Sunday, January 28, 2018

Pancreatic atrophy sounds worse than it is (so far).

My recent CT scan was "fantastic," according to my general physician. Which most likely means she reviewed the report by the radiologist and hopefully gave the actual imaging a quick look before having a nurse call me with the results. I got that phone call the day after my CT, so I only had to wait about 24 hours for the results. "Scanxiety" (anxiety over looming scan/scan results) is not fun. I will say that this period of scanxiety was the mildest thus far. Both time and practice have made me better at waiting. I also wasn't super nervous in the weeks before the CT scan. Oddly, going over the "worst likely case scenario" in my head and out loud is helpful. What is the worst likely case scenario? In my non-medical opinion, the worst likely case scenario would be a recurrence of my tumor. That only mildly freaks me out, as I've beat it before & I know that a recurrence isn't even close to a death sentence. Does it up the chance of death by pancreatic tumor? Sure, but it doesn't make it imminent. There are a nearly unlimited supplies of "worst case scenarios" out there, so that is why I choose to focus on only what is relatively likely given my medical history. No need to "borrow trouble" by worrying over other possible, though unlikely, scenarios.

The week following my CT scan, I met with my gastrointestinal doctor. He, too, reported that there was no recurrence of my tumor, which is excellent. The results were largely unremarkable, if you ignore my half pancreas and other "surgical changes." The radiologist did note some signs of pancreatic atrophy, though. I know enough words to know that "pancreatic atrophy" means that some of my pancreas tissue appears to be dead. I asked if that was to be expected after having a Whipple surgery, and my doctor replied "we don't really know, most patients are in their 60s and 70s when they have that surgery." He went on to explain that as we age, our insides age, too. So my pancreas looks fine, mostly, but it looks older than my 36 years. He asked how much of my pancreas was taken out. I told him what I knew. When I asked my surgeon how much of my pancreas he took out, he replied: "What I took out probably wasn't working very well anyway." I've always interpreted that particular conversation with my surgeon as "you have less than half left," but also "you have enough." Vague, but so far, so good. My doctor explained that this is something we'll have to watch. Over time, I might become a surgically-induced, insulin-dependent diabetic. I might also depend on pancreatic enzymes more so than I already do. None of this was new information; my surgeon told me all of this after my surgery. I knew the future of my pancreatic function might look a little bleak. Fortunately, though, modern medicine has caught up to sub-par pancreases. Maybe someday the future will bring us 3D printed pancreases, but for now, I will continue to be monitored and try to be kind to my surgically altered self.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

On the lesser of the evils.

I tried two ditch two of my medications: my daily antacid and my pancreatic enzymes medication I eat with meals. There is an actual medical reason I'd like to ditch the antacid (omeprozole/Prilosec), but the only reason I'd like to ditch the enzymes (Creon) is that it's inconvenient to have to pop a pill with each and every meal. There's nothing heroic about unnecessary suffering, as I tell my husband with some regularity that it's OK to turn up the heat if you're cold. I've found that when I deviate from a low-fat diet and skip the Creon, I suffer. So, alas, I had my prescription refilled and I am again popping the pig-pancreas enzymes with fatty meals. I'd rather be inconvenienced by a pill than the alternative. If you are curious about the alternative, ask me. Some things should not be written down...

As far as the antacid, this was my second attempt to go without. I've already stated that unnecessary suffering isn't my bag, so why wouldn't I continue to take it? Well, long term use of this particular type of medication can cause a host of other problems from c-diff to bone fractures to lupus, and more! Therefore, I'd like to stop taking it, if possible. Attempt #1 was about a year ago, I lasted a few days before deciding my heartburn was too bad without it. Attempt #2 lasted about three months, and then the stomach pain returned. I was supposed to go back on it for two weeks and then off of it again, but a month later I'm still taking it. I am going to talk to my gastroenterologist about stopping again. Wish me luck! Which will ultimately be the lesser of the evils? Long term omeprozole use with the long list of potential nasty side effects, or stomach pain? Ideally, the stomach pain would cease to be even without the drug. But three years post surgery, stomach pain is still a thing for me, unfortunately.

