I have been pretty quiet on my blog for a bit now. Some of it because I’m going through stuff in my head, other reasons just being that I haven’t had much to report on my illness. Last year I couldn’t seem to stabilize, this year I have.
But it’s July 17. And aside from the insanity of the world and my country’s “leaders”, losses (George Romero. You will be missed.), and life, the universe, and fish; July 17, 2001 is the date my before became my after. Post part-of-my-world-didn’t-make-sense, post PTSD, post Rainbow baby, sixteen years later I am a very different person. And so I usually stop and take stock on July 17.
The stuff I’m going through in my head? I’m trying to figure out how to want to live again. This is the kind of thing I haven’t touched on in my posts about scans and tests and insane amounts of radiation. We talk about the scans, the tests, the treatments, surgeries, recoveries, and medications of chronic illness, but what about when they tell you it’s inoperable? Incurable?
I got told I have a relatively small, most-likely benign tumor in my brain *but* it is inoperable, incurable, post-treatment (radiation) stable, but I’m still a brain cancer patient. I spent two years (give or take) preparing to die.
Inoperable, chemo’s not an option, radiation means scary complications are possible, and in some cases (brain edema) expected. I fought with my oncologist and refused steroids because the patient cases I read about them scared the hell out of me. High dose radiation scared me, the specific steroids for the brain edema scared me more. So I fought with him and fought through three weeks of brain edema and a trip to the ER that required meds, fluids, and a surprisingly high dose of potassium before they would release me.
Three years later I’m pretty stable. (aside from the awesomely clumsy episode of me dropping cleaning supplies on the bridge of my nose yesterday…….frickin OW)
Last year I couldn’t seem to stabilize. I had MRSA in my lungs and throat and spent almost an entire year coughing up green yuck. Another trip down the stairs. Frontal lobe spikes on my EEG. This year, I finally got my lungs back, I’m still clumsy but the stairs and I have an understanding for now, and I can (usually) finish a sentence.
My body seems to take a year to get through something. Instead of having pneumonia, getting antibiotics, and recovering; I had pneumonia, lots of antibiotics, 3 different inhalers, and eventually in-home oxygen when my O2 levels dropped under 86% walking around my doctor’s office before, about a year later, I recovered.
Dunno why. But a lot of things take me a year.
Throw an artificial hip (10 years ago this November), a brain tumor, and crappy MRSA lungs at me and I start making peace with my the great hereafter. Or something along those lines.
We talk a lot about life with an illness or during a treatment, but we don’t mention staring into the mirror and making peace with your mortal coil. But it does happen, and we should know we’re not alone. I should know I’m not alone.
So I’m kind of, sort of, coming out the other side of that. I’m thinking this stupid thing won’t kill me. At least not yet.
So while I’m pretty quiet on my blog, my journals show I’m still thinking, writing, struggling. I’m still living.
This came through my inbox by way of another awesome chick I follow. Her take:
When I read over the healthcare bill draft released to the public last week, I couldn’t help but cry. If this bill passes Senate, I won’t live to see my 40th birthday. This isn’t a maybe, it’s an absolute fact. This is secondary to the millions of others who will be affected by this and I’m terrified for all of us.
Nikki perfectly and succinctly articulates the way many of our government officials view those with disability and hardship – that these problems are self-created by the individuals who are on these programs. Her mock obituary is a sobering view of what the passing of this bill will do to her, myself, and millions of other Americans.
Many of us in the chronic illness community are already fighting to be taken seriously, to have access to pain relief, to be seen and heard. The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but no option for health care is so much worse.
My friends, my sisters, my daughter….need access to health care. Even without the challenges of an inoperable brain tumor, or a lung transplant, or kidney disease, Crohn’s Disease, or any of the myriad of autoimmune diseases, health care should not be a privilege.
Yearly preventative check-ups, well baby and child care, vaccines (don’t start with me), birth control, or emergency services for when your kid falls of their bike!! These are not unreasonable expectations for a developed society.
Please write to your representatives. Yes, again, if you have to. Stand up for those that don’t have a voice, stand up for your loved ones, stand up and tell DC this is not okay.
Source: Me Without Healthcare….
So Kara from Polishing Dookie, who is an awesome and inspiring chick that blows me away with her compassion and ability to laugh through the pain, nominated me for an award.
This award was created by Maggie – Dreaming of Guatemala. She created the award “For the absolutely wonderful writers all across the blogging world. They have beautiful blogs, are kind and lovely, and always find a way to add happiness and laughter to the lives of their readers. That is what truly defines an awesome blogger.”
