Thursday, July 27, 2017

Officially a Survivor!

::Cue the Destiny's Child music::
I walked into the clinic here in Idaho yesterday, ready for another unpleasant check-over and rescheduling for 6 more months.
Let me back up a little bit....
In January of this year, my husband took a job assignment that moved him to Laie, Hawaii.  Poor guy, right?! The kids were still in school and our blended family has had a lot of things going on behind the cancer check-up scene. So I've been holding down the fort here in Idaho, while he's been working at his J-O-B in Hawaii.  We have a good system and he's been able to come home once a month for a week- so it hasn't been too bad.
Fast forward to yesterday.
I was walking into the clinic with our youngest son, because there wasn't anyone to hang out at home with him and I enjoy being in his company.  Now, before you start to stress out about a nine-year old in a cancer clinic, especially for a gyno-exam- know that I had this figured out before we left.  I made sure his Ipod was charged, and I knew there was a chair outside the exam door.  I would be with him or within earshot the entire time and quite frankly the staff in Idaho Falls is amazing!
There were a lot of thoughts going through my mind at this check-up.  I had recently had an endoscopy with a Dr. C, who found the reason for my rectal bleeding (ugh!). I have a fissure.  I wish I could say something more exciting like- I have 12 toes and that makes my hind-end bleed, but nope I just have a fissure.  It's not a super-large one, but it is in a location that makes any sort of roughage rip off any healing scabs and viola! bleeding.  While most people aren't happy to hear that, I at least knew the source of the southern pain.  He also found that the little flagella that work and move in my digestive tract, which helps move food through and absorb water have been melted by the radiation.  The chronic bowel issues have been enhanced by my body's inability to absorb water normally so everything tends to be a raging river, rather than a rambling one.
While our youngest waited just outside the door, and I had the cloth draped stylishly over my nether region, Dr. Z came in and began the discussion about dilator use.  I had been using it, but to be frank with you- the longer length came with a wider base.  I do not need a wider tool, just a longer one.  Unfortunately, the medical grade dilators don't work that way, and so we discussed commercial grade options.  Yeehaw! I like Dr. Z because we can laugh about things as they're happening and don't have to wait until the next visit.  Through a series of giggles and eyebrow wiggles we communicated just what a commercial dilator is, and how to purchase one.  My sides still hurt from holding back an all out guffaw.
Once the dilator discussion was concluded, I slid my rear to the edge of no return and the exam began.  All the while we were talking, I could hear Dr. Z's nurses chatting with G-man about our imminent move to Hawaii, where he liked to live the best, how excited he was and a whole myriad of discussions that kept him focused outside and not on his mother.  For that I am thankful.
The scarring has still not parted enough to look at the cervix.  This is a bummer, because it's the easiest way to make sure there aren't any new growths occurring.  The rectal part always follows the cervical check and so I decided to be pro-active.
"Dr. Z, I understand that last time was a non-productive exam because it hurt so bad.  I know it's going to hurt just as much, and I understand the reason for it now.  So, I'm going to cover my eyes like this," to which I placed both hands firmly over my eyes, "and I won't make a sound.  You do what you have to do so that I know I'm okay and then we can talk about it."  Her reply was epic!
"Okay, well, while you're covering your eyes like that, I'm going to cover my eyes like this, so that I won't start to laugh at you covering your eyes and I'll get done quicker.  Are you ready?"
I laughed, covered my eyes, and then nodded.
The pain was pretty terrible. Imagine taking a scabbed over sore on your leg and then purposefully rubbing it, then spreading it out wide.  The burn cannot be described adequately and the intense pressure is ridiculous.  Then it was done.
She said there wasn't anything she could feel that would be a problem.  She also reminded me that a pap at this point was well, pointless, as radiated tissue gives abnormal results.
She then said something I was not expecting:
"Kami, this makes 5 years from initial diagnosis.  We can go back to yearly exams.  You've made it!"
This caught me right between the eyes.  I was not prepared for it at all.  I always thought that the 5 year clock started at the first clean scan.  It begins when the cancer clock starts ticking!!
She handed me a paper with the name of a gyno-onc in Honolulu, should any problems occur, asked me to look into a commercial grade dilator, and stepped out into the hallway.
I quickly cleaned up, dressed and stepped out to find two staff members and Dr. Z chatting with Grant.  Life is good!
The reality of what she said didn't hit me until I got home.  The survival rate for my cancer and staging is 83% at 5 years.  Those are most excellent odds, however, how can you not think about the 17% that didn't make it?  I think about them all the time.  The moms, the sisters, the daughters, the aunts, the cousins, the friends- the 17%.
I am scheduled for my next exam in July of 2018.  In the meantime, I have a wedding to go to, an eclipse to witness, children to raise, a move to Hawaii, and a new chapter to begin.  Thank you for going on this journey with me.  Thank you for checking in to see how my family has been doing AND thank you for allowing me to share raw details that most people are not interested in hearing. Survivors are survivors because of what they've been through, but they become witnesses to the process and able to discuss it because of people like you who care enough to support us through it all. I am thankful. I am grateful.  I am blessed.

