Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kittens and Butterflies

It has already been a busy week around here. Plans were thrown awry Monday evening when we heard a kitten crying in the garage. Turns out that someone came by and dropped a 2-3 month old kitten wrapped in a shirt through the pane-less window of our garage door. There are some heartless people out there. We are just glad that we heard her crying and were able to bring her in and out of the cold night. So the evening turned into kitten care and trying to keep the other two cats from freaking out. She had really red-rimmed eyes with discharge that we cleaned up, then fed and watered her and showed her the litter box. Once she was warm and cleaned up she settled right in. I'm not sure why someone just dumped one kitten, and one this old and clearly weaned and somewhat socialized. She had no fear or issues with the other cats and took to exploring quickly. She's an adorable orange tabby with a gregarious personality. Took her to the vet, who said that she has a cold which we got medication for. Already lined up a possible family for her as well. Though she is sweet and we would not be disappointed if she ended up becoming part of the household.

Then I was out of town all day yesterday. Got my pre-op CT scan and preparation instructions. Had to sign one of those forms that declared I understood all the risks and possible complications... that's some scary shit to read. Oddly enough, I never had any worried thoughts before my first surgery in May. But this time around I am; not sure exactly why that is. The first time I was mainly thinking about how I would be different after the surgery and they removed large pieces from within my body. This surgery is taking out far less and will leave me with little more than three new tiny scars. Maybe it is because we're dealing with far more important organs this time around, and that the hilar lymph nodes are nestled so near the heart and major arteries. Maybe I just better understand what I'm getting into with surgery this time. I had no personal frame of reference in May; just knew it was going to be an ordeal. Don't know the reason, but I'm nervously watching the days fly by.

Today I'm taking care of any and all laundry that could possibly need doing. Catching up and prepping email and online stuff for me to be AWOL for at least two days (probably won't post again until the weekend). Soon I'll be dusting and vacuuming. Likely go through and clear any perishable stuff out of the fridge and pantry tomorrow, and packing. We'll be out of the house for almost a week and I don't want to have anything to deal with when I get back home. I'll be pulling out the Ample Pantry gift certificates and taking friends up on food offers for the first few days back. The first week or so of recovery from the first surgery was pretty rough. I suspect this one will be easier and faster, but I would rather prep for the possibility that I may not be moving much for a few days.

Busy in mind and body. I am still excited that we are at the next step in this process though. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that pathology comes back negative and we fast track the surgery for the other lung a couple of weeks after this one. And just like that my November is gone before it even starts. But, that puts me one month closer to being well again.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Celebrate good times, c'mon!

This was a pretty fantastic weekend for a last hurrah before my next surgery and the low of recovery. Got to see the university's production of Spring Awakening with a hot blonde date Friday night. They did a decent job with it, and I'm a big fan of that show and how it starkly deals with some harsh issues. It's a passionate piece. Then a terrific party full of wonderful people (and a great band) for most of Saturday. Plenty of great food, a chill atmosphere, *lots* of good porter, music by the fire, *more* porter, conversation, cuddling, and drunken Scrabble. Woke up to friends and love and laughter this morning. Hit Zingerman's on the way home for tasty bread and treats. My hair still smells of bonfire smoke and I'm good and tired from a beer-soaked late night. Life is damned good.

I'll be getting my house in order this week, cleaning and organizing and laundry. Don't want to have anything to fuss over when I get back home from the hospital. Plus another trip to Ypsi for a CT scan, and a bit of visiting as well. (That drive across I-94 is becoming awfully familiar.) A busy week which I am certain will fly by. Before I know it I'll again be in oh-so-fashionable hospital gowns. My brain is already circling with all the thoughts that come when a surgery looms. I keep focusing on the fact that I'll be surrounded by people whom I love before and after. And I have complete trust in my surgeon. It's all good, it's all good, it's all good...