Rules of engagement:
- Thank the person who nominated you.
- Include the reason behind the award.
- Include the banner in your post.
- Tag it under #awesomebloggeraward in the Reader.
- Answer the questions your nominator gave you.
- Nominate at least 5 awesome bloggers.
- Give your nominees 10 new questions to answer.
- Let your nominees know they’ve been nominated!
Thank you Kara! I know you’re up to your eyeballs right now, but you still find a way to keep us all up to date and stay in touch. I am grateful to know you and be inspired by you all the time!
Kara’s Questions for her Nominees:
If you found out you had 24 hours to live, what would you do with your remaining time?
No, seriously I know the expected and correct answer is spend as much time with my loved ones as possible. And I would, my mom, my husband, my kids, my best friends. And I would write down as much as I could for my kids to have to look back on as they go through their own lives.
Do you have any irrational fears? If yes, please explain.
I have an irrational fear of bats. No I don’t know why. No, I don’t want to hear all about all the cool stuff they do.
What is your favorite song?
Ahahahahahahaha….(wheeze…..cough……inhale)….hahahahaha. Have you met me? Pick a genre, an artist, a decade….I gotta have something to narrow it down first.
That being said, let’s see: The Shadow of Venus by Apocalyptica is my ringtone right now, I have 391 (give or take a few) songs on my phone, and the last 5 played were:
Bad Romance by Halestorm
Pony by Ginuwine
Quiet by Milck
Royals by Otep
It’s Quiet Uptown by Kelly Clarkson
and I have Sister Christian by Night Ranger stuck in my head right now.
Have you ever done the truffle shuffle?
Hell yeah. And I own the movie. And I have 2 Goonies shirts!
Goonie Never say Die!
Describe yourself in four words or less (?)
chick, geek, mom
If you were a comic book character, would you be a hero or a villain?
I’d love to say hero, but we all know I make a fabulous villain. But like Maleficent or Harley Quinn villain.
What would your special power be?
Reading minds? Or maybe teleporting?
(Who am I kidding, I just want to get my eyeliner wing right!)
Do you have any habits that drive other people bonkers?
I’m sure I do. I’m a grammar nazi, and can be a perfectionist, and if I argue I make sure you know I’m right.
(I might share a little too much sometimes too.)
Does “normal” exist?
What is this “normal” you speak of?
Chips or cookies (or both at the same time)?
Usually chips, but I do have a recipe for Potato Chip Cookies with butterscotch chips.
Stephen King says if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. Do you think that’s true, and why or why not?
What would your readers be surprised to learn about you?
Which book world would you like to visit?
Do you have any pet peeves?
Book or Movie? Why?
What is your biggest phobia?
What are you proud of yourself for?
What is your favorite joke or pun?
Lions or Tigers or Bears?
What made you decide to share your story and start your blog?
Pamela (even though she’s taking a much needed break, I have learned so much from her!)
I meant to write one post today but after it ended up being almost 1300 words, I split it.
Part two, coming up….
I’m just having a day ….or something…..this week.
I’ve been blue for the last 5 or 6 days. And when I say “blue” I don’t mean maybe feeling a little sad or down. I mean I am literally, actually blue.
I’m kind of used to it. It started about 9 years ago after I had pneumonia in both lungs 9 weeks after my hip surgery. I can feel it happening, and sometimes it’s stress (I’ve actually had retired-chief look at my hands and walk away in the middle of an argument), or weather, or exhaustion. Or sometimes nothing at all.
I’ve seen more doctors than I can count about it and since these days my pulse ox seems to stay above 95%, they like to just throw it in the Raynaud’s bin and move on to stuff like me choking or the annoying tumor in my brain.
Sometimes it’s not that big of a deal, and I come up with all kinds of colors between pink (I’m pretty sure the color I’m supposed to be) and blue….or purple. The running joke in my house is that I should lay on a table outside for a Halloween “decoration” with just my blue feet sticking out and scare the crap out of people. Yes, we’re an interesting bunch.
I’m just annoyed because I have been really, really blue for the last few days. It’s probably all the crazy weather we’ve been having and today we have thunderstorms moving in and through my area, and that’s almost a surefire way to trigger a blue episode in my hands and feet.
So between my blue fingers and the fact that FedEx lost a box I was supposed to have delivered yesterday, I’m just irritable. (The box was marked “delivered” at 6:01 pm, EDT but unless it’s invisible it’s not on my front porch.) Side note: I called the company and FedEx, got a refund, and put a trace out, but the FedEx delivery for my area are just idiots anyway.
