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A Reason to Celebrate

It’s been just about one month since I had my surgery and recovery has been going slowly, but surely. Some days are better than others in terms of energy levels, and I continue to manage through my annoying cough, incisions and stitches. I really can NOT complain, though, all things considered.

The big open issue was related to the pathology report. The actual report showed up in my portal on March 12th. I read it, to the best of my abilities, and thought maybe I was in the clear. There were several mentions of “no tumor seen” and “no morphologic or immunophenotypic evidence”. But there were also whole paragraphs of medical/scientific jargon that made me wonder if my interpretation was correct.

Since March 12th was a Saturday, I waited until Monday (3/14) to reach out to my surgeon’s office. Unfortunately, he was on vacation that week and I was advised that I needed to wait until I saw him in person on 3/23 (yesterday). So wait, I did, with anticipation of some good news.

I am happy to report that my surgeon did, indeed, confirm that there was no cancer found anywhere in my lung, in the nodules, or in my lymph nodes! What a relief, and what a reason to celebrate, for sure!

Thank you to all of you who prayed, sent good vibes, and otherwise supported me during this time! Whew!

So the natural follow up question is: If not cancer, what WERE these growing nodules?

And that’s a great question with no real answer. The surgeon indicated that chemo can “do weird things”, but as I’m almost 10 years out from my chemo, that seemed an unlikely answer. But who knows? I’m just going to be happy that Spot and Smudge, and every other nodule, lymph nodes and tissues samples, are NOT cancer.

The pathology report indicated the “Possibility of underlying connective tissue or autoimmune disorders should be ruled out” as, perhaps, a reason for the suspicious nodules. However, considering I have “zero symptoms” of either, he thought it was best that they just “leave me alone” for a while. I’m good with that.

The next question: Do I regret going through with the surgery? Nope. Given my history, the risk was too high that it was cancer and I didn’t want to take that risk. I know I’ll be back to my normal self soon, and I’m not feeling any life-changing limitations to my lung capacity or anything else. My adage is always “better safe than sorry”. Having the surgery was the most prudent / conservative decision I could make.

The other great part of the visit yesterday was getting my stitches out! Yay!

In terms of next steps: I do not need to go back to see him. I will just continue to follow up with my regular doctors. He would like a repeat CT scan in about six months for a new baseline.

As for the cough, the surgeon indicated that it was not unusual to have a chronic cough after a surgery like this. The nerves get aggravated with the things they stick down your throat and it takes a while for all that to settle down. I told him I had tried Mucinex, Claritin, Pepcid (acid reflux can cause a cough), etc., and he said there was no harm in trying those things; whatever helps. They did also prescribe an inhaler in case it was an “asthmatic-type response”. So I guess I’ll try that, too.

David and I celebrated the great news with a lovely lunch at The Cheesecake Factory, including a celebratory glass of wine. Cheers! Hallelujah!

Thanks again to all of you for your love and support!

IMDb: A Reason to Celebrate (2019)

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Monday vibes.

As my five new incisions heal and stitches dissolve, I can’t help but envision myself as a bit like Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Lose a body part, stitch it all back together.

The incisions are healing nicely, but with healing comes itching and tightening and a bit of nerve pain. Occasionally, I feel like I’m being tased in my rib cage (or as I imagine tasing to feel like…) and those nerve pains are totally unpredictable.

The incision on my back is the only one with “real stitches” that one get removed until my appointment later in the month. For now, they stick out through my clothing and look like I have a spider on my back.

Weirdly, they are blue stitches and all my photos look like I drew them in with a ball point pen!

Hey, whatever it takes to hold us all together, right?

IMDb: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Tid-Bits

There are so many little, random musings and pieces of info I wanted to share, I thought I’d throw them all together in this tidbits post!

My surgery date was “Two’s Day”, 2/22/22. While at first, I thought this was a fabulous day for a surgery, I quickly became superstitious! I’m a believer in numerology and all that good stuff, so 2/22/22 seemed lucky (and I guess it was). But SO many people made comments about what a lucky date it was that I started feeling like we were jinxing things, so I stopped telling people!

There are few things as heavenly as that first shower when you get home from the hospital!

