One year ago today, I found myself in the emergency room at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital in Vancouver, Washington. I was in the Portland area at the time, house-sitting for friends and caring for their dogs while they were on vacation. I had Sophie and her second litter with me at the time and had a visit from prospective puppy buyers the day before. I was talking to the couple about beagles and realized that I was unable to complete my sentences, having to pause for breath halfway through each sentence. I went to bed that night with mild pressure in my chest and some shortness of breath.
The next morning, I called my doctor. I was concerned that the problem might be the new birth control pills that I was taking. I’d had migraines for years but they had recently increased in frequency and severity, triggered by plummeting estrogen levels. Low-dose birth control pills were intended to level out my hormones and reduce my migraines. I was on week three of my first pack of pills and had been having a heavy period for nearly two weeks….and I certainly hoped that my doctor would put an end to that! When I called, I complained about the period and mentioned that I’d had shortness of breath. She told me to go to the emergency room.
So, at 10:30 that morning, I drove to the hospital. I’d had a bit of vertigo that morning so I was put in a wheelchair and parked in the waiting room for an hour and a half while we waited for “the room with all of the equipment” to be available. I went through a series of tests….EKG, chest x-ray, etc…..and finally I was given a CT scan. This was all very interesting and, so far, everything appeared to normal. Around 4:00 in the afternoon, though, I started to get antsy. “I’ve got a lot of dogs waiting for me at home, expecting their dinner….can I leave soon?”
“Yes, but please come back this evening so that we can check your vitals one more time”.
I went home and took care of the dogs, had some dinner, and returned to the hospital that evening. After another EKG, the doctor came in to talk to me. “The good news,” she said “is that your heart and lungs are fine, however, when the radiologist did your CT scan, he found a mass in your stomach.”
I sat up in my bed with wide-eyed wonder….”Your kidding!!! Can I see the pictures???” For several months, I had noticed that I never felt hungry but, aside from that, I’d had no symptoms to suggest that anything was wrong. “See your doctor when you get home” I was told.
I drove home that night, knowing what “mass in your stomach” meant. I had cancer. One of the things that I’ve been most grateful for was the fact that I was alone when I got this news. I had time to come to terms with the news before sharing it with family and friends. I have never felt a moment of fear, sadness or anger about my journey with cancer. I knew that God wouldn’t give me more than I could handle and that there were lessons for me to learn from this experience. My concern was for my daughters. Marie’s best friend had lost her mother to cancer during their senior year of high school. Marie was now living thousands of miles away in Michigan and it would be difficult for her to be so far from home during this time. Amanda was just beginning her senior year of high school and I was sorry that she had to go through this at such an important time in her life. I knew, though, that like me, they would learn a lot in the coming months. If I had to do this, I was going to do it well….and be an example for my daughters.
The words “You have cancer” didn’t come until a couple of weeks later, following further tests when I was back home. I got the phone call at 4:30 in the afternoon on November 6, 2007. The news was expected but I was a bit numb nonetheless. My shortness of breath was due to Iron Deficiency Anemia, possibly caused by bleeding of the tumor and made worse by the blood loss during my two-week long period. For more on my diagnosis, visit this post.