Monday, June 28, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 14

This afternoon I got a phone call from a woman named Edith in the surgery booking department at the hospital. She had received my pre-surgical questionnaire that I filled out at my last appointment with Dr Baliski and needed to go over it with me. We were on the phone for 25 minutes and besides answering a ton of questions, I also got some more insight to what will happen around surgery day.

Some of the preparation for surgery day surprised me. Edith asked me about any medications I'm taking including vitamins and supplements. I take a multi-vitamin and a calcium supplement every day. I have to stop taking them 5 days prior to the surgery. I also take a digestive enzyme with every meal, but those are okay to continue taking. Thank goodness because I feel terrible when I haven't had them! She also went over the usuals with me; no jewelry, no perfumes, no body lotions, no makeup and no nail polishes. The nail polish surprised me. I always wear nail polish on my toenails. I feel naked without it! It never would have occurred to me to remove it. I need to be freshly showered when I arrive at the hospital as well. I think I'll wash my hair and put it into braids to try and keep it as manageable as possible for after the surgery. I'm sure washing my hair will be next to impossible for the first few days. We also went over diet restrictions. No food or water after midnight the night before the surgery. Surgery day is going to be a loooooong day. I do believe an 11 pm snack will be in order!

Edith was also able to give me some insight as to how the surgery day would go. She could see on my file that I'm already booked in for a radioactive dye injection at 10 am, so I assume that I will need to be at the hospital by 9-9:30 am. After the dye injection, I'm booked for another scan. She didn't specify what kind of scan, so I don't know if it'll be a CT scan again or something else. The scan will be at noon and she said it would last 1 hour. I hope that hour includes checking in and prep. I can't imagine the scan itself would take an hour. I still don't know my surgery time, but I do know that there's a note on my file that surgery cannot be before 1:30 pm. The surgery itself will last 1 hour and I'll be in recovery for another 4 hours. I asked Edith if the surgery was in the late afternoon if I would have to be admitted for the night. She was certain that, baring any complications, I would be discharged that evening.

The one bit of a stumbling point I am facing now is after surgery care. Edith told me that I must have an adult with me for the first 24 hours after I'm discharged. Since I live alone, this is a bit of a challenge. Kerrie has his kids, but thankfully his sister and his mom have offered to help. His sister will watch the kids during the day while we're at the hospital. After Kerrie's mom gets off work, she will watch the kids and put them to bed. This will allow Kerrie to stay with me at my house that night. Now I'm just trying to secure a babysitter for myself for the next day. Kerrie will have to be back at his place by 8 am to watch his kids so his mom can go to work. I've called my Dad and Karen and both of them are going to talk to their bosses tomorrow about getting the day off. Fingers crossed one of them can do it because I really don't know what plan B would be. Edith warned me that the bandages would be quite large and cumbersome and that I won't be able to use my left arm for awhile. So my goal over the next 2 weeks is find clothes that will accommodate my limited range of movement in my arm and will fit over the bandages. Time to go shopping in my closet!

We covered a lot of ground in our conversation this afternoon and although it's nice to know a bit more about what's going to happen (and with a bit of advance notice!), it's also overwhelming and scary. When words like radioactive dye are thrown around it certainly makes things more real. It makes it hit home a little harder that I'm not just having surgery; I'm having surgery to remove my cancer. And that's scary! I guess this still all seems a little surreal. Even though I'm living this journey, it still doesn't always feel real. As odd as it sounds, it sometimes feels like this is happening to someone else. I wonder if it ever will completely sink in what has happened. If it'll ever feel like it is happening to me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: Boss Fight Number 2

Today was my appointment with Dr Bobyn that I booked after the blood test results. I had phoned and left a message for him when I had gotten the call booking my CT scan and was hopeful he’d have my results. The hospital had said it would be 3 days before he’d receive the written report but I was hopeful he could tell me something. While I was sitting in the big general waiting area, I heard the receptionist tell someone on the phone that Dr Bobyn was going to be away for 2 weeks and they were booking appointments for July 14th. Now I was even more hopeful they he had the results as I knew that I would not be able to get back in to see him before he was on holidays. My hopes were answered!

Dawn called my name and Kerrie and I were led into one of the exam rooms to wait for Dr Bobyn. Dr Bobyn was running behind so we waited for a while. When it was my turn with the doctor, he came in with a smile and good news. He had a few documents to go over with me. We went straight for the big one right away; the CT scan results. They had come in! He had the fax from the hospital that showed that my scan came back clean with no signs of the cancer having spread. Yahoo!! The scan checked my entire torso; lungs, liver, kidneys, bones. He was very happy about these results and obviously, so was I! Dr Bobyn made me a copy of the written scan report, but honestly, I don’t understand any of it! That’s okay though because this medical-ese translates into one more boss has been defeated and I’m moving on to the final boss! Rawr!!

Dr Bobyn also had the second opinion report with him. I had already heard most of those results from Dr Baliski, but I was nice to go over it with Dr Bobyn too. The second opinion report also found that the mole was in fact melanoma but that my prognosis looked good that it would be all removed with this next surgery. That’s what I like to hear! I’m sure Dr Baliski is a swell guy, but seriously, 3 surgeries in just over 2 years is enough! Random crossing of paths in a restaurant or the movie store would be fine with me! No more surgeries please!!

Dr Bobyn once again told me that although my prognosis is looking better and better with every test, I would still be at high risk for melanoma again. I will need to be monitored for the rest of my days and any new or suspicious moles would have to be removed right away. He told me again about all of the new discoveries and treatments coming out for melanoma and reassured me that although I have to be careful, new science is helping to make the fight against melanoma a powerful one. Every time I see Dr Bobyn, I just know that he cares about me. That in itself is reassuring. It’s good to have such a great doctor in my corner.

