Saturday, June 29, 2013

10,000 Strong Against Thyroid Cancer: Chronic Illness: Dealing with the Day to Day Challenges

10,000 Strong Against Thyroid Cancer: Chronic Illness: Dealing with the Day to Day Challenges

Part 3: Are you kidding me, a six and half hour surgery

It's never easy anticipating an impending surgery. At least, not for me anyway. A week before surgery, my good friend, Michelle, came to visit from Southern California. It was fantastic. The goal for this week was to take care of any last minute details, prepare my room for a long convalescence period and enjoy myself and have some fun. I had a great week with Michelle. I am a worrier by nature, but this week I was so distracted that I never really had time to worry – absolutely awesome. Michelle stayed until the day before my surgery. I will forever be grateful for that week with Michelle. The day before surgery was such a busy day, there was Michelle's planned departure, my oldest daughter, thirty years old, flying in from Las Vegas, and my youngest daughter, twenty-four years old, had been visiting New York and was expected back that evening. I had reserved two rooms in a hotel near the hospital. We would stay there the night before surgery and then while I was in the hospital the girls would have a place to shower, eat and rest. My youngest daughter’s flight was delayed, she made it home late that night, so by the time we made it to the hotel it was quite late. It was about this time that my anxiety kicked in. I was very glad that I was surrounded by my three daughters –having them near me gave me a sense of calm during a stressful situation.

The Day of Surgery. I had to be there EARLY –it was still dark outside. I checked in and waited to be taken back for prep. It was all so surreal. When I think about that time now, it seems like a dream, a bad dream actually. Once I was assigned a room for surgery prep, activity arose –there were nurses coming in and out of the room. My surgeon came in a number of times to check in and share with me his plan –he anticipated the surgery would take about 6 ½ hours. My word—that was a long time. Since I had my daughters with me, I thought this was a good time to go over what they were going to do while I was in surgery –I asked my older two daughters to keep my youngest busy because I knew this was not going to be easy for her, I could tell she was concerned, emotional and worried. The anesthesiologist came in a few times –this was my opportunity to let him know that I am a nervous patient and fear surgery. He was interesting to say the least and had a humor I certainly appreciated, he even called me out saying he understood that I was a type-A person and needed to plan and strategize my every move. Yeah, okay, a little harsh to hear, but that’s pretty much me in a nutshell –remember the list making comment from my last post?? The anesthesiologist assured me he would take great care of me –and that he did –he gave me something that made me quite loopy, but hey, I was no longer nervous or worried. Mission accomplished.

I don’t have any memory of saying good-bye to my kids or ever being taken to the operating room. The next thing I remember was waking up in the recovery room. My two older daughters were there –my youngest was busy setting up my hospital room—a good thing for everyone. As I slowly came to reality, or pseudo-reality, I was loopy as all get out –plus I struggled with swallowing. Eventually, I was moved to the hospital room I would call home for three days. Surgery went according to plan, except it went a little quicker than expected. Yay! My entire neck was a white blob of bandage and I could not move my right arm very easily. You see, when the surgeon cut into the side of my neck (he referred to it as deep neck dissection) to get to the tumors, he had to move several nerves out of the way, including my right shoulder muscle. Over the next few days, it would be revealed that I have a keen inability to withstand narcotics. The nurses tried three or four different kinds, all of which, my body reacted to in a negative manner. I was then put on straight Tylenol for pain. Poor me. I could not believe that I was unable to take any strong pain pills. I would make the world’s worst drug addict. I guess that’s a good thing, but at this moment, I was in so much pain that I needed something stronger than Tylenol. That was not meant to be, so I was destined to channel the pain with only Tylenol. Rest assured, I got through it alright. I was able to go home on day three. I was so glad to go home and get into my own bed. Now I could convalesce in the comfort of my own home. I still had a long road ahead of me, but the surgery part was over --thank goodness. I had a few days before I needed to go in and have the dozen or so staples removed from my neck and a good month to rest and heal before radiation treatment. My next post will cover some of the health issues I dealt with post surgery, pre-radiation prep, radiation treatment, the isolation period and all the wonderful side effects.

Part 2: What do you mean I have Cancer

I had the very same lump checked by an Otolaryngologist several years before in the quickest appointment I ever experienced, this doctor placed his hand on the lump, and a few seconds later said that it was nothing more than a prominent artery and that I had nothing to worry about, all was good.  I figured this second appointment would go just as quickly –what did I know. I made my way to the office and was introduced to my new Otolaryngologist, a kind and gentle man. He conducted his physical examination of my neck, throat, ears, nose and eyes, describing everything he was doing as he examined me. He also asked me several questions as part of the examination. He then explained that we needed to go to another room so that he could ultra-sound my neck. He took his time narrating each step he took--I felt confident that I was in good hands. I didn't give it much thought; remember my entire focus had been on my daughter. About an hour into the appointment my doctor pointed out that he needed to take sample biopsies --At the time, I thought okay, if that's what you need to do, let's take some biopsies. He explained that he first needed to stick me in the neck with a needle in four places to numb my neck area. I'm not going to lie, this was extremely painful and we hadn't even started the biopsy extraction yet. I became extremely nervous at this point. Once the actual procedure started, Doctor took seven fine needle aspirations and even though I was nervous, this part did not hurt, and that's probably because my neck was numb. By this time, I was beginning to wonder if I should be worried. Doctor told me he had to first send the biopsies to southern California for analysis; results should be back within a week. My poor (and patient) daughter had sat waiting in the waiting room for nearly two hours while I was at this appointment. Let the waiting begin.....

