October 2016, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Bladder Cancer.I thought my life was over.
I was scheduled for a second opinion visit with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute on Nov 11th.Bob wanted to try to get an appointment sooner but I felt like it was a good omen to stay with 11/11 since 11:11 has a special meaning to Bob and me.At Dana Farber we met with 2 oncologists who told us that they had found 10% of a second type of cancer, an aggressive form of small cell carcinoma.This would change the course of my treatments. We learned early on that with cancer things are always changing.
On Nov 16th, I began the first of 6 rounds of chemo. I would spend 3 days having chemo and then have 18 days off.At first I wondered, why are they waiting so long in between?After the first couple rounds it became apparent that I would need that much time to recover, not only physically but mentally, to stay the course.
I’d always had long hair.I asked my oncologist if I would lose my hair.It wasn’t that I cared that much about my hair…compared to living…I just figured if I were going to lose it I might as well donate it.No sense wasting it!What little hair I had left began falling out just 2 weeks into chemo.What I thought would be no big deal turned out to be very traumatic.I would shower and the hair would wash over my skin.Someone described it as if it were bugs crawling on you.Indeed!This is when you truly know you are sick.(My husband Bob wanted to shave his head but I asked him to grow it out instead and donate it.)
After 3 rounds of chemo I had another cat scan.I was in full remission!
I continued to have treatments followed by a shot of Neulasta and weekly blood draws.Neulasta is a medicine used to stimulate the growth of white blood cells and decrease the incidence of infection.At an astounding cost of $12,000 per shot.Once treatments were over I needed to wait 6 weeks to have surgery.You see, when you are stage 4, they do chemo first then surgery because you don’t have 6 weeks to spare.April 24th…the day of surgery had arrived.It was 8 hours later when Bob finally saw me again.I would spend the next 9 days at Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston. Surgery entailed a full hysterectomy, removal of my bladder and removal of my pelvic lymph nodes.Then a portion of my intestine was used to build a new internal bladder.It is a very serious surgery in which 60% of patients return to the hospital often times for infections.
Now the waiting began to see what the pathology report would show.When the pathology report came back it showed no cancer!My surgeon looked me in the eye and said “You are a miracle”!Only 10% of people have no cancer in their pathology after this type of surgery.On May 25, I returned to the hospital for another 6 day stay.My body was fighting an infection and at one point my temp reached 103.9.I thought perhaps I had survived cancer only to die from a serious infection.
My hair is growing back now…albeit quite a bit grayer than it used to be!I’ve had lots of compliments on the short look and have been asked by many if I intend to keep it short.I was very torn and couldn’t really figure out how to explain to people what I was feeling about it.Then I realized…cancer took my hair…and I WANT IT BACK!!Then, if I decide I want it short it will be my choice.
I was very weak after surgery and learned of several programs at the YMCA to help cancer patients gain strength back.One of these programs is sponsored by the Dempsey Center.When I met with a person at Dempsey Center I was blown away by the services and support they offer there.All for free! Massage, acupuncture, yoga, cooking classes, support groups for both kids and adults and a lending library...just to name a few.The Dempsey Center sponsored me for a 6 month membership at the YMCA along with 5 training sessions with a personal trainer.
I am doing well.I feel great and I’m grateful.Grateful for life, grateful for beautiful friendships, and grateful for so much love in my life.I’m especially grateful to the people who stepped up and supported us.One of those people was Herb Scribner.Herb had been battling cancer for 4 years.He was a cancer fundraiser and a support group leader.He was an inspiration to all who knew him.Herb was also a skier and fellow Sugarloafer.In those early days of my diagnosis we emailed back and forth many times.He got me through!Some of the things he said to me:
Stay positive, ask questions and demand answers…
Fran, you really matter to a lot of people, your love makes you so. Our love will be there when you need it and when you are through this you will forever nurture those wonderful friends and family that helped you stay strong and in charge of this journey.
Use your anger creatively and fight for life, you can and will do this.
Fran, you are strong, life loving, a determined patient, a friend and you are your best advocate.
It's your life, stay in charge, I know you can and will beat this…
…you are a great fighter.
Herb passed away during my last hour of chemo.The last time he was in the hospital before returning home to Hospice he told me he was passing me the torch.I told him I would do my best to make him proud. Herb was a great supporter of The Sugarloaf Charity Summit and I am joining this fundraising effort on behalf of Herb Scribner. RIP Herb…
Please support me in my participation in Amos' Army! I am raising funds for the Sugarloaf Charity Summit. Every dollar raised will stay in Maine to support three critical organizations: