Archive | April 2014

Appendicitis or Ectopic Pregnancy?

My appendix began rupturing in the middle of the night when I was 20 years old. I woke around 2 a.m. with sweat rolling off me. It was an unseasonably warm night in early September, so I did not think much of it. I stumbled to the window to turn on the air conditioner unit, grabbed a towel to mop the sweat from my face as I moved back to the bed. Jump forward to 7 a.m. I woke with a start. Before I opened my eyes, I realized I was in pain. Not normal ‘I have a headache’ or ‘must have pulled a muscle’ pain – this was something more intense than I’d ever felt in my young life. Panic tried to take over, but I knew I had to figure out what was happening. I tried to take inventory, make a mental list of what I was feeling to hopefully reconcile the symptoms with a cause. No luck. All I knew was that I had an intense burning pain in my stomach/abdomen area. And again with the sweating. I finally realized I was sweating from fever, not the unseasonably warm temperatures. It didn’t take long to figure I needed to go to the doctor.

Trying to get dressed, I realized I would not be able to drive. It was a weekday morning, so I jumped on the telephone trying to reach any of my friends who may have not already left for work. No luck, but did finally reach a good friend who was running late for a class – and managed to talk her into skipping class to take me to the doctor.

I couldn’t bear to put jeans on; the pain around my middle was too intense. I think I ended up in a pair of over-sized sweatpants and t-shirt. I guess I’d scared my friend on the phone. She was there to pick me up in minutes flat. Not sure where to go, we ended up at the neighborhood urgent care center.

I guess I looked pretty bad because they took me right back, immediately taking blood samples. Within minutes a doctor came in holding a clipboard of papers and asked if I was aware I was pregnant? Now the interesting thing here is that I had been sure I was pregnant, about four months along at that point, but all pregnancy tests I’d taken showed negative. I’d scheduled a doctor’s appointment for later that week to investigate. But here I was, in the urgent care, doubled over in pain so strong it really hurt to even breathe. I told the doctor I had thought I might be. He shook his head and said that it was not good news; he believed I had an ectopic pregnancy and that it was rupturing. I really had no idea what this meant; I just needed someone to make the pain stop. The doctor asked if I wanted to go to the hospital by car – or if I wanted him to call an ambulance. This was my first clue how serious this really was.

A painfully slow 10 minute car ride later, I was at the hospital, being examined by what felt like every doctor in the building. Plus a few extras they called in just for me. Apparently a rupturing ectopic pregnancy and appendicitis have similar symptoms. And they were having trouble deciding which was happening to me. I like to think the doctors finally listened to my request but am sure it was the only medical option they had at the time, but when I finally very loudly requested they just cut me open and take a look – well, they did.

Because I was pregnant and there was a chance it may still be a viable pregnancy, they did not put me under general anesthesia. So a few short hours after waking in excruciating pain, I found myself in the operating room, head propped on a pillow, arms tied over my head, and a curtain hung across my chest to block my view as they cut into my stomach – while I was wide-awake. Pretty cool from what I remember. I could feel everything they were doing, but without the pain (thanks to a local anesthetic.) I actually carried on a conversation with the surgeon. He was irritated with me at one point because I kept begging the nurse to move the curtain and let me look. How often do you get the chance to look inside your own body?? Of course they said no.

When I woke that morning I had no idea I was in such serious condition. If it had taken minutes longer to get into surgery and the rupture had been complete, massive amounts of infection would have been sent coursing though my body. That can be fatal. Luckily, mine did not have the opportunity to reach completion and a simple oral antibiotic for several days after surgery was all that was necessary to clear infection.

I was left with two souvenirs of that day, just in case I ever forget the details. One is a six-inch long, one-inch wide scar across my lower right abdomen. I was never shy about showing my scar by wearing a bikini to the beach. If anyone had the curiosity to comment on it, I’ve had a great story to tell. The second souvenir is my son, who turned 26 earlier this year. Thankfully it was my appendix that was rupturing; my pregnancy was safe and sound in my uterus as it should have been. As the incision healed and turned to a scar, my belly was growing with the baby inside. This caused the scar to stretch as it healed; now looking quite as bad as the story sounds. I don’t mind at all.