So one more boss is down and I have the end boss in my sights! I’m coming for you Mr. Cancer and there’s no stopping me now!! Surgery is scheduled for July 12th and although I’m absolutely terrified, I’m feeling positive that this will be the last. I’m ready to go from cancer fighter to cancer survivor. I’m optimistic that Dr Baliski will remove any remaining cancer cells during this surgery and that the lymph node tests will come back clean. My next appointment with Dr Bobyn will be on July 26th. I’ll go into his office to have my stitches removed and get what will hopefully be the last pathology report from the hospital. This time a good pathology report. The Queen has spoken!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 13

Lucky number 13! Hopefully it brings me some luck in my scan results!

This morning was my CT scan. My information package didn't make it to me in time, so I had no idea what to expect. It took every fibre of my being to keep me away from Dr Google too! I'm conflicted now as to whether or not that was a good idea. I think I'm still leaning towards a good idea. Dr Google can be a dangerous thing!

Kerrie and I got to the hospital at 10:15 this morning and checked in at the x-ray department. I was really surprised at how quickly things moved! I had anticipated a much longer wait. We were only in x-ray check in for 5 or 10 minutes before they called me to the CT scan waiting area. A nurse came out only a few minutes later and called me to change into a hospital gown.

The nurse brought me around the corner to the change room area and handed me my gown and a bag to put my street clothes in. She gave me instructions to change out of my clothes while she went to get me my cup full of water that I needed to drink. She told me after I had the water, she'd get me to sit in the chair and she'd be over in a few minutes. I looked over to the chair she had gestured towards and froze. It was one of 'Those' chairs. I asked her if that chair meant I was getting poked. Her answer instantly began the flow of tears. I was getting an IV. Oh my god, that's the worse kind of needle to someone with a needle phobia like mine! Blood test needles and freezing needles aren't great, but at least they're quick. In and out. IV's stay in. Gah!!

The tears came on quick and there were lots of them. I can't believe how fast they started falling down my cheek. I am such a baby when it comes to needles. I hate it. Logically, I know there's nothing to be scared of; it's completely mental for me. I'm not scared of the pain; they don't really hurt. I don't know what it is. I wish I did. My breathing was quick too and I think I must have gotten pale because the nurse was making me sit down in a hurry. I was fortunate to have the nurse I did. She was very kind and considerate. I sat in the change room and drank my water while the nurse went to speak with the scan technicians. She was so sympathetic to my fear that she wanted to ask the technicians if it was necessary for me to even have the IV. That was so sweet of her. = ) Unfortunately for me, the technicians confirmed that it was necessary for the IV to be in place for the scan.

I got changed and went and took my seat in The Chair. The nurse went to find Kerrie for me to have him come sit with me. Poor Kerrie, he had no idea what he was walking in to! He came in from the waiting room and I was sitting in The Chair blubbering and shaking. So much for trying to hide my irrational fear from him! Kerrie sat with me while the nurse put warm blankets around me and my arms. She had given me another glass of water that I thought I was suppose to drink then. I was suppose to wait and drink that right before going in for the scan. Oops. I had already drank half of it. But it did help calm me down a bit. The nurse was very nice and just took her time. She didn't rush me at all. She offered to get me some Ativan to help calm me, but I wanted to do this drug free. I really don't like taking things, so I try to avoid it as much as possible. She left me to try and calm while she tended to a couple other patients.

Waiting for the IV was certainly another low moment for me. I hate that I'm so scared! I always feel so stupid while I'm sitting there crying and shaking away. I don't know if it was better that I didn't know what was coming, or if it would have been better to have known before hand. From what a few people had said to me, I had prepared myself for the possibility that I'd be getting a needle. I had no idea it would be an IV. Sitting there in utter panic about this IV, I broke down again. The whole situation all became very overwhelming again. The reality that I have cancer hit hard and I broke down. If only you could quit cancer!! The nurse came back and offered me some Ativan again. Again I declined as I was determined to do this drug free. She also told me that I didn't have to do this at all, but I knew that meant that the scan wouldn't be done either. That wasn't an option. As much as I hate needles, not knowing if the cancer has spread is worse. I had to do this. So the nurse got her equipment ready and I picked a spot and stared. It's never that bad to get these needles which makes me all the more mad at myself after it's done! She was very good with me. I've also never had an IV line put into my arm. I've only ever had them in my hand. I must say, the arm is better!! You don't feel it nearly as much as the hand. After she was done, she wrapped my arm in a blanket so I couldn't see it. I appreciated that. She had me stay seated in the chair for awhile while I calmed down. When she came to check on me again later, she said my colour was much better. I must get pale when I get needles. I'll have to ask Kerrie.

Once the nurse felt I looked okay to stand, Kerrie and I were taken to some chairs outside of the scan room. Again, we didn't have to wait long before my name was called. We were both taken into the scan room. Kerrie was escorted through to the other side to another waiting room. I finished the last of my water and laid on the scan bed. The scanner was nothing like I thought! I was expecting a long tube, like what MRI's are done in. This was just a small doughnut shaped thing. The technician helped me get situated on the bed and in position. I had to lay with my arms above my head and would be prompted on what to do with my breathing. The nurse had given the technicians a heads up about my needle fear, so they were great about that too. The technician gave me a warning when she was going to unwrap my arm and hook me up to the IV tube. I just kept my eyes closed.

Soon we were ready to get started. The machine started doing it's thing, moving me back and forth through the doughnut. The nurse and the technician both warned me that when the IV fluid was turned on, I could feel a warm sensation and possibly have a taste in my mouth or a smell. They also warned me that some people feel as though they've wet themselves. That made me giggle. = p The technician gave me the 5 second warning that the fluid would be entering. At first I felt nothing. Then I felt the warm feeling. It wasn't what I expected. I'm not sure how exactly to explain it. It was odd, but nothing bad. I didn't get the smell side effect or the sensation that I wet myself, but I got the taste one. It tasted like I was sucking on a penny or something. But even that wasn't all that strong. The warm feeling passed quickly. The taste lingered for awhile.