And waiting we did –we waited five long days for the results. During the wait, I kept as busy as I possibly could; it was during this time that my daughter and granddaughter returned back to their home. We put a plan in place where I would check in on her several times a day by phone, run any errands needed, stop by the house once a day to check in, and take my daughter to all of her doctor's appointments. We worked out a system that worked something like this, my daughter would text before she got into the tub and then again when she got out so I knew she was okay. Finally, after patiently waiting, the results call came when my doctor phoned from his car the moment he received the results himself. He calmly told me that I have Thyroid Cancer. To be precise, I have Papillary Carcinoma of the Thyroid metastasized to my lymph. I was completely unfamiliar with Thyroid cancer having never heard of it. Is it treatable? Will I die from it? Doctor assured me that it was highly treatable. Okay, phew, that's good news. I asked him what the next steps were, to which, he provided that the next step was to schedule a two hour meeting with him to go over all the options, to discuss his recommendation and to develop a comprehensive medical plan and action plan. He recommended bringing a family member to the meeting. My oldest daughter lives in Las Vegas with her family and it wasn't so easy for her to make arrangements to come for the doctor's appointment, so my two younger daughters were nominated to accompany me to the appointment. I am so thankful they were present because there was this enormous amount of information thrown at us. Surgery was scheduled to occur in two weeks; with an MRI scheduled one week before. You see it was still unknown to what degree the cancer had spread, but the doctor had a good idea that the lymph up the right side of my neck to behind my right ear were more likely than not, cancer. The MRI would help the surgeon properly plan the surgery. There were a couple of small tumors on the left-side of my neck, as well as a few tumors found near my right collar bone –later X-rays showed a few concerning spots in my left lung, but the doctor was not too concerned believing that the radiation treatment I would receive later would take care of any small questionable tumors and spots.

Talk about a whirlwind. I had no real time to process all this incoming information, yet I had to spring into action once again. I had to arrange to take another leave of absence from work, I had to get all my affairs in order before my surgery date, I had so much to do –it was extremely overwhelming. Being that I am the consummate list maker, I swiftly started a working list of everything that needed to be done. I had to ensure all my personal paperwork was organized in labeled files, that my daughters all knew where to find my important documents such as insurance, property and others, even more so that all my bills were up to date, that all provisions at home were adequately stocked up because I didn't know how long it would be before I was up and about –I seriously felt like a doomsday prepper. Just knowing that all this was taken care of ahead of time would provide me with peace of mind, and I really needed peace of mind at this time.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Part 1: Leading Up To Cancer Diagnosis

I have Cancer and this is my story. It began late summer 2012 when it seemed a lot was going on (funny how life works that way). I was consumed with everyday activities like work, family and home improvements. I had just had all the windows in my house replaced--a 3 day project in which I expected my role, as a millworks dunce, to be quite minimal; and which was actually absolute chaos. On Saturday, August 18, not twenty-four hours since the window project was ‘completed’ my house was still in complete disarray.  I was working on putting the house back together: hanging curtains and pictures, replacing furniture, general clean-up, when I received The Call.  That call every parent dreads but knows is coming, at some time or another. That call that froze my awareness to the single moment in time when it came.  The call that simultaneously froze me and launched me into action.  My middle daughter, 27 years old, was just in a serious car accident and was transported by ambulance to the E.R.  She was conscious but hysterical and they were having trouble communicating with her. My heart froze, but luckily my feet took off.  Before I knew it, I was in my car, on the freeway, then parking, then searching for her.  Then I found her.  I breathed a sigh of relief knowing, for sure, that she was alive, that she could communicate, and that I was there with her.  And I didn’t leave her side.  I stayed at the hospital until she was released, and then I took her, and her daughter, my 2 ½ year old granddaughter directly to my house.  The physical injuries were debilitating for a mother of a young child, but even worse was the cognitive damage stemming from the head injury and resulting concussion.  My daughter couldn’t remember what she said from one minute to the next, let alone care for herself or a boisterous, curious toddler.  They became my life.  I took a leave of absence from work, and for three weeks I took my daughter to her appointments, kept all her notes and took care of her and her daughter’s every need.  The accident happened so fast, and changed our lives so quickly, that I hadn’t looked up for a moment from my daily duties to see anything else around me; including myself.  At the end of the third week, my daughter had a Doctor’s appointment one day which was immediately followed by my own doctor’s appointment.  I was having a lump on my neck looked at, and had forgotten all about it. 

Up next, Part 2.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

First Post Ever

Welcome to my blog! I hope you enjoy it. Because this is my first experience blogging, I humbly welcome your comments and feedback, as well as your patience while I learn the blog world as I write.