So I won't...

When I was diagnosed with pneumonia a few weeks back I went through something emotionally. It's not a secret really but it feels like one to me so I am putting it down in writing, like I so often do, because I think it's crucial to understanding. "Understanding what?" you might ask. Understanding what goes through and exactly how my mind works as a stage four anal cancer survivor...dare I say "odds beater".  Like I said I was diagnosed not long ago with pneumonia. I really had gone to see the doctor about my aching left ankle and a "diaper rash" of epic proportion that wasn't responding to the typical creams given to effect such post radiation maladies. I had also developed a dry cough which I attributed to the allergies that everybody in the world in general had developed this Spring. When I made the appointment the scheduler had to think I sounded a bit crazy with a "sore ankle, itchy ass, and dry cough". I was rather pleased I was going in with a trifecta of problems as I feel much like a hypochondriac might going in with "every little hiccough".

When the morning arrived for the appointment my ankle topped the charts as my most pressing problem. I made a list of what I wanted to talk about with my doctor starting with the aching ankle bone and my wish list went something like this; ankle x-ray, butt cream, and prescription strength allergy medicine. I drove over to my Family Practice doctor's office. Reception checked me in with a nod, they know this "crazy cancer girl" pretty well by now. I take a seat expecting a bit of a wait because I was a "work in" appointment. I was barely settled in with my smart phone for entertainment when my name was called. I was weighed in and my vitals were taken. As I was repeating my reasons for the visit a coughing fit grabbed me and I struggled for a minute gulping air in between coughs. "Hmm." sounded the medical assistant as she scribbled on my chart. She left informing the doctor would be right in. I absently thumbed through a tattered People magazine that was clearly full of celebrity gossip that was at least two years old. I was sure I had read this edition before but reread it's content of half truths mindlessly as I waited. When the doctor came in I started off with the ankle complaint and then described my hind side to him finishing with the allergy cough symptoms. He had me get on the examining table and remove my shoes. He pressed the tender and reddened ankle bone and agreed to the x-ray right away. He listened to my lungs and said he could hear a wheeze on the right and thought as a precaution we should get a chest x-ray and finally called his MA in to bear witness to my butt exam. I almost laughed out loud when he asked me to stand, drop my drawers and bend over the exam table. The MA was horrified at what I was being asked to do and what she was being asked to watch. I, of course, am well beyond the awkwardness of it all. I hop down and do what he asked. He gasped audibly when he saw the extent of the rash. I think the MA was impressed by not only the magnitude of it but my matter of fact behavior toward this exam. "Radiation." I explain to her, "The gift that keeps on giving." I pull up my pants as he rattles off his orders, an ankle x-ray, a chest x-ray and some mycolog cream ("STAT!" I think). I am ushered to the x-ray waiting area. The rad tech calls my name after a few minutes wait and knows me well. We chat while she takes the pictures about kids, summer plans and the crazy allergies that are going around after I dissolved into a coughing frenzy. She leads me back to the waiting area. I feel like I am on a fast track at the office having only been there for 30 minutes and I'd seen the doctor and had my x-rays done. Alas! I thought too soon because I waited in that radiology waiting room for a long time.

Finally the doctor came and motioned to me with his index finger to follow him. We went back to the x-ray reading room. There on the computer screen was my ankle in three different views. He described how it looked normal and not inflamed. He suggested insoles with arch support perhaps. He then clicks a link that reveals my chest x-ray. "Holy shit!" I gasp "I have pneumonia!" and I touched the screen where the watermelon shaped density defined my right upper lobe. He chuckled in response to my cuss word and agreed with my interpretation. He prescribed antibiotics and a short round of steroids (yuck.) as treatment. He said he would send the x-rays to be officially read by the radiologist and then send a copy to my oncologist just to keep him up to speed. He explained to me that I could just be more vulnerable to these things post radiation to the area. I left his office completely nonplussed about the pneumonia just resigned to the knowledge that radiation side effects will plague me forever. After sitting in my car and texting my sister and hubby and besties the pulmonary discovery I went about my work day. 

Mid afternoon my cell phone rang. I recognized the back number from my doctors office. I figured it was the nurse and was surprised to here my doctor's voice say "Michele? It's David." I pulled my car into the Fazoli's parking lot. I didn't like his tone and I never like when he uses his first name. "What's wrong." I say. He tells me the radiologist had read my chest x-ray and felt it would be "prudent" to get a chest CT to make sure that the pneumonia wasn't being caused by a blockage of some sort. "Like what?" I ask although I already knew the answer. "Oh, scar tissue, perhaps 'cell growth'" (cancer I think). I agree to the CT and he tells me the scheduler will call me and to meanwhile start taking the medications prescribed. I sit in the car for a minute feeling a pit in my stomach and like I am drowning and trying to hold my breath. I call my bestie, Laurie, to talk it out for a minute. I tell her I don't want to tell anybody about the CT except her and my husband. She agrees to keep it on the DL. I call my husband. He agrees to secrecy as well but as I am driving to the pharmacy to pick up my medications I run the conversation my children with have with me through my mind. "What do you mean your cancer is back? Pneumonia? You have pneumonia? How long have you had that? You never told me?!" I call my husband back and say "We have to tell the kids now." I explain why and he agrees it is probably best and the CT is only a precaution because of my history and nothing else. I call them all. They see through the facade and make me promise to inform them of when it is scheduled and when the results will be in. This being a Wednesday I figure the soonest they could scan me would be Thursday afternoon. I ended up being scheduled for Friday morning...crap, the weekend loomed ahead as a potential waiting hell.

