Friday, July 29, 2011

Okay Maggie, Here We Go!

Whoa! Since when is it almost August?! 

I don't think we will ever be able to top the year that Fabio attended (see photo below) but this year's Shilling family reunion was memorable nonetheless. It was one of the smaller reunions that my family has had in a long time. It was nice to be surrounded by my family during the last few days of my first round of chemo. As I grow older, the faces are becoming more and more familiar and the conversations seem to come a little easier each year.  

2002 Shilling Family Reunion

My body seems to be responding to chemo fairly well. I have not had any nausea but I do get tired. I have also lost a little bit of my appetite, and as a bride-to-be, that is fine by me! I wonder if I’m the first chemo patient to be excited that I lost weight after the first round. I have been able to bounce back pretty quickly in between the rounds by staying active and eating a little healthier. I also haven’t lost any of my hair. :) 

On July 9th, my parents and Brad and I drove to Cambria to my aunt and uncle’s vacation home. My brother and his girlfriend drove up from Long Beach to meet us on the 10th and we all went to Hearst Castle on the 11th. It was so nice to be able to have the freedom to take a little vacation from doctors’ appointments and bloodwork for a few days. Brad and I explored a few antique stores and even took a little hike. The weather was so beautiful it was hard to stay inside! We talked about our future, made a few decisions about the wedding but we mostly just enjoyed each other’s company. His even-keel, calm nature gives my chaotic life balance.

My body is under a lot of stress because of the chemo so I tend to overheat quickly and also sunburn easily. (I got my first gnarly sunburn of the summer while I was window-shopping on Main Street in Cambria). I went to my monthly blood draw on Monday morning and I found out that I get to cut to the front of the line to avoid as many germs in the waiting room as possible. I’m still trying to figure out a way to make that work at the DMV…My white blood cell count is low but that is to be expected, so the doctor is not concerned. I just have to wash my hands a lot and stay away from crowds to avoid infections.

My “cancer fast pass” apparently only works at the lab because I arrived thirty minutes early for my MRI in SF on Tuesday, my name was called thirty-five minutes later and they didn’t put me into the machine until about thirty minutes after my scheduled appointment. MRIs have become somewhat routine for me. After they call my name, the nurse leads me to a changing room with a locker in it where I get to change into a gown and a pair of medium-sized hospital pants (no matter which facility, they never seem to have them in a large so I almost always end up tying the drawstring waist up around my ribcage in order for them to fit, which inevitably gives me the always attractive "Urkel" look). I finish the outfit with a whisper thin cotton hospital robe and stratchy hospital socks. I lock up my clothes, grab the key, and sit down in another waiting room with other robed people while I wait for them to call my name again. There’s no clock on the wall, because they don’t want you to know how long you’ve been waiting, and the only magazine left is Newsweek or Sports Illustrated...Just about the time I think they’ve forgotten me a nurse appears at the door and mispronounces my last name. She leads me to a chair where she promptly ties a tourniquet around my right arm and begins to nonchalantly slap my veins with her gloved hand. Once the vein appears, she sticks it with a needle and inserts the IV which will be used for contrast. Then she sends me back, yet again, to the second waiting room to wait for fifteen more minutes until the MRI technician is ready for me.

This time, when the technician asked the routine set of “metal objects in or on your body questions,” he was surprised to find out that the extra pouf of hair on the top of my head wasn’t created with hairspray and bobby pins. I explained why I have my super stylish mullet and we both laughed about his little mistake as I laid down on the narrow MRI table and he hooked me up to the IV contrast. He began each set of “pictures” by saying “Okay, Maggie, here we go!” as if I had just boarded a ride Disneyland. There’s a small mirror on the cage that they put over your head that allows you to see the technician at their desk and the door. I watched as the two technicians talked and munched on their lunches. I imagined the different things they could be Maybe it's a sandwich... By the time he said, “Okay, Maggie less than ten minutes we go!" my stomach was growling in rhythm with the MRI machine. 

Brad, my parents and I met with my neuro-oncologist about thirty minutes after we left the imaging center to review the results. She showed us the slides and explained that what was left of my tumor had not shown any growth since the last MRI. It was too early to see any progress from the chemo but she said we should feel encouraged that there was no growth. She left the exam room to grab some paperwork and the neuro-surgeon that had performed my second and third surgery stopped by. He wanted to check in and thank us for the gift my parents had brought him (a nice bottle of wine for his collection) and he also told us a little about his day so far. 
He looked tired and a little disheveled. He had been called into emergency brain surgery for a 19 year-old girl very early that morning. He shook his head and said, “She’s not going to make it.” My mom and I were both visibly shaken by the news. He paused while he examined my expression and said “You look great, Maggie! When’s the wedding?” On the way home that day, my mom told me that my surgeon came in as encouragement for her. I didn’t understand at first but she went on to say that she had gone into the appointment with the expectation that my tumor would be completely gone. She was a little disappointed to hear that it was still there. His news had brought her back to the reality of my situation.
On that note, I thought I would include the original MRI scan of my tumor before I had undergone any surgery in this post. It humbles me, just like Dr. McDermott humbled my mom, to see how much God has allowed me to overcome in the past six or seven months. The entire tumor was about the size of a peach…for some reason it helps to relate it to a fruit…Praise God that only about 5% of it is left in my head. 

Brad and I have made most of the big decisions about the wedding and now I have started to take on all of the little details...but I am constantly reminded that it's not the decorations or the invitations or the flower arrangements that really matter. It's the fact that God has given me the gift of life and a wonderful man to share the rest of it with. 

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, 
for his compassions never fail. 
23 They are new every morning;    
great is your faithfulness. 
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;    
therefore I will wait for him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24