Main » July 2004
July 30, 2004
To everyone who has taken the time to send me a note regarding my first post! I about cried when I opened my mailbox and saw that not only had people actually read what I wrote, but they also took time out of their day to send me something!
So thank you for making me smile...:) Thanks for your patience!
So now I'm single. But not just single as in "I'll be 30 in five months and all of my friends have a SO (significant other)." I'm single with a freaking UHaul of baggage. "Hi, I'm Whitney. Not only have I had cancer, but I had a hysterectomy as a result of it, and I can't have kids. Oh - and did I mention that I was also married while I was going through it? Yeah. So I'm divorced, too."
I know, I know. At least I'm alive. And believe me - I'm VERY grateful for that. But there are days that I honestly feel like I was royally screwed in this entire deal.
This completely negates everything I have said about having a positive attitude and being an optimist, doesn't it? I don't think it really does. I mean, everyone has their moments, and today I'm having one of mine. I mean, I'm only human, so I'm allowed these every once in a while.
Well, okay. So they happen more than every once in a while. But only when I think about things too much. Like today, for instance! It's rainy, I have nothing to do at my office, so I just think.
Anyway, while I have only dated one guy that had a problem with the fact that I couldn't have children (yeah - he sucks) it still continues to be a major issue for me. However, the issue does take up less of my mind than it used to.
What's strange is that when I was young I decided that I was going to adopt children. I just always had this odd feeling that I wouldn't be able to have children naturally. There are some diary entries of mine from junior high and college where I mention that feeling. Strange how those premonitions sometimes prove to be true...
Well, this weekend I am having four of my best friends here for a fun weekend of Girl Therapy Time (GTT) so I am SUPER excited about that. One of my best friends' boyfriends (I'll call him D) sent me an email a few months ago saying that he needed her (she'll be CB) to be out of town for an evening so he could travel the three hours to her parent's house to ask them for her hand. How sweet is that?! So, being the person I am, I thought this would be the perfect excuse to have a party! She has NO CLUE what's going on, but when she gets back to town Sunday evening, they're going out to dinner, and he's going to ask her to marry him! I'm SO excited for them. They met last summer through match.com. The only ones I know who have worked out from that. My other friends who have ventured onto that site have only met weirdos.
So my girls will be here tomorrow, and I can't WAIT! I don't really know anyone where I'm living right now because I have been SO busy with school/work/etc. I miss my girls!
Okay, I'm sure that I've bored you all enough.
Have a fabulous weekend!
July 21, 2004
I had just graduated from Purdue University, gotten married, and moved to Indianapolis to begin my life in the advertising industry. I was religious about going to the gynecologist every year for my annual check-up, so I was never worried about anything "abnormal" showing up.
2001 was dramatically different. I went in for my annual exam and was seen by a nurse practitioner who, upon one look, said that there was something protruding from the cervical area. She said to come back the next afternoon to see my gynecologist, as he was currently in surgery for the remainder of the day. She mentioned it probably being a polyp, which was simple to remove, so I went home with minimal concern. The following day I went to work at my advertising agency as normal, but just before going in to see my doctor, called my husband and asked him to take me to my appointment. This was something I had never done in the past, but I had an odd feeling that afternoon that I needed someone to be there. He sat in the waiting room while I went in to see my doctor. He began to perform the PAP, when he sharply inhaled and asked for assistance. I immediately panicked, firing off question after question trying to get a read on what he suspected. He finally told me that it was in no way a polyp, but a tumor the size of an egg protruding from my cervix. After further interrogation from myself, he admitted that it looked like cancer. He took a biopsy of the tumor and the surrounding tissue and sent it off to be tested. He said that it would take a week for the results to come back, and that they would call me when they were in. I sat up, only thinking of getting out of that room. It was stifling. My husband and I walked to the elevator where I broke down. The worst thing that has ever happened to me medically is the removal of my wisdom teeth! Needless to say, I was nervous. But, I went back to the office where I was told to go home. I continued to work throughout the week, calling the hospital EVERY day to check on my results. By the end of the week they knew me pretty well, and I had convinced myself that it wasn't anything. It was just a tumor that they would remove with some local anesthetic, and that would be it! The following Monday I called the hospital again, and was told the same thing "They aren't in yet, Whitney, but we are looking for them and as soon as they come in we will call you". Tuesday afternoon I get a call from my doctor's office saying that the results are in and the doctor would like to see me immediately. Although I had never had anything done medically, I knew that if they didn't give you the results over the phone, it was a bad sign. I called my husband, he picked me up, and we went to the hospital.
