Monday, May 30, 2011

Side Effects

Why did I do that?

I've been so good at staying away from Google so far. My doctor told me not to look up anything about cervical cancer on the internet because each case is different. He didn't want me to drive myself crazy. Don't get me wrong, I've done research on the best doctors and the highest quality wigs, but I haven't dug deep into details of what I'll be facing.

Until tonight.

Just for the Hell of it, I decided to look up the side effects of chemotherapy. Of course, I knew about the hair loss and fatigue. How much worse could it be? 

Well, I can't quote exactly what I read because after I burst into hysterics, Jimmi ran over and closed the window on the computer while verbally disciplining me like I was a disobedient a child. "Why did you look? I told you not to do that!" 

So, I'll try and remember as much of the terrifying list as I can without sneaking another look, for fear of the wrath of Jimmi!


Hair Loss

Changes in mouth and throat



Trouble with urination


Memory loss

Eating changes

Sexual changes (no, not a sex-change)

That's all I can think of at the moment. Probably more than I'll remember after the memory loss sets in. But it wasn't enough for me to read each symptom; I had to click on the descriptions.

I skipped anemia, hair loss, pain and fatigue, figuring they were self-explanatory.

"Changes in mouth and throat"? What? Click! Ok, so, apparently, everything I eat will taste like shit. Oh, sorry, metal. It will taste like metal. But, not to worry! I can eat with plastic utensils, and maybe that'll help. That is, when I feel like eating at all. And when I do eat, chewing might hurt. Swallowing, too. Sounds pleasant. It's all good, though, since under "Eating Changes" I read that I won't have an appetite anyway. Good news! Forcing myself to eat a bunch of small meals per day, instead of three large ones might help. And as long as they're high in fat, and heavily spices, I might even taste them!

Well, at least I'll fit into my wedding dress...

Or not. "Swelling". Click! I may experience swelling in the arms, legs, feet or abdomen. Abdomen? Nope. No can do!! My wedding dress is fitted to every curve of my body. It's not meant for new bumps and bulges. It won't fit! No, I can't have it taken out! It needs the body I have NOW! That's THE dress. I don't want to look for another one!! Yes, I'm bitching like a five year-old, but I think I'm entitled. After all, I've already been cranky and uncomfortable since my egg retrieval. I've been so puffy and sore, that I haven't been able to wear pants in a week! I've been living in sundresses, sweats and jumpers since last Tuesday, and, I'm not gonna lie, I'd kill to wear a pair of skinny jeans right now. My sides hurt from stretching to keep up with the bulge in my abdomen that won't seem to go away. And all I keep thinking is that it's only going to get worse. 

"Think positive, Suzanne! Be optimistic!"

Can't right now. It will get worse - and I'm still only talking about the swelling! As soon as the puffiness from the retrieval goes away, It'll be hysterectomy time. If I'm this uncomfortable now, I can't even imagine how bad that will be. Not to mention the fact that I may never have a flat stomach again. Once my ovaries are removed, I might get that menopausal belly that is resistant to all diets and exercise. I'll never wear tight clothes or bikinis again. Wait, what's exercise? I don't remember anymore. I haven't been allowed to go to the gym since I started my IVF cycle to stimulate my eggs three weeks ago. I can start again next week, but I have doctor's appointments every day and a week later, I'll have surgery and be out of commission again for the rest of the summer. I used to go to the gym 3-5 times a week. I'm starting to feel tired, flabby and lethargic. I just want to do 5 miles on the elliptical!!

Happy thoughts! I need a happy thought...Embryos (or blastocysts, as they're called in the freezer)!! 14 of the 16 that were fertilized made it to the five day mark. That means they continued to grow long enough after fertilization to be frozen. So Jimmi and I have 14 possible babies waiting for a future gestational carrier.

But I digress. Where was I?

"Memory loss". Convenient time for me think of that one. I pride myself on having an impeccable memory. I can tell you the details of every important conversation I've ever had. I keep my calendar in my head because, though I do write appointments down, I never look at the book. I never need to. Even if I forget my grocery list at home, I'll generally remember 95% of what was on it. That will come to an end. During chemo treatments, I won't even remember what I ate for breakfast. But I will know it probably tasted like metal.

"Trouble with Urination." Honestly, I feel like a geriatric patient. The catheter is really bad enough, but now the chemo might cause me to have trouble peeing? Wait! I just remembered two more side effects! You'll love these: constipation and diarrhea. I'm sorry, but don't they need to pick one? If I'm constipated, how can I have diarrhea, or vice versa? As far as I can see, my entire bathroom experience will be a total disaster.

And lastly, "Sexual Changes." It says I'm not gonna want to have sex. But, really, even if I did, would anyone actually want to have sex with me? I know I'll be a total catch with my bald head, swollen body and metallic-tasting mouth, but I guess I'll just have to turn all my suiters away. I'll bet Jimmi will be beating them off with a stick!! They'll all be lined up outside the bathroom, waiting for me to finish puking or having diarrhea, or straining to pee. It'll be like a fairy tale! Chemo-rella. That's me! Only I won't be able to try on the glass slipper because my feet will be too swollen.

14 days. 

In 14 days, my Hell will begin. In 14 days, I'll start on the path to recovery. I just hope it doesn't kill me first.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Telling the Kids

One of the hardest parts of the last month or so has been keeping my diagnosis from my kids. I knew I'd have to tell them at some point, but I didn't know when or how I would do it. There were some people who would tell me not to give them details. "Just say you need surgery. You don't need to tell them why." But as someone who's always been as honest as possible with my kids, that didn't work for me. I decided to go with the other suggested route.

Be honest.

I knew I wanted to tell them when they'd be at my house for a few days and not immediately going to their dad's, or school the next day. I didn't want to fight homework time, music lessons or the bedtime routine. I wanted to do it on a calm day when we really had nothing else to do.

That day was today.

I waited for Jimmi to get home from the gym because I thought it was important for him to be here for the boys as well. And, as an extra bonus, the kids' first babysitter ever - who is basically a family member now - was at the house too.

"Come sit down, boys, I want to talk to you." Dylan, my 10 year-old, and Justin, my 8 year-old plopped themselves down at the kitchen table. They sat there quietly, which is totally out of character for them, and waited for me to speak.

I took a breath, "So, I went to the doctor about a month ago..." Their faces immediately fell. Ok, I thought to myself, keep it together. Get it out. "He told me that I'm sick and I need to have an operation to make me better. But after the operation, I'm gonna need some medicine to make sure I stay better. That medicine is going to make my hair fall out."

Dylan's eyes got wide as he blurted out, "You have cancer?!"

Wow. How did he know that?

"Yes, I do."

Dylan stared speechlessly as Justin's face scrunched up and the tears started falling like rain. As the high-pitched wail escaped from his throat, he placed his face down on the table and just cried. I stayed strong, as did the other adults in the room.

"Are you gonna be ok?" Dylan forced out.

Jimmi stepped in, "The doctors caught it early, so Mom's gonna be fine. She's not gonna die, if that's what you're thinking."

Ok, I didn't really want to say that I'm not gonna die, because, in all honesty, I don't know what's gonna happen. I hope everything will be ok, and I hope it'll be gone and I'll be fine. But I don't know for sure.

I explained that I'd be having surgery in two weeks and that I wasn't going to be able to do much this summer. I apologized for that, but told them how lucky they are because their dad and Jimmi are both around all summer to do fun things with them.

"Where's the cancer?" Dylan questioned.

"Well," I searched my brain for an age-appropriate description. "It's in the part that held you inside of me before you were born. They'll take it out and I'll be ok."

"Will it grow back?"

"No, Dylan. That part doesn't grow back." I explained.

Justin finally lifted his head, crawled onto my lap and spoke, "So you can't have more babies?!"

Ugh. I'm really getting into more details than I thought I would. But I made a decision to be honest, so here it goes...

"No, I won't be able to have babies. But, here's the interesting part. Remember the night of Dylan's school concert when I wasn't feeling well?" They nodded. "The reason I wasn't feeling well is because I went to the doctor that day and he took all of my baby eggs out."

Justin looked surprised. "You have eggs that make babies?"

"Yes," I continued. "So the doctor took them out and put them in a special freezer. If Jimmi and I want to have a baby, they can take my eggs and put them into a super-nice lady who will offer to carry a baby for me until it's ready to be born."

"And then she'll give it back?" Dylan innocently asked.

"Yes, she will."

"But it'll be your baby?"

"Yes it will. Our bun, her oven." I joked. They didn't get it.

I got through the baby part of the discussion unscathed. I then switched back to the more important topic of cancer and what to expect. I told them I would need their help, and Dylan said so sincerely, "We'll be good." My heart broke in two. "I know you'll be good. I just need you to understand that I won't be able to do much fun stuff this summer like going to the beach or the boardwalk. It's going to be a bit rough."

I went over the fact that after treatments, I might feel pretty sick. I told them they may be at their dad's a lot more than they normally would be.

"But can we see you?" Dylan choked out.

"You can see me whenever you want. You just might not be able to stay too long, and you might need to wear a mask to keep germs away from me."

I looked at Justin, who hadn't uttered more than a few syllables, and said, "Do you have any questions?"

He looked at me as his eyes pooled up and squeaked, "Will your hair grow back?" And before I could answer him, he wrapped his arms around my neck and sobbed on my shoulder. With my hands under his arms, I helped him back up to an upright position so I could look him in the eyes. "Yes, my hair will grow back. It's just gonna take a while. But I got some great wigs!"

"Will the wig look exactly like your hair?"

"Yes, it should."

"Will your hair grow back the same color?"

"Well, I've had my hair colored so many times, I'm not really sure what color it will be when it grows back!" I showed Justin my roots, which I decided not to have touched up last week because, really, what's the point? "See that darker color right there?" He looked. "That's my real hair color. I'm assuming that's the color it will be when it starts to come back."

"When will it be that long again?"

"Justin, it's gonna take years for it to be long." He started to whimper again. "What if I make sure I always have a wig or a scarf on if you're around. Will that make you feel better?" I watched the tears fall as he quietly nodded, then squeezed me again.

