Todd, Michelle – Surviving Mesothelioma

Todd, Michelle

Drowning from Cancer

A fun weekend up north turned out to be what I call the end yet beginning of the rest of my life. I was 7 months pregnant with my dream baby conceived with the aid of fertility treatments. I was enjoying a wonderful weekend in the snow; when a simple cough changed my life forever. Unable to breathe I was rushed to the ER, where testing was limited due to my pregnancy. My lung had collapsed and some fluid had accumulated around my right lung. No big deal, so I returned home to work full time and reapplied to nursing school. I had some pain in my chest so I followed up with my doctor who sent me to the ER. There was something on the X-ray! What do you mean they found something? I just had X-rays done up north and they were clear. So they did a CT to get a clearer picture of the mass in my chest. Even though I was pregnant I really had no choice but to have the tests done.

It was a tumor, the size of a baseball up against my lung. I don’t remember much except lots and lots of tears and calls to family; which in turn led to reassurances that everything was ok and not to worry.

I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma (PNET, Askin’s tumor) on January 24th 2008. A rare form of highly metastatic cancer normally found in pediatric patients who are male and under 15 years of age. What’s really rare is that I was 28 years old and 7 months pregnant, the only case of this kind documented. Good news was that it hadn’t spread and was localized to my right 5th rib. I was pregnant and wondered how I could stop the cancer before it spread. I opted to forego chemo while pregnant while afraid about what harm if any had already occurred to my unborn child.

The first thing I did was research a cancer I knew nothing about. Thank god for the World Wide Web! We were able to find a few people who had experience with this form of cancer. They steered me toward MD Andersons Sarcoma center in Houston Texas. I researched treatment between states and it became an emotional tug of war with my family about where to seek the best treatment. My initial oncologist knew nothing about Ewing’s sarcoma and sent me on my way to find one that did. My family found a local pediatric oncologist that dealt with Ewing’s sarcoma on a regular basis. They were the experts I was looking for and gave me answers to all the questions I had. Time was a major factor due to the pregnancy and the fact that we wanted to start treatment before this highly aggressive malignant cancer spread. A family meeting of oncologists, high risk obgyn’s, neonatal specialists, and social workers lead to my decision to stay in Arizona with the oncologists that were giving me answers.

After pain increased I was induced on Feb 12th 2008 and had a healthy yet nine week early beautiful baby girl on Feb 18th. She weighed 4lbs 3oz and only spent two and a half weeks in the NICU. I on the other hand would be a regular patient. The day after Jenna Mae’s birth I had a port implanted in my chest and a bone biopsy of my hip. The next day I started chemotherapy which lasted over a year. Six months after chemo started I had surgery to remove my 5th rib and a portion of my 4th rib. I had inpatient chemo every 3 weeks that was on a 6day 3day rotation. It never failed that the week following chemo my blood counts would drop and I would be in for a blood transfusion. Did I forget to mention that I had a newborn baby to take care of?

That was in 2008 almost 2 years ago, now my life is totally different. I’m in nursing school, my daughter just turned 2 and my life is going great! It has almost been a year since my last chemotherapy treatment and all my scans and x-rays have been clear. How have I gotten through this you ask, my honest answer would be that I gave up in a sense. I didn’t give up physically or emotionally, I gave up worrying. I focused on staying healthy and taking care of myself and my family. I made choices based on what would be best for my health so that I could be there for my family. Like Rhio O’Connor’s diagnosis of Mesothelioma (www.survivingmesothelioma.com) I too had a cancer diagnosis that was poor. I keep living one day at a time by focusing on the positive in my life and not the negative. I did what intuitively felt right, by listening to my body. I also listened to the doctors because they deal with these types of cancer on a daily basis. I asked questions, lots of questions, and if they didn’t have an answer they helped me find someone who did. Teamwork and collaboration played a big role in my treatment regime.

Looking back now I can honestly say that my cancer diagnosis and treatment has changed my whole outlook on life. I have always been a positive person, but was a worry wart. I don’t do that anymore. I focus on what I need to do today. No one knows what will happen tomorrow, so I do the right things today. I have a nonprofit in the making so I can help other people and their families dealing with cancer. I want to give back in some way; it’s my way of saying thank you to the universe. Even though this is the end of the essay this is not the end of my journey. I’m still researching how this cancer is linked to DNA and could I have passed this on to my daughter. Did the fertility treatment hormones awaken the cancer, and did the HCG secreted during pregnancy feed the tumor that grew to the size of a baseball? So many questions, and still searching for answers; so my path continues……..

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