Posted by: jility | November 6, 2013

Other Than That Mrs. Lincoln How Did You Like the Play?

The ct scan whirled overhead as I lay there thinking about my life and how things may have been different if only… The robotically melodic voice from the machine repeated over and over, “Take a deep breath…and hold it. Breathe normally.” Those five minutes in that machine seemed like an eternity.

It all started six months earlier when I became violently ill one night. I assumed it was from all the Celebrex I had taken. The next few days were horrific. I went from hot to cold and back to hot again. The sweat would pour off my face. I couldn’t keep anything down. I had to cut out all fat, acidic foods and eat small portions or I would be up sick all night long. This continued off and on for months.

They say that God doesn’t put any more on our plates than we can handle. Either God overestimated my plate or He got me confused with somebody else. The past ten years have been difficult for us, but the past few years have been overwhelmingly difficult. Only our family and closest friends know the whole story, but my blogs have only told a fraction of our struggles.

My illness continued off and on over the months but it seemed I was slowly getting better. Every time I got sick, I felt like I was going to die. It was very scary. My life would pass before my eyes each time. It was horrible.

After months of off and on illness, I saw another doctor. He felt pretty sure it was my gallbladder. He said the symptoms were classic. Others also thought my symptoms were classic gallbladder but something inside me said otherwise. I had been ignoring the signs for much too long now and it was time to get to the bottom of it.

A blood test showed I was anemic and the ultrasound showed sludge in my gallbladder but nothing alarming. Because of the anemia, the doctor said he wanted to check my stool for blood and gave me the kit to take home.

I mailed in the kit and a few days later got an urgent call from the doctor’s nurse that I needed to come back in ASAP for follow up because I was positive for blood in my stool sample.

Now I was totally freaked out and couldn’t think or breathe.

They scheduled me for a visit to Dr. Buckner, a gastroenterologist in Olympia and off I went. She examined me and looked over my records. I told her I was petrified. She reassured me that she would be “shocked” if she found anything horrible in there. I felt a lot better. I really liked her and she had dogs so we talked dogs. She scheduled me for an endoscopy and colonoscopy.

They put me in a semi-conscious state with fentanyl. I was once again reassured that everything was going to be fine.  First she scoped my upper GI tract; then the colonoscopy. Everything was going fine until all of a sudden I was in excruciating pain. It seemed to go on forever. I remember coming out of my deep sleep and screaming in pain. Somebody held my hand and told me it was almost over. Then it stopped.

As I came to in the recovery area, I overheard them making an appointment for me to have a ct scan the next day. Even all doped up, I knew that meant she had found something very bad. I asked but they said the doctor would be in to talk to me after her next procedure.

Once recovered (more or less), I dressed and walked to the waiting room where I sat with Mel. It seemed like an eternity. Finally, we were told to enter a room and have a seat. Dr. Buckner sat across from us. She didn’t mince words.

“You have cancer.”

WTF?

I heard nothing after that. I put my head down on the desk and just muttered, “Of course I do.”

I think I heard Mel asking some questions or Dr. Buckner saying something but I am not sure. All I heard was WAAA WAAA WAAA WAAA WAAAAA like the Peanuts shows.

Then she passed a photo across the desk of the rotten mass inside me. It was disgusting. I think I heard her say “This is curable!” Sure, you also said you would be shocked… Not her fault. I am a dumb ass who had never had a colonoscopy and her words were comforting.

As we were leaving, she said, “OH! You do have ulcers. They are healing but there are quite a few in there.”

At that point, ulcers seemed unimportant.

The next morning, Friday, we met with Dr. Krug, the surgeon who would be removing the junk from my colon. I liked him very much. He scheduled surgery for Tuesday and said he would call me that evening with the results of the ct scan and x-ray.

After that we drove the hour home to wait to leave later to go back to Olympia for my ct scan and chest x-ray to see the extent. It was one of the longest and scariest days of my life.

The tech who did my ct scan was awesome. He couldn’t tell me anything, but as I was leaving, he took my hand and said, “They are going to remove that thing and you are going to come see me to say hi and you are going to do great!”

I waited for a call from the doctor but it never came. I kept telling myself no news was good news. It was so hard though. I was still in total shock. Vegans aren’t supposed to get colon cancer. I, however, was the crappiest vegan on the planet! I guess it is like blaming a handing system for poor execution.

I was an oil swilling, junk eating, processed food loving fat pig. I always said that movie popcorn was my last vice and I was not giving it up! Well, it cost me more dearly than any other vice I ever had. Just read the info on colon cancer and you will see that oil and obesity are at the top for causes. I SUCK!

Couple that with the fact that I had never had a colonoscopy and you have a recipe for disaster.

I jumped every time the phone rang that weekend but the doctor never called. I think what I was making up in my mind was a lot worse than anything he could have told me.

