Thursday, March 31, 2011

The End of last

March 31, 2011: Maybe only my family will understand how almost giddy I feel knowing that March is almost at an end. To think that all this chaos started in the last 30 days, from the biopsy surgery on the 3rd to the devastating diagnosis on the 7th to the Big Guns Surgery on the 17th...I am ready for a calendar change. Even if that calendar is already filling up with doctor visits and treatments and consultations, it is still one more day, one more week, one more month to be alive and healing. And happily, that old calendar page has a big red heart wrapped around the 28th, the day our little Knox came to our family. Today has been a day of phone calls from the powers that be, mainly medical people. I waited all day for the Huntsman Cancer Center to call me back for my appointment with Dr. Grossman. No luck. But, don't worry - I've been up to my eyebrows keeping up with the other calls.

  1. Carol from Dr. Bradley's office calls this morning. She says Dr. Bradley went before the Tumor Board yesterday, and after a review of my case, they recommend radiation treatments in my neck. She tells me she has made an appointment at LDS Hospital with Dr. Sause for Friday, April 8, at 1:30 PM. I ask, "Does this supercede the appointment I have with Dr. Abazonas on April 12?" She says that Dr. Bradley did not tell her to cancel that appointment, so maybe I am supposed to keep both. I hang up, confused and sad because I really wanted to be out of town on April 8, snuggling a new baby and putting my arms around his slowly-healing mommy and daddy. I feel like a puppet on a string, my movements entirely in the hands of my doctors.

  2. I get a call from IHC's billing department and we go through two minutes of "how do you want to handle these charges?" I hang up, depressed and remembering how Dean's prescription bill tips me over the edge each month. Little did I know.

  3. I get a call from Dr. Sause's office, confirming my appointment for April 8. The receptionist, Gwen, asks if I'm aware I have two appointments at two different facilities - she asks which facility and appointment would I like to keep? I am muddle-headed with all the information and choices coming at me today, so I choose to keep the appointment at LDS, thinking that it's better to go closer to home. Gwen tells me that I should cancel the other appointment, which I do. But the minute I hang up the phone, I moan aloud, "What am I doing? I have a choice! Why not choose the appointment that doesn't interfere with a date with my kids?" Arghh! I start to cry. Oh, Heavenly Father, I'm not thinking straight - You have to help me make the right choices and say the right things, especially when I'm vulnerable and alone. In mere seconds, the phone rings again. It's Dr. Abazonas's office, asking me if I'm SURE I want to cancel my appointment - that the LDS facility may not accept my insurance and I need to make sure they do before I go ahead. I could have kissed that woman on the other end of the line! I was almost too eager to tell her that I had changed my mind - I wanted to KEEP the appointment with Dr. A, no matter how far away it is from my home, and cancel the newer appointment on April 8. I bury my face in my hands and sob my thanks to a loving Father who is standing right beside me every second and nudging me with each jangle of the phone to make the right choices - or quickly help me change to the right choices! If I've ever doubted His endless tender mercies - and I haven't - today only solidifies how closely He is watching over me.

This morning, for the first time, I was able to really touch my wound. I've been overly cautious during showers, just patting it dry and avoiding it as much as possible. I'm lucky - I can't see the nasty thing, yet the world has to look at it and cringe. So, this morning, I touched it. It feels as rough and fat as a thick hemp rope. The numb spots still feel alien. My ear feels as big as a saucer. There are dents and shallow spots that weren't there before. There are mountainous overlaps of skin that will never lie down flat again. I'll never wear short hair over my ears again. I wonder how long it will be before I want to put an earring in my dead earlobe. I think I've always been a little vain about my looks. No more. I've got the ugly truth peeking out behind my ear and pulsing under my fingertips.

We will get through this rough patch. Tomorrow is another new day...ahh, April...ahh, spring.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Babies Change Everything - Part 1...and Part 2...

Part 1 - March 28, 2011: After months of growing, weeks of waiting for Grammy to get better enough to travel, days of walking/jostling/eating Mexican/bending/stretching just to get some labor going, Chelsea goes to the hospital to be induced. The day has arrived! I am anxious, wanting things to go smoothly, wanting this baby to bring a sparkle to all of our eyes, wanting & praying for strength beyond my own. I think of my sweet Uncle Ray and of the funeral I am missing today. I think of the reunion there at the church - and of the reunion behind the veil. I wish I could pull out my spyglass and see the "cloud of witnesses". I shower and dress (my good hubby standing by with ointment and a steady arm) and even put on a touch of makeup. Don't want to scare anyone today. Dean drops me off at the hospital - it's almost 1:00 in the afternoon. Chelsea is resting, sleepy from the epidural. The baby's heartbeat beeps out loud in the room - the nurse has attached a monitor to his little head. Chels was checked at 12:30 and is dilated to a 6. Robby is gone, eating lunch with his mom. We turn on "Cake Boss" and settle in for the long afternoon. Rob is back about 1:20. His tummy hurts and he's not sure why. Couldn't be stress, could it? Sympathy pains for his sweetie? Chels feels a tightening, in spite of the epidural, and reaches for the button to give herself a higher dose. Already, her right leg is numb & fast asleep. She has an oxygen mask at her chin - doesn't want to pull it over her face because it bugs her and makes her itchy. About 1:45, the baby's heartbeat slows and we watch the zig-zag line dip low like a little valley. Immediately, a nurse comes in to assess. I am amazed that she noticed so quickly. She asks when Chelsea was checked last and decides to check again. Very matter of factly, she announces that Chels is at a "9.9 plus". "I'm going to get your nurse, Shar," she says, and we look at each other in disbelief. Could it be? Already? We were prepared to wait all day for this little guy - even took "wagers" on time and weight and length, and most of the guesses were for after 4 PM! The nurse squad comes bustling in. I am always impressed with their efficiency, their soothing busy-ness, the way they each have a role to perform without getting in anyone else's way. The doctor has been called. It's just a little before 2:00. Shar notices that I am gingerly turning my head to watch the whole ensemble. She asks if I have an injury. I say, no, I've had surgery recently. We laugh, as she says, "So, you really are stiff-necked!" Chels starts pushing at 2:10, and oh my goodness, we have a baby at 2:15. Five minutes of pushing! Most women would pay millions for a delivery like that. KNOX AARON arrives in a flurry of activity, as Dr. Lunt unwinds the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck once - then twice - but he's as perfect as can be. He opens his mouth to cry, but can't quite get enough air to make a sound. It takes just a few seconds of kneading his back, rubbing his head, and then, the wails begin. He sounds wonderful. He is adorable, the most beautiful newborn baby on the earth at this moment. I snap pictures with unsteady hands. My half-numb face is frozen in a grin. I have the strength of a lioness, and these are my little cubs - the mommy in the bed and the baby in her arms. Part 2 - Later on March 28, 2011: Aaron and Linds and girls have been with Chelsea's little ones all day, so we meet up to get dinner and then make a trip to the hospital. I am surrounded by five beautiful grandchildren, and I count my blessings for the hundredth time today. They are so sweet, so dear. I am grateful that Aar & Linds are here. I feel our family's strength, as we help each other, and it makes me very proud. We go to the hospital, where Rob and Chelsea wait outside the nursery window. The kind nurse behind the glass holds Knox close where his big brother and sister can see him. His little girl cousins clamor up on the window step to get a better look, too. We are noisy with excitement, oohing and ahhing at how beautiful he is. Lachlan looks confused. He asks his mommy, "Are you going to have another baby? How did you get Knox out? Why are you in a wheelchair? What are those bracelets on your wrists?" and a thousand other things he's concerned about. Olive points to Knox's nose and eyes and wants Mommy and Daddy to hold her. The novelty of Baby Brother soon wears off and she wants to run with the cousins. Soon, it's time to go, and we leave Rob and Chels and get back on the elevator. I am exhausted with excitement, emotions, and pain. I cry on the way back to Mom's villa. I know it will only get more stressful, more emotional, more difficult to adjust to this new way of life. And, I have to go home tomorrow instead of staying to help Chels. It hurts my heart. Early the next morning, the phone rings and it's Chelsea, crying. I expect her to say that it was a sleepless night, the baby wouldn't nurse, the pain was bad, etc. But I never in a million years expect her to say - "Rob had to go to Instacare last night. They sent him to the ER, where he had a CT scan, and now he's waiting for surgery to have his appendix removed." WHAT? I am shaking with disbelief. In my twisted mind, I have to wonder if our family members are the main characters in the latest reality show where the producers are just sitting home dreaming up whatever new obstacle or challenge they can dish out to make us scream and writhe! Enough already! We are done! If my own sweet daughter were not on the other end of the phone line, weeping with exhaustion and worry, I would laugh out loud and say, "Okay, where's the hidden camera? This is not real, right?" Oh boy, if only that were true. But, it is true. Rob has surgery with his dad at his side because his dear mom has stayed with Lachlan and Olive all night. All I have the strength to do is go to the hospital to help Chels cope with this latest heartache. Her sweet face is etched with pain, emotionally and physically. We keep thinking, well, Rob will take care of that. But, he's not here, and we long to be with him, too. We whisper, "Miracles and hope", over and over, and tender mercies start to arrive. Chelsea's nurse knows her Relief Society president and will make the call to get the service wheels rolling. "Mimi" Cindy and the sisters-in-law wrangle all the kids together - 7 under age 7 - and go to the park under an almost 70-degree cloudless sky. The lactation nurse brings Chels every conceivable thing she might need to help with nursing. Dr. Lunt, the OB, personally calls the other hospital to see who is operating on Rob and how things are going. Baby Knox tests "low risk" for bili and we are set for discharge. "Did we get everything?" Chels asks from the wheelchair at the door. "Rob is the one who's supposed to check." I check, teary. But, that's not the end. I know you were hoping so. Me too. Aaron calls later in the afternoon, as Chelsea is trying to nap in her own comfy bed and we're passing the cocoon-wrapped baby from one set of arms to the next. He and Linds and girls are on their way home, but he has news for me. He's had a sore throat for a couple of days and decides he needs to have it checked. He goes to the Instacare and the nurse asks him why he's in St. George. Aaron tells him his sister had a baby. When the whole story comes out, the nurse realizes this sounds all too familiar and realizes that she helped to treat Rob when he came in with his stomachache/appendicitis. She probably thinks we're the family from the Blue Lagoon - who would believe all we've had to deal with in the past month? Then Aaron's test comes back - he has strep. Of course he does! We aren't surprised at all, are we? Now, we're lathering up the hand sanitizer and popping Vitamin C like candy. We need another miracle, Father. Just in case this slipped by you when you weren't looking... This baby has changed everything, but we look at him as our Bright Little Sunbeam of Hope. I prayed to see him born, and it happened. I prayed for the strength to travel, and it happened. I prayed for healing, and it IS happening. Now, I pray for those same tender mercies to come to my children and grandchildren. I know He will bless us...again and again. Baby step by baby step, we will get through all these tests. Dr. Lunt said, "In six months, you'll look back at this day and laugh!" I believe him. But really, if anyone was wondering if we're due for some sunny days, I'm vigorously voting, YES! Enough. Let us catch our breath. Mend our hurts and soften our pains. And yes, prayer does help...

