Archive for September, 2007

Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of my walk down Memory Lane in regards to my liver cancer last year.

It was at some point during the second week that the doctors came to us and told us that nothing they were doing was working. My two drains were being emptied multiple times a day, and I began to run fever…again. They were worried that I was getting…I think it was peritonitis? Anyway its where the lining of the abdominal cavity is inflamed and even infected from, in my case, the bile that was leaking. My bile duct was damaged by the cancer, and very little of it was left. The bile was just draining into my abdomen.

They decided to take me off all food and drink. To be fair, I hadn’t been on food yet…one day I was allowed solid food and it promptly made its reappearance so they put me back on a liquid diet. I was losing weight and my health was continually declining, so they made the decision to put in a PIC line that would last “up to a year” since my IV’s kept blowing, and they were going to give me intravenous feeding through said PIC line. The procedure itself went well, and for the first time I wasn’t having to have IV’s placed every 6-24 hours. I didn’t have to get stuck for my twice daily blood tests…they were able to do them through the PIC line. Life was good! I’m having to backtrack a little here, because the PIC line was put in about 4-5 days after my first surgery, but I didn’t mention it in my previous posts.

Taking me off food and drink (although I continued to eat ice…allergies, dry throat, all that stuff) did nothing to alleviate the bile production, so the decision was made to have surgery #2. I cried. I was able to walk and do things by myself for the first time, and now they’re telling me we’re going to start the cycle all over again. I was looking forward to showering by myself…shaving my own legs…and now we were going back to square one.

My PIC line had blown (I’d had it for 6 days) a few days before my second surgery. They were surprised, because PIC lines were supposed to last for up to a year. They replaced the line, this time in my right arm, with a different type of line…they thought maybe I was allergic to the first one. Getting a PIC line isn’t a horrible experience, but it is much worse than getting a regular IV. Its stressful on me, knowing they’re running it almost up to my heart, and I could feel it snaking its way up my arm and into my chest. They stitch the line in place to keep it from pulling out, and that was fun…NOT lol. Still, the pain is all relevant…I really was getting a new IV line every 6-12 hours, and this fixed that, at least temporarily.

In addition, they decided to start some injections three times a day. I forget the name, but they were supposed to promote healing…I believe it was a type of hormone injection. These had to be given in the muscle, and to say they were the most painful injection I’ve ever had is a huge understatement. I had black bruises all over both upper arms from them. I DREADED watching that clock change, knowing the torture that was coming. It got to the point where that time of day would come around, and my mood went downhill rapidly, and when the door opened, I’d get tears in my eyes. I noticed my husband and mother would tear up as well. I took the shots well…I didn’t flinch, I didn’t cry (other than the tears in my eyes), and I was really nice to the nurses about it. I discovered that when the nurses were trying to be gentle and push the shot in slow (it was one of those thick liquids and it BURNED), it hurt the worst. I had one nurse come in and push it fast, and while I hurt like the dickens, it was much better on me than the slow push. From then on I requested they push it fast. I had several who didn’t want to, because they knew how bad it hurt, but they honored my wishes.

I went in for my second surgery on March 23, 2006. I was terrified that I wasn’t going to wake up. I’d been in the hospital over two weeks and had not seen any of my three children. My mother and my mother-in-law were waging a battle of superiority over decision making while my husband was at work (I’d sent him back to work after the first week when it looked like I was going to be there for a while). I was a nervous wreck. I woke up briefly in the recovery room, and was whisked back to my TSU room shortly afterwards. They’d gone through the same incision and I was in a lot of pain. To my dismay, I had to have three units of blood. That put me up to a total of four. By the time the fourth bag was hung, I was no longer crying over it. I figured the damage had been done after the first one.

Things went rapidly downhill after the second surgery. I remember very little of what happened in the days that followed. I know I was pretty sick, and the repair they’d attempted didn’t do what they’d hoped it would…i.e. stop the bile leak. When I woke up from the surgery, I was disoriented even worse than after the first one, and had a “freak out moment” when I couldn’t figure out why my throat hurt so much and I couldn’t figure out the problem with my nose. During the surgery, they decided to put a tube down my nose and into my stomach, to “deflate” my stomach. They didn’t want my stomach to increase bile production. I had to deal with this for three days before I finally convinced them that if they didn’t pull it out, I was going to. My throat was raw from the tube, and my mother-in-law had bought me some chloroseptic spray the first day that helped TREMENDOUSLY, but the pain never went away. My bile production increased to the extent that I had to have a third drain placed in my abdomen, so my thinking was not only was this “experiment” not working, it was making me more miserable in the process.

