Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 96

Today is a big day for me.  I get my second CT with contrast scan today.  The last and only other time I had one of those was 97 days ago, it is that fateful scan that helped the doctor determine that I had cancer.  I don't know if I ever really even told the story of how I found out.  Many people already know from talking to me how it all came about.  There are some that do not know the story and this is for you.

Last May when I was living in Seattle I woke up in the middle of the night with a stabbing pain right in the middle of my abdomen just below my ribs.  It hurt like a knife stabbing into me.  It hurt to breathe in deeply, it hurt to touch, it just really really hurt bad.  It kind of went away a little for a day or so then came back even more painfully than before, so much so that I couldn't even sleep and lay in my bed crying because it hurt so much.  Now I have a pretty high tolerance level for pain, but this was just too much.  I called my mother and told her that I was taking myself to the emergency room.  Luckily I lived a block away from Swedish in Ballard so that was not too hard.  I walked in, got checked in and the nurses there promptly went to work asking the million questions that they ask everyone.  After telling them about my symptoms they determined that most likely they were going to have to remove gall stones.  They sent me for an ultrasound just to make sure and to confirm that there are indeed stones.  The ultrasound did not detect any gall stones.  It did not really detect anything at all.  So now they think I am crazy or a hypochondriac or something.  They tell me to go talk to my primary care physician and to think about getting an endoscopy and set me free.  They also made a note on my chart that stated that my liver was slightly enlarged.  Imagine that.

I never went to get the endoscopy.  At that point I had already had 3 of them.  Years and years ago I was diagnosed with what they call irritable bowel syndrome or IBS for short.  Now, everyone who has IBS knows that when doctors cannot figure out what is wrong with you, if you are having any sort of digestive issues at all and they cant be neatly explained they lump it all into a category called IBS.  Needless to say I know my own body well enough to know that this knife like stabbing overwhelming pain I had was not IBS and another endoscopy was not going to shed any light on anything.

In August I went to see my primary care doctor in Seattle.  She was the same one that diagnosed me with IBS in 1997.  By this time I had a very palpable hard lump in the middle of my abdomen right below my ribs.  It hurt to touch it.   It hurt to breathe in too deeply.  It felt like a hard lump of cottage cheese, kind of hard all over with little harder bumps throughout.  I had my doctor feel this and told her my symptoms, that I had been to the ER, etc.  She felt it and then said to me "It doesn't feel remarkable to me, just take some prilosec for a month and let me know if it feels worse."  Yeah, took prilosec for about a week, nothing felt any different.  It didn't feel worse, but it didn't feel better either.  It just felt the same and I felt like I was crazy because no one thought it was as big of a deal as I did.  A huge lump in the middle of your stomach that hurts to touch and breathe seems like kind of a big deal to me...

I moved to Portland in December.  I continued to have "digestive" issues and the lump still continued to hurt and grow even larger.  At this time I had no insurance as I left the Basic Health insurance from Washington state behind when I moved to Portland.  In March I had some visitors.  We went out to one of my favorite restaurants Bernie's Southern Bistro and ate lots of very rich food and drank some of their amazing cocktails.  The next day I was in so much pain.  My liver had finally had enough and was retaliating against me letting me know that it was definitely NOT ok.  Jeff told me that he didn't care if I had insurance or not, I needed to go to the doctor.  I made an appointment the next day.

I went to a place called Zoom Care.  It is one of those same day kind of clinics where you go for minor stuff like colds and physicals etc.  I am not even sure if the doctor was as old as me, she seemed very young but she also was extremely nice and compassionate.  I told her my story and she immediately had a worried look cover her face.  That look only got more intense after she felt the lump in my abdomen.  She sent me for my first CT scan 97 days ago.  She called me at 7:30 that night when she got the results from the scan.  I didn't hear the phone and it went to voicemail.  The message she left said that she wanted to speak with me in person about my test results.  I knew it wasn't going to be good.

