the c word

  • Welp...

    In typical Amy fashion, my one year scans have not gone according to plan.

    Last month I had a CT scan to check out everything in my abdomen and make sure the cancer hadn't returned. The radiologist looking at my scans was somehow not informed that I had had an ovarian transposition and therefore, after seeing the places where my ovaries should be were empty, assumed I didn't have any. This made things confusing when he saw what he thought was a mass in my upper abdomen. My gyn-onc believes it's the missing ovary, however, no one could be sure and wanted to be extra careful not to make assumptions so we scheduled an ultrasound and PET scan last week.

    The ultrasound went well. We were able to map my ovaries and confirm that the mass in my abdomen was indeed a sneaky little reproductive organ.

    The PET was another story. If you remember, I had a PET last year that revealed spots in my lungs which we thought meant my cancer had spread and I was very dramatically dying. After a painful lung biopsy we came to find it was only an infection and not metastases. Well, now this PET has revealed two spots on my heart. Since I feel healthy, have no issue running around, or ever feel any chest pains, I'm fairly confident that we're dealing with another infection, or something along those lines. Regardless, I have an appointment with a cardiologist next Friday (6/17) to get checked out. I'm hoping there are no painful biopsies involved.

    --

    In other news, I'm having an outpatient procedure on Thursday to get a lymph node removed in my right hip area. It's been swollen for the past year and much to my delight, my gyn-onc decided it was time for it to go. I'll go in and they'll put me under, I'll get a few stiches and a few milligrams lighter, and be on my way the same morning. I'm greatly looking forward to my hydrocodone prescription.

    --

    That's all for now. I'll keep those of you who are interested updated once we figure out what in the world is going on with my heart. 

    Go Warriors.

  • One Year

    March 17th- If you're a St. Patrick's Day (or beer) enthusiast, you're anxiously awaiting 5 o'clock so you can hit the bar with a group of green-clad friends to drink beer and celebrate; If you're a college basketball fan, you're watching as the first games of the tournament start and you wait with bated breath to see if your first-round predictions in the office bracket challenge make it or break it; If you're me, your anxiety is a little different. I, unlike my friends and collegues, am not so concerned with basketball or beer (although I sincerely wish I were). Unfortunately, my anxieties today stem from a CT scheduling issue and debates with my insurance company. Today, I am reminded that one year ago to-the-date, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

    March 17, 2015 I received a phone call from my gynecologist that changed my life.

    It's hard. Having cancer is hard, but no one tells you it's almost equally as hard afterwards.

    It sounds so dramatic to say, but it's not an exaggeration. Over the past 366 days every ache, pain, bruise and bit of fatigue has brought fears that my cancer was back, growing inside of me, rearing it's ugly head. I have been cancer-free for 329 days, but none is easier than the last.

    That said, I am incredibly thankful for the last 329 days - for the last 366 days, even. Having cancer made me depressed, anxious and jaded, but it also made me strong, determined and above all else appreciative of the people and things around me. I can't say I wouldn't change what happened to me. I know that your past makes you who you are, and I love the me that I am today... But those 37 days (doesn't that seem like such a measly amount when you do the math?) that I was cognizant of the tumor inside of me? Yeah, I would change those in a heartbeat.

  • life post-cancer

    On Sunday I turn 25, which is a fairly big milestone, but my mind has been on a different milestone all week. Tuesday marked my 75th day of being cancer-free. You would think that would be cause for celebration, a whole seventy-five days without abnormal cell growth and multiple doctor's visits a week. To be honest though, I'm nothing but anxious. I'm excited and thankful to be able to celebrate 25 years of life this weekend, but I'm also wary of what comes next. As I said in a previous post, you're not considered a "cancer survivor" until five years out with clean results. I'm not even 5% of the way there yet. Yesterday I mustered up the courage to google "cervical cancer recurrence rates." 10-20% of people with Stage IB-IIA (where I fell) develop recurrence in their pelvis or lungs. This usually happens in the first two years after the initial diagnosis and treatment, so I'm still not in the clear.

    I know I should be happy that I'm well and not dwelling on the past, but it's so much easier said than done. I've been reading late-ESPN anchor Stuart Scott's autobiography this week, "Every Day I Fight," and it's been comforting to have read the words of someone who has been through the same thing and felt the same anxious feelings. For those of you who are unaware, Scott was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer in late 2007 and after serveral bouts with the disease, passed away this past January. After his first clean scan following a round of chemotheraphy, he described what it felt like to be told you're cancer-free and it couldn't have been more spot-on to how I am feeling now, so I'll share it:

    "A couple of years ago, a study of cancer patients showed something very interesting. Two years after diagnosis, the average level of depression among patients tends to drop back down to match the general population. But after completing a course of cancer treatment, the level of anxiety among patients booms

    I totally get it. One day, you're in the fight: Your calendar is filled will scans, blood work, biopsies, and doctor's appointments. You hand on your doctor's every word. Then-just like that- you hear that it's gone, that "there are no visible signs of cancer" in your body, and you're as mentally unprepared for that as you were when you first got your diagnosis.

