Friday, September 30, 2011

Last Day of Hard Knocks Month

Friday, September 30, 2011: I am already flipping over calendar pages to tomorrow, when the month changes from "Super Stressful September" to "Outstanding Optimistic October"!! Yes, we can do it!

This morning, we received the second bid on our garage door replacement. Now, we're waiting on the insurance company to select one of the bids and get things moving. It's frustrating, especially when both companies looked at the garage door and said, "We could get this done today." Okay, let's do it then! All the red tape is discouraging. Meanwhile, my car sits and waits, too, and when it is finally dislodged, it will go off to a repair place for another undetermined amount of time. We do have a rental "car", which happens to be a TRUCK. Brand-new 2012 Chevy Silverado with less than 100 miles on it. Very nice, but not exactly what we need for three tall people. And if we can pry ourselves away from all the drama around here, it's not exactly what would get us down to see Mom in comfort. Style, maybe, but nothing we could really relax in for that long drive. Dean is going back to the rental place to see if there is something we can swap for. We'll see. At least we have transportation now. THAT was another pain altogether.

My visit to the Huntsman Cancer Center on Wednesday was a good one. Dr. Grossmann is very reassuring and informative, and I love that all my doctors are "team players". There was a bit of excitement in the waiting room, as one of the patients waiting to be seen was a man in handcuffs and leg shackles, accompanied closely by two uniformed policemen. Obviously, cancer strikes whomever it wants! As Linds and I sat and waited for our turn, one of the nurses came out to talk to a woman and her husband sitting nearby, and we overheard the nurse say, "Everything came back clear. You're all clear." I watched the woman's face and knew every emotion she was feeling. First, the unbelief; then, the absolute relief, and then, the pure joy and gratitude. It was so sweet and made Linds and I all teary. I wanted to hug her, but she was too busy hugging her relieved husband. When we finally saw Dr. G, the wait was worth it. He asked me about the blood clot and what medications I was taking. When I told him I was doing injections AND taking Coumadin--possibly for the next 8-9 months--he grimaced a bit. "That's quite conservative," he said. He promised to call Dr. Beckstead and confer with him about how long I would need to stay on the drugs. Definitely not 8-9 months, which made me very happy! He went over my pathology reports from the neck dissection, which was quite interesting. I discovered that Dr. Bradley removed 22 lymph nodes from one level of my neck (when Dr. G said the number of nodes removed, he sounded almost astonished!), and then he removed six more from another level. So, when we say Dr. B is thorough, we mean it! Beside each description of the levels were the test results, and I loved seeing "no cancer detected", written after each paragraph. At this point, I am a Stage 3B, but Dr. G was quick to say that usually the differences between 3C and 3B are not a great factor in treatment or survival. He pulled out a cool graph card from his pocket (well used) and showed me how the stages determine survival rate. Right now, after this latest surgery and pathological report, I have a 60% chance of being alive and cancer free in five years. That's doesn't sound like the best, but I was actually encouraged by that number. I think when I was first diagnosed, I was given a 20% chance of survival in five years. Dr. G then went over again all the ins and outs of the clinical trials, relating the side effects and the advantages, and then calmly asked, "So, what do you want to do?" Amazing that these doctors who know so much still leave the decisions in our hands. I told him that since my pathology report had shown no evidence of cancer, I did not want to do any clinical trials. "You want to continue on Active Observations?" he said. Yes, that's exactly what I want to do. Isn't that a great term? Active Observation. We're looking actively to keep those cancer bad guys from winning. I'm back to the 3-month scans, the next one scheduled for December 19. Now, that could be a good thing and a bad thing. It could really be a reason to make merry at Christmas, or it could be total downer. I'm going to think positively and know that it will be a GOOD Christmas. No cancer. None. At all.

I am also waiting today to hear from Dr. Beckstead about further injections. I took my last shot this morning and really, REALLY don't want to refill that prescription. I'm hoping Dr. Grossmann has talked to him about lowering my doses and time on the Coumadin, and that my good score of 2.1 on Wednesday will give me the all-clear. Waiting, waiting...

I talked to Lachlan this morning, too. We're both excited about his soccer game tomorrow and that Grammy will get to see him make some goals! I'm also hoping we can take Mom for a little drive and let her soak in some sunshine and fresh air. I think that makes everybody feel better, but especially after a month in the hospital. I'm going to work hard on that one.

Dean is feeling a little better after a few days on antibiotics, and I feel stronger every day. Yesterday, I actually put in a good amount of time for work. One of the supervisors sent me a message, thanking me for working into the night. I know it will just keep getting better. And now that September is over, I can "press forward". Thank you, Lord Jesus! Without you, I would not be sane enough or healthy enough to put one foot in front of the other; but with you, I am standing tall, poised to sprint to whatever lies ahead, scars and broken things and all. What a precious gift of comfort and peace and healing You have given me this month. It has been the difference between life and death, joy and despair, laughter and tears.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Series of Unfortunate Events (Tuesday, Part III)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 (still): Dean was diagnosed with walking pneumonia today. Had to have a chest x-ray and is on super powerful antibiotics and an inhaler. I'm in stun mode.

Car is stuck in the broken garage. Claims adjuster coming tomorrow, but still not soon enough. I'm a walking zombie.

Enough said.

Will September Never End?? (Tuesday, Part II)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011: I took Janessa to school this morning, came home, and was sitting at the table going over the mail, when I heard a loud CRASH that sounded like it came from the garage. WHAT was THAT?? I opened the door from the house to the garage - and saw that my garage door was crumpled from the outside in, with my car inside, of course! Then, I heard a tiny knock at the front door. Oh, dear. I opened the door to find my across-the-street neighbor in a panic. She had pulled out of her driveway to go to work and had lost her brakes, crashing into my garage door!

REALLY??? We have to laugh about it or we would be in hysterics. Am now waiting for her insurance company to call so we can begin the replacement process.

One of my good neighbors was walking by and saw the damage and told me that he is off work today and wouldn't be needing his car, so I was welcome to use it anytime. Thankfully (and not coincidentally!), today is one day this week where I don't have a doctor's appointment (besides Dean's at 4:00 PM), so I didn't have anything planned to do before picking up Ness from school. Sweet Lindsey had already offered to pick her up for me, but then Good Neighbor appeared on my doorstep with his car keys in his hand and his car in my driveway, "just in case you need it." I feel very blessed.

Okay, are we just exaggerating...or has September been the CRAZIEST MONTH in history for our little family? Bring on October, quick, before something else goes wrong!! (oooh, bite my tongue for even mentioning it...)

Healing Heart and Head (Tuesday, Part I)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011: Sometimes I forget that this journey of mine is not just a physical healing - from surgeries, biopsies, tests, lab work, countless doctor visits and health questionnaires - but it requires emotional healing, too. I forget that just as my wounds are still fragile and painful to the touch, so is my little tender soul. I forget until some little thing that usually wouldn't matter much sends me crashing to a halt. I've kind of been "beat up" this month, me and my family, and after 27 days of it, we're just a bit sensitive to pain and stress. So, I cry a few tears and mutter a few complaints...and then, pick myself up and go on. I hope my family - especially Dean and Janessa - will forgive me and know that someday I really will be better.

Monday, I went to see Dr. Beckstead, my primary care physician. It was a late appointment - 4:00 PM - so, I picked up Ness at school, took her all the way home, drove all the way back up to town - and it was still just 3:30. I decided that I would go to the Physical Therapy place across from the Bountiful Clinic and make some appointments to start therapy on my neck and shoulder. As this latest wound starts to heal, it's getting tighter and "ropier", and since I'm still dealing with tightness and tingling on my right side, I figured some physical therapy to loosen up the neck would be worth it. Also, I have a little diminished mobility in my left shoulder this time around, probably from a sensitive nerve that got "touched" too much. I find myself struggling (just a bit) to put deodorant under that arm (can't quite lift my arm high enough). I also realized the other day that when I try to put my hot rollers in my hair, I'm kind of "trembly" with raising up that arm. Funny how I think standing on my tiptoes is going to help me reach higher with my arms! It's a little frustrating, but Dr. Bradley warned me about this and I fully believe that the full mobility will come back with a little tender care and exercise. SO, I made my first appointment! Next Monday morning, bright and early after I drop off Ness at school, I'll go and be evaluated and then, we're off to the races! It felt good to get that all arranged.

