A Journey Back
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
It's here. The day I've thought about at least once a day for the past 365 days. That sounds dramatic, I know, but it's true. My cancer journey, despite just being fucking horrific because it's, well, cancer, was going ok. Somewhat according to plan. Until a year ago today that is. Truthfully, it started going really downhill about four days prior, but today was the day I realized that I couldn't wait another 12 hours until my doctor's visit. I needed help. Now. It was about 10pm on a Thursday night. My kids were in bed and they didn't even know I had left to go to the ER. Thank goodness grandma was there to stay with them. I didn't even say goodbye....that both haunts me and was a sign that I was definitely coming home. I figured I needed fluids and I'd be back to bed in no time. I had a 2 week post op follow up with my surgeon that next morning and I figured if I could just make it to that appointment I would be ok. My cancer doctors knew me. They could help me. I'm sorry to say that I wasn't very confident in the medical personnel in my small town hospital because I hadn't gone to them for any of my medical treatments. I needed "my people" and they would get me figured out. These people that I didn't trust here at home, however, took excellent care of me and quite honestly, their decision at the time to transport me to my team 90 minutes away probably saved my life.
Let's backtrack a few days. I had been at home still recovering from my surgery. I woke up on Monday morning feeling overly tired which was weird because I had been doing absolutely nothing but lounging in bed and binge watching too many shows to mention. My sister drove me to see my plastic surgeon that afternoon for a routine follow up and I could barely stay awake in the car. Weird. Once I got there I was running a slight temp, but my wounds looked good and nothing seemed "off". Probably just some bad luck catching a virus. Considering I was dealing with cancer at my age,, yeah, bad luck made sense. As the week went on, the fever kept on. Despite my efforts of trying to just carry on, I was also becoming weaker. I couldn't even get myself into the tub to bathe I was so weak. I didn't share this with anyone at the time, because I just thought I needed to push through. I had purchased Macklemore and Kesha concert tickets for my daughter for Christmas. It was on Tuesday night. It was 5 hours away in Kansas City. I was determined to get her to her first concert because damn it, cancer was not going to take this away too. At the last minute I convinced her dad to go with us because I wasn't sure I could make the long drive by myself. I totally get to everyone reading this that this whole scenario makes no logical sense whatsoever. If you were in my shoes, however, you'd realize it was about survival and wanting to just be "normal". I didn't want my situation to make me feel any more defeated and small than it already had. I didn't want to disappoint my daughter, even though I know she would have understood. I guess it's hard to explain, but it was just something I had to do. I remember feeling bad, really bad during that car ride. I had to make myself attempt to eat and drink something, but it didn't go so well. I just didn't want anything. I played the Macklemore playlist I had created for us and I perked up a bit. I thought, I can do this! We got to the hotel and I got out of the car to check in. I remember feeling really dizzy and it just felt weird to walk. I know, I know...red flags everywhere! I suggested that we just relax for a bit and maybe just grab something to eat at the venue since walking to a restaurant and then the concert venue sounded like too much for me. When it was time to go and I just couldn't get up. My fever was creeping up again and I thought maybe I just needed to give myself some time for the Tylenol to kick in and I would just meet them at the concert. I didn't want my daughter to miss a thing. I sent them off. They checked in with me like every 15 minutes it felt like and sent pictures and videos. I just couldn't get up. I didn't know this at the time, but they left the concert early because they were worried about me. We called my on call doctors back at my cancer center at 11:00 that night and still, I didn't have any of the signs that pointed at an infection. I told my crew I really just wanted to go home. I didn't want to stay in Kansas City. I think deep down, I was afraid I wouldn't make it home...ever...if I stayed. With not a shred of doubt or annoyance, my crew packed up and we left for home. It was now that I was realizing how little I had eaten or drank all day. I tried to sip on some water and gatorade. About 45 minutes from home I started feeling even worse if that's possible! When we got home I had really hard time getting out of the car. I could barely hold myself up. I went into the bathroom and just got really sick. You guys....I still was just thinking I need to rest. It's crazy how occupied our mind is when our bodies are shutting down. It didn't even occur to me it could be as bad as it was becoming. By the next morning, my breathing had become so labored. My niece and sister had stopped over to see me and later I found out that my niece had told her mom she had never seen anyone look that bad before. My dad had texted me that morning asking how I was doing and my response, I kid you not, was "Daddy, I feel like I'm dying". Even with that, I wasn't really letting it all sink in. I hadn't eaten in about 3 days or gone to the bathroom in about 2. My oncology nurse called to confirm my appointment for the next week and asked how I was doing. She had no idea this was all going on. She told me to strongly consider going in and getting checked out at the ER. It couldn't hurt. All my head was telling me was that tomorrow I would be with MY doctors. My nurse Cody was an angel for me on that day. Her voice went over and over in my mind. It was on that night after the kids had gone to their ball games and come home and gone to bed that I thought maybe some fluids couldn't hurt.