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Next (sort of scary) Steps

March 25, 2011: Phone call from Carol, Dr. Bradley's very efficient nurse. She says she has a long message from Dr. Bradley with lots of information and she'll wait for me to grab a paper and pen. My heart pounds.

1. Dr. Bradley faxed over all my information to Dr. Andtbaka at the Huntsman Cancer Center. Dr. A reviewed the files and has determined that I do not need further surgical intervention. I breathe a very small sigh of relief.

2. Dr. A has referred me to Dr. Ken Grossman, also of the Huntsman Cancer Center. In the next few days, his office will call to schedule an office visit to determine medication and treatment options. Okay...

3. It has been determined (not sure by whom - I must have been listening to my pounding heart and trying to figure out how to spell "Grossman" and missed what Carol said) that I should undergo radiation therapy. From previous discussions, I know melanoma is not killed by radiation, but I trust that any other mean thing lurking in the shadows will be scared witless by this therapy. I get a little shaky, thinking about it, but I have put my trust in these people - and in God - and so far, they have given me miracles and hope.

4. Dr. Bradley has not gone before the Tumor Board yet - that meeting is next Wednesday. He will still let me know if there is any further information from them at that point.

5. Dr. B is also referring me to Dr. Abazonas (spelled phonetically and is most likely completely wrong). She is a radialogical oncologist at the Utah Cancer Center. I have an appointment with her on April 12. I am assuming that she will set up the radiation treatments and oversee that part of my life from here on out.

I hang up the phone, trembling. I'm not sure how to feel. I guess I'm still a little fragile from having my neck sliced open just eight days ago. I guess I'm also in a bit of denial, wishing all the bugs were gone forever and I didn't have to think about radiation (isn't that what's floating around in Japan right now that people are RUNNING from - and I'm going to purposely and voluntarily give it permission to touch me??). I guess in a way, I'm not ready for "next steps". I'm barely putting one foot in front of the other some days. But thank heaven for doctors who keep the wheels moving, who call and tell you about appointments that are already made, who know people who know people who know people, all in the extremely positive approach to keeping you alive and well and with your family. After all, that's what I'm praying for. That's what my hope is.

So, I'll do what they say. I'll climb to that next rung, however shaky, and keep looking heavenward.

Dean, Janessa, and I leave soon to (hopefully) welcome a baby to earth in the next few days! It will be the first time in 10 days that my mommy isn't right by my side to dab my incision with ointment, rub lotion into my feet, warm up my lunch, and tuck me into bed for naps & night. It will be good to lean on my hubby for a few days. I'm off to pack up my troubles...and smile into the face of a newborn baby.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Life is not a straight line

March 24, 2011: I heard somewhere in the past month that once you've had tragedy strike in your own life, you either turn completely inward - or you turn to look at others around you. Suddenly, you learn about ten people who have gone through something similar, or you learn about ten people who have a much harder battle to fight that makes your own Goliath look puny. I certainly haven't been at this long enough to tower above my giant, but every day I am amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit. I learn of loved ones who have suffered in silence and never lifted their megaphone to shout to the world of their pain. I am not that strong. I told Mom yesterday that I need to stop and think before I tell my story to the world - I found myself confiding in the waitress at the local Mexican restaurant that the reason I'm wearing the pretty scarf she complimented me on was because I had just gone through cancer surgery on my neck. She looked stunned, like she couldn't believe I had just blurted out that kind of news. I'm not seeking pity or charity - it's that I feel I have to elaborate on that sign around my neck that says, "I've got cancer." So, I'm learning to be a little more discreet. "Life is not a straight line," my friend says tonight. We are zig-zagging all the way through our days.
No baby today. He's content to stay nuzzled inside his mommy's warm, cozy guest room. Funeral arrangements are made for Uncle Ray. Monday. The same day baby will be forced to appear, if he doesn't decide to make his own entrance before then. This means I'm momentarily thinking of cloning myself so I can be in two places at once. But, I know Uncle Ray would understand my choice to be with my daughter and her new baby. It's a hard choice. Just like life and the mountains and valleys we tread every day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And the World Goes 'Round...

March 23, 2011: One thing about never stays the same. In the past 24 hours, I've had news of life and death, both hard and exciting, sad and eventful. My sweet uncle gently passed away last night after years of illness. We are sad for us, joyful for him. He has gone home, where he longed to be. We laugh, remembering his great life - and we cry, remembering his great suffering. Now, life for his family involves waiting and planning and decisions, not easily made when you're grieving. I also heard today of the heart-breaking death of a 16-week fetus who was part of a dream and a hope and a longing unrealized. I mourn with family and friends and know just an inkling of how that loss feels. On the other hand, I received news from my beautiful daughter that she is days...maybe even hours...away from bringing new life into this world. Together, we shared our excitement, our anxiety, our prayers for his safe arrival and her safe delivery. I try to be brave and strong for her, but I am not brave and strong right now. I am weak and easily blown over like a feather. I will hitch up my boots, though, and plead for more blessings. For my Chels, for my precious new grandson, for all our wonderful wounded family, for myself. I ask God to take away my worry. I ask Him to calm the storms. I ask Him to pave the way and make the arrangements. I ask Him to hold us all in His arms and lead us, guide us, walk beside us. Because it's not just about me's about Raymond and Marilyn and Amy and Chelsea and a baby straight from heaven. As it should be. Family. The most important word ever formed, the most important unit ever created - and always at the helm, Our Father and Our Beloved Elder Brother.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Blessings of Give & Take

