I expected to get nervous, scared even. A lobectomy sounds like such a big deal! I mean, a surgery that removes half your lung? How does one even breath after?! After my last surgery, the wedge resection of a tumor in my right lung, I remembered vaguely (as is the way with things after surgery) having so much pain that I didn’t want to breath. As I would take shallow, less painful breaths the machine that monitored my pulse oximetry (the amount of oxygen in my blood) alarmed so loudly it repeatedly woke me up. All I wanted to do was sleep without breathing but repeatedly nurses or family members told me I needed to take deeper breaths. It was irritating because clearly, no one understood how painful it was. During that surgery they also reversed my ostomy and had cut me open from my pubic bone to my sternum for the second time so that may have played a role in how much pain I was having. But I healed. Pain is no longer an issue I struggle with so I knew that I would also overcome any pain from this surgery since the incisions would be just as invasive as the ones on the right side but this time, I wouldn’t have my abdomen cut open. So I wasn’t nervous about pain. The last two surgeries, I grieved what I would lose in strength and capacity for my CrossFit training and that was the saddest and most troubling thing to me about them. As I had already had an almost full recovery from both those surgeries, I knew I could do it again. Lifting heavy is my favorite part and I know I can get back to that. My surgeons had told me functionally I wouldn’t notice much of a difference and would be able to get back to training in only six to eight weeks. That’s a blink of time! I’d be back before people would even notice I was gone! So I wasn’t nervous about my recovery. I had already lived through two other more invasive and dangerous surgeries so I wasn’t nervous about dying. I really wasn’t nervous at all. The worst part for me was having to watch the people I love have to watch me go through it. My closest friends and family, although very supportive and happy for me, were not excited to watch me go through another surgery and watch me be in pain. I think I was nervous about the post op narcotic withdrawals somewhere at the back of my mind. I could tell I was stressed even though I couldn’t pin point exactly what the source was. I’m pretty disconnected from my emotions overall, I don’t know how I feel at any given point in time. Generally speaking, a way for me to identify unacknowledged emotions or stress is by how busy I am. Let me tell you, the week before my surgery I was BUSY.

I had taken the weekend before my surgery to go down to San Diego and visit my brothers, my sister-in-law and my nieces. My aunt and cousin came down and we stayed in a nice hotel with my parents. It was a very pleasant weekend with my family, laying by pools, sipping Palomas, and laughing. I stayed till Monday and came home just in time to drive straight to the gym for a personal training client and to coach my evening classes. I had eight to ten hour days scheduled in the gym Tuesday through Thursday and surgery Friday. I didn’t realize I was stressed until late Thursday when after a full day coaching, my gym family threw me a surprise happy surgery party. I was overwhelmed by fifty-ish masked athletes, friends and family members, many I hadn’t seen in months since quarantine began. I cried. People were shocked that they had pulled off the surprise but I was so focused on coaching and training and every thought being occupied with not thinking about surgery that I had let things slide. Suspicious activities that caught my attention weren’t investigated or questioned because I had a full plate already. I think a lot happened that week that I was oblivious to because I was focused on staying busy and avoiding how I felt and what I thought. As things in life do, surgery came as planned whether I was ready or not, processed or not, emotionally engaged or not.

I didn’t sleep the night before. Not because I was nervous but because I was busy! To be fair, I needed to be up at three in the morning to leave by four, to get there by five to start the surgery at seven. I’m someone who would rather not sleep than wake up early so that’s exactly what I did. I had some friends and family stay over till one in the morning because they wouldn’t be able to visit at the hospital (Covid) and couldn’t bear the thought of saying good bye yet. But we finally said goodbye and I headed to my house to pack and clean and shower. I was on the gurney in my hospital gown in what felt like the blink of an eye. One minute I was laughing with my mom and the very next minute they were taking me to pre-anesthesia. This part is the hardest part of surgery for me. It’s the part where you say good bye to your family in a hurry and don’t really get a good good bye because there are people waiting for you and watching. It’s the part where the reality of surgery hits you and it’s hit you too late! Maybe it’s not that way for everyone but for each of my four surgeries that’s how it’s gone. And my heart breaks every time. It hits me that this might be the last time I squeeze my mom’s wrist and hear her voice and its too late to take all that in. I always try to be brave and smile so she doesn’t worry but I always do so through a stream of tears.

