Hearing the words, “you have cancer” are probably three of the most profound words I have heard in my life. The words knock the wind out of you, drop you to your knees. I remember bawling in my mom’s arms telling her “I don’t want to die, I am too young, I have two babies.” At the time I had three and four year old boys.
I was thirty five years old. I had had strange symptoms for over two years, probably much longer— fevers, unbearable pain in my upper right side of my stomach, overall exhaustion and gut feeling of something not being right. Nine trips to urgent care over the course of two years. At thirty five, I still had not picked an internist! I finally landed in the emergency room following a persistent fever that wouldn’t break. They sent me home after filling me with fluids with no explanation. “What about appendicitis,” I asked the oncall doctor. “Listen, I saw the way you walked in here, if you had appendicitis, you would need to be wheeled in in a wheel chair, screaming at the top of your lungs in pain.”
Thankfully, my mother doesn’t take no for an answer. Frustrated, she drove me that Monday morning to my gynecologist—of course having had two small boys, she was the only doctor I had at the time! My mother insisted on a ct scan. Based on the scan, I was in laperscopic surgery the next morning. “Your appendix looks odd” was the reasoning.
That afternoon, we got a call from my surgeon, “there was a 2.1 cm tumor in the appendix but I have done hundreds of surgery’s and it doesn’t look like cancer, we will send it to pathology and call you with results in a few days.”
That night, I began an obsession that would continue off and on over the next two years. I stayed up well into the morning googling: appendix growths, 2.1 cm tumor, severe pain in abdomen, fevers, appendicitis— any search I could think of. The next morning I told my husband, I found information on two cancers of the appendix, Carcinoid Cancer and something called PMP Appendix Cancer. I kept going back to the calming words of Dr. Stricheartz my surgeon, “I have seen many tumors and this tumor doesn’t look like cancer.” For some reason, those words weren’t enough to ease my growing anxiety.
Three days later in the afternoon, my mom and I were in the kitchen and the phone rang. “Amy, it’s Dr. Truneh (my gynecologist), are you alone?” My stomach sank, “no,” I said, “my mother’s with me.” “do you want to put the phone on speaker, we have the results back from pathology.”
My hand began to shake and my entire face went warm. I pressed the speaker button, my mom looked at me with fear in her eyes and grabbed my hand tight.
“Amy, sweetie, I am sorry, it is cancer, it is called Carcinoid Cancer and it’s very rare. We made an appointment with you to meet with the surgeon to talk about next steps tomorrow.” I had a million questions but remembered that my new friend “the internet” had many of the answers I was looking for so I thanked her and hung up. All I remember is feeling like I had been punched in the stomach—hard! My knees buckled and I dropped to the floor. You can never explain the feeling that overtakes you when you find out you have a scary, unpredictable, angry disease like cancer. You feel scared, you feel angry, you feel depressed, you feel like your body has betrayed you.
The next morning, my husband and my mother and I drove to the surgeon’s office. I hadn’t slept at all. My head was full of spinning thoughts..I don’t want to lose my hair, I don’t want to explain this to my kids, I don’t want to have cancer..can this all be a bad bad dream?!
That morning, I realized it was very much not a dream, I walked into his office and right on the table before he got a word in was a pamphlet about colon cancer and Rt. Hemicolectomy Surgery (the removal of 1/2 your colon)
Dr. Stricheartz looked at me and said, “I assume you know why I called you in here today” I looked at him confused.. “The tumor we found is larger than 95% of people who get Carcinoidtumors. Most Carcinoids at 1 cm, yours is 2.1 cm and based on it’s size and statistics of it spreading—upwards of 70% chance of metastasis—we need to go in tomorrow and remove 1/2 your colon.”
Another punch to the gut.
The surgery had it’s complications, I was losing alot of blood following surgery and they found I was internally hemorrhaging, two blood transfusions and a bedside trauma nurse holding my hand through the whole thing, the hemorrhage, sealed up on it’s own.
I spent the next few weeks at home healing. My boys definitely knew something was wrong with Mommy. We tried not to scare them but my fragile state and loss of weight tipped them off. I will never forget my 4 year old son Diego telling my mother during those first few weeks, “Gramma, how old will I be when I get to drive a car?” “You’ll be 16, a teenager” pause, “hmm..that’s too bad, mommy will be in heaven when I am a teenager.”
Another punch in the gut.
I spent the next several months testing. For someone who spent most of her adult doctor visits in a walk in clinic, I now had an Internist, an Endocrinologist, a Gastroencologists, an Oncologist, a Cacinoid Specialist , and a Surgeon. The testing was exhausting— double ballon endoscopy,colonoscopy, endoscopy, swallow camera (that one was actually pretty cool), barium xrays, regular xrays, finally a trip to a Carcionid Cancer specialist at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles gave us the answers we were desperately searching for.