March 22, 2011: I wake up early to get Janessa ready for school. I decide that I'm better at writing about this ordeal in the morning...nighttime is harder (though that's when I'm writing this post). I was actually able to sleep on my left side last night, which is my favorite sleeping position; and though the incision felt taut and stretched at times, I think just knowing I could do it made me happy. The right side of my head is starting to "wake up" and I feel pressure and a dull ache. At least it's not a sharp pain. It's nothing I can't stand. Miracle of miracles. I eat oatmeal for breakfast. It's soft, easy to chew, and is giving me some much needed fiber. Mom helps me into the shower again. We're a great tag team, though she gets more than her share of splashing and "flashing" of flesh. I'm really getting dressed today - not just lounge wear - and I decide I want to use the blow dryer on my hair. The flat-to-the-head look is wearing thin - I feel like an old lady. I'm so thankful I can use my right arm normally because that was one of the nerves and muscles Dr. Bradley was worried about damaging in the surgery. Another miracle. We head to the Salt Lake Clinic for our 11:00 AM appointment. Mom tries out the brand-new valet parking - what a breeze! Lindsey arrives soon after I check in. We eat Jolly Rancher jelly beans and giggle.
I am called into an exam room. It's a tiny room, but Dr. Bradley brings in another stool for Linds. He jokes about looking for the staple remover - we joke they may have to run to Home Depot for another one. The actual device is ingenious. Who thinks up these things? Someone who had a horrible experience getting the staples removed? Since my upper neck and the wound around my ear is still numb, I don't feel a thing - no pinch or sting as Dr. B warns. The rest is not painful either - just a little tug and one more is gone. I feel so relieved. (I had taken half a pain pill for insurance sake.) As he works on the railroad track of my incisions, Dr. B explains updates and new details.
He says that of the lymph nodes that were removed, seven tested positive for cancer. The remaining 37-40 nodes tested negative - no cancer. I must look stunned. How many nodes are there in the neck? More than that, I like those odds. A lot.
He says that the gland he removed also tested positive for a malignant tumor, so we're grateful for the decision to remove it. He sent it in two pieces to the lab and one test showed it had "outlying" cancer cells. Dr. B is positive that this result related to the gland being cut in half and still feels that he got it all. However, in his no-nonsense way, he says, "But if a tumor should grow there again, we'll remove it."
He explains that he consults with a Tumor Board every few weeks and will do so again tomorrow. He says he'll bring up my case and give them all the information related to my particular melanoma. At that point, they will consider options and treatments and confer one with one another. If the Board feels that I would benefit from radiation treatments, he will let me know. Otherwise, my next course of action is to meet with Dr. Robert Andtbacka at the Huntsman Cancer Center and get an evaluation from him. From there, I could be introduced into a trial or study.
I tell Dr. B that my ear is completely numb. He calmly tells me that the earlobe will be permanently "dead" - that was one of the nerves they had to sever during the surgery. I joke that it's a shame I'm not one to wear 100 pierced earrings in one ear - this would be the time to do it. He's pretty sure the top part of my ear will "wake up", but if I have to have one part of my body paralyzed, I'd choose the earlobe any day. He thinks my lip nerve will also repair itself (my bottom lip has lost its "depressor" - like a tongue depressor, this nerve helps your bottom lip move down over your teeth to make it easier to talk or eat, and mine is now damaged) sometime in the next three months. But, already in the past five days, it has come back a bit and seems to improve each day.
Linds asks the hard questions about melanoma - why it seems to be immune to chemo or radiation, why I will always and forevermore be listed at Stage 3C, why we will never know what may be lurking in those microscopic hiding places, why chances for survival have not improved with this battle but will statistically the longer I fight, and why oh why isn't cancer more picky? All I can think is what dear Elder Neal A. Maxwell said about his own fight with cancer: "I never thought to say, Why me? - but always said, Why not me?"
The last thing we talked to Dr. B about was the new baby coming any day now to our family. His response was, "Oh, great! Well, you are free to go any time." I felt such relief and strength in those few words of comfort.
This may have been a day of "removal", but it was also a day of information. I heard hard-to-swallow news, but I also heard healing. I heard scary news, but I also heard hope. I heard what I didn't really want to hear, but I also heard words like "fighter", "do", "act", "ongoing", "miracles", and "support". I heard "love". I heard "thank you". I heard "help".
Tonight, I feel less like Frankenstein and more like a cancer fighter. I have survived this first bout. I am healing. My body is amazing. My Lord is awesome. I feel extremely blessed to be going to bed with food in my belly, a warm blanket around me, my sweetheart next to me, in a house on stable ground in a safe & loving neighborhood in a free, democratic country in a world full of people who generally love one another and pray for each other. Thank you, God. Bless those who mourn, those who hurt, those who hate, and those who need Thy Spirit in their lives. We all need Thee, every hour.

Darkness Ebbs and Dawn Appears

March 18, 2011: Mom tells me that when the surgery was over, Dr. Bradley came in to give the family the news. She was alone, as Linds, Aaron, and Dean had all chosen that moment to go find something to eat or drink. He sat down in a chair beside her and said, "Well, we got it all." Mom started to cry and noticed that the doctor was tearing up, too. He was so exhausted, so weary of fighting cancer all day and night. But, he was also positive and declared me a fighter. It was just what we had prayed to hear and believe.
Linds, Aaron, and Dean leave to get some much needed sleep. It's almost 2:30 AM. Mom gets blankets and pillows from the nurse and tries to sleep in the recliner. I hear her tossing and turning, but I'm doped up and sleep intermittently. The oxygen monitor on my finger beeps when it falls below 88, and I realize that when I start to fall into a deep sleep, my breathing becomes shallow. That little beep wakes me up time and time again, so I try to breathe more deeply. I'd like to take it off, but then it beeps constantly.
Twice, I wake up nauseated. The feel of cool cloths on my forehead and cheeks are soothing. The nurse gives me meds the first time and I go back to sleep without vomiting. The second time, I throw the covers off my body in a hot flash that turns my stomach. Mom grabs my "bucket" and I put it under my chin as we wait for my nurse, Santi, and CNA, Virna. Suddenly, a spasm causes me to heave into the bucket, but this time, I feel a warm gush between my legs where my catheter should have been. I tell Santi that I think I've wet the bed and he is alarmed. "That shouldn't have happened," he says, but when he checks, sure enough, I've "coughed" the catheter out. See why I hate those things? I have to get up - I still feel full of urine. I make my way to the toilet on wobbly legs and pee like a "horse on rocks", as Mom says. No wonder I've felt nauseated. I was full to the top! I feel much better after and have no more bouts of nausea. My nurse and CNA quickly remake my bed and tell me that this is a first in their experience of removing catheters and getting patients out of bed.
The room starts to brighten. Linds comes back after five hours of sleep. She tells me Aaron wishes he had taken the day off. It will be hard for him to work today. Dean arrives about 9:00. He is tired, too. Mom leaves to shower and change clothes. I order yogurt and toast for breakfast. I have no food limitations, but my lower lip and right side of my mouth are not working well, so it's hard to chew and eat and drink, much like the numbness you feel after going to the dentist. I do everything s-l-o-w-l-y. But, I'm sitting up and I'm moving.
Linds takes a good look at my wound. She counts over 37 staples and then loses her place. There are at least five different incisions. One goes all the way around my right ear, and we later learn from Dr. B that he made a flap and pulled it over the right side of my face to work. My ear is the size of a cauliflower and I look like a boxer.
Mom comes back and tells Dean he can leave, but I think he wants to stay. Mom says that they all want to "stay in my back pocket" and not get too far away. Finally, about noon, Dean leaves to grab some lunch and be ready to pick up Janessa from school at 2:00. I am anxious to see her. When she comes, she is fascinated by the monitors and watches them intently. "You told me you wouldn't be hooked up to tubes," she says. "It's like in the TV shows." I tell her not to worry if the numbers are chaotic. Everything evens out in the end. She looks a little pale.
Dr. Bradley comes in to check on me. You'd never know he had been in surgery all day and night. He is dressed in a shirt and tie and looks very dapper and refreshed. He is amazed that I am catheter-free and oxygen-free and that I have been up to the bathroom already. Yes, well, do you want to hear that story? He takes a quick look and says all is well.
I receive phone calls and visits filled with love. My dear RS president, Ann, remarks, "I can hear that they didn't take away your cute laugh." My friend, Sylvia, brings a chocolate cupcake and an Easter bunny and kisses. My darling niece, Britnee, brings a lovely, unique flower arrangement that makes me smile. Mom's cell phone rings constantly and Lindsey is getting good use out of her added minutes and text capabilities. They are the best secretaries, ever.
For some odd reason none of us can figure out, we are told that the entire 7th floor (I'm in Room W744) will close down for the weekend, due to policy and nursing consolidation, and be moved to the 6th floor. It is a production beyond belief, and our hard-working, old-school nurse, Barb, is obeying orders, but reluctantly. We are the last bed to be moved. Barb wheels me out into the hall and leaves me there, saying that she has to stay on the floor and make sure all is "shut down". I thank her profusely for her good service to me and my family. She is like an old Sarge, all business and no fluff, but she was the one who took out my cumbersome IV if I promised to drink lots of water. She gives me a smile and says it's been a pleasure to meet me and my family. I am driven to the 6th floor, Room W607, my sweet family trailing behind me, like some caravan or parade. Who thought of this ridiculous plan? It is just so strange. Later, as I'm trying to eat my dinner of mashed potatoes and turkey, Ann appears, a little unraveled that she couldn't "find" me. She had been to the deserted 7th floor, where my room and all those around mine were empty and abandoned. I'm sure it scared her a little. It would have scared me.
When my CNA arrives for the night, I am happy to see that it is Virna again. In her cute Spanish accent, she says, "You are the other side of the coin tonight than you were this morning!" Sweet. I do feel better. She arranges to bring Mom a roll-away bed, which we are both grateful for - I am so worried for my exhausted family. In the night, I hear Mom gently snoring and I'm glad she can get some rest. I have to call for some meds about 2:00 AM, but after taking them, I get drowsy fast. I say my prayers before falling asleep, counting my many, many blessings. There is a full moon tonight - a Super Moon - bigger and brighter than normal. It seems like a gift IN the heavens for a day filled with miracles.

