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2010 in review

Happy New Year everyone! I know it’s been a little while since I posted anything, but the GOOD NEWS is I haven’t had anything interesting to report about my health in recent months because ALL IS WELL!

So, I thought I’d share with you how well received this blog has been – and that’s all because of you guys! As we move into 2011, I continue to be so very grateful for my perfect health, and especially for my friends, family and “angels” (both real and ethereal), and for the gift of another year to be on this path of living life as fully as possible.

Instead of talking about my health, I’m passing along a report from the “helper monkeys” at WordPress.com about this blog’s overall health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,300 times in 2010. That’s about 18 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 29 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 89 posts. There were 85 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 11mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was January 5th with 186 views. The most popular post that day was OMG! Cancer Free!.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, mail.yahoo.com, knology.net, righthealth.com, and en.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for magic mouthwash, prolapsed stoma, a different wholeness, adifferentwholeness, and ostomy bag.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

OMG! Cancer Free! December 2009
14 comments

2

Ostomy 101 January 2010
7 comments

3

Rumi’s Guest House August 2009
2 comments

4

Still Starving October 2009
6 comments

5

Prolapsed Stoma June 2010
10 comments

So, here’s to a very healthy New Year for all of us! Thanks so much for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers over the past year (and more). I know without a doubt that all that love helped heal me and keep me healthy. Many blessings to everyone for 2011.

PET Scan

Sorry for the delay in getting the news out about last week’s PET Scan. I only received the results myself just a few moments ago:

Drum roll please:  PICTURE PERFECT PET SCAN!  Ta Da!

That unidentified area in my sacrum that showed up in the CT Scan (prompting the need for the PET Scan) did not light up in the PET, so no malignancy. The thinking is still that it’s some scar tissue left over from radiation and surgery.

I also just learned that I won’t have any more tests (other than bloodwork) for a year. Then I’ll go back for a CT Scan (no need for a PET unless something shows up on the CT). And, my oncological team confirmed that I do not need another colonoscopy for three years since this one came out so beautifully! Hooray!

All that I’m to do now is continue to see Dr. Fekrazad for quarterly office visits to review bloodwork, and to see Dr. Brown quarterly for follow-up on my surgery. I am still seeing a Physical Therapist regularly for the urinary issues, but hope to have even that under “control” very soon, too!

So, it’s all good!

Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you to every one of you who had a hand in bringing me back to health on this year-long journey through your many:

♥ thoughts

♥ prayers

♥ positive intentions

♥ cards

♥ email messages

♥ phone calls

♥ blog comments

♥ visits

♥ hand-holding

♥ errand running

♥ prescription pick-up

♥ food preparation

♥ driving to/sitting through appointments

♥ traveling from far and wide

♥ holding the space while I was in surgery

♥ caring for me in the days following surgery

♥ and many, many other gifts given in the name of love.

Thank you. I am humbled and eternally grateful.

Colonoscopy

On Monday I had the dreaded colonoscopy. In case you don’t want to read all the following details, I’m just going to go ahead and give y’all the “bottom line” (no pun in this case!): The results were perfect. No polyps, no nothing. Just a healthy colon. Thank God!

When I called to schedule the colonoscopy, I asked if there was a specific gastroenterologist at The Endoscopy Center who did the procedure on patients with a colostomy. They told me all of their doctors had experience doing them with colostomy patients. Dr. Hoverson, who discovered my tumor during my first colonoscopy in June 2009, had been very compassionate with me then, so I asked for him. Unfortunately, the only time slot he had was at 2:30 PM.  Having been through the awful cleaning-out process several times last year, I knew an afternoon appointment would not be fun – I’d be starving and dehydrated and grouchy if I had to wait until 2:30. But, my desire to have a doctor I felt comfortable with outweighed my desire to have an early appointment so I agreed to the 2:30 time slot.

Before I hung up, I somehow thought to ask if the prep was the same for colostomy patients. The woman I spoke with said it was, but she would ask Dr. Hoverson if I could have the “Half-Lytely” solution instead of the full “Go-Lytely” prep. When my paperwork and prescription arrived in the mail a few days later I was happy to see they were prescribing the “Half-Lytely” (half as much to drink!).

So, after breakfast on Sunday morning, nothing but clear liquids for the rest of the day. In the afternoon I took the pills that come with the Half-Lytely, then began drinking the solution in the evening. I’m sorry, but that stuff is vile! I’d drink eight ounces as quickly as I could, then set the timer for 10 minutes. It felt more like 2 minutes when the timer would go off and I’d have to drink 8 more ounces. After a while you just can’t get the stuff down very quickly so the 10 minute intervals begin to feel like about 30 seconds.

