1.31.2012

Freshman Orientation

Creating a sterile environment.
It's Chemo Eve and my day was full of distracting events like getting the dressing on my PICC line changed by the home care nurse, going to Target and having my "treatment orientation" at the oncology office.

Treatment orientation is a lot like freshman orientation in that you are new meat. And considering my doctor's "section" in the infusion room consist of middle-aged men being treated for prostate cancer, I will be redefining "new meat" when I walk in tomorrow morning! It's a good thing my boyfriend will be with me. Those middle-aged men hooked up to IV polls can be very aggressive I hear.

There were really no surprises today, and I'm not just referring to my trip to Target that has many of you shocked. It had been 3 whole days since I was last there, so it was totally justifiable.

I'd already had a little tour of the infusion room last week. And hearing about ALL the possible side effects over and over again just never gets old! The nurse even added a few more to the list like the palms of my hands and soles of my feet getting so dry they peel and blister! That's going to make flip flop season all the more special, because heaven forbid I wear anything but flip flops come June. Maybe I can bring back the socks-with-flip flops look that was so cool back in, uh, in, um, never mind.

I also got a little peak at my pump, and I hate to disappoint everyone who was planning an 80s party on my behalf, but it's less of a fanny pack and more of a European Man Purse. Kyle will be jealous because without fail, that's the number one thing on his Christmas list every year. And yet each season, I manage to over look it and get him romantic things like socks and undershirts.

I've staked out a prime recliner for tomorrow, packed a bag full of fashion magazines enlightened reading material and expect to sit for 4 hours in complete awe that I'm even there, amongst them. It has only been two months since I even found out I had cancer, and I have been around the world and back again with a file two inches thick to prove it.

Here's to the next 6 months. May they be the only 6 months.

1.30.2012

Team Minnestoa

Sometimes you have to wonder if this blog is about my family, my colon or all my running buddies.

Well this post is about all three!.

I love my (Minnesota) family!

I love my colon!

I love my running buddies!


Get Your Rear in Gear is based in the lovely Bloomington, Minnesota. Home to the Mall of America and in the backyard of some of my favorite residents of the Twin Cities. They organize 5K run/walks across the country to help raise awareness and funds for the Colon Cancer Coalition. And on May 20th, they are hosting an event in Minneapolis.

One of my best friends and favorite Minnesotans, Gina Paseka, has formed Team Colon Cancer Chick for the Twin Cities Get Your Rear in Gear 5K. She misses my sigmoid colon almost as much as I do and will walk, run and have fun as she leads the team to raise money for the Colon Cancer Coalition.

Live in the Twin Cities area and interested in getting your rear in gear? Don't live anywhere near Minnesota but looking for any excuse to go there like me? Gina would love to have you and your rear on the team!


1.28.2012

Pounding the Pavement

Kyle caught me "running" out the door this morning.

The PICC is strapped down and ready for the ride.

I'm not trying to be incognito, but I've got to start drawing the line of shame somewhere. Last night's mascara smeared all over my face is not a pretty sight.

And the Party Never Ends

Lachlan woke up at 4:30am Thursday morning after one of his "I'll skip my afternoon nap and opt for an early bedtime" days. Add some serious congestion and it's a recipe for some pre-dawn action from the crib.

I don't really mind, as I'm a morning person and I can sit and drink coffee in peace. I can also read every square inch of every online news source and catch all the little blurbs I normally miss or don't have time to discover. On this particular morning, I was looking for an excuse to get up and take some Advil for the ache in my morning-after-a-PICC arm. The crusty-nosed baby provided it.

Let the fates align, because in some random corner of our local online paper I saw that one of Kyle's favorite singing Texans was coming to town. I know not everyone has the privilege of being married to a Texan, but it comes with some perks, like being exposed to good music.

If you haven't heard of Robert Earl Keen, he is Texas mixed with a side of lyrical humor and a dash of a well written ballad. He quickly grew on me while Kyle was in hot pursuit romancing me, and though I don't listen to his music voluntarily, I do enjoy it when Kyle puts in on.

With Memaw here to keep us from leaving the kids home alone, I was able buy tickets on the fly and surprise Kyle with a hot date on a Friday night. Yes people, that meant the Woodys stayed up past our bed time. Way past our bedtime.

The venue was filled with Texas ex-patriots all savoring a taste of home. It was the right crowd in the right age range and with the right amount of beer consumption for our liking. I saw some Wranglers, a few rodeo shirts and left with a deep desire to buy cowgirl boots. I'm not kidding about that third one. I think I can make them fashionably metropolitan and will seek them out soon.

If you need some exposure, let me introduce you to some of Robert Earn Keen's more humorous and popular peaches:



 

1.27.2012

Homestyle Health Care

Seems getting a little health care in the home isn't just for country doctors and AARP members.

My home care nurse stopped by today to flush my PICC line and give me a lesson in PICC line care. Talk about pressure!

They'll send you home alone with a newborn, but with a PICC line someone comes to your house to tell you what to do with it. Clearly the medical profession has its priorities!

She left me with lots of bulk medical items I'll probably never need, but will have all sorts of fun trying to store in my meticulously organized house.

Back in 1951 they didn't value things like large closets and storage space, so I'm left with no choice but to micro manage where everything goes around here. It is a necessity of functionality. It makes me wonder where Betty Draper hung all her dresses and how the original homeowners survived in this house with three daughters.

Every week she will visit to flush the line and change my sticky dressing while I lounge on the couch and drink martinis in a feathery robe and slippers patiently sit still and pretend to be a good little girl.

This morning, she immediately walked in and raved about my Pergo floors, so I can tell we're going to get along swimmingly. Complement a housewife and her ability to practice housewifery and you will instantly be on her good side.

Doesn't this just say: "Merrick, tip me over and dump me out!"
My supplies include things like rubber gloves, Heparin and saline syringes and the highly coveted red biohazard bin. Nate Berkus said he'd be right over to tell me how to use it as an accent piece in my decor. We won't even remotely come close to filling it, so I'll have to find some other biohazards around the house to make the most of it. With a 4 year old boy in residence, that won't take long.

PICC Me in the Shower

You mean I'm suppose to be able to bend my arm like that?
One of the biggest complaints about the PICC line from all those haters on the message boards was its inability to get wet. That's a big issue for someone who loves to stand in a hot shower for hours on in and waste lots of water while deep conditioning her hair.

