Ugh

Well it’s been almost three weeks since I found out that chemotherapy will be coming back into my life, and almost four since I found out cancer was even back. I thought it was going to be a whirlwind again of port surgery, and then chemo straight after, but surprisingly it hasn’t worked out that way. I am having my port surgery tomorrow, which I then assume I will be starting chemotherapy the following week. I have had some time to digest the news, and I am starting to not cry multiple times a day. So I’ll take that as a win!

In the mean time, I’ve cleaned up my diet again and started back on mistletoe injections. If you do not know what I am talking about, search “mistletoe” in the bar on the right and read all about it. Cleaning up my diet has consisted of cutting out alcohol, and trying to stay away from foods with processed sugars. I allowed chicken back into my diet a few months ago, so now I am only eating it once a week if I can help it. Raw juice is also back (though it never technically left), but now I am making sure to drink it at least 5 times a week.

What type of chemotherapy will I be on this time? Well that question I still do not have an answer for. I left a message for my oncologist letting him know that I would like a meeting with him first before I start. I have 5000 questions running through my mind and I require answers before they can start injecting me with poison again. A few of them are as follows:

  • Are we looking to kill the cancer or just sustain my life?
  • Can I start on a lower dose?
  • Is FolFiri the best option or is there any others?
  • Are there drugs that cost money that I can be offered?
  • Will I be here every two weeks?
  • How often will I be scanned?
  • In the future can I come every three weeks, or maybe have every third month off?
  • What can we do to lower my anxiety attacks in here?
  • I don’t want to compromise my liver function, so what marker will you be looking at?
  • How much growth of the tumours can my liver take?

I feel it is extremely important to create my own treatment schedule. I know my body, I know what it can take and I know what my limits are. If we are planning on sustaining my life, then I don’t want to have the rest of that involve a bucket for five days every two weeks. My strongest defense against this disease is the fact that I have always been my own advocate. I consistently ask questions and stand up for myself. I do not let any doctor tell me what to do. They have a strong say, but I view it more as a consultation rather than an order. Every conversation with every doctor has been just that – a conversation. Never be afraid to do this for yourself. If you think they will be annoyed by you – then first off, get a new fucking doctor. Every single one has told me that I need to keep being an advocate for myself because I obviously know what I am doing. Look how far it has taken me! My main surgeon thought I would be dead years ago. Maybe I would have been if I didn’t listen to my body and take my life into my own hands. I’ve taken risks and for the most part they have paid off.

My next advocate moment is a second opinion. I trust my surgeon with my life, but if he says that surgery would be too difficult, then let’s find someone who may think differently. Thankfully again, he is on board. I called his office today and gave him a name of a doctor, so I’m just waiting to hear back. His receptionist let me know that he knows him well and will probably call him on his cell – which is perfect.

Side note – If you are wondering where the tricky tumour is – liver or lymph node – well I still do not have an answer. 

So now I am just looking forward to a big anxiety attack tomorrow followed by a lot of crying, which I am sure will last the rest of the week. Having the port-a-cath put back in will be a big reminder that this ride for me is still not over.

By the way – I know everyone means well, but if you have my cell phone number please do not send me a “thinking of you” message tomorrow. I can’t explain why that bothers me so much but it does. I guess when you have been getting them consistently for 4.5 years they start to lose meaning. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’ll reach out when I want to reach out. No one is above this. So if you think “Oh she doesn’t mean me though” – you’re wrong. Sorry if you do not understand – and be thankful if you don’t. That means you have not had a consistently shitty life for an extended period of time.

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I’m just so annoyed

It’s happening again. I’m not a full on cancer snob, but I seem to be eye rolling quite a bit. If I hear or read another “courageous” story about so-and-so who had cancer once, twice, three times it came back – I might throw up. I know, it’s horrible to say that but I can’t help it. Oh she had cancer and then they cut it out, and some chemo occurred, then it came back and she had to do it all over again – what a miracle woman!

Just shoot me.

