Welcome to one of my more raw entries. My heart is heavy. And, dammit, my latest news really sucks.
Yesterday (2/3) my mom came with my husband and I to my radiology appointment. We arrived and, because the nurses were a little backed up, we had to wait for a while before getting taken back to a room. This gave me time to catch up on the latest “Cancer Today” magazine. I never knew these existed…now I do. Maybe I should subscribe? Maybe not. This extra time also allowed me to really take a closer look at who was walking in and out of the office. It wasn’t very comforting. All of the patients were older, and extremely skinny with sunken in faces. I felt so bad for them, but soon realized, that I was in their position now.
Eventually we were taken back to a small exam room, and after my nurse received my vitals and medical history, we were instructed to watch a video. I don’t think I’ve seen a more depressing film. Apparently, Mom and Matt didn’t think it was too bad, but when you have cancer, movies on the technicalities of radiation aren’t uplifting. This particular film was only 8 minutes long and explained what radiation is and what it does. It informed us about how long each procedure is, and some of the side effects that may follow treatment. Can’t I just get this crap cut out of me and move on?! Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Following another pelvic exam (I’ve had 3 or 4 in the last 12 days), my mom and husband came back into the room joined by the Radiologist. He immediately confirmed that after looking at my PET scan results, my cancer has indeed spread. Yes Doc, so I’ve heard. Because it has spread, I have been restaged. This will happen a lot during this process. Currently, my cancer is stage 3. That means, it has jumped up 2 levels. That’s not good. Keep in mind, you only get 5 stages.
He continued on to inform me that the specific lymph node the cancer has attacked is on my left side, and contains a pea-sized tumor. Pea-sized doesn’t seem so big does it? It doesn’t matter the size, it matters the location. Lymph node. The lymphatic system. Lymph nodes are small filters all over the body. They are about the size of a grain of rice, but can not be seen by the naked eye. Lymphatic vessels connect each and every lymph together, therefore making the system a transportation route. I view it as a shuttle service. It transports white blood cells to fight off infection in other areas of the body. Ever wonder why the sides of your neck swell up and you can feel large knots when you get sick? Those are your lymph nodes working overload to get rid of your sickness. The lymphatic system is a huge part of the immune system. Apparently, these lymph nodes don’t recognize cancer cells, so they just store them in their pockets. This allows the cancer to grow, and have the potential to hop on the lymph-train to other areas of the body. In other words, because my cancer is in one lymph node, there is a now a higher chance for it to spread and attack the rest of me.
Obviously, although there’s a chance, it’s not an option for me. I’m killing this thing before it gets a free ride. This leads me to treatment. My surgery will continue on, no strings attached. My Oncologist will still remove my uterus, cervix, uterine wall, surrounding ligaments, and the inside of the top part of my vagina. She will also remove the affected lymph node, and strip the others in the area. The item that has been added to the schedule has been radiation. The purpose in receiving this type of treatment is to make sure there are no more remnants of cancer in my pelvic/abdominal region. My schedule for this treatment will begin about 3 weeks after surgery. This will entail me going in every day, 5 days a week, for 5 1/2 weeks of radiation. In addition, I will be getting an injection of chemo once a week during this process. When radiation and chemo are combined, the success of annihilating the cancer is far greater. I asked if I would lose my hair. He said no, but that it would thin out. Sounds like the same thing to me, Doc. In addition, in the area of radiation, my skin will get very red and burnt- essentially, a really bad sun burn. I will get extremely fatigued, lose weight, and have the risk of getting sick. But if we are going to kill this cancer, bring it on. And, I won’t even have to work out to drop a few pounds! Keeping the positives in mind, folks.
Remember how you need your ovaries to produce eggs? And how I’ve previously mentioned that with my eggs we can have biological children through the freezing process? This option has essentially been wiped out. My Oncologist will move my ovaries higher in my body to try to get them out of the way of the future radiation. However, there’s no guarantee they will survive surgery, let alone radiation beams coursing through my body. My cancer is aggressive. It’s proven that it can and is willing to spread. After questioning my Radiologist about the possibility of stimulating and harvesting my eggs before surgery and radiation, he said it was okay. His words were, “It’ll take about 4 weeks for the eggs to be stimulated and harvested, and if that’s what you want to do, you’ll have to start right away. By right away, I mean tomorrow morning. You’ll have to go in first thing to start that process. I really wouldn’t wait more than a month to get your surgery and treatment.” What we heard in that was, “If you want your eggs, you need to GO, GO, GO. We don’t have much time to fight this before it spreads.” Comforting, Doc.
