Thursday, June 24, 2010

Time to go under

Well, my surgeries went well and I am happy to be home! All of my surgeries have been outpatient, so I have have been able to come home after each one, which I am grateful for. I am feeling very sore and tender, but I have been able to somehow muster up the strength to type (not that typing takes a lot of strength)! It was a very long day, the OR was running behind, so we had to wait two and a half hours before I was called back for pre-op. I was fine, but I felt bad that Matt and my mom had to wait so long. My mother-in-law came by as well, which was so sweet (she has come to the hospital for all of my surgeries), but normally she arrives after I have been taken back and just waits with Matt and my mom until I have come out of surgery and my oncologist lets them know how the surgeries went. Yesterday when she arrived I was still in the room waiting to go into pre-op and she was surprised to see me sitting there, but it was good to see her before I was taken back. The nurses are wonderful, but I had to be stuck three times before the IV actually worked, because according to every nurse who has ever given me an IV or taken my blood, my veins are very tiny. This is normal for me and painful and I hate it because the nurses always get so upset because they don't want to hurt me, but I understand my veins are just complicated and they are doing their very best. After waiting a while and talking to nurses, anesthesiologists, and my doctor, it was time for surgery. My surgeries were originally scheduled for 1:00pm, but did not start until 5:00pm because the OR was running so behind that morning.

I hate how out of it I feel after being put under. I have been put to sleep for all of my surgeries and the first time I wake up I'm in a room along with other patients and recovery nurses and my body just hurts and I feel very very loopy. After a little bit I am wheeled into another recovery room and my family can come visit me. Yesterday Matt and my mom came in and it felt like I was looking at three of each person! My recovery nurse came in and gave me some Sprite because I have always gotten very sick from the anesthesia. She then told me that I needed to eat a few saltines before I could take any pain medication because it is not good to take them on an empty stomach, especially for me because I react very strongly to medicine. After the anesthesiologist approved that it was okay for me to go home, I got dressed (which is always a daunting task when coming off of anesthesia)! And I was wheeled out to the car.

When we got home I just wanted to wash my face and lay down, which was nice to do in my own bed. My sweet husband went to the store to pick up some ginger ale, my favorite magazines, bandages, paper tape (because I am highly allergic to band-aids and certain adhesives) Vitamin Water Zero (the lemonade and orange flavors (my favorite!)) and some candy for when I was feeling better of course (I am like a child with candy, I love it)! I slept okay last night, but it is difficult to get comfortable because I have so many stitched up areas (I have 48 stitches total) that are delicate and sensitive, but my husband and mom have been taking great care of me!


Monday, June 21, 2010

Holey Moley! {Part II}

I would like to start off by saying that surgery is the most effective way to cure melanoma and surgery is the only form of treatment I have had.

...So, here we go, back to the oncologist's office for another consultation to talk about my next surgery. At this point I have stage III-A melanoma (whoa, scary). I could not believe what I was hearing. Everyone kept asking me how I felt...I felt great, that is what is so scary and difficult about this disease. I went from being healthy my whole life, to all of a sudden having stage III melanoma in a matter of weeks. My oncologist told me that during this surgery all of my lymph nodes in this area would be removed (lymph node dissection) and I would have to have a drain put in for a few weeks following the surgery because my body has to adjust to all of those lymph nodes being taken out and the fluid has to go somewhere (doesn't sound pleasant, I know, it's not). I would also have another wide excision on my back on an area that looked suspicious from another mole that was removed at the same time. My surgeries were scheduled for Friday, March 19th. My surgical oncologist removed 47 lymph nodes total (which is a lot), and the good news is no cancerous cells were found in any of the lymph nodes removed from this surgery! My recovery from these surgeries was about six weeks, a bit longer than expected. I was in a lot of pain during that time and the drain was no fun at all, but absolutely necessary, because the fluid could build up without the drain and bring on lymphedema in my arm. The drain looked like a tube growing out of my body (it was under my left arm, by the incision where the lymph nodes were removed) and at the end of the tube it looked like a grenade, which is where the fluid was collected. My husband had to empty it two to three times a day (thank the Lord for Matt! He is an incredible husband!) and it was gross and unattractive, but had to be done. The drain was in for four weeks (which is longer than normal (oh, yay!)) I was nervous to have it removed, even though my doctor told me that it would not hurt, which it did not at all actually, and I was more than happy to say goodbye to it! I had to go to physical therapy to learn how to get full range of motion back in my left arm because everything was so tight from the surgeries and also my oncologist had to remove a muscle in my pectoral region to get to some of the lymph nodes during the surgery. I had a severe muscle spasm in my left arm (and I am left handed) that suddenly popped out of nowhere one night which was absolutely excruciating and threw off my recovery for a little while. I could not move the upper left side of my body at all....I mean at ALL, it was awful. Matt and I made an emergency visit to my oncologist's office the following day and were told that it was caused from all of the shock my body had been put under. My doctor said the knots were so incredibly tense and he had never seen anything like this after this kind of surgery (which is always so good to hear!) It lasted about a week. I could finally start the physical therapy now that my drain was out and the muscle spasm had subsided! I went to physical therapy for about two weeks, which was really quick and they said I got my range of motion back so quickly because I do some strength training (trust me, it is not a lot) in my arms. I did have a tiny break down one day while at physical therapy and told my sweet and wonderful therapist that I did not want to be there! I felt so bad, but I was just so sick of going to the doctor all of the time and everyone staring at my body and examining me like I was some sort of science experiment...I know I have been in wonderful hands and have amazing doctors, but at that time she was pulling my arm (which is her job and I understand that), and I felt so invaded and I felt like this is my body and I just want all of this to be over and go back to normal, but like my oncologist said, "What is normal anymore?"

