I have been contemplating whether or not I wanted to blog about this experience, mainly because it’s HARD to put down into words! However, if my experience can help just ONE person, I feel as though writing this will be all worth it regardless of how hard it may be…
February 2014 – It was a Saturday… both kids were napping at the same time and Jeremy and I decided to do TWO T-25 workouts. We finished both (and kicked some BUTT doing them), and I felt great. Shortly after, I was sitting down and a pain like I have NEVER felt came into my abdomen. I assumed it was either a cramp or gas, so I decided to lay down. That’s when things got U.G.L.Y!
The pain started to spread across my entire stomach, side, and back. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe etc… and I didn’t know what to do. After laying in excruciating pain for about 2 hours, I decided to try to shower to see if that would help, which it didn’t. Jeremy was begging me to go to the hospital, but of course, I was too stubborn to go and figured I had just worked out too hard and pulled a muscle. I laid in bed the rest of the day and by the next afternoon the pain had subsided enough for me to function normally…all was fine…I thought! One thing that I noticed when this episode occurred was that my abdomen swelled and I looked like I was about 5 months pregnant. I figured this would go away after a few days….but it didn’t….
Beginning of April 2014- After almost 2 months of a distended abdomen and pain, I decided to head to the urgent care center for some treatment. When I went in the doctor said he had no idea why my stomach was distended and was concerned. He then referred me to go to the local ER and have some tests done. I left the urgent care center and hesitantly drove to the ER not knowing what I was in for. When I arrived, the resident doctor examined me and said he believed I had a bad umbilical hernia, but wanted to ask the attending ER doctor for his opinion. The next doctor came in and confirmed that all of symptoms were caused by a hernia… HOORAY I had some answers (only not the right ones apparently!). The ER doctors never ran any bloodwork, catscans etc… because the hernia diagnosis seemed to fit the bill! I only wish they would have ran testing at that point because they would have found the tumor earlier…. I was referred to the Lehigh Valley’s “best” general surgeon who specialized in hernia repairs. I was seen in his office the next day and scheduled surgery for two days later!
April 10, 2014- HERNIA SURGERY DAY!! I arrived at the hospital, got prepped, and had a very successful and hernia repair surgery. When I awoke, I remember the nurse asking what took so long (it was supposed to be an hour surgery but lasted almost 2). Another nurse mentioned that they found two hernias instead of the one they originally thought, and thus, it took longer. The doctor came when I was a little more awake and mentioned that he found a substantial amount of fluid in my abdomen that he extracted and sent for testing along with bloodwork. I asked what it could be from, and he said the list of things was too long and he didn’t want to scare me with what it was or wasn’t!
April 24th, 2014- I arrived at a my follow up appointment with my surgeon. He said everything was healing great and that I was cleared to resume most activity as normal with the exception of heavy lifting. I told him that my abdomen still felt bloated and distended (and it looked like it too), but he said it was still swollen from the surgery and it would go down. He was about to leave when I asked him what happened with the fluid they found. He ran to retrieve the lab work and told me that it tested as inflammatory liquid, most likely caused by the hernia, and didn’t have any cancer cells in it…whew (yeah right!)
June 1st, 2014- After over 6 weeks of resting and recovering from the hernias, my stomach is still distended, in fact, it’s even bigger now! I can’t believe what I see when I look in the mirror- a 6 month pregnant woman stares back at me, but I know there’s no baby inside. Working out, sit ups, running, elliptical, eating right, cutting out gluten, cutting our dairy…NOTHING seemed to make my belly go down. I was feeling defeated and thought that I actually had something called diastasis recti (which is a complete separation of the ab muscles), which causes the internal organs to push out and make you look pregnant. I began doing a regimen of special exercises to fix this, but again, I saw no changes!
June 2, 2014- I woke up at 6am, looked in the mirror, saw my belly and said to myself, “THIS IS NOT NORMAL!” I ran downstairs to stop Jeremy from going to work because I felt like I needed to go back to the ER! I drove myself directly to the ER and was taken right back. I explained to the ER doctor (who was amazing!!) what I had been through the past few months and he began his examination. He tapped around, pushed around, etc… and immediately concluded that he needed a catscan to see what was going on. At this point I figured everything was still fine…. I drank the GROSS catscan liquid and 90 minutes later had my catscan. While I was getting the procedure done, the technician called over to me and said she had to consult with the doctor to see if he wanted additional testing. I thought that was weird, but again, didn’t really think anything much of it. When I was leaving the catscan she said to me..”Good luck to you…” I should have picked up that something wasn’t right because she looked quite solemn.
