Wednesday, February 19, 2014

i'm radioactive, radioactive

{cue the imagine dragons.}  

it's wednesday and i am currently 25 hours into my radioactive status.  which means i've also had 25 hours of solo time in the lower level of my parents condo.  precautions primarily include that no one can be within 6 feet of me for 3 days.  it is preferred to have my own bathroom, my own space, which i do.  i have to be overly cautious of what i touch, keeping my hands from my mouth and my eyes, and not touching anything afterwards.  i have to flush the toilet twice each time i go, which is a lot because i have to drink and drink and drink and drink some more to flush the unnecessary radiation out of my body that's not doing the job of burning away the remaining thyroid tissue.  i have to wash my hands and shower whenever i remember to.  i have bags of sour lemon candies to suck on in order to salivate and avoid swelling, as the radioactive material can hang out in the salivary glands and the longer it stays, the more likely to affect my taste buds.  i have to eat off of paper plates and use plastic utensils that i just throw away.  so much to think about, between making sure i consciously keep others safe, missing michael and the girls, deciding what to do next with my individual time away, and keeping my mind on the positive, always.

monday morning, 8 am, i arrived to the hospital for my appointment.  it pretty much went something like this.  check in.  sit and wait.  get a blood draw.  sit and wait.  meet with nuclear assistant for baseline scans of neck area and neck to abdomen area.  sit and wait.  back with nuclear assistant to drink a scanning dose of radiation housed in a nuclear container that looked as if it should contain a bomb for which no precautions needed to be followed afterwards.  sit and wait.  for an hour.  back with nuclear assistant for final scans post radiation dose settling in my stomach.  go home.  that took about 3 hours.

and then i was able to enjoy the rest of the afternoon home with the girls.  since michael's car decided to throw a wrench in this whole journey last week, he took the afternoon to test drive a few cars.  i tried to soak up play time with harper and crosby and very little else.  i didn't clean, other than typical day of dishes.  i didn't cook, we just ordered pizza and i ate low-iodine leftovers.  i didn't hang out on my phone.  but mid-afternoon, i started to feel funky and wondered if i was hungry, anxious or nervous, or feeling side effects from the minuscule dose of radiation i received.  by 6:30, it was evident what it was.  i had the stomach bug that had been going around, and i tossed all my cookies.  it happened again a few hours later, and i was so worried that my treatment would have to be pushed back.  i just wanted it to start, to feel like i was doing something about this cancer, to finish off my journey.  i went to bed early and let michael take care of everything else that needed to be done.

i slept fairly well, but it took me a while to get myself up and about and dressed tuesday morning.  i didn't appear to have the stomach bug any longer, but i was drained and achy and not feeling my best.  on top of it all was knowing that i had to say goodbye to my girls for an unknown amount of time.  and still wondering if my cookie tossing messed up the scans and dosage and what they would tell me when i arrived at clinic.  and throwing in a few inches of snow which meant another school snow day for harper and a delayed start for crosby's preschool, so we were figuring out where our girls would go that day and trying to allow ourselves the additional time it would take to get to the hospital.  it could have been enough to throw me off the edge, but i actually found myself doing nothing else but focusing on what i needed to do and what needed to be accomplished and not letting emotions take over.  not yet.  

about 5 minutes before we had to leave, i felt the tears burning my eyes.  i gathered up my loves and hugged and kissed and kissed some more.  i couldn't give them enough.  harper was snuggly and lovey and kept telling me she loved me and would miss me.  crosby was a mixed bag.  she cried and didn't want me to hug her, and then she'd give me a kiss, and then she would lie on the floor and kick and scream.  i told them i loved them and loved them and loved them and would see them over facetime that night.  harper gave me one last snuggle, then looked up and said "mom, can i have a popsicle?"  thank goodness she knows how to lighten the situation.  of course, i said yes.