Play The Game…Change The World

Do you believe you can make a difference? Do you believe you matter?     

          Imagine if each of us did 100 good deeds.  Imagine how we could change the world.

                    Play the 100 Good Deeds game. Buy the 100 Good Deeds bracelet.

                              1GD. Change the world.




Emotional Challenges Facing Cancer Survivors

“Sometimes I wonder which is worse, having cancer or the mental torture a cancer survivor goes through for the rest of her life; living in fear that every ache, pain, unexplained feeling could be cancer. So different than someone who is merely fearful or obsessed or paranoid about getting cancer. Because for us, chances are that it really, truly, absolutely, very likely, could be cancer.” (From my personal blog Seeing Sunrise. Cancer. Diagnosis, treatment, and finding my new normal.)

Reality is, of course, actually having cancer is the unfortunate winner of that debate. But attention should be paid to the emotional toll the fear takes on a cancer survivor. Imagine if you will, having gone through a horribly traumatic event in your life, getting through it, only to have all the same terrifying thoughts, emotions, and stresses come flooding back to you – every single time you have an ache or pain in your body. Yes, every headache, every sore muscle, every case of indigestion.

It’s a daily struggle to balance being grateful for simply being alive against the never ending stress and anxiety and fear of recurrence. At this point you may be thinking, “this lady could use some counseling!” So true! I am one of the lucky ones who have counseling available. We are currently working with the label of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Compounding the difficulty of dealing with our emotions about our body’s betrayal and our current uncontrollable reaction to that is the good intentions of our friends, family, coworkers, and general public. Our bodies appear healed. Of course that is rarely true. We become talented at hiding our physical damage with clothing, increased modesty, and other little tricks I won’t give away. But to the eyes of even those close to us, we appear healed.

The medical community, and us as survivors, need to do a better job of getting the word out that cancer patient’s ordeals do not end with clean test results. We need to acknowledge and educate that the same amount of concern, consideration, and support is needed once we enter into the next phase of our disease, dealing with the emotional aftermath of betrayal and constant fear of recurrence.


The Debt Diet…How to Become Financially Secure (Without Winning the Lottery)

Do you dream of being financially secure? Most people do, but believe it’s out of their reach. The good news is – everyone already has everything they need to accomplish it.

Becoming debt free is not painless, but if you want it badly enough, you can follow these simple steps and become completely debt free.

Step One – Start by writing down what your life will look like once you are debt free. How will financial security look in your life? What will you be able to do? How will you feel? How will you be able to help others? This first step is important. This is your Vision Statement, and you will return to it when things get difficult, when you begin to feel frustrated and wonder why you are putting yourself through this.

Step Two – Be complete honesty with yourself. Stop hiding from bills. Make complete list of every bill you owe. It’s helpful to put it in spreadsheet form listing out whom you owe, their phone, fax, and mailing address, and how much you owe to them. Write down every debtor you can think of, then pull you credit report and add anyone you’d forgotten. This is your Debt List.

Step Three – Make list of all of your recurring monthly bills. Add a category for food. Now here is the painful part. The success or failure of your Debt Diet depends on your honesty in this part. Now remove everything that is not a necessity, that your existence does not depend on. Cable is not a necessity, eating out is not necessary. I break the basics down as follows: housing, utilities (heat/air, lights, water, telephone), transportation (car payment, insurance, weekly/monthly cost of gas if you have a vehicle; or weekly/monthly cost of public transportation), and food (basic groceries for a week/month). This is not the time to take up gourmet cooking or try new recipes. Allow yourself one meal out per month (it can be a lunch or dinner, your choice) This once a month meal out will become a special event and you will appreciate it all the more. That’s it. All other spending is restricted at this time. You do not NEED new clothes to keep you alive right now; you do not NEED to go to happy hour or girls’ night, etc. Because you have embarked on this Debt Diet, you have decided what you NEED is to become financially secure.