I don’t know how it is at other hospitals but the Operating Rooms at Loma Linda are through a labrynth of hallways. I always get distracted from my sadness by imagining that I am on some strange ride at Disney Land and make a joke about it to the guy pushing my gurney. We always laugh. Then I say something about how I’m glad they know where they’re going because I would be sure to get lost. Then we laugh some more. Literally, we turn right and left and roll past these double doors and those double doors, left then right, and pass people fully masked, capped and gowned, down a long hallway, the fluorescent lights whiz overhead, some of people we pass say hello, others don’t even see us, left then right, some of them walk past us casually, others dart out of the way, then we pause in front of some automatic double doors. These slowly open and I’m wheeled to a curtained area and a friendly nurse asks me my name and birthdate. If you’re going to have a surgery just be ready to tell people your name and birthdate a million times.

Pre-anesthesia waiting room is where the real waiting happens. The nurse hooks you up to an EKG so they can get a good baseline for what your heart rate is doing, it starts casually beeping along with your heart. They attach the pulse oximeter to your finger, it’s very annoying (you can’t bend your finger well). Then they put in the IV. It’s very important they chose a good vein because this is what is going to deliver the anesthesia that will knock you out and keep you out. I have said it before, I’ll say it again, I have excellent veins. All the nurses say so. This day was no different. The needle they use is huge so they numb you up first with tiny lidocaine injections. I hate them. I’d almost prefer just the jab with the huge needle because the residual numbness that lingers is just as irritating as the pain would be. Then you wait. This room is where you meet the anesthesia team and they discuss their plan. Then you wait for the surgery team to come through to confirm their plan. Then you wait more for the anesthesia team to follows through with their plan. Which in this case includes a thoracic nerve block. They lay me on my side and using an ultrasound basically inject, I can’t remember what, between the sheaths of muscle between my ribs. It was very fun to watch the ultrasound screen as the needle went in and then ballooned the tissue with the fluid then go in deeper and create another balloon. All the while my ribs and armpit are getting progressively numb. Then the OR nurses come and introduce themselves, and confirm your name and birthdate.

Between all of this I had the most amazing experience of my life. You might believe it, you might not. It’s my experience and my blog. If you don’t believe in supernatural things or a God that loves you and works actively on your behalf you might want to skip this paragraph all together. Weirdo. I feel like I have words for it thanks to C.S. Lewis. I had been reading Out of the Silent Planet, with friends just before surgery. Lewis has a way with words that just broadens my understanding of experiences in the most unique way. But anyway, in this book he describes eldil (we might commonly call them angels, heavenly hosts, messengers/servants of God, what-have-you) and the chief eldil, Oyarsa, as shades of light.

“… Oyarsa was coming up between the long lines of sculptured stones. Partly he [Ransom] knew it from the faces of the Malacandrians [Marsians] as their lord passed them; partly he saw– he could not deny that he saw– Oyarsa himself. He never could say what it was like. The merest whisper of light– no, less than that, the smallest diminution of shadow– was traveling along the uneven surfaces of the ground weed; or rather some difference in the look of the ground, too slight to be named in the language of the five senses, moved slowly towards him. Like a silence spreading over a room full of people, like an infinitesimal coolness on a sultry day, like a passing memory of some long forgotten sound or scent, like all that is stillest and smallest and most hard to seize in nature, Oyarsa passed between his subjects and drew near and came to rest, not ten yards away from Ransom in the centre of Meldilorn. Ransom felt a tingling of his blood and a pricking on his fingers as if lightning were near him; and his heart and body seemed to him to be made of water.”

As I lay on my gurney waiting. I had the sudden sense, not identifiable by any of the five senses, mind you, but none the less, I had the sense that I was surrounded by such beings as Lewis described. But not just surrounded like I was guarded but as though the surgery had already begun. These beings were generously and fervently working on me. I felt it so strongly, in fact, I kept squinting my eyes and peering on either side of the gurney hoping to catch a “whisper of light” or “diminution of shadow” where it shouldn’t be. I felt it so strongly that my eyes kept welling with tears. I felt immeasurably grateful and unworthy and humbled, but knew it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with an army of prayers and a God who loves to prove He is everything He says He is. So yes, I sat there waiting, but it was so much more than that. This unseen work was undeterred or interrupted by the many doctors and nurses who went about their duties around me. But every minute of silence I felt the unseen presence battling at the cellular level on my behalf. This surgery was a bigger deal than I could have ever prepared for, apparently!

