Three Years Ago and My Journey Continues
November 8, 2012 will forever be etched in my brain. It was the day that I heard the word that no one wants to here. Cancer. I did not think it could get much worse but then on November 9th when I met with Dr. Pamela Lee I learned it could get much worse and was dealt the most paralyzing blow of all, a Stage 4 diagnosis. At that moment my brain was racing and I was thinking to myself it can’t be Stage 4 isn’t that the worst diagnosis you can get? I had to ask her if there were any other stages and unfortunately for me Stage 4 was the worst. We sat in the office talking about my options. I say options but really there was only one option, immediate surgery to get the tumor out that was almost completely blocking my colon and then go from there. Dr. Lee said we could schedule surgery for Monday and I said Monday, it is Friday, what about tomorrow? I wanted whatever they could get out of my body as soon as possible. As Jon and I walked out of Dr. Lee’s office my world came crashing down on me. I sobbed and sobbed as Jon started calling our family members to let them know what was found. How were we going to make it through this? Would I live to see my little girls who were at the time 5 and 7 grow up? How would we afford the medical bills? How the hell did this happen? Why didn’t I push the doctors harder over the years? Why didn’t the doctors listen to me over the years? Was this my fault?
November 10th I checked into Cottage Hospital to begin the fight for my life. It all happened so fast that I really didn’t have the chance to be scared of surgery. As many of you know when I woke up from surgery my mind had been set on kicking cancer’s ass and my motto became Tara Says Fuck Cancer and I have continued with that motto ever since. I told myself I am a warrior. I visualized the warriors in my body killing the cancer. Every day I told myself I would beat the cancer. I opened my heart and soul to those around me to give me their healing energy and used it everyday to clear out whatever was/is remaining.
It has not been an easy journey for me, my family or friends but we have made it three years! It has been an incredible three years. Cancer changes you, it changes your perspective, it changes what you care about, it changes how you live your life, it changes your worries and you realize many of the things you were concerned about pre-cancer are all bullshit and we just need to let it go. I have had many people ask me how can those that have not been given a terminal diagnosis make the mindset changes that I have and my answer to that question is we all have the power to change how we think, how we let others impact our lives and whether or not we will allow the bullshit to impact us. It really doesn’t take a terminal diagnosis. Just ask Jenny Schatzle. It is a mindset. It is a conscience effort to be our authentic self whether or not those around you appreciate it or not, it is about being true to who you are and accepting those around you for who they are and deciding whether or not that is a good fit. It is about loving yourself because when you do, others feel it, your energy shines, you attract amazing people and life well it just keeps getting better and better. My husband has described me as a laser pointed bullet train flying down the tracks and you either get on the train to remission or move the hell off the tracks because I’m not slowing down.
I can’t believe it has been a year since I last posted. There is so much to catch you all up on but I will try my best to keep it as succinct as possible. In February I ended up back in the hospital. I was going about my day, met with a client and headed back to the office when I started to feel a little sick to my stomach. I thought it might be because I had not eaten so I sat down to have a little lunch but then I realized lunch was not the issue and darted to the bathroom as quick as possible so as not to vomit in the office. I called Jon and told him I thought I had the stomach flu and was coming home. By the time I arrived home I was in so much pain I could barely walk. I made it to the bathroom where I threw up but it didn’t make me feel any better. Jon said there was a nasty stomach bug going around and maybe I had picked it up. Jon headed to pick up the girls from school and I laid down in bed. The pain just kept getting worse and worse. I started sweating profusely and after about 20 minutes of crying, sweating, constant abdominal pain and truly feeling like I was going to die I called Jon and told him to call an ambulance. He and Lucy rushed home to take me to the hospital. My poor little Lucy saw me in a state no child should ever see a parent. I was cussing, screaming, and crying all at the same time. It wasn’t pretty. She rubbed my back and held my hand and said it’s okay, you are going to be okay. We arrived at the hospital and it was packed. I didn’t think I would make it. Jon did some magic and got me into the triage nurse. The next thing I remember is being told they had a room for me. I was wheeled to my beautiful room in the hallway and then everyone disappeared. I was in so much pain and my crying and maybe some screaming had not subsided. This wonderful woman sitting with her teenage daughter came over to me and held my hand, rubbed my head and told me I was going to be alright. She was like an angel. After about five or so minutes she started yelling for the nurses and asking why I was not getting pain medication. Thank you my angel in the hospital. Finally, the nurse came back and said they were talking with the doctor to figure out what to do first. Then a resident came over to introduce herself and told me she was working with Dr. Flynn. I love Dr. Flynn. I said to her I know Dr. Flynn, he knows all about my history please tell him I am here. She smiled and said oh he knows you are here. Apparently the whole ER knew I was there. They started pumping me with drugs and moved me into an actual room. My mother and father in law arrived to be with me so Jon could take the girls to the father/daughter dance as I didn’t want them to miss that experience and I didn’t want to stress them out anymore than they already would be with me in the hospital. The drugs were not working so they gave me a second dose. I could feel the drugs hit my brain and all over my body but the pain would not stop, it would not even dull. They had my surgeon on the phone and she told me she couldn’t get to the hospital but her partner