Entries in Cancer Land (3)

always scanning

monday morning (september 9th) was my bone and CT scan (two separate scans). my friend serena picked me up in the early morning and whisked me to riverside in rush hour traffic. bless. i went through registration for the bone scan about half an hour earlier than necessary. he was going to take me straight down to nuclear medicine, but i stopped him. uh, i can eat and drink like normal, right? yes, you can. so... can my friend and i hit up starbucks first? oh sure! just come back and i'll lead you down for the bone scan injection. HEY, PRIORITIES, PEOPLE. we head to the in-hospital starbucks, procure our caffeine, and head back for my injection of radioactive dye at 8:30am. do you have any questions?, the nurse asks, after she gets the IV and dye started. will i turn into a superhero? she responds in the negative. i am disappointed. the injection takes around three hours to course through my body, and i am to return at 11:30am to get the actual scan. in the meantime, we head up to radiology for my CT scan. i appreciate the efficient use of down time.

i had been under the impression that the CT scan would take 15 minutes and then we would be free to wander the cabin until the bone scan. this was not the case. i am told i will need to drink some contrast mixed with water. it is confusingly presented to me, but i finally figure out that i will be drinking three perfectly timed cups of contrast water (9:15, 9:45, 10:15), and the CT scan will begin at 10:45am. so, instead of hanging out on couches, serena and i talk and catch up in bay 4. i have to pee three or four times by the time the test begins; the theme of the morning. the CT scan does, indeed, take about 15 minutes. then back down to nuclear medicine.

i am told to pee again (no problem!), then basically take a nap while i lay on a table. a very large square scanner comes towards me from above, hovering, as the table slowly slides me under it, getting a full body scan of my bones, full of radioactive dye. a low lit room, quiet, not at all unpleasant. appointments are over, serena and i lunch, she takes me home, and i head into work.

tuesday, i am scheduled for an EKG at riverside, then for chemo training at the oncologist. the EKG technician is almost finished, then tells me she can't quite see everything she needs to, and that we need to run an IV to inject some fatty lipids (gross) so that she can get a better image. i freak out a little, mostly because i just don't want to be late to the next appointment, partly because i just don't need anymore new surprises, thankyouverymuch. everything turns out fine, but i show up a little rattled to the oncologist's office.

andy meets me there, and we sit down with the oncologist's nurse. she gives us a binder of all the information about my treatments, the possible side effects, issues that may arise, what to expect in the infusion room, how long infusions will take, when to alert the office, etc.  at some point she is explaining that mouth sores are a common side effect, and that they usually administer cryotherapy to combat it. i raise my eyebrow at cryotherapy, and she says that they give patients a cup of ice chips to suck on during infusions. i interject. "wait, wait, wait. are you telling me that if i go eat ice cream, i can say i'm 'having cryotherapy'? hey, andy, let's cryotherapy and netflix tonight!"

for some reason, i feel overwhelmed that day. there are plenty of restaurants around, but i can't decide on one, it is unbearably hot out, i am hungry, nothing nearby sounds good. the only thing that sounds good to me is burger king, which is nowhere near where we are, but is somewhat on the way back to my work. i attribute this craving to everything in my life currently going topsy-turvy and full of unknowns; burger king was the only fast food place in my hometown growing up for years and years and years. familiarity is what i need. so andy and i head to our respective workplaces; on  my way, i pick up a double cheeseburger and apple pie in which to drown my sorrows. it was a hard day for no particular reason, and i realize i will probably have a lot of those.

later that afternoon, the oncologist's nurse calls with updates on monday's bone/CT scan. she stated that they see "something" on my left adrenal gland, as well as possibly something on my pelvic bone. dr. m, the oncologist, is going to order a PET scan to hash it out. dr. h, the surgeon, also calls while i am on the phone with the oncologist's nurse, stating the same about the adrenal gland. what about the pelvic bone thing?, i ask. she stated that the bone scan came back fine and i shouldn't worry, and also that she expects the adrenal gland scan to be benign. okay, then. i do a little googling, and it is indeed rare for my type of breast cancer to show up in an adrenal gland, and even if it has, it does not seem like treatment would change much. i choose to take it as good news that my entire body is not riddled with cancer. still, another unknown. i don't like it.

wednesday: no appointments!!!

