Martina – enough said

August, 2019

When you’re weak I’ll be strong. When you let go, I’ll hold on — Martina McBride

So, bright and early the next morning, Tuesday, Aug 12, 2019, I hear, “Lizzy, are you getting up? Lizzy??” I, for some reason, am immediately catapulted back to my bedroom in Richmond around 1987. It was the familiar voice of my mom. I wearily start to wake up and tell her, “Mom, I am getting up. I’m 46 years old. I’ve got my alarm set. Geez!” And she asks again, “Can you get up?” Confused I complied and finally got to the reason behind her badgering. She was literally concerned that I PHYSICALLY COULD NOT GET OUT OF THE BED because of my back pain. I said, “Oh yeah, well, no!” When we realized this, we both had a chuckle and then yes, she was right. I had to have her help to roll out of the bed—my back was not going to cooperate at all. We had a big day ahead, one that we did not know would be the first of so many to, as us Outer Bankers like to call it, G-Vegas, Greenville, NC. Kenneth and Will were fishing the Pirate’s Cove tournament in search of Blue Marlin, White Marlin, and a bit prize check so to me, that took precedence over a random biopsy that we wouldn’t get the results back for a week or so anyway. Our first stop was Dr. Habal’s office for a consultation before the biopsy that would occur at the nearby imaging center. He jumped in head first after reviewing my file. My back pain was now almost unbearable-I described the seizing, MRI results, and my visit with Dr. Menchew. He left the room and returned telling me I had an appointment at 1pm with Dr. White, an oncologist, focused on breast cancer. He only had the best to say about Dr. White and he wasn’t going to waste any more time! We left and thanked him profusely for being so proactive.

Next step, biopsy appointment–I mean, you would think I would have been petrified–they were about to stick a needle in my boob and extract whatever to do a pathology report but mom and I were inexplicably calm, well, that’s how I remember it any way. I was escorted to the back by a sweet and very calm nurse. I mean this place looked like a spa with nice comfy chairs to wait in, relaxing music, baskets of lotions, changing rooms with pretty wooden doors but instead of a fluffy robe inside there was a nice pink gown to “tie in the front”. As I sat in the waiting area, I couldn’t help but think of all of the ladies who had gone before me to do this breast biopsy. “If they can do it, I can do it”, I thought, inspired by all of these courageous ladies. I already knew the outcome so I really wasn’t as much concerned about that as I was thinking “how long can I sit in this chair before my back starts in on me again.” The actual biopsy was uneventful and fairly easy. The doctor pretty much confirmed his thoughts on the fact that it was a cancerous mass in my breast. The numbers girl in me wanted to know its measurement and placement. I found it crazy interesting to hear how they marked the tumor and described it as they worked – so much math and geometry involved. I already had this doctor signed up in my mind to be a guest speaker in my classroom when I got back to school. That may have been my way of guarding my emotions subconsciously. We finished up and our next stop was Dr. White’s office. I know we had time for lunch in between but Mom and I can’t remember the in between for the life of us. Mom and I were just in stun mode through all of this. Meanwhile, as the day continued, my back just worsened. When I walked in to Dr. White’s office, they immediately brought out a wheel chair…..”I’ve got it”, I remember saying. I mean, really, a wheelchair….but they insisted. I caved and was so thankful I did. Dr. White, the oncologist, was ready to talk to me about all of the next steps but she said there was no way we could talk while I was in so much pain. They gave me an IV drip of Fentanyl and finally, I felt everything in my back that had been holding me down the last couple of months just relax. I didn’t know if everything was going to be okay, but I did know, in that particular moment, it was better. Dr. White introduced herself and we discussed the next steps. We talked about the next scans and when they could be done. “Can you spend the night in Greenville tonight and we can schedule a scan in the morning?” Aaron, one of the chemo nurses who I would get to know very well in the next couple of months, left the room only to return with a free place for us to stay that night. It blew my mind how compassionate everyone was! Meanwhile, I told Dr. White that I had big plans this weekend and we would have to make sure that whatever we did, scanwise, that I would be at Jake’s scrimmage against Tarboro Friday night, be in Raleigh to help Will move into his first apartment Saturday, and then in Wilson, Sunday for a showcase baseball game for Jake. That’s when Dr. White walked out saying, “hang on”. She walked back in and said she was going to admit me into the hospital. She knew I didn’t have time to mess around. Time to roll. Now the true adventure was about to begin.

