Third Time’s a Charm

Well, we have a plan!  My parents and I drove to Walnut Creek today to meet with a 3rd surgeon who was a referral from my original doctor in Anaheim.  We spent 90 minutes with him in an effort to truly understand the possibilities of what I may be facing in the very near future.   With his easy manner and confidant way of communicating, he was nothing short of amazing!  Despite the topic of discussion, we all found ourselves laughing at various aspects of the process to come and a true peace flooded the room!

When we arrived at the office, our goal was to determine whether or not this was the right doctor and if he could get me into surgery sooner than my doctor in Anaheim.  When I first spoke with his nurse last week, she assured me that he is an extremely busy man and getting a surgery date any time soon would be nearly impossible.  It’s almost becoming hilarious to me how many times in the past three weeks I’ve heard a similar story, but each time, I’m reminded of what a mighty God I serve…a God who has gone before me and has taken care of all the details.  What an incredible faith booster this whole experience has been for me!  Truly, God has answered one more prayer…a surgery scheduled for another patient next week was moved to a later date, leaving March 3rd (9 days from now) open for my procedure.  

So, for now, what we know is that the cancer has been bumped up to a Stage 2.  If all goes well and the tumor is as superficial as the doctor currently thinks, he anticipates I will be in the hospital for 3-4 days and then the rest of my treatment can be done closer to home.  If there is no need for radiation therapy, I may be back to work in 6-8 weeks; however, if reconstructive surgery is needed, my hospital stay will be 7-10 days and radiation will start 6 weeks after my surgery.  The doctor said with radiation it could be 6 months before I am cleared to go back to work.  

So, there it is…the plan!  My family and I continue to feel amazed by God’s grace and movement since my diagnosis and we are so thankful for all of the love and support!

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Hurry up and wait…

I would like to think that I’m a fairly patient person, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I have always had a difficult time waiting…for most anything.  With a sister who is 3 years my senior, I know there have been many times where I envied her and all of the adventures she was experiencing ahead of me.  From my vantage point, her life was so exciting compared to mine and I couldn’t wait until I reached that magical stage, whatever it was…learning to drive, my first boyfriend, my first kiss, first day of college, walking across the stage to receive my coveted diploma, marriage, children…the happily ever after.  Knowing that I had such a hard time with this, my sister, my parents and sometimes even my younger brother have encouraged me to enjoy each moment as it comes and most days, the older I have become, I truly do feel content with the way my life has turned out, but dang, how the past 14 days have tested me in ways I never imagined possible!

Although it has only been two weeks today since I was diagnosed with oral cancer, it feels like a lifetime has passed.  It’s amazing how time stands still when you receive traumatic news and even more amazing to realize that while my life and the lives of those in my immediate family have been turned upside down, the world around us continues and life goes on.  But while life goes on for those not directly impacted, we have no other option but to live as each day comes and to deal with each new piece of this complicated puzzle.  I feel as if most of my time has been filled with rushing to one doctors appointment after another or one more medical test just to hurry up and wait.  We wait for the results, we wait to hear the plan, we wait for the next test from that plan and then we wait again to hear how that worked out.  But today, I am over waiting!

On Friday, the doctor in Southern California completed a pre-op examination where he put me under to do a more thorough assessment of the tumor.  He put cameras down my throat and found no further cancer in that area, which is a major blessing!  He did; however, find that the tumor is much larger than first expected, approximately 4 cm long and 4 cm wide.  With the new information, my doctor is recommending an aggressive treatment that will include reconstructive surgery and up to 2 weeks in the hospital with a trach and a feeding tube.  After working through the initial shock of that new scenario, this weekend I packed my bags and drove home to Northern California to meet with a 2nd Head and Neck Surgeon today.  This doctor has a completely different idea of how to handle the tumor but then mentioned that the tumor may be heading towards my jawline.  If that is the case, even more reconstructive surgery is in my future, leading to a more extensive recovery process.  The 2nd doctor acknowledged that he is not qualified to deal with all of the issues that may arise once they go in for the surgery so he is recommending a 3rd possible physician in the Bay area.  So now we wait…AGAIN!  We wait to hear back from doctor #1 to discuss the consultation with doctor #2 and then follow up with doctor #3 for yet another opinion.

And all the while, I have to convince myself to be brave, to endure a few more days until the next meeting, to take time to stop and enjoy each minute, to revel in the friendships around me and be thankful for what is here, what is happening now and to keep my thoughts on the present rather than the concerns of tomorrow.  And this time, neither my big sis, nor my brother, nor my parents can go before me.  They cannot promise me that it will all be okay and they cannot tell me what the future holds.  But what they have done has been so incredible, they have rested with me in each moment…they have been there every step of the way and they have loved me through the questions, the doubt, the fear, the pain and today, the realization that we must yet again, hurry up and wait.