thursday is mediport installation day. this is a medical device that will be implanted under my skin, on the right side of my upper chest, and will allow direct access to my bloodstream. it takes the place of getting stuck with constant IVs, it will spare my veins, it is where all future blood draws and chemo infusions will take place. it is a good thing, but i have never truly had surgery, and i am fairly anxious about the whole thing... i am usually cool as a cucumber, but i don't do pain well.

my sister-in-law emily picks me up in the morning, and we head to grant medical center. we finally find the correct valet parking and head inside. we check in and i am pretty quickly shuttled off to prepare for surgery, by a man named bob in a crisp-looking suit. i go through the usual check-in routine. name? birthdate? what are you here for? then i am told to scrub down with weirdly warm and sticky anti-bacterial wipes (legs, arms, torso), and put on the customary gown and non-skid socks. i lay on the gurney and begin my wait. a rotating cast of pre-op medical staff visits me. pre-surgery questions, IV started, fluids begin. the surgeon, dr. h, comes by to review what will happen. she is, as always, efficient and clinical, but also holds my hand as she talks about the surgery, which is a nice calming touch. i mention to her my previous experiences with anesthesia (nausea) and lidocaine (usually NEED MOAR PLEASE). before leaving, she autographs my upper right chest, like a rock star (or, you know, a proactive surgeon). they let emily back to see me, the anesthesiologist comes by, he speaks quickly, i also mention to him the same things i did to dr h. and then we wait. and wait. and wait. my 11am scheduled surgery time comes and goes. we chat and watch whatever mindless morning show is playing on tv. at some point, i am more bored than anxious. finally, around 12:30pm or so, i am wheeled into surgery. i remember the OR and the big bright lights, an oxygen mask, and then i am out.

i begin coming back around somewhere in the vicinity of 3:15pm or so? it is a blur. i must have started rustling, because as i was waking up, emily was already in my post-surgery bay. apparently i was snoozing it up pretty good. (i mean, i AM an expert napper). i feel pretty good, though i ask why my throat is sore. after all my previous mentions of pain and anxiety, they decided to put me under and intubate me, rather than go with the planned twilight anesthesia. i am totally fine with this decision, though i feel badly that it likely extended emily's waiting time. the nurse is.. interesting, and i will leave it at that. as i begin really coming around, she asks if i want a pain pill. i am not in a lot of pain, but i am unsure if that will stay true, so, yeah, sure, gimme a pain pill. (editor's note: THIS WAS LIKELY A POOR DECISION). i take a serving of norco and start thinking of getting myself around to leaving. the nurse helps me into my clothes (when is the last time you had help getting your underpants on? i felt like a six-year-old), and i head to the bathroom. they have a wheelchair waiting for me when i exit, but i realize that i.. need a minute.

i am starting to get a headache, and from my years of motion sickness, i know that this headache is going to go into nausea land. and i have a 15-20 minute ride home ahead of me. the wave of nausea begins, i get a zofran anti-nausea pill under my tongue, cold wet washcloths on my neck and forehead, a puke bag in my hand. glasses off, i lean forward in my wheelchair, and let the waves wash over me. i am always cognizant that if you just go ahead and puke, it makes things better more quickly. i am always also cognizant that that is unpleasant and gross and will avoid it anyway at all costs, despite the benefits. i manage to stave off the nausea, but i likely sat there for damn near an hour doing so. the only way out is sleep, but sleep is a car ride away. the nurse (a different one from when i originally woke up) is patient and kind very slowly rolls me down to the lobby after i finally give the okay. on the bright side, i have taken so long that rush hour is mostly over, so, win? emily gets me home safely, she and andy help my sick sorry ass into the house, immediately upstairs where i fall into bed. emily catches andy up on all the details, and then as far as i know, andy spends the next hour or two laying beside me in bed, holding my hand as i begin to sleep off the nausea. eventually, i know that i need food, and request a can of old school campbell's chicken noodle soup, if we have any. we do! more familiarity. i get through about half of that, along with some plantain chips, gatorade, and ibuprofen, and then curl up on the living room couch for another hour or so. andy sits with me and calls his parents and my parents to update them on the good surgery and bad after effects. eventually, i get up and finish the rest of the soup, then we both head up to bed.

thankfully, i have already called off of work for the next day, and spend the morning sleeping in and recovering. it usually takes me about 24 hours to return to normal after a bout of nausea. i get up around 11am and caffeinate and have a heartier bowl of soup and chips. i follow that up with a shower and start feeling human again. the rest of the day is spent reading, texting, chilling. heat index of 105F? no thank you, i'll stay inside, please.

this weekend will be my last pre-chemo weekend. planning on keeping a low profile and relaxing. PET scan is tentatively scheduled for wednesday morning. (i don't even have any pets. i mean, do i bring our fish? i don't think they'll like it). thursday begins chemo. am i ready? totally unsure. let's do this.

