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Cut It All Off

 If all goes well, I’ll be headed back to work on Monday. I can’t wait. I’m finally starting to feel like myself again and working will give me the boost I need. I’ve been going thru my wardrobe to see what fits and what I can wear to work……certainly not the fleece pants I’ve been living in for the past several weeks. Next, I needed to check my hair. Do I need a trim or a full on cut? Color or leave it? Frankly, I thought my Oncologist was going to recommend Chemo and if so, bye bye hair! I was worried. I have super thick hair. How would I feel if it all fell out or if it was super super short. It’s just hair after all right? It grows back! 

I thought of Annie Lennox who, at 61, with her famous super short do, is pretty damn kick ass. Have you seen her amazing performance at the 2015 Grammys where she and Hozier performed a mashup of ‘Take Me to Church/I Put a Spell on You? It was epic. She took US to church. 

Hair or no hair, it’s all about confidence. There is no Chemo expected in my immediate future so the hair stays. Since I’m headed back to work, I’m ready for a new do, a new, healthy, me. I called my hairdresser and made an appointment. 

Whenever I’m stressed, angry, or need a boost, I try to listen to music that will take my mind elsewhere and get me pumped up and in a better place. So yesterday, on my way to the Salon, I blasted these faves from a couple more kick-ass awesome musicians and ladies I admire: “Frederick” and “Dancing Barefoot” by the “punk poet laureate” Patti Smith and “Dog Days are Over” by the Rock and soulful Florence + the Machine.

Pumped up and ready for a change, a fresh start, a new and improved: “me”, I walked in to the salon and said: ” Cut it all Off!” It’s funny, after my clean bill of health(at least for the next 6mths), you’d think I’d say, “Don’t take much off! Only an inch.” But as Florence sings in Dog Days: ” You can’t carry it with you if you want to survive.” I was ready to cut, to shed a whole mess of ‘stuff’.  I showed my hairdresser, Anneli, a picture of a cut I liked. A modern look. 

 
After gabbing with her for an hour, I suddenly felt lighter. Anneli started sweeping up my hair and said; “Oh my goodness! Look how much hair we cut off!” It was just the boost I needed. 

Feeling fabulous, I picked up my youngest from school and took her to get her hair cut. She too was loving her new and improved hairdo so we thought we’d take a selfie.  

 
The picture of health? For now I’ll settle for happy. 

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Meanwhile, Back at the M……

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Dec. 9, 2015

I’d like to say “I was wheeled into surgery and dreamt of Paris.” Or perhaps, this Plum Tart.001

Truthfully, I don’t remember a thing. “I was wheeled into surgery and a “second” later, I woke up in my sunny, private room (all of the rooms are private on this Orthopedic and Urology floor) on the 3rd floor of Miriam Hospital.” As the Nurses took out the oxygen tubes from my nose, I looked around at what I would be living in for the next 5 days or so.

Not bad. This TV was HUGE!!!!!

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I looked over and I could make out people looking at me. I knew it was probably my family and close friends but my head was fuzzy and it was such a blur. 003

Obviously I was under an anesthetic haze. Conversations were heard but not made out.

Time meant nothing. It seemed like the minute they got me on my bed and took out the oxygen and got me hooked up to my IV fluids and pain meds, they told me I had to get out of bed! Again, it was all a blur, but I distinctly remember my first Nurse; Sherry (one of many fabulous Nurses that took care of me) saying to me: “Ok, Jen, we’re gonna get out of bed now and have you sit up in the chair!” “Yea, right” I thought. I still had a chatheter in, the tubes and wires a jumble around me. The audience looked at me with a little bit of worry and a lot of encouragement. “I just want to sleep. Please go away.” words I thought, but could not express. Sherry sits herself on my bed, the Nursing Assistant pressed the button to make my bed rise (as if  that would make it easier!) (“UGH!! Put it down! UGH!!”) Someone got the chair ready, “Ok, here we go!” Says Sherry firmly, but kindly. Friends, I have to say, I just wanted to tell her to Fuck Off! but gosh darnit, she looked at me with such a kind face and said very quietly, but full of encouragement: “You can do this Jen!” “Damn, guess I gotta get my ass out of bed.” “Breathe Jen!” someone said. A very very important statement for all of you out there recovering from surgery or recovering from an injury or just plain sick. BREATHE!! Seriously, we tend to forget and hold in our breaths. Not good. BREATHE, BREATHE through the pain. It will make movement easier.

Woosh, I made it. Not really sure how, but willpower could have played a role. Oh my goodness I wanted to pass out and throw up at the same time. Thank god my friend Pernille was there to wipe my face over and over with a cool cloth.

I find it funny that I packed 2 bags for the hospital. In 1 I had, clothes and toiletries, in another I had about 6 sections of the NYTimes, a book, a magazine and a folder of blog stuff.) I did not touch any of it but my toothbrush!! You’d think I was going on vacation. Thank god for that humongous tv. I could not carry on a full conversation let alone concentrate on a book or blogging.

Another funny thing, before I went in for surgery, I told friends, “Ok, if you want to visit, you will have to sneak me in some good coffee from 7Stars!” Ha!! That is so very, very,599 funny as this is all that was “On The Menu” at Chez Miriam during my stay at this posh home away from home.  Ice-Chip Soaked Sponge Lollipops. They are all the rage in foodie circles.

