Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two Accomplishments

Today I met with my new GP, Dr Alison Kneisel at One Sky Wellness Center. I have needed to establish a relationship with a primary care physician for, oh, ever since I left grad school and no longer had access to the student clinic. So, almost a decade. The main reason I haven't done this is that, during that past decade, I've been pretty well taken care of by oncologists, with rarely much of a breather between bouts of cancer treatment. And frankly, a little bit of a cold doesn't even register on my illness-to-wellness scale.

I've had these scaly patches on my lower legs for long enough now to bother me though (I'd say about 3 months), and not only are they itchily, drive-you-insane annoying, they are also unsightly. The unsightliness hasn't mattered much here in Seattle where fall is in full (and today, gloriously sunny and crimson and gold) sway, but Ian and I are heading to Chile for 8 days at the end of November and it's late spring there—i.e. short skirt weather—and I'm vain. And so, circumstances finally built up enough pressure for me to search out a doctor. Dr Specht is great and all, but her focus is on saving my life, not my narcissism.

Another reason I haven't searched out a GP is that, in my lull times, I've been superstitiously sure that anything an allopath can tell me about myself is going to be cancer. And, that's been true for the last ten years, so my fears in that vein have been pretty well realized. Anyway, as I said, itchiness, vanity, and the knowledge that Dr Specht has crises to deal with and someone else can cover my minor annoyances, finally came to a head and today I saw a new GP. Accomplishment One.

Accomplishment Two: The scaly patches on my legs ARE NOT CANCER. They are eczema, or a slight yeast infection, and they will most likely go away with the assiduous application of a prescription steroid cream. They may be related to the cancer indirectly—in that my body may have been more susceptible because of all the torture and drama it's dealt with over the last 17 months or so—but that is all. They are a normal, run-of-the-mill, itchy inconvenience.

Release breath.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Another Good Reason to Get Them Out

Dr Swisher, my surgeon, called today with the pathology report on my ovaries, and to see how I am recovering from the event. My recovery, complete with 3-mile dog walk yesterday, and walking to lunch with a friend today, seems to be on schedule, if not ahead.

My pathology, however, was not what we were expecting. There was breast cancer found in both ovaries. Dr Swisher said that they were both slightly larger than she had expected after all the time I've spent on Lupron (the ovarian suppression drug), and they were a little bit hard. This explains why my left abdomen hurts more than the right—they were both pulled out the left side, and they stretched the hole a little.

It is impossible to tell looking under a microscope just how active the cancer was in my ovaries, but it was definitely not scar tissue or dead cancer cells. It's not surprising for breast cancer to metastasize to the ovaries, and the Herceptin may have been enough to be keeping it in check, like a dormant volcano, so that it wasn't showing up on the PET scans or CTs. Dr Swisher took a good look around at everything else in my abdomen while she was filming in there, and from the outside of the organs at least, everything else looks normal.

I don't know if Dr Specht will recommend any changes in my care. My next visit with her is scheduled for mid-November, after a new MUGA and an updated PET/CT. And as Dr Swisher said, this surgery was an easy way to take more cancer out of my system.

I guess that, if anything, it's all the more evidence that for me 1) cancer is systemic and 2) I will need to be on the alert about it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bound to Happen

Last night, I accidently dosed myself with a drop of Spackle's eyedrops. It is a medication that I own myself, so it could've been worse, but for months now I haven't been supposed to use the drops, so it could've been better. I blame the cleaners for (however reasonably) tidying up the sink in the bathroom by placing the vial of drops on the glass shelf at the end of the tub, with the several other vials of drops. I of course don't blame myself for not paying attention.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Follow-up Call

I've been feeling pretty good today—so good, in fact, that Mom and I went shopping. We started at Wallingford Center, where everyone thought we were from out of town (I live 6 blocks away, but evidently looked like I was touring). We then went over toward U Village and bought some buttons for a sweater I'm knitting for my niece's first birthday (I don't think she's reading this yet so I'm probably not ruining the surprise), then stopped for lunch at the Ram (soup and a salad for me), then, since we were there, hit Something Silver and Anthropologie—where I didn't buy anything, but Mom did.

