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

Life Lessons: 30 Things

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Typically before a big surgery my mind begins to overthink, racing with thoughts of what I have learned over the last three and a half years since being a cancer patient.  The thing about cancer is that it changes people.  It sculpts us into someone who understands more deeply, hurts more often, appreciates more quickly, cries more easily, hopes more desperately, loves more openly and lives more passionately.  I wanted to take a moment to jot down the top 30 things off the top of my head that cancer has taught me and share them, pass them along.  Some being more obvious than others, some being more simple as well.  It never hurts to be reminded from time to time that sometimes it can be the small stuff that can make us the upmost happiest.

Enjoy!

  1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
  2. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. No one else does.
  4. You don’t have to win every agreement. Agree to disagree.
  5. It’s okay to show your emotions. It’s okay to feel.
  6. Don’t compare yourself to others; you have no idea what their journey is all about.
  7. Don’t bother with pity parties.
  8. Burn the candles, use the nice stemware and wear the fancy dress. Every moment is a special occasion.
  9. Go with the flow.
  10. Be eccentric, who cares if people think you’re out of your mind.
  11. The most important sex organ is the brain.
  12. You cannot hold anyone else accountable for your happiness; it’s up to you.
  13. Forgive.
  14. What other people think of you is none of your business.
  15. Time heals.
  16. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your family and friends will.
  17. Believe in miracles.
  18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
  19. Listen to your body.
  20. Envy is a waste of time.
  21. Deep breaths calm the mind.
  22. Yield.
  23. Make your intentions pure.
  24. Turn wounds into wisdom.
  25. Peace will always be there for you in your darkest moments.
  26. How you feel is always more important than how you look.
  27. The big questions are worth asking.
  28. Love will always win.
  29. Always make self-care a priority.
  30. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Love,

Britt x

Surgery: HIPEC 12/12/16

A short fortnight ago, I am abashed to confess that as I lay in bed I was fantasizing and rhapsodizing death. It appealed to me in the way one looks forward to a vacation; I saw it as a destination — an endpoint to all of the pain and suffering this shell of mine has endured in my short lifetime. Suicidal thoughts were never coupled with my pensive imagination, one must be clear. However, the guilt I carry for even discerning as I did bears a weight I cannot carry as I should feel grateful for the days in which I am granted. God knows life only grants us so many and we can never be too sure as to when they will expire.

In recent months it’s been no secret that I have been quite mum on my blog and as of late, social media as well. Perhaps I may explain why I have not turned pain into power like I once did so very well. Life before cancer seems to be drifting further and further away, slipping through like tiny grains of sand in your hands. Cancer has become so normalized that talking about it in a constant fashion seems extraneous. Not much changes from one day to the next and my routine is pretty intact.

With time things get better, scars begin to fade and people go back to their every day life. What I am struggling with at the moment is how I am going to fill my time in life, discovering what I am meant to do on earth. Most people have children or a career to fulfill their years and I am on a journey to find what will fill mine. I say that with optimism as after my fantasizing, I was given remarkable news that could change my life forever.

On December 12th, 2016 I will undergo a major surgery called HIPEC. They will once again cut down the center of my abdomen, essentially scrape the lining of my abdomen, place hot, hot chemotherapy directly inside of me, sew me up, shake me around for 90 minutes and then drain the chemo. Although it sounds quite ludicrous, it is a rare and unlikely procedure yet it has a 30% chance to cure me altogether, a 30% chance I could go into remission or a 40% chance that I come out of the surgery no better or worse then when I went in. Given my age and otherwise healthy body, the surgeon feels that I am the perfect candidate for this type of procedure.

So, as I prepare for the 12th I no longer fantasize about being pain free by going to the other side. Instead I fantasize about the life that I hopefully have before me, in hopes that I will either be cured or in remission. This is the trial of a lifetime, but I toast to the lesson and at the end of my life and throughout life I’ll understand what really matters. It is essential to push harder than yesterday if I want a different tomorrow. Nothing is guaranteed, we’re all perishable — life is significant and for a moment the pain nearly managed to make me forget that the substance of significance is a destination all on its own.

