IMG_0344Well, that certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. Not at all.

I didn’t realize it until after the fact, but, like my husband, I had been telling myself a certain story about how all of this cancer business was going to go down. Because it wasn’t known whether the “questionable” spots on the CT scan were malignant or benign, I chose to assume they were benign. And because it wasn’t known whether more cancer existed inside me beyond the mass that was found on my fallopian tube, I chose to assume that none did. I also told myself that once the doc got inside and took a look around, she would realize that an IP port wasn’t necessary…that I likely wouldn’t need chemo to be hosed directly into my abdomen.

We had been telling ourselves these stories, my husband and I, unbeknownst to each other. And apparently our close friends and family had been telling themselves similar stories as well. This was certainly a living example of the phrase, “expectations are premeditated disappointments.” If we had kept our expectations in check, the outcome of the procedure would not have been nearly as jarring.

This wasn’t like me, this erring on the side of optimism. I’m the girl who, in the past, would wonder if her headache wasn’t a brain tumor, or who would speculate that the mystery ache or pain was cancer of the whatever. But, for some reason, with this cancer diagnosis, I was telling myself that surely it wasn’t as bad as all that…that surely this was a “mild” case of cancer that would be easily treated and stomped into submission. It was quite sobering to find out that I was wrong.

I feel sorry for my poor husband, as he ended up having to be the one to deliver the news to me. It seems that I was so out of it after surgery that I did not remember my oncologist or primary care physician repeatedly telling me the results of the surgery.  Apparently, I asked them several times what had been found, and they told me, but I was too drugged to process the information or retain it. When I was finally lucid enough to take in the information, Mark and I were alone in our room at the hospital and it was the middle of the night. I began peppering him with questions, which he patiently answered for what was actually the umpeenth time. My reaction this time, however, was different, because I was actually able to understand and absorb what I was being told, which was this:

The cancer had spread to other areas. The “questionable” spots were definitely cancer, and there were other cancerous areas too. There was a particularly large cancerous tumor on my omentum (area of the abdomen) that had not even shown up on my CT scan. It was not necessary to wait for the pathology reports….the cancer was visible to the naked eye, nothing questionable about it. Because of the nature of the spread, the cancer was graded as a Stage III-C, one step below a Stage IV. And there is no Stage V in cancer world. An inter-perineal port had been installed so that the chemo could be administered directly into my abdomen, as well as intravenously.

Fuck. This was the real deal.

The first day post-op was basically spent trying to get pain under control and get me physically comfortable, which we did. The incision wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, although it was still a bit gnarly to look down and see railroad tracks of surgical staples marching down my abdomen and around my belly button and beyond. Plus, that ominous port-thing at the top of my rib cage. Adjusting to these physical differences was the goal of Day One.

Getting up and down was a bitch. Still is, although I’m much better today. Today, Day Two, I woke up with a new attitude, determined to do whatever I could to heal as quickly as possible so that I could get on with the next phase of treatment. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that I successfully met all goals today. As I result, I’ve been cleared to go home in the morning. I think I even impressed my uber hardcore oncologist, whom I happened to pass as I was power walking through the halls on my floor. After seeing me in action, she had no choice but to give me the all clear for discharge. A small victory. Plus, we’ll get to be home in time for Christmas.

Physically, I’m ahead of the recovery game. Wrapping my head around the new information about my diagnosis is another issue. I’m doing much better today on that front as well, but it still seems quite surreal.

Right now, my primary goal is to heal as quickly as possible from the surgery so that I can start chemotherapy the second week of January. I’ll do six rounds of chemo, with the drugs being administered on the first, second and eighth days of each three week cycle. The chemo will be administered directly into my abdomen as well as intravenously…aggressive therapy for an aggressive cancer. At this point, I just want to do whatever it takes to ensure that the disease is eradicated altogether. So that’s what we’re going to do.

My perspective today is very different than it was 72 hours ago. And I’ve learned a valuable lesson about setting expectations. My goal today is to try to take this, all of this, a step at a time. Next steps…go home with my husband and baby; celebrate the holiday together with our families; then focus on getting as strong and healthy as possible before starting treatment. And continue to enjoy every minute of the process.

My doctor is encouraged by all of the motivators I have in my life, my husband and daughter being at the top of the list. And he’s right. I have so much to live for, so many reasons to get this behind me and get on with living. I have to admit it was a bit eerie this week to find us in the same configuration we had been just a few weeks ago…me in a hospital bed, Mark on an uncomfortable pull out chair/bed next to me and our little daughter in a hospital bassinet between us ….with the circumstances so incredibly different this go-round. But the point was, we were all still together.

threeAs one of my best friends reminded me today…three is a magic number for our family. So, Stage 3? We’ve got this.