I wasn’t sleeping at all after the surgery, and they decided to put me on a constant dilaudid drip. I’d been on morphine after my first surgery (I forgot to post about this), and had a night where I couldn’t breathe, my heartbeat became very irregular, my blood pressure went crazy…they had a lot of trouble working on me and realized I was having an allergic reaction to the morphine. I was only hitting my button before I would get up to walk, and then during my walk, and once again when I got back into bed…so maybe 6-8 times total a day. The “episodes” were happening every time during this time frame. I’d never had trouble with morphine in my previous surgeries, but apparently we can develop allergies as we age. The dilaudid however worked fine. It helped me sleep, but my memory loss is probably due to the constant drip I was on.

The second PIC line blew after three days, the day after my second surgery. Radiology didn’t want to place a third one, but I was unable to eat, under doctors’ orders in fact NOT to have ANYTHING, even ice (although I cheated), so they had to try again. They went into my left arm again, and placed the line. I was so “out of it” due to the dilaudid that this one was relatively painless.

The hormone injections were increased to four times a day. Just swell. My arms looked so bad, the nurses tried to convince me to allow them to give the injections in my stomach, since there were fewer nerve endings there. Excuse me?? I have an incision almost all the way across, and three drains, and you want to stick needles in me there? I don’t THINK so! Skipping ahead to my fourth week in the hospital, I finally allowed one of the male nurses to stick me in my back, on the side, just above my kidney. I barely felt it at ALL. From then on, I requested all my injections in my back.

The third (and final) PIC line blew less than 24 hours after it’d been placed. Radiology refused to do another one. They changed my intravenous feeding to allow for a regular IV, and I blew my IV’s every few hours. They were about to try to find a vein in my foot or leg when they found a decent one in my thumb (by far, THE most painful IV I’ve ever had in my LIFE). That one lasted almost 24 hours, but it was long enough.

The fifth day after my surgery, my surgical team came in, and I knew something was up. The hormone injections weren’t working. The medications weren’t working. Everything they’d tried wasn’t working. They were to the point they wanted to send me home under hospice care, with my drains in my abdomen, to wait for “the end.” Excuse me? My lead surgeon said they had one more procedure they could try, that would loop my large intestine up around and attach it directly to my liver, in an attempt to have the bile drain directly into that. There were complications I would experience permanently after the surgery, but we made the decision to go for it, because at that point, what did I have to lose? They had just gotten the IV into my thumb, and were hoping it would last until the surgery. I literally had no more veins available in my arms and hands at that point.

The surgery was scheduled for the following day…six days after my second surgery. It was to be my third major invasive surgery in 23 days. I was very depressed for the first time, and truly terrified. My children were brought to the hospital that day (the day before my third surgery) for the first visit I’d had with them. It was bittersweet. My youngest had no idea what was really going on, but my oldest (10 and 11 at the time) were very subdued and worried. I shocked everyone by insisting they both get up in the bed with me (not at the same time) because I’d let the 3-year-old in the bed with me. It hurt, but it was rewarding too. In fact, my surgeon walked in to check on me at one point, and saw my daughter in bed with me, reading “Matilda” to me because I was desperate for a book but couldn’t focus on words due to all the drugs I was on. He proceeded to talk to Katie as if she were an adult, all about the book she was reading me and other books written by that author. I’ve never seen Katie light up so much, and I decided then and there that no matter what, Dr. Cohen was a hero in my book.


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I’ve been taking a hard journey (for me) back over the details of my liver cancer “ordeal” last year. You can click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

It was in my second week in the hospital that I was told the results of my biopsy, and why I was having incredible back pain along with my post-surgical pain.

My tumor was 3.6 pounds, and 20 centimeters in diameter at the widest portion…the size of a small soccer ball. A SOCCER BALL folks. Go pick one up and think about it. I was not a large gal…how did I not NOTICE this thing? In honest reflection, I had noticed it…and I put it down to being “lumpy” after my third child. I figured I was destined to look like other female members of my family…kind of dumpy due to us being short-waisted. I was older…my metabolism obviously wasn’t working. I never took it seriously.

My tumor had two parts, with a lesion in the middle separating the two masses, which is why the initial specialist thought it was a benign mass. My tumor wasn’t typical in appearance. The smaller portion of my tumor was “the good cancer.” As if any cancer could be called “good.” I honestly don’t recall the name of it…and I’m not sure where my biopsy report is now (even drugged up I insisted on copies of everything). They said it was easily treated, often seen in people of any age, and rarely returned. The larger part of my tumor was hepatocellular carcinoma. They said they’d almost never seen it in a person my age, and certainly not one of this size. My doctor said it was the largest he’d ever removed from a living patient. Because of the size, the damage to my liver was immense. They had to remove 80% of my liver. Do you remember me saying that the MOST that could be removed was 80%? The conversation was had with my mother during the surgery (a surgeon came out to talk to her) about being prepared to donate half her liver if the need arose. Thank God the need didn’t arise and the remaining 20% of my liver was healthy.