I kept my eyes closed the entire time and just listened to the breathing prompts. The technician told me that I was almost done, that it'd only be another minute or so. That was fine, the worst part was over! This was a piece of cake! Just as I was going in for my final scan I felt a wet splatter on my face and arm. I told them something just sprayed me, but they didn't hear me. When the machine stopped, a different technician came in to unhook me. I still had my eyes closed at this point so I didn't know what had happened. It turned out the IV tube snapped and it sprayed the fluid stuff all over the place! After he took the IV needle out and I opened my eyes, I saw just how much of a mess there was. That stuff was everywhere!! It was all over the machine, the floor, the bed thing, me. I asked the technician if that would mess up my results at all. I really didn't want to have to do this again! He told me that I had gotten enough of the fluid into me and that it shouldn't be a problem. It was just a mess. The technician got a warm cloth and helped clean me off. The fluid was super sticky. The cleaning crew won't be happy to see that mess!

The first technician came back in at that point and helped me sit up. She had me sit on the edge of the bed for a few minutes before she'd let me stand. I was still a bit light headed but I kind of fibbed when she asked me. I knew I was okay to stand and I just wanted to get out of there! I wasn't allowed to eat and I was hungry! I wanted to go get some food! So she gave me the green light to stand up and took me to where Kerrie was waiting and where another set of change rooms were. I changed back into my clothes and we were out of there! The whole process took less than an hour! I was shocked!! It would have been even less without my freak out. = p

Dr Bobyn and Dr Baliski both have access to the scan pictures now, but the written report won't be available for a few days. I have an appointment with Dr Bobyn for Thursday but I think I might have to make another appointment for my results. I'm hoping Dr Bobyn will be able to look at the scan pictures and tell me a bit, but I'm sure I'll have to wait for the written report to get my full results. Fingers crossed for some news on Thursday!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 12

We have a date! I got a call this morning from the hospital's booking department. The lady introduced herself as Tammy and told me that she was calling in regards to Dr Baliski's request for surgery and asked me if July 12th would work for me. I told her that was fine and asked if this was for the CT scan. Nope, this was for the surgery! Tammy seemed shocked that I hadn't had the CT scan done yet and told me that that had to be done before she could book the surgery. She told me that she would phone the CT department and "gently prod" them to see what was going on. I thanked her and she promised to call me back.

Want to get something done at the hospital? Get another hospital staffer on it!! haha Not even 2 minutes later Tammy called me back. I've been waiting weeks for news on the CT scan appointment. Dr Bobyn and Dr Baliski have both contacted the hospital to see what the hold up was and got nothing. Tammy got me an appointment in 2 minutes!! Tammy told me that she had spoken to the CT department and they could get me in on Tuesday, June 22nd at 10:40 am! She said that I should be getting an information package in the mail, hopefully before my Tuesday appointment, that would outline the CT scan procedure what I needed to do before the appointment. She told me that the CT department had me booked in for July 9th, but that appointment would not work for when she wanted to book my surgery so she had them bump me up. Go Tammy!!

Tammy's persuasion with the CT scan people means I also have my surgery date scheduled. I will go in for the lymph node biopsy and the surgery to remove more skin and tissue from my arm on July 12th. I am to call the hospital on July 9th to get my surgery time and pre-surgical instructions. The surgery will be done under general anesthetic (completely knocked out), but it is suppose to be a day surgery, so I should be going home that night. I will need some help when I get home as I'm not allowed to lift anything with that arm. I also suspect that I'll be hurting quite a bit considering the amount of skin and tissue being removed from my arm and then another incision in my arm pit as well.

So thanks to Tammy, I'm no longer twisting in the wind! I have my dates booked! The other good news is that now I know I can go on my 4x4 trip! Woo hoo!! I'm hoping to have the last few things on the truck done in the next few days and then a mini-trek next weekend to test it all out before the big multi-day trip on the July long weekend!

In another twist of good fate, I already have a doctor's appointment scheduled with Dr Bobyn for Thursday. I called and left a message for both Dr Baliski and Dr Bobyn with my scan date, so I'm hoping that when I go to see Dr Bobyn on Thursday, we can go over the scan results right away! Things are falling into place!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 11

My phone rang this morning with an unknown number. At first I thought it was finally the call about the CT scan. Nope, still waiting for that. However, this call may have been better! It was Dr Baliski calling to tell me some good news. He started off by telling me that I still have melanoma but then there was a beautiful but! He had called to tell me that he had some great news about the spots in the biopsy that they thought was the cancer spreading. They now believe that those spots are not additional spots, but part of the original mole that was spreading. Yahoo!!

Dr Baliski explained that the course of action would remain the same; I will still go for a CT scan and still require another surgery and lymph nodes biopsy. However, my odds that the cancer has not spread have just gone up significantly! Now THAT’S a great way to start a Thursday! I believe that this is what the mystery second opinion was about as well! I will confirm that that’s where this new information came from the next time I talk to him. I’m not 100% out of the spreading cancer woods yet, but my prognosis just got a whole lot better! World 11 and surprise mini-boss down! Now let’s hope that the CT scan call comes in soon too and we can keep the good news coming!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 10

This morning I had an appointment with my surgeon, Dr Baliski. The appointment went fairly well and I did get some more information. The biggest thing right now is waiting for the CT scan. Everything else is on hold until that appointment happens. When Dr Baliski called me into the exam room, the first thing he asked about was if I’d had the CT scan done yet. I told him that I had not nor had I heard anything about it. He left Kerrie and I in the exam room and made a phone call in his office. I could only hear bits of it, but I’m pretty sure he was phoning to find out what the holdup is. When he came back into the exam room, he checked my arm and armpit again and then went over the biopsy results with me again.

The good news is that the melanoma is not deep. The not so good news is that the pathology report showed signs of spreading. The lab found additional spots away from the main mole. Dr Baliski then explained what would happen at the next surgery. He’ll go in and take a large sample of skin and tissue from my arm. I asked what to expect for a scar, and the scar will run about the length of my upper arm. It’s going to be a biggie. The sample he’ll take will go right down to the muscle and he warned me that there could be some nerve damage that could result in some loss of feeling in the arm. I’ll be restricted from doing any heavy lifting for the first 2 weeks and no volleyball for at least 3 weeks. I guess I’ll be the team cheerleader for the first half of the season. He also told me that I’d be injected with some radioactive dye (I think he said dye?) that would travel to my lymph nodes. That would determine how many of them would need to be removed. He told us that generally it’s 3 lymph nodes that are removed; however he is not the one who decides that number. He also showed me where the incision in my armpit would be. The skin, tissue and lymph nodes will all be sent for testing and with any luck, they’ll come back clean. I asked Dr Baliski what would happen should the next skin and tissue samples also show additional spots and the answer I got was a bit scary. He told me that at that point, we would just watch them. Yikes! I pray that there’s no additional spots found and I will be done with this journey!

