oh, where do I start?
I guess from the beginning! I have always thought I would end up with breast cancer, like my mom and aunt. But, that wasn’t what happened – I had a hysterectomy in 2002, to ‘ensure’ I didn’t get cervical cancer, due to my family history and medical issues I had back then. So, when I found a swollen lymphnode in my right groin in the summer of 2012, I wasn’t overly concerned and neither was my doc when I went to see him – they did an ultrasound and were unable to see exactly what it was & I was sent to a surgeon, who thought it was a possible infection and mentioned “cat scratch fever” – I seriously thought that was just a song!! He did the surgery, sent the node off to labs and called me the following week and all I heard was”Mrs. Barath, I am sad to say we found Squamous Cells in the node, you need to see an oncologist!!” I was too stunned to react, I was supposed to get breast cancer!! I was referred to a local oncologist and Greg and I went to see him on Sept 21st, after I had a Pet scan done – that was a story in itself, sitting in a mobile unit, looking at containers with sculls on them…didn’t feel too optimistic! But, I don’t think it had hit me at all!
We walked into his office, he looked at the scans, turned around and calmly told me “this is very serious, you don’t have long to live and there is nothing we can do about it!!” The room went quiet, Greg and I just looked at each other with dropped jaws and all I could think was WTF!! We tried to ask questions about treatments, we tried to ask for information and all we got was negatives, nothing that could be done, treatment would only be palliative and give me some quality of life for the remaining 6-9 months I had to live!! Too stunned to do or say much, we left, determined to fire this guy and get more opinions, and while Greg had to go get something, I sat staring in disbelief…until I called Cancer Centers of America! I had seen their commercials and all I kept thinking was “no expiration date!!” I spoke to a lovely lady named Karen and she told me flat out “you need a 2nd, 3rd and 4th opinion!! Our insurance got contacted and they made it clear I would be covered for whatever…wherever and with as many doctors as I needed to see! Armed with this information Greg and I began to see and think a little clearer, still stunned, but clearer – all I kept thinking was “HOW?? I’m not sick, I don’t feel sick, I don’t look sick! How is this possible??”
We saw another doc, he gave us hope, hope that something could be done and should be done…I needed an Onc/Gyn, and long story short – I ended up at Walter Reed thanks to my most wonderful neighbor Tom…who surely helped in saving my life!
Now for a little background on why everyone but us believed I was surely dying for the longest time, along with the lymphnode & the cancer they could not find, my liver lit up like a freaking Christmas tree – I had 4 very distinct lesions and they didn’t look good! In my head however, I wasn’t sick and stuck with that belief – and it was decided to do biopsies of the lesions to verify – they had NO idea where the cancer had originated, I had nothing “down there” to have cancer in, but, Squamous Cell cancer has to start somewhere and they remained baffled – 2 painful biopsies later and I was told “nope, this is NOT cancer in your liver, we’re not quite sure exactly what it is, but it’s not cancer!!”…I felt vindicated! Fast forward and after TONS of tests & scans, it was decided on systemic chemo since it was still unknown source and with apprehension I went to my first round! I watched my mother go through it and it wasn’t good…:( As I watched the chemo dripping down the tube I was scared shitless…aaaaaand, nothing! I didn’t feel a thing, it didn’t hurt, it didn’t sting and all I kept thinking “this ain’t so bad…” – they gave me GREAT drugs to combat any side-effects and they worked! I didn’t get sick, I had no nausea and all I wanted was food! It took 5 hrs and after I was done we drove home and I was starving! This is how it was through the entire treatment, no side effects and I ate everything in sight! Gained 25 lbs and while I had minor stuff, like aches, pains, the obvious hairloss and some exhaustion/fatigue I made it through it rather effortlessly!
During all of this, the support I received (& still do) was incredible, from family and friends ALL over the world…prayers, cards, messages, gifts (of chocolate!! Thanks family!!), Greg was by my side every step of the way – until he had to leave for AL…during all of this he got a new job, I had pushed SO hard for us to leave, no way was he NOT leaving and Mom (in-law) came to stay with me – I had another scan to see how things were going and dammit, it lit up!! Now they had a specific area, so more surgery it was needed – doc removed another lymphnode and the source of everything, a Bartholin gland on the right side – but, didn’t get clean margins :(. I knew I was leaving and nothing was going to stop me…not even more cancer! After some searching I found the Doc that I wanted to see in Huntsville and set about selling, packing and leaving! Sold the house in record time, packed up the whole house, found a house here we both loved and when Greg flew up to get me I was SO ready to leave! We arrived in AL on May 5th, I saw the house for the first time & we signed the next day! Fast forward to May 8th and I met with my new Onc/Gyn here and I knew the minute I met him he would do everything in his power to cure me!
We decided on the most aggressive treatment, surgery and then radiation on both sides! Wow, surgery was tough and painful…I healed up for a few weeks and off to radiation it was – again, not as bad as I thought it would be – however, it lasted for freaking ever – 28 rounds and when the last day came, I was D O N E!! That was in September, just a year after I first got diagnosed – since then I have had clear scans, a few biopsies of lesions that keeps showing up, but with an aggressive doc who doesn’t play the “wait and see” game I feel pretty confident I’ll be sticking around for quite a while longer – the fear I will have to live with for always, the possibility of lesions, the possibility of it coming back is always there – but, I have faith, I’m optimistic and most of all I have a strong will to live…I wake up every day, happy to be alive and while it’s been one hell of a journey, I firmly believe it happened for a reason…haven’t quite figured out yet what that reason is, but in the meantime I share my journey with others, to help and give hope!