Much love,

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Bi-Annual Check-Ups.....STILL!

Hi everyone! I know it's been nearly a year since I last posted and in that time frame, I've had two check-ups.  With moving to a new state, I needed to find a new oncologist.  Thankfully my cousin had valuable insight regarding gynecological oncologists here in Idaho and I was able to connect with Dr. Z.  After having all male doctors during my cancer journey, it has been refreshing to finally have a female doctor.  Don't get me wrong, I valued the insight and expertise of all of my doctors, and felt it was time to have a female physician work with me on the long haul.  That's what all of this is.  The reality of it hit me right between the...well legs, today.  I'll explain.
Due to some scheduling issues I ended up not having to drive to Salt Lake, which I had done the last two appointments I had with Dr. Z.  She was up here in my neck of the woods today, and so bright and early this morning found me in the shower preparing to do battle with the dreaded duck once more.
As I drove towards my appointment a feeling of anxiousness had me sliding back into the numb-zone where I tune out until the visit is over.  The thought of one more pair of stirrups, one more probe (frontal and rear) was just one too many.  Ginormous Q-tips, multiple solutions to help see scarring and possible problem areas.  How much can one tiny orifice really go through in this lifetime?
I got there early enough that I could sit in the winter sunshine and read, which helps me to relax. When it finally came time to stop my stalling, in I went and the staff was lovely.  Everyone greeted me with a smile and warmth.  The feeling of peace that you find in most cancer centers quickly overtakes the anxiety and after checking in, I sat in the waiting room and just existed for a bit.  I had brought along Christmas lists in order to multi-task, but found myself just wanting to be- and so I did, I just was.
After a short wait I was brought back to the exam room.  One of the reasons why I like Dr. Z is she has the exam "chairs" that start out like a large chair with an extended back on it.  The stirrups are tucked away which helps slightly.  Her nurse came in and got all my updated information, we discussed my failed colonoscopy (the doctors found nothing but the bleeding continues), and other various procedures from the year.  I was asked to change from the bottom down, given a white sheet and out she went.
I quickly changed, assumed the position of the patient with no pants, and waited.  Waited. Then waited some more.  I don't mind waiting in exam rooms anymore.  I used to.  It used to make me really irritated, but after going through everything that comes after the waiting.....I'm more than happy to wait.
Dr. Z walked in with her bright smile and extended hand, which I shook and then we chatted for a bit. It's nice to speak with her, because I feel like she listens.  Her brows furrowed when we talked about what wasn't on the colonoscopy she had ordered.  They raised when I told her about continued issues, She told me by abnormal pap was due most likely to radiation issues still, and then it was down to business.  Assuming the standard position, I slid my rear as far to the edge as I thought prudent (and after 4 years of doing this on a regular basis, I'm still a bit leery about going to far, for fear I should end up like Tom Cruise hanging on the cliff like in Mission Impossible) and still I was 2 inches short of the desired spot.  Sliding a bit more, the stirrups then came out.  Luckily I wore my Christmas socks and their stirrups are always warm.  Once I was where there was no turning back, Dr. Z brought out a new gadget.
My first response was "It's Johnny 5 from Short Circuit!" This may date me, but it really is what it looked like.  She told me the name of the gizmo which I cannot for the life of me remember, but it magnifies everything that she sees when she does her exam with the duck.  The duck came out, was warmed, inserted, and looking through the goggles she got down to business.  The first solution burned, the second one stung, and finally she stopped.  She got a bit of a scowl on her face, and told me I wasn't doing a good job of stretching out the scar tissue at the top of my vaginal canal.  She asked me why it wasn't broken yet, I told her simply "I"m lazy and choose life rather than dealing with it." This didn't earn me any brownie points, but she said she understood.
Then it was time for the dreaded rectal exam.  Yuck! Double Yuck!! I instantly started to shake and draw my knees together which is a naughty no-no during these exams.
"I'd rather we didn't do that," I whispered with my eyes shut.
"I need to, because I can't see from the one side, I need to try and figure it out from the other." I peeked slightly and saw her discomfort as well.
"Okay." I closed my eyes and when contact was made began to cry, but I didn't make a sound.  She stopped immediately and said that she wasn't willing to traumatize me further.  Hallelujah!! Miracles do happen!! There are so many issues right now with that area of my bod, that I don't even know where to begin.  Her stopping felt like Christmas morning to me.
In short my friends, I am still on the twice per year schedule, which is a bit frustrating, but hey-I'm here.  Also, I long for the day that this isn't a part of my life anymore and find peace with not having to think about it more than twice every year.  Lastly, I could be more diligent with the dilater, but I have other things I want to do.  Yes- I'll try to do better, because the alternative is having them surgically go in and cut it open, which has some serious drawbacks and doesn't guarantee that it won't heal shut again.....
Thanks for checking in on me.  I appreciate the continued support and love that I've felt through every step of this wonky journey! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and may your New Year be filled with wonderful opportunities!