Monday, December 31, 2012

December 31

On January 1, 2012, I wrote the following:

It's a whole new year. Nothing's the same, yet nothing has changed. I can't put my finger on it. I can't articulate it well (which is a shame, seeing as I know a whole heck of a lot of words and can't seem to string a sentence together that expresses how this new year feels to me). All I keep thinking is that everything's the same, yet ... it isn't the same. At all.

I'm curious to see where 2012 takes me. I'm full of trepidation and yet ... hope.

To paraphrase a quote I heard once upon a time, way back in High School English, before I had any idea what this might mean: The amount of joy we feel is, literally, commensurate to the amount of pain we have felt. 2011, literally, brought me more pain than I'd ever seen before. Commensurately, it also brought me more joy than I ever could have imagined.

Here's to hoping that 2012 will be more than a sci-fi hallucination. Here's to hoping that it's a continuation of the joy, and that 2011 put a cap on the pain.

I am truly hopeful that this will be my best year ever. I look forward to the people I'll meet, to the experiences I'll have, to the love that I know I'll feel.

I love my life. I always have. But every year, I love it (and the people in it) even more.

Happy New Year, folks! Let's make it a doozy!

Q: How adorable am I, that I was hoping that 2011 would put a cap on the pain in my life?

A: So adorable. (And hilarious. See if I ever make a wish like that again!)

The pain - the physical pain - that I have been in this year is incomparable to any pain that I had known before. (And, people, this is coming from the woman with the 22.5 lb tumor. I'd had to relearn how to walk twice prior to this year. ... And still, nothing could have possibly prepared me the physical pain of 2012.) I still live in hope that there will come a day that I don't start to hurt where I used to have a kidney if I stand for too long, or sit for too long, or lie on my side for too long. (Or am alive.) But I know that day won't be tomorrow. I'm pretty sure it won't be next month, and I wouldn't be surprised if it took a full year or more. And that's okay.

Because while, it's true that I have known pain this year... I have also known joy. A greater joy and a bone-deep peace that I never could have imagined prior to that pain.

The all-encompassing love that I have felt this year has changed me. The love that I have been shown, the love that I have felt for so very many people whose lives have cross-sected with mine, has changed everything in my world.

This line in my Jan 1 post kills me: "I am truly hopeful that this will be my best year ever. I look forward to the people I'll meet, to the experiences I'll have, to the love that I know I'll feel."

My goodness gracious, how that line came true! (Maybe I should start referring to myself as The Prophet Laur again.) It has been my best year ever. I have met the most incredible people (many of you through this little corner of the www). I have had the most amazing experiences. I have felt more love than I can begin to quantify.

I have the most wonderful life, with the most incredible people in it.

On January 1, I was full of trepidation ... and hope. I was truly hopeful that 2012 would be my best year ever, and it has not disappointed.

Was 2012 a difficult year? You can bet your booties, Granny. It sure was. ... But it also been Awesome, with a capital A.

I am so grateful for both the trials and the triumphs of 2012. I'm so grateful for the emotional and physical difficulties that came through a full six months of knowing that I had cancer - before I found out that it was bad enough (again) that they needed to go in and operate (again), asap.

I'm so grateful for the financial struggles that I had this year, because they led me to write the infamous post of June 16th. That post not only brought in the working capital I needed to face medical bills on top of months of not working, but it showed me that the world is kind (and proved to Dr. G that people do not suck).

I'm grateful for a body that works as well as it does. I am grateful for pain that is a small reminder of how bad it has been, because remembering where I have been helps me to know that I can go anywhere the future takes me.

I am grateful for my friends and my family - for their service and their generosity - and for the kindness of strangers.

My life is truly blessed.

2012 is a year that I will not soon forget. (I'm pretty sure they'd have to take out pieces of brain to lose the memories of this puppy. And considering where my tumors have always grown, that kind of surgery is highly unlikely.)

This has been my hardest year. This has been my best year. ... And I love that those two are so deeply intertwined with each other. (Which is not to say that I wouldn't love it if 2013 proves to be a different kind of awesome than 2012 has been. It would be absolutely fine with me if I could have the awesome without some of the struggles of the past few years. But you know what? I'll take whatever I can get. Time is precious and life is a gift. These things I know, in the very center of my soul.)

In parting, in this last post of the year, I repeat my closing line from the first post of the year:

Happy New Year, folks! Let's make it a doozy!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

December 27

A big shout out to Jennifer O., who gifted me with a bag of candy that I could chain eat. All. Day. Long.

That's right.

I stress ate an ENTIRE BAG of Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark while I was at work today.

I heart working in a loan department at year-end. (The next person who says something smart about "banker's hours" is gonna get an earful and a half from me!)

The good news is, I had a little bag of heaven with me at my desk today. For all twelve hours I was there. (I gobbled down the last two squares minutes before walking out the door.)

Soon, I will have eaten all of the candy in my house and in the bank. After which, I'm afraid that I will have to enforce a Candy Rule similar to the Potato Chip Rule of 2011. ... Until then, I have three bags of M&M's, one bag of peppermint Tootsie Roll suckers, a handful of gourmet chocolates, and a pound of See's at my disposal. (Here's hoping that'll be enough to fuel the last two business/work days in 2012!)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

December 25

I love that, this morning, I sat in the same room that the above picture was taken in (circa 1980) and opened Christmas presents with my family.

Four of six kids were home, in the house we all grew up in.

My sister had a sleep-over last night, and we talked until we fell asleep.

I got up at 6:00, because it was CHRISTMAS, and I couldn't stand being in bed anymore. (Yes, I'm 38. What of it?)

It was great to laugh - FOR HOURS - on Christmas Eve with my brothers, my sister and my parents.

Man alive, I ate a lot of ice cream. (My jeans aren't the only pair of pants that are too tight right now. Wish me luck when it comes to finding something to wear to work tomorrow!) We went through a few dozen tamales (and I brought a dozen home with me). I don't even want to think about many cartons of egg nog were downed yesterday.

We laughed. We cried. We ate fudge and we threw away the cookies that were burnt.

It was awesome. Christmas at home always is.

Monday, December 24, 2012

December 24

It's Christmas Eve.

I've spent the day with my mom and sister.

Mom and I watched It's a Wonderful Life first thing this morning, then Kate came over and we went for Caroling Round II (and bought out the tamale guy at Bashas'). We made the traditional Christmas Tree Pizzas, and we've eaten ourselves sick.

We have made merry, all the live-long day. There is nowhere I'd rather be, and no one in the world I'd rather be with.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

December 23

Today may have been one of my favorite days of my life.

It's up there in the Top Ten, for sure!

Why? Because it is Christmas. And I am home. (I love it here!)

Kate, Mom and I sang Hark, the Herald in the Christmas program this morning. (My voice only cracked one time. I'm considering that a win. ... Not sure if the congregation would agree with me, but I know my history and the fact that I was able to sing loud and fairly high for two verses and only had one minor fail is pretty good, considering.)

I was able to visit with friends I grew up with who were also home for Christmas, and hug all my sweet little old ladies in 1st Ward before I went to RS, where my mom taught the lesson. (Read: Where we sang Christmas hymns for almost the entire hour.)

After our block was over, we headed home for a quick lunch, and then Mom and I ran across town so I could go to the ward I grew up in. (My parents' ward was divided just over five years ago and the bulk of our original ward was thrown into the 8th ward when The Stake President Who Shall Not Be Named redrew the boundaries.)

I had decided a couple weeks ago that my Christmas present to myself was going to be going to 8th ward, and it was exactly the perfect thing to give myself. We walked into the chapel and there was Pam Craner, saying "Welcome home!", as she threw an arm around me. ... And it did feel like going home. I love those people!

I hugged more people in an hour than I have in... oh, probably the last year combined (I'm not even kidding). I said (and heard) more "I love you's" than I can count.

After church, we picked up Katie and the three of us caroled our way through the neighborhood. We were out for hours, visiting and singing with our friends.

Tonight, Mom and I were talking, and she said it had been great to be able to see me with my people. (She called them that, "my people".) They are mine. All of the people I visited with today, in all of the places that I saw them. I love them, and they love me.

I love so very many people. I've been blessed, my whole life, to be surrounded by fantastic, kind, good-hearted people, but these people... They are the support system of my childhood, my adolescence, my late twenties and my early thirties. They are part of who I am. I love them!