I was still a little early to my appointment with Dr. Beckstead, but I checked in and sat down with my library book to wait. (I had also made an appointment for Dean to get the cough that he's had for 3-plus weeks checked out, for my sanity and his!) I read a few pages, but couldn't really concentrate with all the littles and bigs getting flu shots and check-ups and pregnancy tests, etc. Late afternoon appointments are not the best...all the back-up from the day squashes together...and there we wait. Finally, I was called back to a room, weighed (for those keeping score, I'm now down 43 lbs from March), blood pressure taken (high again), and then kept waiting for the doc. Oh me oh my... Dr. Beckstead appears about 15 minutes later, takes a good look at me (I haven't seen him since March) and says, "You've been on quite a journey, haven't you?" Yes, indeed. He asks how the shots AND pills are going. Pills? I'm supposed to be taking the pills, too? I tell him that Dr. Bradley explained that I do the shots FIRST and then go on to the pills, and he shakes his head sadly and says that he wanted me to do BOTH. Now, he won't be able to test my blood today. How frustrating. I'm deflated. He explains how the shot's benefit is instantaneous, but not long-lasting. When combined with the pills, there is a better overall effect to get the blood thinned and "maintained". The combination is "therapeutic", whatever that means. He wants me to start taking the pills as soon as I get home and then every morning. Since we've missed a few days of the pills, I'll probably have to do the shot regimen longer. Ugh. He tells me to come back on Wednesday for a blood test and explains that he wants my score to be between 2 and 3 (as the number gets higher, the blood is thinner). Too thin is not good. I want those magic numbers of 2 or 3. He gives me a medical website where I can go and see my own scores and keep track. I like that. He also gives me a "standing order" prescription to the lab, where I can go and get my blood tested anytime. But then he drops another bomb - I'll probably have to be on the Coumadin for 8-9 MONTHS!!! This is devastating to me - I'm the non-pill taker. And, Dr. Beckstead continues, if you ever get another blood clot, you'll be on it for the rest of your life. Oh, lovely. With each new detail of news, my soul gets heavier and heavier.

I leave his office feeling like I've wasted time and money today, just because of a little mis-communication between the two doctors and myself. I want to get better, not stand still or go backward. Then, my car won't start right away. It's just one more thing on a pile of ashes that is already crumbling. I have a little meltdown when I get home.

I've got to remember that the emotional hits need attention, too. I've got to remember to rest. I've got to remember to eat something healthy (Swedish fish don't count). I've got to remember to listen to good music that makes me know God is near. I know I'll look back on this and have no memory of the little hiccups that happened, which is a good thing. I just have to keep praying and trusting in a loving Father to get me through the bumps, as I heal physically and emotionally.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Saturday, September 24, 2011:

"I dim. I dim.
I do not doubt
If someone blew,
I would go out.

I did not.

I must be brighter
Than I thought."
--Carol Lynn Pearson

This morning, I pulled up my bootstraps, said a prayer for calm hands and nerves, sat in my rocking chair, and gave myself an injection like I'd been doing it for years. Dean was right - it wasn't that bad. I opened the package with the pre-measured dose already in the syringe, uncapped the tiny needle, put it up against my flabby tummy, and thought, hmm, wonder how much pressure I'll have to use to get it to go in. Answer: not much at all. Before I knew it, it was in and I was pushing the medicine out of the syringe. All painless. A tiny bit of sting after I pulled the needle out. All done in 15 seconds.

Thank you, Lord. I am strong enough to handle this, too, I guess. Who knew? Only YOU.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good and Bad Again

Friday, September 23, 2011: This morning, Lindsey took me to Dr. Bradley's SLC office to get my 19 (gulp!) staples out. I was nervous because I can sort of remember that it pinched and stung the last time I got staples out six months ago. He came into the exam room and then went back out again to look for the "staple remover". We laughed that he had to run to Office Max. But lo and behold, those 19 staples came out slick as can be! No pinching, no pain. My adorable rope wound is still kind of numb, so I didn't feel anything but a bit of a sting at the end. Tender mercy! Hip-hip!

Linds and I remember to ask Dr. B all the relevant questions we were both pondering - had he sent Dr. Grossmann the pathology reports yet? Could I get a "prescription" to Physical Therapy again (and I promise I'll go this time)? He answered everything in his usual informative way and then, right as he was going to leave the room, he said, "How's your calf?" I didn't understand him at first (I thought he said "cath" ???) - oh, my leg. Well, it still hurts. Weird, huh? Sometimes it hurts worse than the wound. "Let's send you downstairs for an ultrasound," he says like he's sending me out for pizza. "A cramped muscle shouldn't still be hurting after a week."

I took Linds home to take care of her littles, did a little checkbook balancing, checked email, and then drove back to the clinic. I wore my floppy pajama pants, but they still made me change into a gown so they could view the "whole leg". The sweet little technician let me watch the screen for a few minutes and see the "wink" of the artery as it pumped blood, but as I was looking to the right, my neck started to hurt and I stared at the ceiling instead. She pushed on my thigh, up near my groin, and slowly moved down to behind my knee and onto my calf. Once in a while, she turned the volume of the machine up and I heard the ocean-whooshing of the blood rushing through my veins. Kind of cool. She went over the area behind my knee a bit longer than the other spots and then announced she was finished. She gave me a towel to wipe the sticky gel off my leg and said she'd be right back after conferring with the radiologist. Uh oh.

I know I cause myself more stress and worry because I don't ask enough questions. As she came to get me to take me back to the dressing room, why didn't I say, "So, what did you find? What did the radiologist say? What is it? Huh? HUH?" No, not me. I walk behind her like a meek little mouse, all the while thinking I've got a blood clot the size of New York City lurking around and it's going to go galloping up the vein to my heart in the next five seconds. She tells me to get dressed and go back up to Dr. Bradley's office, where he will give me the results of the ultrasound. Again, I ask no questions. Silly girl.

When Dr. B's nurse, Carol, sees me, she says, "Lisa, what are we going to do with you?" And when I laugh nervously, she says, "It's just a good thing you got that done today, isn't it?" So, she knows - and I don't. She tells me to sit on a chair in the hallway instead of in an exam room and that Dr. B will be right out to talk to me since he's in with a patient. He comes out, but I'm pretending to read my library book, and Carol comes down the hall and says, "Lisa has a clot. The radiologist wants to talk to you as soon as you're available." There. She knows, he knows, and now, I know. I have a blood clot in my leg.

Dr. Bradley sits beside me and tells me that there is a clot (he calls it some fancy medical term), but that is there is some good news mixed in with the bad. The clot is small and is only blocking one-third of the vein, allowing blood to continue to flow through. He explains that this may mean my body has already been trying to dissolve it, and that this presents a unique and challenging treatment. He says he wants to confer with Dr. Beckstead, my primary care physician in Bountiful, and that he'll call me to let me know the plan of action. I leave the clinic in a daze again, which is becoming more the norm than the exception.

I'm barely a few blocks away when my cell phone rings. It's Dr. Bradley, and he talks to me as if he's phoning an old friend with dinner plans. He has talked to Dr. Beckstead and they agree that I should take two approaches to this clot. The first is to do INJECTIONS of a blood thinner - heavy-duty power - twice a day for five days. The second part is to take blood thinning pills - one and a half pills at first, then down to one in the end. I will see Dr. Beckstead on Monday, where he will test my blood to see if the injections are starting to do their job. After that, he will continue to monitor the situation, and in fact, has told Dr. B that he is "happy to take care of me." I've heard it all, but I'm still hyperventilating about the INJECTION word. I hear myself ask, "I have to give myself a shot?" Yes, Dr. B says, a little injection twice a day in the stomach. "Will you have any problem with that?" Is that a real question? YES, I WILL!! "Do you have a family member who can help you?" All this time and I still can't even watch Dean give himself insulin shots. My head is nodding, yes, but my stomach is twisting in knots. Am I really that big of a baby? YES!

