Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cancer

When I was young, I used to find it quite unfair that my horoscope sign should be "Cancer" . . . worse yet, the crab. What kind of an astrological sign is that? I didn't actually do anything with horoscopes, but in the 70's, all of this was in vogue, and I remember hating to have to mumble "Cancer" when people asked. Not that I minded having a summer birthday. And I actually liked the description of Cancerian traits. But still.

When I was 16, my dad was going to school to become a pastor, so we lived in Los Angeles for a time. One night that summer, I was in my parents' room saying goodnight, standing by a mirror, and I noticed a large swelling or growth on my neck. It was just bigger than a squooshy oval golf ball. We had a tiny income at that point; fortunately UCLA was right there with advanced care for people with little money on some sliding scale. The lump was off to the side, not in the right place for anything related to the thyroid or parathyroid. After going from clinic to clinic and being poked and prodded (an aside: why do doctors ask, "Does this hurt?" while they're firmly pressing something painful?) consensus was that it was both a tumor and likely cancerous and I'd have to have surgery with follow-up radiation. Well, since we had no insurance and no money, we were so grateful to have a surgeon in Oregon, whose office my aunt had managed for many years, offer his services without charge. He was very experienced in the sort of surgery I needed. And moreover, he was willing to do it through the same-day surgery service, since he could give my aunt instructions in my post-op care. What a reduction in cost that meant! And better yet: when the surgery was done, it was not cancer, but a brachial cleft cyst, a benign flukey thing that had to do with a glitch in my embryonic development.

At around 23, 24 years old I had a suspicious mole. The dermatologist who took it out said, "This does not look good at all. I took a large area around it out. Make another appointment in three weeks to get the biopsy reports". Yikes. But again . . . turned out the mole had "dysplastic changes" which he explained meant that it was pre-cancerous but not cancer, that I'd come in in time.

Cancer scare, "almost cancer", I've had moments in my life to think seriously about mortality. It was a positive.

And now I have cancer for-real. I have lymphoma. I've had severe stomach pains since the middle of October, and quite soon they sent me to bed, where I stayed curled up in pain full time other than when I had to drive the children somewhere. It was in the long diagnosis process for this stomach pain (which turned out to be I-don't-know-how-many, but more than four, ulcers) that the cancer was discovered.

I am so blessed that I have a form of lymphoma that is responsive to treatment and has very good survival rates when caught early. Although I'm not quite sure what "caught early" means in my case, as they're not done staging it.
 
There have been odd moments along the way. The doctor who told me called my cell as I was stuck in traffic - since I was on a back street and not actually moving, I took the call. That was one drive that I confess to not remembering - thankfully I was really close to home. The first meeting with my oncologist - I like him, he seems good, but man that's a phrase that you don't want in your vocabulary: "My oncologist".

So right now I'm still in bed, but that's for the ulcers. The cancer just makes me tired. And hey, I'm a mother of eight. I already know tired. The ulcers did turn out to be (like 80% of ulcers) caused by an overgrowth of H. pylori, which means that after a long round of a couple of antibiotics, the ulcers should be able to heal. I'm trying to assist the healing process by being on a juice fast. This has been super helpful, since before juicing I was having trouble thinking of many things to eat that wouldn't hurt! This give my digestive system a rest - the only food I'm eating is one slice of avocado twice a day when I take my antibiotics.

The form of lymphoma I have, MALT lymphoma, is put into remission about 50% of the time simply by killing off the H. pylori. So the plan of my oncologist is to wait until about March and have a repeat endoscopy done, to see if I've gone into remission. It's strange, too - they can't just do bloodwork to check for remission, because my bloodwork has never been abnormal! If I am not in remission at that point, a round of radiation is up next.

Gareth has taken over the morning and daytime barn chores, and Nigel puts the animals to bed at night. It's been COLD in the morning, and no complaining out of Gareth, bless him. I've been able to keep pretty much up with homeschool here from my bed. Just a couple of days when the pain or nausea has been too bad, and then the older guys take over Tarquin's lessons.

So that's why I've not been blogging. So much going on, so much to mull over. This has been really hard emotionally on The Patriarch. I can agree wholeheartedly with Philippians 1:21, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain", but it is different for a spouse, for sure. The children have remained optimistic and just see me as sick in bed.

Many of my blog readers already know all of this, but not all. And I thought it would be a bit odd if I suddenly blogged about radiation or something, so finally made myself post this big ol' cancer post .  . . hopefully back to posting about a more normal life soon.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I thought I'd stroll over here since I was wondering how your goaties were doing, and I just saw this post. I was already astounded by your strength and energy to raise what look to be 8 beautiful, intelligent children - and now to have the strength to go through this shows what a remarkable person you are. Good luck, my thoughts are with you, and I hope some goat love goes a long way to making you feel better on the days that are hard. :)