The night I found out the news of my diagnosis, I ruminated about everything you could imagine when you find out you have cancer. What if it has spread to my organs? Will I have to do chemotherapy? What do I do about my job, my apartment, my life in Los Angeles? How will this affect my family, my friends, my boyfriend? Then I thought about the sequence of events that led me to finding out this news. What if I didn’t go to my colonoscopy because I didn’t want to miss work? What if I didn’t have that hemorrhoid to signal the doctors to further inspect me? But the most concerning thought that I stewed upon for hours…what if I die? What if my life is taken from me and this is the moment that commences it all coming to an end? Shit, that’s dark.
I felt such a lack of control in the matter, but to assuage my morbid introspection, I did what most people would do, and tried to find romantic comedies on Netflix. I watched My Best Friend’s Wedding, cause I love me some 1990’s Julia Roberts. I finally fell asleep (thanks, Julia) and haven’t really questioned my mortality since. Maybe because I convinced myself that night that despite this horrible thing happening, I have to get through this and be OK. There’s no other option.
The next few weeks were a blur. They scheduled my surgery a week and a half after my colonoscopy because they wanted to act as fast as possible. I’m going to summarize each key event briefly, because even I can’t believe the following events took place in a little over a month’s time.
Genetic TestingMy wonderful friend Britt accompanied me to my genetic testing appointment. This was to figure out if the cancer was hereditary. I’ve had cancer in my family…in fact, my cousin had breast cancer when she was 25. Shitty coincidence, but there was no connection of mine to hers. And it turns out my cancer was not hereditary. It was a good thing, but also led me to question what actually caused this. More on that later. After the appointment, Britt and I went to Chateau Marmont to celebrity stalk, drink wine and eat fried calamari. We saw Kevin Nealon. I was trying to enjoy my last days of being a young adult in LA while I could.
Andy, my boyfriend, brought me to this appointment where I had to consume a disgusting banana flavored ‘smoothie’ type drink to make your organs irradiate. We found out great news with this one – it did not spread to my lymph nodes or other organs, though the stage of my cancer would need to be determined by the surgery. My gastroenterologist told me that in his opinion, it was not that far along and I wouldn’t need chemo. He guessed Stage 1.
(*If you’re curious what each stage of cancer means, here’s a better explanation than I could give.)
SurgeryThe morning of, Andy had to wipe me down with antiseptic wipes before I got dressed. I don’t remember much about the rest, because I was very liberal with my morphine (they made the mistake of giving me control of administering it (without endangering me, of course). I recall before my surgery (already high on anesthesia), I proposed to Andy, because there was probably a chapel somewhere in the hospital and we could get married really quickly before the surgery. Clearly I am very logical on anesthesia. He politely declined and delicately explained to me that, basically, we had bigger fish to fry at the moment. I also vowed that, if I had complications and died, I would will my wealth (in the amount of $5.00) to my niece, Avalon. I didn’t really think I was going to die during my procedure, but I wanted to make light of it for my family members. Sometimes I feel that, me going under the knife, or even having cancer in general, is a little scarier for them than for me. I am in my body and experience everything. I know how I feel. They are left fretting with anxiety, uncertainty, and fear for their loved one. So a joke about my death and a nod to my current financial status seemed to lighten the mood.
Luckily, my surgeon was an angel. She cared for me as if she had known me for years. She called my family every two hours or so during the surgery to give them an update. I was out cold, but I could imagine this was comforting for my loved ones waiting in angst.
My sweet friends and family visited me in the hospital. Beautiful flowers adorned my hospital room. If my thoughts seem patchy, it’s because I don’t remember a lot about this portion. Unfortunately, my most vivid memory was when they took me off the morphine and I couldn’t stop vomiting. However, the best part about the whole thing was that, to put it simply, they got all the bad stuff (tumor, two feet of my colon, a few lymph nodes) out and I was on my way to recovery.
RecoveryMy best friend from college, Kara, came out from Brooklyn to take care of me during my recovery period. She ate soft foods and didn’t drink alcohol, just like me. We walked around the backyard every evening to watch the sunset and to help my body slowly recuperate. We binge-watched Grace and Frankie on Netflix (I highly recommend it…also, I’m not getting any royalties from Netflix by promoting their content). During that week, I cried a lot about not being able to do the things I wanted to do, or eat the things I wanted to eat. Because I wanted a big fat steak and wine, dammit.
