Port on the Starboard Side

Holy insomnia. I actually did sleep for a few hours last night but it was one of those sleeps where your dreams are so intense and bizarre that you don’t feel rested. Full disclosure- I don’t fully remember all of the details but it was some combination of being part of being a newly retired olympic gymnast and Big Brother contestant. Neither of which I’d be very good at in real life (can’t do flips, bad a comps, not competitive). Although it beats my Stranger Things inspired dream from the previous night that left me a little hesitant to find my way to the bathroom in the dark (note to self: string Christmas lights and befriend Eleven for protection).

winona-strangerstranger-things-1-6-1289000-75

I’ve been awake from 3am-6am to embrace the weird/non sleep and get caught up on Big Brother.

Non-fans of any of these shows…just move on. Clearly the sleep deprivation is not conducive to a clear and concise actual treatment update.

Anyway, I’ll keep the rest semi-short and sweet.

Monday I had the new port placed. I was told it would likely go on the left side of my chest but they did an ultrasound beforehand and determined that despite scar tissue from the previous port they would still have no problem placing it where it was before on my right.

The port was placed under VIR (vascular and interventional radiology) at Rhode Island Hospital. It was the same place where the first port and PICC line were put in so I had an idea of what to expect. I was under conscious sedation so although I was awake sterile barriers prevented me from seeing what was happening and IV drugs prevented me from feeling it.

I will be honest, leading up to that day I wasn’t nervous or concerned but when I was in the waiting room after check in I had a mini-moment where I was feelning pretty overwhelmed. Cory was with me and talked me through it like the champ he is. I don’t even think it was the procedure itself that freaked me out, I just felt triggered by simply being there. Remember, my only experiences at RIH have involved getting ports placed or the ICU for septic shock. Not a great track record for fond memories.

The night after surgery I didn’t sleep at all. I was in a lot of pain and nothing seemed to take the edge off. I can best describe it like Conor McGregor slugging you in the collarbone as hard as he can. 513972668-conor-mcgregor-punches-nate-diaz-in-their-gettyimages

I returned to work the next day, which happened to be “moving day”. Our office was renovated over the summer so we were moving back in from our temporary space in the library. I couldn’t have been more useless on moving day. As always, I’m fortunate to have such compassionate co-workers. Shout out to Doug Hillis for moving my boxes for me. I was able to slowly but surely get unpacked and I am so thrilled with the new space. The office layout will be a little different to get acclimated to but my actual office looks phenomenal.

The pain has subsided over the past few days and luckily I can say it’s no longer sore. At chemo yesterday, Rosa removed the big bandage and revealed that it’s healing nicely. We were able to use the port with no issues for my Taxol infusion.

New Port…not Newport.

Final notes-

Thanks to Stacey for the chemo visit (I owe you a better hang out…Eskimo King stat). Double thanks to my parents for the post-chemo surprise visit yesterday!

Anyway, it’s a decent hour and I need to get ready for work.

Happy Friday!

Advertisements

Eat, Work, Chemo

Knock on wood…

I’ve managed to stay out of the hospital for over two weeks now.

giphy

Let’s let that one sink in for a minute.

I’m grateful for every second that I can live my life on the outside. We take slow, incremental steps to reestablish a sense of normalcy. It’s not easy…but it’s lightyears better than where I was just weeks ago.

1.) Going back to work

giphy1

Although have been working remotely throughout medical leave on projects, reports, etc. I’ve been transitioning back to the office little by little since mid-July. Part in person/part telecommuting. The nature of summer in undergraduate advising (after orientation of course) involves some sparse phone appointments but mostly administrative work to gear up for the next academic year. Degree audits to make sure your rising seniors are on track for graduation (and to light a small forest fire under the ones that aren’t), adjusting freshmen schedules to account for their AP/transfer credits, finalizing study abroad course contracts, prerequisite reports, and general ‘i’ dotting and ‘t’ crossing. It’s pretty low-key stuff but keeps me busy and isn’t terribly draining. That said, my return is well timed.

The fall semester is full on. Two straight weeks of walk-in’s during the add/drop period, classroom presentations and workshops, probation meetings, study abroad advising, registration advising, collaboration with other departments on projects/events and “other duties as assigned”. Student contact is high and this is where more of the student development piece (my favorite piece) comes in. It can be intense, but it’s truly the part I love the most.

