Tag Archive | cancer diagnosis

That Last Day

I have thought about that day a lot lately. I don’t remember much. I got up, went to work at a job I loved, in a new city I had worked long and hard to get to. Did my work, drove home. I probably had dinner and went to sleep. I wish I could remember more about it, but I don’t think there is much more to know.

The memorable thing happened the next day. The morning I woke up doubled over in pain, could not stand up straight, hemorrhaging, was diagnosed with cancer. There are details of that day I cannot stomach to recall. And many of the days to follow were worse. I am still standing four years later, but my body, and life, has been irreparably damaged. I will never return to that, or any job. I had to leave the city I loved so much, with its warm climate and white beaches. I will forever more have to search for a new, altered, sense of normal.

But I do not want to think about that day. I want to think about the day before. I the last day I had…. the last day I had. I want to think about the drive into work that morning. Was the sun rising over the cityscape as it often did? Were there dolphins in the bay? What did I have for lunch? Who did I chat with? Did I make any significant decisions on the job that day? Was there traffic on the way home? Did I leave my coffee cup on my desk? Did I rinse it? What did I have for dinner? Watch on TV? Read?

Why didn’t I pay attention to any of these things?

What would I have done differently if I had known what was coming the next day? Stayed an hour later at work? Called in sick and sat in my house memorizing everything as it was? Spent the evening sitting on the beach, watch the sun set one last time? What would I have done to soak up that last second of regular out of my life? Could I have appreciated the minutes ticking by?

If you knew this was the last day of your life as you know it, that everything in your world would change tomorrow, how would you spend today?


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…

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7 Symptoms Women Should Never Ignore

As a member of the Female Over 40 group, I know we are busier than ever. The pull to multitask our lives – be the perfect wife, mother, employee, boss, student, and caretaker to the world – is only increasing as time goes by. Despite our best efforts we know we cannot do everything, be everything to everyone. The only area we are willing to compromising is ourselves. Even if we manage to squeeze in hair and nail appointments, run to the gym, schedule and keep our annual pap smear and mammogram, we certainly don’t have time to stress over our periods. We want and need them to pass as unnoticed as possible, not interrupting the rapid trot of our fast paced lives. But if we don’t want it all to be brought to a crashing halt, we must be aware of the seven symptoms listed below that WE MUST NOT IGNORE!

1. Change to menstrual flow. A period that is heavier or lighter than normal should be noted.

2. Stronger than normal menstrual cramping. Most women experience some pain during their menstrual cycle, but if you experience more pain than normal during one or more periods, pay attention.

3. Menstrual cramping that lasts after period (menstrual flow) has ended. This should not occur.

4. Menstrual cramping at other times of the month. Many women feel slight discomfort during ovulation, mid-way through the monthly cycle when the egg is released from the ovary. Regular full strength menstrual cramps or other abdominal pain during ovulation or any time other than the days of your period is reason for concern.

5. Unexplained feeling of bloating or fullness in lower abdomen and or pelvic area. These feelings can sometimes be attributed to a urinary tract or vaginal infection. If these are ruled out and the sensations continue, it should be investigated.

6. Unusual pain or pressure during intercourse. Any unusual pain, feeling of pressure or odd unpleasant sensations during intercourse could be a sign something is wrong.

7. Gut Feeling. Trust your instinct. Women are uniquely in tune with their bodies. If you feel something just isn’t right there is a very good chance that you are correct.

My doctor explained that any of these symptoms could happen once and individually and be nothing serious but if recurrent and or grouped together, they could be indicators of serious conditions, including cancer. I wish I had know this sooner. I experienced and ignored each of the symptoms listed above, but since I had recently had a normal pap smear, I made excuses and assumed I was fine. I was not. When I finally saw my doctor after dealing with these symptoms for several months, I was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer. It was inoperable, having spread to one kidney, my bladder, colon, lymph node, and grown into the tissue of my pelvic wall. I had fantastic doctors who threw every known treatment at me. I am now just shy of three years cancer free, but my body is damaged in irreparable ways, and it was a battle I wish on no one.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, please do not wait for your next annual pap smear to discuss with your Gynecologist, schedule an appointment right away. The hour or two the appointment takes out of your schedule now will be well worth it to catch a serious and possibly life threatening condition in its earliest and most treatable stages, and could possibly save your life.