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!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dear Cancer,

Dear Cancer, 

I share both a deep hate for you and yet a respect for your immense power over every aspect of my life.  This past week I went from a battle with you to an all out war!  You robbed my body of pain relief for nearly 6 straight days. While I cannot forgive you for that, I do now know that you have a mind of your own and I must do everything in my power to be faithful to Him during this process.  This is what gets me through! 

Last Wednesday and Thursday I was struggling with severe abdominal pain and both days went to the ER to have an enema only to come home with minor relief.  On Friday I thought I could just tough it out because I figured this was just a side effect of the chemo and I would get through.  Around 1:00 my friend Marcia came by to drop off a meal and found me in pretty bad shape.  I can only describe my pain as similar to labor contractions at their worst.  They had no consistency; some would last 30 seconds while others would last 10 minutes.  Saturday morning I was too weak to eat or drink so I was taken to the ER where I was admitted to the hospital quite quickly.   

A scope revealed that while my tumor in my colon has been shrinking (somewhat) my colon tightened with it causing nearly a complete blockage.  A CT scan revealed I had stool backed up all the way to my small intestine.  The pain I was feeling was all because there was nowhere for my body to extract stool and air.   

Fortunately I have an AMAZING team of doctors who are all on the same page.  I was so impressed that everyone from the nurse, the surgeon the oncologist and the hospitalist all knew exactly what was happening with my case and had been communicating on a very regular basis.  Because one of my targeted therapy chemo drugs is a blood thinner they could not do an emergency colon resection for fear I would bleed out.  So they were able to put in temporary stent in my rectum, do you remember what Chinese handcuffs were when we were kids?  That is what was inserted but it is made of chicken wire….really?  That’s the best we could come up with?  I guess I don’t care because I now have a clear runway for things to move again.  This is a very temporary fix until the chemo drug has filtered through my body and I can be cleared for surgery.   

The surgeon’s office called yesterday to confirm that my colon resection is scheduled for June 2nd.  Barring anymore hiccups I am looking forward to finally having this portion of my cancer removed.   

On the bright side I was surrounded by so much love while in the hospital.  My mom nearly never left my side.  Kyle and the girls were there as much as possible while still trying to manage their hectic schedules.  (Please pray for Kyle, he is starting to get tired but doing his best to not let me see it)  The best mother’s day gift to date was my two girls rubbing my feet with lotion they had snuck into the hospital.  What a blessing they are! 

So Cancer, I am still very mad and sad that you have taken over my life but I am going to win this war.  You picked the wrong girl to mess with!  You see, I have a support system like no other that continues to ‘show up’ in my greatest time of need.  We will not be defeated! 

God is Good!  

 Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, “declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

 Mothers Day 2015!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ups and Downs

Not being in control of your body is so incredibly frustrating.  The family calendar is now printed in pencil and depending on how my day is could quickly be modified or even erased.  Can I coach little league tonight?  Can I go to travel softball this weekend?  This is not always easy for Reese and Logan to digest but they are quickly adjusting.  Day to day and hour by hour is now my new normal.   

The first 2 rounds of chemo, while incredibly tough on my body, went off as scheduled and I quickly learned the patterns of its side effects.  Tired on days 1 and 2 and then nausea on days 3, 4 and 5, and then rebounding to get ready for the next round.  I was scheduled for my 3rd round of chemo on April 22nd with a quick visit with my oncologist first to discuss my side effects.  I have been in the emergency room twice with severe constipation which is actually not normal for my type of chemo.  I am on a chemo drug called Irenotecan (my vocabulary is expanding quite rapidly) and the nurses joke and call it ‘I run to the can’ because diarrhea can be so severe with this drug.   Not me!  My body has decided to have the opposite effect.  I am somewhat getting more control over the constipation issue but things are not ‘moving’ as they should.   

The next issue is my white blood cell count.  Because colon cancer can be considered a man’s disease, most of the clinical trials done are based on the male body with an average body weight of 200+lbs.  What this means for me is that the standard chemo dose is also given based on the clinical trials data.  While meeting with Dr. Dublis, my oncologist, she clearly thinks the first 2 doses of chemo were much too harsh so they have decided to back off a bit….thank you!  You can only have chemo if your counts are over 1.0 and when I went to have my 3rd round on the 22nd, it was .5 so no chemo that day and we would wait a week for my body to hopefully rebound. Naps, naps and more naps! 