Treatment Plan…Part 1

Good morning!  Just wanted to fill you all in on my Oncology appointment yesterday.  I felt so surrounded by love and support as my brother, sister and sister-in-law all anxiously awaited the doctor’s arrival.  It was still a bit of a surreal moment as we discussed the details, but I am so thankful for all of your prayers as I truly felt all of the thoughts for peace flooding our time with the doctor.  We were all able to focus on the conversation and articulate questions that we had, which is quite amazing in and of itself!

So, the news…The doctor assessed the cancer at a Stage 1.  I will have an outpatient pre-op appointment tomorrow at which time I will be “put under” so the doctor can do a more thorough exam of my tongue.  He called it “staging the surgery.”  He will also be able to look through cameras to see if the cancer has spread anywhere else.  During the actual surgery, the doctor will also be removing some of the lymphnodes in my neck.  He said because I am so young and have never smoked or chewed and have no actual reason behind the cancer, he would like to be more aggressive in the treatment so as to try to prevent the further spread of the cancer at a later time in my life.  I will be hospitalized for approx. 3-4 days if everything goes as planned.  If the lymphnodes come back as cancerous, the doctor will bump the cancer up to a Stage 3 and I may be looking at radiation therapy.  If all goes well, there is no radiation and my speech resumes fairly quickly, I can anticipate a return to work within 6-8 weeks.

My biggest prayer at this time is that I can locate a doctor in the Sacramento area as I will be going home for treatment and recovery.  The doctor here is working on his end to find someone who he feels as confident with doing the surgery.  Well, that’s it for now…Again, I appreciate everyone and all of your prayers!  My family and I truly feel that for what the situation is, the news is good!

How are you?

“How are you?”  Three simple words…one very loaded question.  I’m quite sure I’ve been asked this question a few thousand times over the course of my life and I’m certain I’ve asked it back just as frequently; however, if most of us are honest, how often do we really take the time to stop and listen for the answer.  Rushing through the halls at work, passing a stranger at the local coffee joint, most of us are so engrossed in our own lives that if we are honest, we don’t really take the time to to find out how others are doing.  We’re so focused on getting to where we need to go or getting that report in on time that we don’t stop for the 5 minutes needed to truly listen to a hurting stranger or console a struggling co-worker.  On the other hand, when asked the question, how often do we hide the answer from those around us in order to protect their reality?  How often do I say I’m fine when the truth is, it was all I could do to get out of bed that day?  It seems even as children we quickly learn that there is a socially acceptable time and place to truly reveal the answer.  We also learn, often through trial and error, the individuals we can trust with the actual information. 

When a child falls down and wants sympathy for the miniscule scrape left on an elbow, he or she will most often run to the adult figure who will provide the greatest source of love and affection.  If  mom is the one who dishes out the best kisses that make it better, hands down, that child will seek out mom first every time.  But slowly, as we get older, the message that crying for every tiny bump and bruise just isn’t okay.  Somewhere along the road, we start to realize that withholding personal thoughts and feelings is the best way to survive and so we gradually begin to close off that part inside that is screaming to be heard.  In the social work and therapy fields, we’re taught not to get “too involved” in the situation because it’s unhealthy for the other party to truly see how we’re affected by their pain.  We’re encouraged to build this invisible line in the sand that keeps us safely on one side while our client remains dying for a human touch on the other.  We learn to distance ourselves from true emotion that will cause an unprofessional reaction in a trying situation.  Don’t misunderstand me…all of these guidelines are there for a reason, but as I have spent the last 9 years working in the social services field, I’ve learned to shut off the part of me that can get hurt if revealed too easily.

Which brings me to last night…a new friend from work invited me to join her for dinner.  We met less than 2 months ago, but already, there is a connection that feels as if our friendship will last a lifetime.  She asked me how everything was going and I rambled off a few sentences about waiting for the appointment on Wednesday with the Oncologist.  Being the insightful social worker that she is, she asked me again, “Yeah, but how are YOU really doing?”  And then I told her…and she listened…and I talked some more…and still she listened…and then she humbled me…In trying to minimize my answer to others who are asking, I’m not giving them the opportunity to really know how things are going.  In trying to put on a brave face and have a positive attitude, I’m not allowing the reality of the situation to be known by others…and while that’s okay, and I can choose to do that, who am I really protecting? 