Some friends brought things better than coffee. First off was their company. It was nice to have someone to talk to. There is only so much of Food Network one can take (Guy Fieri is on that channel way too much!!). Some visits were a complete surprise! Which was really, really nice. My friend Lisa brought me some cool nail polish.

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Katy brought me magazines, fancy ginger ale and gourmet saltine crackers. She knows me so well. She also delivered a get well packet of way cool foodie magazines and a broccoli cookbook from Jan at my fave kitchen store: Stock Culinary Goods

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That “comfy” bed grew to be very uncomfortable in no time. I think they do that on purpose as I was supposed to be moving around as much as I could tolerate. Gotta get the bowels moving/functioning. That handy catheter had been taken out my first morning. What a drag man. When getting into bed, you are strapped in, well no not really…. My legs were actually wrapped in a contraption that was plugged in and squeezed the legs off and on to prevent blood clots. While I understand why…it proved to be annoying. Just getting up to go to the bathroom was a production. I had to press the button for the nurse; “Hello, can I help you?” The front desk (which BTW was right outside my door!) answered…..”YEA< I GOTTA PEE!.” I did not actully say it like that, but I certainly felt like it. Friends, please don’t wait till the last minute. Don’t we tell our kids the very same thing? No I did not have an accident, but gosh I almost did! I soon learned the nurses do NOT come right when you need them. It takes a bit, they were very busy. Once they came, I had to have my legs unwrapped, then gather my cords and get help with the IV pole and then carefully walk to the bathroom. Once done, I had to call the nurse or the assistant back to help and measure my urine (I peed into a basket in the toilet). I know, that sounds so very glamorous doesn’t it? Want to be a nurse?

Bright and early at 6:30am, my nurse comes in and takes my vitals, gives me a Heparin shot and checks my med and fluid levels. Sometimes, afterwards, I’d fall asleep, only to wake up a short time later to see Dr. Lauren Bakios, a first year Urology Resident, sitting by my side. That first morning, it seemed like she was the Godfathermother, sitting quietly, till I awoke, ready to tell me something profound. Really she just wanted to check my incision and see how I was feeling and to tell me what my goals were for the day. She was young, but confident and serious and caring. She visited me every single day I was there! On my last day, I asked her if she ever had a day off. She chuckled……

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I couldn’t just look out the window all day or watch Ina Garten cook up a feast for her ever-adoring hubby.  I had GOALS! 618

In order to achieve the ultimate goal of going home, I needed to get up and go for daily walks around the ward (floor?). At first I needed help. One of my daily nurses or the very awesome nursing assistants helped me walk. I had to take that darn pole with me and try to stand up straight. Gosh the things we do everyday that we take for granted! Like walking. It was so hard at first, but I had to check off the boxes on my wipe board!! Oh that hallway was so long.

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At first I just walked to the elevator, then the window and eventually all around the floor, passing some really terrific photographs of local Providence and Rhode Island sites. It was Hannukah, so the Menorah’s were lit as well. 605

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One of the more memorable walks was when Dalila helped me. She was so very kind and sweet. We walked ever so slowly and carefully and I asked her where she was originally from as I did not recognize her accent. “Liberia” she said. “Oh! I said, did you come to America to get away from the war? “No, I actually moved to America before it broke out, but my children were there during the war.” She went on to tell me that her children made it out of Liberia safely and came to America to join her. She was so “proud of and impressed by” her children’s ability to move here and move beyond the memories of the awful experiences during the war and make a fresh start for themselves here in America. Her daughter for example, went on to attend Medical School and is now a researcher in a lab! I have to say, maybe it was the narcotic medicine I was on, making me super emotional, but Delila was delightful and had me in tears by the end of our walk. Did I mention that she held me up the entire way? I know maybe we should not play favorites, but I had my favorite nurses and nursing assistants. Delila was my fave assistant. One morning, she came in and helped me get ready for the morning. She gave me a new johnny, with fresh hot soapy cloths to wash up with. No what she did? Washed my back! Such a small gesture, but it was so comforting and warm and soothing. I was probably on my 3rd day of residency at Chez Miriam. My hair was oh so greasy, glamorous. Moving was still tentative, so to have someone not only help you wash up, but then put lotion on your back?! Simply wonderful and kind. Perhaps you could say it was part of her job, but not everyone did it.

Dr. I was a welcome sight. Like his residents, he came to see me just about everyday (Sunday he was off). He was always with his red cup full of hot chocolate, wearing his wide waled corduroys, his Doctor’s coat, with the sharpies, and his well worn LL Bean boat tote. After examining me, he made sure to remind me of my goals. “Listen, Dr. I, as much as I LOVE these lollipops, I was wondering when I can eat or drink?” “Well” he said. “I need you to pass gas a bunch of times first.” “I’m burping alot!! Does that count?” During surgery my belly area was pumped full of gas. Pretty sure I looked pregnant. I felt so huge. Anyway, said gas needed to come out. “No, I need you to fart freely” Ha!! He did not really say that, but that is what he meant…….Gotta find the humor in this serious situation, right?

On my first morning, I was resting in bed, and someone knocked on the door. It was a gentleman and he had a bouquet of flowers! What a welcome sight. My wonderful Step Sisters sent me the most beautiful bouquet. Made me smile through the pain(press the button!). 593

During my stay I was lucky enough to receive even more flowers from work, family and friends. The Nurses and Doctors said my room was like a beautiful garden and smelled like it too! It made everyone smile including me. 594

 

 

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My youngest daughter Zoe, drew me a beautiful picture for me to look at everyday. A get-well card that changed and got bigger, everyday.

