Surgery #4, A.K.A. “Surgication”

Just over one week ago I had my fourth thyroid cancer surgery–this time at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. My parents, Andrew, and I drove the six hours up the day before and back a couple days later.

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Rochester Marriott Hotel

The night before the surgery we swam in the hotel pool, and it was the first time I put a bikini on all summer! With working full-time and taking a night class, I haven’t made it to the beach yet this year, so it took driving to Minnesota for surgery to give me a brief chance to swim :).  It was so nice.

We quickly coined this trip a “surgication,” because even though we were there for my surgery, we were able to break away from work/school/life and enjoy each others company surrounding the procedure. With meals we raised our glasses to our “surgication.”

The overall experience at Mayo was positive, and my vocal chords were spared! The first day I struggled with significant nausea that did not go away until the next morning, but other than that, the hospital stay was short and sweet. My drain only stayed in for a day, and I talked my way out of the leg compression device (which help you from getting blood clots, but are less than conducive with sleeping uninterrupted), and they unhooked my IV for the night, so I could sleep with minimal wires attached. I can definitely say after the nausea passed, I have never slept that well in a hospital.

After three surgeries going through the same incision, this surgery made a new mark. I can’t really decide what story I can derive from this now–what do you think? As many of you know, my fall back story is always that I live in Chicago, and people don’t ask many questions. 😉 Please comment below and tell me your creative story for my “y” shaped scar:

Photo Aug 17, 9 02 46 PMThis surgery I managed not to take any narcotic pain killers and stick to occasional ibuprofen, so my pain was definitely easy to manage. This also allowed me to enjoy some more wine on our “surgication” before we went back home.

However, I do ask for your thoughts and prayers in my continuing recovery. I have yet to sleep through a night after leaving the hospital, and as a result, I have been even more exhausted than usual during the day. I have been taking a one-week intensive class this week entitled “What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About Business,” and the sleepless nights have really added up. Our final is tomorrow, so I’m praying for a good night’s sleep tonight.

Another prayer request is for my lungs and heart. My chest has been burning off and on, and it’s been hard for me to breathe freely. I’ve experienced this with past surgeries, so I know it’s part of the healing process, but it definitely adds to the exhaustion. I did a short stationary bike ride at the gym the other day and stopped because my heart rate was off the charts. I haven’t done anything since then, but I would really like to get to the point where I can at least jog again. Without the endorphins of working out, there’s only so much coffee that can help counteract my exhaustion from sleepless nights, on top of general surgery exhaustion.

Thank you all for your love and support–I certainly felt the love the past couple weeks.

Preparing for surgery #4

In less than one week, I will be traveling with my parents and Andrew to Rochester, Minnesota for thyroid cancer surgery #4 at the Mayo Clinic. The surgery will be Tuesday, August 12.

I write this today asking sincerely for your thoughts and prayers heading into the week. I must admit that up until now, I have not really been afraid or nervous going into surgery. Maybe I’ve been a little naive, but in my gut, I always believed everything would go according to plan or even better. While there have always been risks associated with surgery, I never really believed anything could go wrong. I trusted my doctors, and I believed I would put each surgery behind me and move forward.

Unfortunately, speaking with my surgeon this time, I feel more unsettled than any surgery before. Many of you know that with each surgery, the possibility for permanent damage to my vocal chords increases each time. I have been blessed so far with only damage to the outer ranges of my singing voice.

However, this time, I heard much more of a certainty in my surgeon’s voice that permanent damage to my voice is almost likely to happen. This will not only influence my ability to sing–but it could drastically impact my speaking voice. Please pray that my voice to preserved in the surgery.

No matter what happens, how cool is it that I have a community of friends in Chicago willing to go karaoke with me before this surgery? No matter what happens in surgery, I will be singing my heart out tomorrow, surrounded by friends and family. I’m blessed.

In addition, with each surgery I’ve struggled with self-esteem issues, because I notice a significant change in my face. I notice quite a difference when I look in the mirror these days. I’m not referring to my scar–I actually think that’s pretty badass–I’m talking about my face shape. This is partially resulting from no-thyroid (yet again, who knew your thyroid impacts SO much?!), but also the significant amount of scar-tissue in my neck. Unfortunately, no amount of exercise or weight loss will bring back my jaw line. It seems silly, but it can be so frustrating sometimes.