Step Four – Make a list of all sources of income. List where it comes from, how often, and how much. You may only have income from your one and only job. Some folks have a second job, side business, online venture, rental property or other form of income that should be included. Total all your monthly income, subtract the monthly total of recurring bills (the very basic stripped down version we created above in Step Three). Make note of the balance you have left over. This is your path to freedom. It may not look like much, or you may be happily surprised. Regardless, this is the cash that will change your life. Going forward we will refer to this as your Debt Cash.

Step Five – Prioritize your Debt List, from least amount owed to largest amount owed. Each month, write one check for the total amount of your Debt Cash, and send it to the first debtor on your list. Once you have that one paid in full, mark it through and move on to the next one. If the balance due on the debt you are currently paying is less than your total Debt Cash, write two checks, one for the total amount due on the first debt and a second one applying the balance of your Debt Cash to the next in line.

Step Six – Once you get organized and get started, you will be amazed how quickly your Debt List shrinks. The thrill of watching your progress combined with repeated visits to your Vision Statement should be enough to keep you strong in those moments you feel like cheating on your diet. One slip often leads to many more, so do yourself a favor and don’t cheat.

To move this process more quickly, find additional income. This could be in the form of a second job, turning a hobby into profit (selling crafts at a fair, offering your skills as freelance,) babysit, dog sit, have a yard sale, clean your closets and sell unwanted clothes in consignment store… get creative. Whatever you come up with, it is important you apply any additional income to your Debt Cash, not spending.

Once you have marked through the last debt on your list, you have entered the maintanence phase of the diet.

Step Seven – Review your monthly bills list again. Decide which things you have done without have been most missed and which you really haven’t notice gone. You may be surprised how little you missed some things you thought were priorities in your life. Add back on the extras that have proven very important to you, but only to the point of cutting your Debt Cash in half. Open a savings account if you do not already have one. You will now deposit your Debt Cash into the savings account each month, until you have the equivalent of four months total bills saved. Once that is accomplished, you may add more luxuries back to your budget, enough to cut your Debt Cash by half again. This is now your final monthly budget. Your monthly Debt Cash should now be invested. Seek professional guidance to determine the best investment opportunities for you. Do not think you do not have enough to invest. Even if you have to split the cost of one share of stock over a couple months, for the right investment it can be worth it.

Step Eight – Go forward and enjoy life without debt.

You may wonder how I am qualified to speak on this subject. Let me list my credentials: I graduated top of my class from the University of Life with a major in Creating Debt, a minor in Making Mistakes; I went on to get my masters degree in Wrong Choices from the College of Human Nature. I continue to further my education at Second Chances Community College where I have received certificates in Suck It Up, Humility, Basic Math, and Hard Work. I am currently working towards a second Masters in Finally Made It.

In other words… been there – done that- lived through it- found a way to come out on top! The steps listed above worked for me. I am confident with true commitment, it can work for you too!

Managing Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a condition that can occur when the lymph system is blocked or damaged. Lymph fluid builds up in the area of the body that is not draining properly and causes severe swelling of the tissue. Although the swelling can happen anywhere in the body, it most frequently occurs in the arms and legs. It is usually limited to the arm or leg on the side of the damage, but can effect either or both. This is an unfortunate common occurrence in people who have or have been treated for cancer. Swelling of one or both arms happens frequently in women who have been treated for breast cancer since lymph nodes are often involved. The same holds true with women treated for cervical, ovarian, or other GYN related cancers and swelling of the leg or legs.

Complications – Obvious issues with lymphedema include difficulty finding clothing to fit over affected arm or leg and loss of range of motion, meaning the inability to move and bend the limb because of the extreme swelling. This can be life altering. In more severe cases it can prevent a patient from doing the simplest things like dressing appropriate to go in public; self care such as normal hygiene and cooking and keeping house; or even walking. The change to such basic daily life can lead to depression and other psychological issues. Perhaps more urgent is the risk of infection. Because the swollen tissue becomes damaged and has a lack of oxygen flow, it can become extremely slow to heal. The smallest cut or scrape can become infected and if not treated immediately, has the potential to quickly become a limb, or life, threatening situation.

