My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

Cancer tells me if you fall, you won’t survive. I say, I may shed many tears but I will fight, so don’t try to steal my life! Cancer can take a lot away from me but what it can’t take away is happiness, faith, love and joy!

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

It’s been exactly three months since my last blog post. I’ve missed my “normal” life of doing what I love; one of which is sitting at my desk and posting daily on this blog.  While I designate my blog for lifestyle topics, I rarely use this platform to speak on personal matters, nevermind posting images of myself.  However, I have in the past shared my ongoing ovarian cancer battle of ten years. I would like to take this opportunity to follow-up from my last post and share my very personal journey with you. I must warn you that I will be sharing intimate details – which puts me in a vulnerable state but I think it’s important to share my experiences to those who may be dealing with a similar situation or know someone who is.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was supposed to undergo chemo since a few of the tumors that were being monitored were not responding to the many different hormonal treatments I had been receiving the past seven years. Since I started getting intense and unbearable pain on my backside, I was now ‘systematic’ and had to have surgery instead.

On November 14, 2016 we had our suitcases ready to go and the car was packed as if we were leaving for an indefinite period of time. Before we got into the car, my partner’s mother and my mother stopped by the house before we left. We all sat in the living room and my partner’s mother started to pray the rosary. After prayer, we all got up, hugged each other and cried tears of hope yet, despair. We wiped our tears and said our goodbyes. I layed in the back seat of the car, hoping not to be in too much pain during the long 6-hour drive to my sister’s house in Jersey. My partner turned on the radio and ironically, Bob Marley ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ was playing…we smiled. In the early morning of November 18th, I woke up, showered, put on my leggings, a warm sweater, sneakers and prepared my mind for what I was about to go through. My sister, partner and I got in the car and headed into the city and at 1:30PM, I was wheeled into surgery for removal of several cancerous tumors and a possible ileoscopy bag would be inserted. Before they took me back to the operating room, my partner, my sister and I took a couple of bonding pics and as we said “see you later”, we gave each other hugs and kisses. I held onto my Virgin Mary prayer card (I carry it with me everywhere) and my partner held onto my rosary. As I was wheeled into the very cold operating room, I looked around at the large room filled with machines, trays of surgical tools, and all the doctors and nurses in motion preparing for what they were about to do. I immediately felt my body shake of nervousness and tears started to roll down my face. It was now time for the needle to go in my vain for the anesthesia. The anesthesiologist saw how scared I was so he moved closer to me, looked into my eyes and without a blink and such certainty said “You are going to be alright”. I remember feeling a sense of calmness and relief. You know they say that sometimes God speaks to you through other people – I was hoping that was in fact God relaying that message to me! The radiologist then patted my arm and that was my last memory before falling into a sedative state.

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

At 11:00PM, the surgeon came out to speak with my sister and partner and said the surgery went well – he removed all of the cancer (12 tumors to be exact). The surgeon had to cut into my existing scar from a prior surgery but had to cut a little more. He made a 20″inch cut from under my chest area down to my pelvic area. The tumor that was causing me the most pain, was the largest tumor (the size of a small grapefruit) and was located on my rectum. Since he had to remove the cancerous tumor from my rectum, he also had to insert a temporary ileoscopy bag, where my bowels will not pass through my long intestine and out of my backside. Any food I eat will only pass through my small intestine and into the bag. This procedure is done as a precautionary measure to avoid leakage from my colon. The colon is brought out through my skin on the right side, close to my belly button to form a colostomy (In some of the pictures you see in this post, I decided not to reveal the bag and covered it with flowers). This new outlet is pink and moist like the inside of the mouth and is called a stoma. During my pre-op appointment, when I first learned that this was a possibility of me having this, I of course cried in front of the nurse. “Why can’t things be simple”, I thought! Another thing I have to deal with! The thought of me having to wear this bag and seeing my stoma made me squirmish and scared. I later found out that I also needed a blood transfusion during surgery.

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

After my surgeon gave my sister and my partner the good news of a successful surgery, they were allowed to stop in the recovery room to see me. I remember opening my eyes and seeing my loving partner’s face and I smiled. I then saw my sister’s sweet face and I don’t remember what happened after that. I was told that I started to moan that I was in pain. They were told by the nurse they had to leave. Apparently, my blood pressure was low and they had to monitor me. Until my blood pressure was at a normal level, they could not move me to a room. It was so late in the evening that my sister had to leave to go home but she made sure to stay around until she was able to see me first. My partner had to wait another 4 1/2 hours before being notified that my blood pressure is back to normal and they will be transferring me to a room!

