Archive for September, 2010

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.

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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!

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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.

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