As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I have been MIA for quite a while. I have been sick for over a year, although we didn’t know what was wrong with me until late last year. It was a very scary time; but God helped me through it, and I’m here to tell the tale. So here is my story about why I’ve been gone for so long.
At the beginning of 2016, David and I decided to use our tax refund to buy ourselves a Carnival Cruise. After all, we never did have a honeymoon, and we’ve never gone on a vacation at all. It was actually rather cheap, for everything that was included on the vacation. But that isn’t the point. I had a LOT of weight to lose at that point, so I began to workout in earnest so I would be nice and thin for the cruise, which was set to take place in October.
By May, I was really starting to slim down rather nicely…except for my stomach, which started to change shape. I say “change shape” because as far as the measuring tape was concerned, I was NOT growing larger, my size just seemed to be spreading out in front of me. I was losing fat in my back and slimming down on the sides, but my front seemed to be getting larger and larger.
I have pictures of me in May that I look pretty decent in; by June and July, I started to look pregnant. No matter what workouts I did, how hard I worked, my stomach just continued to get larger and larger.
In addition, I was in pain a LOT. I stopped being able to do the most basic of tasks around the house, and walking for any length of time caused sharp pains in the upper left part of my stomach, just under my rib cage.
At first, I thought I was just having a hard time getting rid of stomach fat. I thought, “perhaps I just have to work harder to get rid of my stomach fat.” Then, I thought maybe I had diastasis recti. After all, I have had six children, right? Surely that had to be it.
But, I was in serious denial.
I started to be asked by complete strangers when my baby was due. They were flabbergasted when I told them I wasn’t pregnant. That’s how bad I looked. I was slim, but had a HUGE belly, and in all truth, I DID look extremely pregnant.
I continued to get more and more depressed, and couldn’t figure out why my stomach just wouldn’t shrink. By September, my weight loss had completely stopped and my waist continued to grow. I couldn’t walk very far at all, and most days was unable to even stand or do my household chores.
I tried to get some clothes for the cruise that would hide my belly, but because I had lost a lot of weight, I really looked pregnant at that point. In other words, it didn’t work.
I cannot tell you how many times people on the cruise asked about my “baby”. You know, the non-existent one hiding in my abdomen. It was really hard for me. There was one time on the ship when I was having a hard time walking, I was in so much pain. These people walking by were concerned (because I looked like a pregnant woman having trouble). I’m afraid I was a little rude, I really didn’t mean to be. But I said “I’m fine, I’m not pregnant, I’m fine.”
We missed out on visiting Progreso because I was in too much pain to walk. I tried, I really did. I didn’t want to ruin our vacation simply because my stomach hurt. The fat stomach. The one I’d been trying to lose all year. The huge inconvenience. *sigh*
Overall, we did have a fun Carnival cruise. I’ll post about that soon, even though I’m several months late. But I’m about to tell you why, don’t worry. I’m getting there. I just want to make sure you have all the background.
We got home from the cruise on October 8th.
On October 12, under the advice of one of my friends, I went to the ER due to the pains I was having in my abdomen. She hadn’t seen me in a while, and was really worried when she saw how big my stomach was.
On October 12, 2016, my life changed forever.
On October 12, 2016, they told me I had cancer.
An abdominal soft tissue sarcoma to be exact.
This huge belly was the result of a tumor. At that point, it was the size of a small basketball. The dimensions of the tumor were 19 cm by 25 cm by 21 cm. Sitting there, in that Emergency Room, I was in shock. Tears streamed unchecked down my face. I didn’t know what to think. They told me I would most likely need surgery to remove the tumor, due to its size.
Did that mean I was going to die? Or was I going to have to go through chemo and lose all my hair? How would I tell my kids? What would happen to them if I die?
Those were only some of the thoughts going through my head.
They told me I had to see an oncologist as soon as possible, gave me a prescription for pain and sent me home.
Yes, they sent me home.
In the meantime, I went to see a regular physician, to check on my health and find out what he thought. I went to the office to fill out paperwork and make an appointment. The staff thought I was pregnant, and told me that they don’t do prenatal care. I assured them I wasn’t pregnant, that the large abdomen was why I was there, and they made time to see me THAT DAY.
