Do bumps on head mean cancer metastasis?

December 14, 2011

No. Or at least, not always. Two Sundays ago, I googled that question, in endless combinations, and found no answer. I was alone, the others having gone to church, and I needed to know — were the squishy red bumps on my head a sign of brain mets, as my Grandmother’s had been so many years ago? Or were they irritation from bone mets spreading to my skull? What were these strange bumps, and how could I find an answer on a Sunday afternoon?

I ran my hands through my short hair, exasperated at the lack of information on the net and wracking my brain to recall other forums and bulletin boards. As I rested my hands on the desk, I turned them over, questioningly – and found the palms crossed with clumps of hair. I laughed, I cried, and my mother came in to comfort me. I told her what had happened – I was losing my hair! – and she put her arms around me in reassurance.

No, no, you misunderstand, Mom! I wasn’t crying for the loss of my hair. I was crying in relief – my fears had not come true – and I was not one step closer to the end. I was just losing my hair, a sign that the chemo was working, attacking the fastest-dividing cells, as it was supposed to do.

As I explained to my sons that night, this kind of chemo attacks the cells just as each divides into two new cells. The fastest dividing cells in a person’s body are cancer cells. The second fastest are the ones that make your hair grow. So when we see Mommy’s hair falling out, we know (hope) that the medicine is killing both the cancer and the hair cells as they divide!

The kids accepted this, and asked me what cells are next – stomach, I explained, which means my stomach may hurt over the next few weeks as well. We ended with great big hugs, and my 7 year old surreptitiously tugging on my hair in the back, just to check.

In fact, the next night, just before bed, he met me at the top of the stairs and yanked on it! I yelped, not remembering the previous day’s conversation, but just as quickly I remembered, lifted him up in a giant hug, and laughed and laughed with my smart boy, checking for himself that the chemo was working – reassuring himself, and me, that we would be okay.

It’s been a couple weeks now, and my hair has significantly thinned on top, but I still have hair around the edges and faith that the chemo will work. Today I’m back at chemo, scared to take it on top of pneumonia, but scared even more to skip another week. A silly fear? perhaps, but when my day comes I know that I will have done everything I can to fight this thing and win one more day over cancer.


Decision Time

July 28, 2010

In just a few hours, I’ll be heading back to the oncologist for the results of my post-radiation PET scan, chest CT, abdomen and pelvis CT, bloodwork, and the report from my radiation oncologist.  We’ll finally find out whether the surgery and radiation killed the cancer cells in my body, or if they’re gearing up for another fight.

Whether BlogHer 10 will be all sweetness and celebration for me, or not.

Whether I can move on and go shopping with my friends this weekend, or not.

Whether I will get stronger and stronger as I have been the last several weeks as the radiation effects wear off, or not.

Whether I will get the chemo pill, or go to the hospital for the chemo infusions through a port in my chest every week or three.

Whether I will …

Oh, forget it.  You know what I’m saying here.  Big day.

I almost ended up going to cover President Obama’s speech at the National Urban League Conference tomorrow morning, squeezing it in just before my appointment, but I’ll simply be too nervous and too focused on getting there, so I passed at the last minute.  Justice Stacey,  TechSavvyMama, Minky, and Amanda will do a GREAT job in the blogger pool, and I’ll just tootle on down to the hospital for my appointment.  (You can watch the speech online here at 8 a.m. EDT, or check their blogs later tomorrow.  Very cool.)

I’m expecting very good news tomorrow (what else can I expect?), but until I hear the good news from my oncologist Herself, I admit I’ll still be a little nervous.

A little.

This week was a good one.  I spent a few days up at my mom and dad’s house with the kids, helping them have a good ol’ fashioned small town summer, complete with a trip to the fair.  We petted pigs, stood nottooclose to the cow wash, heard the goats complain about their pens, and watched the sheep look at us funny with those little tufts left on top of their heads.  And then, Iamnotmakingthisup, we watched a goat show.  The 4-H kids were showing the young goats they had raised, and the judge was calling out the results and the rationales at the end of each round like an auction caller. 

The children were fascinated.

And then, they climbed on the tractors.  All of them.  All sixteen hundred of them, as far as I could tell, as they test-drove-in-place machine after machine as if they were making a purchase, my little city boys.

We had a lovely time.

If I were Stimey, this post would be filled with pictures (and humor).

I’m not.  It’s not.  I’m just a little nervous about tomorrow.

Decision time.

What is that?

July 15, 2010

PICC lineIf you saw my post yesterday, you may have wondered, “What is that?” and “So what?”

Well, the short answer is that it’s a PICC line, a peripherally inserted central catheter.  I tried to do the research and tell you all about it, but I keep getting ooked out by the concept of a long (43 cm) tube threaded through my vein with a wire and inserted near my heart.  And the line hanging out of my upper arm, dangling about my elbow.  So, I invite you to read the link above (from the NIH) if you’re curious.  There’s also a diagram there which explains it pretty darn well, without a single word.