Then, a couple days later at my post-op appointment, I found out I would have to do chemotherapy. My cancer was Stage 2B, which meant that it hadn’t spread to lymph nodes or organs, but it had grown outside of the colon wall. To ensure that no cells mutated in my abdomen, they wanted to do chemotherapy as a precautionary measure. For 6 months.
I decided that I needed to quit my job, move home, and focus on getting through this. Leaving my job was hard. I graduated three years ago, and have worked at the same company since I moved back to the west coast. I worked my way up from an essentially out of work freelancer, to receptionist, to staff production coordinator. I love my coworkers; they are my family. And the opportunities were remarkable. I went back a few times during my recovering period to train my replacement. Then I packed my desk into a sad little cardboard box with handles on each side, just like you see in the movies when someone gets fired.Hormone Treatments, Egg Retrieval & Portacath ImplantationBecause I was going to have to endure chemotherapy, I had to preserve my eggs because it can cause infertility or even early menopause…what a treat. Then came the awkward part…did I want to freeze embryos? Apparently it was a higher success rate if they were fertilized eggs. As in, ask my boyfriend if he wanted to freeze a potential baby with me. Luckily, Andy is a loving and amazing person, so the conversation was not uncomfortable. He told me he would be willing to do whatever I wanted. What a gem.
Shortly after, I found out that it wasn’t proven to be beneficial to freeze embryos, as opposed to just the egg. So we left it at that. No embryos. I began hormone treatments, administerinng shots into my arm every other day, for two weeks. It is identical to the prep for in vitro fertilization, if anyone reading this has experienced that before. I’m already an emotional person, so finding out I have cancer and then on top of that, to have to undergo hormone treatments…I’m sure I was a delight to be around during this time.
They were able to retrieve 25 eggs, which apparently is a lot for this type of procedure (probably because of my age). That amount of eggs can potentially yield 1-2 children (if I recall correctly). I had my eggs retrieved on a Thursday, then I got my portacath implanted Friday, the next day. A portacath is a small device just below the surface of my skin to access during chemotherapy, so the chemo drugs don’t burn my veins.
It was a lot of sedation in a 48 hour period, but since I was still recovering from surgery and two other procedures, it was a welcomed feeling. I remember crying when they gave me whatever they gave me to knock me out, because I was so happy to be feeling good again. This would unfortunately not last very long.
Move Out of My Apartment & Say Goodbye to My Life in LAI figured if I was going to be doing chemo, I would need some help during that process. My parents let me move back in with them in Orange County for the duration of the treatment. I found someone to sublet my room in LA, because I hoped to return when this is over.
My friends threw a Halloween pre-party at our place the weekend I moved out (to give you perspective, it was the day after the portacath implantation). They respectfully consulted me beforehand and asked if I thought it was a good idea, and me, wanting to be normal, cool and fun, over-excitedly agreed. Unfortunately, I was still recovering from the two aforementioned procedures, and was very bloated and tired and couldn’t go out to celebrate. I felt very ugly and cried in the bathroom while my friends took shots and snapped pictures in their cute costumes. Maybe I was even a little resentful that they got to act like 20-somethings and I was thrust into adulthood.
Amongst the beer cans and alcohol rings on my coffee table, I packed up and moved out the next day. I was ready to move into my parents’, and ready to start chemo in a week. But then there was a small complication, because I guess I didn’t have enough on my plate already.
OHSS & Hospitalization
I’m 25 years old, so I am younger than your average hormone-treated patient, because like I said, it’s identical prep for in vitro fertilization, which older women typically pursue. So I reacted poorly to the treatment and got what is called Ovarian-Hyper Stimulation Syndrome. Basically my ovaries were too stimulated, and too many eggs were producing. I was so bloated that I joked that I looked like Shrek. My gut was swollen with fluids for days, which exceeded the range that my fertility doctor told me was normal. Eventually, the pain got so bad that I had to be admitted to the hospital. I ended up having to stay there for 3 days as they ran tests and tried to coordinate with my fertility doctor. My parents brought beer and wine for themselves to the hospital room each night to make light of a bad situation. We’ve managed to make some good memories amongst the bad ones. I was discharged from the hospital on a Thursday.
ChemoI started chemo the following Monday.