Thanks to all of you for the support, prayers and positive energy. We have felt so surrounded by love and optimism. We know that we are not alone in this journey.

Love and gratitude,
The Montgomery Three

 

 

From my wonderful, ass-kicking Aunt Lynda in Arizona:   “I would be honored to have my butt on your blog. That damn cancer can just kiss my big white ass.”

Sharing genes with this lady can only bode well for me and poorly for the cancer.

So, it’s only been a dozen or so days since my diagnosis – with much of that time spent holed up in the little sanctuary we call our home – and I’ve already become familiar with the phenomenon I’ll call Cancer Face. Even my husband, who is thankfully cancer free, has already been the recipient of Cancer Face, also known as “the Look”.

For someone with a serious illness, the Look is the expression of pity, sadness and concern bestowed upon you by someone who Knows (about your diagnosis, or your spouse’s diagnosis) and is seeing you for the first time since hearing the news. (At least I hope it’s just the first time…) An added bonus (or not) is when the eyes of the bestower of the Look actually well up with tears as soon as they are laid upon you.

Don’t get me wrong. I have been touched beyond belief by how many people care about what’s going on with my health, and are truly concerned for us and the outcome of all of this. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around it, actually…the sheer volume of people who have reached out to us during this time. I feel loved, honored, grateful (and more than a little unworthy of all the attention, but that’s my stuff).

The flip side of being the recipient of these strong reactions is the feeling that maybe this diagnosis is worse than I thought. Given the fact that I still look and feel the same (not having yet been sliced open or pumped full of poisonous chemicals), it’s a little surreal to watch friends, family and strangers freak out over the news. It’s like it’s happening to someone else. I mean, people I do not know are running marathons in my name. There is a “community quilt” being made in our honor. Meal calendars are being established to provide food for our family. I’m receiving cards, gifts and e-mails from strangers all over the country. Crazy. Very, very nice, but still crazy.

I feel very detached from all of the hoopla, at least so far. My inner voice is saying that all of this energy shouldn’t be spent on me. After all, I’m going to be just fine. Maybe it’s denial, but right now it’s hard for me to imagine that I might be incapacitated for a period of time at some point. And there are way better causes out there, those with far greater needs. Plus, accepting help is something with which I’ve always had difficulty. It’s clear that my higher power has some lessons in store for me in that arena, among others.

The other thing that has evoked strange emotions (foreign, at least, to me) are the offers to “take” or “keep” my brand new baby girl. She’s just two weeks old – technically not even yet full term – and you’re talking about me farming her out? Hell no. I hate being away from her for even a couple of hours right now. The thought of being away from her for a longer period of time – or for strangers to be taking care of her so early on in her life – is inconceivable to me. This was supposed to be our time to bond as a new little family, and I don’t want to lose a minute of that experience.

I was feeling something I’ve never felt before in the wake of these offers…something on which I couldn’t quite put my finger. Then I realized: this my newly awakened, inner “mama bear” coming out. In all of my 44 years, I’ve never felt anything quite like it. But, all at once, there it was…this feeling of wanting to protect and shield my child, to hold her close and never let her go.

I think there’s also something else at play here – a place to which I can’t and won’t fully allow myself to go at this point – and that’s the urge to spend as much time as absolutely possible with this little girl while I can. I’m feeling something very close to the the same thing about my husband as well. I just want to swallow them up right now. I can’t get enough of either of them.

These feelings made me feel kind of selfish/kind of bitchy until I processed them out loud with a couple of trusted friends and also ran them by my doctor. And what I now realize is that I can give myself permission to be selfish with my time with my husband and baby right now. Also that this little girl, and my fervent desire to be here to watch her grow up, is going to be key to my recovery.

This is a hell of a motivator:

And if you’ve never held a baby skin to skin, you’re missing out on some good medicine indeed (just ask my husband). It’s good for both of your souls.

So right now, that’s my focus….all of the wonderful things in my life that make this fight worth fighting even more. That, and staying as strong as possible so that I can take care of my child and be present for her first few months.

As for getting Cancer Face, I have to realize that this isn’t just happening to me. It’s happening to my husband, daughter, parents, brother, friends and family. And to all of you too. We all process fear and grief differently. My way so far is to just pretend to be strong so that I don’t slip into the territory of wallowing in the “what ifs”. And my discomfort at your tears is very likely because my tears are very close to the surface too.

