52 Weeks of Thankfulness – Week 7

52-week1

This is the 52 Weeks of Thankfulness – Week 7 at Haddon Musings

I had written eight posts about my melanoma treatment. I need to write one more to complete my story. I emerge it as part of my Thankfulness. So this week I am thankful for going through the journey of cancer treatment and have been in remission for almost eight years.

August 13, 2009

My bio-chemotherapy came to the end. I just needed a couple more procedures done before the completion of treatment.

When I had my first cancer surgery in October 2008, the surgeon removed all the cancerous tissues except one cancerous lymph node. He sent me back to my primary health care provider and oncologist for chemotherapy. Due to the lack of communication, the referral didn’t get any attention until two months later. I went to the oncologist’s office, sat in the waiting room, demanded for attention. Finally a case caretaker came to talk with me. I cried and complained, saying that my last surgeon requested chemotherapy within four months before the cancer entered my brain, and it had been two months already.

The next day she called the case management office. The supervisor of the office took over my case. She made all the arrangement of tastings and obtained the authorization of referral to a melanoma specialist.

By the time I started my first cycle of treatment in January 2009, the cancer in one lymph node on the right hip area had invaded the whole set of inguinal nodes on the left. So the cancer went from stage II to stage IV.

I went through two cycles of bio-chemo and one surgery and two more cycles of bio-chemo. At the end of June 2009, I completed four cycles of in-patient treatments and one surgery. By this time, the first cancerous lymph node had shrunk into a dead tumor. Dr. O’Day, the melanoma specialist, and the surgeon agreed that it was a good idea to have one more surgery to remove the dead tumor. I had the second surgery done in early July, 2009. The surgeon removed one larger tumor plus 15 smaller dead tumors.

The final procedure was the radiation. Dr. O’Day ordered two sets of radiation. The first set was five days a week for four weeks in the pelvic area. The second set was once a week for four weeks. I met with the radiologist. She aligned me with the radiation machine, marked the tattoo on my body so that each radiation would be done in the same position. She further explained to me the side effect and the possible damage of the radiation. My husband is a radiology technician. He discussed the situation with Dr. O’day. Dr. O’Day decided that the damage would have outweighed the benefit. Therefore he cancelled the first set of radiation. I only needed to do the second set. I started the second week of July and completed it in the first week of August 2009.

Before I entered this journey, I didn’t know where it would have taken me. I only knew that if God didn’t say He was done with me, I had no right to decide to quit. I had to take the chances presented to me and trust him to guide me through. All I could do was to take one day at a time. There were so many nights that I didn’t have any sleep because the chemo drugs burning continuously. My body was so hot and the skin was so sensitive. Knowing that I didn’t have to go to work the next day helped to reduce my anxiousness. Throughout my treatment, my family and friends were my greatest support.

I do believe there is a reason for every season, and for every suffering. With God’s help, I could look beyond the suffering, even when I was right in the middle of it. In the end, I was able to count the suffering as my blessing.

Post note: The highlighted links are linked to the previous 8 posts. I continue to suffer lymphedema (swelling) on left leg, and nerve damage on both legs resulting in tingling and poor circulation.

52weeks

Please share your thankfulness by participate at Haddon Musings

Gratitude Moments #7

April 29, 2009

My surgery was on March 12 and was discharged on March 19. The melanoma doctor, Dr. O’Day, said I could rest for six weeks before the next bio-chemotherapy. During these six weeks, I had to get strong physically and nutritionally. By this time, my vomiting had subsided. My appetite was increased. It was a good sign because I could eat as much as possible. I needed to gain at least six pounds in six weeks. With this mindset, I ate whenever my stomach allowed. I ate ice-cream every day. One friend teased me by saying that, “Go ahead and eat ice cream before you have to worry about weight gain!”

