Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mmmmm... Bacon.

Here is a True Story From My Actual Life:

Last week, I fried up a pound of bacon like I am a woman who has both the strength and energy to cook dinner after a hard (half) day at work. (That's right. Bacon for dinner, don't judge.)

And then... once it was all fried up, I took a good, hard, look at that plate of bacon and I thought to myself...

"I should probably only eat half of that, because I don't want to make myself sick."

True story. I only ate HALF a pound of bacon. ... Because I was wanting to take it easy on the ol' gastrointestinal system.

And here's the kicker... even half a pound was too much for my sad little body to handle.

That's right. I CAN'T EVEN EAT HALF A POUND OF BACON WITHOUT GETTING SICK!

(What kind of person says something like that? ... Wait. Don't say anything. ... I know the answer: A lame one.)

...................................................................................................

Anyhoo... I made bacon again this week. You know, because I am not a quitter.

And, instead of eating half the bacon, I divided it into thirds and only ate 1/3 a lb of bacon.

Drumroll, please...

And, good news, kids! My sad little system can handle that!

Wahoo!

Bacon and Laurie = FRIENDS ON AGAIN! (In limited quantities.)


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Argh

My one, single, solitary gripe about The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever...

I can't, for the life of me, find one of these:


It seems that the people of Hostess chose not to bring back the dang blackberry pie when their product was resurrected and put back on the shelves of grocery stores and gas stations across the nation. Argh.

Now, I know this pie is chock full of sugar (and the crust is 100% white flour), so I couldn't really digest it... even if I could find one.

But man alive... what I wouldn't give for two (okay, three) bites of an old school blackberry pie.

Friday, August 1, 2014

That was then, and this is now

Six weeks ago, this was the view from the top:


And now...


I CAN SEE MY FEET!

(Yeah, that's the same manicure I got the day of surgery. Don't judge. I have more important things to do than paint my toenails. Like painting my fingernails while I watch Castle.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How I'm doing.

I've had a few (I may even upgrade that to "several") friends and family members call/text/email/facebook me lately to ask how I'm doing... really.

Here's the scoop:

I'm okay.

Honestly, I'm doing quite well.

Really.

I tire easily, but I think that's normal for being just shy of six weeks post-op. I get a little dizzy if I read for too long. I have to eat on a regular schedule so I don't get nauseated, and I take two Tylenol every six hours.

That might sound a little lame to those of you who climb mountains and/or eschew even over-the-counter drugs, but for me... I'm doing quite well.

True story. Just short of three weeks post-op (still on narcotics for surgical pain, mind you), I already felt better than I had in a year. Those darn hernias were bumming me out. In a major way.

I still can't walk a mile straight on the treadmill, but I can walk for almost a mile without feeling like my guts are going to fall right out of my body, even for a second. And that, my dears, if fabulous. (Pre-surgery, I couldn't walk around the block without searing pain. So, when I say that .87 miles on a treadmill is a victory, I'm not kidding.)

I can cough without having to push in/on my bellybutton, and sneezing no longer makes me feel like I was stabbed in the stomach and am going to bleed out in a matter of minutes. (Winning!)

Do I know that I still have cancer cells that are alive and well inside my body, and that there's a decent chance I'll lose my hair to chemo before Thanksgiving? Yeah, I do.

But ya know what else I know? ... That I won't know what those cells are doing, how fast they're growing, until October. So, there's no point in spending energy on all of the "what ifs" and "whens" of everything until I have the information and can see the plan in real time.

I figure, all I can do right now is... live. With what information and energy and drive and will that I have - right now - I am living my life. And I'll deal with whatever comes my way when it comes.

I'm okay.

Really, I am.

I promise.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bake Sale

Last week, I showed you some super cute pics of my little cousins and told you about how they were doing a bake sale fundraiser for me in Utah.

I so love those kids. And their moms. And their aunts. And basically, everyone else they're related to. (And their friends - the girls' friends, and their moms'/aunts' friends - because this bake sale was very much a community effort.)

I love people.