I was hoping to have more to say, but I'm pretty darn tired and my book is beckoning for a nightcap in bed. Expect to see another post following my Tuesday scan.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Holy Expensive Batman

I had no idea that chemotherapy was so freaking expensive. Finally got a billing for my first couple of treatments. It is absolutely crazy how much some of this stuff costs. Just one drug, oxaliplatin, costs over $10,000 per treatment. Per treatment! That's $61K racked up. There's another drug that is nearly $8K a pop, one at $1,400, and lots of two to three hundred dollar charges per visit for the port flush, the anxiety meds, other meds and liquids I didn't even realize were getting pumped into me, the visit itself, etc., etc. Thank goodness for health insurance. We're paying a lot more now than when I was on my own work's plan, but it is still saving us a LOT of money in the long run, even the short run.

Since I changed health insurance halfway through the year, I've had to meet a second deductible (ugh). But on the plus side, this latest bill already puts me at the maximum out-of-pocket expense for the year. So from here on out, other than co-pays, everything should be covered. Perhaps this year will be the one where I get to deduct medical expenses on my taxes. I've certainly paid enough out already. I figure there is at least one fancy European adventure I could have taken for the price of medical care so far. But don't think I'm just here to complain... we've been able to afford everything that has come in and the big round numbers of some of these bills are nowhere near the small percentages I've had to pay. There's still that moment of sticker shock when you look at the full totals though.

I recognize, and appreciate, how lucky I am to have had health insurance and to have been able to get continuous coverage with the changeover. There haven't been any mis-billings and I've not had to call and deal with the insurance company over coverage (knock on wood). Again, I feel like I've gotten out pretty lucky and easy with a potentially difficult situation. It also makes me feel that much more proud that I was responsible enough to have put myself in a solid, stable financial situation before this all started. The last couple of years have been years of saving and putting more into retirement funds. I was never in a better spot to have something like this happen.

My biggest financial hope right now is that I can get back to saving a little bit every month in order to afford the traveling I hope to do once I have beat this. I know I can get there, just have to be smart and stay positive.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Fast Track

Well, looks like we are officially moving on to the next step of the treatment process. My thoracic surgeon agrees that it is time to go in and start cutting out those nasty lung tumors. The best case scenario that I mentioned last post is coming true. Surgery is already scheduled for the Friday after next (Nov 2).

My appointment today was moved back a couple of hours so that my surgeon could discuss my case with the "tumor board" (a collection of doctors, oncologists, surgeons, etc.) at the hospital. She came right out of that meeting to our appointment with an aggressive surgery plan that the board agreed with. The first surgery will focus on the right side, taking out the lung tumor and the hilar lymph node. She will also take samples of other lymph nodes in the lung region for testing. If the surgery margins are clear and there is no positivity for cancer in the other lymph nodes then a quick two weeks later we do a second surgery for the left side tumor and hilar node. If, however, there aren't clear margins or the other lymph nodes show positivity, then we're back to chemotherapy and possibly the more precise 'cyberknife' radiation. I am rooting for option A.

Not much discussion of the treatment steps after surgery, since the pathology from surgery one (and hopefully two) will be massive factors in making those decisions. I'm guessing that more chemotherapy is still on the table, but who knows. I'm definitely on the fast track towards surgery. They gave me three medical orders to fulfill before I left today. So I got an EKG, a set of chest x-rays, blood drawn for labs and a urine sample. I go back for another CT next Tuesday and will chat with my surgeon about that and final details for surgery as well. Feels like we are rushing along now.

I am pretty excited with the results of the day. It trumps the sense of overwhelming that is threatening. There is a little bit of trepidation in my mind though, just because this is a major surgery and is riskier than my first one. So many possible complications when you're dealing with the lungs and working so close to the heart. I am feeling almost 100% physically right now, so it's a good bet that my blood counts are up. And I plan to be extra careful to take care of myself in the next week and a half. I think I'm in really good shape to handle these surgeries and recover quickly.

