I’m Sorry, Susan. You Have Cancer!

So after spending a week in the hospital in December of 2005 and receiving a 6-pint blood transfusion, I wasn’t really feeling as well as I expected to feel in January of 2006. I mentioned some of my stomach issues to a coworker. She recommended her son’s GI doctor. She also said this doctor studied celiac disease for a hobby. I couldn’t wait to meet him. I set up an appointment right away. When I met with him in his office he told me he had once worked with Dr. Peter Green. I mentioned in a previous blog that I went to see Dr. Green at Columbia University in New York. I knew then that I’d come to the right place.

Things moved quickly once this GI was in the picture. He instructed me to have a lower and upper GI series. That is where you drink the barium drink and the technicians take x-rays of your body as the fluid is traveling through your system. If you’ve ever had to drink it you know exactly what I’m talking about. It is the grossest drink ever!!! The x-rays showed I had a blockage. It took hours for the barium to pass through me. I spent the whole day at the hospital. Following that, this GI performed an endoscopy. Unlike the first one I had many years ago, this one was done in a surgical center and I was given anesthesia. I didn’t feel a thing. My GI went down into my small intestines with a scope and took a biopsy.

On March 17, 2006 at a follow-up visit regarding the endoscopy results, my GI informed me that I had cancer: adenocarcinoma of the small intestine he called it. This is a rare form of cancer caused by untreated celiac disease for most of my life. The tumor was the size of a golf ball and was attached to my small intestine. I was bleeding internally, which was causing the loss of iron. Finally we had the answer to my severe anemia and why the iron intravenous wasn’t working. I asked him if he had treated other patients with this same cancer and what their outcome was. Since beginning his practice, he had only seen two other patients with celiac disease and this type of cancer. Neither of them survived. My outlook was bleak. I just sat there. Numb. He told me he couldn’t believe I was taking the news so well. He thought I would be crying hysterically. I told him that I’d been through so much crap that this was just one more stumbling block in the road of my life. I asked him what we were going to do about the cancer and we discussed it a bit further.

I left there in a state of shock. I drove home on what seemed like auto pilot. All I remember is the first song that played when I turned the radio on. It was Bad Day by Daniel Powter. How ironic right? Yes, it was a bad day but then again, I’d had a lot of bad days since 2003. Maybe this surgery would finally rid me of all my stomach issues. If I survived.

I arrived home and my husband was at the stove making dinner. He was mashing potatoes when I walked in. I stood in the doorway and simply said, “I have cancer.” I don’t remember his reply but I proceeded to tell him everything my doctor said. He went back to mashing the potatoes while I called my mother to give her the news. When I told her I had cancer, she said, “You’re kidding.” I said, “No… why would I kid about something like that?” I repeated to her everything the doctor said. Next I called each of my kids at college. I told them I would be having surgery on my small intestine to remove a blockage that was causing my vomiting issues, but I never mentioned the word cancer. I just couldn’t say that word to them. I didn’t want to scare them. I did my best to put on a happy face even as I was getting my living will and my last will and testament in order.

I’d like to give you a word of advice. No matter how old you are, write a will. I know it’s something that younger people don’t even want to think about but it’s so important. It’s a good idea to do it when you’re in good health and don’t have a serious illness looming over your head. Find yourself a good attorney and have them guide you through it. Luckily, my husband and I prepared our wills several years prior so I basically just updated everything and told my family where to find it if I didn’t survive.

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I Was Near Death and Didn’t Know It

In December of 2005, I went to the hematologist for my routine blood test. I told her how awful I was feeling. There were times I was so cold my teeth would chatter. I constantly heard a pounding in my ears or what sounded like a swarm of locusts. I walked my dogs in the backyard when I got home from work each day and I could barely stand up without holding onto the fence or a tree. She told me exactly why I was feeling so poorly. Remember I mentioned in a previous blog that the hemoglobin count doctors like to see is 12. Well… mine was now down to 3. She told me that a couple more days and my heart and kidneys would have failed. She admitted me to the hospital that very minute. My son, who had driven me to my appointment, was in the waiting room. She asked one of the office staff to bring him to her office and told him I was being admitted. I insisted on going home to pack a bag first but my doctor wouldn’t hear of it because of the seriousness of my condition.

The next thing I knew I was lying in a hospital bed and receiving a 6-pint blood transfusion. That’s more than half the blood in your body. This may sound stupid but I wondered if they would have to drain 6 pints of blood out of me before putting the new blood into me. The answer was no. The new blood would just be absorbed into my body. By the next morning I was sitting up in bed and feeling much, much better. Receiving 6 pints of iron rich blood did the trick.  I was anxious to go home. I had a big smile on my face when my hematologist came in to check on me. I told her I was feeling good and ready to go home. She told me I would be staying the week so I could rest and undergo some testing. WHAT? It was the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I was hosting a New Year’s Eve party at my house. My hematologist wanted my GI doctor to perform an endoscopy and a colonoscopy to see if he could find anything. I had lost so much iron. It had to be going somewhere. However, his tests showed nothing. I was released at the end of the week and hosted my party after all. Happy New Year!

I don’t know if I mentioned that I love to do Sodoku puzzles. Actually, my son started doing them years ago and got me hooked. I found his book of puzzles recently and did a few.

