Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Critical Care Birthdays

Tara’s 12th birthday was June 4 (Friday). I had not done any birthday shopping before going into the hospital, but after I knew I was going to be there for a few days (which actually turned into 4 weeks), I knew just what I wanted to give her as a gift. We had been trying to plan a party for months because we knew it would be hard to plan with a new baby. For some reason, I could not wrap my brain around what I could do to make this birthday special. We had several ideas, but none of them would “gel” with me. I am convinced that everything happens for a reason, and if things do not go as planned, there is a reason for that, too. Who would have thought that the birthday party was going to end up just the 4 of us (without Maddie) in CCU? I do not have pictures of this little party. Steve (or my sweet sis-in-law, Mary Beth) was able to locate the gift I wanted to give (a stuffed white horse) in the gift shop of the hospital! We also gave her a cell phone and a few other insignificant items, I think! My nurse for the evening offered to go get us some ice cream from the pantry to add to the festivities. Tara was so sweet and so appreciative in the midst of the total change of expectations.
Before the party, I had started getting more desperate in my breathing. I had gone from the simple nasal cannula tube to an oxygen mask on Thursday night. Friday morning, the IV team came and inserted a PICC line in my arm. Then my care givers decided I needed to be in CCU. After the little party, my breathing continued to get more laborious. It seems they attached a bag to my mask, and I remember sitting up in the bed gasping for breath. I do not remember anything after that. I have no recollection of the next 2 weeks of my life.
Apparently, as the chemo attacked the cancer, and the tumors started the dying process, it greatly increased the distress in my lungs. Friday night, my oncologist (Dr. Ronald Alvarez) had a restless night. He said he couldn’t get me off his mind. He came up to the hospital unusually early Saturday morning, and was coming in just when drastic action needed to be taken. He ordered to have me intubated, and he called a pulmonologist to come on the case. Dr. Roney came quickly. They called code blue on me, and a remarkable medical staff came to my aid. Every vital organ struggled under the strain. They started pushing medications through my PICC line. The doctors told Steve that the PICC line saved my life—providing a means to get the medicine quickly into my system.
The condition of my heart called for medicine that, once it is started, has to be taken for the rest of your life. The internal medicine doctor told Steve that my kidneys looked like they belonged to someone who had run a marathon without a drink of water; and it would take weeks to get them back in shape. I had to receive shots of insulin. It is no surprise that my bone marrow took a drastic hit—that’s par for the course with chemotherapy.
Word spread quickly to my friends and a flood of prayers reached the throne of grace. God allowed me to visit the “brink” for a little while. My dear husband and girls were near despair, but God was holding them close to His great heart as well. The love, words of encouragement, prayers and support were a lifeline, but Steve still says that was probably the lowest point in his life. Katelyn (my 16 year old) was fully aware of my condition, and yet she allowed God to comfort her and speak to her through His Word. She has precious promises from that period of time. Tara did not know for awhile what was happening. When she found out, the 3 of them leaned on each other and God wrapped His loving arms around them.
God saw fit to bring healing to my body. In less than 3 days after starting the heart medicine, the nurse had me weaned completely off! God touched my kidneys within days. When I started to improve, the sugar condition got better as well. The bone marrow took a little longer to recover, and the chemo routine had to be postponed for a few days. Once we were able to get back on track, we stayed on track until the last dose in September. What a mighty God we serve!
The next Saturday, when things had settled down a little bit, my friend Penny and Tara’s aunts Mary Beth and Kimmy put on a great birthday party for her. They got her an absolutely adorable cake, Tara got some birthday money, and she and her friends got to go to the mall and spend it all in one place!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Whirlwind

On May15,our sweet Madelyn was born. Two days prior to that, I noticed it beginning to “rain” in my life. This “rain” was the onset of a “whirlwind” that was soon to make itself very apparent in our lives. This is when I started to feel shortness of breath. I mentioned this to the nurse after Maddie was born. She said, “Hmm, well, you’ve been pregnant, and you’ve just had a baby, that would make anyone short of breath!” Well, this condition never got better. I figured I was tired, anemic, still had too much fluid—anything with a simple explanation. Finally, after 2 ½ weeks, I called the doc and told him I just wasn’t getting any better. He said to come in the office, he would check me into the hospital and we would find the problem.
On June 2, I checked into the hospital and after a few tests, the doctor determined that I had a disease called choriocarcinoma or GTN (gestational trophoblastic neoplasia). That is, multiple cancerous tumors in my lungs and liver. These tumors came from abnormal cells produced by the placenta during pregnancy that travelled to those organs. I was told that the condition was very serious, but the cure rate was very high. My doctor had already selected an oncologist for me. This oncologist is rated the top in the field of gynecologic oncology in the nation, and he agreed to take my case.
This is an aggressive cancer, so they expected it to respond to aggressive treatment. Surgery was not an option, so we started chemotherapy the very next evening. The tumor load in my lungs was very heavy, and my condition began to deteriorate rapidly. A little more than 24 hours after the first treatment, I went into respiratory arrest. I had to be intubated, and I coded 2 times. A pulmonologist was called on my account, and he stood by my bed for nearly 3 hours keeping me alive (with God’s guidance, and your prayers!).
Thus began entrance into the whirlwind. There were many miracles that took place over the next 3 weeks that I will probably muse about in later posts. The hand of God on my life has been an incredible new awareness for our family. One of the most obvious miracles, though, is Madelyn Grace. This disease, though rare, is likely to occur in the onset of a molar pregnancy. If the baby is able to develop, there will probably be many deformities. Madelyn, though, is perfectly developed with no crossover of the disease. I have always marveled at my babies and their beauty—especially after little Robyn was stillborn, but the miracle of Maddie is absolutely amazing!

Textbook Delivery

No, I’m not talking about getting school books in the mail; I’m talking about labor and delivery, babies being born, Madelyn’s birth experience. This was one right out of the textbooks! The only hitch that I know of was the fact that I had tested positive for strep B and had to take an antibiotic. Ideally, Madelyn needed to wait 4 hours after that medication was administered to be born so she wouldn’t have to undergo a few extra tests. So, that day, I was concerned about a few things, had a few random contractions, took a few laps around the mall, and called the doc to see if I could come in to listen to her heartbeat for awhile. He said, “Sure, come on up!” I went on up, got strapped to the monitors and went into labor, just like that! The nurse felt sure things would continue nicely, and gave her opinion to the doc. He came in and concurred, and the ball started rolling in the right direction just like they teach in the textbooks! The nurse gave me the antibiotic at 6:25 pm and announced that she would like for the baby to be born after 10:25, but before 11. After 10:25 because of the medicine, and before 11 because of the shift change and she wanted to be there for the delivery!
(The birth announcement that never got printed or mailed out!)
And that, folks, is exactly what happened! God blessed us with a very smooth, uneventful labor and delivery of a beautiful baby girl. She was born at 10:32 pm—much to Amanda’s (my nurse) delight. She weighed 7 pounds and 3 ounces and had red hair! Her lungs (which were a concern 2 days prior) seemed to be in excellent shape! Our loving heavenly Father knows what lies in store for us. I get teary-eyed when I think of His goodness to me. It seems as though He stepped in and gave absolutely no room for the enemy to do any dirty work right here because He knew what was right around the corner for us. I had a very sweet 2 ½ weeks to get acquainted with my precious bundle. There were some adjustments that are typical to getting acclimated to having a newborn, but my only real concern was my shortness of breath that never would get better. You couldn’t ask for a sweeter baby. We are so proud of Madelyn Grace Snodgrass!