These series of questions get asked of me all the time, "How did it happen...when did it start? How did you know you had it?" Followed by, "But you're so young. You don't even look sick…"
Total valid and legitimate questions and statements right? Well when you have had cancer, you learn to tell your story like as if it's a series of questions that you answer in sequence over and over again. I answered these questions so many times that it would just roll off my tongue like I was talking about the weather. Finely polished second nature. Not much thought to it, just so matter of factly like it was an extension of my name. Not until this last occurrence that I reflected on how I was telling that story, and how I wanted to tell that story from now on. I realize now how far I've come from where that naive girl first was, laying in the hospital coming out of anesthesia when she was told she had cancer for the first time. What I've learned so far is priceless, but it's still a major work in progress. A lot can happen in six little years. A lot more will continue to happen in these years to come. I won't claim to know all the answers, but I do hope that through acknowledgment first, and action second, I can learn to change what I can control, and only what I can control. Releasing control can be a whole chapter of it's own so we'll hold off on all that for now, first I want to open up my whole story in detail, dissect it a little further so maybe I'll be able to continue to discover what's really happening here.
So it started in early 2008 soon before I turned 28, I was at a job I hated, transitioning a lot with school and career paths, family ties were a little rocky at that time, but other than that I couldn't complain (too much). I was in a good relationship and was hoping to make plans for a bright future. I had great friends, and I was going along as I knew it as normal. What normal was supposed to be for me exactly, I didn't know for sure and I struggled here and there with it as many do, but that's a whole other story that I won't bore you with here. I knew nothing about cancer other than it was something that seemed to affect other people, luckily not me.
I experienced the first (of many to come) intense attacks of abdominal pains that came on suddenly one night while enjoying a "night in" with my girlfriends. It was so intense it had me doubled over in cramping pain and making me sick to my stomach. It came and went throughout that night, and over the next couple months started a short cycle of a few months being in and out of the doctors office, over-looked and misdiagnosed. The pains would come and go as milder versions and were hard to pinpoint any culprit. Sometimes the pains would be so minute that I barely noticed, and sometimes they'd stay away for months on end.
I continued on with my life as the pains seemed to be essentially going away and I decided I was going to get healthier(at least to my perception at that point), lose excess weight, exercise regularly, and learn more about health in general. Nutrition was a work in progress however. I was learning to count calories, not nutritional content. Man, I ate a lot of processed foods in the name of "low-calorie, low fat, high fiber"! Anyways, I was happy and living life trying to accomplish those life goals of mine, and the pains weren't showing themselves anymore. Shortly after though, the pains were back, at random times, and they seemed to be getting worse. I wasn't functioning as well daily anymore. On a night that they pains were bearable enough my boyfriend at the time and I decided to bare the ultimate excruciating pain of going into the ER at Valley Med in hopes to just get some meds to feel better. Honestly I don’t know what’s worse, the pain I was in or the agony of having to sit in ER at Valley Med. What I hoped would be an in-and-out thing (essentially), ended up becoming a 14 day stay at the not-so happiest place on earth. After they realized that running some actual tests were in order, the doctors discovered that there was something really wrong. It was ordered that I have a colonoscopy right away, which ended up revealing that I had a tumor in my large intestine/colon. As I was waking up from the anesthesia, I laid there on the gurney just barely awake enough for the nurse/assistant/whoever she was, to seize the "perfect" opportunity to relay the bad news that I had cancer. In hindsight, quite brilliant actually, break the news whilst patient is still a little drugged up! However, news like that still made me upset of course, only it was more like coming down emotionally off of a bad trip. I eventually talked with a doctor and I was officially diagnosed with stage II colon cancer.
