Thursday, February 14, 2013

Prelude to a Dream

If only this were a dream... 

Albiet one that I cannot wake up from, though it warrants examining, as some have inquired of me to share what, if any, the warning signs or even circumstances which existed prior to my life being thrust into the throes of the tumultuous chaos that is a cancer patient's life and journey through the unknown. ***In spite of the most recent development in my situation, i feel this is still important to share so that others have at least a little insight into what led or may have led me into the point of being an advanced stage; Stage IV fighter with no chance it seems to have headed it off at an earlier stage.** Recent scans to determine if the painful swelling and distention of my abdomen since the colostomy surgery in early Dec 2012 was ascites; a build up of fluid in the abdominal cavity due to irritation caused by the primary tumor and liver function disruption not only showed the lack of fluid to be able to removed to relieve the uncomfortable condition, but revealed several masses on my liver itself, one of the three measuring about the size of a golf ball, therefore being the culprit of the swelling. Nothing they can do they say, except increase the pain medicine. That's not ok with me. They know I am young and still want to fight and be informed on all aspects of my disease, though Hospice is in the palliative care business, not the interventional treatment business. Instead of biding my time and staying as comfortable as possible, which they are great at doing, I feel that more aggressive steps are needed to be considered at this point instead of just laying down and letting it win and slowly take me further down the rabbit hole. It would just be nice to know what that means  forme to do. I'm searching for clinical trials again since the answer I get from every consultation is "try the last type of chemo, add this booster drug, then maybe this new drug on the market will be a candidate for you to try as a last resort." They all spell the same results that I decided against doing following the recovery from radiation treatment back in September 2012; I didn't want to put my body through that again with the flimsy guarantee that it may only keep me 'stable'; prevent further growth, and only extend life-expectancy but a mere 1.2 months, but with the side-effects making me feel 10x as worse as I already feel on a daily basis, it didn't seem logically worth the gamble. Now, maybe, give it a shot? I don't feel much different about trying it, but is it worth it if stable means staying on it long term to keep me there and feeling crappy the rest of my life instead of 'feeling' stable for the most part but knowing that it is being allowed to spread and progress. I'm between a rock and a hard place. I just need that rock to be my foundation and my strength.

Getting diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at such a young age and with little to no warning in the way of symptoms or major medical concerns that raised any flags was both bothersome and in and of itself, just plain mind-boggling. Everyone I speak with on this topic rightfully wonders aloud if there was anything that was happening in my life prior to the diagnosis that would have given me any clues or warning , but unfortunately as is the case with i'm sure the majority of cancer patients, there's simple not just one thing to peg as the cause.

In my case, heredity (the prevalence of cancer on my dad's side of the family), possible exposure to carcinogenic material in my air force years around the aviation industry, high stress at work environments overseas, working long and constantly changing shift work hours, not allowing my body to ever really get on any normal sleep pattern, a diet that probably lacked enough health fresh natural foods and vital nutrients as hard as I tried if military chow hall food counts as real food, I still tried to eat healthy, as well as skipping meals due to being too busy and a preoccupation and perfectionist mentality towards work; these all contributed to some degree or another to the natural breakdown in my body that allowed the cancer to manifest itself. Or it could have been none of these things. It just happened, though i'm sure some of these played a significant probability of allowing the cancer to develop from the substances we are all exposed to that lay dormant or latent in our systems and just need a weakness in the system to allow it to thrive and come to life so to speak. 100 different people could have experienced the same exact factors as me over my lifetime and not have a trace of cancer. Who's to know. Maybe my exposure to high-altitude mountain climbing triggered a lack or oxygen to my system tied to the intense physical stress of throwing myself at a demanding climb though short lived, could have triggered something. There are a million what ifs that it doesn't do anything but give you one more thing to worry about that you can't change, so early on I gave up on that thought process and  now just focus on what is and take each day as it comes. 