I wasn’t able to take a shower in the hospital, but one of my nurses suggested a “shampoo cap”. Intrigued and feeling slightly gross, I signed right up for this! It is, indeed, a shower cap that gets microwaved to warm it up. It is placed on the patient’s head, after which the nurse does a head massage to shampoo your hair. Then the cap is removed, the hair is towel-dried, and voila! Clean hair. What will they think of next?

Meals were ordered over the phone — no more circling your selections on paper. This was good and bad. Good because the food was somewhat made-to-order, so it was always warm when it arrived. Bad, because at 6:30 in the morning, you can NOT get through to them. Everyone is ordering breakfast at the same time. So I was on hold for 15 minutes (ok for me, but what about the elderly or the very sick?), and then I waited 1 1/2 hours for my breakfast. I’m thinking someone needs to look at staffing and throughput for those early hours! Or may I suggest an app…?

I was on a no-caffeine diet (see prior posts about heart rate), so no coffee or tea. I was able to sneak in a decaf coffee one morning, but when I tried to order decaf tea, that was a no. Also a surprising no-no… chocolate chip cookies! Once home I was still avoiding coffee, but finally emailed my care team for permission. I was approved to have coffee but advised not “to go crazy”.

Do you ever wonder what caused the random bruises on your body post-surgery? Some make total sense. The two puzzling me today are the bruises in the exact middle of my belly and on the inside of my wrist (no, not where the arterial blood draw was, nor even my two IVs). Just weird. Hmm.

Whenever I give up a body part, or part of one, I assume that I’m going to lose some weight. I mean, you are removing something from my body, and I’m giving up a few meals… that ought to count for something, right? Alas, this was not so. (At least I didn’t GAIN any weight, either.) Just so you know, the average pair of lungs weighs 2.2 pounds. So roughly, what they removed only weighed about 1/3 of a pound, so perhaps my expectations were unrealistic this go-round.

Bandage / tape glue is very hard to remove from your body. Three days of trying; much of it is still there!

I was surprised that ALL of my floor nurses were men. All very different personalities — Chris, Allen, Tim — but all equally compassionate, attentive, competent. Note: I am not implying that I didn’t think men could be awesome nurses. This was just the first time I ever had a male nurse, never mind ONLY male nurses 24/7, and it was kinda nice!

IMDb: Tid-Bits (1934)

Stabbed in the Back

Me, when describing my post-surgical pain: “I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back.”

Doctor: “Well, that’s pretty much exactly what happened to you.”

Usually I’m pretty good about researching and asking questions and really understanding what is going to happen, but somewhere along the line, I completely missed that my surgery would involve going in through my back. I expected it all to be on my right side, but there are actually three incisions on my back. The first is right under my shoulder blade, and then the other two curve towards my right side. (Warning: photo below, in case you don’t want to see it.) There are two more incisions under the bandages that don’t come off until tomorrow.

Other than that surprise, the rest of the surgery went as expected / planned.

The day before surgery, I was required to take a Covid test. If it had been positive, my surgery would have been delayed by one month. I had been super cautious and didn’t leave the house, so I wasn’t too worried about that. My first official Covid test, I expected it to be uncomfortable, but it really only tickled!

This particular surgery was done at Penn Presbyterian, rather than the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, although both are part of the Penn Med family. “Penn Presby”, as it is called, is the trauma center of that large medical family and is equipped with top of the line surgical equipment. Equally impressive was their completely efficient operations, from registration to pre-op, to the emergency room to post-op, and beyond. Every. Single. Person I met through the whole process was amazing, supportive, kind, informative, gentle, helpful, and positive. (Their hiring practices must be top-notch, also!)

Luckily, my lobectomy was scheduled first on the docket, so my hospital report time was 5:30 a.m., with a surgical start of 7:30 a.m. In that two hour time period, I checked in, got in my gown and surgical cap by 6:00, met with the nurse, the doctor and the anesthesiologists, got my IV in, and was pre-medicated with Oxycodone and Tylenol. When I was wheeled into the OR, the clock said 7:28. Now that’s a well-oiled machine! I know their surgical volume requires that they are extremely efficient; it was just impressive to witness.

