Summer of Senior Year: Cancer and Chemo

Someone once quoted the infamous sanity quote, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” The words melted to my soul like butter. July will mark my fourth year as a forever changed mind, body and soul.

Four years — does this mean I am a mature cancer patient? Someone on the brink of their senior year…in cancer? I’m not sure. It’s difficult at times for me to keep my blog updated simply because when you have nothing to say, add, update about, life as a cancer patient can be pretty boring. I mean, there is the possibility of keeping a consistently updated log of my Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon and overall storage of my Apple TV. But, that would just further prove that I am a hermit that rarely leaves the house.

As of late, I am a little quieter. I like staying in, not in a depressive way, but in a sanctuary sort of way. I’ve become more introverted in my older days. But, needless to say, without continuing to ramble— it’s good to be back.

And the truth is, I’m sick. I’ve been doing the same things for the past four years. Four years of chemo, four years of life altering surgeries, four years of telling my story, sharing my life and trying to figure it all out, while entering my thirties. I don’t regret any of the things I have chosen to do in terms of treatment for the past four years, nor do I regret any of the surgeries I have opted to have as a risk to save my life. Longevity, qualities of life are all things I’ve strived for in the past few years, an A+ student in the school of cancer. A peer group I never expected to be a part of, and then I was and I couldn’t imagine my life otherwise. Certain surgeries were more difficult to have, one being the hysterectomy I had thirty days after my thirtieth birthday. I laugh at myself now, because that was only the beginning.

How can it get much worse than having finality to your reproductive capabilities at the start of my third decade? My rock bottom was yet to come and would make my hysterectomy trauma seem like it was two foot small.

December, as many of you who keep up with me know that I took a huge chance with a surgery called HIPEC. Sorry, I can’t remember what it stands for, nor could I be bothered to “Google IT”. So, that said HIPEC was done in December of 2016 and I have spent the last four to five months recovering. I’ve been dealing with an array of issues. You could pretty much say I was sliced down the center, again and scar tissue from other surgeries had settled in, making my recovery even more painful. There was a collection of other issues peppered in, as my lower abdominal muscles were in a constant state of spasm, working against each other, thus creating a war on the inside. This lead to a number of bladder issues, as in, I constantly feel like I have a UTI when I in fact do not. Basically, I’m your average shit-show.

However, as time would have it I began to heal. From the inside out and I was feeling pretty f*cking groovy. Lighter, leaner, more energized, free. It was a feeling that was so nostalgic but also so unfamiliar. FOUR YEARS! I forgot what it was like to feel slightly healthy and normal.   It nearly felt too good to be true. And it was. The sensation didn’t last long. The OCD cleaning and tidying habits that I had suddenly formed began to fade, as my loss of control was again getting the best of me.   Something was up, and surprise, I was due for my first post surgery pet scan. It had been nearly five months at this point. New evidence of disease was a high possibility, but I was feeling so good. So well. So me.

It wasn’t until the night before the results, when I bent over to pick up one of Zoila’s toys from the floor. I had a twinge of pain in my lower left abdominal area; think of where ovaries would be, if I still had them. It was all too familiar and a feeling that I had felt in the past when there had been tumors residing in that very spot. The very next day, I followed up with my Oncologist who confirmed that the PET Scan did indicate evidence of disease in my lower left abdominal area. Bingo! As per usual, my gut was telling me the truth, physically and intuitively. He said I would immediately need to begin chemo in an effort to diminish it. When he walked in the door his face said it all. He believed, like so many of us that this HIPEC surgery was going to potentially provide me with an opportunity to stay off of chemo for some time, even perhaps making my cancer disappear altogether. We were all hopeful, but unfortunately it was back and apparently unbeknownst to me at this point, it was back with a vengeance. Rock bottom was right around the corner.

The beginning of summer beckons for graduations, pool parties, friends and family gathering and obviously a new outfit for each of the occasions. I was feeling summer in my bones, but it wasn’t about to feel me.   The first party of the summer season and I spent 99% of it with my head over the porcelain throne. Thankfully the hosts and their guests were gracious and kind, but certainly not the way I wanted or had expected to be starting out the summer. The summertime just before I was hoping to graduate from cancer. Move on and up— get some freedom, go college bound with this thing.

Unexpectedly, but expectedly all at the very same time, everything was the same as it had been.   Nothing was going to change in the maturity I was feeling with my cancer path. I knew nothing that was ahead and needed to buckle up because as intuition would have it, my current stock was about to plummet.

After being unable to keep anything, including water down, it was decided that entering Mayo Hospital would be the best next step. At this point I knew there was cancer activity on my left side. Chemo was set to begin that Monday and it was now Sunday in the Emergency Department. Immediately, the Doctor’s admitted me into the hospital, yet it remained unclear as to what exactly what was wrong. They didn’t take long to figure it out. My colon had collapsed onto itself, not allowing for proper ventilation to go through. My body was getting to a point where it didn’t know what to do with food. It would reject everything because the colon was collapsed and nothing could pass. Bile was exiting in the opposite direction and it was becoming septic and toxic.

Once they cracked that part of the case, they followed up to tell me that my cancer has metastasized to the lower part of my liver, a first for that spot, and then also on my lower back lymph nodes.   This was a shock to hear. Hadn’t I only just found out that it was back in the first place and now these additional places? Pure devastation ensued. The Doctors then had to implant a gastro tube in my stomach, where I would be able to “ventilate” the broth I would be drinking until the end of time. Not to mention the TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) — pretty much intravenous feeding that provides patients with all the fluid and the essential nutrients they need when they are unable to feed themselves by mouth.

