Keep Calm and Trust the Story

tshirt For the last 49 days I’ve been compiling a list of new vocabulary words. A few of the words I’ve used before but never in the context I use them now. Prior to April 25th, H,P and V were letters in the alphabet, and the only time I saw them together was on pamphlets nestled away in plastic thingys hanging on the walls in the doctor’s office. Pappilloma has a lovely sound to it, but wedge it between human and virus and, well, stuff happens. It’s good to know that sometimes HPV may go away on its own and not all types of HPV lead to cervical cancer. A Pap test can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer, and if you treat the changes, you may prevent cervical cancer. It’s really important to have regular Pap tests. My last Pap test was three years ago and it came back clean. I’m convinced HPV waits until you least expect it.

The pathology report came back and I studied it for hours, googled the big and the small words, and prepared a list of questions. I have low-grade, endocervical adinocarcinoma, initially staged as IB1 (i.e. the cancer can be seen without a microscope and is 4cm or smaller).  Nobody had said anything about a tumor, so naturally I was curious when I kept seeing the word come up. What I’ve learned is that cancer is a disease where abnormal cells don’t function properly, divide quickly, and produce too much tissue that forms a tumor. So they keep referring to “my tumor” but there isn’t a giant lump anywhere. There are symptoms associated with cervical cancer, but early cancers, like mine, usually show no symptoms or signs. As the disease attacks nearby tissue, symptoms start to occur. I have no pain or bleeding and there are days when I actually forget about the disease.

The first test, of many, came in the form of an ultrasound – internal and external. Invasive and awkward. Next came a CT scan served with a lovely barium sulfate beverage followed by an iodine chaser [BTW, barium is a chemical element with the symbol BA and atomic number 56. Because of its high chemical reactivity barium is never found in nature as a free element]. Bartender…I’ll have two!

I met with a Gynecologic Oncologist [GynOnc]and took my Mom along for moral support. There at Cancer Care Northwest, in Spokane, WA., the GynOnc broke it all down for me. She ordered a PET scan and referred me to a Radiation Oncologist [RadOnc]. I left the office numb. The words were all starting to run together and they were becoming a bit more real. She gave me three weeks to decide between option A (Radical hysterectomy followed by radiation) or option B (Radiation and chemotherapy followed by a standard hysterectomy). My BFF, google, helped me sort through more of the details.

The next test, my favorite so far, was the PET scan. Nuclear medicine. Basically, they injected me with a positron-emitting radionuclide, I took a nap in a recliner while it flowed through my body, then they put me in the PET scanner and cranked Jazz through the speakers while I took another nap. The results of the PET scan, taken from eyes to knees, indicated that the cancer has not spread to anywhere else in my body. However, the tumor is bigger than they initially thought and has been upgraded to a IB2 (i.e. the cancer can be seen without a microscope and is larger than 4cm).

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One week later, I met with the RadOnc and asked him to confirm or deny my google findings. He confirmed it all and gave me good news and said he didn’t think I would need radiation or chemo, and the operation sounded like my best, and least harmful, option. “If you were my wife sitting there,” he said, “I would tell her to choose the surgery. And more than likely, you won’t need any radiation at all.” I left the office singing and returned to work. Less than two hours later, he called me with an update. He had spoken with my GynOnc, and she had thought about the treatment and changed her mind. He suggested I call or make an appointment to find out why. I didn’t take the news well.

There are times in my life that I fail to trust the story. Like the Israelites, I forget all the good things God has done and I simply need to be reminded. Time for a party? Without any hesitation, I simply yanked the pen out of God’s hand and made an appointment to get a second opinion from another surgeon, with whom I was familiar. Now you might say there’s nothing wrong with getting a second opinion, but I know why I did it – I wanted to have my way. The surgeon had an opening the next morning and I took that as a good sign and drove to Spokane to meet with her. She was kind and patient and answered all my questions. She reassured me that I was in good hands, the best hands, and suggested I call the GynOnc to give her an opportunity to explain.  And I did just that. I went to her office and asked if she had 15 minutes to speak with me. She was gracious and kind and explained her reasoning. My weight is a factor for a radical hysterectomy. Tough to hear, but it is what it is. She said, “When my heart and my head can’t come to an agreement over treatment for a patient, I listen to my head. It’s where my experience and training reside.”

I drove home from Spokane and used the time to hand the pen back to God. In reality, I know He was always holding it, but now and then I fool myself into thinking I actually know what’s best for me. The next day I met again with the RadOnc and his staff. They mapped out my body with another CT scan and I walked away with three, permanent tattoos. They will use the tattoos to line me up perfectly each time I come in for treatment. As it now stands, my treatment will be radiation and chemo for the next 6-8 weeks. External radiation five days a week, in Lewiston, and chemo every three weeks, followed by two weeks of internal radiation – every other day –  in Spokane. I’ve read all the scary bits. And, for the most part, I know what can go wrong, what the long term effects will be, and the hopeful outcome. The RadOnc told me I could not have planned my cancer better. What? “Your hips will play an important role during radiation treatment, acting as a barrier for your pelvic bones. And, just so you know, skinny women don’t do as well with radiation to this area of the body.” God has a great sense of humor. And, if all goes as planned, I will most likely just need a standard hysterectomy some time next year, or none at all.

If you think of me, please pray for the following:

    1. That I would be fearless and trust the story, and that my cancer would bring glory to God.
    2. That the radiation treatments would only effect the areas where the disease resides and no other organs would be damaged.
    3. Opportunities for me to share God’s greatness with others. I’m having a difficult time sitting in the waiting room with all the sick people, but I know God is beckoning me to share His love.
    4. That the effects of the radiation and chemo would not overwhelm me and I will be able to work for as long as possible – without needing to take time off.
    5. For the women and children of Peniel Crossing. That their daily needs would be met and God’s love would be evident to them.

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