I am so thankful to be going to the nation’s best hospital for this surgery, and I look forward to putting it behind me before starting my 2L year of law school (YEAH!). Cheers to hoping this is the last surgery, and that I will qualify for the alternative treatment after this! I’m approaching two years of surgeries and treatment, and I think it’s about time to close this chapter of my life. Who’s with me? 😉

Thank you for your continued love and support…. No matter what, I choose JOY. 

Rising 2L and Mayo Clinic visit.

“Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.” David Brainerd

After receiving my grades the last couple weeks, I can safely say I survived my first year of law school, and I am a rising 2L. Not having surgery mid-semester in the spring (as I did in the fall) reflected positively on my grades, and I did noticeably better. I wasn’t sure if I was really cut out for this law school thing, but with minimal medical interruptions this spring, my hard-work actually showed some fruit in the end.

In addition, I did my first oral argument this spring. Unlike many of my classmates who thrive in the idea of speaking and arguing in the courtroom, the practice is not something I enjoy (believe it or not, there are lawyers who don’t spend their careers in the courtroom ;)). However, my argument, in front of a panel of lawyers I had never met, turned out to be…fun? I never thought I would do anything like that in my life, and I truly felt like I overcame a great obstacle when I finished.

Mayo Clinic

At the end of May, I traveled to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, because my doctors in Chicago suggested I try some alternative thyroid cancer treatment before going in for another surgery. I flew up there for what was supposed to be about a three day procedure: I’d have a bunch of tests run on the first day and meet with the doctors to create a plan, and then the next two days would be the treatment.

My parents flew in from San Francisco, and the first day we were in the clinic from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I had a bunch of blood work done and scans. After several meetings throughout the afternoon with various doctors, I learned I was not a candidate for the alternative treatment after all. I must say, I didn’t think this was even a possibility.

They showed me my imaging, and there was more cancer present than they expected to see. The suspicious spots were too close together for the treatment to be safe. At the end of the day, I learned I would have yet another surgery. This time, I will go to Mayo for the surgery, making this my fourth surgery, fourth hospital, and fourth surgeon in 2 years.

Yet again, the new surgeon made a point of telling me that with the amount of surgeries I’ve had and the location of the masses, I need to be prepared for permanent vocal damage. Of course, this is not easy news to stomach. I’ve had the warnings before each surgery, and seem to defy the odds, but as I have more and more surgeries, the odds will probably not be in my favor. I’ll have to summon my inner Katniss Everdeen and hope for the best.

I find myself singing more freely these days, and praying harder than ever for my voice remain unharmed. Unless, of course, I end up with a raspy blues or Nora Jones voice. THEN, color me blessed.

They told me I could schedule my surgery within a couple weeks of my visit, but I decided to wait. I have one week between summer and fall classes, and I plan on making the trip then. In my opinion, if more grows or becomes visible–great–they can get it all out at that time. Without my body responding to radiation, the only option is for masses visible to the eye to be removed in surgery, so waiting for masses to become visible sounds fine to me. My fourth surgery will be August 12, 2014.

Summer 2014

This summer, I am a full-time legal intern for Equip for Equality. I had such a positive experience working there this spring, and I couldn’t be more pleased to come on full-time for the summer. I’ve been able to do a lot of research lately, and I am learning more than I could have hoped for. I am also taking Evidence with a bunch of my friends. It reminds me of taking Criminal Law last summer, which was probably the best summer of my life.

Thank you

Thank you for all who continue to read and support me on this long journey. I can’t thank you enough for reaching out to me and lending your thoughts and prayers. I often find myself numb to the scans, blood work, meetings, surgeries, etc. It’s so routine these days, that I often forget to rest in the weight of what I’m going through physically, emotionally, intellectually…

The longer I go without writing on here, the more I feel like I’m missing out on an opportunity to truly find myself and become a stronger, healthy woman. Thank you all for challenging me to put my pride aside, and sometimes recognize that this can be tough, it can be frustrating, and it can be completely exhausting. Someday I’ll be able to close this chapter of my life, and move on. Until then, I rest in Jesus’ promise to be present through it all.

Mayo Clinic preparation–approaching the end of 1L year

I spoke with an assistant at Mayo Clinic today regarding my alternative treatment for thyroid cancer. The treatment is called ethanol ablation, and you can read my brief explanation in my last blog here. It’s been another month of running around the hospital systems in Chicago, gathering my various pathology slides, imaging CDs, reports, etc., to send to Mayo for review.

Right now it appears my treatment will be two days back-to-back at the end of May (28-29), and I am so thankful that this will be after finals! They plan on doing the treatment, but I found out today the doctor I was referred to is not the one administering the treatment, but instead a resident doctor. Little surprises like this make it difficult to prepare and know what I’m getting myself into. 

