Thursday, March 12, 2015

11 Years Cancer Free!

If we have been friends for a while then you know that I rarely talk about being a cancer survivor. If we've become friends since last March then now you know something new about me. Every year on this day I post a little something about making it through another year cancer free. I was very fortunate and never had to undergo chemo or radiation. My cancer was caught early enough that I was able to have surgery to remove the cancer and it hadn't spread so I didn't need any further treatment. 

11 years ago today, March 12th, I had a Laparoscopic Radical TrachelectomyWhile the surgery removed the cancer and the lymph node removal showed that it hadn't spread, and I was told the next day (or maybe 2 days later) that I was officially "cancer free," I was not out of the woods. What was supposed to be a 4 hour surgery turned into a 7 hour surgery with many unforeseen complications that I still live with today.

If you have ever had surgery then you are familiar with the recovery room and process; you slowly wake up, slightly confused, and a little groggy. Or if you're like me and the video One by Metallica is permanently imprinted in your memory (it might seem overly dramatic but this was seriously my first thought, because I could not move, and I didn't have my glasses so I couldn't see either), you start to wiggle your toes, legs and arms to make sure all your parts move. Well aside from being hopped up on morphine and coming off all the anesthesia, I was still fairly lucid. Once I realized I needed my glasses to see I also realized that I couldn't move my legs. I could feel them but they did not move. Talk about a freak out. Of course I told the nurses and they assured me that it was just a residual affect from the anesthesia and the mobility would come back shortly. WRONG! Eventually my left leg was okay but my right leg never regained full mobility, in fact I couldn't move it from the knee down at all and it was cold. Needless to say I was pissed and scared, but that's when it dawned on me, I had just painted my toes the night before surgery because I knew I wouldn't be able to bend for weeks. Luckily I had chose one of those "mood changing" polishes; Toma Toma in a purple shade to be exact. 

You see the thing about those polishes wasn't about mood, but they in fact changed color based on body temperature. Cold caused the polish to become dark and opaque and heat or warmth caused the polish to become light and almost sheer. Luckily Dan knew this since I had shared this magical knowledge with him in the past and that's when I asked him to look at my toes! BAM that was all the proof we needed! My left leg and foot were regular warm and so those toes were a light lavender color and my right toes were completely dark purple and opaque. And since Dan was not on pain killers he was able to explain this to the doctors in a way that sounded way more sane that I did.  So after hours of complaining to every doctor and nurse and then our new scientific realization, they finally listened and after a few different tests, found that I had a blocked femoral artery.

Less than 24 hours after my initial surgery they had to perform emergency surgery to unblock the artery. Since I had just had major surgery they could not administer TPA. I remember the doctors were shocked that I even knew what that was, but like I said, I was still fairly lucid even with the drugs. Plus at the time I was working for the company that made TPA so it was fresh in my mind. I also remember telling them that just because I was on drugs didn't mean they could fuck with me and they better tell me what was going on and WHY they couldn't give me TPA. I've always had a potty mouth but pain meds seem to bring it out even more lol. I also remember laying on the gurney and telling them to stop hurting me because I had just had major surgery. You think I'm bossy now, imagine when I'm in major pain and on hardcore drugs. I think I even told one doctor that I didn't like him because he was too mean. I later found out he also happened to be one of the top surgeons in his field and the one who essentially saved my life. Good thing they are used to belligerent patients. 

Due to the circumstances and the urgency of everything they had to immediately put me out, cut me open and perform yet another major surgery. Of course not without more arguing over who would essentially sign the consent form since I wasn't able to do so myself. That's when I found out that "domestic partner" didn't mean shit, but the title of "fiance'" did. So after the surgeon flat out telling me that if I said Dan was my fiance then he could sign the consent form, otherwise the only other person at the hospital at midnight was my then 19 year old sister, who I love dearly, but I couldn't trust a 19 year old to sign for my life. So we lied and Dan went along with the lie that we were engaged (we did actually get engaged later that year). Another successful surgery but this time apparently I lost a lot of blood so when I woke up from that surgery I was connected to a shit load of tubes and I had a central line. Imagine my reaction when I woke up still unable to move my leg and had a tube sticking out of my neck. It was like a never ending house of horrors and it hadn't even been a full 2 days yet. 

The good thing is the clot was a complete fluke, because prior to surgery I was not at risk for a clot, but due to being in an inverted position for 7 hours, it happened. I've been to the vascular surgeon since and each time he says that he doesn't want to see me again till I'm 80. I'll take that as a good thing. 