Once I was in the ER, I explained my situation and they immediately drew some labs and hooked me up with some fluids. Naively, I still thought if I hydrate enough so that I actually needed to go to the bathroom, problem solved! I didn't expect that my blood pressure was so low that the top number only read 58. I also didn't expect pulse oxygen numbers in the 70s. I mean, I knew I was breathing fast and labored, but my body was barely working. They also came into my room quite urgently and told me that my kidneys were shutting down and if I didn't do something soon, we would be looking at dialysis or even worse. Cue the ambulance ride. I spent 90 minutes in an ambulance that seemed like a mere 10 to me. I was told we had some close calls with deer on the road and had to take several detours due to flooding. I don't remember any of this. I really only remember talking with the nice guy who had to ride next to me as he kept trying to increase my oxygen intake because my vitals were just so low. He was so calm...angel like.
Once I arrived at the hospital, I was only in a "regular" room for about 30 minutes. That was enough time for them to determine that not only were my kidneys failing, but I had fluid around the left chamber of my heart, as well as, in my lungs. I was also septic. They said I needed to be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. I had never even visited an ICU! What was happening? My surgeon who I was supposed to go in and see for a follow up that morning came in to see me. She said I was exactly where I needed to be. I remember my parents arriving there and to be honest it all seemed so confusing and things were happening at warp speed. I think I was just that out of it. A priest or deacon (I honestly can't remember which) came in to see me and I didn't welcome him with open arms. I was scared and very angry. I really didn't feel God's presence through all of this at the time. He asked me if I wanted to pray and I told him there was only one prayer I was able to hold onto during my entire cancer journey. The Omni Christi. He told me to lead the prayer. Between breaths, I uttered these words:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O Good Jesus, hear me. Within Thy wounds hide me. Suffer me not to be separated from thee. From the malignant enemy defend me. In the hour of my death call me. And bid me come unto Thee, That with all Thy saints, I may praise thee Forever and ever. Amen.
The part that says "at the hour of my death" caught me off guard and I got pretty choked up. I saw my parents with tears in their eyes at the foot of my bed. That was completely heartbreaking. I hate so much that I had to put them through all of this. They wheeled me off to ICU and I passed by some really sick people who were clearly fighting for their lives. It was so weird that I was now one of them. My days in the ICU were a little blurry, but spent with numerous scans, tests and some really amazing doctors and nurses helping me. After a few days, I had turned a corner and I made it out. They put me in acute care. This is where I spent the rest of my hospital stay. I still had some amazing medical staff caring for me and tirelessly trying to figure out how this all happened. Infectious disease doctors were even called in because they wondered if I had ingested some sort of bacteria when crawling through the mud at my Spartan Race right before my surgery. It was inconclusive. As best as they could determine, my body had just been put through the wringer and surgery and chemo were just a lot. It was here where I was strong enough to spend some time curled up in my hospital bed, listening to an amazing playlist one of my friends had made for me and peacefully reflect on what this all meant for me. I vowed in those moments to move forth with an unwavering zest for life. I will live with as much authenticity as I possibly can and quiet the noise the doesn't suit me. Today, I make these same vows sitting in a beautiful cabana with two beautiful friends in Scottsdale, Arizona. I'm grateful for the people in my life who have supported and loved me during this crazy time. I promise to be the best version of myself and keep learning, loving and changing. My goals are big and my dreams are even bigger. I'm proud of what I've learned this past year. I'm even more excited for what I'm going to conquer in the year to come. Thank you cancer for the joy, tears, pain, lessons and the perspective. You may have taken the breath out of my lungs more than once, but I am stronger, more resilient and more grateful than I have ever been in my life. -M