I would show up once again for chemo the 29th, friends in tow, and the initial blood work showed my count a 1.1.  Because this is apparently a preliminary number we had to wait for the lab to hand count my white blood cells and fortunately we were at 1.2!  I could never have imagined praying I would hope for a chemo dose!  This cancer journey sure has a way of messing with what I used to know as normal.  Everything seems to be opposite.  I hope for weight gain when I get on the scale….that has never happened in my life! 

Because of my constipation the initial thought was my tumor in my colon could be growing and causing a blockage.  Another visit to the surgeon’s office and another Rigid Sigmoidoscopy (ugh!) would reveal that my tumor is actually shrinking.  Praise the Lord! As tough as these rounds of chemo have been and the toll it has taken on me and my family, I am finally able to realize this is all worth it.  My fight continues!
Because of the chemo delay I was very worried I would not be able to travel this past weekend with Reese’s travel softball team to Indiana but thanks to ‘backing off the dose’ we packed up and headed out Friday night and I was able to enjoy a beautiful sunny weekend watching such a good group of girls doing what they love.  I am paying for it a bit today but it was all worth it! 

While my body continues to frustrate me I am becoming more and more aware that I am not in control.  I am doing my best to keep my positive attitude and am relying heavily on God to help me through.  God just has a way of figuring out the little details and for that I am grateful! 

God is Good!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

There are tough days

Typically when you get the flu it hits you without warning.  You gut it out for 2-3 days and miraculously you feel better after a lot of sleep and plenty of fluids.  I distinctly remember the doctor saying at my first treatment that it will feel like I have the flu for the next 9 months to a year.  I completely understood what he said at the time but never really comprehended it until treatment began. 

 My second round of chemo was definitely worse than the first…let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come.  The nausea set it on day 3 and I am really struggling with balancing diarrhea and severe constipation.  I ended up in the emergency room again last Sunday morning just begging for some relief.  Anyone who struggles with constipation, I can totally feel your pain.  I am on every drug ever made to relieve this but for some reason chemo seems to be trumping them all.  Please pray that I can find a better balance this round.   

After nearly 10 days of not feeling well, the last 3 have been filled with bursts of energy to get things done before the next round.  Laundry, errands, catching up on reading the latest school news (I apologize to Mrs. Kiel and Mrs. Corey for not meeting deadlines) all have to be done in 3 days before the dreaded ‘chemo flu’ strikes again tomorrow night.   

Even through all of the pain and discomfort I am trying my hardest to stay as positive as I can.  I still have the mom guilt of not being able to jump up and help with homework, packing lunches or just being present for daily chats but Kyle and the girls are faring well in spite of it all.

We are still relying heavily on family, friends and neighbors for meals which have been an absolute blessing.  If you know someone who is ill please provide a meal!  As busy moms we all know that the daily ‘what in the world am I going to do for dinner’ can be one of the most stressful parts of your day.  I have such a sense of relief that my family is being fed.  While I may not feel like eating, I have heard from my family that all of the meals have been wonderful.  I will learn from this and make sure I provide meals to those in need once I am done with treatment.

While I am finding my diagnosis as both a blessing and a curse all at the same time, I have been able to witness such beautiful kindness.  My army continues to support me and for that I am so grateful. 

Tomorrow begins treatment number 3 and I will be going down for the count for the next week or so.  Please continue to keep me and my family in your prayers. 

God IS Good!
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  ISAIAH 41:10

Friday, April 17, 2015


It didn’t take long to recognize that during a chemo treatment at the Cancer Center that there are all types battling this disease.  The completely bald eighty year old man sitting in the waiting room holding his wife’s hand, the fifty something year old woman who sits next to me alone reading quietly during her drip, the twenty year old ‘boy’ across from me who just sits and stares at the TV and avoids contact at all costs.  Everyone has their own personal battle but I found that just sitting there for 5 hours at a time being completely somber was not really my cup of tea.  This should be a happy place….we are all getting the drugs we need to kill this assassin in our body.  Second round of chemo I would ask for a private room and invite friends!

