Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Cancer

Graphic and intense post.

Life is crazy. When you think you can't handle anymore, of course, more comes. Although I love my job, it is super stressful. Super stressful and super busy. I was looking forward to our Spring Break. Maybe I could actually have a break. We had four days off, Tuesday-Friday. Monday morning, at about 2:30 am I suddenly woke up with the need to vomit. I was sweating, but my body was cold. It happened again at 3:30. I didn't sleep very well that night. I ended up vomiting quite a bit and having some diarrhea. I figured it was probably food poisoning. I had some food I don't eat very often. It was hard to get up and go to work. I wasn't feeling well all day. My boss had me scheduled to come in some extra hours to help organize our materials and supplies. I went in Tuesday, still not feeling very well. Didn't feel well enough to go in Wednesday to finish up. However, I went out with some friends Wednesday night. Which for many reasons, didn't end up being a very great night overall. Thursday, I slept in still not feeling well. I finally got out of bed because I felt a rumble. What I thought was diarrhea again actually was mostly blood. When I first looked I was really confused. I called my husband to come look. He thought it was blood too. I didn't think too much of it and thought it was probably due to recent diet changes. It happened again about 30 minutes later. I needed to finish up my project at work so I convinced him to take me. I figured I would be the only one at work and I could use the restroom whenever if I needed to. It happened about six more times at work. I finally called my husband to come get me. We decided I needed to see a doctor. We went to Urgent Care. It would be cheaper and less busy than the ER. We also didn't think it was immediately life threatening.

I explained everything to the doctor. She did some tests and examined me. She confirmed I was losing blood and was anemic. The doctor thought I possibly caused a tear in my GI tract (probably esophagus) from when I vomited Monday morning. She recommended I see a GI specialist and gave me a few numbers to call. I was sent home because I was "stable" and my bleeding was decreasing in amounts and frequency. I was able to set up an appointment for Monday morning with a GI specialist. I was told to call or go to ER if my condition worsened. As the days went on I kept feeling weaker and began to have terrible headaches. I was going to see the specialist on Monday so I was gonna try to make it to then.

Monday morning came and I thought I was going to have an endoscopy done. I thought they would find the cause and I could get better. Nope. My appointment was just a consultation, but we were able to set up an endoscopy for Wednesday. He sent me home with some iron pills and recommendations to help with the insane headaches. We went to Chipotle after. I wasn't feeling well and my husband said I was getting paler. We decided to go home. He left to get the car. We think I passed out while waiting for him. He said he was waiting for me outside the restaurant, but I never came out. When he came in he said I was laying on the bench and was extremely pale and sweating. I convinced him not to take me to the ER. I told him it was probably just because I was really tired and we would be seeing the doctor on Wednesday anyway.

Wednesday was the worst. I couldn't stand long enough to shower. When I tried to rinse my hair I felt extremely light headed. My husband said when I was trying to use the toilet I passed out and threw up on myself. I barely remember riding in the car to my endoscopy appointment. When we arrived I do remember seeing the receptionist's eyes get real big and ask if I was okay.

Super long story cut short:
I was not able to have my endoscopy done because they could not stabilize me. I passed out at least once while there. They called the emergency response team in to take me to the ER. While in the ER they found out my hemoglobin count was down to 4 (normal for women is at least 12). I immediately received two blood transfusions. I stayed in the hospital for 5 days. In total, I had 5 blood transfusions. My blood was drawn so many times that I couldn't keep count. I had IV's almost all the time. They finally found the cause of my bleeding. First, I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy done at the same time to try and find the source. They didn't find anything. I had too much internal bleeding in some areas to see clearly. Then, I did a nuclear medicine scan. Still couldn't find the source. Next, was a pelvic angiogram. Finally, they did a CT scan which revealed a tumor as the source of bleeding. They performed a exploratory laparotomy to remove the tumor. The tumor was connected to my small intestine. About 5 cm of my small intestine was removed and resectioned. The tumor was about the size of a mango. It was about 10x10x5cm. I was told it looked like just another organ. I had my surgery on Saturday and was discharged on Monday. Everyone was amazed with what I went through. All the doctors and nurses I saw said they have never had a case like mine before.

I stayed with my parents for about a month while I recovered from surgery. The incision was pretty big, about 7 inches. I had 21 staples. The biopsy revealed I had a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). After those results, I met my oncologist and immediately scheduled a PET scan. The scan came back negative. Even though they didn't really know what they were looking for during the surgery, they did actually remove all the cancer. It didn't spread anywhere else. Supposedly, mine has a slow growth rate and the tumor was growing inside me for years. GIST is really rare. GIST in my age group is even rarer. It can return. Today, I completed 1 month of treatment. My treatment will last three years. There are many possible side effects. These next 5 months will kind of show me what to expect.

This is really hard to process and live with. I have felt incredible support from my husband, immediate family, extended family, co-workers, and preschool families. I went back to work one month after surgery. I still don't think I have processed everything that has happened in these past couple months. I don't think I will completely process it all for a while. My life has changed dramatically.

The reality is, I shouldn't have been talking or even conscious when I went into the ER. It is really hard not being able to do all the things I used to. I have to think twice before I pick up a student. I have to think about how to get up. I have to find hidden energy to make it through the day. I have to keep telling myself I am strong. My body proved it then and with all the procedures I had done. I have to take it one day at a time. Some days are better than others. Most days I just feel extremely tired all day long. On rare days, I forget. I forget the stress, negativity, and burden. On rare days, I feel strength.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Garden Bench for Bitty Gardeners

I have been spending a lot more time with my parents this past month. I have been staying with them while I recover from surgery. Which also means I haven't been working for about a month. I miss my kiddos! Before Spring Break we, a few teachers and students, were really getting into more gardening. Our awesome garden box didn't have anymore room for new plants. We had an overflow of plants in the classrooms and in the playground. Of course we don't really have the budget to expand our garden the way we'd like. We decided to try and come up with creative ways to work around it. It just so happens my dad is wonderful at re-purposing discarded furniture. Between the two of us, we created a little garden bench for the preschool!

I don't have a current picture of our "Garden", but this is one from last Spring. It looks pretty similar.
We used an old headboard we got for free and an old sink we got for $1. My dad used leftover wood to combine the two into a garden bench.
My husband and I sanded down the bed frame. I painted all the wood with exterior paint I got for free at my county reuse program.
I did two coats. The paint dried pretty fast. I just couldn't work at a fast pace.
Here it is, all finished! I can't wait to post pictures of it filled with plants.
Here is another garden bench my dad made for potted plants. We got the wire shelf for $1. He used some leftover PVC pipes from another project and spent less than $5 for the rest.
We thought this would be a good start to creating an outdoor kitchen for the children.
We used the same exterior paint. (I forgot to finish painting it. Whoops!) My dad had an old parking sign the $1 sink fit perfectly on.