My hope is pretty high and I know that I am in excellent hands. This thoracic surgeon is my favorite of all the doctors on my team. I know she really cares and that she is extraordinarily talented. She is always very clear and super informative, so I'll be more than prepared for the surgery. I just hope that the good news continues and each step is one step closer to being rid of this stupid cancer.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bad blogger

Has it really been almost a week since my last post? Damn, I'm derelict in my duties. I was on a plan to post every second or third day, and was pretty proud of making the time and commitment to keep up with it. But I guess the lapses were bound to happen at some point. There has also been less impetus to post as often since I haven't had a lot of news or medical issues cropping up lately. This is good, but bad for blogging.

I do actually have some news today. Saw my oncologist yesterday to discuss my PET scans again. He confirmed that the tumors in my lungs have shrunk, not only since my July scan, but even from my initial one back in January (woot!). So the chemo has been doing its job. To be honest, there was a small part of me which worried that my most recent scan would show no improvements. That I had gone through the last three months of pain and discomfort for nothing. That is not the case, and he reiterated that I should go talk to my thoracic surgeon about resection. That appointment happens Monday. In my best case scenario she will agree that it is time for surgery and quickly find a space for me in her queue. We will see. And of course I will update you all on what she says should be the next step here.

This off of chemo thing is fantastic by the way. My energy level is definitely increasing and I'm having less random cramps and pains. The neuropathy has finally faded out and only bothers me now if I'm not wearing gloves outside in the cooler temps. I am finding that my cold tolerance is lessened though. But that could also be from the extra weight loss. Not a lot of fat stores left for keeping myself warm.

On to more positive subjects... the baby shower was a complete success. The decorations looked classy, yet cute. The food was all great and was mostly snarfed up. Our homemade caramel corn for favors was terrific and addictive. My sister was very pleased with everything and got a lot of great useful gifts. Only 10 weeks to go before his arrival, pretty exciting. I've got to get on task with finishing the sewing on all those baby bibs. That will be a lot easier since I cleared up my sewing area this week. Even got a new dress finished for an event this weekend, including embroidery. Am feeling pretty pleased with my productivity this week.

October has been proven to be a busy month. It's been that way for several years now, but in the past it's been mostly because of going through fund drive at work. Though there was always lots of social juggling in this month as well, and typically prepping for the Halloween party. No work or party this year, but it has still felt pretty busy and booked. Now that my mobility is back to full speed and I'm feeling so much better, I've really been wanting to go, go, go. I've been out of town every week for a day or more and that trend continues until the end of the month. It's been good to get out of the house and the spaces I've been stuck in for so long. My mind is already thinking of bigger more distant trips (where's that passport?), though I know I can't start planning those yet. However, it is fantastic to be in such a positive and forward-thinking state of mind right now.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

It's raining babies

Been consumed with baby shower stuff for the last few days. Finished up all my parts of the crafty decorations and things at home Wednesday and Thursday. Then scooted up to my sister's house. We've been running all the errands and getting favors and decorations ready to go. Last night her best friend came over and we had a great girls night making tons of caramel corn and finishing the favors. Of course we had to make an extra double batch at the end so each of us could have a big bag to keep for ourselves. It's pretty damn tasty stuff.

The shower is going to look great. The theme is fall with pumpkins and leaves in oranges and browns with blue "it's a boy" things. Should be classy and cute at the same time. My sister seems pretty happy with everything, and that is what really matters. Trying to make it a great day for her. All this prepping for the nephlet stuff has been fun and I'm looking forward to when he comes around at the beginning of the year. Got to feel the baby kick, which was weird but cool. Think that probably sums up the baby making experience from my perspective. Pregnancy is certainly a strange experience but also fascinatingly interesting. Our bodies do some amazing things. And I'm pretty excited for my sis and her husband. They're going to have a blast being parents and I know he'll be growing up in a terrific environment.

