Holding My Breath

Back in July I had a little pain in my back. It started to grow to the point I needed to have it looked at. Because it came with my monthly cycle I went to see my woman's doctor. He couldn't find anything wrong. He thought it must be kidney stones so he sent me to a urologist. I went there in pain and was seen immediately and the PA told me to have a CT scan and come back in two days and the doctor would go over the scan and a treatment plan would be outlined.

The CT scan did show stones. I have five in my right and four in my left. The left one having the bigger of the stones, but nothing in the ducts that should be causing pain. The doctor chalked it up to maybe a bad scan or misread. He sent me home with a urine strainer and told me that if in two weeks I hadn't passed the stone(s) then I was to call my general doctor because it was structural/muscular.

Two weeks later on some very awful drugs (threw up at least twice a day!) I was still in a lot of pain. Thankfully I was able to see MY doctor on a Tuesday. He ordered a X-Ray and if that came up negative then he would order an MRI. I had the X-Rays taken later that day. He got the report on Wednesday, called me that evening and told me there was nothing so schedule a MRI. Of course I had to wait a day since the place was closed and then I couldn't get a MRI until the following Monday because they are pretty lengthy and you need to have empty bladder and tummy. Now my general doctor and I are thinking that there is a tear or something in my back and all we have to do is find it and he will write a prescription for therapy or whatever and we will be back in business. So that is what we were looking for.

On Monday the 17th of August I go in for my MRI. Just as the exam was about to be done, the technician, Nicole, pulled me out and said, that the radiologist wanted to see it with some contrast. "Don't move but sign here." In I go again for another 15 minutes of images. Then she escorts me to the X-Ray machine for more photos and tells me, "You need to see your doctor immediately. Today."

Now those are words you don't ever want to hear.

I finished with the pictures of my back and headed back to my doctor's office. I wasn't able to see my doctor (he doesn't work Mondays), and instead so a Doctor Huang. His English was very halting and his bedside manner even worse. It was in his stark white room, while he stared at a computer screen he told me, "You have mass on t12."

My mind just went blank. I didn't even know if I could remember how to breath. Was my heart still beating? I'm not sure it was. Good think there was a counter top to hang on to. (I don't sit very well right now as it hurts too much.)

He then went out of the room to talk to Mary. I found the tissue box (why didn't he hand them to me) while he was out and was about to call Steve when Mary came in to ask me when tomorrow would be a good day to see a neurologist. I wanted to scream NEVER! but said, whenever.

Now to complicate things I was to drive to Richland the next day for my kids orthodontic appointments. Steve didn't have a day off and they were in the midst of product release--you know the kind--we didn't see him all week only evidence that he slept and ate at home. Thankfully Mary was able to schedule a 4:30 appointment so I could drive there and back and still make the appointment.

The doctor came back in and wrote me out a prescription for the pain. This time it was one that shouldn't make me throw up, just put me to sleep. Yeah, like a mom to six can take that. He was so not there. I don't think he even knows what color eyes I have.

I saw Dr. Song the next day, Tuesday. He too spoke very halting English but at least he spoke to me and I could understand him. He wasn't soft and warm, but he wasn't cold and brittle like the other doctor. Dr. Song told me that I have two masses in my back. One on T12 (about a hands width under my bra) and one in the parispinal muscle. That is the one that is probably making my lower right back hurt. He also used the word "large." Now there are two things it could have been. It could be an infection, but highly unlikely since I hadn't had a fever or any other signs. (My throwing up was only because of medicine.) We could rule that out with a simple blood test. He ordered that. The other possibility was tumor. To find that answer I had four things I needed to do.
1. See an oncologist
2. have a biopsy
3. have another CT scan
4. have a bone scan

I left with pieces of papers and had to make the appointments. I was able to do the blood draw that afternoon. I was able then to make the rest of the appointment for the rest of the week.

Wednesday: Dr. Kraemer and CT scan
Thursday: Biopsy
Friday: Bone Scan

Dr. Kraemer! What can I say. What a stark contrast to the other doctor's I have met so far. So kind, gentle and warm. He was so upbeat. He spent about an hour with me and was the first doctor to even touch me! Beside the PA's in all these doctor visits he was the first doctor to even lay a hand on me besides to shake my hand at introduction. WOW!

He listened to my health history and then read over the reports with me. He hadn't seen the films but was confident in the radiologists written report. He told me from the looks of the films so far that it looked like I had a tumor, "cancer" of some sort. He wouldn't lay money on it (been wrong before) but it looked like a cancer. He then told me to go home and relax and just wait for the results. No point in getting upset until we know for sure, BUT if it is cancer, "we will beat it."

I had my CT scan (with contrast this time) and went home waiting for my biopsy the next day.

