Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16

Those of you who know me well, know that I've been fighting cancer off and on for the last two years.

In the last week, I've learned that Cancer has found a new low and decided to truly fight dirty.  ... Little does that punk know how stubborn I am and that I will not let him take me down. So, in an effort to garner even more prayers and support, I'm going public. (I mean, beyond this little corner of the www.) That's right. Facebook. ... I put it on Facebook, people.

*Deep breath.*

What follows is a brief (well, as brief as I could make it...) summary of the last two years of my life, health wise, that was written for the benefit of those who are not one of the original 13 readers of this blog; but rather, someone who was sent here by a link or by a friend. If, after reading this post, you would like more information on me and my not-so-recent fight with the C word (and/or my love affair with all-things bacon), you're in luck. There are all kinds of long, newsy and semi-informative posts here for your reading enjoyment. ... Just scroll on down to the archive and you can go month by month, or you can do various searches by clicking on labels to the right.)

At the end of the summary, there are details of how you can help me. Right now. Today. ... If you're in a position to do so, and if you so choose.

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In June of 2010, I had my first tumor removed. My 22.5 lb tumor made a medical journal and a cancer conference here in the Phoenix area. (It was my first brush with celebrity. I was both horrified and proud at what my body had accomplished.) At the time, I was told that Liposarcoma was a rare type of cancer that typically occurred in men between 45 and 65. I followed my doctors' advice and went through 6 weeks of radiation (complete and utter hell, nausea and abdominal pain the likes of which I still can't think about without tears coming to my eyes) in an effort to decrease the likelihood of recurrence from 85% to 60%. As I was a 35 year old woman, and not a 45-65 year old man, it seemed that it was most likely a one-time fluke and I'd be fine. I mean, I'd had the horrific surgery. I'd suffered through radiation. I'd lived through the cancer (and had the little "I'm a Survivor" pin to prove it).  Between surgery and radiation, I lost four months of my life to cancer in 2010. I thought I was done, that that was that.

My doctors had decided on a really aggressive treatment plan. They wanted to do scans (MRI's and/or CT's) every 90 days to monitor me for re-growth. I thought they were crazy. I wondered how I'd be able to afford even my 10% of the cost of the scans. But, they were my doctors. And I believe in following doctor's orders, so I went along with them.

I had one clean scan.

In January of 2011, my second-ever quarterly scan showed new growth in my retroperitoneal tissue. They weren't sure if it was the same thing (how could it be, less than 6 months after radiation ended?), and thought maybe it was scar tissue. Maybe it was just an abnormal growth near my kidney. At the end of the day, my surgeon didn't want to cut me open unless he knew that it was cancer. I went in for a biopsy. (Some fool nurse started talking about my stringy tumor tissue during said biopsy. I almost threw up right on the table.) Results of the biopsy: Malignant Liposarcoma.

Surgery was scheduled for March 22. The tumor that measured just larger than a dime at the end of January was the size of a softball by the time it came out, seven weeks later. There was a lot controversy at the time over what my oncologist would do with me now. It was decided not to run me through chemo or other treatment, as new research had shown that Liposarcoma doesn't have a predictable response to traditional chemotherapy treatments. When I asked what the likelihood was for another recurrence, I was told that there wasn't a lot of data on Liposarcoma, so they couldn't really forecast the future for me, but felt comfortable in telling me that, with my post-radiation 60% chance of recurrence rate, and the fact that it had already recurred, I should be safe.

In June of 2011, I had surgery to correct/remove some cysts that had formed on my tailbone, due to forced inactivity during the recuperation time of both abdominal surgeries. (When they take my tumors, it's a major surgery.We're talking a 13 inch incision from my sternum to my pelvis. - I was lucky in my second surgery and they just cut from my sternum to what's left of my belly button.) During recovery, my only option is to lie, flat on my back, for weeks. I can offset that by sitting very carefully in my recliner, but since I can't lean to a side or sit forward at all, because I have no abdominal muscles, all my weight is on my bum. ... And thus, some serious tailbone issues were born.

Between the tumor and the pilonidal cyst surgeries, I was out on medical leave from March-September 2011. Not all of that was full-time leave, because I did go back on a part-time basis between and after my second surgery before I was cleared for full duty again. But still. I missed a lot of work last year.

I had two clean scans in 2011.

In January of 2012, I had an MRI reveal another, new, tumor. Again, in my retropertitoneal tissue. At this point, my existing oncologist knew that he needed to get me into the hands of a Liposarcoma specialist. While Dr. W was a great doctor, and I loved his bedside manner, I understood that I was turning out to be one of those patients that the man just didn't know what to do with. He searched far and wide for a doctor who'd seen what I have, and luckily, for me, he found one. He referred me to Dr. H at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and I've been there ever since. (And loving it a little, because Dr. H is single. And dreamy. And age-appropriate. ... Listen, if a girl has to have the cancer, she might as well also have an oncologist that she can crush on.)

I met my new doctors, Dr. H (oncologist) and Dr. G (surgeon) at MD Anderson in February. They explained that they'd reviewed my case history, and based on the last year of my life (and also, the size of the tumor), they wanted to hold off on surgery until the risk of surgery didn't outweigh the possible benefit. When the tumor was found in January, it was roughly the size of a dime. (Sound familiar? Think back to the tumor of 2011. It was also dime-shaped in the beginning.) Based on my growth patterns, they wanted to wait a few weeks and scan me again. My March MRI's showed a .2 centimeter (read: pretty much none at all) change in the size of the tumor. My next round of scans were scheduled 12 weeks out, for the first week in June.

