Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cancer's many "FACES"

     "Cancer-ville" can be a very lonely place to live, even if you're fortunate enough, like myself, to be surrounded by family & TRUE friends who are there to cheer you on with each step. Soon enough, however, people who you thought would be by your side until you're old & gray start to slowly pull away; and soon after that, the blame for their distance is put on you in some manner, perhaps with a tad merit of truth.  The reality is, cancer changes you - in any & every way it can, it changes you. It plucks a little of you here & a little more of you there & soon enough, you're a very different person than you were before you heard those 3 bone-chilling, life-altering, every-other-possible-hyphenated-word-combination-that-forever-haunts-your-soul-phrase: "you have cancer".
      Chad & I have always had a very open-communication based relationship {well, after I got over that whole "run in the other direction" tactic ;)} so when cancer came into our lives, we talked about every decision & step we would ultimately take & we knew we would take them together. The same was with my family; we've always been extremely close, but even more-so after losing my brothers, so they were always part of "Team Lisa" discussions. I was (& still am) also very fortunate to have a handful of extremely amazing friends who, no matter what was happening in their own lives, were constantly checking on me & doing whatever they could to remind me that I was always on their minds & in their hearts.
     I KNEW I had a solid support-system; I could FEEL that support surrounding me from all angles, but still, it felt like something was missing. As much as my family & friends loved me & as much as I loved them, there was still a void in my life. As much as they wanted to & as much as they attempted to, they couldn't possibly understand what I was or wasn't feeling or what I was or wasn't thinking because, unfortunately (for me) & fortunately (for them) they, themselves, were never part of the community in my current residence: "Cancer-ville", USA. Little did I know that this awful, disgusting, selfish disease was about to bring about another change in my life, but this was a sweet, unexpected surprise.
     On a normal, random post-chemo day, I was laying in bed, gallivanting my way around a social-media site & for an unknown reason, still to this day as I type out these words, I decided to type "rectal cancer" into the search bar, not necessarily having much hope that anything of substance would appear. Thankfully, how wrong I was! The first group I saw was "FACES" - with a simple click of the mouse, my world was transformed & fate was directing me exactly where I needed to be at exactly the right time.
FACES, which stands for Families Affected by Cancer Embark on Survival, is an online support-group which was created by two very brave women, Lisa Pissanos Moore & Joan Zebraski Buck, whose husbands are both Rectal Cancer Warriors. I spent hours reading stories, stopping every-so-often to read one out-loud to Chad. "Can you believe that?! She was 29 when she was diagnosed!" "Oh my gosh - 28 & absolutely NO symptoms; this is incredible!" I added. It was as if I had unlocked some secret-society code. For the first time since being diagnosed, I could feel the void slow dissipate from my mind more & more with each story I read. Within days I was welcomed into the FACES family with open-arms. I was meeting people who were just like me - other "20s" (dx between 20-29) whose lives were twisted by Hurricane Cancer & then left alone to pick up the mangled pieces of who they were before cancer and, now, who they were after cancer.
      It was an instantaneous bond that I can't really explain - here I was, finally in a place where others "got" me. When I said I didn't have the energy to get out of bed or that the idea of being able to, one day, feel my fingertips & toes again seemed impossible, they "got" me. It was the little things, that in actuality were really BIG things, when being surrounded by other warriors made me feel "normal" again & that was a really, really good feeling - a feeling I had been missing for quite some time.

**Lisa & Joan - I could never THANK YOU enough for all you have done for our FACES family. Your dream gave me a place to find comfort, support, and, ultimately, a place to find myself again. I am forever "IN IT TO WIN IT"!***

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Days Away

     On April 23, 2010 I walked into a local surgeon’s office expecting to walk out finally free of the months of irritation connected to internal hemorrhoids & all the pain that came along with them. Needless to say, that theory would quickly dissipate & my introduction into the cancer world was only days away.
    It took around 20 seconds for my surgeon, the extremely amazing Dr. B, to stop talking mid-sentence during my digital rectum exam. It was at that very second that my throat dropped to my stomach. I sat back up & we all (all being myself, my mom, Dr. B, & Nurse Kathy) shared a few silent seconds looking down at the floor. He put his hands in his pockets & cleared his throat before he raised his head & made eye-contact with me. “I, um…its, well, its not internal hemorrhoids” he said ever-so-gently, almost in a way you tell a child about Santa Clause. My eyes began to water. I tried to speak but no words were able to find their way to my mouth. “There’s a pretty substantial mass lining the right side of your rectum...a very substantial mass actually" he added before taking a deep breath.
    Trying my best to digest what was just said, I put my hands down on the table to steady myself. “What do we do now?” I asked although I clearly wasn’t ready to hear his response. “We need to schedule a colonoscopy & a biopsy to find out exactly what we are dealing with & we really need to do this first thing Monday morning; then we’ll talk about where we go from there.” “Go from there” I thought…I’m not even sure where I am right now. Five minutes earlier I thought my biggest problem was IH & now I was in need of a biopsy of a “substantial mass”. I remember looking over at my mom & seeing the tears in her eyes that she was trying so hard to fight back. Moments later, a nurse brought Chad back to my exam room; he immediately came over & wrapped his arms around me. He knew. I sat silently trying to make sense of the insensible, while at the same time, not wanting to imagine what potentially laid ahead.
    Three days later on April 26, 2010, I had my first colonoscopy & a biopsy of the mass (which would later be renamed a tumor)  taken to test for malignancy. When I opened my eyes in recovery, I saw tears falling down my parents’ faces. Chad kissed my forehead & told me how much he loved me. “This isn’t good, is it?” I asked. I didn’t need them to answer, I already knew. All of a sudden the months of symptoms, of DIYs, & of Dr. WWW flooded back & washed over me. “This is all my fault” I managed to whisper between my tears.
    It took 2 more days to get the “official” word: on April 28, 2010 I was diagnosed with Stage III Rectal Cancer with a 7cm tumor that was blocking 90% of my rectum. There was no more wondering or guessing or playing Dr. online-I had cancer & unbeknownst to all of us, I had it for quite some time.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"If you don't mind me asking...."