We arrived back home to the message light blinking. Someone had called from the U hospital to check up on me. "Hello Mr Taylor," she said. "I'm calling from the UW to see how you're doing today. There's no need to call us back. We'll try again later."

I thought Wait a minute. Did I hear that right??? I hit 4 to repeat the message.

"Hello, Mr Taylor . . ." said the voice.

Maybe the procedure I had yesterday was a vasectomy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Not What I Was Expecting to Have Keeping Me Awake

My whole surgery experience today has been, in fact, pretty minor. The surgeon told my mom that my bowels were well cleared out—yes. That I knew. I just used the toilet about 30 minutes ago, about 30 hours after beginning my 1 Day Bowel Cleanse yesterday afternoon, and it was the first time that I only piddled. I have to say, I was surprised to find out how many people have had similar 1- or 2-day bowel cleanses. It turns out lots and lots of my friends have had to do them, for various surgeries or procedures, and I'd never heard a word about it. Evidently, I am much more comfortable with my own scatology than most people. This is a behavior that I may want to curb.

I am currently feeling pleasantly fatigued in the post-operative-drugged sense. My gut is still blurp-blurping a little, but that's to be expected after any surgery with its prophylactic antibiotic and preparatory fast. My throat is slightly abraded from the air tube, but nothing like last year after 8 days of it. I am, for the most part, feeling no pain whatsoever, and I haven't taken any pain medications since leaving the hospital around 1pm, when I was given a fluorescent red tipple to help me with the journey of 3 miles. Which, of course, I accomplished in the passenger seat of my mom's car. Issuing her directives all the way. When I stand up from lounging on the sofa I am not quick to throw my arms above my head and stretch, or even straighten my back all the way, but I'm pretty comfortable where the incisions are.

I didn't sleep much last night, which is not terribly surprising. I had to be up at 6:15 for a 7:15 arriving at the hospital (which turned out to be at least an hour and a half before they actually needed me.). We made it to bed around 11:30 and I used the bathroom again around 12:15. At 3:00 Ian got up to let Spackle out to piddle—one of the side effects of his Prednisone is that he drinks a lot more, and subsequently pees a lot more. He is used to being able to hold it for up to 15 hours, and so perhaps he's just taken by surprise in the middle of the night when, after a mere 4 hours, he suddenly wets his bed. At any rate, for two nights in a row he had small accidents on his bed, so Ian preemptively got up last night to let him out, which naturally disturbed me a little, but really not much, and then I was awake at 6:00 when I heard Mom being stealthy in the kitchen making some coffee. She was stealthy enough for Ian; not for me.

Anyway, after I piddled for the last time and before I fell asleep, I spent about an hour in my head, mulling over my upcoming surgery, and this, my mullings, were what surprised me. I lay there thinking about going under the knife, losing my ovaries, removing yet another part of my physical womanhood and I was . . . excited.

I had seen my friend/mentor/bodyworker Taya Thursday morning, and she had pointed out that removing my ovaries was the final step in closing the door on a path that was not mine. It was a path that I'd fondly assumed would be mine—the path of bearing children with my dear husband—but, several times over the past ten years, it had been implied to me, with greater and greater blatancy, that it was not my path. Closing it off completely would allow me to open up myself up to the Universe in a way I've never been open. Closing that door would free me to receive, without interference, my true path.

I mulled this over for awhile, and then realized that I have been struggling with trying to impose an "ordinary" life, as understood and practiced by a majority of Americans my age—spouse, kids, employment, exercise, etc—when I have had several extraordinary experiences. It's true that everyone's life is different from everyone else's, but even so, I have had a combination of extreme things happen in my adult life. My father died when I was 19. I know of three other people my age who have lost a parent. When I was 25, I became able to live without having to work. I know two other people in a similar situation. When I was 26, I contracted a breast cancer that has dogged me for a decade. I know two people my age in similar physical situations. When I was 27, I met Ian, who is the most incandescent blessing in my life. Many of my friends have had difficult relationships in the same time period that we have been together.

In short, I have been trying to fit my expectations into a framework where they just won't go, and getting my ovaries out (and a special thanks to Taya for bringing this to my attention) frees me from that futile pursuit.

And so, I am excited. I am excited to see where Life will take me next.