So obviously someone with a few inventive marbles came up with a solution. Do these haters not Google?

Every nurse I encountered told me I could just wrap it up in a newspaper bag, a bread bag or some Saran Wrap and tape it up. At the time, that sounded like too much effort.

I found this after an easy search and it got rave reviews. It looked simple enough to use, and for $36 I'd be able run up our water bill for the next 6 months with ease. It wouldn't help my tan lines when I take the kids to the pool, but at least I could be freshly showered every day.

The instructions say to not leave it on longer than 45 minutes. That would be great if it hadn't taken me 45 minutes to get it on. I ordered the right size for my measurements, but clearly it runs small. There really was no need to pump the air out because there already was an air tight seal on either end and I was losing feeling in my figures before I even started to shampoo.

My arm called. It wants its circulation back.
I'm going to make a few adjustments with the scissors. It's perfectly legal and actually recommended by the company that makes this. So I may not ready to head out in the morning and jump the newspaper boy for his bags just yet. The jury is still out and I won't be washing my hair again until Sunday.

1.25.2012

A Little PICC Me Up

It's PICC line insertion day and I was back at the quaint little Catholic hospital where I've been getting my CT scans, hanging out with my husband and drinking radioactive liters of water to pass the time.

PICC stands for peripherally inserted central catheter, but for all intensive purposes and for the sake of my inability to spell, we'll just keep calling it PICC. Sounds like "pick" because it's spelled like PICC.

The procedure itself was quick, painless and very sterile. If I wasn't clear about how sterile it was going to be, I had about five people remind me that it would be very sterile. So sterile that I had to keep my head up or turned to the right lest I breath some of my preschool germs in the general direction of my left arm. Understandable.

I was laid out on a table and able to watch four televisions hanging over me. It was like a sports bar, only I was watching an x-ray of my chest and not drinking beer. That x-ray machine was directly above me and all I could do was stare deep into its nothingness while it sent radioactive vibes in to my unsuspecting body.

If people with cancer want to avoid getting more cancer, they should avoid getting cancer in the first place, because they will surely get cancer with all the radioactive things that are done to a cancerous body.
This illustration isn't entirely accurate. I chose to have the line inserted into my left arm since I seem to be holding a baby in my right a lot. I also don't have man-pectorals or man-arms. And yes, it dangles.

We've been talking about chemo like it's some far off event, when it's never been more than a month away. I feel like I've been able to keep it at arms length and talk about it with a certain level of detachment. But this day and this event is making it very real.

I am about to undeniable become one of them. One of those people with cancer.

I'll spare everyone the beauty that's hanging out of my arm now. Sorry to disappoint, but I like the temperature above 75 before I start taking off my layers for reasons no greater than a self-portrait. I do hope I can make up for it with this chest x-ray that I had to beg for. Beg with a touch of eyelash batting. If you asked me to print this at my house, I would have denied you based on the amount of black ink it would have sucked up. But it's a hospital, and that's what insurance is for.

Such a perfect and eloquent slope to those clavicles if I don't say so myself.

Memaw Moves In

Memaw has arrived from Houston to spend the next 6 months taking care of us!

To make her feel very welcome and to give Merrick something to do for hours on end while I ate ice cream, painted my nails and watched the Today Show did whatever it is that housewives do, I assigned him the artistic task of decorating this sign.

He used all his mediums (crayons, markers, paints, stamps and stickers) and it really did occupy him for hours.
The blank canvas.
Artistic explosion.
"Memaw's going to LOVE her sign! It says 'Welcome Memaw, Again!" Because Memaw seems to come back to visit every month around here.
*Aunt Wiz is really Aunt Liz, road trip buddy extraordinaire. But when you can't pronounce your Ls, she is a Wiz.

1.21.2012

Hello, I'm NED

I'm learning cancer terminology slowly but surely, and one of the favorite things to say for obvious reasons is that you're NED. And I am officially NED.

I have No Evidence of Disease!

NED also means that I can officially stake claim to stage III cancer.

The CT scan on Tuesday showed that the 2mm nodules in my lungs have not grown. Cancer loves to grow, so their lack of growth is a good thing.  It's safe to say they're not cancer and are merely those pesky little nodules that so many of us have in our lungs. Silly nodules.

In retrospect, I don't think either of my doctors were overly concerned about them. They were merely taking precautions since we knew the cancer cells had hit the highway of love. Understood.

Just because I'm NED, doesn't mean that there aren't little life-sucking cancer cells playing Musical Chairs all over my body. If this little illustration helps, the chemo is going to keep the music from stopping while it removes all the cancer cells. Then when the music stops, there will (hopefully) be no kids left to play the game. Now that you have visions of chemo zapping little kids, I'll move on.

For reasons I'll never understand, they put us in an exam room used by the gynecologist. The appointment was delayed an hour, so Kyle had plenty of time to look at the equipment and pamphlets and diagrams and ask:

"Is that spotlight for...."

Yes.

"Do they use those goggles for..."

Uh, yes.

"Do they shine that..."

Yep.

"Do they put that microscope..."

You betcha!

It made him realize that all those men in the waiting room with prostate cancer had it pretty good. My doctor primarily treats prostate cancer patients at this particular office, so it was a blast to sit in a waiting room full of older men who couldn't help but stare at my youthfulness. Especially when it was my turn and they realized I wasn't there with my grandpa.

Hopefully they didn't think I was there with my prostate.

Overall the appointment was great, and I now know how the next 6 months of my life will go.

I'll head in on every other Wednesday morning bright and early. Apparently "bright and early" is 8am for people without small children. But bright and early means I'll beat the rush and be able to get a "good" recliner.  I didn't realize there was anything political about getting infused, but apparently there is and I can't wait to witness it.

I'll be hooked up for 4 hours, which means lots of trashy magazine reading and non-trashy blogging. I didn't see it, but apparently there was a sign that said:

"Sarah, leave your Netflix Instant Watch addiction at home. You'll suck up too much bandwidth and that's not fair to every one else."

I think Kyle made that up just to push my buttons.

8am means I'll finish up and still have time to walk aimlessly through Target with my sexy pump-in-a-fanny-pack while spending hundreds of dollars on nothing I actually need. I'll merely be killing time before preschool pick-up and walking up and down aisles excitedly asking myself:

"Is there anything new since I was last at Target...yesterday?"

