Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

Saying it makes it real

 

Even though at this point we’ve had numerous tests and the C word has become a routine part of our vocabulary, it doesn’t feel real. I don’t feel sick.  Shouldn’t you feel horribly ill if you have something as serious as cancer?

In an attempt to make it more real, we’ve been breaking the news to friends.  I’ve been doing this almost obsessively, as if by saying it out loud, it will make the news sink in.

It hasn’t.

I’m not completely without symptoms, but they are symptoms that have been going on for so long, I don’t even think of them as symptoms.  I am itchy.  You may have just started scratching yourself, but not the occassional itchy.  Since about a month after Baby H was born, I’ve been scratching myself bloody in my sleep  and if I’m not careful in my waking hours too.

Neck. To. Toes. Itchy.

I have scars on my arms and legs from scratching myself.  I’ve visited three dermatologists, followed up with my rheumatologist, and visiting my GP hoping for an answer or a solution to this.

I also have a rash, but this is not new for me.  I’ve had rashes over large parts of my body for the better part of six years, it’s considered a symptom of my autoimmune issues that contributed to my infertility.  I just ignore it. . . well. . . unless it itches.

The other symptoms I have are items I simply explained away.  I bone deep tired. All the time.

I also have three kids under three who between them, wake up 3-4 times a night causing me to play my own version of nighttime wack-a-mole, as I run from room to room, patting their butts and comforting them back to sleep. I thought this one was self-explained.

I go to bed at 9 and wake up at 5 after sleeping in fits and starts.  Sometimes, on a good night, I get a long stretch of sleep and I realize that I wake up covered in sweat.   I just assumed I was getting hot.  Why would I assume these are night sweats and a serious symptom?

I feel good. They put me on iron to correct severe anemia caused by the cancer, so some days I feel better than I have in almost a year!

So I say the word out loud.  I tell friends, I tell family.  Hell I tell the lady sitting next to me at the lung clinic.  Perhaps, if I say it enough, the truth, the reality, of my diagnosis will sink in.

I have cancer.

 

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C.A.N.C.E.R

“You have cancer”.

Because we knew things were getting serious, my husband had accompanied me to the CT and biopsy.  I never expected a radiologist to utter those words.  Typically, a radiologist doesn’t tell you ANYTHING. They dictate a report and your doctor calls you with the result.  The ultrasound tech looked at us with shock after he uttered those three words and walked out the door.

“Did you have any idea? Are you okay”

I can’t speak for my husband, but after all my years of infertility treatment I know how to work Dr. Google to my advantage and had poured over the literature and knew the small list of what this neck growth could be.  Cancer was a surprise, but not totally unexpected.  Being told without a biopsy to support it WAS a surprise and a concerning one.

The radiologist came back into the room and was apologetic.  He must have realized the news was new to us, and he explained that my tumor on the CT extended from my neck to below my heart. It was a very large tumor, and in his experience, he thought the results of the biopsy would show that I had  Lymphoma.

More was said, but my husband and I just held each others hands. All I could think about was that I needed to be here to see my babies grow up.  They are just babies! They can’t grow up without their mama! How is my husband going to handle three kids under three all by himself?

 

 

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The end of my world as I know it.

First off, let me start by apologizing. I left this blog so abruptly. I meant to tell more details of the birth of Baby H and neatly end the blog with our happy ending.  Make no mistake, it was a happy ending.  Our court proceedings went well and our adoption was finalized without a hitch.

I just couldn’t bring myself to take  a break from soaking him up to write.  Maternity leave was AMAZING.  Taking care of ONE baby when you AREN’T recovering from childbirth is the stuff dreams are made of.  Baby H was so easy-going, he was a dream to take care of and leave gave me extra days with P1 and H to play and have fun.

At three months, I wanted to write, but life was beautifully, wonderfully hectic with three kids under two.

I thought about it again when Baby H turned six months, but the little stinker was starting to crawl and really giving us a run for our money.  I was just so tired in my down time and I couldn’t find the time to put the words down that I kept writing in my head.

Updating you was a passing thought at nine months when Baby H was standing and trying to walk.  He was already saying words!!!!  But we’ve been basking in the milestones, and once again, I was just so tired between the kids and working.