I get the shots from the pharmacy, along with my gallon of milk, loaf of bread, and Raisin Bran. All in a day's purchase from my friendly grocer. Dr. Bradley had said earlier, "I'm sure you have no idea about all of this, since you've been so healthy." That's right! I am learning things I don't want to know! I'm sure the pharmacist sees the fear in my eyes because he wishes me good luck as he tries to avoid staring at my wound. I'm sure he's thinking, that poor girl, how much more does she have to endure? I'm thinking the same thing.

I can't do the first shot. I can't even look at the needle and pull it out of its protective packaging. Dean shows me how he does his injections. "Look, it's easy," he says, as he aims that needle toward my belly. I lose it. I cry like a little kid getting a shot in the bum at the doctor's office. He says to look away and he'll do it quick, so I do...and he does. It doesn't hurt - until he pulls it out, and then it stings. Bad. I'll have to do it myself in the morning. It may take me ALL morning to gather up the courage. I'm such a wimp. After all I've been through in the past six months, this may be my undoing. I'm feeling very picked on tonight.

"What am I supposed to learn from THIS?" I ask Dean. "Maybe that it's not so bad," he says wisely. Darn, I hate it when he's right.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Seven Days Later

Thursday, September 22, 2011: One week ago, about this same time of day, I was in surgery for this lovely left neck dissection. Seven days. A lot can happen in seven days. A lot DID happen in seven days. A lot more will happen in the next seven days: healing, strength, amnesia about the whole stressful time. Things will get better, I know. But, I'm giving fair warning: I'm going to complain a bit today.

Don't get me wrong. I feel very blessed. I feel the miracles that have come to me the past seven days (and the past almost three weeks). But, I still have to look in the mirror every morning. I guess I could try not to, but that's almost impossible. Thus, a bit of complaining...

My bottom lip doesn't work right. It gets in the way when I try to bite into something. The nerve is slowly healing, but it still wants to stay in a straight line up over my bottom teeth on the left side. I've learned to pull it down with my thumb when I take a bite of food. It also hinders my speech, which makes me feel kind of silly. "mfmfmmff...what did you say?" I play with it self-consciously when I'm talking to people. I'm sure they love to watch that.

Now that I've had both sides of my neck "done", there is a nice floppy turkey gobbler right in the middle under my chin. I suppose I'm now a great candidate for liposuction under there. A slight nod or movement sends it into tremors. Wonder if a chin strap would help? Maybe a bonnet with a big wide ribbon? So much for the idea of a nice "contoured" neck with this thing flapping around in the middle.

My neck and shoulder are very stiff today. I know it's all part of the healing. Things inside are tightening and rearranging themselves and trying to figure out where they want to live now that the trauma is over. I try to elongate, but it hurts. I suppose I really will have to have physical therapy now, not only for the right side, but for the left, too. Wonderful. "Turn your head to the right, turn your head to the left, look up, look down, and move it all around." A little hokey-pokey on the brain...

I've got a cramp in my right calf that is driving me crazy. The worry-wart in me is sure it's a blood clot from those first days in the hospital (the very reason they make you wear those horrible compression socks and cuffs), but Dr. Bradley (and others) have checked it and don't think it is, especially since I had a terrible "charlie-horse" there the night before my surgery that brought me right up out of bed to walk it out. It still aches, especially when I've been sitting with my leg down for a while. It's crazy. The silly thing hurts worse than my neck wound.

A little worried about getting my 19 staples out tomorrow morning. I know it will hurt. Might even bleed a little. But, at least I won't feel like I've been patched up by Home Depot.

My hair is ugly. I want it longer - now! - to cover up this latest wound, but it seems to have stopped growing, except on top. Still losing a mound every day. If that bit would just stay in on the bottom, I'd be Rapunzel by now. I've promised myself a trip to a stylist who will customize something perfect just for me, but I need to be a little better healed before I can do that. I at least have to have the staples out and be able to lean my head back into a wash basin, right? Don't think I can do that for a bit, yet. So, I walk by the hall mirror and wince at the reflection of my crazy hair...and my crazy neck...and yes, even that big red ZIT that decided to make its appearance a few days ago on the side of my nose. Really??

Okay, I think I'm done complaining for now. What a vain creature I am! Here I've seen miracles for myself and my family every day for the past 20 days (and more) and I'm moaning about the way I look! Just give me a minute and I'll get hit in the face with the fact that I'm ALIVE, my sweet mom is ALIVE, there are no cancer cells in my body right now, I don't have to have radiation, I've got the best family in the world, I've got a yummy loaf of chocolate chip zucchini bread on my counter, I've got $20 in my wallet, and I've got a comfy bed that's calling to me for a nap. Deep breath... there... feeling better...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another day of Post-Surgery

September 20, 2011: I am alone in my very quiet house. I just slept for about three hours without twitching a muscle (at least, my blankets are all in the same place as when I drifted off). My hair is washed, but uncurled, so it looks a fright. I tweezed about five long black hairs off my chin earlier, thinking I would put on a little makeup today, but it's not going to happen. The phone rang while I was climbing into bed, but I let it ring and take a message. I'm a little blue from kissing my Chelsea-babies goodbye around 9:00 AM, and there's nothing but the sound of hammering and airplanes outside in the neighborhood. Yep, it must be Day 5 of post-surgery.

I'm wearing the wrong blouse today because the only pain I feel is the rubbing of collarless material against the port wound on the left side. Last night, as Chels was "frosting" my incision with Bacitracin, she counted the staples - there are 19. The symmetrical side of me thinks, why not just put in one more or one less to make it an even number? Some are spaced very close together, some seem too far apart. It looks hideous, even a little scary. I know how well it will heal, but this "days later" phase is kind of hard. I'll be on a scarf hunt again, which thankfully are still "in" this Fall. Wonder when I'll be okay enough to go back in a store for something, even a loaf of bread? Today, I'm feeling a bit fragile and don't want anyone to stare.

Chels should be calling soon to let me know they've arrived home all right. Rob left, hobbling on his wounded leg, with a long red bandage from his toes to his thigh. I hope he doesn't overdo. I pray those 12 incisions in his leg heal speedily and without complications. I need to call my momma tonight and see how physical therapy is going. I wonder if she just wants to stay in bed today, like I do. Maybe we both need a dose of chocolate. Bring on the M&Ms.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Quiet on the Home Front

September 19, 2011: It's been four days since my 2nd neck dissection surgery, this time on the left side. I am home and have had a little nap, so feel strong enough at the moment to write about our experiences of the past few days.

First, to update on my sweet momma--she was released, good to go, from IMC on Saturday, September 17, and Troy drove her home to St. George to enter the Coral Desert Rehab Center. I am told by Britnee, who was there to see her off, that little Chester-dog stayed off of her fragile chest, but stood on the console between the front seats and licked Mom's face with complete joy! Troy had bought Mom a new soft "woobie" (blanket) and she snuggled in for the rainy trip home. As a family, we are forever indebted to the wonderful doctors and nurses who saved her life and brought her back from the unknown to a place where she can slowly heal and become her own "new best self." I love you, Mumsy.

