Tag Archives: surgery

Cancer Free!

The surgery itself went well. It went a bit longer than expected. They estimated 6-8 hours, and it ended up taking closer to 12. I lost a lot of blood and was given a lot of fluids to replace it (I came out weighing 18 pounds more than when I went in). But for the most part there weren’t any real complications.
The surgeons ended up doing exactly what they planned to do. I had a radical hysterectomy (including the ovaries)- which was no big deal since none of those parts worked after the initial rounds of radiation I did back in February. They also removed an entire chain of lymph nodes and some surrounding tissue, my entire vagina, urethra, and bladder. There was nothing wrong with the urethra or bladder, they just happened to be in the way. After they took everything out and tested all the margins to ensure they got all the known cancer (which they did, yay!), they did radiation directly into my body cavity, along my pelvic wall. This was an attempt to get any cancer that they couldn’t see. Then the urologist came in and rerouted my urinary tract. I now have a urostomy, which is a bag that hangs from my belly and collects urine. Here’s a pretty good explanation:http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/ostomies/urostomyguide/urostomy-what-is-urostomy
Then a plastic surgeon came in and recreated my vagina using the left half of my ab muscles and the skin that covers them. Imagine a six pack on my stomach. My new vagina is made up of the top two left cans in my six pack (from the outside everything looks normal down in my lady parts). They then had to stretch my skin to cover the missing part on my belly- and as you know, I’m not a large person, so there was a lot of stretching that had to be done! This was one moment in my life when I wish that I was a little chubby. Extra skin would have been super nice right then. I have a scar that runs down the middle of my abdomen from just between my boobs, down around my belly button and into my pubic hair.
As for recovery, things are going pretty well. I spent 16 days in the Mayo Clinic and a few extra days in Rochester after I was discharged. I was admitted to the hospital in StLouis a couple weeks after I got back for dehydration and constipation. I also got a blood transfusion while I was there. That was last week. Since then, things are going fairly well. My appetite is hit or miss and I have 15-20 pounds to gain. I’m down to about 115. In June, I weighed about 130… so there’s some perspective. I’m skinny and it’s driving me nuts!!! I sleep a lot, but I’m not taking my pain meds nearly as often as I was even last week, so that’s good. It’s slow going for sure, but I feel better every day and that’s a good thing.

As of today, I am cancer free. I feel cancer free too! I don’t know if you remember, but after my first round of treatment, I still had a feeling that it was in there lurking. I hope that this is the end of my journey with cancer in my body and that from here on out it will just be advocacy for me!

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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 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.

And…?

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.

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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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