Home from hospital

Calin is home again, having been a model patient at the hospital and now resting on the couch. She says, "It seems to have gone quite well: I'm not in too much pain, I'm having a lovely cup of chicken broth, and then I might have a snooze."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Burbling Begins

Tomorrow I am having my oophorectomy, or, more completely, my bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, which it's called since I am getting my fallopian tubes removed as well as my ovaries. In more common terms, I am getting spayed. I may have described the surgery in my blog before but I'm too lazy to go back and check, and besides, I'm assuming you readers are too, so here I go again:

It is laparascopic, which means that there will only be small incisions made in my belly. Two incisions are ¼ inch, and one is ½ inch. One ¼ inch incision goes in my belly-button, and the camera goes in there. I then have another ¼ inch incision over my left (I think . . .) ovary, and a ½ inch incision over my right ovary. The larger incision is where both my ovaries will be extracted, once they and the fallopian tubes are excised from their traditional location, to either side of my uterus. My uterus will be left completely intact, although, of course, perpetually dormant. I asked why both ovaries are pulled out one side, because in my image of the abdominal cavity there are actually small bits of connective tissue holding the skin on in various places—that is, the belly skin is not simply a purse that things are tossed into—but evidently the potential injury to non-blood bearing, minor tissues is much smaller than the potential infection to a larger, ½ inch incision. So one is okay because it's necessary, but two are not necessary and so it's safer to stay with the ¼ inch size. I have to be in at 7:15 tomorrow morning, but should be back home by early afternoon. The procedure is outpatient, and takes about an hour.

Even though the actual physical surgery is pretty much as minor as a surgery can be, since it takes place in my abdomen I am required to do a one-day bowel cleanse. This involves, first of all, no food today, the day before the surgery. I can drink clear fluids—including coffee and tea, apple or cranberry juice, energy drinks, and chicken broth, but nothing solid or opaque. This sucked a little already this morning when I went to the U Village Burgermaster with my book group (we actually had read a book this time, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I am obsessed with and have read 3 times already). When we originally set the date, I was planning to try a milkshake for breakfast (I've already discovered that one occasionally makes a fine supper), but as it was, I was limited to a large cranberry juice and a cup of coffee.

The next, more important step, since I won't be adding any solids, is to clear what is already there, languishing through the 30 feet of digestive tract, in many fewer than the usual 20 or so hours. To accomplish this, I have to drink two bottles of magnesium citrate with a "pleasant lemony flavor." Magnesium citrate is an oral laxative and, as I'm not actually constipated at this time, you can imagine the effect it's about to have on me. Although you probably don't want to.

Excuse me a moment while I go to prepare my second bottle.

So, yes, my bowels will be clear. I am supposed to drink lots of fluids so I won't be dehydrated and my electrolytes won't be completely off. But it's increasingly hard to watch the people around me having tasty hamburgers, chips and dips, even toast. And especially milkshakes. I am going to do my best to not fall victim to hanger, though, and instead enjoy this routering out of my system. I have never felt the need for a fast, and yet I'm glad to have the opportunity to experience one (of a sort).

And now, in the spirit of the external matching the internal, I'm going to go clean months of unknown ickiness out of the fridge. If anything will make me not hungry, that will.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Radio Silence

Hello all you patient readers, who have heard nothing from me in weeks. I'm still here, and still doing well physically. Emotionally happens to be another story.

I took the opportunity of peace, quiet, nature hikes, horses and dogs—i.e. Heaven on Earth, Jerome Creek Idaho—to dig into my closet of emotional traumas, where I've been stuffing things for the last, oh, at least 20 years or so. Turns out it was a big mess in there, and now everything's out, scattered haphazardly on the floor, emitting various stenches and high-pitched, ceaseless whines. I'm wading through it, and clearing the air, and making promises to donate to the Good Will in future, rather than keep around a passel of old distresses that I've outgrown.

Adding to the poignancy of old troubles are, of course, my feelings about the impending oophorectomy (this Monday, no time yet), and my concerns (currently assuaged by the wonders of prednisone) for Spackle.

If you happen to see me and I look—or act—a mess, rest assured that the cleaning/tidying/reorganizing catharsis will eventually end, and I have no doubt I'll be the better for it.