Aftermath

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Lately I’ve become quite frustrated with myself.  Every day it seems like I find something else to try and process through from my past.  Some days I just can’t take it.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel like I have my shit together.  I’m not drowning, I’m not wishing it all away…I’m simply trying to embrace it and work through it.  There’s absolutely no reason to worry about me.  Why not?

Well we’ll talk about the culprit: I spent two years trying to beat cancer.  Cancer was trying to take everything away from me.  My body rebelled and disobeyed me.  How do you process something like that?  I did everything I could to stay healthy including diet and some exercise but it didn’t matter.  I still ended up with cancer, twice.

You want to know something I learned?  It. Wasn’t. My. Fault.  I can’t tell you enough about the emotional release I experienced when I heard those words at Cervivor School Florida.  Dr. Phillip Castle had the whole room in tears.  People often forget our psychological needs when facing such a difficult disease.  I still remember coming home after having chemotherapy and spending days just laying in bed.  My only form of communication was in the form of texts, Netflix, and the awful nightmares I was faced with.  Half of the time I wasn’t sure if I was in a dream land or if what I was experiencing was reality.  It really messed with my head.

After treatment, I got stronger but I kept ignoring things.  New Years Day was a day I stepped forward and I grew personally.  Even when I was sick I was too concerned about others.  I couldn’t just focus on myself.  I constantly felt worried or guilty that I was being a bad girlfriend, friend, daughter, sister, etc.  I know that I wasn’t, now.

I wanted so desperately to have a normal life.  All of my friends were either getting engaged, married, or announcing their pregnancies and here I was just trying to survive.  I still don’t feel like I completely fit in.  Some of you reading this will get it, some of you will probably think I’m being a little dramatic…it could be a mixture of both, I guess.

I still want a normal life but what I need to realize is what normal means to me now.  I’m unable to have my own children biologically and people say “Well, there’s always adoption.  You always wanted to adopt!”  You’re right, I did.  I knew I wanted to at a young age.  I wanted to take someone off the street rather than put another on.  I guess a woman never gets over the feeling of having that life source being taken away.

I mean, isn’t that what makes us a woman?  The ability to conceive, carry, and birth a child?  I only got a taste of what the birthing sensation feels like because of my internal radiation treatments in the hospital.  The nurses so kindly told me that right before they pulled out the tungsten and ring they surgically placed earlier.  Did I mention I didn’t get pain medication during this since my oncologist failed to give the orders?

That was one hell of a (excuse my language) mind fuck.

And I guess, before I decide on children, I should probably consider a partner in crime to spend the rest of my life with, right?  I want to be able to have a normal relationship, someone to call my best friend, and someone who can handle me the way I am.  It seems like whenever I’m faced with this opportunity that I shut it down just as quickly.  Yeah, I’m scared.  I have a lot to work out in this area still.  Maybe I’m just not ready yet and I have to convince myself that it’s okay to wait.

What concerns me is most people want intimacy in a certain way and I can’t provide that right now.  I am working through barriers both physically and emotionally.  Frankly, my body has been through a trauma and I’m still dealing with it.  My heart and my brain are craving an intimacy in conversation and relationship building.  I crave trustworthiness and the feeling of being protected by someone.  I crave someone who I can be my authentic self with, not someone I notice myself changing for.  I will have that someday but for now I’m focusing on myself.

Along with the radiation damage to my lady bits, I’ve developed body image issues.  I didn’t realize this was happening until I had a chance to study Oncology Social Work this summer.  I was reading a section on young adult cancer survivors and how they may perceive themselves during and after treatment.  There was a part that stood out to be the most, it mentioned a young man joking around about how he was the “old man” of the group and how he couldn’t keep up with his friends the way he used to.  I don’t know how many times I’ve used the “old woman” excuse, but it’s been a lot.  I’m constantly fatigued from damn near everything and my bones constantly ache from treatment.  I can get out of breath just by walking to the bathroom.  It’ll get better eventually.  It’s just frustrating not being able to be the old me energy-wise.

I have also caught myself saying negative things about my body and they have manifested in my brain causing low self-esteem…again.  I look back at pictures of me going through treatment during the first round where I lost weight but not much else and my stomach sinks a little.  Then, I look at my second round where the effects were much more devastating and I see when my strength was held high and I see where I was ready to give up completely.  I felt like a skeleton for nearly two years.  I’ve struggled to gain the weight back and I was about tired of hearing the “Oh, I’ll give you some of my fat” nearly every day.

