My friend Jen C, who is a true inspiration of a friend, has on two occasions in the two years since my cancer diagnosis messaged this to me, “Where you go…we follow.” To a person going through a cancer journey that is the ultimate testimony of support. I chose pretty much from the beginning to wear my heart on my sleeve through this experience. I made that choice largely because I knew I could not do this alone.
On Friday, September 27th I found out that there was a worrisome change in my lab work. My doctor voiced concern that it could indicate that the cancer is returning and started the process to get me set up for a full body scan. I found myself shocked by this news as I had just settled into the feeling that it was truly gone. I published a blog that night, 86 the Cheese, to fill friends and family in and because writing is one way I cope. The following day was spent filled with friends, who showed up to support me while Nate was working. My friends Tina, Marti and her young daughter Emma went with my kids and I to a fall festival in a nearby town. I felt surprisingly good and at peace that day walking through the rain and eating fresh, hot corn with my kids.
After the festival my friends came on over to our house so that I wouldn’t be alone with the kids until Nate got home from work. Later that evening after Nate did get home, Marti and Emma went on to their home and our friends Debi and Mark joined the party. It is wonderful to be surrounded with friends and family when you’ve learned potentially life changing news.
Sunday evening I sat in my bed, doing what I always do after learning something new about my health: research. I try as best I can to find medical journal articles and websites that are run by reputable organizations like the Mayo Clinic. I found a journal article that was a prospective look at over 200 thyroid cancer patients that had thyroglobulin antibodies. I’ll leave out the details, but it once again demonstrated that I am not apart of the norm. I of course fell into the 9%. I sat there alone worrying about it for a bit then shared what I read with Nate, well if for no other reason than because misery loves company. I proceeded to worry through the night and did not sleep well. I knew then the research had to stop. The next day after getting my tests scheduled for all the way in November, I was thinking about all the offers I had been extended for help with whatever I needed. I posted the following on Facebook:
So my tests are scheduled the week of Nov 4th. Since this is 5 weeks away we are going to enact Operation Distract Janna. Because otherwise I will read every website and every medical journal published and by Nov be convinced that I have mets in my lungs and that surgery and radiation are going to be necessary. So if you’d like to keep me from over-reacting and torturing myself I’m open to happy hours, play dates, pedicures, house visits and so on…
Let me tell you even with as open as I have been throughout this whole mess, this was a huge step in my growth to ask for specifically what I needed. When you ask, they will come and boy did they.
Saturday, October 5th was the first installment of Distract Janna. It began at 4:00 pm with me meeting up with Jen C for happy hour. At 5:00 pm we were joined by our friends Jeani, Roz and Latoya and moved to a nail salon for mani’s and pedi’s. Then, after that Roz, Jeani, Latoya and I moved to a local restaurant for some drinks and appetizers. Our dear friend Tina, caught up with us there. Prior to this day I purchased some cancer awareness bracelets in the thyroid colors that say, “No one fights alone” (because no one does) and gave them to my friends that evening. They each ripped into the little plastic packages as if I had given them something much more valuable than a two dollar rubber bracelet and my heart filled up a with a little more love.
Thursday, October 10th was installment number two of Distract Janna. Jeani, Tina, Roz, Marti and I met up at another local restaurant for happy hour (Distract Janna was just a tiny bit, Janna just wants to party). While we were there our good friend and Nate’s former EMS partner Katie stopped by quickly to get a bracelet from me. Then in a very pleasant surprise, Marcy, a friend I had not seen in five years came for a visit and later my friend Megan joined us. We had so much fun sitting on the outdoor patio having delicious cheep drinks and appetizers, telling ER stories, laughing for hours and at the end of the evening sitting by the fire. It was a good, good night.
Installment three of Distract Janna took place on Saturday, October 12th at Oktoberfest that was sponsored by The Brown Derby, a local beer and wine destination, and proceeds went to The Doula Foundation, a local non-profit. My brother is the Director of Communications and Special Events for The Doula Foundation and his wife Rachel invited me to join her. It was a very fun afternoon and we ended up being joined by my brother Jimmy, his best friend Jerry and Rachel’s parents, Allen and Delana. It was another gorgeous fall day in Missouri and we all had so much fun running from tent to tent tasting beer. (Remember: a tiny bit Janna just wants to party.)
