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Karen Skippy Shuart
Oct 6, 2018 Latest post:
Feb 4, 2019
Hi friends! Through the suggestion of my friend Lori and the huge help of my friend Anne, I have decided to use this website as a way to keep everyone updated. A means for me to reach out and connect to the friends, family and peers that has provided endless support and encouragement. I have been humbled by the love shown to me by so many people. I am forever grateful for this ocean of sustenance that lifts me when I am down. I feel like one of the luckiest people alive! Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I love you all! As many of you know by now, I was diagnosed on May 7, 2018 with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Say what???!!! As you can imagine, a diagnosis with the "C" word is a punch to the gut! I was blindsided and scared. It started in March when I noticed a strange lump on my chest, it seemed to be in the muscle. Went to the doc, who then ordered a diagnostic mammogram. By then, I had developed two more tiny bumps on my breast bone and what seemed to be a swollen lymph node under my armpit. These were all biopsied on May 2. Turning back the clock a bit...the last Tuesday in April I had my physical at work. It is a pretty comprehensive physical, and although I didn't mention the lump in my pec muscle, I figured if something serious was going on, it would show in the test results. Nope, I was in great shape according to the doctor, "go get em tiger!" I breathed a sigh of relief. The following Friday at work was challenging. First I had to do what we call an air-consumption test. This is a test to see how long we can do difficult fire-fighting tasks on one bottle of air. Forty minutes later I had finally used up all my air! Ugh! During the test I had felt something was not quite right with me, my heart rate seemed to be peaking out too fast. I wrote it off that I was just that out of shape. Later that same night we had two fires. Myself and many more, were up all night. Saturday off and back to work on Sunday. I felt fine Sunday day, but by that night I felt bloated in a strange way. I made an appointment with my doctor the next day. Doc took it seriously and ordered an ovarian ultra-sound. She wanted to rule out ovarian cancer, I asked if it was because ovarian is a less desirable cancer to have, she said yes. The ultra-sound ended up being the same day as my May 2 biopsies. The next day doc called me to report on the ultra sound and said nothing was noted, yey! She then ordered a CT scan the next day to help figure this out. Meanwhile my abdomen was getting bigger and bigger.... On Thursday the doctor called me with the CT scan results...that's when I was hit with the "C'" word. "This is not good news" she said with such a depressing and gloomy tone. No it wasn't! It was devastating news! I felt like I was in a daze, in an alternate reality. I always thought my healthy lifestyle would keep me cancer free. But, no such luck. When the shock finally wore off, the fear and tears set in. I still get a pit in my stomach when I recall that moment. Meanwhile my abdomen was still getting larger and larger. (This build up of fluid in the abdomen is called ascites.) I couldn't sleep, I was in so much pain. Doc tried giving me different drugs to help me sleep with little success. Finally on Monday I called her with my over-extended belly, looking pregnant (being a single, not currently dating woman past menopause...that ain't happening!) and told her I absolutely cannot go another night like this. She called back shortly and sent me to Hope Women's Cancer Center where I met with Dr. Harkness and his nurse. I thought I was going there to get my abdomen drained, but instead I got a rushed diagnosis and treatment plan. It was indeed ovarian cancer. (Ascites is a common side effect of ovarian cancer.) They then sent me to Mission where I ended up having to stay another night in my crazy bloated condition! Well, at least they had the good drugs there to help me sleep better, and of course my amazing friends came to visit although I was pretty drugged up and kind of goofy! FINALLY, the next morning I had about 5 liters of fluid drained out of my abdomen. Five liters?! Holy cow! I felt so much better! During this period, I was researching some other places for treatment and and a second opinion. The Cancer Treatment Center seemed like an interesting well-rounded place that included what seemed to be natural therapies, and the nearest one was just south of Atlanta. I set up an appointment there. My friends did not want me going alone, so Joy, a fellow fire fighter and recent breast cancer survivor and our doctor friend Aimee, took several days out of their busy schedule to accompany me there. When after the weekend stay I finally got to meet with the oncologist, she drew everything out for me so clearly, told me the treatment plan and gave me comfort with her optimism and explanation. However...the drive!!! The thought of going through Atlanta traffic on a regular basis for treatment, was repulsive to me! The good news was that the treatment was the same as the Hope Center, and although the doctor in Asheville did not have quite the bedside manner as this doctor, it was a no brainer, I'm staying home for treatment! And so it began. I had a port in-planted on my right upper chest, and even got my abdomen drained one more time before my first round of chemo. Only 2.5 liters this time, but I was glad doc let me have it done to avoid the chance of another huge and painful bloat. Doc said the chemo will keep the ascites at bay, and it did. Chemo was to occur every three weeks, Taxol and Carboplatin. I was in the chemo chair for about six hours each visit, and it was never a dull moment! I had visitors galore! Mostly my brothers and sisters from the fire department. We laughed, cut up, but also shared good quality time. How lucky am I to have such a huge network of support?! Two to three days after chemo...ugh! I felt blah, was often constipated and had no energy. It took a good 5-6 days to get my energy back. Thank goodness the treatment was every three weeks. I had a good two weeks of feeling good. I went back to work and all seemed decent. The bloodwork between treatments showed my neophils, part of my white blood cells, to be very low, as was expected. I took this personally, like my body was letting me down, but my friend Michelle assured me that is was a NORMAL result of the chemo. I had to take special precautions, wash hands often, don't eat at buffets, don't be hugging everyone (darn!). And of course, there was the hair loss. I was hoping that just maybe, it wouldn't happen to me...but noooo, it started coming out in chunks after the very first treatment! Michelle, another friend who creates some kick-ass hair styles, gave me the cutest pixie cut. Luckily, I still had enough hair to create a donation of two braids! Awesome!! I enjoyed this style for a little while, but the hair kept coming out! Finally, I just got it buzzed. I got to pick out some beautiful scarfs on Amazon, (thank you Barbara for this gift). Honestly, in an interesting way, I was starting to appreciate the experience of baldness. Although I couldn't twiddle my hair anymore, I could run my hand along the back of my head. It felt so soft and odd. Most of my eyebrows and eyelashes said adios as well, and I was left with a naked version of myself and the opportunity to appreciate and love my physical body in this raw state. My original plan after diagnosis, was to take the conventional direction of chemo and possible surgery. When I was "cleared", I would then go down the path of natural and alternative treatments. After all, this type of cancer had a 90% recurrence rate. It is common for women to undergo chemo again and again and again! Really???!!! My motto became "10% baby!" I won't even repeat the survival rates of this stage 4 cancer after 5 years :/. (These are statistics of the conventional route.)
I had my fifth round of chemo on Aug 16. By this point, through meditation and learning, I had come to the belief that this diagnosis was a wake up call. Not clear yet why, but it was my path to start to peel back the layers, and dig deeper in order to heal. I took a week to myself at the beach to have some "Karen" time, do research and figure some things out. (As an added bonus, I also got to hang out with my dear friends BA and Mike, two retired firefighters I've known for a long time.) After this fifth round of chemo, a seed of doubt started growing. I had the sense that I may have had enough chemo. It had definitely shrunk the tumors and the blood markers were down, so I was grateful. However, for me, it stopped making sense to use chemo, which weakened my body, to create healing of my body. And thus, my decision was made, stop chemo and take a holistic path toward health.