I did however, come home from my last stint overseas on a solo trip of 6 months for my new job at the time, and sought out a primary care physician in our new town of Chico where we had bought our house earlier that spring but wasn't around long enough to establish a primary Doctor at the time (again since I didn't feel any major health issues that warrants the immediate need). Though later that fall when I nearing the end of my assignment, I started having to worrying symptoms that I would seek a Dr.s consult for but didn't trust the doctors or the healthcare system in the country I was in, so waited until I returned to Chico and started my new position at work full-force, still having the symptoms, sought out and found a Dr. of good reputation and voiced my concerns which led to getting a colonoscopy scheduled. (**censor warning: the following is described in detail for the purpose of sharing the exact details of what I experienced and led me to seek care for others to be aware of and to serve as an example of a warning sign that should be taken seriously as a potential precursor to a much larger problem**). For several months before returning overseas, I had been noticing significant changes in my bowel habits, namely blood; light streaks to moderate amounts of bloody mucus in my bowel movements as well as the consistency of it changing to a consistent softer mushy consistency like chocolate frozen yogurt (sorry for the food analogies, but was the best way to describe it to the Doctor) and the size was consistently smaller, like sausage links (again sorry to ruin these foods forever for those reading), though in my case, this was due to the fact that the existing tumor was already present and restricting the size of stuff passing through. This led me to the Primary Health Care provided I had chosen and had the colonoscopy performed, which in normal circumstances isn't prescribed until someone hits their 'Golden Years' at 50. It is highly recommended therefore for anyone with a family history of anyone who's had colon or colorectal cancer, for family members to have a colonoscopy performed 10 years prior to the age that the family member was diagnosed and should be screened irregardless. In my case that means my children will have to endure that necessary unpleasantness at 21, but for a very good reason. The screening involves looking for tiny polyps (mushroom like growths that indicate the precursor of cancerous growth, but can be biopsied to confirm malignancy). Several of my close family members since my diagnosis have done just this to ensure they are clear of the risk. My colonoscopy of course discovered the already growth of a full size almost circumferential tumor that was biopsied and confirmed malignant and already spread to nearby lymph nodes almost that same first surreal day. 

I wish there were more definitive warnings I could share that would educate and arm others with good ways to avoid what I now have to endure, though awareness is the first step and the key is listening to your body, even for the most subtle changes, is really the most important piece of advice I can offer. I lived and worked in a stressful environment for a long time, and even the little things that might have been warning signs could have been overlooked, ignored, or chalked up to how I just how I was living or treating my body. It is important not to ignore the little things, they could make all the difference. Even if they're not of immediate medical concern, it's exactly the environment we put ourselves in and the way we live and more importantly eat, that could be the cause (and the cure) of most major illness that develop because of those factors. Changes, any, in your digestive system, warrants taking note of and is probably the most common factor that could indicate the start of a problem but is also probably the most overlooked or ignored. Bring it up, don't ignore what your body is trying to tell you. What we put into our bodies is what we get out of it, literally and metaphorically. If we eat like crap, drink too much, smoke, don't get proper sleep, stress & worry, don't exercise; our bodies reflect all of it. Cancer is no different. Maybe being the penultimate consequence of all, it is truly how we treat our bodies that is the best defense we have. I felt that I lived a pretty healthy life, I ate fairly well but was way off from the truth of knowing what I know now on the subject due to the exhaustive research Alysha has amassed to develop her expertise in the field of nutrition, alternative medicine, diet and eating naturally and raw, spending countless hours since my diagnosis to shape the changes to make our home a healthy and chemical free one to the health of our entire family. The changes are obvious and logical how much a role our diet plays in not just our general health, but in disease prevention and fighting it. Even now i'm guilty of straying from it. Partly because some of the medicine I take acts as an appetite stimulant, which in my case has been a good thing; to gain back some of the weight I lost during chemo and radiation treatments. I weigh more than I did when I began this journey, except that the things my body craves: carbs & sweet stuff, gives me the kind of weight i'd rather not have, but not being able to be active and have it toned, I don't really mind. One of the steroids I take makes my face poofy (moon-face) and has been causing minor headaches because it's pushing on a piece of cartilage on the side of my nose that must have gotten dislodge (during a minor altercation at a time and place with people I won't mention here on return from a deployment layover where some coworkers in the distinguished crew-chief occupation got a little rowdy), but has swelled to the point of making my voice nasally and is threatening to interfere with my vision in my right eye. Anyways, my appetite  is ferocious at times and I just want to eat whatever I can get, so trying to stay eating healthy is a challenge. But just doing the simple things like cutting out dairy, minimizing or substituting sugary snacks and highly processed foods with healthy alternatives are a good place to start. Kind of being past the preventative stage, it's still vital to arm my body with the right tools it needs to do what it was designed to do and fight from the inside out naturally. That was a big factor in deciding not to pursue the next type of chemotherapy that is available for traditional treatment options, though it can't guarantee any measure of success that we've yet to see from pursuing any of the previous regimens. 

So without some magic ball to see into your future, you have to be your own advocate and make note of changes in your body that concern you, don't ignore them, and especially if you have family history of any disease, get screened yourself to ensure your own health, and treat your body well, and it will treat you well! Even as mine deteriorates, I feel that because i'm still young, my body, which some help along the way, will continue to fight and i'll be 'stable' for some time to come if I follow my own advice, I just wish we knew more about the enemy to ensure defeat. I've been reading snippets of Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' viewing cancer as the enemy in all analogies to arm myself with a mental insight or mentality of outwitting the enemy. In this case running from it doesn't work as well as moving an army to flank another, but it serves as a platform on which to perceive a battle that can be strategically fought whether imaginary or real. Dream or reality, our physical wellbeing relies on us and what we expose ourselves to. Heed the warnings and don't wait to address concerns, no matter how small. You are your own advocate, no one else in the health'care' system will put forth the effort you deserve and often need to delve into an issue to find the right answers because the caring part of it has been lost. 


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