I was having severe pain behind my sternum that radiated to my arms and face. I was also experiencing dizziness and a worsening of the shortness of breath that I normally have due to emphysema. I worried that it might be stress or heart problems. My doctor was sure it was my gall bladder acting up, but an ultrasound didn't turn up anything wrong there.
This is where I want to take the opportunity to stress the importance of being proactive and persistent about your own health. If you feel that something is wrong, stick with it until you get answers. I didn't go into all of this at the beginning of this journal, but feel that I must now.
Because the ultrasound was clear, my doctor wasn't concerned. She suspected my pain was due to body stress from standing with my arms up behind my salon chair (I was a hairdresser) for so many hours.
"But," I asked, "What explains the dizziness and shortness of breath?" She had no answer to that, so she ordered a chest x-ray. If I hadn't been persistent, the cancer probably wouldn't have been found in time for recovery.
And, practically the same thing happened with the pulmonologist my doctor sent me to. He wasn't concerned about the extra shortness of breath I'd been having, but agreed to send me to an oncologist. The appointment his office set up for me involved quite a waiting period. When I voiced concern about this, the pulmonologist told me, "Even if it is cancer there's no rush." Come again?!
I waited and worried until I finally got in to see the oncologist. When I told him that I'd been told there was no rush, he got upset. "If this is what I suspect, there IS a rush!" He immediately scheduled me for a lung biopsy. The same pulmonologist did it. The results came back negative. No cancer. Thank God the oncologist didn't give up there. That's when he scheduled a PET scan and found the cancer.
I cannot stress this enough: being proactive and persistent on your own behalf pays off. We all know our bodies. We live in them 24/7. Being someone who has never been seriously ill except for my lung problems, I just knew something was off and couldn't rest until I got to the bottom of the situation.
Now, a year later, I look back on all that I have experienced with such gratitude and wonder. Yes, I suffered pain, sickness, loss of hair and taste buds. I was forced to sell my salon, which I loved. I could no longer care for my aging parents, so had to move them across the state to be close to my brother. And, after treatments were over, I sold my home and left my friends in order to move closer to family and help care for Mom and Dad once again.
Although the changes and medical treatments were hard, I sure came out a WINNER. My world has expanded. I suppose I could sit back and grieve for my old life, but why? What good would that do? I marvel at the fact that I've been given a second chance at life. I've met wonderful new people and have a lovely new and nicer home. I've grown closer to my family. And even though I'm miles away from old friends, I'm also closer to them now too, believe it or not. They call, email and write constantly.
One huge blessing I've gained from this experience is a deeper relationship with my only grandchild. Although he and I were always close, his care of me while I was staying at his home for treatment brought us even closer.
And while I've always thought of myself as a Christian, I'm now "connected" to God in a richer, more meaningful way. He and I spend time talking each day. All those prayers sent out for me, combined with my own, have certainly made Him aware of me! He's answered every one of them.
May 28, 2008: I just had my third cancer scan and am still in remission. That adds up to nine months of cancer-free lung scans! I'd feel better if they scanned everything, but I know that I can only take so much radiation. I just have to be vigilant about watching for signs of trouble in the rest of my body.
A few months ago, I mentioned having headaches and a brain scan that came back clear. Well, the headaches are back now. I'll wait awhile to see if they go away like they did the last time. If not, it means a call to my oncologist.
My general health is improving. I've been free of pneumonia and other sicknesses for quite a while now. I tire easily, but that's to be expected. An article in a cancer survivor magazine that I subscribe to says that recovery from treatment can take up to three years. So, I'll be patient and spend my time being thankful for my good life, family and friends.
July 24, 2008: This cancer thing can go on and on. I have a new symptom that is making me very uneasy. The lymph nodes on both sides of my neck and in the front of one ear are enlarged. I've also developed shingles. People who have had cancer treatment have weakened immune systems, a risk factor for shingles. This, in turn, can cause swollen lymph nodes. However, on the other side of the coin, people who have cancer can also have all of these symptoms too, so better safe than sorry, I called my oncologist. He had me come in right away for scans of my neck and chest. Once again, thank goodness, I can report that the scans didn't show any cancer. They didn't scan the rest of my body, but I trust that I'm still cancer-free.
You know, most of the time I'm very upbeat and positive, but once in a while I have days when I'm scared or depressed. This, I'm assured, is natural and part of what comes with being on the cancer survivor list. I'll take it! I'm certainly glad to be on that list.
After all of the years I spent smoking, breathing hair chemicals and sprays, the cancer, radiation, and numerous bouts of pneumonia, my lungs are not healthy. They only function at 30 percent of capacity, but my new pulmonologist feels he can raise that number a bit.
I've learned to slow down some, not an easy task for a workaholic, and I'm still off oxygen for now, thankfully. So, I have no complaints, because the bottom line is this:
I'm planning on celebrating ONE YEAR cancer-free next month!
Page 12 - One Year Cancer-Free!