I was in the hospital for 11 days. I remember being so drugged up and two nurses walked in on the second day after surgery to inform me that they want me to sit up and walk to the chair, located near my bed. Now I may have been drugged up and groggy but I do remember thinking….“Are they f*#$!g crazy!!!” I was just cut open, hands were moving shit around inside of me and they want me to not only sit up but physically get out of bed to walk to a chair…they have certainly lost their ever freakin mind!! But being that I am strong person (at least I try to be) I attempted to at least sit up. With the help of the nurses, I remember being in a sitting position and I got dizzy, I could not keep my eyes open. They were telling me to open my eyes and then proceeded to wave alcohol wipes under my nose. That helped for a second before I felt myself slumping over back into a laying position. It just was not going to happen that day! The next day, I was more in a conscious state and told my partner, since I am in an automatic bed, each day I am going to move the bed into a higher sitting position so that it will be easier for me to sit up in a full upright position. It totally worked and I think a gradual process is much better than that of an extreme one!

After a few days of laying in a hospital bed, I knew I had to start moving around. I felt my body so heavy and with all the fluid in my IV, my feet and legs blew up! I gained 10 lbs of fluid…pfff! Since I spent so many days in the hospital, I had three different roommates who also had cancer and were dealing with similar situations. It’s funny but there is a curtain that divides the room in half and us patients can still carry a conversation with the other person, get to know each other, exchange stories and not even see each others faces. The only time you may get a peek of their face is if they are going to the restroom or to take a walk in the hospital hallways. One of my roommates, I actually saw at a glance and she looked very young. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties and was the sweetest girl who I can tell was in a lot of pain. She was released a couple of days of me meeting her. I remember a few days later, I was walking in the hospital hallway (as part of my required exercise) with my sister and saw a woman on a stretcher in the middle of the hallway. As I got closer, I grabbed her hand and said “Weren’t you my roommate?” She stared at me for a quick second and responded, “Yes!” She asked how I was doing and I replied “Each day is different but I’m hanging in there.” My eyes started to water and I tried hard to hold back the tears and said “I’m sorry to see you back”.  She replied, “I know, but it’s ok, we have to be strong”. I told her that I would pray for her and said Godbless & good luck. She wished me the same. My sister and I walked back to my room and I began to tell my sister a little about our encounter. I remember tearing up again because I thought, how unfair! She is so young and I started to then worry if I would be just like her where I would end up back in the hospital – and unfortunately that’s exactly what happened to me. I immediately said a prayer for her healing.

On November 28th, I was released from the hospital and we drove back to my sister and brother-in-law’s house. It felt so good to be in a different and familiar environment. But that didn’t last long because on December 8th, due to the pain I was feeling, I underwent a CT scan and the radiologist found I developed an abscess and admitted me to ER that same afternoon. I spent another 7-days in the hospital. This abscess was causing fluid to drain out of my body, which was not supposed to occur.  I had to undergo a procedure where they had to make a small incision on my left buttock and inserted a tube that was connected to a bag for the fluid to drain in. I was so mad and scared at having this procedure done. Oh yes, I cried again and hard this time!! In order to prep me for this procedure, they wanted me to lay flat on my stomach. I thought – are these people for real?! I haven’t even started to heal yet! My damn stomach is still raw, I have an open wound, and my insides hurt from being moved around and they want me to lay on it?! My tears turned from scared tears to pissed tears! Luckily, there was a kind nurse who had such a wonderful bedside manner. She held my hand and comforted me until I was sedated from the anesthesia. I remember waking up in such pain. Even though they hooked me up to a PCA button, when the medicine wore off, the pain was excruciating. I can’t even explain the feeling – it was if they inserted a rock and it was sitting on a nerve. I couldn’t sleep or sit comfortably. It was so hard to get in a good position that I can relax in.  The pain was so bad that when I walked, my left leg was numb and I had to drag that leg. After two days (due to my discomfort), they removed the tube and I had to undergo yet another procedure to relocate the tube to another area. Let’s just say that after another three days, that too was removed because the fluid was not coming out in a quick enough pace as they thought it would. The end result was to have the fluid release naturally. I was released from the hospital and we drove back to my sister’s house. As I laid in the back of the car, I remember looking up and seeing the New York city lights and it looking so festive with Christmas trees being sold on the street corners and decorated department store windows. I thought – oh, how much of the normal everyday I missed, especially during my favorite holiday season!

