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The ‘C’ word

The year 2016 was a bit of a whirlwind. Although I stressed (because the body can’t stop, or at least mine didn’t), I knew that God had me and my family in the palm of His hand.

It was my ninth year at Chevron, things were a bit slow in the Oil & Gas field and groups of us had been through what I call a ‘purging’ that spring. It was my first time to be laid off, ever. I was attached to my job, and it was all I had ever known in almost a decade. I met my husband there. It was a defining institution for me.

In April, I began to experience a soreness in my breastbone, and after a couple of weeks of this discomfort I made an appointment with the doctor. A couple of times the scheduler made sure I wasn’t having a ‘heart attack’. I assured her that I was getting discomfort in the bone and upon movement. After my visit with the doctors, I was administered an x-ray to confirm Costochondritis and given a prescription of anti-inflammatory drugs. This condition is harmless, because I as understand it, Costochondritis is the inflammation of the cartilage where the ribs and breastbone meet, but it usually resolves itself. It can be caused by strenuous activity or injury. Of course, that was completely feasible as I had a couple of growing toddlers.

I began my job search and unemployment status in May, and I noticed that the soreness was still there. It radiated from my breastbone to my ribcage and finally ended in the upper right shoulder blade. Then in June and July the soreness seemed to have subsided with only a few soreness episodes. I thought this is great!

But oh, the pain came back with a vengeance in August, the month I started a new job. I remember sitting through the interview, and experiencing a burning and searing pain that radiated from the breastbone towards the right side of the breast and finished in the shoulder blade area.

I began to take whatever unused pain prescriptions were left in the house, in order to carry out my daily activities. It took extra effort to pick up my children, it took extra effort to put thought into cooking, and giving the children baths. Eventually the burning pain would wake me out of my sleep. I began to experience muscle spasms in my chest and the right side of my ribcage. I could not cough or sneeze without pain. I did everything possible not to laugh at the quirks or jokes my family would make, because doing so, would cause me to experience the spasms. I visited the emergency room at least once or twice, because I physically could not function without the extreme soreness and burning pain. I got a steroid shot, and I felt great! Pain-free status lasted about two weeks.

In September, I visited with my doctor again, and they could not confirm anything more serious. In fact, my doctor told me, “you’re too young to have lymphoma” when conversing with her about the symptoms I was having. So we tried different NSAIDs, but none seemed to have any lasting effects. So then I began googling ways to resolve Costochondritis, and I found that chiropractors were promising  treatment that would alleviate this condition. So off to the chiropractor’s office I went for a few adjustments, and I seemed to find a little relief, but the pain would only return. I also started to use heating pads to sleep.

We took our daughter to DisneyWorld as a present for her birthday in September. It was during this month, that I started to notice that the right side of the sternum begin to protrude outwards. I thought to myself, “I really messed things up by going to the chiropractor!” So I made sure I took some pain medicine and Salon Pas (heating relief patches) with me to DisneyWorld.

Then in October I went back to the doctor, and were trying to troubleshoot ways to fix this problem, and I piped up, “you know I did have stress earlier this year because of the layoff, do you suppose stress can trigger Costochondritis?” She said yes, and that I needed to see my therapist, and to follow-up in six weeks. I had my Skype appointment with my therapist, and she had my Lexapro increased, and introduced Neurontin.

I was at my wits end, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus at work, and I couldn’t do the things I enjoyed doing with my family. I often would work through the pain at work until Friday, when I finally visited the emergency room. I would often pull over on the highway, to ride out the pain and burning episodes. Ice packs would help me fall asleep at night instead of heating pads. I used Salon Pas all the time. I would  run straight to the tub after work and run a bath, to ease the pain in my chest, shoulder blade and ribs. A family friend of mine noticed the lump in my chest and said I should see the doctors at Baylor College of Medicine. I thought why not, let me ring them, and see what they think is plaguing me.

I had my appointment the second week of November, and was evaluated thoroughly with a team of student doctors. I met with Dr. Paily, and we had a conversation about my pain, and entertained the thought of having Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The x-ray revealed nothing. But because the lump was glaring at us, he had an MRI ordered. I had my MRI done on a Thursday evening, and on Friday, I called my husband and told him I would be visiting the emergency room after work.

Laying on the hospital bed, and disappointed that I would only be getting another steroid shot, I noticed I had a missed call from the doctor’s office. A few minutes later, my husband called and told me that the doctor on the other line and was saying I should be admitted to the hospital, because I had a mass in my chest. From April until November, I had not felt any feeling of desperation and despair hit me all at once like it did that Friday night. When I heard the word ‘tumor’ escape my husbands words, I immediately felt all the blood in my body rush to my feet. My first thought was my children, and I bawled like a baby. “My babies!” I did not want to leave these young and precious souls without their own mother. I tried to gain composure to drive through the sobbing and tears to our home from the hospital.

It felt so strange to tell my family that I had been diagnosed with cancer. My mind raced to what kind and how far spread it was. My doctor worked me in with precision to get a full workup done quickly. I went back to Baylor and had the CAT scan done, then a couple days before Thanksgiving I had a PET scan done. The radiology tech’s eyes were filled with compassion, and I knew then that it was serious.

My husband and I were at St Luke’s to get my core biopsy done on my sternum. Once the procedure was complete, he met me and said that that results of the CAT/PET scan were in, and that I had a 5 inch malignant tumor attached to the bone. I cried when he told me that the mass/nodes were sitting on the pericardium of the heart, but that the good news was that it had not penetrated the sac of the heart. The scans also revealed that I had malignant lymph nodes in my abdomen, right leg near the groin, and on the 11 & 12 ribs of my ribcage.

In early December, I met with my Oncologist, Dr. Srour. He confirmed that the core biopsy was positive for Large B Difuse Cell Non Hodgkins Lymphoma, and because I had malignant tumors in multiple areas, I had Stage IV cancer and that it was aggressive.  Upon my second visit, I had a bone marrow biopsy to determine if the lymphoma had reached the bone marrow, thankfully it had not. Other tests were attempted to determine if I had the double hitter gene, but the test results came back inconclusive so instead of the outpatient protocol I am admitted for the inpatient treatment. So I started the EPOCH treatment, which means I have a 24/7 drip of chemotherapy over the course of five or six days.

I finally had closure on what was ailing me: Non-Hodkins Lymphoma, stage IV.

During my first infusion, I mentioned to the doctors that I increasingly found myself bumping into walls, and feeling confused. So a biopsy was done on the spine, and they found one or two cancer cells. So now with each infusion I receive a lumbar infusion of chemo as well (only last 5-10 minutes) in the spinal sac.

I now wait for my third infusion, and hopefully a good report on the PET scan.

I am so appreciative of everyone’s support and prayers especially, I have definitely felt them. In all the flurry of tests and diagnosis, I haven’t been able to return all texts and calls, but do know that I love you all.

I am thankful for God and my family and friends.

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