It is unfair to play the “who’s life is worse” game, because everyone has their own experiences. So I silently eye roll and feel this tightness in my chest from frustration. I just want to yell out, “Oh you think that is hard? PLEASE SPARE ME.”

I know, it’s not very nice. So sorry if you fall into this category. It sucks. Having cancer sucks. I get it, TRUST ME. I’m like this with everyone though, I don’t just single out my other cancer peeps. Broken limbs, child birth, minor surgeries, you name it I eye roll them. Sorry. I can’t help it that I feel like I just can’t even come CLOSE to relating.

But like honestly what the actual fuck is my life? How the hell have I gone through all this shit in just 4.5 years… and it’s still not over. Just when I think it’s over, and the hope starts to crawl back in, I get a massive slap in the face. So annoying.

What’s funny is when I meet a new healthcare professional who doesn’t know my history and I have to list it. Watching their face while I list out the dates of my surgeries, how much chemo I’ve had, what my status is now – their jaw drops. The surgeries I have had alone in just 4.5 years are RIDICULOUS. I remember going with Chris to see a taping of Cityline a few years back. They had a guest on who had/has cancer (I can’t remember), and she had 7 or 8 surgeries over a number of years. I remember thinking “Woah, that’s crazy.” I am almost positive that I have either surpassed her or have done it in a much shorter time span. My 7 surgeries don’t even include the multiple day surgeries I have had. Stop cutting me open people! I’d like to not have a panic attack on a cold metal table just for one year. Is that really too much to ask? Now in two weeks I’m getting a port-a-cath put back in which is FABULOUS because now I’m GUARANTEED at least one panic attack a month when they have to flush it. Obviously there will be WAY more every time I step foot into that dreaded chemo room and they start poking me with more needles.

Uggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Can’t someone just give me lots of money so I can go on a trip and forget about life. Maybe just never come back? How long can I survive with this shitty ass liver if I park it on a beach?

If you could have 2 amazing years on a beach or 5 shit ass years on chemo – what would you choose?

SEE WHY THIS SHIT IS SO HARD. Longer life is better but quality of life is also better? Is that even a sentence that makes sense? If you can’t have both, how the fuck do you choose?

Ativan 

So here is part two of my addiction story….

During my many chemo sessions, it became apparent to not only myself, but to all of the nurses working in oncology, that I was developing MAJOR anxiety before even stepping foot into the clinic. My oncologist wrote me a prescription for a drug called Ativan (also known as Lorazepam) and told me to put two under my tongue an hour before each appointment. Well I did, and they did nothing. I kept the bottle in my cupboard at home and thought nothing of them. 

Before each and every surgery the same thing would happen – I would have a major anxiety attack. After the first major blow out I was also prescribed Ativan to be taken 30 minutes before being called into the operating room. Just like with the chemo anxiety, they did nothing. 

All I ever knew about this drug was that is was to help with my anxiety. From my experiences I thought it just didn’t work for me. 

While packing in March to head on my Thailand and Australian adventure, I was taking out the Advil bottle and noticed the bottle of Ativan. “Perfect find!”, I thought to myself. Just in case I have an anxiety attack while away, I will have something to help calm me down. I made an appointment with my family doctor before leaving, and told him that I had a bottle of Ativan and it never worked for me before. He then prescribed me a bottle of Clonazepam, and said they might work better for me. 

Both Lorazepam and Clonazepam belong to the drug class known as benzodiazepines. They act on the brain and nerves and produce a calming effect. 

While on the 17 hour flight to Hong Kong, my panic set in. So I popped a Clonazepam and low and behold, I felt nothing. 

Great. My anxiety levels are too high for these drugs apparently. 

A few days later, finally in Thailand, I was having some anxiety before bed and thought I would try just one of the Ativans. 

The following day I woke up and could not believe it – I actually had a full nights rest! 

I have not slept through the night since I don’t even remember. With my multiple keloids on the body, and the anxiety and pressure from this cancer world, I toss and turn throughout the night. But now, I feel rested and AMAZING. Well, this is a miracle. 

