PET Scan

Monday (1/30) at 6:15 am, I had my first experience with the PET scan. First of all, the contraption you have to lay on during a PET scan is TINY. And, not only that, but you are put into an awkward position and told to remain completely still for as long as it takes them to scan you. For me, it was about 30 minutes to an hour. I, of course, did not have a clock in my range of sight, so I couldn’t tell you for sure. Oh, but I did have a lovely false sky scene on the ceiling. I actually felt like I was laying down in a field of flowers looking up at beautiful clouds in the afternoon sky. NOT.

Rewind. Before jumping into the PET bed, I was secluded in an itsy-bitsy room. Luckily I did have a very comfortable recliner to relax in. <–No sarcasm there, folks. I was injected with “radioactive fluid” (Yes, that’s what my technician told me), and was told to relax for 45 minutes while it spread to all of my cells. In addition, I was given a very large cup full of Barium. If you don’t know what that is, google it. It’s disgusting. Very thick, white liquid, similar to Maalox. I was instructed to drink the entire thing. That was no small feat, my friends. I gagged with every swig. I asked my technician if I could read while I “relaxed”. He said no, to which, I began laughing at. I soon found out, he was not joking. So, not only did I have to ingest liquid chalk, and be injected with radioactive fluid, I had to remain completely still for 45 minutes. At least I had that comfortable recliner… and someone to talk to.

Matthew 6:6 (Message Version)

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace.”

Charred Cauliflower

The day after D-day we had my first appointment with my Oncologist. She. Is. The. Greatest. Her reputation is outstanding. And I am so blessed to have her as not only my cancer doctor, but also my surgeon. My appointment started as all others do, with paperwork. Filling out my personal history section was a little different this time around. I was actually a little stunned when I saw the check yes or no for cancer option. Wow. I actually have to fill this in as yes now. I have cancer. And, forever, I will have to mark that tiny little cancer box as yes. Although I will kick cancer’s ass, I’ll still have to tell my doctors that I once had it. Surreal.

My paperwork was complete, the cancer box checked, and before I knew it, I was heading in to the exam room. Another exam. I guess everyone needs to see what’s going on in there! This time around, a thought perked my interest, so I asked my husband what he thought. He said yes. We entered the exam room, and pretty soon, I was introduced to my Oncologist. I loved her from the start. She seems fun. Having a fun surgeon never seemed like a good thing. But believe me, any positive traits your surgeon has, the better. Eventually, the exam started. My husband was able to see what all of us women go through when we get our “annuals”! He, of course, was thrilled. <–Sarcasm, folks. Once my Oncologist found my cancer, which apparently, is not that hard to do, I asked the question Matt said “yes” to, as stated previously. “Would you mind if you pointed out the cancer to my husband?” Surprisingly, she laughed and told us that our request was far from the more weirder ones she’s had. Matt joined her, and she soon started telling him what he was looking at.

After my exam, the doctors left, and Matt and I were left alone while I changed back into my clothes. Perfect opportunity to get the “human” as opposed to “doctor” perspective on what my cancer looked like. His description exactly was, “It looks like manifest sin. It looks evil. It looks like charred cauliflower with black veins running through it. It looks mean; like it might growl at me.” There ya go, “human” perspective. As descriptive as this is, I am so thankful that my husband was able to see what has been trying to take me down this past year. Now I know not only what it is, but what it looks like.

With this new knowledge, we then met my doctor in her office. What a breath of fresh air. She had Christian sayings, bible verses, and angels populating her space. She could be a believer! My mom and step-dad joined us for this part of the appointment, so all 5 of us sat in chairs in a circle. My Oncologist started describing my cancer. Essentially the same things that my Gynecologist had explained. However, she restaged me at 1b1. Even better than 1b2! So, for now my cancer is stage 1, and that’s awesome.

During this meeting, she explained that I have a 10-20% chance that my cervical cancer could spread to my lymph nodes. Therefore, just to be sure, while I’m in surgery, she will biopsy them. Speaking of surgery, it is currently scheduled for a week from today. Wednesday 2/8, at 12:30pm. I’ll have to check in at 10:30am. I would love for as many people who want to pray with us to be there! All encouragement, support, and prayers are going to be deeply appreciated. The procedure will take about 2-3 hours. She will make an incision similar to a c-section, and remove everything that way.

