I Haven’t Written Since I Asked You For Money

7 Nov

…and that seems in poor taste.  I was watching an episode of Twin Peaks, but for the first time in a long time I felt the spirit move me to write something down here.  Maybe Agent Cooper inspired me; maybe it’s because we’re in a class that’s been focused on childbirth and will shortly move on to gynecological cancers; maybe it’s because a few weeks ago while working with a doctor, I met and examined a 4 hour old baby in hospital; maybe it’s because I just paid my quarterly bill for oocyte storage.   Maybe it’s because it’s really, truly, deeply, post-birthday autumn here and that always makes me feel reflective.  So much change in my life and lives of those I know and have known has occurred since I started writing here.

Good news first; I haven’t heard a peep from cancer.  My CA-125’s remain unmeasurabley low and my spirits high.  We had some crap news in the family about cancer, but I have no doubt that cancer is, once again, about to have it’s ass handed to it by a member of my family.  Really.  Cancer doesn’t even know what is happening/about to happen to it.

Forgive me, but I’m not going to give you a narrative rundown of what’s happened to me since May.  I’ll restrain myself to a list, read on if you want to fall asleep immediately.

1. Ran that pesky half marathon (THANK-YOU for your tremendous support – you helped raise $1,846 to help other people exercise after chemotherapy, which kicks fucking ass)

not gonna lie, totally posed for this picture when I saw my mom at the top of the hill.

2. Finished first year of medical school

3. Adopted hermit crabs

4. Went to Portland, OR

5. Stopped biting my nails

and went to Maine and found this sand dollar on the beach

6.  Had someone commission this from a favorite artist for me

7. Sold my Subaru.  Bought a pick-up truck.

not even remotely my pickup, but this is what comes up when you google “badass pickup truck”

8. Doctors appointments (obvi)

  • how’s my egg?
  • what will it look like for me to have a child?
  • how’s my estrogen level?
  • etc…

I don’t know.  I could go on and on about the things the people I love do that have made me proud or the things that have inspired or challenged or scared or angered me in medical school.  Y’all know I do love a list.  I mostly wanted to touch base with this interweb space because I feel my clerkships drawing near.  That time in graduate medical education when I’ll be granted the privilege of interacting with patients on a day to day basis.  Cancer feels really near when I see patients sometimes.  Not near in the sense that I will be struck down by recurrence tomorrow, but near in that my patient’s vulnerabilities summon my own.  Near in that when I got to touch and see the 4 hour old baby in the hospital, see a flushed and thrilled new father, a take charge new grandmother, an exhausted and serene new mom I had to swallow and blink so that I didn’t cry.  I won’t ever make that or be that or have that.  It’s ok – it was just more visceral than I anticipated.  The experience also feels near in that every time I hear a medical student, resident, nurse, or attending judge or belittle a patient, in front of them or behind their back, I want to turn and say “You know, you could be talking about me, right?”

I have bad days with medical school.  Sometimes we really don’t communicate well.  Sometimes we argue, sometimes we’re not even speaking for days at a time, but I still feel like I’m on the right path.  I feel called.  Today I got to meet three young, bright and brave men with autism who taught a group of medical students (myself included) about their experience of the world.  I got to listen, in depth, to someone describing losing their loved one of 25 years to dementia, I got to hear blood slooshing through a stiff aortic valve, I got to read and comprehend a New England Journal of Medicine article, I got to comfort a young woman in her first pregnancy, I got to help a woman who is in so much pain she only goes down stairs backwards because at least that way if she is overcome by pain and falls, it’ll be her bottom that hits the carpet below.  That was today.  This is a privilege.  Life feels full and rich these days.  Full of love, given and received.  Rich with art and experience and education.  And plus, there’s a cat sitting in front me doing this:

I’ll be more in touch.  For now, enjoy a tune if you feel like it…

Shameless Pitch

23 May

Hi blog…I’ve got things I want to write to you, but because neural science has, not without irony, proven to be horribly taxing on my brain, I haven’t had time to muse here about my reproductive status and ponder my upcoming doctor’s appointments.

Another thing that’s been keeping me busy? Training for a half marathon.

Ok, bloglandia, I can hear you groaning from here, but I’ve got cancer and I’m fundraising for cancer survivors so you’re pretty much karmically obligated to read on.