Installment four of Distract Janna oddly enough began the day before installment three and it was unplanned, very unplanned. Friday afternoon, October 11th, my husband Nate who had not been feeling well for two weeks gave into severe abdominal pain and went to the ER. He spent the evening there and the doctor through an ultrasound determined that there was a problem with his gallbladder. He was sent him home with some pain medicine and instructions to follow-up with his regular doctor for an additional outpatient test for ultimate diagnosis. Saturday morning he woke up and went to work at the same ER and they sent him home. He reported to me at that time that his abdominal pain was getting worse, took some pain medicine and went to bed.
A few hours later I dropped our kids off with my mom and I headed to Oktoberfest. While there I received a text from Nate saying that he was chilling and his temperature was 99.9. I texted back to him that I was concerned because the pain medicine he was taking had Tylenol in it so it could be masking a true fever. Thirty minutes later he texted me a picture of the thermometer that said 100.3 and a note that said he could hardly walk because he hurt so bad. He told me he thought he needed to go back to the ER and I said, “Go.” As healthcare workers, that work specifically in the ER we worry about silly things like being that patient that comes back in less than 24 hours later for the same complaint. When I had my post-op infection following my total thyroidectectomy, Nate and my mom worked on me all day long to get me to go in to be seen. My surgeon had called me in a prescription for antibiotics that morning and I did not want to be that patient who did not give the antibiotics a chance to work. When I finally went in, I was admitted for two days.
Nate went back to the ER Saturday afternoon. When he checked in his temperature was 101.3 and after only a couple of minutes examining him the ER physician said, “you have a surgical belly.” Because he had the ultrasound the day before that showed a problem with his gallbladder the surgeon wanted a CT to determine if this problem was his appendix, which they suspected. The CT did indeed show an appendicitis and my poor guy’s temp got up too 103.2 that night. We couldn’t believe it. Who does this happen to, a bad gallbladder and appendicitis at the same time? I posted the following on Facebook:
So because we don’t do anything the easy way my poor, sweet Nate has appendicitis and a bad gallbladder. He’ll be having surgery early in the morning. An appendectomy for sure and may take the gallbladder at the same time. Prayers are much appreciated.
While Nate and I were alone in the ER treatment room I couldn’t believe how sick he was. I hated seeing him like that. I said to him, “Baby, I think our next 25 years are going to be awesome, because much of the first five has been ROUGH.” Shortly after announcing the latest turn on Facebook friends started making jokes about Nate going too far in his effort to distract me. He kept saying that he was “taking one for the team.” Early Sunday morning he had both his appendix and gallbladder removed and was discharged later that day with six surgical wounds to his belly.
We spent the next two weeks regrouping after Nate’s surgery and helping him to recuperate as he continued a tough semester in nursing school. I could not believe that he was really having to deal with this when the nursing program alone was already so much stress. My guy impressed me as he often does and got his highest test grade of the semester only three days after his surgery.
On Sunday, October 27th I began to prepare for my low iodine diet that I planned to start the next day. This diet is difficult and largely takes out foods that I love. I was at an emotional time in my month, I’ll casually add, but also found that preparing for this diet suddenly made the reality sink in that this cancer really may be coming back. It was an emotional day and I was frankly a hot mess. I took Lilah with me to the grocery store and specifically picked Hy-Vee because they make their own breads. I had called ahead to ask if they used iodized dough enhancers but forgot to ask about iodized salt. I stopped first at the bakery and asked a young lady if they used iodized salt she answered, “I don’t know” and blankly stared at me. “Well could you look in the back and see if there is even iodized salt back there, I can see Kosher from her?” I asked. Her reply was again, “I don’t know.” “Well could you call a manager?” I found myself getting irritated with the lack of effort to help me. Quickly I found myself developing into the Crazy No-Iodine Lady. She called a manager and he came out right away, looked at me with curiosity and kindly offered to call the baker. I told him I would stop back by to get the answer and thanked him for his effort.