But I especially love these people:




On Thursday, Beth's kids and Julie's kids got together at Julie's house to practice their face-painting skills (some of Jule's girls can get a little morbid... we love it!) and bake carrot cake and peanut butter bars and other things that I can't remember (probably because I mostly coveted the carrot cake and peanut butter bars, so they stick in my mind better), while Lisa (aka: Anna) baked over 10 dozen cupcakes and Christie churned out approximately five dozen loaves of bread at her house.



(Sadly, I don't have pics of the loaves and loaves of bread at Christie's. But trust me, it happened.)

Saturday morning, everyone woke up early to frost the goods that were baked the day before, and... voila:



I had to do a close-up of the lavender cupcakes, because they made me cry. Just a little.

For those of you who I haven't had this conversation with... There is no "cancer ribbon color" for Liposarcoma. It's not a cancer that occurs often enough to have its own color recognition. But lavender is the color for ALL cancers. ... So, it makes me get a little teary when I see people using it. Cancer is such a horrible, awful thing. But... it unites people in a way that I don't think any other diagnosis does. And so, to me, lavender speaks to - and for - all of us whose lives have been affected by the cancer.


And here's a closer pic of the signage:


How cute is that sign? I love that the kids drew pictures to detail all of the things they were doing/selling at the fundraiser!

Beyond all of my AMAZING family who donated their time and talents (none of whom do I have actual pictures of... food and face painting pics of the kids, I have, but none of the actual women who made this happen), I also have totally awesome friends who attended said bake sale.

The first family on site, when they were still setting up:


Yeah, those are the Woods. Of Sunday dinner fame. I love them!

A friend I've had for my entire adult life and her sister who drove down from SLC:


Jenni and I worked together at the bank in Provo, and were instant friends pretty much her first day on the teller line. (She quoted Thoroughly Modern Millie. I quoted back. And a friendship that was mean to last through the ages was born.) Lisa was in high school at the time (that's right... she's not in high school anymore), so while she was also a CB-er, she came to the bank a little later in life. I love these women. They're some of my old vacation buddies (you know, from the old days). Central Bank Chicks Forever!

And my adopted sister-in-law, Kim, all the way from New Jersey! 



(Yes, Judy. It's a real place.)

Kim is Dean's sister (Dean of The First Family in Attendance... scroll up). I so love the Wood family! I tell them all the time that they are the reason I'm still single. (I'm pretty sure it would be impossible to find another family that I love as much as I love theirs, so it seems pointless to even try.)

Friends and neighbors of my cousins (also, cousins on their other side) came out to support them in helping me.

I'm telling you... I can't even say what it means to me to have the support of so many people, in so many places, in so many ways.

(Typing through tears now, fyi.)

The cancer is a horrible, awful, terrible thing. I hate what it does to my body, but... I love what it does to my life. The love that I feel is real. It is a tangible, moving force. I'm grateful to more people than I could ever possibly thank.

I'm lucky to have an army of people supporting me, from all corners of the world. And most of the generals in that army are people that I am related to.

Thank you, Cousins. I love you all more than I can say.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Wolverette, post-op

Yeah, so... Look at the pic I found hiding in my phone.

A few days ago, I ran a post in which Wolverette was re-purposed to show where all my little friends were hiding out when Dr. G cut me open and took them out.

No sooner had I laid The Henries line out, than was Judy working up a post-op Wolverette, complete with an 8 inch incision - yeah, she measured it, to be exact. Staples included.


Please note the frowny face and quote. (Also, the strategically placed bellybutton.)

It's true. Surgery hurts.

So much so that I was overheard saying (I say "overheard", because I have absolutely no recollection of having said this... so much for being super lucid this time around) that "I wouldn't wish this on - insert my high school nemesis' name here - and I hate her."

I love my cousins. The little ones, most of all.

Meet Elly (10) and Cami (12):



Elly and Cam wanted to do something to help their cousin with cancer (me), so they enlisted the help of their siblings, cousins, mothers, aunts and grandparents in putting together a bake sale, with proceeds to benefit yours truly.

Here's a sample of the menu/prices:


Aside: How cute is that girl holding a cancer ribbon that's shaped like a heart with the word "you" in the middle of it? I love her!

As you can see, these girls are selling baked goods for WAY CHEAP. And there will be face painting and helium balloons and loom bands who even knows what else! 