The tumor I had is statistically unlikely to come back. However, it was even more unlikely (like millions of times more unlikely) that I'd get this tumor in the first place. The doctors (whom I trust very much) have decided that I should have diagnostic imaging done at regular intervals for the rest of my life as the tumor can show up again 5, 10, 15+ years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, the best way to see what's going on inside my pancreas & other digestive organs is a CT scan. I have lost track of how many CT scans I've had, but at my two year follow up with gastroenterology, my doctor said, "You are too young to have all of that radiation. Once every two years is enough." In the case that you didn't already know this, CT scans come with a heavy dose of radiation that can CAUSE CANCER. That's right, the imaging I get to see if I have cancer can actually cause cancer. It's a fairly small risk, but a risk nonetheless. My doctors have decided that it's a better idea to check for cancer that I have already had using a CT scan despite the radiation. To the best of their knowledge, it's more likely that the CT scan will be able to help me than it is likely to hurt me. It's the lesser of the evils, these two evils being "radiation" and "cancer."

I'm quite comfortable deferring to the medical professionals on this one. I didn't start that way; I spent enough time worrying about my pancreas and all related parts for a long while. It took medication, therapy, and time to get me to realize that I wasn't going to stave off the cancer by knowing more about it. I am no longer obsessed. Being aware of your health and being able to self-advocate is super important, of course, but obsession is harmful.

To conclude, here's a recap of the evils:

  1. Regular antacid vs. Stomach pain= Antacid wins
  2. Pancreatic enzymes vs. Intestinal Inconvenience= Enzymes win
  3. Radiation vs. Cancer= Radiation wins
I have had a few years to contemplate the above battles of evil, and that is where I currently stand. Thankfully, I do not fight these battles alone. My doctors & I will revisit these issues as I change and as medicine gains more knowledge. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

How to make me feel bad

I haven't written too much lately due to being busy and not having a whole lot to say health-wise. Which is a good thing. No news is good news. However, something keeps happening to me that I'd like to address. Well-meaning people keep asking me if I'm pregnant. Let me clear that up for you: NO. This does make me feel bad, but not in the obvious way. I only feel a little self-conscious when I'm asked. I mostly feel bad that the questioner obviously feels TERRIBLE about asking. It's even worse when it's an excited: "Are you expecting?!" Like, they're ready to be super happy for me. When I say "No," their embarrassment at their social faux-pas makes me feel bad. 

How often does this happen? Often enough, mostly in the past 6 months. This past fall, an expectant mother at the hotel pool asked me, "Do you know what you're having?" To avoid making her feel bad, I just said, "Nope." And left it at that. A fellow board member asked, "When's the baby due?" and when I said, "I'm not pregnant," he felt so bad that he felt the need to apologize every single time he saw me after that day back in October. I remember it was October because he even apologized when I took my kids to his house on Halloween for trick-or-treating. I've had students ask, parents of students ask, and a stranger or two.

To what do I attribute my seemingly sudden acquisition of a gut? Starbucks. Seriously, Starbucks. I eased into middle-aged-but-pregnant-looking by gaining 15 lbs, mostly in my stomach, apparently. The facts that I've had both a twin pregnancy and one of the most serious abdominal surgeries a person can have don't help, of course, but it's mostly my former addiction to Starbucks and loss of strength. Diastasis Recti and Whipple surgery don't help, but I fully acknowledge I could make myself less pregnant looking. I am trying. Until then, I'll have to come to peace that sometimes I'm just going to feel bad about people feeling bad. Thanks for listening, and if you've read this, please don't ask me if I'm expecting. I'M NOT.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I read a lot. (2016 Reading Challenge Completed!)

Back on January 1st, I saw this Reading Challenge posted on the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog (how cool is that title?!). I had a New Year's Resolution (I generally don't do those), and I actually completed it for the first time ever. One of my favorite failed resolutions: Wear makeup (it happened for about 2 weeks, typical!).

I decided it would be fun and started a group on Facebook to share the challenge, talk about books, and to keep me accountable. I knew I'd have no problem reading 12 books in 2016 (I am a librarian, after all), but I loved the idea of reading outside of my comfort zone and reading things I otherwise wouldn't have. I'd love if you let me know about what you've been reading. I love to discuss books!

Here's what I ended up reading:

1. A book published this year: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Back in March I got to see one of my favorite Speaker/Librarians/Bloggers, Mr. Schumacher, at a Scholastic event. He spoke about Raymie, which was released in April of this year. It was about a girl named Raymie and 2 of her unlikely friends. They have adventures and learn lessons. I enjoyed it. Kate DiCamillo is always a delight (Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane). When I think of Kate DiCamillo, I think of the following quote by E.B. White (author of Charlottes Web and others): "Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding." DiCamillo certainly accomplishes this. Her books are loved by children and adults, just ask Mr. Schu. 