My 3 little cheerleaders (Zoe and her 2 BFFs) came to visit regularly. I know it was rough on Zoe (and her friends) to see me on those first few days. It can’t be easy to see your Mom in bed, hooked up to an IV and not talking much (a rarity for me!!) and clearly being physically in pain. She was worried I would not make it home. However, I looked better each and every day. A big part of that was due to such great support from the girls and my friends and family. In between visits from my friends and family, I kept up my walks, graduating from the walker and having help pushing the pole around, to just me pushing the pole. I was so proud when I could tell my Doctor’s that I walked 4 times!!!

As proud as I was that I was able to get up and around without much help , I dreaded some of the work I had to do. Like using this contraption. 602

Some of the nurses either did not ask me if I used it yet or did not quite know how to use it. It is to build up your lung strength and capacity. Something super important after any kind of abdominal surgery (even after a C-section). I have asthma so this is a very important but difficult task for me. You have to breathe in slowly, hold it and then slowly release. You do not want the round disc to be in the frowny face area. One of the nurses came in and told me that I could breathe up to any number. However….Dr. Brito came in one day early on and pushed that yellow line right up there. “This. Is where you need to be. ” he stated, pointing to the yellow line, just under 1500. “You’re kidding me right now Doc! That is way too hard and hurts!” “No, not kidding Jen, its important. you need to get your strength up in order to go home.” UGHHHHHH. I also wanted to tell him to F-Off but he too was so kind and earnest, I did not have the heart.

Every morning at least one of my Docs (Dr. Bakios, Dr. Rocker, Dr. Brito and Dr. I) (and sometimes all of them) reminded me that in order to drink and eat safely, I needed to pass gas……One day, towards the end of my stay…..I got out of bed and “Let one RIP!!” I seriously have never been so happy to fart so long and loud. I called my nurse in and proudly told her my great news. “I farted!!!” Sounding just like a 6 year old. She promptly took some notes and promised to let me know if I could start drinking water. What were they worried about? Your body not being able to keep anything down and reflexively throwing it up. Let me tell you, throwing up was not going to be an option considering coughing hurt like brimfire and holy hell.

Finally,603 on Saturday, after 3 straight days living on IV fluids and sponge lollipops, I was granted a lunch of liquids! I started with lunch and was only able to manage water and broth. The picture above was dinner! Oh friends, let us have a conversation about hospital food and nutrition. Not tonight I mean, but a good long discussion about it at some point. This tray irritated me. I have not had anything to eat or drink in days, my system probably is not gonna be able to handle much. Here we have sugar, sugar, sugar and more sugar. Oh and some caffeine. As much as I love coffee and need love to drink it everyday, I could not today. Oh here is some more sugar in case you need some for your tea, and salt! For your broth which is probably salty enough! Also, what a waste right? Who in the world would have all of this? You know they will just throw out what I don’t touch. 604

The broth hit the spot,600

but did not last long in my body. It was an unpleasant experience that did not get me excited for solids the next day.

I was happy however, when the Nutrition Assistant, (the folks who deliver the food to the rooms) came in the next morning, delivered the Sunday paper and sat down to go over my menu for the day. “Oh good!” I said. “Let’s see what you’ve got.” He sat down with the menu on his clip board and started naming off my choices, strarting with breakfast. “Scrambled eggs, french toast, bagel with cream cheese, oatmeal, juice, coffee, tea etc..” “Oh my goodness.” I stared at him blankly. “How about I bring you a variety?” “Ok,” I said, “I’ll take scrambled eggs, toast and oatmeal. Oh and coffee please!” “Lunch?” He recites off various sandwiches. Everything just sounded too heavy and too much. So I opted for Chicken Soup. “Ok, now dinner, here are your choices…..” All I could here was macaroni and cheese and more dishes with gravy and cheese and lots and lots of heavy dishes. “Dude, I’m discouraged. I have not eaten in days. My sensitive, slightly lactose-intolerant body is not gonna be able to handle macaroni and cheese or salisbury steak and gravy and mashed potatoes!” I think he felt bad. I also think he is good at his job as he went off menu for me! “Well, Jen, I can offer you grilled chicken or grilled salmon, some steamed veggies like green beans and maybe some rice?” Love this guy. I ordered the salmon, green beans and rice. I appreciated the personal approach to my nutrition.

Sunday, my last full day at the hospital (Or at least I was hoping it was)!! Time for breakfast. 609

Sigh, I managed a sip of coffee and toast. The eggs? I normally love scrambled eggs, but on this morning, the smell alone made me gag. I covered them up quickly. I quietly ate my boring white toast (I was actually happy just to eat) and managed a small sip of coffee and that was it. Next up, LUNCH>612

Not bad Miriam Hospital cafeteria, not bad at all. I managed to keep it all in too! Progress.