I'm telling you, it'll be fun for the whole family. If you're anywhere near Utah County this weekend, you should take your kids and head on over for a good time and a great cause! (I know, I just called myself a great cause. ... I, basically, have NO shame.)

Please, if you can... help these girls help me. They're my cousins' girls, but I couldn't love them more if they were my own. 

There's nothing I'd love more than to know that the girls had a fabulous turnout and were able to turn a profit, so they could KNOW that they made a difference. (Besides. They're adorable. You know you want to go, just to high five them for having the idea and then putting it into motion.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kimmie and her car washes...

As some of you old timers (yeah, that's what I call you kids who've been reading the blog for two years or more) may recall, a couple years ago, my amazing friend Kimmie threw a car wash fundraiser for me.

I so love her!

Since then, she and her family have moved to Washington and started a whole new life there - a life in which, I am sure, she is influencing people for good and making everyone she comes into contact with a happier, better, person.

My plea for help hit the www Saturday morning, and Saturday night, Kimmie's inbound plane hit the tarmac in Phoenix. She was coming to visit family in Arizona, but she texted to ask if she could organize another car wash for me while she was here. ... On vacation. 

Who plans and executes a service project while on vacation?

My friend Kimmie does!


She called a few mutual friends and the car wash commenced at 5:00 PM yesterday afternoon. Halfway through the first car getting washed, it became very apparent that this was like a game to the children who'd come with their mothers. 



While some of the kids worked, others held their homemade signs and screamed "CAR WASH FOR CANCER" at the top of their lungs to bring in business.


It was totally awesome!

My brother Kirk and and his family came, bringing both their cars - and all four children - to help in the cause.


Baby Monson (he's 2) figured out how to say my name. (Sort of. I'd type it, but there's no way to spell what he says when he means "Aunt Laurie". Ask me in person how it's done sometime and I'll show you. You'll be impressed. Also, amused.) ... He needed to be able to scream it at cars pulling out of the drive-thru, so he could bring in business.



I was able to be on site for about 90 minutes of what ended up being 2.5 hours of car washing.

It was awesome to see friends and family and complete and total strangers come together to donate time and hard-earned cash for a girl in need.

I love my life. I love the people IN my life. I'm so grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given to see the goodness in human nature, and experience the kindness of strangers. Life is good. ... Trust me, I should know.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Four years, five tattoos, and seven tumors ago...

I was just a girl named Laurie.

I was 35. Single. Lived alone. I was fiercely independent, yet super social. I dated a lot, but rarely got serious with anyone. I worked hard - made very little money - and somehow still found a way to save enough to take trips to Disneyland and Vegas with my girlfriends once or twice a year.


Then, in the spring of 2010, I started to cough. A lot.

I didn't think much of it at the time, because it was allergy season. But then the cough continued past the month of March. And in April, my stomach started to hurt. A lot. Like, I was always full. (We're talking "after Thanksgiving dinner" full.) So, I ate less. And I coughed more.

By May, I was tired.

So tired that I had a hard time standing long enough to cook dinner.

As I tried to eat less (I still felt full all the time), my stomach got bigger. And my cough got worse.

Memorial Day Weekend 2010, I was so tired - from all the coughing - that I could hardly move.

Finally, I scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician. ... And that's when they found my first tumor. (The cough? It was because I had a tumor that had adhered to five organs and was pushing on my left lung)

The CT performed prior to surgery showed a malignant tumor in my abdomen that was estimated at 10 lbs. When the tumor was removed, nearly three weeks later, it weighed in at 22.5 lbs.

In 2010, stats for Liposarcoma showed that this type of cancer typically appears in men between 45-65. My oncologists at the time weren't entirely sure how a woman, aged 35, had grown this type of tumor. As much as they couldn't say why this rare, typically "old man's cancer" had happened to me, they could tell me the odds of a recurrence would go down from 85% to 60% if I did radiation treatment. So, I let them tattoo my abdomen to mark my radiation field, and entered the complete and utter hell that was six weeks of radiation therapy. From my first treatment, the side effects set in: projectile vomiting, explosive diarrhea, constant nausea and exhaustion. I couldn't eat, and I couldn't move, but I still somehow lost 4-8 lbs every week of my treatments. By the end of the six weeks, I had visible burns on the left side of my stomach that were caused by radiation beams that had cooked me from the inside out. Nearly four years later, I still suffer the after-effects of heavy doses of radiation that went through my entire abdomen.