I decided right then and there, I would take one each night to help me sleep. They did not make me groggy or even put me to sleep. But what they did do is KEEP me asleep. Which was the best thing I had experienced in a long while. 

In May I went for my consultation with my surgeron for my upcoming surgery, and I told him about how Ativan has helped me, and if he could right me another prescription. He did, but only for 3 months because he said he wasn’t allowed to write one for longer than that. Well that’s annoying, but I thought nothing of it. 

I dropped off my scrip and when I went to pick it up the next day, the pharmacist let me know that I was NOT allowed to get my next 30 day refill till the actual day it was due. Ok, sure lady. Again, I thought nothing of it. 

Now in August, I made an appoint with my family doctor again to have my pre-op for my colonoscopy. During our talk he saw I wrote down that I was taking Ativan. That reminded me, my three month prescription was almost up. So I asked him to write me a new one. 

“Are you addicted?” He quickly asked. 

“Um no. You know me I hate taking drugs. This I just use to help keep me asleep. No big deal.”

“Ok. You are a special case. With everything you’ve been through I can understand if these help you.”

I was so confused. Why was he being so weird? 

“Are these super addictive or something?”

“YES. Very much so. But you are different than most people and I know you wouldn’t be taking something unless you truly needed it.”

He wrote the prescription and told me to just have the pharmacy fax him every three months for a new one. 

I went home and spoke to Chris about my conversation with my doctor. He and I agreed that if it was helping me right now, then it’s ok. 

Later that night I got into bed, took my pill, and then began googling “How bad is Ativan?” – oh the things that came up. So many blog posts about people who were given it in the hospital, and it took them months and sometimes YEARS to get over the withdrawal. It explained how it is the most additive drug and that you should start with a low dose of 0.25mg. 

Holy crap I was taking 1mg! 

The next day I woke up and said, “Nope, I’m never taking that again.” 

The following day I woke up, and was instantly in withdrawal. My skin was crawling, my heart was beating out of my chest, I felt super anxious and couldn’t stop crying. Just a complete mess. I didn’t know what to do. If I took a pill to stop it, I would still have to take one at night – so then I would be taking two pills in one day. That wasn’t the answer. I called my doctor but he wasn’t in that day, and I was told he would call me on Monday – this was Friday. 

I cried and cried to Chris – I was so mad at myself for getting into this predicament. I started reading online how hard it was to come off of this drug, and that got me even more scared. Chris was amazing and calmed me down. He let me know that I am not a drug addict, that my case is different. If I needed this to help me get to sleep then so be it. 

I, on the other hand, did not agree. I couldn’t live with myself if I knew I was taking a drug that was highly addictive. I think it would cause me more stress. From all of my readings it seemed like the best way to get off of it was to slowly drop your dose down. So Friday night I took a pill, and then I decided Saturday I would not. When it came time for Sunday I though, hell I will roll the dice and just not take one tonight either. On the Monday I felt the withdrawal, but it wasn’t overwhelming as it was on Friday. When my doctor finally called I told him my predicament and he said very firmly, “Do not go off of this drug cold turkey. You have to gradually take it out of your system.” 

Well as we all know by now, I rarely listen to doctors. 

So I decided to push myself, and if it got too bad at any point I would give myself permission to take a pill. 

It took about two weeks, but I finally began to feel back to normal. Now, here is the craziest part. My depression also has seemed to have left. I no longer feel as though I am living in this dark hole. I truly believe that has to do with being off of the drug. I still have my days obviously, but they are not a constant anymore. 

My sleeping is back to being scattered, but now I am looking for more natural remedies to help with this. 

Addiction 

I avoid drugs. I know how easy it is to become addicted to pain killers, so I was always scared to take them. Since I have always been vocal about this to all of my doctors, they are never worried about me and always tell me, “Don’t be a hero and just take the drugs if you need to”. (Well ok they do not use the term “hero”, that’s my ad lib 😉) 

After my second surgery in 2014, I saw first hand how easy it was for my body to become addicted to drugs. Even though my mind wanted nothing to do with it, my body began going through extreme withdrawal when I tried to stop taking the Oxycodones. My skin felt like it was crawling, I was sweaty but shivering, and my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I was forced to continue to take them and gradually reduce the dose. Since then I have refused to take anything other than just regular ole Advil – well until recently. 

