Tag Archives: surgery

Prognosis Good, Surgery Curative

Cameron, the 10 year old lab mix dog that saw me through trials and tribulations of cancer and treatment is apparently cancer free as well after open chest surgery last week.

We went in on Tuesday to meet with a surgeon – to talk about options. He was the best in town, we were told – referred by our vet and other doggie parents – and Davis and I took off from work to attend.

We stood there with an anxious dog while Dr. Kerpsack reread some of the materials we had and then laid it out – Cameron either had a cyst (benign) or thymoma (cancer) based on all the imaging and all the studies and all his experience. If it was cancer, surgery was necessary and soon – if it was a cyst, it could get big enough to cause him trouble later but it wasn’t urgent. But, if we wait, guess what? It could get too big to operate at all. And, oh by the way, because our vet had conveyed a sense of urgency, he had scheduled time to take care of it today. What did we think?

I am still reeling with the intensity of these last few weeks – the recurrence of cancer in our lives, the pain of not knowing what to do, and then the difficult decision to put our helpless sweet animal through what would end up being open chest surgery. Now, remarkably, he is up walking around – we have to keep him from jumping on the bed – he doesn’t know his own limits it seems, only I know mine more acutely now than ever.

I think I am going through some version of PTSD – not that it was combat in the traditional sense, but certainly trauma. And for the entirety of the journey I feel I was able to keep moving – to not allow myself the moments of doom or anxiety that could have enveloped me.

The irony is I feel it now.

I feel such a sense of commitment to Cameron’s recovery that each decision – should he be allowed outside? Should he be forced to sleep in the guest room? When do I give him his pain meds? How do we separate him from the puppy energy? Each step has taken on a gravitas that is seeping into my bones.

All those feelings of loss and pain and loneliness are here again – retrograde.

The irony is that he’s doing great. The surgeon claimed that the prognosis was good and they removed the mass which it turned out was thymoma. It was 6cm by 10 cm. They also removed a giant lipoma (fat mass) that had developed under his chin – 30cm by 30cm. Now he is the dog formerly known as frog dog. And I can tell he’s loving it.

I just feel a little buffeted this time around. I have no additional bandwidth to process all the newness. The new normal again and again and again. It’s one thing to get a strategy for sleep with a new puppy. Quite another to layer on the adult dog recovering who wants to go upstairs but can’t with doctor’s orders and how do you keep them separate and happy with one adult available during the day over a three day weekend?

My husband has borne the brunt of the sleep disruption because I have no capability – no reservoir of strength any more for sleep disruption. I am so very thankful. Where would I be if I were truly sleep deprived instead of just sleep altered?

I also have no capability for additional responsibilities. I am ridiculously thankful we have the puppy – who else could we cuddle and coddle while going through this emotional rollercoaster? And she’s amazing and cute and funny and potty trained.

I went back and reread the notes and cards that you all sent throughout my most focused battle – with each day it gets better – you’ll look back on this and realize that it really did suck – and that every victory is worth noting.

It was a good reminder of the path I have taken – and now that I can help my dog take it too as best I can.


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Friday Night Milestones

This has been a week of proving to myself – and to others around me – that I am back in some small measure. I planned a fantastic surprise birthday party for my amazing, busy, now 40-year old husband … and it was like old times. Except for the fact that everyone commented on my hair and how long it was (bangs) AND that I had to take a nap the day before because of all my excitement and I was up until midnight because I didn’t get my sleeping meds on board until late AND I got totally sunburned on my neck sunburned in the 30 minutes I was outside setting up.

But more than all that, it was a milestone for me to be normal again … and so on a Friday night when normal people are enjoying their date nights or big plans, I update my blog in front of America’s Home Funniest Videos as Emmy calls it. Eating leftover pizza and drinking leftover beer. And loving it.

The medical milestones are equally important – I have my last surgery next Thursday and we are all relatively unfazed. Anesthesia? Replacing my expanders with implants? Whatever. Did I get the kids lunches made?

