After having a couple days to myself (which I highly recommend to anyone) I put on my shit-kickers and was ready to get this thing over with! I had NO idea what this was going to entail. The first step was to undergo an exploratory surgery to see how far the cancer had spread and to verify that the staging he gave me was correct. We found out that the tumor was a little smaller than he had originally anticipated, however, I had three lymph nodes involved in my cervical area. This news was chilling to me.
In those first couple days to myself I cried, a lot. I had just recently lost a friend to cancer as well as my aunt. My grandpa Wilson had passed in November when I was dealing with unnecessary pain and unusual period patterns. Years before that I lost my grandpa Bill to lung cancer (he was a heavy smoker for years). When I heard the ‘C’ word, I thought for sure it was going to result in a death sentence for me. It really (excuse my language) fucks with your head when you lose so many people and have to endure the deadly disease yourself. When I heard I had lymph node involvement it scared the dickens right out of me. I never knew what strength I could potentially have…
It was that moment when my aunt Billie had passed away that her daughter Kim posted a photo of a beautiful red cardinal in her backyard. She stated, “I know mom is okay.” It wasn’t long after that I started seeing my own cardinals and took it as a sign. I remember getting ready to have some testing done and I stayed the night at my dad’s the night before so I didn’t have to get up so early. Jodi had commissioned a painting from a young gal trying to learn how to paint and sell her artwork. All she had told her was that she wanted something with red in it. I got a phone call asking where I was at as I was pulling up to the apartment. I walked in and they uncovered the beautiful painting that young gal did. It was a cardinal sitting on a branch looking back at what would be the tree. I cried tears of joy. I remember asking myself, “How can this be?!”
Many of you might know that I struggled in believing a faith as my family were never church goers. Sure, I had my time at bible school and I’m thankful that let me make that decision. I had always questioned my faith and it wasn’t until I heard the story about my grandpa Bill passing that I really kind of believed in something after life. When he was passing away with my uncle and my dad by his side he started calling out to “Scrappy” which ironically was his name for my uncle’s dog that had passed away a month or two prior.
Now, that painting wasn’t the only artwork I received that evening from my dad and Jodi. Jodi’s mother, Joan, had given her a framed cardinal photo from an Iowa artist to give to me. Both of these pieces of artwork are hanging in my dining room to this day.
After having my exploratory surgery they scheduled me to have my port placed. It is a bulky item for my small frame but I am beyond happy that I had it because my veins would all be blown out from the needles involved! The procedure didn’t take long and my surgeon was amazing! It was at this time that I signed paperwork donating whatever left over tissue/ blood samples I had to cancer research. If you ever have to go through such a thing I would hope you would do the same. You could potentially save someone’s life someday!
The plan was set into place that I would receive five chemotherapy treatments and six weeks of external radiation along with two weeks of internal radiation. I still remember the first chemotherapy I had. The machine they were using was Cardinal Health brand. After the first treatment I came home and laid on the couch. I felt ill and slept a lot. I think this scared Steven more than I’ll ever know. It was from then on that I stayed at my dad’s apartment right after treatment. I was trying to protect our relationship by doing this. The radiation I received Monday through Friday for about fifteen minutes. The machine was designed to work around all of my other major organs and I didn’t receive as much scatter radiation. It was really interesting to watch the machine work! Radiation didn’t make me sick but it did make me tired and it dried out my skin more than winter usually does. The staff at this office were phenomenal! (One of the best things was I would get a quick nap in or I would stare at the beautiful, colorful light fixture they had on their ceiling).
After finishing the external radiation I was scheduled for a surgery to place a small piece to hold the radiation filament in my cervix. I would have it surgically placed, receive a dose of internal radiation, and then have a dose the next day. It would be repeated the following week (except having it surgically placed as it would already be there). The radiation was not a bad experience but when they took out the contraption that held my organs out of the way was the worst. The first time they did it without pain medication because it hadn’t been ordered for me. I distinctly remember the nurse asking me if I had had kids before, if I had given birth. No…. “Well this is a lot like child birth.” Great…and I had to do it without anesthesia?! The next time they allowed pain medication. Even while trying to relax it hurt like hell. I hope to never experience such a thing again.
It was shortly after I finished the internal radiation that I went to Maine with my mom and my aunt Kim! What a beautiful experience that was! I decided when I got diagnosed with cancer that if and when I made it through treatment that I wouldn’t put my plans on hold and that I would travel as much as my pocketbook would allow me. Medical bills were stacking up due to a high deductible policy. I must say I have some of the best friends a gal could ask for because of everything they have done for me. Brother Trucker, a local band and close friends of my dad and I’s, donated their time slot at El Bait Shop in order to fund raise money for my medical bills. I love these guys with all my heart! They helped me raise awareness of this awful disease. If you’re reading this, I hope you KNOW how much you guys mean to me! ❤
I had a final scan after all treatment was done. It was August 10, 2015 and I received a phone call stating that my cancer was gone and I was officially in remission. I was over the moon considering towards the end of treatment they had noticed an irritation in my lung but they weren’t convinced that it was cancer. They thought it was irritation from radiation and the chemotherapy drugs. That night was celebrated with my dad at Hessen Haus with a beer and some delicious food.
That October was Steven and I’s first anniversary! We had made it through some of the shittiest days! We traveled to Chicago for the weekend and went on a Prohibition Tour. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced and I was so happy I could do it with the one I loved. I think we ate and drank ourselves silly, or at least I did! My emotions from everything and my anxiety disorder got the best of my drinking “abilities” that weekend. No, I didn’t have anything catastrophic happen but I did get a little too drunk and ruined an intimate moment that hadn’t happened for nearly a year. (It’s the truth, there was nothing sexy about that moment and I’m sorry it’s taken this long to apologize. I just know how I feel about these moments now that I’ve had the time to reflect back). If I’m not open and honest about how everything was and is, how am I going to get past and heal from it?
Three months would pass by and the next scan would take place but what life would bring us next would be unfathomable.
Photo by: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/cardinal-love-kristin-elmquist.html