Mass, mass, no mass & no mas

“Mass” (capitalized) – a celebration of the Eucharist

“mass” (not capitalized) – a quantity or aggregate of matter usually of considerable size

“no mass” – as in the mass that was thought to be a mass, but thankfully, was not a mass

“no mas” – Spanish for “no more”

To me, Mass (capitalized) is more than a celebration of the Eucharist. It’s a coming together of a community of people who worship, pray, share and celebrate their faith in God together. Not unlike the community of prayer warriors – my friends and family – I called upon a couple weeks ago when I had a major health scare.

I drove up to St. Louis on May 16th to begin my 2013 Spring Tour. I had several book signing and concert events scheduled across the week, as well as family visits and celebrations. In addition, I was competing at the Midwest Fleadh, an Irish music competition, the weekend of May 17 & 18th.

That Saturday, May 18th, I spent the day at the Fleadh and won a gold medal for Newly Composed Irish Songs in English. I wasn’t feeling well that day and throughout the day had experienced growing and more intense pain in my lower back on the left side where the kidney is located. Normally, I would have stayed at the hotel where the Fleadh was occurring and played music or sang songs with friends until the wee hours of the morning. Not this time. I just didn’t feel well and the pain wasn’t going away.

Uncharacteristically, I left the Fleadh early that evening and headed back to where I was staying for the weekend. Concerned, I called my doctor in Little Rock and described my symptoms. He suspected a possible kidney stone and advised that I should go to the ER to have it checked out, especially, he said, if by morning the pain had not subsided. At midnight, the pain was no better and the thought of a sleepless night in pain was not appealing. I called a family member and asked to be taken to the ER right away.

Several hours, tests and scans later, the attending ER physician came in to say, “The good news is the CT scan showed it is not a kidney stone. The bad news is we found a new mass (non-capitalized) surrounding the ureter, the tube that leads from the kidney to the bladder, causing a partial blockage. The blockage is causing fluid to build up in your left kidney and that is causing your pain. Given your history (of cancer), we presume the mass to be a new cancerous tumor and it looks like surgery may be indicated. We’ve called for a urology consult.”

As a three-time cancer survivor, hearing the word “mass” (non-capitalized) is not what I would describe as “music to my ears.” In actuality, it is a terrifying word to a cancer survivor and his/her family for it represents a major “game changer” in the grand scheme of life. Hearing about a new suspected “mass” is NOT good news and instantly of grave concern.

Personally, I think the word “mass” should be stricken from physicians’ vocabularies. It serves no purpose other than scaring patients half to death.

I looked at the attending ER physician with a calm, yet concerned and bewildered puzzlement. I said, “But I had a CT scan a month ago and there was no indication of this (mass).” Further, I added, “And I’ve been on chemotherapy for six months. It doesn’t make sense that a new tumor could grow in a month’s time while on chemotherapy. Further, I’m on Avastin (a chemotherapy IV drug). My last treatment was just a week ago. My doctor says I’d have to wait a month before having any kind of surgery. Have you spoken with my doctor in Little Rock? Have you actually spoken with him on the phone?” I asked.

No, he had not.

He went to call my doctor in Little Rock.

He came back.

“We’ve spoken to your doctor in Little Rock and we’ve spoken to the urologist here. You may still need surgery and if your pain cannot be managed by oral pain medication you may have to be hospitalized, either here or in Little Rock, with IV pain therapy until you can have surgery.”

I’m thinking… I’ve got a book signing, two concerts, a festival and party for my sister’s 60th birthday this week. I do not have time to spend in the hospital for a month! I have things to do!!

After further discussion, it was decided I’d be discharged from the ER in St. Louis with oral pain medication until I could get the CT scan images to Little Rock for my Little Rock physician to see and compare to the prior month’s scan.

The ER physicians in St. Louis were at a disadvantage as they did not have access to the CT Scan from Little Rock from the prior month. My doctor in Little Rock was at a disadvantage as he did not have immediate access to the scan the St. Louis ER physicians had taken that morning to know or understand what new “mass” they were seeing.

The next step was to get the St. Louis scan images to Little Rock so my Little Rock doc could compare them side-by-side with the scan from the prior month to determine what was really going on.

The resident ER doc came back to see me to cover my discharge instructions which included seeing my doctor in Little Rock “tomorrow” (Monday).

I said, “I’m in St. Louis. He’s in Little Rock. There’s no way I can see him tomorrow! I don’t even know if and when I could get a flight to go down there!”

Nonetheless, she said, that is what he requested. I told her I’d call him later that day (Sunday).

After speaking with my doc in Little Rock on Sunday afternoon, I decided to Fed Ex the CT scan images to him. The earliest I could get the scans to him was Tuesday morning. I also decided to look into flights to Little Rock for that same morning. That would leave me Wednesday or Thursday to get back to St. Louis for my gigs.

I proceeded with my book signing as scheduled on Monday and enlisted my niece, Mary, to help me with it. That way if I had problems with pain management, my niece would be there to help cover for me.

The Monday book signing went off without a hitch. I was able to manage the pain with Tylenol. I performed some songs and visited with friends who came to the book signing. All went well.

Later that day, I booked a flight to Little Rock for Tuesday morning and, given the uncertainty of things, decided to send out a plea via Facebook to enlist my friends and family as prayer warriors to help me through this current health “challenge.”

When I left St. Louis, I did not know if I would:
a) Need major surgery to remove a new cancerous tumor and what other treatment or health ramifications would come from that
b) Need to be hospitalized for a month on IV pain medication until it was safe for me to have surgery
c) Be able to return to St. Louis for my scheduled concerts, festival and family celebrations or have to cancel them

Clearly, I was not in control of this situation and needed prayerful help to see me through whatever I was going to have to face.