After retesting my pathology of my colon, my specialist, Dr. Edward Wolin, informed us of “Small Vessel Lymphatic Invasion.” It was stage two, it had left the original location and spread to my lymphatic system.
I would need an octreotide scan, a ct scan, and an MRI—all in one day!
The Octreotide is a nuclear scan. They pump your veins with radioactive dye and you stay completely still for 2 hours, if you move, you start all over again. My nose has never itched so much, I just kept praying and meditating. Once I was done, the radiologist informed me I was the first person in those two hours to not ever press the panic button..”there was a panic button?!” OMG, I would have most definately had pressed it had I known.
The octreotide scan showed some “cellular activity” in my abdomin area, perhaps cancer cells, perhaps, trauma from the two surgerys, only time will tell. With Carcioid Cancer, they can actually see Cancer cells before they turn into a tumor. Unfortunately, because Carcinoid doesn’t respond to chemo and radiation (I get to keep my hair yippy!) You need to watch and wait until tumors form and then you do something called debulking. You remove parts or all of the organ it’s invaded.
Because of this fact. Carcinoid Cancers Survivors need to be scanned frequently. The good news is it is also known as “cancer in slow motion”, the bad news who has the patience to “watch and wait” with something as unpredictable as cancer?!
In the past two years, throughout my every six month trips to Los Angeles, many things have poped up that need to be checked. I have had a lump in my breast biopsied—binign, and more recently a growth in my thyroid that went from .7 cm to 1.7 cm to 2.9 cm in 12 months. As of yesterday’s pathology— binign yet again.
As with everything I do with my doctors in San Jose, I then need to send it off to my angel Dr. Wolin at Cedars to retest with his special stains and dyes. You see one HUGE lesson I found out was that many cancers that are rare, may not show up with standard pathology stains. If you have a specific type of cancer, get your scans and pathology done with a specialist. El Camino hospiital sees 1 to 2 carcinoid cases a year, their radiologists maybe perform a handful of octreotide scans a year. Dr. Wolin’s team does two to three nuclear scans a day!
Throughout the past two years I have learned alot about myself, about the people I love, about God, about the power of the human spirit. About the kindness in strangers from my carcinoidsupport group who have become an extension of my family and medical support team to my neighbors who chipped in to bring meals or small gifts for the kids.
Through this process, I needed to take an inventory of my life, my diet, my exercise (or lack of it), my stress levels, even the skincare I use. I know I didn’t give myself cancer, but I take ownership in the fact, my tumor was as large as it was, due to my environment I choose to live in. There are toxins in many of our daily products from what I was using on my skin, to my house cleaning products, to the foods I choose to put in my body. I read a book called Ant-Cancer which changed the way I look at food and products. It has helped me regain control over my body, and step up MY role in it’s health and well being.
In researching the skincare I was using on www.cosmeticsdatabase.com, I discovered that many of the products I was using on myself and my children were dangerous. I knew as a mother, I needed to become educated on what I was putting on my small boys as well. If our government isn’t regulating the 12,000 ingredients in skincare on our shelves, we need to take ownership of it for ourselves and our children.
I do not ever wish to say, cancer is a gift. If cancer is a gift, it’s one I would like to return. Rather, what you do with it is your gift to yourself and to others. I choose to be a survivor, to become educated, to take control of my medical care. I get records of every procedure. I study books. I am no longer a victim at an urgent care. I also now reach out to people whom get the stomach punching news of their own cancer diagnosis. I am now more in the present. The future and past are traps most of us find our self in for the bulk of our lives.
I took the passion I had for research and the drive and ambition that fueled my successful career in High Tech Field Sales and I applied it to the research and development of an organic skincare line, and the development of a methodology to rejuvenate skin using eastern medicine and cosmetic acupuncture. To read more about my business go here: www.authenticskin.com. It was important to me to give an alternative to the dangerous injectables like Botox, Juviderm, and other toxins which we are now only beginning to to see correlations to neurological diseases and other illnesses due to excessive use.
I have merged my passion for health and my passion for beauty and used my fear, my creativity, and my drive to uncover a new way to approach beauty leveraging the power of the human spirit and search for authenticity in a plastic, toxin filled society. Now when someone decides to look for toxic free products on the Cosmeticsdatabase.com they will find MY Authenticskin Remedies products among many of the safe alternatives.
I feel cancer choose me, I have now made the choice to do something with it!
By: Amy Rueda