Part of living with chronic illness is having to make tough choices about your limitations. As someone who fiercely cares about the work I do, I don’t like “scaling back” or not taking advantage of opportunities to grow in my role. One tough choice came recently when I decided to take a step back from a teaching opportunity in the fall. To be clear, no one at work made me feel as if I had to do this. I’ve gotten nothing but support to take on this additional role. I just knew that in light of this summer from hell, I didn’t want to put my students or the rest of the staff in a tough position if these secondary health issues were to persist. It’s just not fair to anyone.

For now I’m going to keep focusing on my advising role, partnership with the Honors Program, and advising the Colleges Against Cancer club. That keeps me plenty busy.

2.) Om nom noms (…eating)

Reteaching your body anything that is supposed to come naturally is nothing but frustrating. When you’re a baby learning how to eat solids you aren’t worried about the capacity of your stomach or if/how certain foods will digest. Babies eat, poop, occasionally throw up, and move on quickly into hysterical laughter when someone blows a raspberry on their belly.

When I say relearning how to eat, in this case, I don’t mean relearning how to chew or swallow. I’m referring to my atrophied stomach slowly growing to increase food intake and the intestines absorbing nutrients and passing the food without obstruction. It is easy to get in your own head and stress yourself out. There is a sense of urgency to gain weight because I’m super underweight but you also walk a fine line of taking in calories but not so much that you exceed the (very small) capacity of the stomach.

I have been off of TPN for just over a week now and luckily, I didn’t lose weight. I thought that my dietitian would be concerned that I didn’t gain this week because she really hammered home the importance of a 1400 calorie per day diet. Knowing that I didn’t even come remotely close to 1400 calories per day or even 1000 for that matter, I put myself in a tizzy and shed some involuntary tears when she asked how the week went. She was incredibly encouraging and reminded me that this is a process and that I have a lot to be proud of. Getting off of TPN and not losing more weight, actually digesting the food I can take in, eating at a restaurant, are all victories. I felt a huge weight lifted after that conversation.

So things I’ve mostly been taking in that have agreed with me: Stonyfield whole milk baby yogurt, blended fruit/vegetable pouches (yes also for babies), smoothies, cottage cheese, rice cereals, milk (cow or coconut), soft fruits without skin or seeds, very soft cooked vegetables without skin or seeds, bagels, grilled chicken, rice, noodle dishes (lo mein, pad thai), hummus, pita chips, soups, ice cream…

Oh and I was able to eat half of an insanely good reuben (sans saurkraut) the other day. I was in love and proud of myself for keeping it down.

I am fortunate to have a damn good cook in the house so it’s nice to enjoy Cory’s creations as tolerated in small portions. This week I actually ate a small helping of braised short ribs, crispy polenta, and mushrooms:

wp-1470089314967.jpg

Not bad for an architectural lighting salesman, eh?

I’m sure most people could house the above meal in two bites but that’s just about how much my stomach can take right now. It was perfect. I look forward to my stomach normalizing even more to take advantage of Cory’s natural culinary talents.

3.) Getting rid of the PICC

The PICC line was supposed to come out yesterday and I was supposed to have the new port placed this coming Tuesday BUT a scheduling miscommunication has pushed both back. I won’t have the port placed until August 15th which means I need the PICC for another week to receive chemo.

5

I was disappointed but in the grand scheme of things, living with a PICC line for one more week is nothing in comparison to anything else I’ve had to do this summer.


So that’s it for now. I have a big weekend lined up with both Cory’s parents and my parents coming to visit. Should be a lot of fun to get everyone together 🙂 It’ll be good to see family after having a slightly emotionally challenging week.

Perhaps next week will turn around as flawlessly as Meyhem Lauren.

giphy2

 

 

Chicken Broth for Breakfast

It’s about 8:30am and the doctors haven’t rounded yet. I feel like rounding usually takes place a lot earlier but maybe on Saturdays they get a later start? I don’t know, I’m usually pretty foggy in the hospital so I haven’t kept tabs on average rounding time in the past.

I’m especially anxious to see the doctors because they are the ones to decide whether or not I can graduate to a clear liquid diet. I didn’t have any pain since yesterday morning and my guts had “good bowel sounds” which is promising. If all goes well, clear breakfast would consist of some tea, juice, jello, and chicken broth. It’s the breakfast of champions and, in my head, a Michelin Star meal after not eating anything since Wednesday morning. My limited “breakfast” Wednesday didn’t even stay with me if you catch my drift so really I haven’t had a meal since Tuesday evening. Ooph.