Mom and I drove in circles trying to figure out where to go at the hospital in Greenville. We finally got situated and waited for the schedule of the upcoming scans. I had an MRI before but that is the only scan I had ever had up until that moment. That night I had a CT scan and a Brain MRI in the wee hours of the morning. I had to drink a large cocktail before the CT scan at 2 am. I remember thinking I could just work on my computer for the 1 1/2 before the scan while enjoying this mystery drink in the monster cup. We were right in the middle of finishing up our Touchdown club program and Katti needed just some help with proofreading. Perfect timing! I made updates and double checked names…little did I know, Katti was getting notifications of these changes. When she texted the next morning, she said, “what in the world were you doing at 3am last night?” “Well”, I replied, “it’s kind of a long story” of which I didn’t know the ending to yet. Afterwards they wheeled me in for my brain MRI. This one was a pretty long test. I remember them asking me what kind of music I liked and just feeling a quiet calm during the scan. The music was playing, my back wasn’t hurting (meds in a hospital are the ticket) and they had peaceful pictures of waves somewhere in the machine. I remember praying through it and “talking to God like he was a friend”. We had a true heart to heart that night.

Kenneth got to the hospital the next morning by 6 am, the 2 1/2 hour drive made for an early start. It was his lay day in the tournament. He would fish 3 out of 4 days this week so Wednesday would happen to be his day to stay at the dock. God’s timing was right on target this time for sure.The big boys stayed home to take care of Drew. Gotta love the video they sent me of grocery shopping with Drew in the cart and Jake pushing as fast as he could jumping on the back with Will laughing in the background. Will told us he had everything at home under control—uh, after that video I wasn’t quite sure. HAHA! I thought, thank goodness they are close; they will need each other. Kenneth sat beside the hospital bed by me and played me a most special song from his 2nd best girl, Martina McBride. We sat there and listened to every word of “I’ll love you through it.”

“When you’re weak, I’ll be strong
When you let go, I’ll hold on
When you need to cry, I swear that I’ll be there to dry your eyes
When you feel lost and scared to death
Like you can’t take one more step
Just take my hand, together we can do it
I’m gonna love you through it”

Geez, I can’t even read the lyrics without tearing up. Right then and there I felt so supported. I knew this was all going to get hard but knowing he was by my side gave me such a sense of confidence. I knew I could push through whatever came my way but boy was it a relief to know that if I couldn’t at some point do it by myself that he would be right there beside me to take over where I left off.

That day was our big day, diagnosis day, August 14, 2019. Dr. White came in and told us the results of the scans–all clear meaning no signs of cancer in any of my organs or in my brain. Somehow, I already knew that but yay at the same time! We discussed the bone scan and the MRI showing the compression fracture. She talked about the biopsy and then put it all together, Metastatic Breast Cancer that had spread to multiple bones. Meta…what? I had never heard that word before? What did it mean? Is it what I read about in the dark of the night that crazy night I couldn’t see at all for the tears? What kinds of treatment does it take? Does this mean I won’t make the scrimmage?….and of course, what’s the prognosis? She told us I was ER+, PR+, and HER-. I am still learning what all of that means but she said we would treat it aggressively. I would have kyphoplasty surgery on Friday and they would also do an ablation of the vertebrae and a biopsy of the tumor. I mean, I actually had a tumor in my back at T9 that broke a vertebrae. No wonder I was hurting so bad! She told us she did not talk stages but all metastatic disease was the same. She said she had plenty of patients who are doing well with the same diagnosis and we would take it one step at a time. One year later, she still does not talk about the stage and neither do I. She has never given me an expiration date like it’s not even an option! When someone asks, and yes they do, I just say, “it’s metastatic, look it up”! Somehow there is a difference to me in saying metastatic and saying the stage??? Anyway, she had a plan and was confident with the path. She said she would check in with us the next day but to relax until Friday. Thursday would only include blood tests and a Echo test for my heart.

One of our favorite stories to tell through all of this is what Kenneth said next. “I love her eyes. ” Me, not being the jealous type, kind of laughed it off but I could see my mom looking at him like “how in the world is that what you say after the doctor leaves with news like this?”. He continued to say, “I love her eyes because you can see the fight in them. She’s going to do everything she can to help and she’s not going to give up. You can see it in her eyes. Not many people have the fight in their eyes like hers.” I’ll never forget that and he was right! She was determined, straight forward, organized, smart, business like but personal and compassionate at the same time. She was my doctor no matter how many people told me to get a second opinion-not because of her but because, well, that’s just what people think they should say when they hear of a cancer diagnosis. God put us on the path to make it to the doctor who would best fit Kenneth and me. I saw her a week ago at my one year appointment where my scans were showing “considerable improvement”. I told her I was just in awe and just couldn’t believe this last year and how did we get here?” All she said was “All of the glory goes to God”. Yup, we found her!