They went on to say that this type of cancer doesn’t respond to chemo or radiation very well, in fact not at all except to shrink it to make it more easily removed surgically, and that it was surgery or nothing as far as treatment went. My body had encapsulated the tumor and it had NOT SPREAD. Thank the Lord. Because of this, they didn’t want to cut the tumor, for fear of contaminating my blood and causing the cancer to spread. The only way they could get it out was to bend me backwards…only the back of my neck/shoulders and my rear end were on the table at one point, I was bowed up so much. They had to break two ribs. But they got it out, intact.

Guess we know why my back hurt so much, eh?

They estimated I’d had this cancer for 12-15 years based on the size and rate of growth. The rate of growth was estimated, due to the fact that I’d had babies and it had never been noticeable until my pregnancy with Bekah. My doctor did notice it but because I was so pregnant, and having a difficult go of it, it got put on a back burner and I forgot all about it. When he noticed it in 2002, it was “softball-sized.”

Wikipedia explains Hepatocellular Carcinoma better than I can, however a couple things stand out to me when I read it:

Outside of the West, the usual outcome is poor, because only 10 – 20% of hepatocellular carcinomas can be removed completely using surgery. If the cancer cannot be completely removed, the disease is usually deadly within 3 to 6 months. This is partially due to late presentation with large tumors, but also the lack of medical expertise and facilities. This is a rare tumor in the United States.

Tumor nodules are round to oval, grey or green (if the tumor produces bile), well circumscribed but not encapsulated.

(guess I showed THEM) ;) Not only did I beat the odds by having an encapsulated tumor, but also by the sheer size of my tumor. In all of the research I’ve done today when writing this, NO WHERE does it mention a tumor being larger than 9 centimeters. I’m sure there have been larger ones, and larger ones than mine…I just haven’t dug deeply enough into the internet yet to find the documentation. This is the first time I’ve researched this since my hospitalization last year…I was never able to bring myself to dig into it. I keep feeling like I’m nothing special…and then I start to read some of this stuff and all I can think is “THANK you Lord!!! Thank you for my life, and thank you for making it less difficult on me.”

Another thing comes up from researching all of this…I got this off another cancer research site:

Aflatoxins, which are produced by a mold that is a contaminant of nuts (most commonly peanuts), grains, and beans, have also been implicated as a major risk factor for causing hepatocellular carcinoma. Although virtually non-existent in the United States, aflatoxins, are common in other parts of the world and often contaminate food.

I ate a LOT of local food over in the Gulf (it goes on to say these aflatoxins are very common in Asia…and I was in Southwest Asia). One of my favorite dishes included pita wraps…and these were made from…local grains. Really, anything could have caused it when you look back.

Here’s my conspiracy theory. I think its the army’s fault. I’m a Gulf War (1990-91) veteran. I was in a Medevac unit. I handled corpses. Our chemical alarms and chemical detection paper on our chemical suits we had to wear during alerts registered unknown chemical agent in the area. The military consistently denies all of this. Explain then the high number of cancer cases in my unit alone in later years. I estimate, based on contacts with former unit members, that roughly half of my unit has had some form of cancer. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink (and never drank much). I’ve NEVER done any illegal drugs, not even pot. I’m not on the birth control pill. When I was on it in the past, I’d have to stop it after 2-3 months due to complications, so I was never really on it when you consider that. Why then, did I have breast cancer in 1999 and liver cancer in 2006? If I had my liver cancer for 12-15 years…that would put it beginning to grow between 1991-1992. Coincidence? I honestly don’t believe so.

I’ve never had Hepatitis of any kind. My liver was 100% healthy except for the damage that was caused to the structure from the large mass of the tumor. The cancer had NOT metastasized from my 1999 bout with breast cancer. Why did I get it??

Throughout my long hospital ordeal and varying health issues, the one thing that was NEVER worrisome was…my liver itself. My liver functioned perfectly with only 20% remaining. It picked up all the slack, and in fact had almost completely regenerated by the time I came home from the hospital (6 1/2 weeks after my first surgery)! All of my problems were caused from a tiny portion of my anatomy…my bile duct.

