BUILDING UP RESERVES

My current job is building up reserves…

yoga_with_adriene

“Yoga with Adriene”, I call my “YouTube Yoga” routine.

Some snapshots of cancer recovery:

May

…was great! Chemo finished exactly three months ago from today on April 29. I spent May feeling just exactly as I’d hoped: grateful, rejuvenated, optimistic, gaining energy and ready for summer activities to begin! Of course it did not last beyond that, but I still felt thankful to be done with the bi-weekly routine of going in to the clinic for chemo treatments, the bedraggled energy and sickness and restarting my fitness routine over and over again. Whew! My oncologist was pleased to release me from “maintenance” chemo obligations because of how well the cancer had responded to the treatments.

June

… I’d disappointingly began experiencing some miserable myalgia, a persistent muscle soreness from head to toe, concentrating in my shoulder/neck area, and resulting in numb hands, hot, shooting pains in my wrists, palms and fingers. The only time I could escape it was lying still in bed. It would let up for a while after exercising, especially post-yoga, but would come back in a short time.

cupping-chinese-medicine

“Cupping” – Chinese Medicine

Initially, I thought the pain was lactic acid build-up due to serious dedication to my fitness routine (walking, light biking or yoga). I’d drink more water, and stretch to alleviate the tension. I began taking a day off in between workouts; I restarted acupuncture; I asked my various doctors about it. One told me to drink more electrolytes, one recommended acupuncture, massage, “cupping” (a Chinese medicine treatment of introducing hickeys to the painful spots, which I did try), hot wet towels, supplements… Another suggested a physical therapist, a chiropractor, massage and acupuncture. And still another recommended supplements and gave me additional appropriate minerals in my nutritional IV’s. So I tried (and am still trying) all of these.

Do I get an “A” for effort?

July

I have been letting off of some physical activity, upping supplements and seeing an orthopedic doctor. Gawl! What ever is going to get this pain under control? I can say that I “get” chronic pain now! I was feeling really impatient and fatigued from the pain and stiffness, and frankly discouraged and depressed.

Finally, a recommendation from my naturopathic physician, Dr. Dickinson. She deals with adrenal, neurotransmitter, cancer rehab and PT. I should increase the amino acid supplements (and quite probably what my complimentary oncologist put in my IV as well), the pain is 85% gone! Much MUCH better now at the end of July. My muscles still require extra time to recover from kneeling, getting out of bed, looking over my shoulders, etc, but my days are now tolerable. Apparently, with the fitness, I was “using up all my reserves”. My body, still dealing with a heavy, toxic chemo load in the deep muscle tissues, was having trouble keeping up with supply and demand of aminos and minerals! Dr. Dickinson urged that just because I will start experiencing more energy, not to use it. The idea is to build up the reserves. (Never mind the 20-mile bike ride at the coast last weekend with m’dad… But still I’m feeling ok!)

I also saw a physical therapist, which pointed out a misalignment of ribs near my right shoulder. This could explain why the pain was concentrating there. Muscle myalgia would pull on the ribs and neck and with them out of alignment, would just cause misery. Thinking back, there was a bike accident where I cracked a clavicle. That was 5 years ago. That would do it, I suppose. Now we’ll see what the orthopedist says next week.

The other bit o’ good news I’ll share today:

Cancer tumor markers in my blood (CEA, which show the body’s response to fighting cancer) have been in normal range for months (0-2.5). The better news is that over the months, they continue to drop lower within the normal range (1.7 to 1.3 to 1.1)!

In late August I will meet with Dr. Look, my oncologist, and maybe spread out the tests to every three months; I also get my annual colonoscopy. Although I’ve been healthy and continually improving, each test is a stress to me and my loved ones. But, I’m on the right track.

WOW oh WOW! I feel so amazingly grateful for the gracious attentiveness shown to me by friends and family out in the world and through Facebook during this time. The love is being swallowed up by my gut and heart each day, and is building up my reserves!

D-DAY: Down to Business

OHSU-Kohler-Pavilion

OHSU-Kohler-Pavilion

Matt got us to the hospital on time for D-Day,

…in spite of OHSU’s confusing, hilltop campus. It’s astounding; can you believe they built a hospital up here? It was quiet, dark and cold at 5:30am. I arrived clean (inside and out, thanks to that special body soap) and dressed simply and purposefully. Matt & I were a team, at times a comical duo, and in spite of the D-Day reality of the procedure, it was little worry to us as we bustled to gather belongings we would need at the hospital for about 5 days.

wet_dog_nose

Wet dog nose

After admitting, the nurse took me back to the pre-op waiting room and gave me moist, medicated towels that I was supposed to meticulously rub over my whole body. It felt like dog nose on the skin because when it dried, there was still an invisible tacky residue. “I’ve never, ever been this clean,” I thought.

Cancer_Institute_Team

Knight Cancer Institute Team

Each one of the surgical team came in at different times to introduce themselves, describe course of action for this procedure, the potential complications and answer questions. The procedure would last 5 hours, including:

1) Resection of two tumors on the outer tips of two lobes of the liver

2) Visual exam and surgical fondling of the whole liver to check for unusual masses or spots.