Last Thursday, I went in for my quarterly scans. Friday, I got the results. The tumor from January is still pretty much unchanged. But the CT showed an entirely new tumor, on top of my left kidney - pushing up against my spleen and possibly touching my colon as well. Surgery is imminent. ... The surgeon had already set up a time and a date before I even got to my appointment on Friday. The threat to my kidney is real, and if this new little friend has gone from zero-to-grapefruit in three months, I really can't put this off, because who knows how many other organs this could impact? (My first tumor adhered to five organs before it was removed. Let's not repeat that, please and thank you.)

So, surgery is scheduled for the 21st. That's next Thursday. They'll take both tumors, my left kidney, my spleen and, very likely, a section of my colon. The incision will be the full 13 inches again. I'll be in the hospital for about a week, with all kinds of IV's and monitors checking not only the usual blood flow and surgical recovery rate, but also my kidney and colon functions. I'll leave the hospital in a wheelchair and come home to use a walker for at least 4 weeks, at which point I'll start learning how to walk on my own again. (I know, if you're over 18 months old - and I would assume everyone who's reading this is - it doesn't seem like walking's all that hard. But it's brutal without ANY ab control. Trust me, I know. I've done this before.)

My work has very graciously given me an 8 week medical leave, for which I am incredibly grateful. I haven't been with the company for a full year, but they found a way to help me keep both my job and my insurance benefits while I'm out. (I love these people!)

The hitch: it's an unpaid medical leave. As I haven't been covered under our group STD (Short Term Disability Insurance) policy for 12 months, I can't file a claim and receive any type of insurance payout. (My advice to you: don't ever get the cancer. It is the mother of all pre-existing conditions. Also, it's no fun. And it's expensive.)

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to go through the last two years and come out of three surgeries, 6 weeks of radiation and roughly 8 months of time unworked, without having incurred any new debt. I have been blessed beyond measure, and I can't even make sense of how this hasn't financially buried me up to this point.

(Other than the obvious: I grew up poor (we thought dirt was a toy), so my entertainment expectations and living expenses are relatively low.)

But I'm headed into uncharted territory, folks. This surgery will take more out of me than any of the others that have gone before. (Literally. Because this time, I'm losing organs.) So, I can't be certain of the recovery process or time. There's a best-case-scenario estimate of 8 weeks recovery time until I can return, part-time, to work. I'm hopeful that will hold true, but, again... uncharted territory. (And I can't bring myself to think about, let alone talk about, worst-case scenario.) Let's just say that, for now, I'm looking at a minimum of two months without any income, and then two more part-time months, before I'll be back to my "normal" 9-5 life. There's a possiblity it could stretch into more than that, and beyond that, I'm looking ahead at routine medical maintenance that will continue to cost me thousands of dollars every year. For the rest of my life.

And I have nothing.

Wait... That's not true. I have all kinds of great stuff. Stacks of books to read and re-read. Scads of movies to watch and a Netflix streaming membership that I have just begun to explore. I have a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and faith in Him who will redeem me, and ultimately heal me (however He so chooses). I have a deep and abiding sense of gratitude for all that I have been given. I have people in my life who love me, and I'm amazed at the strength and breadth of my support system. .... I have so very, very much.

But financially, I have nothing.

I have spent everything I have ever saved. Ever. Every extra dollar I've made in the last two years has gone towards paying medical bills. And I have been very (VERY!) fortunate to have been in a position where I was able to pay them. ... Until now.

Enter, the point of this post:

Friends and family have been asking for weeks/months/years how they can help me get through this. My answer has always been the same: "Pray. Oh, and if you could find a cure for cancer, that would be great, too." It is the nature of the beast that most of what I have to go through, I have to go through alone. I can't share the physical discomfort of carrying a tumor heavier than newborn triplets. I can't disperse the pain of surgery so other people can help me carry the burden of having to heal from the inside out. I have to learn to walk again on my own. So much of what I have to do, I have to do.

But there is something that you can help with, if you're able, and so inclined.

A benefit account has been opened at Wells Fargo in my name. What this means is, anyone can walk into a Wells Fargo (nationwide) and make a deposit into the account. All you have to know is my first and last name (Laurie Evans) and the city I live in (Mesa, AZ). -- I would advise that you be specific to the spelling of my name when you go to the bank. I have confirmed with Wells Fargo that I am the only L-A-U-R-I-E Evans in Mesa, Az with an account; however, there are other accounts owned by women with similar names who live in my city.

All cash donations made through Wells Fargo will be anonymous. I'll never know dollar amounts or names, unless you choose to share that information with me yourself. (And if you do, I can promise you a big fat, thank you in at least seven different languages. Oh, and some tears of gratitude, too, if I know me and my crying ways.)

Or, if you'd prefer to donate from the comfort of your couch, rather than find your way to a Wells Fargo branch, there is also the handy-dandy "Cancer Girl Donation Center" PayPal button in the top right corner of the home page.

In advance, I want to thank my loyal readers (and anyone new, who may have found their way here from the Land of Facebook today). Thank you for having given me your time, your thoughts, your energy and a measure of your faith and compassion.

Please feel free to share this link, or the blog as a whole, with anyone you feel would be interested in the information that is here. The time for me to try to retain any sort of privacy has passed. Right now, I need the kind of help that only other people can give me, so I'm reaching out to my public (all 13 of the regulars who read this blog) and beyond, with faith in human kindness, trusting that people who know me (and maybe even people who don't) will be able to open their hearts and their pocketbooks and give a little (or, heck ... a lot!) to a single gal who's putting up one heck of a fight against cancer.