I love this day.

I love my life!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

December 22

People, I think it really is my diaphragm that's causing my singing voice to fail!

(Yes, you should be reading that in a high-pitched, excited voice. I'm super excited to have a probable explanation. ... We all know that I love to get new information, esp as it relates to how my body works. Or... uh... doesn't.)

Yesterday, I had emailed a friend (I'm using that word pretty loosely here, considering I've only talked to him one time in my life... but the man is a science teacher and when I wondered who I could ask about such a thing, his name popped right into my head), asking if he knew about how diaphragms work, and specifically, if he knew how big an unextended/empty diaphragm was. (I was curious as to how much real estate I'd lost when they took that 5x5 section out.)

I'm going to copy/paste his response here, because it was most informative:

- Your diaphragm is a muscle that contracts and relaxes, which in turn makes your lungs inflate/deflate, kind of like a bellows (you know, those old-timey things people would use to blow air on the fire).

- Each person's diaphragm muscle is a different size depending on the size of their thoracic cavity (or, in other words, how big around the base of their rib cage is).

- The diaphragm literally seals off the thoracic cavity (base of the ribs) from the abdominal cavity. If there is a hole going all the way through the diaphragm, then it wouldn't be able to pressurize the thoracic cavity as effectively, meaning the lungs would have a more difficult time being expelled of air (which is necessary for singing).

- If the piece of diaphragm removed did not go all the way through, then at least it is weakened in one spot, leading to the same result, only less severe.

Hope that helps! If there's anything here where I got you confused, let me know so I can clarify.

(How great are teachers? I love them! ... Honestly, they talk differently than any other group of people. I heart not only the detail in his response, but that he encouraged me to let him know if I got confused (who, me?) and needed clarification.)

So, what I don't know is whether Dr. G took a whole section out (leaving a hole) or if he just took a piece out and then stitched me back up. Either way, it appears that I have an explanation for why I can't seem to keep enough air pressure to sing the way I want to. (And am I the only person out there who was surprised to learn how the diaphragm works? WHO KNEW it was a muscle? ... Not me. All of those years in choir, being told to "take a deep breath and fill your diaphragm" led me to believe it was, like, a whole other chamber one could pump full of air. Bodies are so interesting!)

I'm curious as to whether the diaphragm is a muscle that will get strong enough to compensate for having a chunk of it missing. I'm hopeful that, in time, I'll be able to sing without my voice dropping out on me. ... In the meanwhile, I'm choosing to focus on just being grateful that I can hit a high note again - that I can sing at all - because those few months without the ability to even hum along were pure torture.

*I'd like to take a moment now and announce that I'm singing in church with my mom and seester tomorrow. They have been warned about my voice just dropping out. The good news is, Katie is also a soprano and we'll be singing the same part, so if my voice is suddenly gone, she'll be there to back me up. Phew!

Friday, December 21, 2012

December 21

It's been six months. Today.

Six months ago, today, I went in for the Mother of All Surgeries.

(Now that I call it that, I can't help but think that I hope I didn't just jinx myself. ... Oh, well. Only time'll tell.)

It's been six months, and I'm still having a hard time taking a deep breath.

Look, I will show you.

This is an incentive spirometer:

(My mom and I lovingly refer to this little guy as "the torture machine".)

It's a pressurized chamber. You stick the tube in your mouth and inhale. As you suck in, the little arrow rises and you can see what kind of strength you have in your lungs.

Please note that the arrow is at 3,000. Believe it or not, that's where they want me to be able to hit WHEN I HAVE JUST HAD SURGERY. (Abdominal surgery, no less. When it hurts to take a shallow breath, let alone try to move this arrow to 3,000.)

Here is a recent pic:

That's right. It's been six months. (SIX MONTHS!) And I still can't hit 3,000.

Good grief.

Methinks the medical staff may have had some unrealistic expectations of my ability to take a deep breath six months ago.

Speaking of how I (still) have a hard time taking/holding a deep breath...

Have I told you that I've noticed that I'm having a hard time singing these days? I mean, at least I can sing now. (It took about three months for me to have the breath control to sing - at all. In the fourth month after surgery, I was able to sing if I was only dealing with a 4-5 note range.) I'm now at the point that I can hit an E again. ... But I can't hold it.

I can sing one, maybe two songs, and then my voice starts to crack all over the place. It's funny, because I don't feel like I'm out of air. I don't get the gaspy, need-to-take-a-breath feeling, but I'll be singing along and all of a sudden my voice will just fail. I mean, the note totally drops and the tonal quality is GONE. I have no control over getting a note back where it needs to be, until I stop singing, take a breath and start over.

I think it may be that 5x5 chunk of my diaphragm that Dr. G took.

That's the only thing I can think of, anyway. I need to do a little diaphragm research and then I'll return and report my findings. ... In the meanwhile, I thought I'd do a little torture machine show and tell. (As an aside: I average between 1,000 and 1,500 in the first few weeks after surgery. So, really, even though I still can't take a deep breath, I'm doing more than twice as well as I was a few months ago.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 18

Holeeeeeee moly, people!

So, get this. A few weeks ago, one of my FB friends posted the following status:

It is official. I have chosen the photo for my Christmas portrait surprise. Let the Magic begin. :)

This was my response:

I don't even know what this means, but I'm still filled with giddiness and delight! I do love posts with the words "Christmas" and "surprise" in them!

Fast forward from December 5th to December 17th, when I picked up my mail and found this in my mailbox:

That's right. It's ME! I was the Christmas portrait surprise! ... And I thought I was giddy before!

In the words of my beloved mother, "Who gets a portrait for Christmas?!" ... Cancer Girl. That's who!

Seriously, how amazing is that?! My friend Vicky (who, I'll have you know, I have never actually met in real life... she is one of the many sweet and kindred souls who found their way to me after the infamous post of June 16th) drew this. By hand. With five different pencils. It took over 15 hours.

To say that I am touched would be the understatement of the century.

I am honored. I am humbled. I am grateful. I am amazed. I wonder, sometimes - quite often, actually - why so many people are so good to me. My goodness gracious, I lead such a charmed life!

Vicky was kind enough to send along photos she'd taken of the work in progress. (You'd better know I'm posting them here! Far be it from me to withhold a work of art from the world... esp if that work of art is... uhm... me. You know, just in case Nathan Fillion is trolling the web, looking for a detailed step-by-step portrait-in-the-making of his one true love. I wouldn't want to let the man down.)

Stage 1

Stage 2

                                                                  Stage 3
Stage 4

            Stage 5

Stage 6

I am just tickled pink. I love this soooooooo much!

What a thoughtful gift. What a labor of love, really. ... And the woman has never even met me! (Which makes me love the gift - and her - even more.)

Stage 3 is my favorite. I'm not sure if it's the side-by-side comparison with the picture she was going off of, or if it's the Cruella DeVille look that I'm rocking. Hard.

Vicky, thanks again. (And again. And again.) I love it! .... And, honestly, I don't know that my hair has ever looked better. Do you think I could put you in charge of that every day for the rest of my life? I would love nothing more than having these flowing "book cover girl" locks with me everywhere I go. I'm not kidding, even one little bit. Could we work something out?

Merry Christmas to me, from a friend I've never met...

Man alive, I love my life!

Monday, December 17, 2012

December 17

Yesterday, one of the girls I used to work with posted the following on my Facebook page:

Been thinking about you and wanted to let you know that we put you in our Sunday bulletin at our church. Much love.

I tell you what, my people are amazing.

A couple weeks ago, I stopped by my brother Kirk's work to drop something off to him. He asked if I wanted to come in and say hi to my old boss. (He works for the company I'd worked for before I went to the bank.) I went in, so I could talk to Rich. As we walked through the center, I was stopped by two women who I used to work with. They both asked how I was doing, and then in the next breath, told me they've been praying for me. Every day. Rich was in a meeting with senior management, so I waited a few minutes for him to be available. He walked out of O'Neal's office, head straight for me with tears in his eyes, and as he hugged me, told me he had been praying for me - every day - and that my name is on his church's prayer roll every week.

Last Friday, I went to a Christmas party at my church, and one of my favorite sweet old ladies asked me to sit by her until her husband came back from the dessert table. He'd asked her who they'd been praying for every day, and she wanted to make sure we were introduced so he could put my face to my name.