Nothing new on the cancer side of things. Another week off of chemo and I'm feeling about 90%. If it wasn't for the fits of tiredness here and there and the twinges in my fingers I'd almost say things are normal. Still feeling really optimistic about possibly moving on to the next step in treatment. I've already scheduled the surgery consult with my cardio-thoracic doctor in another week. Hopefully she'll agree that it's time to resect the evil things and get moving forward.

The next couple of weekends are full of events and gatherings with lots of great people. I've got a sewing project to work on for the next week. Crafty things and sewing to do before the nephew arrives in just another nine weeks. Some neglected books I'd like to finish. My days are starting to be busy enough again. I just really need to take the time for yoga every morning. Been remiss in sticking with it. Also haven't been to the gym in many months, and I want to start getting my strength and flexibility back. Easing my way back into the swing of regular things again. And so the shifting stages of treatment and recovery continue. This feels like a really good place right now.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Scan-a-riffic

Ended up being a no chemo day, but for good news reasons this time. My oncologist says that it looks like my latest PET scan shows shrinkage in the lung tumors, and nothing new has shown up. However, all three of my PET scans have been read by three different radiologists. And one was done in a different facility with a different machine. He wants one radiologist to look at all three scans and report on them as a whole. We will meet again after that has happened (in another week, next Thursday) to talk about the scans and his recommendation. If things have shrunk, then it's probably time for me to go ahead and set up the surgery to resect them. So... we could be on to the next step in this journey.

He decided to hold the chemo for the time being because I will need to be at my best if surgery is coming soon. Not a good idea to go in with low WBC counts, too much risk for post-op infection. I was not at all disappointed to be turned away from chemo this time. It seems like good news, and I'm more than happy to be in prep for surgery if that is the case. I can almost imagine that I can see the light at the end of this tunnel again. It feels really good to possibly be moving forward in this process. The surgery is daunting and that will be a few weeks of suck to recover from. But if it cuts out the last of the tumors, then we may be close to the end of all this.

Needless to say, I'm feeling pretty positive today. It is good to hear that the chemo has been doing its job. I was mildly concerned that I've gone through three months of crap for no good reason. But it looks like that isn't the case. I am back to the waiting game again... yet it doesn't bother me so much right now. I expect confirmation next week and I will quickly set up an appointment with my thoracic surgeon to get her opinion soon after. Hopefully she will agree and we'll get me rushed into her surgery queue. That's my optimism showing. But I'm sticking with the positive attitude tonight. Even celebrating with a couple glasses of wine. Two weeks out of chemo and off the antibiotics, I can have a drink without issue. Some normalcy. It's a good day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Catching up

Well, that was a bit of a stretch from post to post. Been out and about getting in some good visiting most of this week. Headed over to the east side of the state to see several of my favorite people for a couple of days. I like being able to jump in the car and be on the road for a while. Other than needing a break every hour and a half or so, my butt does pretty good anymore. And I find something even more poignant than before about the open road stretching out before me. It feels good to drift along to music while the landscape passes by. There's the sense of freedom and movement of course, but also this sense of a pocket of escape, of no-thingness while alone in the car. It can sometimes feel like a buffered sacred space. And all under my simple physical control. There is focus (there must be of course), but there is a languishing as well. Ease and control in perfect balance.

I'm really feeling the traveling bug. Must be some cabin fever from the last few weeks. I want to see new things, to experience them with good people, to talk, to touch, to feel enlivened. I would really love to jump a plane and travel somewhere far away, to walk through an age-old city, to feel other and curious about all the unknown around, to cling to my companion while we muddle through and laugh at ourselves. An every other chemo week schedule makes that a little difficult to plan right now. And I never know when my stupid body will decide to have a fit and try to ruin my good time. Like yesterday. I was trying to have a lovely visit with friends and my tummy decided it was not happy and to cramp for most of the day. Bearable until later in the afternoon when it just wouldn't give up and invited my back join the ache party. Oh well. I bullied through it until home, where I popped a pain pill, turned the heated mattress pad on high and snuggled deep in bed until it all passed. Felt so very good to be warm and cozy with an entertaining trashy book in hand. A brief hibernation and I got up this morning feeling worlds better.