I'll wear my accessory for 48 hours and return on Fridays to get disconnected. Please don't let your jealousy get the best of you here.

Next on my to-do list is the insertion of my PICC line and a "treatment orientation." It must be like freshman orientation, where you have that awkward feeling of being out of place, looking lost and trying to scout for cute boys all at the same time. I hope to maintain a certain level of 18 year old coolness during my visit. Given the median age of the guys in treatment, I'm sure I'll have no problem stealing all their attention for the other chicks in the room.

1.20.2012

LIVESTRONG


I personally picked Chris 4 Life as my non-profit of choice for the Mom's Gotta Run Shamrock training team. But I'll admit that LIVESTRONG was the first organization that came to mind when I paired cancer and running in the same thought. I can remember running past the Team LIVESTRONG during the Wicked 10K, but at the time I was more focused on not getting blown over than what that mile actually meant.

I was a little wary because they are so large and in charge and nationally known when it comes to cancer. I didn't want any donations toward fundraising efforts to get lost in the mix. But at that, I hadn't really delved into the world of cancer oriented non-profits. I was still very new to the game and still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I even had cancer.

That's why I appreciated a little graphic they posted on their site titled "Where the Money Goes." My simple mind appreciates simple graphics. I'm the type that would much rather look at a map than read directions. I'm visual, I like books with pictures and I like two-toned illustrations like this one.

That's impressive. That's inspiring. That's making me want to go out and buy a little yellow bracelet. Or maybe an overpriced t-shirt. Or maybe, just maybe a pair of my beloved Nike Tempo Shorts that support the cause and blast the logo.

The more I read about what LIVESTRONG actually does, the more I like what I see and the more I like Lance.

1.19.2012

Shawna is Going to LIVESTRONG

I got the most amazing email from Shawna the other day. It was amazing in what she had to say, but also amazing in that she had decided to run the Shamrock Half Marathon. She read my blog abount Mom's Gotta Run and took up my running mantra: "Run because you CAN, and think about those that CAN'T."

OK, I just made that up. Not that thought, but that it's my "running mantra." I'm not worthy of a mantra. Mantras are for the cool kids who run sub 8 minutes miles. I, on the other hand, sing vintage Disney tunes and I skip along while obsessively staring at my Garmin.

Because of the last minute decision, all the normal spots for the race were sold out. It actually sold out before Christmas, because clearly all those cool kids I just mentioned are running it. The only option left was to sign up for a charity spot and like that it was a done deal for her. She would agree to raise money for a cause and in return she'd be granted one of those last remaining places in the corrals on that cold March morning.
Being the Oregonian that she so proudly is, this girl loves her some Nike almost much as she loves those Ducks. So it made perfect sense to pick LIVESTRONG as her charity of choice. What a perfect merger of yellows.

So because I CAN'T and she CAN, she's going to run the half marathon for Team LIVESTRONG, run with my colon as inspiration, run in memory of those dear to her that cancer has taken and run for those dear to her who still fight the battle. And she's going to do it as fashionably as one can in LIVESTRONG gear. Because when you're running 13.1 miles, you have to look good.

Consider a donation and get one step closer to Lance. This girl gets up at 5am in temperatures that keep ice cream from melting to train. That alone is worth some love. Or a subscription to Vanity Fair.

1.17.2012

My Cardinal Rule

My cardinal rule of motherhood is this:
Never leave the house in workout clothes unless you're going to workout or you're going to Walmart.

You can always take that extra step to actually put on jeans and or real shoes. I'm not even asking you to wear a bra, especially if you're wearing a sweatshirt or just don't need one like myself. But if I can make the effort to always have my eyebrows drown in, you can wear real clothes. 

Yes, we are mothers, but at least try and look like you care and have maintained an identity outside of raising your children.

Apparently my cardinal rule needs an addendum:

...or getting a CT scan where they're going to make you remove or pull down anything with metal on it, and most people you run in to are going to be wearing scrubs or hospital gowns and not look nearly as dressed up as you.

I left the house looking like this today and I was ashamed. I guess it beats the last time I walked into a hospital wearing flannel pajamas. Wait, aren't these my pajamas?

I was warm, I wasn't wearing metal and gosh darn it, I've got cancer!



The Tastiness Known as E-Z-CAT

I mixed it in the morning. I wanted it to have all day to chill and for those immense flavors to marinate in what was going to become my evening taste bud explosion. I once again had visions of Orange Julius as I stirred and stirred and stirred the powder into submission.

I couldn't WAIT for 9pm to roll around so I could drink my first 16 ounces and start glowing in the dark. Yeah, first 16 ounces because I was going to drink another 16 for breakfast!

I made it about 2 ounces in and was trying not to gag with every sip. I even took it the the next level and turned it in to an imaginary Sunrise Ice Blended from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. That's deep people! I was willing to ruin the thought of a perfectly good Ice Blended for the sake of getting this stuff down.

I know I promised I'd throw a tantrum if they ever tried to get me to drink anything with "barium" in its title, and yet here I stood with an ice cold cup of E-Z-CAT Dry. Clearly I'm all about second chances and was willing to give the powdered version the benefit of the doubt.

I was given these packets at the oncologist's office and made a tiny stink. Apparently it was large enough of a stink that the nurse actually called over to the radiology department at the hospital to see if she was indeed giving me the nasty version of barium. Like there's a tasty version of barium sulfate somewhere in the world that's yet to be discovered?

I doubted a bag of powder could really turn into something as thick as the real sludge, but I wanted to make sure. Radiology said they hadn't gotten any complaints, and another nurse actually pulled out a jug of the milkshake variety and said that was what was required by the other hospital. Note to self, never get a CT scan through the other hospital system.

I accepted the reviews and took the packets home. Knowing they had the flavorless liter of water available, I told myself I'd trying and get this powdered stuff down and pull my "I'm gagging and I just can't stop, so can I come in and drink the liter of water?" routine if I had to. I'd rather spend my hour waiting at home, but would gladly roam around the hospital if it saved my taste buds.

While trying to find any culinary reviews online, I found this note about side effects:

Serious side effects of barium sulfate may include severe stomach pain, sweating, ringing in your ears, pale skin, weakness, or severe cramping, diarrhea, or constipation.

Great. That sounds like the morning after a bad night out at a club.

