Monthly Archives: December 2011

Baby Baker

It is my experience that most people who plan to have children think about things like names, which activities their kids will do, what method of discipline will be used… that sort of thing.  I, of course, have dedicated an exuberant amount of hours to this very thought pool.  Being a mom is the only thing I’ve ever been certain that I wanted to do when I grew up .  Over the past 20 years, I’ve favored names like Jonah, Cannon, and Max for boys and Ava, Murphy, and Kate for girls. I would love for my kids to do gymnastics and swimming and theater.

I, like most parents out there, hope my children are healthy and intelligent and kind and that I raise them to have good heads on their shoulders.  These thoughts are normal and healthy for people who hope to be parents one day. I fall snugly into this category.

As it turns out, I also fall into another category regarding children… the category of people for whom it is significantly more of a pain in the ass to conceive than the norm.  I have recently been thrust into the pile of people whose bodies have presented some issue or another in the old baby making department.  Biologically I have no idea if or how fertile I am.  But what is certain is that in about a month, I will begin radiation and chemotherapy treatments that will most likely fry my ovaries and all my precious eggs.

A month ago, I was still thinking I would get pregnant the old fashioned way… he’d come home from deployment… we’d all but maul each other… my period would be late… I’d be excited… he’d shit himself… and 9 months later… Boom- Baby.  However, in the past 4 weeks, I first had to wrap my head around the possibility of losing my uterus, and just last week, I met with an endocrinologist about doing one cycle of fertility treatments before the chemo/radiation begins.  That’s exactly one chance to harvest as many eggs as possible and get those puppies in a deep freeze… stat.  One chance. I lay in bed at night and listen to how fast my heart is beating. Can you even imagine?

Needless to say, I’m not worried about the cancer. I know that I’m working with the best team available to me. I have every faith in the world that I will get through this and come out the other side a survivor. Yes, it sucks that this is the hand I was dealt, but honestly, we all have some crappy cards in our hands.  The thing that upsets me most is that the cancer is affecting my fertility.  Although, people say that when you work for something, you appreciate it more. So maybe I was in danger of not appreciating my unborn babies. Well, if that’s the case… message received. Check. Rest assured that when I finally do have some biological babies in my arms, they will always know how loved they are.

The fertility treatments will begin in about two weeks and then about two weeks after that the eggs will be harvested.  If the hubs is granted emergency leave, we will use his sperm to fertilize the eggs. If he’s not, we have discussed the other options available to us (using a known or unknown donor and/or freezing unfertilized eggs). There are pros and cons to all of these options. It’s really a very personal decision… and it’s a difficult one. After all of that, we will most likely need to use a gestational carrier (a woman that will carry the fetus). So, calling all lady readers who have had successful, healthy pregnancies!!! I suddenly got super interested in your uterus 🙂 Seriously, if you’re interested or become interested, let me know. It can be very tricky to find someone good to carry a baby.

Not too much will be going on in the next couple of weeks in the way of doctors’ appointments. But starting around January 6thish, things will be hoppin’. It sounds kind of funny, but please pray for my ovaries to produce a lot of mature eggs during this cycle of treatment. We want upwards of 20 😀

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The Race

I just unintentionally likened my cancer situation to a race, and it’s a pretty amazing analogy actually.  A few years ago, I signed up to run a race in Chicago called the Men’s Health Urbanathlon. It was a 9k race with obstacles.  The farthest I had ever run without stopping up to that point was about 4 miles. I thought that with a bit of training, I could easily run 5.5 miles.  The one obstacle I thought would be a problem was the steps at Soldier Field.  Running the steps… good. Running 5.5 miles… good.  Swinging and climbing and jumping and crawling my way through the other obstacles… very good.  All of that together? Eh… we’ll see.


My training consisted of running several times a week and general strength conditioning.  I was confident in my pre-existing strength to get me through the obstacles, however I focused a bit more on leg strength as I didn’t want the steps at Soldier Field to totally wipe me out.  About a week before the race, I felt ready. Then I looked at the website again.  It was not a 9k race at all. It was 9 miles.  Now, to save you (and your calculator) the effort, I’ll tell you that 9 miles is not the same as 9 kilometers.  Not even sort of.  9 miles is almost 15 kilometers. Admittedly, I’m not a runner. I generally don’t enjoy it, but I go through phases where it seems like the thing to do. So there I was, a non-runner about to run 3.5 miles farther than I had ever run… and it was during a race. What could go wrong? True, I felt a bit foolish for having misread the course description (over and over), but mostly I felt ill prepared. But it was a week out, and there was  nothing I could do except laugh.