    Don'e get me wrong. Being in the fight sucked... But at least you were in the fight. Once you're told your cancer is gone, so is the thing you've made your focus every single day.

    Now what?'"

    It's so true. Now what? Every time I get an abdominal crap, I freeze and immediately my mind flashes to "IT'S CANCER." Whenever I feel slightly sick-to-my-stomach or exhausted for no reason, my mind tells me, "IT'S BACK." I can't shake the feeling. Some nights I struggle to fall asleep thinking about how there could be undetected cancer cells growing in my body. After all, I was diagnosed shortly after a clean pap smear and exam. Just because they didn't see it in my last check-up doesn't mean it's not there. I constantly feel like there is something more I should be doing to make sure it doesn't come back. So I eat well, I started working out again, I take vitamins. Will any of those things help should the cancer come back? Who knows. But at least I feel slightly in control.

    I'll share one last passage from "Every Day I Fight" before I wrap up this post:

    "That anxiety never leaves you. In fact, it only gets worse-because you're no longer taking proactive steps to combat the disease... Once, when I was a few years into the fight, I asked Lance Armstrong if he still thought about cancer-and dying from it-every single day. 'No, not anymore,' he said.

    And how long did it take him to get to the posint that it wasn't on his mind daily?

    He smiled. 'About twelve years,' he said. 'It took me a while.'"

    Cancer is hard, but so is living your life without cancer. I didn't think it would be as much of a daily struggle as it has been. I don't need you all to flock to my side now that you know of my anxieties, but just understand why I may not have as much "pep" as you would think someone who just got their life handed back to them 75 days ago should.

  • the photo post

    Well, it only took me six weeks after being discharged from the hospital to finally get around to putting up some photos from this whole ordeal. Thanks to Greg Kendall-Ball asking me to host the Missouri School of Journalism's photojournalism department's Instagram account last week, I was forced to put together a cohesive edit. If you would like to see what I posted (along with some other really great work by current students and other alumni) you should give the account a follow, @thephotolab.

    If you would like to view the images with captions, I have created a new sub-section on my site, viewable under the c-word.

    Due to the nature of the places I was in not being camera-friendly, all photos were taken on my iPhone 5S and 6 (I got a new phone halfway through). Thanks for looking.

    And on that note, I'm all clear to head back to work (*wink* *wink,* editors)!

  • home again, home again

    Well folks, I made it home to Kansas City.

    True to form of this whole ordeal, during my first post-operative follow-up appointment with my gyn-onc last Wednesday, my doctor found some torn sutures. That meant a biopsy had to be done to ensure they had come undone due to movement and not a regrowth of cancer cells. So that was a joy. Thankfully the biopsy came back negative a few days later. I had my second follow-up appointment two days ago and got the green light to finally leave Dallas. My parents made me a fantastic celebratory dinner for my last night in town, complete with red wine, giant steaks and loaded baked potatoes. I packed up all of my stuff and hit the road yesterday morning. It's about a seven-and-a-half hour drive, and the forecast called for rain the entire way. Somehow I managed to avoid it all, except for a two-minute shower as I pulled into downtown KC. I'm very, very thankful to resume "normalcy," or at least get started trying.

    --

    "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

    I hate that phrase. Not only because it is now also a really awful Kelly Clarkson radio single, but because it's utter bullshit (excuse my French). Having cancer hasn't made me a better person, it hasn't made me stronger. I made it through because I already was a strong person, surrounded by strong people. And now that I'm done with the hardest part, I hardly feel strong at all.

    Last weekend while Evan was in Dallas, we did a little bit of shopping (someone washed a pen with all of their work shirts and needed replacements). We walked into a store and while browsing, I looked up and saw a woman, probably in her mid-thirties, who had peach fuzz hair from what I could only assume was from cancer treatment. I immediately burst into tears.

    I don't know if it was because in a way, I'm thankful I'm not in her position, or if I just sympathize now with people dealing with the dreaded C-word, or if now my brain is broken and I'll be that weird person that cries at everything. Whatever it was, I brought it up with my doctor during my last visit and he prescribed me anti-depressants. A few people I'm close to were kind of weirded out at that, to my dismay. I've struggled with bouts of depression in the past, and while I'm thankfully on the upswing right now as far as my cancer diagnosis goes, I've got a tough road ahead (and would like to be mentally stable enough to not cry in any more Gap stores, let alone on an assignment once I get back to work).

    --

    They tell you you're cancer-free once they remove all detectable traces of the disease, but it's not until two years out (with follow-up appointments every three months) that they feel confident it's not going to come back. To be deemed "cured," you have to go five years without any traces of reccurance.

    I've still got a long road ahead of me - a lot of doctor's appointments, a lot of tests, and a few more years before I can really relax and claim to be a "cancer survivor." Until then, ...I dunno. I wish I had something profound to say. It's been a roller coaster ride. Usually I'm a fan of theme park rides, but I'm ready for this one to end. Thanks for riding in the cars behind me, all of you. Even if your contribution was just reading this blog and thinking of me while doing so, I appreciate it. My updates will (hopefully) now come much less often, as I will (hopefully) continue to be cancer-free.

    I love you all.