Treatment – Although there is no cure for Lymphedema, there are often steps that can be taken to reduce the swelling and associated pain. Treatment can include light exercise or massage to help the lymph fluid continue to flow and not pool in the effected area; wrapping bandages around the swollen limb, always wrapping tightest around the fingers or toes and becoming slightly looser as the wrap approaches the body. This encourages the fluid to move back out of the limb where it can more easily be absorbed by the body. Pneumatic compression combines the effects of both massage and wrapping. A ‘sleeve’ that is hooked to a pump is placed around the effected limb. It then inflates, again starting from the finger or toe area and working up toward the trunk of the body, to encourage dissipation of the built up lymph fluid. Once swelling is reduced, doctors often suggest wearing a compression garment to hold the area tight and lessen the chance it will swell to such degree again.

It should be noted that every case is different. Each person’s body reacts differently and underlying health issues can complicate or prevent certain treatments. Wise patients become inventive, using trial and error to find what gives them the most relief. I suffer from lymphedema in both legs. When it was at its worst, I was unable to participate in the simplest exercise and massage and compression garments were out of the question. I found when they began to ache, a sure sign intense swelling was about to happen, I could reduce the impact by wrapping them lightly in elastic bandages, propping my feet above my heart, and applying ice packs. No scientific reason for the ice packs, just know it worked for me. Thankfully, my lymphedema has lessened as time has passed, now just more of a pain and tightness event. This does not happen in all patients, many are debilitated by lymphedema for life.

The information above was furnished courtesy of The Mayo Clinic, the National Cancer Institute, the National Lymphedema Network, and my personal experience with cervical cancer and lymphedema.

Seeing Sunrise

End of August 2010 I woke up in pain.  A 15 minute doctor’s appointment ended with the words, “It’s cancer. And it’s bad.” Another visit with another doctor towards the end of January 2011 ended with the words, “We can find no sign of your cancer.”  The weeks and months between the two visits passed in a frenzy of action, allowing little time to process all that was happening…

continue reading…

Coming to Grips with Your New Colostomy

“You need a colostomy.” Not something you ever expected to hear. But now that it’s a fact, let me share some information from my personal experience that might ease your transition to becoming, as some of us call ourselves, an Ostomate.

1. Lighten up! Hard words to swallow I know. But I’ve always found everything is a little easier to deal with if you can find the humor in it. You will poop in a bag. Not the end of the world!

2. Get educated. Read everything you can find on the web about colostomies. Ask both your regular doctor and your surgeon any questions you may have. Each doctor may explain things slightly different, giving you a better understanding.

3. A home health nurse will likely visit the first few weeks to teach you to maintain your colostomy. These nurses are usually very well versed in ostomy care. Don’t be shy, ask them anything.

4. There are several different brands and styles of ostomy products. Most companies will send you free samples so you can try them each. Find the brand that is most comfortable for you.

5. When it comes time for you to begin self-care, a free standing mirror that can flip to a magnified side can be helpful. Currently it is easiest for me to do my changes in the bathroom with my mirror and supplies set on the counter next to the sink. In my previous home the vanity was not the right height, I did better with the mirror set on a few books stacked on my bed.

6. I was very squeamish the first time I had to do self-care. My home health nurse made one comment that changed everything for me. She said, “What’s the big deal? You’ve wiped your butt for the last 40 years, now it’s just on your stomach.” That really is kind of true.

7. I was very unsettled by the idea of having no control over my bowel movements. That they would flow whenever they wanted, in public, while I was standing talking to someone, disgusted me. But then I realized I did not need to treat this any different than I ever had. Now when I first begin to feel it happening, I excuse myself to the bathroom, just as I would have before. When I am finished I empty and rinse my bag, wash my hands, and return to what I had been doing – just as any other person would do.

8. In the beginning I played around with my diet a bit. Some food digest easier than others, some pass through the ostomy a little easier than others. I also pay close attention to foods that may make me gassy. I avoid these foods when I know I will be in public since that truly does defy control.

9. Unless I share the information, no one has any idea I have a colostomy. Chances are good someone you deal with on a regular basis has one and you would never know it.

10. You will feel normal again. This may be hard to believe right now, but a time will come that you don’t give your colostomy a second thought. I promise. And hey, you’ll save on toilet paper!