I’m on my medical school’s marathon team, we’re raising money for a great local start-up called Steps to Wellness.  This awesome organization provides FREE physical rehabilitation, fitness training, and all around wellness support to people who are in some stage of recovering from cancer and chemotherapy.  If you’ve read any of my posts before, you know how incredibly important exercise was to me during treatment and afterwards.  Psychologically, using my body in a physical way helped me to feel like my body was my own.  Not my enemy and not the property of the doctors.  Physically, there’s boatloads of research that indicates that exercise help prevents cancer from coming back.  ‘Nuff said.

So, please, follow the link and give these good folks some money.  I promise I’m sweating for it and I’ll put some pictures up of me red faced and gape mouthed as I finish the 13.1 miles this Sunday.

Thanks.

Click HERE to donate.  Or copy and paste the link from below!

http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/colleenkerrigan/uvm-medical-marathon-team?utm_medium=share&utm_campaign=share&utm_source=at-facebook&utm_content=eua#.T0p7UOCBGvg.facebook

 

Exported

21 Apr

I can’t take credit for the punny title – a friend wittier than myself though of it. But it’s true! I have been exported! As in my little port friend has been surgically removed. They even let me take it home (oh, don’t act so shocked that I wanted to).

i should stop biting my nails, huh?

The procedure didn’t take long but it was a little more involved than I thought it would be.  I only needed some local numbing stuff, but I was in operating room and they had to do a lot of draping with sterile blue blanky thingies, limiting my field of vision down to just my friend and hand holder they kindly let accompany me.  I guess there was quite a bit of scar tissue type stuff to free the port from and at one point they even used a cauterizing cutting thing – which means I got to smell my flesh burning.  Which was fun.  I looked like this for a while…

But am essentially back to normal now.

Getting rid of my port was more emotional than I thought it would be and I’ve reacted in unanticipated ways.  People kept telling me it was a finish line.  I guess it is.  It feels more like a leap of faith to me.  Breath held, eyes closed, step off the edge.  It’s scary and since the removal, the frequency of my psychosomatic twitches, tingles, urgencies and twinges has definitely increased.  As though cancer was just waiting for me to look the other way so it could kudzu vine all over my abdominal cavity.  I haven’t anxiously poked myself in the belly this much since the tail end of chemo.  I’ve been tempted every day, more than once a day, to call my doctor and unreasonably demand a daily CT scan and MRI.  People get very superstitious about their ports.  It’s not just me.  It feels daring, bold, reckless to take it out.  Like I’m taunting cancer, provoking it.

I used to fidget with my port.  I never had a pacifier or blanky as kid, but my port was something like that.  One of the oncologists here told me that everyone regresses when they get sick – the cancer kid in me didn’t need a teddy bear though, just the comfort of tapping the rubber stopper under my skin or poking the little trampoline of tubing crossing my collar bone.  I just went to go feel for that with my left hand now – it’s not there.  I miss it.  It had been my intimate and steadfast friend these long months.

It does feel finish-line-ish in some ways to be portless.  I can pack away my hurt from some of the things that happened while I had that port like packing away little, sharp, glassy Christmas ornaments.  I can put some pieces of pain to bed now.  Cover them with white sheets and close the shutters on the room in my mind.  Those closed, dusty, dark rooms are still there, full of bulky and edgy furniture pieces of pain covered in white sheets; but since it’s not pain season anymore we’ve moved to another other home for the time being and have no need for off season furnishings.

 

 

In Celebration of My Uterus

28 Feb

I dropped a friend off at the airport today. I waited in the car in the little roundabout drop off area to make sure my friend did indeed make it onto the airplane with their borderline 50lb bag. Before the drop-off we’d had brunch and browsed a local used bookshop (med school. so hard, folks. amiright?) I picked up a book of poems by Anne Sexton. Always loved this gal and someone had posted her poem For Eleanor Boylan Talking with God on facebook the other day so she was on my mind. So, I was waiting in the roundabout (good thing I did too, he came back out twice), in my sunny car, flipping through my new book, and this poem caught my eye. I thought I’d use it to jump start the ol’ blog again. I’ve missed writing.

So, with Anne Sexton, I welcome myself back to bloglandia. Now, to be clear, I don’t have a uterus anymore, but I think about the old gal from time to time, and miss her.  This poem speaks to me in different ways than it would have two years ago.  I hear very different things in it. But I like it.

In Celebration of My Uterus

Everyone in me is a bird.

I am beating all my wings.