And I thought I was worried about my hair!!

They still looked scared.

"Remember I told you that I had cancer in my thyroid when I was 21? I'm 36 now, right? It went away. See?" And Justin said, "Yeah, you just take a pill every day, right?" "Yes," I said. "I'll probably need more pills after they do this operation just like the other one." Then Dylan threw me for a loop with, "Because you'll need the hormones, right?"

My jaw dropped and I looked at my 10 year-old.

"How do you know this stuff? You knew I had cancer just because I said my hair would fall out and you knew I'd need hormones because I would be taking a pill. Where are you getting this?"

He explained, "Whenever I see commercials for cancer stuff on TV, they're always bald. And I know that the parts down there give you hormones to go through puberty and stuff, so I just figured it out."


All I could get out was, "Well, luckily I went through puberty a long time ago!"

He smiled.

I closed the conversation by assuring my boys that they could come to me with any questions. I told them their dad knows what's going on and so do most of the grown-ups they know. They can talk to anyone they feel comfortable talking to, but be careful with their friends. I don't want their friends to give them bad information and scare them with stories like, "My grandma died of cancer!" I offered to let them speak to a counselor if they wanted to, and Dylan jumped at that one.

Hopefully I handled it correctly. As a mom, certain situations are completely unknown. The way you handle those moments with your kids can mean the difference between their emotional well-being or a complete mental breakdown. I did my best. I hope it was enough.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wigging Out

When Dr. Leitao uttered the sentence "Yes, your hair will fall out," my heart sank. My mind went blank and I felt numb all over. When I snapped back into the moment, single words flashed through my head one by one, and then disappeared like popping bubbles.

Bald. *pop!*

Wig. *pop!*

Fake. *pop!*

Ugly. *pop!*

For the umpteenth time in the last few weeks, I sat paralyzed and speechless. Shit. A bald bride. That's hot.

When I got home, I started looking up wig shops online. Most suggested cutting my hair short to ease into the transition of baldness. I'm sorry, but I don't do short hair. My hair hasn't been above my shoulders since I was five years old, and I finally begged my mom to let me grow it long because I wanted to look like Wonder Woman. I've been working on the length for almost a year so it would fall just perfectly down my back on my wedding day. I refuse to cut it until it starts to fall out. Until then, I'll live with the unrealistic hope that maybe, just maybe, I'll be part of the freakishly small group of people that bypasses this horrible side effect. I mean, I made it into the 3% of the cervical cancer population with Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma, right? What if my body just likes being unique? Yeah, I'm gonna  go for the long shot here and wait for a miracle.

But since the odds are not in my favor, I need a back-up plan. My mom got some wig shop recommendations from a family member who had been through chemo and sent me the names. I checked out the websites, but my mind wasn't in it.

I called my hair stylists, who have become close friends, and asked them if they were free to go with me to look at wigs. We agreed on a date, and I told them I'd make appointments and get back to them. But I didn't.

I don't want to deal with this.

So I let it go. If I ignore it, it'll go away, right?

A few days later, my mom sent me an e-mail with the subject, "AUNT (can't mention the name for privacy reasons) RECOMMENDS!!!" I opened the e-mail and read my mom's gentle urging, "Think we should really look into this one. May be more expensive, but worth looking into." And there was a link to a website. I clicked on it...

"Joseph Paris - Your Prescription for Natural Looking Hair."

Ok, I want natural looking hair. But it's a wig; how natural can it be? I continued to browse the site. I went to the section for Cancer and Alopecia, and I immediately saw the large, blinking words on the side of the page that screamed out, "Don't Cut Your Hair Short! Use Your Own Hair - Click Here."

Ok. Click!

I watched a video on the difference between a normal, heavy wig and a Joseph Paris "Hair System." One of the benefits of Joseph Paris is that the Hair System (they don't consider them to be wigs) are semi to full custom pieces. They recommend going for a consultation BEFORE hair loss so they can see how you wear your hair, and even harvest a one inch section in the back to be used later in the hairline of the system. That way, it's your own hair and almost undetectable.

I'm skeptical.

I realized that I don't have much time. If I want to get going on some sort of hair solution before my surgery on June 14th, I need to squeeze it in now. I checked my calendar for a day when I didn't have a doctor's appointment - those are hard to come by right now - and I called to schedule a consultation.

Today was the day. May 26th at 3:00 PM.

Jimmi and I hopped in the convertible and headed for New York City. The highway breeze blew my hair around and the truckers on either side blatantly stared. I'll enjoy it while I can. Even truckers won't look at a cue ball head.

We arrived at Joseph Paris' salon about 15 minutes late because, honestly, it's almost impossible to get anywhere in New York City on time. As they buzzed us in, the sadness swept over me like a wave. I sat in the overly comfortable chair and gazed at a giant TV screen on the wall. There was a picture of a smiling woman with long, blonde hair. Three seconds later, the picture changed to the same woman, still smiling, but totally bald. The photos continued to rotate with new faces, new smiles and new bald to beautiful shots. I know it was supposed to show how amazing I'll look with my new Joseph Paris Hair System. But all it really did was remind me that, no matter what I put on my head, I'll still be bald.

"Come on back, Suzanne. I'm Mary. Joseph is out sick today, so I'll be doing your consultation."

Mary showed us to an office with a desk at the far end, more of the super comfy chairs in the middle, and a hairdresser's chair in front of a large mirror at the other end. Under the mirror was a counter with products I'd never seen before in a normal salon. There were fake heads with fake hair on the windowsills, and autographed pictures of Charlie Sheen on the wall. Wow. I must be "Winning!"

Mary started out by asking me exactly what brought me to the salon today. After a quick explanation of my diagnosis and treatment plan, I said, "I just want whatever I get to be the best quality so it doesn't look fake." She gazed at my with sincere sympathy in her eyes and said, "I understand. You have beautiful hair."

Yeah, I thought to myself, only for another six weeks or so.

Mary explained the difference between a normal wig and a Joseph Paris Hair System in depth. She showed me how heavy and uncomfortable wigs can be, and how light and breathable the Hair System is.  She talked to me about the benefits of synthetic versus human hair, and vice versa. She described the method used for both custom and semi-custom pieces. She went over the process of harvesting a piece of my own hair to create a natural looking hairline. She demonstrated the strength of the tape that would hold the system on my head by sticking it to my finger. And she showed my the clips that would be added to the system to hold it on once my real hair started growing back. It was a lot to swallow. And then she brought out some samples.

I felt sick.

I felt the difference between the synthetic hair and the human hair. Not gonna lie - the human hair creeped me out a bit. I asked if I could just shave my head and use my own hair or if my friends who offered can donate some of theirs. She said it was possible, but not necessary. Then I asked the prices.


On the bright side, if I get a doctor's note explaining my diagnosis and that I need this for my mental well-being, insurance should cover at least part of it. Cool. They won't pay for my name-brand thyroid medication, but maybe they'll spring for a wig or two. Oh, sorry...a Hair System.

After over an hour of discussion, Mary asked, "Do you want to try one on?" I gave an uncomfortable snort, "No, not really." But she was determined to get that thing on my head. I covered my soon-to-be-gone hair with a wig sock. Mary tucked the bottom underneath so there wouldn't be a bump, then placed a synthetic hair system on my head.

I can't look.

Mary started the dialogue, "Obviously it would need to be fitted to your head and the hairline needs to be trimmed to match yours. And we would straighten it and add highlights just like you have now." I forced myself to look in the mirror.


Oh my God, I'm wearing a wig. I'm gonna need to wear a wig for a very long time. Don't cry. You can't cry now. Jimmi spoke, "You really can't tell. I mean, obviously I know it's not real, but no one else will be able to tell." Yeah, ok, Pumpkin. Whatever you say.

I took it off. "Ok, so what now?"

We decided on what kind of system would work best for my needs. It turns out I'll need two of them. I would get a semi-custom, synthetic Hair System for every day use. With that one, I can swim, go to the gym and sweat and actually submerge it in water to wash it. The only problem is that I can't use a hair dryer or other hair styling products, like a flat iron or curling iron. I would only be able to brush it and steam it. If I want it straight, I would use the steamer to steam it straight, then spray it with cool water to lock it in. Same process if I want to curl it. I'd use the attachment on the steamer to curl it, then spritz the cool water to lock it in. One cool thing is, once I lock in the style, it won't change until I purposely change it, no matter what I do to it.

Mary just happened to have a long, synthetic system that matched my base color in stock. Then we looked through hair samples to pick the highlight color that would be added into it. She also took pictures of my hair from all angles so they could place the highlights exactly where they are now. When we were done with that, Mary carefully measured my head for the custom fit.

Next, we went over the details of the second Hair System I would need. This one would be my "special occasion" piece. The one I would use for my wedding. This one would be made from human hair. Mary got out the tape measure to check the actual length of my hair now. Twenty inches. Wow. "Hair that long is a special order," Mary said. Ok, well then special order it! Calm down, Suzanne. It's not her fault you're going to go bald. "Ok, that's fine," I whispered.

The custom piece will take eight weeks, compared to the two week turn around for the semi-custom. At my next appointment, I'll need to have a mold of my head made with Seran Wrap and tape. Then, they'll write the details of my natural hair on the tape mold to show what direction my hair goes on each section of my head. That way, when they make the system, it'll be exactly to my current hair's specifications. With a human hair system, I can use a hair dryer and a flat iron and anything else I would normally use. The downside is that it can't be submerged in water or it'll lose its hair. No swimming and no sweating. To clean it, I'll take it section by section and wash it with diluted shampoo up to just below the root. To clean the cap part and root area, I'll turn it over and spray it with alcohol. Sounds fun.

After an hour and 45 minutes, we were done. I chose not to make a final decision right that minute because I really wanted to talk to my mom about it first. I set up an appointment for next Wednesday, June 1st, to have my head molded for the custom system. At that point, I'll know exactly what I want to do and I'll probably place my orders.

