Back in the Middle Kingdom

I got back overseas almost a month ago. Many times I wanted to write, but my work computer crashed and my personal one is malfunctioning so I can hardly use it. Combine that with the “Great Firewall” and it makes blog posting nearly impossible.

I do plan to write more when I get a new computer three weeks from now.

I have found a good doctor and several therapists in my area who are able to help me with my current health needs (lymphedema, right shoulder and arm that are damaged by surgery and don’t work very well, and pain). A therapist here told me that the tendons in my neck are twisted. They feel twisted. They hurt all the time. My shoulder is like a rock. I can’t lift my arm. Every medical professional that sees my neck, arm and shoulder gasp when they see them the first time. They tell me they can help me, but I can see in their eyes that they are not sure if they can or not. But I have not given up hope that God will find a way to make me better.

I had bronchitis for ten days before and ten days after my trip overseas … and of course on the plane here. Bronchitis and jet lag made the first few weeks rather difficult. Antibiotics helped make the coughing finally go away.

Fatigue associated with radiation treatment can take years to go away. That is something I battle, but I’d have it whether I was in Texas or Asia … I just have to live with it.

I am getting around pretty well, building up my stamina more each day. I think I am going to be fine. But I don’t feel perfect just yet, so if you feel inclined to pray for me, I would certainly appreciate it.

Looking back over the past two years, I see God’s hand in so many of the good things that happened. I hope to write about some of them when my computer situation normalizes.

Well, sorry it took so long to update you. I appreciate all of you so very much!

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Wild goose chase

Because my local doctors told me I was in bad shape with a serious infection and should cancel my upcoming overseas trip, I was quick to obey orders and make an appointment at MD Anderson in Houston to have my infection drained.

The surgeon in Houston couldn’t find anything to drain.

When I called the local doctors to find out about my labs/cultures, sure enough, they indicated no big bacterial problem after all.

So either the local doctors are quacks, or God answered your prayers quickly.

My brother took off work and we drove to Houston and back (more than 400 miles) all in one day on Tuesday. I lost a full day of packing.

I really do have something wrong, a red area on my skin. But like most people’s, mine should clear up with a round of antibiotics.

I caught a cold on the trip. Satan just won’t let up.

Thanks for praying for me. I’m scheduled to leave the country less than a week from now.

Big red

At the end of the day last Wednesday, after a hard day of packing, cleaning house, and getting ready to go back overseas, I noticed a big bright red area on my skin. It was near my surgical area. I knew immediately that it was an infection.

I called MD Anderson on Thursday. They prescribed me an antibiotic that I picked up at my local pharmacy, and they told me if I couldn’t get to Houston to see them, to go see my regular doctor in my hometown.

This morning, my local doctor was able to swab some pus (too much information?) from my neck scar and sent it to the lab to find out what kind of bacterial infection I have. I’ll find out tomorrow. The doctor and nurses were somewhat dramatic, making a big deal about my infection. I believe they intend for me to take this seriously.

One way or the other, the infection needs to be cleaned out by a surgeon. The locals surgeons refused to do it, because they think the surgeons who performed the surgery on my neck ought to do it. Neck stuff is very sensitive. And once you’ve had 64 lymph nodes removed from your neck, your neck is no longer like most people’s necks. It would be too tricky for a newcomer surgeon to figure out.

So tomorrow … I go back to MD Anderson. The doctor has plans to take me in for minor surgery to clean out the infected area.

My brother has to take off work to take me. We’re kind of hoping we can finish everything in one day and drive back home Tuesday night (so he can go to work Wednesday). But we have hotel reservations in Houston just in case. I usually stay with friends on trips to Houston, but in case my infection is contagious, I opted to stay in a hotel instead.

I’m supposed to be moving back overseas in 11 days. I don’t know how this is going to work out. Maybe it depends on how bad the infection is. It’s hard to pack, do banking, draw up legal documents, and buy supplies when you’re running back and forth from doctor’s appointments day after day.

I’m so glad the cancer is gone. The cancer treatments/medicines/surgeries have left me a bit worse for wear though.

Prayer are, as always, appreciated. If anesthesia is involved, and a knife is in proximity to my carotid artery, you better believe I want God to be guiding my physicians! Thanks.

Assail, annoy, delay

It was Monday, January 18, just four days away from the end of cancer treatment. I was getting excited, thinking about ringing the bell at the cancer center, doing a victory dance, and getting on with my life. It would be a week of celebration!

Then the phone rang. My general practitioner’s nurse told me that a blood test I had done in mid-December showed that I might have a contagious disease, totally unrelated to cancer. Actually, the nurse forgot to use the word “might.” She just told me I had the disease.

I was speechless.

Did they mean that after spending a year and a half fighting cancer, I had a totally new battle to face?

This particular disease would not only require a year of treatment, but since it was contagious, it meant I probably couldn’t ever get into a foreign country again. And it would almost certainly cancel the surgery I had scheduled for the following Monday.

I went down to the lab that same day for extensive testing. While there, I found out that I might or might not have the disease. For days I waited for the results to come back. Wednesday night, just a few waking hours before my last cancer treatment, I got the results back. Thankfully, I did NOT have a contagious disease.

