Surgery Complete-Recovery Mode in Full Swing

The New Kaiser Hospital

Surgery is done. I am in recovery mode at the moment and feeling very thankful and grateful to my friends who are helping me and Miss Elsie the Cat.

Here are a few things I have learned. Because I had a similar surgery done last April, no two surgeries are alike. Removing half a thyroid is different than removing the other half. When one has half a thyroid left there are certain things that one doesn’t have to be as concerned about.

A few logistics are needed here. I won’t detail it too much as I prefer none of you to get funny or pass out.  There are these little glands, four of them that sit on or next to the thyroid, known as the parathyroids. They control calcium in our bodies. Most of us know that calcium is important to our bone growth. Did you know that calcium is important to muscles as well? Those little parathyroids sometimes like to go into shock when they are manipulated or handled. It can cause a dip, sometimes a big dip in the calcium and our heart may not work so well if that happens.

Why is this important? I ended up spending the night in the hospital post-surgery so that my calcium level could be monitored, just in case. Everything went well and I was discharged the following morning. I was surprised to find out I would be staying. Cynthia, my major support person was surprised as well.

An example of the rooms in the new hospital.

In view of the larger picture, this was just a small blip. If I had to stay in a hospital for the night I could not have been in a better place. The Kaiser hospital in San Diego is brand new. On the floor where I stayed, every room was private. Cool. When they wheeled me in I discovered a beautiful view of Mission Trails Regional Park and Miramar- the Marine base. There was the hugest TV I have ever seen hanging on the wall in front of the bed. I could watch TV, I could watch movies, I could surf the internet, I could watch videos about my health. I could even order my meals, all on that screen.

Remember that I live in about a 200 square foot space so this room and all the amenities were amazing. Drawn behind the TV screen was a picture of the Santa Rosa Mountains in the Anza Borrego State Park. I love the desert, so it was nice to see a view I know well and love.

Beyond all the amenities was the staff. The nurses, aides, and student nurses were amazing and kind and generous with their time. They let me sleep through the night. Yes!!!! Everyone cared for me well and lovingly. I was in good hands with people who appeared to love their job and cared about me.

Now I am back at Cynthia’s and Ward’s, recovering, being fed and loved. Today I am achy and sore, tomorrow I am sure I will be better. It is hard to be patient and allow myself the downtime to recover. Usually, the body wins out and off I go to take a nap.

Miss Elsie, meanwhile is hanging out with Nancy a long and good time friend, who Elise has always liked. I am sure she is getting loved and cared for. I hope Nancy is enjoying her company as well. Elsie can be Miss Personality when she chooses.

So, there is an update. I am still alive and working on thriving again. I will know the biopsy results in about ten working days. My main job currently is to rest and recover and enjoy the attention.

Thank you, all of you for your support and caring and loving thoughts as I worried my way into and out of surgery. Today I am thankful for every single one of you, known and unknown who encourage me and support me through my life.

Yes, I am still breathing.

 

Breathe

This time of the year is always a bit difficult for me. I arrive back in San Diego to get all my medical and dental completed for the upcoming year.

Dr appointments loom or have already been finished. My annual mammogram is complete. Although it has been almost ten years since my diagnosis of breast cancer, this time of the year I notice I become slightly anxious as I await the results of the mammography. I have about ten days to go before the results are in.

This year, 2019, is a bit more difficult. I have surgery on Friday to remove the other half of my thyroid. I have cancer. I have papillary thyroid cancer. My left thyroid will be removed to prepare me for the radioactive iodine treatment that will seek out any thyroid tissue that is left anywhere in my body.

Today I had my pre-op appointment with my surgeon. Dr. Ressa has followed me through breast cancer treatment and now the thyroid. These visits are never easy for me. I have a lot of questions. Being a nurse makes it harder because I read a lot. Being a one-time cancer survivor increases the number of questions and concerns as well. Having had almost six months to anticipate this coming Friday has allowed me to evaluate and add more questions in my mind.

Here is what has not helped me while waiting to have this surgery.

  • I have heard the good stories and the bad. It does not help me to hear that this is a “good” kind of cancer to have. There is no “good” cancer!
  • It is good to hear positive outcome stories, it truly is, however, I would encourage those who say this not to devalue my situation. At present I am anxious and a bit worried.
  • Surgery is surgery and not to be taken lightly. I am not taking it lightly and I would like others to not brush it off either.
  • Don’t question if I caused this cancer. Don’t tell me that if I had done something different I wouldn’t have cancer. It seems that only people who have not been challenged with this diagnosis say these things.

