Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cancer sure is confusing

As many of you know, on October 5th I received the official news from my oncologist that I am in remission. I cried for nearly two hours straight, I only recall losing it once during my fight prior to this and that was when I heard the words Stage IV.  Once I heard that amazing word, remission, the tears would not stop.  Seven months of angst was all coming out.  It sure felt great!

The days that followed my remission news were exhilarating.  I had been given a second chance at life but I had also been changed, for the better.  I vowed I would make the best of my life and live everyday to the fullest.  I would never again take anything for granted.  Life going forward would be blissful.  Then reality hit.
What I didn't realize, and that is very common with a cancer remission diagnosis, is depression.  Not a 'I can't get out of bed' depression, but rather a 'feeling blah', type of depression.  I had been surrounded by friends and family who put their lives on hold for ME and they had to get back to normal.  I was used to being surrounded by doctors and nurses who I really enjoyed.  Rather than monthly visits it turned into, we will see you in 3-4 months.  I would miss them.

I was told "we are going to let your body heal and fight on its own"...What?  My body hadn't done such a great job of that in recent years.  I think I want chemo again, I don't trust my body to do the fighting.  Have I gone crazy, I hated chemo!  The tricks this disease plays on you is sometimes overwhelming.  The fear of recurrence is with me daily.  I had to have a very tough conversation with my oncologist a few months back about this very subject.  One of the few times I searched colon cancer survivability and recurrence on Google I was suddenly hit with my odds.  80% chance of recurrence and 10% survivability after 5 years. Dr. Dublis confirmed these statistics with me but through her tears she said, "Angie, YOU are a 20 percenter" so don't you ever give up.  I am so thankful my oncologist believes in me.

I have come to know two very special people who are battling the same disease.  Both were diagnosed Stage IV colon cancer with liver mets and have had the same treatment and surgeries.  They are still battling and have not been given the awesome remission news that I have.  Why me?  Why am I no evidence of disease (NED) and they are not?  So confusing.  I know that statistically I was the winner between us 3 so far but I have an intense guilt.

I know, I know...Angie needs to see a therapist.  Already have one!  And finding that I am not alone in these feelings.  Cancer is a doozy on your psyche.  My therapist, who deals with lots of cancer patients, said this is the side of remission no one likes to talk about.  I know I have a lot of followers who are also fighting and I want them to be aware that these feelings are very real and very normal.

Keep me and my family in your prayers.  Now we need to get used to this remission thing and our new normal.  I will continue to fight like a 20 percenter!

God is good!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Well, that hurt!

The first day of school!  What was meant to be a fun-filled day for Reese and Logan turned into a day all about their mom.  I was really leery when I was told my liver resection would be September 8th but now looking back it was the best day it could have happened.  The excitement of seeing their friends, getting to wear a new outfit, and best of all, no homework that night!  The girls took my surgery and hospital stay like champs!

That morning I would check in for surgery at 5:30.  This surgery felt different.  The last surgery was just a nurse, surgeon and anesthesiologist.  This time it was a large TEAM of people coming in and out prepping me with remarks such as "are you ready for your BIG surgery" and "you must be special to have the operating room reserved for you all day" was definitely more serious than I think I even prepared myself for.  I would go into surgery with 2 IV's, one on each hand but I would come out with an additional 2, one in my wrist and one in my neck.  As I awoke after 9 hours in surgery in the ICU I felt strapped to the bed by all of the tubes and lines running everywhere.  An NG tube down my nose may have been the worst.  I remember looking at the clock and seeing the time and thought I was dreaming, it couldn't have taken that long? Then my surgeon (Dr. McCahill) stood over me looking completely exhausted!  According to the nursing staff he never left my side in the OR to even eat or go the bathroom.  Apparently I told him thank you and go have a beer and I fell back to sleep.  Ha ha.  My next memory was my entire family around me explaining everything went well and they loved me.  What a gift to fall back to sleep to....

Days 2 and 3 in the hospital were actually not too bad.  I was walking with a walker on Day 2 and really had very little pain other than my elbows hurt .... according the nurse it was from them being hyper extended on the surgery table for 9 hours that was causing the pain.  Who would have guessed that would be my biggest complaint.

Day 4 was when they decided to cut the medication to my epidural...big mistake!  After 20 minutes I was in excruciating pain to the point I couldn't breathe.  As quickly as they could they summoned an anesthesiologist on call and started running the drip again to my back.  It just may have been the most pain I have ever been in.  I am just so thankful for the person who invented the epidural.  Just may have saved my life!  Day 5 they decided to ramp me up on lots of pain meds before removing the drip and that helped but I really started to feel my body 'awaken' without it.  Aches and pains that I can't describe.  Because the decision was made in the OR to take half of my liver I am left with a giant hole until it regenerates.  This may sound weird by my other organs keep trying to fall into that empty space and it turns my stomach every time.  Weird, weird, weird!

I was never moved off the ICU floor so I knew I wanted out and go home as quickly as possible.  That place is loud, 24/7!  In my 6 days there they had 3 patients 'code' and my neighbor 2 doors down passed away in the middle of the night....check please!  Whatever they asked of me, I did.  Finally I was able to go home on Day 6.  I can't thank the nurses on the 4th floor at Metro enough!  They were awesome!

