Monday, April 25, 2016

Celebrating The Roses: Stage III

Have you ever seen the funny sign at a restaurant or bar that says, "A minute depends on which side of the bathroom door you're standing on?" I feel like a version of that sign is my life right now. It's amazing how hearing the verdict of highly anticipated results and embracing the collective faith all of you, my prayer warriors, have been covering me in can make the news that days ago felt like the worst possible outcome, quickly seem like the greatest.

Last Wednesday, I received the anxiously awaited phone call from my doctor.  She called to share the news that it was time to take the gloves off and fight, because the melanoma had spread to my lymph nodes and I was now classified as at least a Stage III (of four) patient. I say at least Stage III because I had yet to undergo further scans to determine if the cancer had metastasized at a distant site elsewhere in the body; which would then classify me as Stage IV.

Today, The Big Man upstairs proved once again he is good all of the time, and gave us the results we've been praying for. The PET Scan and Brain MRI showed no visible signs of malignant growth elsewhere in the body and for the first time, we celebrated Stage III.  While we still have a major battle and the road before us is bound to be bumpy and unpaved - I'm gonna agree with Mr. Abraham Lincoln and focus on the roses of this thorn bush.
So, now that we've shared our good news ... here's a look at how we got there and an outlook on what we know is ahead in the immediate future.  I mentioned last week that we had jumped the first two hurdles of diagnosis and the surgical staging surgery and then we rounded the corner to more scans.

We went to bed Thursday night anxious and uncertain of what to expect from the following day. I was scheduled to be in the hospital for my first set of scans, PET Scan, Friday at 2:00 and I was due to check in an hour early. My favorite teammate accompanied me per usual, and we waited (waiting is a thorn on our rose bush, but our rose is ha! we get to wait and hang kid free for a while!).
Next they called us back and we began. First up was the PET Scan (which was scanning the entire body), my IV was started and I was injected with glucose that contained radioactive tracers. Once it was injected I had to sit for an hour to allow my body to absorb everything and then I was taken to the scan.  When I was explaining everything to my parents my dad asked me what it was like to be a super hero for a couple of hours, since I had radioactive matter coursing through my veins, and I assured him it didn't feel much different because I've been a super hero my entire life, HA!
Luckily, Amazon came the day before and brought me this new little number to read, so I was entertained while I waited.
After an hour had passed, I was carted to the machine and got all settled in for the PET scan. My girlfriend, Andrea, joked that I wasn't far off from feeling like I was back at space camp. How awesome is technology?! They divided the scan into two parts, the upper half of my body and lower. Each scan took about 15-20 minutes and I just had to lay completely still.
I was so anxious about the scan before heading to the room, but it was completely manageable. After the PET Scan, we headed to cardiac MRI for the Brain MRI portion of the day. This really was the macdaddy of all machines, and holy cow I wasn't prepared for it. The claustrophobia everyone talked about didn't rattle me nearly as much as the overall test itself. It was very similar to the PET Scan in the fact you lay down and can't move, but the machine was completely enclosed on one end and your head is basically in a cage and strapped down.  Additionally, you're given noise cancelling headphones with music piped in (I chose country) and yet the sound of the machine was still incredibly loud and unnerving.

It was the first time throughout this entire process I've felt like this cancer deal is bigger than me and I truly am a patient. It wasn't something I took lightly and being completely transparent, it really rattled me to my core. I broke down after the scan and was completely frazzled. Luckily, soon after we got an update that the kiddos had just purchased some new cowboy boots and were having a ball.

So, my favorite teammate wheeled me down the hall and sang the whole way. God bless him.
And then he drove me to stuff my face with nachos, drink a glass of wine and calm my nerves.  It was a much needed chill session that couldn't have been better.
The weekend was long. I woke up and had a near panic attack after dreaming about that terrible Brain MRI, but again Shane was there to save the day and make me laugh again. And I woke up ready to take on the weekend with perfect weather, a little Sunday Jesus session and my family... the roses on the thorn bush of what we're facing.
And just like that, Monday morning arrived and it was time for our post-op visit and the results of Friday's scans. Here's our recurring "what are we about to walk into selfie".
And this has become another rose on the thorn bush. Knowing that through all of this, I get to look up and he's by my side. Ain't he cute?!
And here's the screen (along with my doctor of course) where we were given the results. This tiny little monitor gave us the images we'd been waiting to see and our opportunity to celebrate Stage III.
And in regards to what's still ahead ... Tomorrow, we head back into the hospital for hopefully my last surgery. The doctor will be removing the rest of my remaining lymph nodes from the groin. This surgery is a bit more invasive and has a higher elevation of risk associated with it than the first, so it requires a 1-2 day hospital stay; in addition to more intensive post-op care.  The fancy name for the surgery is "right superficial inguinal node dissection with sartorius flap" if you were wondering :) .

We're removing the remaining lymph nodes in effort to get clean margins in the local nodes.  Determining if the disease has spread to more than the sentinel node previously removed, along with the results from pathology + my scans will determine our future treatment options. We will meet with a medical oncologist May 9th at our post-op visit to discuss whether or not we will be moving forward with immunotherapy. And that is where we stand today.

Thank you for sticking with us through this difficult time and continuing to lift us up in prayer. It means so much to all of us to hear from you and know we are in your thoughts. And for now, we're going to continue to celebrate Stage III and keep finding the roses. The Derby might bring a tear to my eye this year, for reasons far beyond choosing uncomfortable shoes. And if you have a hard time understanding that one ... it's probably time you visit our hometown, Louisville, KY during the month of May.

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  1. Katie,

    Such Wonderful News!!!! Keep up the good work girl, you can do it!!!

    Your Friends at APNL formerly known as NL.... We love you girl.....

    Lynn Treece

  2. You got this! Praying for you and your family!

  3. Thinking of you, Shane and the kids during this time. You are so strong, and I'm so glad that you got the news you'd been hoping for! I will be praying.


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