A Simple Reflection on a Year of Life with Carcinoid Cancer


Last year at this time, I was not coping very well with what life had dished out to me.

First of all, I don’t do well with medical issues–hospitals and doctors visits, needles and blood work, tests and scans.  They all creep me out. 

I try to be rational, but in the moments where the medical “professionals” are poking, prodding, “hmmmm-ing”  and deciding, I feel frightened, unprotected and powerless, none of which suits me well. 

From mid-April to mid-May, I was in a constant state of fear and worry.  I had already heard the words from the emergency room doctors, “…a tumor…another mass on your liver…”  Being neither stupid nor oblivious, I knew exactly that meant.  What I did not know was the source or its name.

On May 15th, when I met with the doctor, my fears were now named.  It was certain.

Stage IV cancer.  Carcinoid.

I had never heard of this.  But stage IV, that was a term of which I was well-aware.

In the previous two years, I’d lost two friends, ages 41 and 31, to stage IV cancers.  There were many others I’d lost and others I knew who had lost loved ones to this insidious monster called, “Cancer.”

There was also the issue of mortality. My mother had passed away less than a year before, and now, I was facing my own mortality.  I never expected to have to face it so soon. 

Stunned, I listened to the Army doctor–a successful surgeon and lieutenant colonel–explain the situation.  I asked my questions. He gave his answers and suggestions.

Extremely clinical. Matter-of-fact.  Military bearing. Reality.

And then I asked THE question:  “How long?”

I was not prepared for his answer.

“About a year, if you do nothing.  If we proceed with (his prescription), then maybe two years.”

I asked. And I got an answer that I was not ready to hear. 

I heard my mother in my head chiding me for asking too many questions. In that moment I was convinced she might be right.  I wanted to stick my head in the sand.  Ignore it. Maybe it would go away.

The following two weeks were pure horror for me.  I had the hellish task of telling everyone what I had learned.  Anticipating surgery. Preparing myself (and everyone around me) for death. Considering taking…

STOP IT!!

I am grateful that I had the insight (perhaps, it was merely a moment of “stopping” in order to step out of that place of worry) to seek out another opinion. Advice. Greater knowledge. More options.

Clinical, yet compassionate. Less matter-of-fact, open to other possibilities. Reality with promise.

“Yes, this is a stage IV cancer, and there is no cure. But I have a patient who had a liver worse than yours. She is still alive after 17 years!”

This particular doctor at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and his words, changed my life. He provided the “fork-in-the-road” moment for me.

The following 30 days were not very pleasant, but I began to take my life back. 

I was not only fighting cancer (which I often refer to as “Eff-Em,” short for F***ing Monster) , but I also challenged a high-ranking surgeon and one Army medical center, the insurance system, and my own internalization of the words to me that I would likely die in a year.

On June 21st, 2012 I had surgery with the specialists at the University of Washington Medical Center with the specialists and have continued to stay on the path this past year to healing–my body, my emotions, and my heart and soul.  I will face many more tests and scans, pokes and prods and, perhaps, there will be more surgeries in my future.

But I am fortunate that carcinoid cancer is a slower-growing cancer or I would have met death years ago.  I would have been unable to learn those lessons, share my stories and live the life I am living today.

I cannot ignore that there have been so many that have been instrumental in helping me get through this year with, at least, partial sanity.  I am nearly certain that I have driven them a bit crazy in my own nuttiness.

(~An excerpt from my journal this week~)

I have been LIVING with this cancer for likely 20 years. I simply did not know about it. It may have been easier not knowing. However, reality is such that I am still LIVING, even with this knowledge.

And for me to allow the fear that another person’s words incite in me to rob me of LIFE… is sheer madness.  

Here’s to more lessons, more stories and more LIVING!

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25 thoughts on “A Simple Reflection on a Year of Life with Carcinoid Cancer

  1. Rosie Ritchison

    Hi, Coral. The last 2 or 3 sentences of your blog really popped with me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Judy Veron

    Coral,
    How coincidental (I believe nothing really happens by chance) I would see your blog and in the same few moments get this on my fb page: http://www.livestrong.com/blog/the-power-of-touch/
    Knowing how you have touched my life and others this is no coincidence!
    The life lessons you have shared have TOUCHED me greatly! Thank you and I thank God for our introduction to each other 🙂 As a wise women has already stated..”Here’s to LIFE!”