Surgery is a very coordinated effort with lots of moving parts, un-benounced to most, both seen and unseen. I’m still in awe of all of it. The nurses, anesthesiologists and surgeons all work together to bring about the desired result. When the different teams met up at my bedside they would joke with each other which put such a light hearted atmosphere on such a somber, serious affair. While we waited on the final finishing touches to be made in the OR, several teams had gathered around my bedside laughing about this and that. I liked it. I liked them. When they finally told me “Ok, everything is ready! Let’s head to the OR.” I said, “Oh! I’m so sorry I’ll be sleeping soon, I wish I could hang out longer.”

The rest is very fast. It’s a short road to the OR, only a couple of turns, the slow opening automatic doors and you’re there. Surrounded by everyone you’ve met over the last hour and a mass of machines and lights. “Ok Amy, we’re going to give you something to relax you a little bit then we’re going to administer the anesthesia and you’ll be asleep.” “Ok, bye, everyone!” I say as they plunge down the syringe into my IV. I hear gentle laughter as I fall asleep.

Then you wake up. Slowly, and groggily, you fight to stay awake, in and out of sleep, a nurse always just a whisper away. The pain is pretty intense but it’s all so blurry. I was fighting hard to stay awake because I knew the sooner I woke up the sooner they’d let my mom see me. I knew my mom needed to see me. She didn’t care what the doctors and nurses had to say she would want to see that I was alright and had come through it ok and wasn’t in too much pain.

Chest tubes hurt. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s a half inch tube squeezing out between your ribs pressing on a nerve. Let’s not forget your ribs move with every breath which means the nerve the tube is pressing on gets irritated with every breath. Did I forget to mention I had four small one to two inch incisions besides the one with the chest tube coming out of it? Well I did. They felt exactly like what you’d imagine a stab wound would feel like. Like someone took a knife stabbed me, twisted it around, then pulled it out… five time. There’s no way that doesn’t hurt. Unfortunately, I’d already had three other major surgeries so my body tends to laugh at drugs and their attempts to control my pain. It’s amazing how your body remembers narcotics. It was as though my body said, “Only that much? That’s all you’re going to give me? I remember this stuff and I know you can do better!!” So I found the prescribed dose falling short to help control my pain and was in a constant six to nine out of ten pain for the first couple days. Yes, a nine meant I was moaning and crying and often couldn’t get more meds for another hour or two. Finally, a nurse cared enough to recommend to the doctor to increasing the frequency and staggering the narcotics with the anti-inflammatories. Pain management was a journey during this hospital stay, but we finally got it under control.

By the time I would have been able to go home my pain was controlled, four to six out of ten. But the kicker was the chest tube wasn’t ready to get pulled yet. If you pull a chest tube too early, you collapse the lung. So I was cleared to go home with my chest tube! Which is all good and fine but that means there needs to be a receptacle that needs to be emptied. But suction needs to be maintained so the only way to empty it is by sucking the drainage from the receptacle with a syringe. Putting torsion on the tube to attach the syringe then create enough suction to pull the fluid out is a very uncomfortable sensation I would rather never experience again. The next problem with going home was my bowels. Narcotics management doesn’t just relate to pain, unfortunately. It also relates to bowel performance, or lack there of. Narcotics and surgery both slow the muscle contraction of your intestines. Even though I was eating fine there was zero output reflecting it. You can’t go home until they can ensure that your bowels are moving and you aren’t developing an ileus or obstruction. The day of discharge I found myself with pain under control, a portable chest tube in place and stuck waiting on my bowels. The amount of laxatives, stool softeners, and even suppositories I had received to no avail would shock most of you so I wont go into it. Suffice it to say, the hour drive home after finally being discharged was one of the most painful and uncomfortable car rides I think I’ve ever had.

But it’s done now. All those pesky lung nodules are mere objects for scientific research. I’m still breathing. Still fighting. Focusing on recovery and trying to remember how to dream a big full life into existence. This is not a road well traveled, but I’ll keep narrating it as best I can.


I wrote this a week before surgery and never posted it! To be chronologically consistent I will post it now even though I am post surgery and recovering very well. Here’s some more tension and encouragement to what’s becoming a very long and adventurous tale!

