Surgery: Two Weeks Later

Ok, more like two weeks and one day. I’m doing pretty ok physically. I’m off my Tylenol/Ibuprofen mix, and on/off my Docusate/Senna cocktail (for those in the know…). The pain is still there, both in my incision and inside where parts of me were cut out. I still have feeling coming back to my skin. When I put my hand on the area it tingles and feels a little dull. My skin on my stomach is getting dry though, so I’m trying to be better about nightly moisturizing. Also, I still have to give myself nightly Lovenox shots to prevent blood clotting.

FYI — Risk of a blood clot is much higher if you have cervical cancer and need a radical hysterectomy. So they make you take a shot that is more painful than all my IVF shots put together. The needle is small, but the medication is painful. The injection burns as it goes in, and the area stings for quite a few minutes after it’s done. I still have about 18 more days to go with the shots. Not that I’m counting down… I almost gave up on my shot yesterday because I couldn’t even jab it into my skin, until my best friend said to do it because she had just read about Toni Braxton having blood clots in her lung. I’m not sure if it’s just so sore because I’m still sensitive from the surgery (injection site is subcutaneous in the stomach area), or if it just sucks. Probably both.

Dan and I went for a walk yesterday and our neighbor was surprised to see me walking around already. I feel like I have the energy to get out, and a small part of me wants to get back to exercising, but I know I’m nowhere near healed. I also stopped taking the pain medication because Sunday night I had the worst stomach pains. It felt like my stomach was trying to explode or burn a hole in my body. Dan was worried I had an ulcer or some sort of reaction to the surgery. The pain finally subsided, but came back briefly Monday night. I think it might be my stomach’s way of telling me I ate too much. Sunday night I had a Seattle dog (hot dog with cream cheese, onions, sauerkraut, jalapenos, mustard) and perhaps it was just too much for my gentle stomach (ok reading the description now, I realize that maybe the Seattle dog isn’t for the faintest of hearts). Maybe at 32 I just can’t handle what I could in my 20s after a night out drinking… (No I wasn’t drinking on Sunday.)

Mentally I’m doing just ok. I was supposed to see a friend yesterday but I didn’t have the energy to meet up and chat. There’s a commercial going on right now that talks about how amazing women’s bodies are; they give birth, run marathons, etc. It makes me feel like my body isn’t amazing. Though, I have run a marathon so I guess in that case, I am pretty amazing. And my body has been through so much these past couple of months, and I’m still going strong. I’m still sad though. Seeing families and babies still makes me cry. I can’t watch Modern Family when Gloria is pregnant, and I’ve decided the Real Housewives of NYC are my favorite housewives because none of them are trying to get pregnant.

I’m sure one of these days I’ll be back to normal. But until then I’ll just wait and see if Bethenny and Ramona can be friends again and if Tom and Luann’s relationship will last…

XOXO,

Gossett Girl

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IVF

After Dan and I got word that the cone biopsy didn’t go our way, Dr. Goff set us up with the UW IVF clinic. We made our way to University Reproductive Health and wondered why things couldn’t go our way.

When we got to the office, both of us crying, we were taken to the financial counselor’s office. She talked to us about what our insurance would and wouldn’t cover, and just listened as we cried. The MA then came and took us to an exam room. She was so kind and brought us water and me a blanket while we waited for the doctor.

Dr. Neal-Perry came in and gave us a crash-course in IVF. I don’t remember everything from that first appointment. It’s all a hazy blur, but we agreed we would start as soon as possible, which meant I was going to stay in Seattle until the process was done (which ended up being 6 weeks–also included 2 weeks dog sitting for friends). We met other nurses in the office and made another appointment for me on Tuesday, and one for Dan on Wednesday so he could get started on his part.

That night I didn’t go to Good Friday mass. I texted my friends with my news, and watched the Sounders lose to Vancouver. My best friend left to go to mass, and came back with dinner from Ivars. We went to bed early with the plan that I would stay with my best friend through the weekend, then move to another friend’s house who was close to the hospital so I could make my many trips.

