After a year hiatus I have willed myself to begin blogging again.  I have updated people on my CaringBridge website, but I have decided that it is not the same as blogging.  Please feel free to scroll through and read some of the good times I had in Romania.  There were many more, but I didn’t blog away as much as I should have.  Being under the censorship of the Peace Corps and the potential for my host country nationals to view the site I did not share any of the negative experiences I encountered.  As I wrote the blog posts I so badly wanted to purge out all the negatives just to vent.  In retrospect I am happy I did not. However, I do take issue with the fact that real problems volunteers face are not often talked about, nor are volunteers adequately trained to deal with them.  As I move forward in my life and writings I want to adequately share what life was Really like as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).  Everything is not as peachy and perfect as I would have had it.

It is the eve before Easter.  I spent the day bumming around on the internet, visiting with family, going to a movie, and researching cancer scholarships.  As I sit here all I can think about is “wow a year has passed since I have been back from Romania.”  It was Easter time last year when I returned home.  My bruised ego and torn dreams masked the holiday.  This year is much different: My ego is flying high with confidence; my dreams are more real than ever; and my subconscience is maintaining its powerful embrace.

To recap , via CaringBridge, the last couple of months…

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2012 11:33 AM, CST
I’m alive and well
New look after donating my hair on Wednesday, February 1, 2012.Sorry for the delay in updates.  Now that I am getting my strength back I thought I would grace all of you with my thoughts.  Again thank you to all that have followed me for the last 5 to 6 weeks! It sure has been a ride, but I am feeling this is just a ‘speed-bump’ in my little life (Thanks to Rod for that one over the years). I did make it out of Hospital Stay 4 last Saturday, January 28th feeling okay.  My time since then has been a whirlwind of staying at various houses and hotels here in the Maple Grove area.  I swear the Staybridge people know us by name with all the times we’ve checked in and out of there.  Right now we are focused on getting me as healthy as possible for my next round of Chemo.  So, I thought I would recap the last month or so… 
December 22, 2011, I so excitedly submitted my last final for the semester, a 30-page paper on sustainable education and entrepreneurship, and I noticed a strain in my left arm.  It felt like a pinched nerve from typing away for a week (ha!).  My arm swelled for about an hour and then it was back to normal.  The next day I woke at 3 am with severe chest pain and one HUGE arm.  I disregarded it for a while, and then finally I called the nurses line and went into the E.R. at George Washington University Hospital in DC (Hospital Stay 1).  They found 3 blood clots and admitted me overnight for observation (umm Random, who gets clots at 25?… oh someone taking birth control 😉 )   Christmas Eve day was filled with folks delivering little gifts and chatting with my hospital roommate.  Drew came to rescue me out of there so we could have some sort of holiday fun.  Who would have thought he would be running to the pharmacy x3 and giving me 2 shots a day for our holiday fun?  Well we made the best of it by getting out to see the deserted city on Christmas day and indulging in great Chinese food and late afternoon movie.  With India (my 4 month-long Practicum for Grad School) on the outs and a new practicum devised we had a week or so to spare, so we booked flights to go visit my parents in Austin, TX.  The next 3 days were spent at 3 different doctor visits (an Internist, a Hematologist, and a Gynecologist) to get the clots under control.  Friday, December 30th we were off to Austin. 

Our flight landed in warm Austin, TX around 11:45 pm Friday night.  Rod swooped us up and we were off to see Patty and Corv!  My chest pain was increasingly getting worse as the hours went on.  I so valiantly tried to hide my pain when we arrived because I knew my mom would make me call the Doc, and I just wanted to enjoy our little time that night and go to sleep.  Well that did not happen.  Patty soon found that I was not feeling right and off we went to the E.R. at 1 am in Austin, TX (Hospital Stay 2).  After hours and hours in the E.R. they admitted me with an expected pulmonary embolism.  The crew (Patty, Rod, and Drew) went home on New Year’s Eve night to catch some shut-eye, while I snuggled into the ICU.  The next 5 days were filled with CT Scans, a needle biopsy, and news that I had a mass in my chest 7×9 cm (umm what? It’s a mass cuz Patty thinks that sounds better than tumor J).  We met with the Oncologist in the Regional Hospital. With not ever seeing my scans and realizing what we were up against, Patty and I decided we needed to be at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.  This was day 5 in ICU and from there it was an amazing race to get me up to MN.  One last echo cardiogram, discharge papers signed, pain meds administered, the boys packed bags (Rod, Drew, and Corv drove all night from TX to MN-they are amazing), and only 45 min until our Delta flight left I left the hospital! Hurry!