It’s like food and I are playing this cat and mouse game. When I’m able to eat, I have no appetite. When my guts are on the fritz and I’m not allowed to eat I can think of anything more desirable. I tortured myself all day yesterday watching hours of the Food Network and scrolling through Instagram accounts of gooey grilled cheeses and waffles and the like.

This is pretty much the inner workings of my brain right now:

azvp48g9bizlk7uombiv

****BREAKING NEWS****

Because this is being written in real time and I’m not going back to re-write the first half of this entry. Doctor’s have rounded and I’ve been cleared for clears! There were even talks of “something more substantial” and unhooking me from my IV later in the day if breakfast goes well.

tumblr_n4gwpdcwaw1rdutw3o1_400

(Don’t worry, I’ll take it slow)

Hurray for progress. Pretty much as long as I continue not to throw up and my guts behave, I may forsee going home soon (not today), but soon 🙂

Thank you for the continued encouragement through this silly and frustrating hiccup ❤

Cautiously Optimistic

Chemocation, oh sweet chemocation. You sure have been good to me.

Since holding the Taxol my hands have returned to their original size. My appetite is much improved and the consistent nausea is all but gone.

giphy1

I am grateful for this break to rebuild my body as it has been taken a slow beating over time.

Well folks, let the good times roll because we have decided to continue to hold Taxol and only pursue Avastin for the foreseeable future. I believe I touched on this a few weeks back when I mentioned that we would do a CT scan and “re-evaluate” come summertime.

Ultimately it seemed silly to go back on Taxol for one cycle knowing we may hold it again shortly after. So here is the new plan-

  • Avastin (the antibody) infusion once every three weeks
  • Check up with the oncologist every six weeks
  • CT Scan on May 13th

If the scan shows improvement or at least no new disease, we can stick with this plan. Otherwise, I have the option to go back on Taxol. In any case, there is really no harm in just seeing if Avastin could be enough to keep me well.

One might be asking, “if Taxol has been working, why would you voluntarily drop it?”

My answer lies in faith and trust. I have faith that Avastin (alongside nourishing food/exercise/holistic practices) could be enough to give me the quality of life we have been striving for and slowly achieving after all of this time. I have trust that should this plan reach a point where is must change, we have safety nets in place. As Mom so perfectly stated today, it is perfectly okay to be cautiously optimistic.

So with that, let’s get excited for what is to come. Hopefully improved health, a new home, and a fresh chapter.

happy-and-excited-gif

Recovering as George

First, I must thank you for the outpouring of support over the past week while I spent four nights in the hospital resolving the obstruction in my small intestine. The words of encouragement mean more than you know especially when you feel like much is out of your realm of control.

I was discharged on Wednesday and have been trying, successfully I might add, to proceed with a high level of self-care. I pretty much needed to fight all of my natural instincts. So basically I’m operating on the “Constanza Principle”…

 