Dan left Saturday morning, leaving me without a car and the only 3 outfits I had packed for the trip. I spent the weekend with my best friend, spending Easter with her family, and spending time on an emotional roller-coaster of sadness, anger, and laughing.

I wasn’t as broken as I thought I would be. After the miscarriage I shut down. I couldn’t speak to anyone but my best friend, and another close friend who lived in Omaha. I spoke to a friend in Hamilton who suffered the loss of her baby, knowing he would die after he was born. But this time, I was able to talk to my friends. I told everyone what had happened. I didn’t hide away like I did last time. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I had IVF to occupy me, or maybe I’m just a stronger person than I thought.

I also shared our story on Facebook, and asked if anyone had experience with a gestational carrier, or if anyone was interested in being a gestational carrier. I actually got a couple replies.

My friend who I would be staying with came with me to my first appointment. She is a neurology PA and knows the UW system. It was helpful for me to go with someone in the medical field, and who knew the best ways to get my care. The nurse practitioner walked us through a slideshow of the process of IVF. Instead of joining in a group class, I was having a private lesson and going to do a “quick start”, meaning I was going to forego any of the IVF prep and just start injecting hormones. We also needed to follow certain FDA guidelines since we have use a gestation carrier.

Dan flew in Tuesday night for his appointment on Wednesday. We had paperwork to sign and Dan also needed to get his… contribution to IVF inspected. They weren’t sure whether he would need to donate once or twice, or if there were any issues. There was confusion once we got to the men’s clinic though. Paperwork wasn’t filled out correctly, and the clinic had thought we were there for the ACTUAL contribution, instead of examination. I was in the middle of a work meeting (yes, I was working in the waiting room of the men’s clinic — joys of working from home) when Dan called me and told me I needed to come back there. I pretty much hung up on my boss and walked back there. I sorted everything out by saying this wasn’t the actual contribution, it was for examination. I refused to let the visit go by without something happening. Dan did not pay hundreds of dollars to fly out for 24 hours to sign paperwork. Once I talked to the nurse, and explained it wasn’t the actual donation, he said it would be no problem to do that. There was some back and forth between my office and the men’s clinic, and me trying not to yell at anyone, but Dan was able to do his stuff.

We then went back to the IVF clinic to talk to financial counselor again since Friday was a blur to both of us. Once we started learning of the cost what things would cost since insurance doesn’t cover gestational carriers, I started to cry.

“This isn’t fair. We shouldn’t even be here,” I cried.

“No one wants to be here,” the counselor said.

“But I was pregnant a month ago,” I practically screamed. “I have no problem getting pregnant, I just have a diagnosis that won’t let me.”

The counselor looked shocked. I’m not sure if she didn’t remember us from Friday, or our circumstances, but her tone changed. I must have looked inconsolable, because they took us back and I was able to talk to the nurse manager who was so sweet and amazing. I just cried and told her how it wasn’t fair. That I shouldn’t be there. Getting pregnant wasn’t a problem, it was carrying the baby that was.

I know I sound like a brat. Many women deal with infertility, I’m not a special snowflake in that instance. I felt like a fraud being in the office. I felt like I had no reason being there, Dan and I had no problem getting pregnant. Our problem was being able to carry the baby. I didn’t think it was fair that we would have to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to do something I was so sure I could do on my own. I hate cancer.

It was decided I would start my medication the following Sunday. Sunday night I began taking Letrozole, and Monday night at 6pm I got my first Gonal-F shot from my PA friend with Dan on Facetime. Wednesday, I had an appointment with the nurse practitioner where I signed more FDA paperwork, and Friday morning I had my first ultrasound appointment with my doctor to see how the meds were working. Dan had an appointment on Friday to make his first (and what would be only) contribution.

