Tag Archives: lymph node

This One’s a Fighter

I’m working with arguably the best gyn/onc surgeon in the country at one of the best medical facilities in the world.  Two days ago, this doctor looked me in the eye and said, “Well, do you have it in you to fight just one more time?” About a thousand thoughts and emotions raced through and then drained from me.  I felt empty.  My entire world swirled around me and left me sitting there… flat.

The short answer was, yes, I had it in me to fight one more time. And that’s what I said to her. She explained that the cancer is in one lymph node in my pelvic region. This, of course, is where she removed a chain of lymph nodes and radiated four months ago.  This, of course, is the site where the cancer was not supposed to be growing anymore.  And suddenly, there it was.

The rest of the answer was that I was scared. Do I bother looking for a job for next school year? While I’m fairly certain that I will live to see 33, will I live to see 34? I haven’t had kids yet. I don’t like my car. Is it fair to want to move out of my dad’s house? Does it really matter if I do or don’t eat dairy products at this point? I just had 4 surgeons completely mutilate my body, and for what?

The good news in all of this is two-fold.  Number 1: The cancer is still in my pelvis and has not spread.  And number 2 (this part is amazing to me): A few weeks ago I was scheduled to get a CT scan. I had a seemingly irrational outburst days before I was supposed to have it done and decided that I MUST have a PET scan. I would not have a CT. The aforementioned world renowned surgeon recommended a CT, and I challenged her. Not in an aggressive way. Just in a “I’m sure that I will be having a PET scan” way. After some research, I found that a CT only shows masses (not specifically cancer like a PET will), and a PET will detect cancer that is much smaller than a CT can show. I knew that the cancer that had been in my body was aggressive, and I simply wasn’t willing to take the chance that a CT would miss something if it was there.  So I had the PET. When the doctor told me the results, she said that the lymph node would not have shown up as abnormal on a CT scan. It would have grown aggressively for the next three months when my next routinely scheduled PET would have shown it. And god knows how wildly it would have progressed by then.  I trusted my gut and took charge of my own healthcare.  This is my life, and while I have a wonderful team of specialists (all with resumes that go on for miles), not a single one of them lives inside this body and hears the messages I hear.

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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 (fertilehope.org) 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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