So within 24 hours I had 2 major surgeries, got temporarily pretend engaged, became cancer free, had a blood transfusion, got 6 brand new scars and was unable to walk, not to mention the horrific amount of pain I was in. And technically, had I not bitched so much about not being able to move my leg I probably wouldn't be here today, but I try not to dwell on that part. 

And just when I thought that was the end of it I had more complications that lead to 3 more procedures, another major surgery 2 months later and 3 more scars, and still a gimp leg, oh and I almost forgot, permanent nerve damage in my right leg, aka my bad leg or my bandy leg.

I had to use a walker for a while, then I graduated to a cane and eventually moved on to a bit of a slow drag leg walk because I refused to let cancer win, because even though my leg had nothing to do with the cancer itself, it was because of the surgery to remove the cancer that all of this happened. At one point, after my last surgery I remember laying in my hospital bed talking to my oncologist, who was awesome and didn't mince words at all, and she told me very candidly that that I would be lucky to walk again, that I may never walk normal again (meaning without assistance or some kind of limp), to start looking at flats that I liked because I could forget about ever wearing heels again and that I wouldn't ever dance again. Talk about a crushing blow. Not only had I already been through hell and back, but when everything started I was teaching belly dance and of course wearing heels (only up to 3" back then) and simply living life. This was all supposed to be a somewhat simple 6 weeks off and then back to the grind. I had already quit my dance troupe but teaching kept me active and happy and still doing what I loved and there was no way in hell I was letting cancer take that away from me, not after everything I had been through. She may as well have punched me in my incision and broken my gimp leg at that point because aside from fighting to heal, there was no way in hell I was going to let her be right. I was too young, too stubborn, too strong and too determined to prove the doctors and statistics right. At this point the cancer was gone, I was cancer free dammit and if I beat that, then a little nerve damage wasn't going to get the best of me!

It took about a year before I could walk without visible signs of any disability, and maybe a year and a half before I stopped falling and hurting myself even more (well at least due to my bad leg), but eventually with the help of physical therapy and yoga and a chiropractor, my leg got stronger. I continued to see my army of doctors all the time and here we are 11 years later and I am still cancer free and wearing crazy ass 4"-6" heels and doing what I love most, DANCING! 

About 2 years after my surgery my oncologist moved back to Canada and I was passed on to another amazing oncologist who I saw at least 3 times a year for many years and finally a few years ago he told me that while my case was one of the most interesting he has ever been involved in and that they are still writing journals of everything that occurred and that he liked chatting and hearing good news, that he didn't want to see me again unless I was bored and wanted to stop in and say hi or if the cancer returned. That was probably the best news ever. About 3 years ago I saw another one of my surgeons for a follow up and he didn't even recognize me, until he saw the nails (apparently its one of my trademarks). He was shocked at how far I'd come and how good I looked which made me think 2 things; 1) how bad was I that he was so shocked, and 2) fuck yeah, I beat it all and here I am stronger than before and clearly looking pretty damn good after all these years and the hell I went through. 

Not a day goes by that there isn't a constant reminder of what I have been through; whether its the physical scars that I see every morning, 9 to be exact, the teal ribbon that I have tattooed on my forearm, trying to do something in dance class and my leg decides that it doesn't want to cooperate, when it's too cold out and my right calf and foot cramp up on me so bad that I can barely move or that I see my current physical therapist/acupuncturist on what seems to be a monthly basis because of some residual affect of my bandy leg and being unable to do anything for so long. And yes sometimes it sucks and I get angry but most of the time I try and remember how far I've come, that I proved all the doctors wrong and that I'm still here and healthy and my own best advocate and that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. 

And if for some reason you're wondering why I'm putting all this out there now, it's because it's about time. I've struggled for years to "put it on paper" in hopes to help another woman struggling with their diagnosis and while I did leave a lot out, at least it's a start. 

So fuck cancer, and ladies get your annual EVERY YEAR!!! Not every 2 or 3 years like some doctors tell you, but every single fucking year even if you have to pay out of pocket! One important thing I almost left out... Prior to the cancer diagnosis I had never had an abnormal PAP. I went to the gyno every year like clockwork and was always healthy and my life literally changed in 12 months. And I never had any symptoms. So while that may not be the norm, it can happen and it happened to me!