My journey has begun.

Monday, August 13, 2007 
My journey has begun.
Category: Life

Friday, July 20th 2007 started like many of my Friday's often do.  I was late for work and looking forward to the weekend before I even go to my desk.  This weekend was going to be special.  The next morning I was signed up to be a on a hog wrestling team!  My girlfriend Melissa and I had a 4 girl team to wrestle a piggy at

the annual hog wrestling festival.  We had our costumes picked out and our biggest concern was how we were going to make sure we had a photographer that would be sober enough to get some good pictures.  We needed to document this totally asinine adventure...

I had no I idea that in the course of the next 24 hours I would be diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer.
When I think about that day and the days that follow, I remember them so vividly it amazes me.  I remember what I was wearing, who I talked to in what order and what was said. I mostly remember the overwhelming roller coaster of emotion that came each moment as the situation developed.

As terrible as this may sound, more wonderful things have materialized out of this situation than I ever would have imagined.  I want to share my journey with anyone who will listen.  It will take a bit of my energy to get this all down and unfortunately because of all the radiation and chemo treatments I'm currently receiving, I'm a little short on energy for now so I'm going to get some sleep tonight and continue my story as soon as I can.


OK, I've had a few days to recoup and I'm back on my laptop.

Let me first share a little about myself to help you get a feeling of where I'm standing.  I'm 30 years old, I'm a single mom of 2 of the most gorgeous and wonderful kids ever to walk the face of the earth, I'm an adventurous person and I give myself credit for staying shape and keeping healthy even though my insane schedule barely allows for sleep. 

Growing up my experiences with cancer was very traumatic.  My grandmother had breast cancer and died when I was 12.  My mother was struck with the same disease when I was 14 and she died when I was 16.  She was only 36 when she died, so as you can imagine the C word has quite an impact on my psyche especially since I hit the big 3-0 this year.

I've been very diligent over the years about staying on top of my doctors about the latest cancer screening techniques in the various articles that I read.  I've never missed a yearly physical and I even started getting mammograms last year at the age of 29.  My pap smears come back normal and all of my blood work has always looked great.  Both of my pregnancies are considered "dream pregnancies" by all my friends and I've never had any major health issue.  I had a kidney stone.  It was terrible but only lasted a short while.  I was always healthy, until now.

This is where I'm going to get a bit graphic as I'd like to be sure that any woman who reads this will know exactly what I was experiencing so that they will know what to look for this should happen to them.  I had been having some abnormal bleeding over the last six months that I had many calls into my doctor about.  We decided it was because I had screwed up my birth control (I was on the Nuva ring - loved it) by accidentally throwing off my cycle by a week.  The bleeding that was occurring between my periods was referred to by my doctors as break-through bleeding which is quite common when a woman is adjusting to the Nuva Ring.  I dealt with this bleeding for a few months after my mix up and got tired of it and called my doc to switch me to a regular birth control pill.  I had never had any break through bleeding in the past when I was on it so I thought this would nip this darn bleeding problem in the butt.  I switched, the bleeding got worse for a month and then subsided.  I should also mention that over the last year I had also had some occasional bleeding during intercourse but I struck that up to just fooling around too close to my period.   Another strange thing that I mentioned was that I thought I may have been getting another kidney stone because a few weeks ago I was having kidney pain.  I went in a few weeks earlier, they took a CAT scan of my kidneys.  They said I didn't have a kidney stone, but it looked like one had passed because my ureter was swollen.  I called and  scheduled my early physical after this.  It was scheduled for the following week.

To continue my story, I went to work that Friday just like any other day.  I was running a bit behind so I arrived at the office at 9:10 am.  I took one call that lasted a minute.  I went to the bathroom, changed tampons - I remember thinking that I probably wouldn't need it because it was the last day and there was barely any blood.  I went back to my desk and took another call.  About 5 minutes into it I was surprised to feel like I had leaked.  I thought to myself, "Did I forget to put a new tampon in?"  I headed back to the bathroom and that it really where this nightmare had began.  I sat on the toilet, saw that I leaked a little and pulled out the new tampon.  What followed scared me.  I sat on the toilet as my body dumped more blood into the toilet water than I had ever seen it.  It was even more than after I had my kids.  I was afraid to move or do anything.  Immediately I thought I was having a miscarriage... then I remembered it would have had to be immaculate conception because I hadn't had sex in a very, very long time.

I finally got myself cleaned up enough to move around the office.  I work about 40 miles away from where I live and where my doctor is.  I called my doctor's office they recommended that I go to the nearest emergency room.  I then drove myself to the hospital just a few blocks away.  By the time I arrived at the hospital it was about 9:45am.  I a lot of plans for the day and weekend.  I had a 1:00 waxing appointment that afternoon, I had to get out of work asap so I could go pack for my fun weekend of pig-wrestling shenanigans and having fun with my friends.  I was not about to change any of my plans.  I really believed when I walked into that ER that I was going to stop in, get patched up and continue on my merry way.  I didn't call anyone because it was a bit embarrassing and I knew I was going to be out of there soon.  I felt great, aside from this profuse bleeding problem I had.