The bottom line? I have cancer. That statement alone is overwhelming and a bit lonely. How is it lonely? I have found since Jim died, I have no one to talk to daily about things that make me happy or things that concern or frighten or discourage me. I miss having that daily person to check in with and support me no matter what. Even when I might have done something stupid or said something out of character, Jim was there to give me a hug or counsel me through indecision and worry and often lead me in the right direction to correct wrongs.

It is hard for me to do this for myself. I can, it is just harder. In my current lifestyle, I find I have to push myself to interact with others. Often the campgrounds are full of air-conditioned RVs. When these hot Santa Ana days are upon us, very few people come outside or interact with their neighbors. I don’t blame them. It is “hot” in San Diego county these days.

Joining cancer support groups sounds like a good idea. I have joined a few thyroid support groups on Facebook. They are filled with nice, mostly women. Here is the deal with these sites. The women who post are having issues pre or post-surgery. I now avoid them as surgery looms nearer, they scare the heck out of me. I find I am overwhelmed on these sites. I feel sorry and sad for these people who are going through difficulties and I worry about me and my outcome. I have taken a hiatus from these groups until I am post-op.

When things like this arise, I miss my family. I have two sisters and two nieces that live over two thousand miles away. Their lives are busy. When things like this come into my life, even if I recognize it is complicated, I would love to have them show up on my doorstep and take over for a week or two. As a rational adult, I recognize this is not possible, yet the little girl in me still wishes that one of them would show up anyway.

This is where friends have stepped forward to help me out over the next few weeks.

 

Miss Elsie the Cat

  • My friend, Nancy, is taking Miss Elsie the Cat into her home and life. She loves kitties and Elsie has always really liked her. It is a good fit.
  • Cynthia and Ward are taking me into their home for the weekend post-surgery. When I think of this offer it brings tears of gratitude and caring to my eyes and heart. I am so thankful for their caring and support. With their support and encouragement, I will be on the road to recovery and dancing quickly. (They are members of the Scottish Dance community in San Diego).
  • Phyllis is my go-to friend. She will help in any way that I will let her. After traveling for two months in Africa we still remain good friends. That is an accomplishment in itself.
  • All my friends near and far will be loving and supporting me. I feel so fortunate to be loved by so many.

Now I need to take a deep breath, push worries aside, walk into Friday with positive thoughts for the best of outcomes. I need a mantra for this. So far the only one I have come up with is “breath”. The other mantra I have had for years is “You are a good and caring person and worthy of being loved”. I often say this to myself as I look in the mirror morning and night. Now I say Breath.

Asking for thoughts and prayers is a statement that has been degraded over time. There have been too many situations over recent years that have made me hesitate to ask people for this. Instead, I will ask you to send a breath my way on Friday filled with whatever you want to fill it with. It will help me walk into a current unknown future. I have no doubt that I will feel the love and support.

Moving forward, one step at a time.

 

 

 

Driving West, The Cancer Word, Moving On

Sunset over Lake Erie

In mid-September I left New Jersey and my sister’s home and began heading west. Elsie the cat and I moved back into our little home on wheels and took off. I have been slowly making my way west, exploring Pennsylvania, stopping to visit family in Ohio and taking time to bird watch along the south shore of Lake Erie.

I spent three lovely days visiting good friends, Helen and Norb, in Chicago before once again heading west. I am now in Lincoln, NE visiting with good friends, waiting out a cold front that is coming through before once again heading west.

For all of my friends that are experiencing very cold conditions at night, I am afraid I am going to bypass you this time. Why? 10 degrees F. is just a bit too cold for my rig. I am going to be driving south and then west so I don’t have to winterize my little home on wheels.

I will arrive in San Diego on October 20. I am scheduled for surgery to remove the other half of my thyroid on October 25. With the support of my doctors I put off this surgery until after my grand summer vacation in Africa. Now I have to move ahead. I guess the vacation is over.

I have been contemplating, otherwise known as thinking, about my life coming up. I am nervous about this surgery. I am apprehensive about the outcome. A few days ago I woke in the morning with the realization that I am experiencing the “C” word for the second time in my life and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, a bit nervous, and a bit scared, and a bit emotional. Ah life continues to hand out the surprises.

There is another feeling I have been experiencing this time with cancer and that is the sense of feeling very alone in this big wide world. When I had breast cancer, Jim was alive and was my major every day support. This time I am having to create my support team. And, honestly?, I am missing Jim.

After seeing Jim go through head and neck cancer I swore that was the one type of cancer I did not want to tackle. Now here I am. I am trying very hard to separate the two experiences yet that is hard to do. I know they are different kinds of cancer but seriously who cares? Cancer is cancer and it is a hard thing to handle.

