The Hospital Post.

This is a continuation of Mike’s cancer story. Read the first part here.

On December 18th, 2013 Mike went in for surgery to remove the cancer on his back. Since we were expecting to be in the hospital for Christmas, we celebrated with our friends and family early. The night before surgery we went and had a really nice dinner at The Bazaar in Beverly Hills (I’ll make a separate post about that later).

His surgery took 21 hours, although it went long, it went smoothly and there were no complications. He didn’t even require a blood transfusion during the surgery. By the time I was allowed to see him it was 5AM and I had been awake for over 24 hours. Unfortunately, there was a breakdown in communication between the surgery team and the ICU staff, who had laid him on his back when he was not supposed to be. This caused his flap to become congested (the blood not to flow out) and the plastic surgeons started a leech therapy regimen on him to prevent necrosis of the flap (this is a great article explaining the process).

Seeing Mike come out of surgery was a scary and sobering experience. He had goggles on his eyes to keep them protected during surgery, a breathing tube down his throat and a forced air warming “blanket” (like this) on him to bring up his body temperature. I couldn’t talk with him, touch him, I had no idea how to help him. All I could do was be his advocate in an impersonal hospital system, and that was a full-time job.

Christmas tree on the ICU floor at the hospital.

Christmas tree on the ICU floor at the hospital.

Mike was in ICU for the next 20 days. On December 24, 2013 Christmas Eve, they took him off sedation and removed the breathing tube. He was very sore and in a lot of pain, which they treated with Dilaudid. Unfortunately, that pain medication gave him hallucinations and nightmares so we changed to OxyContin.

Unfortunately, Mike’s flap took much longer to heal than the doctors anticipated. They kept him on leech therapy until Jan 9th, 2014. Fortunately he was able to move out of ICU on Jan 7th. On Jan 14th we got the OK to go home after 27 days in the hospital.

I’m truly, truly grateful to City of Hope and all of our doctors and nurses there for saving Michael’s life and helping him to recover. I don’t know that any other hospital or any other team could have done it. But that doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing. When Michael’s hallucinations were so severe, he told me he’d rather be in pain than continue taking Dilaudid to manage it, I was the one who had to fight his doctors to make his wishes known. When nurses didn’t monitor the leeches properly and they ended up crawling all over his body while he was sedated, I was the one that had to reprimand them and demand new nursing staff. When, after almost 3 weeks in the hospital, the plastic surgery team told my husband that they wouldn’t be changing his treatment regimen over the weekend because they “had the weekend off,” it was me that had to complain to hospital administration about the callous way they treated us.

For the most part hospital staff tries hard to help the patients and make them comfortable, and help them get out of the hospital as soon as possible. For the most part they are very compassionate people and do their best to listen to your concerns. But sometimes you have to be forceful to get your concerns heard and that was very, very hard for me to do.

View from the ICU floor on Christmas Eve.

View from the ICU floor on Christmas Eve.

By day 14 in the hospital, I was emotionally and physically drained. We missed spending Christmas with our friends and family. The cafeteria closed early that day, even though it was advertised that it would be open until 1:30PM, so my Christmas dinner ended up being a sandwich from the bistro. We missed celebrating New Year’s Eve. Our 5 year wedding anniversary was just 6 days after we were released from the hospital, but there was no special dinner out or even exchange of presents. Every cent we have is spent on gas traveling to and from the hospital (which is over 70mi from our home), paying hospital and doctor co-pays, paying for motel rooms for me and food (hospital food isn’t so great), etc etc.

Mike in the hospital

Mike in the hospital

It’s been hard, by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Not only was I having to take care of my husband, I had to keep our catering company afloat. Luckily January and February is a slow time of year for us and we have a great management team to help pick up the slack. I’ve been so thankful to them for all of their help as well as our family and friends, who have been there for us every step of the way. We couldn’t have come this far without them.

And now we start the slow process of recovery. (To be continued)

The Cancer Post.

Mike and Erin at the WineryI didn’t know how to start this post. I sat down, Googled inspirational quotes that felt hollow. I guess the only place to start is at the beginning.

On September 9, 2001, when my husband was just 17 years old, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Synovial Sarcoma. It’s a cancer that attacks soft tissues, usually in joints. Mike’s was in his left shoulder. He missed his entire Junior year of high school completing treatment, which included two resections (surgeries to remove cancerous mass), chemotherapy and radiation at City of Hope in Duarte, CA. He completed treatment in the spring of 2002 and was able to return to school that fall, which is when we met.

He was cancer free for over ten years. Then, this past fall, his cancer site would occasionally sting and his seroma (which had been on his back since his surgery in 2001) began to change shape. On Oct 22nd, 2013 Mike went in to City of Hope for a check up. His doctors did an MRI scan and saw a suspicious mass. They scheduled a biopsy for Nov 4 and during our post-op appointment on Nov 7, they confirmed what we hoped it wouldn’t be: Michael had cancer again.