Everywhere I go, people tell me they have been praying for me.

It is the most amazing and incredible thing to me, how very many of my friends and family have kept me in their prayers.

I've said it once, and I'm sure I'll say it again: I am convinced that I have been saved by the faith of my friends and family.

Thank you, to all of you. For everything you have done. For every kind word that has been expressed. For every prayer that has been offered in my behalf.

I am so grateful for the experience of having been desperate and sick enough to merit letting pretty much every single person in my life know what was going on with me. The love, the generosity, the kindness and the outpouring of blessings I have received this year have completely and utterly blown my mind.

Thank you. Thank you, all of you. For everything.

I am grateful beyond measure. So humbled by your love, and by your faith, that I can hardly type this without crying.

I truly do have the most incredible life. Thank you - all of you, thank you - for having been part of it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Decenber 14

Because I am exactly the kind of girl who likes to share those moments when I crack myself up, I am going to show you this:

I just got dressed and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I looked in the mirror and thought, "What in the world happened to my face? I have red splotches EVERYWHERE!"

Oh yeah, I licked the bowl, the beater AND the scraper when I made that cake this morning. And it's red velvet cake.


Hallelujah that I remembered that I'd had cake batter for breakfast this morning. ... I was right on the verge of having a freakout about having come down with some weird illness that was going to send me the doctor on this day I took off, so proud of myself for taking a day that was NOT doctor-related!

I scare myself sometimes. (And possibly, you, too... now that I look at that pic and realize you can see straight up my nose. Sorry about that.)

December 14

I think today may be my favorite day of my life!

It's just barely 7:00 AM, and I've already eaten (yes, in this order): cake batter (red velvet/peppermint), M&M's (white chocolate peppermint - my latest and greatest candy love) and walnut fudge off the wooden spoon I stirred it with.

Man alive, I love this day!

I mean, I'd planned on loving it all along... I took today off work. Just because. That's right. JUST BECAUSE. (Well, actually... because my PTO accrual got a little off track with my medical leave and I ended up with a little extra time that I need to use-or-lose by the end of the month. You've gotta be kidding me if you thought I was gonna LOSE a paid day off!)

So, I took today off. Because I wanted to.

Yesterday at work, I was telling a girlfriend that this is the first day I've had off - just because - all year. Every other day I've taken has either been for medical or to travel/leave town for a family event.

That was a lie.

I repeat, I am a liar.

(Not on purpose, though. ... At least, not about this. ... So that may have been a little harsh.)

Last night, I was thinking about it, and I realized that I had underestimated that time frame.

Kids, I have done a little research, and I am sorry to say that this is the first day I've taken off just because I wanted to, with no concrete plans, no travel arrangements and no familial/holiday commitments in over two years.

That's right. The last time I took time off work just because I wanted to was in October 2010.

Now, I've had days I didn't work, obviously. I'm super lucky to have weekends off and paid holidays and I have been blessed to work for a company that has been really good about letting me work odd hours the weeks I have doctor appointments, so I can meet the 40 hours without working five straight days of 8's.

I am not whining about it having been over two years since I've taken a PTO day just to have a day to play. I am, actually, AMAZED that it has been that long, and incredibly grateful that I've been able to pull it off.

That being said, I am never working two years again without taking a play day. ... You may quote me.

My plans for the day: bake my fool head off (obviously, I already told you what I had for breakfast), get dressed, go to Jo's, by way of McDonald's to pick up The Breakfast of Champions, and watch Christmas movies all day long. ... Until I have to come home and get ready for the two parties I have tonight (see aforementioned cake and fudge -- and you probably thought I'd made all those goodies to eat all by myself!).

This day is awesome. Like I said, it's just barely 7:00 AM and I'm already sugared up. (Not much can ruin a day that starts this full of chocolate-and-peppermint-induced holiday cheer!)

Life is good.

No, life is great, actually. I love it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

December 11

I may have mentioned this before, but my life is a little different now than it used to be...

Especially at this time of year, I am acutely aware of what I can and cannot do.

This is the upper right corner of my pantry. (Yes, I have a pantry. It's full of chocolate chips and cold cereal - not actual "food storage", I know, but whatever - and cookie cutters.)

That's right. Cookie cutters.

I have, easily, 300 cookie cutters.

I used to make sugar cookies. All the time, really, but especially during holidays. (I have every letter in the alphabet, every number, every animal known to man, every flower, and every Easter, Hallloween or Christmas cutter you could think of. You name it, I own it.)

I don't make sugar cookies anymore. It's too hard to stand up, bent half over, to roll the dough and cut them. I can't bake the cookies without doing serious damage to my back... let alone the frosting and decorating of them.

No more sugar cookies.

It's kind of heartbreaking, really. I haven't made sugar cookies in December for two years now. (I almost killed myself, trying, the Christmas after my first surgery. Never again.)

I don't make bread (or rolls) anymore, either. I don't have the strength to knead the dough, and as much as I  do love my apple red Kitchen Aid, it doesn't knead the dough well enough on its own to make me happy with the end result.

The last time I made bread was the weekend before I found out that my cancer was back. ... For the first time. ... By the time I'd eaten that batch of bread, I was going in for my second surgery, and my stomach and back haven't been the same since.

Now, I'm not complaining or looking for sympathy. There are a heck of a lot of things that I can do that I couldn't do a few months ago, and I'm very, very aware that I lead a charmed and blessed life. (I mean, really. I heart being an American, where it's totally okay to eat mac 'n cheese (from the blue box) or cereal for dinner. Multiple times a week.) I just want to document what I can and cannot do, and when I looked up in my pantry and saw the cookie cutters, I realized that I haven't ever written about how much I miss baking/cooking.

Not that I don't cook at all anymore. I do. A little bit...

I can still make fudge. (I have to stand for 20 minutes for a batch of fudge. That's doable.) I can still make drop cookies, like ginger snaps. (I just have to freeze half the batch, because I can't bend over as many times as I'd need to in order to bake the full recipe at one time.) I can still bake a cake. (I can't really decorate them anymore, but I have become Queen of the Bundt Cake, so that's okay.) I can, obviously, still stir mac n' cheese. I have a deep and abiding love for Shredded Wheat, and feel that it makes the best breakfast/lunch/dinner of all time.

Do I miss baking and decorating sugar cookies? I sure do. It was a lot of fun, for a lot of years, and I loved every minute of it. But now, it hurts my body, so I don't do it anymore. And that's okay. ... Maybe next year. Or in 2018 or something. ... Until then, I'll buy expensive bakery bread that reminds me of homemade and I'll live on instant Kraft and Nabisco food products. (Oh, and maybe I'll eat an apple or an orange every once in a while, to appease all the mothering types who worry about me having a balanced diet.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 10

I had someone ask me yesterday if - or, rather, I had someone assume that - I am used to needles, as often as I get my blood drawn.

Uhhhh... No, no I am not.

I hate it. I have always hated it. And, if anything, I hate needles more now than I ever did before.

Prior to my life as a human pin cushion (also known as: prior to my initial surgery and diagnosis), I hated needles. I have teeny, tiny veins. The words, "hard stick" don't begin to describe me. I gave blood ONE TIME, when I was 18, and had to breathe deeply to make it through the experience without totally losing it. ("Without totally losing it" refers to my: gag reflex, claustrophobia, tendency towards to anxiety attacks and propensity for bursting into tears at the drop of a hat.) Suffice it to say, I'm pretty sure The Red Cross was more than happy NOT to have me volunteer to donate blood, ever again.

I hate the sight of blood. I can't even tell you how many IV's I've had in the last two and a half years, but I can tell you FOR DARN SURE how many times I've watched them go in. ... Never.

I cannot watch the phlebotomist draw my blood, because I get queasy if I see the vial fill. (I just gagged,  literally gagged, thinking about it.)

And I'm telling you, it's worse now than it ever was. Before, I was nervous that I might have pain or see my own blood. Now, I have multiple memories of pretty intense pain (nothing's more fun than a nurse, digging for a vein and TALKING about it!) and I've seen my own blood more often than I'd care to discuss.

Not to mention... the bruising.


Keep in mind, this bruise is four days old and is fading. Fast.

So, no. No, I am used to having my blood drawn. No, I am not used to IV's. No, I am not used to MRI's.