I immediately underwent the surgery, a right hemicolectomy, to have the tumor removed. They removed a 4 cm malignant mass in my ascending colon and 33 lymph nodes that proved to be negative. Up till that point, I had never been in the hospital for anything, never broken any bones, never had to be rushed to the emergency for anything. So if you can imagine, this was a little traumatic for me, but I recovered from the surgery with minor setbacks and finally returned home. At my first post-op appointment/scan one month later, they found a very small spot on my liver. It was recommended that I do chemotherapy right away and follow with surgery to remove it. Wait a minute, I just had a major surgery, and I couldn't imagine undergoing another one immediately. They wanted to treat this as if it was in fact a cancer metastasis/spreading even though there wasn't a chance for a biopsy yet because the spot was very small. I decided I wanted a second opinion so I was directed to UCSF by a friend of a mutual friend who had heard about my situation and wanted to help. She was an oncology nurse at UCSF for the best colon cancer oncologist in the country apparently. So just like that, I became a patient of the best colon cancer oncologist in the country, apparently. Through him, I was advised to not undergo chemotherapy right away, not to undergo surgery right away but instead wait and monitor this suspicious spot and first see if it was in fact cancerous. So that we did, for 2 1/2 years I scanned every two months, then every four months, then by September of 2010 we pushed out the scans to every six months because everything appeared to be clean. In the meantime however, I was still experiencing the abdominal pains now and again that I had experienced back when this first started and it raised a big concern to me. Although according to my doctors now at UCSF, it didn't seem to be a big concern to them. They couldn't make a correlation between why I was having these pains and why they would come and go when my scans were showing no signs of infection or issues. So they simply ignored this issue. I tried to deal with it on my own again and do what I could to alleviate the episodes of pain that would come in these random waves. In between episodes, life carried on. I can't forget to mention that during all this, I was getting loving support from my family and network of friends at that time. I was given the opportunity to join in on a benefit party to raise money for medical costs, and I met my very first cancer angel, warrior sister, Sarah Pugh. She gave me more in such a short time than I could ever have thought to have gained from a person I didn't get the time to know well. You'll always to be in my heart Sarah <3.
Now there I was at the beginning of October of 2010, building on my life, starting a career in the fitness industry which had become a passion of mine, I just turned thirty, was starting a new relationship and was having a lot of fun in the process. Then it hit me again, out of the blue. I had another extreme pain-filled attack that sent me straight to the ER to really investigate this time. Someone there finally had the brilliant idea of giving me an ultrasound (DUH!). With that they finally found the culprit of all these painful attacks. They found a mess in my main bile duct. It was clogged and "slugged up" and stones were developing from the backup of bile, causing an obstruction, not allowing the bile to flow freely, and making me sick and in a lot of pain. They decided it was best to just remove my gallbladder, clean out my bile duct, and that would solve the problem. I was told, like many others, that removing your gallbladder is such a common procedure, that essentially you don't even really need your gallbladder, that you're fine without it. I clearly remember this being the first time I questioned the doctors recommendations. I had a really hard time buying that we were born with a specific organ in our bodies that we didn't "technically" need. So the only option here would be that we just get rid of it and I'd function normally? Really? Despite my intuition, I said goodbye to my little gallbladder hoping that I would be proven wrong. Well, time would tell that it wouldn't solve the problem but in its defense, it did help to stop the immediate pain, so I was relieved. I recovered from that and went on my way. Coincidentally, I had just taken my sixth month scan for the potential tumor we had been monitoring at the same time. This time the results came back different. This time it was back as an aggressive cancer that had spread to my liver with three tumors total on the left lobe. I was then re-diagnosed with "stage IV colon cancer with a metastasis to the liver". Brutal! Shit was about to get more real than it had been before. I was informed the only treatment plan was aggressive chemotherapy in hopes to shrink the tumors and proceed with surgery to remove them, and follow up with more chemo to do any cleanup work. So that's what I did. I did it all. Whatever they told me to do. I didn't know any other way, and it seemed like everything that I googled would say the same thing. There is a standard protocol when you have late stage colon cancer and this was it. At that time I didn't have the mental energy to really look any further for one either. Needless to say I went through with the standard treatment plan and essentially survived it. I became a candidate for a liver resection, so I did it and after a few setbacks I fully recovered from that too. At that point I could only bare four more rounds of chemo though so I threw in the towel and decided I was done! Eventually my proceeding scans showed "no evidence of disease" and so at that point I was required to just keep up with my regular scans, which appeared clean for another two years.