Most of the weekend was a blur. I barely remember anything.

I went through no solid food for two days before surgery and drank a bunch of castor oil. I won’t go into details but it was not pleasant.

At 5 am on Tuesday, I got up and walked down the long driveway in the freezing weather from the shop to the house to take a shower. The Global Warmer had been in the shop for two weeks being  fixed from the wreck Mel had (another long story). We were staying in the shop. It has a bathroom but no shower or stove so we showered at the house and cooked on a hot plate.

We drove mostly in silence to St. Peters Hospital in Olympia. I got checked in and two hours later was wheeled into surgery. The next thing I remembered was seeing Mel and Kathy in my room.

When I told my friend, Saint Kathy, that I was having surgery, she insisted on canceling her appointments that day to wait with Mel. She knew he would not be in a great state of mind to ask questions or interpret information. She promised not to make him talk. She was a Godsend and we will be forever grateful.

I am the luckiest person on the planet. I have the best friends one could every possibly want. Mel and my friends came to see me and those with medical backgrounds were incredibly helpful answering questions I forgot to ask the surgeon. I won’t name everyone but my friends and family who supported me though this ordeal mean more to me than I can ever say. I truly am blessed.

I only told a small number of people because I knew I would have trouble answering emails, texts and phone calls. I directed them to Mel and he did a great job keeping everyone informed. I mostly wanted to sleep and it seemed I would no sooner doze off and a text would come in or the phone would ring. The doctor suggested I turn it off but my OCD would not allow that.

I got some of the most beautiful flowers you can imagine! I love smelly flowers but they proved too much for some of the nurses. A few started into my room but fled yelling something about being allergic and their day was now shot or something like that. I loved the flowers and that was all that mattered to me. Most of the nurses and assistants were amazing in that hospital! They took awesome care of me.

Spectacular Flowers!

Spectacular Flowers!

I had very generous offers from friends to come take care of me during my recovery. Since we are now back in the GW, I chuckled thinking of where they might sleep. The dogs have claimed the sofa, so picturing my friends curled up in one of the dog beds on the floor made me smile.

The doctor came in to see how I was doing and let me know what he found. The ct scan was clean, as was the x-ray. He said that doesn’t mean it is not there, but that they can’t see anything. GEESH! THANKS FOR THAT BIT OF ENCOURAGEMENT!!! He went on to say that there were lymph nodes involved but the organs looked good. The pathology report came back. Seven of the seventeen nodes had cancer so chemo was indicated. The mass had grown through the colon wall as well and looked like it had been there quite a long time. They figure at least ten years from beginning of polyp stage. It was classified as stage 3 B. Had I had a colonoscopy, it would never have advanced to this point.

I had a wonderful steady stream of visitors. They made me laugh until it hurt. They brought me wonderful food and helped to take my mind off my troubles.

My wonderful granddaughters Sicily and Julia came to visit me in their Halloween costumes. It was so great to see them!

My wonderful granddaughters Sicily and Julia came to visit me in their Halloween costumes. It was so great to see them!

The funny thing was that the first morning after surgery, no flowers had arrived and I had no visitors that morning. The nurses were worried about me and asked if I had any support. I smiled and said yes (they had no idea!). I guess they felt so sorry for me being alone the day after surgery. They sent in the chaplain who very sympathetically asked if I had anyone to help me through this. I laughed and reassured her I did. Shortly after that the flowers began to arrive as did the visitors.

The doctor said I needed to stay in the hospital from Tuesday until Sunday. I asked if I could stay one more day as my husband was about as nurturing as a scorpion. I knew Mel would do the best he could but nurturing is not his strong suit. So he said sure. As it turned out, I really needed that extra day.

Being told you have cancer is shocking. I am so angry with myself for not eating according to the strict and HEALTHY vegan plan I know is the best for preventative measures. I know that frame of mind plays an enormous part in the development of cancer as well. Anger, bitterness, stress, etc. can really play a large role in allowing those unwanted cells to develop. I wouldn’t call myself angry of bitter, but my stress level has been over the top for years. My vegan diet may have helped keep it somewhat contained, but had I not swilled oil and crap, well, I doubt it would have ever happened.

The reason I am telling this story is NOT for sympathy! That is the LAST thing I want right now. Sympathy makes me sad. I want to laugh! I am writing in hopes to get those who have avoided having their stools checked for blood or who have put off that colonoscopy to GET ON IT! Sure, we all hate seeing the doctor, but one little day of discomfort could truly save your life!

Thank you again to my INCREDIBLE friends who came by to see me, checked on me often (too often sometimes 😉 and sent me love and support. I can’t tell you all how much you are appreciated and what an enormous difference you made in my recovery.