Dr. Thoman was on his way. So they hit me with more drugs at which point I think I passed out because I don’t remember anything else until I woke up from surgery. What I am told is they took me to get a CT and while on the CT machine I stopped breathing because of all the drugs it had taken to knock me out and stop the pain. From there I was taken straight into surgery. It turned out that my small intestine was caught in adhesions from my prior surgeries and had created a complete blockage. They opted to not take any of my intestine with the hope that once it was released it would start thriving again. I was in the hospital Friday and half of Saturday and then I was sent home feeling pretty good. Then came Sunday. I started to feel the same abdominal pain but it would come and go so I thought it was gas pains. By the afternoon things were not getting any better so I called Krista Kieding and told her I thought something might be wrong. She came right over and sat with me, I started throwing up again so we called Kim Blair to come down and check me out and she immediately said you need to go back to the hospital. Krista loaded me into the car in my pink polka dot pjs and we headed back to the ER. I felt so bad as I was throwing up all the way there and she just kept rubbing my back and telling me it was going to be okay. Once again we walked into the ER and it was packed but at least this time the pain would come and go but when it came it was excruciating! I called Dr. Thoman and told him I was back in the ER and he said his surgical team would meet me there. About half hour after arriving I was taken back to the triage nurse. They always ask you about your pain and at the time the aide asked I was not in much pain at all so I said well do you mean right now or do you mean overall and he said right now. I said well I’m a 1 or 2. The triage nurse took the aides notes, looked and me and said you are a 10 and we are taking you back right now. Next time I will say 10. I did get a room immediately this time and the nicest nurses ever came in to help and get me meds. Of course, we had the issue of finding a vein which is always fun. Soon after arriving Dr. Tony came to see me. He was straight and to the point. We could do another scan and see what is going on but it appears something is blocked again and well we really need to get you back into surgery ASAP. I trusted Dr. Tony and Dr. Thoman and opted to go right into surgery and I’m so glad I did. The intestine that had been stuck had been stretched out after being released it twisted over on itself causing a second blockage. Lucky me! There is a bright side to this story. Since they were in there looking around at everything they were able to see that all was looking good and no new cancer to be seen in the abdominal area.
Fast forward to April. CT scan time. There was good news and some not so great news. The good news first, colon clear, liver looking great, no new cancer detected in the abdomen or pelvis area. The not so great news was three very small nodules on my lungs. Too small to biopsy. After a lot of thought and discussion with Dr. Woliver I decided to wait and see and head back to Dr. Han to get back on his delicious teas and discuss Super CBD oil. What is super CBD oil? It is high in cannibinoids and low in thc. It is a tar like substance that you ingest. It does not give you a high and the research is showing amazing results for stage 4 cancer patients. My hope is that my next scan will show no nodules, smaller nodules or even stable nodules with nothing new detected.
Once you have been diagnosed with Cancer it doesn’t just go away. Everyday at least once a day the nasty C word sneaks into my brain and says what if it is back? What if you are making the wrong choices? What if you have to go back on chemo? What if you have to do radiation? The what ifs can go on and on and on if you let them. They can become all consuming but the what ifs do nothing for me so when they sneak back into my brain I shut those what ifs down and begin my I AM mantras. I AM CANCER FREE! I AM GOING TO BEAT THIS! I AM A WARRIOR! I AM NOT A STATISTIC! I AM AMAZING! I AM GOING TO LIVE! I AM A SURVIVOR! I AM GOING TO LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST! I have a lot of I AM mantras and could probably fill up pages and pages but you get the idea. Life throws us all curve balls, some big, some small and how we handle those curve balls I truly believe will dictate the outcome and your level of happiness. I could sit here and wallow in all that has happened but what good will that do. It won’t help me conquer cancer. It won’t help me live my life to the fullest. It won’t help my family cope with the cancer. It won’t help me be happy so I choose to BELIEVE. I choose to have HOPE. I choose to LOVE who I am. I choose to be PRESENT and not dwell on the what ifs. Do I get angry sometimes, for sure, I am not immune but I work through it and move it on down the road so I can get back to my life, my family and friends.
Last month I was honored to once again take part in the Friendship Paddle. Team TSFC (April Medina-Watson, Serena Weddle, Kristi Chapman, Nicole Herlihy, and Cara Chiarappa) was escorted across the channel by The Pacifico, Charlie and Alan Watson and Jeff Hawxhurst. We could not have asked for a better support crew not to mention they make the best bloody mary’s ever! This year we paddled for an amazing woman Michelle Grinsel. She is battling Stage 4 breast cancer and is doing it with grace. You can learn more about her journey and check out the trailer to her documentary by clicking on this link: http://www.oneway-journey.com. I cannot wait for us both to paddle next year. Michelle for Michelle and Tara for Tara. Our family has been so blessed to be a part of the Friendship Paddle and all of the wonderful people that come along. Here is the slideshow from this year’s paddle:
As I reflect back on these past 3 years I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my family, friends, community and those that didn’t even know me. Jon, Madison, Lucy and I are so blessed to have you all in our life. We could not have made it this far without each and every one of you. As I am typing I have tears streaming down just thinking about all you have done for our family. I know it is cliche but it really does take a village and our village is AMAZINGLY AWESOME!
I leave you with this quote:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.”
Hugs and Kisses!