Other books I've read this year that could fit in this category: The Cursed Child by Jack Thorne and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

2. A book you can finish in a day: Shopgirl by Steve Martin

I love this story. I love the movie of the same name that stars Steve Martin, Claire Danes, and Jason Schwartzman. Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) has a May/December relationship with Ray Porter (Steve Martin). They love each other, but not in the same way. Not unexpectedly, Ray ends up breaking Mirabelle's heart. Meanwhile, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a romantic acquaintance of Mirabelle's, engages in a quest for self-improvement, and grows into a person worthy of Mirabelle. My husband once asked why I like this so much, and if I somehow identify with Mirabelle's love for Ray Porter. That's not what most appeals to me about this novella or movie. It's Jeremy. Though I do love the actor, Jason Schwartzman, I love his character and how he grows up and becomes the right match for Mirabelle. Interestingly, I have the same love for Rob Fleming in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and Will Freeman of About A Boy, again by Nick Hornby. So perhaps it can be concluded I enjoy male characters who mature through the course of the work. If you'd like to psychoanalyze this admission, go ahead. But do report back, I'd be curious.

Most of the graphic novels I read could have been read in a day, but I have mentioned them elsewhere.

3. A book you've been meaning to read: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

A children's novel meant for the intermediate grades (3rd through 5th-ish). It was cute, and I'd definitely recommend it to kids, teachers, and parents. It reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl, beloved author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Another book I read this year that fits this category: Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings (blog post here)

4. A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This year I switched schools and went from an elementary school to a high school. This was a welcome change, though I certainly miss my old students, colleagues, and even the building itself. I left a piece of my heart there (corny, but metaphorically true). To prepare for my new position, I started reading Young Adult titles voraciously. I asked the librarian whose job I replaced (she retired) for recommendations, and I read several books that she suggested, though for whatever reason this is the one I decided fulfilled the Reading Challenge. High school senior Clay Jensen is "gifted" with 7 cassette tapes he soon discovers is the recorded suicide note of his classmate Hannah Baker. On these 7 tapes (13 "sides") are messages for the 13 people who she feels somehow contributed to her decision to kill herself. It's heartbreaking and a little sickening, but also the sort of book that I couldn't put down. I'm a semester in to my new role at the high school, and the kids really like this one, too.

Other books I've read this year that fits this category: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (my review here), Ghostworld by Clowes

5. A book you should have read in school: Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I don't even know where to begin. I loved, loved, LOVED this book. It's a shame I didn't actually read this in high school when I should have, though I do not think I would have appreciated it as much. If you haven't read it, it's about the Joad family trying to survive the Great Depression. They travel west to California hoping to find work, food, etc, only to discover their troubles follow them. What struck me the most about this novel is how kind the Joad family was despite everything terrible that kept happening to them. It didn't matter how hard they worked, they couldn't seem to get ahead. I found this book still relevant 75+ years after it was written.

As far as I can recall, this is the only book I remember actively avoiding in high school (and college!). Were I to have to revisit this category, I would probably pick something that "many people read in school but you somehow missed." And I'd probably go with Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut.

6. A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF: Sorcerer to the Crown by
Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown was recommended to me by my BFF. She recommended it because I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It is definitely a good read-alike, though I did not enjoy Sorcerer nearly as much as the Clarke title. Both titles are about the decline of British magic and how it returns to England. I love the fantasy genre so these were both good picks.

Also recommended to me by my BFF in 2016: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.

7. A book published before you were born: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

I read Catcher in the Rye by Salinger a decade or more ago, but I was interested in his short stories. Of the nine stories I enjoyed "For Esme- with Love and Squalor" and "Teddy."I confess, I would read an analysis of the short work immediately after reading the work itself. Salinger's writing isn't always straightforward; some pieces are allegorical and some are more social commentary than an actual stories. I enjoyed this experience, though I'm unlikely to recommend the collection to anyone for pleasure reading, unless they happen to love Catcher.

8. A book that was banned at some point: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book is read by the freshman at my school. They seem to really like it. I LOVED it. It manages to be really funny and really sad. The main character, Junior, attends high school off the reservation, or "rez", and is rejected by his Native American peers. He is largely welcomed by his new high school, but he doesn't quite fit in there, either. So he's caught between home and opportunity. The book also addresses how alcoholism has affected Junior (and thereby describes the role of alcoholism within Native American communities).