I know I’m skinny and I’m admitting that I’m struggling.  I love food but strangely enough, food doesn’t love me.  Having an autoimmune disease before cancer (microscopic colitis) and then experiencing radiation in the pelvic region has left me with far more digestive issues than I care to deal with.  There is a silver lining in all of this though, I actually felt like a normal human being after I met a fellow Cervivor sister who was experiencing the same thing.  Our stories are goosebump worthy in similarities.

What people fail to realize is when we come out of treatment we are NEVER the same people we were before treatment.  We can’t just flip that switch and return to that person.  We don’t just “get over it.”  Trauma changes us.  Those experiences good or bad, change us.  Sometimes we outgrow the very people we loved so much before.  We all have bad days, some are worse than others and our good days can still be bad, we’re just managing.  We’re doing the best we can.

 

Change Starts Today

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Monday night in class we had a great leadership lecture! It sparked a fire inside me and I’ve done some thinking.  Actually, a lot of thinking.  Today is the day that I start becoming a better advocate for women and their health care. Today is the day that I start learning of more ways to educate women AND men about the risks of HPV.  I have a lot on my plate already working full time and going to school full time but….

I’m tired of sitting back and saying “Oh, one day I’ll do this. Or, I better wait to do this.”  I am DONE waiting around. I have spent two plus years fighting for my life and I think that’s enough waiting. I have made the decision to attend the Cervical Cancer (Cervivor School) in West Palm Florida in June. It’s true, I don’t have and won’t have a whole lot of money but this is the opportunity I have been “waiting” for.  I need this for my leadership skills more than anything and it is only going to improve my skills in the near future when I start working with the oncology field.  It is my goal to become an licensed oncology social worker who provides therapy to cancer patients and their families.

I spent some of my money I had set back for bills for the registration fee. I’ll probably have a panic attack later, I usually do, but I’ll get over it because I will be rewarded being in the presence of hundreds of cervivors and hearing their stories. It is through networking that we gain more experience! I look forward to this school!  If you will consider donating a couple bucks to help my journey to leadership, I would be forever grateful and will be giving back to the community ten fold.

https://www.crowdrise.com/donate/project/cervivor-school-florida/morgannewman

More Odds & Ends

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This post isn’t here to boast about myself, it’s more of an awareness of what I’ve accomplished while being sick.  Right before I was diagnosed I had decided to go back to school for social work because in September of 2014 I was diagnosed after years of struggling with anxiety and depression.  This was a really defining moment in my life because up until that point I was always so dependent on others to go out and enjoy things.  I was basing what I wanted to do on others.  I started going to therapy and was able to branch out by myself.

This ignited a passion behind mental illness.  I started volunteering at Orchard Place to be a mentor.  I am beyond grateful that I was able to do this.  I learned a lot about myself, how others succeed while suffering, and it reassured me that I was going into the right field.  When I started chemotherapy, I gave up the volunteer work to really focus on my health.  I wanted to get better in order to be able to continue on the path of social work.  I must confess, I haven’t been back because I haven’t been well enough.  It’s taken a great chunk of my time in order to battle this disease.  It’s so frustrating!

During my first round I read a book called “Cancer Schmancer” by Fran Drescher.  This book helped me more than you can imagine!  I remember growing up and watching “The Nanny” reruns and I loved Fran!  I had NO idea she fought ovarian cancer.  Her memoir was so beautifully written and it had the perfect balance of seriousness and hilariousness!  Maybe that’s why I’m able to talk about it so openly.  She showed how much of a human being she was.  She talks about being terrified, her doctor’s appointments, her relationship with her husband, her dating life, family life, etc.  It truly amazes me and I highly recommend it.  When you’re reading it you can just hear her words in her voice!

I was a full time student while receiving chemotherapy and radiation in my first round with cancer.  I never once gave up my student status.  I had some pretty amazing instructors at DMACC that worked with me when I needed it the most.  I maintained a really great GPA except my last semester at DMACC when I had to take statistics (haha…we all know how much I LOVED that class).

It wasn’t the first group of people to support and work with me.  There are so many of you out there that I can’t name you all.  It’s overwhelming how much support I got during treatment and even to this day I’m still feeling it.  I would not be where I am without the support of each and every one of you!