Race Day

The day of the race was beautiful. The weather could not have been more perfect. It was mid October, sunny, and in the low 60s.  I was nervous but excited.  The energetic atmosphere vibrated around me, and I felt alive. My wave was up, and Mario Lopez (true story) welcomed us to the starting line. I certainly was not out to win this thing, or even to run the whole time.  My goal was to finish.

I ran for the first 2 miles and felt pretty good.  I was careful with my pace- I have a lot of marathon runners in my life, and they’ve taught me that pacing yourself is essential to not collapsing before the end.  Long story short: I sailed through every single obstacle like it was what I was born to do, and jogged/walked/ran in between. Soldier Field was near the end of the course.  I had already… we’ll say moved… 7.5 miles or so.  And we were not just supposed to go up and down the steps once.  Oh no. It was up and down and around the corridor over and over and over.  Here’s a link to the video of the experience (it’s worth it)(on this link, Soldier Field is Obstacle 6):

That’s not an obstacle! That’s a whole damn other race within the race! Needless to say, by the end of that “obstacle” I was pooped.  My legs didn’t even have the strength left to laugh at me when I asked them to run. I sort of walked/hobbled/jogged the last mile and a half toward the finish.  My friend Chase started in an earlier wave and was waiting past the finish line near the last obstacles. He cheered me on as I (finally) came into his view. I went up and over the taxis, up and over a bus…

…and then, like a behemoth, a gigantic wooden wall materialized in front of me.  There was a piece of rope hanging from the top of it.  My legs wouldn’t move, my feet were blistered, my lungs burned, and I had rubbed my inner thighs raw. But I didn’t even think. I just grabbed the rope confidently and did what I knew how to do… I got through the obstacle. No, I didn’t just “get through it”. I watched the video later and saw that I flew up and over that monster. I’m not exaggerating. If you saw that video and didn’t know what I’d been through or how I was feeling, you would have thought that was the first obstacle. I crossed the finish line and went promptly to the aid station for ice. No, I got food, and then went to get ice. Priorities.

The Point

Right now I’m running a new race against cancer.  I’m not a pro at this, but I’m very good at parts of it.  The race has turned out to be longer and more intense than I originally anticipated. There are unforeseen obstacles that keep popping up.  But I will barrel through them like I launched myself up and over that wall.  Chase was my entire external pep squad then, and now I have an entire army of cheerleaders. There is no doubt that I will drag through sections of this race and that parts of my body will probably give out on me at some point. But my goal at the beginning of the Urbanathlon was to finish the race, and I did. My goal here is the same.

I will finish strong.

A Turn for the Worse

I have cancer.

I have cancer. I have cancer. I have cancer. I have cancer.

And just in case I forgot that I have cancer, 6 doctors and 3 residents in 9 different appointments over the last 8 days have been quick to remind me that… I do, in fact, have cancer. Got it.

I had an MRI done on Tuesday. Check out my awesome MRI outfit:

The surgery that was scheduled for today was cancelled because they wanted to check out a suspicious lymph node in my groin.  Suspicious in that it was the Hagrid to all my other normal sized wizarding lymph nodes. The MRI confirmed that it was a giant, and Dr. Mutch wanted to have it biopsied.

 —Interesting aside… When Dr. Mutch called to tell me that I had an enlarged lymph node, I asked, “Is it on the left side?” “Yes. How did you know that?” “Because I can feel it in there.” “That’s really odd.” This was the weird dull pain in my lower left abdomen that I thought I was making up! —

Yesterday, I asked my friend Cherie to go to the appointment with me, and I had my lymph node biopsied.  The radiologist was using an ultrasound to find the lymph node in question and to check the blood vessels around it to ensure that a biopsy would be safe.  He pointed it out- on the screen it looked like a big black circle.  I asked if he could find and show me a normal size lymph node so I could see the difference.  He said that healthy lymph nodes wouldn’t show up on an ultrasound… wah wah… This gargantuan thing was almost a perfect sphere, measuring approximately 2.2cm in ever direction.  Normal lymph nodes are smallish and jellybean or almond shaped.