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

When we arrived at my sister’s house, I noticed she had a tree up and decorated around the house. It was so pretty and I was so happy to not have to spend another holiday in the hospital. Since my partner and I spent Thanksgiving in the hospital and my sister & brother-in-law were going to be around on Christmas Eve, we decided to cook a Thanksgiving meal and enjoy it on that day. Because I was still recovering, there wasn’t much I could do to help with the preparation of dinner. My body was that of an elderly woman. I walked slow and slightly humped over, I couldn’t sit or stand for a long period of time – even going up and down the stairs took my breath away. The hospital sent me home with a spirometer lung exercise device to strengthen my lungs. It was going to take a long time before I could regain my strength back. My contribution however, was to set up the table! You guys know how much I enjoy creating a tablescape! It surely took a lot out of me though because I found myself having to lay down. Oh, how the simplest of things that we take for granted! It took about two weeks before I could start to lay down on my side and about a month before I had enough balance so that I could shave my own legs!

I had decided to get out of my daily wear of PJ’s and spruce myself up for the holiday occasion. My sister lent me a pretty white lace blouse to wear, I put on a pair of leggings, put my hair in a topknot and even put on a little makeup. When my partner walked in the room and saw me, my partner’s eyes were filled with tears and all I heard was… “OMG, your back and you look beautiful!”. I immediately responded, “Hey! That’s the look you are to give me when you see me come down the aisle at our wedding!” My partner responded…“Oh, I will again!” We then gave each other a grateful embrace.

Soon after my post op appointment, on January 31st – New Year’s Eve, we got cleared by my doctors that we can go home! My partner and I were beyond thrilled to be walking back into our house and even more ecstatic that is where we will be starting the new year!

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

So what is my health condition today, you ask? I am still on restrictions. Don’t let these pictures fool you. In actuality, after this shoot, I immediately got into my pajamas, took my medication and went to bed! My outside appearance may look good – I mean afterall isn’t that the goal with hair and makeup??? I just need to have my inside match my outside appearance. I still have the issue with the fluid draining. This week my surgeon called and recommended that I meet with a GI Oncologist to exam me and see what options I have to have the fluid stop draining so that I can start the healing process. I am scheduled for an MRI of my rectum and will have to be under anesthesia since it will be an uncomfortable procedure. I’m sure I am going to dread this! During the procedure, both doctors will be able to better assess what the next steps are so that I can have surgery in order to revert my colon back to the way it was. After this surgery, I am expected to be in the hospital for up to four days. Recovery time after this surgery is 2-3 weeks and it will take approximately 2-3 months for my incision to heal. I currently have a lifting and carrying restriction of no more than 15 lbs, I can only sit in a chair for a duration of no more than 4 hours (yep, this post took me 4-days to write!) I cannot stand for a long period of time either. My surgeon reminded me that any extraneous activity will tire me out because I had a major surgery and its expected. Only time will give me back my strength and stamina. I underwent a CT exam a couple of weeks ago and a nodule appeared. The doctors can’t tell if this cancerous or not – they can only monitor it at this point. I pray it’s not!!

As for this blog, I will not be able to post everyday but whenever I get days that I feel good and have something inspiring to share, I will definitely will! So please feel free to stop by and check-in!

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

We are saddened that our wedding had to be postponed (twice!) but we are looking forward to good news ahead so that we can move forward with continuing to plan for our wedding! We want to be able to celebrate our special day and to be free of concerns from this awful disease having an effect on us.

I’ve asked my partner to share on this post…

My partner asked me to write about our journey these past few months.  I’m really not ready to reflect because we are still in fight-mode but if I have to try, here it goes…

I will start by saying, we experienced the grace of GOD and it surrounded us every step of the way.  His love and mercy hugged us in our darkest moments and gave us light to see and hope to hold.  It’s hard for me to look back because it reminds me of all the pain my baby endured.  All the strength it took to get to the next day.  All the feelings of despair but never letting go of courage.  I’m always amazed by how strong she is!  One’s strength shows up when the will to live outweighs everything else.  It’s been a long and hard fight but we take it one day at a time.  Rose is scarred but not broken!  She is so loved and had so many people praying for her that I knew it would carry us.  With GOD by our side, we can face any fight and not even cancer can take our hope.  Here’s to better days ahead and praying that our hopes are answered.  Life is precious so love hard, live right and never give up!  Stay strong and convinced that you will win the war even though the battles have kicked our ass.  We will RISE, my love!   