My first choice of friends was an easy one.  Liz, Katherine and I have been friends for going on 20 years.  These are the ladies I would place my first phone call to if I were in a foreign country and wound up in jail.  They are strong, courageous and above all have amazing grace!

Many years ago, Liz lost her husband Todd and unborn son in an auto accident very shortly after their wedding.  I remember, like it was yesterday, rushing to Sparrow Hospital to be by her side and agonizing with her as she made the horrible decision to remove the love her life from life support.  Liz is one of those people I need in my life as a constant reminder of strength and courage.
Katherine is my parallel life friend.  We would meet our future spouse’s the same year, marry them the same year and would carry our first born children with due dates just five days apart.  I would go on to have Logan 13 months after the birth of Reese (oops!) but Katherine struggled a bit.  She would eventually be blessed with the news that she was pregnant with triplets!  We had no idea what a struggle this pregnancy would be for her.  Unfortunately all three of her beautiful boys would not make it and she would have to deliver them all stillborn.  Katherine and our friend Maureen would go on to make sure that no parent of a stillborn child would have to rely on the hospital’s group committal or bear the expense of a funeral service. Insert plug for the upcoming annual golf outing fundraiser for this endowment…  I need Katherine in my life for her never give up attitude.

You can now see why these ladies were my first choice.  We sat in that private room and laughed and enjoyed every minute of just being together.  The nurse later told me how refreshing it was to have laughter in that place.  In fact, all the other nurses were jealous of her that day because she had ‘us’ as her patient.  I am certain that my new approach to chemo will radically change my outcome. 

Kids, choose your friends wisely!  You never know when you are going to need them by your side. 

God IS Good!


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why me?

I was born a ‘glass half full’ type of girl.  I am not one to let things get too under my skin and have an uncanny ability to find the positive in almost anything.  I have wondered if that would change ever since I received my diagnosis. I have had some pretty painful, dark days the last month.  Heck, I was afraid to have blood drawn prior to this.  Blood draws now, a piece of cake!   

I feel like I was given a choice in this matter.  I can endure the pain of this horrible disease and watch the beautiful blessings come from it OR I can rollover and let it win.  Based on my track record in life, I am choosing to endure!  You can’t even imagine the outpouring of love and support I have witnessed in the last month.  Cards received have to be well over 100, gifts in the mail (not sure who is sending the ongoing charm bracelet….thank you!), meals galore, a neighborhood sprinkled with blue ribbons on mailboxes in support, 20,000+ blog readers now reaching Canada and Europe, and an Army of family and friends that I feel closer to now more than ever.    

I see my kids and husband differently now.  Their smiles are brighter; the sound of laughing in our house brings such joy.  I used to be annoyed by the daily grind of homework with the girls; I am honored now to watch them learn daily.  Kyle has shown such a sense of confidence and just seems to know when I just need a good hug that lasts for minutes.   

As many of you know I have twin brothers, Tony and Todd who will be 45 in June.  Every doctor I met with early on said they need to get in for colonoscopies ASAP because it looks like my form of Colon Cancer is quite hereditary.  Todd is on spring break in Florida but has already contacted his Doctor for a referral the minute he gets home…right Todd?  Tony on the other hand had his last week Tuesday.  It was one of my worst days with nausea and vomiting but I just couldn’t wait for that call from him to say he was ‘all clear.’  Dr. Hamby found 3 polyps, all removed successfully.  1 unfortunately was pre-cancerous and quite large.  He will now need a colonoscopy every 3 years going forward, sorry Tony!  But, I would consider this as me saving your life so you can feel free to repay me in any form that you wish.  By the way, my birthday is October 16th, just in case you forgot.   

Why me?  Why not me?  It has been an amazing ride so far and I am willing to endure so that I can continue to allow those closest an opportunity to bless our family.  I often imagine Jesus suffering on the cross and what He must have endured in those last days in order to bring me eternal salvation.  I am not comparing my suffering to Jesus by any means, but I do know I am willing to suffer so others can realize their many blessings and hopefully one day have eternal life with me…heck, who doesn’t want to hang with me in the afterlife!  

I can honestly say that my glass is still very much ‘half full’ and I am committed to keeping it that way!

God IS good!

Philippians 4:13 … open your Bible and look it up : )

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Day 6 after chemo….

