The Calm Before the Storm

Dec. 6, 2013.

10:45 p.m.

Earlier today, I had an appointment to do my fifth and last (I hope) CT scan. This was the first I have ever done with an IV contrast… Things got hot. Let’s just leave it at that. For a quick second I thought I was going to faint – thankfully, I didn’t.

When that was over, I went to another part of the hospital building to pre-register for my operation. They took 7 valves of blood. Right now, my arms are black and blue. All over. I’ve been injected so many times this week, I can’t even count it with my fingers.

Thankfully after that, I got to enjoy the rest of my day.

I figured going to see a movie would be relaxing because there’s literally nothing else to do in Birmingham. So, we saw Best Man Holiday.

GREAT movie to see the day before my surgery. It was basically a story about a woman who died of cancer… Not okay.

Dad steupsed and left the theatre, while Aunty Chris and mom cried the whole way through. I, on the other hand, laughed. I don’t know why. Maybe it was to protect myself so I didn’t look weak. Whatever, moral of the story: It was the last movie I should have watched today.

Ever since, we’ve been at the hotel taking it easy. I read through the packets that the nurses gave me and the surgery sounds horrible. I’m petrified but I’m trying my hardest to fake being happy not only for my parents, but mostly for me. I find it easier when I trick myself into thinking that nothing is actually happening.

It scares me that I won’t have an appetite – I love eating. I’m frightened of having too many tubes in my body – between a chest tube, an arm and neck IV, a drain, and a urinary catheter, I don’t know which one freaks me out more.

I am also a person who loves control and independence. Not being able to control when I’m awake freaks me out. I’m uncomfortable with having people do any and everything for me. I like to do it myself. If the doctor takes out ribs, I won’t be able to do anything for a month. That’s a long time and I’m going to go crazy.

I don’t know if to be excited or scared. After all, this is going to be the first surgery I’ve ever done so I’m frightened, but I’m so happy to finally get this huge bitch out of my chest so I can breathe properly again.

Whatever, I’m over it.

This has gone on far too long and I just want to get rid of Hefty Helga. She needs to go.

I trust my surgeon and I know that the beautiful Alabamian nurses will take good care of me.

God has a plan. He always does. He would never put me in a situation that I cannot handle on my own. He always picks on the strongest people – I’m a trooper.

If I scar, then I’d just look 10 times more beautiful than any other woman on a beach. And I’m going to rock that scar like no one’s business.

Wish me luck.

I know my Grandma Teresa and Uncle Paul are watching over me. God is with me too. God is good and I’ll be in good hands.

Sweet Home Alabama

Dec. 2, 2013.

My lungs feel pea-sized. I can’t breathe. I’m short of breath, and I’m hyperventilating.

Anytime I breathe too much air, shocking pains run through the upper left area of my back.

The altitude from the flight clearly didn’t work well with my left lung.
Helga, stop squishing it and let me breathe.

I’m so close to begging mom and dad to admit me to the hospital early, but I don’t want to freak them out.

I just take slow and steady breaths.

                                        

Dec. 3, 2013.

“I have 99 problems and a tumor is one…”

I’m making up my own lyrics that describe my story, and I am cracking myself up. I’m so excited to finally meet Dr. Cerfolio, the man who will save my life, that I begin having my own party in the patient room.

He walks in and hugs me before doing anything else. Man, I love him already.

He pulls out a chart of the lung, starts circling things, writes what he thinks I may be diagnosed with and I stop listening. Not because it’s too much to handle, but because he knows his shit.

This man exudes confidence that I haven’t seen from any doctor I’ve visited so far.

I trust him already. He needs to take ribs out, I’ll gladly turn over and let him do what he needs to do. He’s the man. 

Also, if models take their ribs out just to look skinnier, then who the hell am I?! Pshhh, I can do this!

                                        

Dec. 4, 2013.

Biopsy numero dos.

This time it’s different. They’re doing an EBUS, which is basically a bronchal scope. They go into the major bronchal airways with an ultrasound device and take lymph nodes out to get more samples of Helga, my tumor.

I lay in another hospital bed. This time I’m in a huge room with 7 medical nurses. Multiple screens surround my bed and I freak out a little.

“You have a rare case, huh?”

The pulmonologist walks into the room and says, “Why are you here? These tumors only exist in old, dying people.” Well, that could be taken as a good or a bad thing.

The nurses around me ask more questions and they’re all frowning. It certainly doesn’t make me feel any better. I sulk a bit and feel a little sorry for myself.

That quickly fades as I hear laughter behind me. The pulmonologist reads Dr. Cerfolio’s email out

loud. “There’s a beautiful 20-year-old girl who’s coming to you today. She’s very personable and ta

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lks a lot. She’s precious.”

I smile knowing that I can make other people smile – even in such horrible situations.