It’s pretty amazing what humans are capable of. Nothing has exposed this better than the pandemic! I know ALL of you know what I’m talking about! We have been placed under the external stress of finances, work, and child care, while adding additional emotional strain of uncertainty, depression, and anxiety! It’s a lifestyle shift for everyone. 2020 has brought down the hammer of turmoil, social unrest, political strife and natural disasters in a culmination unlike anything humans have seen in loooooong time! The way that we process and struggle looks different for each of us but we’re all in the trenches of uncertainty right now and, if nothing else, we’re feeling the discomfort. Two weeks before my surgery was an outward manifestation of my version of this tension. I coached and trained a lot of athletes. My days were long and tiring. Earlier in the week I got to add to the stress of programming, coaching, and managing small group classes my pre-op work up. The pre-op work up was stressful because any of it could deem me a poor candidate for surgery and cancel the whole thing!

In chronological order, I had a pulmonary function test (PFT), surgical consult, CT-PET, blood draw, EKG, more blood draws, and a Covid test to be done forty-eight hours before surgery. I had a full day of appointments and tests (where I wasn’t allowed to eat) that was eight hours long! The PFT looked at my lung capacity to make sure my lungs could handle and recover from a lobectomy. I consulted with the surgical oncologist who specializes in intra surgical chemotherapy to see if I was a good candidate for that. I had a CT-PET scan to make sure there were no surprise tumors anywhere else in my body. I had an EKG to make sure my heart was healthy enough for anesthesia. Finally the multiple blood draws to check my cell counts, tumor markers, and blood type. All that is good and fine but exhausting. Plus I had two migraines and the not eating all day thing… really makes me upset.

But let’s be real, all that stuff is the external. Schedule of hours and hours in the gym, going from one test to another, staying up late to do online programming and coaching, discomfort from migraines, being hungry, smoke from wildfires, wearing a mask… external external external. I’ll talk about that stuff all day. But what adds that true level of difficulty, isn’t my schedule, bodily discomfort or fatigue. The real struggle is in the unseen, it’s the internal stuff. Maybe it’s that way for you too?

The truth is I’m worried about my personal training clients with other coaches or training on their own. I’m worried about my coworkers stress level when I’m not there to support them. I’m worried about the emotional stress my surgery will add to my friends and my family. I’m worried about spending time with people before surgery. I’m worried about how much I’m worried and even more than that my mom internalizes all this even more than i do so, naturally I’m even more worried about my mom’s worry (she’s handling things so well by the way). Then on top of all that, this week I got to add the emotional stress that goes along with all the tests and procedures. I was worried my PFT would show my pulmonary system was actually not where it’s supposed to be and the surgical plan would change. I was worried my immune system was too low and that would affect surgery. I was worried I wasn’t getting enough sleep which, for me, almost always ensures I’m going to get even less sleep. I was worried because my counts were low and I wasn’t getting enough sleep that I would get sick and that would delay surgery. But most of all, I was worried the PET scan would show there was a new tumor somewhere else. That would mean surgery would be cancelled and I’d have to try some new chemo which leads to a whole plethora of rabbit trails of worry.

I think we can all agree that external stress is one thing but it’s the emotional undercurrent that really makes it tough. And emotional undercurrent combined with uncertainty is ALWAYS THE WORST AND MOST INTENSE. Here’s the kicker, send those scary “what ifs” packing! Do not let that worry shape your life or take up more space than it should. The best way to do that is to invite a larger, loving power into your life who can reframe that fear and worry in love! All this is to say, you’re doing great in your life. Battling it out, getting out of bed, making breakfast, managing your schedule, their schedule, work’s schedule, feeding the kids, feeding your dog, putting up that shelf, reorganizing your fridge, folding your laundry, buying groceries, wearing your mask… guys, we’re doing IT!

I could have had all my interactions with athletes strained by my worries. When I was coaching my classes I could have been distracted by my worry. I could have stayed up all night running my worries over and over in my mind (and I have!). My worry could have stolen my joy when I was with my friends, or isolated me from the people who support and help me. Here I am on my soap box again! Guys, the reason it didn’t is because I can trust that loving power outside myself. It’s not the universe, it’s not mental discipline, it’s not even CrossFit. It’s Jesus. Believe you me, if He lets me down in this, you’ll be the first to read about it because I will be irate. Even though I have feared Him failing me many times during this scary, dark, uncertain tunnel of a time in my life, He has not let me down yet! It is my STRONG belief and experience He can reframe your worry and let you have some peace too, if you’ll let Him.