20 minutes later the ER doctor came in and he had an AWFUL look on his face. His first words were, “It took me 10 minutes to muster up the courage to come in here and speak to you about what we found…” I think it was at this point that things “got real” for me. Obviously, that meant something wasn’t good, but I still had no idea what he was leaning towards. And then he said “CANCER.” The next couple of minutes went like this…
“Watermelon sized tumor,” “looks aggressive from the catscan,” “most likely cancerous,” “admitting you to the hospital,” “contacted the head gynecological oncologist,” “can I call your husband,” “I’m so, so sorry..”
I remember feeling like I was watching a Lifetime Movie. Like I was literally sitting in my living room watching an ER doctor tell a young mother of two that she had cancer. I was numb, out of touch with reality, and completely scared! Tears flooded my face, I couldn’t breathe, and I just kept asking the doctor over and over again if he was SURE! He wasn’t SURE it was cancer, as he was just basing things on the catscan, but he did keep saying he was fairly certain. I remember telling him that I had two babies at home who needed their mommy and a husband who needed his wife. He comforted me by saying that he wished this wasn’t happening, that he feels so bad because he too has a young wife with two young children at home, and then he teared up. When a doctor gets tears in his eyes you can’t help but to think that things are BAD! That’s when the nurse came in for reassurance and comfort as well – she asked me if I wanted to speak to someone from pastoral services at which I said… “AM I DYING?!?!” She assured me I wasn’t but that she just wanted to see if I wanted to talk to a priest! The doctor called Jeremy – told him he needed him to come in right away and he didn’t want to tell him over the phone. Once the doctor left, I knew I couldn’t leave Jeremy hanging… that wasn’t fair to him to be rushing around, picking Brody up from camp, scrambling Sadie to be watched by his dad, etc…NOT knowing was was wrong with me. So I decided to call him – uttering the words t “I HAVE CANCER!” to the man you love was one of the hardest things for me to do. I knew he would be a ROCK and know exactly what to do or say and he did. The first thing he said was, “We will beat this…” BUT – I didn’t want to “BEAT ANYTHING!!” I didn’t want to have to beat a disease that I shouldn’t have, fight a fight that I shouldn’t be battling, or go through things that I never expected to ever go through.
And then I had to call my mom… I knew she would be BEYOND devastated, yet, extremely strong like she always is. She was actually off that week and traveling to NY to help with my grandma when I called her. She immediately turned around and rushed to be with me. She was reassuring, knowledgeable, comforting, and supportive from the second she arrived, which was in RECORD time considering she was almost to NYC!
Once my mom and Jeremy arrived, and we cried together for a few minutes, it was time for me to be transported via ambulance to St. Lukes Bethlehem, where I was to meet with my oncology team and figure out the next step!
