Friday, June 28, 2013

A week full of thoughts of surgery and support

We find ourselves quite unexpectedly at home.  Brent's first surgery went so surprisingly well that they decided that he might spend the next couple of weeks in Ohio, rather than the Big Apple.  There is an abundance of blessings to be found in this statement.  

I am responsible for giving him IV antibiotic three times a day (with a 2 hour drip for each dose) until we return for his next surgery.  I am praying that this antibiotic regimen clears the infection.  None of his cultures grew anything, despite the graft being obviously infected, so we are hoping that this measure of going broad in spectrum, as well as deep in coverage (6 weeks) will wipe it out.  Whatever 'it' is, which is unknowable at this point.

I finally sorted out things with MSKCC, and our plan it to return to NYC in a bit over 2 weeks for the definitive surgery.  It is unclear at this point, exactly what form that will take, but the surprises have been good for the past month.  We are praying that they continue to be good.

As I waited for the appropriate time to hook Brent up to his IV (or unhook him...I forget which) on Tuesday night, I checked in with my LFS friends online.  The Internet is a blessing, especially for support in something like Li-Fraumeni.  With an estimated total of 400 people in the US with this genetic disorder, I would not have likely had the opportunity to meet anyone like us, with the same challenges and similar worries.  We would be essentially alone.

I remember when we initially learned about LFS, back when Lauren was first sick, some 8 years ago now, I had read about families with LFS in medical journals, but those were written for clinical use. There are no names, of course, and details about the patients are limited to age, sex, diagnosis and outcome.  The stories of these families are devastating from a medical perspective.  It was a very tough read, with little encouragement to be found, especially with the worry that we might be just such a family.  There was no sense of warmth, of hope, of connection.  It was written for a researcher, not a patient... or a parent.

When we discovered nearly two years ago that we in fact had the p53 mutation, initially, I went back to reading articles in medical journals, when I had the time. Fortunately, (??! ...that doesn't seem quite right!) I was pretty busy just helping Brent through chemo and then surgery...and follow up chemo, dealing with Lauren's brain tumor (which by comparison, seems like an acute issue)  and generally trying to keep the wheels from falling off.  I didn't have much time to seek further information or support...or offer it.

The omnipresence of Facebook and social media has been something that I have been very slow to embrace.  I am not sure why some folks find it necessary to share photos of their lunch...when it is utterly mundane fare from Taco Bell. But, it is not all bad.  In the last 6 months I have stumbled into a private support group of similar "mutants" as we refer to ourselves.  And consequently, this rather Amish girl has become grateful to Mark Zuckerburg, for indirectly making possible these connections with fellow LFS patients and, by extension, this support.  

Talk among my LFS friends on this particular evening centered on the various reconstruction techniques and options after a mastectomy, with much advice being offered.  I must confess that the technical talk is all a bit beyond me, having zero experience with breast cancer, and in all hope, I should like to keep it that way.  But several things struck me.  First, should I ever find myself in Alabama, for example, I absolutely know who I would stop and have a drink with, knowing that all of my cancer and genetic jokes would be appreciated.  These ladies have a wicked sense of humor.

Second, if I found myself in California, I know who I would rely on for advice on hospitals or doctors. This group has a wealth of information and medical experience (so wish that were not the case). But, they are willing to share their personal trials in very generous ways, in order to help others find the solution that is right for them.  
Reconstruction, for example, while it might seem like an obvious choice if available, might not be right for some.  Or the timing might not work, given recovery requirements.  How it is achieved technically, if chosen, is varied as well...and makes a big difference.  These considerations can be sorted through, with folks who have a practical understanding of what it all means.  That sort of advice is invaluable.

With LFS, we have a host of considerations that others do not, and likely cannot medical treatment, in family dynamics, in finances, insurance, life perspective...the ways that cancer invades your life is not so different from the way it can take over your body.  I really try to keep it in check ( I blather on and on about it here).  I clearly have varying degrees of success with this. These ladies have similar understanding of this effort at balance, and I am grateful to them for their openness and honesty about all of the consequences.

Besides, in having them scattered across the world means that at 3 am, should I find myself awake and worried about something, someone is likely to be awake somewhere.  And support, understanding and reassurance is easier to reach for, when you know that you are not disturbing someone's sleep.  I have been glad on more than one occasion, that Hawaii has a 5 hour time difference.

I woke up Wednesday morning to hang Brent's antibiotic, thinking about a dear friend who was to have surgery that day.  I was hoping that she had clean margins and was praying for clear nodes. This was for her second episode of breast cancer, not relapse, but rather a different kind of breast cancer than her original, nearly 10 years ago.  Double makes me want to swear. Kind of a lot.  And she does not have LFS, incidentally, not that it even matters.

My own surgery had been scheduled for Thursday (as if I could afford the time for such recovery) I cancelled it when we thought that we would be in NYC for the summer.  My ovaries will keep for a bit longer, and my geneticist currently has some other tissue to work with for a while. I hope to keep her busy this fall with more samples, and come up with some answers for what I should be doing. 

But presently, I am just very happy to be back home.  I am glad to be with my family, and to step away from the hospital scene, as much as is possible, with a fridge stocked with bags of Vancomycin rather than bottles of summer Corona.  I am trying to have normal conversations, about other peoples vacations, or children's activities, remodeling projects, because our take on these subjects is a bit different:  We vacation at Ronald McDonald House, my daughter is at oncology camp this week, and our remodeling project this summer is in my son's hip. 

I find that I make OR reservations more often than dinner reservations these days.

We will get closer to normal, but just not this summer, apparently.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I came across your blog in the Li Fraumeni Syndrome group on Facebook and wanted to reach out. My heart breaks for your family and I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I also have LFS. I'm 28 and have battled both childhood Leukemia (age 12) and breast cancer (age 26). It wasn't until the breast cancer that I was diagnosed with LFS. Please know I am thinking about you. I wish your family nothing but health, happiness and healing. I will continue to follow your story. All my love, Marjorie