After leaving chemo treatment last Wednesday I felt pretty good.  I did understand that part of my chemo regimen was a full bag of anti-nausea so feeling well was to be expected.  Days 2, 3 and 4 I figured would probably be my worst (based on what I had read) so after day 4 I thought, I can manage this!  Yes, I had nausea and slept a lot but it was manageable. I even called my short term disability administrator and asked if I could maybe work part time (unfortunately not.)  My parents went home because I was doing so well; I coached my Little League AA softball team (Go Diamonds!) and had a ball.  Then day 6 happened, yesterday.   

I woke up feeling nauseous but nothing out of the ordinary.  I liken it to my first trimester of pregnancy.  You don’t feel 100% but you get through.  We got the girls on the bus and I headed to the couch just for a quick rest (mornings with 9 and 10 year old girls are not easy).  I would not leave the couch the rest of the day.  Apparently a side effect of 5FU is a ‘chemo headache’ which took hold for a majority of the day.  Because the pain was so intense it caused nausea and I was unable to keep anything down until about 11:30 last night.  I called Kyle and he got a hold of the nurse at the Cancer Center who said I could take one dose of Ibuprofen (Tylenol does nothing for me and that is all I can take).  He called my neighbor Tara who came to my rescue because I couldn’t even get off the couch to get myself any medicine.  I am so thankful for her and her prayer over me yesterday! 

Unfortunately the girls had to witness my pain but I am seeing their strength just blossom from this.  What a blessing!  Kyle and the girls even went grocery shopping last night and did really well. God certainly has a plan for families that have a cancer diagnosis, talk about a crash course in grace, patience and strength! 

If Day 6 after Chemo is my worst day, then I totally have this!  As painful and miserable as I was, I just kept envisioning the chemo killing all those cancer cells and shrinking my tumors.  This is what will get me through!   

Five more rounds of chemo to go….. 

God IS Good. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chemo is no joke!

I officially now know what it may actually feel like to get hit by a Mack truck! 

Yesterday morning began at 9:00 a.m. when Kyle and I would go to Metro and they would surgically insert a port into on my right chest.  It was about a 45 minute procedure but by the looks of all of the bandages you would think I had some sort of open heart surgery.  Geesh! 

We would then be whisked away to the Cancer Center which is directly behind the hospital so they could begin my chemo regimen for the day.  Chemo almost did not happen yesterday, however. For my health insurance colleagues...the insurance company truly can be a pain in the butt when getting chemo treatments (each north of $15,000) pre-authorized.  Thanks to Lynda Cerutti for getting me to the VP of this process.  The treatment was literally going to be called off within a half hour Tuesday afternoon because prior authorization had not been granted.  They came through in the 11th hours...whew!

We had a beautiful little 'pod' to ourselves with a TV and a recliner.  I was hooked up to the first chemo bag at 1:00.  They would tell us to set our iPhone timers for 90 minutes for this bag.  Then some at 20 minutes and then the last two at 90 minutes and 2 hours.  At 6:30 last night I was finally unhooked.  Then re-hooked me to a pump that I have attached through my port and sits in a handy dandy fannie pak (No, Becky can't bedazzle it!).  I am receiving 2ML per hour of a pretty strong chemo drug called 5FU (perfect name for this drug) after my day today.  I literally can't stay awake for more than an hour at a time and the nausea is getting worse as the day wears on.  Another interesting side effect I am experiencing is blurry vision so no guarantee's on spelling.

You have heard me talk about Matt Chattfield in my prior blog and we had the distinct privilege of meeting him and his wife yesterday while having chemo.  What a blessing they will be to us.  I had lots of questions and Matt even lifted his shirt for me to see what my scars would look like.  Lets just say my bikini wearing days are over!

Finally home and a beautiful surprise from Kyle.  Brand new bedding for our bed which my mom and one of her friends worked all day on getting ready for me.  For those of you who know us, Kyle likes the finer things in life and I have always been content with Target brand.  I don't want to know how much he spent on this bedding but I can tell you it wasn't purchased at Target.  It was like sleeping in a 5 star hotel!  What a gift!

As rough as this is I am up for the fight!  I have these two beautiful girls who need their momma!  And this will be all worth it when I can say I am a SURVIVOR!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

This week....the fight begins!