This morning I went to my scheduled endocrinologist (infertility doctor) appointment.  Dr. Cooper specializes in patients with cancer, which is awesome because she hooked me up with an application to an organization called Fertile Hope ( that helps offset the cost of fertility treatments for cancer patients. Uh…mazing! She talked me through all the options, the most appealing of which is harvesting eggs, fertilizing them and freezing the embryos.  One big huge shining problem with this option is, of course, that the sperm part of my equation is presently in a desert on the exact opposite side of the planet.  I only get one chance to harvest eggs if I have to have radiation and chemotherapy, so while advancements have been made in freezing unfertilized eggs, it’s still better to freeze embryos.

While I was sitting with Dr. Cooper, Dr. Mutch called and asked to see me at 2pm.  My appointment with Dr. Cooper had gone a bit longer than expected, and I had to rush over to Dr. Mutch’s office. He told me then that the biopsy showed cancer in the lymph nodes.  On the one hand, thank god we did the MRI and found it.  On the other hand, SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!!! Bad news bears all the way around this deal. Now all that “maybe” talk with the endocrinologist was real. It was THE option, not a ‘may have to be an option’. Dr. Mutch talked me through what would happen next, and it was all I could do to drown out the expletives coursing through my brain and focus on the important information he was giving me.

All I’d had to eat up until this point was a banana… the beast in my belly was screaming for satiation.  Dr. Mutch’s nurses so kindly opened their kitchen to me and let me make a plate of their catered holiday meal to take on our journey down to the radiation oncologist’s office.  Yep, your counting is correct. That’s 3 different doctors for 3 different reasons in a matter of hours.  I will say that I am impressed with the expediency of this entire staff.  They get stuff done, for sure.

I met with Dr. Grigsby, who apparently is a pretty big name in the radiation oncology world.  He talked me through more specifics of the chemo and radiation, and I made it a point to let him know that we would be waiting for me to do a full fertility cycle  (where a woman has the best odds of producing the most eggs) instead of rushing it or not doing it at all. My odds of having a biological child just dropped dramatically in a matter of hours. There’s no way in hell any doctor is going to tell me that I have to sacrifice that even further if the risk of waiting 2 more weeks to start radiation is relatively low. I told him that I didn’t need to sleep on it or think about it, my decision was final. I was having the full cycle of fertility treatments, and that was that. He said OK and sent me up to have blood work done.

I sat on the floor just outside the waiting room of the lab, where I had one bar of reception (in the waiting room there was no service whatsoever, and I NEEDED cell phone service).  Tears were streaming down my cheeks and a pile of soaked tissues lay on the ground beside me as I waited for my name to be called.  I was speaking out loud to no one in particular at a volume just below normal conversation level- Why is this happening to me?! Why now? What the hell is happening?! This is so unfair.

I finally left the hospital 6 hours after I’d arrived. A very pleasant surprise greeted me at the parking pay station… the validation ticket given to me at radiation oncology covered 100% of the parking costs (most other departments’ validation is only 50%). This was seriously the highlight of my day! I smiled uncontrollably. It’s a small thing, but at this point, I’ll take any smile moments I can get.

My mentor, Michelle, listened to the details of my day on my drive home.  She’s pretty incredible. She and I have never met face to face, but we were introduced via email through another common friend. She is a cervical cancer survivor as well and has gone through the fertility preservation process.  She has been a tremendous comfort for me, a shoulder to lean on, and cry on, and just a general source of relief because she’s been there and made it through to the other side… with a biological child!  She is a source of strength for me, and honestly, part of what makes her so amazing is that until a couple weeks ago, we were strangers. Now she is one of the first people I call with every update, every question, every emotional meltdown, every small victory.  I tell her all the time how grateful I am that she has made herself so available to me, but gratitude doesn’t begin to describe it.

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Emotional Rollercoaster

Today was, hands down, the worst day emotionally so far.  Yesterday I went and did my pre-op exam and had a consultation with my oncologist. The consultation, unbeknownst to me, was actually an exam and a consultation.  Turns out you can still have a mild panic attack even if you’re on Xanax :-/  Not only did Dr. Mutch spring the physical exam on me, he went one step further and took the exam to an all new orifice.  Nice to meet you too, sir.  What was quasi-humorous, was that when I asked the nurse to stay in the room with me while I got dressed, she said, “I’ll stand on the other side of the curtain to give you some privacy.” What?! You just watched the doctor do a VERY thorough exam of my undercarriage. I think we’re past privacy.