And I doubt that I ever will be.

Am I incredibly grateful for modern medicine? Yes! Am I amazed, on a sometimes weekly/monthly basis, what they can tell about what's going on in my body, just by testing my blood? Absolutely! Am I blown away by the technology that will allow a machine to take pictures of THE INSIDE OF MY BODY while I lie inside a tube for a couple hours? ... For sure!

My goodness gracious, I am so grateful for all of the things that testing my blood, inserting IV's and scans can do for me!

I just hate the process(es).

A lot.

And, I'm sorry to say, I think I always will. (Doesn't mean I'll stop going to the doctor, getting my blood taken, having radioactive matter injected into me, or refuse to let them strap me to a board and then bake me inside a machine for an hour or two. I'll do whatever I have to do. ... But I don't have to like it. Which is lucky, because I don't.)

The End.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

December 8

I love this time of year!

I do.


I love that I have a perfect excuse to make fudge (often, multiple times a week). I love the smell of spices when Jenni's grandma's ginger molasses cookies are baking in my oven. I love the lights on my tree, and the perfect excuse to snuggle up with a blanket and watch two (or more) Christmas movies in a row.

Christmas movies bring me joy.

Not just momentary happiness.  I'm talking real, actual J-o-y.

I love them!

I love the memories that come flooding back every time I watch White Christmas. My mom and I used to watch that on Christmas morning, on the couch in the family room, with a bag of Cheetos between us, after everyone else had gone back to bed. We'd cry and we'd sing and we'd laugh and then we'd cry again. (As for me and my house, "We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go!")

I love that I can't watch Miracle on 34th Street without texting my cousins and trading movie quotes across state lines. I love that Julie used to try and make me throw rocks at the old BY Academy and make a wish, like it was the old Granville house. (I never did it, only because I knew I didn't have the upper arm strength to clear the ten foot chain link fence, let alone hit a window.)

I love how quotable Christmas movies are!

"I like to smile. Smiling's my favorite."

"... latent maniacal tendencies"

"In some ways, you're far superior to my cocker spaniel."

"I'm Linda Mason."

"Ask Dad. He knows."

"Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind."

I've been on a steady all-holiday-movies-all-the-time diet since Thanksgiving day, and it has been a delight and a joy to have had a steady stream of merry media playing in my living room. I own all of my favorites on dvd, of course, but when I need to inject some new holiday-themed movie blood into my life, I stream something through the beloved blu-ray. (Don't get me wrong, Netflix has a lot of laaaaaame Christmas movies in their arsenal, but some of them are decent. And a few of them are really quite good!)

I love this time of year. I love fudge and I love cookies. I love the sights and the smells of the season, and the sound of Salvation Army bells. I love the excuse to wear red every single day of the week and that I have a solid reason to tell everyone I come into contact with that I love them.

Man alive, I love this time of year! ... Now, I think I'll go whip up a batch of cherry-chocolate fudge for dinner. (Listen, it has fruit in it, and fruit's totally good for you!) And then I'm gonna watch a Christmas movie.

I lead a charmed, blessed, happy life, full of chocolate and cheer ... and cheesy Christmas movies ... and I love it!

Friday, December 7, 2012

December 7

I survived MRI Day!

Barely, but I survived.

There's nothing quite like being literally strapped down and inserted into a loud, beeping tube for two hours to start a girl's day off right (can you feel the dripping sarcasm?), but I survived.

When I checked in this morning, I was the first MRI on the schedule, so I'd figured I'd be in and out by 10:00, at the latest. That was not to be the case. At about 8:00, the MRI tech came out to talk to me. ... Drumroll, please. ... The MRI machine wouldn't turn on. That's right. It would not turn ON.

The good news is that there is another MRI machine on site, it's just in another building, a good 5 minute walk away. Rhonda the MRI Tech went over to the other building to make sure that machine was up and running, and told me she'd come back for me when she was ready to roll. At about 9:00, she came to grab me, and then we went traipsing across campus: the tech in her scrubs, Jo in her cute outfit and me .... in a gown and fuzzy slippers. (I was not about to change back into my clothes, just to get right back out of them. I'm a slow dresser in the best of circumstances, anymore. Having an IV poking out of my arm is not what I'd call "the best of circumstances".) So, I took a little walk in a hospital gown (complete with the tie in the back) and some stripey scrub pants that were 10 times too big. No bra. ... Oh, how the mighty have fallen. (Gone are the days when I gave a flying leap about what anybody might think when they see me in public. At this point, and esp in that circumstance - at a hospital - I figured people had probably (hopefully) seen worse.)

The MRI was finished at about 11:00. Rhonda promised she'd do what she could to push it through, but because of the delay in getting everything up and running, she couldn't promise that the report would get to Dr. H today, so I could get the results. I thanked her for doing her best, and told her I understand about equipment malfunction (she's not the only one who works with computers), and then I said a little prayer that somehow, someway, that report would make it to my handsome doctor, so he'd be able to call me and give me the update.

I went home with my DD (being as drugged as I have to be to survive two hours in an MRI chamber, it would be criminal - literally, criminal - for me to drive myself anywhere) and fell asleep on Jo's couch at about 2:00. I woke up just after 4:00 and was disappointed to see that I hadn't had any calls from MD. ... Not five minutes later, my phone rang. Unknown number. Insert rapid heart rate here. I answered, and there was a dreamy voice on the other end.

Dr. H - Is this Lauralee? ... Or do you go by Laura?

Me - It is. ... Actually, I go by Laurie.

Dr. H - Oh, Laurie. At least I remembered you shorten it. ... But why Laurie?

Me - Because you know me, I like to make everything complicated.

Dr. H - (laughing) Yes, you do. ... Well, I am calling about the MRI results.

Me - (to myself, in my head) That's too bad, because I was hoping you were calling to say you loved me.

Dr. H - It looks like it is scar tissue. We'll continue to monitor it and watch it to see if it changes, and if we see anything, we'll go from there. Your next PET should be in three months. I'll have scheduling call and set that up. Did you have any questions?

Me - Yes. Why do I only have scar tissue in one place?

Dr. H - This scar tissue is where Dr. G took your kidney. That was a pretty invasive procedure, and it left scar tissue.

Me - I get that, but why don't I have scar tissue where he took my spleen, too?

Dr. H - This is relatively new tissue. That is why we will watch it. Maybe it will get bigger, maybe it will get smaller as it heals. Like when you cut your arm, at first you have a big scar from the cut and then it gets smaller and smaller. All scars are different, bodies are different. It's hard to say what will scar and what it will look like.

Me - Okay.

Dr. H - Well, I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I'll see you in 2013!

Me - You too! Thank you for the phone call. (But what I was thinking was, "I love you and your ridiculously sexy accent!")

And there you have it, the story of the MRI. I survived a delayed MRI and two hours in a tube. I got my phone call the same day as the test. I  got to talk to my beloved Dr. H and I found out that my Tootsie Roll looks more like scar tissue that it does like anything else.

Life is good.

I mean, it was good before the test, the phone call, and the scar tissue verdict... but it's somehow just a little bit better now. (Here's hoping my nervous stomach will settle down and I'll be able to go back to sleeping through the night, now that I know that's just poky scar tissue in there making my back hurt.)

One scan down. Two clean scans to go until I hit a year being cancer free. (June 21, 2013, you cannot come soon enough!)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

December 6

A love letter to my beloved bowels:

Dear Colon,

I love you. I'm so grateful that I have you in my life. I remember, in June, when Dr. G told me that he was going to have to take part of you out, I was hit with a sudden (and horrific) realization that my time with you might be shorter than I'd planned for it to be, and I was afraid that I would lose you. I want to make sure that you know that I have so appreciated all the work you have done for me, my whole life. You are awesome.

That being said... Am I the only one who misses the old days, when I could eat whatever I wanted and still be able to poop like a normal person, once a day, between 7-10:00 AM? No, I didn't think so. Also, the cramping and the explosive gas. Can we do anything about those?

I really want our relationship to work. I do. I need you in my life. I can't imagine what it would be like to try and live my life without you. (Scratch that. I can imagine that scenario, and it's pretty ugly.)