michael ended up driving me in to the hospital while my mom stayed back and got the girls where they needed to go.  because we were late from the snow, we didn't have to do a whole lot of waiting.  we were moved in the scanning room, where i had 2 20-minute scans, 1 35-minute scan, and a 1 -minute ct scan.  the whir of the machines, the warm blankets they layered on me and knowing i couldn't move for that amount of time pushed me immediately into slumberland for several cat naps.  michael was able to stay in the room almost the entire time, and watched the screens while i slept.  after those were complete, we were ushered into a clinic room to meet with the doctor.  this doctor was AWESOME (and on this blog, i don't use capitals lightly).  she was so thorough, so knowledgable, so at ease that this treatment would cure it all.  via the scans, she could see that there was still residual thyroid tissue that needed to be radiated, because no surgeon is truly able to remove everything surgically with how close to the esophagus and vocal cords the thyroid is, and also noted some metastasis to a lymph node on the right side, the side that was removed in the january surgery.  i had a brief moment of panic within myself.  you hate hearing the word cancer.  you hate even more hearing the word metastasis.  she was confident that a moderate dose of radioactive iodine therapy would take care of it all.  apparently, when and if thyroid cancer metastasizes, it goes to the lungs.  through the scans, they noted that my lungs were clear.  thank God for a positive piece of information.  she reviewed all the necessary precautions and restrictions i would need to take, and finally gave me the one bit i was waiting to hear.  you can't be the primary caregiver for your young children at home for 18 days.  it was what we expected and what we were planning, 3 days less actually, but still hearing it definitively was gut wrenching.  

when the doctor left, the nurse came in to go over all the side effects, all the restrictions once again, how this would all go down, and give me my script and a pill for zofran, to help with any nausea that may occur.  i have a fairly sensitive stomach, so i had no doubt on taking it.  when she left, i gave my last kisses and hugs to my mom and michael, shed some more tears.  the nuclear assistant came to get me and walked me back to a small enclosed room with a chair and floor that were lined with paper padding.  she put on her gown, double gloved her hands, and brought out, once again, the heavy, metal nuclear-looking cylindrical container that housed a small vial of my treatment.  without taking the vial out, she pushed a special straw in, then a syringe with water.  she pushed in the water, and told me to take the straw in my mouth and continue sipping until it was all gone without taking a break or letting the straw go.  it had no taste, and yet, my stomach was doing back flips and my mind was racing.  i was actively ingesting a powerfully potent medication that would kill my cancer within my body.  others had to wear gloves and gowns and be over-the-top careful with handling it, and here i was putting it in my body without any protection.  i trusted the process and allowed it there to do its job.  

i got up from the chair, went back to the clinic room to gather my bags and my entourage and walked down the halls, up the escalator and out to the car, all the while leading the pack with 6 feet between us.  what was scary and unnerving was that no one else had a clue that i was emitting radiation.  i was walking like a regular joe through crowded hospital corridors, potent and potentially dangerous.

i drove myself to my home-away-from-home for the next 18 days- my lower level bedroom in my parents condo.  i waved hello to my dad as i walked downstairs.  i hopped into bed and sat.  i had 18 days lying before me.  where the hell was i going to start.  it's almost (though not really) like a vacation.  you arrive at your hotel room, drop your bags, and wonder what to do first.  do you swim?  do you explore the hotel grounds?  do you take a nap from the exhaustion you've endured from a long flight?  i checked instagram, played words with friends, texted a few people, answered some e-mails, ordered some shoes for the girls on zulily, wrote out little love notes to include in their lunch boxes for the next 2 1/2 weeks, skyped with family and in between all that drank a ton of gatorade and water and sucked on some lemon war heads (which are disgustingly nasty and i can't believe that kids actually like those things, but it was the only thing i had at the time).

my plans include rest and recovery and following my doctor's plan exactly, to get rid of the cancer quickly and effectively, including waking every 2 hours at night to make certain i'm eating that lemon candy and drinking a big glass of water...

...and a whole lot of organizing and items on my to-do list that never get done.  my parents have cleared their schedule to support me and michael and the girls, getting them to and from school, dance, music and swim.  our family plan is to face time morning and night, and anytime in between on the weekends.  michael is handling everything else and telling me not to worry (which i'm not), with the support of amazing neighbors and friends delivering meals and cleaning our house.  my heart broke last night when crosby told me she wanted me to come home and lie with her for bedtime.  and this morning when harper told me she just missed me so much and repeatedly sent me kisses over the phone line.  i'm hesitant to cry and shed my radioactive tears anywhere other than the shower, so there will be plenty of showers.  and blogging.  yes, there will be blogging.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your brave journey with us, Emily.Reading your words reminded me of my own experience and the strange emotions one experiences when poisoning the cancer out of one's body.
Thinking of you --

Kelly O'Donnell said...

So so hard. that nasty treatment would be bad enough, but not having your family to support you in person--worst. Hang in there, we can do hard things!