It’s Not You, It’s Me

Hi. I know it’s been a while. It’s not you. It’s me. Really. I just needed some space. Seriously, don’t cry. It’s nothing you did. It was all me.

Why yes, I am back with a new blog entry. It’s mainly because I’m bored – I’ve been on convalescent leave for the past week. You’d think a week and a half off of work with a large quantity of prescribed narcotics would be fun. It’s not. I alternate between being too high and too sore from surgery to do anything. When even watching television takes too much energy and concentration, it’s bad. A walk to the beach 2 days ago wiped me out. (For reference, the beach is a 1 minute walk away.) The good/bad news is I still have 5 more days off of work. Five. More. Days.

The last time I wrote anything was November. We had just moved in to our rental place on the beach and I was starting training for my new job. I was supposed to be, but not highly motivated to be, looking for a new oncologist out here. We fell in love with our little beach town and promptly bought a house overlooking the Gulf and settled in with our pup Dexter. With so much space, we went and rescued an in-danger-of being-put-down-next mutt. She’s a pain in the ass sometimes, but Lucy is (mostly) a good girl with a huge heart who completes our little fluffy family. I also finished training for my new job and all was good here in Florida.

After much foot dragging, I started the process to find a new doctor and fulfill my promise to my old doctor. I quickly learned that while where we live is a tiny little paradise, the medical system is not quite up to par with what I was used to in L.A. It took days to find the specialist I needed and eventually we found 1 (ONE!) in a 3 hour driving radius from where we live – and he’s not even in my insurance network. Happily, TriCare has no problem covering all of my medical bills anyway.

***Quick recap for those of you joining the program late – feel free to skip over this paragraph if you’ve read my ramblings before*** In 2012, I was supposed to deploy to Afghanistan. One of my pre-deployment tests came back juuuust wonky enough to prevent me from going. That one itty bitty test that I wasn’t even due for for another 2 years saved my life. After much testing and biopsies, I had a rare, aggressive, already-invasive cervical cancer. After 1 major and 2 minor surgeries and the removal of most of my lady-bits and a whole bunch of lymph nodes, I was declared NED (No Evidence of Disease – we don’t get to say ‘cancer-free’ until 2017). Due to the scarcity of info on the cancer (my favorite was finding one sentence about it in a medical textbook under the heading: Other Rare Cervical Cancers), we *think* it has about a 35 percent chance of recurring. Recurrence is bad. Recurrence drops my 5-year survival rate from 85%-ish to 15%-ish. Because of that, we chose not to do chemo and radiation and instead save the big guns for the future if needed. (You can generally only use a round of radiation on an area once.) Follow-up appointments were once every 3 months for 2 years, and once every 6 months for 3 more years, then you get to party your ass off and be declared cancer-free. At my 2-year checkup, my tests were once again ever-so-slightly abnormal, and my oncologist made me promise to get set up with a new doc here in Florida ASAP and to have further testing done. And he told me I would not be ‘graduating’ to 6-month checkups. Jerk.

Now fast forward to today. In February, I finally went for a checkup with my new guy in Pensacola. 3 freaking hours away. He did some more tests and saw 2 teeny-tiny spots of concern that he thought were probably mild cellular changes that would likely regress to normal on their own. Luckily, he decided to go ahead and biopsy one. After much phone tag, tears of frustration, and wanting to throttle his office staff as time passed with no answers, he finally called me back with the results. Instead of the low-grade changes he was expecting, I had instead graduated to high-grade cellular changes on what lady-bits I have left. Essentially pre-cancer that needed treatment now. He recommended surgery as soon as I could get in to check more thoroughly, take more biopsies, rule out cancer, and then laser the crap out of everything to remove any abnormal cells that might be even thinking about turning into cancer. Yay me. Luckily, he informed me that it is NOT a recurrence of the cervical cancer.

After doing some research, it turns out I have hit the rare lady-bits cancer jackpot. What I have now is generally found in older women – like 20-30 years older than me – and has an occurrence rate of around two in a million. So unfortunately, I basically have a new, second cancer hanging out in the wings, waiting to make an appearance. There is no standard treatment, because it is so rare. What treatment there is, is barbaric as f$^k quite frankly. Menfolk, avert your eyes for this next bit. No, really – you probably don’t want to read this. Last chance to go read ESPN’s website or something manly instead. Ok, you had fair warning. So. Treatment for this pre-cancerous crap I have is generally internal radiation (yep, internal radiation – ladies, guess where that goes?), a topical chemotherapy that has been referred to as ‘hell in a tube’ that no woman who has used it recommends, a partial or total vaginectomy (yes, that is exactly what it sounds like), or the much less invasive surgical removal and laser ablation – which is what I had done. Unfortunately, the success rate for what I had done is around 50%. If this last surgery didn’t work and it comes back repeatedly, then we get to start looking at the other options. Again, yay me.

