To Do List: Beat cancer … live my dreams (where my story began)

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12/01/17 Legal notice:   The information contained on this site is primarily my own expressions and experiences during anal cancer treatments.  All content provided is for educational and informational purposes only.   My story, and the information that accompanies it— in part or in its entirety, may not be used without my written consent and it may not be used with the intent of personal monetary gain by any other person or group.  This is effective immediately and covers not only what has been written to date, but also any future writings or addendums.  

   

Hello.

My name is Laura.  I’m new to blogging.    You see, I haven’t achieved extraordinary feats, studied rocket science or saved a despairing village from imminent danger.   I am …  just me.   And, in the past, even if I felt that I had something of importance to share,  I simply wouldn’t have taken the time to write.

So, what changed?     I learned that I had cancer.   Anal cancer.  From that moment I began transforming from ordinary to extraordinary … I left the safety of unremarkable and became a warrior, a survivor.    

So, after much thought,  I began blogging to share my experiences and the information that I’ve learned during my journey through CANCER.   My hope is two-fold:   to bring awareness about this “rare” cancer, thus reducing the stigma, and to give support to fellow survivors. Please know that you are NOT ALONE.   

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This chapter of my life began shortly after I said “yes” to the man of my dreams on January 1, 2013.  It was one week later,  on January 8th, that I learned that the biopsy taken from my routine screening colonoscopy showed cancer.  The colonoscopy was routine.  I was just “at that age” to get screened.  I had no symptoms Again, I had NO SYMPTOMS.   But now, out of seemingly nowhere, I had cancer.

Anal cancer.

I didn’t even really know what that was ……. not even sure I’d heard of ANAL cancer.

Oh wait a minute ….. wait …… it’s the cancer that Farrah Fawcett died from.

Squamous cell carcinoma” were the first words that jumped off the page of the pathology report.

Pathology report
Pathology report

My head immediately began spinning.   I’ll never forget that day, reading that report.  The experience was surreal and the events seemingly took place in     s l o w     m o t i o n.

I continued to read on and I read other scary medical terms such as “severely dysplastic“, “basaloid features“, “poorly differentiated“, “lymphovascular invasion”   and  “possibility of invasive squamous cell carcinoma“.   Okay, at least there was the wordpossibility  I liked the word possibility!  That’s not definitive.  Right?

“Possibility” did not equal  ABSOLUTELY.

Possibility meant HOPE.

Pathology report

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I felt kind of numb as I tried to make sense out of the words.

I needed to take a step back and  BREATHE.

I breathed with intention.  I breathed in HOPE and breathed out FEAR.     It wasn’t easy, but I can be very headstrong.  More of the fear (of the unknown) left me when I talked with my surgeon (Dr. R.) about the prognosis.

 

She was very calm…  and that was reassuring.   I didn’t cry.  I learned that anal cancer is very treatable and that mine was a squamous cell cancer, like skin cancer.   People get skin cancers removed all the time, right?   I was  feeling optimistic.   The prognosis, she told me, would be  determined by several factors:  the size of the tumor (mine was SMALL),   the tumor’s site (mine was at the anal/rectal junction), and whether or not the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes (had to be determined).  Right then, at that very moment, I became encouraged.     I just needed to have another biopsy taken to see if she could “get it all”.   Basically, if the second biopsied section had no cancer cells on the outside edges of the specimen, then she got it all.  That would mean that it had not spread.    After that biopsy, I had to wait for a very long week to find out the results.  On February 7th, I learned that my doctor, indeed, was not able to get it all.  My heart sank and I knew what that meant.

I had to see an oncologist (Dr. A.) and because the cancer displayed some aggressive tendencies, he scheduled me for a PET scan (Positron emission tomography)  and an endoscope to get the necessary information he needed to decide the stage.

 

In the meantime, upon physical exam,  he did not find any enlarged or tender nodes so he expected that it was NOT in my lymph nodes.  “ Right now“, he said,” we are going forward as if it’s Stage I“.  Stage I meant that the cancer was localized.  That was great news!  The treatment plan was mapped out, and learned that I’d be going through a regimen of both chemo and radiation.   Dr. Auber explained that I would be scheduled for 5-1/2 weeks of daily (5-days a week) radiation and two rounds of 2 types of chemotherapy.  The first chemo would take place 4 days (simultaneously) with the first four days of radiation, and then again over the very last four days of my radiation.  What a way to start and end my treatment.   Ugh.