Side note – not a good idea to do a belly flop when you have had recent chest surgery. I speak from experience. Don’t tell my doctor but it was woefully uncomfortable and I didn’t catch any of the minnows and I laughed until I cried.

We also had our first family dance recital – where I was told in no uncertain terms that I did not appropriately put makeup on my daughter who is 5. I put on too little. I went with the daytime look and needed NIGHTTIME.

Everyone wants to know how I am. I am better, I am altered, next week I will be out at the end of the week, but I am totally happy. I will admit that I look forward to conversations about my next job … being a full time Mom and running errands with three yahoos in tow or trying to have a moment’s sanity is a skill I may sadly lack.

And, as to my project with Duke? I am working with the Alumni Affairs office to establish the Blue Devils vs. Cancer organization as an umbrella organization. They have asked to launch Duke Today Alumni website using my story … and I am talking with the Duke Cancer Institute to develop individual fundraising websites.

What once was routine is now a pleasure – juggling the many lives of mommyhood, survivorhood, wifehood – (party planner, tooth fairy, backstage Mom, cheerleader, reading expert and coach – all in the last week)

I hope to be better about

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All The News That’s Fit to Print

When I was little I had many attempts at keeping a daily diary. It never worked. I would write furiously for days or even weeks, but then I would miss a couple of days. I would feel overwhelmed by all the news I had to impart on those missed days and put it off a few more. Then I would have multiple ideas on what to say and couldn’t decide so I would put it off further. A week or two would go by and I would be – literally – paralyzed by my own inaction. How could I possibly just start new?

Clearly, I haven’t left everything behind.

I have been wanting to write for a while now, but have been paralyzed by that same feeling – how much I have to write! how many thoughts! how much news! Today I decided – screw it. I’ll write what I can. The evolution continues.

I have recovered greatly from my surgery. I still can’t sleep on my stomach and have some weird sensations and twinges, but I feel pretty normal given the fact I have giant plastic balloons in my chest. I am still working on my stamina – I did get the clearance to start exercising again – and strangely, I was elated! I never much liked exercising for its own sake, but the inability to even go for a fast walk for so many months left me feeling like a shell of myself. Just being back on the soccer field to help with my son’s soccer tournament coaching was a joy. And, exhausting.

I have enjoyed the fact that as I improve, the ripples of that improvement spread across our entire family. My husband suddenly seems lighter – I am able to help shoulder the burden in a meaningful way. We are talking about the future – traveling, next year’s school year – and it is starting to feel almost normal.

And the children are elated that I am up, around, helping, playing.

Henry, the oldest at a mere 7, is processing. Always. We have had a myriad of conversation over the past weeks I didn’t expect – about the Boston bombings, the Cleveland rescues, Austin bond elections for schools. (No I didn’t bring these up – thanks school!) But the conversation seems to often come back to my health. On Friday night, he wanted to go out to dinner to celebrate Mommy feeling better again.

This weekend, Mother’s Day, I didn’t take naps, we went for a hike … it was blissfully normal. And yet, at the end of the day Henry would ask about my last surgery – when was it? what was it? did I have stitches?

I feel guilty that I am not sharing the details of this reconstruction with them only when I am evading questions in those conversations. I know that there is too much information for them to process, and that they just need to see me recover, and to them, I am there. They are especially excited that I have bangs 🙂

Much of what I have learned on my journey is with me – a sense of calm, understanding my health is important (yes I am still drinking the green smoothies daily and amazingly haven’t gotten sick since I started – three months!). And, I have more patience. It manifests itself in small ways – helping Emmy read, or walking with Carter to the kiddie pool and back for the fourth time. Or answering the question from Henry for the fourth night in a row – are you almost all better, Mama?

Mostly, yes.

Yay, he says and opens his arms wide for another hug




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American Heroes Day

At Camp Mabry in Austin, they hold a yearly event called American Heroes day which brings together first responders, our armed forces, and importantly, all of their gadgets and vehicles to central Austin. We have attended every year since Henry was born – at first he could barely crawl up the helicopter skids, now he is dashing in and out, asking questions about medics and war crimes and North Korea (who makes bad choices).