While I stayed active every night, getting in as much friend time as I could, I had to pause everything at 5:58pm and prep my skin so I could give myself my shot. One of my favorite memories of this, was when I started to take Menopur and Cetrotide and had to mix the two, my PA friend and I had to leave the bar before a Sounders game to give myself a shot. She was two beers in, and we sat in the backseat of her car in Pioneer Square (a bit of a sketchy Seattle neighborhood), and she mixed the two shots and we injected myself three times. Right after, a homeless gentleman walked up to the car and we ended up having a short conversation with him as we cleaned up the car and headed back to the bar.

One thing I learned about this process, is that I’m very fertile. Both sides of my ovaries had well over 20 follicles and most were producing eggs. Every time I went in for my ultrasounds, the doctor would count over 25 follicle sizes on each ovary. This put me at high risk for OHSS – Ovarian Hyperstimulation Symptom. AKA my ovaries were weighed down and were at high-risk of ovarian torsion. This meant no exercising, stretching, twisting, etc. I was relegated to just walking.

There was hope that they could do the egg retrieval on Tuesday, but alas, my fast growing eggs were slowing to a halt and weren’t growing those extra couple millimeters. I ended up ordering one more days worth of Cetrotide (which was annoying to deal with insurance, and then end up not needing to use it), but I was scheduled for egg retrieval on Thursday. I was so happy to not be giving myself shots anymore. It was painful and my stomach was tired of being used as a pin cushion.

Thursday morning I took a half day off of work and was picked up by a friend who drove me to the clinic. I was an hour and a half early for my appointment, but I had brought a book and settled in to read it. One of the medical assistants saw me come in,and brought me back to a room so I could read in peace and quiet. It was so kind and thoughtful.

The procedure was quick and simple. It was so different than being in the hospital though. I was the only patient, and I got a lot of extra care from the nurse, MA, and anesthesiologist (who may have also been my anesthesiologist from my hospitalization procedure in March, we were trying to figure that out). I warned them about my tendency to cry under anesthesia. I also met the embryologist, and confirmed a couple times that it was definitely Dan’s vial he was using to create embryos with my eggs.

Going under was a lot slower this time, I could feel myself slowly falling asleep when I started talking about how sad I was that this was the closest I would ever get to being pregnant again. The MA, anesthesiologist, and Dr. Neal-Perry were great though, they tried to get me to focus on vacations to South Africa as I fell asleep.

I woke up about 30 minutes later with tears rolling down my cheeks.

“I’m crying again, aren’t I?” I asked.

The nurse smiled and nodded.

“Go have fun this weekend. Go drink that glass of champagne.”

I had no clue what she talked about. And then I remembered talking to her before the surgery about wanting to go home this weekend for my friend’s wedding, but that if I couldn’t fly home, then I could stay in town for a friend’s bacherolette party who was flying in from Georgia, and who’s wedding I would be unable to attend in July. As expected, I wasn’t allowed to fly home, and instead spent an amazing weekend with friends celebrating.

Another friend picked me up and drove me back to our friend’s. Have I mentioned what amazing friends I have? There’s absolutely no way I could have gotten through any of this without them.

The egg retrieval was successful. 24 eggs were retrieved and now we have embryos waiting for us when we’re ready to begin the process. We paid and did the PGS process, hoping to find the strongest embryos to use. The doctor also knows the sex of each embryo. I want to find out, but Dan wants to wait. While I would love to choose the sex, I feel like I’ve played God enough in this process, so we’ll let the doctor decide.

IVF was not something I’d ever thought I’d need. Being quickly forced into the process though, I couldn’t have asked for a better office to go through this with. Dr. Neal-Perry and her staff were amazing. The nurses were so kind, understanding, funny, and made the process easier. The medical assistants did everything to make our appointments run smoothly, and just wanted everything for us to be easy. While I hope no one has to go through this, if you do, University Reproductive Health in Seattle is a great choice. Any question I had was answered, concern noted, and I just felt like everyone there cared about me. They understood how frustrating this was for us to go through, and they let me bitch about it non-stop. I cannot say enough positive things about this office.