Then Baby H got sick. I got the call from daycare and picked him up.  His temperature shot up to 104 and we made our first ER visit.  My girls had never had a fever this high and I was out of my mind with worry. The ER very condescendingly let me know we were overreacting and sent us home.

That night the fever climbed to 105.  We rotated ibuprofen every four hours religiously and continued to call the doctor with updates.  The next day, I made a quick run with the girls to get more ibuprofen.  That’s when I noticed that something was wrong with my neck.  I tried to turn my head and it felt like something “caught” in my neck.

I put it in the back of my mind and went home to take care of Baby H.  After four nerve-racking days of 104 degree fevers it abruptly broke, and Baby H was in the clear!  Somewhere during this time, I had gone to the bathroom to figure out what “caught” in my neck.

After looking closely I realized I had a lump in my neck. As soon as Baby H’s fever broke I called the Drs office to schedule an appointment.  When I told them why I was calling they said, “Why don’t you just come in to our prompt care.”  As soon as I got there, we were the first ones admitted, even though the waiting room was full.  I thought it was strange, but didn’t give it much thought.

The doctor look at my neck and recommended an ultrasound and bloodwork. As I was leaving, he casually mentioned, “We should rule out leukemia just in case.” Talk about your bedside manner!

Within the hour, Baby H and I were sitting in an ultrasound clinic and the lump was being scanned. I hadn’t been able to resist googling and knew that a cyst was a possibility.  I asked a few questions, and the tech told me enough for me to know that this wasn’t the case.

A few nurses came in to entertain Baby H while I had a very extensive scan.  The tech then asked me to go to the waiting room. I didn’t even know ultrasound clinics had waiting rooms!  After about 15 minutes she came back to tell me that the doctor would be giving me a call.

At this point, I knew that something was wrong, and it was more serious than I hoped. My mom has thyroid issues, so that seemed to be a strong possibility. The  urgent care doc said I needed to get into a specialist and he was going to make a call to an ENT clinic.  Within the hour, the clinic called me and they were going to get me in that day.

Three appointments in one day! I called my husband to let them know this was getting serious.  The ENT reviewed my ultrasound and talked about abnormal things in my thyroid and a growth with bloodflow. He wanted me to get a CT and a small biopsy so that they could learn more about the mass in my neck.

Just seven days later, my head & neck CT quickly became a head, neck & chest CT. I knew. I just knew, when they added the extra CT without telling me that something very serious was wrong.  The radiologist confirmed it.  Before he even performed the biopsy, he turned to me and said three words that turned my world upside down.

“You have cancer.”

 

 

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There’s Fire?

6 days prior to the scheduled induction

I woke up in a strange bed with the sound of familiar barking ringing in my ears. It took a moment to orient myself, but the events of the prior evening came rushing back to me. The labor that stopped. Was the baby coming today? Tomorrow? We were about two weeks from the official due date, so the false labor may or may not have been a sign of things to come.

First things first: Tim and I needed to decide our plan of action. Since today was a Friday, we decided to leave our girls with the in-laws and stay near the birth mom. My mother was still out of town and we didn’t want to chance heading home just to turn back around.

That decided, we texted our birth mother and arranged to visit. The poor girl was miserable. She was at that point of pregnancy when sleeping, walking, eating, breathing, everything was difficult and/or painful. She was ready for the baby to be out TODAY.

We were on board with that. Early isn’t ideal, but she was 38 weeks at that point, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing. Over the next three days we walked with her, bought her spicy food, and helped her swing at the park, all in the hopes that she would go into labor on her own. No dice.

5 days prior to induction

By Sunday, we’d determined that Baby H wasn’t going to come out until the induction. While we all wanted him to come on his own, it just didn’t look likely. Tim had used his meager vacation time with the girls’ illnesses and I needed to save mine for parental leave. We had to go back, even if it meant that we just turned right back around if and when labor began.

Mainly this was because we really missed our girls. We had never been away from them for this long. I physically ached being away from them and FaceTime just wasn’t cutting it. Phoebe looked miserable and confused when we FaceTimed with her and it was breaking my heart. I needed to hold my babies.

And yet, I couldn’t wait to hold all of my babies.

4 days prior to induction

The other reason I was grateful that we came back was that I had only hired my replacement at work the week before. The poor girl had mere days of somewhat distracted training on key items. I hadn’t met with the teammates that would be taking over my other responsibilities while I was on leave.