I worked as much as I could (when I wasn’t ill).  It was hard to face people the first time around.  People knew I wasn’t feeling good but didn’t know what I was going through.  The first round was something that I could hide because I got to keep my hair.  The second time around was a rude awakening.  I started losing my hair, then my eyebrows, and my eyelashes.  I was bald and when I couldn’t stand the cold I would wear headscarves, caps, etc.  I was drawing on my eyebrows…people could tell.  They would ask me and at first it was so hard to be open about.  I kept asking myself, “Why are you making this so hard on yourself?  Why are you so ashamed?”  That’s when it really hit me.  I should never feel ashamed for being ill.  I was fighting a deadly disease, what was there to be sorry for?  This was my chance to spread awareness.

I became a little bad-ass.  I kicked cancer’s ass once…I’ll do it again, right?  To be completely honest, I was terrified what was going to happen to me when the recurrence took place.  All I could think of was the people cancer already took from my life.  It hadn’t been kind, after all, my aunt had passed away just days before I was diagnosed the first time around.  That was a tough pill to swallow.  I kept thinking death was at my doorstep.  I kept seeing those magnificent red, sometimes brown birds and I knew everything was going to be alright.

It was the little victories like waking up and facing the same battle every single day mainly to prove to myself that I could do it that i’ll never forget.  It was the mental game I had to fight and figure out how to release so many emotions that kept building up time after time.  I feel so blessed to still be on this Earth, my work isn’t done.  I promised that to myself, the friends I have lost to the disease, and the big man upstairs looking over me.  I think this is it for tonight, thanks for reading guys!

XOXO,

Morgan

Hard to Breathe

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The three month scan that took place showed that irritation in my lung had grown.  There were at least three spots in there now. Shit!  The not so concerning spot had become an issue.  The next step was to get set up with the Chest, Infectious Diseases and Critical Care Associates.  Dr. Westerly was a fantastic man and he wanted to get to the bottom of this.  A CT Guided-Needle biopsy was getting scheduled so we could figure out if it was a fungal infection or the same cervical cancer cells.

The CT Guided-Needle biopsy was performed at Mercy.  The procedure was quicker than I thought it would be, however, it was botched.  They were concerned with cross-contamination of my biopsy and on top of everything else, I had a lung collapse.  This was an extremely trying time for me.  I remember after the procedure was done, a nurse had wheeled me in to get a chest x-ray.  The one room she took me into wasn’t working correctly so she had me walk across the hall to the next machine.  (This didn’t seem like a good plan to me as I was still coming down from the anesthesia).  She had me stand up and hold onto the machine in order to get the x-ray.  She disappeared behind the lead wall and the next thing I knew was a group of three nurses shouting my name.  I had blacked out and fell.  I had some nasty bruising.  I was unimpressed with the doctor’s bedside manner who had performed the procedure and I was most certainly unimpressed with how things were handled after the procedure.

Dr. Westerly had called me and asked if we could redo the procedure only this time it would be a camera esophageal biopsy.  I agreed only if a different doctor could perform the procedure.  He agreed to get me one of his best colleagues.  We set up a time, the procedure went smoothly and he was able to get the biopsies we needed. (Hurrah!)

I would not get the results until I got back from a trip.  This trip had been planned for well over six months.  Steven, Jake, Krislyn, Erin, and I were going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!  That would have been early February.  I told them all I was going to have the time of my life while we were down there in case I came back to bad news.

February 19, 2016 was a day that I will never forget.  My dad and I were at Dr. Westerly’s office and were getting super anxious to get the results.  We were making awkward jokes back and forth in order to fill the everlasting time.  He walked in and his eyes darted away from me so quickly that I knew it was going to be bad.  “It’s cancer, isn’t it?”  He said, “Yes Miss Newman, unfortunately they are the same cervical cancer cells.”  My dad and I were devastated but I’m so thankful that I wasn’t alone at that appointment. We got out of that building and I broke down.  I started making the phone calls necessary.  Here we go again…

We, as a family, talked about options and after much consideration I decided to get a second opinion from a different oncologist than the one I had my first time around.  That’s when I looked up the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  I requested an appointment with their gynecological oncology team.  It was within hours that I heard from them.  They asked if I had a cancer diagnosis and we got all of my records including my scans and biopsies to their team.

It was two weeks later, (March 3, 2016) that I got my consultation with Dr. Weroha.  I was so incredibly scared as to what he was going to tell me but the thing that amazed me most was that he spent a great deal of time talking to us about my previous experiences and assured my dad and I that we were in the right place.  He couldn’t promise to rid the cancer but he was going to do his best.  He went over scans, possibilities of different treatments, and even mentioned a clinical trial if I would qualify.  (I didn’t end up qualifying for the autoimmune clinical trial due to having colitis).