Posted on Saturday, September 14, 2019 at 11:04AM by Registered Commentermdog in | CommentsPost a Comment

time after time

sometime during the afternoon on labor day, from home, i scheduled a microsoft outlook meeting with my director (my direct boss) and assistant directors for tuesday morning. there are many things to note here: firstly, i am an 8-to-5 kind of gal, not a think about work on weekends/holidays kind of gal. secondly, who schedules random unexpected meetings at 8:30am after a holiday weekend? thirdly, i'm never involved in many meetings, much less scheduling them. anyway, i wanted to make sure they would all be there, so i could announce it in one shot, then choose to divulge this news to others throughout the day at my own pace. i vaguely titled it "Update", and ominously added the note "Personal update. Please let me know if you can be there at 8:30am". this was misread by at least one person as "Personnel update," as though i were about to clearly foreshadow a resignation. (side note: i truly enjoy my job and coworkers, and such a thought is upsetting to me). so, tuesday morning, in my office with these three and my employee, i uncharacteristically cried in front of them and broke the news. they (and, may i add, every colleague i have talked to) were and continue to be super supportive and understanding of me and my future unknown schedule. i am honored and glad to be working with these people.

tuesday afternoon was a breast MRI. it's like a regular MRI (i assume), but worse (also assuming here). the usual MRI tube, with what at first glance looks like a massage table, with the downward face cushion and towel coverings. the MAJOR DIFFERENCE being that there is a square hole in the table, with a lengthwise divider in the middle, creating two rectangular holes for hillary and condi to hang down into. additionally, there is a crosswise beam at the bottom end of the hole(s), perfectly placed to press directly into your internal organs and limit your breathing to near hyperventilation levels. delightful. the technician is lovely, i clamber onto the table, line up the girls, assume the superman position, and prepare to be the best MRI patient there ever was. it's uncomfortable, with a dash of unpleasant. i have been given earplugs, but holy lord why is it so loud and rhythmic and electronic and alien and robotic and LOUD? we can put a man on the moon, but we can't deaden the sound of an MRI. IT'S 2019, PEOPLE. i decide that i am experiencing one of three things: a nuclear submarine attack; a supremely annoying hearing test; or the world's worst EDM party. i survive without ruining the test by the sin of breathing deeply, and without losing full feeling in my arms. win.

wednesday afternoon is our meeting with the breast surgeon, dr. h, who has been guiding us through the past week. based on the mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and MRI results, she informs us that i have stage 3 breast cancer. invasive ductal carcinoma, to be specific, which is the most common form of breast cancer. the general mass is 9cm. it has also reached an axillary lymph node (under the left arm). it is estrogen receptor positive, progesterone receptor positive, and HER2 negative. this means that the cancer is being fed by estrogen and progesterone, meaning that i can and will receive specific treatment that inhibits my body from creating those hormones. this is good, because hey, two different ways to stop the cancer from growing! unfortunately, this likely means that my ovaries (which produce estrogen, which equals food for my cancer) will be removed during future surgery. also, i will likely go through early (possibly temporary?) menopause during treatment. WOOOOO HOT FLASHES GET READY TO PARTY. so, that's a bunch of info. her general predicted plan is chemo (to shrink the tumor), followed by surgery (likely mastectomy on hillary because of the size of the tumor, possibly on condoleeza depending on some genetic testing results, also likely ovary removal just to subtract more lady bits LET'S JUST DO IT ALL IN BULK SHALL WE?), followed by radiation. maybe more chemo post-surgery too, because why not?

this was rather sad news, as we were obviously hoping for stage 1 or 2. alas. next scheduled appointment was two days later, on friday. we met with the medical oncologist, dr. m, where she met with us and officially discussed The Plan. the current chemo schedule will be adriamycin and cytoxan (AC) every 2 weeks, on thursdays, for a total of 4 treatments. the AC should slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. this is my particular cocktail of the typical chemo drugs that will likely cause nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, mouth sores and weird tastes, and general overall shittiness. HELLO FALL 2019! concurrently, after each of these, the next day (friday), will be an injection of neulasta, which will stimulate the growth of white blood cells, and evidently give me a nice dose of bone and joint pain. fun! all of this will then be followed by taxol once a week for 12 treatments, which should destroy cancer cells when they are actively dividing. as i understand, this will be like the AC drugs, but less terrible? mysteries! so, all of that is a span of five months of chemo treatments, if you've been keeping score.

