Vlog #2: LOSS – Processing

It wasn’t until recently that I truly began to feel the impact of not having any ovaries or a uterus anymore due to ovarian cancer.

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New Beginnings – Ovarian Cancer Survivor Vlog #1

Hello Everyone!

Thank you so much for following my regular blog. I will still be posting entries here, but I’ve also branched out to Vlogging on Youtube.

Check out my first video below and stay tuned for more exciting things coming your way!

 

 

Plastic Wheels and Birthday Cake

Shiloh was determined. With Curious George at his side, his plump toes barely brushed the carpet in our living room, but his hands jerked the plastic wheel left and right. He knew how to steer, just not how to go forward. He will have to wait until his legs grow a bit longer. The rest of the room didn’t exist.

Seated on gray plastic chairs, dog hair covered couch cushions, and leaning on pretty papered pillars, our friends and family ooed and awed and laughed and snapped pictures with phones. I had frosting and food dried on my clothes, and though I was  exhausted, as evidenced from the dark circles I concealed with heavy makeup under my eyes, I took a minute to sit and look around at the guests in our home for Shiloh’s first birthday.

In the last year, children have grown, couples were married, people moved jobs, and friends were made. Regardless of what we went through with cancer, life continued to move. The moment was surreal. People say it takes a village to raise a child. I would also argue that it takes a village to recover from cancer and move back into normal life.

This is our village.

A Birthday Gift

Yesterday, I hopped off the exam table, exchanged baby pictures will all the oncology nurses, and burst into the fall air outside of the clinic. Though it’s warmer in Virginia than I’d like at this time of year, the leaves have become crisp and copper.

All of my scans and blood work are clear. My oncologist told me not only will she take out the mediport in my chest, the last piece of foreign material in my body, but that everyone in the hospital who was part of my surgery still asks about me and are still rooting for me.

I started my car ,and my gaze fell on wide windows across the street on the fourth floor of INOVA Fairfax Women’s Hospital. It was a year ago when I was a resident across the street. There are many things I hardly remember or try not to but a good deal of mundane ones which have stuck.

I remember the broccoli and cheese soup tastes delicious when it’s the first time you’ve been allowed to eat solids after two days of liquid beef broth diets.

I remember laughing until my stitches hurt as Daddy told jokes.

I remember asking Kevin what he wanted to eat because I would always max out my dining order.

I remember my mom becoming a pro at finding the nice hospital gowns which weren’t as faded and borrowing my hospital grade heating pad.

I remember my brothers sitting at the end of my hospital bed as if I was telling a story.

I remember figuring out how to hold the IV pole between my legs in a wheelchair so we could go to the NICU.

I remember asking the nurses if the person made it when I heard alerts over the intercom that someone was escaping the hospital.

I remember taking two laps around the hallway when they only asked me to do one.

I remember the friends that matter reaching out.

I remember both Lucas and Abalos families praying together.

I remember holding our precious son for the first time.

I remember being alive.

Today – I’ve turned 28 – and my greatest gift is today. 

When it Matters

Some things have become all too familiar: the apprehension of having an easy handed nurse place my IV in my good arm (left), park in the Green garage but don’t worry because the hospital will give you a voucher, wear comfortable, warm clothes, put on the laundered blue gown with the opening to the back, verify with the nurse all of my surgeries and medications, sign procedure release form, tell my mom I’m going to be okay, go to sleep, and wake up.

The only evidence of the biopsy on my body was a small poke in my chest and a healing needle would on the arm. Through the haze of the fading anesthesia, I kept reaching for Daddy’s arm to my right. My mom watched me through teary eyes at a scene all too familiar. It’s been almost exactly a year since I was admitted for cancer, and I’m sure the scenes of washing blood out of my post-surgical hair upstairs on the fourth floor bulleted through her mind.

"엄마 걱정하지 마. 나 안죽어," I said. 
Don't worry Mom. I won't die.

