Reality Check

This may sound a bit strange after all that has transpired, but on Wednesday, March 17, 2010, although my diagnosis has been out in the open now for 2 months and 15 days…It hit me…and I realized, I mean truly realized that I have Cancer. How is it possible that I have been through all of the steps and just now can admit to myself, that I have Cancer?

After undergoing a painful biopsy and the 8 grueling days awaiting the results, receiving “the call”, scheduling appointments for and completing a CT Scan and an EKG; meeting with the first Head & Neck Oncologist to determine a plan, going under anesthesia for a pre-op exploratory procedure, taking a leave of absence from work, moving from one end of the state to the other to move back in with my parents while undergoing treatment; sitting in on 2 more consults to find the right surgeon, a blood draw to check my cell count, a chest x-ray, 2 more blood draws to ensure the correct blood type in case a blood transfusion was needed during surgery, traveling to the Bay area for the surgery, spending the last evening with my family before the big day, arriving at the hospital at 6 a.m. to prepare for surgery, undergoing 2 hours of preparation for the surgery, walking the endless hall to the operating room, laying down on the ice cold table, going to sleep for 7 1/2 hours, feeding tube, 5 days in the hospital, a liquid diet due to the inability to chew and fully swallow, the long sleepless nights, the damaged speech, the endless telephone calls, texts, cards and gifts; one follow-up appointment with my surgeon and now this…my first meeting with the radiation doctor.

It’s amazing to think that God has designed our bodies to protect our brain, our emotions and our hearts during a stressful time by slowly dispensing truth at a rate that we can more appropriately digest the news. Can you imagine having to deal with all of the emotions at one time? In 2005, I earned a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology, so it’s pretty obvious to me that I am working my way through the stages of grief. The stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance of the situation. In school, we learned all about it as applied to a person when there is a death of someone close to them. In my experience, grief surrounds us more often than we realize, and we have to learn to cope with all types of changes; changes in the form of a job loss, the end of a relationship, moving, empty nest, etc…these are all forms of loss with which we deal on a daily basis.

What astounds me; however, is the fact that for the majority of the past 2 1/2 months, I have spent floating in the “denial stage.” It’s not that I haven’t felt the pain or allowed myself to experience the feelings, it’s just that up until now, I haven’t really felt anything but a “let’s get in there and get’er done” attitude. I’ve been so caught up in doing and fixing that I haven’t fully felt sad or angry or depressed or a need to curl up in a ball and never leave my room.

But there I was on Wednesday, sitting in a room with a doctor who specializes in radiation, explaining all of the potential side effects of further treatment; the disturbance of my taste buds, developing sores in my mouth, the destruction of my salivary glands, potenial dental problems in the future, another feeding tube, a need for a morphine drip because of the level of pain, and possible secondary cancer down the road…when it hit me…I was pissed off and scared beyond belief! And I was immediately overcome with a deep sadness and an immense feeling of loneliness. The tiny room was filled with the doctor, myself and my parents, but it felt as if there was not a person in the world who could understand the agony of my situation. This obviously is not true as everyone on my online support group can testify to their own personal struggles with this unpredictable disease, but it felt that way, nonetheless.

The confusing thing about my current situation is that from the pathology reports, there is no evidence of any further cancer, which we’re all grateful for; however, the reason the doctors are debating the need for radiation is that the tumor was situated directly on top of a nerve. The tumor was invading the branches of that nerve which apparently makes it a very aggressive cancer, and the nerve can act as a highway to other areas, including through my mouth, up my jaw and finally, into my brain. So, while there is no clear cut reason to do further treatment, by completing the radiation, the doctor is saying that it’s a more definite way to make sure that particular nerve has been cleared. The difficulty lies in coupling the side effects with my young age, and we’re receiving no absolute consensus, either way, from all of the physicians associated with my case. In addition, I have a fear that if I don’t pursue further treatment, it’s just a matter of time before it comes back, but I’m also concerned that if I choose to complete the radiation that I will not have that as an option if the cancer does re-appear.

So many questions, endless emotions and not enough answers, and at this point, there’s not really anyone who can make the decision but me.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heidi
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 08:18:26

    Oh, Kelli…my heart breaks for you. Just the not knowing and the challenge of not knowing what to do but having to make a huge leap no matter which way you go. Oh, Kelli…you are in my heart…I am praying for you. You are so precious to him.

    Reply

  2. Jaime McWhorter
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 08:59:49

    I can’t fathom making a decision of this magnitude. I continue to pray for you and while that may not bring you answers, take heart that for everyone person who communicates their love and support to you, that there are many many more who are lifting you up without your knowledge. I just sit here looking at the keyboard reaching for something that might bring you peace or joy, but I am at a loss. Wait on Him for an answer…you will know. You are in my heart and on my mind constantly.

    Reply

  3. Jenn
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 09:04:43

    My dear friend…I am so sorry you are in this mess. I cannot even imagine but can tell you that you are still in my prayers and on my mind daily. I know your wisdom and strength and have seen you get through some really crappy situations. I know your wisdom and strength will guide you through this too! I love you girl!!