3) Finally, an ultrasound of the liver to look closer and deeper into the tissue than the hand and eye can.

And then I would wait in the recovery room for an hour or more for monitoring before I could see anybody, then I will see Matt and my parents before getting moved to my recovery unit. After that I will either go to the ICU (intensive care unit) for over-night observation (pretty routine in liver cases, but not always necessary), or I will go to a regular old room. IV’s placed, then the Anesthesiologist, a big teddy bear with jovial grin, went over his whole procedure.

All set to go

Matt & I said our goodbyes, and I was wheeled gently back to the OR (operating room) where the whole team was bustling about confidently getting ready for this complicated surgery. Some were familiar from the prep room, and others were introduced to me as they helped me shimmy to the operating table, and I faded out.

Again, both Matt and I have been through this more than we care to discuss, so a whole lot of mystery has been cleared up by our personal experience. We knew what to ask, and to some extent, what decisions to make.

Later on

I learned that the procedure was simplified because there was nothing new and unusual found in the liver, the chemo and complimentary treatments shrank the tumors down so he could remove the tumors with “good margins” (tissue surrounding the tumor is taken in case cancer cells traveled outside the tumors, and still leave large portion of my liver!

OHSU-Kohler-Pavilion-terrace

Many walks along this terrace

From Recovery, I was moved into a regular old room! But I guess it was not in the cancer ward, so the second night I was moved up to be among my kin. Not a stellar view, but where this hospital is situated, all kinds of cool weather effects happen all the time. I saw a double rainbow, lots of rolling fog banks between the trees and buildings, what a great place for pictures! The food is pretty good (!!), my expectations were low, so I am very impressed. Matt stayed one more night, and the lack of privacy drove him nuts, he couldn’t sleep, and he felt a cold coming on. But he was so gung ho to be my personal caretaker! Jeez, really, there will be plenty of time for that at home, Sweetie. So, we decided the hospital could take care of me, and my husband could be his own wife and recuperate at home.

A successful D-Day down and behind me! Each day is easier, and I can see progress. As long as I can pass gas by tomorrow, I can go home.

Tee hee. Truly, that’s what I’m waiting on.

AGE, BEAUTY AND MAJOR ILLNESS

How does one move on from a major illness?

I’ve thought about this starting early in the diagnosis: “I’ve got cancer, so now what?”

At the beginning, life was dedicated to dealing with the illness, the “here and now” immediate needs, and maybe looking ahead a little bit to the next surgery, to the recovery, to the months after. But what about next year, five years from now, ten years, and beyond that? Will this experience shape my beliefs? My temperament? My sense of humor, confidence? Will it make me a better person? Will it make me bitter, cynical, afraid of doing activities I used to love? What lessons *should* I learn here, and what *will* I take away from being ill? Rest assured, this process will unfold over time, as the event moves further into my past.

Age

Recently, I feel like there has been a time warp and I’ve suddenly aged a few years! Perception says I no longer look ‘young for my age’ (39), but instead like a 40-year old! To be fair, I’m on a natural path to aging, yet I was not this old a year ago! The creases on my forehead and under my eyes, silver hairs, dark circles under my eyes, enlarged pores, etc, reveal the hard road traveled this past year. Age has become poignant following major illness.

Beauty

Just to be clear, age has *never* been a factor for judgement. I don’t place undue value on youth. I value life experience and wisdom, and value the age qualities that come along, like wrinkles and creases, grey hairs and what the body does in time, in its own way. Look, like everybody else I earned my knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t give it up to go back to an earlier time, therefore, I accept the physical age my skin has taken on with pride. After all, it is only skin. With the recent aging caused by heavy chemical, radiation and surgical treatments for cancer, I am now coping with the reality of aging. I will come to accept my new features as they fit into my life naturally and beautifully.

Psychology

Now and then I wonder how the past year’s illness will affect me psychologically. For example, when I get back to my old favorite activities, will I feel awkward, rusty or insecure?

I was never an “aggressive” athlete. I took more chances than the average person, but less than the average athlete. Bicycling and inline skating are hobbies I did with great zeal; biking alongside cars, anywhere and everywhere, any weather, any time. Running, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, etc; again I don’t have an especially risk-taking personality, still, given the inherent risks in each sport, I felt in-control. Will my mind now tell me, “I’m done with this, it’s time to retire!” Is this good-bye to big rocks and steep hills on the mountain biking trail, which at one time I devoured?

I do not need to worry about letting my youthful vigor slip away because if it does, it is because I’m ready to move on to something else which will have a new place in my aged, wised-up self! I imagine that now I’ll have a whole new respect for mortality and bodily health after spending so many hours, days and dollars fighting to keep my life and quality of life. Or, maybe not – perhaps I’ll take up surfing with sharks. Ha!

So, how does one move on from major illness? From this experience forward, we shall see.

inline_skate_age

Inline skating, Sellwood Bridge 1998 (look Ma, no helmets!)

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