I felt confident in the treatment he had laid out and was amazed when he personally called to check on me after our appointment.  Their staff goes above and beyond for their patients.  I knew I was going to be in good hands… (To be continued…)

 

 

Kicking Ass Part One

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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

A Shower Before the Storm.

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So much has happened in the last couple years it gets difficult trying to figure out where to start.  I had such a bad relationship prior and was getting back into the dating realm.  I finally met a guy that I was just crazy about the moment I laid eyes on him.  A mutual friend of ours tried getting me to attend a poetry slam put on every month for almost a year or so.  It was 2014, I was working on myself, going to therapy.  I had just started and decided it was the perfect opportunity to go meet some people and do something by myself.  I was always so used to relying on others to go out and do things.  I took a chance.

I was selected as a judge, thank you Kevin, for the very first time spectating a poetry event.  I loved everything about it.  Actually, it brought me back to when I would write in middle school.  (I dropped it as soon as I went into high school because it wasn’t “cool”).  I forgot how much I loved it.  This was a style that I had never experienced before!  I met a cool gal (Justice) and we were similar in our anxiety, however, she blew me away by getting up on stage and performing a piece of her own!  Next was the guy I had been eyeing since I got there.  He had such a beautiful smile!  He looked preppy (a button up shirt with an argyle type vest over).  There was just something about this guy I couldn’t shake.  I HAD to get to know him.  I noticed he had a little grey patch in his hair and it just intrigued me more.

The slam was over and I was fighting myself over an over again.  Should I go talk to him?  Nah, I’ll just do what every other person would do… add him (as well as many others from the slam) on Facebook.  My plan worked as he was super friendly and reached out.  It was from that moment on that we basically became each other’s.  I went on vacation with my girlfriends to Colorado and California.  It was such a liberating time for me and at the same time it was terrifying.  I was working on my anxiety and depression and falling in love with traveling all in one.  This handsome guy and I talked for a month before we officially met in person.  He invited me to a workshop held at the Des Moines Social Club for the Des Moines Public Schools.  I was thrilled to experience such a thing and terrified to let my guard down.  After the workshop we spent hours talking…this is something I never thought would come easily.

Steven and I became inseparable and started seeing each other officially.  Things were new and exciting but something was happening with my body with me not knowing.  It was November and an annual emergency room visit was in the forecast.  I remember the excruciating pain I had trying to urinate and how I laid on the floor holding my stomach and crying until my dad came to pick me up and take me to the emergency room.  Turns out I had kidney infection!  I refused the CATscan they were recommending because I was a cheap ass and was scared of falling behind in the financial department of my life.  I was put on an antibiotic which turned out that I was allergic to. (Oh joy!)

I rescheduled my pap smear from November to December because I had the kidney infection and some unusual bleeding.  It would come back negative and then I would have to make another trip in. (Right?)  Well, I received both a letter in the mail and a phone call from Planned Parenthood stating that there was an abnormality in my smear.  I went back for a leep procedure and they were unable to accomplish such a task as I was bleeding profusely and it hurt like hell.  This is when they referred me to an oncologist.  The word oncologist didn’t mean a damn thing to me at that time.

I went to this appointment after much waiting and had a pelvic examination.  It was February 4, 2015.  Dr. Christie gave me the news that I had a tumor covering all but a small section of my cervix and it had been there for a greater part of a year.  He walked me into a conference room where he delivered another article of news, “Miss Newman, you have cancer.”  I was alone at this appointment because I believed that it wasn’t anything serious.

How foolish could I have been?  Cancer?!  (He said cancer, right?!) He explained the staging (Stage 1, B3).  I was in shock and all I wanted to do was cry.  I had left work early that day to go to this appointment and now I had to make the phone call that I would not be back for the afternoon.  Thank god for the support I had at that time!

I made phone call after phone call but the one I was worried about most to tell was my new boyfriend.  We had talked about a future and what we kind of wanted out of life.  We had discussed wanting children at some point in our lives and now I had to tell him the possibility of adoption being our only option.  He came home from work and saw me curled up on the couch.  He then knelt beside me as I poured out the words as best as I could.  His eyes looked so full of pain but it wasn’t the first time he has ever felt it.  Even though I delivered this awful news he stood his ground and was by my side.  I couldn’t thank God enough for a better partner to be by my side as I fought cancer for the first time.