I finally got a room and they nurses helped me change into a gown.  Blood immediately started streaming down my legs.  They put me on a bed with some huge pads and I soaked through everything.  After tons of paperwork and getting my backgrounds I was 1 1/2 hours into this ordeal and had yet to be seen by anyone but nurses.  Finally a Physicians Assistant came into the picture.  He said the Gynecologist on call would take some time to get to me but he wanted to do a vaginal exam and get a urine sample.  Fine.  He did the exam.  OK, I've been to the doc a few times.... this guy seemed like he was just going through the motions.  There was blood everywhere so I'm sure it was hard to see anything.  From his exam, he said everything looked "normal" aside from the bleeding.  What I found out later is that he missed a chicken egg sized tumor on the from side of my cervix that should have been staring him in the face.  I then had to give a urine sample.  Since I was bleeding so bad they had to place a catheter in my pee-hole (sorry, about the technical term shortage) in order to get a clear sample... torture!

It was now approaching noon and I asked it I was going to make my 1:00 appointment.  The nurse looked at me like I was crazy....  I still thought I would make it. 

The Gynecologist finally arrived.  He didn't do a vaginal exam.  He said the PA would have found anything he'd been looking for.  He ordered an ultrasound.  It was 12:45 when I finally decided to call and cancel my 1:00 waxing appointment.

After another long wait, they took me up to the ultrasound room where I was informed that I would need to get ANOTHER catheter, and to put the cherry on top, they would need to fill my bladder in order to get a clear ultrasound image. I braced myself and got through it.  By now it was getting close to 2:00 and I decided that i had probably tell someone where I was and I needed to be sure that the kids were going to be picked up from daycare on time.  I called my husband.  Now, I use that term loosely.  Dezy (husband) and I had been separated close to two years now and our divorce hearing was scheduled for the following Wednesday. 

I was taken back to my original room to await the Gynecologist's review of the ultrasound results.  It was close to 4:00 when I called my friend Kellie (my pig-wrestling partner in crime and very good friend) to let her know that we would be leaving late on our weekend adventure... which I still believed wholeheartedly I was going on.  I will never forget her reaction, "What?  Where are you?  Who's with you?  I'm on my way to kick your ass for not calling me earlier!" then click, she was gone.  Although I really didn't want to bother anyone with my embarrassing female problems, I was quite relived to see her friendly face when she arrived.

Now keep in mind that I have been bleeding heavily the entire day.  I was pale and my hemoglobin levels were starting to drop.  The doctor finally came in to tell me what the ultrasound determined.  He gave me a brochure on fibroids of the uterus.  Then explained that there was either a fibroid in my uterus, which can cause bleeding, or it was a large blood clot.. in my uterus.  I had two choices.  They could give me some hormones that would stop the bleeding, because this bleeding was most likely due to a hormone imbalance that was caused by my having switched birth control methods.  Or he would admit me and do a D and C.  For those of you who don't know (I didn't at the time) a D and C is where the doctors go into your uterus, scrape the entire thing and suck out anything in there.

I choose the hormones and to go home with a promise to go to my own Gynecologist on Monday.  He also warned me not to leave town (good-bye pig wrestling) because if the bleeding did not stop I would need to go to the ER where I lived.

I finally left at 6:45.  My friend Kellie drove me home and made sure everything was taken care of.  She was very worried about me and stayed with me that night to make sure I was OK.  She went to the pharmacy and bought me some giant pads so I wouldn't get blood all over my bed.  She also picked up my favorite take-out food because I hadn't eaten all day long.  What an angel.  Then she swore to me that if I was still bleeding by midnight she was hauling my butt to the ER.  I swore to her I wouldn't go.  Midnight approached.   She won the argument.  By then I was slurring my words and I looked like as white as a sheet.  On my way I called my husband and said in a very annoyed tone, "Kellie's making me go to the hospital.  I thought you should know."  He was really worried but I politely explained that Kellie was overreacting and I'd probably meet him and the kids for lunch tomorrow since I had been robbed of my pig-wrestling adventure. 

This time I went to St. Vincent's ER in Green Bay.  I went the same excruciating pelvic exams and borage of paper work as I did in Appleton 14 hours earlier.  I was getting really annoyed and quite rude to my friend Kellie who hauled me here against my will.  I was then informed by the ER doctor that I would need to be seen by the Gynecologist on call and she was currently in surgery so it would be a while... wonderful... more waiting.... I was really mad at Kellie....