I was in a lot of pain and discomfort after my recent lung surgery, and when I went in for my post-op, my surgeon told me to just take even a single pill if I think it might help. After discussing it with Chris, we both decided that I will have to try it as the Advil did not seem to be doing the job this time. So I cut the oxycodone in half and took it at 6:00pm. At 9:30pm I still felt no relief so I took the other half. By 10:00pm my whole body was numb and I felt drunk. No joke. I had to put myself to bed. 

The following day I had plans in the morning so I woke up and felt groggy, but I figured that was only because it was 8:00am. It wasn’t until I was half way to my destination that I realized, “holy crap I am SO high right now and should NOT be driving”. I pulled into a parking lot and had my friend pick me up. This feeling lasted till the mid afternoon! 

When I got home I looked at the bottle, my original prescription was 1-2 every four hours!! WHO COULD SURVIVE THAT?! 

Never again – I went back to just suffering through the pain. 

So, this story is not even the main reason for this post…. I will have to write an “addiction part two” tomorrow. 

But to finish off our discussion about oxycodone – or just any pain reducing drug for that matter. BE CAREFUL. The doctor will prescribe you what is the standard dose, but LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Do not just read the label and pop away, see what works for you. I am not advocating to never take a pain pill. Tolerances for pain are different for each individual, and if you are in too much pain then that will actually harm your healing process. All I want to make known is just to be aware of the problems that can come from taking pain killers. It may help with your pain but it may be hurting you in some other way. These drugs are strong so please use with caution. 

It’s Back

Just when I thought I could start planning my life again, it came back.

My latest scan shows a small spot on my lower right lung. I am trying to look at the positives instead of drowning myself everyday in the negatives.

Positives;

  • It is located on my “good” lung (only one operation)
  • It is not on my liver
  • It is small and easily accessible
  • Surgery is an option

Negatives;

  • I still have cancer

 

But I guess I’ve always known that. It is the message I have been trying to communicate for months now. To all of the hopefuls who exclaimed, “You beat it!” – this is why I was still sad. With stage four cancer, you never really “beat it”. I knew there was a very high chance it would return, and I was hoping it wouldn’t be this fast. So once again I am putting my future life on hold and go back to living one day at a time. Now, it feels like I am just going through the motions. Living in this purgatory state with no direction, just a “see you in April” from my surgeons. If that scan shows minimal growth and no new friends, then operation number seven will take place this summer. There are a million different scenarios that can come into play, but like I said I am taking it day by day. I can and will drive myself crazy if I constantly think of all of the “what ifs”. I have no control over the scan, what I do have control over is my mind and diet. As long as I stick to a clean diet, and try to keep a healthy mind, I am hopeful that I can prevail.

Let’s Talk

A subject I have never been ashamed to speak about is my mental health. I struggle to try and stay in a positive mood, some days more than others. Instead of reminding you of all the ways I’m fucked up, I will inform you of the ways I am helping to take care of myself.

Eating Right – Keeping a clean diet when I am having a rough day is not easy. Nothing feels better then combining my tears with a tub of ice cream. I find however that afterwards I end up feeling worse. Now not only am I sad about whatever made me cry that day, but also upset at myself for eating all that ice cream. If I stick to healthy alternatives it is one less thing I need to be down on myself for. Also, all of those beautiful nutrients keep your cells happy and healthy which is never a bad thing!

Fresh Air – Seems like an easy fix, but pulling yourself off the couch some days can be tough. Just force yourself to get up and go on a quick walk outside, or go for a drive with the windows down. Removing yourself from your current position and feeling the cool breeze on your face can make a world of a difference.