With my epic fail in the drinking department, I went to bed with high hopes that I could call in the morning, gag over the phone and they'd let me come in and drink my liter of Omnipaque. It wasn't even that complicated. I didn't need to make excuses. I mean, does one really need an excuse when it comes to avoiding the barium milkshake?

A glorious bladder-filling sight.
So I drank my liter of water, read my paperback thriller and waited the hour. I tried not to think about why I was there and what the potential results could be. It wasn't until I was laying on the table and the machine started to spin that I began to acknowledge the obvious. I closed my eyes and tried to meditate on scripture. I envisioned and knew that I wasn't alone in that moment or in that room.  I also knew that my body was either going to amaze me or betray me again.

I'll walk in to my appointment on Friday and know that regardless of the results, God will be faithful to us in this journey. Even if we don't get the good news we want, we still know that God has long known our path and will continue to walk with us on it.

1.14.2012

Clean as a Whistle


I walked in to my colonoscopy clean as a whistle thanks to an overdose of Miralax, and I came out clean as a whistle. Or at least, that's how one might describe my perfectly perfect colon.

I officially have the colon a 34 year old should have! No polyps and as pretty as a healthy colon could be!

After an entire day on pure liquids, I was so excited to wake up Friday morning and not be allowed to eat or drink leading up to my 2pm appointment. I was irritable to say the least and everyone was warned that crossing my path could be brutal. Brutal!

On the way to school, Merrick was incessantly explaining the long list of things in outer space that God made (Saturn, the moon, aliens, the sun that's so far away and very hot and will burn us) and all the things that God didn't make, like WALL-E. Apparently WALL-E was made by aliens that lived on the moon and not those creative kids over at Pixar. I turned up the radio and hoped it would either drown him out or he'd realize I wasn't listening and give up.

That never works.

He never gives up.

"WALL-E is a robot. Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom?"

With a lack of coffee and in a major food deficit, I came unglued. Part of me felt bad, but I know he's resilient and of course he bounced right back.

"Those are power lines that take electricity to our house and make the fridge work and the Tivo record and turn the lights on. Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom? Right, mom?"

I just groveled, turned the radio up even louder and sped up. 4 year olds don't understand that talking to mommies who haven't had coffee is a very scary road to go down.

Leading up to this next, "complete" colonoscopy, I wondered what was left to discover. I'd already had my insides lit up like a Christmas tree during the CT scan. And Dr. Ramirez man-handled my large intestine during the colectomy I have no doubt. But given the discovery of the tumor and my potential for a genetic link to colon cancer, I assumed they would find and remove polyps during this pooper prodding party.

I was already being told that I would need a colonoscopy every year, which was a small price to pay given what had already happened. I was almost at ease because I knew even the worst news wouldn't be that bad. I'd already gotten the worst news out of the way. Now I was just potentially looking at some polyps and preventative action.

After they wheeled me back into recovery and fetched Kyle, he told us the news. I peeked out of the one eye I could barely open and asked: "Not even a polyp?"

Not even a polyp.

1.12.2012

P-R-E-P Rally

There are Pep Rallies and then there are Prep Rallies!

The next colonoscopy is Friday, so that means Thursday is devoted to prepping. The purge, the cleanse, the emptying of all contents a la the Miralax Martini. It's surprisingly not painful but mildly similar to the infamous scene in Dumb and Dumber. I think I might be starting to enjoy the process. It's very purifying.

This is not a beer sampler. This is a Miralax sampler.
I'm going to start this off with a little tip. You don't actually have to dump 7 servings of Miralax in to your 32 ounce clear liquid and drink it within an hour to get things going. I know that's what the universal instructions say, but that's to motivate people as they inflict the inevitable upon themselves. The inevitable is going to happen if you drink 14 servings of Miralax in a 2 hour period or all day long. It's complete overload in any time frame and a load it will in deed produce.

With that said, if you can follow directions without gagging, by all means you should follow directions.

I'm going to take this medical fact (confirmed by medical professionals that know) and use it to my advantage as I play bartender with myself and divide those 14 servings into a palatable selection of beverages that are sure to keep my taste buds happy. I will tip back glass after glass while my innards start to rumble and speak to me from beyond. No 7 servings in one syrupy drink for me. More like 2 tasteless servings in one tasty beverage and many tasty beverages being consumed over several hours.

If I'm going to make a career out of colonoscopies, I've got to make it work for me. I'm clearly someone that doesn't mind a little extra work for my own happiness. After all, I'm opting for the more challenging PICC line, aren't I?

And those beverages, they don't have to be clear (confirmed by a medical professional who let that little tidbit out of the bag), as long as they're not red. The possibilities are endless!

So on tap today are things like lemonade, tea, diet Sunkist and pear cider (of the non-adult beverage kind).

Bottoms up now, bottoms down latter, then bottoms to the right tomorrow!

1.11.2012

Post Post Op Op

Because apparently one post-op isn't enough, I got to see Dr. Ramirez again for a second post-op. Everything is going swell and I feel 110%. I'm starting to see that my scar will heal nicely and my belly button will look amazing. I can carry Lachlan around for the most part and am ready to hit the pavement short of it raining on every day I've planned to run this week.

I tried to stack my weight again for this visit and failed miserably. It worked at the oncologist, where I kept my keys, phone, wallet, 5 rolls of quarters and a soup can in my coat pocket. After my first step on the scale, the nurse made me remove the 16 different layers I'd intentionally added to my outfit in an attempt to pad the numbers. Amazingly I lost 4 pounds on the spot. I acted surprised and innocent and she bought my performance. I blamed the Uggs!

Kyle told me that my efforts to gain weigh via Reece's Cups and Tootsie Rolls was pointless and I needed to eat protein. I reminded him that peanut butter is protein, and if it takes 3,500 calories to gain a pound, a bag of Reece's Pieces and a funnel might be my only hope. If one more doctor tells me "we are going to monitor your weight," I might just chug a bottle of Ensure at him.

I couldn't really decide what the point of a second post-op was, but I knew two things would come out of it.

#1: I would have a date for my next colonoscopy. The first colonoscopy only made it to the tumor, so it was only about 15% complete. And amazingly, I got a bill for the whole thing. No "partial colon" discount? In another amazing move, the colorectal surgeon will do the colonoscopy. No going back to the "By the way you have a tumor now go home and have a Happy Thanksgiving and we'll call you next week" GI. A surgeon that does colonoscopies? He continues to redefine my idea of patient care and surgeons. I'm sure he's also eager to look at his handy work!