Zoe came by to visit and had to check out my bed while I was walking around my room. 613

Dinner arrived. I almost forgot to tell you I had a salad with my entree. The Nutrition guy gave me my requested oil and vinegar (also not on the “menu”), and personally mixed it together before he brought it up. 615

The salad was delicious. No iceberg lettuce in sight! My entree was also delicious. The salmon was a tad bit overcooked, but still very tasty. I was happy and ate it all. 616

Monday morning arrived. After my nurse came in, I got up and moved around and let a big one rip. I happily announced it to Dr. I when he came in. In addition to passing gas, another prerequisite to going home, was to have a “successful” bowel movement. A challenge that I eventually accomplished. He said, he would talk to the nurses and have them keep checking me all morning and that I could most likely go home. Dr. Brito came in later on and talked to me about going home,  and I asked him a bunch of questions like why did he choose Urology? He let me know he did not want to be a general surgeon. He wanted to the opportunity to follow a patient from diagnosis to surgery to post op to full recovery. Full care from beginning to end. I also told him how impressed I was that there seemed to be so many female Urology residents. He said within his group, it is about 50% women. WOO HOO!!

Ah, time to go home. What a week. So many experiences. Constant beeping of the pole ( the empty IV bag, or the battery was low) and waiting for the very busy nurses to come in. Having my IV position on arm changed 3 times due to extreme pain and discomfort. Edema on my hip from the oh so uncomfortable v-shaped bed. All in all, the stated negative experiences were few and far between. It was an experience made all the more manageable, by the awesome staff on the 3rd floor. All of whom I would like to thank:

Dr. Joseph Iannotti, Dr. Joseph Brito, Dr. Katie Rocker (you do ROCK!), Dr. Lauren Bakios. You all were very patient with me answering all of my questions and explaining my surgery in plain english, and what I need to do to get better.

The Nurses and the Nursing Assistants who hold everyone up. You are the strength of the floor and you are all awesome in your own ways. Kat, Kate, Kiara, Liz, Kara, Alexa, Aimee, Sherry, Rachel, Matt, Dalila, Brittney, Jenn and Leara. Big smooches and very special thanks to my faves Sherry and Dalila who came in to give me a big hug and say goodbye as my Parents and I were packing up to go.

All things considered, I had a very postive experience at The Miriam Hospital and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

 

 

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Too Close For Comfort

 

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Jan. 11, 2016

Awoke to a busy Monday morning. Opened the shades to find sun streaming in my apartment. A welcome sight after the crummy, gray, pouring rain, Sunday we had just experienced. I had to remember to fast as I was headed to the lab for post op blood work. No problem really, as I was nervous about my upcoming morning appointment with my new Oncologist. So an appetite was not something I had at the moment.

An old friend called who is going through a similar experience. We swapped Cancer experiences and got caught up a bit, but then my Mom arrived and I had to say goodbye.

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After being poked and prodded for days at the hospital, having some blood drawn was not such a bad thing. After the proper amounts of vials were filled we went to breakfast (No, no picture. Can you believe it?!). Properly fueled we headed for the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Miriam Hospital. Located in my neighborhood and attached to the hospital I had just spent so much time in, I found the center to be a warm and welcoming place.

I actually met with 2 Oncologists. My main Doctor and his Associate. They both gave me plenty of time to ask questions and they took a good amount of time to explain my pathology report and what the next steps are.

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I was given really good news. I do not need Chemotherapy or Radiation. Right now I am Cancer-free! The surgery removed it all. My Cancer is Stage 3. Staging however is anatomical. So it is 3 because the tumor was so large. Next the Cancer is graded. My tumor was a Low Grade Tumor. One of the first things he said to me, which really put at ease was: “You cannot lump all cancers together. Each and every cancer is different including within the types. Including Kidney Cancer.” Once you are diagnosed with Cancer, you tend to compare yourself to others with Cancer or others who have someone close to them with Cancer compare themselves to you. A diagnosis can bring the most awesome comradery or critical opinions. So I was relieved to be told that each and every diagnosis is different….including how they are treated.

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What’s next? Scans…..on a regular basis. That is how they check for return. I have an 80% chance of NO recurrance. I’ll take those odds! If it does return, it tends to go right back to the same place (not the remaining kidney thank goodness) or to the lungs (damn).

My Doc, then brought up the original complaint that brought me in to see my Primary Physician in the first place: my hip/leg issue! The only pic the Oncologist saw was the X-ray that showed Hip Displaysia. He is concerned and told me that my tumor did not cause the pain, discomfort and mobility issues I am having. He told me that I was too YOUNG to put up with the pain etc.. “Let’s take care of this.” he said. So, an MRI has been ordered up. He’ll go over it with me and most likely will send me to an Orthopedist. At first my thought was; “Oh my, if it isn’t one thing, it’s another.” But you know what? That is negative thought. Let’s look at the positive. Right now I do not need chemo. Right now, I do not have to choose between a wig or a head scarf. Right now, I do not have to worry about nausea and my appetite and whether or not I need some pot (in vapor or edible form) to help stimulate that appetite and keep my from constantly throwing up. So, let’s take care of this! I want to walk without discomfort. Heck, if we ever get hit again with some snow storms like last year, I want to be able to cross-country ski down my street.

Back at home, I did some dishes and rested. One of my friends and co-workers was taking me to dinner. I have not gotten out too much (cannot drive yet) so this was going to be a welcome outing. Besides, I have good news to toast.

My friend is a country mouse who does not spend too much time in the city so I picked where to eat. I wanted to stick close to home and eat somewhere casual. The perfect choice is “the best pub in town”; Ivy Tavern. We toasted with her water and my smooth as silk, Guinness. Dinner choice was easy tonight. Bibimbap.