I don't know why I've been put in this position. I don't know why this is happening to me - especially now. I'm supposed to be going for cake tastings and dress fittings. Why couldn't this have happened a few months later? I don't want to do any of this. I want my brain to go back to dreaming about my happy future and not having nightmares about the Hell to come. I want it all to go away. But it's not going to. It's going to happen no matter how much I pray.

Upbeat. I need to be upbeat and positive. Yeah, maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

All Of My Eggs in One Basket

Is it possible that I actually have good news? I do!

But before I get to that, let's go back a few weeks.

Jimmi and I decided that since I'll be losing my uterus, and now my ovaries, we should hurry up and retrieve my eggs for future use with a gestational carrier. Upon our first meeting with Dr. Drews at Reproductive Medicine Associates (RMA), we were told that it's better to fertilize the eggs before freezing them, because embryos freeze better.

So, we got to work on stimulating my ovaries. Not a fun process, mind you. Each night, starting on Friday, May 13th, I had to sit in my bathroom-turned-drug-lab, and mix six vials of Menopur tablets with 1 ml of sodium chloride in a syringe.

Instructions: Suck up the sodium chloride into the syringe, squirt it into the first tablet-filled vial, allow the tablet to dissolve, suck it back into the syringe, repeat with the remaining five vials.

After completing what reminded me of a lab experiment in chemistry class, I was to inject the concoction into my abdomen, anywhere below my belly button and between my hip bones.

Oh, fun!!

So, I'm not gonna lie; the first shot sucked. The mixing process went fine, but the injection? Holy OUCH!! I almost passed out from the sight of watching the needle disappear into my skin. The next night was a bit better, and even better after that. I learned that aiming the shots on a down angle was a lot more comfortable than going straight in.

I'm not sure which was harder, learning how to inject myself, or having to wake up at 5:15 every morning to be at the RMA office for open monitoring hours between 6 and 7:30 am. When it's first come, first served, I realized quickly, that getting there before 6 is the difference between an in and out visit or a two-hour wait for a blood test and an internal ultrasound to check the status of my ovaries. Did I mention I am NOT a morning person?

After six nights, I was told to add another shot called Ganirelix to slow down the ovulation process so my eggs wouldn't mature before they were ready to be retrieved. Luckily, that one was pre-mixed, so I didn't need extra time in the drug lab.

By now, I was a basically a professional, so the added shot didn't scare me. Jimmi watched as I carefully, and quickly injected and squeezed the plungers of each syringe into my bruised belly. "You're an animal!" he exclaimed! I felt proud as I disposed of the paraphernalia into my small, red Sharps container with the word "Biohazard" printed so blatantly across the top.

But the weekend was coming and I had plans. The shots needed to be given at a certain time each night. How would I do it? Hmmm...Do I cancel? I e-mailed my nurse and she gave me the green light to pre-mix the Menopur, but "be very careful. If the plunger gets accidentally pushed, you'll lose the medication." I needed to be clever and think of a way to protect the syringes. No! I need to call my friend, Kris! After numerous cycles of her own, she's gotta have an answer for me.

"I used to put them in an eyeglass case." she offered.


So, that Friday, a week after I started the process, I pre-mixed my super-drugs, emptied my eyeglass case of the actual glasses that I never use anyway, replaced them with my two syringes, and was on my way to dinner and the movies with my mom and my bridesmaids. Right before the movie, I nodded to Kris, and she followed me confidently into the ladies room. After joining me in the special needs stall, Kris held each shot as I carefully wiped down the injection sites with an alcohol wipe. In they went, one at a time, without a problem. I put the empty syringes back into the eyeglass case, we nonchalantly exited the stall together, washed our hands and hurried back to our seats just as the lights were going down.


Saturday night proved to be a bit trickier. I promised my little boy, Justin, that I would take him to see his favorite singer, "Weird Al" Yankovic. Yes, he's still around. I got three tickets months ago, and my nephew, Matt (also a "Weird Al" fan), agreed to go with us. I thought about sending Jimmi to the show with Matt and Justin so I didn't have to go to a public bathroom without a cheering section to help me this time. But I just couldn't let my little monkey down. I promised, and while I'm still physically able to be there for my boys, nothing's gonna stop me. Not even shooting up in the Ladies' Room of a concert venue.

On a side note...I can't believe how east it is to get drug-filled syringes into movie theaters and concerts!

Anyway...Justin was so excited for the show! Right before the Weird one graced the stage, I left Matt in charge of my baby, and I headed to the restroom.

Oh, shit. There's a bathroom attendant.

Honestly, what is the point of these people? They sit in the stinky bathroom all night robbing people of their privacy, and then expect a tip for handing them a towel. I can get my own towel!!!


Ok, just act natural. Yes, Ms. Bathroom Attendant, I am washing my hands BEFORE I go into the stall. Got a problem with that???

I completed my task as quickly as I could and evacuated the stall. She didn't seem to notice how long I was in there. Or maybe she just didn't care. All she said was, "I can tell you're young. You're not wearing pantyhose with those sandals and you don't have a jacket."

Ok, thanks! Here's a buck. I'm outta here!

Again, I made it back to my seat just as the lights were dimming, and enjoyed watching Justin's happy little face for the next two hours...especially when "Weird Al" made his way up the aisle, grabbed my hand and sang to me. For that 10 seconds, I was the coolest mom EVER!

I anxiously sat in the waiting room at RMA on Sunday morning. What will they tell me? How many eggs will they see today? I knew my retrieval date was getting close, but how many eggs will there be? From what they could see with the "dildo camera", I started out with 15 eggs before the drugs. A few days later, there were only 8. A few days after that, there were 18. Wow! And today??

"Looks like there's at least 10."

Ten? That's not enough! I have ONE shot at this. They're taking my ovaries in a few weeks and I need more than ten! I know. It sounds like a lot. Who wants ten babies? Wouldn't I be happy with just one? Yes, I would, but here's the thing. Just because I get ten eggs, that doesn't mean they'll all be mature. So, maybe eight will be. And of those eight, they might not all fertilize. So, maybe I'll have six. And of those six, they might not all make it to the freezing stage. So, maybe I'll have four. And of those four, some may not survive the freeze. So, maybe I'll have two. If those two are transfered into a gestational carrier and she doesn't get pregnant. That's it.

One shot.

My instructions for Sunday night were very detailed. No more Menopur and no more Ganirelix. Tonight, I needed to give myself two shots of Ovidrel, one right after the other, at exactly 11:30 PM. The Ovidrel is the trigger shot that will mature the eggs and get them ready for the retrieval, which was scheduled for 11:30 AM on Tuesday, May 24th.

Jimmi and I both set our alarms for 11:20 PM so we wouldn't be late. I counted down to the exact minute, and injected the final two needles. Done. Now all I had to do was wait.

Tuesday morning crept up slowly. I got the kids off to school without letting on that, in a few hours, I'd be under anesthesia to endure a procedure that would make it possible for them to have another sibling. I took a quick shower, and off we went. Hungry and dying for even a small sip of water, I sat quietly in the car as Jimmi drove. We arrived at RMA a few minutes early and sat staring at the aquarium in the waiting room. I explained to Jimmi that all of the characters in Finding Nemo were swimming around the tank.

"Don't worry. Hopefully you'll learn when our kids make you watch it over and over and over." I smiled.

"James and Suzanne?"

That's us! The nurse walked us down the hall to sign off on Jimmi's frozen sample that had come in from another location. Biogenetics is a lab that does sperm enrichment and gender selection. It's not 100%, but we figured as long as we're being forced to have a baby through science, we might as well try to raise our chances of having a little girl.

I initialed each label after I read the printed names "Paragano, Suzanne. Kane, James." I smiled to myself.

We're going to be parents. Jimmi will be a daddy. And it's happening today!

We were then sent to the recovery room where I donned a stunning, pink hospital gown, green booties and a green hair cover. In a few months, I won't need that hair cover. Enough! Think of why you're here! You're making babies!

The anesthesiologist came in to question me. The nurse started an IV for much needed hydration, and then the doctor arrived. He was one of the doctors I had never met during the monitoring process. He looked at me seriously and said, "Is this your first time with this procedure?"
"Yes." I squeaked out. He smiled. "Mine too! We can learn together!"

Way to break the ice, Doc. I liked him.

"Listen." I pleaded, "I only have one chance at this. Please get everything you can. Get them all out." "Don't worry," he comforted, "I like working under pressure."

And he left the room.

Jimmi kissed me goodbye and I walked down the hall to the operating room. I was told to hop up on the table and put my butt in the hole. Awesome. There I was, flat on my back with my backside in a hole in the table. A nurse came in to ask my name, last four digits of my social security number and Jimmi's name, then she quickly walked out. Another nurse grabbed each of my legs, one at a time, and strapped them into padded leg rests to keep them spread. The gown was up, I was completely exposed, and she gave a peak up my girly parts to make sure they were in the correct position for the procedure. How humiliating. Then the anesthesiologist took my arm and said, "You're gonna go to sleep now. Goodnight."

I woke up back in the recovery room with Jimmi standing over me.

I opened my mouth to talk, but only squeaks came out. Then came the waterworks. Why am I crying? Must be the anesthesia.

"How many did he get?" was all I could say. "Are there enough?"

The final count hadn't yet come in. The nurse got to work assessing my pain and getting me to eat and drink. I tried to be tough, but about ten minutes after I opened my eyes I needed some drugs. The Motrin took the edge off and I inhaled the gourmet hospital snack of cranberry juice and Saltines. Would it be too much to ask for a little vodka?

"I have the count!" said the nurse, as she walked into the room.

I saw the back of the paper she was holding. The number was written in black Sharpie marker so it was visible from the other side. 6. That's what I saw. 6. That's it? Oh my God. That's not enough!

The nurse lit up. "They got 16!"

What?! I guess I couldn't see the "1" because of the way she was holding the paper. 16 is GREAT!! Oh, please let most of them fertilize. Let most of them be healthy. Let most of them freeze.

They released me a little while later with instructions to rest and drink plenty of fluids. My nurse will call me tomorrow and let me know how many of the 16 eggs actually fertilized. It's ok, I'm getting good at waiting.

The phone rang at 10:00 this morning. The caller ID said, "Reproductive Med".

