A little perspective

As i completed a workout today at Orangetheory Charleston, this was on the screen as we were cooling down (which i usually never stay for) and it spoke to me.

This is not news to anyone who knows me, but my diagnosis of stage 3 colorectal cancer was almost exactly 6 months ago. I have spent those months fighting for my life, attacking those cancer cells with radiation/chemo and surgery and am currently undergoing 6 more months of IV and oral chemo. I’m stubborn and hardheaded and determined- a perfect combo for kicking cancer’s ass.

But there are times when anxiety and fear are crippling because i worry about the unknown and “what could happen.” What if i have a complication? What if i can’t work? What if i have progression? What if i have to live my life glued to the toilet? What if i have to think about cancer every day for the rest of my life?

But today, I got a gentle reminder that it is about what i have, not what i don’t have. I have cancer but I’m living. I’m being treated. I’m working. I’m exercising. I have the support of amazing family and friends. And i have people all over the world praying for me and cheering me on.

And for those unknowns (that i currently don’t have but tend to worry about) – whether they happen or not, i will handle them when their time comes. Life will go on. And most likely, i will deal with them with the same determination and stubbornness i have right now.
So for now, i am going to focus on what i do have. I am thankful for that reminder today.

I started chemo

I forgot to write an update 1.5 weeks ago when i started chemo. It really wasn’t that i forgot…..i got the chemo and then felt like i had been hit by a bus. Then 6 days later i felt better and went back to work and now, 10 days after i started it, i’m finally updating my blog. Such is life.

I am currently doing 6 months (8 rounds) of CAPEOX. That is Capecitabine (oral chemo) and Oxaliplatin (iv chemo). The IV chemo is an infusion at Hollings Cancer Center once every three weeks and then the oral chemo is something i take for 14 days, twice a day. Then i don’t take the oral chemo for days 15-21. And then the cycle starts all over again. I’m ALMOST done with my first round of the oral chemo (three more days), so i’m hoping the 7 days of no chemo at all will be GLORIOUS!

The oral chemo is the same one that i was on during radiation. It makes me nauseated. It can cause hand/foot sores (i’m trying to keep them moisturized and work out a lot to keep the blood flow going to them). I did ok on it the last time…..this time, it is just a lot longer time being on the medicine, so i hope the side effects are minimal. The IV chemo is a beast. Side effects are cold sensitivities (like not being able to drink anything but room temp liquids and requiring gloves when going into the fridge) and neuropathy (tingling in hands/feet). To combat both side effects, i am doing “icing” of my mouth, and hands and feet. I ate ice during my infusion and put cold packs in my socks and held a cold pack in my hands. I think it worked pretty well for the first infusion (although it scared my chemo nurse a little bit) and in the days after chemo i was able to eat icecream and i did not have any cold issues with my hands or feet. There is a journal article that came out this year (Journal of National Comprehensive Cancer Network, April 2019) that shows cancer patients who kept ice chips in their mouth during their oxaliplatin infusion reported that they subsequently developed less cold sensitivity in their mouths and could eat and drink with less discomfort compared to patients who did not keep ice in their mouth. I thought it was worth a try and i’m going to continue to do it as long as i can. 🙂

The IV chemo really kicked my butt. For the first few days, i spent most of the day sleeping. Slowly but surely i started feeling better after a couple of days and as i’m writing this, i’m feeling decent. Not 100% (not sure i will ever feel that way while doing this 6 months of hell) but good enough to work out and eat what i can and feel like a normal person. I’ll take it.

Part 3 of 3

This picture sums up how i feel about the next step in my battle against cancer. 😂

In 2 weeks, on October 16th, i will start 6 months (8 cycles) of IV and oral chemo- Capecitabine and Oxaliplatin.

I am approaching this final step like i have approached the previous two steps in treatment: with minimal fear, a plan to work and workout as much as possible, with lots of prayers, and with my friends and family by my side. 💙

No news is good news

I realize that i haven’t written in a while and i don’t really have an excuse for it. Life has been pretty boring since my 2nd surgery. I walk daily. I eat lots of protein (for wound healing). I let the dogs in and out and in and out and in and out (lol). And i’ve caught up on most of the tv shows that i had saved for my time off.

This upcoming week i have a couple of doctors appointments. I see my oncologist and will get confirmation on a start date for chemo (i think it will be October 16th). And then i see my surgeon for follow-up and hopefully get cleared to workout, lift something heavier than 6 lbs, and hopefully start back to work…at least part time work since i’ll be doing chemo.

I’m so thankful i’ve had an uneventful recovery and while the unknown of 6 months of chemotherapy is daunting, i’m ready to get started and complete the last part of my treatment!

