Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My second bout with Cancer


In order to tell this story, I have to start about 6 months before I knew I had cancer in order for you to know what I was truly going through.

In December of 1980, I came home for Christmas. Mom took one look at me and said "You're Pregnant!". I said "No I am NOT! I have not missed a period, it is due any day now, see the tampons I have packed."

Turns out she was right! When I got back to Germany 2 weeks later I found out for sure! Since I was stationed in the Grafenwohr Army Base Emergency Room, I was able to run my own pregnancy test. You could have knocked me over with a feather when it came back positive! I asked to get off work early so I could share the news with my Husband, after a quick exam by my Doctor, I was cleared to go home early. I walked in to find him in bed with his best friend George....I was devastated! (This was before "Don't ask, Don't tell"). He then denied being the father because he was gay! (Like being gay has anything to do with sperm mobility! He had no problem marrying me, or having sex with me and he was I still don't get the connection...). When he married me, he never said he was gay! I had no clue until I caught him in bed with George!

So I moved back into the barracks and we became separated. Not only was I thousands of miles from home, alone in Germany, Pregnant and going through a Divorce but something was wrong! I was getting twice the size I should have been and getting skinnier everywhere else! My Doctor thought maybe I was having twins but as Ultrasound was so new, none of the Army bases had one! I had to go to a German Hospital that specialized in Obstetrics. What they found was that I had one child, and a "lump". But I had to wait for them to translate this for me. As I was in a German hospital where no one spoke english I had no idea what was about to happen to me. They stuck a needle behind my cervix into the Uterus and extracted a small piece of material. (You cannot imagine how painful that was!!) and ran tests. I was then sent back to my base to await the results (and someone to translate those) while I was in agony and having contraction pains due to the test.

The test came back, It was cancerous.

My Doctor STRONGLY recommended that I abort the baby. I was already 6 months pregnant by this time. I said, you are telling me that I am not even 21 yet (I would turn 21 a few months later), and I will never have another child because you want to do a hysterectomy, and you want me to abort a six month old fetus??? NO WAY!!! I have always believed in the mother’s right to chose what will happen with her body and her child. After all she is the one that has to go through the pregnancy and raising a child….

I decided to take my chances. The Doctor then said, well, I am not equipped to deal with this kind of medical problem, so we are reassigning you to Fort Sam Houston where they have a good Oncology unit and Obstetrician department. They can help you.

So I was put on a C130 Military Plane at 8 months pregnant (no windows and all the seats faced the rear of the plane...I had never been so sick in my life!!) and sent to Texas.

The Doctors there were optimistic that I was going to be OK, and that Chemo and Radiation could wait til after my baby was born because, "We think the reason the tumor is growing so fast is because of the hormones your body is producing due to pregnancy. The tumor growth will slow down (or even stop) once you have the baby."

Once I had Charles Robert Kuhn on August 29th, 1981 (one month to the day after I turned 21), he was 9 pounds and 4 oz, 29 inches long at birth. Yes he was a long baby….I was released from the hospital on Sept 1st, I flew home to Wisconsin. I had lost so much weight during my pregnancy because of the cancer, that I was able to wear my before pregnancy jeans on the day I got out of the hospital and flew on the plane home, comfortably.

Once home, I did not want to worry anyone about my condition, so I did not say a word. I mean how could I? Between learning during my first go round with cancer as a kid that you do not talk about it, and just deal with the pain and procedures and not wanting to put my Mother through a ton of worry when there was nothing she could do to help. Besides, everyone was too busy cooing over Charles to ask why I was so thin anyway. They did think it was "odd" that I had a hard time letting anyone hold my baby though. They all counted it as "New Mommy" syndrome. In fact it was because I did not know if I would ever be able to have another baby....I did say that I wanted Charles Robert to be called C. Robert, or Robby for short, as I thought Charles was too stuffy for a little boy and I HATED (and still do) the name "Charlie" or Chuck". Wouldn't you know it, Robby wants to be called "Chuckie" by everyone today...

I had the usual 6 week maternity leave, and it was back to the usual Army routine. Get up and get myself ready for the Army at 3:30 am, get Robby ready for the babysitter, take him to the sitters house, and be on base in time for 4:30am Physical fitness, work until 8pm (or later), go pick up Robbie, feed him dinner, give him a bath, put him to bed and then feed myself and fall into bed exhausted. Turns out, he was a colicky baby and cried all the time, so I was REALLY exhausted! When my cherished grandmother passed away around this time. I jumped at the chance to come home for a few days. Not only was I able to say good bye to her, and see family, but I was going to get a break from the exhausting routine I was in. (yes, even a funeral was better than my daily routine, thats how bad it was...)

Around this time I met a guy who was a photographer for "Hit Parader" magazine and we fell in love. I know my Mother always thought that he was the reason I sent Robbie to go live with them around this time. I know she thought it was because I wanted to have more free time to go with him to concerts but it was not. It was mainly because of what the Doctors told me.

I was getting thinner and thinner, the Doctors said the cancer was growing again and I needed to have surgery, Chemo and Radiation. I knew that I just could not take care of a toddler and go through this too. I also did not want to worry or scare her in how bad things were (Gregg was also abusing me, physically and mentally) and I wanted Robbie to be in a safe place, so I simply asked if she would take him and never told her ANY of the reasons why, other than "The Army doesn't want single Mothers to have custody of their children while serving." (This is STILL true today).

I then went through MANY painful procedures to test the cancer before the Doctors decided to do a Hysterectomy (It was "Endometrial Cancer with outer Uterine wall involvement that was spreading to the abdominal walls".). When they did do the Hysterectomy, I was asked if I could be a "Guinea Pig" for a new surgical instrument that was supposed to "Revolutionize Hysterectomy's". Turned out to be EXTREMELY painful!!

I then started Chemo, radiation and my hair fell out. I was also still in the Army, and had to work "full" time. This meant being utilized in areas were a healthy person was "just a body". Things like being sent to Camp Bullis (an Air Force base just outside of San Antonio) to sit in an ambulance in the field overnight (since my Chemo was during the day) while military officers were on training maneuvers. Or sitting in an ambulance while the same officers were on the Gun Range or going through the Gas Chambers on days when I was not going through Chemo.

So my days (and nights) were spent puking and watching my hair fall out while sitting in a Korean war era tin can ambulance in the Texas summer time heat with no air conditioning, hoping the Officers would not hurt themselves so I would have to help them, because I was barely able to move myself.

After the Chemo and Radiation treatments were done, I stayed in the Army for another year. I was transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center, where I worked the Burn Unit for six months, then transferred to the Pediatric Oncology unit. Then decided it was time to move on. I was shocked when 3 months after my discharge when I received a payment from the VA along with a letter saying I was now a "Service Connected Disabled Veteran" for "Loss of use of a Creative Organ".

After asking questions, I was told it was because I was the only surviving person that had been using a portable X-Ray machine in Grafenwohr Germany Emergency Room! It had a cracked lead shield and the other two people that had used it had died of cancer. Susan had died of Leukemia and Scott died of Lymphoma.

I guess in the long run, I was the lucky one, even though it was my second dance with the Big "C"!.

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