#2: I would get a date out of it. I tell you, Kyle and I just take romance to the next level! He spent most of the time working on his phone and I spent most of the time with my nose buried in quality literature.

Apparently I can now add a third thing to the list. Seems the salon isn't the only place I can go to read all those trashy celeb magazines that I'm too good to buy, but all too eager to read.



As eager as I am to start chemo so I can finish chemo, these next few weeks are almost bitter sweet. I feel so great and so normal and I know it's all going to be short lived. I'm 100% healthy. Or at least I'd like to think I am. I try not to think about what may be going on in my body and just focus on being normal again.

1.08.2012

Come PICC on Me

The jury is in. Not that it took long to deliberate on this one. I didn't like the idea of the Mediport in photos, so I knew I wouldn't like it in me. That happens to go against the grain of public opinion, or at least all the happy Mediport users that weighed in on this very subject on several message boards I read.

To each his own.

It seemed most love the easy convenience of the Mediport and didn't miss the complications and restrictions of the PICC line. I can always try, and if it proves to be too difficult or I have too many complications, then to the knife and the Mediport I will go.

So the PICC line wins the first battle, but that left me wondering how to handle the obvious IV line that's going to be attached to my body for 6 months. It's going to be a beacon for toddler hands and an eye sore when Spring arrives and shirt sleeves become short. The last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself, so I'd need to remove the object of attention from everyone's sight. Googling some imagines gave me some ideas for "covers."

My solution will take some creativity and perhaps a few hits and misses, but I'm welcoming all ideas at this time. Here are some I've come up with.

Option 1: Take a generic ankle support from the local drug store, hack off one end and place the other over my arm to keep dangling bells and whistles contained and out or sight and out of reach. The nude color should work nicely. I just hope they make these for kids, because my arms are abnormally thin right now.

Option 2: An Ace bandage. Nothing says "I've injured myself so look at me!" like an Ace bandage!

Option 3: A custom knit cover. I don't knit, so this option is just floating in space.

Option 4: Arm warmers. Not that my arm needs to be that warm in the summer, but I can at least turn around and use them in the winter.

Option 5: Sweat bands. Old school. Goes on your arm. Holds things in place. Great for wiping the sweat from my perfectly drawn in brows.

Option 6: Mesh Arm Warmers from Target. Rock. Star. Between these, my sweat bands and my infusion fanny pack, I'll be welcome at any 80s party.

Option 7: Baby Legs. Fun. Cute Prints. Tells the world I'm one wild and crazy gal. I can also dabble in cute girl prints. And when I'm seen being fashionable at the playground, all the moms will think I'm just starting a trend by putting a Baby Leg on my arm, right?

Option 8: I found these photos from a blog while on one of my Googling missions. She wanted to achieve my very same goal and found these on Etsy. Intended more for clubbing and less for cancer, the Wrist Wallet still gets the job done and is a very viable option! And should the need to go clubbing arise, I'll have a place to stick my cash and ID. Because opportunities to go clubbing for someone who goes to bed at 9pm are abounding!

1.06.2012

Mom's Gotta Run Because I Can't

Working out and running are things I think about a lot these days. Fitness has been such a way of life for me for so long, and now I'm in a place where even the idea of walking a good distance sounds tiring.

I'm beyond my lay-in-bed-and-text-my-husband-all-my-needs phase, but not to the point where I can do a jumping jack without wanting to holding my right side. The right side being the camera port side that has been the bain of my post-op experience so far.

I spend my days looking for stories of people who ran or maintained some level of fitness while going through chemo and they are scarce. I need some hope and inspiration that I'm not going to spend 6 months being so tired and so uninspired that I lose touch with my own body.

One such story came from the 2012 Colondar put out by The Colon Club. Ultra marathoner Dan Wilson finished a marathon while going through chemo. Granted, he finished it in 6 hours. 6 hours may sound pretty impressive to all the non-runners of the world, but for an guy who runs crazy distances and has competed in over 50 marathons, 6 hours is merely a testament to how broken down his body became during chemo. But he still did it, and that's inspiration for anyone!

For me, being able to workout in any capacity is going to be my lifeline to sanity. It's also going to be my lifeline to the renewed health and recovery I'm going to need when my 6 months is up and I'm left to rebuild my entire body from rock bottom.

But as I'm seeing from an amazing groups of moms and friends that run, you don't have to run a marathon to be inspirational. I am a member of Mom's Gotta Run, and in my honor (amazing!) they are giving moms running in the Shamrock Marathon, 1/2 Marathon or 8k the opportunity to raise money for Chris 4 Life. Just because this mom and her (slightly reduced) colon can't run it this year, doesn't mean that other moms won't pick up my slack. 

So often when I run and start feeling sorry for myself, I reflect on people who would give anything to be in my very shoes at that moment. So many are sick, disabled or too weak to even walk. How many little kids would love nothing more than to sprint across the playground, yet are hooked up to IVs and machines and dreading the next nurse that walks in the room? Yet here I making excuses and complaining in my head about how miserable my run is when I should just be grateful that I CAN run. Now the table has turned and I'm the one who can't run (for at least 2 more post-op weeks). But these ladies CAN and I hope that knowledge will inspire them as they cover great distances.

I chose Chris 4 Life because it was a very specific charity. I wasn't interested giving to some large organization that gets national attention, large corporate donations and whose funds might go more to overhead and less to the individuals who could actually use them. I wanted to shop a "small business" so to speak. I wanted an organization that specifically dealt with colon cancer, and something local (albeit in D.C.) who took the very money it raised and turned it right back around into its own community. I wanted an organization that was out to make a difference for a cause that is underrepresented in funding and attention, despite its looming dominance in cancer diagnosis.

I also knew that once the ball got rolling, it's to organizations like this that we ourselves would turn to for grant money to help with my wonderful $2500 deductible or additional childcare expenses.



Not doing anything on March 17th or 18th? Considering heading down to the oceanfront to cheer on some running mommies! Look for the the sexiest girl in a fanny pack and say hi!

In the mean time I'll do a jumping jack every day until it doesn't hurt, then I'll lace up my shoes and try to make it around the block.

1.05.2012

Santa Guilt

So close we can hear the "Ho, ho, ho!"
Because what I really wanted to do 2 days before Christmas was stand in line for 2 hours to see Santa.

