Set Up Surgery on Safari – check

Last Tuesday, on Meghan’s 13th birthday, we woke early and headed to the airport for what has become an annual family vacation.  Disney World is a “happy place” for all of us.  Despite crowds, and heat, we seem to be able to locate so much magic there.  Plus, it’s not here.

I like it here.  In my house, with my family.  But being “here” in a broader sense means doctors and tests, and appointments and procedures.  And traffic, and waiting.  And bills, and phone calls, and all sorts of obligations that often keep me tied to my desk chair.

In Disney someone produces allergy safe meals for us.  In Disney there is no driving.  In Disney there are fireworks and parades and shows.  While we are in Disney Mom watches the dogs and the house.

Those 8 days designed as a respite.  A safety zone.  A doctor free area.  And we look forward to it every year.

This year was even more special because Meghan brought a friend.  She got to bring a kind, compassionate, witty young lady who had been by her side through some ups and downs the past year.  There is not a long list of people who Meghan trusts enough to take into confidence, and I can’t say that I blame her.  But, this young lady has similar loyalty standards, and held her composure as Meghan threw some tough stuff at her.  Meghan is forced to think about things and process things that are not even remotely acceptable to have to deal with at her age.  Most peers are overwhelmed.  Many shy away.  This young lady did not NEED Meghan as a friend, they CHOSE to be friends.  As different as they are, they compliment each other nicely.  So we set off on our adventure this year as a party of 4.  The Ortegas plus one!

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Once we found our groove, (adding a wheelchair takes finding a balance) we were off and running.  Great food, lots of laughs, and the highs and lows you’d expect from two spunky teenagers.

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I was distracted Friday when my cell phone rang, while we were on the Safari at Animal Kingdom.  I should have seen the NY number and known what was coming.  But, I answered quickly.

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It was my plastic surgeon’s office.  The one who had told me they could fix my implant some time in the spring… well, they were offering me a spot on August 19th.

If you don’t have the back story on this I’ll give you the quick version.  After a double mastectomy in March of 2012, I opted for immediate reconstruction.  I was very pleased.  Then in November of 2012 I was in quite a car accident.  I took a good hit to my totaled Hyundai.  The implants were intact, but likely never quite the same.  By the summer of 2015 I had been experiencing some pain and discomfort on the right.  I went back to my plastic surgeon in November of 2015.  She told me the right implant had fallen a bit, and I should have (non-emergency) surgery to pull it back up.  Except, she was no longer accepting my health insurance.  The year that was had Meghan in the OR I believe 5 times.  I struggled to get the courage to call the new plastic surgeon.  I was annoyed to have to do all this again so soon.  The initial estimate on the implants was 15 years.  This was under 5.  I finally got an appointment with the new plastic surgeon a full year later, in July of 2016.  He concurred that a surgical procedure to “tighten things up” was a good idea, and that I could schedule at my convenience.  So, I tried to get it scheduled for the summer.  Then I tried for October when we have a few days off.  Then I tried for December… and before I knew it I was looking at spring break, almost another year of what had transformed from pain, to just an odd sensation, all the time.

I listened as I was told I could have the date one week away.  I looked around at the animals on the African Safari.  I tried to keep my conversation low enough to make sure the girls, and no one else on the vehicle was following along.  I promised to return the call in an hour.

I hung up and managed to share the story with my husband.  Then I called my Mom.  Then I called the plastic surgeon back.  “Let’s do it.”

So the following Monday was spent ducking away to make phone calls to set up pre-operative appointments.  Because the plane was due to land at midnight Tuesday.  I needed blood drawn, and a physical Wednesday in order to hold the spot.

Tuesday we left Disney.  The step count on my FitBit was over 142,000  I had covered over 62 foot miles.  I was tired, but happy.

We did have a great week, and while I was bothered on some level that the surgical planning creeped in, I am skilled at managing many things from my cell phone.  And, the thought of getting all that straightened out months ahead of schedule was exciting.

Tuesday it rained.  In NY and in Florida.  There was lightning.  There were delays.  Lots of them.  Our plane landed well after 1 am.  I hit my bed hard at 3 and was on the bus to NYC for the lab work by 9.  After battling NYC traffic there and back, I went for the physical.  Passed, and papers faxed to the plastic surgeon by 4:00.  Success.

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Life moves quickly.  We have to keep up.

The call came Thursday to be at the hospital at 6 AM Friday.  While I am not a morning person, only the surgically experienced would realize that is like hitting the jackpot.  It means you’ve got first case.  And that is a giant win.

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There was little time to share the plan with anyone.

Yesterday morning I had bilateral implant repair between 7:30 and 10 AM.  I slept till 1, had some ginger ale and crackers and was home by 2:45.

Last night I laid in my bed catching up on Email and I caught one from Meghan’s endocrinologist.  The thyroid numbers have gone a bit off again.  He wants to play around before repeating labs in 6 weeks.

Medication readjusted.  Again.  Illogical.  Like so many other things.

Apparently #beatingcowdens involves scheduling surgery on an African Safari and readjusting medications hours post-operatively.

We’ve got this.

