Cancer is back… and it’s more aggressive this time. I had a biopsy done on August 30th. My friend Roxanne was at the house by 5:45 AM (such a good friend), drove me to the appointment, and stayed at the hospital until the biopsy was done. We were out of there and back home by around 10 o’clock…which was a good thing because Rox had to go to work around noon.
The procedure was slated for 6:30, but of course the nurse (mine was a male nurse named Larry) has to get you prepped, take your pulse, blood pressure et al, stick EKG monitor stickers on you, and put a line in a vein. Larry was great, and was able to find a vein that was cooperative on the very first jab.
The doctor, Brandon Doskocil, came in to say hi and to let me know how the procedure was going to go: they’d give me lidocaine and “happy drugs” before doing anything, and keep me semiconscious because I had to be able to follow the instructions of the CT machine. I’d go into and out of the machine a few times while they found the right spot to send in the puncture biopsy instrument. Then the doctor would extract two samples, one from the lesion and one from an adjacent lymph node. Okee-dokee.
I get wheeled into the CT room on a gurney and then have to transfer over onto the scanner bed. Once they got me situated on the scanner bed the way they wanted me, I asked for a pillow under my knees, but they could only use a shallow one because if my knees were bent up too high in would interfere with the biopsy. So, once I was settled and feeling relatively comfy, I got shot up with lidocaine in my hip joint, and was given the “happy drugs”. Those drugs were great, I didn’t care about anything…even when, during the procedure, the doctor hit the femoral nerve. I screamed – but then laughed because everyone else in the room screamed, too, and said “hit a nerve” in unison. That whole process took about 20 minutes.
Then it was back to the gurney and into a small area where I could get dressed again. But the drug were making me stupid and I put my shoes on before I put my pants on and basically forgot how to dress myself. Larry helped me pull my pants up. As he was wheeling me out to the parking lot in a wheelchair I thanked him and told him he had done a great job. He squeezed my shoulder and said, “thank you” in my ear and there was so much emotion in his voice; like no one had thanked him before. Awww.
Roxanne was right at the curb as Larry rolled me out of the hospital, and she drove me back home. Lots of anticipation and anxiety over “nothing”. We’ll see how I feel when the drugs wear off.
On September 3rd, I got a call from my oncologist, Dr. Suby, letting me know about the results of the biopsy. My cancer is back, and it seems to be in a more aggressive form than it was previously. *Sigh* The cancer cells aren’t well defined, so they can more easily metastasize to other cells. Not what I wanted to hear, but was what I was sort of expecting.
I have a video visit with a neurologist on the 7th, and I should have a PET scan scheduled sometime soon. I’ll let you know if anything comes of them.
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Around 8 o’clock I headed over to Effie Yeaw Nature Preservefor a walk. I hadn’t done any real walking since the day of my surgery, so I chose a place where the trails are all pretty flat and where I know where all f the benches are.
OMG, it was more difficult than I thought it would be. Because I haven’t been walking much at all, I learned very quickly, I had ZERO stamina. My pack felt too heavy, my camera felt too heavy, I could barely walk a few yards without feeling exhausted. I only managed to walk one loop.
Because I only did the one loop, and because I was too “aware” of my body’s limitations to really pay attention to everything around me, I didn’t see a whole lot: a few bird species, some Fox and Ground Squirrels, and a couple of deer. It was very disappointing… even though I know I have to work myself up to longer walks, and I managed to go for 90 minutes before I collapsed in the car.
On February 2nd, Groundhog Day, I got up at 6:30, but asked my friend Roxanne to wait until around 8:00 AM to pick me up, so I could see to my sister Melissa’s dogs and make sure she was okay enough to leave at home after her tumble yesterday.
I felt guilty leaving Melissa behind for a few hours, but I also knew that I HAD to get outside and see some nature. [I’d been confined for a MONTH by my surgery recovery, and was “going crazy” inside.]
It’s that wicked balance between self-care and caring for others.
This was the first time I’d sat up in a moving vehicle for any length of time. And I was worried that the bumps in the road, the start-stop motion in traffic, and the pressures of velocity on my core would be rough. But I didn’t have any pain except for a slight pinch at the bottom end of my surgery scar. Even Roxanne commented that she noticed I was doing so much better than I had been before surgery.