It was the guilt that got us in the end. The day before, Kyle took the boys up to Williamsburg to the Yankee Candle Factory to get them out of the house and give me a chance to rest in peace and quiet. In addition to the pain I was still in, I felt like the flu had descended and all I could do was lay in bed and be useless.

I laid on the couch and watched Kyle dress the boys in clothes not befitting a photo with Santa. At that point, I didn't care if they even matched. At least they were dressed in something other than pajamas. I almost told Kyle to put Merrick in a cuter shirt in the event they took photos with Santa, but I didn't want him to have to do any more work than he was already doing. The man was going above and beyond the call of his man duties during my medical leave.

Upon their return from the Yankee Candle Factory, Merrick promptly walked into my room and told me that he had his "photo taken with Santa but daddy said we couldn't buy them because I wasn't dressed very cute." True. Very true.


The sadness and disappointment in his voice almost broke my heart. It apparently broke it enough to get me out of bed the next morning and agree to go to the mall and stand in line with 5,205 of my best friends and their snotty little kids. At least my snotty little kids were also there to contribute to the snot swapping.

1 hour into the wait for Santa and I started to wish I had made Kyle change Merrick's clothes.

And 2 hours later, when his moment of glory finally arrived, Merrick didn't even look at the camera. Turd.

Oncology 101

If the surgeon gave us the Cliff Notes version of my pathology, the oncologist gave us War and Peace.

I tried taking notes, Kyle tried taking notes, my dad tried taking notes and the oncologist wrote everything down in doctor scribble and handed it to us in the end. Between all those sources, I think we may be able to spell most of the big words and complex pharmaceutical names that are going to be circling around me for the next 6 months.

I think I'm less concerned about names of drugs and more interested in things happening in the next few weeks that could determine the path I take with chemo.

The basic idea is this, I'll be getting chemo through an IV line every 2 weeks for 6 months. That IV line can either be a PICC line in my arm or a Mediport in my chest. There are pros and cons to each, so my current job is to decide which I want through lots of lots of Googling. Googling is my favorite past time right now!

The PICC line looks more like a traditional IV. The Mediport is surgically implanted in my chest and looks like a giant zit. I'd include a photo, but even I found it a little disturbing. And surgically implanting the Mediport means I'd have to go under and get another little incision, twice. What goes in, must come out! Legos, pennies, food, Mediports!

If you ran into me this summer and I was rocking my biceps in a tank top, which would you rather see, an IV in my forearm or a most unusual bulge coming out of my chest like a third nipple?

The infusion every two weeks is followed by 48 hours of carrying around a pump in a fanny pack. I still have my fanny pack from my post-op pain pump, so maybe I can rock two at the same time. It's been done before, so don't start calling me a trend-setter yet. I will single-handedly bring back the fanny pack and I ask you to join me in this fashion revolution.

The main side effects according to the oncologist will be cold sensitivity (from drinking ice water to opening the fridge) and sores in my mouth. The other side effects as I've read on colon cancer chemo message boards include neuropathy (numbness or tingling) in hands and feet, fatigue and a metallic taste in your mouth. There are drugs to fight the traditional nausea and vomiting (for the most part) and once again, he confirmed that colon cancer chemo drugs leave those hair follicles intact. My hair appointment on Saturday will not be canceled!

In the end, everyone has a different reaction to chemo and I won't know until I get plugged up for the first time.

Now, on to other complications that may alter my drug regiment.

With my first CT scan, it was noted that I had very small nodules in my lungs. Not a big deal according to the surgeon, because chances are that a lot of you also have very small nodules in your lungs. Most often they are nothing. And by small, I mean 2mm. To raise the eyebrows of an oncologist, they need to be a centimeter.

Now that we know the cancer spread to my lymph nodes, we know it potentially went on a road trip and that road trip may have randomly camped out in my lungs. It's a big unknown, so I'm going to have another CT scan in 2 weeks to see if they've grown. If they can detect something that's 2mm large, they will be able to detect even the slightest growth since November.

This left me with that slight, achy pit in my stomach, but I can't let myself get bogged down by unknowns at this point. All the unknowns have been the hardest part of this whole experience. Because it's a giant mystery, the oncologist did not stage my cancer. So I take back everything I said about it being Stage III. I am now labeled with a giant "X" on all the paperwork he handed me.

Since I'm now floating around with the "X" factor, let's add some fun facts about my tumor.
  • It was 4cm large. In the world of cancer (and so many other things), size means nothing. We've heard this from several sources. Some of the nastiest little buggers are tiny. 4cm makes it a T3 lesion.
  • T3: The cancer has grown through the muscularis propria (muscle layer) and into the outermost layers of the colon but not through them. It has not reached any nearby organs or tissues.
  •  It was an Adenocarcinoma, which we already knew and 95% of colon cancers are. All this means it is that it was growing in a glandular surface.
  • More specifically it was a Moderately Differentiated (Mod Diff) Adenocarcinmo, which defines the structure of the tumor. The good news is that there is something worse than a Mod Diff tumor.
Fun facts, like I promised! I'm going to ask for photos when I see my surgeon next week. I'm sure he took them.

We're still waiting on the genetic test, but regardless of the results, both my boys will be under direct orders to start getting colonoscopies when they are 24 (or 10 years younger than when I was diagnosed). I can't decide when I should bestow this joyful knowledge on them. Perhaps when we meet their girlfriends for the first time or on prom night? I'm not sure, but it will surely break the ice!

The best case scenario right now is that my CT scan in 2 weeks shows the nodules in my lungs have either not changed in size or (because God can do great things) are completely gone. If that's the case, I will have No Evidence of Disease (NED) and can begin Adjunct Chemotherapy. Adjunct is meant to "improve, delay or prevent reoccurrence of cancer."

I will be given Adjunct Chemo with a drug combo called FOLFOX. You can look that up in your own time because my ability to spell even basic words is hard. Asking me to spell medical terminology and pharmaceutical names will give me a Hooked On Phonics nervous breakdown and I might start chucking the alphabet at the wall.

I heard "because you are so young" a lot yesterday. Cancer is not the disease of youth. Looking around the waiting room made that quiet clear. I'm sure I'll be the youngest person in the room on many days. I hope my youth can bring awareness and be a reminder that cancer is not picky.