I went in to the office in the wee hours of the morning, prepped file after file, and then conducted a brutal day of client handoff meetings. I was frantic to make sure everyone know what needed to be done while I was out on leave. These extra few days would make this possible.

3 days prior to induction

I received a text: “Doctor has decided to induce a day early.” I laughed when I received the text. That was the day we had been lobbying for all along. A Wednesday induction worked a lot better with regard to getting the necessary court order to release Baby H into our custody.

I called Tim and we quickly modified our plans to get there early. We were so ready.

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Where There’s Smoke

7 days prior to our scheduled induction date

In retrospect, I wonder if I somehow knew that something was going to happen. We’d been talking to our birth mother all week and she had definitely reached that point of pregnancy where absolutely everything hurt, sleeping was impossible, and she was begging for the baby to come out. I’m known for letting the battery run dead on my cell phone and I rarely have the ringer turned on because, well, twin toddlers. But this evening, I made a point to plug in the phone and turn the ringer up as high as it would go so that I would be sure to wake up if needed. We were nearing the end, and I read once that most labors start at night because that’s when babies are most active.

The call came at 1:30 a.m.

Our birth mother was in tears and said, “The pains are bad and I need to go to the hospital NOW–I think the baby is coming.”

I shot out of bed immediately and woke Tim up (quite possibly with an elbow to the kidney–oops!). I tried to stay calm and talk her through our plan of action.

“Do you have a bag packed?”

“How far apart are the contractions?”

”How long are they lasting?”

“Do you think you could eat something before you go to the hospital, because they won’t allow you any food after that.”

I promised to make sure her ride was there shortly and we hung up.

Of course it would be now. My mother had been coordinating all of the travel for our birth mother since she lives closer, but Mom was on a humanitarian aid trip to Panama–the first she’d ever been on. And now this.

We had a plan A, B and C for a ride in case this happened. Luckily, Plan A answered her phone immediately and said she could be there in 10 minutes. I called our birth mother back to let her know.

HOLY COW! We’re going to have a baby! I started to get super-excited! You’ve probably realized by now that I’m an over-organizer. All week, Tim and I had been packing “go-bags.” We had our master packing list for the girls that we lived by after our disastrous “no pack-n-play” trip and had packed their suitcases the night before. We had packed Baby H’s bag earlier in the week. We just hadn’t got around to packing ours. That was on the agenda for tomorrow.

My adrenaline was pumping. We frantically packed our bag and began calling people to see who could come over to stay with the girls. Since we were planning on an induction, most of our conversations with my husband’s family had involved them coming over to get them. Apparently, we failed to stress that a late-night phone call was a possibility. We called six cell phones and two home phones with no luck.

At this point it was 2 a.m. Our options were limited. Try to put the girls in their car seats and figure out childcare when we got there? Try to find someone else? Luckily, a friend had volunteered to be our late night call just one week before and I cockily stated, “My in-laws will take care of that.” But my friend had young children, so she was used to waking up in the middle of the night. I called her cell phone–no answer. I called her husband’s cell phone–pay dirt!

It’s the sign of a really good friend that she was there in fifteen minutes. We finished packing, grabbed the dog, and headed out the door. It’s a four hour drive to the hospital where she was going to give birth. Let’s just say we made it a little faster than that. Throughout the drive, we received text updates.

“Contractions are two minutes apart…”

“Now they are three minutes apart.”

We stopped at my mom’s house to drop off the dog and pick up the car seat for Baby H. In our rush, we forgot to call my stepdad and let him know we were stopping by. As it turned out, neither of us had his cell number (he and Mom don’t have a home number anymore). So we killed the headlights, crept slowly up the drive, and Tim quietly went into the house to retrieve the car seat after letting the dog out in the yard. After a few minutes, he was back with the car seat, and a little shaken up. We weren’t as stealthy as we thought, and Tim was met at the front door by my stepdad and his pistol. We now both have his number programmed into our phones!

Tim threw the car seat into the car and we were off to the hospital. Just as we pulled out of my mom’s driveway, we received a text saying: “Dilated to a four, but contractions are not progressing. They are sending her home.” Our driver for our birth mother was understandably freaked about driving 30 miles with her back to her house, but did it anyway.

We looked at each other, turned around, and crawled into bed at my mom’s house. We’d figure out things in the morning.

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