I watched my mom have to step out of the room, and I clutched Daddy’s arm again before I fell back asleep – waiting to be unplugged.

***

The phone number is saved, but after March 27th I moved it out of my favorites. I know I called before the result of the biopsy was supposed to be released, but I needed to know. I needed to know if what was growing in my chest was trying to kill me – if my life was on the line again.

When “MAGOPSA” blinked on my screen, I quickly snatched my phone up and swiped to answer. I knew her voice – the reassuring tones in Darlene’s voice could make the worst news sound like I can survive it all.

“It’s benign!” She said quickly.

That’s all I needed to hear. Anything after that didn’t matter – what the tumor was didn’t matter – and that fact that I didn’t need another surgery didn’t matter.

I will live.

I will see my son grow up.

I will grow gray with my husband.

I will be an aged, feisty English teacher.

The tumor was caused by chemotherapy but will go away on its own. I do not need another surgery or another scar.

It’s easy to believe in God and that He still heals with a clear CT scan. It’s harder to hold on white knuckled and rest in His peace when a scan shows a mass in your chest – but that’s when it matters. That’s when it matters what you’ve been feeding your spirit – discouragement or life giving scriptures. I’ve been that person who when disaster hits thumbs through the Bible hoping to find something relevant to heal my situation – to make me feel safe, but this time I was already equipped.

God’s character didn’t change from a clean scan to a chest tumor. He’s always been the same – from cancer diagnosis to healing.

Processing the Tumor

My body doubled over in the English workroom. I felt like I couldn’t breathe or think or see as I kept asking my sister-in-law over the phone, “What do I do?” My throat choked on tears and phlegm as I desperately said, “I can’t do chemo again.”  

In front of me on an unexplained screen was my worst fear eyeing me dead in the heart. The tumor measured 57.8 x 18.3 mm in my chest: the result of my six month CT scan which was supposed to be clear. All of this was supposed to be over.

As I left work disheveled, everyone assembled as if our town home had a crisis beacon. It almost looked like a funeral: family was everywhere, some were crying, there was an abundance of food, and there was something unspoken hanging in the air. Different from a funeral, there were slivers of hope peeking through the sadness and fear:

FAITH.

The next morning, Kevin and I traded off driving into the Colorado mountains with Shiloh asleep in the back – exhausted from the plane ride. As the mouth of Breckenridge opened to us with the snow kissed peaks, I welcomed the soft nibbles of crisp air on my face.  We had to get away to process.  I’m still processing.

Why is this happening? Is it cancer again? What if it’s nothing? Could it be a thyroid issue? What if I have to do chemo again? Wasn’t last time enough? Why can’t I have a normal life?

Right now, I’m living off the fuel of faith moment to moment. Some moments I feel robbed of what should’ve been a normal life, but I have to remember that God’s character hasn’t changed just because my CT scan results changed in six months. I don’t know what the biopsy will say. It could be a thyroid issue or something small, or it could be cancer coming for my life again. Right now, I don’t know anything other than there’s something growing in my chest.

I will NOT die. I can do this again if I need to. I can be bald again. I can fight again. I will survive again.

While in a shop at the base of Breckenridge at 9,600 ft, a quote printed on a custom sewn shirt spoke out to me:

“rough winds grow tough trees”

I am a tough tree.

 

I am NOT a number 

It’s CT scan time to confirm the cancer didn’t come back from my last one which confirmed I’m cancer free in March. The mocha flavored barium is swirling in my stomach where coffee usually sits at this time of day. I choked it down as I sat on the bathroom floor this morning since I puked some up onto my lap and into a hand towel. Kevin said I should’ve just stopped trying to drink it, but I’m determined not to be trapped on any bathroom floor every again. 

I should be standing in my classroom with my crazy students, instead, I try to make the receptionists laugh to shake off nerves and fear. I’m waiting for this lady to call my name. She’s the same person who did my last CT scan, and I’m not worried because I know her IV needle is painless. 