Michael was scheduled for extensive surgery on December 18th to remove the cancer from his back. This surgery involved shaving off a small portion of his spine where the tail of the tumor is, inserting two rods and twelve screws into his spine to stabilize it, removing half his scapula, removing three of his ribs and replacing with a fabric mesh. They also removed some of the muscle on the left side of his neck where the cancer had spread. Once all of that was removed, they moved his Latissimus Dorsi Muscle up and across his back to cover the bone and new hardware. They also took a flap of skin from his lower back and transplanted it to cover his spine. The rest of the skin was made using a skin graft from the back of his left thigh. Here is an illustration I did of his back for friends and family that helps you get a visual.

Four surgeons from four different departments worked on him. A neurosurgeon worked on his spine, a plastic surgeon took care of the muscle moving, flap and skin graft; a thoracic surgeon to work on removing the ribs and the orthopedic surgeon resected the tumor itself. During our pre-surgery appointments we were told that Mike would be in the hospital 10-14 days. If only that was the case…

This post is already pretty long so I will finish up another time. I will say though that surgery went well and Mike is making a full recovery.

Scrapbooking Retreat

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I went to a small bed and breakfast out in the desert for a scrapbooking retreat. We stayed at the Roughley Manor in Twentynine Palms, CA:

Twentynine Palms, CA… it’s really in the middle of nowhere!

It’s in the middle of nothing in the desert, can’t imagine why anyone would want to live there. Apparently the original owner suffered from the effects of mustard gassing from World War I and doctors thought the dry desert air would help his lungs, so I guess that’s why!

We stayed in the original house, and here’s a picture of our bed. Isn’t that crocheted canopy just gorgeous?

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Love it!

I was able to finish my wedding album (I was pathetically close to finishing the last time I worked on it, only 5 or so pages left). My mom reminded me that I had started working on an album of pictures from my senior year of high school, so I tackled that again. It feels appropriate since 2013 will mark ten years since I graduated high school. Can’t believe it’s been that long! :blush: I was able to get 30 or so pages done. Here are a couple of them:

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Layout featuring my husband and I

This is a layout of pictures from my senior year’s winter formal dance. This was the first date my husband and I went on. A couple of days later (after I broke up with the guy I was currently seeing, long story!) we became an ‘exclusive’ couple and have been together ever since.

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Marching Band Layout

In high school I participated in marching band, this set of pictures is from the last competition of our senior year. I loved scrapbooking these pictures, it brought back so many good memories.

I’m trying to make an effort to actually finish this scrapbook in a decent amount of time, unlike my wedding albums which took 2+ years. Wish me luck!

A not-so-romantic Valentine’s Day

mike and me

I couldn't find any good pictures of Mike and I from Valentine's Days in the past, so here's one of us from 2004.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you’re spending it with your loved ones, either by doing something special or by just spending time together. My husband and I are doing something special and spending it together… kind of! One of our businesses is a catering company, and tonight we are catering dinner for about a dozen couples at a local winery. So hubby will be cooking and I’ll be running around serving!

It’s not ideal, but at least we’ll be together and that’s what’s most important. 🙂 Enjoy the day!

Our anniversary

As of today, my husband and I have been married three years. 🙂

My husband, Mike and me on New Year's Eve. I look kinda weird because I was dressed as Kim Kardashian, but I took off the wig in this picture.

I just went looking for a post on my wedding, and there wasn’t one! I can’t believe I forgot to post about my wedding. :uhh: Well, here’s a picture of us on our wedding day.

January 17, 2009 in Newport Beach, CA.

As much fun as it was to marry my best friend in front of our family and friends, we had been together so long at that point it kind of felt like we were already married, lol. We purposely chose to get married as close to our original dating anniversary as possible (Jan 20th), since we had been together almost SIX YEARS by the time we got married. So even though we’ve only been married three years… we’ve been together for nine years now. I can’t believe it!

Mike and I on our first date in 2003, our senior year Winter Formal.

I can’t believe how young we look there. x_x Happy anniversary to my best friend, my confidante, my biggest supporter and the love of my life! We are going to dinner tonight to celebrate.

Have a great day!

Alkie Wife

I just had a conversation with my husband that, I think, sums up our marriage.

Me: “Husband, will you please go to BevMo on your way home from work and buy Triple Sec and Peach Schnapps? We’re out.”
Husband: “Sure, will you come outside and bring my wallet? I actually just got home.”
M: “I can’t, I’m not wearing pants.”
H: “Put some on and come with me.”
M: “But I’m doing the dishes.”
H: “Do them later?”
M: “Also, we’re out of beer.”
H: “You’re an alkie.”

Eventually I brought him his wallet, but didn’t go with him to BevMo. Some wives send their husbands out for milk or diapers, but in our house it’s “Don’t come home without the vodka.”

I had a cold shot of Tequila waiting for him when he got home.