Kerrie came into the exam room with me and I’m glad he did. He had some questions that I had not thought of. He asked Dr Baliski what exactly the CT scan would test. I knew the scan was to look for spreading, but had not thought to ask which organs they would be checking. Dr Baliski told us that the scan was to check my kidneys, liver and lungs. After my blood test results, I am fairly confident that my kidneys and liver are okay. It’s hard not to be aware of every cough lately, so it’ll be nice to know that everything there is okay. Dr Baliski is hopeful that I’ll get the call and potentially be in for the CT scan this week. He is quite confident that the cancer has not spread further than my arm, but needs these results before my surgery can be booked. Once I get the call and appointment, I’m to call Dr Baliski’s office right away to let them know. Dr Baliski can access the results of the scan within hours of the test; however he needs to know when to look. Once I get the appointment date, I’ll call and book a results appointment with Dr Bobyn as well.

We also talked about the second opinion referral that was made by the hospital lab. I’m still in the dark about that, but I now know I’m not alone! Dr Baliski also did not know why my results had been forwarded to this doctor in Victoria. He felt very strongly that there was no question that this was melanoma and is confused as to why the results would have been forwarded. The report from the doctor in Victoria still has not come back, but I hope that it will soon. I think we’d all like to know what’s going on there!

So overall, the appointment went well. Some good news, some scary news and a bit more information. I am not at all looking forward to this surgery. It will be done under general anaesthesia which also scares me a bit. My last big surgery certainly didn’t go as planned, so it’s scary going into this one. I asked Dr Baliski when he thought this surgery would happen, and he feels it will be after the July long weekend now. That would be great! We’ve been working on my truck since the end of last summer and planning a 4x4 trip for the July long weekend for months now. I would be super upset if I had to miss it!! Plus it gives me something to look forward to. I like distractions. Good distractions. Anything to keep me from thinking about the surgery!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What To Look For In A Mole

As part of secret-coming-out day, I posted my story and this link on Weddingbells. I truly do credit Sarah's story as the push to get this mole looked at and felt strongly that I needed to share my story with that community. One of the girls on the site posted a very kind reply and also posted a guidelines of sorts of what to look for in a suspicious mole. I thought it was very helpful and wanted to post it here too. Here is a copy and paste of that part of her post (Thanks Diva if you're reading!).

For those wondering about their own moles, the basic ABCDE warning signs to determine whether a mole is a melanoma are as follows (American Academy of Dermatology, 2009):

A. Asymmetry: one half unlike the other half
B. Border Irregularity: irregular, scalloped, poorly defined
C. Color: varied from one area to another, shades of tan and brown, black; Sometimes white, red or blue
D. Diameter: greater than 6mm, but can be smaller
E. Evolving: looks different from the rest or changing in size, shape, color

In addition, there are other features of melanoma such as surface changes (bleeding, oozing, scaliness) or signs of itchiness, pain, or tenderness.

When I first went in to have my mole checked a few years ago, it fell into only a couple of these categories. By the time I had it removed, it hit into all of these categories. This is a wonderful reference guide for those now questioning their own moles, but I would like to say, any mole that gives you cause for concern should be checked out. Even if it doesn't fit all of these categories. Early detection is key and it is always better to be safe than sorry! If you aren't 100 percent happy with the response you've been given, get a second opinion. Your health is worth it!

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 9

My Dad and Karen got home last night safe and sound. I picked up some stuff to make burgers and a couple salads while Kerrie picked them up from the airport and then we all met at the house. Dad and Karen were so excited about their trip and had many stories to share. It was great to hear they had such an amazing time! Kerrie and Kari helped me make dinner which I very much appreciated. While I was outside putting the burgers on the barbeque, Kari came out to see how I was holding up. I am so grateful for my Kerrie/Kari support system. They have both been so great. While we were all building our burgers, Dad asked me what was new. I decided this was my window to tell him we needed to talk after dinner. He asked if it was good or bad and I just said we'd talk after dinner.

After dinner, Dad went out to open up the motorhome for Auntie Joan and Uncle Bev to stay in. Kerrie went out to move my car and then called me outside. So out on the front lawn, I told my Dad I have cancer. My stomach was in a knot. I think the news took Dad by surprise. I showed him the scar on my arm from the biopsy and read him some of the results. I'm sure once the news sinks in a bit more (and Dad has recovered from the jet lag a bit more!) there'll be some more questions.

After we left Dad's house, I broke down. It was a bad night last night. Kerrie bought me the second season of True Blood on dvd and I had wanted to watch the season finale again before tonight's premiere. So we went to his place and watched that. That was a good distraction. But pretty much as soon as it was over, it all started to hit me again. I don't know if finally telling my secret made this all the more real or what, but it all suddenly became very overwhelming. Maybe I had been bottling things up in an effort to hide it and the cork finally came off. I don't know. I just know, last night was not one of my prouder moments. I bawled. It was like the last few years of my life caught up with me all at once. I feel like I've been hammered. I feel like it's been non-stop hurdles for the last few years and I desperately need a chance to catch my breath. And I'm scared. I hate that I have to have another surgery. I'm tired and I don't want to do it. I know that I have to, but right now, the tank is on empty. I think the news that I have cancer is finally just hitting me.