Thank goodness for our time in the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

 

 

Body Betrayed

The first time I felt the pain it was last summer.  It was under my right implant, and from my armpit a bit down my side.  The pain lasted a few days and then eased itself into a chronic state of discomfort.  I went from almost 4 years of barely noticing, and sometimes forgetting the silicone implants that had replaced the breasts in their earliest stages of cancer in March of 2012 to thinking about them all the time.

Now I knew the right one was there.  And it was bothering me.  For physical, and deeply psychological reasons.  It was getting in my head.  Messing with my focus.

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I went to see my plastic surgeon in November of last year.  I adored her.  I wanted her to make it better.  Her words were reassuring to a point.  The implant was intact.  There was some minor movement.  I should get it taken care of but it wasn’t an emergency.

Then there was the bombshell.  She was no longer accepting my health insurance.  I definitely cried right there in the office.  She cried too as she apologized, handed me the name of the doctor I needed to see and scurried out of the office.  I still adore her.  But, I’m sure I’ll never see her again.

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So, faced with the reality that I needed to start over, on a journey I wanted to forget ever happened, I did the logical thing.  Nothing.

I lived in a state of denial for months.  And slowly I started to restrict the activities I would do with my right arm.  Certain basic tasks would make it bothersome.  Fitness-wise, push ups, planks, weight lifting, and even the elliptical were out.  I no longer trusted my own body weight on that arm.

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One day in December I mustered up the courage to call the office of the new doctor.  It took a lot.  I trembled.  I had my calendar set up for January and February.  I was ready to schedule that consult.

“Late March…”

I heard nothing past that.  After I was told the earliest appointment I could get for a consult was late March.  I hung up the phone and did what I do when excessively frustrated.  I cried.

When I saw my breast surgeon for our annual check up in February, she noticed the subtle problem.  She asked who was looking at it.  She also proclaimed it, ‘not urgent.’  I told her about my experience trying to get an appointment with apparently the only plastic surgeon that does breasts and takes my insurance left at this hospital.  She vowed to have her scheduler help me get in.

I met with the scheduler.

I never heard from her again.

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March came and went.  Life was busy.  Meghan was in and out of surgery, Pop had been so sick, Grandma was struggling, we had the fundraiser…I found a reason not to call every single day.

Then I really wanted to work out my arms again.  Walking was getting boring.  I mustered up the courage in April to call.

July 18th.

I had to take it.  I cried again.  I tend to cry most in my life when I am frustrated.

I brought Mom with me to this appointment.  I never need another pair of ears.  I did this day.  I was a wreck.

The doctor was wonderful.  Kind.  Sensitive.  Funny.  Everything I feared he would not be.  I exhaled.  He said it was again, not an emergency.  But, he saw my issue, understood my discomfort and agreed at my convenience he’d try to fix it.  He ordered one test for a sensitive spot under my arm, and asked me to try some physical therapy when I could.

I talked it out with my mom.  I talked it out with my husband.  After waiting almost a year, I was ready to get it done and stop favoring my dominant arm.

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I called to make the appointment for the test.  Except it had to be done in the hospital.  And it needed insurance pre-authorization.  And I tried for one solid week to get in touch with this doctor’s office staff.  Three Emails, 2 phone messages and several canceled appointments, I finally got a human.

I got them moving quickly, and they got the insurance authorization immediately.  I scheduled the test, and it was fine.

Then I called to schedule the surgery.  I was thinking I could still make August.  I was wrong.

What about September?

UGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I took out the calendar once again.  We have 4 days off in October…  No luck there.  No, he doesn’t work December the week I’m off.  And in February we have the fundraiser…

Looks like once I calm down I’ll schedule for Spring 2017.

When the time came to have the double mastectomy I opted for the quickest route.  I was out of the hospital with reconstruction complete in 28 hours.  I wanted this done.  I was so incredibly fortunate not to need treatment.  I was grateful.  More energy to focus where it mattered.

Except once cancer has lived inside of you there is this uneasy feeling that can not be explained.  There is this knowledge that somewhere in your body those cells did what they were not supposed to.  There is this feeling that you were violated and betrayed by your own body, from the inside out.  It damages trust deeply.  It’s hard not to trust your body.  It can really mess with your mind.  So understandably, I was interested in functioning without that thought process.  I had become adept at ignoring my scars and “nipple-free” implants.

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Until I started to feel them.  Every damn day.

This is minor.  This can be fixed.  And it will be.  Just not in a time-table anywhere close to my liking.

I picked up the free weights again today.  Really light.  In my chair.  What’s the worst that happens?  Really?  If it becomes an emergency they have to move faster.

Otherwise, I’ll balance that full-time job, that beautiful, active 8th grader, and a boatload of afterschool activities.  I’ll try to get out of my own head.

But, no matter how vigilant, or how confident…  thoughts of the potential renegade cell, lurking like a thief in the night never quite go away.

#beatingcowdens is a full-time job

My Wish

What would I do?
What would I do?

I have been quiet this week.  That in and of itself is unlike me.

I am tired – well bordering on downright wiped out.