I arrived and was admitted to my room at around 1:00 pm…and then, we waiting. My brother came, my father came, my mom, Jeremy…my support team – they were all there for me while I awaited the arrival of Dr. Taylor – the man who would help save my life…
Finally, at around 4 pm, Dr. Taylor and his resident team arrived. He is just awesome. He’s down to Earth, knowledgeable, straight forward, kind, understanding, and completely compassionate! He listened to my fears, questions, etc.. answered all questions with ease and reassurance, and told us the “plan”. Because I only had a catscan AND because the tumor was so big it was pretty much blocking everything, he wasn’t 100% sure it was coming from my ovary, but he did feel confident that it was, and explained I would be put on the schedule for surgery the next day to have the surgery and whatever other organs I needed out…removed! He also said that he already had two other surgeries that day and if he was too “tired” or out of it from those he didn’t want to start my surgery…so I would have had to wait another two days! He made me feel better – not good, but better. I knew he would take care of me and do everything in his power to get me better. I trusted him…
That first night in the hospital was awful. I didn’t have anything “wrong” with me technically, so I was left alone to my thoughts while I wondered what was going to happen over the next few weeks. I knew PAIN would be in my future, worry, fear, and the unknown. It was a sleepless night for sure…
June 3rd, 2014 – After having a chest x-ray in the morning, which showed MASSIVE amounts of fluid around my right lung (caused by the tumor), I was sent to Interventional Radiology to have a fluid tap to remove the fluid from my lungs. I must say, even though this doesn’t sound like a crazy, difficult procedure, it hurt like heck!!! Holy cow – that was an awful feeling, BUT they managed to extract almost 2 liters of fluid! Yep, I was running around, exercising etc with that much fluid around my lung. The doctor who performed the procedure was in shock that I had no difficulty breathing and was able to to the things I did. I attribute it to my age 😉
After that GOD AWFUL lung tap I was taken back to my room and I waited…what seemed like forever…to hear if I would have the surgery or not. The nurses didn’t know, so we all just sat around. Then, at around 2pm a stretcher pulled up outside of my room to transport me to the Operating Room. I didn’t realize then what I was about to get into… heck, I felt FINE, but looking back, I should have known the pain I was about to endure…
I arrived in the Pre-op room where I met with my anesthesiologist. She told me I would be getting an epidural to numb me. I explained that epidurals didn’t work right with either of my children, but they were adamant that it would be the best option. They drugged me up with some anti-anxiety meds even though I really wasn’t anxious at all, popped in the epidural – made me say good-bye to Jeremy, and brought me to the OR. I remember seeing Dr. Taylor and his residents. He reassured me, told me it would be about a 3 hour surgery and then…I was out!
6 hours later — Waking up post surgery was SCARY!! I had NO IDEA that I was going to have tubes inserted into pretty much every hole I had and wires everywhere. I was woken up to a team from radiation who had come to take a chest X-ray to assure my NG tube was in the right place. For anyone who hasn’t had the “pleasure” of having an NG tube down your nose into your abdomen extracting fluid, I can assure you it’s the worst part of having a major surgery like this. Honestly, the incision, organs removed, and catheter were nothing compared to this NG tube! Ewwww….. I had an oxygen line, a catheter, two IV sites, monitors galore, blood pressure pump, pulse checker thingy, epidural and couldn’t even move. I remember my eyes focusing on the clock and seeing it was almost 8:30!! I was in shock! I thought it was only going to be 3 hours?!?! That’s when the nurses told me that things were more complicated than they thought. The the MASSIVE tumor, which was fortunately confined to the left ovary, had caused some other damage to other organs. Dr. Taylor decided to do a complete hysterectomy, remove my cervix, remove the fatty layer above my bowels, remove my appendix, biopsy like a gazillion things, and remove more fluid from my abdomen. I remember thinking – OH MAN, now I have to go through menopause too on top of everything else! Prior to my surgery he wasn’t sure if he would be able to get away with leaving my other ovary, but once he opened me up and saw that my right ovary looked questionable, he just took it all, which I’m OK with now that the worst part of menopause seems to have subsided and I realize I will never get my monthly visitor again (HOLLER! – the only good thing in this entire situation maybe?!?!)