The scan will tell me I can continue to live my life normally and will let them take my mediport out of my chest – the last remnant of my fight with cancer. I want it out.

Statistics say 90-95% of stage IV Ovarian Cancer survivors have a fatal reoccurrence at the 6 month mark. The numbers also say I have a 17% chance to make it to my son’s 5th birthday. 

I AM NOT A NUMBER 

Tomorrow 

It’s mostly numb. I didn’t even notice until yesterday. You’d think I would know exactly all the parts of my body, the parts I have left, that work by now with specialists and oncologists always checking on me.

I ran my fingers along the fading pink line on my stomach, tracing my survival and recovery, but I barely felt anything. I pinched my stomach then my side and with the sharp difference in sensation realized some nerves would never come back.

I’m not sure if I’m sad about it. To some extent, there was relief when I thought if I ever need another surgery that it wouldn’t hurt as bad since the nerves are severed.  In an odd way, though parts of my body will never feel, my own emotions are amplified. Now, I try to feel everything or nothing. A difficult dichotomy as I usually don’t have a middle ground.

I want all life has to offer – to do all the things I hesitated doing before – because I learned life is short the hard way.

Tomorrow is my 6 month CT scan – the scan which will dictate whether or not they can take the last device out of my chest so I can be completely free. I’m expecting it to be clear. I’m expecting the green light.

I’m expecting it to tell me I’ll live.

Help

I remembered her office as I sat down on the upholstered tan couch. Ana’s blue square wall wrap with white flowers is something I would put in my own house. But I’m not in my own house, I’m sitting in her office with a whirl of emotions.

I don’t even know how I got here. Maybe it was one too many breakdowns – too many nights curled up next to Kevin gripping his hand and knowing he couldn’t carry all of my burdens on his shoulders. Maybe it was smashing into cancer and struggling to pick up the pieces – like trying to hold twenty rainbow plastic balls in your arms that pinch and slip onto the floor.

She greeted me though Ana knew I avoided coming last week and changed our sessions to every other week. As we talk, I convince myself it’s okay to need help. It’s okay to need one more person to lean on, but I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling like I always need help, that I’m not independent.

Her voice is soft laced with a gentle accent – just like any counselor should be – and I’m jealous of the brown locks that curve around her face. We dip and dive back – back to when I was never sick – back to when my 16 year old self listened to Linkin Park and sported dyed hair.

It gets uncomfortable – but I need to get to a healthier self.

For my husband, my child, my family

Myself

It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to need help.

Turning the Key

Slip Slip – Fall

Get Up

Slip Slip – Fall

Get Up

Slip Slip –

Shiloh took his first steps – tottering on two wobbly legs on beige carpet. We were both there. Kevin and I cooed and awed while absorbing the moment. Eleven months after our lives crashed into the iceberg – relentlessly frigid and dead – our little Shiloh wiggled his tiny toes independently on a warm September day.

Shiloh took his first steps, when just days before, we took our last steps in one journey.

Last Thursday, we stood in front of the empty musty apartment. Our belongings were already either in our new home or our car. The apartment gave us the exception to move out without penalty for my mental health to get into a new environment and somehow (The Lord) the money dropped out of the sky to fund our move. After we knew we were done, Kevin slammed the door – though he had to do it twice because the first time it was comically caught on the closet – and I turned the copper key for the last time. It was over.

This chapter was done – and I will never live in a home where I ever had cancer or chemo.

I love our new town home rental. I love turning the silver unmarked key and being greeted by all the familiar smells. All of our wall art polka dots our humble home in just the right places. The piano we got for free from Craigslist, but took an army of friends to get into the house, is finally tuned and settled in the dining room.

In our free moments, the cats are sunbathing in my writing room, our husky is resting on the kitchen floor, Shiloh is propped on one of our laps, and Kevin and I play the piano. The chords of our thriving life whips around staircases, overturned primary color baby toys, steaming coffee cups, and dog hair covered couches.