So here I was, two years out of any medical issues, diving deeper into this anomaly we call nutrition, going along my way as usual. Rick and my relationship's as strong as ever, we recently moved in together into a home we absolutely love, I started working on my degree, we were making near future plans to start a family, when it reared it's ugly head yet again. In December of 2013, after once again hitting my sixth month routine of scans, the results came back with concerns of another recurrence on the liver. I did every test possible to rule out all other concerns; CT, PET, MRI, ultrasound, and biopsy to determine that the recurrence is now 3-4 tumors on my liver again and this time 1 in my main bile duct.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Ok don't panic Giselle, you've been through this already twice before, you're better prepared this time. The numbness shielded me like armor for the next few weeks. After consulting with both of my conventional medical teams, they informed me that the reality of this is that my life is going to be cut short no matter what. That this is something that I will unfortunately have to deal with for the rest of my life. That the only option is chemotherapy which at this point is really only to try and keep the tumor (in the bile duct mainly) from growing and creating more problems. That most likely, I will have to be on chemo for the rest of my life and that it's a non-surgical situation and of course non-curable.
So now everything else in my daily life essentially stops again and this project becomes my reality, again. 'Project Save My Ass, the sequel' is back up and running.These last couple of months I have been hitting both the live and virtual pavements, while at the same time hitting some walls along the way too, trying to dig through and research alternative treatment options. To say there's so much out there is a huge understatement and despite the many success stories that ones have had with going an alternative treatment route, it remains somewhat of a mystery. Mainly because it's not mainstream or as widely accepted or perceived as normal like conventional medicine always has been. For most of us conventional medicine is all we know to be right. It’s all we're told from our doctors. But in actuality it's all a mystery until something works. At this point what I'm realizing is that if you want to survive any of this, you have to look a little deeper inside yourself and believe in what you are about to do. My beliefs keep bringing me back to wanting to respect my body's ability to be it's own healing tool by giving it the things it needs to thrive as it's meant to do. It just makes sense to me. So this is where I sit with all of this. And the next few steps will be based on faith.
The Gerson Therapy is something that I have been studying throughout this process and it seems to have great validity in it's results and a way of looking at the body as a whole in order to treat disease through nutritional therapies. With the help of my amazing network of family and friends, that hope of being able to raise enough money to actually pursue this is coming to fruition. I plan to go down to the Gerson Clinic in Mexico and take full advantage of their help IF I'm approved by their doctors. While I'm there I will be monitored by medical doctors trained in the Gerson Therapy and given their full nutritional therapies and learn how to continue treatment here at home once I'm back. I think one of the biggest challenges will show itself once I'm home doing this myself. I get overwhelmed by what I already do for my diet on a day to day basis now,but this treatment will require a huge production with strict guidelines to follow that will require outside help. This is going to be a big responsibility and a whole lot of work to continue and maintain in life as part of a new normal, but Rick and I are up for the challenge. We want a healthy happy forever life together. One that allows us to have the beautiful life we envision that also consists of a family of our own. At the end of the day, this alone makes the challenge worth it! At least that's what I keep trying to remind myself.
Now, if you've just read through this entire post, your a saint! Thanks for staying with me, I know that was the looong version of my story, but these days I'm finding it necessary to relive the details surrounding all these occurrences. The notion of mind/body connection to our internal and external worlds may play larger roles in our lives then most of us can really fathom. It's an interesting concept and maybe through some shedding of light on all aspects of what's happening in our day to day lives one day we'll find clarity to all of this. Let's hope.