The good news is, Friday came and my butt rash was almost gone thanks to the magic cream and I was hoping that the antibiotics and steroid were doing their thing as well. I still felt like I was drowning and holding my breath. The radiation girls welcomed me with hugs when I was called back to the CT room. When I explained what I was doing there they both said "well crap!" in unison. I laughed. I laid down on the table and an IV was started. The tech commented on how tough my veins were getting. A CT scan only takes a few minutes and after the dye was injected and I felt the familiar warmth of it's reaction in my body and the feeling of peeing my pants signaled to me that it was almost over. One more trip through the giant mouth of the scanner and it was done. I asked to see my pneumonia and the techs readily show me as I am a regular with stage four cancer and this scan is mine. The offending area is big and looks like a sea of dense yellow tissue. It is tall like a thunder head cloud not as defined as the x-ray looks. "I have no idea what I am looking at." I joke. Neither do they and we laugh. I decide I want a disc copy to take to my oncologist so they run one for me and I am out of there. My middle son calls me as I am running the disc to my one's office and asks if we are going to have to wait all weekend to learn the results. I assure him that I will do all I can to get the results that day. My lungs are "burning" from holding my breath as I drown in temporary worry. "What if my cancer is back?" I call my husband who shares my concern and tell him that I am not in the mood for cancer right now. He laughs at my expression and assures me that neither is he. I finally let my breath go and release my fear to the universe and tell him that "It is what it is and it will be okay no matter what." I then add that it was a good thing we bought trip insurance for our June vacation. He laughs again and we hang up to wait "together apart" and I feel calm and better and not afraid anymore.

Later that afternoon my cell jingles and again I recognize my doctor's office back number. I know it is the doctor before I even answer. He greets me but quickly gets to the facts he knows I want. "It is just pneumonia." Relief floods my soul. He chuckles and adds "Well not "just" pneumonia." and then explains that pneumonia is serious and I need to be rechecked in 10 days. Whew! Right? I let my family and bestie know. No one else was the wiser that it was ever suspected as anything other than plain pneumonia. However, I was acutely aware of my response to the idea of cancer being rediscovered in my body. That feeling of holding my breath for a few days. I had to make a conscious effort to release it while I waited. I hate the way it feels and I know of several people that feel that way everyday. I read their tortured writings. "How do they do that? Hold their breath every minute of their lives. I don't think I could." I text to one of my cancer buddies "Some people just hold on to their fear and worry" she responded. I don't like the way it feels to "hold my breath" and I was reminded that fear can still grab me and it is a choice to let it rule or let it go. I don't have to "hold my breath" when tragedy I won't.

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You know you've been through the wringer when you can say "Yay, it's JUST pneumonia." I hope you are feeling better my sweet friend! Hugs!
Michele likes this comment
Thanks for your post. You are quite a writer. Take care of yourself and remember there is nothing to fear but fear itself. I pray for complete healing myself and sometimes I have it one day at a time. God bless...
Michele likes this comment
I see that you are 4 years post treatment date and I applaud you. Tomorrow I go for my last RCHOP treatment for Follicular Lymphoma Grade 3B. Going through treatment has been very easy for me and seeing the end of treatment is a godsend. My scans have come back all negative and I am grateful. I feel the need to return to work to take my mind off this episode of my life. I will soon enter post-treatment and I'm sure I'll come across certain thoughts not anticipated right now. I feel strong and the thought of relapse is so distant right now but as time goes on , I'm sure the anxiety will creep back in again. I admire your ability to write about your condition and face it head on.
Michele likes this comment
Thanks for this Michele! I am in Houston awaiting the results of my 1st MRI following-up after my first PET scan NED on 4/1/14. I have been constantly telling myself to breathe for the last week and especially today. My results appointment is at 1:15pm. I hope to be an "odds beater" too!!!
Michele likes this comment
Michele, thank you for another beautiful post. I am glad that you are no longer tending your fear! Enjoy this day...and tomorrow...and tomorrow...
Michele likes this comment
In your honor, and to your wisdom, I just took 3 consecutive deep breaths. And thanks to the sympathetic response, my dog, who is sleeping at my feet, just did the same thing. We can all breathe deeply: "It's 'just' pneumonia." (You make Mr. T. look like a wuss.)
Michele likes this comment
Woooooh. That's me letting go of the breath I was holding for you. Always a good reminder to not hold our breath so thank you for the reminder. And I'm relieved for you, although pneumonia is no easy thing so I hope it responds quickly to the antibiotics. Thank you as always for sharing.
Michele likes this comment
I really like the I'm not in the mood for cancer right now and than Yay it's just are one tough cookie!
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Vital Info


October 3, 2011

Click Here

January 31, 1963

Cancer Info

Anal Cancer

Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the anus

February 5, 2010

Stage 4

2.1 - 3.0 cm

Grade 3


As much as possible

Proceeds from my published blog donated monthly

It is a thief

You have to live every day of your life and stay positive :)

Donate $$ to the anal cancer foundation. Raising awareness saves lives!

Is there anything good about poison?

Bone, lung recurrence 9/20/2012

Cancer Center of Kansas, MD Anderson

Bland diet, sitz baths, take your drugs...nobody gets extra credit for suffering.

Talk, talk, talk to somebody. I chose to write.

April 20, 2010

September 20, 2010

Rectal bleeding, itching, sciatic pain. (thought my hemorhoid was acting up)

My blog has been published and proceeds go to The HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation.


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