It’s not painful, but it is uncomfortable and … well, weird.  I had to have the line put in when I was at the hospital yesterday — which I visited only because my primary care physician insisted.   By which I mean she told me to go, and when I refused (twice), she brought in another doctor to confirm it and told me that either my huz would take me (he drove me there, naturally) or she would call an ambulance.

We went to a different emergency room than the one that almost killed me last November.  We were ushered to triage nearly immediately, and wheeled (oh, joy) back to a bed before you could blink.  A nurse, a registration tech, and the doctor all visited me before I had time to put a gown on.  It was nearly the exact opposite of last year’s trip to the ER.  They were worried about appendicitis or something acute, so they needed scans.  I was happy to oblige, even though my regular scans aren’t quite due yet, but I had a problem.  Niether of my arms can take needles.  Both arms have lymphedema now, and they will swell up with a single scratch, paper cut, or burn from a hot pot on the stove.  An IV would push the fluid into my arm … but not out.  The nurses also needed to draw blood. 

So, after all this time, I got my first PICC line.

The line was inserted in the hospital by a physician using ultrasound images to guide him.  Dr. D. has done 9,000 of these PICC insertions and his partner has done another 5,000.  Of those 9,000, he said afterwards, only 3 have even been able to feel the tubes in their arm and chest.  (Guess who said, “Hey, am I supposed to feel that in my arm and shoulder?” prompting that discussion?  So now his number is 4.)  Nate and Nancy, the assistants, were just lovely, getting me a pillow, a blanket, and an armful of betadyne to sterilize my arm (elbow to shoulder, fellas? really?).  I was reassured, and didn’t look at the screen once during insertion.  I was really okay about it — until I was leaving and Nate said over his shoulder, “She had really small veins!  When we get back, I’ll show you — we took a picture!”

Nice, Nate.

So we got the tests done, and, after several hours and hundreds of prayers (one call to my friend Jess, and BAM! the church prayer chain got activated in full force!), we were dismissed, with no diagnosis but a CLEAN scan of my lower abdomen and pelvis — no gross cancer (YAY!), no appendicitis, no gall bladder issues, and pretty decent CBC counts.  “Go home and rest,” they said, “and follow up with your oncologist tomorrow.”

Yeah. Right.  I did, of course, knowing full well that a little tummy trouble (bent-over pain in my abodomen) wouldn’t even register on her radar.  And indeed it didn’t, with me playing round robin as I called all the doctors to ask about my low red blood cell count.  “It could be from radiation.  Call your radiation center,” said the nurse.  So I did.  “We don’t do anemia treatment here,” they said.  “Call your primary care physician.”  My primary care physician said, “We’d feel better if you called your oncologist.”  My oncologist hasn’t yet returned my call.

But I did learn that the four weeks of recovery that I’d been told? Not exactly the case.  The radiation center assured me that it’s not unusual that I can’t move around much or get out of the house without assistance, saying, “It takes at least as long to recover from treatment as it did to get treatment.”  Notwithstanding the fact that that sounds suspiciously like the “9 months up, 9 months down” bullshit that they told us about pregnancy fat, if I believe her, I won’t be back to normal for at least another 6 weeks.  LOVELY.

It would be okay if I weren’t starting chemo the first week of August.  ARGH.  I have no idea how that will all work out, or whether I will be able to travel on our family vacation, up to see my parents, or out to Oregon for my brother’s wedding (which is ON my mind and pestering me, as I REALLY want to go!) in late August.  It bothers me not to know.  But I suppose not knowing is better than knowing I’d not be able to go.  I’ll take it.

Oh, and about the PICC line?  I don’t think these things were designed for homes with preschoolers, as bedtime and mealtime are now (unfortunately) punctuated with gentle reminders, “Don’t push Mommy, please,” and “Ouch!”  The kids have been told not to crawl on me, and the little one is not to hook his “rescue rope” onto my arm or necklace, since the hook could catch on the catheter tubing and pull the dangling end through my vein.  (Yuck.)

On the bright side, the PICC line allowed me to get my PET scan today, which will be read by the radiologist, sent to my oncologist, and she will tell me whether the cancer is gone or back just before BlogHer.

I’m betting on gone. 

By the way, I just saw a lovely mention of Toddler Planet in D.C. Blogs’ FAQ: Are Bloggers Virtuous?  Isn’t it lovely?  Aren’t they darlings?  That makes me smile six ways from Sunday. 

Wordless Wednesday

July 14, 2010

Mama’s first PIC line.

I’m home from the hospital now and resting, with this thing still in my arm. More later.