So a few weeks ago Cameron contacted me and wanted to write an article for my blog about dealing with Cancer around the holidays. Since that’s when I found out, and not that it’s good news on any day, but I personally think it’s exceptionally bad news around the holidays because you and your family are miserable while everyone is celebrating. Also, I loved the idea because I’m too busy to post things myself currently- and well it turns out I was also too busy to get to Cameron’s post before Christmas. So my apologizes that this is a few days late- I hope everyone had as wonderful of a Christmas as I did. 100% better than last year! On to the guest post…
What Cancer Taught Me about Giving Thanks
By: Cameron Von St. James
I love the holidays. I was especially excited for them in 2005, when my wife and I welcomed our only child. Lily was just a few months old, and the holidays were approaching. Heather and I talked endlessly about our excitement over the holidays, and the memories and new traditions we’d create with Lily during our very first holiday season as a family of three. When Thanksgiving approached, Lily was three and a half months old and we couldn’t have been more excited. That is, until three days before Thanksgiving when Heather’s doctor diagnosed her with pleural malignant mesothelioma.
I didn’t know much about Heather’s cancer, but what little I did was enough for me to know that our future was uncertain. I was hoping for the best with her treatment and future, but I was imagining the worse. I was imagining a life without Heather. A life without my wife and a life for Lily without her mommy; the holidays were no longer something I felt thankful for.
As the holiday season came into full swing, we still celebrated as best we could. After all, there was a possibility that this would be Lily’s only holiday season with her mother. Heather’s parents flew in to celebrate the holidays with us before we went to Boston for her surgery. Despite the fact that we both worked full-time, we were barely able to keep ourselves above water with the medical bills and travel arrangements. During our holiday dinner, we had the conversation I’d been dreading for a long time. We talked about my family’s finances. My wife and my in-law’s and I sat around my table talking about our assets and bills. We discussed what we could liquidate, what we could afford to keep paying for, and what my in-laws could afford to help us pay for. I was mortified, and at the time I felt that it was probably the worst conversation I’d ever had.
I didn’t feel very thankful that holiday season. However, a few years later I realized that my pride was what kept me from being thankful at a time when I had more to be thankful for than ever. I neglected to realize that my family and friends stopped what they were doing in their own lives to come to our sides and help us out in this difficult time. I realized that I had a caring, loving family who was there for us when we needed it most, and this holiday season I am thankful for that. I am also thankful for more time with my wife and daughter to create the memories we always hoped for.
Seven Christmases after her diagnosis, Heather is still here, healthy and cancer free. We have been able to create wonderful holiday traditions with our family just as we had planned. I hope that our story of hope and success against mesothelioma can be a source of inspiration to those currently fighting cancer this holiday season.
—I can’t figure out how to add these links to the post so here’s the site for Cameron’s blog and more information on mesothelioma— mt
So as most of you who actually know me are aware I’m finished with chemo and back to my normal chaotic life- thus my lack of posting! And of course it would be very un-Megan-like of me to not just jump right into my old crazy routine. Anyway here’s a quick update- I will load pictures and post more details soon, but here’s the short version for now– chemo ended at the end of September, October was spent recovering and getting my mediport out, and November 1st I headed back to the bluegrass state–Hooray!! Since then my life is 98% back to normal– working a million hours, traveling a ton, loving being back with my best friends, turning my house into Santa’s workshop, hosting my annual ugly sweater party, shopping every chance I get, planning New Year’s Eve festivities… the list goes on and on– but needless to say “I’m baaaaack!” The only not back is the hair- well on my head at least- I wasn’t too thrilled about having to shave my legs again-but love having my eyelashes/eyebrows back! I look like my old self again. So my hair-it’s growing- first it started getting thicker, but was SO BLONDE and I was furious- I want my hair to come back just as it was- color and everything– but then it finally started getting darker, and now it’s finally starting to get longer! It’s pretty cool actually- I feel like a chia pet-everyday I’m mesmerized by what I see in the mirror.
On the health front, my October PET scan was clear and I’m still cancer free. My blood counts are still low and no one has a good explanation for that. I generally feel pretty fantastic considering what my body has been through. My energy level is ridiculous! I think my body truly knows what tired feels like now, and has decided that I need to be the energizer bunny all the time. I went from sleeping about 18 hours a day during chemo, to not being able to go to sleep before 2am, waking up several times at night, then back up at 7:30 for work. I swear every morning that I’m going to bed early tonight, and no amount of sleep aid allows that to happen.