We were sitting in an exam room for three hours before the doctor showed up. He had been called to an emergency surgery. He sat down in front of me, and very gently (as gently as he could in this situation, I guess!) told me that I had cervical cancer. He went on to say that they would have to perform a hysterectomy to remove it, which meant that I would not be able to ever have children of my own. Devastation was slowly settling in. The fact that I would not be able to carry a child was the focal point of my tragedy, while my husband focused on the fact that I had cancer. The next morning I went to work, told my office what was happening, and continued to work as normal. Around 2:00 I received a phone call from my doctor who told me that they now believed that it was not cervical cancer that I had, but a rare and extremely rapidly growing cancer. He said that I had to immediately go to an oncologist to begin chemotherapy. I went to see her, and she said that I did not have cervical cancer, but a VERY rare cancer called Extra Pulmonary Small Cell Sarcoma. I always thought that cancer was classified by where they found it. For example, if you had cancer on your thumb, it was thumb cancer. Wrong! It is classified by the cell type. This is a cancer that typically occurs in the lung as a result of smoking. It coincidentally showed up on my cervix, and there is no reason why I got it, since I have never smoked. This cancer, to be on my cervix, is so rare, that there are not any statistics on it. I started chemotherapy the following Monday (June 25). I had chemo first so they could shrink the tumor and try to control the cancer. This cancer is extremely fast spreading, so I had to start the chemo immediately, with no time to freeze any eggs. When cancer occurs, cells in the body that are not normal keep dividing and forming more cells without control. Chemo destroys cancer cells by stopping them from growing or multiplying. The ovaries are constantly moving at a fast pace producing eggs, so they would be attacked by the chemo if they were not shut down. To stop the movement of the ovaries, I was given a shot to begin menopause. I had hot flashes and everything! At 26! This stopped the ovaries from getting damaged during the chemo. Well, it was supposed to, anyway. After all of this was over they wanted to try to start my ovaries again so I would hopefully still be able to produce eggs for a surrogate, but after many tries, they were pronounced "dead". I spent the next two days in a hospital undergoing tests to see if the cancer had spread. Although they did not think that it had not spread to any surrounding organs, this cancer took my entire cervix in and out, and produced a tumor the size of an egg within twelve months.
With the aggressiveness of this cancer in mind, they gave me three months to live.
I was only 26 years old!
I had never had children, had always been completely healthy, an avid runner, never had a SINGLE problem, and now this?!
I was sent to IU Cancer Center - one of the best research hospitals in the nation. The doctors that I had there were so wonderful that I still keep in contact with them! So I began the chemotherapy one week after finding out that I had cancer. The Friday before I began chemo, I threw myself a Chemo Party to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in my life. It was a bitter-sweet party, because we had decided not to tell anyone of my having three months remaining to live. I did not want anyone to worry any more than they already were. I was going to lose all of my hair within three weeks of beginning chemo, so I threw a Razor Party after two weeks of chemo, where my husband and eight of his friends shaved their heads with me! It was wonderful to see so much support. I chose to shave my head instead of letting it fall out on its own to prove to myself that I had SOME control in this situation. Right before the party started, one of my sorority friends showed up at my door! She had come in from Colorado to surprise me for the party! She is the one who actually shaved my head for me. It meant so much to have her there.
I worked all through chemo, taking naps on the floor during the afternoon in the conference room. I would work all week and then sleep 24 hours straight one day on the weekend. I was told not to work at all, but I had to retain some sort of normalcy in my schedule, and work was how I chose to accomplish this. Since my husband was a teacher, in hindsight I think it was also an excuse for me to get out of the house. I would have chemo from an IV for eight hours a day, three days in a row, and then have a week off. I am fortunate enough to have been blessed with friends from both Purdue, as well as high school who came to stay a week or a few days, and take me to and from chemo. These girls were a true God send. They would sit with me in this small room, sometimes just watching me sleep, the entire 8 hours. I owe these girls so much. This went on through the end of August.