I’m off my soap box now. Annnnnyway, as exhausting and hunger stimulating of a day as my day of tests was, it provided me with some very good, confidence inspiring news! My EKG was normal, blood work normal, PFT above normal (thanks crossfit), and COVID test negative. But the real kicker was the PET scan results. You may recall my tumor markers have been slowly going up, despite chemo, the last several months. Tumor markers have been a very good indicator of cancer activity since my diagnosis. When they go up that has always meant somewhere tumors are growing. With CT scans that show my lung nodules are growing slowly were suspicious that it means there’s cancer somewhere else. That’s why my PET scan could have been a nightmare! High tumor markers could also mean the cancer is trying to spread. It’s never a good idea to go off chemo (like I have to do to recover from my surgery) that suppresses cancer growth when you’re growing cancer. The day of my PET scan, my oncologist text me that my tumor markers are starting to trend down. Finally. Took long enough. That my fear of cancer spreading while I recover from surgery down a notch. Even more so, my PET scan showed no cancer in my colon, liver abdomen pelvis, heart or brain or any other unknown random location. Yes, my left lung lit up like a Christmas tree, saying that the nodules are certainly cancer. With how much it lit up, we can say the cancer is very active. That all means we can confidently the lung nodules were causing the upward trend of my tumor markers. All this reinforces out plan to get the lobe out of there!

My surgery was confirmed for the Friday, September eighteenth. I am thrilled!

PS Expect a surgery post soon!

Big Things.

If you didn’t hear, Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer last month. He was diagnosed a year before me but was only stage III. That’s sobering. The temptation is to let it scare me. I was diagnosed September 21, 2017 with stage IV colon cancer with metastasis EVERYWHERE. Why should I survive and not him? When I look back, I don’t think I grasped how advanced it was …well, I knew even at the time I didn’t recognize it. I remember saying to myself, “I’m sure I’ll look back and think on how scary this really is.” Knowing now what I know, how serious a tiny one to two millimeter nodule of cancer is, the cancer I had was catastrophic. A tumor almost obstructing my colon, three masses in my liver, one ten centimeters, one seven and one four, it was in the lymphnodes of my pelvis and abdomen and what we didn’t know then was that it had scattered cells throughout both my lungs. It was inoperable. I had stage IV inoperable widespread colon cancer. It seemed like a bad dream and not real. Fighting it seemed impossible and inevitable at the same time. I wonder how Chadwick Boseman looked at, had it ever become real for him? Even though I’ve got crazy scars from multiple surgeries that prove I’ve put my body through hell and feel nauseous and sick most days indicating I’m still fighting… it still isn’t real for me.

Before my third round of Lonesurf we checked my labs (blood counts and tumor markers) like always. They look at the number of neutrophils (ANC) to get an idea of how my immune system is tolerating treatment. I’ve been shown to be very resilient when it comes to chemo. It knocks me down but in my off weeks I recover pretty quickly. It’s normal for my white blood cell (WBC) counts and ANC to get pretty low with the chemo. On the other hand, my tumor markers (CEA) usually reflect that chemo suppresses cancer activity and stays pretty low. My oncologist was not pleased that my WBC and ANC were suuuuper low and my CEA was elevated. No big deal. Don’t start chemo, come back to recheck labs. Per usual, I would probably look better the next day. However, this time that was not the case. My counts were even lower (normal is 1.5-8.0, I had dropped to .4). This happens with chemotoxicity, basically the poison you ingest affects your immune system cell production in your bone marrow (myelosuppression). The result is immunosuppression and neutropenia. Where this isn’t a big problem, it’s never a good thing to have during a pandemic, but all that you need is an injection that stimulates your bone marrow. For me, it had some other implications. Basically, my body wasn’t handling the new chemo well either. So we needed to give me the injection and reduce my chemo dose, making chemo even less effective. Reducing chemo dose in light of increasing tumor markers is not a good pickle to get stuck in. What was even worse, in my opinion, was the injection has a side effect of bone pain so I would have to cut back on training at the gym! Already, I had only been able to train two to three times a week, cutting it back further just makes me sad. Between, low ANC, low WBC, increasing CEA, throwing up, less time training, the theme here is chemo is not viable for me much longer and we needed another option.

