It's been over a year since the event that led to my diagnosis. Apparently this blogging thing is hard to keep up with when you're not all hopped up on steroids, so I haven't been keeping you all as up-to-date as well as I would like. Not to mention the fact that all of my excess energy has been channeled toward growing a brand-new head of hair! (Evidence in the picture!)
So - I've compiled a list of questions that I find myself answering. Frequently. I've added a NEW PAGE (a link in the menu above, as well) to this site for those questions, but here's a little teaser: What and when was your diagnosis? I was diagnosed with a type 2 astrocytoma in my right temporal lobe - brain cancer - April 27th, 2009. I'll never forget the date, because I had to make sure and write a blog post honoring my little brother on his 30th birthday (April 26th) before I went to the hospital for what seemed like a possible concussion. It's important to have priorities. How did you discover your brain tumor? I had a seizure while home alone April 24, 2009. I had been getting ready for bed, it was late, and I brushed my teeth and washed my face. Then suddenly, I found myself, 'coming to' at my desk, in front of my computer, which had been shut down already. "Huh - I thought I already went to bed," I thought, and went to bed. I had no history of fainting or seizures.
The next morning I had a headache. And a fat lip. And when I got up to pee, I noticed the bathroom rug was all wadded up in the middle of the bathroom floor. Something wasn't normal, but maybe I just tripped and fell in the night and hit my head and didn't remember. When Boyfriend returned home later that night, and I told him what happened. The headache persisted.
The following morning the headache was worse. We talked about going to the ER to see if I had a concussion, but I didn't have insurance and we were broke. I'd had a head injury before - I knew they'd want to do a scan - cha-ching! So I decided to take a nap. After I laid down, the left side of my body began to tingle, my ears began to ring and I detected a horrible taste in my mouth. (I now refer to these feelings as my 'conscious seizures'.) I was scared, so I called for Boyfriend, and described what was happening. It was very uncomfortable, something was definitely wrong with me. It was time to go.
Boyfriend called his boss about getting his payment for work early so that we could go to the ER. His boss said, "You just take her, and I'll take care of it."
So we went. As soon as we got to the ER, and the words "hit my head" escaped my mouth, I was put in a neck brace and strapped to a gurney. Here we go, I thought. I had a CT scan and was brought back to a waiting room with Boyfriend. I had another 'pins and needles' episode, telling Boyfriend, "It's happening again, I'm having that feeling again!" He called the nurse and she gave me an anti-seizure drug. She explained to me that what I was feeling was a mini-seizure, that I'd probably had a grand mal seizure at home two days ago and hit my head.
Then the doctor came in. "We looked at your scan. I'm so sorry, but you have a very large tumor in the right side of your brain. That is probably what is causing the seizures. But you need to go to the other hospital for observation and to have an MRI."
Boyfriend was holding my hand, so I squeezed it, looked at him and the tears started. "I'm so sorry," was all I could think to say.
His face was already even with mine, his eyes locked on my teary ones, "We'll get through this, don't worry."
One wipe with the back of my hand, and the tears were gone. Of course we will.
I already know what you're going to say. "What've you been on vacation or something, Girlbert? We're all just waiting here, holding our breath for over a week, because we're all wondering if you'rein the hospital, had your final seizure or something equally horrible."
I did take a picture of a bird. I posted my most fabulously indulgent holiday pie recipe. I've read several magazines. Even watched a movie. It has been a vacation, I guess. Not having to maniacally be at doctor appointments, radiation treatment, picking up prescriptions, keeping track of a five-times-a-day medication schedule... It's like I haven't taken a breath for over seven weeks, and I'm finally getting some air.
So... how about that UPDATE?
My docs have me tapering off the steroids and I can't tell you what a relief that is. I've been on Decadron for almost three months, and I didn't realize how numb and weak I'd become until I fell walking up the steps to my deck on Thanksgiving. Despite some pretty gnarly-looking scrapes and bruises, I felt no pain, whatsoever.