My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

I have to thank so many people for showing me so much love! I couldn’t be more grateful to my sister & brother-in-law for opening up their home to us during my recovery time. To my wonderful, always smiling and concerned little sister for combing my knotty hair in the hospital and making sure I didn’t look like a hot mess – thank God for dry shampoo! I thank her for bringing me special luxury toiletries to make me feel and smell good! I also thank her for shaving my legs in the hospital because let’s be honest…after four days without shaving, my legs can be confused for those of a man!! To my brother-in-law for making the guest room comfortable and for giving up your cable box so that I can watch TV instead of just the four walls! To my mother who took care of our furry – four-legged son while we were in the hospital and for stopping by each week to help clean our house. To my father who prayed each day and had the church pray for me during Sunday mass. For all the constant prayers from family, relatives, closest friends, and acquaintances. To my cousins and my childhood priest who came on a few occasions to visit me in the hospital. To all those who lovingly sent bouquets and bouquets of get well flowers and to my friends and acquaintances who sent thoughtful gifts my way. To my hairdresser and friend who traveled to my home to fix my messy mane, cut away my damaged locks and gave me a new look. To all the nurses who cared for me and for my surgeon and oncologist for making me feel more than “just a patient”. To my at-home visiting nurse, Benny who packed my wound everyday to ensure it was healing ok and made me laugh along the way. To my physical therapist at the hospital for assisting me to take my very first walk, for encouraging me to walk more than one lapse around the hospital hallway and to also go up from two stairwell steps to four. To my partner’s mother (who I believe has a direct dial to God) for all her prayers. To my future brother-in-law who’s kindness and support has been priceless to us. To all of my future nieces and nephews who always checked-in with support and love. To my wonderful Godmother and Aunt who are both struggling with their own severe health issues made the time to check-in with us, and most of all to my partner who was by my side every step of the way!! Your love, compassion, dedication, strength, and constant support is what kept me going! You continue to give me strength when I need a hand, you never left my side, you lift my spirits when I need to smile, you let me cry when I’m in despair, and even in my worst days, you still look at me as you did the first time we met! Thank you for welcoming all my scars and embracing them as a symbol of a fighter and warrior! I know it has not been easy, at times overwhelming, and the many sleepless nights (both in and out of the hospital) in order to make sure I was ok. Your selflessness to me and even to other patients in the hospital – I believe will come back to you in blessings. I couldn’t be more blessed with a love like ours!

A special thanks to my friend and super-talented photographer, Autumn – for capturing such beautiful pictures! You are the only one I felt comfortable enough to see me in such a vulnerable way. Should there be any dark days ahead (which I hope not), I will look at these pictures and know that even though I felt and looked like I went through hell and back, these pictures will be a constant reminder that I can and will survive! To the fabulous Jacki, makeup artist extraordinaire…thank you so much for taking this face of mine and transforming it in a way that made me feel beautiful again! I felt that with all the stress, I’ve aged quite a bit. The drugs made my skin feel fragile and dry and the unforgettable amount of needles that went in and out of my skin caused an insane amount of bruising and swelling. To date, my daily wardrobe consists of PJ’s and/or loungewear – it was a nice break to look and feel good again – even if it was just for a day!

To all those who are battling cancer or any health issue for that matter, I know it’s a tough fight and there are times when you want to give up because the pain and suffering feels too much to bear but please know that what feels like you cannot handle, in fact you can. I had to go through that emotion twice in my lifetime. Look for support to get you out of that negative space. Focus on the good things you want to happen in your life! Constantly envision your future – I believe our thoughts and words we put out in the universe are strong and can come to fruition. For me, I also pray for mercy during the toughest times and ask God to rid me of this cancer and may it not come back. Try to remove all negative thoughts from your mind and if they happen to pop up, replace that thought would a positive one.

In the midst of all of this, I make every attempt not to let this disease take over me, my mind, mood, or everyday life. I take breaks and rest when my body asks for it but I try to live each day doing things that brings normalcy to my everyday life. If there is something you love to do, let it inspire and motivate you to get better and try to continue in that effort everyday. Celebrate your life (even) with cancer. Don’t let it win! I wish you luck, blessings and love!! Stay strong, continue your fight and celebrate your gift of life!!

With a grateful heart, thank you for reading and letting me share my very personal story with you.

xo,

Rose Angel Lopez

Credits: Photography: Autumn Stankay of SkySight Photography | Makeup: Jacki DeMario

Below, I’ve included a few snapshots of me and my sister in the hospital (and my swollen feet and all!)

MY STORY: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER

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One Comment on “My Story: CELEBRATING LIFE (EVEN) WITH CANCER”

  1. Jo Ann DiGiacinto says:

    Sister, words cannot describe the overflow of emotions flooding through me right now. Like I said, you will look back on this and reflect. You will remember ALL that you went through. And, while it was hard at the time, you can now say, I can’t believe I went through that and survived. Sharing your story was so beautiful and inspiring. And L’s portion was so touching and deep. You are truly a beautiful person, inside and out. You are surrounded by love and support that continues to carry you through this stage of your life. My prayers are with you, always. I love you sissy.

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