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My dog was run over by our neighbor (my husband’s boss) this morning. He called us at 4:30 a.m. Vegas time to tell us. He took him to the vet but he has one rear leg broken in multiple spots and his other rear hip is shattered. There was really no choice but to have him put down. Our neighbor was really upset about it (even cried…he’s a huge animal lover like me) but I was a vet tech…and I can’t be home to care for him. With those injuries, he wouldn’t be able to get around at all without assistance, and I’m gone four days a week.

We got this dog as a gift for the children…but he ended up being *my* dog. We just clicked. Its going to be so hard to go home and not have him there. When I was at my lowest, I’d go sit on the porch and he’d come up and lay his head in my lap and we’d just sit there. They say you’re either a dog person or a cat person…that’s not true…I really am both…and my Casper is going to be sorely missed.

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It IS a Pheasant!

Thanks Carol…you were right!  It’s a Chinese Pheasant…a Lady Amherst to be precise.  I found the placard out in the garden this afternoon while eating my lunch.  They also have Golden pheasants but I haven’t seen any of those yet.  I did however spy some black swans earlier, but I didn’t have my camera with me.  Oh well…better luck next time

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So today I’m having a lot of trouble deciding what to do for WFMW (for details on how to play along, go visit Shannon at Rocks In My Dryer). I’m currently on vacation, and usually my “inspiration” (yeah like I have inspiration…I’ve done TWO WFMW posts so far lol) comes from looking around my house and gathering ideas. I can’t even remember the ones I tossed out at my kids last week for them to choose from.

I was walking down the Las Vegas Strip, on my way to see the white tiger at The Mirage, when it hit me. Vegas vacation spending!

Having three kids, you have to get frugal with your choices at times, vacations being one of them (for some truly awesome frugal tips, check out what Lynnae at her blog Being Frugal has to offer). This trip is no different.

I knew when we planned for me to accompany Justin on this business trip that I would have little to no spending money. Folks, that was indeed the case. I ended up spending $60 of my trip money to take the kids to the fair the day before we left. That was the first time in ages I’d splurged on them, and I gave up two of the shows I really wanted to see in Vegas in order to be able to do that for them. We had a blast. So I get on the plane to Vegas with $50 in the bank and $25 in my wallet. I kid you not. I managed to snag another $20 from Justin, and woo hoo I was RICH!

Saving money in Vegas actually can be done, especially if you don’t gamble (which I don’t). All of the casino/hotels offer a rewards program. Signing up for the cards in each one will give you a LOT of coupons for freebies and deep discounts. We came in Saturday evening, and the only food we really had to buy was then. Most of the coupons are “buy one, get one free” type deals, but hey, there are two of us, so that’s perfect! I joined three different Rewards Programs, and got enough coupons and freebies that I only spent roughly $8 in two days on my dining/snacks/treats. If you’re not sure, just stop random tourists (who look friendly and sober) and ask them if they know of any deals or have any advice. That’s how I found out about the Rewards Programs.

In addition to the Rewards cards, just about every casino/hotel has a time share plan. Now…I can’t afford to buy a time share right now. Money is budgeted elsewhere, and we’ve made a commitment to not make any more major purchases (aside from a new truck for Justin when his 11 year old truck gives up the ghost) until we are OUT of debt. However, the time share tours are accomplished in 90 minutes to two hours, and you get freebies for doing them. There’s no real pressure at all, and if you have the time and the patience, you can rack up. Justin and I together did the Mariott Grand Chateau one, and got tickets to a show at Planet Hollywood (one we actually wanted to see) and free buffet coupons at Sahara. In addition to that, we got three “buy one get one free” coupons for any drink of our choice from Treasure Island (we’ve been using those for bottled water…NOT CHEAP on the Strip!), and two more buffet coupons…buy one get one free for the buffet here in our own hotel (The Flamingo), and another one just down the street at one of the other really nice resorts (I forget which one at the moment). I signed up for another tour, with the Hilton group, and got two more free buffet tickets, and $100 play in the casino. I haven’t used that yet, but I plan to have a little fun with it. All in all, that’s over $400 in free dining and entertainment just from spending four hours total on two tours. To be honest, the Mariott plan is one that Justin and I are definitely going to do just as soon as we get out of debt. Its a truly awesome plan.

Another way to save money is to just look around in the casino/hotel lobbies. There are a TON of freebies that are given away every day. There are hosts/hostesses who will give you comps also. I still have $30 cash on me, and here I am on my 4th day in Vegas (and I still have $45 in the bank). Along the strip, there are dozens of cheap souvenir shops that have bottled water for 50 cents a bottle, soft drinks for 75 cents a bottle (20 ounce bottles), cheap snacks, and almost identical merchandise as what you find in the large shops and hotels for a fraction of the price. I bought some HUGE post cards for about 5 cents each. I bought t-shirts (really nice ones) for all 3 of my kids for $1.99 each. I got another suitcase for $7, and it has a Vegas decor, looks like those made out of the carpet material, and is pretty sturdy.

