Let me introduce you to Lisa, one of my college roommates, fellow Italian American and long time friend. Lisa’s story began when she was twenty nine years old. Married just 3 years Lisa and her husband Jim were about to start their family by welcoming a son, Dylan, into the world. After a normal pregnancy she had her very first surgery, a C section. While recuperating she experienced a weird itching but thought it was due to postpartum and nothing much was made of it, until someone came to visit and noticed she was yellow. It was then recommended she go to urgent care where they knew immediately something was wrong and began blood work.
It was determined her bile count, which was 3 times higher than normal, was causing the itch and was an immediate concern. During the ultrasound they saw something and thought she had stones which led her to Lahey Hospital where her journey would continue for the following 12 years.
Rolling with the idea of stones they believed this was also causing the jaundice and there was no thought at this point of anything worse. Following a CAT Scan to confirm she remembers sitting in the Dr’s office with her husband thinking about her new 6 week old baby when 4 doctors walked in. In that moment both Lisa and Jim knew this was more than they ever wanted to imagine and Jim grabbed her hand as she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on her bile ducts and things were going to move quickly.
“There are no words to describe when someone tells you this is cancer. It’s like your brain explodes. Regardless of your faith every scenario runs through your head.”
They confirmed a thumbnail sized tumor crushing the bile duct causing the jaundice and moved to put in the stents to release the bile from her body. On June 5, 2005 when her baby was 3 months old she went in for an over 8 hour surgery to remove the bile ducts, the largest lobe of her liver, and her gallbladder then rebuilt her bile ducts using her own intestines.
Doctors believed the reason they found the cancer so early was when oxygen hits a cancerous tumor it causes it to “do things” it usually does near the end of someone’s life. When she was opened up for the C section it caused this reaction. Essentially the birth of her son saved her life.
After a long recuperation she went back to her life but it took far longer to really deal with what happened. There had been no time to react. It all happened so fast you had no time to think until after when she had the “holy crap what did i just go through” moments. Lisa remembers being confused as to how she got this and wondered what she did. “What did I do wrong? It was so out of the blue.” Recalling those moments after the diagnosis and what it was like she described how Jim was so strong, he was positive and nothing but strength. He told her he needed her, their son Dylan needed her and that gave her the determination to fight and whatever they told her to do she should do it and he’d be right there by her side. He was the strength she needed.
Fast forward 11 years, to November 2016, now 40 years old, cancer free and raising 2 boys Lisa notices blood in her urine and immediately felt something was really wrong. After a Cystoscopy they noticed an irritation on her bladder and Lisa’s first thought was I have fucking bladder cancer and I can’t believe this is happening again. Only she didn’t have bladder cancer, it was bile duct cancer in an area of her body it shouldn’t be. Lisa explained to me what a PET scan entails which was her next test where radioactive fluids are pumped into you from a steel container by a person in a hazmat type suit. These fluids highlight any cancer within your body and showed a mass on her bladder. They believe a single tumor cell made its way through the blood stream and parked itself behind her bladder where it stayed, growing, for 11 years. “How dare you still be there and growing inside of me hidden.”
The same year she celebrates 15 years of marriage she goes in for another life altering surgery. She was prepped to have a portion of her bladder removed however when they opened her up it was far worse than they thought. What they thought was one mass was actually several which had invaded her bladder, uterus, cervix, vaginal wall and fallopian tubes. Because of this they needed Jim’s permission to take her uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and part of her vaginal wall. And while the answer was of course take it, he also knew he was giving them permission to take what makes his wife a woman.
Waking up and hearing you lost all of this and had reconstruction wasn’t something she was prepared for and neither was her doctor. Her urologist called her one of a kind and never met anyone who has gone through this twice and had this cancer in a place it shouldn’t be.
It was determined due to pathology and margins that radiation was necessary as no one wanted this to happen to her again and while this truly was the best course of action it would also kill her ovaries which was all she had left of her “womanhood”. So Monday through Friday for 6 weeks Lisa had radiation while working and being a mom and wife.
Through it all she was never angry she just asked why? She feels though she doesn’t know the why the doctors learned a lot from her case and maybe if someone else can be saved from some of what she went through then that alone is enough. This time was different and she had more time to think about why and did go through moments of self pity. She felt bad to be putting people through this again and it brought about a sadness because she didn’t want them to go through it or deal with it.
She feels the people at Lahey saved her life twice and took her seriously. Her Drs are like extended family, from the greeter to the patient check in guy there was always a familiar face that she’d see wherever she was. She’s not scared when she walks in there because if something is wrong she knows they’ll find it and take care of her. To her it’s a place of comfort. Her love for her husband has never been stronger. He’s been a constant support like a strong tree in the wind to hold on to and her kids kept her focused as she wasn’t allowing anyone else to be their mom!
Lisa would like everyone to know if you have any signs with your body don’t ignore them. Push your doctors and be heard. This is Lisa’s journey.