This is it, I thought to myself. Please let there be at least 10 good ones. Please.


"Hi Suzanne, it's Jill from RMA. I just had to call and tell you the good news myself. Out of 16 eggs, 16 were mature and 16 fertilized!"

"All 16?" I shrieked.

"Yes! It's amazing! It's such a great start. I'll call you in a few days to let you know how many made it to freezing. We'll do the genetic testing on them that day, and you'll have those results about a week later. But, congratulations!!"

"Thank you so much!" Click.

Wow. All 16 of them fertilized. We made 16 embryos. We have 16 babies!! hahaha!!

Still sore from the procedure, I jumped up as quickly as I could and ran outside where Jimmi was washing the cars.

"Hey!" I called to him, "You have 16 babies! You're a daddy!"

I wish I could've captured the look of shock on his face. "All 16?" he forced out.

"Yes!!" I shouted. "Doesn't mean we'll have that many to freeze, but it's a really good start!"

He looked at me with a smile and said, "I need to go back on tour."

I kissed his cherry chap-stick flavored lips and looked into his icy blue eyes - the eyes I hope our babies will have - and said, "Thank you.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I am truly overwhelmed.

When I was diagnosed with cancer last month, one of the emotions I felt was embarrassment. What would people say when they found out? Would they treat me differently? Would they run away and hide?

I told only my closest friends at first, but I knew at some point, everyone would find out. I figured it was best to take control of the situation, since it was one of the only things I was able to control. That's why I started this blog. Aside from being an outlet for my emotions, I wanted it to be a place that my family and friends could go to get information on my condition without feeling like they're bothering me or my mom. I thought it was a good idea to have all of the details in one place, so it didn't turn into a game of Telephone, going from me to my brother, to my cousin, and so on, until the information finally became incorrect and totally useless.

But I am totally shocked by the response.

On a totally non-medical note, I'm getting tremendous compliments on my writing. With everything that's going on, it's really nice to have that ego boost. I've always wanted to be a writer, but it just never worked out for me. And if there are any publishers out there who might be reading this... Hi! How are you? Yes, I would be interested in publishing. haha! Gotta keep the humor going, right?


The most amazing part of this entire writing process, has been the unbelievable amount of support I've gotten. My friends have been incredible. They've offered me everything from dinner to babysitting to taking me to the doctor, and even their own hair when mine falls out. Unfortunately, I've been letting a lot of calls go to voicemail because I physically don't have the energy to talk. But my friends haven't let that deter them. They switch to texting or e-mail. Any way they can get to me to let me know I'm important to them.  I've noticed tears on my cheeks after reading some of the messages I've gotten. But this time, they're happy tears.

Even more surprising, are the constant messages I've been getting from people who have not been a part of my life in the recent years. I've heard from people I haven't spoken to since I was in elementary school. I've gotten encouragement from friends of friends who have never even met me. There have been uplifting words from so many people who I just consider "Facebook Friends", that my heart is melting.

And then there's my family. I know your family is "supposed" to be there no matter what. But, people have their own lives, and they're busy. I expected my family to tell me they'd be there to do anything I needed, but I never thought they'd jump up and run at a moment's notice. But they have. When I needed them most, they've been there.

Especially my mom.

My mom has been tireless when it comes to me. She shows me strength that I don't think I could ever have. She pushes me to continue with my wedding plans, and not to let anything get me down. "Positive attitude!" That's her motto. My mom has been to every doctor's appointment. She's researched the best wigs, she's sat up at 5:30 in the morning trying to come up with ways to make sure I have my wedding. She's cleaned my house, organized my paperwork and picked up the kids. She's listened to me cry on the phone, in my house, at her house, in the car...If I need her, she's there. I've always known that my mommy is the best. This just proves I've been right all along.

(Side note - Jimmi and my dad have already gotten their own separate blog entries, so I'm not including them individually in this one. Let their support be known.)

Well, so much for embarrassment!

Yes, I'm still uncomfortable with people knowing that I'll be unable to carry more children and that I'll be  wearing a wig. I don't think anything will change that. But as far as I can tell from the loving words of all of those around me, I might be the only one who gives it a second thought.

I love you all. Thank you.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Open Letter to God

Dear God,

Hey, how are you? I'm ok. No, actually, I'm not. I'm sure you get requests like this all the time, but I really need to ask you for a favor. Is it possible to make everything go smoothly from this point on? I've accepted the whole cancer thing. I've accepted losing my womanhood. I've accepted getting super sick and going bald. I've accepted that I will never carry another child myself. But, please, I don't think I'll be able to handle any more surprise bad news.

What I'm asking is that there will be no more complications.

My egg retrieval has been changed from Monday to Tuesday to allow the smaller follicles to catch up. But the egg count keeps going up and down. A few days ago, there were only 8 of them. I know it sounds like enough to get just one baby, but it's really not. Not all of them will be mature, not all of them will fertilize, not all of them will make it to the freezing stage and not all of them will survive the thawing stage. If we start with 8, we may end up with one. And if that ONE doesn't take when we end up finding our gestational carrier, we're done. That's it. I'll only have this one chance. So, my first request is:

Please let them retrieve enough eggs from this retrieval to give us a real shot at having our own baby in the future.

Next, I'm sure you know that I'm having a CT scan on Wednesday. The doctors are checking to make sure none of the cancer cells have escaped to my chest or belly. If they have, I'm seriously screwed. So, my second request is:

Please let the CT scan be clean and show no signs of cancer anywhere else in my body.

And then, of course, there's the surgery. So many things can go wrong during surgery and in the months after. I've heard horror stories that have scared me out of my mind, but I have no other choice than to go through with the full hysterectomy. My third request is:

Please let the surgery go smoothly, and please let me heal quickly with no complications or additional surgeries.

The treatments that follow will be brutal. I know that. I also know that they affect some people more than others. My fourth request is:

Please let me handle the treatments well without being so sick that I can't leave my bed...or the bathroom.

Then there's the problem of my boys. They're going to be devastated by what's happening to me. I don't want them to see me going through all of this, but as much as I want to, I know I can't push them away. That wouldn't be good for anyone. Request number five:

Please let my boys be ok. Let them get through this without too much mental scarring. (Jimmi is included in this request.)

And finally, request number six:

Please let me be well enough to get married on September 3, 2011.

God, I know I'm asking a lot. And I'm sure you're not too excited about granting me any of my requests since I'm pretty sure the whole reason I'm sick is because you're angry at me for badmouthing the Catholic Church. I hope you know that had nothing to do with You. I don't believe in the hypocritical teachings of the church, but that doesn't mean I don't believe in You. Because I do.

I pray every night.

And I didn't just start praying when I found out I had cancer. I've always said a prayer before bed. I pray for my kids and my friends and my family. I've always tried to be a good person. I do things for others whenever I can. I don't lie or cheat or steal. I've never purposely hurt anyone. I live the way I think You'd want me to live.

I can't understand why things like this happen to good people, but I'm sure You have Your reasons.

Ok, I won't ramble on anymore. I know You're busy and have many other things to do than listen to my begging and pleading.

I hope you have a great day, and I look forward to speaking to you tonight at bedtime.

Thank you for listening,


Friday, May 20, 2011

Can anyone give me some good news?

The small amount of hope I had is gone.

After the Tumor Board Meeting at Sloan-Kettering last night, Dr. Leitao confirmed Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. Radical hysterectomy. Radiation. Chemotherapy. Yes, all of them. 

But, wait! There's more!

Now my ovaries need to come out too. That wasn't in the original radical hysterectomy plan. Doctors like to leave the ovaries so the hormone levels in a woman's body stay as they should be. Taking my ovaries will throw me into early menopause and all the complications that come along with it. Yes, they'll give me hormone replacement drugs, but, really, who knows if they'll even work? So, on top of losing all of the parts that make me a woman, I'll also lose my hair, gain weight in my abdomen and have vaginal dryness and hot flashes. Wow! Jimmi's such a lucky guy to be stuck with me forever!! Talk about a bait and switch. 

And did I mention the catheter I'd need for at least three days after surgery? "Don't worry, the bag straps to your leg and you can hide it with loose pants. We can try taking it out after three days, but if you have trouble urinating, we'll put it back in for another week. It's rare that you'll have long-term bladder problems, but it's possible." Apparently, I do a lot of rare things. I don't want to hear anymore.

"And what about the wedding?"

Nope, can't change it to July because the chemo and radiation can't wait that long after surgery. And what about September? "Well, barring any complications with the surgery (ha! We'll see.), we can push the treatments up to about two weeks after instead of four. That would put your third treatment around the middle of August. You MIGHT be ok to get married on September 3rd. Of course, that's if there aren't any complications."

"Can you please tell me something, ANYTHING, good?"

"I really hate telling you any of this. But I don't have much of a choice."

Oh yeah, I also need a Cat Scan to make sure none of those tricky little cells escaped and ran to my lungs or heart or belly. Yippeee!

Dr. Leitao looked at my sympathetically...or should I say pathetically, because that's how I feel, and asked, "Do you have any other questions?" "Yeah," I choked out, "What am I supposed to tell a 10 year old and an 8 year old?" 

He had no answer for me.

Dr. Leitao sent his nurse off to contact the slew of other types of doctors I need to see before surgery, like the radiation doctor and the chemo doctor, and he threw in a women's health and life coach for good measure.

"Can Jimmi stay with me in the hospital?" I asked. He told me that it's a women's center, so it's really up to the nurses. If I have a roommate, probably not. I forced out a joke, "It's ok. I'll have Jimmi flirt with the nurses and give them the eyes. That usually works." Dr. Leitao laughed and told me there are some private rooms, if I'm lucky enough to get one. There are also some super suites on the 19th floor that are nicer than some NYC hotels. There's even a cappuccino maker up there. "Can I pay extra for that?" "Yes, you can." Oh, some GOOD news! Sold!! Ha...I find a small ray of light that will cost a fortune to give me a tiny amount of comfort on my first night of real Hell.