I am feeling a bit better today. The nice weather helps too. My frenemy, Mr Sun, is finally out!! Today my secret comes out and that's a little nerve racking. I've been letting aunts and uncles know and soon, I'll come out on facebook. The ultimate news revealing source =p I questioned whether or not to make this entry. It's hard to be open about my breakdown, but I also wanted this blog to be an honest journey through Cancerland. Last night was a bad night, but maybe I needed to have that. Today is a better day. I will get through this. I have to. There is no other option!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Mike Tyson Centre for Biopsy

It's been just over 3 weeks since the biopsy/removal and I still look like I was bitten!! Seriously, did I somehow wander into the Mike Tyson Biopsy Centre?! Oy! I'm a little scared to see what my arm will look like after the next surgery. Dr Bobyn warned me that it'll be big. Perhaps an elephant will take a nibble this time! ; )

Tomorrow evening my Dad and Karen come home. I'm getting anxious nervous for them to be home. I'm nervous to tell them but I've definitely reached the point where I'm ready for this to all be out in the open. Dad and Karen don't even know that I had the mole removed, so unfortunately this will be a lot of information all at once for them. Kerrie is picking them up from the airport tomorrow evening and I'll either go with him or meet them at that the house. I'm sure they'll be very jet lagged after spending a month away, but the selfish person in me hopes to be able to tell them tomorrow. Keeping this secret has been hard and exhausting! If not tomorrow, Sunday for sure. It'll be a long next couple days.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: Boss Fight Number 1

This morning I had my blood test results appointment with Dr Bobyn. Can I just say that my doctor is awesome? I feel so lucky to have a doctor like him!

I went to my appointment this morning not knowing what to expect. I had no idea what the blood tests were for and was doubting whether I should have even made an appointment. But I was following doctors orders to come in after every test to discuss results, so there I was! When I got called into the small room, Dawn, Dr Bobyn's nurse was very kind and asked me how I was feeling. Overall, I've been feeling okay. I have my moments when the reality of the situation hits and I get scared, but I've been trying to focus on one day at a time and one appointment at a time. Any more than that and I start to feel overwhelmed and anxious.

I didn't have to wait in the small room for long before Dr Bobyn came in. He quickly checked the biopsy scar on my arm and then pulled up a chair to go over the results. Dr Bobyn explained to me that these tests were to check for complications and effects that can be associated with my cancer. The first was checking my creatinine. It tested my kidney function and passed with a solid 76. Next, eGFR. This also tests kidney function and also passed with a solid 78 (anything above 60 is what we wanted to see here!). LDH was next on the list. This one is to test liver function and I passed it with 229. My sodium and potassium levels were also good which means my electrolytes are doing just fine. Next up, hemoglobin. In this test they were checking to see if I was anemic. Passed again! My white blood cells count was good which ruled out leukemia (whew!!) and my platelet count was also good. No worry of clotting issues. Dr Bobyn was very happy with my results and after they were explained to me in simple English, so was I! He wrote some notes for me on the lab report and told me he'd make me a copy to keep as well. Boss number 1; defeated! /flex

I told Dr Bobyn that Kim, Dr Baliski's receptionist, had called to book me an appointment to see Dr Baliski in his office on Monday. Dr Bobyn asked if I had heard about a CT scan appointment yet and I told him no. This was not acceptable I guess and Dr Bobyn wrote a note for me to take to Dr Baliski on Monday. He said that he wanted Dr Baliski to phone him Monday after I'd seen him so that they could discuss my treatment. Have I mentioned I have the best doctor? Dr Bobyn told me I was far too young to be this sick and he wanted to make sure that I was a top priority, not falling through the cracks. It feels great to know there's someone in your corner fighting this hard for you! We talked a little bit more about the CT scan and my upcoming surgery and Dr Bobyn told me about some new findings and a new drug that has just been released for melanoma cancer patients. He told me that there was an article in the newspaper the other day about it and told me about a case where a man who's melanoma had spread to many spots on his body received this new treatment and the melanoma spots that were all over his body were gone. That's the for dummies version of course. There were more fancy words in Dr Bobyn's version. hehe Dr Bobyn assured me that even if this cancer has spread, there's new options coming out everyday, especially for this form of cancer. Before leaving the room, he made me promise to make an appointment for 2 weeks from now to come in and see him again. By then he will have discussed my case with Dr Baliski some more and have even more information for me. Dr Bobyn smiled and told me I was a special case and he wanted to see me often. Even sooner if I got in for more testing before then.

So the first boss has been defeated and now I'm making my way towards the next one! My next appointment is on Monday morning with Dr Baliski. I think this will be the pre-surgical appointment, but I'm not certain. Right now I'm being a good little patient and doing and going where I'm told! ; )

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 8

Needles, CT scans and appointments; Oh my!

Last Wednesday, after my appointment with Dr Bobyn, I got a call from Kim, Dr Baliski's receptionist. She called to book me an appointment to get a blood test and give me a bit more information. I was to go in and get my blood work done asap and once the results were back, she would send the request in for the CT scan. The hospital would them book the scan and call me with the appointment time. The next morning I had to drive my sister to some appointments so I requested that the blood work be done at the lab on KLO. Kari's first appointment was in that area at 8:15 am and would take at least a half hour. So the next morning, I dropped Kari off and headed over to get stuck. The girl that I had was great. When they first called my name, I was brought to a cubicle kind of area with 2 chairs. At this point my usual case of the shakes began. The taker of the blood noticed me shaking and asked if I needed to lie down. I declined. I just wanted to get it done! While she got everything prepared, another lady was brought in and seated in the chair across from me. No, no, this was not good. In order to keep myself even remotely sane during a needle, I need to pick a spot, stare and focus on breathing. Needles to the left of me; needles to the right of me; lady getting poked in front of me; nope, this won't work at all! Thankfully the girl was really good about it and wasn't bothered at all when I requested a more private space. The private area with the bed was available and soon it was all over. She told me it would be 2 business days until my doctors got my results, so I called Dr Bobyn's office right away to make an appointment. The soonest appointment I could get is for Thursday (June 10th), so I'll know what the blood work was for and the results then. Hurry up and wait. This is certainly a lesson in patience!