My hospital experience began early Thursday morning, September 15, almost six months to the day from my last big neck surgery (March 17). Lindsey drove me to LDS Hospital, where we found we were second on Dr. Bradley's list of surgeries this time--not last, where the waiting was painful and endless. We were quickly whisked to the prep room where I not only had to don the ever-fashionable hospital gown and scrub pants, but a pair of long white compression socks, something I have not had to do before. Maybe because I'm six months older?? Even before the nurse can put in my IV, the orderlies are at the door, saying Dr. Bradley is ready for me! What a difference from the last time, where we waited HOURS for that news. I barely say goodbye to Linds before I'm on the gurney and rolling my way to surgery. The anesthesiologist calls me, "Linda Boynton", but I correct him. He asks if I'm "Sandra's" sister. I laugh and say, I wish, as rich as she must be with her funny animal cartoons. As he gives me the run-down on the procedure, Dr. Bradley appears, as anxious as I am to get the show on the road. The A-guy asks if I need a sedative BEFORE surgery to calm me, and when I say no, Dr. Bradley says, "She's the most calm, easy-going lady I've ever known." Cute. It's not long before I'm on the operating table, warm-from-the-oven blanket on top of me, arms strapped to my side, and the A-guy putting a mask over my mouth that will "make you feel like you're floating off the table." He and the nurses laugh about the people who want some to take home...and suddenly, I'm out for the count. It's about 9:30 in the morning, and I won't wake up again until about 1:45 PM.

The surgery goes well, Dr. B says. He tells Linds (who has waited for me in the crowded, noisy waiting room, eating her favorite Lorna Doone shortbread cookies and drinking Coke from a styrofoam cup with pebble ice) that he took everything he could--anything that looked like it should be tested for deadly cancer seeds, including another salivary gland from under my chin. He reiterated that he was very thorough, which is one of the main qualities we love about him. My new wound goes from below my left ear (he didn't have to take the paratid gland this time, so my ear was not part of the surgery), down along the neck fold and along the front of my throat. I haven't counted the staples yet, but I will. There are at least a dozen, maybe TWO dozen. The wound looks like a braided rope with a silver staple about every quarter-inch. I also had a drain that came from a hole below the incision up high on my neck (my other port hole scar is a little farther down on my chest). No big gauze bandages this time around for the first day, which I thought was interesting. Linds is amazed that I am awake and talking when she first sees me in my room, No. 744 West. The length of this surgery has definitely been less than the first and its effects on me are noticeable. I do feel more alert, though my eyes are heavy from the sedation. I didn't have to have a cathether this time, either, and I am VERY happy about that. I fill the bowl--and then some--the first time I get up to go potty. It's also still daytime, which makes it easier to "nap" and then open my eyes to talk and visit. I had a breathing tube during the surgery, which makes me think of my sweet Mumsy having one for DAYS and DAYS, and my throat hurts from just those few hours. I've got oxygen going in my nose and a monitor beeps every time my oxygen level goes too low or heart rate goes too high. I'm constantly taking deep breaths and trying not to send my heart racing. Dr. B comes in to see me and he's concerned that my bottom lip is paralyzed again. He said he tried hard not to bother that nerve, but my lip is showing the effects of being "touched". Linds says it's a line this time instead of droopy, kind of like when you get Novacaine at the dentist. I don't really mind--I know it will heal one of these days.

Visitors come that first night--Aaron, Dean, Janessa, and my wonderful friend, Ann. They are happy to see how well I'm doing. We know the pathology tests will not come back for a while and we are praying that the lymph nodes will have less than three cancer seeds in them. I ask Ann about our Stake Temple Day and she assures me that our Bountiful Temple was "overwhelmed" with sisters from all over the stake. It is wonderful news. I tell Ann that when I was in the recovery room, just waking up, I found myself singing, "I love to see the temple, I'm going there someday..." to myself and how it brought a spirit of peace to my heart. I have felt the power of all the prayers being offered in my behalf that day in the temple, and I feel so blessed.

My nurses and CNAs are all wonderful. Glen, my nurse as I come back from surgery, brings antiobiotic to put in my IV and sings and dances as he works, which makes Linds and I laugh. Dr. Bradley comes in to check my drain and quietly, but purposefully, instructs Glen how to make it suction properly. Dr. B asks me if I need anything, and then he turns to Glen and says, "Glen, can I do anything for you?" I am amazed at this small act of kindness between doctor and nurse. Glen tells us that the entire staff respects and loves Dr. B. Linds and I can only nod and say how much we love him, too. My night nurse is Kayla, who reminds me completely of Britnee. I am so grateful for her that night, as Linds and I settle in to try to get as much sleep as we can. For me, the fact that I'm lying on my back, my legs in the compression socks AND hooked up to the compression cuffs, I can't move around very well to get comfortable, and that I especially can't roll over on my FAVORITE sleeping side, the left side, at all means that it's going to be a very long night. Add to that the fact that the oxygen monitor beeps when my oxygen gets lower than 90, which happens every time I start to drift into deep sleep and my breathing naturally slows, which happens about every 15 minutes! The beeping wakes up Lindsey, who softly says, "Take a deep breath", and there I am, trying to breath deeply to stop the beeping noises, but as soon as it stops and I start to relax again to go to sleep, it starts all over again. This went on ALL NIGHT! I was a crazy woman! At one point, my little CNA, Virna, came in and I thought she said she turned up my oxygen, so I was excited to think that maybe I'd get a little sleep...but 15 minutes later, the beep went off and I was wide awake again. Finally, at 3 AM, I had to call Kayla. Not only was I a mess from the beeping, but now my legs were starting to go to sleep and I couldn't lay still. I wanted my blankets off, my socks off, the compression cuffs unhooked, and I wanted to get out of the stupid bed! She asked me a bunch of questions, and finally said, "Are you feeling anxious?" YESSSS!! Bless her heart, she got me out of bed, let me go potty, and then took me for a walk up and down the quiet, empty hall a couple of times until I was feeling much better. Unfortunately, when I asked if we could turn off the oxygen monitor for the rest of the night, she said no, and I got back into bed, steeling myself for the next few hours until morning broke. I've never been so happy to see the sun rise. I spent those hours until morning yelling in my head at the blasted machine, rehearsing what I would say to Dr. Bradley when he came by on his rounds (I was bound and determined NOT to spend another night like that again!), and silently praying that time would speed up and save me from my torture. When Kayla appeared before the shift change, I started to cry, and she said, "Oh, I wish I had known about your oxygen--I could have turned it up more." WHAT?? Don't you have a monitor somewhere showing you that my alarm has gone off every 15 minutes? When Dr. Bradley appeared and asked how I was, I told him, "Exhausted and emotional." He let me cry and told me he was sorry, that the nurses should have turned up my oxygen. He kept saying, "How frustrating." Yes, to say the least. That was my little breakdown. And though I hated to complain, I simply had to let them all know that I could not do that again.

Friday, Dr. B says that I have to stay at least until Saturday because of my drain, so the fight is on. My nurse is Kyley, a nice male nurse who proved to be just what I needed, as far as easy-going, let's let her do what she wants today after her horrible night. I was able to shower (with sweet Lindsey's help--I told her seeing me naked went way beyond "serving your mother-in-law"), get into a fresh gown and freshly-made bed, take off the wicked compression cuffs, take off the hated oxygen monitor, curl up on my RIGHT side, and go to sleep. Joy! It was wonderful. Either Dr. B gave the staff the word or they figured I was better on my own because I was hardly bothered all day long. The oxygen monitor stays off, the cuffs stay off, and I am free to sit in a chair, walk the halls, and rest as much as possible through the day. As evening approaches, Aaron comes with Ally. She barely hesitates at my wound before giving me a kiss and a hug. Dean and Ness arrive soon after, and Ness is eager to tell me all the news of the day. About an hour or so later, Chelsea and Robby and the kids arrive, having driven up from St. George. Lachlan is "shy" to see me, but soon warms up to another neck boo-boo on his Grammy. Olive doesn't want to come into the room and turns her head when I talk to her, but she, too, is soon climbing up on my bed and exploring my new digs. Knox is a roly-poly and I want to hold him, but when he reaches for the tube to my drain, I know I can't do that just yet. They stay and visit and then everyone leaves, except Chels, who will spend the night with me. We ask Virna for a "cot" and in comes a roll-away bed. Dr. B has also ordered a sleeping pill for me. "One or two?" my nurse, Emily, asks. I tell her I'll just try one, as I've never taken one before. Without the beeping monitor and the ability to move around in my bed, the night is sweet relief. I feel a hundred times better in the light of Saturday morning.