Ok menfolk, you can come back now. Icky lady-part discussions are over. On to talk of cute nurses and drugs – yippee! I had my surgery last week at Sacred Heart in Pensacola (you fellow Scrubs fans out there have to know how happy this made me) and I was pleased to discover the lack of giving a shit I’d dealt with previously is apparently only confined to office staff. The nursing staff was outstanding – I daresay better than at UCLA. They made me laugh, they got our warped sense of humor, and best of all, they gave me drugs in my IV (twice!) when my surgery got pushed back 3 hours. (When you’ve already been fasting and haven’t had coffee, 3 hours is a HUGE deal.) I cannot say enough good things about them. When I finally rolled out of surgery, they were there to gently wake me up and generally be nothing but sweetness to me.

Then my doctor had to show up and be a big old buzz kill. While initial reports from the lab were that none of the biopsies were cancerous, he found 4 spots of pre-cancerous dysplasia this time. Given that this stuff is supposed to take years to develop and get anywhere approaching cancer, I progressed from being clear in August, to 2 high-grade spots in February, and then to 4 high-grade spots in April. This does not make for a happy Samantha. I’ve got a follow-up appointment in a week and a half, and then I’m still on the tests-every-three-months follow-up schedule until I get 3 normal tests in a row. I’ve resigned myself to the likelihood that I may never have 3 normal tests in a row, and that I’ll be dealing with this for a while. Pessimism? Maybe. Reality? Maybe. But I’ll get the joy of being pleasantly surprised if it turns out differently. And I have noticed that this time feels a lot different than the last go ’round. Sure, waiting on test results and doctor’s appointments tend to make me insane for a day or two, but I haven’t once woken up furious, I haven’t lost sleep, and I haven’t once worried about my impending demise. I’d call that real progress from where I was in 2012.

For now, I’ve got some lovely narcotics, a husband who is keeping my mood up by tormenting me as I recuperate, and two pups who follow me everywhere and curl up with me every chance they get. All of this AND I still get to live at the beach? I think I’ll manage just fine. I’ll still stress every time I have to wait on test results, but in general I’m content with the fact that if any of this crap turns cancerous any time in the near future, it will be caught and dealt with very early. And we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. Until then, I’ll be off living my life and enjoying the hell out of it as much as possible. Peace out, yo. I’ll write more when there’s more to tell. Right now, I’m off to the beach to see if I can walk there and back without needing a nap. Fingers crossed!

P.S. If there are any ladies with a similar diagnosis who find this via Google or some other roundabout way and have questions or just want to chat, please let me know. I am more than happy to share info I’ve learned from reading research papers and other resources, to answer questions, and to direct you to support groups.

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Today’s cancer-related word of the day:  scanxiety. It’s the gnawing worry one feels when one is waiting for an upcoming CT scan and suffering through the long agonizing wait for results. It sucks. And yes, it is a thing. It’s a thing I’m dealing with now.

(Disclaimer – I swear I really am not a neurotic nutbag who thinks she’s constantly on the verge of death. This blog was started as a way for me to share my journey with other cervical cancer patients and for me to empty out the words that build up in my head on occasion. I promise, I am not running about willy-nilly 24/7 convinced that the sky is falling. But the fears that sneak up on me…those I need to get out of my head. What’s the old saying? A problem shared is a problem halved? Or some such nonsense? So consider it me sharing and you taking a portion of it from me. You’re welcome. Just wait until this cancer-thing is behind me and I start pouring out the rest of my neuroses. Mwah hah hah!)

Tomorrow we make the long drive back to UCLA for more CT scans. Pelvic and abdominal, with and without contrast. Then we make the long quiet drive home to wait a week or two for the results. As I’ve said before, the worst part of this whole thing is all of the waiting for test results. I wish they were instant. But instead, we have to wait on the experts to examine all of the snazzy little black and white images of my innards and hope they don’t see any new tumors or spots. Then again, who knows – maybe the whole point of the long wait is to purposefully give your mind time to explore all of the possibilities – as awful as they may be. To wrap your head around the what ifs. To run through all of the scenarios. That’s a new thought – I may have to explore that one some more and let that idea roll around my brain for a bit. Hmm.

At this point, I have been in remission/NED for almost 10 months. The ‘normal’ recurrence time frame for ‘normal’ cervical cancer, if it happens, is around 1.5 – 2 years post-treatment. Too bad I’m not normal. I won the odds lottery with a rare sub-set of an uncommon cancer, aka adenosquamous carcinoma, and it likes to come back and visit a lot faster – usually in half the time as ‘normal’ cervical cancer. I think the average is 9 months or so after treatment. I’ve been having some weird and worsening pains in my upper abdomen, hips and pelvis for a few months now. It started as random stabs of pain and has slowly become constant with random extra stabs of pain that take my breath away. I do not like it and I am not amused. Hence the reason for the new scans.

There are, of course, a multitude of other reasons that could, and probably do, explain the new pains. It could simply be adhesions from the surgery – that’s where as you heal inside, things kind of stick together and stay that way via the magic of healing and scar tissue. It could be that my hernias that I had repaired 10+ years ago have re-herniated and need to be repaired again. It could be that I have the new trendy gluten intolerance and it’s messing with my stomach and intestines. It could be that I have an ulcer. It could be that I’m just getting old. It could be any of a thousand things. Or it could be that my cancer missed me and wanted to come hang out again. Because you know, that bitch just can’t take a hint.