Most of all, I want to thank my amazing husband of 39 years, Mel. I know this sucks but we will get though it just like everything else. I love you and plan to torture you for another 39 years!


Responses

  1. Thank you Helen for sharing your story hopefully you would have made everyone aware how very important a colonscopy is. So pleased you have so many people who love and appreciate you. We certainly do. Big (((hugs))) to you and Mel. ❤ xxxxxxx

  2. I wish you and Mel all the best. I think this was a sign for me to go get my first screening colonoscopy. My doctor told me this is the year and I’ve been avoiding her ever since. Thanks for the push.
    Elaine

  3. hey helen and mel, I’m a woman of few words, so I don’t know why this SH-T happens. You are a strong couple with shoulders of steel. My thoughts and prayers are with you both. To quote an obedience phrase, HEAL! hugs

  4. Hi Helen,
    Saw you post this on Facebook. Glad to hear things are moving in a positive direction and looking good. When my father was battling his brain cancer I spent many months in Dana Farber in the waiting rooms in Boston and only had their literature to entertain myself. So, I read all of their studies on different types of cancer then laid awake at night diagnosing myself with everything imaginable. I always believed in a connection with diet and cancer, but doctors are always reluctant to say anything is conclusive. I did read one study they put out on colon cancer though. I can’t remember the exact numbers but they found absolutely conclusively that people that either had or switched to a plant based whole grains diet had colon cancer cure rates WAY above those that did not….even the worst stage 4 cases were very very successful. So the veganism may not be able to prevent bad things from happening…sometimes things just go wrong I guess….but from what I read it puts you in a fantastic place as far as recovery goes. I hope all goes well from here on…I am sure it will… of all the people in the world battling colon cancer I am sure you are amongst the strongest.

    Best wishes and prayers,
    Jonas

    • Thank you Jonas. I do believe it is important to do the best we can for ourselves to be healthy. I was so stubborn about not giving up my movie popcorn. Now, after this wake up call, I am ready to go all in. 🙂 Too bad it takes something life threatening to make me take care of myself the way I know I need to.

  5. Helen,

    I have to join Julia in urging you not to blame yourself in any way for your cancer. There are many who believe,mistakenly, in “cancer personalities,” as just one example. Cancer is an arbitrary disease process; some nasty people never get it despite smoking for sixty years, eating massive amounts of red meat, and hating the entire world… and some terribly nice vegans who never said a harsh word also get cancer. People who never ate refined food get cancer (it’s been found in 100,000-year-old neanderthal fossils).

    I hope your chemo goes smoothly and effectively and that you and your dogs can return to agility soon.

    Diana

  6. Helen, I’m so sorry to hear this, on top of everything else you’ve been through, but I’m “living” proof that you’ll get through it & be out there with your dogs doing the sport you love so much. Chemo can be tough, but you’re pretty tough, too. You’ll get through everything & come out on top! Mine was Stage 2B at first, though now it’s stage four, so you see, all the staging in the world doesn’t predict survival so well. I had a nurse look at me recently & say “you’re doing great, and you weren’t even supposed to be here now!” You will, too!

    • Thank you Victoria. You are a great inspiration!

  7. Helen, I am a cancer survivor and agility addict. PLEASE quit blaming your actions for your cancer! It isn’t anything you did or didn’t do, it just happens! I too was told ‘it’s probably nothing’ over and over right up to the point where I was told ‘it’s cancer’ 😦 Good luck with the chemo, I had a hard time with it, but some people just breeze through, I hope you’re one of those! My best advice to you is join a support group (i joined one online), it was invaluable to talk with others going through the same thing, and now we are life-long friends!

    • Thank you.

  8. Helen, it looks like we joined the same club at almost he same time! I too went quickly from running agility with my dog to suddenly bloating to the point that I needed to present to emerg. It did not take long after the ct scan and bloodwork to be told that I too was suddenly afflicted with cancer. To confirm four litres of fluids was drained off the the abdomen which proved pos for malignancy. We are both very fortunate to be surrounded by our agility family and all of their positive vibes! They will get us through the rough days and with a positive outlook we both will be back running in no time at all! I have had three rounds of chemo and finally go down to Hamilton for surgery nov 19th followed by another three rounds of chemo. Ovarian cancer is known to be the silent attacker in that there are no preventative screening or early symptoms in the disease. Abdomenal bloating is known to be the classic sign! Many women are misdiagnosed with irritable bowel when it has been ovarian cancer. I presented at stage four ovarian cancer. Guess I was lucky to have only one ovary left in that the diseases could have spread much faster with two. I urge all my friends with reoccurring bloating to please seeks medical help and express your concerns of a link to OC. I have been told that I am responding to the chemo which I never doubted I would. We both will beat this!

    • Wishing you all positive results and sending healing your way! Thank you for writing.

