We'll start with the results first- NED! If you know anyone who has had cancer in the past and gotten good results, you know that being NED is a very, VERY good thing! It means that scans and labs resulted in "No Evidence of Disease." This last scan marked ELEVEN YEARS of my body being without any evidence of cancer! ELEVEN YEARS after a prognosis of six months to live (at most)... I AM that miracle... that hope that someone may need at this moment. Those cells in a person's body that we call "cancer," don't own them; they aren't yours and they're not invited to stay long either. I had cancer, but it wasn't "my" cancer... it was "the" cancer... and I was fortunate enough to rid of it... and I'm not the only one... so hang on to that hope if you're going through something right now! I'm glad that it's been eleven years, not only because that means "life" over "death" but also because it proves that we, as individuals, can overcome the impossible... and many of us do!
Every year is a milestone on borrowed time! I still come across people that wince over an upcoming birthday because it means they'll be one more year older. I have a request... please... never complain about your birthday and be someone that makes the change in others about celebrating special days because for cancer patients and survivors, a birthday is a bonus; it's a day to celebrate life and all the beautiful things in it. I feel a deep sadness in the center of my heart when I hear or see someone acting negatively about their birthday or flat-out refusing to enjoy it. God gave us each ONE life and it's not very long... the day you were born was nothing short of a miracle in itself and we SHOULD celebrate that! You get only one day a year to call yours, own it!!! And, own it with all the joy you can muster up! Next time you talk about your birthday, please imagine yourself sitting in front of a cancer fighter or survivor before you allow any words to come out of your mouth... and think about what it means to be a "survivor." (...that word we need to change)
This trip was not an easy one, shocking, right? (ha ha) No trip is easy. No scan is easy. No lab work or doctor's visit is easy... everything is amplified in worry after you've had cancer and it's more challenging for some than others. I'm that "some." I like routine when I go into something that creates fear in me and this trip was WAY out of my routine! I worried for over a month before heading to Houston for this one... I analyzed EVERYTHING that was wrong with me, I had doctor appointments for this or that and our kids' schedule was out of the ordinary. Then, I decided to sign up for an angel flight to see if they might be able to find one for us knowing the chances would be extremely slim considering they've only found ONE FLIGHT for me in the first ten years of me traveling to Houston. I wasn't sure I could get through it given the level of anxiety this time around. Of course, they found two- roundtrip! I wasn't sure I would be able to get on a plane at all considering my level of anxiety this time around... but a SMALL plane!?!? Well, I was really struggling at this point.
We ended up not taking the first flight because it was too far of a drive to the hangar on the day one of our daughters was scheduled to have teeth extracted... it was just simply too stressful for me with the tight timeframe. So we took our usual Southwest flight down. And by "we" I mean my husband and I... that's right... my mother decided to sit this one out... perfect timing considering we knew my doctor was going to be out and I was going to see a new doctor. Honestly, I don't know how I manage to live at all some days. So, normally, we fly out on Southwest, grab our reserved rental car, drive to the hotel (the same one every time), decide what to do for the rest of the day depending on what time we arrive then head back to the hotel for a movie and room service. In the morning, we get up around 6am, head to the clinic, go to the 29th floor, check in, grab my lab tubes, head down to the 16th floor, check in for outpatient imaging, get my scan cocktail and IV put in, then the tech will draw the blood for my labs from my IV because my arm veins are very sneaky little bastards and it's painful to be stuck in the arm when they're playing a game of dodgeball with the needle!! Not to mention... I'm a freak about the whole process to begin with. Then I head up to the 29th floor with my labeled and filled tubes, fill a little cup for the urinalysis and drop it all off with the ever-so-appreciated lab techs in the oncology clinic. OMG... they're so nice. I can't even tell you how much this ridiculous process they allow me to do helps with anxiety in me. Then I go back to the 16th floor and wait for scans, get it done, then go eat and head up to the big waiting area (usually for hours) to see the doctor and get results after they check my now very high blood pressure just before heading into the exam room. That's just bad timing... we need to change that part of the process.
Here's a video showing the beautiful oncology clinic I'm able to travel to... what a difference environment can make when you have to go through something so challenging. This is the 29th floor... I'm surprised they don't show you the views from the windows... I love looking out the windows, even in the exam rooms.