They wanted to cut you out

but they will not.

They said you were immeasurable empty

but you are not.

They said you were sick unto dying

but they were wrong.

You are singing like a school girl.

You are not torn.

Sweet weight,

in celebration of the woman I am

and of the soul of the woman I am

and of the central creature and its delight

I sing for you. I dare to live.

Hello, spirit. Hello, cup.

Fasten, cover. Cover that does contain.

Hello to the soil of the field.

Welcome, roots.

Each cell has a life.

There is enough here to please a nation.

It is enough that the populace own these goods.

Any person, any commonwealth would say of it,

“It is good this year that we may plant again

and think forward to a harvest.

A blight had been forecast and has been cast out.”

Many woman are singing together of this:

one is in a shoe factory cursing the machine,

one is at the aquarium tending a seal,

one is dull at the wheel of her Ford,

one is at the toll gate collecting,

one is tying the cord of a calf in Arizona,

one is straddling a cell in Russia,

one is shifting pots on the stove in Egypt,

one is painting her bedroom walls moon color,

one is dying but remembering a breakfast,

one is stretching on her mat in Thailand,

one is wiping the ass of her child,

one is staring out the window of a train

in the middle of Wyoming and one is

anywhere and some and everywhere and all

seem to be singing, although some can not

sing a note.

Sweet weight,

in celebration of the woman I am

let me carry a ten-foot scarf,

let me drum for the nineteen-year-olds,

let me carry bowls for the offering

(if that is my part).

Let me study the cardiovascular tissue,

let me examine the angular distance of meteors,

let me suck on the stems of flowers

(if that is my part).

Let me make certain tribal figures

(if that is my part).

For this thing the body needs

let me sing

for the supper,

for the kissing,

for the correct

yes.

Gross Anatomy

26 Sep

I’m sitting in lecture.  Right now.  Don’t worry, I don’t really need to pay attention, I sat through this lecture one year ago.  Last night I was back in the gross anatomy lab for the first time in a year, watching the sun set over the lake.

This day, the 26th, one year ago, I had a CT scan.  I was in Connecticut, visiting for the weekend.  It was a Sunday.  I was hungover.  I had an appointment at like 7:30 AM and was drinking that godawful barium sulfate suspension on an empty stomach.  An empty, hungover stomach.   I was mildly wondering if my scan would look different because I was so hungover.  Would my liver look somehow distressed?  Maybe they would teach me this kind of useful thing in med school.  I had about 36 hours of my life as I knew it left.  The night before I’d lain on Chris’s living room floor and, laughing, made my friend, Erika, poke the lump in my lower abdomen that was the reason I was having a CT scan.  The lump was almost certainly a cyst and at worst a nuisance.  We drank wine and smoked cigarettes on the porch.

The friendly X-ray techs chatted with me about medical school while starting my IV and injecting me with iodine.  They joked with me about being friendly to radiologists when I was a doctor, how much easier it would make my life.  The whole process took maybe 15 minutes all told?  I still wonder what those friendly techs saw when they were in that little room behind the glass.  Did they see the grapefruit sized mass looming just to the right of my uterus?  Did they see bright lymph nodes and an ambiguous flash on my liver?  Were the looks they gave me as I got up off the table and got dressed again, the kind of looks you give a 24 year old you think has a death sentence?  I’ll never know, but there’s a good chance those smiling techs watched me walk out of their office that day and thought to themselves, “Holy shit.  That kid has cancer.  I’m glad it’s not my job to tell her.”

Tomorrow, the 27th, is the one year anniversary of  the phone call I got at the UVM bus stop.

The 28th I met Dr. Great.

The 30th I had surgery.  My scar is a year old.

I woke up this morning at 5:45 and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I’m so excited.  I’m so nervous.  I’m so grateful.

The Funny Thing About Cancer

7 Sep

There isn’t only one funny thing about cancer, but the one that’s on my mind lately is how terrifyingly little we know.  Let me explain.

