A Baby and the Big C (continued)

So three weeks went by and I finally got in to see my oncologist. I was expecting the worst, and brought my sister with me for support, and we sat in the waiting room for over an hour as it turns out they are kind of busy in that office. Why is the last hour of waiting always the hardest?

We were brought back into the exam room and a nurse practitioner met with us. I was trying my best to be calm, and brace for all the bad things I was about to hear. She simply asked, “So what have they told you so far?”.

I was kind of thrown off, I didn’t expect that kind of a start. I explained about what I had heard from my doctor and she listened to me with a sympathetic look on her face. She made a couple of notes, and nodded along, and eventually left the room to get the doctor. I started to feel a little calmer now, not entirely sure why.

The doctor came in shortly after and introduced himself, and proceeded to go over the results he had from my doctor. He was going to do an exam that day but nothing too intensive, as I had already had that colposcopy. (So glad I didn’t need another one of those!) He told me that technically my condition was still considered PRE-cancer. I actually asked him to repeat that. Pre-cancer?? It might be okay???!

Since they cannot do the extensive testing to find out more, he was going to treat me as being in the beginning stages. He did not recommend waiting to treat until after the baby was born, however, as there was a high concentration of cells on my cervix. It seemed riskier to wait to treat and let the cancer possible advance more while we waited. He advised that he wanted to do a cervical cone procedure, and he wanted to do it now, before the pregnancy got further along and the risk to the baby would have been greater. A cervical cone is a minor surgery where they remove a cone-shaped portion of your cervix, and can be done as an outpatient procedure. It can remove the bad cells, and at the very least, it will give them a very clear picture of your cancer diagnosis and allow them to come up with a more accurate plan to treat you. I asked a few questions, most importantly would this harm the baby? He said that the risk was much higher years ago, and through recent advancements the risk is now minimal. The main risk to the baby would be the anesthesia, and that they would have to monitor both me and the baby very closely. He said the optimal time for the surgery is 14 weeks, and I was just about there, so there was little time to waste. The office would be scheduling my surgery for October 2nd, a friday morning, at Banner Gateway hospital in Mesa.

I felt like crying. We had a plan. He didn’t seem pessimistic about my cancer. This could possibly remove it all! And if not, this will tell us how to proceed from here and we won’t be guessing or speculating. I didn’t have to carry this on my shoulders anymore, these people are pros and they know what to do. It’s going to be okay. I’ll be able to keep the baby and we were going to be fine, I knew it.

Now to deal with surgery, ughhh. I’ve never had it, aside from getting my wisdom teeth removed in 2000. And that was a bit of a disaster, honestly. Surgery is one of my top fears, but somehow I felt okay to face it. I had the baby to worry about, it wasn’t about me anymore. Just do it, get through and it will all be worth it.

About two weeks later was the big day. Kane and I drove to the hospital and checked in, and we were both nervous. They took us back to the outpatient area, and a family was in the waiting room loudly crying and holding each other. Gulp. I tried to just focus on the task at hand, sign the paperwork, change into the gown, get the IV in my hand, wait for them to wheel me in.

My husband kissed me for good luck and held onto my wedding rings, and they brought me into the operating room. They started the flow of anesthesia and asked me about my most recent vacation.

“You don’t care about my vacation, haha…” I muttered as I drifted off.

Next thing I knew I woke up in recovery, and heard nurses rushing around me, saying, “I can’t get a heartbeat…” as they prodded my stomach with a doppler. They started talking to me and I almost immediately threw up from anesthesia. The nurse held a bed pan for me as I got sick, a fact made worse by them pushing the doppler harder and harder into my lower stomach, but luckily they did find the baby’s heartbeat and it was okay. I got sick again a couple more times (hey, I have a sensitive stomach), but once I was able to stop they wheeled me out into another recovery area where my husband was waiting.

We sat for a while until I woke up more, and after helping me get dressed Kane drove me home.