As I’ve been poking around the interwebs trying to edumacate myself and see if there are any new advances/breakthroughs in cancer research, one of the truly frustrating things is a lack of information. (What?!?!? A lack of information on the internet? Impossible! But true.) There are two main types of cervical cancer and most research dollars are logically spent on them. Unless you have squamous cell carcinoma (75-80% of all cervical cancers) or the less common adenocarcinoma (20-25% of all cervical cancers), you’re kind of out of luck as far as research goes. If you have either of those types of cancer, you can rest assured that there have been hundreds or thousands of studies done on your cancer and that the common characteristics are largely agreed upon. The less common cervical cancers that COMBINED make up about 5% of all cervical cancers – clear cell, glassy cell, small cell and adenosquamous carcinomas among quite a few others – have scant available information. (Hell, even my spell check doesn’t recognize adenosquamous as a word.) I usually just find a short blurb under the heading of ‘Other Rare Cervical Cancers’ in scientific journals and books. ‘Hey, here’s some other cancers that we don’t see very often so we don’t bother researching. We don’t know much about them, so good luck’ is the vibe I get there. Awesome. I really hope that UCLA is using my info for a study or research or something. It would be nice to contribute in some way that might lead to someone further down the road finding useful information on this cancer. Because the info that is out there SUCKS!

**Warning – the following paragraph is a lot of contradictory statistics and pessimistic snarling. Feel free to skip over it while I get some depressing crap out of my head. Thanks.** It is incredibly frustrating to read contradictory studies that vary so widely in their results. In the past 10 months or so, I’ve read that at stage 1B, my cancer (and no, I’m still not used to typing ‘my cancer’) has a 10-15% recurrence rate. And that it has a 70% recurrence rate. That it has an 85% 5-year survival rate. And that it has a 27% 5-year survival rate. That it’s highly aggressive. And that it’s no more aggressive than any other cervical cancer. That it has a poor prognosis. And that it has a similar prognosis to ‘normal’ cervical cancer. And then there’s my personal favorite that I learned today – one medical textbook reported that the 5-year survival rate in stage 1B patients whose biopsies showed lymphatic invasion is 69%. If there is blood vessel invasion, then it’s around 30%. Fun stuff, huh? Guess who had angio-lymphatic invasion? (‘Angio’ refers to blood vessels for those of you who skipped anatomy.) Turns out having early-stage cancer is good (‘good’ as in treatable. Not ‘good’ as in yay cancer!). But having early-stage cancer with tiny cancer cells floating throughout your lymphatic/circulatory system is bad. Doctors are understandably hesitant to be throwing chemo and radiation at every patient with early-stage cancer, but it turns out that can actually be a bad thing. Surgery without chemo/rad as a follow up is largely the norm for stage 1, but can leave the possibility open to one of those tiny floaty cancer cells finding a new home somewhere else and sneakily taking up residence without anyone noticing. Multiple studies have shown that in later stage cancers (2, 3 and 4), that same finding simply isn’t a factor. That microscopic invasion makes zero difference unless you’re stage 1. Whee hoo! So glad THAT’S the one thing multiple studies agree on. *eyeroll* **Annnnnnd end snarly depressing cancer rant**

So yeah. CT scan tomorrow. I’m feeling a little better about it after rambling through today’s blog. I just have to keep reminding myself that one groovy thing I’ve got going for me is that I know I’m not a number or a statistic. So here’s to being like all the normal ladies with normal cancers and continuing to be cancer-free. I guess we’ll find out soon. Just not soon enough for my liking.

Stoopid scanxiety.

The Road To Recovery

In the 9 months since my surgery, I’ve had ups and downs, made a ton of progress on the healing front, lost one oncologist and gained a new one, had another minor surgery to remove scar tissue, had another mini cancer scare, and finally generally come to a truce with the snarky voice in the back of my head. Sure, I’ve got another CT scan scheduled in a few weeks to make sure that some new/increasing pains aren’t a cancer recurrence, but overall I’m good. I’m looking forward and have an appointment in August with one of the best tattoo artists in LA for my celebratory one-year cancer free tattoo. Fingers crossed I didn’t jinx myself by making that appointment.

Now let’s see…where did I leave off? Ah yes – finally getting home from the hospital. I have to say, recovery was a bitch. I would have given anything to be able to sleep on my side. Or my stomach. Or flat on my back. Or to be able to stretch. Or eat real food. Or to not ever sneeze. Or laugh. (Good thing I’m married to a comic, eh?) Even with large amounts of painkillers, I was still uncomfortable and generally unable to sleep for longer than an hour or two at a time. And even then, I slept on my back, propped up with pillows and with pillows under my knees. I kept a small firm pillow by my side in case of a sneeze or a laugh – holding that pillow against my stomach kept me from screaming in pain if either of those things happened. I still needed a good 10 minutes to recover after I sneezed the first time post-surgery. Yay abdominal surgery and oodles of stitches! But overall, things were mainly irritating, uncomfortable and frustrating. The pain was largely managed by my popping a lovely dilaudid every few hours. (Seriously – best pain medicine EVER!) Other than having my mom here, the dilaudid was my favorite part of recovery. My husband would say in public that his favorite part was hearing that they successfully removed all the cancer. I think my husband would be lying. I’m convinced his favorite part was getting to stab me with a needle every day for 2 weeks. (I got sent home with a 2 week supply of syringes filled with blood thinner to prevent blood clots while I was mostly immobile.)