We went to the Consumnes River Preserve with the idea of doing a drive around the surrounding ag lands and then walk one of the level trails at the preserve. But it was sooooo windy and sooooo cold, that after a while we nixed the idea of doing a walk. The wind was so strong it blew our cameras all over the place, and kept whipping twigs, grasses and birds back and forth, so taking photos was a struggle. Still, we saw more bird species than I thought we would.
The wind had knocked huge flocks of geese out of the sky and onto the ground, so some of the fields were just bursting with them. Hundreds of birds here, hundreds of birds there; mostly Greater White-Fronted Geese and Snow Geese.
Along Bruceville and Desmond Roads, many of the fields were flooded and full of waterfowl that were trying to eat even though the wind was knocking them around: Northern Pintails, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Green-Winged Teals, Killdeer, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Least Sandpipers, a Bufflehead, some American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers and Greater Yellowlegs.
There was so much chop on the water in some of the fields because of the stiff wind, that the birds were literally bouncing up and down over the waves.
We were surprised that there were fewer Coots than we thought there should be.
In one of the oak trees along the road, we saw two nests that were RED. They were hanging basket-type nests, so I was thinking maybe they were made by Bullock’s Orioles. [See the photo at https://nestwatch.org/connect/home-tweet-home/bullocks-oriole-nest/ for comparison.] We thought the “red” we were seeing was shredded plastic fencing the birds had woven into the nests.
There were lots of Western Meadowlarks in the tall grass, but they were too fast for us, using the winds to help them whisk from one spot to another.
We also saw quite a few Sandhill Cranes. In one spot there were 10 of them lined up, calling to each other as a Northern Harrier hawk flew over their heads. One of the cranes in this group had a small band on one leg, but I couldn’t see any markings on it. Further along the road, we found two cranes that were standing pretty close to the road, so we were able to get some close-ups of them.
One of the cool things we saw was a Great Egret preparing to eat what looked like a vole it had caught. The bird must’ve done a stab and grab to get the vole because its beak was covered in blood. The egret was behind a stickery bush, and I tried to make sure the camera was focused on the bird and not the plant when I tried to get a video of it, but, of course, it focused on the plant instead. Grrrrr! So, all I got was a crisp in-focus bush and a fuzzy bird behind it. So aggravating!
As we were leaving the preserve area, a car coming down the road from our left slowed to a stop beside Roxanne’s car and the people inside were pointing and looking up. We both looked around and realized there was a Bald Eagle flying overhead! It flew off across the street in front of us and cruised the fields there, scaring up all the resting waterfowl from the ground. We didn’t see it dive at anything, and then lost track of it, so we didn’t know if it was hungry and doing a precursory flight, or if it was just being a butthead. Hah!
As I mentioned before, because it was so cold, we didn’t go for a walk in the area, and instead did a fast driver over to Staten Island Road to see what the bird situation was like over there.
On the hills beside the entrance to the road, was a big flock of sheep, adults and kids, being “guarded” by two large dogs. One of the dogs was at the top of the hill, looking bored to death, not even moving when the sheep walked by it. The other dog was in the grass at the bottom of the hill, licking its privates. Must’ve been lunch-break time.
In the remains of corn stalks in one of the ag fields were flocks of Cackling Geese dotted with a few Sandhill Cranes. In another field we saw a very large flock of the cranes, 78 of them, all in the line, feeding, trying to stay “under” the gusts of wind.
We also saw several small groups of Tundra Swans. One group was being followed some Canvasback Ducks, and another was being followed by a few Rudy Ducks. In fact, there were quite a few Ruddy Ducks in the fields out there, bouncing on the waves in the water like bathtub toys. Among them was a solitary Eared Grebe.
Here, too, we saw small shorebirds and larger waterfowl, but nothing new or unexpected. So, we did a quick turn-around and headed back home. We were out for about 4 hours, and got back to the house a little after noon… Melissa was up and having lunch with the dogs, so I knew she was feeling at least bit better.
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American Coot, Fulica americana
American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
American Wigeon, Anas americana
Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii [nests]
Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
Eared Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis
Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
Great Egret, Ardea alba
Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
Well, I pretty much lost the month of January. What a weird way to start a new year. Hopefully, we’re now “pre-disastered” for 2022 and the rest of the year will be better.
