Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Once More to Baltimore!

Since I have been diagnosed with hereditary cancer (Lynch Syndrome) I have to be tested every 6-8 months for five years and then once a year after that in order to prevent further occurrences. I am about a month overdue for my check up so this week I have been making plans to travel to Baltimore, MD to see my doctors at Johns Hopkins hospital. Oddly, I quite enjoy my trips up there... I'm not sure why but I feel extremely comfortable there. One might think that the place I was treated for cancer would be full of bad memories but it's actually the opposite. My doctors have always been so compassionate and it makes me excited to see them... and I love to show the people that saved my life that I am happy and excited to still be here, even over two years later.

However, this morning when I called my GI doctor to make my appointment I got a bit of a shock... he has moved to Orlando, FL and is no longer practicing at Johns Hopkins. The idea of finding a new doctor there is daunting and honestly, very scary. This man was with me through the worst... he comforted me and I have the utmost confidence in him, I'd trust him with my life. I look forward to seeing his smiling face every 6 months and the idea of not seeing him again feels almost devastating. He has been such a security for me and I'm not sure I can find another doctor that will fill that spot.

I guess that was not an obstacle I was expecting to encounter right now... it's not even something I ever considered happening... I guess I thought that my doctors would always be there because Johns Hopkins is pretty much the hospital of all hospitals. It surprises me he wanted to go somewhere else. And this trip to Baltimore was going to be a little more nerve-racking than normal even without having to see a new doctor. Unfortunately this is a little more than a normal check up, there are a few things that I'm having to get looked at. The first is my ovaries... while I did have colon cancer, I am subject to get all kinds of cancer due to the Lynch Syndrome, including ovarian and uterine cancer. About a year ago doctors found a cyst on one of my ovaries. I had an ultrasound in April that showed one fluid filled cyst and three months later I had another ultrasound that showed 2 more cysts on the same ovary. Lots of people get cysts but the problem is that my doctor isn't really sure that it really is a cyst... she thinks that's what it is but said surgery is the only way to be sure and with my history she thinks I should remove that ovary. That appointment was in August. I'm a little nervous about getting it checked again considering how much changed in just those three months last time... when I get to Baltimore it will have been 5 months since my last appointment so I'm a little scared of what they will find.

Second, is my pancreas. This makes me more nervous than the other. I have been struggling with pancreatitis for the past eight months (all of which started with one really not fun hospital stay) and I'm worried that it will do damage and eventually cause pancreatic cancer, one of my biggest fears. Pancreatic cancer is another cancer that is common with Lynch Syndrome and, from what I understand, is one of the hardest cancers to treat. It scares me because it has a low cure rate and surgery isn't usually a cure. See with colon cancer I just removed my colon and it was gone... with uterine cancer I could remove my uterus and with ovarian cancer I could remove my ovaries... but you can't remove your pancreas. And with everything coming up in my life right now I am nervous about something going wrong and keeping me from reaching my goals again. Sometimes I feel that kind of worry is superficial, but nonetheless it is my worry.

This trip will be different and will hold an unknown ambiance but sometimes change is good. Maybe my new doctor will exceed my every expectation, maybe he will find something that my previous doctor might have missed (though I feel like a traitor even mentioning such a thing). And my hopes are high that all of my tests will be clear. Things could be so much worse, I have to keep remembering that. I am in REMISSION... that in itself should be celebrated. I am not fighting cancer right now. My surgery was successful, I lead a normal life, I have a wonderful husband... nothing is bad, in fact everything is really great. Yet this subtle fear arises right on cue every time Baltimore approaches. I just have to remind myself how much God has blessed me and how He will not give me more than I can handle. I can rely on him to take care of me. That is comforting each time I think of it. I even feel better now than when I began this entry... but I guess that is what writing is for :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Enough is enough: Unless you've had cancer

When I attended a First Descents camp there was one emotion I had been dealing with that I never would have attributed to cancer. In fact, I would have pointed out the cause to be anything BUT cancer. Therefore I was surprised to hear the other survivors at camp professing their struggle with this same thing. And it hit me like a ton of bricks that cancer had bred this emotion inside of me.

It was fear. But not fear of dying, or hurting, or losing something. It was fear of reaching my last breath and feeling like I had not done enough with my life. It took that experience at First Descents to show me that the reason I had this fear was not because I had had cancer, but because I had survived cancer. No one prepares a cancer patient for the feelings that come with survival. It completely took me by surprise. Why wasn't everything back to normal? Why wasn't I moving on? Why was I different?

But I was different. I had survived something that I never expected to experience. I had a new strength, a new peace, a new faith. And in my core I believed that I had survived for a reason... God wasn't finished with me yet. Believing that created a fear in me that I wouldn't live up to what I was here for. That I would fall short of my purpose. I was afraid of missing the mark.

But without realizing the emotions that were running through me I began to pursue more things than I could possible handle. I was confused about my direction. Shortly after recovering from surgery I moved to Huntsville, AL and literally did nothing for 6 months, just thinking and evaluating my life and pursuing an inner happiness. It didn't work. So I moved back home to Mobile and got a full time job so that I could support myself and gain happiness through independence. I stayed at that job for a year and a half. It didn't work. I still wanted more. So I applied to grad school to study forensic anthropology, something that I had wanted to do before I was diagnosed. Half way into my applications I realized it wasn't my passion anymore. I was different.

And then, like every good thing does, it slapped me in the face. My passion had changed. My desires were different. And my goals needed to change too. God had a different purpose for me than I thought and my constant pursuit of what I wanted had blinded me to seeing it. I am not supposed to have a mediocre job. I am not supposed to be an anthropology, I am not supposed to teach the Bible. I am supposed to go into the cancer field. And that is something I never would have considered had I not had cancer. I'm not sure what I will end up doing yet, but I hope that I will have the opportunity to complete graduate work in molecular biology so that I can conduct research in cancer genetics. But if that doesn't happen then I see myself ending up working full time in the awareness community. This is what I am meant to do.

I had my moments where I felt enough was never enough. Sometimes I still do. But at the end of the day my life will be exactly what God wants it to be if I have faith in Him enough to let Him lead me. Cancer, no cancer, death, survival, my life is His life. My heart will rest on that.

"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting..... 'WHAT A RIDE!'"