I feel so great right now and have finally bounced back with a profound sense of renewal. It's easy to appreciate feeling good when you have felt bad for so long. But I can't help but think there may be cancer cells drifting all over my body just looking for another home. I feel strong yet completely vulnerable because this enemy is potentially holding my body hostage.

1.03.2012

Very First School Picture Day

I told him not to give his cheesy fake four year old smile.

He promised to be cute.

Glad we could agree on something for once.
Merrick  Age 4   October 2011   3 Year Old Preschool

And Now for Your Results

I left the hospital on a Thursday and I knew my pathology reports would be in on Friday. You would expect to be told, but my surgeon said he wanted me to spend the next two weeks focusing on healing and recovery and not on the results of everything they removed from me.

We thought that odd, but once we realized how steep a climb recovery was going to be, we understood his logic. I needed to focus on getting better, not on what might happen 3 months from now. And little did I expect recovery take as much effort as it did. It really was my full time job and left me with little ability to do much else. It left my Type A personality desperate for my Type B personality to return from whatever vacation it was on.

The pain went in stages and at times was unreal. Nothing like I expected and it took far longer for me to recover than I assumed. I thought it would be quick and easy since I had bounced back from my c-sections with the greatest of ease. I would have never guessed that 3 weeks after surgery, I'd still be moving slow and setting alarms as reminders to take my pain meds.

Before my 2 week post-op could even arrive, I was back in the surgeon's office with an infection. I was amazed at the pain I was feeling on my right side, specifically where the camera port incision was made. It was just a little one inch incision, but the night before I was in tears over the pain it was causing. I didn't think that could be normal considering I was over a week post-op and my other, much larger incision wasn't giving me nearly the grief.

The following morning I finally decided to peel back the tiny piece of surgical tape and the oozing I felt explained it all. Back to the doctor we went and I prepared myself for the pain I'd expect as they "cleaned it out." I left their office with an open wound and within 24 hours it looked well on its way to healing. In all my vanity, I thought an infected wound would make for a nasty scar, but they assured me it wouldn't. The judges are still out.

A week later I was back and the surgeon removed the tape over my belly button. There she was, a flat, tight slit. There was still some swelling to go down, but I had a 3 inch incision straddling by new and improved belly button. Once the big reveal was over, it was time to go over results.

I'll admit that Kyle and I were expecting better news. Though we'd slightly prepared for the worst, I think we honestly thought it wouldn't be that bad. He started to explain how they stage cancer and I half listened. I'd done my reading and I understood what he was talking about. I knew exactly where this was going when he said of the 20+ lymph nodes they removed, 14 came back as positive for cancer. That took my breath away before he officially said Stage III.

We knew he would be removing all the lymph nodes connected to my sigmoid colon just as a precaution. And to now know that a majority of them contained cancer was shocking. I wonder if he had already known this after looking at the CT scan, but didn't want to tell us until he actual confirmation from pathology reports.

I pulled ranks and kept my emotions in check while we discussed the next steps, chemo, another colonoscopy, another post-op appointment, future appointments and care, etc. I made it all the way to the truck before I finally broke down. I was scared and shocked and couldn't believe how sick my body had gotten while I had no clue. I am young and healthy and this isn't suppose to happen to me.

I once again spent another 24 hours in tears. It was another 24 hours of being afraid of the unknown. It was another 24 hours of wondering how disrupted our lives were going to be because of cancer. It was another 24 hours of wondering what my future was going to look like.

Up until this point we'd kept the cancer news somewhat under wraps. We weren't trying to keep it a secret or keep people out of our business. It had only been a few weeks that we ourselves had known, and so much had happened in such a short amount of time. We were still trying to process it ourselves, so "going public" hadn't really been an option. We had so many unanswered questions and now we were finally getting answers.

Now was the time to shout it from the roof tops. Now was the time to let everyone know. We were going to need all the help, support, prayers, encouragement and love we could get. I thought I was just going to go for a quick jog around the block, but now I realized I was about to run a marathon and would need all the running buddies I could find. I, a proud and stubborn do-it-myself type, could not do this myself. Surgery and recovery had knocked me on my butt enough to put me in a very humble place. I knew chemo was going to take my body to its lowest and weakest possible place and I would not be able to do-it-myself.

My name is Sarah, and I'm a recovering self-sufficient, stubborn, never ask for help, do-it-myselfer!

Get Your Rear in Gear

I may become a fundraising 5K junkie by the end of this endurance race!

I just found another colon cancer 5K, and it's based out of my beloved Minnesota! Held all over the country, Get Your Rear in Gear is holding over 50+ 5K races all over the country in 2012 in support of the Colon Cancer Coalition!

A 5K is continuing to look like a pretty lofty goal for me right now with the prospect of chemo on my very near horizon. I'm about to take my body to its very weakest and lowest point, so I'll appreciate the ability to run a 5K when I start my journey back to complete wellness when this is over.

Surgeries, Hospitals and Vacations

The process actually started on Sunday, December 4th when I woke up at 5am with horrid abdominal pains. Apparently the Dulcolax I took the night before as part of the colon prep decided it didn't like me. I expected it and other fun things to pass within a few hours but it never let up and all I could do with lay on the bathroom floor and whimper. Before long I started throwing up from what we can surmise was the pain. I couldn't even keep the water I was sipping down and was consistently throwing up every 20 to 30 minutes. At that rate, there was no way I could start drinking my Miralax Martini by noon.

Kyle called the wonderful Patient Care Nurse, she in turn called the surgeon, and long story short I was admitted to the hospital in the most miserable state. I, the public toilet germ-a-phobe, had no qualms about hugging the toilet in the lobby of the hospital while Kyle found someone to admit me on a weekend. Did I mention the flannel pajamas? Nothing like walking into the main entrance of a hospital in pajamas!

We were in our room for about an hour before I was finally hooked up to an IV (after multiple attempts by 3 people) and anti-nausea drugs and morphine were administered. No doubt I was seriously dehydrated by that point. It had now been 10 hours with nothing going in, and an IV was just what the doctor order, literally and figuratively. Within minutes I was a new women who could sit up in bed and talk. And within hours I was staring at the Miralax Martini again with the prospects of enjoying it in a hospital room.

When the nurse brought me a bottle of the infamous Gatorade, I cringed and begged for another option. Apple juice was the first thing I could think of and I hate apple juice. It's already sweet and syrupy and I was about to make it a little more syrupy. She prepared my first cup and I sent Kyle on a mission to find something else that was clear from the nearest vending machine.