Why did they think I did? Why did they have to give me a scare? I was exhausted from thinking about it and it kind of stole the joy from what should have been a very happy week.

Fast forward.

On Friday, March 11, I got medical clearance from my employer that allows me to start planning my overseas return. I excitedly sent off for my visa and started packing. Several days passed before I noticed a lump on my neck.

My neck is where I first discovered cancer, so I dare not ignore a lump.

I’ve been to six medical appointments in the past week. The mysterious lump seems to have taken over my life once again.

In the spare moments since March 11, I’ve been packing and planning, but wondering if I was really going back overseas or if the lump was going to mean a longer stay in the U.S. Would this lump change the course of my life? It’s really hard to pack while in this state of mind, but I’m short on time and can’t waste days just because my diagnosis is hanging in limbo. I held off on purchasing the non-refundable items: airline tickets and dog travel.

I got an ultrasound done late last week, and it came back okay, but the report was very uninformative. The doctor who’d felt the lump in my neck wasn’t satisfied that I had gotten a good enough diagnostic exam so she ordered more extensive testing; I was in total agreement with her plan.

I had that extensive testing done today. Good news! There is nothing wrong with me! Yes, a huge heartfelt thanks to you, God! They said the lump in my neck is just a tiny metal hook that had tied off part of my neck during last year’s surgery — it showed up in the ultrasound. Yes, there was really a lump in my neck, but it was not a lymph node. My family and I collectively sighed in relief. We’d faced another unnecessary scare, and were thankful to receive good news.

It seems like the enemy has been trying hard to assail me, annoy me and delay me. But the Lord, my shield and protector, wins on my behalf, for His glory!

The beautiful words of Psalm 91 are locked into my heart from here on out. I read that chapter over and over, and I believe it.

By the way, I’m not publicly announcing my exact day of travel, but if the Lord allows, I expect to be back overseas in time for the May Day celebrations. I’ll keep you informed.

Thank you for praying and for asking about me. I didn’t want to write much the last few weeks because I didn’t know what to say. I do need prayers as I prepare to go back. I have so much to do and so little time to do it. But I am so very thankful for so many things.

Love in Christ,

Elizabeth

“If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Psalm 91:9-11

Pain in the neck

I’m still in Texas, hanging out, wondering what comes next. I hope to go back overseas sometime in the coming months, but I have to wait for my employer’s medical clearance before I can get visas, book flights and figure out how in the world to get my dog back overseas.

While I wait, I continue to heal from my latest surgery. It should have been an easy surgery to recover from, but, alas, I took the road less traveled by. When you don’t have lymph nodes in a whole area of your body, it can take a long time for swelling to go down after surgery, if it ever does at all. And swelling hurts, and sometimes the pain makes it miserable to raise your arm or turn your neck. Although the doctors are all pretty much finished with me, telling me to get on with my life, my situation has room for improvement.

So if you would intercede for me awhile longer, I hope you would ask God to help me with a few things:

  1. Ask God to speed up the rate at which the swelling goes down.
  2. Ask God to take away the pain in my body, most of which is concentrated in the area of my right shoulder and right neck. I think the pain is caused by the swelling, so if the swelling dissipates, the pain ought to go away as well.
  3. Pray that I will have better use of my right arm. I would love for it to function normally once again and not hurt.
  4. Pray that the cancer will forever be gone from my body. (If the chemotherapy and radiation damaged my cancer cells as effectively as they damaged the other stronger cells in my body, cancer should be gone for good. I am thankful for medical treatment, but I want all my trust for future health to be in the hands of God!)
  5. Pray that details for my future will work out as they should: the timing, the paperwork, the expenses (of doggy travel, for instance), packing, putting things in storage and other things. I will try to not waste any time worrying about how I am going to accomplish these things, because God knows my needs better than I do and will take care of me. Pray that I will listen to Him carefully as He unfolds the plan in the days to come.

On a lighter note, I was at physical therapy last week and was discussing my red/purple scars with my jovial therapist. I told her I looked a little bit like Frankenstein. She paused, looked at me carefully, and said, “Uhhhh. Yeah, you kind of do!” I’ve had a few odd reactions from strangers while in town — once they see my scars they freak out a little.

As I said, my situation has room for improvement.

To Houston again

I was planning to go to Houston at the end of this week to get my drain tube taken out, and to have a small surgical procedure done to repair a stitch gone awry. I have appointments for these two things on Friday.

But now I have to go for more appointments on Tuesday because I fear I may have more fluid pockets that they didn’t find when they looked two weeks ago. I have lots of swelling. (My physical therapist, who has seen the problem, agrees with me.) I don’t know if they will have to put in new drains in new places, or what.

I’m also taking antibiotics for an infection — my skin is really red near my neck.

Please pray that my body would heal as it should. The right side of my body has been radiated, so it has more trouble healing.

Pray for safe travels to and from Houston. I think I’m going by myself this trip … not sure.

Pray, too, that I can get appointments at the last minute. I can get in to see my surgeon on Tuesday, but if I need an ultrasound or surgical procedure to place drains in the days to follow, well those are hard to get on short notice.

I wish Houston was a wee bit closer. I also wish I didn’t have to go there anymore. 🙂