Cancer Journal

February 4

God is teaching me much, and walking through it with me, sending me messages of hope, strength, and appreciation of my abundant blessings. I’m learning about how sick the treatment can make you, how supportive your loved ones can be, how blessed I am to have the comforts of a good home, a good job, and excellent insurance. Not everyone has all these things and I can truly say how very hard that pulls at my heart. 

The poison that drips into my veins for 3 days, that seeks out the cancer cells, also kills good cells. The ‘cocktail’ of drugs as they call it, causes strange and awful side effects. Nausea and vomiting that can’t be eliminated even with all the anti-nausea meds they give you, fatigue that makes you want to lay down and nap on the spot, rolling waves of abdominal pain, cold neuropathies in your hands, feet, and throat of all places. These neuropathies cause a painful pins and needles sensation in your fingertips if you touch something cold, and in your feet if you walk on a cold floor. Wearing oven mitts or gloves to take something out of the fridge is a must! If you take a breath of cold air your throat spasms in pain and you have to make sure your mouth and nose are covered to warm the air that you breathe. So many details that you just don’t consider unless you go through this process. The strangest sensation I’ve experienced so far is my bones feeling like they are frozen. I can feel the flesh around them being warmer than them and the actual bones feel like ice. SO very weird. You know the expression, “I feel cold to the bone.”? Well this is the opposite. Your bones are like ice suspended in a glass of water, chilling the rest of you down. Burrowing into a pile of blankets with a hot rice bag helps eventually. This set of what I’ve come to call the “uglies”, so far, lasts about 3 days for me. But I’m only two treatments in and I’ve been told the effects are cumulative. Geez.

Then an unexpected thing happened. I woke in the night after I had been disconnected from my second treatment with severe right arm pain. I thought I had slept on it wrong and spent the next few days wondering why it wasn’t getting any better. Upon calling my doctor’s office, I was scheduled for an ultrasound of the arm and it was discovered to have extensive DVT, blocking one of the veins. Off to the emergency room I went, where I was assessed and admitted for three days to get IV blood thinner and more testing. Turned out my lungs had a bunch of blood clots in them too and my port tube had moved out of the vein, into a smaller vein and could no longer be used.  So another surgery was had to replace the port with a new one. Now I’m on blood thinner pills for the foreseeable future (and maybe forever). Now I deal with the effects of that. Short of breath with any exertion. Even taking a shower is tiring. This will improve as the clots dissolve, but they leave scars behind, so I’ll never be 100% again where that’s concerned. More uglies. But I’m blessed with an excellent team of medical professionals who are thorough and treat things quickly. And they have great compassion. Thank you Lord for these people who take care of me.

There is no slowing down with this process though, no taking a break to rest and heal, and the very next week I kept my scheduled appointment for treatment number three. But wait, my white cell and neutrophils levels were much too low to have treatment. Another setback. But also a much needed rest. A double-edged sword as you don’t want to take too long between treatments if they are to be successful. With white cells being so low, you can’t fight off germs and recover like you normally would. You have to be very careful not to get sick or you could end up in the hospital getting IV antibiotics. Guess what? My husband just came down with a nasty head cold. Now we are masking in the house, avoiding each other, sanitizing, and sleeping in separate bedrooms. Ayiyi. It’s just one thing after another.

I’m learning so many things, and some of them are admittedly difficult for me. Accepting help. Boy that’s a hard one. I’ve always been the one to help others and find solutions to their issues. I’m the problem solver, the one who powers through every situation. Now I have a long string of problem after problem of my own and have to accept the help that is extended to me. I’ve cultivated gratitude and graciousness as I appreciate the help so very much.

I’ve learned to savor every moment of feeling relatively good. How often do we stop and consider the fact that we feel good? It’s just something we take for granted until we get sick or hurt. Then we may appreciate it for a short time as we heal, but we fall back into our normal and it’s lost from view again. 

Another thing I’m discovering is I’m not as strong as I thought I was. People tell me I am, but I think that’s just an effort to shore me up. There are days during the worst of the uglies that I wish I could close my eyes, sleep, and not wake up to this. Or I wish for a miracle, or perhaps think about not continuing treatment and just living life as comfortably as I can until it takes over and my end comes. There are so many different paths my thoughts take, and so many more paths not explored yet I’m sure. But all of us who go this must share the same thought explorations. How can we not? This takes over your whole life and every tiny facet must be looked at and considered. Then the uglies recede and I vow to be strong again, if not for myself, then at least for my loved ones who feel helpless as they watch me go through this, knowing they can’t do anything to make it better. I keep my deep thoughts hidden from them, they are mine alone to bear, and I’m strong enough for that.

Dear Lord, thank you for the abundant blessings you shower on me. Thank you for the lessons I’m learning. Thank you for walking with me and giving me the strength to get through. Thank you for the love and compassion of the people surrounding me. Thank you for the beauty of this world.

Blessings on you Lord. Amen.

Cancer Journal

December 18

After many years of abdominal pain, repeated trips to the doctor and the emergency room, lab work, imaging, and being told there is nothing wrong with me (sorry we can’t help you, everything is normal), I have been diagnosed with colon cancer. 

