What now?

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First 2 weeks of August 2012

The days following this outrageous news were sobering and difficult. We weren’t able to talk on the phone, so I resorted to texting the news to family. The first person I called was a church friend who is an oncologist to share the test results and CT scans. The conversation didn’t go well because I was pretty incoherent. I didn’t know where to start. How do you break this news to someone who’s expecting to hear great news of a new baby? I slowly began to understand what depression meant and felt like. I’m sure Carmen’s state of mind was in complete disarray just as mine was.

We couldn’t get information fast enough. We saw numerous doctors and asked countless questions. The only straight answers came in the form of the actual diagnosis and nothing more because nothing more could be given to us. This was very complicated and the cancer was pretty rare so no one really knew what they were dealing with. Plus the fact that it had metastasized meant things were soon gonna go from bad to ugly in terms of prognosis. Each passing hour felt like days and each day felt like weeks. We wanted answers and to see the oncologist ASAP. We were finally able to secure a meeting with the head of oncology at Kaiser.

As I was scurrying to get all of these appointments lined up, we kept coming back to our new baby. Carmen was dealing with the pain from C-section while trying to be a mom to an infant. Those few days were a blur. I kept hoping that this was just a bad dream and that I would wake up from it. But each morning I would wake up with a heavy heart and sadness. Olivia and Ella were being watched by family and wanted desperately to see us and we desperately wanted to go home to be with them so finally being discharged felt nice.

Our first meeting with the oncologist came about 2 weeks after we were discharged. Yes, this seemed like an eternity away. Before we met the doctor I kept telling Carmen “no matter what you hear in there, don’t worry. Things are going to be ok”. I knew we weren’t going to hear anything we wanted to hear and sure enough it was all gloom and doom. The survival stats on this type of cancer were terrible and her initial prognosis was even worse. Again, it was too new. All they could go by was prior experiences from past patients in research papers. Those people in those papers didn’t fair so well. So we were speechless and beaten down a little further.

Her oncologist had conducted a tumor board prior to our visit. This board had recommended surgery to remove her entire stomach as well as the 2 ovarian tumors followed by a heavy regimen of chemo. This regimen was called EOX, composed of 3 chemo drugs. These were very toxic especially the first drug in the acronym. The “E” would cause her to lose her hair. The surgery would be a very extensive. Seeing that she just came out of major surgery we weren’t sure how she would handle it. She needed to recover physically so if she had her stomach removed, how would she get her nutrients? It’s one thing to remove it when you’re healthy, but right after giving birth, your body is in a state of flux. In the meantime, our church friend also did a tumor board with his colleagues and they had concluded that we should go chemo first, then surgery, maybe. This 2nd opinion was shared by the UCLA oncologist who would be Carmen’s oncologist starting in January. He also recommended dropping the E from the regimen because he didn’t believe it added much to the effectiveness against the cancer, but it was the most toxic of the 3. So we dropped it and the date was set for Aug 23, 2012. The morning would be reserved to insert a PICC line into her arm. This tube was surgically inserted directly into her heart. The end of the line hung out of her left arm. Showering would be a challenge. That afternoon was her first chemo treatment.

Carmen was recovering well from the C-section and breast feeding by now. However, she would need to stop breastfeeding once she started on her chemo treatments because the drug would get to the baby. So she fed her half the time and pumped for 2 weeks. During those 2 weeks she was able to save enough to last Audrey for another 6 weeks of breast milk! We had a freezer full of breast milk. Then the painful part came when she had to stop the flow so she could start chemo. This was both physically painful as well as emotionally. That week she stopped breastfeeding causing her breasts to engorge, had continues pain from the C-section, and was about to start chemo. In hockey this is called a hat trick.

Audrey was such a trooper. She didn’t complain about going back and forth between formula and breast milk. In fact she was well versed at drinking from a cup, nipple, and bottle. As long as it was food she didn’t care how it got to her mouth. She was such a good baby. God definitely gave us an angel baby during this time.

We had many more meetings with other oncologists for 2nd and 3rd opinions. Audrey came to every one of those meetings. Olivia and Ella were transferred from person to person while we went from meeting to meeting. Our 3 daughters definitely kept us occupied and our minds a little more sane. And our prayer life got a little stronger with each passing day.

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