Eventually I was able to start getting around a bit better and was able to sit up and watch tv in the living room like a normal human being. Granted, even sitting up for an hour or two was exhausting and required a nap to recover, but soon I was back to vegging in front of the television like a good little American with no trouble at all. But I still slept – a lot. The simplest things exhausted me. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 5 pounds per doctor’s orders. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than the tv remote per my husband’s and mother’s orders. I was repeatedly told, ‘you only get one chance to heal properly.’ After a few weeks, that got more and more irritating as I got more and more stir crazy. But that is a true statement – even if you get tired of hearing it.

Finally, after a few quick return trips (where I realized exactly how many potholes and bumps there are in the roads here – OWWW!) to UCLA for post-surgery checks and let’s-see-if-Samantha-can-pee-yet checks, I got the catheter removed about 2 and a half weeks after surgery. Which sounds great, but wasn’t so great in reality when I had to drag myself out of bed in the middle of the night. *sigh* Slowly I started getting my strength back and was able to remain upright for 3 or 4 hours at a time. And 4 weeks after I was released from the hospital, my convalescent leave (6 weeks recommended by my surgeon) expired. The military docs only approve 4 weeks at a time no matter what the surgeon recommends. (Unless you give birth – then they’ll sign anything. Jerks.) So a month later, I dragged myself to the base hospital to meet with my brand new doctor. Oh, sorry. My brand new physician’s assistant. (Apparently I don’t rate a real doctor on base, even though I know they exist.) I told him I needed 2 more weeks – there was no way I could work 8 hours a day – and eventually had to beg him to give me 5 more days at least. His rationale for not extending my leave? I drove myself to the appointment. Never mind that when I got home, I went immediately to bed for 4 hours because I was so exhausted I could hardly move, or that I was in extraordinary amounts of pain. Never mind that my surgery had multiple complications and that I required a hospital stay 4 times longer than normal. Nope, I should have been good to go to head back to work. Awesome. Luckily, I have a great boss and a great commander – they told me to take my time and work up to full time. My first day back to work after 5 weeks at home lasted about 2 or 3 hours – after which I went home and went straight to bed. Good times.

After a few weeks of half-days, I eventually got back to working full time. I still am disappointed in the base hospital – the standard time off for my operation is 6-8 weeks. I got 5. Nicely done, Lt Physician’s Assistant. I honestly feel that this impacted my recovery in a negative way. But hey, at least he got me a referral to a physical therapist for my numb hand and numb leg. No wait – he actually made me pick one to get treated. Hand or leg. He told me he couldn’t get me a referral for both. I picked my numb right hand – figured I might need that to write or shoot or basically function. Too bad the physical therapist he referred me to doesn’t deal with nerve damage – which I learned when they called me to chat about what they could or couldn’t do for me. Rather than deal with Lt P.A. again, I spoke with my surgeon about it and decided to just see if my nerve damage would improve given time. And it did. Mostly.

Overall, I learned that when people say it takes a year to fully recover from a hysterectomy (radical or otherwise), they are 100% correct. It’s a ridiculously common surgery in this country (don’t even get me started on how quick doctors are to recommend them), so I think people think they’re no big deal. (A friend of mine who had the same surgery had a ‘friend’ tell her, ‘I know how you feel – I had my wisdom teeth pulled once!’) They really are a big deal. A normal hysterectomy is considered major surgery. A radical hysterectomy even more so. Add in the moving around of organs, tendons, nerves, veins and arteries to get to the lymph nodes that also needed to be removed, and it’s an even bigger deal. But 9 months later, I’m getting there. I’d say I’m about 95% right now. Sure, I have weird pains still and I still have a large chuck of my thigh that is half numb, but at least I can move my leg. And I’m still *knock on wood* cancer-free. Things could have turned out a lot worse.

Cut Me, Mick!

After lots of rambling blog posts, I figure it’s time to get back to the story. Last I left off in the whole cancer saga, I had been diagnosed, ran off to Vegas to get married and was getting ready for a major surgery that we hoped would leave me cancer-free. And that is where we pick up today.

August 9, 2012 – that was the date for my surgery. My mom had made plans to come visit and help out with things, and we wisely had her come out the weekend before. Since she’d never been to California before, we wanted at least a few days to do touristy stuff and to just visit while I was still a fully-functioning human being. We did Hollywood and the Walk of Fame, took pics of the Hollywood sign, stopped by Grauman’s Chinese Theater, had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and did a LOT of walking. We stopped by the Santa Monica Pier and took pictures of the ocean and enjoyed the evening air. We did some shopping and went out to dinner and just enjoyed each others’ company as much as we could in the few days we had before I turned into a bedridden druggie. I felt bad that her birthday was the day before my surgery and I had to spend that day doing prep for the surgery. Boooooo! Thrilling way for her to spend her birthday, I’m sure. But she didn’t complain once, nor did she rub in the fact that she had a birthday cupcake and could eat real food all day. She’s an awesome mom.