After about 2 hours in the recovery room I was moved to a post surgical unit that was pretty much for “critical care” patients. Jeremy rushed up to me and all I kept signing to him was that I wanted that stupid uncomfortable tube out of my nose!! I couldn’t talk, breathe or swallow with it and like I said, it was the worst part of the first night! I had an AMAZING nurse that first night, Bernadette – she was a saint! She reassured me, comforted me and wiped my tears when I couldn’t. The pain from so many parts of my body was unbearable at times, but she was there throughout the night helping me. I didn’t sleep AT ALL that first night – the tube didn’t allow it…so when Dr. Taylor came to visit me at 7 am I was relieved! The first thing I signed to him was that I wanted the tube out!! His resident, Dr. Myers, said she put an order in for it already, but he saw the pain in my eyes, shut the door, put on his gloves, looked at me and said, “This is gonna suck” and yanked that AWFUL tube out. Sure it SUCKED coming out, but the second it was removed OMG I could breathe, swallow, talk etc… AMAZING!! I was so much better and was able to actually sleep a bit. My family was there early that morning with me and was by my side throughout the day. Then, around 2pm, I noticed that I was having ALOT of pain on right side of my stomach. So much that I couldn’t bear it. The epidural wasn’t working (and the other pain meds from surgery had worn off!) just as I feared it wouldn’t. The nurse immediately contacted an anesthesiologist, who just happened to be the funniest man I think I ever met. Once he came and I explained what was happening and how the epidurals always failed for me in the past, he was adamant about not doing another one, but said he would if I wanted to. I of course knew that doing another epidural wouldn’t’ help (they tried this with both kids too), so I said no even though my doctor wanted to have it in (he knew the pain I would be in if I wasn’t on it apparently!!) The anesthesiologist assured me that he would put me on an AWESOME pain med drip via my IV, but that had to be ordered (and took almost 3 hours to get!!) In the meantime, he had stopped my epidural completely, and that’s when I felt pain – PAIN like I never felt before. I felt like I was being stabbed multiple times in every area of my stomach. Honestly, labor pain was nothing compared to this. He kept giving me shots of pain meds into my IV while I waited for my drip to come, but those would only last about 20 minutes before the excruciating pain would start again. My poor mom, dad and Jeremy watched as I screamed and cried and begged them to help me. I think I even said that I was going to die…yep, I was in that much pain!
Fortunately, the drip came, and started working immediately. What a lifesaver. Every 6 minutes I was able to press a little button and more meds would rush into my body helping to ease the pain. The only thing that was bad about that was if I fell asleep, I couldn’t press the button, so I would wake up in PAIN again! Ugh…that was bad.
On June 6th they moved me out of the critical care area to the medical surgical area. Dr. Taylor was very happy with my progress – at this point I only had the IV and was on oral pain meds so he was ready to send me home the next day! And then…I got a fever…
It was low at first – I would get these CRAZY annoying chills, then about an hour later I would be sweating like a crazy beast. I thought it was the menopause, but a fever would come along with it. At one point the fever rose to about 103! At that point, they called for the infectious disease doctor to meet with me. Dr. Jahre was an amazing doctor who dropped everything to meet with me even though it was 9pm on a Friday night! He scheduled me to have another chest X-ray and catscan to see if they could figure out what was causing the fevers!
June 7th, 2014 – my catscan was CLEAR, but my chest X-ray showed I had more fluid around my lungs…ugh!! They thought this might be contributing to my fevers, so I was sent back down for another DREADED lung tap…AHHHHHHHHH! This one was WAY worse than the first for many reasons. First, I was still sore in that area from just a few days before when I had the first one and second, I had to hunch over, which KILLED my 45 staple/sliced open stomach! I had been so strong up until that point, but after everything I had went through I couldn’t help myself, and the tears just started to flow. I was D.O.N.E! I remember telling the nurse that my body couldn’t possibly take one more procedure, surgery or test and she said that I was strong and that I would overcome it! She helped me A LOT during the procedure and I’m grateful for how understanding and supportive she was… They were able to extract another 2 liters and again, breathing felt much better 🙂
June 8th, 2014- Still getting fevers…some are low, some are high, and no one knows why! Dr. Jahre decided to put me on IV antibiotics to combat whatever my body was fighting off. Because I was still having fevers and getting IV medicine, I couldn’t go home…what a bummer!
June 10th, 2014- I had it! That was it! I was 24 hours without a fever, felt pretty good, and WANTED OUT OF THE HOSPITAL after spending 8 days there already. I got the clearance from my oncologist and the infectious disease doctor and was ready to go! After waiting around all day for the case manager to get everything put together for my release, we were just about to leave when suddenly, out of nowhere, Dr. Taylor showed up as we were about to get onto the elevator. He explained he needed to talk to me about some of the additional pathology reports that just came in! Although everything was confined to my ovary, the pathology reports did find that there was some cancer cells in the fluid they extracted from my surgery. Because of this, he told me I would most likely need chemo. WHAT A BLOW!! OMG I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak, and didn’t know what to do or say. Here I was, about to leave the hospital, thinking I was going to be able to go home, rest up and move on with my life and then I get this news. I was numb… my mom, dad, and Jeremy took to asking questions while I just sat there outside of the elevator in my wheelchair again, watching a Lifetime Movie. Noooo not chemo….not ANOTHER thing to go through….why?!?!