I was still a bit shaky when we sat down in Dr. Mutch’s office.  My dad and sister-in-law were with me.  I will say that, initially, I would’ve rather eaten live cobras while standing naked on an iceberg than discuss my vagina with my father.  But there’s a lot of va-jay-jay talk going on these days, and I’ve come to terms with the probability that my dad already knows I have one… so… I guess it’s no big deal if he hears how my doctor plans to fix it.  Admittedly, it does make me cringe ever so slightly when he uses the word “vagina” and is referencing mine.  But he is an integral part of my support system, so I suppose a slight cringe every now and then is tolerable.

Right. So we sat across from Dr. Mutch for almost an hour as he went over  the various procedures (complete with sketches) that might take place.   That’s right, I won’t know if I have a uterus until I wake up from surgery.  I did love, though, that he shared my case with at least 2 other fabulous surgeons- one in his practice, the other at Memorial in New York.  He also presented my case to a tumor board.  My case, apparently, is super interesting given some important factors:

 1. Technically I have stage 1b2 cancer, which means, essentially, that it is confined to the cervix and is over 4cm in size.  And at 4.6cm it’s very close to 1b1 (a tumor that is between 2 and 4cm in size).

2. I want to have kids in a big time serious way.

He said that ordinarily with 1b2 cervical cancer, they would do a radical hysterectomy and call it a day, but given the 2 factors mentioned above, my case to have a trachelectomy (where just the cervix is removed and is generally not done on 1b2 patients) is a hot topic.  It sounded like all 3 surgeons would approach the surgery the same way:  Test the margins, if they’re clear, do the trachelectomy, if they’re not, do the hysterectomy.  And in either case, there’s a chance I’ll have to have radiation anyway.  I’m fairly content with this, given that he and 2 other surgeons said the same thing.  I have an appointment with my second opinion doctor on Tuesday, just for peace of mind.

So about today… I’m sad and angry and scared and overwhelmed.  I feel so out of control of my body.  Ultimately I know that all of this is happening with perfect timing and for good reason, but right now I’m in my bed, crying, and typing about it.  A less rational version of me would scream about how unfair this all is. And why me?  And why now? But I’m trying so hard to hold on to my spiritual beliefs. To stay strong and to know that eventually I will feel normal again.  That some of life’s experiences may not go exactly as I’ve always imagined they would, and that’s ok.  Tears make those concepts slippery, though. And right now, it’s very slippery out there.

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The PET Scan Experience

I got my PET scan done on Tuesday.

My First Catheter

I was so nervous about getting a catheter.  Everyone I’d spoken to about it said it hurt like a beast. In fact, a friend’s husband (who is an EMT) was all jokes and lighthearted about the cancer.  However, his tone dropped several levels into the pits of seriousness when I mentioned that I had to have a catheter for one of my tests.  Thanks for your concern, Brandon.  The catheter turned out to be no big deal. It didn’t hurt at all going in or coming out. But the entire time it was in, it felt like I had to pee.  Imagine you’re out somewhere, and you think I think I have to pee… but I’m pretty sure I can wait until I get home.  And then you get stopped at EVERY light on the way home, a bag gets stuck in the trunk as you’re unloading them, the neighbor wants to chat… all the while the urge to pee is just getting worse and worse.  You get to your porch, but then you can’t find your keys. By this time your bladder is screaming at you as you revert to your 5 year old self doing one serious pee-pee dance before you finally make it into your house and sprint for the bathroom.  It was like that… for over an hour.  After the scan, when the nurse took the catheter out, I’d like to save face here and tell all of you I kept everything drip dry, but I’d be lying.  I believe my exact words were, “I think I’m peeing, and I don’t think I can control it! Hahaha!” The nurses giggled and acted like it was the most normal thing in the world.

Scott, The Amazing Tech

When the nurses first wheeled me into the scan room, a man walked in… this was our dialogue:

“I’m Scott.  I’m the guy who takes the pictures.”

