What do you do when your partner is diagnosed with Cancer?
You can’t answer it until it happens to you. When your other half is sick, you need to be twice as strong, brave and patient than you ever were before. You are tested everyday emotionally, physically and mentally. I found strength I never knew I had; I suppose I was just saving it all these years for this moment.
This is not a journey we planned to take; we don’t even know where we are going. We know it may be long, and it will be hard. There will be bad times, painful times, and the down right ugly times. But with all the bad there will be good. There will be laughter, there will be hope, and there will be love. No matter what comes our way, I will be here to share it with you all, friends and family who we love so much. We would be defeated without your strength and support. I hope this blog brings you closer to our lives, as you are all apart of this journey.
This is where it started.
In the month of March Gian had trouble going to the washroom, we thought it was nothing to be concerned about, just typical constipation. After a few weeks of trying various laxatives, pills, and a minor diet adjustment Gian made an appointment to see our new family doctor, Dr. Harrison. She ordered an ultrasound for the following week and gave him laxatives in the meantime. On April 10th Gian went in for the ultrasound, once it was completed the technician told him he needed to see Dr. Harrison right after. He called me very concerned since it was odd that he was being sent to see Dr. Harrison asap, something must be wrong. He came home and told me that the ultrasound had shown lesions on his liver. I had no idea what this meant, what kind of lesions? What did the doctor say? What do they think it is? All he said was “it could be anything from benign cysts to cancer”. Dr. Harrison called a short while later and referred him to a gastrointestinal specialist, Dr. Cino, at Toronto Western Hospital. He was scheduled for a repeat ultrasound that Friday, and a follow-up with the Dr. Cino on Monday April 16.
In the meantime I researched “liver lesions” and found that less than 10% are malignant, thank goodness I thought, the odds were in our favour. The week came and went, and before we knew it we were at Toronto Western Monday morning with the follow up appointment.
There was something definitely on the liver, but because of his age Dr. Cino wasn’t sure what. When she saw the first ultrasound from Dr. Harrison she thought it was wrong because he was so young and ordered another one, hence the ultrasound he had on Friday. We were told that it could be anything and the possibilities were wide open. However, the ultrasound results had raised concerns and Gian was scheduled for a colonoscopy the next day, and a CT scan on Wednesday. If you have ever had a colonoscopy done you know the worst part isn’t the actual procedure, it’s the prep before. Drinking multiple liters of a VERY unpleasant fluid that cleans out your intestines that evening was to say the least dreadful.
Up until this point we hadn’t really told anyone what was going on, I told my sister, and his to keep them in the loop…but why worry everyone if its mostly likely nothing right?
April 17, 2012.
This was the day everything changed.
I dropped Gian off for the colonoscopy and waited with him until he went in for the procedure. I left for work and came back a few hours later. When I saw the doctor I asked how it went, I could tell by the look on his face it wasn’t good news. I followed him to the bed where Gian was, sat on a stool beside Gian and we both looked at the doctor.
“It looks as though it is malignant adenocarcinoma of the colon. When we did the colonoscopy we were unable to pass through the colon because there was a large tumor causing the obstruction”.
As the doctor continued speaking his voice got further and further away, my body went numb, my brain not able to process the words coming out of his mouth. I felt as though my body was floating, I must be dreaming this…
We sat in silence, both of us not able to comprehend what we just heard.
A few doctors came in afterwards, I can’t recall the exact conversations… just the words: cancer, malignant, biopsy, surgery, tumor, chemotherapy, metastases, odd, strange, rare, so young.
That night at our house, we told Gian’s family the news. It all still felt like a dream…a nightmare.
The CT scan was the following day. They found the lesions on the liver were tumours, the cancer in the colon had spread. He was admitted to the hospital that day (April 18), as he needed to have surgery urgently. The procedure that he needed was an ilestomy. Basically the small intestine comes out through his abdomen in order to bypass the large intestine; digestive waste then exits the body through the opening (called a stoma) and into a bag. Since the tumour in his colon was causing Gians inability to have bowel movements, the procedure would allow waste to exit his body.
April 19, 2012.
The phone calls began.
It was time to let people know the news. I began calling friends and family, a task that never got easier. After every phone call, I still couldn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth. Was I really calling friends and family to tell them Gian has cancer? I had a plan for our life and cancer certainly was not part of it. This wasn’t supposed to happen to us, it happens to other people, other families, not us. It is supposed to be smokers, drinkers, old people…. Why Gian?
Friday April 20th Gian had an ilestomy and was discharged Wednesday April 25. After a week of sleeping in the hospital we were so happy to be home, our own bed – a luxury we had taken for granted. The next day Gian started feeling sick, and didn’t look too well. Late that evening he started vomiting and we rushed to the emergency. After a few hours at the hospital we were able to go home. It had turned out that Gian had a blockage, and was unable to pass anything through his stoma - which caused him to be sick.