Another hiccup in this process is that the hospital with my team of doctors will stop accepting my insurance in three weeks. It has taken two years to feel as though I have a team who has my back and knows me. Thankfully Mayo takes my insurance, and my surgeries are at another hospital that accepts my insurance, but my endocrinologist and the team that regulates my medication and treatment plan is now out of the scope of my insurance, and this is very difficult for me to stomach. Please pray for some direction with this.

Law school has been the most challenging experience of my life–emotionally, physically, intellectually–and there have been many days I just don’t want to be there, many days where I feel like I don’t belong. At the same time, however, I am so sure this is where I am supposed to be. Thank God for my internship this semester, and the incredibly gratifying work I’ve experienced at Equip for Equality through advocating for those with disabilities and their right to be free from abuse and neglect. Without this, I don’t know if I would see any light at the end of the tunnel.

There is one month of this semester left, and I can say I survived 1L year of law school, despite surgery in the middle of the first semester, biopsies every couples months, ultrasounds, body scans, PET scans, blood work, and immeasurable exhaustion. One month until I can say I made it. Thank God.

Easter is this weekend, and I can’t wait. Jesus is the reason I have hope.

Your love it beckons deeply, 
A call to come and die.
By grace now I will come 
And take this life, take your life.

Sin has lost it’s power,
Death has lost it’s sting.
From the grave you’ve risen
Victoriously!

 

Barrister's Ball (law school prom)

Barrister’s Ball (law school prom)

New, alternative treatment

Hello, friends.

I just wanted to post a quick update about my recent test results. Unfortunately, my levels increased again, and suspicious nodes appeared on the scans. I will have another PET scan this week and biopsies during springs break.

However, since I am resistant to radiation and have had three surgeries in the last 1.5 years, I am excited to say my doctor wants me to try a new, alternative treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota before diving into another surgery.

The treatment is an “ultrasound-guided percutaneous ethanol ablation,” and you can read a brief synopsis of it here. Simply, they shoot alcohol directly into the nodes. There are some qualifications–the growths have to be easily accessible through needle and can’t be near any major arteries/vessels–so we have to make sure that they can easily access the spots in order to qualify. Still, I am very excited that my doctors are willing to start thinking outside the box.

Law school is keeping me busy. I continue to struggle with fatigue and focus, but I’m pushing through and enjoying the ride. Spring break is in just over a week and I cannot wait to head to Nashville with Andrew, and to warm up a bit while enjoying a lot of music. YES!

In other news, here’s a cute photo of my nephew from his visit last weekend 😉 :

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Reflecting on Comparison

I have been absent from the regular blogging scene for most of my first year of law school, but recent events have pushed me to take a moment to write something other than an appellate brief (or to continue the property reading I should be doing 🙂 ). 

Last weekend at Soul City, we talked about comparison, and the negative impact it has on our lives. I wanted to take a moment to note the extent comparison has affected me within the last couple years. Comparison is such an ingrained part of our society, and often it is so natural that we can be bound by its fruits without even realizing it.

Pride or Insecurity

One of the focuses this weekend was that comparison has one of two results: pride (when we view ourselves above someone else), or insecurity (when we feel we don’t measure up to what we believe we should be in relations to others).

Recognizing this distinction is humbling. Until starting law school, I admit I struggled more with pride in many of my passions: music, writing, schooling, etc. Now, however, the tables have turned, and this is yet again humbling.

Law School: breeding comparison

Law school is notoriously competitive, and such an environment breeds comparison on every level. While some of this competition is self-induced—-trying to be the top of the class—-the structure of the first year law school requires comparison, especially with the infamous “curve” grading system. In this system, professors are allotted a few different curves to choose from, but each curve limits the amount of A’s, A-‘s, B+’s, etc. they are allowed to award. In addition, most first year law school classes are entirely determined by a single test at the end of the semester. Because of this, no matter how well you do on your one exam, your entire success is determined by whether or not you do better than someone else.

I have not adjusted well to such a theory and the forced comparison is toxic. I have been a relatively confident person in my young-adult life. However, this environment of ideas and concepts that are completely foreign to my creative/journalistic/reflective psyche, has caused severe insecurity some days and an unhealthy obsessive tendency to compare.

I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and in my various professional jobs, not feeling completely a part of the worlds I inhabit. I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up. Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice

I am thankful that I am interning this semester at an organization I believe in. Each day, I feel like I am able to contribute in a meaningful way, and I feel respected and challenged each day. It is encouraging to know that such an environment exists in the legal world.