OK... so THIS time... Mom didn't join me, the hotel was under construction and we stayed elsewhere, they scheduled my labs AFTER scans, so my whole elevator ride routine was all messed up, there was a new guy in outpatient imaging who "wasn't comfortable" drawing my blood from the IV, it was out of control. I ended up taking two pills that day for anxiety... my doctor was out on medical leave (we'll get to that another day and my prayers are with him and his family every single day), I was seeing a new doctor whom I know nothing about when it's my doctor that I travel to Houston for in the first place... the angel flight corporation set up a flight FROM Houston for us, so I was stressing out about that (for NO REASON- who doesn't want to fly on a private jet comfortably without dings, announcements, lack of leg space, partially reclining chairs, small snacks and loud crowds?!)... Blank stares... I get blank stares in my head about my own issues because I really do realize how absurd most of them are and I try SO HARD to overcome them... I just keep going through it all and HOPE I come out the other end still alive and not wrapped up in a hospital somewhere for one reason or another. Cancer won't kill me... I'll manage to handle that myself with the anxiety and stress my brain puts my body through all the time because of what I've been through and what I know can happen... BECAUSE IT DID! PTSD... it's fantastic. Anyway... so I did push myself through, but not alone, never alone- my husband was there (he is the best calming factor... I love this man so much), the director of outpatient imaging was trying to help me on the phone in his car, the nurses in the labs were trying to help me... and it was THEY who found the solution for me and I am praying this will be my new routine... they found a caring infusion nurse to put the IV for me and draw the blood right there... OMG... that was so much easier than even my FIRST routine! I don't know why they just don't allow the lab nurses to put in the IV's in the first place. Whatever... it worked out. THANK GOD!!! I'm sure EVERYONE was breathing a sigh of relief after that extravaganza.
The rest of the day went as usual... we came up after lunch to wait and weren't in the waiting room more than 5 minutes! What the...???? I had absolutely no time to sit there and freak out internally about every single scenario that could possibly go wrong this trip and how it would trickle down into all other areas of my life... no time for that! It was nice. We went in, met the new doctor right away who was all smiles and very friendly. I honestly did not expect that. I think that's not really the norm, at least from my personal experiences. He gave me all good news which included some spots reducing in size and labs being spot on... and I'm sure HE was breathing a sigh of relief when he saw the scans and labs before he came in because I can't imagine anyone in that hospital not knowing my name by now. Bad news for me is not easy. I do my best to deal with it, but all those feelings and memories just come flooding right back in when I get bad news... and THAT is why I love my doctor as I do... he makes bad news OK to deal with. Fortunately, it was good news this time! ...and almost every time. There was one little area of concern though that I'm trying not to dwell on... he did not want me to wait a year for another scan as my doctor had said we would allow if this trip proved to be a good one... he said there are other spots they are watching. So, I'm going back in September. The good news on that: no surgery this time! I have another seven months to live life, and... it gets me through all our birthdays and my favorite season of the year!!! It will be a happy summer!!!
We celebrated, as we always do. We met with my friend Jennifer, her husband and our oldest daughter, now in the Navy, was in from Virginia to see us and her boyfriend who now lives there. I love spending time with her. It was a really great dinner, as all celebratory dinners are. Jennifer and I miss Katherine... no scan date goes without prayers to her and for her family. I always feel her presence around scan time... I wish I were as strong as she was. I am so thankful she was in my life for the brief time she was.. I'll always look up to her. I can only hope that some day someone might be able to take something positive from me so I could pay it forward.
The next day came... we woke up early to head to the hangar for our complimentary private flight courtesy of Corporate Angel Network and the company offering us the flight through them. Skipping security and crowds made a HUGE difference in my anxiety level, but I was still a little nervous to be on a smaller plane unsure if I would feel claustrophobic. What if I had a panic attack while in flight!?!? One of my coping skills is to seek solace in a restroom where noises are slightly more limited. I didn't know what sort of bathroom there would be, if any at all. I didn't know anything about this aircraft or people on it. I didn't have to do this... I could have just flown my trusted Southwest Airlines... the familiarity of the process and planes gives a false sense of security, I know, but even if it is a false sense... it's still a sense of security which technically makes it real and no longer false. But, I really try harder than most not allow anxiety to get the best of me... sometimes I win, sometimes not. So, we were going to take this flight even if meant I was going to die on that plane! After all, would it be so bad to die on a private jet?! Makes for a good ending at least.
Needless to say... IT WAS AMAZING!!! Once we boarded, all anxiety just literally exited my body and stayed in Houston for the day. I felt so relaxed because it was more spacious than commercial airlines, there were no stressful directions to follow, no worrying remarks, no overhead announcements in static, no tray-tables to put up or seat backs to check- Just a very friendly attendant who made us feel so welcomed! We were given breakfast and shown the features on the plane. I was able to just lay back, put my feet up and gaze out the large window and the gorgeous sky, which is one of my favorite views. It was the most memorable experience. I am SO, SO, SOOOO grateful for Corporate Angel Network and the companies, organizations and private jet owners who work with them because this flight made a BIG difference during a stressful trip... even if it was the return flight after good news. It's still a part of the overall stressful trip.
I'm home now... and I'm still that living, breathing, walking mess of a miracle... and I'm here to help you or anyone you know in any way that I can through sharing my story with all the crazy that comes with it. Have a very thankful, happy day today! Love to you all.