I have been home about a week and half and am feeling better everyday.  I have had a few set backs but that is because I am having a hard time just sitting.  According to Dr. McCahill yesterday I get an A+ for recovery time.  Yes!  I owe a lot of that to my mom, who has literally not left my side for nearly 3 weeks.  She does not break the rules (never has!) so when they say I need to eat a certain way or take meds at a specific time she has it all documented.  I don't know if I could have survived this journey without her.  I am blessed!

Yesterday was my first post op follow up and I was quite anxious going in.  This would reveal if my CEA levels have returned to normal.  My CEA is a marker that just reflects how much cancer could still be in my system.  Normal CEA for a non-smoking female is  5 or less.  When I started this journey, I was 269.  The hope after both of my surgeries was that it would be back to normal levels.  It came back at 15.6 so we are headed in the right direction but I will have it checked again in 2 weeks.  If it goes to normal, I can resume with my life and they will consider me in remission!  If the number goes up, back to chemo.  Please pray that this number goes to 5 or below.

What an eventful first few weeks of school!  Reese and Logan will never forget how they started the 4th and 5th grade.  I am so proud of them and how they have handled the last 6 months.  No, it is not fair that at 9 and 10 years old they are dealing with this but I have seen such growth in such a short amount of time.  Let's just hope and pray their first day of school next year will look nothing like this one!

God is good!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Liver Resection!

Tomorrow will begin what has been described as the most difficult part of my colon cancer journey.  I will undergo my liver resection to remove 4 tumors that have invaded my otherwise healthy looking liver.  I am to expect to be in the hospital for 7-10 days and a recovery period lasting 6-8 weeks.  While I am nervous for what lies ahead I am also looking forward to getting this over with!  It will be a relief to have these cancerous tumors completely removed from my body so chemo after can get the microscopic cancer cells invading my blood stream.  What a relief that will be!

I have thoroughly enjoyed a full month of no chemotherapy. I have felt so great and have just enjoyed spending time with the girls.  We have been to the beach, Mackinac Island, lounging by the pool and of course, going to the new outlet mall.  I have been blessed to share this summer with them.  We have raised such independent, strong, fun girls!

Please keep our family in your prayers this week.  Reese will start 5th grade and Logan 4th.  They are nervous about this week as well but know this is just another step in mom's cancer fight!

I am giving Kyle control over my Facebook tomorrow so he can post updates.

Love to all!

God is Good!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pink Arrow Pride

I was asked by my hometown paper to write an article about my cancer journey to kick off Pink Arrow Pride. I was honored to do so with the hope that it would bring awareness to colorectal cancer. 

Pink Arrow Pride 2008 was the brainchild of Lowell’s football coach, Mr. Noel Dean. A football game was played, in rare pink jerseys, the sound of a thousand donated pink thunder-sticks was in the air, and the stadium was virtually a sea of pink. Through the work of numerous dedicated volunteers and the support of the community, The Pink Arrow Pride raised $93,000 for charities.

My article was published today in the Lowell Ledger along with a snapshot of me in 1992...I know, the hair!  Below is the text for those of you who do not get the Ledger and have asked if I would post on my blog.

I am still continuing to fight!  Yesterday I finished my last round of chemo before my liver resection which will take place September 8th.  I have been told that surgery could last up to 8 hours because of the placement of one of my tumors.  It is located in the caudate lobe between two main arteries.  Unfortunatly this is the first day of school for the girls but they are showing unbelievable strength and I trust that God has a hand in that.  I will then go back into chemo for another 6 rounds and as far as I am concerned move forward as a colon cancer survivor!

Lori 'Gildea' Lowry's photo.
Text below

It will be 24 years ago this fall that I would be on the sidelines at Birch Field cheering on the Lowell Red Arrow varsity football team.  As we all know, Lowell Football didn’t have the hype it does today but one thing was for sure, the entire Lowell community consistently showed up to pack the stands every Friday night.  Whether the team had a winning or a losing season, the stands were always full.  Being a cheerleader for a community like this will always hold a special place for me. Even though I would eventually move away from this community, I still consider Lowell my home. 


On March 10th of this year my life would dramatically change and I would embark on a journey that has become both a blessing and a curse.  I was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer with metastases to my liver. 


Last fall I had been struggling with a somewhat irritating upset stomach which I just chalked up to being a busy mom in the heat of my busy season at work.   After a visit to my primary care physician it was highly likely I would end up with my gallbladder out.  The next day I would go in for an ultrasound but nothing was found.  My PCP ordered a nuclear scan to get a clearer picture and that too came back normal.  At this point I just told myself it was probably in my head and eventually the upset stomach would subside.  I also was experiencing some blood in my stool but that had been happening for quite a few years and was told it was internal hemorrhoids, which are very common for us women over 40.


It would be another month before I realized that things were just not getting better.  The upset stomachs were daily and becoming somewhat debilitating and the blood in my stool was increasing.  My PCP suggested a referral to a Gastroenterologist and thought a colonoscopy should be ordered.  I met with the gastro doctor and he didn’t seem to be too worried but thought a colonoscopy might at least give us some answers. 