The next day, Jake, Grammy, and Angie came to the hospital. Jake stayed with me and all the ladies went to lunch. I could tell that Jake just needed to see that I was okay. He is the strong but silent type who would be beside you in the blink of an eye. I needed to see my boys just as much as he needed to see me. Will was fishing the tournament and busy taking care of Drew. I didn’t want Drew to be scared seeing me in the hospital plus if they caught a big blue marlin, it was worth $500,000–again, I know my priorities!

Friday came and the kyphoplasty to fix the broken vertebrae was a complete success. I even had a former student in helping with the procedure! They actually put concrete in your vertebra to stabilize the area. I woke up doing the twist and dancing around the room. I looked at the time thinking, for some crazy reason, there still may be a chance to make the football scrimmage. What??? As the anesthesia wore off the pain increased-what in the world? I thought the kyphoplasty was supposed to fix that pain. Little did I realize that the pain was actually a result of the biopsy and ablation and dang, did it hurt. I got updates from my awesome football moms through out the night but didn’t miss much because the second half got rained out. I woke up realizing that I would have to ask for pain medication through my IV. The pills just were not touching it. That meant I could kiss moving Will into his apartment on Saturday goodbye.

As I write this I think about my poor Mom—Saturday would mark night number 5 in the hospital. We live almost 2 1/2 hours from the hospital so she ended up staying in the couch in the room….the entire time. She would go get lost trying to find the cafeteria and then come back and brag how she finally could find her way around here. We didn’t expect a hospital stay but we trudged through it. My mom knows her way around a hospital and she doesn’t mind taking care of business. We had some wonderful nurses in and out and of course mom would have to get all of their life stories as they rotated. She never once complained about sleeping on that couch and volunteered night after night to stay. I am and was so thankful she was there to hear everything the doctors were saying so she had the full picture. I know it got overwhelming for her but she went into survival mode and did what had to be done for me, her favorite daughter. Ok fine, I’m her only daughter but I can still be the favorite daughter!

I had to be off of the IV pain meds for 24 hours before I could be released so I was doing the math in my head. My last ditch effort is to get to Wilson on Sunday for that baseball game….last dose can be at 1pm on Saturday. I couldn’t be more bummed. Not only was I missing moving Will in to his first college apartment but I had big plans to do it with Lisa, moving Will and Ian in together. I was also excited to see Debbie, who was moving Risa Jr in for her final year at State and Shelley, my college roommate, who was helping her son, Bruce move in. It was going to be a big day. As I sat with Mom, I was not devastated because of my new diagnosis for some reason but devastated because I would be missing time with Will and these three special ladies. When I look back, I realize that these three women all represent very different times in my life–Debbie, high school, Shelley, college, and Lisa, raising kids together. But that didn’t matter on this day because somehow they all came together for me. I looked up and there they stood in my hospital room–I mean, it was their big day with their kids too–but they drove all the way to Greenville to love on ME! I could just kiss all of their faces. We talked and laughed and for a few minutes I forgot what I was even there for. I hope they know how much I appreciated that time. So not only was Will flying solo moving into his apartment but he also had Drew in tow. Drew was loving it; they went in and out of stores in the “big city”, as we call it, getting last minute items, including a mattress. When I realized that Will was going to have Drew with him for his first big night with the college boys, I enlisted Shelley to grab Drew to spend the night with her and her youngest son. Will was more than happy to have him but mama knew he deserved some time too!

When I woke up on Sunday, I was ready to roll. I started to push the nurses on the release time. I know Mom was ready to break out but I don’t think going to a baseball game was first on her list after sleeping on a couch for 5 nights!!! Again, how did she do that?? Talk about auto pilot!

We broke out around 1 pm and the game was about an hour away. Perfect! We made it just in time. It was probably 1000 degrees outside that day but the sun felt incredible and I was in my happy place. Drew asked me yesterday when we were out on the water as the sun was setting…”Mom, would you rather hear silence like out here right now or would you rather hear the crack of the bats.” Hmmmm, as much as I love the water, take me out to the ball game!

Published by Liz Brown

Thriving here with Metastatic Breast Cancer to my bones! Sounds fun, right?! I’m still getting used to the fact that I’m writing in first person....Yes, Anna, this Mathlete knows what first person is!! Crazy shifts in life perspective and well, just about everything. Here’s my STORY! Hope I can connect with you on some level!!!

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