“I’m Kelly, and I’m glad you’re here. I’m very photogenic.”

“Well, I’ll be taking pictures of your insides.”

“Oh, my insides are photogenic too!”

“Just make sure they’re smiling.”

“They better be smiling!”

He laughed, explained the process (that would only take about 13 minutes and involved me laying very still and holding my breath when he said so) and went into the booth. From there, he moved the exam table automatically inside the machine.  About 15 seconds later, he moved the table back out.  I sat up and looked at him quizzically. Grinning, he said, “You weren’t smiling!” I laughed. “There you go, now we can start.” And back into the machine I went. I liked Scott.  He gets a gold star for patient care.

The Results

A random doctor met with me after the scan to inform me that my results would be available the following day if I wanted to call and get them.  I very assertively informed her that I would be doing no such thing.  I would just wait until my consultation with my oncologist on Friday.  I said that I wanted to enjoy the next couple of days and not feel plagued by cancer.  She looked at me like I was a nut, but signed my chart and sent me on my way.

I drove to Chicago that night. Wednesday morning was spent hanging out in Lakeview with Shannon. At 3pm, I got on a train to meet with Jonny Imerman ( at a Starbucks in the west loop.  About 3 stops from my stop, Dr. Mutch called.  He said that he had the results of my scans. I cut him off mid-sentence practically yelling “NO NO NO! Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know yet!” He was thoroughly perplexed so I explained my reasoning. He said, “Oh, no. The results are really good!” Bashfully, (I just yelled at my oncologist like I was his teenage daughter) I let him speak. He explained that my lymph nodes were clear- the cancer had not spread. As this information slowly sunk in, I thanked him and said I’d see him on Friday. Just as the train pulled in to my stop, the tears began to uncontrollably stream down my face.  I was laughing and crying as I walked down the crowded platform and then out into the streets of downtown Chicago.  I was mildly aware that people were staring at me, but I didn’t care. I’d just found out that my lymph nodes were clear!!!

Jonny was amazing, and that’s a story for another time.

When I left Jonny, I headed to Union Station where I was to board a commuter rail to LaGrange, where Chris was going to pick me up.  It began to rain, and it was rush hour (which in downtown Chicago applies to foot traffic as well as to cars and public transportation). My umbrella had decided to conk out earlier in the day, so it was just me against the elements.  I was in the middle of a herd of black trench coat business types, some with umbrellas and some not. Another herd was perpetually coming at us.  I was still elated from the news of my beautiful lymph nodes and even higher after my conversation with Jonny, but all around me, people were swearing and fumbling angrily with their umbrellas, scoffing as they were jostled by the crowd.  As I played witness to all of this, I couldn’t help but laugh. I was shielding my eyes from umbrella points and trying to stay as small as possible just like they were, but I was loving every second of it. It was one of those rare moments in life where I felt truly alive. Shuffling down the rainy streets of downtown Chicago, surrounded by tired and cranky professionals, I smiled and felt more alive than I had in a long time.

I Have Cancer

Chris and I met up with Brian for dinner and then headed to EGGS, a gymnastics facility that also has equipment for circus arts (Chris is presently employed performing with Circus Vargas out in California, and Brian just got back from a circus showcase in Florida… these guys are legit).  I tumbled and flipped and played on the trampoline and balance beams for the better part of 4 hours. I tried the teeter board for the first time. It’s awesome! The video is very blurry, but you can watch it here:

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Or go straight to my facebook page and check it out.

My point is that I feel amazing. I have cancer, but I’m still living my life.  I’m alive, and I plan to take full advantage of that.


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The Doctor Is In

Ok. A few weeks ago I was kicking my own butt at one of those boot camp classes.  I was pushing myself to do one more lunge, one more push-up, one more lap… I was flipping tires and jumping rope like it was my job. By the end of each class, it was all I could do to not hurl all over the place.  But it felt good.

I had recently turned in my resignation at my job- teaching 3rd grade at a charter school in Florida- to move back to Chicago where I had planned to coach trapeze again and find work as a tutor.  So it was only 4 months after I started the job… so what? My husband is in the army, and he’s stationed in Germany.  He recently got a job with more normal business hours- a job that would be more conducive for a family.  I was leaving Florida so that I could spend my last 7 or 8 months in the states around my family and friends.