March 19, 2011: Mom and I both wake more refreshed. I order a pancake with mixed berries for breakfast. It tastes delicious. Dr. Bradley appears again and I ask him about showering today. I am so stinky, I can't stand myself! He says, of course, go right ahead. What about the staples? Will I rust? He laughs. My drain has worked well and there is barely anything in the measuring cup. He proceeds to take it out. "This will hurt and burn," he warns two seconds before he pulls the 12-in. long tube from just above my collarbone. Owwee, yes, you are right! Mom and I giggle a little, thinking of how they get that thing in there. Do they push it in like a straw? Dr. B gives us the go-ahead to be discharged as soon as I shower and feel ready. We call for a nurse, but apparently, everyone is also calling to go home and she is slow to answer. I am emotional today. Tears come quickly. It is all to be expected, but it still rocks me. I feel like a baby. I'm so dependent on everyone else. My bum hurts from being in bed so much. Mom and I walk up and down the hall, and though it's not true, I feel that everyone we pass stares at my wounds. Finally, my nurse appears and gets the bathroom ready. She takes out my IV port that has hung from my hand for the past two days. What a relief. She looks at the hole my drain port has left and says we should keep that dry for at least 24 hours. She proceeds to tape a little "tent" over it, but the tape won't stick because of the ointment on my wound. Frustrated, she tries a second time. It works a little better, but it will be tricky keeping it dry. She leaves the room for something...and Mom and I are left sitting there, waiting again. Minutes crawl by. Other patients in my little corner on the sixth floor are leaving, trailing Get Well balloons and flower arrangements. I feel a bit abandoned. Mom thinks she can handle the shower, so I say, "Let's just do it, you and me." It's mostly her, of course. I'm weak and shaky as a newborn kitten. She nearly climbs in with me and I'm worried about her being soaking wet and catching cold. It's a nightmare - I can't feel the right side of my head, especially my huge, bruised ear, so it's hard to maneuver. It's an alien thing, stitched to my head, ready to snap off if we aren't careful. It's not true, but it seems that way. I'm soaped and lathered and the water feels good running down my back. When it comes to my hair, I almost wish I was bald. It would be so much easier. Mom gently towels me off and rubs lotion into my skin. She helps me into clean undies and a fresh top and my jeans. Oh, so much better. But, now I'm shaky again and I have to climb into that blasted bed that makes my bottom ache to warm up and calm down. I am amazed that Mom is barely wet. Thank you, Heavenly Father. The nurse arrives with my discharge papers, Dean and Janessa are here with the car, and I am finally wheeled out of the hospital. Home - I can't wait. My own bed, my own blankies, my own pajamas.
While I nap, Dean goes for my prescription and a bowl of Cutler's chicken and wild rice soup. Oh, it tastes heavenly! Dean does a load or two of laundry and I'm so proud of him. Mom is a blessing beyond words - she takes care of all the little and big details of daily life so I don't have to worry about a thing. I watch TV...or not. I read...or not. I nap...or not. I am so thankful for the blessings in my life.

March 20, 2011: The Sabbath. Day of rest. Day of thanksgiving. My heart is full. I am proud of Dean and Janessa for getting up early and going to church. I watch "The Music and the Spoken Word" and see my friends, Sylvia and Jen, as they perform. The theme is "You'll never walk alone" and I bow my head and say, Amen, over and over. I have never felt alone through this whole ordeal. The "armies" and "legions" of angels have been my companions and helpers through it all. I have never felt more loved or supported by those on earth and beyond the veil. I can "hold my head up high" and not "be afraid of the storm" because of all the fasting and prayers of my faithful brothers and sisters. I am so blessed and so in debt to my Lord and Savior.
Lachlan calls me. "My baby brother is coming after church," he says confidently. My heart lurches. I hear Chelsea say, "Oh, really?" Luckily, thankfully, that sweet little soul is still content to stay cocooned inside his mommy.
It's a sweet day, topped off with a delicious meal from my Relief Society presidency friends. Mom asks if they want to see my wound, and I cringe. If the tables were turned, I'm not sure I would be up to looking at such a thing. But they look, and though I can't see their eyes, I know they are shocked at the severity, the horrible ladder of staples, the criss-cross of incisions. It's a doozy, and even I am not fully aware of just how bad it really is. That's a blessing, too, I think. I feel sorry for those who have to see it.
Night comes. Aaron and Linds bring the girls to see that Grammy is really okay. My neck is wrapped in a colorful scarf, and though I am laying on the couch under my mound of blankets, they still run to me for a hug. Jane even lifts her arms to have me hold her. I feel blessed that my arms and hands are still strong, that I can lift these babies for a kiss, and smother them with loves and hugs. They make me smile and laugh and I am grateful for the visit. They are my heart and joy.
Before Mom leaves to go to sleep at Aaron's, she tucks me into bed like when I was a little girl. It is so comforting. She worries that she is hovering, nagging. No. I am eternally grateful to have her near me. I feel like her baby and I love her gentle touch. It breaks my heart that she has to go through this ordeal, too, but I feel her strength and her love in every fiber of my wounded body. Good-night, Mommy. I love you.

March 21, 2011: No school today. Hooray. Janessa and I both sleep until almost ten o'clock. Mom is already here again, starting laundry, straightening the house from last night, emptying the dishwasher. She helps me shower again - the third time is the charm. It is easier. We are getting this down to a fine art. She applies the ointment delicately and tenderly, even though I am still so numb that I don't feel the Q-tip against my skin. I can hear the scritch-scritch from my ear, but can't feel a thing. It is so weird, still. She worries that Dr. B will scold her at the one or two spots that show a little infection, but I will stand up for her. She has been a terrific nurse. I couldn't ask for better.
It is a quiet day. I nap. I write thank-you notes for all the wonderful meals and gifts that have come to me and my family. I watch my latest Netflix movie, called "School of Life." It is a wonderful little movie, but when I realize the main character is dying from leukemia, it makes it all too real. Cancer is evil. I hate it. I wonder if I will always cringe when I hear about the suffering of others from this horrid disease. I hope so.
Lindsey and Aaron and the girls bring "Hawaiian Haystacks" for our dinner and then we have Family Home Evening. Dinner is delicious, and I love watching Ally, Avery, and Jane scoop up the good food their mama prepares and devour it. I love how they mind their mama and daddy and do as they are told (well, Janie is still learning!). I love how they sing, "If you're happy and you know it..." and how they fold their arms and bow their heads to pray, even little Janie. I love how their little testimonies are growing, and how Ally says the Holy Ghost can "keep you safe and make you feel good inside." I love how we bear testimony to each other of the goodness and mercy of the Lord and how prayers are answered and how families are blessed through the temple ordinances. I love that we are a forever family. I love to read the scripture to "Be of good cheer" and the comfort it brings to all of us. I love to hear my family laugh. I love when they cry tears of joy. I love getting hugs and kisses. I am so blessed.
Tomorrow, we go to the doctor to get my staples out. I am nervous. I'm sure it will hurt. I'm not so sure that they will all be ready to come can something so extensive be healed in just five days? It seems unreal. But I will trust in Dr. B. He knows much better than any of us what the body can and can't do.
I fall asleep again, counting my blessings and thanking God for His Everlasting Kindness to me, His imperfect, but eternally grateful, child.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Day of Reckoning...and we wait

March 17, 2011: I have slept pretty well. No nervous tummy like two weeks ago and the biopsy surgery. Weird how time has been altered. It feels like a hundred days instead of fourteen. I take my sweet girl to school and we kiss goodbye and good luck. We're both wearing lucky green. She gets to roller blade today...I get to have my neck cut open. I come home and clean the bathroom and start laundry. Mom jokes that I'm "nesting". If only.