My friend Stephanie was in town on this day and once we got that message we both were looking up all the "bad" stuff we could find on our computers.  I was guessing that it was going to be something like "Laura, you need to have your gall bladder, pancreas, etc removed."  I figured major surgery.  The thought of cancer never once crossed my mind as a possible explanation.  I remember laying on the bed with my girlfriend contemplating what it could be and saying to her "God, I hope it is not cancer."  I never thought I would ever get cancer.

The next morning Jeff and I were in the doctors office and she came in and asked me what I knew or if anyone had contacted me.  I said "No one has contacted me and I don't now anything but I am guessing that it is probably not too good." that is when she said "It is not good, you have cancer."  She looked like she was going to start crying.  Jeff was staring straight ahead in shock.  Time stood still, hell the whole world stood still for just a fraction of a second that somehow also seemed like an eternity.  The next words out of my mouth were "Alright, what else do you know, tell me everything."  I needed to know it all, every little last bit of information was somehow crucial to my very existence and continuation of my life.  I quizzed her for about the next twenty minutes until I could no longer think of what to ask or say.  She then left us for some alone time.  It was so surreal.  The only thing I could think about was "Poor Jeff! This is so unfair to him!"  At age 38 we both finally found each other, we truly love each other, we are just starting our life together and have so many things planned and after only 7 months together we find out that I have cancer.  WTF!?!?  It just seemed so incredibly unfair.

Yep, so that was my last CT scan.  On the scan my liver and the rest of my body shows up as darker than things like bones and clusters of stuff like tumors which show up as bright white.  (imagine a black and white photo or a negative print).  My liver was lit up like freakin' christmas tree back in May.  There were so many bright white spots (tumors) all over my liver that all the doctors were in utter amazement at how I was still functioning with such a shot liver.  It was not very uplifting and I knew I had a HUGE battle ahead of me that would require changing so many things in my life.

It is funny all the little things you don't appreciate or even notice until you are faced with death.  When I came home on that day, May 24th, I saw everything as if I had been seeing it for the first time.  There were so many birds in our backyard trees, hell, I hadn't even noticed half of the trees before.  It was a sunny beautiful day.  Stephanie and I were supposed to be snowboarding at Mt Hood, instead we are all sitting around the house in shock not really knowing what to do with ourselves.  We decided to go to the coast, Pacific City, and get the nicest hotel room we could find.  The next morning we went for a walk on the beach. I will never ever forget that day.  Ever.

So today is my second CT scan.  I am supposed to be there at 9:30, in about an hour from now.  The contrast they give me in the scan makes me feel like I just wet my pants.  That feeling only lasts for a few moments then it goes away.  Jeff is in class this morning so I am going it alone.  No big deal though, there are no side effects and I should be safe to drive the short distance back home.  I will not know the results from the scan until my appointment with my oncologist on Thursday.  This is when we will discuss the results of my scan.  If the tumors have shrunk considerably then I will have more options open to me as far as treatment.  Right now I am just doing chemo but I could do other things providing the tumors are small enough.  We will just have to see.  I am not so certain how I feel about invasive treatments that will leave me feeling like crap for months on end.  If the tumors are shrunk a lot then that means that we are doing something good.  If that turns out to be the case then I may just keep on with my diet and other things and try to heal it myself.  I am certain that I can.  I feel that I have had this in my body for all those years that the doctors were calling it IBS and never bothered to run a CT scan but instead gave me a myriad of pills to minimize the symptoms rather than trying to figure out what the real cause was.

Ok, I just needed to share this with you all.  I must go get my shower now and get ready for my scan.  Wish me luck!  Oh, and I will be asking them to see it before I go...


The Cancer Assassin

1 comment:

  1. Laura - thanks for the vulnerable and enlightening post. . .how scary that must have been. I hope tomorrow gives us some great results of tumor shrinkage:) Doug's grandma sent $20 for your fund but the Chip In link is no longer open. . .is there a another easy way I can send it to you? Do you have a paypal account set up?