Re-enter Dr. Zaheer, my thoracic surgeon that had taken out the first lung nodule a year an a half ago during my lung wedge resection and colostomy reversal surgery. My oncologist set up a referral and I got a consult with him the next week. I’ll say it again, I love my oncologist because she has never pretended to have all the answers for me. She has always been of the mind that the more brilliant minds we can have on this the better and consulting other doctors is the easiest way to do that. We were just going to see what Dr. Zaheer had to say about surgery. Was a lobectomy possible? Too risky? Was it worth it removing half my lung to get a majority of the nodules and leave the rest? What options did he recommend? It was just a consult. Or so I told myself… Of course the secret less rational me knew this consult was actually a really big deal. There was the possibility that he would say yes to surgery and I could turn a corner with cancer, get aggressive again and be done with all of it. But to say that out loud meant that the converse could also be true. He could say that surgery wasn’t an option and that I just have to take my chances with chemos that weren’t working and wait for things to grow and spread, and feel very helpless.

We drove back to Loma Linda to meet with him and hear his recommendations. Where I like Dr. Zaheer and recognize his skill as a surgeon, trust him with my life, know he is the surgeon for me, he lacks bedside manner. All my sarcastic responses and morbid chuckles fall on a dead pan face. He understands my humor, he can see and even recognize when I am joking and never laughs. It’s slightly daunting. As any good surgeon, he patiently went over the options, wedge resections, lobectomies, benefits, risks, approaches, techniques. “Looking at your scans, it looks like seven nodules are in the lower lobe, with one more in the upper lobe.” This sounded like good news to me. I thought there were only five in the lower lobe and a lobectomy would leave three nodules. But this meant there was the possibility of removing almost all of them in one felled swoop. Then he really made my day and offered to perform an additional wedge resection on the upper lobe to get the last nodule. Yet he seemed hesitant and noncommital. He said, “I am hesitant to recommend surgery because we don’t have a biopsy. It’s possible we do a major surgery and they are all benign, that would be no good.” Naturally, as is my way, I started laughing. Which confused him so I quickly explain, “Oh we’re confident it’s cancer. We’re not worried about that.” His countenance lifted, it was like we had given him permission to attack a hated enemy and he drew his sword. “Lets schedule you for surgery then.”

The plan was aggressive and yet simple, just the way I like it! The approach would be similar to the wedge resection surgery we did on the right lung. Robotic approach minimizes how invasive the surgery is. Instead of cutting me open and spreading my ribs they make five small incisions for tools and cameras. Turns out a lobectomy is a much lower risk surgery than the wedge resection I had already had. They follow the fissure lines in my lung and only cut the small part attached to the upper lobe. The risk of bleeding and collapsing my lung are far less. After the lobectomy they’ll go after the last remaining nodule in my upper lobe and perform a wedge resection there. If they can’t find it or “feel” it with the robot they may have to convert to an open approach and do the big incision and spread the ribs and go in to find it. However, they are fairly confident that they can remove it without all that. He was also recommending me to a different surgeon who specializes in a intra surgery chemo technique called HITEC (hyperthermic intra thoracic chemotherapy). FUTURE! It’s where they fill the lung cavity with chemotherapy drugs that have been heated, after the surgeon removes tumors. This way they can make sure no cancer cells that have been dropped or left over after the lobe removal survive. How cool is that?

Of course there’s the risk list that goes along with the benefits list. Pneumothorax, hemorrhaging, weird surgical complications, infections, and death (always on the table). There’s the risk that they don’t get all the cancer. There’s the risk it has already spread elsewhere and is still too small to see. There’s the risk that during my recovery it spreads and grows somewhere else. Risk, risk, risk… But there’s a hope that counters every risk! When that line gets drawn, I’m standing with hope every time! He’s never failed me yet!

At this point, I am two weeks out from surgery and I am only excited. I’m sure when it gets closer I’ll get nervous and nostalgic and start crying when I look at palm trees and mountains and while I brush my teeth, drive my car, open my front door and other normal everyday things. I am hopeful. Part of me really wants to be confident and say, NO MORE CANCER. And part of me doesn’t want to call the game early if there’s more battling to do. Where I am tired and want to move past this, I’m not at the brink of quitting and I am not yet too tired to fight like hell. I am very lucky because God designed me with a very resilient body and an even more resilient heart. I love a good fight, I am always down to get in the trenches and wage war with all that I’ve got. That’s actually a big reason why I love CrossFit so much. I have found that at the point when I most want to quit that I’m able to lift up my head. But guys, I want to be done and there is a possibility this surgery will take a bleak situation and completely turn the tables for me. Stay tuned folks!!

Cancer Free.