 Several of my neighbors had been our friends for twenty some years. They invited us over for dinners. One neighbor, Doris, invited us almost every weekend. Her son, Randy, my husband’s best friend, barbecued steaks. Doris said, “Miriam, eat. The meat will help to replenish your blood.” I did, I ate the biggest piece of steak on the platter. She was so pleased that I could eat. She told everybody included her dental hygiene patients that I ate the biggest piece of steak.

The chemo drugs burned all the cells in me, good and bad. I was down to skin and bone. Another issue was the burning that dried up my skin. I soaked in the hot bath for an hour each night. After the tough skins got soften a little bit, I scrubbed off the dead skin gently. After drying off, I put layers of lotion, and thick cream, and then lotion all over my body. The cream only served as sealing of my skin. As soon as the cream dried up, I felt itchy everywhere. It would take months down the road for the new skin to be the replacement of the dead skin. Soaking in the bath before bedtime helped me not to feel itchy at night. There were a few nights I could not get enough hot water for the bath, my husband boiled the water on the stove and carried pots of hot water to fill the bathtub. I could never forget about what he did for me!

As far as my body temperature, it was very difficult to describe. On one hand, I didn’t have enough blood to keep me warm, so I bundled up from head to toes in a warm spring time. Yet the drugs continue to burn and made my skin sensitive and hot. Bedtime was a drag for me. When I went to bed, I put a sheet between my legs so they would not have direct contact. With covers on, I would be too hot. Without covers on, I would be cold. So I just put a sheet over my upper body. I took medication to help me sleep, yet all the discomfort took three or four hours to be calmed down before I felt asleep. My husband kept very quiet when he got up in the morning. I had the mask on so the sunlight didn’t wake me up. It was about nine or ten o’clock when I woke up.

During this time, the world was thousands of miles away from me. The pain, discomfort, and weakness were ever present. This was also a time I felt the Lord was right next to me. I talked with Him all the time. I just said to him, “Please help me through this. I need to get well. I need to be well for my husband and my daughter.” His assurance gave me hope. His Word gave me strength and endurance to take a tiny step at a time. I knew I could make it.

 

Daily Prompt:  Replacement

Gratitude Moments #4

February 17, 2009

The original treatment plan was that I would go through four cycles of bio-chemo treatments, and have a surgery to remove the shrunk tumors, and then have two more cycles of treatments. After the second cycle of in-patient treatment, I did my routine lab work before the third cycle.

I met with the Melanoma doctor and the surgeon. During the meeting, the doctors reviewed the lab result with me. There was minor bad news but major good news.  The lab work showed 20 categories in hematology. Five categories were low.  Blood count was 7.9 with the normal range being 11.5 – 15.0. The lab work also showed 22 categories in chemistry with 4 being low. In addition, I had been running a temperature as high as 102.4 ever since I came home from the hospital on February 1, 2009 (more than two weeks).  I survived on Tylenol.

For the low blood count, I needed 2 units of blood transfusion within the following two weeks (1 unit = I pint or 450 ml). Rich in iron food was my diet but didn’t help fast enough to boost up my blood count.  My temperature was caused by some kind of infection that my body couldn’t fight off.  Antibiotic was prescribed to take care of that.  With low blood count and temperature, I was so weak that I felt there was no life left in me. I knew that I had to be strong to go through the treatment. There was not enough blood to keep my body warm, so I bundled up and walked every day back and forth in the neighborhood. My neighbors couldn’t recognize me.

This was my prayer: “God, you gave me clear indications of which direction to go as far as treatment options.  I listened and followed your direction.  You took my hand and I followed you to near-death with no doubt because your direction was so clear. You’re the God of miracles and I believe in miracles.  Now if it is your will, please carry me back to life.”

Now back to the meeting, the doctors also reviewed CT scan done on February 13. It showed encouraging improvement. The tumors in the lymph nodes had shrunk and were contained, so the cancer cells did not spread.  As a result, instead of having two more cycles of bio-chemo, the doctor now could have surgery to remove the shrunk tumors.  After the surgery, I could rest longer before the final two cycles of bi-chemo. Altogether, I only needed 4 cycles instead of 6 cycles of bio-chemo! What great news!

