Hey! I’m Brenda. A badass bitch with a zest for life and adventures. This blog is to help those that are interested in getting updates on what the heck’s going on with me and my diagnosis– I can hardly keep up myself. It’s also a place to just share the myriad emotions that I’ve been experiencing. So, here goes.
Below is the back story (for those you new to this whole cancer bullshite, much like myself). My visit to the Urgent Care and Emergency Room was January 19, 2017: the day my life changed forever.
I’d been feeling tired & having problems breathing since mid-November/early December. Of course, me being me, I continued to work and go about my life until I could barely walk without gasping for air. I went to Urgent care for an inhaler to help my breathing. An x-ray revealed a considerable amount of fluid next to my left lung, which had pushed against the lung causing it to collapse. So, that would account for the breathing problem!
Moment of Truth
I was instructed to go STRAIGHT to the Emergency Room so the fluid could be drained. I happen to be friends with the doctor at the urgent care. She said if it was anyone else they would call for an ambulance. I assured her that was NOT necessary, as I didn’t have insurance and could never afford that. Again, I was told to go to the emergency room IMMEDIATELY. Damn! Sounds serious. I drove home, made a snack (I was peckish!), grabbed a book to read, my phone charger — the essentials — and drove myself to the Emergency Room. After a few hours wait, they drained the fluid (1.6L) and had it tested. I was told it tested positive for cancer and to go home until a follow-up meeting with an oncologist the following week. WTF? I was of course in shock and disbelief. This couldn’t possibly be correct. I drove home to share this information with my family and best friend.
From Alaska to Houston
I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. We didn’t have many details. Treatment options were still vague and unclear. After some conversations with the oncologist I decided to travel to MD Anderson in Houston, Texas for a second opinion, but more importantly to talk to a lung cancer specialist because we don’t have any in Alaska. I must admit, so much happened so quickly (and I’m thankful for that) I really wasn’t able to process everything, as well as plan the flights to Houston, figure out housing, insurance, and all the details necessary to get to myself and my parents to Houston.
I was out in the valley visiting my parents when my phone rang at 6:30 AM on February 10. Anyone who knows me, knows better than to call me before 9AM. I’m not what you would call a morning person. I saw an out-of-state number and realized it was a Houston number. I had called MD Anderson the previous day to make sure they had received the referral from my Alaskan Dr. — they hadn’t, but a nurse at MD Anderson quickly schooled the Alaskan team and was getting things processed and moving forward in Houston. I was told that there had been a cancellation and a doctor could see me @ 7AM in Houston on February 16. Did I want to set up this appointment? In my half awake state, I paused in confusion. He mentioned that the next available appointment wouldn’t be until March. I immediately said that yes, I would take the appointment for February 16th: the following Thursday. From that point on I was completely overwhelmed. How was I going to get to Houston in less than a week? Would my parents be able to come down with me? Where would I stay? What new information would I get from the lung specialist?
I made numerous phone calls, talked to my parents, tried to formulate a plan on the best way to get to Houston, and then drove back to Anchorage, straight to the hospital, to have more fluid drained. A procedure that I now needed about once a week from the initial emergency room visit onward, to relieve pain and my breathing. After waiting for well over an hour to have the fluid drained I went home and collapsed into bed. Exhausted, overwhelmed, I wanted nothing more than to just sleep and pretend that this wasn’t what my life had become.
Lucky for me, my friends stepped in and reminded me that this was all too much to handle by myself. They helped me to remember that I have friends and family that love me and want to help and support me. By the next day, a GoFundMe account had been set up and people immediately began donating money to help pay for my medical and travel expenses. It was a miracle! Suddenly a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. A friend of mine not only offered to give me air miles, but booked tickets for me, my mom and my dad from Anchorage to Houston, leaving on February 14. We would be able to make that Dr’s appointment on February 16!
I have a cousin in Houston and he offered to let my parents and me stay at his place. I’m literally surrounded by family, plus a network of friends who live here in Texas. We have been here for about a week now, and my verbal lexicon has expanded to include quite a lot of “medicalese.” Basically, I have a type of lung cancer that is pretty rare, but is more often seen in non-smokers than smokers. My doc, Dr. Blumenschein, has prescribed a “cocktail” of pills to keep it at bay — and it is not the kind of cocktail you usually see me enjoying at my favorite Anchorage hot spots. At $8,000 for a month’s supply, this will surpass any drinking tab I’ve ever incurred. Also, it doesn’t go down well with IPA, so I will be cutting way back on the drinks for awhile. But it is worth it, because Dr. B is optimistic about the chances of these drugs keeping a leash on cancer, hopefully for several months to a year, or more if I’m lucky before we’re forced to move on to the next treatment.
Back to the AK
I’m hoping to be home in time for the Michael Franti show on March 2nd. So if you’d like to hang out and buy me a non-alcoholic drink and do some dancing, that would be a great place for us to reconnect. Yep, that’s right: Momma’s still dancing her ass off. This has been a shitty month, let’s not lie, but I’m not gonna let cancer keep me from doing the shit I love to do. So get ready, Anchorage. Hurricane Brenda’s touching down in the near future!