This saga began in the spring of 2008. We were at the beach for our annual "Beach Vacation". Everyone had a great time.
Wisteena mentioned that she was spotting and since that hadn't happened in years she was going to schedule a visit to her OB/GYN when we returned home. Little did we know that this was the end of the happy times.
On our return to Charlotte, her OB/GYN took one look and made an appointment with a Gynecological Oncologist.
A waiting room wall we'd spend a lot of time looking at in months to come.
The results of the biopsy indicated an endocervical (malignant mixed Mullerian tumor) cancer which was described to us as "rare and aggressive". The date was set for her surgery. The oncologist was upbeat and confident so we were too.
June 9 2008 the surgery was performed, a complete hysterectomy, removal of some of the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen) and removal of the lymph nodes in the area for biopsy. The lymph nodes were cancer free as was the peritoneum but since the cancer was in the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, it qualified as stage 4 cancer. That didn't sound so good.
Wisteena in her palatial room recovering just in time for ......
..... her birthday! Happy Birthday Wisteena! Everyone was happy and she was being released in two days.
On the date she was to be released, I received a call that her heart had gone into artrial fibrillation and that she had been moved to the coronary care wing.
That room wasn't so palatial. This is a phone camera photo of her in her bed being prepped for her "conversion" where her heart goes back into rhythm. That was successful and she was discharged.
After her recovery from surgery, the chemotherapy and radiation treatments could begin. Three doses of chemo, 25 doses of radiation, then another three doses of chemo. How bad could that be? Well, we found out.
Welcome to the Infusion Center
What a pleasant place. Chemo started July 2 2008. We'd arrive at 8:30 AM for a blood test to confirm that the infusion could take place. The OK was passed to the pharmacist who would mix up the drugs and dispense them to the infusion nurse who would hook Wisteena up by about 10:AM and start the infusion. One of the drugs was something to make her sleepy and she would sleep most of the day while I yakked it up with other people who were there with their sleeping loved ones. That took a while but we were usually out of there by 4:30 to 5 PM where we then visited with our friends and neighbors in the stop and go rush hour traffic for the next 65 minutes trying to get home. Then we had to come back the next day for an injection of Procrit to boost the production of red blood cells. The next few days were bed rest and anti-nausea pills. Then after about a week she'd start to recover.
Knowing that her hair was going to fall out from the chemo, Wisteena took the bull by the horns and had it cut first.
Saying goodbye to her long locks.
The new hairdo, she looked so pretty. The next day it started falling out in hunks.
At the second chemo we knew what to expect.
Her infusion nurse (I called her the Singer Sewing Machine because she stuck Wisteena so many times trying to find a vein) did a repeat of her sticking everything that moved. We fired her and had another nurse assigned to Wisteena. The new nurse was wonderful but even she had to work to find a vein. It had been suggested that Wisteena have a port installed to make the infusion stick easier because of her small veins and since it drains directly into the heart, her veins would not get so burned up by the drugs. The infusion nurse wore protective clothing and gloves while handling the hookup and disconnect. It was disconcerting that they were protecting themselves from something so dangerous and still pumping it into a vein.
We talked it over and I think I convinced Wisteena to get the port.
Off to get the port
The port is installed by a technician or mortician or some other marginally qualified person.
Wisteena waiting for her port procedure.
They place the port under the skin on her chest, then it is threaded under the skin up to a second incision by her neck to access the carotid artery and then threaded down the artery to near the ventricle of the heart.
Oh Happy Days! The port is installed under the skin below the lower incision. It feels like a bump under the skin about the size of an aspirin and the nurse only has to hit that silicone bump with a needle. Now the infusion center and all the other folks at the hospital can stick her port instead of gouging time after time in both arms and hands while looking for a vein.