Dr. B arrives just before 7 AM. He checks everything out, asks if I've had a good night, and tells me that I can go home--but the drain has to go with me for another couple of days. He says to come to his Bountiful office at 7:50 Monday morning. Linds arrives and we are all excited to leave the hospital. I have another quick shower, with the help of my sweet Chelsea, and dress in real clothes. The drain will be a tricky thing to keep exposed. It pins to the front of my blouse, but the tubing hangs down like a necklace. Lovely, huh, especially with the blood flowing through it. It has to be emptied every few hours and Chelsea and Lindsey become experts at stripping the tubing and keeping the bulb drained. Ah, the things we have had to learn! A few minutes after Dr. B gives us our marching orders, he returns to my room, smiling. "I just talked to the pathologist," he says. "All the tests have come back negative. There is no cancer in anything we tested." I am flabbergasted! I absolutely did not expect this great news. I imagined one or two lymph nodes would come back positive, but NONE--this is the best news ever. "Good news for a happy weekend," he says, and it does make all the difference. We are in the car and on our way home by 10:00 AM.

I have been so blessed. I have very minimal pain. In fact, I decided not to get the Loritab prescription filled and just rely on Extra-Strength Tylenol, which has done the trick nicely. I've been able to rest during the day and sleep fairly well at night. I've been able to eat and drink pretty normally and visit with more of my family, including my little Avery and Jane and Britnee and EmiLee. I was able to take the Sacrament Sunday afternoon, which brought me much peace and gratitude for my Savior. This morning (Monday), Chels and I took Ness to school and were in Dr. Bradley's Bountiful office to get the drain out. I remembered the pain of taking out the first drain and was dreading that a bit, but it wasn't as bad as I remembered. Just a hard tug and some stinging and it was done. He didn't put a stitch in the port, just covered it with gauze, and throughout the morning, I've felt a little "drainage." But, all seems well. I'm able to rest and sit at my computer for a bit, and then climb into bed when I feel tired. I just can't complain. The miracles have been swirling around us again!

I talked to Lindsey this morning and we were saying how weird it will be this week not to go to a hospital, either to see Gram or me. That has been our normal for over two weeks. Maybe we can get back to a somewhat normal day-to-day again. Robby and Chelsea are in Park City right now, where Rob is undergoing an out-patient surgery to get a knot of varicose veins in his leg stripped and taken care of, so my thoughts and prayers are with him for a quick recovery and healing. Seems we can't escape medical procedures altogether, but at least they aren't life-threatening and frightening and traumatic. I'll happily give up driving to IMC or lying in a hospital bed and keep these miracles happening in our family. The service that has been given so unselfishly by so many has not gone unnoticed, either. It will come back around in blessings too numerous to hold. God has heard our prayers and answered them. We are all so thankful.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Blessed Life

September 14, 2011: Happy Birthday to my little 2 year-old Olive Lillie! Grammy loves you, precious girl...

Miracles abound in my life. My sweet mom is improving daily and has made huge strides since she came out of ICU. Her voice is back to normal, she is getting out of bed to potty and eat meals, she visits with eyes wide open, and she has a new "part" to keep her heart beating strong and regular. Dionne is comparing it to an iPod that needs a "dock" to keep it in sync. What a wonderful day and age we live in, where a tiny computer can be implanted under the skin in a "pocket" and then attached to the human heart to keep it going steady. My mom is alive because of the advances in the medical field. We are so blessed. If all goes well and Mom is moving and gaining strength, she will be released to the Coral Canyon rehab center in St. George on Friday. I know she is anxious to be home in Southern Utah. Dionne is eager to return to her little family and home in Washington. We all will be eager to leave behind our daily trips to the hospital and Room 1121.

While Mom is gaining strength, I am still rejoicing in the declaration that my scans on Monday were clear of cancer, except for the spot on my neck where that tiny lump was removed two weeks ago. Dr. Grossmann even went so far as to say, "You have a beautiful brain!" (I wonder if if it was because I was silently singing while the MRI on my brain was being done.) He had many recommendations and things to mull over and think through, as to next steps, but I was grateful that he didn't make me choose right away. When asked by Carolyn, his wonderful nurse, if radiation was in the future again, he said, "If there are more than 3 lymph nodes with cancer, radiation will be needed again. But, I highly doubt that will be the case." (I was whooping with joy when he said that!) I asked if there could be any question that there was still a melanoma on my scalp that could have contributed to this new lump and he said that he suspects it was lurking there all along, even during the first round of surgery and radiation. He also asked if he and Carolyn could do the "Gorillas in the Mist" test on my scalp to ease my mind and they proceeded to stand on either side of me and comb through my hair with their fingers, looking for suspicious spots, much like the gorillas do to each other to pick out nits and eat them! Happily, they didn't find anything. Dr. G said everything looked perfect and normal. While I do still have to have surgery early tomorrow morning, I feel very hopeful that there will be minimal lymph nodes with cancer. The fear of the unknown is gone because I KNOW - I know what to expect, I know what will happen, I know how long it will take to heal, I know what will come next if there are too many cancerous nodes. Of course, I'm nervous, but I'm not afraid. I just pray that all will go as planned and I'll heal quickly and be as pain-free as possible. I'm grateful to dear Lindsey for being my strength and support through this traumatic time. We will both miss Mom's funny sense of humor and her sunny disposition, even in the hospital setting. Everyone is her friend there, everyone gets a portion of her empathy, and we'll try to take those great qualities and go forward. Yes, I'll miss her by my side, but I'm thankful for Lindsey's love and compassion.

I have a blessed life, even though I wish we could erase the past two weeks. God must think we're really strong to give us so many challenges all bunched together. I hope we can prove Him right and give Him thanks. I know we will all be stronger for the experiences we've shared. The top of the hill doesn't seem so far away tonight than it did a few days ago. Upward we go...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Movin' on up

September 12, 2011: Yesterday was another good day for my little momma. After going to the first hour of church, I went to the hospital and saw that she was awake and talking. She asked me if I had brought any "spray". After questioning her a bit, I found out that she wanted some Scentsy spray because she was "stinky". "What kind do you like, Mom?" I asked. "Purple," she said. I'll be taking some "purple" when I go back today! She had 90 minutes of physical therapy, sitting in an upright chair, and then we learned that she was going to be moved up to the 11th floor - into a regular room! So exciting for all of us to be out of the fishbowl of ICU. The PT really wears her out, so she was kind of a zombie the rest of the day, but when Aaron & Linds arrived around 4 pm with their three little darling girls, she perked up again. It was good for them to see that Nana was pretty much "okay" and could see them and talk to them. Mom asked Ally if she had been scared the day of the collapse, and Ally said, "I was a little bit scared." Us, too, sweetie. We are particularly scared right now that the drugged "loopy" state Mom is in will last indefinitely. It's exactly the "little old lady in nursing home" demeanor that is so NOT Mom and that we didn't want to have happen to her. But, we were reassured and comforted when the ICU nurse of the day, Julie, mentioned to Dionne that she is doing "really well" and that when patients heal from whatever sort of oxygen deprivation to the brain they've encountered, they often have this "craziness" that takes a few weeks to "wear off" before they are back to normal. Oh, how we pray for that outcome. Right now, her "silliness" is kind of funny, but it is not our Lois. She's in there, but she seems rather far away.

Today, she will be evaluated by the cardiologist docs and it will be determined if she is ready to have a pacemaker/ICD implanted to stimulate her heart and keep it steady and regular. Yesterday she was telling people that she was going to have "open heart surgery" on Monday, but we'd quickly tell her, no, Mom, you're having a simple procedure done to put in a "pocket" to hold this life-saving device. Still, she was worried. If the procedure doesn't happen today, it will be tomorrow. We were told that she has to have the pacemaker/ICD before she can leave the hospital, so we are grateful that the decision has already been made and was not left up to us or to her. There have already been too many hard decisions made with still more to go. By the end of the week, we could be looking at where she should go for rehab - whether it be to stay here in Salt Lake or to her favorite Coral Canyon in St. George. I am torn by both choices. No matter where she is, it will be hard for me to help her as I struggle with my own health issues. I suppose it will be a matter of where she'll be comfortable and how many WILL be available to help her.