Speaking of amazing people, my friends. Without my friends driving me everywhere, letting me borrow their cars, poking me with needles, being shoulders to cry on, I’d probably be in a ball crying still. I’m so lucky to be able to go through and have such an amazing support system.

And with that, I wrap up my story of Winter/Spring 2017. With the pregnancy, cancer diagnosis, hospitalizations, cone biopsy, and radical hysterectomy I’m ready for all this to end. I still have chemo and radiation to get through this summer. And I’m sure I’ll continue to look back at certain instances and write about them more, but with this, the big story has finally been told.

XOXO,

Gossett Girl

The Cone Biopsy

Back my story of how cervical cancer has affected my life and how I got to where I am now, we go back to April. A month after my hospitalization. When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, multiple doctors told me that I would never have the chance to get pregnant again. My current pregnancy was the only chance we would have to be able to have a child on our own. I was supposed to have a radical hysterectomy right after the c-section I would need to deliver our baby. When we lost the baby, Dr. Goff said we could try doing a cone biopsy. Hopefully by doing this procedure, we could remove the cancer and Dan and I would have one more try to have a baby.

I was confident this would happen. The biopsy would remove the cancer, and we could try to become pregnant again in July (my timeline, who knows what it actually would have been). In my post-op appointment with Dr. Cheng, we talked about what pregnant life would be like missing a chunk of my cervix. She advised no traveling (good-bye trips to Boston and Europe in the fall), and I would be under her care at 13 weeks, which meant moving to Seattle at that point. She told us birthing horror stories of parents who went on babymoons, and then were stuck in the cities they were in until the baby was 38 weeks and could fly home. Hopefully my cervix would heal with a lot of scar tissue, meaning that there was still a slight chance that I wouldn’t need a cerclage, and could actually have a baby naturally, no c-section.

Dan and I drove out to Seattle the Sunday before the surgery. I had told my parents not to drive up for the surgery, but Dan’s mom flew out and we stayed with her at the Rainier Club. We went to an amazing seafood dinner at Anthony’s that night. Monday we had a pre-op appointment with Dr. Goff, and that night I went to Ivars for happy hour with friends were I ate as much as I could before I had to stop eating at 7pm.

My surgery was scheduled for 7am, so we arrived at the hospital at 5am. Dan hung out with me in pre-op, and we nervously waited. Dr. Goff came in and said they would be removing the lymph nodes first, and that if any of the lymph nodes looked bad or tested positive for cancer, they wouldn’t go through with the cone biopsy. Instead they would pull me out of surgery and would schedule the radical hysterectomy.

There’s always a small sense of fear when I go under. I know that my procedures are all standard, but I’m always scared of not ever waking up. In the time leading up to the cone biopsy, I texted my best friend telling her of my fear. I know it’s silly, but it’s scary. When I went in for my radical hysterectomy, I had to have blood drawn to confirm my blood type in case of a transfusion. There was a bit of drama about whether I could actually get a transfusion if need be, since I had had one within the past 3 months. I also had to mark that I was pregnant within the past 3 months.

“Was the blood transfusion needed during the birth?” the lab manager asked.

“No.” I replied with tears in my eyes and daring him to inquire further.

He didn’t ask any questions, and said it probably wouldn’t be a problem if I needed a transfusion during the hysterectomy (I didn’t).

But back to the cone biopsy. I said bye to Dan before they rolled me into surgery, and on my way to the surgery theater I prayed. Hail Mary’s, making deals with God. Begging them to let this surgery be successful. I made promises that I would go to church every Sunday. That I would never say anything bad about anyone ever again.

I remember tears rolling down my cheek as the anesthesiologist put a mask on my face. With one last prayer I closed my eyes.

I woke up a few hours with my best friend next to me. Of course I was crying. I always cry with anesthesia. The nurse was on the phone with the patient floor nurse checking to see when my room is ready.

“She’s ok. She’s just sad,” the nurse said on the phone.