I’m ready to rock and roll. I’m nervous, but ready.

Another IV? Another dose of the Twilight drug? I mean, I’m doing this like it’s my second job. I’m not saying that I particularly like it, I’m just getting more used to it.

Let’s do this.

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

Nov. 29, 2013

11:30 a.m.

We have no idea what the future holds.

I have no surgeon, and I still don’t know what the hell Helga is.

My doctors help me look for a thoracic surgeon in a tertiary center who will be able to nail my case on the head.

We look at Emory, John Hopkins, Yale, Sloan Kettering, M.D. Anderson and every other hospital under the sun.

                                        

5:00 p.m.

After hours and hours of searching, one man stands out like a swore thumb. His name is Dr. Cerfolio and he’s just the man I need.

We email him, explaining every single detail of my case.

We leave the doctor with hopes that Cerfolio will reply, but we really don’t expect anything much because it’s the day after Thanksgiving – everyone’s at home with their families.

                                        

10:00 p.m.

“THANK YOU, JESUS.”

Mom runs into the kitchen crying. Some time soon, I expect her to kneel on the floor, look up at the sky, and shout crazy things. Haha, I’m kidding. She was just extremely happy and I understand why.

Dr. Cerfolio replied to our email asking for my documents and scans.

We’re in, baby.

I close my eyes and I thank God because he has a plan. He always does. Now, I’ll be in better care.

…To Alabama we go.

A Very Pink Thanksgiving

Nov. 28, 2013.

6 a.m.

I rush out of bed.

I run to the bathroom.

I’m cold sweating.

The room starts spinning.

Here it comes…

The toilet is filled with a pink liquid. No chunks. Just pure, pink fluid.

What did I… Ohhh.
I ate a whole carton of strawberries last night. I’m guessing they didn’t settle very well, but that was honestly the yummiest vomit I’ve ever had. I kinda licked my lips after. HAHA

I don’t know what screwed with my stomach more, the nerves of not having a doctor or the built-up gas from not eating at all some days to do different tests.

Ugh. Seriously?!  It’s Thanksgiving – the ONLY time mom ever makes her sweet potato pie that is to DIE for. If there was one person who had to get sick on Thanksgiving day, it would be me.

I shower and drag myself back to bed.

                                        

5 p.m.

Time flies when you’re sleeping.
I went to bed when the sun rose and now, I’m waking up as the sun sets.

The living room/kitchen area smells delicious.
There are three platters on the table: Sichuan rack of lamb, corn pie and sweet potato pie with perfect roasted marshmallows.

My mouth waters and yet, at the same time, my stomach turns.

                                        

6:00 p.m.

I love being in Florida because even though it’s miles away from Trinidad, there is still a comforting sense of home in the sunny state.

My mom’s brother and his family lives there and we hardly get to see them, so spending Thanksgiving with them was truly something special.

I thank God everyday for my family.

There’s nothing like them.

When I proudly say that I speak to my parents every single day, my American friends laugh at me. It aggravates me that many young people don’t appreciate their parents.

If it weren’t for my mom and dad, I don’t know where or who I’d be. I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me. Especially for past two weeks and standing by my side no matter what.

There’s so much to be thankful for.

Believe it or not, I’m thankful for my tumor. It helped me mend my faith and my relationship to God is better than it has ever been. It also taught me to be thankful for every single morning I open my eyes. Every day is a blessing and that’s something we seem to brush past us.

I also may not have a surgeon or a set surgery date right now, but I’m thankful for everything each doctor has done to help me. I know that God works on his own time and in his own funny ways. I trust him.

I may have been puking my guts out earlier, but delicious food sits right under my nose and I can’t fight the temptation. I stuff my face, I laugh and I smile with the people that I love the most – and I never got sick again. That’s definitely something to be thankful for.

Relying on Uncertainty

Nov. 27, 2013

It’s been 2 weeks since I first found out I have tumor growing in my lung.

It’s almost the size of a baseball.

I call her Hefty Helga. 

Today, I have an appointment with my surgeon to discuss what we’re doing on Friday morning, the day I’m scheduled to take Helga out and get rid of her for good.

                                        

4:30 p.m.

We’re an hour early.

This means more waiting time.

This also means more nerves.

                                        

6:00 p.m.

I’m guessing the doctor had a really long day. Maybe some delays?

We’ve been here for 2 hours and 30 minutes.

No one is left in the waiting room. It’s just mom, dad and I.

I feel sick. I want to puke. I’m cold sweating.
Most of all, I’m impatient.

5 minutes later…

“Ms. Sabga.”

Oh, thats me. 

                                        

Doc is on the phone, pacing the hallway.
We can only hear his heavy footsteps and some casual murmurs.
Something’s wrong. I feel it.

He enters the room, rubs his mustache and sighs.

” I can do this but…”

Well, the ship sunk. 

