Friday, March 2, 2012

An Instant Changes Everything

One week, one day, one minute, one second.  Everything can change in an instant – without warning, without control. 

Writing for me has always been comforting and therapeutic.  When I first started writing this blog it was going to be about my journey to live a healthier lifestyle, lose the excess weight, gain my confidence and live a better life. It would be a way to keep me accountable to myself for my progress. I never imagined how much things would change in just a few short months.  Now I’m writing about fighting a battle I never imagined I would- - - - fighting for my life. 

In June of 2011 I suffered from extreme anemia.  I was tired and weak all the time, not to mention freezing to death in the middle of a hot summer.  The doctors thought it may be female related problems and I spent the next 3 months visiting the gynecologist for more testing than I could imagine.  In the meantime, I came to grips with the truth that any physical problems I may have could probably be attributed to my extra weight and unhealthy lifestyle so I decided that at 43 it was time to change things.  In August, I joined the fitness center with Abbi and began exercising.  After I realized how my energy levels were beginning to rise and how much stronger I became I began eating healthier.  All of these steps came as a surprise to me because I’ve tried a thousand times before to live healthier but never seemed to stick with it for any amount of time.  This time seemed different; It was easy, I was motivated like never before and I had no idea why but I kept going.  I became an inspiration to many of my friends and acquaintances and was amazed at the positive messages I received.  It kept me focused and as the weight came off I felt  and looked better than I ever have.  
However, I still had this nagging anemia problem that would not seem to go away.  Dr. John Byron finally decided the problem was some sort of internal bleeding and it was more than likely a bleeding ulcer.  I have suffered with chronic acid reflux for years and the symptoms of an ulcer could be confused with the reflux.  He referred me to Pinehurst Medical Center and I was scheduled for a colonoscopy and endoscopy.  For the next weeks, every time I thought about the steps to prepare for that colonoscopy I almost canceled.  Dr. Varanasi said the procedure was just a precaution and he didn’t expect to find anything.  I was assured that we would probably be treating an ulcer when all was said and done.

On Monday, February 13th I had the procedure.  I woke up that morning feeling uneasy and remember calling my cousin to talk about my sense of something being “wrong”.  I just felt uncomfortable about the whole thing.  She reassured me that I was in just a nervous wreck (as usual) and things would be fine so I headed to Pinehurst.  I met with the doctor, fell asleep and woke up an hour later feeling relaxed and rested thanks to anesthesia.  I don't remember anyting about the procedure except there was GREAT music playing in the room while it began.  When the doctor walked in I was expecting to hear, “All is well, we wasted our time and see you when you are 50.”  Those weren’t the words he had.  He said he found polyps in my colon that were pretty large and concerning for my age.  He removed them and would be sending the biopsies for testing.  He also began to explain some problems he found during the endoscopy.  There were some concerning places in my esophagus that he biopsied.  He explained a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus which develops over time in people with chronic acid reflux.  This condition is normally found in much older men and he assured me it was probably nothing to worry about.  As I left I was told the pathology report would take about 7 days and I’d receive a phone call or a letter with the results.  I know enough about pathology to know that you always want the letter instead of the phone call.  I went about my life as normal and didn’t think much about the impending report.  When a week passed I figured I was in the clear and I should be receiving my letter soon.  The letter never came.

On Wednesday, February 22nd I received a phone call on the way home from work from Dr. Varanasi.  I knew it wasn’t good because the call didn’t come from a lab tech or even a nurse.  It was the doctor on the phone and his voice sounded different than I remember.  He told me he had a few difficult things to talk to me about.  He explained that the polyps were precancerous and it is very unusual for someone my age to have this type of condition.  He said he was confident he removed them all and I would need a repeat colonoscopy every 3 years. Ok, so that wasn’t great news but I could live with that as the bad news.  Then he paused and asked if I could pull over on the side of the road.  That was the moment I realized my world was about to change forever.  I don’t remember much about the conversation after that.  I heard phrases and words but had a hard time comprehending them – the bits I remember included positive for Barrett’s Esophagus, rare for my age and gender, not a good prognosis, survival rate is low, more testing would be done, biopsies, high grade dysplasia in every biopsy and suspicious cells, but I couldn’t put all of those words together to make sense.  Then he said the dreaded words “this is difficult to tell you and I’m shocked with these biopsy results but I suspect a possibility of esophageal cancer and we can’t treat it in Pinehurst.  We will refer you to UNC Hospital.”  The fear that set in at that instant is indescribable.  I couldn’t speak, couldn't breathe and couldn’t get the thought of death out of my mind.  I don’t even remember driving to my parents’ house, I barely remember walking in the door but I do remember standing there with my arms around my mom for what seemed to be forever.  I couldn’t even say the words - esophageal cancer.  It took me so long to just get it out of my mouth. 

The next day I had an endoscopic ultrasound performed by Dr. Eric Frizzell.  When he came into the recovery room, I knew by the look on his face it wasn’t going to be news I wanted to hear.  He confirmed the pathology and found some problems in my lymph nodes.  I would be referred to UNC and more than likely my esophagus would have to be removed.

I began my battle with this vicious disease yesterday, March 1st with my first visit to UNC Hospital. In an instant, I'm no longer working to get healthier, skinnier or be able to fit into a certain size jeans.  Now, I’m fighting to survive.  My life changed without warning and I had no control over that.  Everything I had worried about before, everything I was used to doing, everything I took for granted was gone in the blink of an eye.  None of it matters anymore and the only thing that matters is staying focused on battling this monster and living for as long as I possibly can.  For the first time in my life I am thankful for today because I finally understand the feeling of knowing there may not be a tomorrow.

In the past few days cancer has already taught me some valuable lessons.  It has taught me that I’m not alone in this battle.  Almost everyone I know has been affected by this disease in some way.  It has taught me that the things I worried about before are insignificant.  It has taught me that I have so many friends and supporters even though I’ve often felt alone in my life.  It has taught me that my family is amazing support and I’m so lucky to have them.  It has taught me that I have people I can lean on and I don’t have to do everything alone, which I’ve always tried to do.  It has taught me that I’m stronger than I ever imagined but I need to get stronger because I’m fighting a monster.  It has taught me that people I never imagined cared if I was around actually do care.  It has taught me that prayer works and the power of many prayers is amazing.  It has taught me that I love my life more than I thought and I’m not ready to give up on it.  It has taught me that I have too much to lose to sit around and let some tumor take everything from me.  It has taught me to be appreciative of the things I have.  It has taught me that being selfish is sometimes necessary.  It has taught me that life is precious and we are never guaranteed tomorrow.  I’m sure cancer will teach me many more lessons in the upcoming months and that’s ok because I am going to teach cancer a lesson too.  I’m going to teach cancer that I am a fighter and I have too much to live for to just give up and let it win this battle.  I intend to give everything I have to win this war and live a wonderful, beautiful, healthy, LONG life.

1 comment:

  1. Your battle has touched my life and burdened my heart in a way I can't explain. We serve a mighty God who tells us that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we can move mountains. Set your mind to believe the promises He made!!! Thank you for sharing this and I will be praying specifically for you in the weeks and months to come!!!!