STARVING! That is what I have been for the past three or four weeks. If I couldn't keep it down, I wasn't putting it in. Now will all these tests they make you fast. I have been charting my caloric intake and for that week I barely made the goal for even one day! Thankfully a milkshake in Yakima made up for a HUGE lack of calories and since I was driving I wasn't popping pills so I was able to keep that down--but talk about PAIN!

The biopsy went very well. I was almost out for the whole thing. I had to be just enough awake that I could stop breathing when they asked me. Of course it only took about 45 minutes to do the procedure, but I was in the hospital for a good six. I can't say enough about the hospital staff. They made my stay wonderful. Dr. Chen who spoke perfect English was wonderful and even showed me the films of my back. Of course I was just enough drugged that I wasn't quite sure what I was looking at, but it was pretty cool.

Now, remember I could have been looking at ink spots for all I know, but the mass in my muscle is LARGE! WOW! It looks like a plop of mashed potatoes. The one in my spine (T12) I just didn't see. Supposedly it was suppose to be all milky white but there was some gray spot in the circle. That's not good, or so they tell me.

I wasn't in too much pain because I had some nice drugs, but the holes in my back sure did hurt. The next day was a bone scan. Fasting again I went in and was shot up with another stuff. It was pretty cool and quiet for once. This machine just hummed, so I totally enjoyed the music they let me listen to. I actually almost fell completely asleep. Good thing they strap you in or your arms would dangle when you let yourself succumb to sleep.

That weekend we went to a family reunion in Long Beach. WONDERFUL TIMES! I wish I could go back. I love Long Beach and I love my family and putting the two together equals HEAVEN! I just wish I wasn't in so much pain.

Monday came and I was expecting to hear from Dr. Kraemer. Nothing.
Tuesday came and I finally broke down and called them. Nothing.
Wednesday came and we had to go home. When I got home there was a message to call Dr. Kraemer's office and set up an appointment. I did that for Thursday (the next day) at 2:30. As I hung up from that phone call Dr. Song called me and he told me it was Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and that Dr. Kraemer was going to take my case and to follow up with him for a final diagnosis.

I didn't sleep to well, but at least I had drugs that put me out. Poor Steve. Not only is he sleeping with a washing machine (I toss and turn because of pain) but he is a worrier.

I saw Dr. Kraemer and he told me that both spots are the same and that is Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma--Cancer (NHL). He didn't know the stage (test to be done later) or the type (tissue still being examined) but that it was cancer and that we are going to treat it with chemo (probably in clinic) and radiation (at Evergreen).

He set up two more appointment for me. One with Dr. Hunter, my radiation therapist and another PET scan.

I saw Dr. Hunter yesterday and even had my radiation appointments all scheduled until my case was presented at the "Tumor Board" this morning. Twenty some doctors get together and discuss patients and cases. Mine was presented there and it was decided that they wanted to wait a few more days before they began radiating the tumor.

I have an aggressive form of NHL and they don't want to kill all the tissue until they have preformed all the tests on the tissue sample they have. This is just in case they need another sample. See, radiation changes the cells so that when they divide they die. With it being aggressive they are dividing very fast and so if they go in and radiate them, there might not be anything left next week if they need another biopsy. We are going to wait until the test are conclusive and they don't need another tissue sample.

Why is it so important for them to have a tissue sample? That is so they know what to put in my chemotherapy cocktail to kill all the cancer cells in my body. They need to know what subclass of NHL I have so that I can have the right kind of chemo.

This is fine with me. I get one more weekend without sickness. Pain, yes, but I can pop pills to manage that. Because the tumor is in my abdomen I will be throwing up and have all sorts of bowel problems as they radiate down there. But that also may mean I get to keep my hair. That is what Jessie is so worried about, of course right after dying, but we told her I wasn't going to die!

So, I sit here on Sept 3, with cancer and a team of doctor who are confident that we can beat this. Dr. Hunter, Dr, Kraemer and the other doctors around that table this morning are very, very confident that we can put this caner into remission and have it stay there and that I will get to live to see my 50th wedding anniversary and kiss my grand babies. And if they didn't have confidence then I did!

I'm a fighter and I will win this war! I have a great team of support and I have too much to live for for this to get me. I will not let it win and I will come out victoriously.

Now, I will try to update this blog often, but who knows what will happen. I do have a caring bridge website. http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/doreenblanding that you are welcome to follow me on. I will try to keep both updates as often as I can.

We are extremely grateful to all who have wished us well, who have added us in their prayers. There are no words to express our gratitude. Thank you just seems like a drop in the ocean of gratitude we owe.

To those who have offered their support and love in ways of service, I'll let you know when and how you can help. Right now I feel like I'm holding my breath waiting to know when to exhale. We are going to try to keep our family life as normal as possible but know that when (not if) I can't I have an army of friends and family I can call on. I know that before I even hit the "end call" button I will have someone in my driveway there to help with more coming. I'll let you know.

With great love,