Monday, March 27, 2017

What I Remember

I decided to write this paper to describe what I remember about my surgery day.  But I’d actually like to go back further – back to when ovarian cancer was only a “possibility.”  First, we must go back to 1995. That’s the year by sister discovered she had ovarian cancer (Stave IV). Sadly, she died in March 1996.  My gynecologist began testing my CA-125 level every six months.  This is NOT a screening tool for ovarian cancer, but it is all we had.  This is a blood test usually used AFTER ovarian cancer is detected. Most times that is after surgery. Sometimes it can be detected on a C/T or an MRI, but even then, the doctors aren’t sure until they obtain a biopsy and test it.  Even though it wasn’t standard protocol, my gynecologist checked my levels for SEVENTEEN years.  I was always between a 7-9.  Then that fateful day it happened.  I went in for my six month check-up (being closely followed for breast cancer) and got the paper work for my lab work.  I went to the lab right from the office like I always did.

A few days later, I was shopping at Joanne’s and my phone rang.  I saw it was Dr. Ginsburg’s office. I immediately answered it.  He said my CA-125 was a 28.  Normal is below 35.  Since it was a huge jump for me he suggested I go back to the lab for another test.  He sent me to get an internal sonogram. This was only two to three days later.  I asked him what he would suggest if it was a true reading.  He said he would refer me to Dr. Grumbine where he has sent his family members.  I immediately drove to his office to get a new lab slip and went right to the lab.

Something to keep in mind, Dr. Ginsburg had been my doctor since before I got married.  He followed me during my pregnancy with Elizabeth and delivered her still-born body.  He had just reviewed my 30 week sonogram for Eric, which appeared normal, only to find out Eric was born just a few days later with a hole in his diaphragm.  He followed me through my pregnancy with Jessica and knew of her difficult delivery.  He always said the difficult times in a marriage either broke it or made it strong. He believed Jim and I would never divorce. He was right.

Continuing on, I got a phone call from Dr. Ginsburg  the next day.  My CA-125 was now 32.  That’s still below ‘normal’ but for me it was a big jump and climbing.  He referred me to Dr. Grumbine at GBMC and told me to call him back if they couldn’t fit me in for awhile.  I was blessed that they had a cancellation that Friday.  Dr. Grumbine examined me and discussed the possibilities.  He believed that if I had ovarian cancer it was probably contained to one ovary since my numbers were low.  We scheduled surgery for March 28, 2013.

This is where I originally thought this story would start.  I get to the hospital at some freakishly early hour.  We were told the surgery would take about ninety minutes.  Jim had an important appointment with a neurologist that afternoon. He wanted to cancel it but I convinced him I would be fine. We needed to find out what was wrong with HIM.  I assured him that my sister and a friend or two would come and stay with me after he left.  Little did we know that I would be in surgery for FIVE hours.  I’ve been told that the doctor had come out and talked to Jim and informed him of my diagnosis.  He said Jim could come back and see me soon.  However, that didn’t happen. Jim had to leave for his appointment.  I was very worried about his condition and had told him, no matter what, to get to that appointment  so I could rest easy knowing he was okay OR we would begin developing a plan on how we were going to manage to get care for both of us. (By the way, he was fine. Well, not fine, but not critical.)

Here’s what I actually remember.  I wake up in the recovery room and I am having muscle spasms near my diaphragm.  The pain was excruciating.  The nurse got me a binder and I asked her to put it up high on me.  The next thing I remember is my sister, Joyce standing over me saying something like, “it’s bad, but we are going to get through this.”  Before I know it, I’m up in my room. It seemed dark and small.  I don’t know how many chairs were there and some people must have been sitting on the window ledge.  My sister Joyce and my friend Sharron were sitting to the right of me.  My brother-in-law, Jim was sitting at my feet.  My friend, Kathy was there during surgery and I have no recollection of when she left.

Most of the time I was drifting in and out.  The next thing I remember is my surgeon coming in and asking how I was.  He was surprised I had the binder up so high, but I told him that is where I need it.  He pulled back the covers, lifted my gown, and, without warning, he pulled off my over 12-inch long bandage.  I didn’t have any underwear on and I remember thinking, “I just flashed my brother-in-law.”

At one point I woke up in a panic. “What about Eric? Somebody needs to be with Eric.” Eric was away at school at Towson University. Joyce assured me that Jim had called Eric and had given him the news. I cried, because I didn’t want Eric to be alone after receiving this news. Jim had called and asked if I wanted him to come back up.  I told him to stay with Jessica and take care of her. “I would be fine.”  Really I knew I was just going to sleep.  I had company with me and they wouldn’t leave unless they thought I was settled.

The next thing I remember is my friend, Gemma showing up.  She had driven from Gettysburg , PA to Towson, MD to be with me.  She walked into the room and just stared at me, as if she was in shock.  I remember wanting to comfort her, but there was no way I could. My heart was breaking. Suddenly my friend, Sharron got up and went to Gemma. She took her out into the hall. I remember finding peace, knowing that they would comfort each other.  Joyce and Jim left and Gemma and Sharron stayed with me for a bit longer. I have no idea how long, since I was sleeping during most of it.  I remember having them go onto my FB account to tell my friends of my diagnosis.

They left and I went to sleep …. My cancer journey had begun.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Who Knew the Lab Could be so Uplifting ... OR Why I Love Living in Howard County

Who wants to go to the lab first thing in the morning?  Especially when you have to fast, which means no coffee (yikes).  Surprisingly I had a very pleasant experience.  ***The purpose for pointing out our DIFFERENCES is to show they really don't matter and how I enjoy the diversity of my area.

I got in the elevator and held the door for a Caucasian man.  When we arrived at the lab he held the door for me. "You held the elevator, I'll hold the door." [Yes, my community is courteous and friendly.]  I signed in on the new electric sign in devices and sat down.  A Caucasian man who might have had developmental delays rotely asked me, "How are you today?"  "I'm fine."  In walks an African American man.  The young man with developmental delays asks him, "How are you today?"  He responds and then asks, "What's your name? I'm Brian."  The young man answered.  I spoke out and said, "That is really nice to see people greeting each other.  Can you believe they are calling for snow tomorrow?" Brian then asked if we were from around here.  The light, cheerful conversation continued.

Now an older gentleman who appeared to be Asian walks into the lab.  He attempts to sign in on the electric pad but appears confused.  He looks around at the waiting room full of people with a confused look on his face.  I got up to help him. (Hey, I can mostly work my smart phone now. I can handle this.)  I point to the space and say "first name."  I quickly figured out he could speak and understand English fairly, but couldn't read it.  "Last name."  Him, "Where is the 'l'?  Now I have two h's."  We edited his input and I continued to read the prompts to him.  It really didn't take long and he was quite appreciative.

I get called back to the "in-person" sign in desk.  I say, "Good morning. I am a frequent flyer." The lab tech responds, "You are. You can probably do this yourself."  I get my blood drawn and as I leave, the two gentlemen are still waiting their turn (always best to make at appointment at Quest Diagnostics or you could be sitting there all day).  I tell them, "Have a great day, gentlemen." The both respond, "you too."

I take the elevator down to the first floor and there is an elderly African American woman with a walker who appears to be struggling.  I ask, "Do you need any help?"  She responds, "I'm ok."

I walk to my car thinking, "I live in such a nice place. Who would think going to the lab would lift my spirits."  Kindness is contagious.

Caveat:  I wish I could learn how to write about diversity without "labeling."  I can't claim "I don't see our differences," because I do.  But I rejoice in it.  I love it. I wouldn't have it any other way.