Well.... that's not exactly how it works. The port needle is "special" and apparently only the people in the infusion center have the qualifications or skill to use it. The idiots in the MRI and PET imaging facility "no habla port" and persist in mutilating her arms with needles anyway when dyes or contrasts are needed. If we trudge up to the infusion center and wait for a free nurse, she can do the stick, then we trudge to the other end of the hospital for the procedure to be performed (everything is always at the other end of the hospital) then we trudge back to the infusion center and wait for a free nurse to remove the needle, get the port flushed and filled with heparin to prevent a clot in the line. Something I learned later when the billing began arriving; that flush job cost $500 and would be charged for the required monthly flushes for 13 months until the port became clogged anyway and then they charged almost $2000 to remove it. I could go into a rant about health care cost but they were curing her.
The final chemo of the first round was on August 13 2008 and went mostly uneventfully. The hair was gone, Wisteena was losing weight, the port continues to be sensitive and swollen and the radiation treatments were next.
Get ready to glow in the dark!
After a rest period for Wisteena's body to get over the effects of the chemo, the radiation started on September 4 2008.
First all kinds of marks were placed on her stomach to align the Acme Zapatronic Radiation machine.
Then we'd arrive daily and check in. She looks so pitiful all alone in the waiting room.
After several minutes they'd call her name, take her back and she'd be done before ....
.... I could finish my coffee break.
Repeat daily for twenty five times and we're done!
Time for graduation.
These were her lab technicians who ran the Zapatronic machine. They have just presented Wisteena with her certificate of completion on October 9 2008.
Along with the certificate was a bell ringing ceremony. Wis got quite emotional, this was a major milestone.
Back to Chemo
Wisteena's hair is just starting to grow back and now it'll be gone again. The next three chemo trips began on November 5 2008 and were uneventful since we were accustomed to the daylong event, after effects and recovery.
The Chemo Completion prize on January 5 2009. It doesn't look like much but a lot of work went into earning it.
Time for the post treatment checkup
In we go for the oncologist's first checkup after all the post operative treatments. The cancer is back! That sounds like a death sentence. The oncologist and radiologist pow-wow on what to do next and finally decide to operate once again to remove the cancer from the side of the vagina and then perform high dosage radiation for a follow up.
Our optimism can be best reflected in the rush to update wills, make and pay for funeral arrangements and grave markers. Somber stuff.
Certainly not what we were wanting to be doing with our time.
The second operation went well and the oncologist explained that this was probably just an additional growth that was missed the first time. Hmmmm. Is he blowing sunshine up our skirts? We are determined to remain optimistic as we are handed off to the radiologist again. This time he will use "high dose radiation" for four treatments that are administered using a "cylinder" that is inserted into the vagina. Then a window in the cylinder that is aligned with the cancerous area opens and fries everything in that area. Can things get any more scary?
The HDR (high dose radiation) service is in a bunker-like area at the end of the hospital that reflected what was happening here. The treatment was pleasant enough since no needles were involved and the radiation was insidious in its action. Wisteena continues to suffer after-effects.
I don't have any photos of this since we were still not as upbeat as before.
HDR began April 1 2009 and was completed April 16 2009.
Finally, a clean report
On July 9 2009 Wisteena finally passed a Post-Op exam. The oncologist stated he could not find any cancer. Now for some remedial work. The radiation had aggravated her diverticulosis and she had suffered attacks all during the last year. A quick trip to an internist revealed that the gall stones that had been revealed during the MRI's were causing some of her problems so she had her gall bladder removed November 19 2009. Things improved.
During the struggle Wisteena's atrial fibrillation returned to stay.
Here is the monitor she wore for the cardiologist to monitor her heart in September 2010. Results? Yep, she has atrial fibrillation. She tried an electroconversion where they put the bug zapper to her heart to get the rhythm back to normal.
While waiting for the procedure, a service dog was brought through to visit the patients. Where had she been during the last year?
Wisteena's heart stayed converted about 48 hours before the atrial fibrillation returned. She gave up and now takes Coumadin plus two medications that keep her heart rate near normal.
Her three month oncology exams continue to be good and we remain hopeful.
Celebrating a birthday we weren't sure she'd see.
2 surgeries, 2 CT scans, 3 MRI scans, 3 PET scans, 6 chemo treatments, 25 low dose radiation treatments, 4 high dose radiation treatments, 1 gall bladder surgery and 1 cardiac electroconversion.