I got to work signing documents allowing Dr. Leitao to remove my womanhood. After that, I moved on to initialing a long, horrible list of complications that might arise from the surgery. I can't even say what they were because my eyes were foggy from the tears as I was reading them.

I set up the Cat Scan for next week, and left the office. Trying to keep my composure, I slumped into a chair and sat silently with my parents while Jimmi brought our tickets to the hospital valet. 

There were no words. Nothing to say.

I couldn't speak for the first few minutes of the drive home. Then, an e-mail popped up on my phone. I turned to Jimmi, who was driving, and said, "Looks like my egg retrieval will be on Monday. I hope they get a lot of good ones, because we only have one shot. My ovaries will be gone."

And I sobbed all the way home.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

July wedding?

I've always wanted a September wedding. Even when I was getting married the first time, in 1999, I wanted it to be in September, but I had to settle for October instead. I settled a lot the first time around. Don't get me wrong, the wedding was beautiful. It's the marriage that was full of disappointments. This time, I told myself I'd have exactly what I want - starting with the perfect groom.

We got engaged on September 22, 2010, and I immediately went into action. I knew I wanted a September wedding, but since September is now the most popular wedding month, I needed to kick it into high gear. You'd think a year would be enough time to get the date, or even the month, you want, but it's really not.

I wanted September 10, 2011. 9/10/11. I thought that would be a really cool anniversary. Well, forget that. Every decent place in NY and NJ was booked. I decided to try another angle. We'd look at all of the places, pick the one we love, and take whatever they had on a Saturday night in September.

We picked The Castle at Skylands Manor in Ringwood, NJ. It's a beautiful, old mansion set in the NJ Botanical Gardens. The ceremony would be outside, surrounded by colorful flowers and fountains; the cocktail hour would include every room on the main floor of the mansion so the guests could walk around and check out the library or the foyer or the sunroom. They would also be able to walk outside to the back patio and enjoy the view and the wonderful scents of summer. It was going to be perfect! But did they have any openings in my month of choice?

"If you want a Saturday night, all we have is September 3rd. It's Labor Day Weekend, though."

"We'll take it!"

And that was that. With the venue booked, everything else fell into place. We hired Soul System Orchestra, the perfect band for our type of wedding. No cheesy wedding band will do for us. We need the rock, funk and soul! But for the ceremony, we'll have the extra touch of a classical guitar and cello duo playing non-traditional wedding songs. I'm thinking of walking down the aisle to Aerosmith. And for the reception, they'll bring in a separate rock singer to belt out Skid Row and Motley Crue. I might pass out ear plugs to the, ummmm, older generation.

After the band was set to go, we found out photographer. Orlando of Photography by Orlando had the perfect blend of artistic, photojournalism and traditional photography that we were looking for. His personality fit ours, and he even gave us cupcakes at our first meeting.


And then the dress...Mind you, at this point, it was still only early October! I found my dress at Priscilla of Boston. I'd describe it, but there are certain things grooms are not allowed to know. Though, I will say that it's perfect. It was the only dress I put on that brought me to tears. I looked at my reflection in the giant mirror and choked out, "I'm getting married."

That was my dress.

By the end of October, bridesmaid and flower girl dresses were chosen, our florist was secured, tuxedos were selected, and we even hired a tattoo artist for permanent wedding favors to any brave guests who would dare.

And the honeymoon. What to do? Where to go? Tahiti? Yes, I think so! A plan for our 12 day excursion to Taha'a and Bora Bora was set into motion. Over-water, glass bottom bungalows were a must. So excited!! We figured it would be best to wait a few days after the wedding, and leave on September 9th. Honestly, what's the rush? We need time to chill after the wedding, and I really didn't want to miss the kids' first day of school. Ok, that's all set!!

Reserved and confirmed!

By Thanksgiving, it was all done. Everything that could be planned in advance was set to go. Now it was time to just enjoy being engaged and wait until there was something else to do.

Fast forward to April. Ok, we all know about my diagnosis. We all know I'm worried about whether or not I'll even have a wedding at all. I definitely don't want to postpone it. I don't want to be told I can't. I need someone to give me answers.

As I was leaving the fertility doctor's office way too early this morning, I called my mom. She blurted out, "I've been awake since 5:30 this morning just thinking about what to do. What if we moved the wedding to the last week of July?"

I instantly balked at her suggestion. "How will we do that? How will I get the place, the band, the photographer, the florist and the minister to all be available on the same date in two months? Everything is completely booked up unless I do it on like a Tuesday."

She was silent for a minute and then came out with, "That's what I was thinking."

A Tuesday? Who has a wedding on a Tuesday? My brain hurt, my ovaries were throbbing from 5 days worth of hormone shots, and I was just tired.

"But I want it in September."

My mom very pointedly told me that all she's been hearing from me is that I want to get married and I don't want my illness to ruin what I've been planning for a year. She said nothing needed to be changed now, but if the doctor has more information on Friday that will make a September wedding impossible, why can't we just change it?

"People change things all the time for many different reasons." She said in that soothing, mommy tone.

I had to try and wrap my brain around it. I've been so organized and stress-free because I've had so much time to plan. Now I might need to go into over-drive and rush around like crazy to make this work. My surgery is set for June 14th. I'd need about a month to recover (barring complications), then there would be about two weeks before the new wedding plan. Then chemo and radiation. That's a lot to digest.

"My dress won't be in until July. And, no, I'm not getting another one!" calls were made and e-mails were sent.

Waiting on Skylands to call back.

Orlando will do whatever we need.

Soul System Orchestra has some holds in July, but will try to do whatever works for us.

My dress is scheduled to arrive at the store on July 5th. Yes, they will absolutely be able to rush my fittings and have it ready whenever I need it.

I'm amazed and truly touched at how everyone is willing to do anything they can for us. No one mentioned paying extra for the changes, no one said "It can't be done", no one complained. I guess I underestimate the good in people sometimes. I like this kind of surprise.

July. Nope, I wasn't thinking I'd have a July wedding, and I'm still holding out for September. But at least I might have options.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Today has been a bad day. No, I haven't gotten any new news. No, nothing has happened today to cause my mood. I'm just sad.

I woke up and my first thought was, "No. I'm not doing this today."

Jimmi forced me to get out of bed because he refuses to let me sit around and feel sorry for myself. Yes, it's a great quality and I'm lucky to have him. But sometimes I don't have to energy to pretend to be ok. Sometimes I don't even have the strength to smile.

I only listened to him because I knew my mom would be here at 1 to help me go through all of my paperwork and get organized. Ever since my diagnosis, I've been slacking on bills and filing and even going through the papers to throw out garbage. Let me tell you, a month's worth of medical bills and information from four different doctors can really add up. Not to mention my regular monthly bills, notes from the kids' school, get well cards, Mother's Day cards...It was quite the pile!

I begrudgingly slid out of bed without turning back around to pull the covers and comforter up and put the fake, pretty pillows back on it. I walked slowly into the bathroom with my shoulders hunched and head hanging. I methodically took a shower and dried my hair. (How many more times will I be able to do this?) And I went downstairs to wait for my mom in the cyclone of paperwork strewn across my kitchen counters.

She showed up a few minutes late with sushi in hand. "Not hungry," I said, as I slumped into a chair.

My mom is another one who refuses to play into my self-pity. "I know you're sad, but you need to take each day as it comes."

Yeah, yeah. Ok. So, tomorrow and Thursday will be more days of waiting. And on Friday, I'll see Dr. Leitao, but I'm not holding out hope that he'll have any magical words of encouragement. I doubt any of the other doctors at the Tumor Board Meeting will find any GOOD news when they look at my slides. It'll either be confirmation of the bad cancer or more unknowns.

With tears welling up in my puffy, hazel eyes, I told my mom, "I don't care if they do the hysterectomy on June 14th. I refuse to start additional treatments until after my wedding. I want to get married on THAT DAY and no one is gonna tell me I can't. It's not fair. How will I be able to sit and watch September 3rd go by with a needle in my arm and puking when I know I was supposed to be getting married that day? I'll do it on September 4th. I'll move the honeymoon. Don't make me move my wedding."

Ok, so, a bit dramatic. But I meant it. No one seems to have been in any rush since my diagnosis. Think about it. I had my LEEP on April 1st. My gynecologist, Dr. Ferrante, got the results a few days later and tried to have his office move my follow-up appointment from April 14th to any time the week before. No one told me there was a problem over the phone, so I decided to keep the appointment on the 14th. Dr. Ferrante didn't call to push me into the office sooner.

No rush.

Then, I got the news on April 14th. The first available appointment with the recommended oncologist was May 19th. It's not even May 19th now!! I took matters into my own hands and found other doctors who could see me sooner, but even they were on vacation and I had to wait 2 weeks. No one seemed concerned.

No rush.

After seeing all of the oncologists, I chose Dr. Leitao to do my surgery. He couldn't fit me into the O.R. schedule until June 14th. He said, "These cancers are very slow moving. It's not gonna make a difference if it's a month or two months."

No rush.

Now, all of a sudden, I MIGHT have weird cancer cells. I MIGHT need additional treatments. NOW there's a bit more concern. I asked Dr. Leitao on the phone yesterday when I would need to start treatments. He said I would have to wait four weeks after surgery.

Ok, so, surgery is on June 14th. So, that brings me to July 12th to start treatments.

"Can I do radiation first and then chemo after the wedding?" "No, these cancers respond best to doing both treatments simultaneously. And if there's a choice, we'd do the chemo first."

"If I'm already gonna need to wait until the middle of July, can I just wait an extra month and 3 weeks to start treatments?" "No, if it's Small Cell, we really can't wait."

Now there's a rush.

Funny, no one was in a hurry to treat me. No one was in a hurry to get things moving. Now I have one request, and everyone's in a fucking hurry.

I'm putting my foot down.


I will not allow this cancer OR the doctors to ruin my wedding. Everyone keeps telling me that my health is the most important thing. But tell me how my mental health will be affected if I'm NOT getting married on September 3rd. If I'm sitting in my bed, bald and sick, looking outside at a beautiful, sunny day, knowing that I should officially be "Mrs. Kane" at that exact moment, but I'm not. Do you think that will help my positive attitude? Do you think that will help me fight?