Where do I start? I mean, seriously. It’s like the last year and a half of my life has been a bad dream. Part of me always expected to wake up. So you can imagine, it’s been very strange to have the bad dream resolve itself and not to wake up. If the bad part of the dream is over, does that mean it isn’t a dream at all, or does that make the happy conclusion a dream too? It makes the whole cancer thing seem even more unreal. The entire thing is hard to conceptualize and even harder to communicate.

To put it plainly, the surgery was miraculous. The plan was never to make me cancer free. That wasn’t supposed to be possible. I remember waking up after surgery, very sluggish and blurry, to my parents and brothers next to my bed. There was a tangible excitement that was buzzing in the air, just over my head, outside my reach, beyond what I was able to understand and make sense of. My mom leaned over the bed and said softly “They got it all, Sweetie.” I frowned, internally I think, I’m not sure I had the control or energy to actually frown. I didn’t like my mom saying that to me because it couldn’t be true. The disease was too small in my lymph nodes, it was microscopic. I was almost irritated that she misspoke and my head was too foggy to figure out what she meant to say. But then she continued… “They got the whole chain!” She was very emotional, that much was plain, she was happy and tearful. “The chain?” I questioned groggily. Irritation and hope began wrestling over my heart. What chain? She didn’t mean… “The… ” my brain hiccuped. What was that word? The lymphatic chain, the one the radiation oncologist talked about and wanted to radiate as my best chance for a cure… “My lymph node chain? No way!” I slurred through my lazy post anesthesia fog. Thats all I remember. I fell back asleep? We talked of the cosmos? I don’t remember.

I woke up the next morning, half expecting to have dreamed what my mom said. Rational me didn’t want to talk about it, I’d wait for my surgeon to tell me himself. I wanted an official report, to be told more formally. “They got it all,” HA! The resident came in at some point that day, I’m sure it was the morning but in that post surgical haze chronological order barely exists. But I remember what he said with remarkable clarity. He talked about how the lung surgery went well, it was cancer they removed, but they got the whole nodule and the regional lymph nodes. Then Dr. Reeves and he got started. My intestines were amazing, there was barely any scar tissue. He wasn’t sure why, maybe my age, maybe my diet, maybe how fit I was, it didn’t really make sense taking into account the two previous surgeries. This made it easy for them to find my rectal stump and reattach my colon. I inwardly praised my intestines for handling surgery so well and thanked God because, lets be real, if it doesn’t makes sense to the doctors then it’s God. Then they went after the lymph node they missed during my first surgery. The one that was too risky to go after because of how close it was to my aorta and how little time they had. The resident said, “we wanted to go in up high, by your liver, since the lymph node is so high in your abdominal cavity it made sense to start high. We couldn’t, there was too much scar tissue by your liver from the first surgery. So we went in down by the colostomy. Now, this is where things get a little magical…” My eyes widened. He explained that because my intestines were still out of my abdomen it made my posterior retroperitoneal lymphatic chain very visible. He wasn’t sure why it was so visible but it was. “Im not sure how he does it, I sure can’t, but Dr. Reeves can tell when a lymph node has been treated versus a healthy lymph node. They don’t look any different to me, so I don’t know.” Basically my surgeon can somehow see with his eyes that a lymph node has dead cancer cells in it. But where there are dead cancer cells it only takes one cell to survive to cause a problem in the future, so even dead cancer cells indicate danger and need to be removed whenever possible. They took the whole chain out and whats even better is they were able to trace the chain up to where the peri-aortic lymph node was, the one they were looking for. They removed it without an extensive search. “So you’re pretty much cancer free. It was basically a miraculous surgery.” He concluded.

I burst into tears.

I was in no way expecting to hear that phrase. I was completely caught off guard. Later that day my surgeon, Dr. Reeves, came in and also told the same story. It was much more practical and grounded than the way the resident told it so I’m glad I heard the story from him first. I enjoyed hearing words like magic and miracle being thrown around. But my surgeon was beaming, not so much with pride but with joy, his own version of “magic” and “miracle”. He was so happy that he could do this for me.  His conclusion was better than the way the resident put it. He smiled down at me and said… “so we can say with certainty, you are cancer free.”

What a dream!


I have surgery tomorrow.