It has been in many ways a barometer of our family – I didn’t go when pregnant, I didn’t go when sick (last year) and this year I am not going. Is it because I have a physical excuse? Not really. It’s not because I’m fatigued and nauseous and miserable like last year. But I did make excuses – I’m going to get sunburned, my back hurts from standing at soccer, I need to rest. It’s true. But mostly it’s because I need space – quiet, a blank screen, the endless love of the dog and my thoughts.

I am cool and collected and completely and utterly falling apart inside. I believe it’s been that kind of week for a lot of people.

I was euphoric after my trip to Duke. I was sobered by my pre op appointments. I was thankful for my birthday and all the wishes. I was transfixed by the scenes in Boston. I was shocked at the magnitude in West. And in the middle of it all – reconstruction looming.

It’s an interesting word after this week: reconstruction. Boston will have to reconstruct what happened with the bombings and the physical and emotional space of the Marathon. West clearly will have to reconstruct its facilities, its community, and its livelihood. I am reconstructing myself physically – a long, arduous process that takes almost as long as chemo, so that I can be whole again. I am terrified that the pain will be too much. That I have just adjusted to this new normal and can not do the same again.

But I know that reconstruction, though hard, is the most critical piece to get right.

I have surgery on Monday and start it all again. Pain management, physical therapy, a step by step process towards a goal – not normalcy this time, but close.

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Celebrating milestones in mommyhood and cancerhood

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of completion in cancer. There is the day you finish your first round of treatment – for me, chemo (July 26th). The day you – hopefully – find out you are cancer free (for me August 21st). The day that you have finished with all the disease oriented treatment rounds – for me, yesterday, October 29th.

But cancer is a funny thing – even with each milestone, each completion, there is always something else – there will be more PET scans, more medicine, more surgeries even for me who is considered a success story. When people ask if I’m done I can honestly say – mostly. And yesterday and today, that is enough.

I got confetti-ed at radiation. My best friend in attendance along with my array of supportive and amazing nurses. I had to see the doctor before I left and I honestly couldn’t listen to a word she was saying. Something about when I would feel totally better, when my skin would be totally healed, when I needed to come back. All I wanted to do was run out of there – I almost ran out in my hospital gown. I probably would have if Christy hadn’t gently pushed me back to the changing room. (A friend said the same had happened to her!)

The relief is overwhelming. My gratitude immense. My happiness complete. I find myself already with more energy – placebo effect I’m sure – but who cares? I feel like I’m on the upside of a very dark and twisted year.

I had a moment of reflection yesterday – that one year ago I was battling a 12 week business travel commitment by Davis, a trip to Dubai for our family. It all ultimately led to the mammogram in January, the biopsy in late January, the diagnosis on Feb 13th. And what has been a trying but ultimately beautiful year for us – watching our children grow and blossom, strengthening our commitment to each other. Being proud of each other for the burdens we bore.

One thing this whole journey has taught me is that even if you think you are making the right decisions, if you think that you are tackling the important questions every once in a while life will pull the rug out and say – see, this is what really matters. Life matters. Joy matters. Children matter. Friends, family, strangers matter.

And of course, to top off the day of happy chaos we had a crazy soccer practice for the twins team where I was coach (Davis out of town) – parents versus kids, a few rounds of knockout with the kiddos keeping the balls from their parents, and a team celebration at Luby’s. But because of this week and because of this year, it wouldn’t have been complete without a few surprises – Carter losing a tooth at soccer practice. Emmy having her American Girl doll arrive, Henry having a stellar report card sent home.

Yesterday at least, the Universe said “You did good Wards. I may trip you up again, but enjoy this time. Celebrate each of these moments. They are what matters.”

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Priorities and Fashion with Drains

Yesterday I waited with baited breath for 5pm to arrive. It had nothing to do with me, with cancer, with chemo or medicine. It was the time when the class lists would be posted for Henry’s first grade. We rapidly scanned all the names and found two buddies (which is really what Henry cares about). Our teacher is new which should be good fun. I was more excited and amazed and hysterical about this placement than I was about my surgery. I guess that means that the Mom in me is coming back.