Next steps from here are:

  1. PET scan
  2. Appointment with fertility doctor
  3. Surgery

My oncologist also filled me in on what my future will look like. As far as scans and testing for cancer go, here’s the schedule: Every 3 months for the first 2 years after treatment, I’ll have to get Paps and scans. Once I reach the 2 year mark cancer-free, I’ll then be checked every 6 months until I reach the 5 year point. If I have reached the 5 year marker with no cancer, I will officially be in remission. I can’t wait to get to 5 years!

Proverbs 1:7 (ESV)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

D-Day

D-Day for us means Diagnosis Day. When I woke up that morning, my first thought was, “Today is the 25th, and I just turned 25 this month.” It may not seem important to you, but those two “25’s” will forever help me remember this date.

To say this Wednesday began like any other is a lie. I was beyond nervous! My husband was with me, per my doctor’s request. Luckily, I’m blessed to have a partner who is the calm in my storms. He was holding my hand and encouraging me throughout our entire 17 hour (not really) wait in the waiting room. My nurse then came in and directed us to an exam room. After another seemingly 10 hours, my gynecologist finally arrived. Thank goodness she has the perfect combination of emotion and reality in her demeanor. If she hadn’t this meeting could have gone far different.

After sitting down, she gave it to me straight. With sadness in her eyes, she announced that I have cervical cancer. Although, I had imagined that idea in my head, I never could have been fully prepared to hear those words. Once it set in, my initial reaction was, “Well, now we finally have an answer!” Needless to say, my doctor was a little shocked at my response to this life-altering news. I asked if I could give her a hug. She said, “Of course! I wanted to right when I came in, but didn’t want to freak you out!”. Oh, Doc… a hug won’t freak me out! I dramatically thanked her for being such a blessing in our lives and for being the one and only doctor willing to go a little further and investigate something suspicious. She was and is my personal detective.

I then began to explain why my reaction was relief in hearing this news. Never thought you’d hear someone who just got diagnosed with cancer be relieved, did you?! Well, my relief stems from this ongoing unknown battle. I finally found out what I was fighting! When you know everything about your opponent, its weaknesses, strengths, favorite hang-outs, morals, and fighting tactics, you can better defeat it. Oh wait, did I say morals? Cancer doesn’t have any. It fights dirty. Which means, I have to fight dirtier. Now I finally know what to do. Now I am able to pick up my armor and weapons. I felt like I had been fighting a war with only my hands.

Once our hugging session was complete, my doctor further went on to explain to me the technicalities of the situation. I was staged at 1b2 originally. That’s right in between 1 and 2. There are 5 stages, so being in between the lowest was another relief. From what she could tell, the cancer is only on my cervix. My tumor is 4cm…about the size of a golf ball.

There are 3 options for treatment.

  1. Surgery
  2. Radiation
  3. Chemotherapy

She highly recommended surgery. After asking what that would entail, I almost immediately regretted the question. I will have to have what’s called a “radical hysterectomy”. For those who don’t know what that is (I wish I still didn’t know), it’s a procedure in which the surgeon removes the entire uterus, cervix included, the surrounding walls, and the top part of the inside of my vagina. Luckily, the cancer hasn’t affected my ovaries, so we can keep those. Hooray. However, you kinda need a uterus to carry a baby. So, without one, I will never be able to be pregnant. For those who know me, this is a HUGE blow. I’ve spent my whole life desperately wanting children. Not only am I a stylist, but I’m also a nanny, and therefore my adoration of kids is obvious. Never in a million years, would I think me being pregnant would be compromised. We’ve imagined having children with disabilities, miscarriages, twins, but never the deleted option of pregnancy. Oh, well. Like I said, seemingly sarcastic above, hooray that we get to keep my ovaries. Seriously, HOORAY! Ovaries are what produce eggs. Eggs combined with sperm create babies. Babies only need A womb to live in for the first 9 months. Add this all together, and you get the option of surrogacy. Praise God for women out there who give their wombs as a gift to those of us who can’t carry our own.