I dozed on and off.  Kellie had a book and was constantly checking on me and kept watch like a guardian angel, which as I soon found out, is exactly what she turned out to be.   

Dr. Karen Tammela finally arrived around 2:00am.  I rehashed the days events with her as she looked through all of the diagnostic information from the Appleton ER and the newly gathered information from the recent labs.  She said none of this makes any sense.  She wanted to do another pelvic exam.  Fine.  Go ahead.  Everyone else is doing it, why not... right?  Within 5 minutes of my exam she said she was worried about what she saw and she had ER nurses dashing in and out of the room to fetch her special gynological tools that weren't readily available in the ER.  This is the first time I started to take this seriously.  The exam ended and Kellie came back by my bedside.  They started me on a blood transfusion because of all the blood I lost and Dr. Tammela wanted me in emergency surgery asap so she could stop the bleeding and perform a biopsy.  She told me she was going to get a gyno-oncologist involved just in case.  She also explained that she had great access to him since he was her husband.  Dr. Karen Tammela is a tall thin, beautiful, smart and confident woman.  I felt I was in very good hands.  She was perfect.  I could only hope she married a nerd.  That would make her human, right?

I was whisked off to the OR at about 4:00 and when I woke up in the recovery room I was getting ANOTHER frickin' catheter.  This time it wasn't going to be removed until after the packing was removed.  What's packing you ask?  It's the 10 billion feel of gauze the doctor packs into your vagina against your cervix to try and stop the bleeding.  It's as lovely as a stroll on broken glass.

By the time I woke up Kellie had gotten a hold of Dezy and my Dad.  I still didn't know what this thing on my cervix was so I really didn't want to get everyone upset over nothing.  Adam - a good friend and former boyfriend of mine - was also there.  Dezy arrived earlier that morning too.  By the time the biopsy results came in I had been admitted to a regular room.  Kellie, Dezy and Adam were there.  It was a bit awkward because Dezy had one of my hands and Adam had the other when the Dr. Karen Tammela cam back in with the results.  That's when it want form worry to reality.  Cancer.  I had cervical cancer.  I really wasn't going to be pig-wrestling today was I?  She then explained that she was handing my case over to her husband whom I'd meet later that day to get a plan in place.  She said to be ready for many test's and many new faces and terms.  I should have someone help me keep track of things because I was going to be overwhelmed.  She also said not to panic, I was going to be in good hands and there wasn't a safer place for me. Dr. Karen Tammela is a great doctor.  My only regret it not meeting her sooner.

Later that morning I met Dr. Jonathan Tammela.... far from a nerd.  Mc Dreamy and Mc Steamy all rolled into one.  Lovely.  Now I had to bare my unwaxed, packed, cathetered hooha to one of the most handsome men  > I had ever met.  Could this get any worse??  All modesty is gone.

Dr. Tammela ordered radiation that morning and the following morning to try to stop the bleeding completely.  He also ordered a CAT scan to try to determine what stage my cancer was in because of course the big question on everyone's mind is "how bad is it?"

When I got back from radiation and from the CAT scan, which Dezy was by my side the whole time for, my dad and my uncle Doug were waiting in my room.  I started to cry.  I didn't want my stupid hooha to cause anyone worry but me.  I immediately saw worry on my dad's face.  I felt terrible.  The doctor came in later with the results.  I had Stage 3 cervical cancer.  It had spread to at least 2 neighboring lymph nodes but didn't appear to be anywhere else.  The planned course of treatment was radiation daily and weekly chemotherapy.  I probably wouldn't lose my hair and I would get too sick.  There were a lot more test's to do so this could change, but this was the initial course of action.  It felt good to have some direction.

By the end of that Saturday my hospital room was filled with friends and family.   There were flowers on every ledge and table in the room.  Gifts and decorations in every corner.  Everyone wanted to help.  I felt so loved.  There was a small army of people at my house cleaning and doing yard work and preparing as much as possible for my return.  Friends of mine surprised me with their selflessness.   This feeling was so overwhelming  because I'm extremely independent.  It is  very hard for me to show emotion.  I've always put my chin up and done what's needed to be done, on my own.  This was all new to me.  Wonderful and horrible all in one.

Over the course of the next few days I had radiation, MRI scans, PET scans, Renal Scans and a slew of other tests.  It turns out that kidney stone I thought I was getting a few weeks back was actually the tumor pushing on my ureter, the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder.  I would need a stent, a small tube inserted into my kidney to my bladder.  My right kidney was only doing about %25 of the work.

OK, once again, I'm exhausted.  I'm off to catch a few more z's.  I'll be back soon to update you on the next part of my journey... that is if you haven't been too grossed out by this my.  Don't worry, the really gross parts are over :)


(Continue to - "My journey has begun part 2")

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