11:45 AM - Mom, Linds, and I arrive at LDS Hospital. Below my name on the check-in form are the words, "malignant melanoma". My heart races. I am shaky filling out each paper they thrust at me. Along with everything else, will my signature ever look normal again? I tell the nurse who weighs me that this is a test - according to my scales at home, I've lost 14 lbs. since the biopsy surgery. This time, I've only lost 5 lbs. Sorry, Deaner, I think - our scales really are 10 lbs. off. Maybe I just won't tell him. This nurse takes me to a regular hospital room and tells me to change into the adorable generic gown and fashionable drawstring pants. Now, I look like everyone else. She also gives me the news that my surgery is slated for 1:10 PM.

1:00 PM - A former pediatric nurse, Bobbi, comes in to take my vitals and put in my IV. We joke about getting it in the first time in my left hand, but it doesn't happen. She sees the big vein in my right hand - and away we go. She looks at my chart and delivers the delightful (and never heard before) news that my surgery is supposed to last FIVE HOURS. Where did I hear two hours? Did I dream it? Five hours sounds like a lifetime, a marathon. My blood pressure soars and we laugh nervously. We start to pray for three hours. Certainly that is long enough to kill the giant. Bobbi also tells us that now we're slated for 2:00 PM.

2:30 PM - Another nurse, Ashley, arrives bearing bad news. It will be at least another hour. The three of us moan and groan. Mom and Linds are starving. Ashley brings them food vouchers for the cafeteria, but they don't want to leave me. Mom brings out a bag of chocolate, but even the smell doesn't faze me. My stomach hurts with anxiety. Ashley brings in another IV bag and heated blankets out of the blanket oven. It feels like the air-conditioning is on. I'm so grateful for Mom and Linds. We laugh and talk like we're waiting for the bus to take us to the mall. Linds has us laughing hysterically over a blog post from her friend, Becca, who is turning 30 on March 31 and is dating 30 different men in 30 days. I laugh and laugh and it feels so good. We also laugh at Linds, who wheels & deals with T-Mobile for more minutes and text messaging like a pro. She tells them she has a "family emergency" and will need to use her phone more. I love her. I wish I wasn't the "family emergency". Mom remains my faithful secretary, fielding calls and answering questions. I love her, too, so much.

3:30 PM - My door remains wide open and we watch as orderlies come to collect their patients around me. How trusting we all are. I wonder if anyone has ever said, "No, never mind. I think I'll pass today." Of course not. We've come this far, we have to continue and move forward. Inside, we're balking and planting our feet, but ultimately, we climb on that gurney and go for the long ride. Another nurse comes in and says she'll call the OR and get an ETA. The news is not good - another hour and a half. I hear myself say, "Are you kidding?" The surgery before mine has run into serious complications. Poor, poor Dr. Bradley. Mom says, "We wanted him fresh," and the nurse says, "Look at it this way - now, he'll be warmed up."

4:00 PM - My sweet Chels calls from St. George. She had a doctor's appointment today. She's dilated to a 2, 60% effaced. But in her dear, positive voice, she says, "Don't worry, Mom. I still don't feel like he'll come soon. I know he's waiting for you." She was hoping we'd both be done by now. Me too. We call Dean, tell him to wait at home. He would be a basket case here. At least at home, he has his comfy recliner and the remote to keep him sane. Janessa has walked to Aaron's office after school and is happily using his laptop to write her stories. Everything and everyone is on hold. It feels endless.

4:30 PM - "Within the hour," says the nurse, "and I'm being conservative." I've begun to lose hope that we'll get in today. She tells us doctors are trained to go all night. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. She asks what we're doing to pass the time. We've exhausted the magazines. We've tried the TV, but it's annoying. I can't read. I'm getting loopy with nerves and an empty stomach. I worry for Mom and Linds. Luckily, they've found a soda machine nearby with Coke and pebble ice. Can we call that a tender mercy? At this point, yes. Family and friends are calling, thinking we've been done for hours and haven't notified them as promised. Repeating the bad news is depressing. We want to be finished and we haven't even begun. The nurse leaves and calls out from the hall, "Thanks for your patience." Mom replies, "We have none left." A high-school-looking orderly arrives and our hearts beat a bit faster, but he says, "We're not ready for you yet, but we wanted you to know that your sister has called the recovery room four times, asking about you." We roar with laughter and wonder which sweet sister it is. Turns out it was my sweet sister, Laura, frantic with worry. I feel so sorry.

5:50 PM - Dr. Bradley appears like an apparition in the doorway. He is exhausted, starved, and looks even younger in his scrubs and blue hair hat. Mom offers him Reese's peanut butter cups and he devours two or three as he gives us the news. I tell him, "Please go get some dinner. I can wait for you." He says he will. He tells us why we've been kept waiting all day. The surgery before me was more exploratory than mine, and when they got inside this poor man, it was everywhere, "sticking to everything," Dr. Bradley says with a grimace. "I hate cancer," he says. We nod our heads numbly. Then, he tells me more than I really want to know about my own ordeal. The five hour expected duration is real - 2 1/2 hours for the removal of my paratid gland (salivary), 2 1/2 hours for the neck dissection. Oh boy. There's that giant beast again, looming before little ol' me. But I'm armed with my slingshot and all the little stones I've been gathering over the past two weeks: prayer, blessings, miracles, and hope. I'm going in swinging.

6:05 PM - I'm scared. Shaky. Nothing feels real. Tears are coming. We hear the gurney coming down the hall. Mom and Linds - who have been with me the ENTIRE DAY - gather up my belongings for the transfer to the waiting area. I get on the gurney, crying, but Mom and Linds are keeping up the mantra - Miracles and Hope, Miracles and Hope. I watch the world go by under the bright ceiling lights, and then, we arrive. Funny how this ordinary room, with all the people doing what they've been trained to do for countless people, can change lives. I am strapped in, burrito-style, like a little baby. I am happy to know that the catheter will be put in after I'm asleep because that's one of the worst parts for me. I take one more look around the room, and then I close my eyes.

2:00 AM - March 18, 2011: Blurry. Fuzzy. I'm back in my room. My family is there. I ask if BYU won their first tournament game. YES! I have survived a 6 1/2 hour surgery. How does anyone do that? I only want to sleep. I feel nothing. It's a blessing.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Short and Sweet

March 19, 2011: I am not going to do a big update today...I have no strength. But, as soon as I'm able I will give the full-blown, down and dirty details. It was...and is...a battle. But, the best and most important news of the whole six-and-a-half hour surgery is that my doc is confident he got it ALL. I should hope so--I've got the battle wounds to prove it. Prayers are answered, blessings keep pouring in, and I get to sleep (or close my eyes, at least) in my own bed tonight. Prop up the pillows, get my Loritab handy, and get me snuggled in. First day home from the hospital has been hard...but tomorrow will be better. I know it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Day Before Surgery

March 16, 2011: I feel surprisingly peaceful today, in spite of the fact that the hospital called and gave me my marching orders: be there at 11:45 in the morning, no food or drink after midnight tonight, no jewelry, bring an overnight bag, bring your (Sarah Palin) glasses if you wear contacts, etc. It could be that I started my day in the temple. "I was in Your house, Lord, and I felt You there." Was touched to tears by so many tender mercies. It could also be that I did a very normal girl thing and made an appointment to have my hair trimmed and my eyebrows waxed...ah, it feels so much better, Wendy. Thanks. It could also be that my little J painted my toenails a lovely shade of green for St. Patrick's Day. I could use a little of that Irish luck. But, I'm also absolutely sure it's because I received an eloquent, heartfelt blessing from my precious son, who among other things blessed me that the "armies of heaven" would be with me to help me fight my battles tomorrow and in the days ahead. How can I lose? I trust in the Creator, He who knows when a sparrow falls. His everlasting kindness will never fail. He is my Father...I am His child. He will help me stand up to this giant disease and win. My heart tells me all will be well.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another Day, Another Doctor