For those of you who’ve never had the joy of major abdominal surgery before, you get to spend the day prior eating zero solid food. Clear liquids only. Jello is ok, but not cherry-flavored/red jello. Of course – my favorite. Then the evening before, you get to do what’s called bowel prep. That involves drinking magnesium citrate and then suffering for hours. All of that is to ensure that your guts are good and empty when they start digging around and flinging scalpels about willy-nilly. It’s awesome. I never want to drink beef broth or chicken broth ever again. Jello can piss off as well. Thankfully, coffee was approved. 2 days in a row without coffee would have had me in jail for murder. And that is how I spent 8 August. Sipping broth, eating Jello and snarling at the TV any time there was a commercial with food on. I think I nearly heaved the couch at the TV when an especially tempting steakhouse commercial kept playing over and over and over…Oh, and I smoked. A lot. The plan all along was to quit smoking when I had my surgery. But by God, I was starving and nervous so my smokey treats were a source of comfort. We were all rather subdued that night – little chats here and there, but overall I remember us being kind of quiet. I talked to my dad back in Ohio, and I don’t know who else. We got my bag packed and puttered around the house until it started getting late. I had one last cup of broth (no liquid at all after midnight) then headed off to try to get some sleep.

The morning came entirely too early. We had to be at the hospital at around 5:00am, which meant leaving the house at around 3:00am. Ugh. Coffee was made for the cancer-free humans in the house and I paced around and smoked. I finished my last cigarette and we piled in to the car and started the looooooong drive to LA. On the bright side, traffic was the lightest I’ve ever seen it – mainly because no sane human beings are on the road at 3:30am. Or if they are, they’re just getting home from a really fun night. Drive drive drive…fast forward to arriving. We got all checked in, and waited. Then we got called upstairs to the next waiting room. I did some paperwork probably signing everything I own away to UCLA and absolving them of any responsibility if I died or ended up with a missing leg – I really don’t remember. After that, things are a blur. I got a snazzy hospital gown and met the 8,000 or so people who would be assisting/observing/cutting/keeping me drugged during the surgery. My oncologist/surgeon stopped by and my mom finally got to meet the man we’d been raving about. The best part came when the IV was in and they started the drugs that would help me drift off to a happy place. Ahhhhhhhhh.

And then I woke up to a nurse pulling off pieces of my skin. No lie. I was in the recovery room – still not 100% awake – and she was removing the circular sticker thingies that they attach monitors to during surgery. Unfortunately, my skin decided it would rather go with the stickers than remain on my body. Thankfully she figured it out after the first one and a half sticker removals. The blood and shrieking was probably a good clue for her. And then I fell back asleep. I remember drifting in and out a LOT in that room, and having lots of people ask me questions. I provided such intelligent responses as, “mmmph” and “uhhhhhgh.”  Or so I imagine – I was still high as a kite and was trying to hide from the pain. Finally I was awake enough to provide slightly more intelligent responses such as, “yes” or “no” and was moved to a curtained-off cubicle to recover until it was time to go home. Yep, that’s right. A radical hysterectomy and lymph node removal can be done as out-patient surgery, but they typically at least keep you over night. Thank you, American health care system. (As an aside, my grandfather had surgery to repair a hernia back in the 70’s or 80’s (I’ve had 2 hernia repairs – both out-patient) and he spent a WEEK in the hospital to fully recover.) The plan was to move me to a real room if one became available. If. In the meantime, all I could hear was people shuffling by my bed, nurses laughing and general mayhem. Not terribly restful. After much complaining (not by me – I was in a drug-induced stupor), the problem was figured out. Since my surgery had been done partially by laparoscope, the nurses saw that term on my paperwork, stopped reading and just assumed I’d had a minor surgery and I’d be up and headed home shortly. Ummmm, no. I believe it took a chat with the roving patient advocate to get things straightened out. Suddenly I was at the top of the list for a room. When one became available. And then the fun started.

After a few hours of seeing exactly how frequently I could push the button for my pain-killer pump/drip (some kick-ass dilaudid once every 6 minutes if you must know), it was time to kick my butt out of bed and make me start trying to walk. I was a champ and made it around the ward twice. I’m awesome. When I went to get back in bed, we noticed one slight problem. I couldn’t move my left leg side to side. At all. And then I noticed that my right hand was completely numb. Suddenly we had multiple neurologists stopping by to poke and prod and try to figure out how I ended up with nerve damage and how extensive it was. *sigh* But on the bright side, they suddenly found me a HUGE private room with a couch and (eventually) a recliner so Mom and Rudy could take turns sleeping and sitting next to me throughout the night. On the down side, I ended up staying in that private room 4 nights. Apparently I always have to be an over-achiever.

