The picture of a Cancer Survivor!

(UPDATE)  Taken 10/12/07 in the mountains of Kentucky, on my horse "Dakota".



It's My Turn Now



My last wonderful, fantastic, incredible weekend before surgery, in the sunshine in Lake Sam Rayburn.  This was taken on Saturday, 9/30/06 by my son, who came home from college for the weekend.  A day from heaven!  (And yes, I was so happy, grinning so big that a few seconds after he snapped this picture, I caught a 9-lb. bass . . . it just up and jumped right up out the water into my big mouth!  lol)  Click on this picture ABOVE to see our wonderful day.


As some of you know from my website, my mother died five years ago from colon cancer, and I have dedicated part of my website to hopefully warning people to be tested early for this treatable and curable disease.

I was tested recently, and while I will admit it was not a pleasant experience, it was not as bad as I thought, and I did have a clean test -- no colon cancer for me.

However, I recently (in July) had surgery to remove fibroids (which most women have whether they know it or not), and two weeks later I went in for my first post-operative checkup.  My doctor walked into the exam room, and when she asked me if I had brought anyone with me, my heart stopped.  I knew in that moment, my life as I had known it, was over. 

The pathology report indicated a malignancy, yet the source was undetermined.  In laymen's language, I had cancer, but nobody knew exactly where it was.

The problem in this day and age is that it doesn't really matter how worried you are or how severe your problem is -- you simply have to wait your turn to see a specialist.  I asked my doctor to refer me to M D Anderson, where I had spent many hours with my mother years ago, because I knew this institution is number one in the nation for cancer.  For some reason, she didn't seem inclined to honor this request, but wanted to refer me to another hospital and oncologist, citing probable rejection, since I had not been formally diagnosed yet.  I restated my preference, and then begged her staff not to make me wait a week to hear back from them, but after two days, I called and reminded them to please set me up with MDA.  After two more days of not hearing back, I called MDA myself, and after a 30-minute discussion with receptionists, finally got through to the proper person and made my own appointment.  The next day, my original doctor's office called to tell me that they had an appointment set up for me at the "other" hospital.  I told them to cancel it, that I was now in control of my own care.

Unfortunately, I had to wait three weeks to get in to the first doctor, only to be told, after examination and consultation, that I was not his department, and he referred me to another specialist.  I had to wait two more weeks for that appointment, and then was told that I was in the wrong department again, that I was in the "benign" department; however, they got me in to the "malignant" doctor that same day.  After examining my records and my body, he denounced me, also, and referred me to the third specialist.  His nurse gave me a card with the phone number on it, and told me I would be receiving a call within a couple of days to set up an appointment.  I told her that that wouldn't be necessary -- I was going to go back to the 7th floor and sit in their waiting room until they came out and personally confirmed my appointment.  

During all this time, I had done HOURS of research on the Internet on my suspected cancer, which was terribly frightening and depressing, but it was almost morbid fascination -- I HAD to have some answers while I was waiting and waiting to get an answer from someone -- anyone!  I suspected appendiceal cancer.  Sounds harmless, right?  We can all live without our appendix.  However, this cancer is so rare, that not only is it hard to find a doctor specialized in it, but it has no symptoms, and it is rarely discovered until it has already left the appendix and spread to other organs.  In a nutshell, this means catastrophic surgery (referred to as "MOAS" -- "Mother Of All Surgeries"), because the appendix has to be removed, any other organs affected (ovaries, uterus, spleen), usually your omentum is removed (lining off your stomach), and your entire right bowel.  The preferred treatment afterward is heated chemotherapy applied directly into the abdominal cavity during surgery, and 50% of patients lose their hair afterward.  Fortunately for me, MDA performs this procedure, but even Sloan-Kettering in New York does not offer this method yet.  All the research I had done stressed that successful cure was directly related to the experience level of the surgeon.