When I woke up in post-op, it was 12:12, around what was expected. While it only felt like 2 minutes to me, I know it felt like forever for the people waiting. I am grateful to David for his patience and worrying. It was not an easy week for him either. A lot of driving. A lot of waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Not a lot of sleep or good food. And yes, a lot of worrying. (Love you, dear!)

I’m not sure which drugs did it to me, certainly the oxycodone pre-med is a likely suspect, and I don’t really know what other drugs I got during surgery, but post-op including several episodes of vomiting. As I mentioned in my prior post on pain, I just do not get along with pain meds. At least we know I’ll never be an addict.

By the time I got on the floor, the vomiting was in check (thank you, Zofran and Compazine!). All of my nurses were AMAZING in every way you can imagine. The level of care I received cannot be overstated. And the team work was super impressive (more on that in a funny story in a future post).

Tuesday night wasn’t too bad for me. I slept pretty well, and all the meds from the surgery were doing their job. By Wednesday night, the meds were wearing off and it was a rough night. My girlfriend, Glo, who went through a similar surgery talked about that moment of just wanting to die, and for me, that was Wednesday night. The pain was horrible and I wasn’t taking much beyond Tylenol and Gabapentin. After a very long conversation with the doctor on service, who very much wanted to minimize my pain (I needed to be deep breathing but that’s really hard when you think you have daggers in your side and back), I agreed to a very low dose of Dilaudid via IV, along with Compazine to manage any nausea. The thought was that taking it intravenously would reduce any nausea. It seemed to work, at first, but after a few hours, I was sick again. There is nothing worse than heaving when you are in that kind of stabbing pain. It was a very rough night and I worried it would move my discharge date.

As it turned out, by Thursday morning, all of my numbers looked good, including the very important “air leak” monitor on my chest tube. That was the key to my seemingly early release. My surgeon came in, looked at those numbers, and said I could go home. David was happy since he wasn’t going to have to drive in the ice if I got discharged on Friday. My chest tube was removed (painlessly, may I add) and I was discharged. Even that whole process was quick and efficient! There was no waiting for transport; my assigned nurse wheeled me to pharmacy to pick up all my meds, so we didn’t need to stop at the pharmacy on the way home and to ensure I had all the meds I needed, and then he waited with me until David pulled the car up.

We got home yesterday afternoon and I’m feeling great. I’m resting, for sure, but also able to move around. I’ve been able to do the stairs without being out of breath, and my pain is tolerable (getting that chest tube out was EVERYthing). I am grateful to be feeling as good as I do while we wait for the results of the pathology. The details will not be available for 3-4 weeks. I’m prepared for whatever results come my way: Not cancer? New primary cancer? Metastatic cancer? And we’ll tackle that bridge when the time comes.

Thanks to absolutely everyone for the love, support, and prayers! It’s always great to have an army of supporters behind you! Always there to pull that proverbial knife out of my back in every way possible.

Far left image with stitches is right under my right shoulder blade, one of the more painful incisions. The next two aren’t so bad. Two still covered were ouchy, as well.

IMDb: Stabbed in the Back (TV) (2014)

Deep Breath

I’m in the final stretch, with my surgery scheduled in the upcoming week.

*deep breath*

I finished my last day of work, ending my contract a few months early so I can focus on recovery. I’m getting caught up on household things so I don’t have to worry about anything while I’m in the hospital. And I’m packing for my upcoming “getaway”! I need to view this as an adventure of sorts; otherwise, I think I’d be slightly terrified.

Ok. So, I AM slightly terrified.

Removing a third of my lung feels like a really big deal (probably because it is). The whole heart/lung connection makes it all seem a bit more serious than my other surgeries. Certainly, it’s a bit more risky than removing my breasts which are external and not responsible for my existence. Any surgery carries risk, of course, and I’m in good hands, but…

*deep breath*

As always, I manage my fears through education, reading the literature provided by the surgeon, researching online (reputable sources only!), and chatting with those who have been through this before. I’ve got my list of questions for the surgeon ready to go: How long until we receive the pathology? Since using robotics results in smaller incisions, how do they get the lobe out? What level of pain do I need to be prepared for? Will he take a picture of it for me after it’s out? (Yeah, the answer is always no, but that won’t stop me from asking!)

