The Waiting Room
Today, September 20, 2022, begins the next leg of my pancreatic cancer journey. After a repeat CT scan, intake, and lab work, I am sitting in the waiting room while my future path is being decided by the group of people on my interdisciplinary team at UCHealth Anschutz.
It’s an incredibly daunting wait. Has the cancer spread or stayed the same? Have the cancer cells in my common bile duct become tumors? Does my lab work reflect the otherwise excellent health I possess? I wouldn’t wish this wait upon a single soul. Not even a walk at a nature reserve after a late breakfast soothed my increasing agitation.
Chemotherapy. Surgery. Possible genetic mutations. Those are all heady topics beyond the insidious pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Yet, when I walked in this morning, I knew without a doubt I am one of the “lucky” ones. I am not the 80% who are slowly being internally proliferated by pancreatic cancer and find out when it is too late for them to have a decent fighting opportunity. Often death is soon upon them after learning they are ill. That is not my story and I grieve for each one who’s story that became or will become.
I know I have a fantastic DNP who worked at John Hopkins for a decade with one of the oncologists on my team before coming to Colorado. I believe that is an excellent start.
I also believe I am meant to be here, in this place, to receive the best help I can to beat this mini murderer I carry within.
What I steadfastly do not believe is that God placed this disease within me. Nor did God give me this cancer because I could handle it. As my eloquent cousin Mark says, we live in a mixed bag of a world. We do not know what is ahead of us or why some of us go through what we go through. Difficult things happen to everyone, as do beautiful things along the way in this finite earth-bound life.
I retain my choice in all this to find peace, joy, laughter, and love. And yes, there will be moments or days of sorrow, grief, and pain. I choose to live for today and tomorrow on my terms until the possibility slips away (hopefully decades in the future), and it is time for me to return from whence I came. As a believer in Christ, I am confident my inner peace and gracious attitude begin with Him.
Until there is more to report…
Living with Death in Pursuit
Every day I get up and prepare for the day ahead. I connect. I attend nursing school. I study. I go to clinicals. I exercise. I laugh. I grieve. I love people. As always, I show up.
It’s a beautiful, purposeful, and yes, painfully normal existence knowing I am living with death in pursuit.
Death is growing inside of me. Its sole purpose is to proliferate and kill everything healthy from the inside out. What it cannot touch is my soul. It cannot take away what makes me, me.
I absolutely choose life. Yet, I have no fear of death. I know leaving this corporal body and returning to heaven where those I love are waiting. Where there is no death, no pain, no suffering, and an abundance of love, joy, and peace for eternity.
Even knowing what comes next after this physical world, I’m in NO WAY ready to leave this plane of existence. I have a deep call to live the years my mother and brother Jay didn’t get with the purpose of the betterment of others. I adamantly believe I have 50 more years on this Earth to pursue and answer what I have tried repeatedly to dismiss and run away from.
As difficult as it is to admit, my life is no longer the normal I have come to expect and function within. I am no longer within normal limits. I am sick though I appear perfectly healthy. I am ill though I feel well and strong.
I choose life and have no plans to lie down on the proverbial train tracks allowing pursuing death to win without a fight. I am in the battle of my life.
In a few short days I will be meeting be having more imaging, lab tests, and meeting with an interdisciplinary team of oncology experts to determine the most effective treatment path. In reality my odds are pure sh*t. I have little statistical opportunity to beat this grim reaper. AND I also know statistics do not tell the whole story. I truly have either 0% or 100% option here to live or die.
I choose life. I choose the fight.
Don’t you dare count me out.
Your prayers, check-ins, thoughts, and love are always appreciated. I dare you to show up with me and help me continue to choose life.
No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition
Please, take a few deep breaths…I have cancer. Yes, cancer. I have a malignant mass on the head of my pancreas. It’s a 2cm miniature death star called adenoma sarcoma (adenosarcoma). I will call it Addy for short. I don’t know how long Addy’s been growing inside of me. Pancreatic cancer is often a silent killer leaving the unsuspecting host feeling quite normal without specific signs or symptoms. I’m among the more fortunate hosts with an early warning system prompting me into care earlier than many.