“We’re sure it’s in your chest wall and depending on whether it’s malignant or locally malignant, I’d need to remove two to three ribs.”

Excuse me. WHAT!?
For the past two weeks, as far as I knew, I just had to remove the left lower lobe of my lung.

And I accepted that. But this… 

This is news.

Mom’s in the corner crying and a ball forms in my throat. I’m choking it back and fighting with myself.

I will not cry. I’m gonna take this like a man.

“I can remove your mass for you, but there is a risk of misread pathology and me taking out ribs for no reason. Maybe going to a tertiary hospital would be better for your rare situation.”

I want it out now. 

“I am more than capable of doing it but if you’re not comfortable with that, I would highly advise going somewhere that sees cases like yours very often.”

Why. Why. WHY.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and no surgeon will be available.

Dammit. I’m more confused than ever.

                                        

As we walk towards the car dad looks at me. Worry fills his face, and he shakes his head.

“We’re right back where we started two weeks ago, huh?”

The Biopsy Knows No Truth.

Nov. 18, 2013.

12:30 p.m.

The phone rings.

It’s the pathologists.

“It’s benign.”

Mom starts crying hysterically.
Dad starts throwing fists in the air.
… I just close my eyes and thank God.

This is certainly the best news – and the only good news – we’ve heard all week.

                                        

3 p.m.

We begin popping champagne and celebrating until another phone call changes the day’s events.

It’s my hematologist.

“We don’t trust biopsies. It’s hard to rely on one pathology reading, so we’re sending it to another health center for more results.”

… Way to burst everyone’s bubbles.

I guess it’s okay though. At least we have one bit of hope to hang onto.

                                        

Nov. 26, 2013

The second pathology reading was sent to a large, university hospital where many pathologists examined my tumor’s extracts.

The report does not label the tumor. It can be benign, and it can be malignant.

Honestly, what does that even mean?!

                                        

The doctors are confused.

It’s size too large to be benign and the PET scan shows high levels of activity leading the doctors to think that the tumor maybe be malignant.
On the other hand, they believe it may be benign because it hasn’t spread (yet, thank god) and the center of the mass is loaded with calcium which is not found in malignant tumors (the only malignant tumors with calcium are found in the brain).

No one knows what to call my tumor.
No one knows how to label it.
WHAT ARE YOU, HELGA?!

I’m so sick of this emotional roller coaster.

                                        

But on the brighter side of things…

The doctors believe the tumor may be my twin.
You heard me… my twin. It could come out with teeth, hair, or feet.

My life is like Aunty Voula’s.

Conquering Trypanophobia

Nov. 15, 2013.
Three days ago, I heard four haunting words: “You may have cancer.”

It’s just been a tough ride.
I’ve seen multiple doctors.
I’ve already done 3 CT scans, 2 chest X-rays and a PET scan.
The docs want more information so I’m off to do a biopsy today.

                                        

It’s 9 a.m.

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I’m lying down in some foreign bed that feels like cardboard and I’m being poked and prodded at.

If you knew me well enough, you would know that I am petrified of needles (but after this experience, I’m sure I will never even flinch at the sight of another injection).

One collapsed vein… A second collapsed vein…

FOR GOD’S SAKE, STOP INJECTING ME.

I’m crying and pumping my fists expecting the nurse to collapse another vein. Thankfully, her third attempt was successful.

                                        

It’s 11 a.m.

The IV has been in for an hour. The doctor is finally ready for me.

My aunt starts kissing me, my mother starts making the sign of the cross on my forehead, and my father is holding my hand.

I don’t know whether I should feel comforted or scared shitless.

I want to grab onto mom’s shirt and scream, but I fight every urge to do so. I have to do this whether I like it or not.

The nurse rolls me away from my family.

The film begins to roll, and my life becomes a movie.
I’m drowning in white walls and I’m blinded by bright lights. It’s all a little too Grey’s Anatomy for me.

I roll off to God-alone-knows-where.

                                        

It’s noon.

I anxiously lie in a CT scanner while the nurses prep.

I have to lie still. Not only is it hard not to move, but I also have to stay in fetal position with my arms crossed over my head (trust me, it’s as weird as it sounds).

I wait, and I wait, and I wait.
I talk to nurses. I talk to God. I even talk to myself.
My nerves get the best of me and I begin cracking some really lame jokes – I am not funny.
An hour must have passed (or maybe I’m just overreacting as usual).

                                        

It’s 1 p.m. I think?

The nurse says, “Are you ready?”
Hmmm… It’s about time, lady.

She tells me that she’s putting in the anesthesia… blah, blah, blah.

                                        

It’s 1 something?
OW!

I feel clenches coming from something and pinches in the insides of my body.

What the…

                                        

BEFORE AND AFTERIt’s 2:30

I slowly open my eyes.
I see faint shadows.
They fade away.