I was so relieved. It was over! The next few days were filled with me being sick to my stomach though, and I had a hard time keeping down food and water. I chalk that up to being in the early stages of pregnancy and getting sick when you are too hungry, but then being too sore and still sick from the surgery to keep food down. Kind of rough, but honestly the surgery pain wasn’t as terrible as I expected. Throwing up probably made it hurt worse than it would have, really.

About three weeks later I was driving home from work in rush hour traffic when my phone rang. It was the oncologist’s office with my results. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for whatever she was about to say.

“Hello Patricia, I just wanted to let you know that your results came back from your procedure, and your margins are clean.”

What the hell does that mean?

“That means the edges of the tissue we removed were negative for cancer.”

Does that mean the surgery got it all? Is the cancer gone?

“Yes, it appears that the procedure removed all the cancer cells.”

AHHHHHHH!!!! That was it? I was ok?? I could barely believe it! She advised that my doctor would go over the details with me when I had my follow up with him the next week, where I did actually find out my cancer was more advanced than they thought, and it was a very good thing we acted when we did.

But it’s over. Now I can just focus on growing a healthy baby, and the whole thing is no longer covered in scary dark clouds anymore. The future is extremely bright, no matter what happens. I am just so grateful that I found out all of this when I did, and I truly believe that this baby girl who is currently kicking around in my belly has saved my life. I never would have known I had cancer if it weren’t for the pregnancy. I am beyond thankful for the way everything worked out, and to my doctors and nurses, and to my family who supported me and most of all, to my husband. He was there for me and was so patient and loving and supportive through all of this nightmare, and now through all of the weird mood swings and cravings and aches and pains of a regular pregnancy.

So the point of all of this is, do NOT put off your yearly pap, just because it’s a little bit unpleasant. Take care of yourself and remember that no matter what drama you might be dealing with, your health should still take priority. And if you and your loved ones are lucky enough to be healthy, be thankful.

 

 

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A Baby and the Big C

Warning: Long post ahead, with possibly TMI. You’ve been warned!

Kane and I have been together for 13 years, married for 6. Marrying your best friend has many perks. We’ve had our share of life struggles but we’ve always stuck together and very rarely fight or even argue. In 2012 we finally decided it was time to stop procrastinating and start having the family we’ve always wanted. I wanted two kids, since I grew up having a very close bond with my sister and want the same for my children.

I had been on birth control for 10 years with no break, so it took some time to get all of that crap out of my system. When we didn’t conceive right away I didn’t visit a doctor, I assumed it would take time. But every month that I got my period, I got more and more worried. I was determined not to panic though, figuring that stress can really make things harder and maybe I should just continue to be patient. In the 2+ years that followed, so many things happened and I just didn’t have the time or energy to focus on having a baby or visiting a doctor. Between my mother’s car accident in 2014 and her subsequent recovery, lots of travel for work and eventually buying our first house, it’s been a year of craziness and stress for all of us.

I was planning to go see my doctor (whom I hadn’t visited in 3 years since telling her about my baby plan) since I hadn’t had any luck in the baby arena just yet, when I noticed some funny symptoms in July. I was more tired than usual, had some body aches and pains (particularly in the breast-region) and just felt all around….different. Something was up.

I picked up a test after work on August 5th, and went home to pee on it. Assuming that it was yet another month that I would see a negative, I could not believe my eyes when the blue line in the “PREGNANT” window appeared almost immediately. My hands shook as I sat there, letting it sink in and watching that line get deeper blue by the second.

Since I’ve been dreaming of the moment of telling my husband, telling my sister, my mother, my inlaws, all of them, I didn’t know what to do or say first. It was so hard not to call Kane or my sister, and scream the news into the phone. I decided to really surprise Kane with the news, and ran out to find a baby onesie. I found one that said “Rad Like Dad”, and when he came home I was in the kitchen making dinner. I said I had something for him, and handed him the onesie.

“What is this?”, he asked, with a confused look on his face as he stared at the tiny outfit. I said nothing. He looked again, and then it hit him, the moment of realization! He gasped and ran to hug me and we both cried a little bit. It was all so overwhelming!