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I saw him a couple of weeks ago and handed him his Sodoku book back. He wouldn’t take it and told me I could keep it. I asked him why and he said because he was working on puzzle #24 in the waiting room the day he drove me to the hospital and was summoned into my doctor’s office. He never finished that puzzle. I flipped to it and sure enough it’s only half finished. He never wants to see that book again because it brings back bad memories. I’m so happy I’m alive and able to do Sodoku puzzles. I try to do one a couple of times a week and will do so until the book is finished.

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Then I guess I’ll throw the book away, but not before I rip out the page with puzzle #24 on it. That… I just may save.

Until next time…

Bisquick Is Gluten Free!!!

So last Sunday I was hungry for a snack. A sweet snack. I opened the pantry door and rummaged around inside, searching for something to satisfy my craving. Then I spotted the box of Bisquick. They have a gluten-free version now in case you didn’t know. I could make biscuits. IMG_2818

But that wouldn’t satisfy the sweetness I was looking for. Strawberry shortcake would do the trick. But alas, no strawberries. When my daughter heard the disappointment in my voice, she suggested that I use a bag of frozen mixed berries that was taking up space in the freezer instead. Great idea! I baked the biscuits according to the recipe right on the back of the box. The recipe said it would make 10 biscuits. I decided to make them bigger and make only 9 biscuits. If I was going to make a sweet treat, I wanted more than a mouthful.

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After 15 minutes they were done. I took them out of the oven and let them cool. Every time I bake something, I always want to taste it first before I serve it to anyone else. So…. when they cooled I tried one. Delicious! The wonderful aroma wafted down the hall which brought my daughter to the kitchen asking if she could try one. “Sure, go ahead,” I said. Noticing that I needed to start getting dinner prepared I decided we would have our mixed berry shortcake for dessert.

After dinner my daughter began to render down the frozen berries on the stovetop and added some sugar.

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I set about whipping the cream.

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Once finished, I sliced up some biscuits, put the fruit mixture on top, added some whipped cream and topped it off with more of the hot fruit mixture. It was heavenly!!! My husband came in search of his before I even called him.

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I find myself doing this a lot lately. If I want a snack I end up baking something. I do more baking now than I’ve ever done. Have I mentioned that I’ve put on some poundage since I began my gluten-free baking adventure? Some people are under the impression that if you are eating gluten free you will lose weight. Well that hasn’t happened to me. I love to bake and I love to eat it. Remember I mentioned that I lost a lot of weight due to the fact that I couldn’t keep food down for a year. After my first cancer surgery, my surgeon’s advice to me was GO HOME AND GAIN SOME WEIGHT. Well I heeded his words and did gain some but perhaps a little too much. Now my doctors are telling me the opposite, suggesting that I lose at least 10 pounds. That’s going to be mighty hard to do unless I give up baking.

Unitl next time…

I Was Useless on Move In Day at My Kids’ Colleges

Yes… I’ll be the first to admit it. My health was deteriorating slowly beginning in 2003. Well, that’s when I first noticed it.

In 2005 I was vomiting practically every day. I was so tired and weak I don’t know how I was able to hold down a full-time job. I’d throw up in the bathroom at work. No one knew it though. More times than I’d care to remember, I would pull my car over to the side of the road on my way to work or home and throw up.  In the fall of 2005 my twins headed off to separate colleges. I was barely able to help them on each of their move in days. I couldn’t carry much because I didn’t have the strength. Making the trek from the car, across the campus, and up the stairs to their rooms was impossible for me to do. I had to keep stopping to take a rest. I was more of a hindrance than anything else. Finally, I sat in the dorm room and watched everyone else move stuff in. Here they were, my daughter in August and my son in September, so nervous about moving off to a different state, making new friends, and doing well in their studies. I didn’t want them to have to worry about me.

In my mind I kept thinking that my family and friends didn’t know how sick I was. On the phone one night with my mother I told her that maybe I did have cancer and the doctors weren’t telling me. I realize that was a silly notion. Of course they would tell me. If they knew.

Due to the constant vomiting, I lost 40 pounds. A woman I worked with asked me what my secret was for losing so much weight because she wanted to do it too. She had to be kidding. My clothes were just hanging off of me. I felt like hell and was desperately trying to keep food down. I decided to just eat soft things like, jello, pudding, soup, and scrambled eggs. Well, that didn’t help. I threw that up too. And most of it contained gluten.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my hematologist ordered 8-week iron intravenous treatments for me several times during the year due to my severe anemia. One particular evening I had finished my eighth week of treatments but I wasn’t feeling any boost of energy at all from this last round.  I was barely able to drive myself home. I would close my eyes at red lights to rest because I was always so, so tired. When I arrived home I literally crawled in to the living room and lay there. My husband was already home from work and preparing dinner in the kitchen. I announced from the floor that I was home. He looked down at me and asked if I was all right. No… I’m not kidding you. He really asked me that. You see – when people view you as a strong person they assume you never need help. I’ve been through some tough times in my life and managed to survive it all somehow. So, I picked myself up off the floor, told him how tired I was and plopped down in a kitchen chair. I really didn’t even want to eat because I already knew within half an hour I’d be throwing it all back up.

When my kids came home from college for Thanksgiving break, I could tell by the looks on their faces when they saw me that I looked really bad. I was physically and emotionally drained. I’d like to end this post today on a happy note but I can’t. Things got much, much worse.

Until next time…