I really enjoyed that evening and night, despite the prospects of major surgery the next day and the amazing things that were going to be happening in that industrial hospital bathroom all night. I had my faith to give me the peace that God was guiding our situation. I reminded myself that there was cancer in my body at that moment and by the following evening it would be gone. I took a nice long look at my belly button, played with the little ridge that stuck out and told that sucker it wouldn't be missed.

I had cancer in my body. I couldn't help but put my left hand over my sigmoid colon and know that I was centimeters from touch something so deadly that many are afraid to call it by name. That was still such a surreal thought.

I also enjoyed that I was alone and not having to meet the constant needs of two small children. Even when they don't need you, you have to be vigilant and are always on guard. You always sleep with one eye open and that night in the hospital I didn't have to. It was almost like being on vacation, so I started to refer to my stay as such. For the first time in years, I was the only one I had to worry about.

Pre-op looks a little foggy because I was a little foggy. Note to self: whiten teeth.
Morning came bright and early and I was ready to get the ball rolling. My night didn't have any kids in it, but it had plenty of interruptions for vitals, blood work and pre-op instructions. They rolled me down to the pre-op area and it was packed with patients and people like a Monday morning freeway. There were more drugs, more things to sign, more questions to answer and the next thing I remember I woke up in recovery. That's the glorious thing about surgery!

The nurse taking care of me quickly informed me that everything went very well, I still had all my girlie bits and my family was waiting for me up in my room. In no time I was on my way up. I had just been man-handled for hours and yet had the best sleep I'd had in years. In a twisted way, it was great.

When all was said and done, I was happy to keep my bits and pieces. Not that I love having a period, but there is some structural credit that should be given to the uterus as it does hold things in place. I was also mildly attached to it for helping to grow my babies.

Aside from the heavy dose of drugs and the pain pump I had strapped to my waist in a sexy fanny pack, I felt OK. I was OK enough to get out of bed within a few hours and spent the remainder of the day up and moving.

The goals were simple: pain control, get up and moving and get those new and improved bowels working again!

The real ticket out of the hospital, as anyone who's had surgery knows, is passing gas. They want to make sure the bowels are awake and moving before sending you home. And considering mine had been hacked in half, farting was vital to my freedom. This is where I throw all rules of marital bliss to the wind and agree to fart in front of Kyle. It's moments like this that I know he lives for, but I reminded him that just because it would happen in a hospital does not mean the rules of engagement would change once we were home. This was a medical necessity, not an invitation for free reign.

With some pointers from the surgeon's Nurse Practitioner, I tried laying in bed on my left side. She said that was the "natural flow" of the bowels and could often prompt some action. Kyle was actually sitting in a chair to my right, within mere feet of my exit point. He had front row seats to the hottest show in town and yet, when the time came, he was completely let down by my female mystic. It was silent and smelled of roses. Did he expect anything less out of me?

3 minutes later I was headed to the bathroom and experienced complete victory. Everything was in working order. Amazing really, that they can do what they did to my large intestine and it can just pick back up like nothing ever happened.

I would end up spending 5 days in the hospital. The last by request. I had already maxed out my deductible,so why not extend the vacation. I didn't have to cook, I had a cool bed that went up and down, I didn't have to share the remote, I had relative peace and quiet and I had someone bringing me pain meds. It was a great as it sounds.

1.01.2012

The Big Reveal of Pre-Op

By the afternoon of the CT scan, we were scheduled to come in nice and early to meet with the surgeon the next day. My dad joined us at the appointment as an extra set of ears, as moral support and as a concerned father. It started to rain as we made our way there, but my dad had arrived in time to see a rainbow form before the storm. He took it as a clear message from above that everything was going to be alright, and as we rolled into the rainy parking lot, I had to mediate on that to help keep myself composed.

We are all relying heavily on our faith and had seen God work already in the brief journey we'd already been on. We have to know that He sees the big picture, and knowing that everything is going to be alright doesn't necessarily mean in the short term or that we're always going to get the greatest of news. We have to step back in faith and trust that God is doing a greater work that we can't see yet, and the path may not always be smooth along the way.

The CT scan confirmed the tumor, because apparently it needed another pat on the back. The little photo I had from the colonoscopy apparently wasn't enough. It also revealed that my liver was clean, which was great news when it comes to cancer. When colon cancer spreads, the first place it goes is to the liver. So a clean liver meant that it hadn't metastasized, and we could rule out Stage IV cancer.

Because colon cancer is so rare in people under the age of 50, and there was a family history, I was going to be tested for a colon cancer gene. Yes, there is one, and it's called HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome. Those results aren't in yet, but they could have a major impact on the rest of my life as a "cancer patient" if they come back positive. We'll cross that bridge if and when we have to.

The one concern that did arise out of the CT scan was the proximity of the tumor to my uterus. They could tell a lot from the scan, but not that much. Because there was a chance the tumor could have grown out of the colon wall and attached to my uterus, it may have to go. My baby box was closed for business, so the initial anticipation of never having a period again was very enticing. I wasn't out burning my remaining tampons over a bonfire yet, but I was imagining life without them and it was very pleasant.

This revelation meant that after pre-op blood work for the surgeon, we'd need to go and meet with a gynocologist for another pre-op appointment. She would be in the OR on the day in case her talents were needed. She was great, funny and brightened up our day a little. She also prepared us that my left ovary might have to come out as well. Everything is very intimate down there, so the chances of things being attached were good. Again, it was all a matter of the tumor making its way through the colon wall. Losing one ovary wouldn't be detrimental to my hormone production per the funny lady doctor, but I wasn't so sure.

In the end, it was what it was and if it all needed to go, it needed to go.

After that appointment, she sent us to the actual hospital for more pre-op blood work and waiting. And we thought would only take a few hours ended up talking all day. We were able to firm up a surgery date and I could rest easy knowing I'd have a few days to get my mother-in-law acclimated to our daily life. She was flying in that night to rescue us and run the household while Kyle and I went into surgery mode.

That would be my biggest Godsend during this time. To know that I could focus on the surgery, my stay in the hospital and healing at home while not having to not micromanaging every detail of my kid's lives was priceless. I had no choice but to let go of control and shift over to my Type B personality. If anyone has found my Type B personality, let me know and please send it over. I'm still waiting to shift over to it.