When I arrived home I was bombarded by the two things that kept me going through it all…my babies! Brody and Sadie were thrilled to see me and I was so happy to be reunited with them. It hurt so bad being away from them and just being around them instantly made me feel better. i spent that afternoon outside with them – watching them, kissing them, hugging them…breathing in every little smile, word, sound etc…they made. This was the therapy I needed to get myself better and it was so good to be home… AND THEN…
At around 8pm I was pretty tired so I decided to go upstairs to lay down. I needed to wake up around 10 to give myself a shot of blood thinners and take some medicine. Jeremy woke me, I did the shot, took the Aleve, and went back to sleep. At around 11:30 I woke up with a decent amount of pain in my EXTREME lower left abdomen. I figured I had slept weird and thought maybe getting up to use the bathroom would help. When I stood up I felt a little lightheaded, but this was NORMAL for me over the past week. I used the bathroom, laid back down, and the pain just wouldn’t subside. Jeremy came in around midnight and I was laying there in a tremendous amount of pain. I remember saying to him that I needed my narcotic pain meds because the pain was REALLY bad. As he was getting them I went into the bathroom again because I really thought I had to pee… nothing would come out no matter how much I tried, which was WEIRD! I remember standing up and feeling very dizzy. I recall placing my hands on the bathroom sink and then the next thing I remember is Jeremy holding me on the bathroom floor yelling at me and asking if I was ok. Apparently, I had passed out and he somehow managed to see me going down, ran to me, and caught my head from hitting the toilet bowl! My hero… at this point, I knew something wasn’t right. He carried me back to the bed and I looked at him and said, I need to go back to the hospital. Even though it pained me to say it, I knew something wasn’t right.
The police officer was the first to arrive, followed shortly by the EMT’s who were awesome. I couldn’t walk so they had to use this crazy stretcher chair contraption thing to get me down all of the stairs and to the ambulance. I was scared, but the pain was overwhelming at that point! The ride to the hospital seemed to take forever and when I arrived in the ER they came to me immediately. I was trying to explain my entire story to them, but I just couldn’t through the pain. I felt like I had to pee again and that was hurting me soooo bad, so I tried to go on the bed pan and again nothing would come out. I was so reluctant to admit it but I asked the nurse to be cathetered because I knew that something wasn’t right!
Fortunately, one of the OBGYN’s who was familiar with my case from the week before was there and he came to me immediately. He helped me so much by giving me pain med after pain med through my IV until I could almost sort of tolerate the excruciating pain in my abdomen. He requested a catscan and afterwards, the results showed that I had internal bleeding on the left side of my lower abdomen. I was so drugged up I vaguely remember was happened for the next 3 hours, but I do recall Dr. Taylor coming in early (around 6 am!) just to meet with me and send me directly to Interventional Radiology (THE DREADED IR ROOM!! AHHH!!) They told me I was going to be sedated and pretty much unconscious but I remember most of the LONG 2 hour procedure where they intricately tried to locate and stop the bleeding in my groin. Finally, after what seemed like forever, they were able to stop the bleeding and get me into recovery. This time, I was brought up to the critical care room where I was saddened to find that I was to remain cathetered, on oxygen, attached to monitors etc. AND I needed two blood transfusions because my counts were so low! What a blow! I felt like the entire week I had already spent “recovering” was for nothing, and here I was AGAIN trying to pick myself up from being crushed down. I’m pretty sure I slept that entire day…it was a blur to me!
June 11th, 2014- Miraculously, I somehow managed to get out of bed, walk around, get my catheter and oxygen out and “pass” to get out of critical care! Again, I wasn’t sure what the next few days would bring, but I was hoping I could get out of the hospital sooner rather than later. After they moved me to my new room, I was saddened to find that I was still having some fevers. Dr. Jahre felt that I needed to remain in the hospital for further/closer monitoring!
June 13th, 2014- STILL in the hospital and no sign of leaving UNTIL Dr. Taylor’s partner came to visit (Dr. Taylor was on vacation!) and he said that I was looking pretty good with the exception of a possibly enlarged left kidney that was caused from the hematoma (internal bleeding) that was in my lower abdomen sitting on my ureter causing the kidney to enlarge a bit. He scheduled me for a kidney ultrasound to check! He said that I might need to have a stent inserted to help expand my ureter, but explained the procedure was FAST and EASY and I could still go home tomorrow after it was done! HOORAY! I went for my ultrasound fully expecting the news to be that I would need the stent inserted, which it was!