Last week Thursday I was able to meet with my medical oncologist, Dr. Dublis.  She seems quite young but so incredibly bright!  Before our meeting she met with the U of M tumor board and Chemo is what was agreed upon.  She explained the reason my surgery was cancelled on Friday is because they want to shrink the tumor in my colon so it will give the surgeon more margin around the tumor to cut.  Chemo will also take care of all of the microscopic cancer cells that surgery cannot. 

I was so impressed by the Metro Health/U of M Cancer Center.  I have always been a Michigan fan so pulling up and seeing the big block M was quite reassuring.  Hail to the Victors!  Seems like a pretty well oiled machine.  After about an hour with Dr Dublis, who was able to show me my PET scan with all of my 'hot' spots (made it real), we were transitioned to Rita, the patient navigator.  Rita works with Dr. Dublis, my insurance company, children's services for my girls and the surgeons office.  Rumor has it she is quite a bulldog and doesn't let anyone slip through the cracks.  This is what we need!  My only concern is that I was easily the youngest in the waiting room by at least 20 years.  That was a little upsetting.

I am scheduled at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday to get my Port inserted underneath my clavicle.  Right from surgery I need to go to the Cancer Center to begin 5 hours of chemo.  I will then be sent home with a pump with a slow chemo drip for 48 hours after.  I will return to the Cancer Center to have the drip removed only to return again in 2 weeks to start the process all over again.  I will be doing 6 rounds of treatment over 3 months then the Colon resection will likely be in late June or early July.  Chemo again and then the liver resection and likely chemo again.  I am just hoping I am one of the lucky one's who responds well and has minimal side effects from the chemo treatment.  (2 full pages of side effects from all of the chemo drugs they are gong to be putting into me.)  Please pray for Kyle, the girls and my parents as I embark on this journey!

Because I am no longer fighting my tiredness, I am using this time before treatment to get a lot of naps!  Thanks to my friend Michelle, I have discovered Unisom.  Finally getting some uninterrupted sleep.  My mom is cleaning my house from top to bottom (it really was not that dirty but apparently doesn't live up to her standards) and my dad has become Jack's best friend, taking him on walks everyday.  I am sending my parents home today to get a break.  I can't imagine watching either of my girls go through this so I can completely understand their need to be by my side.  Kyle is keeping on top of the girl's schedule and their homework.  A special thank you to Century for giving him such flexibility.  It is truly a team effort at the Gildea house!

Yesterday I was able to go to the Irish Jig 5k whose proceeds benefit the Colo Rectal Cancer Foundation.  My Army was in full force!  Thank you to my Chick-lits and their families, my cousins and neighbors who showed up to run, some for the very first time. Seeing your name on a shirt is quite surreal.  Once the race started my immediate  family looked around and we noticed only the Nauta's were left so we went to the bar to drink Bloody Mary's to wait for everyone to finish.  Ha!  Maybe next year we will run!

This was the perfect way to end such a long week.  I feel ready for what lies ahead and truly can feel the power or your prayers. While I do have moments of sadness, I really try not to let myself dwell for more than 10 minutes at a time.  I really feel quite positive.  Overall I am a blessed girl! 
God IS good!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rolling with the punches

March 18, 2015

I have always loved be in control.  I might even consider myself a bit of a control freak.  Well, I am gonna have to let that go!  When you are diagnosed with cancer things seem to change with every passing hour and for me that is frustrating.  God, grant me patience!  I am no longer in control and need to learn to be at peace with the process.

I had a lot anxiety going into today and I loved all the texts and messages this morning with such words of encouragement.  This post may be somewhat graphic but I need to account for all of my experiences so when I write my New York Times best selling book I have documentation (lol!) 

I would start the day out giving myself an Enema.  Not as bad as I thought!  Not great, but I lived.  This would be in preparation for a Rigid Sigmoidoscopy to determine exactly where the tumor is.  Kyle and my parents went with me today so they could meet Dr. McCahill.  We sat down in the waiting room and fire drill! Ha!  Just  thankful I was not having my procedure yet! 

I have 3 tumors on my liver, one in the left lobe and one in the right.  The other is in a really difficult spot to get to so when they do do my liver resection he is going to take about 1/3 of my liver (did you know your liver is the size of your head?) They can take up to a half so he has plenty of room to work with. 