Apparently I woke up in hysterics that they had gone ahead and done the radical hysterectomy. While that obviously did not happen, they did find one large, abnormal lymph node, but it had tested negative for cancer. They think it was leftover from my bout with sepsis. The tumor was much larger than they anticipated though, so surgery took longer and things in my body had to be moved around. Which meant that for about 2-3 weeks after surgery, going to the bathroom was very uncomfortable. I was scared things were never going to go back to normal, but they did. (Though now after the hysterectomy, I’m feeling the same pain and wondering if things will go back to normal ever again… again).

I was only in the hospital for one night this time. My nurses were lovely as always, and my best friend was on spring break so she hung out with me, as did Dan and his mom. I was discharged after passing the bladder test (in which they fill your bladder with saline, then seeing if you can pee out the same amount. This is the norm after spending sometime with a catheter in..). Dan had reserved us a nice hotel in the University District, so we were close to the hospital in case anything happened.

Dr. Goff stopped into see us before I left. Tumor board was Friday morning before our appointment in the early afternoon, so she would have a chance to discuss my options with other doctors. I won’t lie. She didn’t seem to happy. I know now it’s because she wasn’t confident this would work. Her demeanor between this surgery, and my radical hysterectomy were vastly different. During the cone biopsy time she was very serious and short. With the radical hysterectomy, she seemed a bit more animated and smiled more. Don’t get me wrong. Dr. Goff is a great doctor, she is amazing and smart. Very smart. Also a little intimidating, but like my resident friend said: The best doctors make their residents nervous, they always want to be do their best for these doctors.

Another fun thing that happened during my discharge — removing the vaginal packing. This gets a little TMI, so feel free to skip this paragraph. During the surgery they put a vaginal pack in to help with the bleeding. Vaginal pack is a fancy way of saying a million feet of gauze shoved up your vagina. When the resident took out the gauze, it was like a 10 hour Brazilian wax. Ok, it was probably 30 seconds of feet after feet of gauze taken out, but it was so painful. Again, imagine having a Brazilian, but inside, and instead of a swift rip off, a looooong, slow, painful procedure. If you ever have to have a vaginal pack, I recommend you ask the doctor removing it if they can moisten the gauze before it comes out.

Dan and I spent the rest of the week relaxing. I was in a lot of pain the Wednesday after I was discharged, so I stayed in the hotel and just rested and hung out with friends. That Thursday was Holy Thursday, so I went to church that night. I was painful. Midway through mass my best friend went to her car to get blankets and towels that I could sit on. After mass some friends came over and we all hung out. I wasn’t nervous about the next day’s results. It would be ok. Dan and I would have a chance to have our baby. We had planned meticulously. I would get pregnant in July, and then things would go on as normal.

We saw Dr. Goff when we were in the waiting room. She waved to us as she walked quickly back into the office. That made me nervous, but Dr. Goff was busy doctor. She probably didn’t have time to smile and chat.

Once Dan and I were back in the room, I took out a small rosary my best friend gave me and started saying Hail Marys.

“I don’t have good news.”

That was the first thing out of Dr. Goff’s mouth when she walked in.

“The tumor was twice as large as we thought, and your margins came back positive, both the cervix and one of your lymph nodes.”

Dan and I both burst into tears. Choice four letter words came out of our mouths. We would need to go through with the radical hysterectomy and chemo/radiation. I wouldn’t be able to carry our baby.

“I called the Reproductive Health office though, I can get you an appointment with Dr. Neal-Perry and you can start IVF.”

She left to call and make the appointment for us while Dan and I sat, still shocked with my prognosis. We didn’t ask many questions about our next steps with the cancer, all we cared about was trying to have our baby.

“Ok, I made an appointment for you at 3:30.”

We had about 30 minutes before the appointment. The office was across from the hotel were were staying at. My best friend was on her way down to meet with us, and I’m pretty sure I was sending her incoherent messages of what was going on, and where to find us, asking her to come to the IVF office.