I was also naive enough to think that since I had an ostomy bag, I wouldn’t necessarily have to run to the bathroom every few moments. Duh! The bag would fill up in a matter of seconds and I’d have to empty it quickly before the next round! It got to where no sooner would I get the bag emptied, clean the pouch up, and wash my hands – before the bag was full again! Of course it was also rapidly becoming liquid, which my ostomy pouch is not really designed for. Emptying it soon became a very, very messy affair. One unfortunate incident occurred when the contents of the bag spurted out all over the place in the bathroom: on the floor, on the little bath rug, on the outside of the toilet, on my clothes, on my thighs and hands – everywhere! If it hadn’t been so disgusting, it might have been hilarious to witness me trying desperately to clean everything up while also trying to keep the bag from spilling “liquid stool” all over again – all the while stripping off my soiled clothes and trying not to pass out from the stench!

I was also pretty alarmed by how much was coming out of me. It seemed like it would never stop. I was reminded of Dave Barry’s comment in his wildly funny column on having a colonoscopy: “And then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another liter of … prep, at which point, as far as I can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet.”

The whole thing seems rather inhumane. Of course, somehow I survived. On Monday morning I could still have clear liquids until 8:30 AM, but then nothing – not even water – until after the procedure. I had a cup of tea and took my last sip at 8:31. It was a long, long time until 2:30.

Carol created this wonderful flagstone walkway in my front yard while she's been staying with me!

My friend Carol, who’s been staying at my house for a few days while she waits to move into her new casita on Oct. 1st, agreed to be my “driver” for the appointment. (They will not do the procedure if you don’t have a “driver” waiting there for you during the entire appointment). I came up with some errands for us to do just to get us out of the house and occupied instead of sitting around waiting. We finished up the errands and still had almost an hour before we needed to be at The Endoscopy Center. It occurred to me that there was a labyrinth nearby at the Museum of International Folk Art, so we headed up to Museum Hill and walked the labyrinth together. It had the wonderful effect of calming me down just in time for my appointment.

The procedure itself went very quickly. They sedated me well enough that I don’t remember a thing. I awoke and it was done. I got the good news from Dr. Hoverson that all was healthy. He even said I didn’t need to have another colonoscopy for three years! (Dr. Fekrazad may want me to do it annually anyway, but it was nice to hear that Dr. Hoverson thought I could wait even longer.) I got dressed and Carol helped me to the car – I was still groggy and my legs were a little rubbery – but I was clear enough to know I wanted something to eat!

We went to Pranzo and had a wonderful Italian meal of bruschetta, caprese salad, and risotto with shitake mushrooms and asparagus. Okay, we also had just a little wine (even though I read a notice before my appointment that said I probably shouldn’t have any alcohol for 24 hours if I was sedated for the procedure). We were home by 6:30 and I was sound asleep before 7:00 PM.

So, that was it. The dreaded colonoscopy!

Next up: a PET Scan on Wednesday, October 6.

CT Scan

Seems hard to believe exactly a year ago I was in the 4th week of my chemo and radiation treatment. It was just about this time that I really started to feel the effects of the treatment and was becoming pretty darned ill. I sure am grateful to be looking back on that journey instead of facing it!

I had my first “annual” CT Scan on Tuesday, September 7th. The night before, I began drinking the berry-flavored barium sulfate suspension “smoothie” – oh, joy! As you might guess, it does NOT taste like a berry smoothie – the stuff is horrible! Then, nothing by mouth after midnight, including water. More barium drink at 7:oo AM. More barium drink when I arrive at the hospital, and then more as I’m getting on the table at 9:00 AM.

I’ve been feeling so physically well and strong for a while now, so I decided just to go over to the hospital for the scan by myself. Actually, it wasn’t even a real decision – I simply figured it would be “no big deal.” At least at the time it seemed that way…

It was the first business day after the long Labor Day weekend and the hospital lobby was packed. I waited nearly a half-hour just to get through “registration” and the time scheduled for my scan was rapidly passing. I continued to wait more-or-less patiently, but I soon noticed I was becoming more agitated by the minute. I finally approached the registration desk to ask what I should do now that I would be late for the appointment, and a rather unfriendly gal barked at me: “I just got your paperwork!” I said I wasn’t upset with her, just anxious about the time. The rest of the registration process was a rather “chilly” affair.