Now I'm on day 10 of an 18-day steroid taper-down schedule and today is the first day I've been able to see my computer screen clearly. And it made me realize that I could now see, hear, and think with a clarity I've not had for months. I've nearly stopped shaking, stumbling, dropping things. I slept through the night last night for the first time since September. I feel the pain in my legs from my fall and I'm grateful for it. I'm ALIVE.
So I'm beginning to carefully put myself back in order. I've started practicing yoga again and already feel more coordinated. (But an inverted pose did make me pass out - oops). Boyfriend and I have taken walks the last 3 days, and I've felt stronger each time. I'll be riding horses and mountain bikes in no time, right?
I don't have an MRI or doctor appointment until the end of the month. I'm not cleared to travel by plane anywhere, so Boyfriend and I will be taking it easy around here for the holidays. I'm listening to Christmas music, planning, shopping, enjoying the season. Isn't that what normal people do this time of year?
A lot has happened! And I intended to write everday, but I've been allowing Boyfriend to step in with major updates, because we're on the low-stress-for-Girlbert-program. And I've been trying to be a good girl, despite some peaking (drug-induced) creative and physical energy.
So this is long-winded, but hopefully broken down into enough chunks that you can all manage, whether you choose to skim it over or swallow it whole. I did attempt to put in some kind of order of importance...
Medi-Cal Continues To Give Me Seizures Boyfriend touched on this in his birthday post from yesterday, but after 7 months of hoops with Medi-Cal, I have been informed of denial due to a technicality. My case has been closed, and I will have to appeal the denial, as well as REAPPLY and start the process over to get the ball rolling back in my court again. 7 months, people. And this is after my Ninja Neurologist got me on the fast-track to approval with a letter stating that I may not be alive in a year without treatment. Unbelievable, but as always, we'll deal. We're putting our heads down with some social workers and lawyer friends, and we'll get it turned around. The squeaky wheel plan continues.
Treatment Is Going Well I am really happy to report that two weeks into chemo and radiation, I've had no debilitating side effects. All the medication I'm on has side effects, don't get me wrong, but I'm managing very well with rest, good food, a regular schedule, and loads and loads of meditation to keep my mind in order. My docs warned me that the irritation of radiation would cause some more swelling and sure enough, my seizures have increased a bit - I have one or two mild, conscious episodes a day, but only one like the episode Boyfriend wrote about on Friday, and nothing like that since. I took my activity level down a notch (steroids make me feel like Superwoman!) after Friday, and my Ninja Neurologist tweaked my seizure meds and added a sedative/anti-seizure drug for me to take at night to sleep.
My docs have all warned me that the further I get into radiation, the more side effects I may experience, as the tuber dies off (ba-bye little tuber!), and my brain may become more irritated throughout. But we're all prepared to deal - I'll get to take more naps, maybe!
The oral chemo is going really smoothly. The anti-nasuea drug seems to be doing the trick, not to mention I take my one, oral dose right before bed on an empty stomach. My only complaint is that one of the major side effects is, of course, CONSTIPATION. So despite the fact we're still pretty high raw, juicing like fiends, and I'm downing water like it's going out of style, hello hemmoroids! Good times, but not that I don't have the experience to handle it. So back to Alice I'll go, as necessary. I'll need a good cleanse when this is all over, anyway.
So just how is Au-Naturale-Girlbert and her complementary treatment plan really feel about all the drugs and western medicine? That it's the right thing for my body, right now. I'm grateful for it, and know this is the route I need to take to heal my body, and ELIMINATE THE TUBER. But I'm asking LOTS of questions. Every side effect, every medication and dosage change. And my doctors have thoroughly explained to me the necessity and purpose of each drug so that I understand the benefits for any detriments. My comfort level with all of it is quite high. My only concern is that my mind stay sharp and functional, and hasn't seemed to be an issue with all the increased spiritual practice. My mind is as clear and grounded as it's ever been, despite all the drugs. I couldn't feel more blessed.