And I’m kind of chewing on the fact that I think I might have made my mom cry yesterday but I didn’t mean to. We were talking about my tumor and I said something about how long I have left and she had to go, but I think I upset her. Because I’m an asshole even when I don’t mean to be.
And fuck cancer.
My outfit today. Because Deadpool. And because fuck cancer.
Aaaaaand I’m back to coughing shit up. The cough has never gone away, and my pulmonologist gave me “dysphagia, related to trigeminal shwanomma” and blew me off with “sit up when you eat and take smaller bites”. I don’t have a $200,000 medical degree but I could have told you that, so whatever.
Like I said, I’m hostile today. And this is all the noise in my head.
Anybody know what it means when you cough dark green….something up?
There are a lot of things that come with having a chronic illness. We talk about the eventual solitude because family gets tired of dealing with doctor visits or tests, and friends fall away because you can only cancel or reschedule time with them so many times before they give up, and before you know it…..it’s just kinda you and a good book or your favorite show.
Another side effect is getting smarter about your illness and/or medication(s). It may be to learn how to survive with your body doing its best to turn on you. Or it may be out of self defense because the doctors aren’t paying enough attention, and somebody has to advocate for you. So without much other support, you learn everything you can about your disorder or disease so you can defend yourself against a doctor that has you and 3 other patients in the next 15 minutes.
Those are just some of the life side effects, then there’s the medication side effects.
Right now I’m struggling with having gained about 15-20 pounds because of one of my meds. I’m not necessarily over weight, but I am heavier than I have been since before I had my hip replacement.
After having been diagnosed with Congenital Hip Dysplasia at 29, I worked my ass off (literally!) to get down to my lowest possible weight for my height and body type in an effort to push hip surgery off as long as possible. I ended up losing 50 pounds total. At the beginning of that journey I was overweight, so I did what I always do and dove into research and figured out what was the lowest weight that was still within a healthy BMI and I changed my diet, exercised every day (I could eventually speed-walk 4 miles in 45 minutes!) and reached my goal weight.
Once I reached my goal weight, I have bounced up or down a few pounds like most people do, but I pretty much stayed at the same size. And now I’m closer to the size I was before I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.
I’m not making much sense, am I? Basically I’m just saying I’m struggling with having gained enough weight to go up a dress size in the last few months. And this is one of those side effects from our meds that we may not necessarily say too much about because we’re avoiding more discussions of our illnesses and hoping no one says anything about the size of our asses. Or I am anyway.
The fight in my head is 20 pounds versus lower pain levels, better control of my hands, and fewer migraines. So I guess I’m learning how to live with a few more pounds.
I was scrolling through my instagram notifications last night and it occurred to me that my life is really weird now.
I’m in this really bizarre place that means my life now includes words like “cancer”, “cancer planning”, “tumor”, “radiation”, “treatment”, and “inoperable tumor”.
Ten years ago, I was referred to psych because I brought up Fibromyalgia to my doctors as we searched for something to explain the myriad of symptoms I had. Fibro was still in the ‘hysterical, hypochondriac women’s made up crap’ pile, so I had “eating disorder”, “possible addiction issues”, and “anxiety disorder” put in my medical record and my doctor called the psychologist on duty in to talk to me. Fun stuff.
Now, I have physical proof that I’m in pain and I’m not crazy. Yeah, my monthly scripts are kinda crazy, but it’s pretty hard to argue with CTs and MRIs showing cervical spondylosis, a hip replacement, and an inoperable brain tumor. A million scans, six surgeries, more tests than I can remember, and more doctors than I can name later, nobody argues with me.
Nobody argues that Fibro is made up anymore (and for what it’s worth, my diagnosis was confirmed by Rheumatologists at Hopkins), and my “cancer team” (that’s so weird to say) is at Georgetown.
Even my mother used to wonder if I was a hypochondriac. But the further I fall down this rabbit hole, and the more research I do, it seems like it’s entirely possible that between the drugs my mom did in the 60’s, my father’s two tours in Vietnam, and a traumatic brain injury at 7 years old leave me with things that can be argued against less and less. Although I still think the metal-on-metal implant I have in my hip could be connected to my brain tumor.
It’s just such a bizarre place to be. Half of my life online includes cancer support and advocacy.
Even though my Radiation Oncologist, Neurosurgeon, and Neurologist are about 80-85% sure my tumor is benign (something about it being right up against my brain stem makes them reluctant to try to get a hold of it), I still fall into the brain tumor/brain cancer crowd.
