On Oct 30th, I checked myself into the ER as my temperature had reached 102 degrees. As a chemo patient, any temp over 100.4 demands a trip to the ER, as chemo patients have weakened immune systems and often can not fight off an infection. It turned out that I did have an infection and I was admitted myself to the hospital.
On Oct 24th, almost a week before my trip to the ER, I could not have a bowel movement. To make a long story short, I was constipated in total for 2 WEEKS and 2 DAYS! And my rectum was not giving into that state. I was basically living on the toilet, trying to pass the stool that had built up inside. If I tell you I had 25 bowel movements in one day that was a good day. I was averaging a lot more, with little drips and drabs coming out at a time. It seems there should have been a simple solution to my problem. You're probably thinking, "Why didn't they just give Stacy an enema, a laxative, or something to end her problem?" But there was a lot more going on.
As a chemo/radiation patient, I had several side effects. Prior to being hospitalized, on Monday, Oct 26th, I was told that my rectal walls were inflamed from my treatments. Between the tumor and the inflamed walls, nothing was passing at the time, not even liquid. So they gave me suppositories to reduce the inflammation for stool to pass. After a couple days, it started to work, but not fast enough. Thus I came down with my fever on the 30th.
While in the hospital, the doctors were able to do several examinations. They found that I had colitis, a large radiation burn on my colon wall, and to make matters worse, my fissure recurred due to all the bowel movement attempts. Given these findings, I no longer used suppositories to reduce my inflamation. The hospital dietician recommended 1000 mgs of fish oil per day. Unfortunately, it is not a supplement I can take every day. As a chemo patient, I should not take supplements that work against my chemo, which includes massive doses of Vitamin E, super antioxidant supplements, etc. While on chemo, the idea is to let the treatments fight the cancer, and allow my body to be invaded by it's chemicals, doing it's work against my cancer. Thus certain supplements are discouraged as they conteract chemotherapy. The doctor approved my fish oil supplement to treat the inflammation only. I took it for several days, reduced my internal inflamation, and now I'm off fish oil, which is just as well, as it produced nasty indigestion burbs.
In my previous entry, I described my fissure, so I won't go into detail about that. Except to say that now it was accompanied by my internal pains, as well as surrounded by a radiated hind area where ALL skin surfaces were burned, internally and externally. The internal burn, I will leave to your imagination. To describe colitis, I borrow an excerpt from www.livingwithuc.com, "Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that affects the colon or large intestine. In people with UC, the innermost lining of the intestine, called the mucosa, becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores. These sores bleed and produce pus and mucus. The inflammation causes the intestine to empty frequently, which results in bouts of bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps". Needless to say, I was utterly being tortured. Each BM was excruciating, in league with labor pains. And there was a day in there where I must have neared 100 BM attempts in one day. Fortunately, by the time it got that bad, I was in the hospital and being issued pain medication. But even that wasn't enough. The pain still came on unmercilously. So I found my "happy place" to get me through. I focused on the sands and waves of the Pacific Ocean, specifically Hermosa Beach, approximately 1994. I spent a lot of time back then at my dear friend Christine Andrews’s apartment, right on the beach. Those were great times. Few things compare to the majesty of the Pacific Ocean and its beauty at dawn when waves blissfully crash on the shore and it is all you can hear.
Given my multiple complications, the doctors finally conceded to my request. I had a temporary ileostomy bag placed. And they performed a sphinctorotomy, which is a minor operation to assist healing of my fissure, basically, weakening the sphincter muscle with an incision, so that it would stop resisting any bowel movements and allow the rectum to pass stool without "a fight."
I never thought I would feel even good about getting a ileostomy bag. But I can honestly say, when the doctor came in my room on Monday, Nov 9th to tell me that they would perform that procedure, it sounded like the best news I had ever heard.
Going through cancer treatment, you learn a lot about the human body. Having a colostomy bag does not remove the need for natural bowel movements. I still have one or two a day, passing blood and mucus from my colon. But thanks to the 90 mg of timed release morphine that I now take twice a day, along with an occasional 15mg immediate release tablet as needed, my pain is pretty well managed now. So I'm pretty well medicated. If you want to see me, you'll have to come my way, as I can't drive at the moment due to these meds.
Now I am waiting for my medical oncologist here at Fort Bragg to discuss my present condition and recent episodes with my surgeon at UNC. While that happens, I am taking a break from treatment. My last radiation was on Oct 28th and my chemo stopped on Oct 31st. The doctors may decide that it is best I resume chemo next week. Or they may conclude that I go straight to surgery. The only thing I hope for in my upcoming treatment is that it does NOT include radiation, which my medical oncologist here at Fort Bragg says is an option, to rework my treatments so that it only is chemo from this point forward. I had 14 days of radiation, and am scheduled for 14 more. As for now, we can tell that the radiation has had an effect on my rectal tumor. The doctor who performed my sphinctorotomy said that it, "seemed smaller" and that it felt harder than it did previously. He described it as "fried," which is a good thing. The end goal of my treatments is that both tumors shrink significantly. And they will continue to be effected by treatment even after the treatments stop. The surgeon gives me 4 weeks off treatment before he begins working with me. All pain aside, as bad as it got, is worth it if the treatments work and my tumors shrink, especially given their precarious locations. My rectal tumor is lodged right next to my bladder and other female parts. And my liver tumor did turn up to have some cancerous lesions nearby. Four that they could identify and one on the other left side. However, given its very small size, the doctor said it will most likely not affect my prognosis. I am still very operable.
Some of you want to know what to specifically pray. Pray that my chemo treatments continue to battle my cancer through this break I am on. And that the tumors continue to shrink. Pray for wisdom for my doctors and that they openly and freely communicate between UNC and Fort Bragg, so that their plan for me going forward is optimal. And most of all, pray for God to see me victoriously through this fight. That he be with my doctors and all the others on my medical team.
And I can't end this blog without holding up my husband Takashi. These past few weeks have been extremely challenging for him, having to suddenly take on all responsibility for TK, getting him to daycare, visiting me in the hospital, etc. Now that I am home, a bit of the strain is lifted from him. He has taken great care of me since I've been home. Setting up a comfortable area for me to sleep, even buying me a new TV for my temporary sleeping quarters, and having to prep my meals. (Side note, one of the side effects of chemo is this weird reaction to cold and hot. I can not even open the refrigerator, as per the doctor’s orders). Thanks honey for all that you've done and continue to do!