I would wake up from the colonoscopy to my worst nightmare.  All I heard the doctor say was large tumor and colon cancer.  Wait!  What?  Colon cancer?  I am only 41 years old and have no family history.  This can’t be!  Unfortunately the photo of my colon put in front of me would validate what he was saying.  It didn’t look normal at all. He said the mass had likely been growing for ten years and would have started as a small polyp.  The next week would be a complete blur.  Telling family and friends, going to and from the hospital for scans and blood work ups became overwhelming very quickly.  The initial colonoscopy indicated I just had colon cancer, a scan later that week would reveal four tumors on my liver.  Stage IV!  It all happened so quickly. 


The next month we would be inundated with cards, meals and many well wishes.  I am still in awe of the blessings we have received the last four months.  One of the most significant gifts was a card I received with the return address ‘Pink Arrow Pride’, it was a beautiful card written by Teresa Beachum extending a monetary gift from the Lowell community.  Until this point I had tried not to get very emotional when opening cards but this one got me.  We have supported Pink Arrow as a family in the past but never would I have imagined being a recipient.  Even though we moved from away from Lowell it was apparent that this community still takes care of their own. 

The last four months have been quite the journey.  To date, I have undergone six rounds of chemotherapy and a colon resection to remove my tumor.  The chemotherapy (as much as I hate it) is doing its job and shrinking the tumors in my liver.  I am scheduled for my liver resection this fall which will remove anywhere from a half to a third of my liver, followed by more chemo.  I am very positive about my prognosis and look forward to life as a survivor of colorectal cancer.  PLEASE, if you are over 50 and have not had a colonoscopy, use my story as a reason to place the call and schedule one. 


It was an honor to cheer at Lowell for my Red Arrows but it is even more of an honor to be cheered on by a community team that offers such profound support in so many ways.  Thank you for ‘packing’ the stands for me.  Proud to be a Red Arrow – always!


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thank you Cancer?

I have always been a working mom so have never experienced a full summer with my kids.  Sounds strange but I have to thank cancer for this gift of time with them...And all the other neighbor kids who I love like my own.

do miss my work peers a lot.  Just speaks to how truly blessed I am.  My Blue Cross family put together a photo album (thank you Debi Harrington for spearheading) so I can look at their beautiful, goofy, smiling faces whenever I want! What a gift!

So thank you cancer for giving me this opportunity to spend time with the girls while my Blues family holds down the fort...temporarily.

God is so good!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Next steps

Today marks 3 weeks since my colon resection and I feel pretty good.   I am giving thanks for the power of prayer!  I know so many of you have kept us in your prayers and for that we are very grateful.  

Each follow up visit with both oncology and surgical oncology has yielded good results.  My tumor ended up being about a pound and a half in my colon (hence all of my bowel issues) and it turns out wasn't shrinking as originally thought.  It was not reacting to my chemo regimen but it didn't really matter because they were able remove it in its entirety (and no colostomy)!  My liver spots are reacting well to chemo and shrinking nicely.  Unfortunately one of those spots is in quite a complex spot and after further review by my team of physicians would like me to get in 3 more rounds of chemo before they can tackle my liver resection.  If everything goes as planned with chemo (which I have come to realize nothing goes as planned) I will have this surgery in mid to late August.  

It has been nearly 5 weeks since I have had a chemo treatment so I have an appetite again and am really enjoying the taste of food again minus the tin foil after-taste.  A side effect of chemo is this tin foil type taste so food just doesn't taste good to me.  Between that and the nausea you can imagine why I am not looking forward to the next 6 weeks.  The bonus, if there is one, is the weight loss.  Who needs Weight Watchers when you have chemo?  ...  Lol!

Many have commented that I don't look sick.  I can't believe you still have your hair?  Fortunately the chemo treatment for my type of cancer has a low risk for hair loss.  I sometimes feel bad at chemo because so many are hooked up to the dreaded chemo pole and don't have a hair left on their head.  I am sitting there with a full head of hair.  Sometimes it doesn't feel like I should be there.  In fact, last week Kyle and I were patiently waiting for the nurse and we both looked at each other and said at the same time "what are we doing here?" ... This whole experience is so surreal.  

So tomorrow starts yet another step in my fight and we ask for your continued prayer.  

God is good!  

Monday, May 25, 2015

Change of plans….

As I have shared in earlier posts, cancer has a mind of its own and right now I am just along for the ride.  My colon resection was initially set for June 2nd but we received a call on Friday afternoon asking if I could do it Tuesday (tomorrow!) because someone scheduled for surgery failed their cardiac test which leaves an opening for me!  While I feel horrible for that person I am so grateful that it has been moved up.  Ever since I have had the stent in I have not felt well and look forward having this tumor out of me!   

Dr. McCahill will be taking nearly a foot of my colon and reconnecting me tomorrow morning at about 10:00.  The hope is that surgery will last about 3 hours and I will be in the hospital for 3-5 days.  My goal is to be home on Friday.   

Please keep our family in your prayers this week.  

God is good!