May 2, 2012.
Hello Princess Margaret.
We had our first meeting with our Oncologist, Dr. Krzyzanowska, ( Dr. K) at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) on May 2. She wanted to start chemo has soon as possible, even though he had just had surgery a few weeks earlier. He had blood work taken after our appointment and had a follow-up appt the next day. The blood test showed that his bilirubin levels were way up and it was crucial that he get treatment right away. It was the elevated bilirubin levels were causing Gians jaundice in the skin and eyes. Since his liver wasn’t functioning properly, he wasn’t able to go on the full dosage chemo since his liver wouldn’t be able to handle it, so he was put on a lo-dosage Folfox treatment.
He started chemo the next day. The side effects were manageable; the main side effect was from the medication he had to take after for a few days, which caused hiccups. Literally three days of hiccupping non-stop.
The week that followed Chemo was uneventful, and before we knew it we were back at PMH for a follow-up appt with Dr. K on Tuesday May 15. Gian’s bilirubin levels were still rising, not good. It was still too early to tell if chemo wasn’t working, so we went ahead with another treatment on Thursday that week.
May 17, 2012.
Its been one month.
A month of hospitals, waiting rooms, blood tests, urine tests, X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, needles, IV’s, doctors, liver specialists, oncologists, surgery, chemotherapy, nurses, emergency visits, pills, shock, tears, anger, sadness, pain.
A month of love, support, community, compassion, strength, inspiration, bravery, courage, patience, friendships, family, miya, memories, caring, comfort, healing, laughter, hugs, kisses, prayers, faith, sunshine, hope.
At 27, and 29 we weren’t thinking about health insurance. We didn’t take any medication and rarely got sick, so a life-threatening sickness was the last thing on our minds. Since we were both freelance in the city, we were seeing the financial impact that a cancer diagnosis can create. We had a meeting with social services and didn’t qualify for any financial assistance since we were common-law and I was still working. So my monthly income alone needed to cover rent, food, bills, car insurance, cell phones etc. Relying on one income in an over priced city is tough, even tougher when you add medical expenses into the mix. However, through the generosity of friends and family a HUGE weight was lifted off our shoulders. May 17 was not only one month since the diagnosis, it was the day we saw our community, friends and family all come together and show their endless amount of love and support for us. That night was the Shine2 fundraiser for Gian. We have been truly blessed to have such amazing people in our lives. The event was truly overwhelming and words cannot express our gratitude for everyone that helped organize this event, for everyone that donated there time, prints, and gave so generously.
Gian had his second round of Chemo May 17 as well. The next four days I was off work for the long weekend, so I was looking forward to spending some quality time with Gian. After friends and family visiting Friday to Sunday I was looking forward to Sunday night and Monday together.
May 20, 2012.
Going through chemotherapy lowers your immune system and you are more susceptible to infection, so when you get a fever you need to go to emergency asap. Sunday evening at around 11pm Gian’s temperature hit 38.2 and we rushed off to emergency at Toronto Western. Blood tests and urine tests were taken and showed that Gian’s liver enzymes were elevated. Gian was admitted to Toronto Western so he could be monitored. He needed an ultrasound and X-ray for further evaluation but since Monday was a holiday this would be done Tuesday.
We got the results from the ultrasound and X-ray Wednesday, which showed that there was a blockage in the bile ducts, and this needed to be taken care of ASAP. Thursday he had a PTBD (Percutaneous Transheptic Biliary Drainage) procedure at Toronto Western. The surgery took longer than normal because they weren’t able to go through the abdomen but had to go through the ribs (which is more painful) to insert a catheter. The catheter would drain the bile from the ducts into a bag outside of his body.
Ever since the PTBD procedure Gian’s bilirubin counts have gone down. Before the surgery his count was over 300 units ( 20 -30 units is normal). Currently he is at approx 180 units. In a few weeks we will know if the bag will be permanent. According to the doctor 2/3 of patients with this procedure are able to eventually have the catheter on the inside of the body and tube is capped off. The remaining 1/3 will need to have the bag permanently on the outside of the body.
After the surgery that evening we were transferred to PMH so he could be monitered. He was supposed to have his third round of chemo this past Thurs, however we hit another bump in the road. Wednesday May 30, we went to Toronto General so his PTB bag and catheter could be checked. They wanted to ensure it was draining properly before his chemo treatment. That evening, Gian spiked a fever, which wasn’t good since he was supposed to have chemo the next day. Thursday morning Dr. K came by and said Gian couldn’t go ahead with treatment, due the fever. In order to go ahead with chemo he needs to be fever free for 48 hours. The contrast fluid they injected him with before the X-ray, caused stagnant bacteria to be flushed through his body and caused the infection, which is what then caused the fever. He was on antibodiotics until Friday and is scheduled for chemo June 5.
We will be at PMH for the rest of the week, just livin’ life on the inside of these walls.
with strength & love,