When I say radiation was hell, I mean it.

Post-radiation, my doctors explained that they wanted to scan me every 90 days to ensure that I didn't have any new growth. At the time, I thought they were being hyper-vigilant. I couldn't understand why they thought they really needed to watch me that closely, and I couldn't imagine how I was going to be able to afford even my 10% of the cost of a scan four times a year, but... they were the professionals, so I went along with their plan.

I had one clean scan.

In January 2011, I had a dime-sized tumor show up on my second CT. Following a biopsy that confirmed a Liposarcoma recurrence, surgery was scheduled. In March, seven weeks after the tumor was found - nine months after my first major surgery to have a malignant tumor removed - tumor #2 came out. In those seven weeks, that tumor had grown from roughly the size of a dime to that of a softball.

I had two clean scans in 2011.

In January of 2012, I had another dime-sized tumor show up on an MRI. It was at this point that my first oncologist realized that I was rapidly growing out of his comfort zone. My type of cancer is rare, and unlike anything he'd ever seen. He asked my permission to find me another oncologist, a sarcoma specialist, if possible, who would be better suited to help me. As much as I loved Dr. W and his fabulous bedside manner (he adored me, and would tell me all the time that I was "vibrant" ... what cancer patient's not going to love that kind of treatment?!), I acquiesced. We were lucky, in that the MD Anderson Cancer Center had recently opened in Arizona and had relocated Dr. H, a sarcoma specialist, from their Houston offices to the Gilbert location.  I met with my new doctors, Dr. H (oncologist) and Dr. G (surgeon) in February of 2012. After reviewing my medical history, the good doctors opted to watch that third tumor grow. As I've mentioned, it's a rare cancer. Not a lot is known about what causes my type of tumors, and since I had undergone two major, open, abdominal surgeries in the last 18 months, I agreed to let them watch #3 and see what it did.

In March of 2012, Dr. H and Dr. G ordered another MRI, to measure the growth of the tumor in those eight weeks. Shockingly (remember how quickly my second tumor had grown), the MRI measured only .2 cm growth in that time. The doctors opted to put me back on the 90 day scan schedule, and scheduled my next scan for the first week in June.

The June 2012 scan, surprisingly, showed tumor #3 relatively unchanged. Unfortunately, it also showed an entirely new, rather large, tumor sitting on top of my left kidney, crowding my spleen, attached to my colon. Surgery was scheduled immediately, and on June 21, 2012, I underwent surgery to correct a hernia and remove two Liposarcoma tumors, my left kidney, my spleen, 10 cm of my colon and 5 cm of my diaphragm. In addition to taking all the organs on the left side of my body, Dr. G also took as much of my retroperitoneum (the origination site of the first three tumors) as he safely could, and ran a flat edged tool against the inside of my muscle wall, in an attempt to scrape any remnants of cancer cells out of my body and prevent further recurrence. It was a worthy effort.

And we thought it had worked.

In June 2013, I celebrated the milestone of being one year cancer free. It was a wonderful, glorious, feeling.

At that time, my doctors opted to relax my scan schedule to every 6 months, rather than every 3.

In December 2013, my scan showed an approximate 5x5 cm hernia that was developing near my bellybutton, but was blessedly cancer-free.

18 months. ... 18 months, cancer-free.

June 2014 would have been two years.

Only... my June CT showed that I had a new tumor. Again, on the left side of my abdomen. But in a different place than any of my earlier tumors had popped up.

Surgery was scheduled, two weeks from the date of the CT. When my surgeon opened me up, he was met with more than one tumor; there were three.

The long and short of it is that while Dr. G took everything he saw, and did everything he could... the path report from my last surgery shows that there were positive margins on two of the tumors removed. (For more details on my last surgery, click here.)

Which means... he didn't get it all.

And so, here I am. Again. Growing cancer in my body.