I was so desperate for answers, now that months had passed since first hearing the news from the pathology report, that I did go sit in the third specialist's office.  Since MDA is a three-hour drive from my house, I didn't want to have to come back soon or wait by the phone.  My research had turned up Dr. Mansfield as the preferred doctor for my condition, but much to my dismay, when his assistant came out to help me (after waiting an hour), she informed me that he had a three-month waiting list to get in to see him.  She did set me up with his colleague, Dr. Laura Lambert, and I reluctantly agreed.  What to do?  Wait for the most experienced doctor and take a chance on the cancer spreading more, or go with the less experienced doctor and just trust blindly? 

I had to wait yet another three weeks to get in to see Dr. Lambert, and while I was waiting, I went ahead with life, flew to Montana for the training class I had already planned.  Life sure looked different now . . . experiencing turbulence on the plane was not the least bit scary to me.  I would much rather go down on a plane than suffer a lingering death like my mother did.  

In my research, I met a wonderful, caring nurse named Carolyn Langlie-Lesnik, RN BSN who has set up a very informative and helpful website at and in addition, spends hours on the telephone with patients across the nation, trying to educate and give inspiration and consolation to those of us going through this disease.  She is particularly inspirational because she is a 5-year survivor, herself.

I am scheduled for surgery on October 6, 2006 and will probably be in the hospital for almost a month.  Best case scenario is that they remove all signs of cancer, kill the unseen cells with the chemo, and life will go on.  They are telling me that it will be at least four months before I am able to ride, and since I don't represent horses that I don't ride and trust myself, I won't be doing horse business until next Spring.  It's time for me to let go and let God.

I am setting up this page as a blog to hopefully be helpful to others who find themselves in this situation.  Although a rare cancer, there are many out there suffering with it.  If you are interested, check back from time to time to see how things progress.

Thanks to all of you who have included me in your prayers, and to the Powells:  I LOVE my new pink leather bible!!

Big Bend in March, 2004 -- notice that the blue bonnets were already in full bloom!



My favorite iron horse, an '88 Softail.  Hopefully, I'll be back on it soon!




9/30/06 overlooking Lake Sam Rayburn, on the horse I can't seem to part with "John Wayne".



September 21, 2006

I got to MDA at 11am Thursday morning, 30 minutes early for my lab work appointment, and they got me in and out by 11:15.  My next appointment was 1:30 with the anesthesiologist so I had lots of time to kill.  MDA is a virtual hub of drama, and I have found that when I go there by myself, I get wound up emotionally in the people I see.

There was a 60-something couple waiting alone at the elevators, the wife pushing the husband slumped in his wheelchair, and they both seemed very tired and defeated, like they'd been fighting a battle for years.  They both just stared at the light, waiting for it to bring the elevator to our floor, and they weren't aware of my presence.  Suddenly, without moving a muscle, the husband blurted out "I love you!", and his wife answered, resigned, almost automatically, "I love you, too."  The elevator doors opened, she wheeled him in, the doors closed behind them, and I burst into tears.  Since I hate crying in public, I ran to the restroom to get control of myself.  

Awhile later, I was sitting in a crowded waiting room, realizing that appointments were running over an hour late, a frequent occurrence, I am finding, in a hospital with many, many sick people from all over the world.  My heart was aching for a young father and his small, bald wheelchair-bound daughter, whose big eyes were staring out through bifocal glasses from behind a mask. 