Into the Rigid this involves a stainless steel tube that they put up your rear and they continually blow air into it.  This allows them to see where the tumor is at.  Before he started he said it wouldn't be nearly as bad as I was probably thinking.  Umm...yea, it was as bad as I was thinking.  Almost lost my cookies a few times. The hope is that the tumor would be completely out of my rectum.  Well,  it measured at 12cm so he called in Northern rectum, Southern colon.  This is in a grey area between having radiation (rectum) and chemo (colon).  Prayers were is high enough I will not need a colostomy!  Dr. McCahill immediately called my oncologist and they both think they are going to fight for chemo at the Tumor Board with U of M tomorrow.  Apparently the long term effects of radiation for someone my age are not ideal. 

So surgery is off for Friday either way.  Dr. Dublis wants me to start either chemo or radiation within a week.  Stay tuned on what cancer killing method they are going to use on me.

I have been so loved this last week, it has felt amazing!  Kyle and I are trying to keep things as normal as possible for the girls.  I even played in my women's volleyball league on Monday night.   Such a great workout! 

Michelle Elzinga (one of my besties who lives a few houses down) comes down every night at 8:00 to pray with me.  I love it!

I have been part of a book club for many years, we call ourselves the Chick-lits!  They, along with my family will be running the Irish Jig this weekend which benefits Colon and Rectal Cancer.  Look for my Army in the t-shirts below:

My life is blessed! and God IS good!


Monday, March 16, 2015

Plan B

Wow...what a whirlwind of emotion this last week!  I feel so good, which I know sounds crazy!  As much as I hated the colonoscopy prep, it actually has helped with my stomach issues. 

I remember in my younger years hearing the words Stage 4 cancer.  Immediatly you knew it was a death sentence.  When my surgical oncologist (Dr. Mcahill) said it for the first time, my heart skipped a beat!  But he was so laid back about it.  I would later ask him about his reference and he said, "dear, you are so lucky to have stage 4 cancer in 2015 and not 1995."  I am good with that explantion...enough said!  He said to prepare for at least 9 months of treatment so it truly is going to be a long haul. 

We met with the Dr. Hamby this morning and good news.  The cancer hasn't spread past my liver.  There are 3 spots on my liver that lit up in the PET scan and my surgeon said that is going to be first priority.  As of today (seems like plans change with every passing hour), surgery is still 'on' for Friday of this week to do my liver resection.  I am upbeat this afternoon because I finally feel like we are moving toward treatment rather than sitting and waiting. 

They do need to do one more test on Wednesday to make sure the tumor in my colon is not in my rectum (it is in a very grey area) which is totally different treatment plan.  This may be a wierd prayer request but please pray it is in my colon.  I really don't want a colostomy! 

Thursday I meet with Dr Dublis who will be handing the medical oncology side of my case.  What is so amazing is that all 3 doctors talk about me daily to make sure everyone is on the same page.  Many have asked if I am going to U of M for treatment but the bonus is that Metro's Cancer Center is part of U of M and every case is reviewed on Thursdays by both the oncology team at Metro and the oncology team at U of M.  This is called the Tumor Board.  I am the subject of the Tumor Board on Thursday. (not sure if I should be honored or not!)

So I asked this morning how long I have had this tumor growing inside of me.  Colon cancer is very slow growing and would have started as a polyp 10 years ago.  There would have been no way of detecting it unless I had a colonoscopy.  The bummer with this type of cancer is by the time you are symptomatic the disease has already progressed to cancer.  PLEASE....if you are over 50 and have not had a colonoscopy, schedule it!  Don't put it off any longer!

I have been so overwhelmed with support and I know many of you have commented you feel so helpless.  I actually feel great so I am trying to be as active and get as much done around the house as I can (if my mother lets me...she is so bossy!)  I have appreciated the meals becasue my parents are here as well.  Just takes the stress off everyone.  Kyle being home has been a huge relief.   We have both said that maybe God just slapped both of us across the face!  We have a new purpose in life!

Small of our neighbors is best friends with Amy and Matt Chatfield (you can follow Chatty's Cheerleaders on Facebook) Matt was diagnosed in October with virtually the same thing.  Tumor in colon that spread to his liver.  He just had his liver resection a few weeks back and is doing great.  Heather gave me such hope this week!  It will be nice to get to know them better. 

