Friday, August 23, 2013

False Start - A Cancer Story, Part Two

In June of 2012, Mark had surgery to blast some horrible kidney stones.  The surgery was done at Kingston General Hospital so, when his cancer surgery was scheduled, we were familiar with the pre-surgery drill.  On surgery day, we knew exactly where to go and what to do.

The weekend leading up to his surgery was horrible.  We were beyond stressed out, worried about the actual surgery (possible complications include death, no fun), worried about what they may find once they did the operation.  The tension in the house was brutal.  Neither of us slept well the night before he was due to go under the knife.  When we arrived at the KGH and checked in, I sent out this little update:

Update 1 - mid-morning

We are at KGH - arrived for 10 am, suspect Mark will go in at noon but don't know for sure. Much busier today than when we were here for Kidney surgery.  I think this is cancer and heart surgery day, lots of quite young adults.  Lots of worried faces.

Will let you know when we are at the next stage of this trip / when he actually goes in to the OR.

As I was typing that message, Mark was putting on his compression socks and the nurse was putting an IV into his arm.  His bum had just hit the gurney when we found out that he was bumped for the day.  There had been a couple of bad accidents over the weekend and a bed shortage resulted.  Everyone in the admitting area was surprised and very sweet and apologetic but we were UP-SET.  Mark got dressed and we left.  I remember that I was just barely holding it together.  We walked outside and I called a taxi to take us home.  While we were waiting for the cab, we silently stood in the sunshine.  We were both in shock.  All of that stress and grief over the weekend, not to mention the lack of sleep, had us both in a haze. 

During the summer months, a small number of homeless people hang out, in the smoking area outside of the KGH main entrance.  I was not aware of this but cab-driver Mark pointed it out to me.  These folks had what he called “ a homeless tan” which, I guess, you get when you have to spend most of your days outside.  I think that it must be easier to ask for food or cigarettes by the hospital entrance because of the volume of folks coming and going all day. 

While we stood in the sunshine, trying to absorb what had just happened, one of these men approached us, made a comment about Mark’s hair (he has long hair and wears it in a single braid down his back).  I think that the man thought Mark was of aboriginal descent because of the braid.  He started to make a comment to Mark about his hair and the spirits or something and Mark turned to him and said, “No.  Walk away please.”  The guy didn’t stop; he continued to approach us, commenting on Mark’s hair, and trying to offer us “blessings.”  I lost it.  I started to cry.  I got really upset and asked the man to leave us alone.  He wouldn’t go, he kept insisting that he wasn’t bothering us.  He was bothering us though.  In his defense, he had no idea how fragile we were and probably couldn’t fathom that anyone wouldn’t want to be blessed by his god.  When he wouldn’t leave, I yelled at him this time.  I asked him to “fuck off and leave us alone.” It was not my proudest moment and it didn’t help that he started yelling back at me about how his god hates swearing and that I would probably burn in “hell.” Not threats that really mean anything to me but I didn’t need to be in a shouting match with a stranger all the same.  Fortunately, by this time, the cab was pulling up and we were home a few minutes later.

Once we arrived at the house, we both calmed down.  I called his surgeon’s office and the amazing EA there was able to get us a spot in surgery for the following day. 

Something about having the surgery cancelled and then this argument with the homeless man broke the tension we’d both been feeling.  I remember that we both slept like logs that night and felt better prepared to deal with whatever would happen in the days ahead. 


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Off Target?

Earlier this week, when stories started showing up in my newsfeed about how the newly opened Canadian Target Stores were contributing to a loss of profits for the big box stores.  If I had seen these stories a couple of weeks ago, I would probably have been surprised.  Prior to going on vacation, I’d not visited a Target store. 

Over the years, many of my friends had raved to me about the deals they had found at Target stores in the states.  Stories had been told about lovely stores, filled to the rim with bargains.  I am not much of a shopper normally but I found myself really looking forward to visiting  to newly opened store here in Kingston.  Common sense told me to to wait a couple of weeks to let some of the hoopla die down before  venturing out.

While I was on my holidays, my mother and I took a trip to Target.  We were there before the doors opened because we are both early shoppers and don’t care for crowds.   When we walked into the store, it looked very pretty, shiny, new.  The folks working there were friendly and courteous.  I can’t really fault the staff in any way.

I had a pretty long list of things I wanted to look for:  a new fall handbag, a comforter for our bed, a pastry blender, some health and beauty aids and other household items.  Overall, I have to say that I was very disappointed with both the prices and the selection.  Perhaps the store was “picked over” because of the recent grand opening but I was surprised to find the shelves half empty in the linens department.  The accessories department was very similar, a small amount of stock and really not great prices.  I experienced a fair bit of sticker shock. 