I think not.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Well, today was the day. Dr. Leitao at Sloan-Kettering promised he'd call me today, when he returned to the office after a week at a robotic surgery convention in Greece.

True to his word, and much earlier in the day than I had expected, Dr. Leitao called. I saw the number pop up on my caller ID and my stomach dropped. It's him! What will he tell me? Will he have better news than the last two doctors? Oh, please let it be good news.

"Hello?" "Hi Suzanne. It's Dr. Leitao. I wish I had something more definitive to tell you, but the pathology report is still inconclusive."

He proceeded to explain that after reading the report, and calling his pathologist directly to discuss the results, they still can't positively determine if I have Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma or not. There are normal cervical cancer cells and there are abnormal cancer cells, but whether the abnormal ones are actually Small Cell is unclear.

"You're a mystery." He said with a chuckle. "Well, I like to stand out." I joked.

Dr. Leitao went on to tell me that he's put my case on the agenda for the Tumor Board Meeting on Thursday night. That way, my slides will be displayed for all of the top doctors to see and offer suggestions and input. They'll have a discussion about all of the possibilities for me, and decide what they think is best.

"Wow! I'm famous!" I quipped.

I asked about the possibilities for treatment again. Dr. Leitao still maintained that if they decide it's definitely not Small Cell, we can continue with just a larger cold knife cone biopsy and no additional treatment, unless the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes. He also explained that if the majority of doctors feel it is Small Cell, or if there's too much of a chance that it MIGHT be Small Cell, the safest thing to do would be a radical hysterectomy. That way, after everything is out, they can test all of the tissue and come to a conclusive answer as to what is going on in my body. We can hope for the best that there are only normal cancer cells, and then no additional treatment will be necessary. But if they find Small Cells at that point, I'll need radiation and chemo - probably simultaneously.

"Ok, so if I end up needing radiation and chemo, when will that start? How long will it take? And can I have the surgery as scheduled on June 14th and then wait until after my wedding to do the treatments?"

He explained that we would need to wait a month after surgery to start treatments, they would probably go right up to the wedding date, and if it is Small Cell, we can't wait. I asked if I'd still be able to get married while I'm going through the treatments.

"Uhhhhh, hmmmm, I really don't know if that would be possible. It just depends how your body handles the chemo. There's really know way of knowing until you start."

Not the answer I was looking for. Ok, I'm gonna stand on the ledge of that bridge until someone pushes me off. I'm just not canceling my wedding unless I'm face-down in the toilet and physically unable to walk down the beautiful, pink rose petal-lined aisle.

"Should I come see you on Friday after your meeting to discuss what was said? That way, my mom and fiance can be there too." "Yes, that's fine." He replied. "By the way, I hate to ask, but what does your fiance do? I saw the words 'ROCK STAR' across his knuckles." I laughed. "He's a drummer." Dr. Leitao's voice smiled over the phone, "That's great. I could never so something like that." I smiled back, "Hey, you save lives and he plays the drums. It's all good. See you on Friday."

My daddy

Last night, my dad made me cry. But this time the tears weren't sad tears. My dad made me happy.

I can't remember the last time a person surprised me in such a good way.

It hasn't really been a secret over the 4 1/2 years, that my dad is NOT a fan of Jimmi's. As much as I tried to get him to see past the tattooed and piercings, he just couldn't do it. Family gatherings were hard for me. I would see Jimmi try so hard to talk to my dad and joke with him to no avail. I would get angry and so hurt. I couldn't understand why everyone in my life could see how amazing Jimmi is, but the other most important man in my life chose not to give him a chance.

But last night changed everything.

I was on the phone with my dad and he said, "I think I made a mistake. Jimmi is more of a man than I thought. And the next time I see him, I'm gonna tell him."

Silent tears fell from my eyes.

I don't know what did it. Maybe it's because he read my blog, or maybe it's because my dad has been around Jimmi a lot more in the last few weeks because of my situation. Maybe there's a reason I have cancer. Maybe my illness is meant to bring the most important men in my life together. Whatever the reason was for his sudden change of attitude, it makes my heart truly happy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


When I was a little girl, I loved to sing. I would sing anywhere and everywhere I went. I would sing at school, I would sing in the car, I would sing at the hair salon while my mom got her hair done, I would sing at family parties; I would always sing. The problem was, for about 3 years of my life, I would only sing one song.


"The sun'll come out, tomorrow! Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there'll be sun!"

Now, here I sit. 30 years later and the word "tomorrow" has been running through my head all day. Yes, today was rainy, but I'm not waiting for the sun to come out tomorrow. I'm waiting for answers.

Answers to all of the questions I've had since Dr. Tobias called to tell me that my relatively simple cervical cancer treatment of surgery only, has been scrapped and replaced with all of the words of terror that any cancer patient dreads hearing. Radiation, and most of all, chemotherapy.

Tomorrow, I'll wait for Dr. Leitao from Sloan-Kettering to come back from his robotic surgery convention in Greece and either confirm Dr. Tobias' diagnosis of the super rare and aggressive cancer called Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma, or tell me it was all a mistake.

Oh, how I would love for him to tell me that the pathologists at Sloan-Kettering didn't see Small Cell at all, and Dr. Tobias must be crazy. I'd love to hear him tell me that we can go back to the surgery only plan and I won't need radiation and chemo.

But I know the odds of good news are small.

At this point, the most I can hope for is that we can work the treatments around my wedding.

While I still cry about it every day, I've come to terms with the fact that I'm going to lose my hair. I fought back tears as I was singing a bedtime song to Justin tonight and he reached up and ran his fingers through my long, soft locks. He held onto it for a good part of the song, then used it to pull me closer so he could give me a kiss. I'll be going to look at custom wigs on Tuesday. I'm deciding whether or not I should just shave my head instead of waiting for my hair to fall out. Would it be better to just take control of the situation and do it myself? But what if I'm the one in a million who doesn't lose her hair from the treatment. Ok, can't think about that now. I need to wait.

Wait until Tomorrow.

Tomorrow I'll be a bit puffier from the fertility injections. Tonight will be the 3rd one I've given myself. The first one sucked. I almost passed out. Last night was a bit easier, and I'm sure tonight will be better yet. But I feel like shit. I'm puffy and crampy and I still have at least another week to go. People keep telling me it's for a good cause. But is it really? Yes, I understand I'm harvesting my eggs so Jimmi and I might be able to have a baby with a gestational carrier later. But I'm being forced into this before the poison I'll have coursing through my body to kill the cancer kills my baby-maker too. That doesn't sound like a good reason to me. And what if I don't get enough viable eggs? What if not enough of them get fertilized? What if they don't make it to the freezing stage? I only have one shot at this. One shot before whatever eggs I have left are spoiled. It needs to work this time. There's no other choice.

I need to wait for answers.

"Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow! You're always a day away!"

Friday, May 13, 2011


Well, I guess the happy feelings from yesterday could only last so long. I'm trying to be positive, but there are constant reminders of my cancer at every turn.

This morning, I had to go for another dildo camera exam and blood test. Looks like I'm ready to start the fertility medications to force my eggs to mature so I can harvest them before the chemo and radiation kill my ovaries. That means that tonight, I start 11-14 days of injections directly into my abdomen. As bad as that sounds, I keep thinking about how easy it will be compared to what lies ahead in the very near future.

Younger people are not supposed to deal with this stuff. And younger people are not supposed to die. As far as I'm concerned, 36 is in the younger range.

36. Oh no.

I just realized I'm 36. Well, I've been 36 since March. Yes, I know how old I am. What I mean is, last year, one of my ex-boyfriends named Bill was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was 36.

I know. I can't think the number is bad luck because of one accident. But there's more.

When I was 20, I dated a guy named Jeff. I'd been searching for him online for the last few years just to see what he was up to and how he's been. I couldn't find anything. I chalked it up to the fact that he wasn't really the brightest bulb, and he probably didn't even own a computer.

But then I got really curious. So one night a few months ago, instead of searching his name on MySpace or Facebook, I Googled him. What popped up shocked me.

"Queens Man, 36, Dies in House Fire."

That can't be the right Jeff.

I scrolled down, and there was the picture. It was Jeff. On Halloween night, 2007, a candle on Jeff's back porch fell over and set the house ablaze. Jeff died in his sleep that night. He was 36.

Wow. 36. First Bill, then Jeff. Both of them were 36 when they died.

I'm 36. Does that mean something? Should I worry more than if I were 35 or 37? Why do I know two people who have died at 36 in the last few years? Is it a foreshadowing of what's to come for me?

I want to be positive, but there are too many unknowns. I'm still waiting on one more doctor to officially confirm my diagnosis, even though I already know what he's gonna say. After that, I'll know my treatment plan. Will the cancer kill me? Will the treatment? Will my boys grow up without a mom? Will they forget about me?

I want it to be yesterday when I was smiling. I want it to be April 13th, when I didn't yet know that I had cancer. I just want it all to go away.


Whew! is back up and running, so I can finally post about yesterday!!

Yesterday was a good day. It was a day that made me laugh and smile, and I haven't done that in a very long time.

Yesterday, Jimmi was the star of the day.

We arrived at RMA at 11 am and waited for them to call Jimmi's name. We sat nervously in the waiting room wondering how weird and uncomfortable this would be. But, hey, if they're gonna fertilize the eggs I'm making with 11-14 days of injections into my stomach, we need something to fertilize them with! We were there to produce a "sample". Jimmi's swimmers needed to be analyzed, counted and approved before we could proceed. Oh, and he needed a blood test too. Did I mention my overly tattooed fiance is terrified of needles?? Yes, really.

I looked around the waiting room at the other men. Some with their partners and some without. The only thought that was going through my head was, "Well, I know what you're gonna be doing in there!" Will I ever grow up??

"James K?"

I guess it's our turn. Do I go with him? Doesn't look like they're stopping me. Ok, I guess I'll just follow him until they say something.

We walked into the lab and they had Jimmi initial labels for his blood work and, ummm, specimen cup. I giggled at the little stuffed sperm dolls sitting on top of the computer.