But we’re going to get through this, all of us, each in our own way. Whether you’re walking through this with me personally, or you’re engaged directly or indirectly in your own battle with cancer or [insert shitty situation here].

Love and gratitude,

Joanna

First, I’ve been totally and completely blown away by the support of so many people – friends and strangers alike – in the wake of our news. The stories of triumph over this disease and the words of encouragement have shored us up in a way we never dreamed possible just a few days ago when we were in a collective puddle on the floor. The more we learn about how many of you and yours have beaten cancer, the more we believe we can do it too.

Second, I’ve heard from more than a few of you that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to you. I’ve heard it said that cancer helped some of you grow up, show up, pay attention, adjust your priorities, and appreciate all that you have. And I totally get that, although I’m not be quite there yet. Right now, I’m still in the process of processing this curveball that has been thrown our way. I’m spending a lot of time bouncing between joy and determination and fear and grief. But I get it. Already I can see how this diagnosis has adjusted my priorities. The things I was worried about 10 days ago seem plain silly now. The list of things that are truly important just got real short, real quick. And that’s not a bad thing.

However, it has been pointed out to me by several of you that I may actually owe a thank you to the cancer that has set up shop inside me. We knew that our little Magnolia Grace was to thank for allowing the doctors to find the cancer when they did. But it seems that we can also thank the cancer for saving Magnolia’s life. If it weren’t for the mass on my Fallopian tube, I would not have ended up in the emergency room on December 1st with pain that I could no longer ignore. And if I hadn’t ended up in the ER, the doctors likely wouldn’t have discovered the placental abruption before it was too late. Maggie would have lost her source of nourishment, and very possibly her life.

So, even though we hate this cancer – really, really hate it – I guess we also have to thank it. Because without it, we very well could have lost our daughter. And already we can’t imagine our lives without her. Me having to fight cancer is a very small price to pay for her presence in our lives and on this planet.

Talk about an amazing chain of events. When I think of all of the elements that had to fall into place for us to have this beautiful being and for my condition to be discovered in the process, it is clear that the universe has a plan in place that is far greater than anything we can imagine. There are no accidents. I just have to have faith and trust the process. And I’m working on that, a little more each day.

Some friends posted this sign today and I have adopted it as my motto, at least for today.

Photo11

That, and fuck you, cancer. You’ve served your purpose and I’m grateful, but now it’s time for you to go. Love and thanks,

Jo

Yesterday brought with it a strong dose of reality and reminders of what is to come. I spent the morning doing all of my pre-surgery appointments and tests at Vanderbilt – EKG, chest x-rays, meetings with the anesthesia team, going through the pre-admissions process. It became clear that I am now in “the system”, a member of a club I never wanted to join. It also became a tiny bit easier each time I had to tell the story of why I was there. Writing about it helps too.

One thing I don’t understand – why do people who work in a cancer treatment center greet new patients with the standard, “how are you?”. I have to admit that many potential answers to that question crossed my mind the first few times it was asked, but I was the polite Southern girl and just said “I’m okay, how are you?”. After all, it’s not their fault that I have cancer. And at least they’re treating me normally. It’s better than the pitying, teary eyed, Lifetime-movie-of-the-week look that I’m already coming to recognize.

So, I got through that process emotionally unscathed for the most part; then – this is the silver lining part – went home to gather up our little girl so that my husband and I could take her to a newborn photo shoot we had scheduled months earlier with the amazing Brooke Kelly. For the few hours that we were in her studio, I was able to forget all about the diagnosis and upcoming treatment and just focus on our amazing little girl. She was so patient and willing and warm and squishy…I feel like time stands still when I watch her. I seriously think I could just stare at her for hours. And have.

And since everyone loves a cute baby photo, here are a couple of previews from the shoot.

Maggie6

Maggie peed on Mark’s mini Maton guitar right after Brooke got this shot. And it is a testament to dad’s feelings about his new little girl that he didn’t mind even a little a bit.

Maggie7

(Photo credit: Brooke Kelly Photography)

Look at this shit. Seriously. I still can’t believe she’s ours. Sheer perfection.

Magnolia Grace has already become our teacher, motivator and guide. We are so very grateful; so very blessed.

And speaking of gratitude and being blessed, thanks so much for all of the wonderfully moving and supportive messages.

Love,

The Montgomery Three