So the final stretch will include a covid test, confirmation of surgery time, a visit to the Mütter Museum, and a nice dinner with my hubby. In the absence of a photo of my own lung, I am hoping to see a specimen of a lung at the museum. It may seem like a slightly macabre choice of museums pre-surgery, but I’m always fascinated by it all.

I was hoping dinner would include a nice glass (bottle?) of wine, but that is not to be. Since alcohol is a depressant, it is best not to be drinking ahead of anesthesia! Makes sense, but tea doesn’t take the edge off in quite the same way! 🙂

*deep breath*

Speaking of deep breathing, I have really been pushing myself on the treadmill: further distances, faster paces, longer times, with the hopes of really getting my lungs ready. I’ve done what I can. I’m ready.

*deep breath*

IMDb: Deep Breath (2001)

Inside Out

Many friends have been reaching out to ask me how I’m doing which is greatly appreciated! All I can think of is the movie Inside Out, where I’m playing all five characters! And which character I am depends on the day.

Joy. Anger. Sad. Disgust. Fear.

Hell, sometimes it’s all five in the same day/hour/minute!

When I first heard the news that I might have some new cancer brewing, I just cried. Not necessarily sad tears, but definitely tears of Disgust and disappointment. I sat in shocked silence for quite a bit. I even felt embarrassed. I know that sounds weird, but I just felt like a complete freak of nature. I mean, who gets three different cancers? (Apparently lots of people, but we’ll save that for another day.) But, still. As the person who coaches others on healthy diet and lifestyle, I can’t even keep myself cancer free?

When I have time to sit and think about things, or I’m lying awake in bed at night, Fear is the one that sneaks in most. Fear of more cancer in the future. Fear of dying too soon. Fear of catching Covid. Fear of complications from surgery. Fear of diminished lung capacity. Fear can and will drive you absolutely crazy if you let it get the best of you.

Anger and Sadness are good friends with Fear. The more I think about any of those things actually happening, I waver between tears and screaming at the world. I try not to dwell here, because that’s not who I am. I’m definitely more of a worrier, but I always try (TRY being the operative word) to create peace and serenity in my life. You can’t have either of those things if you are mired down in anger or sadness or fear.

That leads me to Joy. I try to spend as much time here as possible. But how do you find time for Joy when facing your fourth cancer diagnosis?

The answer is simply: Gratitude.

Gratitude for the Love I feel from so many of you. For the most amazing support system ever. For a supportive husband. For family and friends. For wonderful doctors and decent health insurance. For our ability (so far) to pay for my portion of medical bills and our travel costs. For being otherwise healthy. For having found my way to nutrition and lifestyle changes that make my risk of surgery so much lower. For technology that allows me to stay connected to friends while I “hermit” and that gives me the ability to answer all my questions in the dead of night. For a warm, comfortable home.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I haven’t mentioned envy. I’m not sure I consider myself an envious person, but I imagine it sneaks in there sometimes. Jealous of people who have good health despite bad habits? Secretly wishing I could be one of those people who doesn’t ever have to think about a return of cancer? Ok. Maybe a little.

I have limited the discussion to the “Inside Out” characters, but certainly the emotional spectrum runs far and wide: Impatience. Frustration. Appreciation. Confusion. Relief. Resignation. Panic. Contentment. Pride. Compassion. Love.

Hope.

There’s always hope.

Thank you again to all of you who have messaged or called, are praying, or sending positive energy!

IMDb: Inside Out (2015)

Empowered

As most of you know, between my surgery early last year and the pandemic, I haven’t really had the opportunity to do much (any) health coaching or any other workshops related to plant-based nutrition. I’m still so passionate about the benefits of a plant-based diet, and I have missed coaching. I figured I would wait out the pandemic and see what new opportunities might be available after that.

In the meantime, however, I was contacted by my friend, Jean, about taking over leading the Empowered Eating Group at The Greenhouse Project at Nay Aug Park in Scranton. Plant-based friends Kathy and Jean have established and led this group for several years, until the pandemic impacted that program also.