  9. I am so grateful you finally got to the ‘bottom’ of this, Helen! That was the most hilarious thing my MD assured me when I had my first sig! “We’ll get to the bottom of this!” He failed to see the humor when I burst out laughing! Here I was, 7 months pregnant, thinking I would have Marney on the toilet at that point, and he didn’t get the joke he made! Thank God for doctors, who may not have a sense of humor; but save your ass in the end!!! I am so grateful you got to the bottom of it, Helen! I know this crap runs in our family; but thank God humor does, too. Even though it probably only hurts when you laugh, keep nyuck nyuking your way back to a healthier you than ever before!!! As our fashionista sister, Pam, advised me way back then, “Tell the doctor you do NOT want to carry a bag that doesn’t match your shoes!” I love you, Helen! The best is yet to come!

  10. Helen, I so loved your structure class and it changed the way I look at dogs, any really, all four legged animals. I always loved the puzzle of how structure affects performance, but your class filled in a lot of blanks for me. Since then, I’ve enjoyed your sense of humor and curmudgeonry. You’ve been so generous to trade comments when I’ve found an odd structure or two that needs deceiphering or an old photo that points out so much that has been lost or is slipping away from once sound and dynamic breeds (usually changed by trends into an over-coated, straight angled “coat hangers.” Count me as in your corner. Barb and Samurai the Papillon

  11. Helen, well now we know why you felt like crap all summer! So sorry that you had to go through all that but glad you got that stupid mass removed – now get that chemo done so you can kick cancer’s ass and get back to being your awesome self! We miss you down here!

  12. Thank you for telling your story, Helen. You have so many following your antics (I mean blog) that you may just have saved someone’s life by encouraging routine testing. As for you, keep that wonderful sense of humor, as attitude is so important. I will keep you and Mel in my prayers as you travel “through” this chapter.

  13. Thank you for sharing this, you may have just saved someone else’s life. Sending healing thoughts and prayers your way.

  14. I think I could be comfortable in one of our big dog beds for a few nights 🙂 Continuing healing prayers and will book that colonscopy when I get home 🙂 xo

    • LOL! Every time I think of you curled up in a dog bed on my floor I start laughing again! Thank you so much for your support Susan. Have a safe trip home.

  15. Helen – thanks for sharing – what a scary time for you and Mel… Saint Kathy gave me an update today that you were on the mend.

    Lewis (aka kathy)

    • Kathy was amazing! I can’t believe I have a friend that selfless and giving. I am truly blessed!

  16. Sending healing, peaceful thoughts for you Helen…

  17. Helen, attitude is ultra important in fighting cancer, and your outlook is great.
    Go get’em and keep on laughing! Best wishes.

  18. Helen! Damn girl! I think of you often, and will now daily. ( only good thoughts) I’m seeing a new provider on the 20th and will be scheduling my first colonoscopy then. I’ve put it off too – but I hear the drugs are fabulous sooo – why wait? I wish nothing more than the best for you, and Mel. And by the way, I fit perfectly on a dog bed, hardly have to bend my knees. 😄

  19. Hang tough and take care of yourself. And anyone out there who has been procrastinating (as I did), take this to heart!

  20. Helen, thank you for sharing your story. We are all sending positive thoughts your way from So. Cal! I will make sure that when the time comes I will go get this check up……..I wouldn’t have before your experience. We love you-xoxo!

  21. Glad to hear you are in good spirits and all is moving along nicely now! I had a friend that had colon cancer at age 52 and that prompted me to get that colonoscopy on my 50th birthday – glad I did as they did find a small polyp – but all is good now. I will be back to see them in another 7 years for another exciting exam! By the way; my friend is in excellent health now and did two chemo party balls, so you can do it too! Hang in there Helen and we are all behind you!!!

  22. Hi Helen,
    I am so sorry that you had to go through this. Sounds as though you have wonderful doctors, great family and friends — and your attitude is A-1, which is so important. Here’s to a good recovery and a return to normal life as soon as possible. Hope that you keep in touch with all of us!

  23. Hi Helen, Thanks for the narrative ! All I can say is Jesus Christ ! No one should have to go through all of that ! But, as we know, it happens ! Best wishes on a continued recovery ! Ron

  24. Helen…..Shame on you for avoiding the “unspeakable” colonoscopy. I highly recommend all women, over the age of 50, to schedule an appt. with their Doctor even if it is just to talk about this exam. It saved my life. I did the “chemo bit” and have been in remission for seven years.
    Ladies, don’t be afraid of this exam….most of us sleep thru it!

    Glad you are feeling better. Please keep me posted, I’ll give you as much support as possible.
    Sandy + 3 Schnauzers

  25. I started getting your blog this summer because I have standards, so glad i did. I hope people listen to you. Everyone take care of yourself your doggies need you!


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