 Sometimes the honest truth can bring the greatest hope to others because it provides them with the message that it is okay to feel, it’s okay to hurt and be angry and laugh from the chaos; it’s okay to feel sad and lonely and ask why; it’s okay to wonder what’s next and if there’s going to be pain? and how long will I be in recovery? and will I have to endure chemo? and will I lose my hair? and how will it be to have to learn to speak all over again? and what will people think when they see that part of my tongue is missing? and will others always look at me with that sad sympathy in their eyes? and how in the world am I going to be a social worker or therapist when I can’t speak?…and…and…and…

So there it is…how I am today.  I woke up at 4:39 a.m. drenched in sweat (apparently one of the symptoms of cancer), I’m tired, I’m anxious for tomorrow, I’m scared and despite all the people who have told me that I’m strong and I’ll fight this, I feel very weak and vulnerable. 

So what is the point of all of this?  Well, it’s really quite simple.  The greatest gift that we can offer others is time and a genuine interest in what is going on in their lives.  We can ask how they are doing and we can stop long enough to find out the answer.  And if the response is something more than we know how to handle, we can tell them we are sorry and that we care, but most importantly we can show them that we are present no matter what.

Testing, Testing…Is This Thing On?

I am truly overwhelmed by all the emails, telephone calls and text messages my entire family is receiving at this point!  Thoughts of well wishes and prayers are exactly what we need right now and I have never felt such a distinct peace in my entire life!  So thank you!!!  Today, I am going for more testing to see if the cancer has spread anywhere else.  My sister and sister-in-law have both graciously offered to accompany me for my long afternoon of poking and prodding!  Next week on the 10th, I will meet with the Oncologist to come up with the treatment plan.  I have already been told that the next step will be surgery.  My biggest prayer right now is that the surgery will be completed before March 1st, so if you are reading and are inclined, I would appreciate your continued prayer in this area… 

While talking with my mom last night, she told me, “I had this picture today of God being bombarded with all of these prayers for you, nationwide, and God saying, ‘Okay!  I got it!  Kelli Rickard!'”  We laughed and it made me think about all the times I have questioned God’s timing and whether or not He was really listening to me.  I imagined the poor chap in the dimly lit comedy club on amateur night, picking up the microphone, tapping it twice to see if it was working, only to irritate the 4 other club attendees with the loud, screeching feedback. 

But isn’t that how most of us test God?  We give him a couple of chances to show up in a loud screech and if there is no automatic response, we put down our faith and walk away?  I know I am guilty of this behavior, and I have decided that if this tumor is present on my tongue merely to provide me with a consistent reminder of how amazing and how consistent the Lord has been in my life, then I will walk through this journey and I will praise God…no matter what the outcome!  This is not the first challenge I have encountered in my life, challenges that nearly brought me to the end, but as so many have encouraged, I will continue to fight through this one and I will give God all of the recognition for what happens!

The Call

It’s been too long.  I forget how much I love to write.  Life has provided me with new material and all I want to do right this minute is get out all my thoughts onto paper.

I received “the call” yesterday…February 2, 2010.  “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your biopsy came back and yes, it is CANCER!”  For the past week I’ve felt eerily panicked as I waited for the results and I knew in my heart that this time it wouldn’t be okay. 

I am 30 years old and I have cancer.  Tongue cancer at that.  What the hell is tongue cancer?  Has anyone ever even heard of tongue cancer?  Unfortunately, I’ve heard of it once before.  And now that person has become a great support as she verbally walked me through what I might be on the verge of experiencing.

All I know right now is I have this thing on my tongue.  I can feel it.  I know it’s there.  It haunts me with its presence.  It shouts out more questions than I have the answers for and it reminds me, yet again, how precious life truly is…

My whole family has been incredible.  My support system is amping up to do whatever necessary and yesterday, my big sis came to my rescue.  She dropped everything she was doing and took me out to deal with the news.  We ventured through Anaheim to this mediocre Chinese restaurant and then on to the mall.  Amidst horribly insensitive tongue jokes, we laughed our way into oblivion until a new reality hit and all I could say was, “This isn’t funny anymore.  I don’t feel like joking.”  Since then, I’ve received dozens of calls and texts from well wishers all over the country and my heart is full!  Despite the unknown of what is about to hit, the one message I keep telling myself is this…there is absolutely NO WAY that after everything that has gone on in my life, that cancer is the thing that’s going to take me out!  I refuse!  So that’s the way I feel today and I’m sure tomorrow is going to bring with it new thoughts, feelings, a few thousand more questions, but for today, that’s how I feel.