Gratitude Moments #8

May 17, 2009

After the surgery removing the tumors in the lingual nodes on the left hip area, I rested for six weeks. The third cycle of bio-chemotherapy started on May 6th. I came home on Sunday, May 10th. Twelve pounds of fluid was put on me and I looked like a little red plum. The swelling was almost intolerable. The left leg was a lot bigger than my right leg. The fluid was not circulating to my upper body. At this point, the nurses said due to the removal of the lymph nodes, and the nerve damage from the surgery; the circulation problem could be permanent. I surely prayed that it would not be the case.

The case manager from my primary care hospital referred me to lymphedema therapy to treat the swelling. The therapist measured the circumference of my left leg in 3 inches increment, from the ankle to the upper thigh. Then measured and compared to my right leg. The measurement served as a baseline. Each returned visit, she would measure again to check the progress. She gave me handouts of home exercise with instructions and graphic demonstrations. The instruction was to do the exercise twice a day. The rest of the day, I was supposed to sit in a reclining position with my legs elevated to a position higher than my heart.

Even though I started eating regularly, I felt tired. The blood test showed that I was anemic severely. The doctor prescribed iron 325 mg plus vitamin C 500mg for two month.

June 15, 2009

I checked in to the hospital on Wed. June 3rd for my final cycle of bio-chemotherapy. Strangely I felt okay when I checked in, but a couple hours later, I had a fever of 103 degree.  My doctor put “on hold” of all the chemo medication. Even though the hydration had started, but it was suspended. To cover all the bases, he ordered chest x-ray, ultra sound of my heart, and blood culture, to make sure I didn’t have infection anywhere. If the fever was caused by infection, the chemo medication would further weaken my immune system to fight the infection.

The doctor waited until June 4th afternoon when he got the blood culture result, and then started the chemo medication. After 5 days of chemo, he kept me one more day for observation; that made the 5 days treatment into 7 days. The doctor ordered IV antibiotic for all the days I was in the hospital plus 5 days home health care after I was discharged. At the end of the antibiotic, a blood culture was done again. Eventually I understood the doctor’s caution, because the infection was a dangerous thing when my low immune system couldn’t fight it off.  I was so glad that it was my last cycle of chemo.

A couple side effects were accumulated to the worst point. One was the swelling of my left leg. By the 10th day after I came home; it was still very, very swollen. It felt like it was going to explode. The pressure made my walking or moving was very painful because the fluid was saturated. I finally called the doctor, and he prescribed water pill to make me urinate more often. It helped but worked slowly.  After two weeks, both whole legs were still swollen all the way to the ankles; at least the pain was subsided.

Another side effect was the skin peeling off in big pieces on my feet and hands. After the skin was peeled off, the new skin was tender, sensitive, and painful. How I wished it shed like snake skin and came off nice and neat in one piece. The peeling and recovering of my skin took several months. But again, this was the last cycle; I had all summer to recover.  I told my daughter that at least after all, I got brand new skin. She said she admired my strength and was a good example to her. It touched my heart when she said that. If I could be an example to my daughter of faith and trust in God, it was worth all the physical suffering.

The fluid slowly but surely left my body. I was down to 114 pounds. I started walking back and forth on the street. After a couple weeks, I was able to walk around Laguna Lake with my husband. I even went to the gym swimming and used the machine to work on my legs. I knew people were looking at me because I lost my hair and looked very skinny.

My daughter Mercy who lived and worked in Portland, Oregon said she would come to see me in the summer. By this time, I had lost most of my hair. I was afraid my appearance would shock her. I took pictures and sent them to her intermittently; the side view and back view of my head, so that she was aware of the changes.

My family and friends continued to pray, send cards, emails, and phone calls to provide support. Since my husband was back to school to get the MRI and CT licenses, he was not able to take me to all the appointments. My friends signed up to give me rides to different appointments. One friend was driving me to the doctor’s office. She said she wanted to make sure she had a chance to give me a ride before I didn’t need it anymore. My husband switched his internship schedule as often as he could to care for my needs. I was very weak physically, but my heart hugged all these people whose love for me was incredible.

P.S. I had one more surgery and radiation before the treatment was over.

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