When I heard the doctor’s plan for me, even though I didn’t have too much energy, I almost jumped up to thank them, but I knew that it was God’s Healing Power.

After the meeting, I was given a longer time to rest, got blood transfusion, tried to get rid of the temperature. The schedule of surgery would depend on my progress.

My family and friends continue to pray, bring food, send me cards and emails. I was wrapped around with love, friendship, and prayer support to keep me going this dark journey.

To be continued……

Gratitude Moments #3

I started the first cycle of treatment on January 7, 2009 as scheduled. During my hospital stay, I wasn’t able to take a shower. As soon as I got home on Sunday after discharged, the first thing I wanted to do was to take a shower. I had no memory of how it happened, but my husband said I was so weak that I crawled to the bathroom to take a shower. The next day, I wanted to give the update to my family. These are a couple emails I sent to them during my resting weeks.

January 12, 2009

Dear family and friends,

I came home last night.  I should have been discharged at 11:00 a.m. but my potassium, magnesium and electrolytes were low, so I was put on IV for 17 hours to replenish those elements before I was discharged.

During the hospital stay, every minute was like forever. Eventually the medication worked into my body, so did the side effects. One medication burned my skin to red and purple, swollen, and dry. I looked like a red balloon. It will take 10 day for the color to get lighter. I had chills every day. The shaking could only be stopped by injection of medication.  The vomiting and diarrhea happened every day also, so I just stopped eating. With all the fluid going in from IV, I weighed 15 pounds more at discharge than at admission.

Today, Monday, January 12, I went to my first IV hydration in the doctor’s office – to flush out the toxicity, plus getting more mediation. A home nurse will come the next three day to do the same thing. The same routine will be done for next two Mondays at the doctor’s office. Each IV hydration last for 2 1/2 hour.

Today I felt there’s a hole in my stomach asking for food, so I ate.  Again, there it went through vomiting, nothing stayed in the stomach. So far my energy level is about 20 percent.

Thank you for your prayer and support.

I love you, Mom (Miriam)

======

January 23, 2009

Dear Family and friends,

I want to thank Jolyn for coordinating all the rides to and fro the doctor’s office and scheduling for people to bring us meals.  It reduced a lot of anxiety on Lynton because he traded his internship days, so that he could take me to the doctor’s office 3 times every cycle – those are early appointments and have to leave at 6:30am.

Also thank you for all cards with the encouraging words.  I feel like I’m resting peacefully on a soft but strong bed of prayer support, with no struggle, no reasoning, no anxiety, no anticipation, no worry, no “plan’” except hope; great hope to get well.  I have no questions for God, except a grateful heart.

Thank you for being in my life. Your prayers will carry me through to the end. The doctor wanted me to eat as much as possible to get fattened up for the next treatment.  The medication zapped out almost everything of my life.  My white blood count was so low that I had to put some gel in my nostrils twice a day; so that I wouldn’t catch any germs, because my body had no ability to fight off any bacteria.

I love you all, Mom (Miriam)

Gratitude Moments #2

The pre-admission meeting was held at the Melanoma doctor’s office which was a Research Institute. During the meeting, the treatment plan was reviewed. The medication was a cocktail drug of a mixture of five chemo drugs. Each drug had serious side effects and possible liver damage. I had to sign an agreement for the treatment and be responsible of any results – good or bad. Not all the melanoma was treated with such aggressive drugs. This treatment plan was the Institute’s fifteen-year experiment. I went at their fifteenth year of experiment. The Melanoma doctor explained that it required aggressive drugs to treat aggressive and invasive cancer.

The doctor proposed a six-cycle treatment: one week on, three weeks off as one cycle. I would be an in-patient in the hospital for five days, then go home for three week to rest and regain my energy to prepare for the next cycle. Thus it was a six-month full time treatment program.

The surgeon was there at the meeting. He saw my hesitation when I heard that it was six-month full time. He said it was worth to take six months off of my life to take care of it. After a quick assessment in my head, I decided to go with the plan.

