  Buy him a 6-pack of Guinness or just tell him he’s doing a great job.  
Offers of close friends/fam to shuffle my child off to do fun stuff.  Take her, please.  I love being near her.  But.  She’s an extrovert like me – she likes to go out and do stuff or hang with a cool loved one.  I can’t be super awesome to her right now.  So when you are, it rocks.
Texts to start the day with an encouraging word.  Morning after a tough night can bring hope but sometimes it’s just so blindingly bright and glaring and looks like a big uphill climb.  Under the covers, its warm and dark and quiet.  my heart has simply been unwilling to start the day sometimes.  Your words (you know who you are) are the “oomph” I’ve needed many times.  
Cards.  Holy moly, the cards.  I know how hard it is to get to the store, find a card that doesn’t suck, buy the card, locate a stamp, find the address.  Remember to mail it.  I get lost halfway most of the time.  So every card…I appreciate the full follow through.  You put me to shame!
Gift cards – so handy.  So generous.  I’ve also gotten some lovely personal gifts and I sincerely primarily appreciate the thought that goes into that.  I am amazed by how thoughtful and kind people are!   Gifts are never, ever expected – I have everything I need, really.  But your generosity has blown me away.  I feel so loved.  
Actually coming over and doing a chore or two.  This one is weird.  See.  It is basically impossible for me to call you and ask you to clean my house or do my laundry.  That’s tacky!  This whole experience is humbling me but I still can’t quite do that. It’s also so…vulnerable.  A couple of times, close, wonderful people have basically gone ahead and done stuff and it has been hard for me to be ok with it, but also…amazing.  There may be no greater expression of love than cheerfully cleaning someone’s toilet.  Not just anyone can wash my skivvies or scrub my kitchen floor.  But those in that tiny inner circle – you are awesome.  My advice is: everyone needs a few of those people…don’t hesitate to be that person for someone if you can.
Screen communication – immediately post surgery I had an appointed “PR” person.  This was so helpful.  She updated people and fielded questions.  I highly recommend this practice.  One less thing to worry about!
Asking me constantly what I need.  It changes!  Daily!  I am not going to call you and say “bring me some tea bags!”  But someone was wise enough to ask me constantly.  And…I really needed that tea.  🙂
Visits.  It makes me feel fantastic when you are kind enough to offer to visit me.  Hanging in my PJs, sharing a soy latte or coffee with a funny friend – the best way to spend an hour or two.  My two 60-something uncles stopped by one afternoon and we had such a great conversation.  Just text first so I’m not haggard.  That is stressful.
Music.  A couple people made me playlists.  It’s a really creative, fun way to show the love.  
Make me laugh.  Let me make you laugh.  I’ve got some pretty good tales of hospital mishaps and bathroom incidents if you’re up for them.
Stay positive.  I feel positive.  It’s wonderful to hear positive stories and why you know I’ll kick this things butt.  I love being reminded of the goodness of God.  I appreciate hearing that I have encouraged someone.  These are all helpful.
I share these thoughts not so anyone would feel compelled to do anything for me.  But to share my appreciation for all that has been done, and to provide insight into what might be helpful to others who are sick or recovering.  I know that in the past, I have often not known what to do.  I know better now – so I thought I’d pass that along.  

Mort the Port

Well, my friend/foe Mort the port has been installed.  He’s on my left side a couple inches below my collarbone, under the skin.  That general region is pretty sore, like a dislocated shoulder or something.  This is where they will access my circulatory system for my IV chemo.  They do this because veins get sick of being stuck and they can stop cooperating, which, I’m told is kind of terrible.  Hence, Mort.
I got some truly excellent news yesterday.  My prayer was answered and I’m going to be able to take one of my cancer drugs orally.  The original plan was to give me one IV drug at the cancer treatment center every two weeks, then send me home with a fanny pack attached to my port via tubes and wires, to deliver a kind of chemo.  For 48 hours.
Let back up for a second and talk about the fanny pack.  Umm.  Unless it’s 1991 and we’re at Kennywood, no.  Just no.  Also, I have a four year old.  She is already pissed that I can’t lift her up for three more weeks.  (After major abdominal surgery, for six weeks you can’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk.)  She also has to be careful around my incision – once she accidentally slapped me right in the belly.  I almost cried and she actually did because she felt so bad.  Now, with this possibility of the chemo-from-the-comfort-of-home fanny pack, the poor kiddo would have had to worry about getting caught in my spider web of chemo tubes for two days at a time.  So, instead (THANK YOU, Lord) I have to take a bunch of pills everyday.  I’m fine with that.  Now, I still have to go and get regular chemo at the treatment center but it’s only once every THREE weeks instead of every two.  And one final blessing to report:  I was going to have to pay a crazy amount in copays for this oral med every few weeks.  But somehow, they made it so it’s much less.  Cancer is expensive, folks.  So I’ll take it!
Mort and I are getting used to each other.  He’s a little pinchy.  But he’s going to be an ally in this battle.  So we’re going to be friends.  
Here I am pre and post Mort installation.