I've spent a lot of time, thinking about you and me and how maybe we can make this work. I've tried modifying my diet, but it seems that changing what I eat doesn't make you any happier. I've tried throwing more fiber at you, and that doesn't seem to make a difference, either. For a while, I was afraid that drinking 64 oz of water a day might drown you, but now I'm wondering if maybe, somehow, a gallon a day isn't enough water for you to do all the work you need to get done, and you want more?

I want to make sure you know that I'm committed. I'm in this, for better or for worse. I love you, and I'm willing to do anything I can do to improve our relationship. I truly believe that, together, we can do anything. I wrote this letter because I thought a little more open communication may help. If there's anything I can do to help you, I will. (I'm currently thinking a modified version of "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." I'd include that in this letter, but I'm afraid that my mother might read this and be horrified at my speaking so openly and casually about poop. Again.) You just let me know if there's anything I can do for you. I am here for you.

Yours. Forever and always,

~ L

Here's hoping this little letter will work some lover's magic on my loopy belly. I had a nice talk with the MRI tech this afternoon. She explained that one of the reasons they don't me to eat or drink anything before the scan is that food and drink can activate a bowel, and they want mine to be as still and quiet as can be, so they can get good, detailed pictures.

I literally laughed out loud, and then said "Yeah, good luck with that. If I could figure out a way to keep my bowels quiet, I would be all over it!"

Honestly. My guts. They kill me. ... I mean, I love them and I'm grateful for those that I still have, but at the same time... they kill me. Dead.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December 5

Remember how, before my PET scan, I talked a lot about how amazed I was that I wasn't my usual panicky, crying, mess-of-a-person self?

Yeah, well. It turns out there was just a delay on me turning into a crazy person. I've been a little bit (read: a lot) loopy all week.

It started Sunday afternoon. When I checked my phone that afternoon and saw that I'd missed a call from MD, my stomach sank. I mean, literally. I felt it drop. And then my heart started to race. ... So, I told myself, "Calm the heck down, Evans! It's just a voicemail, and you don't even know what it says yet. Wait to have a freakout until you at least know what you're dealing with."

And then I listened to the message. Once I heard that the insurance company had approved the MRI, I took a deep breath and told myself that my panic had, surely, been related to concern that the scan wasn't going to be approved and that, now that I knew it had been, everything would be fine. ... Half an hour later, I was in a dead panic about having to fast all day for an afternoon scan. I'm talking, verge-of-tears panic. I guess maybe that panic wasn't so much related to worrying that the MRI wouldn't happen. Ugh. I was off and on panic mode all Sunday evening, but had calmed down by the time I went to bed.

And then I woke up, wide awake, at 3:00 Monday morning. I hung out in bed for a good half hour, thinking about all the things I needed to do: clean the shower, do the laundry, wash my hair, get a good dozen loan files pulled once I got to work. My mind went round and round and round, until I decided to give in to my brain, get out of bed and do what I could do. (You know me. I like to control what I can control.) So, at 3:30 in the morning, I was bent over my bathtub, scrubbing it to Kingdom Come. ... And that's when it hit me. "I may not have gotten full-blown crazy about the PET, but it looks like this MRI week is going to be fun."

And it's just gotten better (worse) since then.

Halle-freakin-lujah that I happen to have bottles of Ativan at work, in my purse and on my kitchen counter. There hasn't been one day so far this week that I haven't needed it.

I'm still not scared, or particularly worried, but crap almighty, have I been an emotional wreck! (Made worse by my odd/off sleep hours, I am sure.)

The good news: This crazy jag has a five day shelf life, maximum, and I only have one more work day to get through without a public meltdown before I hit Friday and this scan is a thing of the past.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

December 4

The MRI has been rescheduled.

I repeat, the MRI has been rescheduled.

(I love it when I get what I want!)

Instead of Thursday afternoon, I've been bumped to 7:30 in the AM on Friday.

*Deep sigh of relief*

Now, I don't have to fast all day. I don't have to go to work in the morning and try to get stuff done while I'm lightheaded and woozy from lack of nutrition. I won't be a crazy, emotional, obsessive (and, to top all of that off - HUNGRY) person for most of the day. This is a win!

Don't get me wrong, it'll still be a Two Ativan Day. (MRI days always are!) But I can just roll out of bed at 6:30, get dressed and leave for MD Anderson without thinking too much about why I'm not eating or drinking anything first thing in the morning. Halle-freakin-lujah!

The nice girl from scheduling told me that Dr. H wants to see the MRI results before he decides if I need to come in for a follow-up. (Looks like someone's playing hard to get, cutting my face time with him like that.) She thought that he'd probably see the MRI during the day and should be able to call me on Friday with the results. (Or maybe he's just wanting to make a phone call and set up a date? ... Listen, a girl can dream! It is, after all, Christmas. And I'm in the mood for a Christmas miracle in the way of a date with a hot doctor! ... Or Nathan Fillion. ... Or anyone else who wants to buy me a hot chocolate and take a stroll around Tempe Town Lake. I'm just putting it out there.)

So, the MRI is Friday morning at 7:30 and I'm hoping to hear from my beloved Dr. H later in the day with the results. I will, of course, keep everyone posted.

Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3

My mother would like me to correct my previous reference to a hotdog-sized growth in my back.

She did the centimeters to inches conversion and it seems that I exaggerated the size of whatever that is back there.

It's not a hotdog. It's more like a Vienna sausage. (I can't even type that without gagging. For some reason, the thought of a Vienna sausage in my backside makes me queasy.) ... Or maybe it's like a Tootsie Roll. Not the midget, and not the big, fat Tootsie... but the longish, skinny, all one solid tube of Tootsie matter kind of Tootsie Roll.

So, there you have it. It's not a hotdog.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

December 2

I came home from a meeting at the church this afternoon to a voicemail from the scheduling department at MD Anderson.

Who knew they worked on Sundays?! ... Not me.

My MRI has been scheduled for Thursday at noon.

The message didn't reference a date/time for the follow-up with Dr. H to get the results, so I called scheduling back and left a message, asking if we could move that MRI up in the day, and if I would be able to get the results on Friday. (I am not a fan of  waiting until noon to go in for an MRI. I'm claustrophobic, and the anticipation of the scan about does me in (I'm talking, it's a double dose of Ativan experience). Oh, and I don't want to fast until noon (or 1:00-1:30, most likely). For many, many reasons, it is better for me to have an MRI at 7:00 AM, right after I wake up, before I have time to get obsessive, panicky, and hungry It's not a pretty combination, folks. In fact, it's downright ugly.)

I'm hoping they'll call back tomorrow and confirm that I will get to see my dreamy doctor on Friday, and that they'll let me move that MRI, but worst case scenario...

The MRI is Thursday.

Deep breath.

By this time next week, I should know exactly what that little hotdog-shaped (and sized) growth in my back is all about.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

December 1

Here is a list of actual questions I have been asked this week:

How are you feeling?

How do you do it?

How do you live with all your... stuff?

How are you still standing?

Here are the answers:

I'm fine. Physically, I am tired, but I am fine. (It seems that tired is the new normal, so I should probably stop talking about it. But I live in hope that I won't always be this tired - and I live in fear that people will forget that I'm tired if I stop talking about it, and expect me to do stuff like hand out water at a marathon (you'd better know I wouldn't be one of the runners!) or clean the church or something - so I can't help but mention it every once in a while, just to keep myself un-involved in local service projects.) Emotionally, I am also, as luck would have it, a little bit tired, but I am fine, there, too. The reality is, I have much (MUCH!) more emotional strength and stamina than I have physical, and for that, I am very (VERY!) grateful. I can't imagine living a life where I had the physical wherewithal to do a million and one things, but didn't have the emotional ability to keep going. I'll take the flip side of that any day, thanks. (Which is lucky, since that's what I have.)

I just do it. We all do. We do what we have to do. We live with what we have to live with. ... What I have to live with is more public than what a lot of my friends/family live with (esp since I... uh... blog about it on a regular basis). A history of cancer, and the possibility of new growth is scary, I know. Cancer is an ugly word. I get that. I do. ... But the reality is, we all have something (and most of us have many things) that we just have to live with. This is what I live with, and how I do that is by getting up every morning, day after day, determined to not let my creaky body dictate how I'm going to feel, and who I'm going to be.

