Tuesday, March 8, 2016

As the Stomach Churns...

*insert theme music from old American soap opera As the World Turns*

The other day my Aunt commented on one of my facebook/blog updates:  "Another interesting episode in 'The Life and Times of a Fighter'" and since then I have had this theme song stuck in my head.  Thanks Auntie! ;-)  

I appreciate the complimentary sentiments, and I was thinking on my drive home from the city last night that I have no choice BUT to fight.  There are certainly times (and I often publicly air them here!) that I am sick of the fight, but somehow I know I have no choice but to rage on... my only alternative is to just lie down.  And I've never been great at that.  

Yesterday was my three-months-of-work-fit-into-one-day trip to Sunnybrook for CT scans and oncology consults.  For CT scans at 1:30p.m. I had to be there at noon to register and get my bottle of disgusting chemical water juice stuff.  

To drink the litre of stuff they advise you drink a styrofoam cupfull every 15 minutes.  YUCK  I still prefer the old-school chalky liquid I had at my first CT scan in Collingwood because it's a much smaller bottle and you can just chug it and get it over with.  Well at least I have picked up some tips over the course of the last eight CT scans I have had, and they look like this:

Lovely CT nurse said I can add flavouring to the water, and she suggested I bring a glass or cup other than the styrofoam they provide. Bingo!  I was able to drink this jug with less than usual interference from my gag reflex.  And nobody batted an eyelash about me carrying this wine glass around the hospital with me!  Gotta love the anonymity of city dwelling.  

I took my cocktail through the tunnel at Sunnybrook and up to the Odette Cancer Centre to multi-task my drinking time by registering for my late afternoon appointment with my medical oncologist.  This involves routine bloodwork (only three vials this time!) as well so I got in queue while sipping my mango peach beverage, had my blood drawn, then found a comfy spot downstairs in Odette to wait until 1:30.

I arrived back at CT with empty wineglass in hand, and prepared for another needle poke for the contrast dye which is injected at a certain point in the scan.  
Typically this part of the day doesn't phase me but for some reason when the nurse tried for a vein (in the less favoured arm) it hurt SO much!  She couldn't find the artery but must have hit something because I immediately broke into a sweat and the room started to spin.  I tipped over, barely escaping fainting, thankfully I was able to lie down on the stretcher before I tipped forward right in her lap.  The dizzies calmed down once she removed the needle from my arm and was patting my forehead with a cold cloth.  Geesh... some CT pro I am!?!   Embarrassing... humbling.  Scary.  

Got the IV/needle all set up in my other arm and made my way to the waiting room, already feeling nauseated from the jugga stuff.  It commonly makes me feel sick, at both ends if you know what I mean.  I always hope the CT machines are running on time so I can run to the washroom ASAP and don't vomit my hard-earned glow worm juice before the scans are taken.  

As "luck" would have it, CT was running behind... It was a dizzying experience in a hot stuffy room with standing room only and a gag reflex being kept in check only by my awareness of the mustachioed dude beside me wearing just a hospital gown.  I was afraid to make any move for fear he might jump up to try to help me - or avoid any dashing accident I might make?!

I felt as badly for the staff as I did for myself with that waiting room full of people... some days you win, some days not so much. But they handled everyone with smiles as they always do.

Finally it was my turn in the huge machine, a fresh breath of air in the cool technology room.  Lie down on the platform thingy, zip back and forth through the giant doughnut, hold breath, breathe, arms up, arms down, IV needle out, and done!  Had a little chat with the Medical Radiation Technician about the schooling for her job (research for Claire), and off I went back through the tunnel to Odette.

My blood sugar was getting a bit low at this point too which wasn't helping my nausea, so after my beeline to the washroom I nibbled on the sandwich I had brought from home and tried to quell the burning throat sensation from all of that Mio (psychological maybe?).  Waiting for my oncologist appointment I was able to collect my wits, touch base with home, and catch up on my social media.

Into medical oncologist's room and updated her on the latest happenings, as this was the first time we had seen each other since the prednisone attempt.  She was disheartened to hear that my tummy trouble started up again so quickly after taking the prednisone, and she commented that perhaps she should have kept me on it for four weeks instead of two.  *GASP* 

I told her about my conversation with the naturopathic doctor and the probiotics I am taking every night now, and she said she appreciates the effort and yes the probiotics will help any imbalance in the gut, but the damage done by the immunotherapy is still a different animal.  
It's a chemical deal she said, no dietary influence will remedy it if there is damage to the intestinal tract.  SOoooo... off to a Gastroenterologist I go.  No ifs ands or buts about it.  I must.  And a scope will determine the extent of the damage plus they will take biopsies (enter my second near-fainting spell of the day).  

There is no getting around The Boss.  What this lovely lady lacks in physical size she makes up for in quiet force.  

She said we have to get to the bottom of this problem (so to speak) so that I don't end up with further damage and end up in surgery for a perforated bowel.  (I am NOT looking that up to find out what that is... I'll just take it for how it sounds) (Bad.)  I guess my foolproof plan of taking imodium for the rest of my life is not so foolproof after all.  Where my use of ipilimumab ends, my investigation of ulcerative colitis begins.  #melanomaSUCKS

I was open about my reluctance to have a scope etc. and she calmly answered my questions and patted my knee reassuringly as she always does.  
I seriously don't know how she keeps being nice to and caring for me when I am such a pain in the ass. (pun intended!) I give her a hard time about this issue every time I see her.  I can't help it!

I gave up my protest while she examined my breathing and felt around my remaining lymph nodes, until she got to my sensitive neck/throat.  Since thyroidectomy I have had enlarged nodes and some bumps in my neck that we have been watching on CT and ultrasounds.  I asked her if I should see my head and neck surgeon as I did not have a follow-up booked with him.  I was content with her exams and her scrutiny of my quarterly CT scan images, but, always aware of the importance of self-advocacy, I asked just in case.  

She said "Hhmm yes good idea, hey, he is here in clinic this afternoon, how about I go see if I can snag him to come take a quick look?"  Really?  Fantastic yes please!! And sure enough, not 15 minutes later I was in consult with my thyroid surgeon, completely unplanned but very much appreciated!  

I have said before that I feel Sunnybrook has rolled out the red carpet for my family and I in the last two years, and my sentiments were just reinforced yesterday.  Amazing... thanks peeps.. wow what else can I say.

Quick chat with my ever-efficient surgeon and he gave me what he called a neck massage (with the ultrasound machine on a cart). Awesome.  He is really the only person I want poking around my neck anymore so this worked out very well.  

He examined the bumps and ruled out cancer recurrence by the visual aid, but said he would also look at my CT scan to double check.  He said it is some scar tissue from surgery and will likely remain for the life of my neck.   Okay, thank you, I trust him.  

All that said and done, I got my shit together and hit the dusty trail.  Well, the 400 Northbound to go home.  Another whirlwind trip done, and I remain grateful for the strength to be able to take myself down and back like that.  I know there will come a day when I can't, but for now I'm on it.

I am paying for it today however, feel like I've been hit by a truck.. exhausted and extra tummy trouble.  

Tomorrow I head to RVH in Barrie for radiation oncology consult (to keep me on file there and always provide a built-in second opinion) and my therapist visit.  

Hopefully I will sleep better tonight than I did last night.  I try to pace out my appointments a bit better than this week is planned, but CT scan is a biggie and therapist at the RVH Cancer Centre is also worth the schedule.  The girls are joining me tomorrow as well and we are meeting friends at Gilda's Club for a visit too so it will be a well-rounded day.  I predict takeout for supper!

Article & Photos © Natalie Richardson

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