As all of this is happening with Mumsy, I am slated for a day of scans just a few floors away from her hospital room. There are "orders" for two or three different CT scans, a PET scan, and a brain MRI later this afternoon. I am nervous, but prayerful. Miracles have abounded and I pray they will continue. It will be a stressful day - and a stressful week - but we've gone this way before and can sort of expect what happens next. Just wish none of us were even aware of the battle against melanoma...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Laughter is the best medicine

September 10, 2011: Today I woke up and felt a hundred times better about the whole world. I knew it! I decided to go to the hospital and spend some time with my mom and my siblings. Before I could finish getting ready, I had texts from both Dionne and Troy, telling me that Mom's breathing tube was OUT! What an accomplishment. We are all so thrilled, especially my sweet Mumsy. Her nurse today was Brent, one of the Life Flight nurses who brought Mom in a week ago. He remembered her and said that she looked 100% better. He was a gem today. He said it was a "Fighting Day" - her main goals were to breathe deeper, cough more, and try to keep her eyes open. She was a champ on all three.

I couldn't believe how much better she looked without her neck brace and the breathing tube. Almost back to normal! Dionne and I shampooed her hair and spiked the back. Brit and Emi painted her toenails "Harlot Red", her favorite color. I smoothed lotion on her back because she said she was "itchy". But the funniest thing was her voice, now that the tube is out. Of course, her throat is irritated and it has affected her voice, making her sound like "Greta Garbo" (her description). Just hearing her say "Oh, boy!" or "Whoa!" or "I love you" has had us laughing all day!

Physical Therapist, Maggie, really put her through the ringer today, too. She had Mom sit on the side of her bed twice and actually had her walk over to a chair and sit in it for almost an hour. It was amazing. Mom still listens and talks to us with her eyes closed, but will try to open them if we tell her to. She was exhausted when they finished physical therapy, but before she would drift off to sleep, she'd ask when she could have her Diet Pepsi. They promised her that after they tested her on ice chips (with a swallow evaluation to make sure she wouldn't choke) and water from a spoon and water with a straw, they would put a little bit of Diet Pepsi on the ice chips and let her suck on something with flavor. I didn't get to see that, as I had already gone home by then, but Dionne texted me to say that Mom savored every morsel of ice they put on her tongue! "This is so yummy," she'd say with the ice chips.

At one point, Mom asked me, "Am I going to die?" I said, "No, Mom, not on this go-around. If you had asked me that a week ago, I wouldn't have had a clue. But, no, you are not going to die now." Later, she said, "I better get well because this has been a hard fight." Amen.

When she and I were alone at one point in the day, she said, "How is your melanoma?" I said, "It's okay, Mom. I'm fine." "Are you sure?" she said. "Yes. I"m going to have scans on Monday. Everything is fine." I'm just not ready to tell her about the surgery yet. Maybe at some point I will, but I know she'll be heartbroken, so I'm keeping it quiet for the good of both us.

"There is hope smiling brightly before us!" We are so blessed. Today, I laughed and laughed. What a difference from yesterday when I was a sobbing mess. I really can get through this latest trial. "I have ridden this horse before!" To quote a sentiment I read from another melanoma victim recently: "I may live WITH fear, but I don't live IN fear." That's how I feel, too. There is hope in all things, even though we are all afraid of one thing or another. I can live with that for now...and in the meantime, I'm going to go have a good laugh with my funny little mama.

Friday, September 9, 2011

When "why" is not enough...

September 9, 2011: One week of trauma for my sweet Mumsy and the rest of us. I saw her very briefly this morning. She had a better night, as far as being able to rest, but setbacks are becoming the norm. We get to a high place, hoping for a little miracle to allow her relief from the tube down her throat and the heavy meds in her system, and then she slides a bit. We love to see her smile, but it's often followed by a grimace of pain or confusion. Her grandchildren's visits fill her with joy. She mouths "I love you" over and over and smiles as they hold her hand and kiss her forehead. There is a plan afoot to smuggle Diet Pepsi, M&Ms, and her little Chester-dog into her room somehow! (this will surely be accomplished when she is well enough...) We laugh and we cry, and we wonder how much more that little body can take. She sits on the side of her bed at least once a day for physical therapy, but just can't manage to keep her eyes open beyond a few seconds. It's a mystery to us, but we're trusting her doctors to keep exploring, adding, eliminating, and consulting everything that needs to happen to make her better. It's exhausting for all of us.

And then, just when you think there couldn't possibly be any more bad news left in the world, there is. My lump had melanoma in it. Dr. Bradley's face is sad as he delivers this news this morning at my post-op appointment. He knows about Mom. He and Mom have had many conversations about me and my Goliath. So, he gives me this verdict and immediately launches into what happens next. "We are back to Square One," he says. There is lab work to do, multiple scan appointments to make, doctors to visit, and surgery to schedule. Another neck dissection, this time on the left side. It's certainly not as extensive as the right side, as there are no tumors to remove, but it is a 3-hour surgery and an overnight hospital stay. I sit stunned. I wanted so much to hear good news in this week of trauma. I am in shock. I am scared for the scans and wonder what else could have grown in three short months. I dread another surgery, especially without my mom at my side. I don't want her to know. It would devastate her. I know other family will be there to support me, but I hate to shift their attention from her to me. I wish I was strong enough to do it myself - take myself to all the appointments and to the hospital and walk out with head held high. I feel puny and small and vulnerable.

I need today to grieve. I need today to cry buckets all by myself. I need today to gather myself together and put my MIRACLES & HOPE face back on. Tomorrow, I'll be better. Tomorrow, I'll have screamed myself hoarse, asking why, why, WHY? Tomorrow, I'll be able to face what has to be done because I've done it before. Tomorrow, I'll have already told God, "Remember when you said you wouldn't give us any trial that we couldn't bear? Well, I'm now one fingernail over the limit, so bring on the good news and joy." Tomorrow, I'll fill up my well of hope again and give ladles full to Mom. I will be okay, there is no doubt of that. Tomorrow...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Roller Coaster Days

September 8, 2011: Day 6 for my mom in Shock/Trauma ICU. Just when we think we have leaped over another hurdle - like seeing her smile and watching her mouth form words and sentences with all her brain power working - there is another deep valley we have to wade through - like watching her struggle to take a breath or cough out the YUCK in her poor, infected lungs. I am absolutely drained. Just when I think I can start saying "HOPE" out loud because I just watched her put her cold feet on the floor and sit upright through broken ribs and a breathing tube and still smile at me across the room, I have to suck that ray of sunshine back inside because her heart is doing flip-flops again and she has to go back on the heart meds. Just when I start to relax because the docs say that her chest x-rays look better and MAYBE we can have the tube out today or tomorrow, the bad news comes back that she needs a CT scan and more tests. She has a hard time keeping her eyes open. I can see the effort it takes for her to bring her heavy eyelids closer to her eyebrows, but in mere seconds, she snaps them shut again. She listens to our conversations and smiles or nods or ignores us. She is thirsty. She wants a Diet Pepsi with all her heart and soul. We've almost decided to drench a swab with her favorite brown fizzy bev and put it in her toothless mouth. She is stiff from laying in that bed so long. She pounds her foot on the bottom of the bed when she's frustrated or needs attention. It's an old-lady trick, and my Mumsy is no old lady! She blinks her eyes at her adorable doctor and he smiles like a schoolboy. She wants the breathing tube out. It hurts her throat. It hurts when they suction the fluid out of her lungs. Sometimes her eyes are wild with pain, and I just want to scoop her up and run for the hills.