I've never done this before. I have plenty of friends who have had problems with infertility, and they've told me about the process, but I never thought I'd be in this position. And then I remembered, I don't have a problem with infertility. I'm there because this evil disease is going to steal my reproductive system and I need to save whatever I can NOW if Jimmi and I ever want to have a chance at having a baby with both of our DNA.

Ok, FOCUS, Suzanne. You're in a sperm bank. I thought of the joke I made to the receptionists at the desk when we walked in. It's more of a visual and verbal joke, but picture me keeping my mouth mostly closed and saying unintelligibly, "Where should I put it?" Yeah, bad joke. But they laughed!

Ok, she's leading us to the room now. Why am I nervous? Why can't I stop giggling?

The room is small and white. There's a brown, leather loveseat on the left with a folded wee wee pad on either side. I guess they don't want any naked butts directly on the leather. On the far wall was a urinal and a sink (thank GOD!), and a TV with a VCR and DVD player. Next to the TV were vials of clear fluid (I'm scared to ask), and on the back wall was a magazine rack.

"Here, James, fill out this form completely. Here are some vials of mineral oil..." I interrupted, "Why do we need min...oh, forget it. Duh." She continued, "When you're done, leave the door open and bring your sample back to the lab." And she was gone without looking me in the eye at all.

We were alone. We looked at each other and laughed. What else could we do? Everyone knew what we were doing in there. How WEIRD!! I checked out the materials they offered without touching anything, because, EEEWWWWW!!!

The magazine rack was full of Playboy and Penthouse from 2009. There was a copy of Maxim. Honestly, if you're getting that turned on by Maxim, you're either 13 years old, or you really need to get out more! I turned to the TV. There was a VHS tape with the written word "Openings" on it, and a DVD on top called "Strip Tease Then F***". Oh, how classy! I read the sign on the wall that I hadn't noticed earlier. It gave instructions. The Do and Don't list of sample collection. I giggled again.

I looked at my amazing fiance, who should not have to do any of this. The man, who just last year, was really still a boy. Here he is in this incredibly uncomfortable situation. Here he is, though he doesn't even know when and if he wants kids at all. Here he is...for me. The only reason he's doing this is because I asked him to. He's doing it because he loves me.

I'm going to leave the rest of the details to the imagination, but after the sample was produced, we walked back down to the lab. It was like the walk of shame in the college days. I had my head down, was bright red and wouldn't look at anyone. I was giggling like a school girl and thinking that this was just the analysis. We're gonna need to do this again in a week or so! Ugh!

What an experience THAT was!

I figured the least I could do was buy him lunch. :-)

On to our next endeavor...

At Back To School Night in October, Justin's 2nd Grade teacher told us the class would be doing a unit on music in May, and if any parents wanted to come in and play an instrument, she'd love to have them. I volunteered Jimmi, and today was the day!

We loaded up the car and headed over to school. Jimmi was so nervous! He said, "I don't like being in front of people." This coming from my super-ham, "look at me!!" fiance who THRIVES on being on stage in front of huge crowds. He said, "I don't like to TALK to crowds!" "Jimmi, they're 8. I think you'll be ok."

He was better than ok.

He talked to about 100 2nd graders and teachers. They asked him questions, they cheered and screamed, they jumped up and clapped and they were so excited! Jimmi even had my little boy come up and play the drums. But my favorite part was Justin's introduction:

"This is Jimmi. On September 3rd, he'll be my step-dad."

September 3rd. Yes, we're still shooting for September 3rd. I will marry this man who spent an entire day doing things that were totally uncomfortable for him JUST because I asked him to. He never complained. He never argued. He just said, "Ok."

Here are some videos from the school performance (No, I don't have any from his earlier performance at the lab!):

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I woke up this morning with a killer headache. "Did the cancer spread?" "Is it in my brain now?" These are the crazy thoughts I deal with now. Every ache and pain makes me worry.

I got the boys out of bed and went downstairs to get breakfast ready while they were brushing their teeth.

I'll check my e-mail.

Junk, spam, crap...Oh no. It's an e-mail I've been waiting for for a month now. But I can't get myself to open it. I don't want to look. But I do. How can I open the attachment without crying? I don't even know what to write back. What should I tell her? Should I pretend it's all ok and proceed as planned? What if it's NOT all ok? I stare blankly at the message, ignoring the attachment...I don't know what to do. Do I even want to look at it?

It's the proof for my wedding invitation.

There it is, in black and white:
The honour of your presence is requested at the marriage of Suzanne Marie Paragano and James Joseph Kane 11
Saturday, the third of September
two-thousand and eleven

Shit. What do I do? It's beautiful, of course. My first thought is to hit reply and say, "Go to print!!" But then reality hits me in the head like a brick and my head starts pounding again.

Reply..."Hi Linda,

The proof looks great, but I have a question. I just found out I have cervical cancer. It's been a crazy few weeks trying to figure out what the treatment will be and if we will need to reschedule the wedding. It's been rough. What is the absolute latest date I can let you know to go ahead on printing the invitations? We're hoping to proceed as planned, but I won't know for sure until next week.  Please let me know.



I hated to hit send, but what choice did I have? 

The next four months of my life had been planned out for me since last September. Now, I can't even plan tomorrow. But I've made a decision...

If I'm alive and well enough to put on my beautiful, perfect, amazing wedding dress, I WILL get married on September 3, 2011. I may be bald. I may be weak. I may look like shit. But I WILL get married. I WILL get married.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

And if I Thought it Couldn't Get Any Worse...

I left Dr. Leitao's office at Memorial Sloan-Kettering feeling hopeful and even a little bit relieved that maybe I had another, less drastic option to choose for my cancer treatment. My mom, Jimmi and I went out to lunch with smiles on our faces and a little less weight on our shoulders. We knew we still had to wait for everyone to review the slides from the LEEP, but, honestly, no one seemed too concerned, so why should we?

Mother's Day Weekend was nice and the kids and I spent the day at the movies and playing mini-golf.

Monday, May 9th, seemed to be a normal day as well. I had finally gone back to the gym after having to skip a week for doctors' appointments, and I was feeling refreshed. Clean and dripping wet after a nice shower, I ran to answer the phone I heard ringing in the bedroom. But I paused when I saw the caller ID. It was Dr. Tobias' office. Weird, I thought. Why would he be calling me? Maybe he wants to see if I'm planning on going with him for my treatment. How do I tell him I've chosen Dr. Leitao instead? Ok, here it goes.

"Hello?" "Hi, Suzanne, It's Dr. Tobias. The reason I'm calling you is because I finally got your slides here and had a chance to review them myself. It's not good news. Apparently, you have a very rare and aggressive form of cancer that will make anything less than a full hysterectomy impossible. You'll also need to have radiation and chemotherapy following surgery. I know time is of the essence for you because of your upcoming wedding, but with the hair loss, I'm not sure you'll want to go through with it in September anyway."

Dead silence.

The first thing I could muster up was, "I'm definitely gonna lose my hair?" How vain was that? How could I be thinking about THAT?? Wait. I'm getting MARRIED. This CAN'T be happening. I've been planning this for almost a year. It took me over 4 1/2 years to get him to even consider marriage at all. Why is this happening?? Why is this happening NOW??? "Yes, unfortunately the chemo we need to use on a cancer that's this aggressive will make your hair fall out."

Dead silence.

Wait. I'm alone right now. He's telling me this on the phone and I'm all alone. Jimmi is at work. My mom is in Tennessee visiting my brother. No one is here to hug me and tell me it's gonna be ok. I'm alone.

I got up enough strength to make the words come out of my mouth and said, "I'm meeting with Dr. Ferrante (my regular gyn) tomorrow to discuss my options and I'll get back to you." Dr. Tobias closed with, "Ok, I'll give him a call now and fill him in, but don't wait to long. We need to take care of this as soon as possible."

I hung up the phone and stared out the window, my hair still dripping wet from the shower. My hair. Oh my GOD, my beautiful hair. The hair I'd been growing out for a year so it would be perfect on my wedding day. The hair I twirl around my finger when I get nervous. The hair my babies used to play with while I was nursing them.  Gone. It will be gone.

All I could do was cry.

I cried so hard, my stomach hurt. I felt sick. I HATE getting sick. Oh, GOD, I'm gonna get sick. A lot. Chemo will make me so sick. How will I explain this to my kids? How can I let them watch me go through this? They'll be so scared. Why?? Why now??

I called my mom in Tennessee. I told her what Dr. Tobias had said, but I couldn't get it out without sobbing. I was literally on my knees, on my bedroom floor, hysterical. My mom tried to calm me down and finally announced that she and my dad would be on the first plane back home.

I called Jimmi at work. Same story. Same sobbing. Nothing was helping to ease the pain.

I went back to the bathroom to dry my hair. I gazed at it in the mirror for a long time through red, puffy eyes. I was talking to myself. Babbling about who knows what. I felt helpless and hopeless.

I went downstairs and did the only thing I thought might give me some comfort. I called and left messages for Dr. Mensah and Dr. Leitao, hoping they would tell me Dr. Tobias was crazy and didn't know what he was talking about.

Dr. Mensah called back first. She told me that she didn't have my slides from the LEEP, so it was hard to  give me a definite answer, but it's possible I could have something that's worse than everyone thought, though it's very rare. She told me to wait for Dr. Leitao to call me and see what he says. Not very helpful.

Dr. Leitao finally called back at 4:30. After telling him what Dr. Tobias had said, Dr. Leitao said, "There's only one form of cervical cancer that would change things that drastically. It's very, very rare, but it's also very aggressive. It's called Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. Did he use those exact words?" I said, "Honestly, I don't even know what words he used. But I don't think so." Dr. Leitao said that unless that is what I have, it can't be that bad. But if it IS Small Cell, we'll need to talk. Yes, there will be radiation. Yes, there will be chemo. He told me to sit tight and hang in there until his pathologist looks at the slides. Sometimes they see different things than other pathologists. Of course, to make things even more exciting, Dr. Leitao was leaving for a robotic surgery convention the next night in Greece. Unless things were rushed along very quickly, I'd need to wait until Monday (May 16th) to get his take on everything. Before hanging up he asked me to have at least the pathology report sent to his office and he'd try to look it over as soon as possible. Then he encouraged me to get moving on my egg retrieval cycle sooner than later.