The mission of the Greenhouse Project is to educate children and adults on the relationship between the foods we eat and our personal and public health. This includes promoting activities that lead to healthier people and a healthier world. Their programs benefit education, nutrition, and local hunger projects.

The Empowered Eating Group was established to educate the community on the benefits of a plant-based diet, and to provide support to those who are trying to eat healthier, regardless of where they are on their health journey. I love that it is a no-judgement zone; the goal is to meet people where they are and educate and support however possible.

I started working with The Greenhouse Project in March and have my first events planned for April. We will be resuming the monthly educational series on various plant-based topics. For now, those events will be virtual, with the hope that we can do some outdoor activities over the summer and maybe do in-person activities as our country starts to achieve herd immunity.

I will be starting a quarterly plant-based book club in April also. Our first book will be Kris Carr’s “Crazy Sexy Diet”, one of my favorites! We will also be establishing a plant-based library so that educational materials are accessible by anyone. I will also be trying to expand our presence in social media.

If you are so inclined, I invite you to follow our Empowered Eating Group on Facebook (Instagram soon to follow!). https://www.facebook.com/EmpoweredEatingPlantBasedWholeFoods This would be a great way to stay informed on upcoming events, as well as other educational materials, recipes, and (someday) cooking demos. (I just need to get past my video-phobia!)

I’m really excited about this opportunity, working with a well-established and well-respected non-profit organization and building on the success that Kathy and Jean had with the program. Wish me luck!

IMDb: Empowered (2018)

Hot Shots! Part Deux

Despite a slight delay because Pennsylvania either can’t count or couldn’t figure out distribution, I finally received the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. I am grateful and feel a certain liberation in knowing that I will not die or be on a ventilator if I were to contract this disease. As I see more and more people getting vaccinated in my little corner of the world, I am hopeful that a move closer to normal is in sight. I am glad to live in a community where vaccines are desired and I am not really aware of many people refusing to get them. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Unfortunately, the supply is still not up to demand, but I am hopeful we will get there now, with funding allocated to resources to expedite vaccine distribution. It’s still enormously frustrating to try to get an appointment. I have been trying for four weeks to get an appointment for my husband. I got him on multiple wait lists. I got him registered with a local hospital chain. And I was on multiple sites, every day, multiple times a day, hoping a cancelled appointment would pop up. Perseverance paid off and I was able to secure an appointment for this Friday afternoon, 20 miles away. But it shouldn’t have to be this hard. If you work for a living, or aren’t computer savvy, or don’t even have a computer, you’re probably out of luck in the short term. And you have to be super fast, or you miss it. I feel everyone’s frustration and am hopeful this will get better soon.

In terms of my reaction to the second shot, I am doing pretty well. I have a low grade temperature and feel like I was hit by a truck, with achy muscles, joints, and lymph areas, but it’s tolerable. I know many of who have had severe chills, higher temps, and more pain, so I am not complaining at all. I’ll take this temporary inconvenience.

It was suggested that I hydrate before and after the shot, and I did that. So, at least anecdotally, it seemed to work. (It did not work for my dental hygienist who I saw on Friday afternoon, but it certainly never hurts to hydrate.) When you go for your second shot, my advice is to plan nothing the rest of day, and for the next day as well. I plan on spending most of my day with my butt on the couch. I fully expect to be back to normal, such that it is, tomorrow.

I know I am blessed that my perseverance paid off, along with a bit of timing dumb luck (thank you, Karen F. for sending me the link to Hometown when you did!). Good luck to all of you still struggling to get appointments for yourself or your loved ones. I hope you are successful soon.

IMDb: Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993)

Check and Double Check

The trip to Philadelphia was for my 6-month check up. I had four appointments in all: 2 ultrasounds, 2 doctors. I’m grateful for my hubby, who sat in the lobby watching Star Wars movies on his iPad, since he was not allowed in with me to any appointments. He refuses to let me go alone, and he insists on doing all the driving.