To make a long story shorter, the surgery and recovery sucked. Hospital stays suck. It never failed – every time I would finally start to get some sleep, someone would come in to give me drugs and take my blood pressure and temperature and make sure I was generally still alive. Apparently I scared them a few times with my so-low-we’re-not-sure-she’s-really-alive blood pressure, but I like to think it’s because I was just so comfy and relaxed from my happy drugs, and much less stressed after learning that the pathology came back clear and I was cancer-free! I slept off and on for days, I got poked and prodded by therapists and neurologists and had every person who had anything to do with my surgery stop by to check on me, I watched bad TV at 3:00am and I walked. A lot. That was the one recommendation I saw everywhere to help with recovery – to walk as much as possible. One of the worst parts of this surgery is gas pain. Yep. Not the removal of organs and cutting and chopping and stitches – the gas. They actually inflate your abdomen for more room to work, and a lot of the gasses they inject you with end up getting trapped when they sew you up. So picture the worst gas you’ve ever had – that pain that shoots all the way up through your shoulder, and thinking you might actually explode if someone poked you, and thinking that exploding would be better than being in pain. Now imagine that multiplied by 1,000 and you might have an idea. I lost track of the amount of times I cried from the sheer agony, even hopped up on one of the most effective (and most street-valuable) pain medications there is. And walking is supposed to help work it out of your system. It doesn’t, by the way. It just has to dissipate on its own.

The one thing I didn’t do was eat. Or use the restroom. Both of those are things you have to be able to do before they’ll discharge you. I finally tried solid food on day 3 – plain baked chicken. Nope. My stomach was having none of it – thank you 5+ hours of general anesthesia. And to this day I absolutely cannot eat baked chicken. Yay for new food aversions! And I learned that nurses get rather concerned when you start turning beet-red after being given new drugs and that I’m allergic to an anti-nausea medication. I also learned that you may joke that you have a bladder the size of a pea, but in reality you do not. Because another joy of a radical hysterectomy is waking up with a non-functioning bladder. They have to move the bladder out of the way, and in doing so your bladder turns into a lazy bitch. Oh, you’re going to move me out of the way? Fine. I quit. And that bitchy, non-functioning bladder can take months or years to stop being bitchy and lazy. So I got to experience another first – having a Foley catheter. Surprisingly kind of awesome. You know how you’re watching a great movie and you hate to have to run to the bathroom in the middle of it? With a catheter, you don’t have to. You know how you wake up in the middle of the night desperately needing to use the bathroom, but you’re just soooooo comfy that you don’t want to? With a catheter, you just stay in bed. So handy! But seriously, they are typically needed for just a few days after surgery. They removed mine on day 4 (I think) and had me see how things went. I sipped water all day, as usual. Nothing. Didn’t feel like I needed to use the restroom at all. Finally after drinking a ton of water, the nurse suggested I at least try to go, even if I didn’t need to. Nope. Nothing. But I started feeling…off. And then I started feeling sick. And then I started feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. Oops – turns out I had over a liter of liquid in my bladder, and I couldn’t feel it at all. Needless to say, my Foley and I were good friends for weeks. *sigh*

Finally on Monday morning, the gas was gone, I kept down some solid food and was cleared to go home to finish recovering – 4-6 weeks of staying home and taking drugs. Hallelujah! I couldn’t wait to get home to my bed! Granted, I wasn’t looking forward to a 2 hour drive home after having surgery, but hey, that’s what drugs are for. But wait – we need a doctor to sign this, someone needs to pick up your 42 prescriptions, we need you to sign this, we need to find you a wheelchair…ugh. From being told I was cleared to go home to actually getting out of the wheelchair and into the car was easily a good 5 or 6 hours. Just enough time for us to hit a shit-ton of traffic on the way home. Yay! Luckily, as my husband and mom started bickering about the drive, my drugs kicked in and I reclined my seat, hugged my pillow to my stomach and snoozed. Ahhhhh.

So there you have it. The story of my lovely hospital stay. There’s obviously much more I could tell, but that’s the summary. I wouldn’t wish this surgery on my worst enemy. Wait, let me think…actually, I would – because I’m kind of bitchy that way. The pain, the sheer helplessness, the pain, the constant stream of strangers in and out of your room who poke and prod you, the pain, the feeling of dehumanization you go through even with an outstanding medical staff, the pain and the frustration of your body just not doing a damn thing you want it to – it all sucked. But even with all of that, there were moments that were pretty awesome. Waking up at 2:30am and having your mom by your side immediately ask if you need anything. Hearing your surgeon tell you that your lymph nodes and all the other tissue they removed came back clear of cancer. Having your mother-in-law and her husband drive out to check on you and pray for you. Seeing your husband smiling through tears as he holds you and whispers, ‘my wife doesn’t have cancer.’ Having your boss stop by the hospital on his way back from a TDY just to make sure you survived surgery – even though it’s out of his way and he’s still got 2 hours to drive to get home. Phone calls to make sure you’re ok from your crazy Las Vegas family that adopted you as one of their own. E-mails from around the world from friends. The first hot shower when you finally get to wash your hair after days of laying in bed – even if it was short and you had someone waiting to see if you’d pass out or not. That first sip of coffee after days without. Realizing that it has been 5 days since you’ve had a cigarette and realizing that you don’t even remotely want one. Realizing that it was a long, painful and agonizing road, and there’s still a long way to go, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – yeah. That was good.