                                        

It’s 3 o’clock.

I smile.
Waking up to a bed surrounded by my family, the best support system, made me happier than ever. No pain can wipe that away.

By the time I’m wide awake, the nurse wants me to walk.
She says I need to do it to prevent pneumonia. I trust her. She lifts me up, I take her hand and we have a cute moment, which is interrupted shortly after we take the first step.

Shocking pains run up and down the left side of my back. I feel like a train hit me – there’s no other way to describe it.

My mind runs rampant. Surely those white walls scare me, but I really don’t know why I was so frightened before the biopsy – that was a walk in the park. This pain, however, is the real issue.

I sit back down after walking what seemed like 6 miles (mind you, it was actually 6 laps across a 50-foot room).

A few minutes pass and I need to pee. This would happen to me. Great.
Aunty Suze offers to take me to the bathroom but the nurse cuts her off and says she’ll do it. It takes a bit of time to reach the restrooms. Once we get there, the nurse lets me in and closes the door behind me. She’s nowhere to be found.

I can’t bend or make any sudden movements. I can’t laugh, cough and most importantly in this case: squat to pee.

There’s a metal bar next to the toilet.
I can do this.
But I drop. 

Nice.

I sit and I cry. My ass is touching the hospital’s bare toilet seat.
No cover. No toilet paper. Just bare ass to seat.

“You can’t shower for 24 hours.”
*Eh-hem.* “But, mam, my butt touched the toilet seat. I NEED to shower.”

Oh, please.

Homegirl doesn’t care that I am germaphobic.
She packs my bags and sends me home, making it clear not to shower.

                                        

What I learned today:

1. Never be scared for the calm or the storm. You just gotta cope and smile.
2. I always need to insisting that my aunt take me to the bathroom.
3. The twilight drug is AWESOME. Can I take some to go, please?

What I am grateful for:

1. My family.
2. God.
3. Painkillers.

The Beginning of the End

When you’re the editor of an on-campus publication and you’re a full-time student taking 18 credits, you’d do almost anything for a break – just one second to breathe. Not me, Sir. 

I love the rush. I love the busy life. Most importantly, I love school.

And, illness took that away.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––

My alarm rings. Obviously, I press snooze 15 times before I actually drag myself out of bed. I stuff my face with cereal, my Keurig brews Starbucks’ best, I grab it and I’m on my way to magazine editing.

It’s 9 a.m. on Nov. 12th – just a regular Tuesday morning, or so I thought.

It’s 11 o’clock. Class is over. I go to Health Services and complain about a persistent dry cough that has lasted for two to three weeks.

At midday, the PA sends me for an x-ray.

Within minutes of doing so, the radiologists rush me into another room for a CT scan. What is going on? I thought, hmmm, maybe I just have bronchitis? Pneumonia? But, that be too simple for my complicated life.

It’s 2:30 now. I anxiously sit in the waiting room.

At 3 p.m., I get a shuttle back to Health Services and my world turns upside down.

“Well, Teresa, you have a mass in your lung. It’s almost the size of a tennis ball. It could be benign; it could be malignant.”

What do you mean? I might have cancer? Right now? But, I’m only 20-years-old. PSH! Teresa, be real, cancer doesn’t give two shits about how old you are.

“Call your mom.” No. 

How is that even possible? How do you tell your parents the worst news you’ve ever heard in your entire life? How do you do that without breaking their hearts?

My life is a movie. Cool. 

“Mom…..”

The PA grabs the phone, explains it all, and mom’s off to book flights and organize doctors appointments.

“If your family doctors are in Florida, you need to be there by tonight. You need to have a biopsy done tomorrow.”

“No, actually, my magazine launches next week. I can’t leave. I have things to do.”

“It doesn’t matter. Your health always comes first”

I know it does, but I still respond, “It really doesn’t….”

There and then, I burst into tears. All I have ever known is work. I pull all nighters as if it’s my primary job, I go above and beyond in every project I do just to stand out, and I stress for no reason – but, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t know life without the hustle.

As the PA said, “It doesn’t matter,” right?  I’ll be off to Florida in the morning whether I like it or not.

I cry, I moan, I scream.

And I cry.

Where did that get me? Nowhere, really, but it’s a bit of an emotional relief.

I watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians for 3 hours, and cry a little more (you would think that their pathetic lives might have made me feel better about mine – that was not the case).

My head is all over the place. This, that, there, then, who, what, where, when, why – “why” really stuck though.

Why me? Why now? Why this? Why, God? WHY? 

My aunt gave me a quote that stuck with me:

“Sometimes when you wonder why you can’t hear God’s voice during your trials, remember the teacher is always quiet during the test.”

So, God is with me. At all times. I just have to believe that his presence and love will be enough to pull me through whatever I have ahead of me.