June 14th, 2014- I met with my urologist early in the morning who explained what was going to happen, and he assured me the procedure would be FAST and EASY, and I would still be able to go home (I heard those words before!) He put me on the schedule to have the stent inserted at around 3 pm!
When I arrived to the pre-op room AGAIN, I met with the anesthesiologist who assured me that I would only be “under” for about 20 minutes since the procedure was so simply and easy. I went into the OR and was “out”. Fast forward 25 minutes… I woke up not able to breathe, coughing, in a TREMENDOUS amount of pain, couldn’t swallow, could barely talk, and had a mass of nurses and “others” around me! WTF HAPPENED? I was thinking! This was supposed to be a FAST AND EASY procedure. Through the coughing and pain I learned that while under anesthesia, I aspirated and they were forced to quickly insert a plastic breathing tube all the way down my windpipe in order to help my breathe. Some fluid did manage to enter my lungs though, which was an issue. They were giving my breathing treatments etc…and through it all, I just kept thinking to myself, “Guess this means I’m not going home…”
When I was finally stable enough to go back to my room, I was AGAIN on oxygen and monitors. This feeling of being beaten down came over me again – every time I was feeling better after a procedure, I would get kicked back down and have to pick myself back up and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could do it again. I was…TIRED! The anesthesiologist met with me in my room and further explained what happened – he assured me I would be fine, but he said I needed to be monitored for the next 24 hours to assure I didn’t get pneumonia from the fluid inhalation. I met with Dr. Jahre again who reviewed my most recent chest x-ray and it showed there was in fact some signs that I was developing pneumonia from aspirating. He again put me on IV antibiotics as well as oral antibiotics to combat whatever was going on in my lungs. He said I might be able to go home the next day, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath.
June 15th, 2014 – After waiting around all day, Dr. Jahre came at around 5pm and said he wanted me to stay in the hospital at least one more night because that would mean I would be able to get two more IV treatments and then I could go home the next morning. Since it was already later in the day, I reluctantly agreed and settled in for my final night in the hospital.
June 16th, 2014- I GET TO GO HOME!!!! I’m not going to lie, I was a ROYAL pain in the butt that morning to the nurses because I wanted them to kick it into high gear to discharge me. The nurse worked quickly and by 10pm I was OUT OF THERE! I even declined the wheelchair and walked out. When my face hit the open air and the sun…I remember feeling like I was FREE! I breathed in the air, felt the sun on my skin and was so anxious to get home to see my babies after what was another week without seeing them!
When I came into the house and the kids saw me, both ran to me screaming MAMA!!!! It was the moment I had lived for, held onto, craved and fought for over the past week, and it was better than I had dreamed. They both looked so much older to me, and I couldn’t help but get sad to think about the past two weeks and how much of their little lives I had missed, but here I was back with them and that was all that mattered.
That’s pretty much what happened during the “initial” phase of my cancer story… I have now been home over two weeks and it’s been awesome! I’m still not fully recovered from everything – heck, there are days I feel like I’ve been through World War III, but being with my family has been the best therapy! My pneumonia has since cleared, my stent seems to be working (although I’m still in pain sometimes!), my oncologist said that my initial (MAJOR) surgery went great, and I am scheduled to begin chemo on Tuesday. According to my oncologist there is a 0-4% chance that the chemo will even do anything for me, BUT the way I look at it, if that 4% means that it kills some stupid cancer cells that just might be floating around in there, I will graciously go through the hardships of chemo rather than get that stupid shit cancer back in my body! It’s going to be a long, hard road the next few months, but I’m finding strength and courage in me that I never knew I had so that I can be here for my family and friends down the road.
FU CANCER…you are no longer welcome here!
And now to quote one of my favorite authors 😉 “I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!” -Dr. Seuss
My awesome friends created a fundraising page for me – despite how much it pains me to have to swallow my pride. I know I won’t be able to maintain my business during chemo, so this will be the help me and my family will need during this trying time. We are grateful and blessed…