On Friday, January 7th, I went in for surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from my lower left abdomen, a cast-off of Wilson, the grapefruit-sized tumor removed in 2019. I had my pre-op stuff to do at home around 3:00 AM, for a surgery that was supposed to start 5:45 AM. My sister Melissa and her son Brian accompanied me to the hospital but because of COVID restrictions, were unable to come in an wait with me in the pre-op area.
I don’t remember anything of the pre-op stuff, so I’m assuming they knocked me out pretty quickly. According to my oncologist, the surgery took about 4 hours, and took as long as it did because Wilson Jr. (the tumor) was tough and pretty big. (Three fingers deep on the longest part.)
The tumor was gray and “bubbly” on the surface and had grown into the psoas muscle, with tendrils wrapping into the femoral nerve and starting to move into the surrounding vascular tissues. Because it was so embedded, the doctors (my doctor and the neurosurgeon) couldn’t get it out whole, so they cut off its head and then scraped it out layer by layer. My doctor had to scrape into the muscle itself, but is pretty sure they got it all out… but she wants me to see her every 3 months or so to make sure this “Wilson Jr.” didn’t toss out any other cell-babies while he was in there.
I can remember coming out of anesthesia after the operation in excruciating pain, moaning a lot. Melissa had warned me that the doctors cutting up into my abdomen would be more painful than any pain I’d felt before, and she was right. The doctors cut me open from my pubic bone to above my belly button; the slice was over 8 inches long. Good lord, the pain!
At one point, when I woke up a bit, I asked the nurses to help me to sit up a bit more, and they jerked and lifted me up so quickly, I literally screamed in pain. My doctor was in the room when that happened, and she stepped back away from the foot of the bed, startled by the noise. The nurses kept trying to push a binder on me — a girdle-like thing to hold my belly in tight — and I told them loudly, “NO! I literally can’t breathe with that thing on!” So…thankfully, no binder.
For the first part of my stay in the hospital — which lasted from Friday to part of Monday — I was in a private room. It had a large window that looked out on the roofs of the surrounding buildings and a single little tree. I was sleeping for most of my stay, but was awakened by nurses who needed to take my vitals, or offer me food, or help me get out and back into bed. I slept with one pillow under my head and another against my right side. I told the nurses that, at home, my dog usually slept there against my right side, so it was comforting.
The hospital was offering me food like Jell-O, soup, oatmeal, and tea. I wasn’t eating much, though — no appetite and I usually vomited up what I did eat. Being able to eat and keep the food down was a milestone I had to meet before I could go home.
On Saturday, the 8th, I got a call from Melissa, checking in on me. Apparently, the hospital wasn’t answering calls or routing them correctly, because the only way I got this call was when the anesthesiologist came into my room and transferred the call to me through his cell phone. I don’t know how lucid I was, but Lissa and I chatted briefly. Later that same afternoon, a gal from Physical Therapy (PT) came to the room and gave me some tips on how to move more easily, and “logroll” out of bed. She also said she’d put in a request for a walker and bedside commode to have at home. My insurance covered the walker completely, but I had to pay a co-pay for the commode.
Around 3:00 AM on Sunday morning, an intern came in and said they needed the room for COVID patients, so he wheeled me bed-and-all to a shared room. There were three other women in the room they took me to. One was moaning loudly, “Noooo…noooo…noooo…. Ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhh…” on and off all day. Another one of the women, was muttering repeating nonsense phrases to herself when she was awake between naps, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, b-b-b-better, better, ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…” Gad. The noise was never-ending. And the muttering woman had her television on as well. Guh! The third woman in the room with me was one who was getting ready to leave on Monday afternoon.
Somewhere in there, I thought I heard the nurses say the moaning woman was from Texas and had come in for COVID. That cinched it, in my mind. I needed to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. I might still be in a lot of pain and bed-bound, but I could do that home as easily as at the hospital. The next time I saw my doctor, late Sunday afternoon, I told he I wanted to go home. She said she wanted me to stay the night, and she’d consider my leaving on Monday afternoon, even though she wanted me to stay longer, only if I met certain criteria: (1) I had to eat and keep my meals down, (2) I had to be able to walk up and down the hall with the walker, and (3) I had to be able to pass gas, and (4) urinate without a catheter, and I had to get my blood ox up over 90. I was determined to meet those criteria.