Boom! Rock bottom. There, I felt it.

Eating can be one of my favorite past times. How long was this dreadful nightmare going to continue? FOOOOOODDDDD.

It’s been two weeks since I have had a solid meal. I feel the most inhuman I have felt thus far in my cancer sitch. They are expecting it to be at least another few weeks, two months, maximum. It all comes down to how I respond to treatment, as chemo begins next week. It reeks of freshman year of cancer all over again.

Essentially, I had a good month where I was feeling like my old self. Now my reality is that chemo is going to be in my life yet again. But, needless to say, even with this shit-show that I call my life, I know I am going to be okay. Nothing’s going to change my world. I’m going to continue to get out of bed every morning, slap on a smile and enjoy the blazing summer sunshine. I may not be able to meet up at a restaurant hot spot with friends for a while, or wear my cutest bikini to the next summer bash, but I am going to be the BEAST that I am and knock cancer out this round as well.

Imma’ graduate this next year. So long, cancer. You’ll see.

Britt xx

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Hello, From the Other Side:

 

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The best thing about life is that everyday is a new opportunity.  As cliché as that may sound, it rings true.  Many of you know that on December 12, 2016, I underwent a rare procedure called HIPEC in an effort to provide myself with a greater opportunity to live.

There were many risks involved in having this operation, but without risk comes little reward.  I had to take that leap of faith in order to provide myself with more time and quality at that.  No doubt I had my reservations and up until the night before I was having serious second thoughts.

I’m signing up to be cut in half.”

 “Can I even endure this again, will my body be able to handle another major operation for the third time in three years?” I asked myself. My mind would not and could not stop operating on all cylinders.

Saturday, December 10 I had just been out with my Mum for a lovely day of brunch and pedicures.  It was special, quality, time before I was going to go into the hospital in just two short days.  After our pleasant day she dropped me off and Steve was at his parents house.  I lay on my bed as I was pretty worn out from the whole day and was going to try to catch a nap, when suddenly something came over me and I began thinking about the last few weeks prior and how I’d spent time with the people I love most; quality one on one time.  Were those my goodbyes?  I immediately began to shiver, my lips turned blue, my breathing became increasingly difficult and my body tense.  I thought I was dying right then and there.

As quickly as I could I called my Nan and word travelled fast.  She along with my Mum and Auntie Bev were on their way, as well as one of my very best friends, Allison.  Steve, too immediately left his parents.  No one truly knew what the situation was but knew in any case I needed immediate attention as my normally ever so strong brick walls had come crashing in on me.

Once they had arrived, I was clearly still very much alive but also in a state of panic and still freezing and stiff. They comforted me and Allison even called her brother with whom is an ER Doctor to get some medical advice on what they should do since I was refusing to go to the hospital.  If it actually was my time, I wanted it to be in my own home, not the cold hospital.  Her kind brother suggested that I meet everyone halfway and allow the paramedics to come and assess the situation and I obliged, particularly because those were Steve’s wishes as well.

Long story short, there were about five paramedics that came and determined I was having a forceful anxiety attack and low and behold my walls did cave in on me.  After awhile I calmed down and I was so grateful to have them by my side.  And I was happy that it happened when it did and not the morning of the surgery. For some reason I believe that, that freak out needed to happen in order for me to actually go through with the surgery, for me to know that everything was going to turn out okay in the end.

It was now time to be the queen I know I can be.  It was Monday and it was show time.  I rolled into that operating room feeling free of anxiety or fear, but instead excited for what was on the other side, post operation, despite the brutal recovery.

The Doctors practiced their magic and before I knew it, I woke up in the intermediate care unit.  I felt fabulous as the drugs from the operation were still in my system, even making a video of the news that had been shared with me that I was “CANCER FREE!” It felt so good to say those words, even if I was in la-la-land.

However, as the course of my stay at the hospital got longer and longer, the Doctors became less and less liberal with that word.  In turn leaving me to wonder what any of it really meant, even having it reiterated today at my follow-up visit with my surgeon now that I’m completely clear headed.  Where do I go from here and am I free of cancer?

The truth is, I’ve won the battle but not the war.  By having this surgery they have removed any and all signs of tumor that currently exists in my body, by cutting me open to remove them, scraping my insides and attacking with chemotherapy.  Therefore at this time I’m free of cancer.  However, I still remain a Stage IV cancer patient as I have had recurrences in the past, ones which have recurred rather quickly I might add, so I am considered a VERY HIGH RISK patient.  My cancer could come back tomorrow, next month or two years from now.  The moral of the story is I will be under surveillance non-stop by my Oncologist and looked after by the pros.  Naturally we all are hoping for the best-case scenario, but he kept it real with me, which I appreciate.

In the meantime, I’ve been home for the last week and a half recovering and it’s going well.  Slowly but surely I’m getting back to my old self.  I cannot express the gratitude I have for all of the love I’ve received leading up to the surgery, during and after.  It truly warms the cockles of my heart.  Now we are just trying to get through the holidays and get back into our routine.  When things get too routine, I just need to keep myself humble and remember that everyday is a new opportunity.

Happy New Year, my loves.

Love,

Britt x

Video: Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy

For better explanation of what the Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC) is all about, I have included a video.  Personally, once I saw the video I had a much better understanding as to what this crazy, invasive procedure is all about.  The days are getting closer and closer and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous for what’s to come and the thought of being cut open again. But, as I said before I am hoping for the best!  Hopefully this video helps for better understanding.

 

Love,

Britt x