About My Weight Many of you have asked if I'm eating. Yeah, I'm skinny. Too skinny. Skinnier than I've ever been, but I'm ravenous! But I agree that checking in at 5'8" and under 120 pounds is a bit disconcerting (haven't weighed anywhere near that since MIDDLE school!), so I asked Uber-Oncologist Dr. G, about it before I even began treatment. "I have one more question." At 6pm, the tail-end of our squeezed-in appointment to get some questions answered before I begain treatment the following week. "Sure - what's that?" He turned toward me, from the computer monitor full of my scans and charts. "I've lost a lot of weight - more than 15 pounds in a couple of months - is that the steroid making my metabolism go wild or something? I though steoids were supposed to make me gain wight. My energy has been really high, and I know they have that effect, too." "How's your appetite?" "I've been ravenous." "Have you been thirsty? Having to urinate a lot?" "Really thirsty and I have to pee all the time." "Hmm. Your blood sugar was pretty high in the hospital," he referred to his computer screen for reference, "126. Steroids can cause diabetes." The tears came instantly. "That's in my family history," I whimpered. The D-word. After watching many family members struggle with diabetes, my ultimate health goal had been to keep myself from ever having to hear a doctor tell me I had the D-word. Cancer schmancer. Dr. G shook his head reassuringly. "Dont worry - medically-induced diabetes is totally reversible. But we'll check your blood sugar in your blood tests anyway to make sure." My blood test the next day showed my blood sugar back to normal. Whew.
In the meantime, I shared this story with my brother, who shares my ultimate health goal of avoiding the D-diagnosis. Perhaps channelling our Grandma T's (sometimes inappropriate) sense of humor, he exclaimed, "Oh my - 118 pounds? Brain cancer is like the best weight loss program ever!"
And we laughed, because we're Tomlins.
About That Trip Up North... Boyfriend already touched on this in his earlier post, and I've been meaning to, oh, but for the time of really doing the words justice!
Here's the bomb: Following my treatment at the end of November, we'll be moving up to Marin County, CA - the lovely town of Fairfax, to be precise.
So you remember that trip, over a month ago, now? I experienced a profound shift while visiting our dear friends in Fairfax, and sensed an overwhelming connection to the place as a healing center. A mecca, even. Upon driving into town the first time, we came upon healing center after local market, after meditation retreat center after organic restaurant after holistic health care office, and my only thought was that this was the place for me. Seem abrupt? All I can say is that it immediately resonated with me at such a high level, it couldn't be ignored, and the 7 days we spent there only confirmed what I knew in that initial moment. Boyfriend and I both experienced a huge shift in our relationship during our stay, and we're not attributing that to any accident. We also deepened our relationship with the dear friends who put us up for the week, and can hardly wait to live in their community. Not to mention a much better proximity to a major University Hospital, more dear friends, and the Neuro-Accupuncturist I will continue to see throughout my healing journey. The utmost importance has been placed on my health, increased autonomy, adjacency to nature, proximity and access to like-minded, spirit-driven people, continued healing, and happiness.
Friends and Family Visiting I've just wrapped up well-timed visits from friends and family this week. A great girlfriend from Wisconsin was here over the weekend with her little boy, and such a treat to spend time with them - it'd been over a year since I'd seen her last. The magic of spending time with children - very healing. Then my baby cousin (okay, so she's 24!), whom I haven't seen for over 12 years, and her boyfriend stayed with us Wednesday night, and I couldn't be more thrilled to see her and connect with out-of-touch family at this time in my life. The universe continues to astound...
Relief Is On The Way In the form of more family coming in to help out, as Boyfriend and I continue to manage schedules, work, and appointments. We couldn't be more thrilled that my mom will be here next Tuesday for eight days to help out with driving, erranding, cooking and whatever. Not too mention lots of hugs and love. Just the relief of not having to drive me to treatment everyday will free up Boyfriend's schedule immensely to get some much needed work done, which will help our financial situation tremendously. Then Boyfriend's parents will be coming on November 4th for about two weeks, and we're are thrilled for the company and help. They have lots of friends in CA, too, to they're looking at it as a double treat. Can't wait to see you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
That about wraps it up! Please keep in mind that I share my journey on this blog because I believe it is a powerful tool to help me heal. Your traffic, your comments, your positive energy - I FEEL all of it, and be assured that what you put out into the universe in a loving way will come back to you in amazing and profound ways. So leave your love here, and you'll heal yourself...