A week ago I went and met with my surgeon and we discussed the plan for surgery and I got all my questions answered (as well as they can be). Here’s the summary. The PET scan I had the week before (the one where they inject me with radioactive isotopes and the cancer absorbs it and glows on the images) showed that indeed there is no more metastasis in my lymph nodes! (Which was one of the things I stood in faith about all those weeks ago, even when the surgeon said he could still see something and wasn’t sure.) This means I won’t have to worry about the cancer spreading to other regions of my body while I’m off chemo recovering from surgery and won’t need radiation. When I asked about incisions and how many and where, I was told if it were just my colon it would be a little laparoscopic incision around my belly button and if it were just my liver a diagonal incision just below my rib cage. But since it’s both, I’m going to have a central incision from my ribs down past my belly button to my pelvis, more or less. So basically my entire stomach is being split open. A friend joked, “Finally you won’t need all that makeup to show off your six pack, the scar can give all the central definition you’ll need”. It’s a good thing I like scars. Im just gonna say it, I will definitely miss my flat well defined abdominals and beach days will be interesting this summer.

The surgery will start in the liver and they’ll see how things look. The plan is still to remove the three smaller tumors from my left lobe and central part of my liver. If there’s time and they haven’t removed too much liver they’ll be brave and go for the forth tumor in my right lobe. Then they’ll head to my colon and take the tumor out there. If my colon is fibrous and it looks like it’ll leak they’ll then go and give me an ostomy and create an exit hole in my abdomen to allow the colon to heal without the stress of doing its job. The truth of the matter is, being a cancer anomaly, as far as age, health, fitness, and stubbornness, things like recovery, activity, and time frames are a grey area.

He said I’ll be with the anesthesiologist for the first two hours, getting baseline readings and an epidural to keep me from waking up in too much pain after the surgery. Then he’ll start the surgery around 9:30 am. “Now Jeannie,” he says to my mom, “I need you to understand that even starting that early it’s perfectly normal for me to still be working on her at eight or nine pm.” Also known as, it’s a ten to twelve hour surgery with the potential for me to be out for fourteen hours! Holy crap this is a major surgery!!!

There was more really good news given. I wouldn’t need to do golytely prep before the surgery. This was one of the things I was dreading most. Not eating before the surgery and having to do that horrible bowel prep again. I was planning on doing liquid diet for the two days leading up to the day before surgery just to make things easier. But what he told me was, I would be able to eat completely normally until the day before surgery!!! Such good news! I could do workouts and be with my friends without being a cranky starving wreck!

So I’ll be in ICU for one to three days and then in the hospital for up to ten days. Another thing he said was if he is able to remove all the cancer in one surgery I’ll have to stay in the hospital longer. I’m not a fan of this because the Crossfit Open starts the February 22. I know my doctor said walking would be a challenge after surgery but my post surgical goal is to go to the gym and cheer on my people as they do the first workout on February 23. So I hope I don’t have to stay in the hospital too long. (I’m also aware that this is pretty unrealistic but hey, a girls gotta dream!) One surgery is still the ideal and I still believe that’s how things are going to go! I’ll be on four to five days of bowel rest after the surgery which means no eating or drinking at allllll! I’ve been told I’ll be so uncomfortable and feeling so crappy that I won’t care about eating. Great. Just great.

All this logistics talk helped me recalibrate my heart for what’s ahead and to try and focus not on what I’ll be missing out on and unable to do but on making this the most efficient and best recovery ever. So I’ll write and draw and paint and read and finally finish the website for my business, Pike Physical Therapy and Fitness, and I’ll work on my base tan. The emotions of disappointment and unfairness come in waves, I’ve been tearing up while driving a lot this past week. The fight against sentiments like “I may never see these mountains again,” “I may never cuddle with Wallace again,” “I may never lift a barbell again,” “I might not hang out like this with my friends again,” “I might not hug my family again,” has been a bigger deal. But these thoughts do me no good! Cause really, I always appreciate things in my life. I’ve never really taken things for granted. Maybe it’s my personality or my realist mentality because Ive always known things are temporary and precious, even as a child. So I don’t let those thoughts or feelings take root. I dismiss them as soon as they come to mind. Somehow, I’m still not afraid of this surgery that will take a whole day and could end my life. I am confident in the things my God has whispered to my heart. There’s this verse in Luke that says “For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God will be without power or impossible of fulfillment.” So shoot. I’d much rather believe and side with that than let fear and sadness “prepare” my heart for disappointment. I’m still in good head and heart space and feel the ceaseless prayers holding me up and anchoring me in hope.

Get ready guys, this is where things get good and we see my God do wonderful, crazy, and impossible things! Stay tuned!