This is where my being a stubborn mule of a woman has served me well: I refuse to let my ... uh ... stuff define me. I am, by nature, a control freak. Not in the way that I feel I need to control anyone else (I promise that I'm not still single at 38 because I have tried to control every man who's ever been in my life - it has a lot more to do with the facts that I am particular about grammar/sentence structure and do not wash my face at night before I go to bed), but I am a girl who likes to have a plan. I like order and stability. I like things to make sense, and for things to be done in the proper order. In those ways, I am a control freak. ... Here's what I have learned in the last few years: I have no actual control in my life. I mean, I have some input. I get to make choices. It's not like I think I am on a date with destiny and there's nothing I can do but go along for the ride in life... But the reality is most of the choices that I get to make are in how I'm going to react to circumstances that are beyond my own personal control. Assuming my friend who asked about my "stuff" was asking about my health, the only answer I have is that I live with it, because I want to live. That is, I want to truly live, not just be alive. The one choice I have had in all of this has been how I choose to react emotionally to what has happened physically. ... Call me crazy, but I'm not about to sell the one solid choice I have had down the river and let this beat me, emotionally. Life is hard. (It's also awesome, but it can be hard. I'm just keepin' it real.)  I believe in controlling what I can control, and I can control my ability to be happy in my life. I choose to be happy. It's an active choice, and I firmly believe that that choice is what has given me the ability to handle stuff.

Look closely, and I'm pretty sure you'll see that I'm not actually standing. I'm leaning against a wall, a counter, a desk, a table, a podium, a door frame, a copier or a car. I also lean on other people, and I lean on the Lord. I lean, literally, and I lean figuratively/spiritually. Between objects that are sturdy enough to support my physical weight and the incredible people and God in my life who love me and are strong enough to hold my emotional weight, I am able to make it look like I have the physical strength to do this. I have help. A lot of help. That is how I am (both figuratively and literally) "still standing".

I love it when people ask me questions, specifically questions about my health and the waiting game that I am (once again) playing in my life, because it gives me an opportunity to think and feel my way through an answer.

Again, I'm so grateful for the clarity that having had poor health has given me. I love that my relationships with the Lord and the key players in my life have deepened. I'm so incredibly grateful for the peace that I feel in my life now that I've learned to (mostly) let go of trying to control things that are beyond my control. I love all of the ... well ... love that I feel, all the time, from and for so very many people. I may have had a bad run of health in the past few years, but my life is more awesome than it ever has been (and it's always been pretty great). George Bailey is SO not the only one out there who's had a wonderful life. Thank you, all, for having been part of mine.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29

I don't have a whole heck of a lot to say...

Wait, that's a lie. I have a whole heck of a lot to say (I always do!), but I don't have a whole heck of a lot of energy to say it with, so this is gonna be short and sweet.

I just wanted to throw a post up to answer a question that I'm sure so many of my readers (yeah, all three of you) are dying to have the answer to.

And that answer is: No, I do not have any information as to the insurance approving the MRI. Which means, I don't have it scheduled yet.

I promise to report that info as soon as I have it.

I'm not too concerned. I'd figured it would take all of this week to get it approved, and that I'd be getting a call tomorrow at the earliest. I'd hoped to have it sooner, but I hadn't expected to hear from them before Friday this week. *Fingers crossed that I'll get a call tomorrow asking if I can come in on Monday for an MRI. (Doubtful it'll play out exactly like that, but a girl can hope.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: I am still freezing all the time, I still get head rushes when I stand up, I'm still unable to keep my elbow straight when I try to lift my right arm and I'm feeling that weirdie pain in my back more this week than I did last week. (Maybe because I'm stretching it out more with one of my cool (and I use that term lightly) new PT exercises? Maybe because, now that I know it might be something to be afraid of, I'm more aware? ... Maybe both? ... I don't know.)

Anyway, that's all. I just wanted to report that I have nothing to report. It's been a doozy of a week. I have been totally slammed. This is the first post I've written all week, because this is the first night I've had time to turn my computer on all week. I'm completely exhausted - which is why I'm keeping this short, I want to be in bed at 9:00 - and there aren't words for how glad I am that tomorrow is Friday, but I am doing well. Just hanging in there, playing the waiting game and hoping for a call from scheduling tomorrow. (In fact, if they don't call me, I think I'll call them. I'm nothing if not proactive. ... If you don't believe me, ask my friend James. I've been hounding him to introduce me to Nathan for years. I am my best PR rep and I know it!)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

November 24

My body.

My body makes me laugh, because I am IRRATIONALLY cold all the time. Seriously, all the time. It's ridiculous. I keep my heater at 74. That's the coldest I let it get in here. (I tried to live like a normal person and keep it at 72, but I was freezing. Since I don't have anyone else around here to complain about the heat, I bumped it up a couple notches.) I keep my heater at 74, and I have a blanket with me at all moments. I sleep with a quilt, and wrap myself up in a blanket when I'm on the couch. ... And my feet and hands are still cold. All. The. Time.

Even now, my toes are are cold. I'm sitting cross-legged in the middle of my couch, with a fuzzy blanket wrapped around my  legs and under my feet, with my laptop (that doesn't have a proper fan, so it blows hot air the entire time that it's up and running) resting across my folded legs. You would think, with the insulation of the blanket and the added heat coming from my computer, that I would be hot. But I'm not. In fact, I can feel my cold toes on my legs while I type. It is ridiculous, how cold I am these days, and it makes me laugh out loud.

My body makes me cry, because I can't do some of the things I used to be able to do. Last night, I was at a birthday party, and one of my girlfriends was carrying her three-year-old nephew around, holding him upside down, while he laughed himself silly. Suddenly, it hit me that I used to be that aunt. I'm not anymore, but I used to be. I used to chase my nephews down, or grab them while they walked/ran by, and pull them onto my lap and kiss them silly. They would bring me my purse, so I could gloss up before I'd run them down and mark them up with dark red lipstick. I used to pick them up and throw them over my shoulder and carry them around. I can't do that anymore. I can't run, I can't bend over quickly. And heaven knows that I no longer have the physical strength to lift a six lb weight over my head, let alone a six year old child!

A few weeks ago, I was at Jo's and Maggie asked me to "catch" her. I crouched down, so we would be eye level (I feel that it's important to talk to children on their level - literally) and told her that I wished I could, but I just couldn't catch her anymore. She tilted her head, squinted at me, and, like she was remembering something, said "But you used to." I smiled and said, "I know, but I can't anymore. My body doesn't work like that right now." I asked her if she remembered when I used to catch her and pick her up. She smiled, nodded and said she did. Maybe five minutes after that conversation, Sally came running at me and Maggie stopped her, bent down to her two-year-old sister's level and softly said, "Sally, we have to be careful with Laurie. She has a broken body."  I love that Mag remembers that I used to play with her. I love even more that she defends my broken body to her baby sister. ... So sweet.

It makes me happy to know that Jo's older kids all remember playing "Baby". I don't have it in me to hold them and rock them anymore, but I love that they remember that I used to. I'm glad that most of my nephews are old enough to remember that I used to wrestle them down and kiss them. I live in hope that, by the time Monson is old enough to play chase, I'll be able to run after him.

My body makes me laugh, and my body makes me cry. It works wildly differently than it used to, but... for the most part, it still works. I miss some of the things I used to be able to do with it, like chasing and picking up kids. But, at the same time, I'm so incredibly grateful for the things it can do. (Did I tell you that I can now raise my right arm high enough to put a hanger on the tall rack in my closet? Progress!)

I'm grateful that I was that fun aunt/cousin/grown-up/friend to so many kids for long enough that they remember me like that. (I like to think that, because that part of me is in their memory banks, she still exists.) I'm grateful for socks and blankets and electricity that keep me warm. I'm grateful that there are children in my life who want to play, but are content to pull themselves up into my lap (since I'm generally not strong enough to pick/pull them up and put them there) and sit there and talk to and laugh with me. Even on the days that it makes me cry, I am grateful for my body and what it can do.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

November 22

Keep your eyes open to your mercies.
The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.

