Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Tag: Best-laid Christmas Plans Derailed

Looking at Cancer in the Rearview Mirror

Looking at Cancer in the Rearview Mirror

December was incredibly busy. In addition to the frenetic energy of five- and six-year-olds as they anticipated the arrival of Santa, I had what must have been an all time high number of health related appointments. My teaching schedule led up to the Friday before Christmas and with eleven appointments for my health, little time for shopping or card writing remained. Needless to say, I accomplished little in preparation for the holiday, which passed quietly and simply.

However, some very exciting things happened during December and the early days of January. In December, I had follow-Looking at Cancer in the Rearview Mirrorup tests to monitor my progress after chemo and had mixed results from the PET/CT scan. While there was no evidence of cancer (grand shout of jubilant relief), a growth noted on my original CT scan from 2015 showed enlargement. Consequently to avoid future problems, the oncologist referred me to another specialist for a biopsy to determine the nature of the growth.

Although the oncologist recommended I take a break, enjoy the holidays, and schedule the biopsy for February or March, the office staff from the specialist’s office called, worked me into the schedule for a consult, and then scheduled me for the complicated biopsy just two days later–all before the end of the year. I think it is the only time I have ever had a health care provider work me in before the new year in order to take advantage of my deductible already being met.

The growth turned out to be nothing worrisome. In fact, I was probably born with it, but for some reason it has gotten bigger.

Anticipating the preliminary findings of the biopsy would ultimately be confirmed and with my oncologist’s blessing, I met with the surgeon in preparation for the removal of my mediport.

With family far away and friends back to work after the holidays, I decided not to undergo general anesthesia, but instead to have my mediport removed using local anesthetic so I could drive myself to and from the hospital. As a non-emergency, outpatient procedure, mine was pushed back from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., then to 1:00, and finally to 3:00 p.m. All of the staff were very kind and apologetic about the time changes, but for me the exact time of day simply did not matter.

While in surgery, everything went smoothly. When the surgeon said the mediport was out of my chest, I cried–not from pain or discomfort, but from sheer happiness.

Before Christmas when my oncologist told me he had no reservations about having my mediport removed, I was over the moon–not because the mediport caused undue discomfort, but because it symbolized the pain and uncertainty of cancer and chemotherapy. Having my mediport out heralded my return health and traversing the final length of the cancer detour.

Although for the next four and a half years I will be monitored regularly to detect any sign of cancer, I am content knowing the expectation of trained medical experts is that in 2017 and beyond, I will continue to be looking at cancer in the rearview mirror.

Managing Chemo Side Effects

One of the most important conversations I had with the oncologist before starting chemotherapy highlighted all possible side effects and how to go about managing chemo side effects.

Nausea, cold sensitivity, infertility, hair loss, skin dryness, neuropathy, low white cell count, low platelet count, risk of infection, mouth sores, etcetera. For each chemo regimen, the list varies, but nothing on any list is very appealing.

Knowing what might lay ahead helped me feel equipped and  empowered as I started chemo. In fact after the first round of chemo, I thought I knew what to expect and talked to the oncologist about how to mitigate the most bothersome side effect that I had experienced. I felt confident that I was well prepared for dealing with this chemo thing.

Then came round two. Side effects were similar, except that the main side effect from round one was no longer an issue and the preventive measures I took actually made me miserable.

From round to round, I have found that the side effects can vary somewhat or other times widely. Sometimes one will be worse than another and just as soon as I have a plan with the oncologist to mitigate the most bothersome, another pops up and the first one doesn’t seem so bad.

Yes, it makes planning difficult. But sometimes, it is also a relief when nausea that had persisted from round to round suddenly isn’t a problem at all in one round. I still believe that being informed and prepared for chemo is preferable to going in without the information. I am grateful for sites like livestrong.com and the American Cancer Society that provide information about the side effects of chemotherapy for different kinds of cancer.

For me, managing chemo side effects is a little like playing a video game: Just when you think you have it mastered, you get bumped up to the next level where the environment is the same, but the variables have changed.

They say forewarned is forearmed and indeed I can say that at this point in my chemotherapy I am ready for just about anything.

 

Best-laid Christmas Plans Derailed

Best-laid Christmas Plans Derailed by Family Illness

The best-laid Christmas plans derailed due to unexpected family illness. While on chemotherapy, I maintain a quiet, sequestered life to protect me from the risk of infection. Once I realized my chemo schedule would leave me free the entire week of Christmas, I made plans with family to spend the week at my elder sister’s home and go across town to my parents’ home for various activities, including gift opening and Christmas dinner. I anticipated this special time to enjoy with my loved ones. Little did I know a severe, highly contagious virus would sweep through the household, resulting in our best-laid Christmas plans derailed.

Best-laid Christmas Plans Derailed

Annual Tradition of Admiring Christmas Light Displays Was Missing a Few Important People

Early in the week, it became apparent that sickness had hit my parents’ house. First one, and then another fell ill with a nasty respiratory virus, making it imprudent for me to be in close contact with my dear family. Thankfully, my sister’s family across town remained healthy, so I stayed nearby with the hope that the virus would pass quickly.

 

We had also all joined in a family meeting using Skype early in the week, so I began to think about Skyping with one sister who could not be with us for Christmas for gift opening. It seemed to be the next best thing to being there.

As Christmas dawned, family members were still ill, making it impossible for me safely join them for our planned celebration. So, we cooked dinner in separate kitchens across town, transported dishes for Christmas dinner and gifts, and then logged into Skype so that we could watch as gifts were passed around and opened.

Although I did not get the hugs I normally enjoy while home to visit, amazingly, the joy of Christmas surrounded us and we were able to watch via Skype as each one peeled back wrapping paper of carefully selected gifts. Skyping made us slow down and focus on each individual family member, appreciating the joy of receiving a well chosen gift and the resulting gratitude expressed. And, we sent one another air hugs and other expressions of love through cyberspace.

While we had seen our best-laid Christmas plans derailed, we still savored a delicious, potluck home-cooked Christmas dinner and celebrated this special time together through the miracle of modern technology.

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