There’s still a skosh more to go with the story, but not much. I really just wanted to get the surgery/hospital stay portion of the story out of the way. I’m sure my husband and my mom could write pages about how those 5 days went, but I wanted to write my part of it as I remembered it in a general sense. There was a lot of frustration and anger and sadness and depression that I haven’t captured here – the surgery combined with a mini surgically-induced menopause is a horrible emotional storm – but I’ll save that joy for another day. For now I think reminiscing about the surgery and hospital stay is enough fun. 

Almost 7 Months Later…

So here it is – almost 7 months after my radical hysterectomy and lymphadenectomy for stage 1B1 adenosquamous carcinoma, and 4 days after my last itty-bitty-clean-things-up-and-do-another-ginormous-biopsy surgery. And I’m still here. Fuck you, cancer. And yes, I’ll get back to telling my story soon. Just wanted to post an update for you kids and to let folks know that it gets better.

This isn’t a long, story-telling blog post. Like I said, just an update to let everyone know I’m still alive and kicking. And I’m doing better than I have in a long, long time. Maybe it’s the upcoming 40th birthday looming in the not-so-distant future that’s motivating me, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m finally not in pain every damn day, but I’m finally feeling really good, and working out again so I can be even more awesome than usual for my birthday.

Don’t get me wrong – I still have pains that I can’t quite figure out and that my oncologist wants to take happy snaps of (CT scans for those of you who can’t translate my dork-speak), and I still have moments where I get angry or emotional over stupid shit. Example – for my surgery on Thursday, which was at the same UCLA where all of my treatments and surgeries have taken place, I was asked twice to provide a urine sample. I knew exactly why both times, and both times I was kind of a bitch about asking what they needed it for. In my not-able-to-have-kids-due-to-cancer-and-having-my-uterus-removed-by-you-people mentality, they should have made the minor effort required to glance at the computer screen and realize why I’m there. And to perhaps not ask me to take a pregnancy test. We women-folk who have had that option taken away from us tend to get a little touchy about things like that. Or so I hear.

So yeah. Occasionally I get a little cranky over silly things like not being able to have kids (which wasn’t even really in my plans anyway). And occasionally I get to thoroughly enjoy a good workout (first time for everything, right?). And occasionally I still get emotional over people I barely know on-line who find themselves right where I was 8 months ago. And occasionally I freak out about every little ache and pain and am convinced my world-class doctors are idiots. And occasionally I remember that I am truly blessed to have received the medical care I did and to have kicked this beast’s ass. And occasionally (ok, maybe more than occasionally) I remember that the fight isn’t over yet. But I always remember how very, very lucky I am to still be here. And no matter what is happening in my life, I still laugh at least once a day. And as long as I’m still laughing, I’m still living – and living well. And I think that’s all anyone could ever hope for.

I swear, I’ll catch everyone up on the story soon. Honest. Feel free to blame my latest surgery, Christmas, New Years, President’s Day, MLK Jr Day, winter superstorms, the flu, sequestration, the giant meteor over Russia, drone attacks, the Blade Runner murder, North Korea’s nuclear test (or Dennis Rodman’s visit), the pope’s resignation or Lindsey Lohan’s everything on why it’s taken so long for the latest update. Just don’t blame it on me. Because it’s my blog, dammit. And I’ll get there when I get there. But it’ll be soon. I promise.

And The Hits Just Keep On Coming…

So now that I’m feeling loads better, let’s get back to the story shall we? Last I left off on my recounting of this fabulous journey, I had just been informed via a static-y phone call that my last biopsy had found a tumor and that I officially had stage 1B1 adenocarcinoma of the cervix. Phone calls were made, tears were shed and much alcohol was consumed. And then…

I thought I had reached the end of the internet before – I was wrong. I googled and read every possible bit of information on my diagnosis. I read research papers, chat boards, textbooks, articles and studies. While waiting for my next appointment with my oncologist, I had to. I had to keep my mind from wandering off to places it shouldn’t go. (I’m a blonde – my brain wanders. A lot.) So I read and I learned. And what I learned was that I basically had 2 options: a radical hysterectomy and lymphadenectomy or a combo of radiation and chemo. Whee hoo! So being the wise chicky I am, I had already decided I would go the surgical route. Because the joy of radiation is that they can only treat an area once – so if I went the chemo/rad route and the cancer ever came back, I would be screwed. And really – who wants to do chemo/rad? No thanks. I like my hair. And being able to taste/eat food. And having bones that aren’t brittle. And having skin free of burns. And…the list goes on. Anyhoo…so fast forward a week to meeting with my groovy oncologist. Rudy and I were scared as hell, but oddly jovial. Nervous laughter was the theme of the day. I swear the poor office staff must have thought we were both insane what with all the giggling and inappropriate jokes while we waited for the doc to come in. Gallows humor is a hoot. You should try it.