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We were enjoying our yummy Bibimbap and catching up, when all of a sudden I noticed a guy walk in and look around for someone (?) and a seat. As he was turning around towards my friend and I, I realized I knew him.

 

Oh PROVIDENCE. You are SUCH a small-town This “2 Degrees of Separation” can be a blessing and a…… well let’s just say it’s not always easy. Of course I dated the guy. Not once….. but twice! The waitress approaches him, he asks for a seat. Says he is meeting someone. The woman arrives and as I am trying to bring a bite of scrumptious, spicy, creamy rice to my mouth; he is seated………wait for it……….yes, you guessed it….right next to us. “Feets” away my friends. TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT. 

I had to laugh and find the humor in it all. Of course I did what any awesome woman would do. I ignored him and carried on talking to my friend.

 

There are now more important things to concern myself with. I’ve moved on. I’ve let it go. I’m getting healthy, spending time with good friends, making new ones and talking to all of you. I’m eating great healing foods and writing about it all. What’s to be angry about? I have a new “lease on life”. I’m not angry, I’m thankful.

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We Interrupt our Regularly Scheduled Program…..

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We were just about to head into my hospital room post op…..but I have to pause for a bit. I was on a roll wasn’t I? Writing for a few days in a row. It felt great it really did. But then I went into myself for a bit. 

On Monday I had my first Post-Op Doctor’s appt. First up: checking out my incision. It is healing so nicely! It was glued…..pretty far out I think. I left it alone as it started to peel, but Doctor Iannotti went right ahead and peeled away. Wow, not bad! Not half as scary as it used to look. So glad I took a pic (Don’t worry, I’ll spare you) a few weeks ago. I will want to look back and remember how dark and dramatic it looked. After my check up, Toni, Dr. I’s Nurse, went to get my Mom and we sat in his office.

“Well, it was a clean removal. Looks like we got all of the cancer. The mass was much larger than expected.” Basically a grapefruit rather than an orange (10cm to be precise). Shit that’s big. And to think I never felt it. I asked Dr. I what stage of cancer and he replied with 3. Gulp. Anything above a 2 just makes one take pause….. He told me he wants me to see an Oncologist and recommended Dr. Anthony Mega who is located at Miriam. I’m happy he is located close by in a now familiar place. “I don’t think Dr. M will prescribe chemo/radiation. However, if he does it will probably be a light dose.” Basically we don’t know. I cannot speculate. Just have to wait.

I left the appointment filled with emotion. Yes, it was pretty positive and yes, I am glad I will now have an Ocologist on my team. It all makes it more real now though. I’ve been recovering at home and trying hard to stay positive and just focus on my day to day health and recovery. But on Monday I really started to allow myself to think about chemo and radiation. Will I need it? If so, will I have crappy side effects? Will I be nauseous? Will my hair fall out? Will I be able to go to work everyday? I thought about my mortality. Certainly having Stage 3 Kidney Cancer statistically lowers survival rate. Lots of stuff swirling in my head. The good thing is my Oncology appt. is Monday. Between then and now, my days are filled with company. So no time to stress about something I have no control over.

Nothing I can do right now. No more living in my head. No more imagining the worse. I’m gonna keep kicking Cancer’s ASS and keep the faith.

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Jennifer Huntley, Come on Down! You’re the Next Contestant on:

Surgery on 2 at the fabulous Miriam Hospital!!!

It was early that Wednesday, Dec. 16th. We were one of the only cars in the parking lot at the bird chirping time of 6:30am. I was antiseptically clean after 2 prescribed showers with very special purple soap (careful, don’t touch the face with it!). We went to walk thru the front doors and noticed a special Sabbath entrance. I paused for a moment (In 1902, a handful of women began collecting coins to raise $1,000 for the down payment on “a place to care for theindigent sick of the Jewish faith.”The Miriam Hospital Association was formed by Jewish women sharing a common goal: to alleviate suffering by providing hospital care for Jewish immigrants in surroundings where their language and customs were understood. In 1926, The Miriam Hospital received a charter from the Rhode Island state legislature. As the community grew, so did its need for health care services. The Miriam’s transition from a 63-bed hospital on Parade Street to the 247-bed complex on Summit Avenue has been a response to these needs. The new Miriam Hospital was dedicated on April 24, 1966, “… to serve all the people of Rhode Island, regardless of race, creed, origin or economic means.” It may be the first and perhaps only hospital initially founded and funded by women (distinguished from other hospitals for the care of women, or, staffed primarily by women). Currently, top staff are women, and it is affiliated with Brown University Medical School. WOOT WOOT!!!!! You go girls!) and thought, “Maybe I should go through that door. Perhaps I’ll receive some special extra blessing.” Instead I chose the round about…much more fun. I rang the bell at check in and much to my surprise I was #1! “This is a good sign I thought”

Once checked in, my Dad and Step-Mom (who had moved in to my place the night before), and I were motioned to the elevator to the Surgical Floor. Spunky, sparkly, cheery Diedra greeted us as we checked in. With her lilting Irish brogue, she made us feel right at home. As if we were guests in her tea house in County Claire (except really what I wanted at the moment was a Guiness or a shot of Jameson’s not some Irish tea and scones). Ladies and Gentlemen, this is who you want at the desk of something serious like the surgical ward. Diedre was bright and cheery and sporting the bling from the top of her blond head to her bright yellow blazer and down to the diamond encrusted landyard she wore around her neck. She (apparently it’s a tag team: my Parents said her sister Linda works side by side with her and is practically a twin in every way.) made us feel welcome and calm and frankly; happy.