I understand NOW why it was so vital, and why they were so concerned when they found out I wasn’t pregnant, but at the time…*sigh* Remember, I was in denial. There was no way I had a disease that was going to kill me!
He agreed that I needed surgery, but also said I may need to go through some other treatments, such as chemotherapy. The doctor referred me to a couple of different surgeons, all of whom said the surgery was too dangerous, and they weren’t willing to try.
Can you imagine being told that your condition is so dangerous, that the surgeon isn’t willing to even TRY to save your life?
My thoughts were in turmoil, my emotions were on a roller coaster, and I sunk into a very deep depression. Everything I was being told by the doctors indicated that I was going to die.
After a few weeks of being in denial (yes, I really did try to bury my head in the sand and ignore the problem hoping it would go away), we finally made an appointment with Texas Oncology in San Antonio.
Honestly, my outlook didn’t change after I saw the oncologist. He was not very positive (and after seeing the statistics for soft tissue sarcoma, I understand why). In fact, he said that he was willing to try the surgery, but that I really needed to prepare my friends and family for my death. It was highly unlikely that I would survive, due to the size of the tumor, the speed of its growth, and how malnourished I was.
Yes, I was extremely malnourished.
Other than the huge stomach, I was extremely tiny. According to my oncologist, my cheeks were sunk in, and my coloring was a little on the gray side. He said I definitely needed the surgery, which we already knew, but he was concerned with my ability to survive the surgery due to the fact that the tumor was taking all of my nutrients, so my body was getting none.
Personally, I was hung up on the “preparing friends and family” for my ultimate demise. How, exactly, are you supposed to do that? How was I supposed to tell my parents? My kids? OMG, my KIDS! How do you tell your kids that their Mommy may not live through Christmas??
I can tell you how I told my mother. Please keep in mind that we don’t live in the same state, so I didn’t have the option of telling her in person. I called her up after one of my oncologist appointments (the one where they actually had scheduled my surgery for December 7). I was driving home from the appointment.
I really didn’t know what to say. How do you tell your mom, “Hey Mom. Just wanted to let you know that I may die next month!”? She already knew that the doctors were telling me I had cancer. She, like myself, was in denial. After all, they hadn’t actually done a biopsy yet, so how could they know that I had a malignant tumor?
There were a few signs that it could have been benign. First of all, it was mobile; in other words, you could physically push the tumor around in my abdomen. Due to its size, you couldn’t move it far, but it was mobile. Secondly, it didn’t seem attached to any of my internal organs; this is, apparently, a good sign of a benign tumor.
I was praying so hard that it was a benign tumor.
Anyway, I’m getting off topic.
On the way home from my appointment, I called my mom and asked her if she was sitting down. Who knows if she really was, or just wanted the news I had to give her. Whatever the case was, she told me she wasn’t driving and she was sitting down. I then told her the news no mother ever wants to hear: “There’s a really big chance that I won’t live through the surgery.”
As you can imagine, she didn’t take it any better than I did. Can you blame her? I can’t imagine what I would do if one of my daughters called me up and told me she may die in the next 30 days. Definitely not something a mother ever wants to hear.
November was a really big blur for me. I was on pain killers (Tylenol 3 and Hydrocodone) and narcotics aren’t really known for helping one keep a clear head. I remember I had friends talking to me about making out a will, making sure my kids were taken care of if I didn’t make it, I had lots of people praying for me. I posted regular posts on Facebook about what was going on, and everyone I knew was sharing my updates and asking for prayer for me.
I honestly don’t remember Thanksgiving. I know that a lot of people were helping my family out with meals, and I was given a Thanksgiving meal by a local news channel as well as a local family. But I really don’t remember the actual Thanksgiving meal. Those mind-clouding pain medications. *sigh*
One of my friends created a Care Calendar for me, and so many people I didn’t even know were helping my family with meals. Those meals were such a blessing. Our community really pulled together to help our family. I was so blessed. I am so thankful. I don’t think I can ever truly convey how thankful I am to those families that helped mine.
I originally tried to keep up with thank you cards, but last month I found a few that I thought I had sent, so I’m afraid that many deserving people never received thank you notes from me. If you’re reading this, please know how thankful and grateful my family was for your help in my time of need.
