Friday, September 12, 2008

The Story So Far . . . .

This story actually goes back a bit, so bear with me.

In June, I had a pretty hectic month: eldest daughter graduated from high school, big retirement and long service party to organize (big job), plus the usual end-of-school-year stuff to deal with. June is a tough month for me and I'm always glad when July rolls around.

My folks came up for daughter's grad, and my mom didn't think I was in ill health at the time, just a little tired and stressed, but that's understandable. And I had lost some weight.

July brought an unusual problem for me: pruritis. Pruritis is a medical term that just means itchy skin and doesn't convey any idea of the itch I experienced. It was so bad I was waking up at night scratching. I wanted to tear my skin off! The worst areas were the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands where it felt at times like I had bugs crawling underneath my skin, a twitchy, creepy-crawly, oh-gawd-when-will-it-stop itch. I was bruised all over from scratching, and once scratched a spot on my foot until it bled.

I also was suffering from a lack of appetite but didn't really realize I wasn't eating and was continuing to lose weight. I just felt miserable all over

The obvious cause of such an itch would be an allergy to something so I tried an antihistamine. It worked but left me in such a mental fog that I was just barely functioning. So I went to the clinic and saw a doctor, got a different kind of antihistamine and some advice about not using scented soaps and laundry sheets and stuff, but there was no change. Except that I was sleeping EVEN LESS because the antihistamine wired me up so tightly.

I made an appointment at the end of July to have a physical with my family doctor, who ran through the whole list of allergy dos and don'ts again, plus a gave me a different regimen of two anithistamines, one for the daytime and one for the night. The odd thing about the itch was that there were no hives and no welts except marks I left when I scratched too hard. The doc also decided to go on a little fishing expedition and ordered a wide battery of blood tests. She didn't seem to concerned with the weight loss.

The new antihistamines made a big difference and masked the itch well PLUS I was able to sleep. Oh, sleep! What a blessing those who sleep easily and well take for granted.

The blood tests were back in a week or so and did turn something up. My liver enzyme levels were way up. Way, way, WAY up. I had hepatitis.

The doctor ordered more bloodwork to see if we could figure out what was causing the hepatitis, with the most likely cause being Hepatitis A. There are other causes, such as the Hep B and C viruses and autoimmune hepatitis.

She also ordered an ultrasound, saying to me that if the bloodwork came back with positive results, we would cancel the appointment.

Two weeks later, the bloodwork came back negative for Hepatitis A, B, and C, and the blood test for autoimmune hepatitis also came back negative a few days later. My liver enzyme levels were dropping but were still very high.

I went to the ultrasound appointment on August 27 and it was quite interesting to me because I had never had one before. The sonographer, however, seemed to concentrate more on the area between my ribs than on the area under my right ribs where the liver is located, which I thought was odd, but what do I know about taking ultrasound pictures of someone's liver? After the ultrasound, the sonographer asked me to stick around so he could show the results to the doctor on duty, then a while later asked if I could stick around for a CT scan. A little red flag went up in the back of my mind.

I had the CT scan. Except for the vast quantities of water I was required to drink, it was not uncomfortable and was an interesting experience, especially the contrast die they injected into me. HOT FLASH! I'm too young for them (ha!), but I'm sure the contrast die gave me a good idea of what they'll feel like.

The little red flag became a great big red flag the next morning when I got a call from my doctor's office asking me to come in that afternoon. I went in knowing they had found something pretty serious, and, expecting the worst, I assumed it was cancer.

Sometimes assumptions are right.

The doctor told me the ultrasound had found a mass on my pancreas consistent with carcinoma, and the CT scan had confirmed it. Pancreatic cancer.

Well, hell.

I was expecting liver cancer. Pancreatic cancer, I knew, was pretty much a death sentence. Low survival rate. Not good.

I don't know I managed to keep my equanimity while I was in my doctor's office, but I somehow managed to get a good grip on myself and kept holding on. While I was sitting in her office, my doctor called the local go-to specialist for this condition and talked to him. He told her he would see me the next week and that I might even be in for surgery the week after (that would have been this week - talk about fast). He also asked for a couple of blood tests so my doc gave me a lab requisition and I went off to get more blood drawn.

A week later, on September 4, 2008, I saw the specialist. The Old Boot and I went to HSC to meet him. I was totally prepared for him to walk in and tell me I had three to six months to live. He didn't.

The growth on my pancreas, he said, most likely is cancer. There is a very small chance it is not. It hasn't metastasized. This is exceptionally good news, because pancreatic cancer is one of those dreadful cancers that lies hidden and silent, giving only vague indications of its presence, until it is too late to remove it. People are often diagnosed with all sorts of other digestive ailments before anyone thinks to check for cancer of the pancreas.

I'm lucky. My cancer leaned against the bile duct to my liver and partially closed it off, causing hepatitis (so I really do have hepatitis). The hepatitis caused the unbearable itch that send me looking for medical help. The ultrasound my doctor ordered to get a better look at my sick liver found the growth. Yippee for me!

So the specialist booked me for a biopsy to see exactly what we're dealing with (Is it cancer? Is it a benign growth? If it's cancer, how aggressive is it and what type is it?). I had the biopsy on Monday, September 8, and I hope to get the results next week. I am also to be scheduled for surgery - a Whipple procedure - in October but won' know the exact date until the last week of September.

Some people might think I'm treating this situation lightly with my "Yippee" a paragraph ago. But honestly, it's how I feel about it because I spent a week thinking that I had six months at the outside to live and feeling unutterably sad and miserable. I started planning my funeral. I wrote my own eulogy. I mourned the fact I wouldn't see my younger daughter graduate next June, would never see my children get married, would never see grandchildren, would never (insert milestone here). Heck, something as inconsequential as not living long enough to see the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony next April made me bawl my head off.

I have had a reprieve. The executioner has been told to put his axe away for a while. I have cancer, yes, but I have OPERABLE cancer. It will be a fight but I will survive. I feel confident of that. And I can't help feeling pretty "yippee" about it.

1 comment:

Kathleen and Gareth said...

Dear Lori,

Thanks so much for letting us in on the journey that lies ahead for you. Your spirit is strong and hopeful, and we all join you in that deep hope.

You have to know that you'll be carried by the prayers and meditations of innumerable family members and friends, Kathleen and me included.