She showed us to the waiting area and I stared out the window instead of at the other patients and families waiting for their names to be called. 592

I took notice of the hip upholstery on the comfy chairs, the framed photographs of Providence landmarks and was very thankful the tv was not blaring something obnoxious and headache inducing like FOX NEWS. I mean come on folks, I hadn’t had any coffee you wanna give a girl a break. I did happen to notice a big screen jetting out from the wall. “What is that?” I thought. I showed my parents and we realized it was an up to the minute update of patients and who has checked in and who has gone in. Jeez it was more up to date  than the DMV! Certainly much more exciting……

“Jennifer Huntley and So and So!” (Come on Down!) The young lady called 2 of us to join her. We hugged our respective relatives and started the long walk. Seriously, it was long and winding. It was however, made very interesting by a large collection of black and white photographs hung all along the hallway. At first I thought they were photos from the surgical staff in the 50’s. Actually the pictures were taken fairly recently but being in black and white and in the hospital setting, they had a retro feel to them. Everyone seemed to be smiling so I thought that was a good sign.

I was escorted to my very own pre-op bed, changed into a fashion forward johnny in my favorite color blue, and warm double treaded socks and when ot completely curtained off, had a great view of the center of the ward where the Docs and Nurses hang out before surgery.

My Dad was escorted in by my Nurse who later asked how old he was as he seemed; “so young!”) I’m thinking she thought he was handsome and fit for his age, which made his day. Dr. I came by, carrying a suspicious red cup. “You stopped at Starbucks Dr. I?” “No” he said. “It’s hot chocolate from the cafeteria.” (It became part of his daily “uniform” his preppy sweater, wide waled corduroys, an old canvas LL Bean bag on his shoulder and sharpies and pens in the pocket of his Doctor’s coat. A reassuring site to see every morning in the hospital). He checked my vitals, typed info into the laptop (nothing is written down anymore. Hospitals are very tech savvy now…or getting there at least) and took out a super fine point sharpie. “What’s that for?” I asked. “I need to mark the spot.” No room for error here and before you could blink, x marked the right kidney area along with a signature. “Time to go!” The Nurse kindly let my Dad say good bye and off I went.

The next part was all a blur…as they say… well actually not really a blur as I remember nothing……The next thing I knew I was waking up in my room.

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I Think You Better Sit Down

Telling someone bad news is never easy. Do we think it is easier when they are sitting down? That classic line has a tendency to strike immediate fear in someone. A dread takes over. But here I was making that very same statement over and over again to my family and friends. It was non-stop calls when I returned home that day. A phone call to my Dad and Step-Mom was frankly made easier because I did not have to see their expression which I expect was sadness and fear for what was about to happen. I told them to please go ahead and have your party! The guests look forward to my Dad’s famous guacamole, blue cheese dip, my Step-Mom’s mini cherry cheesecakes and the BIGGEST shrimp cocktail you have ever seen. I’ll need to do a separate post just on their Holiday party as they have party-throwing down to a science. The shrimp cocktail has to be passed out at 2 different times. If it were just placed at the table they would dissapear in 5 minutes and not everyone would get one. Really, it’s an art the way they throw a party. But I digress…….

I was able to maintain my compure even while telling my Mom who came over. She was so very strong and after a long pause said, “Well. ok, we know what needs to happen and you’ll get through this. Let me know how I can help and we’ll get started.” Funny, while going through this and telling my parents; I forgot I was 49 and instantly became 11 again. It is hard at this age to admit you need help; let alone from your Parents. However, they want to. I will always be there for my girls and help them in any way I can. It is ingrained in us as parents I am sure. So no matter what age, my parents want to help. I am thankful they are able to. I know when the time comes I will be there to help them.

My best friend Pernille came over and I had her sit down. Over a cup of tea I told her and she started to cry. Boy was that tough. I had not cried much at all up until that point. Another close friend Veronica came over and more tears were shed. She lost her Sister to cancer only 1 year ago, so this was all too fresh for her. When you see the reaction of family and friends, you realize; “Wow, this is serious. This is real.”

Now for the girls……Emma was away at school in Philly. In the middle of finals. I had a slight hesitation, as I did not want to interrupt her studies and jeopardize her exams, but it had too be done. I had to tell her. My Aunt passed away of breast cancer when she is in her 40’s and her kids were in high school. As a family, despite being small, and pretty close, we never talked about her cancer. Not with her, not with my Grandmother, not with my cousins. No one went to therapy or a support group. Nothing. That bothered me and still does. Talking about illness is important. Not healthy to sweep those feelings under the rug. After letting my ex-husband know what was going on (I am very lucky we have a very good relationship), we agreed to tell Emma and Zoe together that night. We face-timed Emma while Zoe sat next to me and told them at the same time. Zoe started to cry and buried her face in my chest. She held on and would not let go. Emma was pretty serious. Some friends were in the room with her (which I am thankful for) and I saw her glance up at them when we told her. At one point Jim changed the subject and she got very upset and said, “Don’t change the subject.” Gosh I did not want to say goodbye to her. I felt pretty helpless and hoped we got across to her that …”this surgery was very straightforward.” and that, “I have a great medical team and a great support system at home. Just concentrate on your studies and kick ass on your finals!” (She actually got an A on an essay due shortly after our conversation! phew).