Today, as Dionne and I were rubbing her poor stiff shoulders, one on each side, she mouthed, "I'm sorry." For what? For being human? For aging like everyone else on this earth? For fighting so hard and with such great courage? You have nothing to be sorry about, Mumsy. You are a rock, even with your two black eyes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When bad things happen to good people...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011: I really can't believe I'm going to write this blog post because it shouldn't be true. It should be some awful nightmare that I'm going to wake up from soon if I can just pinch myself hard enough. But, unfortunately, it is all true and real and much too scary to give every detail here on one page. So, forgive me. I might have to give bits and pieces to begin with and slowly add the rest another day, another week, another month when I am stronger.

My sweet, spunky, funny, awesome Mumsy is in the Shock/Trauma ICU at IMC in Salt Lake. She has been there since around midnight on Friday, Sept. 2. That last post you just read? Yeah, merely hours later, my world tipped upside down again. Really, haven't we had enough already?

Mom drove up from St. George Friday with Lachlan and Cindy, apparently with no signs or symptoms of what would follow a brief time later. In hindsight, we now know that she had been tired lately, wondering if something was wrong again with her heart and not having the energy to do much around her house. Little signs that we now recognize, but didn't at the time. She came to my house after dropping Lachlan and Cindy off in SL. We visited, we both napped (one day after my surgery), and then she said she would go drop off her things at Aaron's for the weekend. She visited with them in their driveway for a few minutes, turned around to get her things out of the car, and collapsed, falling backwards and fracturing her skull on the cement. She was not breathing and her heart had stopped. Aaron immediately dialed 911 and Lindsey - brave, wonderful Lindsey - began CPR. It saved her life. The paramedics arrived, continued CPR, and had to use the paddles to get her heart going. I was called by one of their dear neighbors and we rushed to the ER, almost beating the ambulance. We were all hysterical, especially Aaron and Lindsey, who had experienced the whole terrible thing. Chelsea arrived a bit later, having left her home in St. George a few hours after Mom & Lachlan. It was a horrible waiting time, with intermittant reports from the ER doctors who were treating her. Besides the nasty gash on the back of her head (12cm long from top to bottom), she also had broken ribs from the CPR, a concussion, and an unpredictable heart rhythm. It was soon evident that she needed more care from a trauma-specialized hospital and was transported by Life Flight to IMC in Salt Lake. We were able to finally see her just before the Life Flight crew arrived. It was heartbreaking. She was hooked up to every type of machine you can imagine and was unconscious. We kissed her, we told her we loved her, and Aaron gave her a sweet blessing. Then, we were actually able to walk out to the heli-pad and watch Life Flight load her in and take off on its 8-10 minute journey across the valley.

(I saved the above draft from yesterday. It's hard for me to write about all of this and not be nauseous. That's how I deal with stress lately and it's not fun. Someday, maybe I can write more of the details - I have been keeping a notebook - but for now, I'll just try to update.)

Mom was admitted to the Shock/Trauma ICU at IMC in Murray. Floor No. 5 in that beautiful, state-of-the-art hospital. We've decided that Floor 5 really sucks, pardon the expression. Everyone there is in some sort of trauma, either from falls, accidents, injuries, etc. and the fact that it's ICU only intensifies the pain for both family and patients. That first night, she was lying flat on her back with the tubes and monitors plastering her tiny body. She looked ghastly. She was in a medically-induced coma and was slowly warming up from the forced hypothermia that medical teams put heart arrest patients in to prevent further damage to their vital organs. Did anyone know that? I am constantly amazed at what our bodies can endure, whether it be freezing temperatures, trauma to the head, hearts that are painfully shocked into beating again, and broken ribs from the life-saving efforts of CPR. That night, we were walking zombies, just waiting for the news that Mom had given up rather than go through another minute of pain. Troy arrived early Saturday morning and Dionne arrived late Saturday night, both road weary and shocked at the turn of our lives now.

Over the past four days, we have witnessed the lowest lows and the highest highs imaginable. The major miracle is that Mom is still alive. She is breathing on her own, but she has developed pneumonia and requires the breathing tube to help suction the "junk" out of her poor lungs. Her skull fracture is stapled closed and we're not sure if she can feel that pain above the other pain of her broken ribs, which certainly give her excruciating torture with every breath and every move she tries to take. She has two black/purple eyes from the fall and can't seem to keep her eyes open for very long. But, when we call out her name, she tries so hard to open her eyes, focus in on our faces, and give us a smile or a nod. She has even started to mouth words and sentences to us, like "Thank you", "I love you", and even, "I'm not ready to die yet."

As siblings (all five of us are here, as Laura arrived late last night), we are bound by our love for our mother and our promises to her that we will not let her live like a vegetable with a severely diminished life. So far, I think we have been able to achieve what she would want us to do for her. We ache to take out the breathing tube, but we also realize how much worse she would be without it. And now that we have seen her eyes and read her lips and watched her smile and even try to laugh, we know that she is fighting to live. She has a long, terribly hard journey ahead of her, but we believe in Miracles and Hope, don't we? Every day we have seen tender mercies that can only come from God and we know she has angels around her.

My biggest worry is the pneumonia. I think if she can fight that beast, she can beat her own Goliath and recover from all the other nasty things she's dealing with. If it takes everything in her power to fight it and she just can't do it any more, I hope and pray our loving Father in Heaven will wrap her in His arms and take her home. We will love her through it all. We know either path will be hard, but we only want what's best for her. If she can continue to fight, we will be beside her all the way. God bless my little Mumsy. I love her with everything I am. She is my biggest fan, my strongest supporter, the only person on earth who loves me in spite of all my weaknesses and faults. I am proud to be her daughter. Eternity won't be long enough to show her how much she means to me.

My own test results have not come in yet. I think that is another tender mercy. I simply can't worry about that right now. All my strength is going to my little mama. Will keep everyone posted as I can... I'm on my way back to the hospital now for another few hours, to walk amongst the beeps and buzzes of the monitors and gain strength from my amazing siblings, but also to kiss Mom on the forehead and whisper, "I love you" into her ear and see her lips move as she says, "I love you" back.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Speed of Life

September 2, 2011: This morning, I'm sitting in my office, surrounded by visual reminders of how blessed I am - photos of family, good books and music, my favorite painting of the Salt Lake Temple. I've got my bottle of iced water, a few crackers with cheese, the window is open to a cool breeze, and the construction guys are hammering down shingles on the new house to a lively rhythm. Oh, yeah - and I have a bandage on my neck again from another surgery yesterday...

Last Thursday, I was talking on the phone and felt what I thought was a bug bite or sting on my neck. I kind of waved my hand over the spot, hoping to shoo away the bug, and continued on with my phone call. When I finished, I went into the bathroom to see if I had really been bitten. There was a little red spot above my collarbone on the left side of my neck, but when I got feeling around, I realized the "bite" was really a lump - about the size of a pea - under my skin. A lump, not a bite. Underneath. And it hurt a bit to touch it. Sound familiar?

Through the rest of the day and night, I went through a roller coaster of emotions - denial, anger, guilt, sadness. It couldn't be another lump, could it? Maybe if I waited an hour or so, it would go away. Maybe if I prayed really hard, it was disappear. How could this be? Hadn't I had enough already? Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I didn't rest enough. Maybe it was brought on by stress. Maybe I should have eaten more veggies and less sugar. Maybe I should have taken that supplement I read about. What if I have to have more surgery or more radiation? How will my family react? They'll be devastated. They'll worry. Oh, I had such a GREAT, happy summer, and now this. I didn't want to tell anyone, but before long, the burden was crushing me. I cried as I told Dean and he held me close. I was afraid and I was sad, and I went to bed that night terribly depressed.

But, Friday morning, the fighter in me perked up. I called Dr. Bradley's office and talked to his nurse, Carol. I told her that I had found a small lump and wondered if I was supposed to have Dr. B check it out or if I needed to call Dr. Avizonis or Dr. Grossmann about it. I told her that I was scheduled to have another CAT scan in a couple of weeks at the Huntsman Center. She said she would ask Dr. B and call me back. In less than 15 minutes, she was on the phone, telling me that Dr. B wanted to see me and could I come to the Bountiful Clinic early Monday morning? Of course I could. Another tender mercy. Another miracle.