it should be noted that i have a bone/CT scan scheduled for monday morning, which will show 1) if the rest of my innards seem to be in good shape to handle chemo, and 2) if the cancer has spread farther than the axillary lymph node. i am not going to lie: this is a terrifying prospect that i cannot fully describe nor comprehend, and unless i am mistaken, would essentially bump me into stage 4. NO FUCKING THANK YOU. if this happens, dr. m stated that the current treatment plan is out the window, and i couldn't bear to ask her what the new treatment plan might entail. if you are the praying type... yeah. i would like that to not be my reality. i mean, i would like NONE of this to be my reality. i guess that is always a prayer option as well... hey, go big or go home.

after meeting with dr. m, we were sent out to scheduling, which, oh my lord. for someone who is very protective of her time, i simply have no control over my calendar anymore. chemo training? tuesday morning? yeah, sure. an EKG? let's do that even earlier on tuesday morning? yeah, sure. get a mediport put in on thursday, at an unspecified time? yeah, sure. start the first round of chemo on september 19th? yeah... sure.

in other news, i received a wig prescription. so that's weird.

and now we are all caught up through Week 2 in Cancer Land. Week 3 coming up. let's do this.

Posted on Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 10:30PM by Registered Commentermdog in | CommentsPost a Comment

all the world's a stage

hello, dear reader.

some of you may have fond memories of this ol' mdog : unleashed blog. welcome back! it's going to be a different ride this time around. some of you are new: there's lots of archived material here. welcome to my past. and, for everyone -- welcome to my present and future. it might be a little rough.

first things first: i have been diagnosed with breast cancer. whoa! what now? how did we get here?

sometime in june, i scheduled an appointment with a lady parts doctor, finally getting established since moving to columbus. their first available appointment was the last monday in august. what? okay, fine. fast forward to early-to-mid august, when i notice something a bit off in the left breast (whom i have named hillary; the right being condoleeza). i write it off to normal menstrual cycle tenderness, but it hung around post-period. hmm. thankfully, the lady parts appointment is in approximately a week. thanks, me in june!

this brings us to last monday. i explain my worries, she examines the area, with a "hmm, that is atypical," in a typical trying-to-not-alarm-the-patient medical fashion. what have you noticed, she asks. eh, just sort of heavy, swollen. very very occasional pain. and thus, at the age of forty, i am recommended to schedule my first mammogram. fun fact: diagnostic mammograms are NOT classified as preventive care. hello, deductible, nice to meet you!

wednesday brings the squishing. so much squishing. (side note: the mammogram waiting room constantly plays HGTV, and everyone is wearing short, white robes. it basically has the feel of the world's worst spa). anyway. condoleeza does well with the squishing, mildly uncomfortable, but nothing to write home about. hillary, unsurprisingly, was causing needless pain and suffering. the imaging technician felt badly for all the extra diagnostic squishing. (btw, if you've never had a mammogram, let me tell you, the tech is ALL up in your business. also, the positions they put you in are like the world's worst glamour shots: human caressing robotics version). she finished, the radiologist had a look-see, more squishing was requested. round two! this time, the radiologist ordered ultrasounds of hillary and condi.

the ultrasound tech took me back to her area and explained that she was going to be looking at both breasts and the left lymph nodes. she noted my eyebrow twitch at the phrase "lymph nodes" and assured me that they always look at them. okay, then. cue an hour of me laying on a bed, halfway taking a nap, halfway imagining what horrors may lie ahead. the radiologist reviews the images and recommends biopsies be taken of the left breast and lymph nodes. can you come in tomorrow afternoon? um, yes, sure. ah, but before you leave today, we'll have you talk with the doctor across the hall? um, yes, sure. we meet, she examines me, and tells me we won't know until after the biopsies, but she is almost certain it is cancer.

wait, what? i was NOT expecting any results today.

she says we should have results by tuesday (the day after labor day). okay. after three hours at the clinic, i head home, andy asks if i want to meet at a favorite restaurant for dinner. delicious as it sounds, i have no interest in relaying this almost-news in public over pho. i make it home, start hugging and crying, and deliver the possible life-changing news. we order pizza. much less public.