 I’ve lost so much of life to pain and discomfort, and bowel issues that kept me home or having to be near a bathroom. I couldn’t go out to breakfast, which is something my husband really enjoys doing, because mornings were always when I felt the worst. There were many times I would be feeling fine, get ready to go somewhere, and be hit with pain that would make me feel sick, stopping me in my tracks. 

This didn’t just affect me. It affected my husband and family as well. I  can’t tell you how terrible I felt emotionally, knowing that I was messing up plans, depriving others of little joys, and having seemingly no good excuse for it. And the mental toll of feeling like a hypochondriac because I was continually told there was nothing wrong. “Your labs are good. Your CT scan doesn’t show anything. I can’t treat you for something I can’t diagnose.” is one of the more recent things I was told during a trip to the emergency room. I was offered narcotics for pain and I refused them. I have repeatedly been given this same offer and have always refused. I was made to feel like a stereotyped drug-seeker, and that is not me. 

I was overdue for my colonoscopy by 2 years (having a ten year schedule due to diverticulosis). This happened for a couple of reasons: the pandemic hit and maintenance healthcare came to a screeching halt, and my health insurance at the time had a huge deductible that I knew I would not be able to pay. The first thing I did when I began my new job this past spring was to buy into the best plan they had. The pay was good, the insurance was awesome and reasonably priced. I’m so glad I did. I never for one minute thought that I would use it much, as I believed that my problem would never have an answer.

So I scheduled an appointment with my new provider. She took me seriously and ordered a bunch of testing to address several issues. Guess what? It all came back normal. But she thought it was probably diverticulitis and prescribed antibiotics, like so many before her had done. Nothing new there. She went on vacation and while she was gone I kept having pain after finishing the antibiotics, so I saw another provider in the same office. Who prescribed different antibiotics. So I spent most of the summer avoiding the sun as the medications made my skin burn and itch when directly exposed. This scenario has been my normal for years. 

I’ve been to the point numerous times when I have turned to my Lord and asked, “What is the point of this life? What am I supposed to be learning? Why do I have to live like this? If this is all there is then would you please just take me home? Because I don’t want this any more.” No, I’m not now nor have I ever been suicidal. But I can well understand the path that takes people there. 

Many times I’ve heard people ask why God allows bad or hurtful things in our world. They question if he loves us. They say that if He did, He would never allow us to hurt. I can tell you why. God gave us a full range of emotions so that we could experience them all and become rich not only in spirit but in compassion for others. If we never had bad things happen to us, how would we understand others or be able to have compassion for them? We would be a world full of selfish, self-centered people who never know hurt so couldn’t see beyond our own boundaries. I believe that those of us who struggle the most, who have the heaviest burdens, who never get lifted out of the mire they are stuck in….. those are the ones who will be leaders in Heaven because they will have learned all the most valuable lessons. Those who have led easy and privileged lives here on earth will not have the capacity to lead in the next world. They have not learned the anguishing lessons, felt the pain, or grown enough spiritually or emotionally to have the knowledge, compassion, and caring to lead others on the path of common good. 

The good news is, I was able to schedule that colonoscopy. They found a cancerous tumor that had grown large enough to almost completely block the colon. It had grown through the colon wall and began invading the tissue next to it. But wait you say, that’s not good news. Well, yes it is. From my perspective, it sure is. You see, I have answers now. I’m not crazy. I’m not a hypochondriac. I’m not a drug-seeker looking for a fix. I have a way to stop the hurt that has been plaguing me for years. I can get my life back. With cancer? Yes. I had a colon resection and they removed the tumor in its entirety. Yes, all of it. I’m also very lucky that there are no identifiable metastases seen on any of the new scans. The story doesn’t end there though. It’s medical protocol to take a dozen or so nearby lymph nodes for testing. Some came back cancerous. More bad news you say. Perhaps. I would have preferred to be free and clear after the surgery, of course. But they tell me that six months of chemotherapy will greatly reduce the chances of recurrence.

Now I’m in a holding pattern as I wait for the port placement that is scheduled about a week and a half away. Chemotherapy will begin after that. I’ve been given much information to study as I prepare for these next steps on my path. I have shopped for the items they told me to get, am preparing my body and mind, have a good family support system here at home, a supportive employer, and a realistic but upbeat attitude. I’ve always been the person who takes care of others. The strong one that people rely on. This turns the tables on me. I may not like it, but now that I’m on the receiving end I’m gaining a new perspective and becoming stronger because of it. More compassionate, more understanding, more knowledgeable. Hey look, another silver lining.

That’s another thing about me— I always rise to the surface like a bubble. I can’t help it, that’s just who I am.  No matter how far down I get taken there is always a light that I rise towards. And those times when I asked God why…… I knew that there would be a light again and a solution would come. Because really, I don’t have time to be sick. I have people to take care of. This is just another problem to solve. And this one has a multi-step solution. Step one was quick and is complete, and step two is looming large and close. I will take that step by putting my best foot forward and hoping for the best. It will either eliminate any remaining cancer, or it may fail and my journey home to my Heavenly Father will come sooner. Either way I win.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

~Isaiah 40: 29-31