Friday morning arrived and I set my alarm for a bright and early call. Need ed to get ready for work. Yes, I went to work the day after being told I had cancer. I did not want to sit at home and worry. I had things to do at work, loose ends to tie up as they say. Needed to tell more people. I made a pot of coffee and cooked up one of my favorite breakfasts; Scrambled Eggs with Veggies with a side of toasted Seven Stars Bakery Country Bread. 583

I got work and realized that my boss was out on the road and one of my close co-workers was on vacation. I had to call my boss and hope that she was not driving seeing as she was already “sitting down”. Really all I wanted to do was play scrabble at my desk with these cool Cheese-Its.325

I was hoping for a triple word score and a 10point letter but no, not today.

HR was very understanding and sympathetic. They told me they would miss me but not to rush back till fully healed and more importantly assured me that my job would be here waiting for me when I got back. I mustered more composure and informed my fellow customer service reps that I would be gone for a bit and that I would not be able to help with the Minions for a little while! :).

After work I went to the The Providence Athenaeum to take out some books to read while at home recovering. I tried to read a magazine but could not focus. 590

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Saturday blurred by. Love to say the same about Sunday but no, I had an MRI first thing in the morning. Before breakfast and before…..COFFEE. The Hospital was quiet as I checked and was motioned to the basement for the exam. Way, way down on the last floor at the end of a long, long cavernous hallway was the MRI room. Would it be a huge tube? Could I listen to music? Would I freak out while in the tube? What will they find? What will they see? All going thru my head as the cheery receptionist asked me to put on the special MRI pajamas. (I actually raved about the pants so much I got to take them home.) The tech called me in and I noticed that the tube really was not all that long. Did not seem like it would consume me. “Can I listen to music” I asked. “Anything you like.” they said. “Just tell us we’ll find it for you and pipe it in.” Now I LOVE music. Not a day goes by that does not include music being played in the apartment and the car. For the life of me though I could not pick something out!!! Finally I said, “Jazz, find me some jazz please. But NOT Kenny G! No smooth jazz.!” If I was gonna be in this damn tube for an hour I wanted it to be good. Wouldn’t you know it, in between the robot voice instructing me to “TAKE A DEEP BREATH IN AND HOLD IT……” all I could hear was the same saxophone refrain over and over and over……”UGH! Make it stop!” “DEEP BREATH IN AND HOLD.” To make matters worse (as if having no coffee yet was not enough), the tech came out to put the iv in to inject the special dye….my vein collapsed. Twice, she had to reinsert the needle in my arm. Lovely….sax refrain, over and over……Thank god I had those snazzy pants to make it all worthwhile.

Monday was a whirlwind day of tests, blood work and a pre op appointment. My Parents called and said they were prepared to come down and help out and when did I want them? I told them to hold off till Tuesday. Honestly they were ready to come down on Saturday, but you know what? When they get here, when they come down, that makes it all REAL. I was just going thru the motions till Wednesday. To get calm, to focus, to help me breathe, I walked my daughter and her friends to school Monday and Tuesday. These girls were officially anointed my cheerleaders. How can I be sad and scared and worried when I see these smiles? 591

“Go Jen!” they cheered and off they went to their classes. I wasn’t scared anymore.

 

 

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Are You Sure That’s Me?

Really not sure how I made it through the next couple of days. Tried very hard not to think about my impending appointment. To make matters all the more difficult; the Doctor’s office called to move the appointment up to Thursday instead of Wednesday. Seeing as the weather has been unseasonably warm, I know I went outside at lunch to my spot behind our building. Listening to the rushing water of the dam is much more soothing than worrying about a diagnosis.

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What I did NOT do was google: MASS on KIDNEY. I’m a bit surprised as I am a huge researcher. Love looking things up, but not this….Why add extra worry?

Thursday morning arrived and off I went to work. I mean might as well right? Did not want to sit at home for 2 hours. Entered some orders checked in with my co-workers and off I went with the full intent of coming back to work when I was done.

The Doctor’s office was easy to get to on North Main St. So happy to not have to deal with traffic and parking headaches near RI Hospital. Checked in at the desk and waited. Watched as patients checked in. Noticed I was the youngest in the bunch by at least 30 years. Tried not to worry. After waiting for 30min, the receptionist informed me the Doctor had been delayed but was on his way. I was yelling at myself for forgetting my book in the car. The TV in the waiting room droned on and all of the magazines seemed to focus on Golf (boring!). Another 30min. went by. “I’m sorry'” my Doc’s Nurse came out to say; “Dr. I is still delayed, but he will be here soon.” She said with a very reassuring tone. 10 minutes later she called me into an examining room. “Please pee into a cup and put on the shelf, then change into this gown.” I did as I was told and then waited and waited.  My Doctor seemed to have a huge assortment of Coca Cola collectibles. As my wait moved on 30 more minutes, It gave me something to look at at least.

Finally, my Doc knocked on my door and let himself in. He explained what my examination would entail. It was kind of sort of like an OB/GYN exam but with the addition of an “instant/quick” catheter. Boy was that painful. So thankful Toni, Dr. I’s Nurse was there holding my hand. After pressing around on top of my abdomin and asking if it hurt anywhere, the exam was done and he asked me to get dressed and meet him in his office.