So I research. I connect with other tumor patients. And I try to survive.
Along with a brain tumor….
…I have learned about trigeminal neuralgia, balance issues (ie: falling down the stairs), and seizures (mine tend to be absence seizures instead of the grand mal like seizures you see on tv).
My life is very different now.
This is a weird place to be.
“Have you ever had an MRI done before?”
It takes everything I have not to bust out laughing. Yeah, kinda. Let’s see……I’ve had 6 surgeries, including a hip replacement and I have an inoperable brain tumor. You could say I’ve had an MRI or two.
But I get that the techs are required to go through the same questionnaires and steps every single time, and I try to be a good patient so I walk through all the yeses and nos on the questionnaire. Yes, I have tattoos and piercings, yes I am aware of the risks, yes I have taken all my jewelry off and out, no I’m not claustrophobic, yes I understand the test. Music? I’m easy, how about classic rock. (This facility seems to put a Journey CD in, or at least they have the last 3 times. Fine with me, I like Journey.) Okie dokie, on the table, here’s your call button and earphones, clamp down the aiming thingamabobs and in we go!
The crazy protect-them-from-radiation-and-magnetic-fields-but-keep-me-in-the-room door closes and I take a deep breath. This is a C-spine MRI, requested by my pain specialists. Now that my inoperable brain tumor has been threatened with radiation and told to be quiet, we’re moving on to radio-frequency ablation for the pain in my neck and it’s been over 2 years since my last set of scans on my C-spine (or cervical spine, or neck vertebrae if you want the easy description). Doc needs to see what the bones in my neck are doing so he can burn the right nerves and hopefully relieve some pain.
The tech comes on over the earphones and says everything will be starting shortly. Okay. Deep breath. It occurs to me that this is the rest of my life. For how ever many years I have left, I will always have: my primary care manager (or in my case: traffic director), endocrinologist (because for added fun I have an autoimmune thyroid disorder, but it’s pretty easily beat into submission most of the time), pain specialists, and now (courtesy of previously mentioned inoperable (stupid) brain tumor) a neurologist, an oncologist, and a neurosurgeon. Sigh…..this is ridiculous.
Music starts, the machine clanks and whirs and vibrates. Twenty or so minutes later, I get to get out of there.
At least the images tell me I’m not crazy. There’s a bulging disc between C5 and C6 which likely accounts for the pain in my neck and the numbness and tingling down my arm and in my fingers.
This is me laying flat on my back in the machine and the image is from the front down, meaning those are my collar bones you see across the bottom of the image. My neck isn’t straight. This is what Cerivcal Spondylosis looks like. In simple terms it means the discs between the vertebrae are “drying out” and I have arthritis in my neck. There’s more to it, but that’s the easiest way to describe it.
So, hopefully my pain docs will get the images and the report and we’ll be able to schedule the radio-frequency denervation (burn the nerves to those joints to shut them up). The interesting part of this, and a new experience for me, is that my pain specialist has to contact my oncologist and possibly my neurosurgeon or neurologist to clear me for the procedure.
To quote a previous blog and an occasional meltdown: “Who the hell lives like this?!?!”
I lost count a long time ago of how many IVs I’ve had, and now I’m starting to lose count of how many CTs/MRIs/stick-me-in-some-machine-I-don’t-know-the-name-of I’ve had.
Good thing I’m not claustrophobic! 😉
(Good Lord, has it really been a month since I published a blog??!!)
Yesterday was my follow up with my neurosurgeon and my oncologist in Georgetown. It was time for a follow up as I close in on a year post treatment, and with a ER trip courtesy of THE WORST migraine I’ve ever had last month, everything got moved up just a little bit.
Yesterday was also the day that my Dad died 3 years ago from Cancer.
So when I had to call my Mom a year ago and tell her that her only child has a brain tumor, you can imagine how much that sucked. She was brave and strong and supportive, but I don’t doubt for a minute that when she hung up the phone she cried and threw things.
I’ve made it through a year. An initial brain MRI (non-contrast, 6/09/14), a follow MRI to confirm diagnosis (with & without contrast, 6/20/14), the addition of a neurologist into my roster of doctors, and finally a referral to Georgetown last July. Once I was up at Georgetown and meeting with a neurosurgeon and a radiation oncologist, plans were made, options weighed, and soon a treatment plan was drawn up. I have a Meningioma.
I say have because it’s still there, but that part of the story is coming.