9. A book you previously abandoned: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I previously abandoned this book because I started it before Christmas and didn't feel like finishing it after Christmas. So this is the book I just finished today, December 10th. I really enjoyed this one as well. The story is often retold and the moral is an obvious one: be generous/good/kind/etc while you have a chance. Dickens's writing is sometimes a little wordy, but this story was worthwhile. And who doesn't like the opportunity to reflect upon self-improvement?

I didn't read any other books that could satisfy this category, but I tried. I attempted The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien for the 3rd (!) time. I know, I know, it's a short book that kids read. I just cannot. Maybe when my own kids beg me to read it to them, sure, but even then I might pass that task along to my husband.

10. A book you own but have never read: Dead in the Family: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel (#10 in a series)

I've read other Sookie Stackhouse novels. Though they are sequential it is not supremely necessary you read 1-9 before you read 10. I think I read them mostly in order over the past several years. They are fun, light reads. If you aren't familiar, the HBO series True Blood is based on these books, though after the first book and first season, they stray very far from each other. I enjoy both the TV series and the books, but as separate works. I appreciate each differently.

11. A book that intimidates you: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

There are lots of books out there that intimidate me. Ulysses by James Joyce, for example. Rather than struggle through a book, I decided to interpret this as intimidating content. The Smartest Kids in the World is by journalist Amanda Ripley, who weaves the stories of three American Exchange students with data and analyses of different education systems that are considered more successful than US schools by certain measures. It was fascinating. What I took away: we (Americans) have a different set of values that do not necessarily include success in school. Other successful education systems have become more successful (as measured by test scores) by improving teacher education: making the process more rigorous and prestigious. Imagine that. Countries that revere teachers have more successful educational outcomes. But, alas, correlation is not causation, and I think our school system (where I live, anyways) is pretty darn good.

Other books that I read in 2016 that intimidated me: Enrique's Journey: The story of a boy's dangerous odessy to to reunite with his mother by Sonia Nazario and I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai

Reflecting upon these 3 books, one could draw the conclusion that I am largely intimidated by nonfiction (probably not untrue).

12. A book you've already read at least once: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

This book just makes me happy. It is an autobiographical work by Raina Telgemeier. She has to have painful dental and orthodontia work as an adolescent, and the story centers around these experiences. Telgemeier is about my age, so it spoke to me (New Kids on the Block Tickets and Caboodles, anyone?). I do have to say kids/preteens/teens LOVE this book, so it's not just people who are 35ish. Telgemeier captures adolescence so perfectly. This is also one of the first graphic novels I read that made me want to read more graphic novels. I highly recommend this book to nearly anyone.

Other books I read this year that fit this category: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (I wrote about it here) and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

So I read at least 12 books that fit these 12 categories and mentioned a few more titles I read in 2016. I actually read more than what I listed here, for work, book clubs, etc. I thought about listing them all, but that intimidated me. Plus, it would take time away from reading more. I do get asked a lot when I find the time to read, and the truth is, I read mostly in the morning while I drink my coffee (between 5 & 6 am). So I read 30 minutes to an hour a day, on average. That amounts to anywhere between 182 and 365 hours a year (I don't keep strict track), so even if it took me 10 hours to read a book (it usually doesn't), I'm on track to read at least 18 books a year. I listed 22 books here and probably read at least a dozen others. Another trick besides early morning reading: I watch less TV than I read. So I watch less than an 30 minutes of TV a day, on average. Not kidding. Sometimes I watch 90 minutes a day (think Gilmore Girls revival), and sometimes I go days without watching any. I do not read books at work, contrary to what many people think about what librarians do all day. I do read for work, but mostly academic articles, excerpts from books, literary analyses, etc. You are very unlikely to find me with a book in hand at my desk.