I had a follow up pap smear scheduled.  Follow up to 2 abnormal pap smears I’d had in Chicago, the most recent of which was at the end of July and showed abnormal squamous cells.  Let me be clear when I say that the results of that pap smear showed that I had HPV and ABNORMAL SQUAMOUS CELLS. Let it also be said that I told this doctor in Chicago that I had been having a pinkish discharge for about a month or so. She said she didn’t see anything abnormal but that she did see some yeast so that was probably the culprit. “Nothing to worry about,” she said.


Ok, fast forward to my follow-up with my new GP doctor in Florida.

She goes in to do the pap and says that she sees a mass… a fairly large mass, in fact.  She goes through the routine battery of questions about my pap history and then calls the doctor in Chicago (the one that said, “Nothing to worry about”). The doctor in Chicago says her diagram from that appointment is clear. No mass.  Ok, so cancer doesn’t sprout up in three and a half months. This tumor must be benign. There are a whole host of tumors that could grow that quickly. My GP refers me to an obgyn who goes in, sees the mass and does a biopsy. When I come back for the consultation a week later, his opener is, “Did you bring anyone with you today?” Now, I watch Grey’s Anatomy, and I know that that question is code for “You have cancer”. ‘Nothing to worry about’ indeed. The biopsy did not say cancer, however. It said almost cancer, but the doctor said cancer.  He told me to forgo my moving plans and get on a plane asap so I could get the healing process started in St. Louis (where my family lives). That was a Monday.

Tuesday morning I was on a flight home. Wednesday I was sitting in an exam room with my new St.Louis GP- the one I had to see to get a referral to a gynecologic oncologist. A few days later I had my very first appointment with an oncologist (a word, by the way, that until recently scared the ever loving mess out of me).  He went in and said, “You want to have kids, right?” This question was alarmingly comforting. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do want to have kids. He did another biopsy, a deeper biopsy. In the post-exam chat in his office, he said it looks like cancer but that the biopsy results will tell us more. Until then we’re treating it as cancer. We scheduled a PET Scan, CPAP, and surgery. My head was spinning. Seriously, what was going on? Less than a month ago I was just going about my life- business as usual. And now my calendar was full of doctor’s appointments. I wasn’t kicking my own butt anymore- life was taking its turn at that.  But I still wanted to hurl all over the place.

A few days later, Dr. Mutch, the oncologist with the excellent patient care, called with the biopsy results. “It’s cancer, but I think we already knew that.” We did. I’d been processing the idea that I have cancer since that obgyn in Florida suggested I might.  I sent a text to the hubs- who, as I’ve failed to mention, is deployed in Afghanistan until February 😦 – telling him the diagnosis.  He called just as I pulled in to the dog groomer to pick up the pooch.  Imagine my car facing a giant plate glass window that looks right into the front desk of the groomer. I’m crying hysterically and talking for the better part of a half an hour, but I have my headphones in so I just appear to be your average hormonal lunatic. The hubs doesn’t know what to do to support me from the other side of the world, and all I want is for him to magically be transported back here and wrap his arms around me. There are no words that he could say that would work as well as magical transportation and arm wrapping.

That was Friday. Today is Sunday. I’ve officially had cancer for 2 whole days. Everyone that matters in my life has been informed- and given strict instructions not to feel mad or sad or sorry, only hopeful. I’ve been busy reading forum after forum and researching doctors for second opinions (the one I like the best happens to be partners with Dr. Mutch…).

I don’t feel sick, and I don’t have any restrictions, so it’s hard to accept that the diagnosis is real. I have a dull pain in my lower left abdomen, but I’m pretty sure I’m making it up. I started my period on Friday which would be fine if I were allowed to use tampons… grrr… Pads.Are.Gross. End of discussion. I’m trying my damnedest to stay positive and to keep the health affirmations running through my head. I’ve also loaded myself with various “anti-cancer” foods- turns out green tea isn’t so bad, and mushrooms have weird healing powers. Mario was on to something with the whole mushrooms-give-you-extra-lives thing.

This is the beginning. And right now I’m not as scared of the cancer as I am of losing my uterus.  My uterus and I have big plans that I’m not willing to abandon just yet.  Dr. Mutch seems hopeful that he can save it. So please send all your healthy, healing thoughts in the direction of my uterus and my lymph nodes.

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