Apparently, they’d had some trouble getting and keeping my oxygen level up over 90, so I was on supplemental oxygen. Part of the reason for that, I’m sure, was because my whole torso hurt from the surgery and it was hard to take in deep breaths. Once I realized that oxygenation was an issue that might keep me in the hospital, I made sure to take in as many deep breaths as I could — especially right before a pulse-ox measurement was taken.
On Monday morning, the 10th, the catheter was removed and I was able to walk to the bathroom and pee with the walker. I was told to order a full lunch, eat as much of it as I could, and keep it down. So, I ordered tomato soup, a sliced orange, small slice of angel food cake, and some tuna salad. The tomato soup was the best I’d ever eaten, so, I ate the whole cup of it. The tuna salad tasted okay but was pulverized down to a paste; not to pleasing on the tongue. I only ate a few slices of the orange and took some bites of the cake… But I made sure I kept it all down.
In the afternoon, the nurses told me that my doctor was releasing me to go home. Yay! Melissa and Brian were waiting outside in the car in the pick-area, and a male nurse rolled me out to them in a wheelchair. Brian was driving, but I didn’t think anything of it. He also helped me get myself into bed once we got home (around 3:15 PM). Then I kind of collapsed for the day.
The next several days into-weeks were kind of a blur between trying to sleep, using the bedside commode for potty when I couldn’t make to the bathroom, dealing with the pain of the surgery, and barely eating. I lost about 10 pounds (but I’m sure I’ll gain it back eventually). I also had to teach myself how to walk again, and start to work myself up to being able to get into and out of a car, use the treadmill, and walk on the sidewalk and lawns…
Brian was a fantastic help through all of that. He’d listen for the sound of the walker and then get to my side before I could even say anything. He helped me get into and out of bed, and rearranged the blankets for me; he’d bring my meals to me at the kitchen table or to the little table on the back porch… On the 15th I tried to take a shower and almost fell over from exhaustion within about 2 minutes. Had to have Brian turn off the water for me; I just couldn’t stand up anymore. And then he helped me back to bed before I collapsed entirely.
Brian also bought some in-home COVID tests for us to take, to make sure everyone was safe (after both Melissa and I had been exposed to strangers in the hospital). We tested negative, as expected, but it was a relief to know for sure.
On the 16th, I got Brian to pull some mushrooms up from the woodchips in the backyard at lunchtime, so I could do my naturalist thing. He was sooooo accommodating.
On that same day, he helped Melissa set up some wire fencing to go along the street-side fence in the backyard. That part of the fence is falling apart and Melissa wanted it reinforced a little to keep the dogs from getting through it to the street.
On the 18th, a gentleman came to the house from Advanced Home Health and did an assessment of me for at-home physical therapy. After the assessment, he said I was eligible for four sessions (one per week for four weeks) that would be no cost to me; Kaiser would pay for them as part of my post-op care. I’ll hear from someone next week to set those sessions up.
On the 20th I had a Zoom appointment with my doctor. She thought I was doing remarkably well, all things considered, and was glad to hear I was able to get off the opiate pain killers and manage on just Ibuprofen and Gabapentin. We talked about the surgery itself, and about the fact that part of my psoas muscle was now gone… But both of us were happy that the surgery seemed to correct the nerve pain I was feeling in my left hip and thigh. The thigh still “buzzes” a little bit, but otherwise doesn’t hurt. Yay! I’m looking forward to being able to walk more normally again. I’ll see my doctor again on the 27th when I get the staples out.
This same afternoon, I got a call from the office of my GP. She said the in-home health assessment showed my blood pressure and heart rate were too high, so she’s prescribed Lisinopril for that. I’m supposed to take one pill a day and track my BP and pulse every day to see if there’s any improvement. I’ve been in pain for so long, I think my body got used to being “tensed” all the time…
I’m in less pain now than I have been in a long time, but still too uncomfortable to wear a full set of normal clothes. I spend my days in nightgowns and slippers. My friend Roxanne said she doesn’t care if I’m in a nightie; we could go somewhere where I wouldn’t have to get out of the car — look at nature through the car windows. Hah! That’s actually pretty tempting! I miss my nature walks sooooo much!
My target is to be back outside, fully dressed and walking, by mid-February. We’ll see. Wish me luck.