There are a few more weeks of summer to go, and aside from a well planned Disney Trip, set in place in January – there seems to be precious little to look forward to.

Meghan has a short list of “have tos” which I plan to do EVERYTHING in my power to work out for her, but really every effort I made to keep this summer better – to “streamline the doctor visits” seems to have failed miserably.

Today she began her summer homework.  While it is reasonable, it is one more thing on a list of “have-tos” for a kid that just wants to be a kid.

There is no camp for Meghan.  It is all doctors appointments – all the time.  And when it is not her appointments it seems to be mine.  She is swimming three nights a week on a new team, at least she is LOVING that – but we have barely been inside our previously overused pool.

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And its funny, while she and I have both had appointments of almost equal number in the last few weeks, I feel so much less stress about mine.

The geneticist  the endocrine surgeon, the gyn oncologist, the abdominal MRI, the plastic surgeon, and the oncologist.  The spleen survived its next cut – and can live for another 9 months.  The 3.5 cm roundish lymphangiomas are stable.  That’s all we ask for now.  The thyroid lymph nodes – not suspicious enough to biopsy.

The plastic surgeon, well the LOVELY woman offered me a boob job to correct the “asymmetry” caused by me shoving the reconstruction all into one day.  Not this year, but thanks.  Good to know the offer stands indefinitely.  For now, I have other things to do.

So I have only one more of my appointments lingering, a late July follow up with the breast surgeon.  I thought of blowing it off and then realized how dumb that would be – for so many reasons.  So, I will go.

But Meghan’s appointments, those are the ones that keep me up at night.  Those are the ones that strike fear and anxiety in the core of my soul.  My heart beats outside my body in this little girl.  I can not sum up in any number of words the depth of my love for her.

So to say this summer, and especially this week has been sheer hell would be the understatement of the century.

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Her appointments began the day after school ended.  The lengthy thyroid sonogram bought us another 6 months.  The pituitary function test was a train wreck, but the call this week claims the results were OK.  I want to feel more relieved.  But its hard.  I am waiting to read the report myself.  “Doubting Thomas?”  Maybe.  Realist – probably.  Something is not quite right, but at least its not SO wrong it has to be addressed today.

The geneticist began to speak of carnitine issues, and I am waiting to hear of a possible muscle biopsy.  In the interim I bought carnitine.  Lets see if we can cut that one off.

The vascular surgeon examined the wrist, painful since early June, and the knee.  He wants an orthopedist on board, but wanted me to consult with the rheumatologist about the wrist, and then scan the knee that had the 4 surgeries, because its been over a year.  The rheumatologist concurred on the MRI studies, so we went forward with the wrist first.

Saturday, as I wrote about previously was hell on earth.  I have been through a lot of MRIs with this kid, and the behavior of the two techs scared me to my core.  I was assured upon exit, that the results would be available to my doctor Monday that passed.  Well multiple calls, over the course of Monday and Tuesday led to a promise the results were being released Tuesday.  “It’s a complicated read Mrs. Ortega.”

Wednesday morning  – still nothing at the vascular surgeon’s office, only to find the CD and report left by courier at 10 am.  They will make it by 3 I was told.

A return call to the surgeon’s office at 4:15.  “They just got here, but the doctor is gone – emergencies.  He should be able to look at them tomorrow.”

Some time around 4 AM my daughter climbed into bed between my husband and I.  She had been awake long enough to finish her book, but she just couldn’t settle over the pain in her wrist.  At about 6:15 this morning she nodded off.  I tried desperately to find my peace.

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And all day today, again, I held my phone.  We skipped the pool in between the “have tos” of getting the oil burner cleaned and our annual trip to the dentist (normal stuff.)  I refused to be far from my phone.  But as minutes became hours, my hope dwindled.

A call to the office at 4:30, “Sorry, he never made it in today, but Meghan’s chart is on top of his desk.  He has office hours tomorrow.”

Six days.

Unnecessary torture.

Six days.

Wondering, worrying.

Even if the report – by some freak of nature reads “normal” I can’t even be pleased, because the pain is not normal.  It is real, and it is consistent, and it has gone on too long.

I wish for a lot of things in the world.

I wish for children and their parents not to suffer with illnesses or adversity of any kind.

I wish for relief for those in physical, mental, and emotional anguish.

I wish for peace in the hearts and minds of the caretakers of those who struggle.

But today I also wish something else.

I wish that EVERY SINGLE medical professional who performs a test – from what is perceived as insignificant, to critical recognizes the power of their words, and their actions.  I wish that EACH of them understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of cryptic messages, grossly extended tests, and precious little reassurance.  I wish that EVERY doctor who receives a call from a patient panicked about their results be PROMPT in their response.  I wish that EVERY one of them, who goes to work each day and forgets that our child, parent, sibling, loved one exists will at some point in their life be on the waiting side.

I WISH for every one of them – from the techs, to the couriers, to the office staff, to the doctors- to have the opportunity to await the results of a test from someone they love dearly.

Then MAYBE, just MAYBE they will understand our torture.

Hang on Meghan.  Summer is coming.  Hang on.

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