At the end of November, my oncologist changed my surgery date. Because of how dangerous my surgery was, and the fact that he didn’t know if he was going to have to remove any of my organs, he wanted to have an experienced transplant surgeon in on my surgery. The date was then set for December 14 – a bad date for me.
My grandmother died on December 14, 2007, and my son was born on the same date in 2004. I really REALLY didn’t want to die on my son’s birthday. How terrible that would have been for him!
As with the rest of this process, I shared this concern with my friends on Facebook. Again, I received a lot of prayer and support from all of my friends, and all of their friends.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The oncologist put me in the hospital a full 10 days prior to my surgery. This was to help me with pain management and to enable him to give me nutrients beforehand, via a PICC line. He really wanted to make sure my body was strong enough to survive the surgery.
The surgery he planned was exploratory; he was unable to determine from the CT Scans where the tumor originated, exactly how large it was, or if it was connected to any of my organs. If (and it was a big if, he told us) he was able to remove the tumor, then he would do his best to get all of it out. If he was unable to remove it, due to the tumor being connected to some organ that cannot be removed, then they would sew me back up, and there would be nothing else they could do for me. In other words, we would just wait for it to kill me.
Pleasant thought, right?
My oncologist advised us that if I lived through the surgery, I would most likely be kept in the ICU in a medically induced coma for at least a week, and to expect me to stay in the hospital for several weeks after that.
I was so scared. I have never had any serious health issues, and I have certainly never had a biopsy, PICC line, and definitely have never had surgery!
December of 2016 was definitely the most scariest time of my life to date. I have no desire to repeat that time of my life.
But, honestly, the PICC line was not as scary as I thought it was going to be. I hardly felt a thing. (I’m such a baby!)
The biopsy, which was done only a few days before my surgery, was nothing. They put drugs in my IV that knocked me out, and I woke up in a recovery room afterwards. My question is, did they drug me BECAUSE of my fear, or was my fear for naught, because knocking you out is common practice? Hmmmmm…interesting question. If you’ve had a biopsy, please share your experience in the comments below.
David really had a lot on his plate while I was in the hospital; he was trying to work full time, keep the house running, and take care of the kids at the same time. Add to that the fact that he and the children were all worried about me, and December was a really hard month. He tried to bring the kids to the hospital to come see me at least every other day.
My surgery day came all too quickly, and my mom and David were waiting in the surgery waiting room with me. We were all crying. For all we knew, this was goodbye. It was entirely possible that I wasn’t coming out of this alive. So we were all tearfully saying our goodbyes, just in case.
But I DID come out alive. In fact, although we were told I would most likely be kept in a medically induced coma for around a week, they woke me up the next morning.
The first thing I consciously thought of was, “Is it gone??” I remember my hands going straight to my stomach to see if the extended belly was still there. It wasn’t! I was so overjoyed!
Then my gag reflex kicked in; I had a tube (I’m honestly not sure what it was for) that was down my throat, and another in my nose. Sadly, I have a terrible gag reflex. So I started gagging…and you know what contracts when you’re gagging? Yep! Your ABS! OUCH!!!! My freshly sliced to ribbons abs did NOT appreciate my gagging!
I was put back under, but the details are sketchy. I wasn’t kept under for long, and only stayed in the ICU 3 days. My oncology surgeon said he got all the tumor…and a little more.
To be sure he got it all, he also had to take part of my left lung, parts of my stomach, esophagus and diaphragm, my left kidney, my spleen and my left adrenal gland.
And the SCAR! It’s huge! The entire length of my abdomen through the belly button, and also branches off to one side.
But I LIVED. I’m alive to tell the tale. My surgeon (who was also a Christian) said not to thank him, thank God, because he (the doctor) was just a tool that God used.
We all thank him.
Today, I’m getting back to normal. It’s been 4 and a half months since the surgery. I’m not in much pain anymore, but my system is still trying to regulate, my thyroid is going crazy (my weight gain has been exponential!!) and my immune system is really down. But I’m ALIVE. And that’s what counts.
They did tell me it can take up to a year after this major of a surgery to get back to normal. So I am waiting for that day when I will feel like a normal person again.
If God can do this for me, just imagine what He can do for you! Prayer WORKS!