My first appointment was for a repeat thyroid ultrasound. This is the third one I had. The first two were done locally but the PennMed docs reviewing those reports and films did not think they were done well, and there was no recommendation action in the report. Since I will be going to Penn every six months anyway, it made sense to just have them re-do it. It was certainly a much more thorough ultrasound, but my developed test anxiety had me nervous. The amount of time the doctor spent doing the test made me start to panic a bit, since my default assumption is always that something is wrong. I waited the longest (about a week) for these results. Everything was stable, but they did want me to start seeing an endocrinologist. I have an TeleMed appointment with a Penn doctor at the end of March. Part of me just wanted to find a local doctor for ease of visits, but the quality of care at Penn can’t be beat, so… Penn it is. For those of you wondering why thyroid… This was an “incidental finding” from a prior CT scan that they are required to follow up on.

Appointment number two was a chest ultrasound to continue monitoring the “lump” that we all believe to be a “surgical remnant” but want to monitor to be safe. Everything was stable/same, so that’s good.

Before my doctors’ appointments, I had my vitals taken and my meds/history reviewed. Apparently, my heart rate was higher than normal. I didn’t realize this until I got into my third appointment was with my oncologist. She said, “oh, I see you were tachycardic…” Really? Heart rate was 103. I have to believe it was an error or typo or something. I didn’t feel like my heart was racing or anything like that, so I’m not really worried. But hearing the word “tachycardic” was surprising.

Everything went well. She was happy with how I was doing, that I’m continuing to exercise, that I got my first covid shot (at her recommendation), and that my side effects from the meds were all manageable.

My last appointment was with my surgeon, who I haven’t seen in a year, due to the pandemic. She finally got to check out said “lump” and her thoughts are that it’s a suture. It isn’t the size, shape, etc. of a surgical clip, per her assessment, and it’s just something we’ll watch to be on the safe side.

I love all of my Penn doctors. They always spend a good amount of time with me, and they seem interested in me as a person. Am I still exercising every day? Am I still writing? How is that grandson of yours? I think it’s important to feel a connection with your physicians and I feel so comfortable and confident every time I go there. I could conceivably stop seeing them and stay local only, but I just feel so much better going there (in addition to my local doctors). I am getting checked and double checked.

I will return in August for a repeat of all the same appointments.

IMDb: Check and Double Check (1930)

The Sanitizer

Wow. I’m so glad I was diligent about writing in January, because in February, I really dropped the ball! It wasn’t that I didn’t have things to write about; I certainly did. But life got busy(-ier?) somehow and the constant snowing meant lots of shoveling… You know how it goes!

Anyway, back on February 9th, I had scheduled appointments in Philadelphia. Two ultrasounds and two doctors’ appointments. Unfortunately, it was supposed to snow (again!) on February 9th. As David and I debated our departure time the night before, considering getting in an accident or stuck behind an accident on the turnpike, we decided that maybe we should drive down right then and there. Over dinner, we made the decision to leave “soon” and just spend the night.

I don’t know about you, but in this pandemic world, the thought of staying in a hotel freaked me out just a bit. I quickly searched for a hotel room, noting that the search websites had a new option to filter on: “properties taking safety measures”. Cool. I definitely clicked on that and found a list of hotels that were committed to sanitizing, masking, and not assigning rooms back-to-back. Meaning, if I stay in a room tonight, it will not be given to anyone tomorrow. This all made me feel a bit better, but I still packed my Lysol spray and wipes!

We threw together a suitcase for the overnight and a cooler with our lunch for the next day, and off we went.

We arrived at the hotel about 9:30 and we felt pretty comfortable that the hotel was, indeed, taking precautions. The person at the front desk had her mask under her nose (really, people?) but she was behind Plexiglas, so I opted not to say anything. (I did include it in my “how was your stay?” feedback.) Once in the room, before we unpacked a thing or sat down, I wiped down every single surface we might touch and sprayed everything (especially the bedding) with Lysol. It was only then that I felt a bit more relaxed.

Staying in a hotel was something we once took for granted and never really thought about. I look forward to a time when we can be more comfortable traveling, although, admittedly, I might always be packing the Lysol from now on! For those who might think I went overboard or shouldn’t be so freaked out, we’ve been so careful for so long, I just would hate to drop my guard at this point. With one vaccine under my belt, I see the light at the end of the tunnel and want us all to make it there.

Stay tuned for details from the appointments… and stay safe, everyone!

IMDb: The Sanitizer (2020)