I have a meningioma, a type of tumor that is typically benign, and usually easily treated by removing the damn thing because it’s a type of tumor on the lining of the brain, or the meninges. But not mine. Nope. MY tumor is a meningioma, but it’s alllllllll the way under the fold of the brain, near the brain stem, and therefore inoperable. So my treatment plan was 5 days of stereo-tactic radio surgery, or roughly the equivalent of 30 radiation treatments.
I had the same mask made that Geena Davis’s character on Grey’s was seen in last season.
For what it’s worth, I have to say the making and wearing of the mask (designed to keep me in the exact same position for treatment each time) was the weirdest part of the whole thing. It’s just a bizarre experience going through the molding of the mask, and then the clipping down of it each time you go in for treatment.
So I had the mask made, did the treatment, survived the side effects, and moved forward, ending last year with a three-month follow up on treatment with another brain MRI, which showed no change. The last year of my life could be tentatively titled “Is The Damn Thing Going to Kill Me?”.
(I have spent A LOT of time in CTs and MRI machines over the past year. Good thing I’m not claustrophobic.)
Which brings me to now. Yesterday’s scans showed….say it with me….. no change. (Possibly my least favorite phrase in the English language now.) But my docs all said that was mostly a positive thing because that meant 1) they had, in fact, diagnosed a meningioma correctly (Dr. Collins: “If it disappeared, we’d actually be more concerned.”) and 2) it’s not any smaller, but it’s not any bigger, there aren’t any more tumors, and that means it’s probably going to just stay put from now on.
So, here we are. Me and…..Perceval? Harold? Irkle? He? She? It? needs a name since it’s me and this thing, likely for the rest of my life.
Today, I started processing this. This means it’s time to burn my mask, I think.
Yes, I saved it. I brought it home after treatment. It means I fought back and I survived. But Dr. Herman burned hers when she decided against any more radiation. I think I may do the same.
I fought. I’m stable. I’m alive. And I’m done with radiation.
“We don’t see any change in the tumor.”
The words no change are the most annoying and unnecessary jumble of letters in my life right now. I’m coming up on the anniversary of my tumor diagnosis. (Is that a thing? Should it be?) I’ve been through (pardon my language, but it’s oh so necessary) a fuckload of radiation that ended up being so much harder than I thought it would. Post-treatment scans said….wait for it….no change. So we keep watching. And we keep waiting. Because the surgeon really doesn’t want to have to dig that far into my brain.
You’d think that meant some kind of stability, right? I would, but it doesn’t feel very stable right now. I spent Monday night in the hospital with the worst migraine/tumor headache/I-don’t-even-know-what-to-call-it I think I’ve ever had. I have plenty of headache/pain meds at home and most of the time I can head it off before the pain in my head reaches unacceptable levels. As any chronic pain patient will tell you, there are truly only two kinds of pain….tolerable and intolerable.
But everything ramped up so fast and got so far out of hand so quickly that I had no other choice than heading off to the ER.
I had taken meds at home trying to get ahead of the pain, and as I was finally taken back and able to be treated, the doctors and nurses tried dose after dose of some pretty heavy pain medications, anti-nausea meds, and she even threw in a dose of Benedryl trying to get something to affect the pain.
Hour after hour, dose after dose, attempt after attempt to beat the pain down. My pulse was varying between 108 and 118. My blood pressure was all over the place. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and the nausea left me curled up into a ball.
Finally the doc decided to do a head CT to see if something else was wrong or the tumor had….I don’t even know what? Grown? Moved? Invited friends?
Nope. No change. “It just looks like the tumor is causing pain. We may have to admit you for pain management.”
I didn’t know what to do. I was laying there in so much pain, fighting so hard. But you wouldn’t know that just by looking at me. The truth is, when I’m “just laying there”, that’s when I’m fighting the hardest. I kept telling myself to breathe. I thought of the tattoo on my forearm, ana’laigh, Gaelic for “breathe”. I played through scenes from Grey’s in my head. I tried to remember lines from the show (did you realize that in the very first episode Richard tells the interns that “the 7 years you spend here will be the best and worst of your life” *but* in the last episode he tells the new interns “the 5 years you spend here….”?)*, and I had Drifting Further Away by Powderfinger playing in my head.
I fought back. I got the pain back under a 4 and my pulse back under 100, so I asked to go home. But for the first time I was standing on the line between being hospitalized for this damn tumor and being able to go home. Fuck you, tumor.
And of course, I was blogging all of this in my head. As a writer, beneath and beyond the pain, that’s how I survive.
*I’m a hopeless Grey’s fan, don’t judge me! 😉