Pathology report and the best news ever.

I haven’t posted this on social media because i feel like i would be bragging. And i’m not bragging, i am sharing good news, but still it is hard to put it out there. It is hard to put it out there knowing some of my friends on social media are my “new cancer friends” (as carson likes to put it) and i worry that some of them might not ever achieve what i have or will achieve what i have but then will progress with another cancer occurrence. And then to add to why i don’t want to post it- i feel like i’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like i don’t deserve what i have and how quickly i have recovered. I am thankful that my journey has been free of any major complications (and i would like to keep it that way) but being a doctor, i know all the risks and problems that can plague cancer patients……so i’m just waiting for mine to happen.

But i have to acknowledge how great God is, and that i truly believe that He answered mine (and all of your) prayers. He heard us and was merciful to me, allowing me to achieve complete pathologic response!

Complete pathologic response is: The lack of all signs of cancer in tissue samples removed during surgery or biopsy after treatment with radiation or chemotherapy. To find out if there is a pathologic complete response, a pathologist checks the tissue samples under a microscope to see if there are still cancer cells left after the anticancer treatment. Knowing if the cancer is in pathologic complete response may help show how well treatment is working or if the cancer will come back. Also called pathologic complete remission.

So praise the Lord. The radiation and oral chemo killed all of the tumor and in the pathology report, there were no cancer cells left in the tumor!!! He is so good!

My surgery story

Approximately one week ago this pesky hurricane, Dorian, had a path that led it over the Bahamas and then up the East coast.  I distinctly remember saying when I was told I was going to have surgery in September, “oh great, during hurricane season?”  I need to learn to keep my mouth shut because wouldn’t you know, I spent all last weekend worrying that the hurricane would cancel my surgery and we would have to evacuate!  I mean, Dorian was a Cat 5 hurricane!

On labor day, Sept 2nd, I got the call that surgery was still on and I needed to start my prep.  The weather forecast had Hurricane Dorian right over the Bahamas that day as a Cat 5 and then would weaken to a Cat 2-3 as it made its way east.  So the Operating Rooms at MUSC were still open and my surgery was a go!  I did my prep, complaining the whole time because I was STARVING (I hate not eating solid foods) and said my prayers and went to bed.  Tuesday the 3rd, I had to get up at 4 am to drink a “pre-surgical” Ensure drink that promotes healing and electrolyte stability during surgery.  And after that, I was wide awake.  I showered with the special chlorhexidine soap and got dressed and Carson took me to Ashley River Tower where my surgery was going to be at 5:45.  We breezed through registration and then I went to pre-op where I changed into a gown, had my vital signs taken, and had an IV started.  Carson and my parents then came back and we met with the surgeon and the anesthesia team.  Then it was go time.  The CRNA gave me 2mg of versed in pre-op, and I kissed my family goodbye.  I got into the OR with lots of people bustling around me and I barely could move from the bed to the OR table.  Then the anesthesiologist put some oxygen on my face, I said a quick prayer to God, asking him to forgive me for my sins and to keep me safe, and then, I was out.

I woke up in post op holding and the nurse was asking me my pain score.  I said “8” and he said he had already given me some pain medicine but could give me more.  Apparently I had been there for a hour or two but I didn’t remember much at all.  My dad was sitting there with me (he’s a doctor at that hospital and was able to just walk back 😉) but I don’t remember what he said to me either.  Then, before I knew it, I was in my official room on 6E and Carson and my mom and dad were all there around me.  I drifted in and out of sleep while my nurse bustled around me.  He explained I had a foley in place til the next morning and that I would be on a clear liquid diet.  That evening I had an Italian ice and citrus jello for dinner and carson and I walked very slowly from my room down the hall.  I was up and walking POD #0.  That was my goal!  Also, my “work husband”, Dr John Bride came over from work to visit with me.  Was nice to see a familiar face and he kept me updated on what was happening with work and hurricane preparations.

I want to say that I slept like a baby that night but I didn’t.  Vital signs every 4 hours.  Different medicines on different schedules mean the nurse came in every 2 hours.  I had 2 blood draws that night (one at 10 pm and one at 4 am- why I don’t know).  And I had finger stick every 4 hours.

The next day, the 4th, my foley came out and I was transitioned to maintaince fluids by my IV and a regular diet.  With the removal of my foley, I had to prove to them that I could urinate on my own- and so I tried and tried.  I pushed so hard that I sprung a leak on my pouch.  Ick! That was a mess and the nurses had to change my ileostomy pouch for me (ugghhhh I hate having people do things for me!!)