As August 30, 2022, unfolded, I became jaundiced. I had lab work drawn and a urinalysis performed. I had high levels of bilirubin in my urine, but why? The next day I went to my assigned hospital clinicals while waiting for lab results. When I finally received the lab results, my clinical scholar walked me to the hospital emergency department. I thought maybe I was taking too many supplements or somehow picked up Hepatitis as a way to explain my jaundice and obviously angry liver.
The ED team saw me right away and drew more labs. Then I was sent for a CT scan. Thirty minutes later, while sitting alone wearing my nursing school scrubs in an ED room, my life turned upside down. The PA came in and apologetically shared the results with me. “You have a 2cm mass on the head of your pancreas.” I think she said she was sorry and other things, but I cannot clearly recall anything else. She was kind and seemed shocked by having to break the news to me.
After the Diagnosis
The first word I uttered when the PA left was a slow, emphatic f*ck. Next, I phoned my husband, Mitchell. He drove up to the hospital while I was being admitted. It was the longest 90 minutes I had ever spent waiting for him.
CANCER. BIG BAD CANCER. CANCER that kills swiftly. Me. That was inside of ME. Many reading this may wonder how I knew it was cancer without further screening. Pancreatic masses are nearly always cancer. It is so rare for them to be benign it’s not something to consider. The questions became: Is it isolated or has it spread? How bad is it? Will I even get the opportunity to fight it, or has it metastasized?
I went on to spend 3.5 days in the hospital and had two ERCP procedures to take biopsies and to place stents to allow proper flow through my biliary and pancreatic ducts.
During those 3.5 days, I made more personal phone calls than expected to share the news. I live and breathe community. This was no time to be my usually private self. Not only do I need community surrounding and supporting me, but my family also needs it too when the dark days come.
I received the results yesterday. The mass, as expected is indeed Addy. Currently, there is also one other area being infiltrated with cancer cells is the common bile duct. It is not the best worst news, and by far not the worst worst news.
I GET TO FIGHT.
I was recommended to an oncologist who specializes in pancreatic cancer. I have an appointment in 3 weeks.
That’s all I know right now.
Please check back here for updates as I chronicle my journey. And please if you text or call, know I am still in nursing school and living life for today and tomorrow. I may not respond right away.
I am in it to win it.
Please feel free to place me on your prayer lists or share with others who will pray for me. I know God is here with me. I am peaceful and without anxiety or fear. I feel the armor of God upon me.
Picture attribution Credit: JOHN BAVOSI/Science Source
Childbirth Time Machine
Did you know time-walking is possible? I assure you it must be because I experienced it first-hand spending a day in a labor and delivery unit recently.
Why did I perceive a disturbance in the timeline?
- Admission to the unit when in early labor.
- Epidural placement prior to active labor.
- Labor induction without medical reason before 39 weeks.
- Allowing only “clears” (only broth, ice chips, popsicles, gelatin) during an induction or after epidural placement.
- High primary and repeat cesarean rates.
- Additional Interventions because of the above practices.
The most frustrating thing of all is that no one seemed to be bothered by how anti-evidence or anti-standard of care this all is.
I’ve attended more than 100 hospital births and many hundreds of homebirths; I’m absolutely gobsmacked by the laissez faire attitude toward the common usage of outdated practices and the absence of evidence-supported healthy practices.
Evidence shows how each of these practices increases interventions, maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality. NO WONDER THE US ranks so poorly amongst all of the developed nations of the world.
NO WONDER women exhibit high rates of fear surrounding childbirth. What women are routinely experiencing in labor and delivery units is scary, trauma-producing, and increases poorer outcomes. It doesn’t resemble or imitate physiologic spontaneous birth and how positive it can be.
The fact that most women still can have vaginal births in the hospital is a TESTIMONY of how fantastically designed women and babies are, not that the interventions and practices are beneficial to most.
Drop me a comment or email. I would love to hear about your experiences.
Day 156 Nursing School Diary
During this clinical rotation, my “weekend” is during the week instead of the traditional Saturday and Sunday. Clinicals happen any day because hospitals never close! Instead of spending the day in class, I spent a few hours in the sun hiking with roughly a gazillion insects.
I LOVE being outside. I’m like a little kid who counts the minutes to recess. The closer I got to the trail, the happier I got.