    Reply

  4. Bridget
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 09:40:46

    Hey girlie, I’m sorry we never got to talk before your surgury but Lori Lynn kept me up to date and I’ve been praying for you. I can’t imagine the decision you are facing, but will pray that God gives you clarity and a divine peace with whatever decision you come to!! Keli, you are such an amazing woman, and your story(s) continue to inspire others!! Thanks for being bold enough to share!

    Reply

  5. Tricia
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 10:13:16

    Kelli- You have such a tough decision ahead of you- all I can say is pray, pray, pray and God will direct you. You are His precious child and He will never leave your side through all this. Thank you for sharing all this with us as there are so many people out there who love you and are thinking about you. You are such a strong woman and an amazing inspiration. I know you will make the best choice for you. Love ya!

    Reply

  6. Melissa
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 12:20:32

    Kel,

    Only you can make this decision, it’s true. But, whatever decision you do make, your family and friends will stick by your side, and the Most Holy God will walk with you closer than ever. In everything that I have learned so far in my program, YOU are the one that knows your health and you are living your health. From all that physicians and specialists have said, you will know what is right for you. Make you feel the prayers of all of us who love you and who will stand by you in whatever you choose. I pray that you feel God’s arms wrapped so tightly around you that you LITERALLY feel them.

    Reply

  7. amfunches
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 22:51:25

    I have never met you, but my heart breaks foryou and these hard descisions you having to make. I am praying with you, along with all your family and friends, for God to make it clear to you what the next step should be. Thank you for sharing your life with us, many who you dont even know!

    Reply

  8. Linda
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 23:35:34

    Dear Kelli –

    Radiation, like cancer, can be daunting, but from personal experience I can tell you that not everyone has these severe side-effects. Of course they are possibilities, and you may have some, but then again you may have little to none. The “what if’s” easily become overwhelming, and I went through the exact stages as you. It wasn’t until weeks after the fact that it sunk in, as did the reality that I had zero control over the cancer (but God did!). I recall one day sitting in my living room talking to God. I had a good cry and told the Lord that this was more than I could handle, for I didn’t know which way to go with surgery and treatment. That day I chose to give it all back to God and committed to follow his lead and walk down whatever path he made for me. Knowing that He would be in control now and that I needed to do nothing but trust in Him brought an unexplainable peace, and since then I have never looked back. God has seen me through the surgery, treatment, and the bumps in the road along the way. Side-effects, yes, I have an issue with my left salivary gland (blocked), but it is minor next to the mountain God and I climbed last year. One fact is for sure … He will see me though this just as He carried me through the rest. Our God is an awesome God … and I am holding you in prayer Kelli, that you would give your cares and concerns 100% back to Him. Do what you must to rid your body of this cancer. Take the precautions before you for the Lord has allowed them to cross your path for a reason. Life often takes unexpected turns, but truly, when we are walking with God it makes all the difference. God bless you. You remain in prayer. Sending a huge hug from my heart to yours.

    Reply

  9. Kathie
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 02:44:26

    Kelli, I am a friend of Lori Lynn’s and just wanted you to know that we are praying. It’s sometimes hard to understand the twists and turns in our lives, but please know that HE is with us always, HE will never leave or forsake us. And sometimes…that’s all we have to hang on to. (Actually it’s ALWAYS all we have to hang on to) Please keep writing about your journey.

    Blessings to you and yours ;*)

    Kathie

    Reply

  10. Marisa
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 10:44:21

    Hi friend, your strength and courage continues to amaze me. You are one brave woman and always in my prayers.

    Reply

  11. Colleen McAllister
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 00:29:17

    Kelli – all of our prayers are with you. I have not been in your situation, but have loved ones that have. You will know the right thing to do when it is time. God will give you peace with the answer. If it is chemo, He will hold your hand through it. If it is to wait, then He will wait with you. Advice that I have been given in the past is that if I am not sure, then do nothing. When it is the right time, you will be sure. You are in HIs hands, Kelli, and our hearts.

    Reply

  12. Kathleen Kolendich
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 05:25:47

    Hello Kelli,
    My name is Kathleen and I am a good friend and neighbor of Renee MacAllister. My husband had sqamous cell carcinoma of the throat 8 years ago. I understand the uncertainty you are going through, but I would encourage you to pursue every option to make sure that this insidious disease never comes back. The doctor told us that this would give us the best option to “kill any terrorist cells” that might be there. My husband did 33 treatments of radiation. It was called IMRT (pinpoint) radiation and was focused directly on the site. He also received shots prior to each treatment to help save his salivary glands. I won’t lie to you…it’s really a difficult road. But, I am always grateful that we tried everything we could. Unfortunately, his cancer came back. I will always feel like we were given more time because of his treatments. I don’t know if they have given you the option, but I have read that there are better outcomes using chemo and radiation. We did not do this, because it wasn’t recommended at the time. A good resource is SPOHNC – support for people of head and neck cancer. They have many testimonials…Kelli, most people seem to survive this cancer when caught in the early stages as you have. I will keep you in my prayers for continued healing and a full recovery. I hope I haven’t made your burden any more difficult than it already is – I just never had anyone to talk to about this. May God keep you close. Also, you are an amazing writer and to chronicle your journey as you have is wonderful!

    Reply

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