That day was the calm before the storm and my parents and carson came to visit multiple times. My friend Kelly from OTF also came to visit and so did my co-worker, Neil Glover.  It was fun to chit chat and not think about being a patient for a while. That day, it was hard to get my pain under control so they increased my pain medicine (thank you!) and I did a few laps around the 6th floor.  I also ate regular food- I had an omelet for breakfast and a burger for dinner.  The major pain of the day was having to get up and down to use the bathroom and having to get the IV pole unplugged and walk it to the bathroom without you and it getting tangled up!

Thursday Sept 5th– no visitors that day because Hurricane Dorian was upon it.  The wind started up Wednesday night and you could hear it howling.  There was a concern because of the king tides we had been having that all of downtown was flooded.  I didn’t have the best view from my room so I walked a lot to check out all sides of the hospital.  I noticed some rooms were leaking- the windows and ceiling tiles- and patients had to be moved.  I was lucky to have a clean and dry room.  I also had the best view of the VA hospital from my walking route so I would check on it and take pictures to send to my co-workers.  I ended up walking 2.5 miles that day around the floor.

My surgeon came in for rounds on Thursday and said that I was doing well and could go home the next day, Friday!  He also said my fluids could be discontinued (yes!).  Despite the bad weather and no visitors, it was a productive day.

Today- Friday Sept 6th.  I got to go home.  My surgeon came by around 8 am and by then I had already done 5 laps around the 6th floor.  He said I could go home and he would bring me back on Thursday for a sigmoidoscopy and a CT scan with rectal contrast.  If the CT scan demonstrates good healing and no leakage, he will reverse my ileostomy the next day, Friday the 13th (I know, I know).  But that means a quick quick reversal (10 days) which is to help patients not experience LAR syndrome and recover bowel function more quickly.  With his blessing, I ate some breakfast, packed up my room, and did another 10 laps around the floor.  Then at noon, Carson came and picked me up and I went home to rest and recover.

So that is my surgery story.  I will have to say that this dang hurricane made me focus on it instead of the upcoming surgery, so I think that was a blessing in disguise.  I also had so many people texting and messaging me over social media, checking on me and carson, and we both really appreciate it.  Our house is fine…we did lose power for about 2 hours but it came back on quickly.  And we do have a lot of branches/debris in our yard (and one pesky tree that landed on my car!) but cleanup should be easy and we are thankful the storm didn’t hit us as hard as it could have!

An Update

I have been really bad about updating because really nothing has been going on. Actually, let me clarify that, nothing cancer related has been going on.

I am 4 days away from my surgery date. I had to wait 8 weeks and 4 days to have surgery after my radiation, so here we are….the 8 weeks have flown by and we are in the final countdown. I’m ready. I’m scared. I know i have to have this surgery but it. is. surgery. I’m not a wuss and can handle the pain- i just don’t like the unknowns (hello type A over here). This is the time where i have to give up control and let the surgeon do his part and let my body do its part ( i have been incredibly kind to it over the past 8 weeks) and let God do the rest.

I really want to share some fun pictures from the mini-honeymoon that Carson and i took last week. It ended up that i had a couple days off, and i was able to get a co-worker to switch a couple shifts, and bam. I had 6 days off. And what better way to spend those 6 days but in Mexico? We bought tickets TWO days before we left and headed last Wednesday to Cancun, with my surgeon’s permission of course. He just said not to eat the ice (drink the water). Ok, so no blendy drinks. No big deal.

We booked 6 days/5 nights at Unico 20 87, which i have to say has been my favorite resort we have visited so far. It is closer to Tulum than Cancun, so a bit more of a drive, but the resort is 2 years old and absolutely gorgeous. https://www.unicohotelrivieramaya.com The name comes from the coordinates of where the resort is located, 20 degrees north and 87 degrees west and is an all inclusive, (unlimited food, drinks, free wifi and a host of other amenities). The resort is modern, and beautiful and swanky. The food is unreal- from chips and guac to hotdogs by the pool, to steak, to seafood- and the 4 restaurants (+ room service, + two bars by the pool that served food) did not let us down. They also have an app that you download to your phone- it is easy to use – you can request a turndown service, make dinner or spa reservations and read up on all of the restaurants. It also tells you all the cooking classes that are scheduled, the activities of the day, and what the nightly entertainment is.

I will also reiterate that Carson and i felt TOTALLY safe traveling to Mexico and while at the resort. The drinks were strong (not tainted) and we never had a bad encounter. We loved Unico so much that we will be going back…and we usually try a different resort each time we go to Mexico, but this place is so amazing that we want to go back. We had the most perfect mini-honeymoon. 🙂