Why do I hike? Hiking is a meditation. A prayer. A physical work that calms and organizes thoughts. It provides a sense of completion and satisfaction. Being immersed in the green things and dirt connects me to something bigger than myself.
As a side note. Being in green spaces is a form of recognized therapy. I know, do we need a study to tell us going outside is therapeutic? Apparently so, because with evidence comes providers “prescribing” it to patients.
I allowed a slow start to my day, so optimal hiking hours grew shorter, and the temperature climbed. I chose a shorter 5.5-mile hike with a 1200ft elevation gain as my first act of self-care on my day off. The moderate hike got my heart pumping, worked my legs, sweated out stress, and freed my mind from anxious thoughts. Content and endorphins pulsed through me at the end of the trail. I wanted to continue but the rising heat of the day and UV intensity sent me to my car.
Sweaty and covered in grit and dust, I drove back to my school apartment with a lightness of spirit and a few insect bites.
I confirmed my therapy appointment as my second act of self-care. At 20 years old, during a period of night terrors and severe panic attacks, I found a therapist. Since then, therapy has been an integrated part of my life whenever I need it. Between appointments, there can be months or years, but it is always available.
Studying and doing the work of life presented few obstacles over the rest of my day.
I’m looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings. Until then, please enjoy some wildflowers from my hike.
Day 155 Nursing School Diary
It’s day 155 of nursing school. Accelerated nursing school is a daily adventure. The volume of information is education by a firehouse. The labs and simulations feel weird and awkward. The clinical rotations delve into the unknown. However, all of those things are the expected norm.
Since returning from the break between the first and second semesters, life outside school is challenging. Loneliness and isolation have set in, accompanied by anxiety and intermittent feelings of depression.
My school experience is somewhat unique. I’m more than 15 years older than all the students in my cohort, leaving me lacking in an age-appropriate peer group. Although I get along well with my classmates as one of the group, the differences exist.
Living away from my family also adds stress to the situation. I have an apartment local to the university and go home as I’m able. Alternately, my husband visits regularly to take the pressure off me. Even though we video chat daily, being on my own is difficult. Thankfully, my cat Butterscotch is along for the ride, taking the edge off.
I’m an introvert who gets exhausted by groups and is prone to overstimulation. I’m also a person who values intimate social interaction. Spending so many hours alone without personal socialization is a detriment.
To keep this post from being a whiny “woe is me” rant, I’ve devised a plan of action to improve my experience and mental wellness.
- Contacting my therapist for a check-in/reset appointment.
- Inviting others to join me hiking on days off from class and clinicals.
- Reaching out to friends in the area and making plans.
- Performing self-care.
- Accepting this is the reality for another 5.5 months and knowing it will be worth it.
Expectations vs. Reality
Nursing school is a ride expected to be a fast, furious, challenging, and brain cramming experience. It is all that and so much more. I freely admit tears and anxiety rule some evening study sessions.
What I didn’t expect.
My group of 30-odd people is unexpectedly funny, supportive, and accepting. I am not the typical age of a student entering a nursing program. I’m pretty sure I am old enough to be the mother of every other student. Yet, never once have I felt ageism rear its ugly head. Although I have stories from clinical days directly related to my age, those are stories for another day.
NCLEX-style questions are absolute mind-benders compared to common test questions. I should’ve investigated and practiced tests before beginning nursing school. Being a “good student” isn’t enough to translate facts to the all too often torturous variety the NCLEX-style offers. I challenge you to do a web search on your own and let me know what you think about the questions you find.
Finally, I didn’t realize how this process deepens my passion and love for community-based care and working within a community of peers. Every day, clinical hour, and new nugget of information is a vehicle for future application in my practice.
I’m fired up!
I hope I get off this ride in December intact, joy-filled, and ready to take on the credentialing exam.
Welcome! It came to my attention recently that my website had been co-opted by someone else, much to my aggravation. Now I’m back with a new site and more brain squirrel wrangling from the corners of my mind and the world as I experience it.
My posts will cover an array of topics as I am a multi-faceted human just like you.
My current status is as accelerated nursing student, coffee enthusiast, and lover of cats and the outdoors.
See you soon.