I know I have heard all the words; “I have a friend (aunt, sister…) who had thyroid cancer and they had their thyroid removed and are fine”, “If you are going to have cancer, this is the a good cancer to have” (that is a horrible thing to say to someone, there is no good cancer to have), “you will be just fine” (how do you know?), “God never gives you more than you can handle” (bull on this one-don’t ever, ever, ever say this to anyone-ever), “It is a simple surgery” (What? there is not simple surgery). And the words go on.

On the positive side of this is that my friends are stepping forward.

  • During the weekend of surgery, Nancy is taking care of Miss Elsie.
  • Cynthia and Ward are taking me into their home to love me pre and post op.
  • Phyllis, I know, will be waiting in the wings to help however I will let her.
  • Helen and Dave, my friends in Lincoln told me to let them know if I need them and they will get into their tiny home on wheels and head west. (this was enough to bring tears to my eyes)
  • My friend Sharon, in southern Utah wants to be contacted post surgery so she can, from a distance love and support me.
  • My immediate family are too far away to physically help out, but I know they will be supporting me from a distance.

I am more than a bit overwhelmed by my friends near and far who will be loving me as I face this newest challenge in my life.

And in the midst of all this “C” stuff well here I am, once again in another October. Today would have been Jim’s birthday. Yesterday he went into the hospital for the last time. Six days from now I have a birthday. The day after my birthday Jim died. Now I have surgery on the 25th. Well isn’t that an actioned packed month. October seems to be more and more a month I struggle to get through. I appreciated when November 1 comes around.

Isn’t this an uplifting post? I have always tried to be honest with who I am in the moment and what I am going through. From the moment I posted my first post I told myself to write from the heart and I hope that I have succeeded in doing this.

Today this is who I am and tomorrow, well, I may be different. Tomorrow I will be moving south and west. Just like the other snowbirds I am heading to the sun and warmth. To my friends in San Diego, I will see you in about ten days and I look forward to reuniting with you.

In the meantime I will drive and explore and be amazed at the places I see. I will remember to breath, deeply and long and relax. And yes the camera will be coming out and join me for the ride. Miss Elsie is as always is my sidekick. I am looking west toward the rest of my life.

Living With or Without Cancer-Getting Ready to Roll

“There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.” – Terry Pratchett

Today I am changing my story. Instead of dying with cancer I am now living with cancer. It is possible that I am fooling myself and there is no cancer within me to live with. Well that is a cool thought.

Moores Cancer Center

Last Wednesday, with the support of Yvonne, we drove to the Moores Cancer Center at UCSD (University of California San Diego). I had a second opinion appointment with one of the primary head and neck surgeons. I define second opinions as a way to gather more information, so that I can be comfortable making a decision that will shape and define my life.

This whole complex of buildings that makes up the cancer center and other technologies are imposing as you drive in. The structures are big and impressive. There is one building that is dedicated to all things radiological speaking. The Novel Technology building is so new that the staff is not sure what it does. I was curious enough to do some on line research. It appears that it is a specialty that works with deep brain tumors and microscopic surgery. Interesting. It is good to be impressed by what I see.

My appointment went well. I met with Dr Brummond and his associates. They were kind and amazingly good listeners, especially the medical student that did the intake interview. Most of the information that I was given was not new, but that is what I wanted, a confirmation that my surgeon and endocrinologist were on the right track. I will have the other half of my thyroid removed upon my return from Africa (yes I am going). I did receive one new piece of information. This doctor feels that if the biopsy on the left thyroid comes back negative for cancer he believes I don’t need the radioactive iodine treatment. So I will gather that information into the ongoing puzzle of thyroid cancer.

Dr Brummond feels it will be OK to wait until my return in the fall to have the surgery to remove the other half of the thyroid. That is good news, really good news. I am relieved that this appointment is over and that I can begin to really plan for a trip of a lifetime. I imagine my friend and travel companion, Phyllis is glad to hear this too.

With the help of a therapist I am now getting ready to go into the final planning mode for this trip. Today I got my typhoid shot. All the other meds are gathered and ready to go. I am planning to leave San Diego this coming Monday and begin an amble east. Elsie says her bags are packed as well. I am daring to allow myself to get excited without getting overwhelmed. Living with cancer allows me to dare, to get excited, to dream. I was already getting weary of the feeling of dread that has been hanging over me. As I take each step towards Africa, the dread will disappear more and more.

My life is too short to be fearful and experience dread. That is a hard way to live. I would rather live hopefully and with a little or a lot of joy, depending on the day. These are always personal choices we all have to make every single day of our lives. Yes even you, dear reader are included here. Sometime the choice to live with hope is easy. Other days well we all have to dig a bit deeper to find that place. And so dig I shall.

Getting to Roll…New Jersey here I come….AFRICA here I come.