--Robert Louis Stevenson

Today is Thanksgiving. (I heart Thanksgiving. Big time.) In honor of the holiday, I thought I'd make a little (or maybe not-so-little) list of the things I am thankful for today:

Pumpkin Rolls
My nieces
Theater popcorn
My relationship with my mother
Family pictures
Holiday traditions
The kindness of strangers
The generosity of my friends
Egg Nog
Pumpkin flavored cream cheese (on a whole wheat bagel)
A multitude of cheesy Christmas movies on Netflix
My Christmas tree
A soft bed
Feather pillows
Modern Medicine
Mint M&M's
My cousins
My favorite aunt(s)
My grandparents
My nephews
The gospel
My job
The children in my life
My brothers
My sister (and sisters-in-law)
My dad
Christmas music
My car (and the radial dial radio in it)
The ability to wear heels again
The sound of Salvation Army bells
Infectious laughs and easy smiles
Really good hot chocolate
Granny's dressing
The sunrise/sunset (every day!)
Good books
Water (it is truly my favorite drink in all of the land)
Jellied cranberry sauce in a can
Bunnies and kittens
Really good Kleenex (by which I mean: Puffs, not actual Kleenex)
Tree-shaped Reese's
Honey-baked ham
Indoor plumbing and hot water
The diversion that is Nathan Fillion/Castle
Jeans (they're so warm!)
The heater (it's a steady 74+ in here, people, and I love it!)
The smell of cinnamon/cloves
This great country that I live in
My hometown
My health (such as it is)
The ability to love and be loved
My life, every day

My goal today has been much the same as it is every other day: To have an awareness and appreciation for all of the good things and people who bless my life, to be as grateful as I can be. (Because - my goodness gracious - it is, indeed, a blessed life.) But today, because it's Thanksgiving, I let myself make a list. (You know I love them!)

I hope you also know that I love you, whoever you are, reading this. (Even more than I love a list. ... Which, if you know me at all, you know is a lot!) So very much of why I love my life is because of the love I feel from the people in it. Thank you for being part of my life, part of me.


*Gobble, gobble*

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 21

I had my followup with Dr. H today. ... I'm sure you'll all be pleased to know he's as handsome and charming as ever. ... This is how it went down.

Dr. H: Hi. How are you?

Me: Well...

Dr. H:  (Grinning) Besides the fatigue, I mean.

(The first thing I ever tell anyone who asks me how I'm feeling is how tired I am, because heaven forbid that my doctors start to think my energy level is anywhere near where I'd like it to be. ... I'd already told the nurse all about it, and she'd prepped him before he came in to see me.)

Me: (Laughing) Besides that, I'm pretty good.

Dr. H: Really?

Me: Yeah. I was happy to hear that I have some new tissue growth.

Dr. H: (Incredulously) You were?

Me: I was! ... I've been having this weird pain in my lower back that I couldn't explain. I'd wondered if I was losing my mind and/or having a phantom pain experience, but it turns out that I have new scar tissue back there.


Dr. H: Where is the pain?

Me: Uh... Where I don't have a kidney.


Me: I don't know how else to explain it. It's a familiar pain, in a familiar spot. I couldn't make sense of it, but now that I know I have scar tissue again, it makes sense that I'm feeling what I used to feel back there

Dr. H: How often do you feel it?

Me: Not every day, but often. In the morning, when I first wake up and get out of bed.

Dr. H: When did it start? How long does it last?

Me: I first noticed it about three weeks, maybe a month, ago. I feel it for about an hour or so after I wake up. Once I get ready for work and out the door, I'm not really aware of it anymore.

Dr. H: Do you think it could be a muscle ache? Is it sharp or dull pain?

Me: I don't think it's muscles. It's inside, if that makes sense. ... And it's neither sharp or dull. It's steady.


Me: Maybe I'm sleeping wrong or something. Who knows? I'm just happy to know that there IS something growing in there. New scar tissue explains why I'm feeling something I've felt before.

Pregnant pause as Dr. H leans forward, places his elbows on his knees and smiles...

Dr. H: I think your cancer might be back.

Me: (startled, but not surprised, necessarily - since Friday, I've been feeling like I couldn't officially latch onto the "mostly good" news of the PET scan until I met with Dr. H and he told me the same thing Amanda had told me) Thank you for smiling while you said that.

Dr. H continued to smile, while I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation. I leaned back in my chair, crossed my legs and started questioning him...

Me: Really?

Dr. H: Yes. ... It's the pain you're talking about that has me concerned.

Me: Huh. ... I told Amanda about the pain, too, and she didn't think it was a big deal.

Dr. H: Of course she didn't think it was a big deal. She's a surgeon. ... Surgeons cause pain!

Me: (laughing - OUT LOUD) True. ... Is it sick that I've been secretly happy that Dr. G had to have surgery?

Dr. H: No. It makes sense.

Me: Please don't think this means that I secretly hope you'll get cancer. I don't need all of my doctors to experience what I experience, but it does help me to know that my surgeon has become acquainted with the pain of recovery.

Dr. H: Of course not. (Then, getting us back on track.) I see two options. The first is to biopsy the tissue. There are always risks associated with an invasive procedure, and there's a chance that we'd biopsy the wrong area and the results would be inconclusive...

Me: (Interrupting) What do you mean, "biopsy the wrong area"? Are we talking, my right side instead of my left? ... Do you not have any faith in your staff? What are you saying here?

Dr. H: (Smiling, on the verge of a laugh) There's a chance that it's scar tissue, and a chance that there are cancer cells mingled with scar tissue. We could do a biopsy, but we might pull only scar tissue and have a false negative.

Me: Okay, that makes more sense. Thank you. ... Or?

Dr. H: Or we could do an MRI, which would allow us to get better pictures of what's going on in there. I'd rather do the MRI. It's non-invasive, and whether what you have now is only scar tissue or scar tissue mingled with cancer cells, I'd like to have a baseline picture to compare against your next scan in 2-3 months.

Me: So, you'd be able to tell, just by looking at a picture, if this is scar tissue or something more?

Dr. H: Yes.

Me: That is amazing to me. (Seriously. Amazing. It blows my mind that these people can look at MRI images and know exactly what they're looking at! I have nothing but respect for medical students. They have to learn SO MANY things!)

A quick break to relay what I learned today regarding the an MRI v. the PET of last week. The PET scan was to look for cancer cells that may have spread to other organs/areas (I'm pleased to report that my lymph nodes and lungs are A-OK!), but it doesn't show up close and personal pics of each organ. While the tracer does show how various organs react to the sugars in the radioactive injection, the PET doesn't give the kind of detailed pic that an MRI would give. In an MRI, the contrast they inject you with creates an actual contrast in how the organs/tissue show up in the pics. That contrast helps give more detailed and specific pictures than you can get otherwise. ... Interesting, no?


Dr. H: What do you want to do?

Me: I will do whatever you want me to do. (Anyone who knows anything about me and how I handle the cancer as it comes at me is that I will do what my doctors tell me to do. I have been given very specific instruction from the Lord, multiple times, that I am to trust my doctors and follow their counsel.) ... I say, let's do the MRI.

Dr. H: (Smiling) Okay. Is your work schedule still crazy?

Me: (Laughing) Of course it is. ... It always is. ... But they know that this is the most important thing in my life, and are really great about letting me rearrange my schedule so I can do what I need to do. It won't be a problem.

Dr. H: I need to get pictures, soon, so I can develop a surgery or treatment plan if I need to. I would like to have the MRI scheduled in the next two weeks.

Me: Okay.

And that, my friends, is where we are right now.

Five months ago today, I had surgery to remove two tumors (and a slew of impacted organs). This morning, I was told that my new tissue may be more than scar tissue. Awesome. I love it when I have momentous occasions on anniversaries - makes it so much easier to remember/track. (I'm not kidding even one little bit. I really do love it! And I'm pretty sure the fact that things keep happening on anniversary dates is another sign that the Lord is invested in the details of my life. He knows I like to track things, and He makes things as easy for me as He can in that way. I love Him!)

The good news is that there's still a 50/50 chance that it's just scar tissue. And I have this fabulous, aggressive (and super dreamy, single) doctor who's not wanting to waste any time when it comes to figuring out exactly what's going on inside of me.

I'm incredibly grateful for the way my oncologist thinks; that what a surgeon took for residual pain associated with surgery recovery, he sees as possible symptomatic pain, and he wants to check it out.

I'm so grateful for a team of doctors and health care professionals who see things from a multitude of different angles, and collaborate to find the best treatment plan for me. (I also had PT today and learned a lot - again - about my body. But this post is already too long, so I'll save that info for another day.)

As always, I am grateful for my support system, for all of the people in my life who I know love me.