Eventually, I did find a few things I needed:  a new wall clock (for $5!), some nail polish (their make-up area is gorgeous and well stocked), shampoo and lint rollers.  For the rest of the items on my list, I had to go elsewhere. 

As disappointed as I was, I told myself that perhaps this was just the result of a very successful grand opening and promised to return.  I’ll give them one more chance but that's it.  I felt extremely let down by the store.  The week they were opening, I was tweeting back and forth with them, trying to find their flyer online (our store’s flyer did not go live on the day the store opened – it was posted after their “grand opening” – the date of which could not be found on their website).  I found that whole exercise to be really frustrating and should probably have seen that as a sign that this was not going to be a terrific experience for me.  No wonder I try to shop online as much as I possibly can!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

One Year Later - A Cancer Story, Part One

I returned to work yesterday after a two week vacation.  We actually stayed home so technically, I suppose it was a “stay-cation” so to speak.  Originally, Mark had planned to take off the second week with me.  With very little arm twisting, I convinced him to take the whole two weeks off instead.  Business is very slow for him in August so he wouldn’t be missing much and, that first week was a short one due to the holiday.  Now that we’re both back to the grindstone, I know he is glad to have had a long, two-week break.

This is the first time since we’ve been together (14 years) that he has had an actual 2 week vacation.  Last year, he missed several weeks of work, but recovering from surgery isn’t exactly a holiday.

Speaking of that, it’s very hard to realize that at this time last year, Mark was in the hospital, waiting to be sent home after having a piece of his bowel removed.  It was a bit of a scary time for us.  We knew that the surgeon felt that the operation was a success but we didn’t know what the results of the biopsy would be for a few weeks.  His cancer could have spread to other organs or to his lymph nodes.  At that time, we just had to be patient. 

In honour of the anniversary of his surgery, I’m going to share some posts here which I have kept private until now.  They were emails I sent to our friends and family while Mark was in the hospital.  Over the next few days, I’ll be publishing them here as a series.

Early detection was the key to our good luck and I feel like it would be good karma to share our story on the outside chance that someone else is going through what we have already lived.

This first missive was sent out to some close friends on August 14, 2012:

On July 30th Mark was officially diagnosed with Colon Cancer.  We were 99% sure he had it after a colonoscopy on July 13 (the doctor doing the test basically told him he did and they sent the nurse navigator in to see us and they don't do that if it's just a polyp).  While he was having his pre-surgery tests for his Kidney Stone surgery, he was diagnosed as being slightly anemic.  When he did his fecal occult screening test, it came back wonky, hence the colonoscopy.  He had a CT scan the week of July 23 and it looks like all of his vital organs are clear.  The surgery he's having is a hemi-colectomy.  His tumor is in the ascending colon so they will basically take out the right side of his colon and reattach it.  He is having his surgery today and he'll be in the hospital for about 7 days (until they are sure that everything is healing correctly, he is eating normally and his bowels are working - apparently your stomach become paralyzed during this surgery so they have to make sure it's working again).  I'll be taking an extra week off to be home with him for at least the first week when he's home from the hospital.  It's pretty major surgery, he'll have an 8 inch incision so, as Mark said to the surgeon, his swimsuit modeling days are over!  As cancer goes, this is a good one to have.  When they remove the colon, they will biopsy the lymph nodes and if they are clear, he will not need to do chemo so we're hoping for that.  It seems like it was caught early so we're pretty optimistic.

Of course, Mark is all "sure, you're tired, but I HAVE CANCER" or to which I keep having to remind him, "Yeah, but you won't have cancer in a few days so shut up about it already!"  Fun and games with the cancer jokes!

We're keeping this one really close to the chest because we don't want everyone and their uncle talking about how so and so had it and they died or had five million terrible things happen to them.... also, he does not want it getting onto Facebook.  If it were to get back to his demented sister in law, she'd just be way too happy to hear that he had something like this.  asshat.  We have told my parents and Patrick (and swore them to secrecy) and some folks at work because I have no idea exactly if I'll be back to work on August 27 or beyond that.

So that’s what we’ll be doing this week.  I expect that he’ll be released around August 20, barring any complications and will be home from work for at least 3 to 4 weeks recovering.

I’ll probably drop you a line in a mass email later  today to let folks know how he made out with his surgery (he told a few of his friends finally – no one his family knows still, over the past couple of days) and will keep you posted.