  • Instinct #1: I haven’t been at work in many days and I have to go back on Thursday or the world will explode
    • Opposite action: I was strongly encouraged and well supported by my supervisors and colleagues to return on Monday when I was feeling better. I was admittedly starting to feel anxious as my inbox piled up with questions that I couldn’t necessarily answer from home so I made a compromise with myself. I slept in on Thursday and at my leisure went to my office for an hour MAX, closed my office door, knocked out enough to feel less anxious, and went home.
  • Instinct #2: I am discharged which should mean that things are improving. There is nothing to talk about.
    • Opposite action: The night I was discharged one of the first things I did was email Dana, my social worker, at the hospital and ask for an appointment this week to “debrief”.
      • I will write more about this next week but one thing I have learned time and time again and not properly addressed is that when you are hospitalized you have experienced a trauma (anyone who truly understands what it’s like to have an NG tube placed while you’re awake can give me a chorus of “amen sister!”). Trauma’s are not all blood and gore- you are in a vulnerable position, you are not in control of what is happening to you, it is a trauma, period.
      • I went into my appointment not fully knowing what I wanted to talk about. Truly, I walked in there feeling pretty stable. As I anticipated there are issues that bubbled up that started with the hospitalization and weaved into other concerns both medical and non-medical. This appointment was the best gift that I gave myself this week. To express certain concerns out loud, to validate feelings, to have a good cry in a safe space where I don’t feel inclined to edit my thoughts- it was truly healing. I’m glad I nipped this in the bud.
  • Instict #3: Resting = Sitting in pajamas and binge watching TV
    • Opposite action: 
      • Ok fine I totally binge watched The Wire and old episodes of Veep on HBO. BUT I honored myself in other ways too!
      • I invested in my body by booking a massage at the Alayne White Spa. I didn’t truly know how many knots existed in my back until I got on that table. At one point I was face down and was so relaxed that I dosed off. I woke up to my mouth gaped open like an idiot and I was totally drooling on the floor through that little face hole. I’m 99.9% sure I didn’t drool on the massage therapist’s sneakers. Fingers crossed.
        • Funny aside: As I was on my way out post-massage I ran into Heather (infusion center nurse manager) and Nancy (4th floor oncology nurse). They were there for facials that they won at a silent auction. One would think that any reminder of the hospital the day after a hospitalization would conjure up negative feelings. I was just so happy to see these lovely faces outside of a medical setting I had to fight back happy-tears.
      • In addition to the massage I also treated myself to some time in one of the more peaceful venues in Providence, The Duck and Bunny. I enjoyed a quiet snack of crusty break drizzled with olive oil with Narragansett  Creamery ricotta and a pot of chamomile tea. It was calming and so good for the soul.
  • Instinct #4: I’m out of the hospital which means I’m capable of doing things for myself
    • Opposite action: Sucking it up and letting people offer their help because it just makes life easier
      • Mom and Dad cleaned up and did my laundry so I could come home to minimal work (seriously, gems). Also after arriving home after 15 minutes of me trying to convince them that I’d “figure out” something for lunch, I gave in and let them indulge me in a sandwich from Olga’s. I would have probably made a PBJ so they called my bluff.
      • Katie “Mamamamamabear” Carlson gave me a ride to Beth and Brendan’s house to dye easter eggs with her family. Sure, I could drive myself but it was very nice to have a ride. (p.s. I’m not very good at dying easter eggs #jewishkidproblems)

 

So there we go, trying desperately to practice self-care that I speak so highly of but don’t often practice.

Off to spend the weekend with my parents and back to work on Monday, hello sh-normalcy!

 

 

 

Make Plans and Cancel Them (Maybe)

We measure wellness constantly. In my world this is mainly accomplished by making me hold my breath while being shoved through an oversized donut (CT scan) or sucking blood out of my veins by a professional vampire (phlebotomist). Just last week my primary care measured wellness using a battery of blood tests that lead me to believe that she thinks I’m malnourished. BUT in the encouraging words of my PCP: (*clears throat for best thick Russian accent) “Just LEEETLE beeet more protein. You be okay.”

Not a week has gone by in recent years where I didn’t have some kind of medical test keeping tabs on me. Are my CA-125 levels up? How are my blood counts? How big are those tumors?

It wasn’t until just today that I realized there is another test of wellness, albeit a very simple and unscientific test…

56235646

My willingness and ability to make BIG plans and keep them.

Now I don’t mean dinner and drinks on a Tuesday night after work (although keeping real pants on after 5pm is a drag). I mean looking six months down the road and saying, “Well, heck yeah! I’m absolutely down to fly to Iceland and explore aimlessly.”

Not that Iceland is set in stone but I use it as an example, a benchmark really, for my confidence in my body’s ability to behave for more than 10 goddamn seconds at a time. There was a time, not long ago, that the thought of leaving the country with this illness terrified me. What if I have an intestinal obstruction? What if I’m too sick to stick to our plans? Straying far from Women and Infants, my medical security blanket, seemed impossible.

Just a year ago there were days where I wouldn’t even commit to going to a restaurant in anticipation of throwing up endlessly and/or having my stomach explode.

Now, I’m in a place where I feel well-enough, more often. Not great all the time, far from it. But well-enough to take greater control of my desires in life and the confidence to carry out those plans. So when Cory pitched the idea of researching Iceland, my first thought wasn’t “holy crap what will I do if I’m too sick?”, it was “holy crap I totally need to save every spare penny to make this happen.”

171306-120-d379acbf

One of the best pieces of advice that I have continually soaked in from other cancer crushers is “make plans and cancel them”. Look to the future, always, but give yourself permission to back-out without guilt if you get there and your body isn’t cooperating.

So aside from the tumor markers and scans, my newest (and possibly most important) measurement of wellness is the frequency and manner in which I look to the future and make big plans. To plan beyond the everyday is certainly indicative of a slow and steady increase in wellness, quality of life, and most of all- PROGRESS.

See you under the northern lights.