Numb, Dan and I left the office and made our way to our next adventure/life obstacle, IVF.

XOXO,

Gossett Girl

The Night Before

Tomorrow I go in for my radical hysterectomy. It’s been a long road to get here, and I was hoping this would happen right after giving birth to our baby (or you know, not at all). Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t really care what you want, or your plans for your future. It does whatever it wants, sort of like a drunk girl trying to fight through her friends to get back into the club to keep dancing. Not that that was me at all this past weekend, at 1am, two shots of Jameson too many… nope…

Anyways. I can’t believe we’re at this point. I cried when the plane took off from the Missoula airport, and when we landed in Seattle. Whoever thought at 32, I would be losing the ability to ever have children. I know we are lucky that we had a successful round of IVF, but it pains me to know I’ll never be able to carry our baby. Looking at pregnant women with huge tummies pulls at my heart.

I’ll be honest, I do feel like a fraud knowing that if we have kids, it wasn’t me who carried them. It doesn’t mean I feel like less of a woman, but I wonder how I can contribute to future pregnancy conversations. I can talk about being pregnant up to 16 weeks, but I never had a prominent belly. I just looked like I was packing on the winter weight. I’ll never get to join in friendly conversations about third trimester woes and giving birth.

I’m at a weird place knowing that this needs to happen. They found microscopic cells near my vagina and in a lymph node. Obviously the cancer had spread to just beyond the tumor. But I also just want to have one full pregnancy. I would like to carry our own baby, and only have to worry about my hospital bills, not that on top of paying for everything for a gestational carrier. I know if that were to happen though, the cancer will most likely continue to spread, and who knows how far it will move in the 9 months.

I realize there is no point in having a baby if I’m not around. Dan will be an amazing father, but it’s not something he wants to do on his own, especially if we can prevent it from happening. And that’s the only reason I have any semblance of calmness and acceptance. I hate being told how strong I am. I really have no choice. I’m just living. I’m not trying to be Wonder Woman. I’m just trying to stay alive.

And so now, I sign off with my uterus intact one last time. I’m going to do some sit ups and push ups, since I’ll be stuck in a hospital the next 4 days, and who knows when I’ll be able to workout again. Also, the doctor told me chemo might make me gain weight, so… Guess I should work on combatting that now.

XOXO,

Gossett Girl

Confession

Hello!

Can I make a confession? I’ve never actually seen Gossip Girl. I was trying to think up a name for this blog, “Dear Diary”, “Gossett Life”, “Life Without Utero”, something to do with cancer… Somehow “XOXO Gossip Girl” popped into my head, even though I’m much more Pretty Little Liars. I guess cancer could be A/Uber A/Whatever A is called now?

I thought I’d start this blog as a record of everything we’ve been through and will go through. Hopefully someday I can look back at this period and reflect on everything without tears and anger, though I’m sure sadness will always be around.

I was 13 weeks pregnant (our first! So excited!) when I learned I had cervical cancer. I spent week 14 of the pregnancy traveling to Seattle and Houston for consults on how to deal with the cancer while pregnant. During week 15, I fell sick with the flu, ended up in the hospital, had to be medevaced from Montana to Seattle where I landed in the ICU with sepsis. Week 16 we lost our baby to subchorionic hematoma that had caused the blood infection in the first place. We held onto hope that doing a cone biopsy would clear me of cancer and we would be able to try again. Sadly, the margins came back positive and I would need to undergo a radical hysterectomy and chemo/radiation treatment. I sprinted through IVF treatment in hopes to create some embryos before the chance of losing all my eggs. And now, I’m just waiting for the surgery and treatment. I’ve spent the last 6 weeks away from home, and I’m finally headed back tomorrow for 2 weeks before coming back to Seattle for the surgery.

That’s my current story, and I’ll fill you in on all the details as this journey goes on.

Stay tuned.

XOXO,

Gossett Girl (Gina)

PS – This photo is from our wedding (husband: Dan) over two and a half years ago!