Soon as my schedule frees up from the every other week treatments, I am certainly going to be planning some excursions. Maybe somewhere southward this winter where it's warm and there is family. Maybe out to some city on the east or west coast. It would be pretty cool to see New York City decked out for the Christmas season. Who knows, and I don't really care as long as it is new and an adventure.

Today has mostly been a lazy Sunday. There's bean and barley soup with lamb reheating on the stove; so dinner is a no-work affair. Had lovely afternoon tea with two of my best gals. Think I'll catch up on some good TV show while I work on baby shower stuff for the evening. Not a bad end cap for a really good week.

PET scan results and more chemo on Tuesday. Keep an eye out for an update that afternoon.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Contemplations...

I've been immersing myself again in cancer stuff over the last few days. Checking out websites for organizations, finding blogs by other colo-rectal folks, as well as finding books and movies that deal with it fictionally. It's not like I don't think about it everyday, but most of the time I put it on the back burner of my mind and focus on anything else. It might sound strange, but it has been a good thing for my mind recently. Kind of a forewarned is forearmed sense. I may not have a lot of control over what my body is doing but I can mentally take some control. I've learned a couple of things and gotten a better hold on some of the lingo. It's a strange comfort. I am sitting heavily, yet comfortably, with the reality of this disease.

The hardest and weirdest part has been some of the blogs I've come across. I am the kind of gal that likes to start things from the very beginning. I like to experience stuff fully and not miss any steps/parts along the way. So I find a blog and immediately head to the first entries and move forward in time from there. Which is great until I get to a post from a family member or friend that says that they've passed away. Changes the whole perspective on what I've been reading. It sets you back into reality pretty hard, and again reminds me that I am dealing with (as I've said recently) some serious shit. There is a little sadness, but in a strange way it bolsters me in this fight. I have learned a lot about the different turns this process can take: remission, recurrence, treatment difficulties and options, etc. Also helps me to be forewarned about side effects and issues related to my current chemo, possible future chemo and other treatments. After all, a gladiator doesn't focus on the carnage around them at the end of a fight... they take away knowledge, strength, will, courage.

I've also been reminded that I feel pretty lucky in my personal journey through treatment. I have dealt with the standard side effects but nothing has taken me down too far physically. Surgery recovery was the hardest part, and even then only for the first three or four weeks. I've not had allergic reactions to any medications or chemo. I didn't have any outstanding health issues going into this. No new health issues have cropped up in the meantime. Other than my little infection debacle a couple of weeks ago, I feel like I'm getting off pretty easy.

One of the most comforting parts of my web crawling has been realizing that there are others going through the exact same thought processes and emotions that I am. It's nice not to be unique for once. And you should all understand just how keen I am to be unique. Ain't no one out there like me dammit! But in this situation it is nice to be just another member of the crowd. I am not the youngest to go through this; I am not the healthiest to get this; I am not the only one; I am part of a larger group (an army) of gladiators. And we all have to wade through the same muddy shitpile to get to the end, the other side, the accolades, the warm showers. And everyone (real and fictional) has their loving friends and family to help carry them along. Reading or watching that part is heartwarming. Because that is one very good reason why we fight. For the smiles, hugs, words and love that is out there. It is hard on this side of the coin, but I recognize that it can be equally difficult for you on the other side as well. I hope I don't forget that and get too caught up in the Victoria Show. I work hard to keep it all balanced.

So I am a little fixated at the moment. I'm sure it will pass in the coming days and I'll turn my focus to something else. Probably nephlet things as the baby shower quickly approaches. I'm planning a short trip out of town for the next couple of days to see a variety of friends; always a good thing. My pep is back and I'm going to run it ragged.