We went to Wal-Mart and bought a total of two 1-gallon jugs of water for 64 cents each. We fill our water bottles from these, and stick them in the ice chest, and don’t have to pay $2-4 for a 20 ounce bottle of water (I kid you not, those prices are real).

A lot of times, if a casino host/hostess asks you if you need help learning rules of play, you can get offers there too. Today I told the host that I didn’t need help, just wasn’t sure if I wanted to waste my money on the slots since I was here on a budget. He gave me a ticket to use with $10 in credits. I told him I don’t really gamble and tried to hand it back and he told me to keep it…I could use it however I liked. I stopped back in on my way back with my lunch and cashed it in. Nice!

All in all, look for the deals, don’t be afraid to take a time share tour (we said “no” and that was it, and they were really nice about it), and ask those who look to be experienced tourists. If you’re not careful, you can spend a lot more money here in Vegas than you intended to, but with just a little bit of looking around, you can also save a ton as well. I’ve spent less money on food/gas/miscellaneous this week than what I do when I’m at home and going to work for a week, and I’ve had a HECK of a lot more FUN doing it :)

It really is possible to save money in Vegas but you have to be smart. Sure there’s a McDonald’s on the Strip that’s really convenient…but if you walk back ONE BLOCK behind the strip (pick a hotel and go out the back door) to the next street, you can get the exact same food from another McDonald’s for $2 a person cheaper. When you have more than one person, that makes it worth the short walk…not to mention, you’re going to walk a LOT farther than that during your daily sojourns anyway. And, those $2 a pop add up REAL fast into major money. It literally takes 5-7 minutes to walk back a block.

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Justin and I took these yesterday afternoon while walking along one side of the Strip. I wore out a lot faster than I anticipated, so there aren’t as many pictures as I would have liked. Also, I have NO makeup on due to the sunburn I got on my face on Friday…I knew I’d be putting sunscreen on repeatedly and honestly, you can’t do that while wearing makeup…not and have good results anyway lol.This one was taken across the street from the Venetian. I REALLY wanted to see Phantom…its been a huge dream of mine, but alas, I’m afraid to even go price the tickets.


In front of Bellagio, and across the street from Paris:

On the walkway crossing the street in front of Bellagio and Cesar’s:


Outside the Mirage:


Yeah, we liked the Mirage’s landscaping 🙂

This one was at Siegfried & Roy Plaza at the Mirage. I always wanted to see their show. I wondered if the crystals light up at night…when we were coming back from the Treasure Island show last night I saw that it did, but most of the lights are burned out. Now only the yellow ones around the faces light up, and one or two on each side further down. After all they did for the Mirage, you’d think they’d keep up their memorial a little better…


Name that bird!! We saw this…critter…in the environment at our hotel (the Flamingo). It looks like a weird cross between a peacock and a rooster LOL. Does anyone know what it is??

More in the environment at the Flamingo:

So that’s all the pictures we took yesterday (I left a couple out because they were just more of the same shots, only from a slightly different angle). We had a lot of fun all in all, but I’m certainly glad I don’t live here in Vegas!

We ventured out after dark last night to watch Bellagio’s water show and Treasure Island’s “pirate” show (I wasn’t impressed at all) and as soon as they were over we headed back. Honestly, I didn’t want to be on the Strip after dark…it was so packed, and people were cussing and spilling drinks and in general, acting the fool, rather like in the New Orleans French Quarter. We came back to the room and just relaxed.

We’re deliberately keeping ourselves on central time…so we pass out before 9:00 p.m. local time, and we’re up around 4:00 a.m. local time. Its really nice because the Strip really is pretty cool that early in the morning. I’m going to remember to bring my camera out in the morning and take some pictures at Cesar’s that there were too many people around to get good shots of yesterday. This morning we could have had shots in front of them with NO ONE around…so that’s nice.

My room overlooks the environment, although the buffet domes are between the palms and me…still, its a nice green view, and while I can’t see the animals themselves, its relaxing to look out my window and see all these really green palms. I can also see the mountains from here. When there isn’t a glare on my window (there is right now) I’ll take some pictures and post them.

I fully intend to drive up one of the mountains this week and take shots from up there, as well as go to the roof of my hotel and get some shots.

So that’s my Vegas update for now … Thanks for looking

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