Love,

Britt x

#3 Cancerversary Q & A:

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Q: What makes you smile these days?

A: Family. I’ve been getting a lot of family time in lately, both on my side and Steve’s side and it brings the biggest smile to my face. It’s so important and it literally makes my heart beam with happiness. Also, Zoila my little sausage dog – when she’s not being naughty and chewing up my adidas shoes!

Q: Did you learn anything in your third year of battling cancer?

A: Of course. It was such a journey this year for me. I learned how to be humble and forgive and be forgiving. It could be very easy for me to be angry and bitter over what my body has had to endure, but I am choosing to accept that this is what was meant to happen to me, accept my journey and move on from it. The hardest part is knowing that I’ll never be able to give Steve a biological child. However he is so forgiving of that and for that I am the luckiest.

Q: What has been your most memorable moment in the last year?

A: This year has been full of many ups and downs. I’d say the most memorable would be bringing Zoila home for the first time. For Steve and I it was the equivalent to bringing home our baby. Something we’ll most likely never have the opportunity of knowing what that feels like, but when we brought her home we were both on cloud nine. On another note, finding out that I had 5-11 months to live and when Steve and I were given the news we went straight to the casino. We try to live life for the moment and not let things get us down. He’s my hero for that.

Q: What have you done to make your life less stressful?

A: I’ve stuck to my zero bullshit tolerance. I often walk on such a fine line of being content and depressed and in order to remain on the positive side of things I’ve learned that I need to protect myself. It’s a challenge.

Q: Are you carrying any excess baggage into your fourth year as a cancer patient?

A: Yes, I’m still trying to find my motivation. I’d say I have lost it some where along the way – I’m not sure where or how but I’m trying to find it again. It’s a tricky thing. For so many years I had so many goals to work towards and then when cancer came along my sole goal was survival, staying alive and everything else ceased to exist. This year I need to find myself again, refocus on what makes me tick and what makes me happy.

Q: Is there anyone that deserves a big “THANK YOU”?

A: Dr. Galliano – my surgeon that removed the basketball tumor from my uterus and performed my hysterectomy. Without that man I wouldn’t be here writing this today. HE’S the reason I am ALIVE and also the reason I switched over to Mayo Clinic. In his words he told Steve, “If she were my wife, she’d be going to Mayo Clinic.” And the rest is history. Because of the switch, my tumor markers are now at 3.8 which is the lowest they have EVER been since I have been diagnosed with Colon Cancer and they have my chemo down to an absolute science, allowing me to have a quality of life. Also, anyone out there, family, friends, supporters who are there cheering me on – I so appreciate you more than you know, so thank you! xx

Q: What are your top three goals for the next year?

A: Continue to stay in a good frame, a positive frame of mind. It’s mind over matter after all. Travel a bit here and there. And get my groove back in terms of motivation proclamation.

Q: What has the biggest lesson been so far with having cancer?

A: From pain, comes beautiful lessons and from beautiful lessons comes peace.

Q: What are your fears?

A: The same as always, letting fear win. Once fear enters the mind, it takes over the body and I can’t afford to let that happen.

Q: What have you struggled with in the last year that you want to change?

A: Again going back to setting goals for myself and sticking with them. Action follows focus.

Q: What can you do today that you were not capable of a year ago?

A: I can do more. A year ago when I was on chemo I would be bedridden. Now I have a quality of life, I can be 30 and go out with my friends and family and live the life that I have with enjoyment!

Q: What word best describes the way you’ve spent the last year of your life?

A: Survival.

Q: In one year from today, how do you think your life will be different?

A: Hopefully my cancer will still be in a manageable place, where I can continue to have a quality of life. Second to that, I hope to get published and see the book lined on shelves for everyone to read. High hopes, always!

Q: What have you learned about yourself in the last three years that you have been a cancer patient?

A: I’m a survivor – that’s for damn sure!

Q: What is one thing right now that you are totally sure of?

A: That life and people are so precious – never take anything or anyone for granted.

Q: What question do you often ask yourself?

A: What is this life?

Q: Time or money?

A: Time. It’s such a strange concept to me.

Q: What is your wish for the next year of your life?

A: Peace, always.