My spirits sank even lower as I observed a young couple, the husband reading a magazine with a tired, worried look on his face while his wife snoozed.  She was very thin, her color was grayish, she had a pillow behind her head, she was in a wheelchair and it was obvious that she was in her final days.  I didn't want another mad dash to the restroom, nor did I want to blubber in public, so I picked up my book and started to try to read to get my mind off the tragedy in the room. 
I couldn't focus, because a man sitting directly across from me, probably in his early 60's, was on his cell phone talking very loudly, and I couldn't help but wonder why he didn't mind the whole room hearing his conversations.  Apparently, he had flown in from Dallas a couple of days earlier to take lots of tests, and I heard him tell someone that he was still on his "J-tube", feeding himself formula and had not eaten a meal in two months.  He was saying that he couldn't wait to have a steak, and I cringed, because I knew I would be living his experience in a very short time myself.  Then I realized that he was calling all his friends, family and coworkers announcing his good news -- that he had met with his doctors that day and they had reported clean scans.  His cancer was all gone!
I choked back tears of joy for him, concentrated hard not to break down, and forced myself to focus on my book.  I just knew James Herriott, the English veterinarian, could whisk me away from this hospital to the British countryside where he traveled to different farms taking care of dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cattle, etc. As I got lost in his story, I could smell the fresh hay he described, the steaming cattle in the dairy barn and the smoke from the pipe of the farmer.  He was telling the story of Blossom, an aged dairy cow with bony hips, protruding ribs and a problematic udder.  The gentle, obedient bovine was the farmer's favorite cow, but he was trying to be a practical businessman as well, and after the vet told him that the cow was at the end of her useful milking life, the farmer called the butcher to come pick her up.  Even though she was in relatively good health for her age, there was simply no room on a farm for an unproductive animal.
The butcher was there in a flash, put a halter on Blossom, led her down the driveway to the street to load her and take her to the slaughterhouse while the broken-hearted but practical farmer sadly watched.  About halfway down the drive, the normally compliant old cow suddenly broke free and ran all the way back to the barn, right back into the stall she had been accustomed to coming in to for the last 10 years, where she thought she belonged, and she swung her head around to look at the farmer as if to say, "Well?  Where's my hay?"
If you saw the movie "As Good As It Gets", you will know that Jack Nicholson's character was particularly nasty and he hated his neighbor's dog, constantly trying to get rid of it.  He wound up being forced to take care of it, and then fell head over heels in love with the little creature.  When they came to take the dog back, he sat alone at his piano staring at the dog's water dish and toys, obviously agonizing over the loss of his canine company.  Then, apparently experiencing a moment of clarity relating back to his original cynical and anti-social personality, he wondered why he was feeling his heart break into pieces.  He shook his head at the absurdity and burst out laughing, saying, "Over a DOG!"
After Blossom's escape, the embarrassed butcher ran back into the barn and apologized, told the farmer that he would just be a moment more and haul the old cow off.  The farmer took his pipe out of his mouth, held out his arm, stopped the butcher in his tracks and told him that Blossom wasn't going anywhere -- she had come back home and she was STAYING home.  He decided that business could take a backseat to sentiment.
This time, the bathroom was too far away to escape to  -- I burst into tears in front of a whole room full of people, like a complete idiot!  Then I thought of Jack Nicholson and his little doggy houseguest, and like a 3-yr-old child, I switched from bawling to laughing, shaking my own head and thinking to myself, "Over a COW!"


Years and years ago, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia (CLL) and had to undergo occasional bone marrow tests.  The first time, she had no idea, and went by herself.  The doctor got up on the table, straddled her chest and plunged a needle into her breastbone to draw the marrow from.  It was terribly painful and traumatic for her, and when it came time for a 2nd test, I insisted on going with her.  This time, they drew it from her hip, and I insisted on them giving her some Demerol.  As they prepared her for the test, I held her hand and I could tell she was in 'lala' land from the Demerol, but when I heard that needle (that looked about the size of a sewing machine shank!) crunch into her hip bone, I slowly began to sweat, get nauseated, and pass out.

 I'm not sure if this is the reason that I have a phobia of IV needles now, but when I have to get an IV or donate blood, I break out in a sweat, get nauseated all over again.  I find it terribly embarrassing and frustrating.

Thursday, I had no problem when they pulled my blood for lab work -- I didn't like it, but the needle is so small and it's over so quickly.  However, my blood donation appointment was another three hours away, so I took the luxury of using that time to fret and agonize.  I stopped by the blood bank and asked if they could use Lidocaine on me to lesson my anxiety level and they said no.  I entertained the idea of begging my doctor to let me out of the commitment to donate my own blood for the surgery.

