After falling asleep while reading in bed and waking up with my head tipped back and my mouth hanging open, I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. When I got back to bed to settle in for the night, I noticed that a big spot on my T-shirt was kind of wet and sticky. I realized that the top part of my surgical incision has been leaking. It seems like the fitting end to the day—at least I hope it’s the last sad event of a bittersweet day and not the beginning of another sad day.

I changed T-shirts and called MSKCC’s hospital number for a professional opinion. The doctor on call said that unless I had a fever or didn’t stop leaking for a few days (!) I should be OK. My body might just have excess fluid that it is trying to get rid of. Currently, I’m sitting on my couch leaking my excess fluid out of my belly. While I’m sitting here, alone and scared, I figured I could cry some of my excess liquid out too. It hurts my abdomen to cry too hard or to laugh too heartily, though, so I’ve been trying to keep my emotions in check since surgery.

Today, as a day, hasn’t been particularly rough. I spent a lot of my time on the Internet and watching TV and I think maybe staring off into space, as I’m still taking painkillers for the belly pain.

At some point, however, I realized that it was three years ago on February 26 that I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If someone told me in 2013 that three years later I would be recovering from surgery for another type of cancer, I would have said, “No, thank you.”

This particular day, over the past several years, has had its ups and downs. Three years ago, obviously, was tough, when my doctor called me in to tell me that my needle biopsy showed I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The treatment was supposed to be wrapped up by September of 2013, but since I had two spots that wouldn’t go way (one lymphoma spot and the other, as it turns out, this pancreatic tumor), February 2014 saw me trying to remove stubble from my head after one round of augmented ICE chemo, preparing for my stem cell transplant. In my Facebook feed, a photo from that day showed up. It was a bittersweet picture: My recently departed cat, Akasha, putting a comforting paw on my hand, since my arm was inflamed with phlebitis at the time and I was in a lot of pain.


Akasha comforting me two years ago, when I had a case of phlebitis.

Last year was good—so good, I didn’t even commemorate it with a blog post. I think I was too busy having fun and getting my life back. I’d passed my January scan and had just started a new full-time job. I was done with cancer. The little blob on my scans was just something to keep an eye on, but nothing to really worry about.

Today, of course, I spent as part of my long recovery from my Whipple procedure to remove the neuroendocrine tumor from my pancreas. (I still have about six and a half weeks to go.)

I tried not to think about this anniversary too much, until I woke up realizing I’d sprung a leak and found myself too afraid to go back to sleep. Even now, all I can think is that I’m simply tired of having cancer. I feel like I just can’t anymore.

I had been talking to some cancer patients before my surgery for a story I had been working on, and one woman going through treatment told me how she and her husband ” just go through it.” There’s no other way to put it. You just go through it. No one gives you a choice to opt out of cancer. If someone did, I would have said after the first year that I would not like to deal with cancer anymore, and I would have said it after the second year, and I would say it this year too. But no one is asking, and even if someone did ask, it doesn’t matter, because I still don’t have a choice.

I try to stay upbeat and put on a brave face, but I have these moments. I am scared and I’m so tired of cancer already. I don’t want do to this anymore, but I just have to keep going.

In the meantime, while I’ve been writing this, I think I’ve stopped leaking, both from my belly and from my eyes, so my mind is at ease. Now I’m going to wrap myself up in blankets and get some rest, to prepare for the better days ahead.

Exactly one month ago, I posted the news I received about a malignant tumor on my pancreas. Today I am one week out from my Whipple procedure. Post-pancreaticoduodenectomy, I have no gall bladder, 16 fewer lymph nodes, a little bit less stomach and duodenem—and, of course, no more tumor.

I have been meaning to post an update, but everything has happened pretty quickly. As the February 17 surgery date approached, I was also doing the much-too-familiar rushing to a stop before a hospital stay, and trying to finish everything I could before having to rest—cleaning, social outings, work, freelance projects, working out. So many times I wanted to sit down and write to help me process what was happening, but I felt like every waking moment was booked. On my first full day back from the hospital and reunited with my laptop, I finally have time for an update. I’m sure I’ll have more ramblings as I impatiently await full recovery, but here’s the rundown on what’s happened in the past month.

After the findings of the endoscopy, I met with a surgeon at NYU Langone and one at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Elliott Newman at NYU went over the endoscopy results, which showed the tumor blocking my pancreatic duct, thus causing the backup of digestive enzymes and recurrent pancreatitis attacks and inflammation. Though the biopsy didn’t determine if it were a neuroendocrine tumor or an acinar cell carcinoma, the treatment would be the same: Removal of tumor (along with the gall bladder, part of the stomach and a bit of intestines) with a surgery called a Whipple procedure. Since the tumor was in the head of the pancreas, where are lot of ducts intersect, it’s not as simple as removing the tumor, and there’s rerouting and reattaching. Dr. Peter Allen at MSKCC also said that I would need a Whipple and the type of tumor it was would be determined after taking it out. The only reason to do another endoscopy and biopsy would be if I wanted to put off the surgery for a few months. The doctors put my mind at ease about one thing—removal of the tumor didn’t seem really urgent. In fact, they said that a small tumor, less than 2 centimeters in diameter, would often just be watched, but this was clearly causing me problems and pancreatitis attacks.

NYU Langone had my pancreatitis and endoscopy records and MSKCC had my oncology records so I had to choose between the two. I feel as if I would have been in equally capable hands either way, and having the choice between two such reputable institutions isn’t a bad dilemma to have. Ultimately I decided on MSKCC because Dr. Allen could do the Whipple soon (even a week earlier, had I chosen that date, but that seemed too soon), and I was already very familiar, of course, with Sloan-Kettering. I had also used my current insurance with MSKCC and NYU’s billing system seemed a just little less clear and quick to go to collections. At least in my case, I have had more billing headaches with NYU.