First of all, I’m back at UVM.  And I literally, could not be happier to be back.  This is where I belong.  I’m sure of it.  I love my new apartment.  I love Burlington.  I ride my bike everywhere all the time.  The welcome back I’ve received from both students and faculty alike has overwhelmed me. These are good people here. People that care.  They cared when I left.  They cared while I was gone by sending me gift packages and cards and emails and notes that lifted me up when I felt so sick.  They care now that I’m back.  I basically find myself jumping into the arms of every former classmate I see. It’s thrilling to see their wonderful faces.  And my new classmates?  Marvelous. Everything about being back here reaffirms my conviction that this is the right school, the right place for me. This reopening of a new chapter in my life is also colored by the fact that I’m now a single gal.  Yep.  Don’t kill me for holding out on you, bloggy friends, but Chris and I split back in May. It wouldn’t be fair to blab about it here, but know that I’m doing great and truly enjoying my independence and moving forward with my life.  It makes coming back to school feel just that much more cathartic.

I have new doctors too. I am both medical student and patient here.  It’s an easy commute.  I walk through the lovely light filled tunnel that hugs our medical library, past the coffee cart and into the hospital.  The infusion center I visit once every 3 weeks is right there, I don’t have to take an elevator or anything.  It’s a lovely center with big windows facing a hidden garden. I like my new doctors a lot.  I do miss my original people…especially my irreplaceable, one of a kind chemo nurse…but I’m pressing on.

Ah, but to tell you the funny thing about cancer.  Let me start with this photo.

i particularly like the toe marks

That is a picture of my shoe.  Well, it was my shoe before I took a major cycling digger in Portland, OR.  It could have been way worse…I almost rode in flip-flops.  Also I wasn’t mushed by a car and I didn’t take out any fellow riders.  That said, I skinned the hell outta my knee and sprained my foot something awful.  I’m fine (Mom…I really am) and I had an amazing time in Portland with my long lost West coast loves.  But.  I could have gotten hurt.  Cyclists snap collarbones all the time.  I could have broken my foot.  I could have gotten slightly to a lot run over by a vehicle. I could have hit my head.  And.  I’m still taking Avastin.  Hence my thrice weekly trips to the infusion center.  Avastin.  Not so bad when I compare it to Carboplatin or Taxol.  I’ve had virtually no side effects in my day to day life.  But, Avastin makes you bleed.  And it’s the kind of bleeding they can’t just reverse or fix up with medication like they can if someone was taking heparin or something. If I started to bleed, a lot, it’d be a situation.  I wear a bracelet everywhere now detailing my medical history and current medications, so that’s good.  But my doctors made it clear to me that if I got seriously hurt, it could be bad.

Now, clearly I’m taking Avastin because people believe it will punch my cancer in the face.  It will really fuck cancer’s Christmas up and prevent it from coming back to the New Year’s party.  That’s what the study I’m in hopes anyhow.  So that seemed to make it an easy decision – of course! Give me the Avastin! Kill the cancer!  But.  I have a new doctor.  And here’s where we get to the funny
thing…sorry for circling like an airliner around JFK…my new doctor thinks my cancer ain’t so bad.  In fact, after reviewing the CT scans and pathology report and whatnot, some people decided I don’t even really belong in the study I’m in. They’re letting me continue because that only seems fair, but basically they think I’ve been overtreated and continue to be.  It might be better if I stopped the Avastin.  It might not be doing anything other than putting me at an increased risk for bleeding.

So do I stay on Avastin?  I’ll only be on it until December, but I’m not going to stop riding my bike or driving my car or skiing.  I’m
careful.  But shit happens.  Plus, even my most minor scrapes heal strangely and I bruise very easily.  I’m not exactly a delicate lady so for these past few months my scrappy side has really been showing as I always have fresh and fading bruises and scrapes thanks to Avastin.  Is it worth the risk?

So, this is a new cancer reality.  This grey area.  I’m pretty comfortable with uncertainty.  I think it’s an honest state to be in.  I believe most people are really muddling through this life the best they can.  I think this is especially true with medicine, more so than any of us like to believe.  Even with cancer.  Especially, perhaps, with cancer.  I think most people hear cancerDEATH! There. I couldn’t even squeeze in more words. It’s just cancerDEATH!  Sometimes all you get is canDEATH!  But it’s tricky.  It’s complicated.  My cancer was tricky.  We took out my ovaries, my uterus, my cervix and a softball sized tumor that was cramping everyone’s style.  But what really was it?  My new doctor put it this way.  In a med school way.  My classes are pass/fail.  If I get a 70% say, on a test, I pass.  At the same time, if I get a 100% on a test, I also pass.  A 70 is not the same as a 100, but both pass.  My cancer was the 70 of cancer.  It’s still cancer…but it’s not the same as getting 100%.  I suppose overall this is good news, but I’m not taking much comfort in that.  The same pathologist can look at the same tissue in the morning and in the evening and see two different things.  So which side of caution do I err on?  If I was overtreated can I expect side effects further down the line?  If I choose now to give up on Avastin – will my cancer come back because it is actually worse than my new doctor thinks?