My body is also coming back – in both good and bad ways. I have been surprised by my recovery – I take advil a few times a day, and I’m sore really only under my left armpit – where they took the nodes. I haven’t been able to shower because my doctor doesn’t want water to get in … but I am waiting for that with full anticipation. My plan still stands – radiation to start in a few weeks, for about six weeks, and then reconstruction in 2013.

But in general, I fully anticipate a return to life sooner than I would have expected. It may be at a slower pace, but I am looking forward to becoming an owner of my own body. I feel that this has been a gift to me – If I hadn’t gone in for that just in case mammogram, who knows?

And, in a bit of looking forward, I am starting to accumulate a wish list for fall items – my size may not be right, but surely I deserve a little pampering. Dressing right now is a bit of a drag – I am wearing a camisole from Nordtrom’s that provides a little support. But, my doctor didn’t want my drains in it since it is compressing me a bit (the drains act on suction) … so I wear that cami, then a pair of jammies or a tank top long enough to hide my drains and put pockets in the shirts (they are called pink pockets. It limits my options, and I also want to make sure that the children don’t see it – they would be mortified. There is a limit to complete transparency.

If you see me out and about tomorrow (meet the teacher for all three children at different times) you can note my casual chic pixie cut (that really is just my hair growing back!) and hopefully not my drains. Feel free to tell me if they are showing – I’d hate to go around unzipped all day. XYDPDQ.

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Day Two and Three – Ned on Nausea

It’s been a relatively quiet couple of days. I am more active than I anticipated would be possible – but that’s like comparing a sloth to a turtle. I go domnstairs a few times a day – yesterday took a nap, and deal with the medical fun of my surgery. I will spare you to gory details, but I have drains, and I get to empty them three times a day and also mask them from prying children eyes but hiding them in garments.

The first few days it was in a beautiful adorable jammie from my friend Sara, today it’s in a pair of jammie tops because I spilt so much food on the other jammie. Yup – eating well (pancakes, Maggianos, cookies, and brownies – plus of course my ever present mints, water, and G2 gatorade). I busted out a move to Dr. Pepper today just as a treat but I think I will still need a nap.

The only odd thing yesterday was a bout of nausea so quick and stealthy it was an assault on my senses. It tooke place while I was dealing with my drains so it could have been further reinforcement that I made the right choice in not going to medical school, or it could have been some kind of medical by product. Anywhoo took my nausea meds, conked out, and awoke four hours later better. No problems since.

I have been able to do things I wasn’t expecting – opening the fridge door, picking a dandruff te size of quarter out of my hair (yes I have dandruff now in my one inch mane) and managing to get in and out of my bed by myself. I am answering emails, chatting (a bit) and generally being a slowly improving invalid.

Like I said before, nothing compared to what I expected or to the pain of a C section with nursing. So I’m happy with that. SO happy in fact that I’ve started poking around on twitter and pinterest. Not too much of a user, but I hope to have my way. If you are interested, my good friend who’s a senior at Duke, Allison Vernerey – who is the founder of the Blue Devils vs. Cancer student branch. She lives in France and the team is traveling in Europe – and had dinner at her house. Here’s a clip and article: www.goduke.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_LANG=C&ATCLID=205621411&DB_OEM_ID=4200

Anywhoo – news is great. Seeing my surgeon a week from Monday to hopefully get the drains out, Hearing from the surgeon on Mon/Tues to find out the path report on my lone node which looked clean. If it is clean, maybe no radiation. Not counting on it, but you never know. I would love to get now boobs from Nordstrom regardless – if only to say so.

And maybe there’s an emotional component that will sneak up on me, but right now I’m just happy. Happy I feel so good, happy everything went so well and happy I might be officially cancer free. I didn’t like my old ladies my anyhow. 😉 And, good news is that because of all this, my ladies will get adjusted for eternity. SO mine will be perky even when I’m seventy. Another good note.

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