I don't know if I'll participate in a 2017 Reading Challenge, but I do know I will continue to read for work and for pleasure. I hope you do, too!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day

Today I wear purple for pancreatic cancer awareness day; slacktivism at its finest. Since medical research isn't my thing, I donated to the Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Network ( and encourage you to do the same. Why, you ask? I technically had pancreatic cancer at the ripe old age of 33. It was and is a big deal in my life. I got the "good" pancreatic cancer, but it is a diagnosis that I can't forget, as it's not unheard of to show up again 5, 10, or even 15 years after curative surgery. Thankfully this is not what usually happens, but it can, so I see an oncologist regularly and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. My life is different now, and nearly two years later I acknowledge that I'm better because of that experience. At the very least, I appreciate being alive every single day in a way that I could not have fathomed before. I am one of the lucky ones who is still here to help spread awareness and hopefully garner more funds to work towards better survival rates (they're still pretty dismal, though improving). And, maybe someday, an actual cure or prevention strategy. Thank you for reading, and I wish you peace and health, today and every day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bathroom Google Searching

While I was experiencing intestinal distress/revolt, I decided to Google Search myself. It's not something I do regularly, but when stuck in the bathroom for longer than I'd have liked it seemed as good an idea as any. I came across the expected hits: where I work, library board stuff, social media sites, and this article about my cancer debacle. I unexpectedly stumbled upon this article about the death of Corin Sparks (not me!), a young man who was stabbed to death by his brother with a 2-foot Samurai Sword IN FRONT OF THEIR MOTHER. I found this absolutely crazy, and it was a not-so-gentle reminder of how lucky I am. I was not stabbed in the heart by my brother with a Samurai sword during my teenage years.

Honestly, no, I didn't really think about this in a "wow, this could happen to anyone" sense, but I was just amazed that it happened at all.

Why does this belong here on my Things Left Out blog? My answer, "Why not?" I am one letter away from sharing a name with Corin Sparks, and without that coincidence I'd never have known about this death. I immediately felt the need to write down my experience because of how weird it was, so here you go. It's now a couple of days later and I typed what I quickly penned into my notebook, as I still find it an oddity that needs to be shared.

My challenge to you: Google search yourself and see what you get. Anything weirder? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

In which I quote Wayne's World... a lot.

Confession: I love Wayne's World. In fact, I have dressed as Garth on more than one occasion (usually only for costume parties ;) ). Bohemian Rhapsody came on in the car today when I was in AURORA, home of Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar. It was perfectly poetic and it prompted me to watch the video clip on YouTube, embedded here for your viewing pleasure:

If you took the time to watch the clip, note that the White Castle is the actual White Castle in Aurora, a mere minutes away from my house! 

So, what's the point of me sharing my love for a very 90's movie born out of SNL sketch comedy? First, so you get to know me a bit better. I told you what you see is what you get, and if you didn't know I can pull off a pretty good Garth, you don't really know me. Second, to remind anyone reading this about how AWESOME Wayne's World is. Lastly, to paint a picture of the comfort in the familiar as well as the comfort in the memory of a simpler time in my life.

If the preceding paragraphs don't serve as evidence for my love for Wayne's World (and Wayne's World 2), maybe this anecdote will: I quoted Wayne's World 2 in my last job interview. (Spoiler alert: I got the job, so either the appreciated my sense of humor or they had no idea I was quoting the movie.) The choice quote: "If you book them, they will come." The spirit of Jim Morrison wisely tells Wayne and Garth that's how they will get bands to play their Aurora concert, and (Spoiler alert again!) it works. Aerosmith shows up. AEROSMITH! I didn't just blurt out this quote randomly, it actually answered the interview question perfectly. It's pretty good life advice: if you set an expectation, it is much more likely to be met than if you didn't bother to set the expectation at all. At the very least, it was a better quote than Wayne's "It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine." That probably wouldn't go over very well in a job interview, nor would "We're not worthy! We're scum! We suck!" help you get a job, though it did help Wayne and Garth get away from the very awesome Alice Cooper. 

There is both comfort in the familiar and comfort in remembering simpler times. I watched Wayne's World a countless number of times in my youth, long before I had a close encounter with my mortality. Remembering the movie brings back a little piece of the unadulterated me, as does listening to Q101, and memories of an MTV with TRL and music videos and Loveline. I am so grateful to be growing older (better than the alternative!), but I am also grateful for the glimpses of the young me, the person with unlimited potential and endless possibilities, the person with a whole pancreas who had no idea what it felt like to be really, really unwell. I'd venture to guess everyone has their own version of "the good ol' days," though I have no desire to return to them. Garth doesn't need to tell me to "Live in the now!" because I make a point to do just that. Additionally, adulthood does have its perks, such as buying fancy guitars, playing hockey in the street, and headbanging to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in a car that is not owned by your parents. 

Party on!