I had my hysterectomy August 10, 2001, followed by all-day chemo August 11, 12, and 13. By the end of this ordeal, my body had had it. I simply couldn't take any more and entered a severe depression. I was in the hospital for about a week following the hysterectomy, and was told it would be about a month before I would be able to resume normal activities. I never thought about only having three months to live from my diagnosis, but if I had I would have realized that I was getting close to the end! When they opened me up for the surgery they found that the cancer had spread to my lymph system, which was definitely not good news. Sometimes all of the cancer cells react to the chemotherapy, other times they don't. Some of my cancer cells completely ignored the chemo (how rude!) and continued to spread. This meant pelvic radiation following the chemotherapy. I went back to work after two weeks of being at home with a catheter and in bed. Even if just for a few hours a day, I went as long as my body would allow. I had no family in the area, so my mother drove over and stayed with me for the first full week I was home. This is when my husband shut down. We had been experiencing problems before I was diagnosed - to the point of discussing who would take what from the house. But all of that conversation was put on hold after my diagnosis. He didn't want to discuss ANY of that for the time being. That was difficult, knowing how unhappy he was and being unable to even talk about it.
Anyway, following my surgery, my husband had a very rough time dealing with the caretaker role. I would drive myself to radiation every day, Monday through Friday, for eight weeks. Not only was I the youngest one at both chemo and radiation treatments, but I was also the only one there by myself. I had no caretaker. I was on my own. I had radiation in the morning, then would go straight to work, and work until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. When I was driving myself to work and pulling over to throw up, I realized that perhaps I had not married the best man! The radiation made me very sick, as my body was at it's breaking point. Had they given me any more chemotherapy, it would have killed me. The same rule applied to the radiation. My body was pushed to the very edge each time, but never gave out on me. I beat the odds to such an extreme that I constantly had medical students present at my bi-weekly doctor’s appointments! And since the cancer was in the cervix, my appointments consisted of a pap. Yeah. A lot of them. I think every med student at IU has seen THAT attractive side of me! :)
Finishing treatment and entering remission in November of 2001, I had a complete new outlook on life. Life is meant to be lived - not full of regrets in the form of "I wish I would have...” It was with this attitude that I took my husband asking me to leave on December 23, 2001, as a sign. Dealing with that was much more difficult than having mentally endured cancer and three months to live, but I knew that I could make it. I moved out of his house December 23 and back in with my parents in Illinois. In February of 2002 I moved out to Colorado on a whim to get my spirit and my health back. That move was one of the best decisions I have ever made. One of my best friends from Purdue lived out there (the one that shaved my head) so I moved by her.
When they thought the cancer had returned the following November and I had to move back to my parents, my spirit had been renewed, and I was myself again. Then to find out that I was still cancer-free made it even better! I was going back to IU Cancer Center every three months for full body check-ups, since this cancer returns 90% of the time in the first two years, and 80% of the time in the following three years. In the past six months I have graduated to once every six months, and now one of my parents go with me. While I am still the youngest one there, it is SO nice to have someone there to take my mind off of things. It's only a two hour drive from where I currently live, which I DREADED when going by myself. But since I now have a parent going with me, I actually look forward to it! Well, not the exam and scans, but the drive anyway! I now feel better than I have in years.
I was speaking throughout Illinois to various organizations on the importance of yearly exams, as well as keeping a sense of humor through life’s trials. My goal in sharing this experience isn't to tell everyone out there "my" story, but it is to make women realize that it can happen to ANYONE. I have friends who had not been to the gynecologist for five years before I found out that I had cancer. They all go now, and some of them have found pre-cancerous cells that they were able to treat before it turned into something serious. If I could go from 100% healthy to having three months to live in a twelve month period, it can happen to anyone.
I have had to taper off my speaking since I started graduate school at the University of Illinois. I am getting my master's degree in advertising, and have continued to work full-time at a local advertising agency as a copywriter. AND I taught a creative advertising class for Juniors and Seniors in the Advertising Department. Hello - no social life! So this coming semester, they want me to teach two classes, so I am going to try to go part-time at work. I was killing myself last semester and only doing everything half-assed, so I would really like to devote more time to school, since this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm still trying to figure out the financial side of everything, so we'll see!
Seriously - could this be any longer?! I promise the future posts will be shorter! :) Thanks for your patience!