So, exactly eight weeks to the day had passed from my last surgery and I was feeling really good. On Friday, May 14th I was due to go back to my dermatologist (I have to go every 3 months now) for another screening. She told me that she was going to be extremely thorough now given my recent history...and she was. On that particular visit, I had five moles removed and as I was leaving, like usual, the nurse told me that I would get a call with the results in 7-10 business days...

Well, three weeks later, after being informed that my biopsies were sent to one of the best pathologists in the field (who is based in NYC) we get the results. First, let me say that those three weeks were not easy, I mean we were under the impression that it was going to take the standard amount of time to get the results, and then informed that my moles are so "abnormal" that they have to be sent to someone in the very top of the field (which, at that point you already know is not a good sign). So, back to the results, four out of the five biopsies were declared "abnormal" (they were not cancerous, but looked like that could be eventually) and the fifth, which was literally on the very end of the incision where all of my lymph nodes were removed under my left arm, was another melanoma. My dermatologist called my husband to let him know (because I was already nervous from the results taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r). My mom was visiting to see our new home and had extended her stay so that she could be in town when we got the results. When I spoke with my husband and he told me the bad news, I just replied, "Okay, so I guess were are going back to the oncologist's office already." I then walked into the living room and told my mom. I felt fine considering, it was just all happening again so insanely quickly! My mom left a few days later, but I was happy and grateful she was there for those few days after getting the news, she is very comforting and great to talk to about all of this. Matt and I went back to my oncologist's office for another consultation and it was nice to see everyone, but not so soon (I really like my doctor and his team...a lot, but we were not supposed to see them until a follow-up in July). My doctor said he was going to just go into the same incision where all of my lymph nodes were removed and do another wide excision (so the incision will be extended 2-3 inches, making it about a six inch incision.) The good news is that since the lymph nodes have been removed already, there is no where for the melanoma to spread, so if I have to have melanoma again, that would be the spot to have it. As for the other four spots deemed abnormal, my oncologist advised taking about five millimeters around and deep each spot to prevent cancer from growing there in the future, and Matt and I agreed with him. We scheduled my surgeries for Wednesday, June 23rd...two days from today.

P.S. Happy first day of summer! :)


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Holy Moley! {Part I}

Matt and I met on May 4th, 2007 and got engaged the following February. We planned our wedding for one year and were married on February 7th, 2009 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi (in the church my parents were married in) which was the happiest day of my life! :) Married life has been exceptional and more than I could have ever asked for. Our relationship has been a blessing. We are made for each other (trust me!) We bicker like all other married couples (well, unless they don't communicate!), and for the most part I win those little battles :), but that is not what is important...what is important is that I have a husband who I can tell anything to, who I want to spend my time with, who when I am with him, I feel like I am the most beautiful girl he has ever laid his eyes on and who is next to me holding my hand (or holding me up (emotionally)) no matter what life brings our way and I can only hope he feels the same about me! ;)

Well, this year has been what I would call a bit turbulent so far...

In January, two weeks and two days after my 26th birthday I had an appointment with my dermatologist to be screened (this is where she checks my skin for any peculiar looking moles). Now, this is typical because my father passed away from skin cancer, melanoma to be exact, ten years ago this August (I miss him terribly, but he is thought of very often), so my sisters and I are expected to go to the dermatologist regularly. On this particular visit to my dermatologist, I had three moles removed (for those of you who have never had this done, the dermatologist simply removes each mole with a blade after having been given a shot of numbing fluid). The spots are then bandaged up with a small circular bandage, it does not hurt. The nurse told me that I would get a call back in 7-10 business days after the biopsy results were in, and off I go...