Transferring medical records from one hospital to another is also an enormous pain—one that involved multiple phone calls, faxing, a $45 slide fee to get my biopsy results from NYU, a trip to the doctor’s office to get records that weren’t even what the other office needed. In the end, I was so equally annoyed with both, it didn’t factor into my decision.

I tentatively scheduled my surgery for the 17th, and I had pre-surgical testing the Friday before. I needed to reschedule my lymphoma follow-up CT scan from Feb. 22, so I moved it up earlier. If they found the Hodgkin’s lymphoma was back, they would have to treat that first, and everything would have to be rescheduled, so I didn’t really have an all-clear for the surgery until I got the results on Feb. 8. The good news is that my Hodgkin’s lymphoma is still at bay. If I didn’t have the pancreatic tumor, I would be given the green light to move ahead with my life without scans. From the lymphoma perspective, I am done, but this pancreatic tumor means I won’t be done with abdominal scans any time soon.

I had been having lower abdominal pain, and became convinced that if I could harbor two types of cancer at once, why not three? I scheduled my annual women’s wellness checkup that I had been putting off because of my insurance’s refusal to pay for some test they deemed superfluous (because if there’s one thing women love to do, it’s taking unnecessary pelvic exam tests so we can charge insurance companies, right ladies?) and then had to take a follow-up ultrasound. By that Wednesday, as I awaited my ultrasound and my follow-up lymphoma CT, somewhat convinced that I was probably teeming with cancer, I was in a pretty dark place. Oddly, once I was cleared after the ultrasound and CT, I felt celebratory that I had just one type of cancer.

In those weeks, I also wanted to take care of some other things I’d been putting off, like going to the dentist and getting new glasses and contacts. (On another happy note: I have spiffy new contacts that are a meld of hard and soft lenses so I can see details for the first time in years.)

Whereas the stem cell transplant was months of preparation, with the Brentuximab trial, the ICE treatments and the stem cell collection, the lead-up to surgery was really fast. In a way, this was good—I didn’t want to have too much time to think about it. I did my share of freaking out and worrying just within a month, but I was also so busy, I didn’t have much time to dwell on anything.

I had actually considered putting off the surgery for a month or two until a big work project was finished and until I could go home for my mom’s other hip replacement surgery. I had been urging her to have the other hip replaced as soon as possible when she went to her scheduled February follow-up doctor’s appointment, because I know it has been really bothering her. It felt selfish to have my surgery first, with its 6–8 weeks of recovery time. But I didn’t want to have to do another endoscopy to check the tumor and my pancreas has been bothering me—a lot. I haven’t been 100 percent comfortable since the beginning of October, when this all started. Some days I worried I should go home first and take care of my mom, and other days, when my pancreas sent out twinges of pain all day, I would have gladly opted for surgery immediately if possible. The Thursday before surgery, my pancreas hurt all day and I stood in the kitchen after breakfast holding my yogurt spoon, thinking that if I could scoop out my pancreas tumor right then and there, I would. I ended up getting some pain medication and going home early. An acute pancreatitis attack may have delayed surgery and so I thankfully made it through the weekend.

Wednesday finally arrived, and we got to the hospital at 5:45 am. The doctor asked if I was nervous, but I wasn’t. I was excited to get this out. It is weird, though, to know that you’re going to go under and then wake up sore with pieces of you missing. I’m pretty squeamish, so I don’t like to think about it. I got put under and in a few hours, my Whipple was done! The doctor told my boyfriend—and me, when I woke up—that the surgery went well, there was minimal bleeding and that even though the tumor was small (just about 2 centimeters at its widest point) the pancreas had been pretty inflamed. This was the first indication that it was a good decision to have my surgery sooner rather than later. (And that feeling vaguely sick for the past months hadn’t been all in my head.)

The second indication that a speedy surgery was the right decision came when the doctor talked to me about my pathology report before my release from the hospital yesterday. The tumor was a neuroendocrine tumor, as they initially thought. This is good news. However, it’s a well-differentiated tumor. I’m not sure what this means other than that it’s more likely to come back. The tumor had been increasing in size recently and becoming more aggressive; it had spread to one lymph node, out of the 16 removed. I’ll need to be monitored, with scans at least every four months for awhile. If it comes back, it will probably show up in the liver. I asked what I could do to prevent recurrence, and he said just to avoid smoking, which isn’t difficult.

The best part of my pathology report was the description of my gall bladder, which sounded magnificent: “green and purple” with a “smooth” surface that opened to “reveal an abundant amount of bile and a smooth velvety mucosa.” I’m a little sad about the loss of such a lovely organ.

Next week, I have a follow-up appointment, and I can ask some questions. Mainly, I am confused because if I have had it for so long, why did it suddenly become aggressive recently?

After I got home yesterday, I didn’t feel very celebratory, because I had hoped for the very best news—that recurrence was unlikely. I wanted to walk out of that hospital again and hope that I never had to spend a lot of time there. Also, now is the hard part on my end: Recovery. I spend a lot of time feeling blech, bloated and like the staples on my stomach are going to burst open like a piñata, releasing my remaining organs. I spend a lot of my time trying to pass gas and longing for smoothly working bowels, as my digestive system wakes up and learns how to work. I always feel like I’m in the middle of an ab crunch, and I constantly feel like I’m sitting wrong—either too far forward, or too far back. My back hurts. The skin around my staples is lumpy.

A friend texted yesterday to remind me that this is good news and very importantly, this is temporary. She’s right, of course. I’m happy that this pancreatic tumor is behind me and I’m looking forward to not always feel vaguely sick as I have for the past several months. Feeling better is just around the corner, and it is good to be home.