My reconstruction surgery is scheduled for January 11th. I’m strangely excited about it- I’ve had a lot of people assume I never want to see another OR or hospital room, but since it’s a different hospital than chemo I don’t associate bad memories with the UT Medical Center… actually I LOVE it! My surgeon is absolutely AMAZING- if you didn’t know I had surgery, you would never know from looking at me, and he’s super nice as well. The staff at the Country Inn & Suites in Knox is completely outstanding- they have been so great to us and made us feel like family in our home away from home, so I’m always glad to see them as well. I of course can’t forget my favorite part of the UTMC- the gift shop. AND the cute residents are just icing on the cake. My only complaint is that there is ORANGE EVERYWHERE, but as long as I don’t have to wear it- I can get over that little detail.
I’m pretty sure no one is looking forward to 2013 more than I am… frankly 2012 sucked, but such is life. I hope everyone has a safe and Happy New Year!
The day before I start chemo, I have a doctor appointment to make sure my white count is high enough for chemo, and go over the plan for my next treatment. My mom and I talked to Dr. Sehgal about how miserable the methotrexate was last time and decided I wouldn’t do it anymore since my levels were so high and it was so hard on my body. That moved up my last treatment of Adriamycin, so I only had 2 chemo treatments left! YAY!!!
My next to last treatment began on September 6th. Since it was just the Adriamycin this time, it actually wasn’t too bad. I had lots of visitors, tons of energy, and no nausea. If I had to pick a favorite chemo session, if there is such a thing, it would definitely be this one! Plus now that it’s over, I only have one left!! Counting down the days.
A little over a week after I got released from the hospital, I ended up in the ER with a fever. So I was trapped in the hospital for a few days because I was neutropenic (my white counts were low- and my absolute neutrophil count was 0) and my body couldn’t defend itself from infection. After my counts went back up I started feeling like my old self again!
August 23rd I started my 8th round of chemo, this time it was Methotrexate. In the past the worst part had been waiting for my levels to drop so I could go home, but this time my Methotrexate level got up to 37 (it had been around 19 in the past) and it made me feel horrible. They did ultrasounds on my kidneys and liver to make sure they were safe and I basically cried and wanted my mommy the entire time I was in the hospital. Lucky for me she didn’t leave my side.
August 2nd I started round 7 of chemo. It was my last session with both Adriamycin and Cisplatin. The Cisplatin drops off after this one and it’s just the Adriamycin. During my first round of this drug I threw up the entire time, but I had gotten this nausea patch and it had helped a lot the past few treatments. Not this time! The day started out with me crying on my walk to the oncology floor because I didn’t want to do chemo anymore. I was cancer free, I didn’t understand why I had to continue. I made it to my room and had Mom and Dad both trying to soothe me, but still managed to throw up my breakfast. Anytime I cry I throw up. It’s terrible. I was feeling better and Dad went to get Rocco’s Little Italy for lunch and the afternoon went well until I started getting nauseous. I threw up all night, I highly doubt I’ll be eating there again any time soon. That’s another bad thing about chemo, it ruins all your favorite foods from throwing up so much. The next 2 days were pretty average.
After I get home from chemo, I basically lay around with the dogs all day because I’m too exhausted to do anything else. It turns out my blood counts were low and that was making me unusually extra tired, so I got a pint of blood and platelets and then headed to Hilton Head to visit my Uncle Gordon.
I told you I had my Mid-Chemo PET Scan on Friday, and our Dr friends had reviewed it Friday and said it was all clear, but Dr. Sehgal officially told me I was CANCER FREE today. YAY!!! Happiest Day EVER!
On July 19th I started round 6 of chemo- Methotrexate. It’s a 4 hour drip but I have to wait until my Methotrexate level is low enough for them to release me. Last time that took 5 days so that’s kind of what I was expecting, this time it took 7 full days. That seems like forever in the hospital, I’ve never been more happy to leave that place.
I finally got released on Wednesday night, on Friday I had my mid-chemo PET scan… more info on that in the next post.
That weekend my mom, step dad and I went to Stonewall Jackson Resort…. here are some pictures of me from our trip. It was nice to have a change of scenery for the weekend.