Crossing the Finish Line

My legs were burning but behind and before me were other women’s cancer survivors. I had never been in one place with so many other like me – others with missing organs, pink scars, quick beating hearts, and warm breaths floating through the cold drizzling rain.

An older woman we passed half a mile back draped a pink and teal felt blanket over her shoulders – the tied edges mingling the two colors. This cape of courage marked the years she has been thriving since both breast and ovarian cancer tried to claim her life. Though it seemed she walked alone, we were all her and she was all of us. We’ve all fought or will continue to fight for our lives.

A woman spoke before the Race to End Women’s Cancer 5K began in D.C. She was hoping to get into clinical trials because another growth had started. No matter what you were doing, when the word “tumor” was said into the air – we all held our breaths and said a silent prayer for our sister.  My heart reached out to her, embracing her in what would be another hospital bed with IVs.

We’ve been her, and she’s been us.

As we all walked toward the finish line, my husband said, “Look up honey!” A flock of birds flew across us, and it made my heart feel free. My family and friends and sisters trailed behind me as I was pushed past the finish line. My parents have always called me a free bird – but at this moment I truly felt it.

This was the goal I set for myself back in March when I was hooked up by both the MediPorts in my chest and stomach to chemo machines with a fear of the results of a post CT scan.

This was my moment – and I’m blessed to have more moment ahead.

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Alphabet Soup

All three of our noses are identical – rubbed pink by Puffs tissues. Not to be dramatic, but I’m pretty sure a third of the trash we will put out on the curb tonight for the 7:30 AM pick up will be soiled tissues. For the last few days, our little family of three has nursed each other and various stages of the seasonal cold.

While I wanted to push through and go into work today, I allowed my body to stop me. I sent in my sub plans at 5 AM and sprawled out on our Little Bug’s foam puzzle piece mat to get a few more minutes of sleep. I could feel some missing letters under me, probably the “R”, and drifted off next to dinosaur stuffed animals and other toys whose batteries have thankfully run out.

The house still smelled like the homemade alphabet soup I cooked last night when the three of us got up an hour and a half later. I remembered after running to Giant in the icy rain dripping in leggings, a jacket, and a baby blue baseball cap with a yellow pineapple on it, I found the only brand which sold tiny alphabet pasta.

While the sun dried the sidewalks from yesterday’s storm and the crisp breeze rattled the autumn leaves into our front yard, I sat in the kitchen sharing alphabet soup with my son.

I forgot I could get the common cold like everyone else – that I’m still human – and that I don’t have to be superwoman all the time. The only thing anyone expected me to be today was a mommy feeding her son alphabet soup as we both got healthier together.

 

Vlog #3: Mediport Removal

After a year with a plastic port under my skin and a catheter in my vein, I am officially device and cancer free. Today is the first day of being both device and cancer free. All of my scan are clear! I don’t know where to go from here. Will I always refer to myself as a cancer survivor?

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