Saturday, July 19, 2014

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

I was just a girl named Laurie.

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

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

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

By May, I was tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I say radiation was hell, I mean it.

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

I had one clean scan.

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

I had two clean scans in 2011.

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

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

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

And we thought it had worked.

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

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

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

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

June 2014 would have been two years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, I am broke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jenni said...

I love you, by jingo.

Kristin Kwiej said...

Xoxo praying for you!!! Your strength astounds me. I will pray that our Lord continues to keep his hand on you. Xoxo

Kristin Kwiej said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Catherine said...

Love you, Laurie! Praying for you. You are a blessing to all who know you!