I know all of my BCBSM colleagues will say I am crazy but I would do anything to put on my security badge and be heading to work!  I miss it!  I miss my customers and coworkers.  I miss lunches out, talking about 'nothing'...  you all might have to come and have lunch with me!

That's all for now...continue to keep my entire family in your prayers. 

God IS good!



Friday, March 13, 2015

March 13 2015 - Well this week has completely sucked!

Well this week has completely sucked! 

I remember saying my prayers last Sunday night and asking for strength to get through such a busy week.  I had to take my state life insurance exam on Monday, Kyle was going to be out of the country this week on Peter Island for work so I would have to be mom and dad until he got home, Logan would turn 9 and school treats would need to be made, I would have my first Colonoscopy because of my pesky upset stomach my primary care physician just couldn't  figure out.  "Lord just give me strength to get through" I asked. 

Monday - Up early so I could get a little bit of studying in before I took my Life Insurance exam.  Off to the testing site and YES!  I PASSED!  Relief.  Then to work so I could wrap up some things before I would have to leave at 4:00 so I could start the 'prep' for my Colonoscopy on Tuesday.  If you have ever had one, you know it is horrible.  If you haven't and people tell you the prep is no big deal, they are LIARS!

Tuesday - Logan's 9th Birthday!!!  Dropped treats at school at 8:30 then back to meet my sister in law Tracy so she could take me to get my Colonoscopy.  I joked with the Doctor that it was probably my Grandma Symon's Ulcerative Colitis.  He thought maybe an Upper GI bleed...I would finally know soon. 

I awoke to my worst nightmare!  Pictures put in front of me of a colon (apparently mine) that sure didn't look normal.  Then I heard the words come out of Dr. Hamby's was a large cancerous tumor almost completely blocking my colon.  What did he say???  I felt a rush of heat run through my body.  He did not just say that???  I am 41 year old mother of 2 little girls and a busy life that I absolutely love.  Wait?  Did he just say Cancer?

Tracy and I would drive to the local watering hole and consume 2 glasses of wine and try and make sense of what just happened.  Are you sure he said cancer?

Call to my parents in Florida (I made Tracy do it) and a text to Kyle (he doesn't get cell service on the island) and start figuring this whole thing out.  Work....oh shoot...I have a job! Need to figure that out.  My boss, Sophia..AMAZING!  They quickly took over my email and voicemail and were able to quickly divide and conquer. I decided I could not tell the girls right away because I really don't need Logan telling me I ruined her birthday...and she would!

Wednesday - The phone started ringing early.  Doctors, Hospital, here, do this, don't do that. It became overwhelming very quickly.  I would meet with the Oncologist this morning and my dear friend Marcia would go with to take notes.  2 1/2 hour meeting and I walked out with my head spinning.  Drink this white chalk and be back at 3:30 to drink more and have a CT scan.  That was fairly easy...although you feel like you are peeing your pants.  Weird.

Off to tell the girls.  I thought it best that I tell them at Kyle's sisters house so I had some support.  Went better than expected.  Logan's concern was I would lose my hair.  Reese just sat and tried to think of all the positives...I wouldn't have go to work for a while (she is so my kid). 

Thursday - I am not sure how I feel about technology today.  I have an app through Metro Health Hospital called MyChart.  It alerts me when test results are ready.  I hadn't heard from the oncologist yet so I thought I would open.  It stuck out like a sore thumb....multiple spots on liver.  Definite sign of metastasis to the liver.  What?  now I am at WTF!!!  Well, apparently we are moving to Plan B.  I can't remember what that is but I am sure Marcia wrote it down. 

Mom and dad are finally home!  Nothing like a hug from your mom.  Made me feel like I was a little girl again. 

Friday (the God is messing with me) - PET scan today ... Marcia referred to it as a CT scan on steroids.  Hoping that the cancer is just hanging out in my colon and liver. 

I feel good today.  Positive attitude will get me through (and Netflix). 

The troops are rallied!  My many friends and family, Conifer Ridge family and my BCBSM family!  I have a long road ahead but with all of you I can do this! If you have emailed or texted and I have not gotten back to you I did get your message but am just overwhelmed.  I appreciate all of the love, support and prayers!

I will continue this blog because I actually find it very cathartic. 

Wait...did he just say cancer?!