Saturday was busy. I helped with our Visiting Teaching interviews in the morning and went to the temple in the afternoon. I put my own name on the prayer roll, along with the names of family members and friends I had on my mind and in my heart. That night, we tended Avery and Jane while Ally (and her parents) took her friends to the movie for her birthday. Sunday, I held my secret close during the Sacrament and prayed for strength. Our home teachers came and I put on my happy face, still not willing to share with anyone besides my dear husband. For dinner, we went to Aaron and Lindsey's to celebrate Ally's 8th birthday and had a wonderful meal with our sweet kids and grand-girls. And whenever I was alone, I probed my neck, wishing against all wishes that the lump had disappeared miraculously...somehow.

Monday morning, I dropped Janessa off to school and went to the Bountiful Clinic. It was the first time I'd been back to the Dermatology/Ear, Nose, Throat desk since that fateful day in March when I was first diagnosed. I found I was shivering as I checked in. Nurse Carol called me back to the exam room and soon, I was shaking hands again with Dr. Bradley. He asked me some questions and then asked me to sit on the exam table. With his wonderful "magic" fingers, he first massaged/examined my "old" neck for the first time since radiation. My wound literally tingled, whether from awakening nerves or from intense stimulation, almost like an electrical shock. It was a strange sensation, like when you hit your funny bone. He continued to probe the back of my neck and my upper back, and then, he moved over to the left side. He felt the lump and said, "Oh, that's a little feller." It made me smile. When he was finished, he sat down to talk in his easy-going, but knowledgeable, way and I was instantly comforted. He would fix this. He would know how. He explained that because the lump was so small (tender mercy!), a needle biopsy would be difficult. For one thing, the lump was mobile and it would be hard to capture enough fluid to make a good test. He said I had two options: he could use local anesthesia in his office to cut off a part of the lump for testing, or I could have out-patient surgery to have it completely removed. I didn't even hesitate. I told him I wanted it out and gone. He said, "It could just be a swollen lymph node caused by a virus or stress. But if it should have cancer in it, we know what comes next, don't we?" All too well. Nurse Carol came in with his surgery book, and it just so happened that he had had a cancellation for Thursday. I said, "THIS Thursday?" Yes, this Thursday, three days away. Okay, put me down. I'm there.

In between Monday and Thursday, I worked, cleaned house, visited with two of my neighbor ladies in their homes, went to chorus rehearsal, helped with another night of VT interviews and an RS meeting, did grocery shopping - all my normal, busy activities. The fear was gone. I had a wonderful "A-HA" moment when I realized that all three of my doctors - Dr. Bradley, Dr. Avizonis, and Dr. Grossmann - had prepared me for this scenario months ago when they explained how melanoma is like a "ghost" - it can pop up any where, any time, and that the regularly-scheduled scans would show us if anything had "grown" large enough to be taken out surgically. The fact that I had found this lump on my own was a blessing from a loving Heavenly Father, who was telling me that it was big enough to feel and be removed but not too large to cause as much damage as my first tumors. I also realized that this is my new life. I don't need to be overly alarmed (and neither does my family) if and when I find a lump - it's all part of this sneaky, mean disease I have. Whatever happens will be taken care of. I don't need to be babied or coddled or cried over. As long as I have the strength to fight, I can and will.

The hospital called me Wednesday and told me my surgery was scheduled for 2:30 on Thursday afternoon. This was another blessing because Dean could work a half day and still take me to the appointment. I finally told my family. Janessa made arrangements with her friend, Carol, to go home from school with her until we could pick her up. I told my sweet friend, Ann, and she promised to put my name on the "brethren's" prayer roll at the Salt Lake Temple, which means President Monson actually said my name aloud in a sacred prayer. Thursday morning, I kept myself busy and the hours flew by. No food or water after 10:30, and I got very thirsty. Dean came home from work about 12:30, mowed the lawn, and showered. I worked as much as I could, each call whittling away the time. At 1:15, I called the Surgical Center to see if things were on schedule. They said Dr. Bradley was about 30 minutes behind, so I could wait to come in for about a half hour. Before we left home, Dean gave me a sweet blessing that I would feel calm. We arrived about 2:10, and I'm sure the ladies at the check-in desk were relieved to see me. I was called back, weighed (I'm now down 39 lbs total from March 3), shown to a waiting cubicle, and asked to put on the always-fashionable gown, pajama bottoms, and non-skid socks. I took out my contacts and put on my Sarah Palin glasses. Dean settled back to watch TV, but I was in the only comfy chair in the room. Nothing too interesting to watch at 3:00 in the afternoon, so there was a lot of channel surfing. There was a Mexican family in the room next to ours and we could hear them chattering with each other in Spanish. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a doctor go into their room and start talking to them in Spanish and I realized it was Dr. Bradley! What a guy. When he was finished, he put his head in my room and said, "I have this one other procedure just before yours, so it will be about another 30 minutes." He always asks me if I have any questions for him, and I'm amazed that he's answered everything already. Soon we heard the anesthesiologist in with our Mexican friends and before long, he's guiding a little dark-haired lady down the hall. I'm next, but it will be a while. I get fidgety. The nurse comes in to see if I have any questions and to go over my health history again. Finally, the anesthesiologist, Dr. Smith, arrives, armed with my IV bag and chart. He's an older guy. His hands are cold. He tells me that I'm the patient they've been waiting for since this morning - the LAST patient of the day. Goody. My veins cooperate today and poke right out. I tell him they're not always so available. He puts in the IV effortlessly and painlessly. I like him. We walk back to the operating room, a feat I still find kind of crazy. Like lambs to the slaughter, we go willingly. It's about 4:15. The room is cold, but I'm soon beneath a warm out-of-the-oven blanket. Dr. Smith jokes that while I may not be entirely comfortable lying there, he can at least make it so I don't care. Perfect. I remember him hooking up the meds to go into my IV. I remember him attaching the blood pressure cuff to my left arm. I remember him walking around the end of the operating table...and then I am out.

Next thing I know, I'm in the recovery room and Dean is sitting beside me, drinking Coke from a cup. The nurse is beside me, asking how I feel. Loopy. Tired. Can I just have another nap? But, there is no pain. I take deep breaths, trying to wake myself up. Dean says it's a little before 5:00, so the surgery took about 30 minutes. Not bad, compared to my last one, right? The nurse says Dr. Bradley has talked to Dean. I ask him what he said, and he tells me, "He said it was a little, swollen lymph node." Details, honey, I want details!! But that's all he remembers. It's been sent to the lab and it will be a few days before they get any results back. Soon, I'm able to sit up and get dressed. Our Mexican friend is leaving now, an ice pack and bandage on HER neck. Dean gets a soda refill and I get cold water through a straw. The nurses are cleaning up, counting meds, closing down for the day. I ride in a wheelchair out to the car. The nurse asks me if I've got dinner all arranged for the night. I tell her my husband is taking care of it and Dean raises his eyebrows. Good. He buys me a hamburger, Janessa comes home from Carol's house, I call Aaron & Linds and Chels and Mom, and then I "assume the position" on the couch for a while. There is very little pain. I take one painkiller before bed and sleep GREAT. I can even roll over on my (favorite position) left side and fall fast asleep without discomfort (I still can't lay on my right side without a little pain), so I know that is a blessing, too. I wake up this morning feeling good. I eat half a grapefruit for breakfast, take my vitamins, and have another pain pill. I haven't needed another one all day.

I am so grateful for my blessings. The speed at which all of this transpired amazes me. I know there are no coincidences or "it just so happened". I truly believe Heavenly Father wanted me to find this lump, get it removed, and move on. Whatever it turns out to be, I can handle it. If more radiation is required, I have the perfect mask for it. I am at peace and know that I am in God's hands...still. I may live WITH fear, but I do not live IN fear. Come what may, I am still God's child and He loves me. Absolutely amazing, isn't it?