My anesthesiologist appointment was next, and he turned out to be a really, really nice, compassionate man.  I explained my fears, and he addressed them all.  I told him that I understood that he would be performing an epidural on me, and I had made up my mind long ago that I would never let anyone do that to me, because if anything slipped, I would be paralyzed.  He explained to me that he had done thousands of epidurals with no trouble, and that with this dangerous and painful surgery, I would need an epidural.  We discussed colostomies and my aversion to them, and he said that he used to be a surgeon and that I needed to understand that if the doctors thought the colon needed to have more time to heal, that they should absolutely do a colostomy, and that it could be reversed later.  I almost cried.  This all felt like standing in a line in a war camp, waiting for the guns to fire.  Then I told him how foolish I felt, but that I was about to have a nervous breakdown anticipating my blood donation after I left his office.  He threw his head back and laughed and laughed, not really at me, and not offensively, then he took my hand, held it and apologized.  He said he thought he might have been insensitive to be laughing, but that he could help me get over that phobia.  Then he started the standard "think of the beach, think of the waves, count the ceiling tiles" speech.  I told him that I might need to try out LSD or heroin to distract me, and that I wish I had taken Valium or Xanax to relax before my appointment.  He asked me why I hadn't?  I told him that I thought it would interfere with the blood, and he said no, and prescribed one single pill for me to take.  I ran to the pharmacy, got the pill and took it, but it must have been a baby dose, because it did nothing.

When I got to the blood bank, I started my whining all over again, and the supervisor laughed, told me that the nurses there were very good at their jobs.  He offered to kick me in the shins to divert my attention, put stickers on my forehead, tell me his life's history, whatever it took.  He made me smile.  

Then I had to be examined by the blood bank doctor, and when I told him my 'problem', he laughed, too, and said that he would help me through the experience.  Before he started the "think of the beach, count the ceiling tiles" speech, I told him that the only way to get my mind off the needle was to bring in 5 big Hawaiian guys to fan me.  He laughed again.

Meanwhile, three college students had come in to donate blood for a friend's mother, and that made me almost burst into tears.  What a compassionate thing to do!  My faith in America's teenagers was renewed.  How could they be so brave and me be so foolish about this?  And they did it without the help of any hula girls! 

When the time finally came, the doctor spent 15 minutes standing over me, pampering me with his full attention.  The nurse who was supposed to draw the blood kept getting sidetracked with the college kids, so the doctor stopped him and made him dedicate all his attention to me.  The supervisor disappeared, then came back wearing a ridiculous shark hat on his head, and I felt like crying again, that these guys were trying so hard.  My cell phone rang, and the doctor told me to answer it, grateful for yet another distraction.  The call was my daughter, and when they heard me telling her that I was about to get the needle and I would have to call her back, all three of them shouted in unison, "NO!  Keep her on the phone!"  Now I was ashamed that I had FOUR people pampering me!

The guy put the needle in, and it hurt like the dickens, but magically, there was no sweating, no nausea, and I survived!!!  I asked for all of their names so we could repeat this performance next Thursday, and they all agreed, except the nurse -- he covered up his nametag and said that when he saw me coming, he was going to hide! 

Each person who donates blood gets a really pretty t-shirt with a beautiful drawing on it, which was created by one of the kids in the hospital, like the Christmas cards they create.  The nurse was still trying to make me feel special, so he told me that I deserved a better gift than the t-shirt, and he brought out an MD Anderson tote bag.  He held it in one hand and the t-shirt in the other, and asked which one I preferred.  I looked at both, flashed back to my negotiating training, batted my eyes at him and said, "Wasn't I a good enough girl to get BOTH gifts?" 

He looked around the corner to make sure the doctor was gone, then 'secretly' stuffed the t-shirt into the tote bag and gave them both to me.  Big sap that I am, I almost cried again!


Recently, I traveled to Montana on a business trip for a week-long training class, thinking I was going to enjoy a 'mini vacation' at the same time. My fellow classmates also flew in from several states, and we discovered the very next morning that our days would begin at 6am and not end until 9 or 10 at night.  We were in class by 8am, out by 6pm, but then we regrouped and networked at dinner each night, so there was no time for vacationing.  Since none of us were teenagers, it didn't take long to dread that wakeup call each morning!  After seven consecutive days of sitting in the same room, listening to speakers, being issued group challenges and pop quizzes, we could feel the effects of our lack of physical exercise.  By the end of the week, I was more exhausted than I would have been if I had competed in a triathlon! 