March 15, 2011: Another waiting room. Another history to fill out. Another receptionist asking if any information has changed. What, since a week ago? I'm grateful to have my darling DIL by my side to make me laugh as she looks down the list of current distresses: anxiety - check; high blood pressure - check; nervous stomach - check, check; CANCER - do I have to check? Is there a grace period where you're still allowed to think you might wake up from this nightmare? No, I have to check it...but I add my postscript - "diagnosed 3/7/11", as if that makes it less real. Inside Dr. Scott's exam room, his Medical Assistant, Lani, sees beyond our too-bright smiles, our too-ready laughter, the way our eyes beg for good news. She assures us that this will be one of those good news days and we clutch her words to our hearts. I go into another room for X-rays on my foot, one flat, one bending to one side, one to the other side. I remember when I sprained this foot in the 8th grade - I was jumping over rough wooden saw horses in our backyard, Olympic-style, and landed wrong. The foot wasn't broken - I could still walk on it, barely - but it was the most painful thing I'd experienced. I remember that those X-rays showed I was still growing - the leg bone and the foot bone were not "connected" yet - and I was devastated. I was already 5'7" - a giant among the short boys at school. The X-rays were right. I added another two inches before I finally hit my peak.
Back in the exam room, Dr. Scott walks in, and immediately I am at ease. He is kind and friendly. He pulls a chair closer to me and says, "I know I'm probably the 100th doctor you've seen in the past few days, but will you tell me your story?" It's as if I'm talking to an old friend who is sincerely interested. Then, he asks, "And what about this foot? What has gone on in your life with this foot?" I laugh. Feet are funny things. Mine, especially. They're big. I've broken my little pinky toes about four times. I can't wear flip-flops any more because I get heel pain. Oh, and by the way, I sprained this ankle when I was about 13 and it's been weak and susceptible to wrenching and tweaking ever since.
Dr. Scott is so patient. He brings out a model of a skeletal foot, tells me why I'm here in his office today, why we're looking at the PET scan for a supposed "hot spot". Then, with a mischievous grin, he says, "Have you seen your PET scan? Let's have a look at it." Linds and I sit up. Wow, really? He jokes, "Doctors shouldn't have all the fun looking at this stuff!" He pulls up the files on his computer and tells us that scans are like Doppler weather - they show images - slices - of our bodies and different colors mean different things. Suddenly, there I am on the screen - well, there is the INSIDE of Lisa, the images of my heart, my stomach (gosh, it's huge!), my lungs, my intestines and bowels, my brain - all lit up like a Christmas tree. And there, right below my right ear, are two little yellow circles. My tumors. Solid. Real. Little orbs of chaos. Mayhem, trying to mess up my life.
Way down at the bottom are the scans of my legs and feet. Dr. Scott points to a sliver - a wisp - of yellow on the side of my right foot. "That's why you're here." It looks like the flame from a match, long and willowy. Nothing like the two beasties in my neck.
He feels my foot, compares it to the other one. "That's why we have two," he says. He sits back and says, in pure hope-filled words, that there's nothing to be concerned about. No cancer. No melanoma. To him, it appears to be consistent with an old injury, probably my sprained ankle and the countless re-injuries over the years. Linds and I sigh with relief. We thank Dr. Scott with all our hearts, and I feel like skipping down to the parking lot.
The army trudges onward. Next stop, Thursday and surgery. And so we prepare with more prayer, more priesthood blessings, more love, more gratitude. More hope. And - forgive my selfishness - more miracles.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What a difference a week makes...

March 14, 2011: One whole week since the news that abruptly rocked our world. My mind still can't quite wrap itself around the difference between last Monday's despair and this Monday's hope. And yet, when I think of what has happened in the REAL WORLD the past few days--the horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan--I know I am blessed to be fighting this minor challenge compared to what others are facing. I'm also happy to say that there are NO doctor/clinic/hospital appointments today. Wow. What to do? Quick trip to the library. Catch up on work. Call hospital to pre-register. Take a nap (darn that Daylight Savings Time). Write thank-you notes. Nothing too taxing, because even though I feel okay physically (other than twinges in my neck that seem to say, "hurry up, get this thing out of here"), I'm kind of shaky emotionally. I especially felt it yesterday at church, even in the midst of people I love. Guess it's something to get used to, much like the scars I'll carry on the outside. I think I'll let Janessa do Family Home Evening tonight. Her idea? Go get Slurpees and take a drive. Talk. Look at something we've never seen before. Explore. See where that road takes us. I'll be in charge of the music--something happy we can bounce our heads to. Sounds like it's going to be a good day.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Counting Blessings, One by One

March 11, 2011: We are up bright and early this morning to begin our day of fact-finding and next steps. We all--Mom, Dean, Linds, and I--express nervousness at the unknown fears that lie ahead and a sincere desire to move forward, wherever that may take us. I pray for Dr. Bradley. Is his heart heavy as he begins this busy day? Janessa goes to her sweet friend's house because it is too early to go to the school. I write a note for Carol's mom, to let her know our week's journey, and J is hesitant to give it to her. "She'll cry," she says, and I feel she's right. Linds is driving and admits she longs to stay on the freeway and drive all the way to St. George. Escape...not really an option, but oh, we would do it in a heartbeat. We arrive at the clinic with time to spare and sit only a few minutes in the waiting room--long minutes we try to pass with chit-chat. Dr. B's nurse calls my name and I tell her I'm bringing my crew along. We walk down the long hall to the only room I've been in during my three visits, and it feels like it belongs to me now. We sit on edge, waiting, waiting, for news that will either swipe at our defenses or pour salve on our broken hearts. Dr. Bradley comes in and smiles. Without delay, he launches into the words we gobble up like baby birds:
As we learned yesterday from Dr. Robison, what we believe was the entry point on top of my head does not now contain melanoma cells, thanks to the magnificent fighting machine of the human body. The scans and tests I've had this week are meant to uncover overactive cells in my body. Obviously, the scans show a huge mass of these cells in my neck, but much more of a mystery is some sign of them in my right FOOT. Dr. B admits this is strange. Since melanoma tends to move downward from the entry site, this would indicate it has moved from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. For a moment, I am frozen with fear. All week, I have had nightmares of doctors pouring over my scan results with their red marking pens, circling blotch after blotch of tumors, like a plate riddled with bullet holes. Absurd, I know, but the main reason I've been nauseous with worry. Dr. B says that he has already made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon/bone cancer specialist for next Tuesday to have my foot checked out. "It could be anything," he says, calmly, "such as arthritis, an old injury or infection, or melanoma." Further examination and evaluation will solve the mystery.
The second step is to take out the lymph nodes and suspect mass in my neck, so surgery is planned for next Thursday, St. Patrick's Day. It's extensive--Dr. B will lift up nerves and search under muscle to find and excise all the bad guys. There is a chance of paralysis in my face, loss of muscle movement in my shoulder and arm, nerve damage. I listen as if he is reading me the back of an aspirin bottle. I will be in the hospital two days, perhaps, enough time to allow the blood underneath the skin to drain. Sounds delightful.
Third step is a visit to a well-known oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Center who will refer me to a trial or study. We joke about going to clinics in Boston or Texas or even New York, but I just want to stay home.
Then we get down to the nitty-gritty. Even after my neck surgery, will I be cured? Will I be in remission? There is one more test to take right away, and that is a blood test to determine if there are "markers" that would indicate microscopic spots that the scans did not detect--spots that would mean melanoma has spread. If those markers come up in the test, the answer is simple--we wait three to six months for the baby-spots to grow into mean-monster-spots and then we get them cut out, too. Melanoma is not cured by radiation or chemo. It can only be killed by complete surgical annihilation. Why wait so long? To see what has grown in the time we've been worrying and agonizing over the unpredictable and invisible. More scanning. More tests. More surgeries. Maybe every three to six months for...well, for forever.
But I like what Dr. B says about this amazing body God created. He says that right now, I have KILLER CELLS that are attacking the mass in my neck relentlessly, every day, every minute, fighting, fighting, fighting. Once that mass is removed, those little soldiers will race off to attack other bad guys, especially those little microscopic things that may be lurking in the wings. That's why it's important to get that big neck lump out of here--gone, kaput--so those killer cells can do the rest of their duty. Amazing.
We leave the office dry-eyed, a tender mercy in itself because we have cried buckets of tears in the past nine days. There is a small glimmer of hope in our hearts because of the beautiful emptiness of those scan results. I wait to get my blood drawn again for the "marker" test. They take two tubes. Both of my arms are now bruised from needles.
We meet an old friend as we're leaving. His wife is battling breast cancer, ongoing since last May. Compassion wells within me that I've never felt before. I am so sorry, so sad. We wish each other well and say we'll pray for each other. I will put her on my prayer list tonight.
Mom asks if I just want to go home, but I think I'm actually hungry. Another blessing. We have a delicious breakfast and I call both Aaron and Chelsea to tell them the latest news. We are hesitantly hopeful.
Later, as I'm napping (again), the phone rings. I can't quite rouse myself to answer it, so let the machine take a message. It's hard to fall into a deep sleep. I keep waking myself up, going over Dr. B's positive, so clear, so full of hope.
Finally, I play back the phone message. It is Dr. B's nurse. "Lisa, we just got the results back from your lab tests and we wanted you to know that they came back normal. Take care. Bye." Results. Lab tests. Normal. Normal. NORMAL. NO MARKERS. I go from room to room in my house, relaying the news like a town crier. Mom and I collapse into sobs. It is a miracle. A MIRACLE. Prayers have been answered. More prayers of gratitude are whispered.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
One of the best good news/good days...ever...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sunny Day, Ray of Hope