When I finally got to Radiation, I waited some more. By then I was becoming a little dizzy. I hadn’t had any food or drink (other than barium!) since the night before. It was ice cold in the waiting room. My scan was scheduled for 9:00 and it was nearly 9:30 now.

A typical CT Scanner (photo credit to Liz West...)

By the time they called me back for the scan, I was shivering, dehydrated and tense. The room where the scan takes place is kept at about 50 degrees for some reason. So, of course the tech couldn’t get an IV in me again! They finally brought me a pile of warm blankets, and recruited a very sweet nurse with a gorgeous pearl necklace to come try to find a vein. She was so kind and managed to get me settled down in no time. I just kept staring at those beautiful strands of pearls as she expertly got an IV going without difficulty.

She told me when they injected the “contrast” it would make me feel really warm from my throat to my groin. She said my bladder would feel very hot and it would feel as if I’d pee’d – but not to worry, it was unlikely I would actually lose control and pee right there on the table (nice to know…)

The scan itself lasted about five minutes, with the table moving in and out of the “doughnut” three or four times. Each time, a mechanical voice would tell me to “take a deep breath in and hold it there.” Then after a few seconds it would say I could breath normally. But the taped voice was so garbled at that point, I could have sworn it was saying, “Karen, you breathe!” in some strange foreign accent.

Sure enough, when the contrast went into my IV, I immediately felt warmth in my throat that flowed all the way down to my bladder. And, just as predicted, it felt exactly like I’d pee’d myself! But the sensation lasted only a minute or so, then dissipated quickly. The tech helped me off the table, I got dressed and high-tailed it out of there to the warmth of my car. It was only once I was in the car that I started to cry. I was a little taken aback by how emotional I was. In hind sight, there were any number of people who would have gone with me and I probably should have asked someone…

I saw Dr. Fekrazad and his N.P. Cynthia on Tuesday the 14th to review the results of the scan. Basically, everything looked good, although there was a “vague spot” the radiologist couldn’t identify at my sacrum. Both Fekrazad and Cynthia seemed to think it was most likely scar tissue from the surgery (“nothing to lose sleep over”) but just to be sure they want me to have a PET Scan now.

The actual language in the report of my CT Scan. The medical jargon makes it ridiculously scary to read, but apparently most of the results are fairly "normal"

All else was “normal” – including: some mild degenerative bone stuff in my shoulders (probably hereditary); a cyst in my liver (supposedly we all have them…hmmm); some minimal scars in my lungs (probably from pneumonia in my teens); a small fibroid in my uterus (“nothing to be concerned about”); dense breast tissue (again, hereditary); and – well, on-and-on. Sheesh! Offer them a few rads of images and they take a mile! I’m not so sure it’s a good thing to know all this stuff about our inner workings. Doesn’t it seem like there ought to be some mystery left?

All kidding aside, the scan ultimately showed that I’m in good health overall – and, although I need to go back for a PET Scan on October 6th, I’m confident it will reveal only scar tissue and nothing more serious.

As always, I’ll keep you posted!

Shame on me for not posting anything in August! It was such a monumental month for me in 2009, but – happily – August 2010 was uneventful, at least health-wise.

The best part of the whole month was spending five glorious days in Ouray, Colorado with five beautiful women who’ve been like sisters to me (we all worked together at Kindred Spirit in Key West and have since scattered ourselves around the country). All of us have not been together at the same time for more than three years, so it was quite a reunion! It was also the first time I’ve been away from home since before I was diagnosed last summer. So, as you might have guessed, the trip was very healing for me – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, if not physically (considering the quantities of beer, wine, Margaritas and Bloody Mary’s that were ingested).

The Kindred Spirit Goddesses - Karen G., Carol, Michelle, Karen H. and Kelly - in front of Michelle's adorable little shop "The Blue Pear" on Main Street, Ouray, Colorado

Now that more than a year has passed since my diagnosis, it’s time to start having a bunch of annual tests done to make sure I’m continuing to be cancer-free. The first is a CT Scan, scheduled for Tuesday, September 7.  I had blood drawn today at Christus/St. Vincent Hospital in preparation for next week’s scan.Getting more blood work done...

Then, on Monday, September 27, I’ll have a colonoscopy. I’m a little nervous about it since it will be the first one since my colostomy. They’ll perform the exam by going in through my stoma – which doesn’t seem like it would be all that bad, but it’s still kinda scary since I have yet to put anything in there! Plus, if you’ve ever done the prep for a colonoscopy, you know how, uh, explosive it can be. I’m not exactly looking forward to that new experience with my colostomy either!