It has been interesting to me today, how many people have said something along the lines of "What crappy timing!", or "I hope this doesn't ruin your Thanksgiving!" in response to my sharing this information with them. I can promise you that it won't ruin my Thanksgiving. And  the interesting thing is that, for me, this isn't crappy timing. In fact, for me, it is perfect timing.

Nothing - and I do mean nothing - makes me as grateful for my life as the days/times in which I am made aware that everything can turn on a dime. Days like today help me recognize the blessings in my life in a way that few other things can.

I am so incredibly grateful for the miracle of modern medicine, for the fact that I was born - in this body - in this dispensation of time, when we have access to so many awesome diagnostic and treatment options.

I am grateful for technology: for the cell phone that allows me to talk to my family while I'm on the road, for texting that provides a quick and easy touch stone with friends throughout my day, for the www and this blogspot that allow me to share my life in real-time with my people who live all across the country and on the other side of the world.

I'm so grateful for family and friends who I know are with me - some literally, some virtually - every step of the way.

I'm so grateful for all of the love that is in my life. ... Some days, I am simply astonished at the warmth I can feel coming at me from all directions.

Today, I was told that the cancer might be back. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I have much to be thankful for. Much. (And I'm not just talking about that 13 lb turkey that I get to eat all by myself!)

My life is blessed. Truly, blessed.

Friday, November 16, 2012

November 16

The results are in, and the words of the day are: Cautiously Optimistic.

It's not a perfect scan, but it's not complete crap, either. (And in this body, like I could ever expect to hear the word, "perfect", anyway? ... Please.)

I have some new tissue growth in the area where my left kidney would be if it was still there. The good news is that there isn't a whole lot of metabolic activity in that tissue, so there's a good chance (a very, very good chance) that this new tissue is scar tissue. I will show you a picture of my recently glowing guts:

The new tissue is marked by the little white arrow, just to the right of my spine. As you can see, it's pink, but it's not glowing. This is a good sign. (Note: that's my liver that's lit up like a Christmas tree, and it's okay that it's looking like that. Apparently, livers have a high metabolic rate, so they always light up with the radioactive tracer. ... Deep sigh of relief.)

The organ just to the right and above the new tissue is my pancreas. ... Most people's pancreas is on the right side of their body. Mine fell over the hump and into the cavity in the left side of my body. My liver's also crossing over into what is now unused territory. (It's usually contained on the right, but a good third of mine has moved over into the area my spleen used to be in.) So much for having no guts on the left side of my body. Those little buggers seem to have a mind of their own, and they're migrating. .. Crazy!

You can see some lights on the far right of the pic. That would be my colon. There were little hot spots like that through my colon, all the way across. They're most likely due to recent trauma (aka: surgery) and it's still in recovery mode. ... Or maybe it was "processing" something at the exact time of the PET scan. (That's right. That was absolutely another poop reference. ... Listen, if it's between poop or cancer, I'm gonna vote poop every time.)

This afternoon, I met with my surgeon's nurse practitioner (Dr. G is out for... wait for it... surgery). Amanda's opinion is that the good doctors will most likely view this as another Wait, Watch and See mission, that they will continue to scan me every 3-4 months and look for any changes that may develop. Dr H was out of the office today at a seminar. I have an appointment to meet with him Wednesday morning. There's a chance that he may want to biopsy the new tissue to see what it is, but my gut's saying that they'll just leave things as they are for now and re-scan me in a few months to see if there've been any changes.

Like I said, it's not a perfect scan. ... But I wasn't expecting perfection, and all things considered, it's not bad.

The truth is, I'm glad to know that there's something in my lower back. I've been waking up with "kidney pain" on that side for a few weeks now, and was starting to wonder if I was a crazy person (or, you know, experiencing that "phantom pain" one hears about), since I didn't actually have a kidney there to be causing any issues. I've had scar tissue there from prior surgeries, and it's not fun to live with, but one can live with scar tissue. Cancer, on the other hand... not so much.

I'm also glad to know that my organs are migrating. I'd had a total freakout moment last month when I was lying in my bed with my hand on my stomach and realized... WHAT THE CRAP... there was something in the left side of my stomach. Earlier this summer, I could feel an obvious difference in the way my stomach leveled out when I would lie down. (Right side - full of organs. Left side - dipped in a lot more.) That my pancreas and liver have moved on over, and that I have a healthy amount of (probable) scar tissue in there explains why I'm not feeling (and I'll say it... seeing) a literal difference in the sides of my stomach anymore.

I'll post more information as I have it (look for an update on Wednesday, after I meet with Dr. H), but for now, the buzz words are "Cautiously Optimistic". Halle-freakin-lujah!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November 14 - Evening

As I mentioned earlier today (does anyone else think that maybe I blog too often?), I have a PET scan tomorrow.

This is big news, people. The PET is the official cancer-patient scan. Ooh-la-la. I feel so fancy.

I'd done a little PET research last week (I get claustrophobic in an MRI chamber, so I wanted to see what a PET looked like to know if I'd need to dope up prior to going in), but that online research was nothing compared  to the info I got this afternoon from the PET tech who called to confirm my scan tomorrow.

Get this.

I am soooo getting injected with radioactive material tomorrow morning.

Awesome, right?!

This is how the conversation with Dave the PET Guy went...

Dave: Have you ever had a PET scan before?

Me: I sure haven't!

Dave: Well, let me tell you how this will work tomorrow. You'll check in downstairs at 7:30 for your lab work, and then head straight to the second floor when you're done. We'll take you back, and set you up in a recliner in a room by yourself.

.... Insert moment of me thinking. "A room by myself?"

Dave continues: We have a lot of warm blankets and we'll make sure you're nice and comfortable, and then we'll give you an injection. You'll be in that room for about an hour while the tracer goes into effect, and then we'll take you in to do the scan, which will take about 25 minutes.

Dave pauses to breathe, and I interject.

Me: I'll be in a room by myself?

Dave: Yes.

Me: ... Because I'll be radioactive?

Dave: Well... yes.

Me: So, you're putting me in a room because I'll be radioactive? ... Seriously?!

Dave: (sounding concerned, like maybe I'm freaking out about the radioactive-ness) But not for long. It only has a two hour life, and the more you drink, the sooner it will leave your system.

Me: Oh, I'm not worried. Please. I'm a cancer patient. Like I've never had radiation shot at my body before? ... I just haven't ever had THIS test before, so I'm curious. ... Really, I'll be radioactive?  

Dave: It's a low dose. Much lower than you've probably had before.  

Me: I'm seriously not worried about it. I'm just curious. ... So, you're putting me in a room by myself while the radioactive material activates or something?  

Dave: Yes. It takes about an hour for the tracer to set in.  

Me: And I have to be by myself? Like, I can't be with anyone? (See, Jo? I tried to see if I could worm you into my solitary treatment so we could hang out and you could take pics again. It didn't fly.)  

Dave: No. We want you to be alone. We don't want you to exert any energy, talking or laughing. (It's like the man read my mind with wanting to bring a friend along. ... It's like he knows that we like to talk and laugh. ... Crazy!)  

I'd like to point out that the man doesn't want me to exert any energy. ... As in, maybe he doesn't want me to get angry. ("You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." - Hulk.) I know what happens when radioactive materials and anger get together. Muscles bulge. Clothes rip. People turn green. (The good news is I'll be in a hospital gown if and when this goes down, so it's not like I'll be busting the seams of my own clothes when I go green.)  

I'm totally gonna be radioactive for up to two hours tomorrow. Suh-weet! (I haven't been radioactive for over two years. It's been a while. I'm sure you can appreciate why I'm stoked about this.)

The scan will be "eyes to thighs", so a slightly larger area than my prior chest/abdomen CT. I think this is pretty great. (I figure, the cost of the PET is probably the same whether they just shoot pics of my tummy, or 2/3 of my bod. Let's go for the greater gonga and get as much of me in there as we can!)  

My earlier research taught me that PETs can see things that don't show on MRIs or CTs (like, on a cellular level, instead of having to wait for a tumor to form so it can be seen/seen).   I'm pretty excited to see exactly what this scan shows or doesn't show.  

*Fingers crossed that the entire left side of my stomach is as hot as it was the day I came out of surgery. Slim and trim with absolutely no excess tissue in there.*