Due to the option of surrogacy, my gynecologist further went on to explain that we will need to see a fertility doctor. I also need to meet with an oncologist- aka: cancer doctor. Thankfully, she knows a lot of great doctors in the area, and referred me to the best. And I mean, the best. You’ll find out in my upcoming entries, how great my team of doctors truly is. Not only will I be blessed with top-notch doctors, but God slipped another blessing into the mix. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is extremely expensive. However, the most expensive part of the process are the meds they have to put you on. Guess what? The Lance Armstrong Foundation (Fertile Hope) will be covering the costs for ALL of my fertility meds. How in the world do I qualify for that?! Well apparently, Lance Armstrong, because he fought cancer, started Fertile Hope for people affected by cancer who are unable to have children the traditional way. Thank you, God, for healing Lance Armstrong of cancer, so he can help us have children! He definitely thinks ahead. God always covers all the bases. My next step from this point will be to meet with my oncologist. I look forward to finding out more about this defeatable beast inside of me.

I am reminded that God has gone before me. Hallelujah.

Deuteronomy 30:8

“God is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; He won’t leave you. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t worry.”

“Bring Your Husband”

On Tuesday 1/24, the day after my colposcopy, I received a call from my Gynecologist’s nurse. I’ll never forget that phone conversation. She simply stated that instead of having my follow-up appointment on Monday, at my doctor’s request I needed to come in tomorrow (Wednesday the 25th). If only she had said to just come in tomorrow… however, she added, “and why don’t you bring your husband with you, so we can talk about treatment.”

Wow.

Here were my thoughts:

  1. My doctor wants me to come in tomorrow instead of Monday? This is obviously urgent.
  2. I can’t go by myself, she wants Matt to come with me. Why? So he can pick me up off the ground, once I hear the news?
  3. This won’t be a fun conversation. Treatment is in my future.

I received that call at 4:30pm, and after informing Matt, we immediately went to my mom and step-dad’s house to process the news. I’m a “worst-case scenario” kind of girl. I let my mind quickly jump to the worst of cases in any and every situation. My thinking behind this is, it’s a way to protect myself from being shocked. And, once I know what the worst case could be, I can dream up a solution.

We soon began the discussion and brainstorms of what could possibly be the diagnosis. Cancer? Ectopic pregnancy? Ginormous fibroid? Although, I did let the idea of cancer enter my mind, I wasn’t ready to figure out a solution for that particular case. If it were to be a fibroid, that would be fine. Solution- surgery to remove it…no biggie.

I now believe that the reason I wasn’t ready to brainstorm solutions for a cancer diagnosis was because God only wanted me to see one thing at a time.

Matthew 6:34 (Message Version)

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Rewind-The Past Year

To say that this journey began on the 23rd of January, would be incorrect. I’ve been on an unknown journey for the past year. Only on the 23rd did I begin to get an idea of what type of journey this was. I’ve been battling something in my body. I had no idea what was going on. I just knew that I didn’t feel right, and that my body was a little “off”. I was experiencing SEVERAL symptoms.

Throughout my entire life I have been an extremely healthy person. Very active and fit. No broken bones. No major surgeries. I’ve only earned a few points from getting my wisdom teeth removed! I’m a vegetarian, so I really don’t eat too much junk. The biggest thing I’ve fought has been something nearly every woman fights… weight. I’m not overweight. I’ve never been obese. But in my mind, there’s always room for improvement. Hence, why I often work out 3-4 times a week. Many people say we’re disciplined because my husband and I wake up at 5:30 in the mornings to get a workout in before the day. Discipline? I call that lack of any other available time in our busy schedule!!

Like I said, my symptoms began about a year ago. It didn’t all just start at once, but was rather a slow progression. I was getting more and more tired. I never felt like I could get enough sleep. But, even if I slept for 10 hours, I would still be fatigued the next day. It truly didn’t matter how many hours I slept, or even if I took naps. Pretty soon, I noticed that no matter how hard I was working out and eating healthy, I could not lose any weight. In fact, I just slowly kept tacking it on. My hair, as you most know, matters a LOT to me, so when I started noticing that it too was changing, I became more and more concerned. I’m a hair stylist, so I am aware that it is completely normal to shed hair. Your hair is always going through growth stages, and one of them is a shedding phase. What’s not normal, is to be losing hair in chunks. For it to be coming out in the shower in handfuls. I’m not over exaggerating. In fact, there were days when I would ask my husband to come in and see the amount that was coming out. He, too, agreed that it didn’t seem normal. I was having weird cramping. For you women, I can describe it as period cramps. I’ve been on the birth control pill for the last 6 years, and only until the last year, did I realize it wasn’t “working”. I switched to 3 different birth controls in the last 12 months. By not “working”, I mean, there was no way to predict when I would start my period. It would start 4 days early, 5 days late; it would last anywhere from 3-7 days. No regularity.