Pre-thyroid cancer

What I realized in this discussion is that I have not only been comparing myself to those around me, but I have been obsessively comparing myself to…myself. Since my first surgery for thyroid cancer, when I said goodbye to my thyroid, I have become obsessed with trying to get back to how healthy/fit/focused I was able to be prior to all my surgeries and treatment.

When I look at myself in the mirror, I always remember what I used to look like. I remember how much easier it was to stay fit, how much slimmer my jaw line was prior to my second/third surgeries, and how my face shape used to be less-round when I had still had a thyroid. This obsession is also toxic, especially since many of these issues are not “fixable.”

It is hard to tell yourself that there are things out of your control—-things that no matter how hard you try, you cannot change. I am so thankful for the preservation of my life and my voice in my journey with thyroid cancer. I do not wish to downplay this at all. However, it does take setting some pride aside to admit that these permanent life-changes, many that only I would see in myself, have caused me to look at myself as something less than I could be—-as opposed to different. This kind of comparison has been the most difficult to admit, the most difficult to let go, and the most damaging to my confidence.

Tomorrow I go in for another round of scans to see if I am clear or if another surgery is in my future (since I am resistant to radiation treatment). Each time I’ve gone in for these tests, I have walked out knowing it wasn’t over, and each time I’ve had treatment or surgery again. I will receive tomorrow’s results next Tuesday.

Comparison is a burden we all carry in one sense or another: many of us err on the side of pride, others on the side of insecurity. My prayer is that we take time to examine ourselves and own up to our tendencies and work on freeing ourselves from these burdens.

Preparing for surgery #3

“Seek justice. Love your neighbor. These two imperatives do not conflict.” Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff

Since my last post, I’ve had ultrasound scans, painful biopsies, consults with two surgeons and several other appointments. As mentioned before, I am no longer responsive to radiation treatment, and since cancer still remains, surgery is the only option. So, my third thyroid cancer surgery will be October 24, 2013, at the University of Chicago (Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine). This will be my third surgeon and third hospital in the last year.

Bruising that lasted for over 2 weeks from the biopsies. (looked like awkward hickeys for a bit)

Bruising that lasted for over 2 weeks from the biopsies. (looked like awkward hickeys for a bit)

Since I’ve already had two extensive surgeries in the same area, this surgery will be much more difficult and the risks increase substantially. I pray this will be my last surgery for awhile, but without the option of radiation, it is not likely. It’s going to be tedious from now on.  Normally, radiation  would take care of any remaining disease, no matter how small, but I don’t have this option anymore. Essentially, I will be waiting for masses to be large enough to remove surgically.

My biggest fear going forward is my voice. It is always a risk to injure the vocal chords in these operations, but the risk is much greater now– and nearly certain. They say over time, injections and additional surgery can correct speaking problems resulting from such an injury (yay!), but not so much singing. The idea of losing my singing voice at 23-years-old is difficult to comprehend. Music–playing and singing–is the way I cope, and if this is taken from me, it will be tough. Permanent or temporary damage to my speaking voice also poses a challenge in regards to my legal studies and career. I was joking the other day and said, “How am I supposed to be a ‘voice for the voiceless,’ without a voice?” hah. I’m praying the tumors they see around my vocal nerves are not attached and thus more easily removable.

My new surgeon has a very targeted and less invasive approach, so it’s likely they won’t need to reopen my entire incision again! I’m hoping this means my recovery time will be much shorter. Assuming my calcium levels are kept under control, it also looks like most of my recovery will be at home and not in the hospital–maybe even as little as ONE NIGHT in the hospital. Challenge accepted.

In the midst of all of this, I’m still pushing through and tackling my first year of law school. I’ve had several days of classes on either side of appointments/scans/biopsies, and sometimes I feel as though I’m living two different lives. I’m blessed to have friends who go above and beyond to keep me up to date in school and above all else, make me laugh. 🙂

The more I learn and the more I invest in school and legal work, the more excited I am. Likewise, the amount of time I feel out of my element is overcompensated by the number of times I am affirmed in this calling. Something deep within me stirs when I think of the ways I can use law to help people and truly make a difference. I’m ready to go, I’m anxious to start, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to create a life-story worth reading and one reflective of God’s love for each person individually, wherever they are and in light of their unique value. Let’s do this.

Law school friends at my Colts bar with me. I won an autographed Peyton Manning mini helmet with their help!

Law school friends at my Colts bar with me. I won an autographed Peyton Manning mini helmet with their help!