Saturday was another long and busy day. It was the day I started telling family. Allan had agreed to come up to help me tell Mom. I was pretty sure she wouldn't take the news all that well and I didn't know if I could handle her reaction. Waiting for Allan to arrive was nerve racking. My stomach was one giant knot. Allan arrived at about 2:00 pm and I headed upstairs. We sat down and Allan asked if I wanted him to say it. I said I would do it. "Mom, I got the test results back and it's cancer." Her reaction surprised me. There was some misdirected anger towards a caregiver that has been giving us problems and then not much of a reaction at all. I told her and Allan what the course of action would be and explained the different types of skin cancer and which one I had. I started to feel silly for having Allan come over. Mom was dealing just fine. Or so I thought. Sigh, yes, my great plan backfired. Allan was barely down the street when the tears started. She didn't want to worry Allan. Oy, he had been there to help! I spent the next couple hours sitting with Mom, trying to calm her.

After Kerrie got off work, it was time for Round 2. We had made plans to have dinner with my sister, Kari and I had convinced my brother, Bryan to come by for a bit. I told him that I had something important to tell him that I didn't want to say through text message. We got to my dad's house and I made dinner while Kerrie mowed the lawn. Once Bryan got there, I asked Kerrie to come in and we all sat in the living room so I could tell them. Kerrie focused on my sister and I stared at Bryan. I looked at my sister once and felt the tears coming. I didn't want to cry, so I focused on Bryan. Bryan had been sitting casually, but as soon as the words "I have cancer" came out of my mouth, he sat straight up and looked protective. Kerrie told me my sister's eyes got wide and her jaw dropped a bit. She was definitely shocked. I explained what type of skin cancer I had and answered Bryan's questions. Kari didn't say much. She had had a rough day already so I'm sure this news was a bit overwhelming. We sat and talked for a bit until dusk started closing in. Kerrie went out to finish mowing the lawn and I finished making the garlic bread. Bryan ended up staying for dinner. The turkey breasts that I had on the barbeque were a little dry by this point but it was nice to all have dinner together.

When Kerrie and I got back to my place that night, I was exhausted. I didn't realize how mentally draining the day was going to be. Dad and Karen will be home on Saturday. I will tell them this weekend and then a couple of aunts and uncles. And then this secret I've been carrying around will finally be in the open! I look forward to that. This secret business and watching what I say is tiring!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 7

The next morning, I was at Dr Bobyn’s office at 7:45 am armed with a list of questions. When Dr Bobyn came in, he went over the report from the hospital with me. My tests came back with a diagnosis of Superficial Spreading Malignant Melanoma. Now there’s a mouthful!! There are 4 kinds of melanoma. I have the second best. This form of melanoma has a good prognosis. Dr Bobyn explained to me what the course of action would be and what to expect. First, I’d need more blood work and a CT scan. Dr Baliski had told me to expect these tests. Dr Bobyn explained to me that the CT scan would check to see if the cancer had spread and how far. He also explained what would happen during the next surgery. Dr Baliski would be removing more skin and tissue from my arm as well as going in through my left armpit to remove some lymph nodes for additional testing. If all of these tests came back clean, I shouldn’t require any more surgeries. Dr Bobyn also told me that I’d also need to have yearly check up for the rest of my life to monitor me and ensure that the cancer did not return. Any suspicious moles would be removed immediately. My head was spinning again so Dr Bobyn made me a copy of the hospital report as well as a photocopy of some info on skin cancer from one of his medical journals. He gave me a hug, told me that he and Dawn would be thinking of me and made me promise to come in after each test and we’d go over each and every one of them. I feel lucky to have such a caring doctor.

So that’s my story. I have cancer. You may be wondering about my post titles (if you’ve made it this far!!). I’m not sure if it’s because it still hasn’t sunk in or if it’s because I’m a little weird but in my head this journey looks a bit like a videogame. (Yes, I’m straight up nerd!) I feel like I’m making my way through cancerland clearing obstacles and passing tests. And the big bad boss that I’m working towards defeating, it looks a little like a Dr Mario gremlin. But where Mario was sensible in plumber shoes, I’m defeating this villain in heels!

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 6

I was still trying to hold on to a shred of hope that everything was okay. I was trying to tell myself that the results had been forwarded because they were borderline and they wanted a second opinion that it was okay. Deep down I knew, but I was still trying to hope. That last glimmer of hope was about to shatter. That afternoon my phone rang. It was Dawn at Dr Bobyn’s office. My test results had been faxed and Dr Bobyn needed to see me right away. We agreed that Dr Bobyn would squeeze me in the next morning at 7:50 am. I felt like I was going to throw up.

I texted Crystal that I knew something was wrong. I told her about the call from my doctor’s nurse and my appointment the next morning. Kerrie’s son was with us which was motivation to keep myself together. Tuesday nights are also our volleyball night and I was hoping the game would keep me distracted. We were dropping Kerrie’s son off in town with his mom and picking up his daughter at the same time, so we packed up his son’s stuff, the volleyball stuff and put together some beach toys for his daughter to play with during the game. Just as we were pulling into town, my phone rang again. This time it was Dr Baliski.

It was just after 4:30 pm when Dr Baliski called with my results. He told me he had my results and he was sorry to tell me that it is melanoma. I couldn’t hold it back, I just started to bawl. The rest of the conversation is a bit foggy. I remember him saying that I needed more testing and that he’d be doing another surgery in 2 to 3 weeks. I remember asking him if I was going to need chemo. I also remember at that point Kerrie grabbing my hand. He asked me if I had any questions and I told him not yet. He said that I would and to write them down. His office would be calling me to set up appointment times for the testing that needed to be done and that he wanted to see me again before the surgery in his office. I hung up and Kerrie asked what it was. I knew his son was listening so I just said “what we hoped it wasn’t.”

We pulled into the Lordco parking lot and just sat there for a minute. Kerrie asked if he could text his mom and sister. I told him he could. After a few minutes, Kerrie and his son went into Lordco to pick up a part for my truck while I tried to compose myself. I texted Crystal “I have cancer.” It felt so bizarre typing those words. It didn’t feel like it was me typing. By the time Kerrie came back out, I was in a sense of shock I think. We were both shaken though and Kerrie decided to cancel the game that night. He called the other team and texted the rest of our team to let them know the game was off. I texted Crystal back. Kerrie’s son was starting to get antsy in the back seat. I can’t remember how long we were even in the Lordco parking lot. Kerrie tried texting his ex to see if we could move up the pick up and drop off time and we headed to the mall.