From there I called an OBGYN, since my old doctor was much farther from where we now live and I wanted to find someone closer for the many appointments I was sure would follow. My appointment was the following week, and Kane went with me. The doctor gave us a huge Maternity Packet with tons of info, all of it too much to process in our excitement. I had a quick internal exam, the first I’d had in three years, and after lots of “Congratulations” from my doctor and her staff, we headed home smiling.

That weekend we told my sister, who had a reaction almost as huge as ours was when I handed her a tiny “I Love My Aunt” onesie. So, so happy!!

About 10 days later I got a call from the doctor’s office. The nurse I spoke with said that my pap had come back abnormal, but not to worry, pregnancy does funny things to our bodies but to be safe we should do a colposcopy. I made the appointment for the following week and went in for the sorta-painful test. (Feels like a hole puncher clipping off a piece of your cervix. Ouch.) My doctor got it over with quickly though, and she assured me again that this sort of thing does happen early in pregnancy and not to panic. Ok, no problem. Went home and didn’t think about it.

A few more days went by, and I was at my desk at work on August 31st when my phone rang. Again it was my doctors office, but the tone of this nurse was a bit more serious. “It’s imperative that Dr. Starkey speaks to you right away. Can you come in first thing tomorrow morning?”. I agreed, and called my husband, I was a little scared by the urgency. He said he would go with me, so the next morning we drove to her office, not sure what we were about to hear.

We waited in an exam room, my head swimming with fear that there was something wrong with my pregnancy. Couldn’t be though, we had tried for a really long time and we wanted this so bad, surely nothing major could be wrong. We’ve had so much bad luck in our lives already.

She came into the room and sat down with us, and proceeded to tell me that I have cancer.

Cancer. Cervical cancer.

…………………

I listened to her talk about it as Kane held my hand, and watched her draw a picture of my cervix and explain to me that mine was glandular cancer, the more rare form, and we don’t know how far along it is because we can’t test more extensively because of the baby and a whole bunch of other stuff that I’m sure was important but I couldn’t hear it. Kane squeezed my hand and asked the doctor questions, and I fought back tears as I just sat, stunned and shocked and angry and terrified. I tried to stay calm, tried to reason with myself that this had to be a mistake. Don’t panic, it’s not real. It can’t be. The universe cannot hate you enough to do this to you. Just breathe. Don’t cry. Don’t look at Kane’s face. Just nod along like you’re hearing anything she is saying and go home and deal with this then.

I could only squeak out two questions.

“Does this happen a lot with women who are pregnant?”. “No.”

“What does this mean for my pregnancy?”. “I don’t know.”

She said she had never seen this come up with a pregnant woman before, and that treatment could possibly cause a miscarriage. Without knowing the extent of the cancer it was hard to say. I’d have to see an oncologist, and she was sure they’ve seen this happen before and could advise me better than she could. But she also told me that the cancer cells were visible and there were a lot of them, and there was a possibility that it was advanced enough to warrant a hysterectomy. We would have to terminate the pregnancy in that case.

Ok. Ok, one thing at a time. Deep breath. Just try not to cry, wait until you get home. Don’t cry.

I kind of blanked at this point as we said goodbye and walked to the car, and I got in, still swimming with a thousand different emotions and struggling to keep my tears from spilling out of my eyes. Kane drove us home in near silence, and I got out of the car and went in the house and sat on our bed. I sat there for a long time before the flood of tears came and I just couldn’t stop once I started. I cried for almost the entire day. I fell asleep. I woke up and cried more. I held onto Kane as tight as I could. I made awkward jokes about there being a curse on my family. More crying. I just didn’t know how to deal with this, how to tell my sister. How to tell my mom.

The oncologist’s office would call me to set up an appointment, but I tried to call that afternoon rather than wait to hear from them. They had already closed that day. I got through the night and first thing that next morning I called again. The soonest I could see them was September 22, exactly three weeks from now. THREE WEEKS? I barely made it through the night. This was going to be a hellish three weeks.

Ok going to stop at this point, that’s enough writing for today. To be continued in my next post.