I was numb.

I helped Justin with a school project and I cooked dinner. I was getting the kids to bed at about 9:00 pm when the phone rang. A 212 exchange meant Dr. Leitao. I ran to the privacy of my bedroom and took the call, hoping for a miracle.

"Hi Suzanne, it's Dr, Leitao. I still don't have the actual biopsy slides, but I do have the pathology report. I can see why Dr. Tobias would say what he said. The report doesn't come right out and say Small Cell, but it does say that your type of cancer is showing many of the characteristics of it. I'm not going to say it definitely is or isn't until my pathologist takes a look, so just try to relax until Monday. We'll deal with whatever it is at that point."

Silence. Can there PLEASE be someone to tell me SOMETHING good?

I made the mistake of doing a small amount of searching online about Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. Bad idea. Bad prognosis. Did you know only 3% of people with cervical cancer have THAT kind of cervical cancer?? I always knew I was a fucking over-achiever. Go me!

May 10, 2011. That's today. I woke up sweating with my heart racing. I e-mailed RMA to see if they could start my egg retrieval cycle immediately. Yes, they can. I'll start 11-14 days of injections in my stomach on Saturday to kick my ovaries into high gear. I'm sure the extra hormones will make me even nicer to deal with than just the cancer emotions that are strangling my spirit.

Ok, RMA is set up. Check. What's next?

Call Sloan-Kettering. Did they get my fucking slides yet? Not yet. They'll keep calling til they find them.

Ok. Find slides. Check. Next??

Meeting with Dr. Ferrante, my regular gyn to give him the rundown of every friggin' doctor appointment I've had in the last 2 weeks.

So, my mom, Jimmi and I head over to the office. This is becoming a habit. A habit I'd really like to break. Dr. Ferrante comes in telling us he already has a plan of what he wants me to do, but he wants to hear what I think first.

I tell him about the week from Hell and what each doctor had said at each appointment. Then I got to the phone call from Dr. Tobias yesterday. I then told him that when I spoke to Dr. Leitao afterwards, he said unless it was Small Cell neu..."It is." "Excuse me??" Dr. Ferrante continued, "It is Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma."


"We need to be very aggressive with this and take care of it quickly. I know you're supposed to be getting married, but maybe you can just postpone the wedding. Your health comes first."

Postpone the wedding?? I'm sorry, but FUCK YOU! No, I didn't say that. I didn't say much of anything. I need good news. SOMEONE give me good news.

"You'll definitely need radiation and chemotherapy." "They make great wigs." "Maybe they can stagger your treatments around your wedding." "This is a very dangerous cancer."

Spinning. I'm spinning.

And here I sit. It's 10:55 pm and I'm still in shock. I've been crying on and off all day. I'm trying to be strong for my kids, but the truth is, I'm not strong. I'm scared to death. I don't know how to do any of this. I don't want to do any of this. I just want to ignore it and maybe it'll go I away. I want to rewind to a few months ago when the plan was to get married on September 3rd, go to Bora Bora for 12 days and make some babies.

The First Round of Oncologists

It's now April 27, 2011. That's 13 days after I was told that I have cervical cancer, and finally going to the first available appointment with an oncologist. Today I would meet Dr. Tobias at the Cancer Center at Morristown Memorial Hospital. Dr. Tobias was highly recommended by my GP and a friend who works at the hospital.

Both my mom and Jimmi were with me for support, as I sat nervously in the waiting room. After a quick medical history review with the nurse, I was brought into the exam room to meet the doctor. He seemed nice enough until I heard the words "rectal exam" come out of his mouth. Wasn't thinking that was his area of expertise, but he certainly didn't hesitate on that one!

Feeling slightly violated, but glad to be done with THAT ordeal, I walked bowlegged back to the waiting area to be with Jimmi and my mom. Then we were all called into the conference room to talk to Dr. Tobias.

He came in very strong and confident, throwing around words like "hysterectomy", "radiation", "egg harvesting", "freezing embryos", "surrogate". It was all a bit much. I left his office in tears hoping I would hear better news from another doctor.

The week didn't get better...

Dr. Tobias' office set up an appointment for an MRI on April 29, 2011 to make sure the cancer hadn't spread to any other organs or the lymph nodes. I rearranged Jimmi's schedule, paid a babysitter to pick up the boys and headed off to my rush hour-timed appointment at the radiology center. I walked in and SUPRISE!!! No one from Dr. Tobias' office ever called to confirm the appointment, so they gave it away. PLUS, even if they could squeeze me in, no one told me that I needed to be fasting for the MRI with contrast dye, and since it was 4:30 pm, I'd had some food that day. DAMNIT!!!

After finding a way to squeeze me in on Monday, May 2 at 8:15 am, the radiology receptionist took my insurance card and said, "Oh, no. Didn't your doctor's office know you have Cigna? We're out of network. They'll pay for it, but they're gonna charge you at least $1000 out of pocket for your deductible." I looked at her with tears in my eyes and said, "It's 4:30 on Friday afternoon. Who else am I going to start calling NOW to see who can take me on Monday morning? I'll just have to pay for it."

So...Jimmi played Mr. Mom on Monday morning and got the kids to school so I could have the MRI. I then went back home to pick him up and head out to oncologist #2, Dr. Mensah, who had a cancellation and was able to reschedule me from my original appointment on May 19th.

Dr. Mensah was VERY nice. She had a much more caring bedside manner than Dr. Tobias, and she took the time to go over the entire female anatomy with Jimmi, my mom and I so we could understand exactly what was going on. She explained all of the options I would most likely have: hysterectomy, radical trachelectomy (where they remove the entire cervix and top part of the vagina, but leave the uterus there to make it possible to carry a baby, though it's high risk. Fun, huh?), or a cervical cone biopsy, which is the least invasive, leaves everything in place, but just removes the cancer from the cervix. Dr. Mensah assumed I wouldn't be a candidate for the cone biopsy, but was pretty certain I could have the radical trachelectomy and save my fertility.

After another exam...including a second rectal exam (what is it with these doctors?!?!?), Dr. Mensah told us that she definitely thinks I'd be a candidate for the radical trachelectomy, but she doesn't perform that surgery and urged me to go to Sloan-Kettering. Luckily, I already had an appointment there that coming Friday.

I felt a bit better after meeting with Dr. Mensah. She calmed me down and told me to call her with any questions at all, whether I went with her as my doctor or not. I was also pretty happy that neither Dr. Tobias nor doctor Mensah seemed to think I would need any additional treatments after surgery except possibly radiation if the cancer was deeper than expected.

Skip to May 4, 2011. Jimmi and I were up bright and early to meet with Dr. Drews, a fertility specialist at Reproductive Medicine Associates (RMA). After a long meeting, and an exam with, for lack of a better description, a dildo camera, Dr. Drews assured me that my ovaries were healthy and we can get to work on harvesting my eggs and freezing embryos for future use with a gestational carrier. Because it would be biologically Jimmi and my baby, they don't use the term "surrogate", but "gestational carrier" instead. The upshot of the entire ordeal so far was when Dr. Drews told me that they would do genetic testing on the embryos before freezing them to make sure they were healthy and viable. At that point, they would also know the gender of each embryo, and since I have 2 boys, and have ALWAYS wanted a little girl, they can choose to only implant female embryos into our gestational carrier. Ah, a small light in my dark tunnel.

So, after taking 12 vials of blood for preliminary testing, I headed back over to Dr. Tobias' office for the results of the MRI.

Good news! The MRI looked clear. It doesn't seem like the cancer has spread to any other organs or lymph nodes. But the good feelings only lasted a few minutes before Dr. Tobias explained that the pathologist seemed to think that my cancer cells didn't look like typical cervical cancer cells, and they seem a bit more aggressive. What does that mean? It means that I may not qualify for the radical trachelectomy and may need the full hysterectomy. Again, I left Dr. Tobias' office in tears.

May 6, 2011. The long awaited appointment with Dr. Leitao at Memorial Sloan-Kettering where Jimmi, my mom and I started to see some hope.

Lisa, Dr. Leitao's nurse took my background information and asked a bunch of questions. She said they looked at my biopsy slides and didn't see any cancer. "What??" She said, "The biopsy on 2/9?" I said, "That was the colposcopy. The LEEP on April 1st showed the cancer." She started frantically paging through my chart and realized no one had sent the slides or the pathology report from the LEEP. UGH!!!!????

But we proceed...Dr. Leitao gave me another exam, but my hopes of an anal trifecta were shot when he didn't give me a rectal exam. I liked him already! My mom and Jimmi met us in Dr. Leitao's office after the exam and he seemed very positive right from the start. Based on what he could see, Dr. Leitao said I definitely did not need a hysterectomy. I AM a candidate for the radical trachelectomy, but he said they've done studies on early cervical cancers and they think that even that could be too much surgery. He suggested trying a cold knife cone biopsy with lymph node dissection and removal to start. Basically, he would do a larger LEEP and remove more layers of my cervix, hoping to get all the cancer. On top of that, he would make 5 small incisions in my abdomen and shoot the lymph nodes with blue dye. If they turned blue, he'd take them out and test them. He said that unless the pathology report after surgery shows that he didn't get all the cancer, or if it had spread to the nodes, that would be all I'd need. Proceed on with my life and baby-making. If the tests weren't clean, he would then need to go back in 6 weeks later and proceed with the radical trachelectomy. The other option would be to ere on the side of caution and just go straight for the radical trachelectomy.

Dr. Leitao seemed very optimistic. The only thing he kept saying was, "I still haven't seen your LEEP biopsy slides. But unless they show something very different than what I'm seeing today, we can proceed with whichever surgery you'd like."

So, surgery was set up for June 14, 2011, less that 3 months before my wedding. Between now and then, I'd have time to harvest my eggs, just in case, and I'd have time to decide which surgery I felt more comfortable with, pending the results of the LEEP slides, of course...