I'm Alive: Kicking Cancer's Ass One Day At A Time

Photo by Katie Straka - lemonandlacestudios.com

Photo by Katie Straka - lemonandlacestudios.com

I'm alive. I am kicking cancer's ass everyday.  As for the doing it while being pretty, I guess that is all in the eye of the beholder.  I occasionally ask my husband if I am looking "cancerish;" he never misses with responding "you are beautiful."  That had to be difficult when I was bald and 8 months pregnant.  

I have stage 4 synovial sarcoma.  The equivalent of hitting the cancer lottery of bad luck.  Initially diagnosed when I was 5 months pregnant with our 3rd child; having recently been relocated for my husband's job.  Several months of chest pain and fatigue had been chalked up to pregnancy related reflux.  Then a diagnosis of an unknown infection. Finally; however reluctantly, cancer.  A tumor the size of a softball.  

The next 6 months is a hazy blur.  First, a surgery to remove the huge tumor settled in the lining of the lung.  A hero of a husband who asked for a job transfer and sold a house while commuting between states. A saint of a mother who opened her door for a family of four (almost five) for help with childcare, a newborn and a cancer patient.  There were 2 rounds of chemo deemed necessary while pregnant to have a shot at saving us both. Followed by a scheduled induction at 35 weeks.  Miraculously, Ethan Matthew was born on September 22, 2014.  Although, he had to hang out in the NICU for 2 weeks, he was discharged beautiful and healthy.  We had 1 week home together before I returned to the hospital to begin an additional, more intense, chemo regime.  6 days of inpatient treatment followed by 2 weeks of recovery at home. Then repeat.  Rounds 3 and 4 were essentially a nightmare. Bonding with our beautiful newborn was minimal, I barely had enough energy to get out of bed. I had to be lured into round 5 with the hope of canceling round 6 and a promise from my husband not to leave my side.  A difficult task to accomplish given there was a job to hold down and three kids at home to nurture.  Round 5 was as awful as anticipated and landed me in a 48 hour coma.  Then there was Christmas, prayers of gratitude for health, family, friends and a clean, cancer free scan.  

There was 8 glorious months of cancer free joy.  I made up for lost bonding time with Ethan.  Enjoyed time with Garrett (6) and Addison (3), got stronger and returned to a job I loved.  We bought a house.  We bathed in the post cancer glow of health and began putting our lives back together.  My hair, at least on my head, returned!

Then, a routine scan showed a potential tumor.  Followed by another that confirmed the suspicion.  Not super huge, but in a less than ideal location.  A lone cancer cell survivor had somehow multiplied and turned into something more.  Not the end of the world, but certainly challenging as I had come close to maxing out the life time dosage of the traditional chemo approach and that the tumor was invading a major vein off my heart.  An extra challenge seemed to be that the tumor was potentially invading my kidney.  An important necessity to tolerate future chemo and filter out all of the nasty toxins introduced to your body.  Low dosage chemo was resumed and now that I was no longer pregnant, radiation was initiated. Surgery was again declared successful.

I began to heal again.  Don't get me wrong, there were side effects, but I was managing and enjoying life.  Low level chest pain returned and a scan was performed.  It was clear.  Scar tissue and post-operative side effects were blamed.  A certain level of long term discomfort was anticipated.  Until, in April, the tumor reared its ugly head.  A reoccurrence at the original surgery site, potentially from not being able to undergo radiation while pregnant the first time around.  Brilliant doctors conferred and I resumed radiation and started a new chemo.  5 weeks ago, I underwent my second thoracotomy with the removal of a diaphragmatic tumor with negative margins.  I am once again considered to have no evidence of disease.  

In 2 years, I have delivered a premie baby, underwent 3 tumor removing surgeries, had 50 radiation treatments, trialed 3 chemo drugs and experienced 1 very uncomfortable hemrrhoidectomy.  It has been a long haul.  I have wanted to throw in the towel on more than 1 occasion and have been literally carried to the bathroom more times than I can count.  I have also learned the beauty and power of a support system and a husband that is willing to carry the world on his shoulders. 

I have marveled at the capacity of modern medicine and the ability of the human body to heal.

There is truly power in prayer and hope.

Do I think I will make it to the coveted 5 year cancer free mark?  Honestly, not really. Doctors stopped giving survival statistics a long time ago.  It has been too long of a battle, filled with too many disappointments.  I am scared to plan my future greater than the next scan.  Do I pray and hope, and hope others pray for an extended remission?  Of course.  Everyday.  Otherwise, I would have actually given up the battle long ago instead of just talking about it. But, it is too big of a prayer for me right now. Right now, I am thankful for the opportunity to take my daughter to her first day of kindergarten next week. I am anxious for my son to say his first word. I have a goal that my next major treatment is stalled until spring when Omaha opens their new state of the art cancer center.  Not just for the promise of a nice t.v. and something other than a recliner that only semi-reclines for my husband to sleep in.  I feel blessed to live in a city with the donations, research and brilliance that have gone into creating such a facility.

 I pray that others have hope and prayer to imagine a longer future for me and that I will return to being a cocky, cancer beating patient.  

But, for now, I am kicking cancer's ass one day at a time just by being here.

{About This Kick Ass Story}

This story was written and shared by Becky Gehringer, 5 week survivor, 2 year fighter.