As of now, the plan is to resume 90 day scans, beginning in October of this year. Depending on what they see, I'll either start chemo or prep to go out on another medical leave for surgery, as soon as 10 weeks from now. (My money is on chemo. Based on how far and wide my tumor growth pattern has spread, it would be incredibly difficult - and could risk my life - to open me up in the same manner for the fifth time.)

My work has been incredible. They've granted an unpaid medical leave (unpaid, because my short term disability insurance company sees any cancer-related claims as a pre-existing condition). I've been out for four weeks so far, and am planning a return to the bank at the end of the month. I'll work another month on restricted hours, and am hoping to move back to full-time at the beginning of September.

Here's the catch: any time I spend out of the office = time that I have no steady income flowing in. It's sad, but it's true.

I'm really good at living on the cheap. I've lived in the same 600 sq ft apartment for almost 9 years, and I drive a 2001 Dodge Neon. (That's right. With a tape deck. You know you're jealous.) I haven't gone on an actual go-somewhere-just-for-fun vacation since 2010.

And yet, I am broke.

And likely, both my health and my financial situation will get much, much, worse before they start to get better.

Which brings me to the point of this post: I need help.

I need financial help. And I need it badly enough that I am willing to go totally public with that plea.

For any of you who may be reading this and are in a position to contribute to The Cancer Girl Cause: there are options in ways to get funds to me. If you scroll up to the top of this page, there is a PayPal link that will allow you to deposit funds to my account online. There is also a benefit account at Wells Fargo in my name. A deposit can be made to the Wells Fargo account at any branch, nationwide. You will need to provide them with the spelling of my first and last name (L-a-u-r-i-e  E-v-a-n-s), the city and state I live in (Mesa, AZ) and my zip code (85201).

My promises to you, should you choose to contribute my cause: I will be eternally grateful, and I will only use your money for medical and/or living expenses incurred during the time that I am unable to work full time and earn my own dollars. (I won't buy shoes or clothes or jewelry or a purse or any other extraneous items with your money. That's a promise.)

If contributing financially isn't in the budget, I understand. Completely and totally, I understand. ... I also welcome good vibes, kind thoughts, prayers and positivity.

In advance, I have to say... thank you. 

Thank you for having given me your time, your thoughts, your energy and a measure of your faith and compassion. My life is blessed because of the people in it, both those on the front lines and those on the periphery.

Four years, five tattoos, and seven tumors later...

I am still a girl named Laurie, but I also call myself Cancer Girl.

I am 39. Single, and I live alone. I am fiercely independent. Every relationship in my life is valued, because my time and my energy are sacred. I still love people, but I am not as social as I used to be... because I simply cannot do all that I used to do. I work hard: in the workplace, at achieving balance (both metaphorical and literal, and if you've ever seen me in the first four weeks post-op, you know what I mean...), in building and maintaining relationships.

I may not have the financial security that I had five years ago, but what I do have is a wealth of experience that I wouldn't trade for the world.

I don't understand why this has happened to my body, but I do know that it is part of the plan for my life. I know there is a God, that He loves me as His daughter, that He will always give me the strength that I need to do what I have to do, and that He will ultimately heal me (however He so chooses).

I have a deep and abiding sense of gratitude for all that I have been given.

I may have the cancer, but I also have people in my life who love me. I am continually amazed at the strength and breadth of my support system. I know there is no greater gift than that of prayer. I know that love is the strongest, most unifying, force on Earth.

In the midst of my trials - in reality, because of my trials - I have been made aware that I have been given much. And I am grateful. For each and every one of you who have touched my life, who have taken the time to read this, for having shared in my story, I am grateful. Thank you, and I love you.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Before and After

A lot can happen in four weeks.

Especially when one undergoes major surgery to A) literally save one's life (by removing malignant growths) as well as B) metaphorically save one's life (with a multiple hernia repair ... because, I am telling you, that stupid hernia made me want to die some days).

28 days and 20 lbs later, I give you:

Henry Before:


Versus

Henry After:


Please note that Dr. G restored my bellybutton to me. 

In the repair of the hernia, Dr. G moved my original surgical line and then pulled tissue from both sides over each other to secure the mesh used in the repair. The bb has been MIA since June of 2010, after my first surgery.

As lame as it may sound, it's pretty awesome to see my innie again!