After a deep breath, I sat down in the comfy office chair, looked around at more Coca-Cola collectibles and pulled out my notebook. I’d like to pause for a minute here to let you know that yes, I was alone and yes, I knew there was a possibility that I would be told some big, serious news about my health. I recently saw the movie, “Step-Mom” and Susan Sarandon’s character (the Mom) goes to see her Doctor and while by herself is told she has Cancer. I remember saying outloud to myself: “Now why would you go to such an important appointment by yourself??!” Simple: busy single Mom who does not want to worry anyone else. Besides, I was headed back to work after this! 

The Doctor turns his computer my way and says, “We have the results of your cat-scan and here is what we are dealing with.” He moves the mouse over so the curser is pointing in the area of what he explained was my right kidney. Well, what you could see of it anyway. On top of the kidney was clearly a mass, a large mass, a mass so large it was practically covering the kidney. I started to panic inside. I started to scream inside. Then slowly but surely my head, my brain all left my body and rose up. 167

“IS that me? Are you SURE? Could that be someone else’s scan?!!!” The mass seemed to be moving as we looked at it. The Doctor continues; “What we have here is Renal Cell Carcinoma.”

You know you can “prepare” for a scenario like this all you want. You can watch all the Lifetime movies, documentaries, PBS specials and more about Cancer and walk around thinking you’ll know how you’ll react if “God-forbid” anything like that happened to you. In reality you have NO idea. At age 49, I certainly don’t walk around thinking this could NEVER happen to me. I’ve had 2 friends around my age get diagnosed with Colon Cancer just in the past year. I’ve also had relatives die from Cancer related causes. At my age lots of things could happen. I have chronic asthma and take medication daily for it. I know what it is like to not be able to breathe. I try to be attune to my health. 

He continues; “Many times in these situations, we can remove the mass laparoscopically. But in this situation the mass is too large(about 8.4 cm or the size of an orange) and I will need to perform a Right Radical Nephrectomy.” This was all too damn surreal. “Um, ok.” was about all I could muster at the moment. “Do you have any questions?” he asked. “Yea, What the fuck Doc?!” “I mean really, I don’t get it. I eat right, take good care of myself, exercise(ok, I should exercise MORE). I’m an optomistic, nice person. I DON’T GET IT! WHY ME?” “I just don’t know” he said. “These things can just happen and we cannot explain why.” I straightened up and said, “Ok, I don’t care that Christmas is around the corner. Let’s take this out ASAP.” “Oh I was planning on it. We will be calling the hospital now to schedule for next week.” The big question was looming. “My prognosis? What is it?” “I’m going for the gold,” he says confidently. “I’m going in, taking out the mass and your right kidney. You’ll be in the hospital for 5-7 days, then recover at home for about 8 weeks or so. You’ll come and see me and go have periodic scans and that is it. You should be cured when I take it out.” It was all so matter of fact. He was so filled with confidence and yet had a warmth at the same time(a rarity in some surgeons). I stood up as we moved out of the office. Still maintaining my composure. It was not until I stepped out of his office that it all hit me and started to break down. Toni gave me a big reassuring hug and asked me to wait in the waiting room for paperwork and the surgery appointment.

15 min later still in a fog, I walked outside to my car armed with a script for more tests and a date for surgery: The following Wednesday. We weren’t messing around. Shit just got real. I had almost forgotten all about work and realized while headed to get a chest cat-scan, that I had better call and let my boss know I would not be back today. Thank god the imaging place was 5 minutes away. This is when having someone with me would be helpful. I am a good actress however, and can refocus when necessary. I had a scan to get done. I checked in at the desk, called my boss and let her know. Actually I think I just texted her. To tell the truth I don’t remember. I do recall it was now 1pmish because “Day’s of Our Lives” was playing on the tv in the waiting room. “If only this was a fucking soap opera I was in.” I thought quietly to myself. “Shit, I have to call my parents. Shit.” I’m pretty sure I just pretended I was reading a scipt. I removed much of my emotion and stated the facts as I knew them. Again, nothing can prepare you for this, you just do it I guess. I called my Step-Mom and told her what I knew. I know it was serious, but I did not want her to get upset or worried. They were planning to have their annual Christmas Party that Saturday and I really did not want that to change. It is a great time with great food. I gave her the facts, and told her I had to go into my scan.

The technician called me in and told me to relax (that’s funny) and put my hands above my head. I tried very hard to not think about the scan and what it could find. Were my lungs riddled with Cancer? Had it spread? How long have I been walking around like this?

By the time I got out of there, it was 2pm and I realized I had not eaten in hours nor had I had nearly enough coffee. Going home was not an option so I went somewhere that has great coffee and always makes me happy.

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White Electric Coffee. I drove up on autopilot, parked and walked in. I could not focus, I just kept staring at the lights. 586

Noticing now how very cool they are. What a neat shape. I was so hungry but could not focus on what to eat. It was all still a dream. I wanted to tell everyone…..”Can I please have a muffin; I have Cancer.” “Can I please have a toasted bagel w/cream cheese? I have Cancer.” “I’ll take a black coffee please; I have Cancer.” In the end I settled on a fave: Bagel and Lox with a black coffee. As I bit into my bagel I felt my tears welling up and I really just wanted to bawl. But I kept it together, took a sip of coffee and read the NYTimes Style section. 588

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