The last day of our classes, our hosts took us on a 'field trip' to tour some of the beautiful Montana sights, which included a nature park on the Yellowstone River.  We stepped off the bus into the sunshine and I knew immediately that whatever lesson was being taught that day, I was not going to be capable of absorbing.  Mother nature had captivated me.

Living on the gulf coast of Texas all of my life and being used to walking out the door each morning and instantly gaining 10 lbs. from the sticky humidity, I wondered how I could bottle this glorious Montana day and take it home!  The September sun was shining, the temperature was 68 degrees and the humidity level was about 17%, making me feel 10 years younger.

Never having been one with patience for structured tours, I seized the first opportunity to slip away from the group and explore on my own.  I could hear that river calling me, but on the way, I spotted a deserted playground with several swings, so I kicked off my sandals and took a seat, pushing off and leaning back into each swing, gazing at the sky, making me feel 20 years younger!  I found the biggest thrill was digging my toes into the soft sand underneath the swing, drawing faces with my toes and flipping sand in the air. 

After my little carefree workout, I sat for awhile listening to the wind blowing through the magnificent giant cottonwood tree tops, mesmerized by that same breeze which was caressing my face, my hair, and tickling through my toes.  My joy was abruptly interrupted by a jolt from reality, as I reflected on how fragile life is.  I had just been diagnosed with a rare cancer a few weeks before, and after being transferred around to different doctors, none of which could tell me where the cancer was, the waiting for a diagnosis, prognosis and plan of treatment was agonizing.  I was not only facing a very dangerous surgery and chemotherapy, but also my own mortality.  I found myself choking up frequently, desperately trying not to break down crying in public, since this situation was on my mind constantly.

I broke out of my trance long enough to remember the Yellowstone, so I put my shoes back on and took a ten-minute hike to the bank, where a posted sign stated:  "Approach River At Your Own Risk".  The reason for the sign was a visibly fast current in the middle, but the first 2 or 3 feet was crystal clear and calm enough to see tiny minnows scurrying around over the glistening smooth pebbles and rocks.  I could not resist the temptation to wade in, and the water was so cold that it took my breath away.  After a torturously exhilarating 15 seconds of icy heaven, I acclimated (or became numb) and waded out farther, wetting my Capri jeans to knee level.  I could still hear the cottonwoods singing in the wind, harmonizing with the gurgling of the water rushing over the rocks, and I had to resist the urge to just dive in. 

Wading around for awhile chasing minnows, I managed to put my misery aside and began to feel absolutely at peace, just me and my own little secluded slice of Montana.  I hunted for the most beautifully polished river stone with iridescent stripes, and put it in my pocket to cherish when I returned to Texas.  I imagined that the only way this experience could possibly be better was if my kids were there to share it with me, and wished desperately that I could see into the future, to know how much time I might have left to spend with them.  Smiling at the thought of their company, I dug into my pocket, flipped open my cell phone and called my daughter while the clear cold water flowed across my legs.  Since she didn't answer, I left her a voice mail, telling her that I was standing knee deep in Yellowstone River and that it was the highlight of my year.  I snapped the phone shut, reeled myself back to reality and hiked back out of the river, up the bank to rejoin my classmates on their tour.  I felt so refreshed now that I believed I could have probably taught a class myself!

Later that night, when I got back to my hotel room, I logged online and found an email from my daughter telling me about her frustrating day.  Everything had gone wrong, it seemed, and then she had started a new job that day with better benefits and insurance, but discovered that she had taken a substantial pay cut from the job she left.  Waiting on a list for an opening in a training program in the medical field, she wasn't sure how she was going to get by on these reduced wages.  Then she told me that she had barely missed my "river" phone call and had tried to call me back, but couldn't get the call to go through.  However, she said that hearing me sound so happy made her bad day good, and that she loved me.

In that moment, I discovered that a simple email could be as powerfully moving as the mighty Yellowstone River.


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