Muddling through yet again,

Zebra

 

*****SIDE NOTE*****  If you’re poking through old posts, that is awesome but I’m hearing that for some reason for some people the photos in my older posts aren’t working…apprently it’s just a bunch of the same (the first) photo in each post.  Sorry about that.  It’s not supposed to look that way.  Hopefully it will just fix itself because I don’t know how to fix that.  That is all.

What Would Jens Voigt Do?

19 Jul

I went for a little 25 mile ride today…it looked kind of like this:

don't worry, those are only "category 5" climbs

I did 45 miles this past Sunday and will do another 35 on Thursday, but this was kind of hot and kind of hard, so since I haven’t written in a while I thought I’d bore you to death with what preoccupies me these days since my CT scans are clean and my CA-125 is 3.

Stage 1: Driving home to take a bike ride

- Yeah! Going for a bike ride!  Love riding my bike! Woooh!

Stage 2: Getting ready

- Did I forget helmet? Water? Fig Newtons? Gloves? Sunglasses? Sunblock? Oooh, I really need to clean this bike….

- Put air in tires which, despite it never having happened, always makes me think they’ll burst into a billion pieces of horrible shrapnel so I make wincing faces each time I push the pump down

Stage 3: Warm-up

- Wow.  I’ve done this before?  It doesn’t feel like I’ve done this before – maybe something is wrong with the bike.  That must be it.  I’d better go home.

Stage 4: Climb 1

- Oh.  No.  I remember how to do this!  This feels good.  Yeah!  Imma crank right the hell up this hill.  Stupid hill!

Stage 5: Climb 2

- Ow.  I have a splinter.  I’d better go home.

- Stop on hill (dumbest idea ever)…get eaten by mosquitoes….have to try three times to restart because stupid hill is so steep I can’t get going properly….nearly ditch bike in neighboring ravine

- Pass scene of car accident…frantically weave to avoid shattered glass

***Keep in mind I’m also self narrating my entire ride in the voices of the announcers for the Tour de France.  So two older British dudes in my head are saying things like “Awh, what is rider Kerrigan fussing with now?  Is that?  Is that a bit of a splinter in her right hand?  Oh – she JUST missed that pile of windshield on the course!”****

Stage 6: Descent

- Yee-haw!  42.5 mph! Beautiful scenery flying by!  Feeling like a champion!

Stage 7: Climb 3

- Get yelled at by strangers out their car windows (why is this ever ok? because it’s always a good idea to alarm a cyclist you are speeding by…)

- Get fooled by slight plateau mid-climb and start bolting up hill…toast at top

Stage 8: Climb 4

- Feeling pretty fast after little mini descent, crank away up the last hill, fantasize that I’m in the Tour de France and pretend to grimace like Jens Voigt

Finish:  Sweaty, hot, DIRTY and totally smugly pleased with self.  Then nearly dump the bike in the driveway because I’m so self congratulatory I forget to unclip and lean the wrong way.  Save at last minute.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m feeling really good these days.  There’s lots of things that fill up my days and my mind, but a lot of the time it’s not cancer – so I haven’t written in a while.  I go back up to medical school in 2 weeks.  I have a new place to live that I really like.  I worry about things like money and boys and work and what color to put on my toenails…not cancer.  I go to the beach.  I fanatically follow the Tour de France.  I’m reading James Joyce and coveting a mountain bike.  I’m considering dyeing my hair platinum and weighing potential locations for my next tattoo.  I really love the BBC’s remake of Sherlock Holmes.

These are the things on my mind now.  So yeah.  This blog’s about to get real boring folks!  In all honesty, I’m probably going to hang up my blogging spurs.  Maybe I’ll press on, we’ll see.  It’s been fun.  Today seems like a good day to officially take a hiatus – it was my last day at my chemo ward.  From here on out, I’ll be continuing my care up in VT.  Not going to lie, I got a little verklempt at the office today, but I know I’m not rid of them yet – they are my people.  The people who saved my life.  And now, my life (my LIFE) is moving forward and I’m a negligent blogger anyhow.

Don’t worry, I’ll play myself out.

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