After those two tests are complete, I’ll see my oncologist Dr. Fekrazad again to go over the results. In the meantime, I have an appointment on Friday with my surgeon, Dr. Brown, who checks me out every three months – whether I need it or not!

The only other “medical” thing going on is that I’m now seeing a physical therapist who is working with me on the urinary incontinence issues that have developed as a result of the radiation, chemo & surgery. Heather is an amazing therapist who is using bio-feedback techniques together with exercises in our sessions. I’m reluctant to admit that I haven’t been doing my “homework” as often as I should (she’s given me specific exercises to do daily at home), so I haven’t seen the results that I know are possible. I guess I’ve gotten a bit self-indulgent after a fairly challenging year, and I let myself off the hook occasionally.

But, all-in-all, things are good. I’m gardening, practicing yoga, working, creating, eating & drinking. What more could I ask?

I’ll keep you posted on the results of the tests as soon as I have them.

The Cancer Center where I received my treatment is hosting a six week “Stress Reduction” course for cancer survivors as a follow-up to the Wellness Workshop I attended in May. Our first class was this evening. The facilitator, Pasha Hogan, opened the session by reading John O’Donohue’s poem For a New Beginning:

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Hearing Pasha’s lilting Irish voice read these lines aloud was all the “stress reduction” I needed! I could have left right then and would have felt that I got something incredibly valuable from the class! But, of course, we went on to discuss a few stress management tools like “thought awareness” and “creating an inner sanctuary” – all very helpful in their way.

For me, though, just being reminded how any moment of our choosing can be its own New Beginning – that was enough.

Hand-hewn wooden gate in Las Trampas, NM

One year ago today I was unexpectedly spending the night in the hospital for the first time in my life.

I had just spent the previous day (my birthday – July 13) on clear liquids, choking down a liter of “Go-Lytely” to get cleaned out for what was expected to be out-patient surgery the next day. I had a biopsy of my tumor on July 14 and wasn’t recovering from the surgery as rapidly as planned, so they kept me overnight. My most salient memory of that desperate night was begging the nurses not to catheterize me, to give me another hour to pee! It took all of my effort to get from the bed to the portable commode without losing consciousness even though it was about three feet away. [My very first blog post recounts all the gory details.]

And here I am, one hellish year later – having come through chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and numerous other medical procedures and indignities – thanking God that I’m still here today and healthy.

Birthday Girl in Arroyo Seco

Yesterday was my 49th birthday. I’m tickled to report that it was one of the best ever! My sweetheart Tim and I decided to take a leisurely drive from Santa Fe to Taos by way of what’s commonly referred to as “the High Road.” We stopped in Chimayo (where some people report spontaneous healings at the Santuario) for a remarkable lunch at Rancho de Chimayo. We sat on the patio under an umbrella and ate the most delicious authentic New Mexican food – I had chicken enchiladas with green chile while Tim had chiles rellenos smothered in even more green chile. When our server learned it was my birthday, a very tasty flan was delivered to the table.

Church Crosses in Las Trampas

Church Cross in Arroyo Seco

We stopped along the way taking photos and enjoying the spectacular northern New Mexican scenery. In Las Trampas, we spent some time marveling at the San José de Gracia Church which was built in 1760. While Tim took photos of vintage trucks in Taos and Arroyo Seco, I stayed with my theme of snapping shots of church crosses against the blue sky. At the Rio Grande Gorge bridge, I delighted in leaning over the side looking down at the river hundreds of feet below while Tim nervously reached out to hold the railing – all white-knuckled. I bought a beautiful blue tea bowl from Rottenstone Pottery to add to my growing collection of handmade tea bowls.

As if lunch wasn’t terrific enough, we had dinner at Graham’s Grille near the Plaza in Taos. It’s become one of our favorite restaurants. Tim almost always gets the calamari appetizer and the duck entrée. This time, I had a dish of pappardelle noodles with goat cheese, mushrooms and spinach that was superb!

Church built in 1760 - Las Trampas, NM

The long, lovely day combined with a nice glass of red wine with dinner made me content enough to doze most of the way home while Tim dutifully stayed alert to drive. It was such a wonderful day of sight-seeing, eating, photographing and laughing – but the part I cherish the most was spending it together being thankful for the gift of another day.

I received the call telling me I had cancer on July 17, 2009. This year on July 17, I intend to spend the day creating more of my assemblage angels and being utterly grateful for the chance to do so.

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