We got to the mall and waited for Kerrie’s ex and his daughter to show up. As the news sank in, I began to worry about how I would tell my mom. I was scared about what this news would do to her health. I told Kerrie I was going to phone my brother, Allan and got out of the truck. I walked the painted white line back and forth as I filled Allan in on the last couple weeks. I asked for his help with Mom and he offered to come down that Saturday to help me tell Mom. It was going to be hard to keep the secret from her for that many days, but I was grateful that Allan was coming to help. I got back in the truck and told Kerrie the plan.

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 5

The first time I called Dr Baliski’s office, it was not open yet. I tried to go back to sleep for an hour, but I just kept checking the clock. The second time I called, his receptionist answered. I told her who I was and that I had been told by Dr Baliski to call today for my test results. The reason I was told to call on June 1st was that it was a Tuesday and Dr Baliski told me he was only in his office on Tuesdays. I wasn’t expecting the response I got. I was told that Dr Baliski would not be in today and that I could leave my name and phone number and if he checked in, she would let him know I had called. I was mad. I told her that the doctor had specifically told me to call today. Finally I asked her to check that my results had been forwarded to Dr Bobyn. She told me they had. As I did not want to wait for possibly another week, we agreed that I should try Dr Bobyn’s office.

I called Dr Bobyn’s office and told the receptionist that I needed to speak with Dawn, Dr Bobyn’s nurse. She gave me the standard “she’s busy” response and asked why I was calling. I told her that I was waiting for test results from my surgeon and that he was not available. I said that I wanted to talk to Dawn to have her check that Dr Bobyn had my results before I made an appointment. The receptionist told me that she could pull my file and check to see if the results had come in. She took my name and phone number and promised to call me back soon. It was 9:15 am. By 11:45 I still had not received a call and I was getting frustrated. At the risk of being one of “those” patients, I decided to call Dr Bobyn’s office again. The receptionist answered and told me that she hadn’t had a look yet. I had reached my limit. I told her that I had been waiting for 2 weeks and that I was being tested for cancer. I needed to know if the results were there. Wow, dropping the C word really gets things done! Suddenly she agreed I’d waited too long, put me on hold and went and checked right away. She came back to the phone and her response made my stomach sink. They weren’t there. I felt sick. In that moment, all confidence that I had built up that everything was okay disappeared. The receptionist told me to call Dr Baliski’s office and ask that they fax the results over right away. She also booked me an appointment for that following Monday. I wasn’t thrilled about having to wait almost another entire week.

After hanging up with Dr Bobyn’s office, I immediately called Dr Baliski’s office again. This time it went to voicemail. I left an emotional message with my name and number asking that they please fax my results over to Dr Bobyn as he had not received them. Again I stressed that I had been waiting 2 weeks for these cancer results and I just needed to know. I was fighting back tears.

Not long after, I received a call back from Dr Baliski’s office. Kim, his receptionist, was surprised that Dr Bobyn had not received the results. While I was on the phone, she brought up my test results on her computer and noted that they had been forwarded to another specialist. Once again my heart sank. This was not good. Kim promised me that she’d fax a copy of the results to Dr Bobyn right away. I hung up and started to cry.

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 4

The day of the surgery arrived and I had to be at the hospital for 9 am. When I was called in I was taken into one of the minor surgery rooms. The first nurse I had was okay. She was polite enough but kind of distant. She left the room and the second nurse came in. She was amazing! I was upset and she was amazing at recognizing my fear and also trying to calm and distract me. We talked about purses (haha) and she was very reassuring. I told her about my severe fear of needles and she was so understanding. Linda was a phenomenal nurse. I am so thankful to have had her with me. When Dr Baliski came in, my usual uncontrollable shaking began. Over the years I’ve gotten much better with needles (seriously, I have!!) but I still shake like crazy. It’s a hell of an all over workout, but not one that I’d like to do often!! Dr Baliski took a look at my arm and had me position myself on the bed. We made small talk at first, an attempt at distraction, before the topic of cancer came up. He began to tell me what would happen should the tests come back positive for cancer. His descriptions of the next steps were very detailed. This was another red flag for me. I thought to myself, it wasn’t likely that he’d go into so much detail if he didn’t feel this was cancer. The procedure took about 30 minutes to complete. Once it was done and I was stitched up, Linda put a dressing on my arm while Dr Baliski gave me my options. He told me that he doesn’t phone with results, so I had to call him in 2 weeks if I wanted to know. He said some patients didn’t like to know and he couldn’t keep track. Didn’t want to know?! Who wouldn’t want to know?! I agreed that I would phone him on June 1st for my results. It was going to be a loooooong 2 weeks.

As the time went by, the wait got easier. When I left the hospital after the removal biopsy, I was certain it was going to be bad news. As the time past, I began to feel more confident that I was going to be okay. I started to think back to when I had the mole burned off and how certain that doctor was that it was nothing to worry about. I convinced myself that it was just a mole and that this was all going to be over. After all, Dr Bobyn also would have gotten the results, and from past experience I knew he’d call me right away if it was bad news. So I woke up the morning of June 1st still slightly nervous but confident that I was getting the results I wanted.

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 3

That night I had another decision to make. To tell or not to tell. My mother has MS and is a quadriplegic. I am her primary caregiver. My mom’s health is very delicate and she does not tolerate stress well. I decided it would be best not to say anything to her until I knew more. Or at least until I knew a surgery date. My dad and stepmom were another consideration. Ordinarily, I would have told them. However, this timing was different. They had spent the last couple years saving and planning a trip to Europe. My dad has never really travelled and has wanted to see where his grandparents and great-grandparents lived for quite some time. His grandfather use to tell him stories about growing up in England. Dad was finally going to see these places. They were excited and I was excited for them. I decided that I wouldn’t tell them about my doctor’s fears and the biopsy. Karen, my stepmom, had just recently received news that the store she worked at was closing. Both her and my sister were potentially out of a job. They had enough stress and worries on their plates; I didn’t want to add to it. So I kept my secret from most everyone. The only ones that knew were Kerrie and my friend Crystal.