March 10, 2011: Beautiful day in the neighborhood. Almost 70 degrees. Spring is in the air. Mom and I leave early this AM for the Salt Lake Clinic to have lab work and an MRI done. I have a nervous tummy...again. Drink lots of water, thinking I'll have to pee in a cup. Nope. Only blood work. When I'm about to be stuck, I always think, "Where is my Robby? He would be oh so gentle and sure on the first try!" As I am called to have the MRI, Bob (the technician) says my mommy would be much more comfortable in the waiting room because we are going "outside" - the MRI unit is in a trailer in the back of the clinic. Seriously? I am wearing my comfy black "only at home" pants because they have told me not to wear clothing with metal on them. That rules out my favorite studded jeans. I've had nightmares about the MRI machine, hoping that I'm really not claustrophic like I've assured everyone, but obviously progress has made this beast much more comfortable. Immediately I see that there is a window just above my head where I can look out into the room and even watch the technicians. Ah, yes. This will be okay. In the last five minutes of the test, I'm injected with "contrast" (same name as the yucky lemonade stuff you drink, but this goes right in the arm). The first nurse misses the vein. ("Robby!") The second nurse is quick and easy. Test done, out the door by 9:15. I am up for a little breakfast at The Bakery and a slow stroll through Walgreens. Back at home, I snuggle into bed for a little nap. About an hour later, I hear the phone ring. Mom is quick to answer. I don't hear the conversation, except Mom saying, "That's good news, isn't it?" I am wide awake now. When she comes in to tell me, she is already crying with relief. Dr. Robinson, our favorite dermatologist, has called with the results of the biopsy from the top of my head. As far as they can tell under the microscope, the spot no longer holds melanoma cells. What? He tries to explain (I later call him to get the scoop firsthand) that there are little things called dermal melanosis (no idea how to spell) that will actually ATTACK and EAT melanoma cells when they first discover them in a mole. He couldn't say how long I've had this thing on the top of my head, but thinks those little Pac-Man soldiers in my body attacked and ate the cancer cells in the mole. Of course, the melanoma still went into the lymph nodes in my neck, but for now, I will not have to have a big thing cut off of my head unless something else shows up in the scans. He said that spot is in "regression". Hooray for my little army! The best news of hope is that Dr. R said, "People who have this happen respond the best to treatment." Miracles...and hope...miracles...and hope...
Tomorrow we go to hear all the news from the tests and scans. Dear sweet Dr. Bradley. My heart aches for him, as for all doctors, who have to break bad news to a family clutching at any sliver of hope. But we pray for him, too. Tonight, I feel very strongly that this journey has only confirmed my faith in our human family. So many of my heavenly brothers and sisters are praying for me that it would be impossible not to feel comfort and peace in knowing God is listening. He brought this miracle today. He will bring more. Don't worry, Ally and Lachlan. Grammy will sleep well tonight and try not to be scared tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Official Results

March 7, 2011: Today was a day to be forgotten, never to be relived, even in words. But I can't stop composing every waking second until my mind is a tangled mess. Dr. Bradley's nurse calls and asks if I can come to the Bountiful Clinic "right now", as the doctor has received the official results of my biopsy. My sweet daughter-in-law leaves her three littles with her neighbor and drives through the pouring rain to be at my side. Dr. Bradley is the sweetest, most compassionate of doctors and begins right away to tell me that the news is fact, it is the worst. I do not have lymphoma--I have melanoma, and the fact that it has already spread to the lymph nodes in my neck is not good at all. I am stunned. Heartbroken. Shocked. Rocked to the core. It cannot be. There is no treatment for melanoma. There is no quick fix of radiation or chemotherapy. In my numbness, I am subjected to a long tube-like scope of nostrils and throat, then nakedness to examine every inch of me to find the entry point. It comes after careful finger-combing of my out-of-control hair from my new favorite dermatologist, Dr. Robinson. It's a spot on my scalp on the crown of my head. How would I ever see it there? How would anyone ever see it there? They wouldn't, he says. Don't beat yourself up. And it wasn't caused by hot Las Vegas sun or brown hair dye or any of those just is. I am saved by doctors who are already lining up appointments for tomorrow (which only they could do) for scans and tests and action...because, quite honestly, I can't even tell if I'm standing or sitting. I break down once in the doctor chair, and he quietly gives me a tissue. This is my life now. They'll wait while I blow my nose. I also break down when I'm left alone with my mommy and we look at each other like we've suddenly come to the edge of the cliff and there's no turning back. I also break down when I see my tall, handsome son with tears in his eyes, and later, as he takes the hard task of calling my sweet Chels. I can only hug my little Nessi. I can only kiss my sweet husband. This is not just me. It is my whole world. It is all the people in my world. It wrenches every fiber of my being.

March 8, 2011: Thanks to Dr. Bradley, I am scheduled for a PET/CT scan at the Murray IHC. I've been up three times in the night with a nervous stomach. Really? On top of everything else? Before we leave home, my sweet sister, Dionney, calls. The first thing she says is, "All of our pom-poms are in the air!" What a great visual. Lindsey arrives to drive us to the appointment. "My boxing gloves are on!" she says. Okay, I'm now armed and ready. I have to fill out more papers and Mom and Linds joke that we should just photocopy everything for the next time. It's so strange to answer the question, "Have you been diagnosed with cancer? When?" and write, "Yesterday." While I am given an IV and am drinking nasty lemonade sugar water ("contrast") and letting it soak in, my poor mommy and Linds are freezing under an air conditioning vent in the waiting room. It is a sunny day, but p-l-e-a-s-e, there is still snow on the ground. The scans are like something out of an science fiction movie. Sliding in and out of tubes, stopping and scanning, I repeat the mantra, "Miracles and hope, miracles and hope..." over and over. When I get antsy, I go down the list of the people I love the most: "Lois, Dean, Janessa, Aaron, Lindsey, Ally, Avery, Jane, Chelsea, Robby, Lachlan, Olive, Knox..." over and over. Then I start on siblings and aunts and uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews. It passes time, time spent staring at the underside of a tube that will neither spit me out soon enough or let me escape. I imagine the technicians behind the glass, circling little cancer spots on a monitor, and I have to start singing hymns in my mind, especially when they stop for a long time in one place. When it's over, and I'm reunited with my frozen family, I am spent. Later, I get visits at home from my sweet Ann and my sweet Alice Ann and my sweet Britnee. They make me laugh. They cry with me. They tell me they love me and they tell me it will be okay. I know. I KNOW. Janessa says it was a good day because we didn't get any bad news. That's how our days will be measured from now on, I guess. Bad news, bad day. No news, good day. I just wonder if there will be a good news, good day in the course of this journey...or will I have to steel myself to jump to the no news, good days?

March 9, 2011: No doctor visits today, but doctor phone calls. Dr. Bradley's nurse, Carol, calls and says I have to have an MRI and lab work done tomorrow. New worries. New stress. All results should be known by my Friday appointment. I get a phone call from an old friend, Judy, who tells me her melanoma survival story. It almost sounds too good to be true, but she is positive and gentle. It is inspiring to talk to her, to hear her say she loves me, as I love her. She is one of my tender mercies today. I go to Walmart with my mommy and Janessa, and I almost feel normal, like there isn't a big sign on my forehead that says, "I've got cancer." I have to tell people--again--who don't know that we've gone from bad to worse, and it hurts. I don't want them to look at me with pity and fear. I don't want them to wonder about the hard questions. I'm doing that just fine by myself, thank you. One bright spot of my day is a tiny dream I had just before I woke up this morning. I'm standing in the bathroom, getting ready for something, and Mom hands me the phone. She says, "It's a happy day!" and I think, really? I say hello and hear the voice of my beautiful, 9-months pregnant Chelsea, as she says, "Mom! My water just broke!" I wake up smiling. That WILL be a happy day! I can't wait to kiss Knox's darling face. For now, I'm just trying to do what the doctors tell me to do. My life is a blur. Was it really just one week ago that I had my neck surgery? It feels like a hundred years of worrying and waiting and praying. "Miracles and hope, miracles and hope..."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

And, now we know...

February 24, 2011: Dr. Bradley calls me at home. Early results from the biopsy show "unsatisfactory cells." No kidding! The whole thing is unsatisfactory. I feel unsatisfactory, like I'm failing chemistry or algebra because I didn't get the equations right. He wants to do a tissue biopsy, which involves surgery and general anesthesia. Scary stuff. The last time I was under general anesthesia was when I had my tonsils out as a tiny girl. My only three hospitalizations were for childbirth. This is new territory and it looks as daunting as a wilderness. I am asked all sorts of questions and have to give all kinds of information. Do I have any questions? Yes. Do I have to have a catheter? Do I wear my contacts or glasses to the surgical center? Should I not wear makeup? Silly stuff. But I can't think about the serious stuff right now.