On the flight to Little Rock Tuesday morning, I literally pictured myself “handing the reins over to God.” I knew in this instance, I needed to place my trust in God for whatever outcome was presented. If I had to cancel all my gigs the rest of the week, I’d have to cancel all my gigs. Those who know me well know that cancelling a gig is the very last thing I would ever do as a musician. I would only cancel a gig if faced with a dire emergency and had absolutely no other choice. Yet that was a distict possibility I faced with this situation.

I met with my Little Rock physician early Tuesday afternoon. He got the scan images from St. Louis and met with the radiologist to compare them side-by-side.

“Good news,” he said, as my husband and I met with him in his office. “It is not a new tumor. It’s scar tissue that is encroaching on the ureter causing a partial blockage. You need a stent. It’s an outpatient procedure. You can probably schedule it later today or tomorrow and then go about your business.”

I asked if I would be able to travel after the procedure and he said yes.

WOW! God is good!!

The outpatient procedure to insert the stent was scheduled for Wednesday morning.

I rested Wednesday afternoon and my husband drove me back to St. Louis on Thursday.

I performed my two concerts on Friday as scheduled.

I attended and sang at my sister’s 60th birthday party Saturday night as scheduled.

I performed at the festival on Sunday as scheduled.

I drove myself back to Little Rock on Monday as scheduled.

Thank you!

I am deeply grateful to my prayer warriors – my family and friends who answered my plea for help. I know I and my family could not have gone through those three anxious days without your prayers and good wishes lifting us up!

I am deeply grateful to an AWESOME God – I thank Him for taking the reins and guiding me to Little Rock to get the diagnosis and care I needed so I could return to St. Louis to fulfill my commitments.

In the moment that I instinctively knew I needed to place my trust in God, I did. I feel very blessed things turned out the best way possible. No new cancerous tumor, an easy fix to the problem, and I was able to meet all my performance commitments. You can’t get any better outcome than that! Thank you, Jesus!! And thank you, my friends and family!!

To my family and friends who attended my performances – the concerts and the festival – thank you for your love, support and prayers! You definitely saw me through several very difficult days and I could not have done it without you!!

And now for “No Mas”…

“No mas” is a Spanish term I learned from our friend and favorite waiter at Senior Tequilla’s restaurant, Jose. George and I tell Jose “no mas” when we’re finished with our meal and don’t want any more margaritas. He smiles knowing how much we liked our dinner and would love to have more, we just can’t fit any more food into our bellies.

I believe this recent health scare is a “no mas,” “no more” situation for me. I believe I am very close to finishing my current round of chemotherapy and, with the grace of God and continued prayers from my family and friends, my three-time cancer journey is at long last finished and complete.

I’m declaring an end.

No mas. No more.

It’s time for more music and songs and singing!

Advertisements

What Next?

What Next?

I often ponder this question with respect to my own life just about every day if not several times a day! Sure, there are some things I am planning for – like recording my next CD and doing research and interviews for my next book – and for those, I know what I’m planning to happen next, but other things are completely out of my control and may occur out of the blue as complete surprises.

One of the “what next” surprises in my life occurred almost five years ago when I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. I was having some symptoms and suspected something was wrong so in a way the diagnosis wasn’t a complete surprise, but anytime you hear from your doctor that “Yes, it is malignant. Yes, it is bad. And, yes it is in a bad place,” the news stops you in your tracks and gets your undivided attention.

There’s a lot I know now that I didn’t know then. I didn’t know then about the full resources available from the American Cancer Society – resources that could have helped me decipher, understand and make sense out of the mound of invoices and insurance documentation that made my eyes glaze over for months after my diagnosis and initial treatment; resources that would have been just a phone call away to say “I went through what you are going through. I really do understand. Here’s how I can help you.”

I recently discovered a relatively new resource online called WhatNext.com. This website is free to anyone diagnosed with or caring for someone with cancer and matches the person up with other cancer survivors with a similar diagnosis. You can post information about your own experience and what you went through (types of treatments, side effects, celebrations, “oh no’s,” etc.), questions to ask others, and answers to questions you may have to offer others. It is an exchange of experiences and helpful information from those in the trenches like yourself who are living with or recovering from the same type of cancer you have.

Nifty!

I wish I would have found this three years ago when it was first created, but I’m grateful nonetheless that I’ve found it now. I have already posted some of the major milestones for my cancer journey, responded to some questions/problems others have posted and asked a few questions of my own about what I’m currently experiencing. I was initially overwhelmed by the positive and uplifting messages others posted to my page to welcome me to this online community of cancer survivors the same day I registered. It was a huge heart-warming welcome hug of love, connection and support.

For anyone reading my blog who has a family member of friend in the midst of the cancer fight, please share this website with them: http://www.WhatNext.com. There is also a wealth of information and resources from the American Cancer Society website, which is http://www.cancer.org. I also recommend visiting the National Cancer Institute (NCI) website within the National Institute of Health website provided by our federal government – http://www.nih.gov. I found the NCI website provided helpful list of questions to ask your doctor when you’re so shell-shocked by the initial diagnosis that you don’t know what to ask because you don’t know what you’re dealing with and just don’t know what you don’t know. The NCI website has a wealth of information to get you started.

None of us truly know what’s next, but there is help available to us for whatever surprises come along our life’s path. We just need to ask and/or look for the help. It’s there!

I hope you find these resources helpful. Take care & God bless!