A few days later, my boyfriend Kerrie and I left for 5 days in Las Vegas. The trip was a godsend! I am now so grateful for the time away. Kerrie has had major stress in his life as of late as well and it was so nice to be able to leave that behind for just a few days. Every time I saw my mole I still thought about what was happening, but I was the most relaxed I’d been in ages while we were there. It was a busy time (I still can’t believe how much we fit into 5 days!!) but it was great.

When we got home, it was back to reality. Dr Baliski’s office called and booked my mole removal and biopsy for May 19th at the hospital. This would be just days after my parents left for Europe for a month. It was hard to keep this secret, but I still felt it would be for the best.

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 2

For the last few months (since the beginning of February) I had really begun to get serious about having this mole removed. I couldn't believe how difficult it was to find someone to help me! Every time I worked up the nerve to see a doctor, my doctor was either on holidays or other doctors refused to do anything. I was continuously told that the mole was too large for them to remove, yet no one was willing to help me come in contact with someone who would remove it. Finally at the end of April, I hit my limit. I phoned my doctor's office and asked for an appointment. The receptionist, as she always does, asked what I wanted to see the doctor about. I told her that I had a mole that had to be removed. As she had told me in the weeks before, "the doctor will not remove it." Now this isn't my finest moment but looking back, I'm glad it happened. I broke down in tears and yelled at her. Between sobs I told her that I needed to have this mole removed and hit my polite limit and finally yelled at her that this was serious, my doctor has to help me and demanded an appointment. Dripping with attitude she finally booked me in to see him. The appointment would be in a week.

My appointment day finally arrived and I was a ball of nerves. My name was called and I waited in the small room for my doctor to come in. Dr Bobyn came in and I took off my jacket to show him my arm. Instantly his mood changed. The look on his face was terrible. He asked me to follow him into his office and immediately he was on the phone to book me an appointment to the "lump and bump" clinic. He asked me how long the mole had been there and of course gave me hell for not coming in sooner. While he was on the phone, I could only hear one side of the conversation. I could tell by his responses that he was not satisfied with the answers he was being given. He hung up and called another number. This office seemed to be more to his liking. He wanted me to be seen right away. This office seemed to be more on board with his acceptable timeline. He told the person on the phone that he'd be faxing the requisition to them in 5 minutes and that it would have stars all over it. He stressed to the person he was speaking to that this must be looked at right away. He filled out a requisition form and certainly covered it with stars. There must have been 20 or more stars all over this sheet. He once again told me that I shouldn't have waited so long and that he was very concerned about this mole. He told me that he wanted me to go in for a biopsy within the next week and a half. My boyfriend and I had planned a trip to Las Vegas. I told my doctor that I would be out of the country until May 9th, but that I would take any appointment after that. As he had his nurse fax over the requisition, Dr Bobyn turned and tried to reassure me that he would have this mole removed and tested as soon as he could and gave me a hug. I left his office feeling sick and scared.

I had an errand to run at Walmart. While I was there, my cell phone rang. It was Dr Bobyn’s nurse, Dawn. The surgeon that my doctor had spoken to while I was there was not able to schedule me in soon enough for Dr Bobyn’s liking so they had sent my requisition to another surgeon. I had experience with this surgeon, and it wasn’t completely good. Dr Baliski was the surgeon who had done my gall bladder surgery nearly 2 years before. I had complications from that surgery that left me not being able to feel my legs for months. Even now, the feeling in my legs has not completely returned. So when I was told it would now be Dr Baliski doing the surgery, I was conflicted. I asked Dawn if it were possible for another surgeon to do the biopsy. She told me that it would only be possible if I were willing to travel to Vernon or Penticton. I decided that I just wanted this to be over and told Dawn to go ahead and book Dr Baliski. Looking back now, I’m so glad I did.

Queen Awesome's Adventures in Cancerland: World 1

I have cancer. It still feels so surreal to say that. It hasn't completely sunk in. I have cancer. Nope, still doesn't feel real.

This story starts with I first joined this site when I was planning my wedding to my ex-husband. I had a mole on my left arm that my dad was concerned about and Brad often told me I should have checked out. I wasn't concerned about it and I think part of my feet-dragging to have it checked out was fear. One of the girls on the weddingbells site went by the screen name Londonella. Someone posted the link to Londonella’s blog and I began following it. Her story really hit home with me. Sarah's story gave me that push to have my mole checked. I am terrified of needles and the thought of having it removed was enough to make me feel sick. One day after work, I was driving home and worked up the courage to stop at a walk-in clinic to have the mole checked. The doctor I saw that day looked at it and decided it was nothing to be concerned about. He offered to burn the mole off with liquid nitrogen right there. Completely relieved that a)it was nothing to worry about and b)there would be no needles involved, I happily agreed. He came in with his vial of nitrogen and 5 minutes later I left with a small bandage on my arm.

As the weeks and months went by, I noticed that the spot on my arm was still very purple looking and didn't seem to be getting any lighter. Most people that I spoke to told me not to worry, that the scar would fade eventually. The scar never faded. Instead the mole slowly came back. After it had been removed, it looked almost like a bruise. A purple bruise about the size of a pencil eraser. However this bruise had a dark brown/black dot in the middle.

By the time the wedding rolled around, the mole was back and bigger. Once again my dad urged me to go see a doctor, but once again I brushed it off. So stupid. I should have put my fears aside. I should have gone as soon as the mole returned. You can see the mole on my upper arm in this wedding photo.

For the last couple years, the mole changed rapidly. Even right now I'm just realizing how much it had changed from the wedding day until now. I guess when you see it every day you don't realize just how much and how quickly it did change. You can see the mole in this picture from Kerrie and my trip to Vegas.

Every time I looked at the mole, I thought of Sarah. I thought of Sarah and her story and I knew I shouldn't wait. I knew I shouldn't be procrastinating. I knew I should go and have it checked. I was terrified. I let the fear override commonsense. I let fear overcome what I knew had to be done.