  3. Sue

    Yes, you are absolutely alive! More alive than dead given that you are breathing. And, I’d argue that you are more alive today, regardless of what any scans may show, than before your diagnosis. I have loved watching you expand 🙂 Fear is a story, right? One doctor’s story was 1-2 yrs and another doctor’s story was 17 yrs. Write your own story, you amazing writer!!!

    1. Sue…the gifts I have been given through this year are more than I could have ever anticipated…one being our renewed friendship. I love you.

  4. Sharon Larsen

    Coral,
    we are so close in our diagnosis date. I was dx’d on June 18th, 2012. I’m getting close to my one year. I too am mid-gut w/mets to liver. Two surgeries in less than a year. We keep on going. Thank you!
    Sharon

  5. As always Coral, your writing is poignant and heart-felt. I think of COURAGE, DEDICATION, PASSION, COMPASSION & SELF-AWARENESS when I read your work. You are the type of writer I enjoy so much, as you push us readers, beyond our comfort zone, into the delightful world of self-discovery and freedom! The sky’s the limit, my dear! I also know there is a date coming up that will be important to you, and will help with your future endeavours, knowing the outcome of that meeting. I love you & I am praying for you! JEWELS 🙂 & ❤

  6. Anita C

    Love your blog. Hate when a doctor gives you a “life sentence.” This was a very heartfelt blog and as with all your postings, very eloquently written! Keep writing!

  7. Maryann Rickerd

    Thank you so much for the inspiring words. Posts like that help remind patients like myself to not lose hope too. I’ve had this for over 6 years now and need to be reminded to keep fighting when things are getting tough and not to look down, but forward. I always need to remind myself that the pain we are feeling and going through could be worse right now and how blessed I am to have another day with my family and friends.

  8. Mary

    Coral,

    I read your blog and many others on carcinoid-my husband was diagnosed over 10 years ago. Still undergoing treatments, has had a few surgeries ,and still he goes on: more chemoembolizations that he would like to remember, and still he goes on: has taken more chemo that anyone can remember, and still he goes on, and a trip to Switzerland…with another on the way! AND STILL HE GOES ON!- my words for you,,,KEEP GOING ON! LISTEN TO YOUR BODY-YOU KNOW IT BETTER THAN ANYONE…THANK YOU FOR SHARING WITH US-PRAYING FOR YOU!

  9. Tom Jackson

    Bravery – Asking tough questions even when you don’t really want to hear the answer. Bravery – “Bucking” the military medical system to find the right team to truly help and heal. Bravery – Opening up yourself and your experiences to others so that they may learn and garner inspiration.

    Coral, thanks for being brave for all of us.

    1. I don’t see myself as particularly “brave,” but just doing what needs to be done. One of my favorite quotes (Can’t remember the attribution)–“The bravest are those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and go out to meet it.” Thank you, Tom, for your kind words.

  10. Coral,
    Listening to and reading your blog has been an absolute pleasure… I am honored to know a woman such as yourself. We’ve all heard the phrase “when life gives you lemons…” but I have a question… Who the hell said you had to take the lemons in the first place?!? You are an inspiration!!! A year as of 5 days ago huh??? I’d say it was time to give a big heart felt “F U” to that doctor… 🙂 Get it girl!!!!
    ~Tom Gregory

    1. Tom G.– It was a pleasure to have you in my class this month and thank you for reading and commenting here at WP. Though the lemon solution certainly sounds appealing, I’ve learned that once you get them, you cannot throw them back; they boomerang! Might as well squeeze them and use them the best way we can. 😉

  11. Coral,
    Almost a year ago I sat in your class at JBLM and had no idea what you were working through. You didn’t let it show. You are an inspiration. I’ve known so many who would have given up in your position, but you fought back. Keep fighting! You are one in a million.

  12. Pingback: I Learned How to LIVE by Facing a Big Demon | Beyond Life's Challenges

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