We landed in MN on Thursday, January 5th.  Jenna was circling the airport (OMG She’s on time!! All those times she has been late are forgiven!) to whisk Patty and I off to Rochester.  We arrived in Rochester while I was coming down off my pain meds and all I could say to the Docs in the E.R. was “talk to my mom” and “how about some pain meds.”  The folks in the E.R. didn’t realize the situation until Patty came in from admitting into the E.R. with my scans.  They looked at the scans from Austin and said,  “Katie we will be admitting you upstairs in minutes.” (Hospital Stay 3). That night at Mayo we were graced with 4 different doctors and hours of personal attention and explanation.  This was the first time we saw my scans, and it was like looking at a hurricane in my little chest.  The doctors so tenderly told us that they expected cancer but they were unsure of the kind, which we were prepared for. The following days were filled with an extensive and holistic exam, tests, and procedures to figure out just what we were dealing with.  Subsequently, we ruled out that the clots were caused from my mass and not by birth control, and that I have Diffuse B-Cell Lymphoma that has centered in my chest and spread to a few nodes in my lungs.  Hospital Stay 3 ended on Wednesday, January 11th with an intense Chemo regiment of 6 rounds of treatment to come.  The brood checked out of Rochester and headed to our old stomping grounds of Maple Grove for a few days where the house-hopping ensued.  We would return to Rochester for all Doc visits and Chemo at the Mayo Clinic. 

Monday, January 16th and Tuesday, January 17th was Chemo Round 1.  Everything went smoothly.  We left Rochester after Chemo on Tuesday and headed back to Maple Grove and our trustworthy Staybridge room where I could recover.  All things were working in my favor until Friday night when I started feeling the effect of a bacterial infection.  Saturday afternoon I was on my daily walk around the hotel when this sudden pain inflicted my body.  We chalked it up to coming off of pain meds and finishing taking certain meds on my Chemo regiment.  Sunday, January 22nd the pain and diarrhea continued, and after consultation with my Doc at Mayo, we were off to the E.R. in Minneapolis (Hospital Stay 4).  We were told just to get some routine tests and a stool sample.  Well a CT Scan showed an inflamed appendix (WHAT!?). I was admitted under observation to be sure, and sure enough the appendix had to go (unrelated to my cancer).  During my stay in the hospital they concluded I contracted my little bacterial infection-C-Diff, which is relatively common with so many hospitalizations.  Even when my white blood counts dropped so low that I became neutropenic, family and friends filled my room with masks and lots of antibacterial hand washing.  My days and nights were filled with foot massages, constant itching from the pain meds (thanks Kristine for the handy spoon scratcher), and a rotation of night-duty family members to keep me company and assist in my outings with 4-6 lines dangling on me and a trailing IV pole at all times.  Soon enough I was able to get ‘my list of things to leave’ accomplished and was discharged on Saturday, January 28th.

So, here I sit at Drew’s feeling the best I have since this all started letting all of you faithful followers know a little too much info, but hey it helps me wrap my mind around the craziness.  I must say that I have found so much joy and laughter in all this with one huge support system consisting of my ever-so devoted Mother, Rod, my sisters, Drew, and all my extended family and friends.   Everyday we find something to be grateful for—for instance, it was a blessing I was in Austin, TX when I first found out about the mass because Drew and I needed to be with my parents to absorb the shock of it all; it was huge that I wasn’t overseas (which is a double-edge sword because that is where a piece of my heart is); it is amazing that I am able to be treated by thoughtful, caring, and ingenious Mayo doctors; and that we live in a wonderful place that has great medical care.

With this short novel coming to an end, I am inclined to tell you that Chemo Round 2 is on February 15th.  Until then I will be recovering and recouping my veins in my right arm so I can be as strong as possible, and more importantly staying out of the hospital.  Much thanks and love, Katie

Oh, I cut and donated my hair to Locks of Love! More pics to come.

To read more about my medical journey visit the CaringBridge site and view the Journal.  Entries were written by my sisters (Jenna and Kristine) and myself.