A little while later I saw him in the store and he told me that he spoke to the baker and that they did indeed use iodized salt in their breads. I was so disappointed. I continued on through the store, disheveled looking with puffy eyes from crying earlier and Lilah chattering away in my cart. I neglected to look to see what she was chattering about until I heard something and looked to see about 1/2 pound of grapes falling onto and scattering across the store floor. Some people were trying to pass so I started kicking grapes out-of-the-way so they would not get smashed which made it appear as if I was just trying to kick them under the shelving. A very nice lady started picking up grapes and so I followed suit. I was thinking, “this day sucks.” The nice lady handed me the grapes she picked up and out of nowhere appeared the store manager to find the Crazy No-Iodine Lady with an armful of spilled grapes. He took them from me with a smile and as he and the helpful lady walked off Lilah bit into a grape and said, “Mmmmm.” We all chuckled and Lilah and I made our exit from the store as soon as possible.
Installment five was next and it too was very unplanned. Friday, November 1st, after a very emotional and challenging week I was so ready for the weekend. My dad called me around 7:30 pm and began to tell me about some numbness he was having to the left side of his lower lip, into his left jaw and in his left hand that had started around 4:00 pm. He thought it felt like an allergic reaction he had awhile back but nothing was swelling. I immediately began to worry about a stroke. After speaking with him for several minutes, he was not having any trouble with his speech, I told him that I thought he needed to go in to the ER. He listened to me and immediately got my mom to take him. I could not reach Nate or my brothers on the phone, but did get in touch with Tina, also a nurse, who was planning to visit me that night. She agreed with me that I did the right thing sending him in. I walked back to my bedroom and felt a panic starting to come on, “This can not be happening,” I thought, “your dad can not be having a stroke right now.” I took a deep breath and then thought, “You can do this Janna, you can handle it.” I called ahead to the ER and my old friends took great care of my dad from the second he arrived. I spoke with my mom shortly after they got to a room and she told me to stay home that he was in good hands. He was in the best by the way, being cared for by Hotdog, Casey, Chad, Amber, Dr. Greer and Monty. A little while later after Nate got home and as I was fidgeting on my bed feeling weird about being at home, I spoke with Jimmy who used his rarely utilized big brother voice to tell me that he would prefer me to go check on Dad in person and to make sure Mom was okay. I put on my shoes and went.
Dad was admitted to the observation unit for a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and further testing. There he was cared for by the amazing Meg, who has now cared for me, Nate and Dad. All in all everything came out okay and they considered changes seen on the MRI and CT images of his brain to essentially be normal changes of age. His blood pressure was a bit high so they adjusted his medications and made sure we understood that he needed to take an aspirin daily. On Saturday, Joe, Rachel, Mom, Dad, Lilah and I sat in Dad’s hospital room laughing as Lilah entertained us all. When the doctor came into to discharge him and as he was going through instructions I pointed out that Dad waited 3 hours to call me. Dad then told the story of how the symptoms began and he started looking them up on the internet. My brother chimed in that he had a new rule, “Janna before Google.” We all laughed and he was discharged 30 minutes later in good health. I have thought about taking the “distract Janna” request off the table though, since both my dad and Nate took it a little too seriously.
All of that gets us to now as I am at my parents’ house writing this after receiving my small dose of radiation yesterday for my upcoming scan tomorrow. I was given discharge instructions that said I had to stay four feet away from adults as much as possible for the next two days, but that I absolutely had to stay four feet away from children for two days. Well, as most children do not, mine certainly do not stay four feet away from me. Lilah might as well have a tether tied to me because she just moves with me around the house and if I am sitting on the couch, Zander is on my lap. With that small blue pill, that arrived in a tungsten cup, I earned a two-day vacation in my parents’ basement.
I sit here tonight a smidge radioactive, in awe of the support that I have once again been shown and worrying about what may lie ahead. I’ll be truthful with you, I have a horrible gut feeling about what this scan will show. I hope that it is just nerves and the unfortunate memory of a positive test result once before. But as the ultimate source of comfort I know, what ever the scan shows, whatever lies ahead,
where I go…you follow.