The first thing came to my mind was our finance. Year 2008 was the year that great recession hit businesses and housing market. My husband had his business for seventeen years at that time. It was hit badly. I recommended that he went back to school to reinvent himself. He did go during the 2008-2009 school year to study for the CT and MRI licenses. My income was the only income during that year.

After talking with some colleagues, I knew I would get 50% pay for 100 days under the Union contract. With that information, I went to the Human Resources’ office to submit a request for six-month sick leave. The administrative assistant asked if I was a member of the Disaster Leave Bank. I said, “No, I’m not aware of such a program.” She explained that if I donated one sick leave day to the Bank, I would become a member. As a member, I could withdraw 20 days at a time up to 100 days with 50% pay.

I was at awe when I found out that information. With both the Union and Disaster Leave Bank, I could get pay 100% for 100 working days. I had some personal sick leave days to be used. All together would allow me to get pay for six months during my treatment.

“When Gratitude becomes an essential foundation in our lives, Miracles start to appear everywhere.” See the Gratitude quote above.

To be continued……

Gratitude Moments #1

Daily Prompt: Year

Daily Prompt: Hopeful

New Year invites us to look ahead, not to look back. I would like to put this in a perspective.

Looking back may remind us the mistakes we had made, thus encourage us to do things differently. Looking back to our achievements boosts our energy to go even further. Looking back to the dangerous spots we had bypassed, the near-death encounters we experienced caused us to ponder: “Who am I to have survived when some did not?”

It is grace that I could cross the threshold of 2016 and step into 2017. This time of year in 2009, I was getting ready for my first bio-chemotherapy. It was a nervous moment to face the outcome of unknown; yet it was a chance I willingly accepted because of my love for my husband and my daughter.

I have to go back a little bit further in time. During my regular annual physical check up in the summer of 2008, my doctor told me that the fibroid in my uterus had grown rapidly within a year. He referred me to my gynecologist. My gynecologist confirmed that it was time to have hysterectomy done. He said, “You are not planning on having more babies, aren’t you?” I giggled without giving an answer.

The hysterectomy was done on July 31, 2008. At 10:00 p.m. on August 1, my gynecologist came to the hospital room to inform me calmly that I had melanoma in my uterus. Even though the uterus was removed, but the cancer cells were still in my female organ area. He told me that all the referrals of testing and surgery were made. He left me his cell phone number because he was going on vacation the next day.

The surgery to remove the cancer cells was done in October. One thing that I still don’t understand till this day was that, the surgeon removed all the cancer cells in the tissues except one cancerous lymph node. He referred me back to my primary care hospital for chemotherapy treatment.

Through a lot of miscommunication, I waited until December before I got the attention of the supervisor of the hospital case management. Then I was referred to a Melanoma expert in United States for treatment. The first bio-chemotherapy treatment was scheduled to be on January 5, 2009. The case management supervisor personally arranged all the CT scan, EKG, Lab work needed to be done before the treatment.

During November and December of waiting time, my cancer went from stage II to stage IV, because the cancer from one lymph node had crossed over to the other side of the body and invaded the whole set of lymph nodes.

This time of the year in 2009, I was waiting for my first cycle of six-month bio-chemotherapy.

The story will be continued…….

Chill and Shiver

syringe3

Daily Prompt: Shiver

The unstoppable chill and Shiver

Are still as vivid as present.

Lying in the hospital bed,

While chemo drugs

Dripping into my vein.

“As the side effect of chemo drugs,

You’ll have flu-like symptoms

Such as chill and shiver.” The nurse said.

With anticipation yet not knowing

When it would happened,

I was helplessly waiting.

Oh, it came!

I clenched my teeth,

Tightened my fists,

Curled up my body,

Tried to hold it still.

No! Useless effort!

A button I had to press.

The nurse came with

A shot to the IV into my vein.

The muscles relaxed,

The shiver subsided.

I was good for the time being,

Prayed for strength and endurance

Until the next round coming.