We left the radiology office, and I was in a bigger haze than I’ve ever been in in my life. My brain was about to explode with the abundance of the information just poured in. My heart was going to drop out with the overwhelming decision we were going to have to make. We only had the rest of the night to make this life-changing decision. My husband and I were fearful, overwhelmed, stressed out, and devastated. We were instructed to head over to my Oncologists’ office to speak with her about either canceling surgery or going forth with it right away. We arrived and she had already left. Not only that, but she wouldn’t be in the following day (today), because she was going out of town. Great news. Now, we had to make this decision without even consulting my Oncologist? She’s my main doctor, and her advice means a lot to me.
We headed home. Silence. No words. Just one million thoughts fighting for my attention. Do we go ahead with surgery and beat cancer first? Do we try to harvest my eggs and allow the cancer time to spread? Do I give the gift of biological children to my husband at the risk of my life? Do I fight for my life and consider adoption? These were the 2 choices. The only 2. For a lot of you, the answer is simple. Save your life. But for those who know the deep desire of having biological children, you may understand. Matt and I have always talked about and imagined what our children would look like. Would they have his wonderful thick hair? Would they have my blue/green eyes? Would they be tall like him? Would they have tiny toes like me? We arrived home and I collapsed into my adoring husband’s arms. The emotion and degree of the situation completely pushed me down. Tears of anger, sadness, fear, and doubt flooded from our eyes.
Soon, we were interrupted with a call from our fertility doctor. She had just gotten off the phone with my Oncologist and began to explain the imperativeness in beginning egg stimulation right away. She requested that I come in first thing in the morning. She informed me that my Oncologist, just like my Radiologist, said we have to get this show on the road now. We don’t have time to wait. If we want to retrieve my eggs before they are wiped out, we must act right away. This news nearly floored me. She was essentially telling me that I needed to make my decision now. I couldn’t do that. I will never make a decision, let alone one this enormous, without my husband. I told her I would have to call her back. She said she needed to get home before the snow hit, and would call me then. We were given the amount of time it took her to get home, to decide if we wanted biological children or not. Shit.
Here are our brainstorms during this time:
- All 3 of my doctors are saying if we are wanting to harvest eggs, we would have to do it immediately. And not immediately, as in Monday, immediately as in 8am the following day (today).
- Even if we were to successfully harvest eggs, that means we would have given the cancer 2 weeks to travel freely through my body.
- Also, we would have to freeze the eggs, find a surrogate, write up paperwork, fertilize the eggs, successfully implant the eggs, and have a successful pregnancy. That’s a lot.
- In order for any result to be positive, it is necessary that I live. My life is priority number one.
- Secondly to my life, we don’t want to bring children into the world to have a sick, dying mother. Our children need a healthy mom, and we must think of them regardless of who they are, where they come from, and if they are here yet or not.
Immediately we held each other and began to pray. “Lord, give us peace. Give us an answer. Let us know in our hearts what to do. Speak clearly to us.” We prayed and prayed and prayed, and pretty soon we were not crying out anymore. We were calm. God had given us peace. And, he had given us both the answer… My life. We must save my life, because without me, we don’t have any options. The first priority since diagnosis has been fighting this thing. Getting this beast out of me. Surviving cancer and moving on with our lives. Why should that change now? I have to be alive if I want children, regardless of if they share our DNA or not. Adopted children will still be our own. There will be no difference. We both felt such relief that God spoke directly to us in this storm. He calmed the seas just enough for us to hear His voice. I’m thankful for a God which with whom I can have a direct relationship with. Not many people understand that it’s that simple. God has led us down this path for His purpose. And, although its gut-wrenching at times, His purpose is ultimately for our good. Who knows what children He is going to place in our life? Who knows what children we will be saving from a horrible situation? We will still be able to tell our kids how hard we truly fought for them, and I so look forward to that moment.
I can end this entry by saying, this is good news. Sounds weird, huh? Remember, I am the one who said I was blessed to have cancer; You can’t be too shocked by what I say. The reason this is good news, is because God has given us clear direction on where to go next. I can’t imagine going through this without having Christ to pave my way. There would be no hope. With Him, there’s an abundance of it. He continues to give me strength during this process, and to Him be the glory. My view has not changed. I will fight this thing with an iron fist. I will kick cancer’s ass. Although it fights dirty, I will fight dirtier. I will live a long and fulfilling life, with a loving husband and children surrounding me. That’s not to say, this journey will be perfect. It undoubtedly won’t be. I will have good days and horrendous days. But, regardless of good or bad news, I will get through this. I know it.
James 1:2-8 (Message Version)
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who ‘worry their prayers’ are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think that you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.”