Because I was having all of these symptoms, I needed to figure out what was happening to me. Thus began a separate adventure through numerous doctors. I’ve been to 2 separate family doctors (several times), an Endocrinologist, and Gynecologist. None of which could identify anything suspicious. In fact, I was told by one of them that I just needed to take more vitamin D. Another said that changing my diet would cure all of my symptoms. Are you kidding me?! Needless to say, I left all of those appointments discouraged, concerned, and confused. Appointment after appointment, I began rehearsing what they would tell me… “All of your tests came back completely normal!”…”It’s great news, nothing is wrong!”…”Maybe, if you don’t eat that bagel, you wouldn’t be feeling this way.”…”Perhaps you should do a handstand every morning for 45 minutes. I bet that’ll help!” Well, you get the point.

I was given multiple tests. Urine and blood tests became a routine at every appointment. In fact, there had been many moments where I wanted them to take 100 vials of my blood and pass them out to the best doctors in the area. I was willing to reward whichever doctor could identify something wrong, with our whole life’s savings! At one appointment, I had to practically beg the doctor to allow me to get an ultrasound. Because of all these seemingly “female” problems, I felt that maybe something would show up in an ultrasound. After much prodding, she relented and sent me to an imaging center, where I received an internal and external ultrasound. Want to guess what the results were? Yep, NORMAL! I grew to hate that word. I’ve also had my thyroid checked, my kidneys (because of 3 UTI’s in 3 months), and practically every other organ tested. All of my levels continued to come back normal.

Last month, I ended up in the emergency room. I went to bed one night with minor abdominal pain that worsened overnight. So much that I didn’t sleep more than an hour. Once the alarm clocks went off to alert my husband and I that we needed to go work out, I filled him in on the previous night. It became apparent that I needed to go to the hospital. During my 6 hour stay, I was hooked up to IV’s, and had multiple pain meds to keep the pain at bay. I received another external ultrasound. They examined all of my abdominal organs. Nothing was found, nothing was determined.

Until I discovered my current Gynecologist, I was trying to convince myself that I might just be making my symptoms up. Only problem with that is, I knew something was wrong. Those thoughts of, “am I just having a crisis?” and “are these things really happening?”, soon were shot down with the recurring gut feeling that something wasn’t right. They say to trust your gut. Seriously, do. You know when something is off. You know when something isn’t right.

My advice for the day- TRUST YOUR GUT! Keep hounding the doctors if they don’t know what’s going on with you. If one doctor doesn’t give you an answer, find one that will! My “gut” is the Holy Spirit. I truly believe that God kept the desire and urge inside of me to discover what was ailing me. He kept feeding me strength and hope even when I was weak and hopeless. Had it not been for the following bible verse, I may have lost hope, and who knows where I would be today.

Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

“That looks a little abnormal…”

Happy first-blog day to me! I finally have an uninterrupted moment to begin my blog entries. Today is the FIRST day in about a week that I haven’t had any appointments to go to, scans or tests to get done, meetings, or work to attend. I guess that’s the life of a cancer patient!

Let me start with what I’ll call “day 1”:

Monday, the 23rd of January, I went in to my Gynecologist to get an annual exam. During my exam, everything was going as expected, until my doctor told me she noticed that my cervix looked “a little abnormal”.  Of course, I wasn’t sure what that meant, so with further questioning, she explained. “Well, your ovaries and uterus feel very healthy, soft, pliable, and mobile, however, your cervix feels and looks a little abnormal. It’s hard… It feels like a flexed muscle. And it’s not very pink, like it should be.” She then decided to take 2 biopsies, which are obtained through a procedure called a “colposcopy”.

Once my colposcopy was completed, I asked her what she thought could be wrong with my cervix. She said my cervix appeared to have what looked to her like a fibroid. Fibroids are benign tumors that many women get in their reproductive systems. They are typically harmless and don’t affect much, unless they grow to be too big and need to be removed. My doctor then told me to come back the following Monday (1/30) to get a followup and discuss what the biopsy results were.

After scheduling my followup appointment, I left feeling curious and extremely hopeful. Maybe this doctor would be able to find something?!

Jeremiah 29:11-14 (Message Version)

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out- plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you. Bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.”

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