After the initial hi/howyadoin’/handshakes with the doctor, I wanted to get right to it. I wanted to read with my own eyes the test results. Luckily my oncologist was already aware that I had a nasty habit of researching the hell out of everything, so I let him talk to Rudy while I scanned the test results. Scan scan scan…screeching halt. Wait, what? Adenosquamous carcinoma? What the hell? That’s TWO cancers at the same time! Adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma! Damn you static-y cell phone! Scan scan scan…screeching halt. Wait, what? Lymphovascular invasion? What the hell? That means the cancer is in the blood vessels that go to my lymph nodes! At that point, my brain shut down. It really did. The doctor, as expected, offered the choice of surgery or chemo/rad and explained the pros and cons of each. He recommended surgery and I agreed. There was apparently a lot more said during the appointment, and a lot of discussion of chemo/rad, but I don’t remember it. At all. According to Rudy, my brain conveniently blanked out each and every mention my doctor made of chemo/rad. To this day, I don’t remember discussing it at all other than him offering me the choice. But we apparently also discussed the possibility of me needing it after surgery depending on what they found or in the future if the cancer ever returned. Who knew? I’m still half convinced that Rudy’s just trying to trick me into thinking I’m losing my mind because I have zero recollection of it. Good times. What’s even better is that I read that pathology report 200 times in the next day or two, and every single time I missed another ‘wait, what?’ line. The brain really does a marvelous job of protecting us from things we aren’t quite ready for yet. The other biggie that I conveniently didn’t see (literally, the pathology report was in bullet format, about 10 lines – it wasn’t rocket science) was that my margins weren’t clear. Meaning when they took the ginormous biopsy, the cancerous cells went all the way to the edge. Bad juju.

So after a very surreal appointment with my fabulous oncologist (who really, really does look and sound like the long-haired blonde dude from Die Hard), we headed over to do up the paperwork for my surgery. Luckily they had just done all the pre-surgery lab work for that pesky biopsy, so I only had to re-do a few blood tests. But since this next one was such a major surgery, I had to have my military doctor do a physical and certify that I was healthy enough to undergo the surgery. Huh. That was new. I’ve had a few surgeries requiring general anesthesia in my almost 20 years in the military, and not once did I ever need a physical to certify I would live through a surgery. Odd. (And yes, this is totally out of order time-line wise, but my on-base physical provided me with some seriously morbid giggles. Perky young airman checking me in – ‘So, have you had any health issues since you were last seen here?’ Me – ‘You mean besides the cancer?’ Perky young airman – horrified stare and stammering apology. Me – *snicker*) Ok, back to the story. Paperwork. Scheduling surgery. So there was no debate, no ‘what works for you.’ I had already been scheduled for surgery. 9 August 2012. I signed some paperwork, read that I had to be at the hospital at 4:45am (WHAT?!?!) and that I couldn’t eat solid food the day prior, and nothing after midnight the day of. Awesome. At this point I didn’t care about the surgery. What I cared about was that I was going to be one starving, caffeine-deprived, raging bitch. (Looking back, that might be the worst part of this entire journey – the amount of tests and surgeries that I had to have that required me to starve/dehydrate myself for extended periods of time. Are these people not aware that at a bare minimum I need caffeine to survive?!?!?) So I signed my life away to UCLA Medical Center and we went on our merry little way.

I think we were a little more subdued after that. The jokes were done, the smartassery was done. Suddenly having the piece of paper that officially spelled out what was wrong with me made everything 100 times more real. I couldn’t stop reading it, as if the words would change if I looked at it hard enough. We had a quiet little lunch that quickly got back to normal as we fell into our old routine of mocking the doctors and students as they hurried by. (Yeah, yeah, we’re horrible people. We know. It’s really why we get along so well and are so perfect for each other.) I honestly don’t remember the rest of the day. We could have gone to the beach or we could have gone straight home. All I remember is both dreading and desperately needing to call home and tell my mom and dad AGAIN that things were worse than we thought. I was tired of making my mom cry, but I needed to talk to her and my dad and have them tell me that it would all be fine. And they did. Because they’re amazing. And wonderful. And always there for me.

So the phone calls were made, e-mails sent and all was quiet in Samantha and Rudy world for the night. We had a few drinks, we talked, we cried, we held each other. Mostly we reassured each other that I would be fine. And he reassured me that he would take care of me no matter what. But that he would kick my ass if I didn’t come out of this ok. He so gets me. I think that night was when we started discussing the idea of one last ‘whoo hoo!’ trip to Vegas before my surgery. Knowing that I was going to be laid up for weeks and potentially could take months to get back up to feeling human, we thought it might be a good idea to have one last fling and forget about the cancer for a few days. It was also kind of nice to have something to look forward to other than having my innards ripped out. And as we talked about Vegas over the next few days, there was of course the natural progression to discussing the other thing that Vegas is known for besides gambling. That’s right kids…weddings!