I have been checked several times before and have had some biopsies done in the past; last year I had a pre-cancerous mole removed from my right leg, but other than that all have been benign. After these biopsies I did not think much about it at all until the 7th day, that day I checked my phone for missed calls if I had to leave my office for whatever reason while at work. At this time I was working 7:30am-4:30pm. Well, on exactly the 7th day after these biopsies, February 2nd (five days before our one year anniversary), I received a call at 4:30 pm (I was literally on my way out of my office to go home). I picked up the phone and my dermatologist was on the other end of the line. I thought, "This is not the nurse, why is my dermatologist calling me herself, and her voice sounds different to me!?" I started shaking, my heart started beating faster and I knew something was wrong. I could not leave my work at this point, so I carefully got up and closed my office door. She started the conversation by telling me that two of the biopsies I had came back benign (okay, Yay!), BUT that the one on the left side of my stomach was melanoma. All of a sudden I could not breath and I kept telling her, "I am not going to remember any of this conversation." My doctor told me that she had tried to reach my husband, but did not have any luck (he was in a business meeting at the time). At the end of our brief conversation I said, "I know this may sound silly, but does this mean I have cancer?" She replied, "Well, you have melanoma, so...."....So, yes, It meant that I had cancer! I will never forget that felt surreal, I was so scared and I had so many questions and emotions running through my mind.

I called my husband and he answered right away because his meeting had just ended. I had to break the news to him and he said he was going to call the doctor straight away. I got myself together the best I could and drove home, Matt arrived right after me. Matt repeated what the doctor told him back to me since I did not comprehend all the information the first time. I spoke with my mom and sisters and everyone was obviously upset, but optimistic (including me) that this was all in the very early stages and that I would be perfectly okay. I did not go to work the next day, Matt and I went to see my dermatologist who assured me that since the mole was so thin it had to be in the early stages and everything was going to be fine. I was then contacted by my surgical oncologist's office who my dermatologist referred me to. Matt and I went the following week for a consultation visit. We scheduled my first surgery which was a wide excision of the melanoma (that incision is about four and a half inches long) as well as a sentinel node biopsy (which is a procedure where blue dye is injected into the lymph nodes so they can be easily identified during surgery. A few lymph nodes are then removed for biopsies to see if the cancer has spread). My doctor knew which lymph nodes the cancer would have spread to by sending me to nuclear medicine where I was injected with radioactive fluid which lights up in an x-ray (the lymph nodes that the cancer would have spread to for me was my left axillary area, my left armpit in layman's terms.) So, both of those surgeries were on the same day, February 19th, and my surgical oncologist removed three lymph nodes to perform biopsies on at that point. Again, everyone was super optimistic and really were just being overly cautious given my family history.

The recovery was smooth. I was moving around before expected and had started to feel like myself again. One day, about a week and a half after my surgery, when Matt got home from work he pulled me to the side to tell me that my surgical oncologist had called him on his way home to tell him that there were a few cancerous cells in one of the lymph nodes that was removed. This was incredibly unexpected and all of my doctors were very surprised as well because this is extremely rare to see with a mole that was as thin as mine. We were told that the cancer I had was particularly aggressive. Matt had to tell my mom and Katie who were still in town, because I could not tell them myself. I did not really know what I was feeling at that moment, I was fine, but I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me...


Monday, June 7, 2010

A bit about me

My hubby and me on our honeymoon in fabulous Kauai, Hawaii

Us enjoying the amazing Napali Coast...I want to go back!

Hi, I am Lauren and I live in Atlanta with my husband. I have been married to the best man I have ever met and my best friend for one year and four months to the day, actually! :) I am one lucky girl to have been blessed with my amazing husband, Matt, and I think of that every day with a smile on my face! ;)

I have many interests and aspirations and I have learned a lot about myself up to this point in my life. I love love love to decorate...any room really. We recently moved to a different part of town and I have thoroughly enjoyed decorating our new home! My favorite things to wear are sundresses...I wear them all summer long. Peonies and ranunculus make me happy. My two favorite colors are Porcelain or Robin's Egg blue and Kelley green. I love to bake and cook...I have been baking and cooking a lot lately and I am really loving it. I miss my family (in Florida and Mississippi for the most part) and my best friends (mostly in Alabama) often, but enjoy when we visit each other or catch up over the phone, which happens frequently. I am the oldest of my two incredible sisters, Katie and Meghan, who are two of my very best friends. My mom is also one of my very best friends, we have a great relationship and talk all the time! I am in love with the beach and I miss it dearly...the recent oil spill makes me sick to my stomach. I pray for a miracle to prevent the all gorgeous beaches along the Gulf Coast from becoming destroyed and for all of the families who will lose their livelihood for years to come.