February 27, 2011: I ask my Bishop for a blessing. He kindly assists Dean and I feel stronger. I am blessed beyond words by the prayers of others. I know I will be all right. God is in my corner, now and forever.

March 2, 2011: I go to presidency meeting, where Ann tells me that she has put my name on the prayer roll the brethren take to the temple on Thursday morning. My heart soars to know that the prophet will speak my name aloud and personally ask for God's blessing on my little life and that the gathered brethren will say, "Amen" and seal the prayer. As powerful as that promise is, I also feel the strength of my little grandchildren's prayers, as they ask God to "bless Grammy so her neck will get better." He will. He has. He will continue to bless me.

March 3, 2011: Mom is here. Dean takes the day off work. I slept well, but I am nervous and a little testy. I know I am not a good "sick person", but I am a good actress. I will give a good show. It is rainy and cold. I dress in "easy clothes", as they have told me, and wear no jewelry. We are there at 9:45. Joni is my nurse and she is a gem. She puts me at ease immediately, as we chat like girlfriends about menopause and that White Coat syndrome again and how lucky I am to be a young grandma. She brings me huge scrubs to change into, but tells me kindly that I am not huge (though the scales have confirmed it). We wait, the three of us, in a tiny room, and giggle at the lockers that open up on both sides and the promise of cookies and juice for Dean. I am astonished as I walk to the operating table - as if this was really my choice and I could dash away at any moment - that they really trust me to follow behind like a little lamb. How trusting I am! I lay on the table, take three or four good, deep breaths of oxygen, and close my eyes. I am out.

When I am awakened, I know I have dreamed, but I don't remember what. I am fuzzy. Dean is beside me. He and Mom tell me that Dr. Bradley analyzed a piece of the biopsy in the operating room and it is definitely lymphoma. No question. I am not surprised or upset. It is what it is. I have a bandage around my neck and a tiny drain in the incision. I sit up, pull on my jeans and my top, and am wheeled to the car. I feel like a head without a body. I feel limp. Noodle-y. But, my head and heart are quiet. It will be all right.

I know now that I have been in pain since February - a mild pain in the neck, ha ha! But the surgery brings no new pain. None. I have no need for the pain pills Dean gets at the pharmacy. It is a blessing, a tender mercy, an answer to the many prayers. I don't sleep that night - my head is composing emails and conversations I must now have to tell my story, but I have no pain. When the bandage is removed and the drain is taken out the next day, Dr. Bradley is amazed. He himself calls it a blessing. I know it is and I am so grateful. I have an incision that looks like something out of Frankenstein, so I will not venture far from home for a few days.

Now we know. Now, we wait the five days for the biopsy to be analyzed further. We wait to know how to best fight this Goliath. We wait to hear the plan of action, the plan of attack. We wait...and we continue to pray. I will be okay. I will.

In the beginning...

November 2010: My daily routine - wake up at 6, read a little from the latest library book while Dean eats breakfast and gets ready for work, kiss goodbye, give the first wake-up call to my Janessa, and start warming up the shower. Soaping up, I feel a bump under my right ear. Weird. It's about the size of a quarter. Squishy. Swollen gland? Only hurts when I press hard. When was I last sick? Remnants of my last cold?

December 2010: Catch a good bug a few weeks before Christmas. Knocks me off my socks for a few days. That bump is still there. Really has to be a swollen gland. Hurts when I move my head. But now, I have nightmares. I'm looking things up on the Internet, scary things I don't want to read. I ask Dean to feel the bump. Should I go to the doctor? I start saying things to myself, words like tumor and lump (instead of bump), and sometimes those words leak out when I don't feel up to par, like the joke about the epitaph on the gravestone that says, "See, I told you I was sick!"

January 2011: Money is tight. Dean is worried about his prescriptions for high blood pressure and diabetes. I am finally working more, so I resolve to go to the doctor to check on this bump. I drop Janessa off at school one early morning and am second in line at Instacare. "What are we seeing you for today?" they say. To grant me peace, to quiet my fears, to give me drugs that make this thing go away. "I have a swollen gland and it's been there for a few months." I'm a worried mess. My blood pressure soars. White coat syndrome, I joke with the nurse. She says not to leave before they take it again. I promise. The doctor comes in. He's kind and gentle. He feels the bump, checks all vital signs, including BP which is much lower now that I'm here at this point. Could be a swollen gland, he says. Could be something else, like swollen lymph nodes. He checks my armpits for other swelling. None. He says sometimes these swollen glands or nodes can stick around for up to six months before they go away. He gives me a list of Ear/Nose/Throat specialists in the area and advises that I see one if I don't see or feel any improvement. I am relieved. He didn't seem worried. I go away feeling a bit better and glad that I finally have some answers, though vague ones.

February 15, 2011: I am getting sick. I have a runny nose that won't quit. I spend the day with tissues, a jar of Mentholatum, and orange juice. I still go to chorus rehearsal, but don't sing much. Rats! I hate being sick, especially this week when we plan to go to St. George to (belatedly) celebrate Lachlan's birthday.

February 16, 2011: I am worse today. We have visits planned with the Stake RS, so I call my Relief Society president and tell her that I will be there, but I'm bringing my tissues and my hand sanitizer and I will not hug or breathe on anyone. She laughs. I laugh. But I feel worse as the evening progresses. My only bright spot is the call from Lachlan, who is 4 today. "Hi, Grammy! I love you. I miss you. Today's my birthday and we're going to Pirate Pizza! Are you coming, too?"

February 17, 2011: Thursday. We are supposed to leave tomorrow for St. George. I am so sick, I'm in tears. My neck is the size of a linebacker's, swollen on the right side from my check to my chest. I can't turn my head. I am coughing now. My ears are plugged. I call Chelsea and bawl as I ask for their prayers that I can feel better and still come see them. I call Mom and bawl as I ask for her prayers. I spend a night in hell, as I can't put my head on the pillow or move it in any way without pain, so I doze in the recliner. My neck is slathered with Vicks Vapor Rub and wrapped in a towel. I ask Dean for a priesthood blessing. He asks that the infection and pain be taken away, so I can feel well enough to go to St. George and see my babies.

February 18, 2011: Friday morning. Again, first in line at Instacare. Blood pressure high again. No temperature, though my neck is still balloon-sized. Runny nose better. Slight cough, but not bad. Dr. Pepper (yes, really!) is animated and reassuring. He is concerned that this is my second visit for the same swollen neck. This time, there is action. He takes X-rays of my chest and under my arms. No other swollen glands. That's good. He gives me an antibiotic, a strong one, to get rid of any infection any where. And best of all, he makes an appointment for me to see Dr. Joshua Bradley, ENT specialist, for the following Tuesday. "This was extremely hard for me to get," he says. "When one place told me you'd have to wait until the end of March, I told them, no, she has to get in next week!" I am grateful. I'll be more grateful later. I take the first dose of drugs. By noon, I feel well enough to handle the 5 hour trip to St. George. I wear a scarf around my neck to hide the bulge, but I know prayers are already being answered.

February 22, 2011: I wait quite a while at the IHC Salt Lake Clinic for my appointment with Dr. Bradley. The place is packed with sick people, and I am one of them, though I am 95% better than I was a week ago. If my neck were a normal size, I would be well. Finally, I am taken to a room where I sit in a chair that looks like it belongs at the optometrist's. Dr. Bradley comes in. He is young, so young. I feel old. But he is kind and soft-spoken. He shakes my hand reassuringly and looks straight into my eyes when I talk. He takes notes. He nods. He smiles. He steps behind me and feels both sides of my neck, then concentrates on the right side. He says it feels like lymph nodes. He wants to take a fluid biopsy. He is surprised that I don't flinch when he deadens the area with a local anesthesia. I giggle nervously. He leaves to visit another patient while my neck goes numb and I hear him politely tell a sweet, little old lady that she is losing her hearing and that's why she has been losing her balance and getting dizzy. I think to myself, we are all fighting something, aren't we? Dizziness. Vertigo. Lymph nodes. Finally, the doctor returns, maybe too soon because my neck is not numb. I feel the needle going into my neck and it hurts. He sees me grimace and asks if he should stop. I say, no. Let's get this over with. He pumps the needle a few times, in and out, gathering the fluid that will be sent off for analysis. Let's get a good sample. He says it feels "crunchy", like lymph nodes. Yeah, it hurts. But it's done, and he squirts the liquid into a plastic cup and seals the lid. Off it will go to a sterile room where someone will study it impassively and make the decisions that will affect the rest of my life. This is the beginning.