It has come at no better time, on World Cancer Day, to journal and share with readers some devastating news about my health.
You see, last November, I moved back to our home in Quezon City to spend more time with my aging parents. My brother, their primary caregiver for many years, and I were bunking in their room to help them move about.
I had been teaching online since last year and was suffering from painful edema running from my thighs down to my ankles and toes (thought it was arthritis) and a bloated tummy (thought it was acid reflux). I would have to pull a burp fest to gain some relief.
So when I had the opportunity to do some testing during Christmas break, as soon as our school’s first trimester ended on Dec. 17 (my late grandmum’s birthday and 30th death anniversary), I seized it.
Pre-op prep, then major surgery
My tests, scans and lab work all pointed to a need for a total abdominal hysterectomy (TAH) as the diagnosis was an ovarian new growth, or so I was told.
Beginning on Saturday, January 9 at 6 a.m., my doctors at St. Luke’s extracted a humongous 30-cm., six-kilo solid mass from my retro-peritoneal sheath below my abdominal cavity that had compressed my stomach, spleen, liver, kidneys, discombobulated my ureters and bladder, and sat on top of and adhered to my vena cava, right ovary and fallopian tube, appendix, and a bunch of blood vessels and iliac lymph nodes.
Phew! Six hours in major surgery!
While it was supposed to be a quick, minor laparotomy procedure with a five-centimeter incision to siphon out fluids and any resulting flaccid mass, which was thought to be benign, a gynecology-oncology surgeon was on standby to do a possible frozen section of the Omentum in a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO) and lymph node extraction, it ended up as major excision surgery with me lying in blissfully clueless recovery for nine hours.
Post-op pains that cost a pretty penny
As my general anesthesia wore off some 15 hours later, I woke up to realize that the humongous tumor that my doctors removed was malignant. Histopathology lab results returned a diagnosis of my condition as Stage 3 Liposarcoma, a relatively rare kind of soft-tissue cancer.
I was also rudely awakened by a staggering $25,000 hospital bill, of which 10 percent was covered by my school’s health insurance plan, two percent by government health care, and the rest by maxed-out credit cards.
These days, I’m in constant gastric discomfort and feel bloated and gassy most of the time. I need to belch, pass gas (flatus), urinate, or move my bowels (void) just to feel relieved. I never knew that I would ever look forward to these rather unpleasant digestive activities.
I guess they are common daily routines all humans go through, but my brother tells me that my body has to get used to all that extra “real estate” left behind when doctors extracted the tumor.
As my general anesthesia wore off some 15 hours later, I woke up to realize that the humongous tumor that my doctors removed was malignant.
My digestive organs were “smooshed” into dysfunction and are trying to get back into the groove of things. While some meds do bring relief, I long for the time when I can manage my food intake (quantity and timing) so that my body is able to do its thing smoothly.
My wound is healing fine as my husband cleans and changes the dressing every day. It’s a “T” running from my upper torso area down to my bladder.
Decisions, decisions, decisions
I have to go through an initial round of cancer treatments with my brother, a pathologist in Chicago, coordinating remotely with my radiology-oncology team to begin treatment at St. Luke’s Quezon City. He requested tissue specimens to evaluate further, so he can offer a second opinion.
With so many different options for managing cancer care, researching hundreds of therapeutic strategies, my brain is in meltdown.
After consulting with my surgeon, he assessed the need to do a creatinine test (to check for good liver functioning) + 2 CT/PET scans as soon as possible (whenever I feel strong enough), and if anything shows up (he is certain there is a tiny positive section in my lower right abdominal cavity that he hadn’t removed in my original tumor extraction).
Aside from the impending doom of a distended tummy, I’m bracing for another whopping hospital bill.
After this immediate second surgery, I will need regular creatinine tests, chest and abdominal CT/PET scans, and to consult with a medical oncologist to set me on a forked path to freedom. I can do radiation therapy (to zap any new growth... morbid!) or chemotherapy (to melt a regrowth... nauseating!) or re-excision (to remove a tumor — well, been there, done that!) every three months for the next three years.
I’m weighing in on an earlier decision to return to Canada, where my family and I were living before coming to Manila nine years ago, and continue treatment there. I’ve been told it takes three months to reactivate our medical service plans.
My school chums have very kindly set up a GoFundMe page for folks from far and wide to read about my story. Of course, aside from pragmatic financial support, which is so much appreciated, I believe that listening to my Spotify music playlists and podcasts, reading my favorite novel genres on my Kindle, reading words of love, light, peace, prayers and healing, are just as precious. Positive vibrations felt across the miles may magically melt away those nasty new growths. Who knows? I don’t. But I’m certainly up for the fight.
Banner photo: Doctors removed a 30=cm (one foot) malignant mass from the author’s abdomen after a six-hour surgery.