Therapy, Therapy Therapy – I cannot express enough how much therapy has, and will continue to help me. I have been going to group therapy as well as seeing a therapist one-on-one for a while, but I recently have also begun to see a couples therapist. My relationship with my husband is fantastic, however we do struggle in dealing with the emotional aftermath from everything that has gone in the past couple years. Speaking with someone is helping us communicate better when we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious. It is so easy when you are sad or angry to take it out on a loved one. I am guilty for that. She is teaching us the dance of how we fight, and ways that we can change it so that we better understand what the other person is going through. I find people are often embarrassed to admit they are attending therapy with their partner. This is the wrong perspective. There is nothing shameful for wanting the best out of your relationship. These jobs exist for a reason, because it is COMMON that couples have issues when communicating. I am very thankful that my husband was open to attending when I first asked him. He saw the improvements I have been having one-on-one, and understood how it could now help us move in a more positive direction. I have said it before and I will continue to preach it – EVERYONE can benefit from therapy.

Pets – The love of an animal is such a beautiful thing. They do not care about any of the baggage you have, and just show you unconditional love. Now, I’m not suggesting in order to achieve happiness everyone must go out and adopt a dog (although that would be amazing). If your life style does not best suit a dog, that is understandable. It takes a lot of time and effort to have a dog and it is not for everyone. If this is you, then try to go for a walk at a dog park on a weekend. Not only will you love the fresh air, but these are the best days for PUPPIES. I find my local dog parks are full of puppies on the weekends, and I just love it. Puppies are so clumsy and dopey they can put a smile on anyone’s face.

Well there you have it, just a few of the things that help me to stay sane. You are also allowed to just stay in all day and binge watch tv. There is nothing wrong with telling the rest of the world to fuck off and just sit around in your track pants. Just do it one day though, the next day you have to get up.

CEA Blood Test

With my next scan only four weeks away, my anxiety is growing with each passing day. Thankfully, I can’t remember the last time I cried all day, so that’s a positive. I am trying to stay in the mind set that there is nothing I can really do to have the results I wish. The holidays were hard on my body. More alcohol than I have drank in the past three years combined, and enough sweets and salts to go along with it. But that was to be expected and I do not feel like I over indulged. I have to constantly remind myself that I have to quit the “blame game”. If my scan results are bad, that is not because I had a larger piece of pie for Christmas, or because I had two glasses of wine with dinner – there was nothing I could do to prevent it. I am starting to truly believe that. I am cleaning up my eating again because I was to stay consistently healthy for a longer period of time than just three month periods.

I’ve decided after this next scan to change up my follow up schedule. When most cancer patients enter the NED (no existing disease) stage, they all have roughly the same schedule. Two to three years having a CT scan and blood test every three months, the following two years it drops to every six, and at that beautiful five year mark it goes to once a year. This is because with each passing year, your chances of reoccurence technically lowers. Of course, every body is different, but overall this seems to be the case. I however would like to do things differently, as I always seem to do. With colon cancer a good indicator that something is changing is when your CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) levels in your blood are increasing. This isn’t a perfect way to tell if your cancer is back, but it is usually pretty accurate.

Just in case you have no idea what I am talking about – the CEA test measures the amount of a certain protein that may appear in the blood of some people who have certain kinds of cancers, especially cancer of the large intestine (colon and rectal cancer). A healthy person should have CEA level under 4. A smoker is typically under 6. In the late summer of 2015, after my lung surgery, my CEA level was 4. Fast forward to Spring of 2016, when my cancer was back in my liver and lungs, my CEA level was 44.

At my last check up in October my CEA level was 0.3. Yep – that was a shocker. So this month if my levels have increased a significant amount, then something very well could be going on inside. However if they remain very low, I will feel confident that I am on the right track. So I will switch things up and only get my blood taken in May. If that level is also low then my new CT scan and CEA test will be in July – at the six month mark. If my levels are raised in April then we will scan away. I figure I will save myself the stress, and the radiation, if I push it to the six month mark. I haven’t really been able to unwind and enjoy my life in the NED world because my scan is always looming in the back of my mind. So maybe having it every six months will help with that. I guess we will find out.

Fingers and toes crossed that this scan and blood test is clear!