The names of “my” chemo drugs were Mitomycin and 5-fluoroucil (also more commonly, although not affectionately, known as “5-FU”).  According to one of my doctors from the Cancer Center, there was approximately a 60% chance that I’d lose my hair.   Scary words to me.  In trying to become as comfortable as possible with that idea, I tried AND TRIED to convince myself that it’s “only hair”.   I failed miserably.   I became terrified at the thought, so I played around with digital pictures of myself, removing all my hair.  I laughed as someone said that I look like my son in that picture (he shaves his head).  As I have boldly posted below, this was my futile attempt to prepare myself for possible baldness.

A composite photo of me ... I was attempting to prepare myself for what I might look like without hair.
A composite photo of me … I was attempting to prepare myself for what I might look like without hair.

Buried deep within my emotions, words  stormed my mind:  BALD,  HAIR CLUMPS,  FREAK,  WIGS,  PICTURES,  STARES,  SELF-PITY,  UNATTRACTIVE, PALENESS, DARK  HOLLOW EYES, INDIVIDUALS GLANCING AND THEN TURNING AWAY and the really scary one,  ALONENESS.   In my heart I “knew” that I had unconditional support from my fiancée and family, and that they would go the distance with me, but I just couldn’t make the insecurities stop.  The thoughts and words seemed to be screaming at me.  It was loud and it was maddening.   At that point, I cried.   A lot.  And that frustrated me even more because I know that cancer is becoming more and more prevalent.  It invades virtually every family.     I demanded myself to not feel any self pity.  And I will say that I was successful in that.  Of course I had struggles mixed in a myriad of emotions.   But self-pity was not one of them.  And that was the beginning of the realization of my strength.

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Anyway ….  back to the treatment plan ……  After my rounds of chemo,  I would get injections of a drug called Neupogen.  It’s a white blood cell stimulator.  The thing that sucks about chemo is that not only does it kill cancer cells, but it readily kills healthy cells too.  That can leave the patient immunosuppressed and vulnerable to infections.   My head was spinning from information overload.   And, although exhausted from my consultation with Dr. Auber, I felt good about having him as my doctor.  He was kind, compassionate and extremely intelligent.  He spent hours with me.  If I so much as hiccupped in 1972, he wanted to know.               { Well, he SEEMED to be that detailed.}        As I answered his questions, I could just see the gears turning in his mind.  I knew that I was in good hands.  And that spoke volumes because I was prepared to go to Johns Hopkins if I was uncomfortable at all with the local cancer center.   So, we moved forward.  When the results of the PET scan came back, I learned that the cancer was traveling to, and was nearly at, a lymph node.  What that meant for me is that I would undergo another procedure.  My oncologist talked to my  surgeon and asked her to “find” that hot spot and biopsy it.   After nearly 3 hours (it was “normally” a 20-minute procedure) she found it and performed a fine needle aspiration at the site.  The aspirate was sent to the pathologists.   When that report came back, because the cancer was RIGHT NEXT TO, but not actually IN a lymph node, I was staged as a Stage 3A.    And so the journey began ……….  and, much to my surprise, I found out just how strong I am …………….……

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C…….CCLICK HERE →..Music Video of “STRONG ENOUGH”, by Matthew West…..

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[side note:  I gave my fiancée an “out” …. this diagnosis was more than either of us bargained for …. he did not run …. he did not hesitate …. he simply pulled me close and loved me through my treatments]

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Thanks for visiting my site.  If you have any questions or comments, please contact me.

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Mark 5:36b — “Don‘t be afraid; just believ

4 thoughts on “To Do List: Beat cancer … live my dreams (where my story began)

  1. thanks so much laura..i will enjoy reading the rest of your story..i am just so thrilled that the outcome is so good…love and prayers..

  2. You are a strong, loving, determined, smart, and generous woman. You are a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, wife, and friend. Cancer does not define you, you are a SURVIVOR!

  3. Thanks for sharing Laura. I thought about and prayed often for you. I”m so glad that things where caught in time. I respect your courage to let us see what all that you have been thru.

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