     Hi, do I know you?! It's been awhile, right? I can't believe it's been almost 2 years since I've been around these parts of town, but it has & writing on this blog has been on my mind for quite some time. At first, it was completely unintentional - I was healing from an extremely invasive 8 & 1/2 hour surgery (a surgery that would forever change my life in more ways than ever expected , fathomed, or wished upon my worst enemy) which then lead to an intentional avoidance - but we will get to all that in due time.
      March is "officially" Colorectal Awareness Month, so I thought what better time to drop off my emotional baggage & start getting back to living (& sharing) my 3rd chance at life in this crazy world. You see, there are 2 things I am extremely passionate about (not counting my enthusiastic love for all things Dawson's Creek) and that is writing & doing, to the best of my ability, everything & anything that I can do to make others aware of Rectal Cancer, especially early detection & prevention for those of ANY AGE
     By faaaaaaaar the most asked question I have been asked over the past 3 years has been "if you don't mind me asking, how did you find out?" So to answer that question, this DeLorean is heading back to late-2009. Let's Go Doc. ;)
      There isn't an exact moment that I can pinpoint when I started experiencing cancer "symptoms", most likely because I didn't necessarily know that they were actual symptoms. It started as nothing out of the ordinary; like every other person, I would have occasion constipation, but more often than not, my constipation would last more than just a few days and would, eventually, no longer be occasional. My first "DIY" was an over-the-counter fiber-supplement to hopefully give my body what I thought it was obviously lacking. It didn't exactly give me the "outcome" I had expected - instead of ridding me of my constipation, I started experiencing another aggravating issue: bloating in my abdomen. At first, it seemed innocent enough; as women we like to use the word "bloating" when we're not feeling in our peak physical shape, but this was legit bloating.

At the time, I weighed around 105lbs so it was very-much noticeable, so much in fact that I started to wonder if there was a chance I could be pregnant. That scenario was very quickly ruled out so after some time, I decided to move on to my next DIY solution: a little cocktail called "Magnesium Citrate". In actuality, MC is a saline-based, liquid laxative used to treat occasional! I read the back of the bottle & it suggested drinking half the bottle, followed by 8 ounces of water. "Amateurs" I thought as I drank the entire bottle (it was lemon-flavored, which for me was a bonus - for others?...probably not-so-much). MC soon became my go-to-guy; I was still coaching a local high school dance team which was good pay but offered no insurance benefits, so an actual doctor visit was financially out of the question. Doctor WWW soon became my primary care physician.
     After a while, the magic of magnesium citrate lost it's luster & I was back where I began, except now I was starting to feel a dull ache in my tailbone. At first, the pain would come & go but I was quick to brush it off as simply overstretching & overworking myself at practice with my girls. At some point around the same time period I started experimenting with Miralax and soon MC was out and MX was in. It seemed to do the trick, so it became part of my nightly routine.
     In December 2009, it was time for my annual "female check-up", without insurance the only plausible option was a free health clinic. I had mentioned to the DR at the clinic about the problems I had been having and that my most recent symptom was a little blood in my stool. She said that what I was experiencing wasn't a big issue at 25yrsold & told me to just continue with the Miralax "if I wanted". Awesome advice.
     Over the next couple months my symptoms began to progress as did the amount of blood; it went from a little here & there to more & more in abundance & occurrence.  According to Dr. WWW, all of my symptoms were common in conjunction with internal hemorrhoids. It made sense, IH are actually very common in dancers. I was satisfied and actually pretty proud of my self-diagnosis, however reality was about to smack me upside the head & literally become a pain in my butt.
     Around March 2010, I began having the worst pain I had ever experienced in my life in my inner -right "buttock" (who we'll call "Righty" for referral purposes) - a sharp, stabbing pain so severe I could barely sit, stand, or sleep without cringing from excruciating pain. I will NEVER forget the next thing I am going to describe: on one particular evening I was having so much pain that I spent most of the night laying on my side on the bathroom floor. All of a sudden I felt like I was being stabbed with a butcher knife in my tailbone; the sensation instantly traveled down to Righty & began to burn like acid was inside my body. I struggled to pull myself up off the floor while tears streamed down my tired face. I remember tasting the fibers from a towel that I had rolled up to bite down on so I wouldn't scream out in pain. The next thing I remember is looking down at the toilet & seeing a full crimson pool of blood....I remember closing my eyes & opening them again because I couldn't believe what I was seeing. For the first time I was no longer frustrated, I was scared to death...I was CERTAIN this HAD to be the WORST case of internal hemorrhoids ever experienced by a human being! 
     The very-near future would show me just how wrong I was, how wrong a licensed doctor was, and how different my life was about to be forever changed.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Well, hello there!

In honor of the month of March being "Colorectal Awareness Month" I decided to give the ol' page a little face lift & will be updating very soon. I promise, its all worth the wait so please...stay tuned. ;-)