thursday, i am a ball of nerves. i don't do pain particularly well, i have never had surgery, and all this non-news is basically undeliverable because nothing is confirmed. i try to keep it together at work, though it is clearly noticeable that something is up (i am never sick, and i never shut my door -- HAHAHA NEVER SAY NEVER!). a coworker texts me her concern, and i realize the jig is up and i am not as stealthy as i believed i was. i thank her and vaguely text something about health concerns, and then i am off to get biopsies.

andy meets me there, driving from his work as i drive from mine. (this is relevant later). i am back in the spa robe, silently freaking out. i get called to the first biopsy room, where i more or less get another mini-mammogram as i lay on a table with a hole in the middle (i'll let you fill in the blank there). hillary hangs out, gets some lidocaine, i feel sharp pain, NOT pressure MORE LIDOCAINE PLEASE NOW, i get more lidocaine, biopsy needle does its thing like some alien sucking the life force out of me. weird sounds, sensations, pressure. and then: one more time, same boob, in a different location, on the other side of the tumor! ouches. finally, i am finished, i am getting taped up, and one of the nurses asks me how i'm doing. i respond by saying that i basically felt that i was in some sort of sci-fi movie, what with all the sounds and weird bodily exchanges. she laughs and tells me that's a new one. next up, ultrasound guided biopsy of a lymph node, which is much less stressful, and i have no funny anecdotes from this. they tape me up and send me to a tiny room with a tiny recliner, where they give me tiny ice packs to shove into my sports bra to keep swelling down. another final mammogram and i am released, after another three hour clinic visit.

[TANGENTIAL STORY AHEAD]

i abridgedly relay the experience to andy, but mostly i just want to go home. since all i want to do is sleep, we decide that i will drive straight home and andy will drive back to work to get a few more hours in. this is a great plan that my alternator decided to NOPE right out of. almost home on i-670 around 4pm and my radio goes out. hmm. okay, fine, surely i can make it to our local mechanic. one minute later, all gauges -- mph, tach, oil, fuel, everything -- drop to zero. HMM. at this point i decide being stranded on dublin road is preferable to being stranded on THE FREAKING INTERSTATE, so i take the us-33 exit, which is also a fine way to go home, and, also, as it happens, a fine way to andy's work. i am certain i can at least get home, until and except for when every time i changed speed, the transmission starts getting jerky. OKAY, FINE THEN. i end up parking at andy's work, where he is immediately thinking i have followed him in because i have begun bleeding or dying. obviously, he is relieved that it is just a battery/alternator issue. the left side of my body is relieved about nothing and unhappy about all of it, and still just wants to go home. he drives me home, gets me settled, goes back to work, and i collapse onto the couch for a couple of hours.

[TANGENTIAL STORY END]

i wasn't sure if i would be sore post-biopsy, so i had pre-emptively called off of work for friday. now with the car situation, i definitely wasn't going in. as it turns out, i would have been miserable and sore at work, so again, thanks, past me! as it also turns out, the phone call i was expecting on tuesday... came early. dr. h called me around 1:30pm on friday afternoon, informing me that i was officially diagnosed with breast cancer. possibly stage 1 or 2, but possibly 3. (NOTE: THOSE ARE WILDLY VARIED STAGES AND POSSIBILITIES, THANKS MUCH THOUGH). she scheduled me for an MRI on tuesday afternoon, and an office visit with her on wednesday afternoon.

most of the weekend involved breaking the news to various family and friends. (in case you wondered, no, there is no good way to do this). saturday involved andy dropping a new battery into my car, only to determine that it was, in fact, an alternator issue. the evening involved a glorious dinner of ribeye steaks and baked potatoes, because my husband is a go big or go home kind of guy, and by god we deserved an extravagant meal after this kind of news, and he is pretty damn amazing. sunday was a heretofore unplanned visit to dear old athens with dear old friends; a soothing balm of sorts. monday (labor day) was a random, productive, normal-feeling day, wherein andy participated in the joy and frustration of light fixture replacement (and wherein his wife demonstrated that no electrical installation is truly complete without at least one very loud screaming of expletives; some of you understand), and we finally, FINALLY, cleaned out the shed, which can mostly be described as "have you tried taking it all out, and then putting it all back in again?"

thus ends the Week 1 narrative of the Cancer Land adventure. Week 2 narrative coming soon. feel free to follow along with this stupid, terrible adventure. we're okay though. let's do this.

Posted on Friday, September 6, 2019 at 08:16PM by Registered Commentermdog in | CommentsPost a Comment