Cancer Comes for Dad (Part One)

It’s been almost six months since my last post (my original goal being to post once a week, minimum). I even thought about scrapping this entire project. Luckily, it only took one comment from a stranger earlier this week to remind me why this collection of my thoughts and experiences is important to me. So, I’m back. Why was I knocked off course, you might wonder? MY DAD WAS DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER.

It all started first of the year. Dad woke up early one morning with horrible chest pains, so much so he thought it might be a heart attack. However, the other symptoms didn’t add up, so once it seemed to pass, he went back to bed. (My initial response being, “Wait – you didn’t immediately go to the hospital?!?”) Later that morning, he called his doctor for an appointment. There was talk of gallstones. Tests were scheduled.

Even for middle class Americans, sometimes the health system is an excruciatingly slow process. The more money you can throw at a problem, the faster you’ll get results. So, we waited. End of January, we finally got dad’s test results back: it was gallbladder disease. Not a great diagnosis, but not the worst, either. More alarming, though, was that the scan also showed a huge mass in/on one of his kidneys. For us, that meant a new doctor, more tests, and more waiting.

Mid-February, his primary care physician called and asked to meet with him in the morning, before his office opened, to discuss the test results. What that said to me was: IT’S CANCER! That mass on his kidney? CANCER!!! Waiting to hear from him that day, the seconds dragged by, mocking the urgency of the situation. I work nights, but sleep was not an option. Late in the afternoon, I finally got the call. It was worse than I had imagined: Dad did have cancer – kidney AND liver cancer.

The scan for the mass on his kidney had also shown tumors on his liver. The kidney cancer was Renal Cell Carcinoma. Next to discover was whether the liver cancer had metastasized from his kidney, or somewhere else, or if it had originated in his liver. Was there cancer lurking in any other of his organs? For us, even more tests, even more doctors, and even more waiting. I knew people were diagnosed, treated, and recovered from cancer all the time, but it was hard not to be fatalistic. My sister and I cried over the phone at the very real fear that we could lose our dad, this year – that this could be it.

The next few weeks were a roller-coaster of constantly changing diagnoses. The liver biopsy went really well, and his tech left us feeling hopeful: he had two massive tumors on his liver that they might be able to remove with laser ablation. That became our primary concern; the kidney cancer absent from the conversation. Depending on how bad the liver cancer was, him having kidney cancer just didn’t matter any more.

First week of March, we got the biopsy results back, and they were awesome! The liver cancer hadn’t metastasized from his kidney (that was really good). Other scans showed no sign of cancer in his brain, lungs, or other locations. More great news! He was scheduled to meet with the same surgeon who had operated on Steve Jobs – phenomenal! Best of all, surgery looked like the answer: they could blast away the liver tumors, and remove the left kidney at the same time. Recovery would take weeks, but he WOULD recover. SUCCESS!

Everything changed the next day. He met with the surgeon, who informed him that upon closer analysis SURGERY WAS NOT AN OPTION. One tumor was covering the vena cava, and if both were removed, there wouldn’t be enough liver left to regenerate, for him to recover. Dad’s wife told me all of this over the phone, with him sitting right there, too upset to talk to me. His silence scared me worse than the diagnosis. Cue another week of waiting, and the best we could now hope for was him being a viable candidate for chemotherapy.

To be continued…

  
This is us back in February, on dad’s 70th birthday, right in the middle of the knowing and not knowing. It was a ’50’s themed party, hence the glasses. We are, quite obviously, happy, terrified, and exhausted.

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So You Think You Have Liver Disease (Early Warning Signs)

The big problem with liver disease (well, other than how it can kill you) is that you can have it for years before being diagnosed. A lot of people who have Fatty Liver Disease live and die and never even know – it’s discovered during their autopsy. Those who do find out are usually diagnosed because the disease has progressed to an irreversible, life-threatening stage. If you think you are early-stage, the only indication is often a blood test, but even that can be inconclusive. My first “reveal” was an ultrasound, which showed that I had Fatty Liver Disease, but not the severity of it. A liver biopsy is definitive, but since it’s so invasive and painful, it usually isn’t prescribed until you are obviously late-stage, having NASH or cirrhosis.

So, how can you tell if you are developing liver disease?

  1. Watch your eyes. In the months before I was diagnosed, I thought I was suddenly aging poorly, and rapidly. (I will be 40 in May.) I looked extra pale and blotchy, and I noticed I had dark circles under my eyes. Sometimes, my left eye even looked like I had a fading black eye. Surprise! It was liver disease! One early warning sign is jaundice, a yellowing of the skin, especially around the eyes. I thought I looked really tired, but it wasn’t sleep deprivation, it was poor liver functionality. In the past couple of years, I have noticed that when I make smarter diet and exercise choices, the jaundice lightens. When I have gotten frustrated, given up, and returned to fast food and a sedentary lifestyle, the jaundice intensifies. I still have a slight yellow hue around my eyes today. (FYI, it might be noticeably darker around your left eye. Also, it never has affected the whites of my eyes, just the skin around them.) DSC_3365xx
  2. Check your tummy. When your liver starts to falter, your belly balloons out. It’s all the fat. My stomach grew huge, disproportionate to the rest of my body, which has always been obese. I didn’t often view myself naked, but I noticed that my right side was WAY BIGGER than my left, and I didn’t remember it being that way in the past. Surprise! It was liver disease! As your liver fills with fat, it starts to expand as it becomes inflamed. You also begin storing a large amount of fat in your abdomen region, so, you get a big belly. In addition to the enlarged liver, you may also feel pain in your right abdomen. It might be a dull pain, it might become sharper after you eat, and it might radiate to your back. For me, the worst pain was after a meal. It was sharp and intense, and I would have to sit down – it even affected my breathing. I was scared, and that was the main reason I refused to give up until my doctor figured out what was wrong, because despite her assertion that everything was fine, I KNEW THERE WAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME. obese 1 - august 2010 130x
  3. You will itch. When your liver starts to fail, the toxins released try to filter out through your skin, which is the body’s largest organ. It makes you itch, A LOT. You scratch, ALL THE TIME. Consequently, you end up with a lot of sores and scratches and red patches. It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t fun, and it can’t be avoided or appeased. Mine started on my legs. About two years before my diagnosis, huge patches on the outer portion of of my calves, almost overnight, became red and irritated. I thought it might be stress. The doctor thought it might be eczema. Surprise! It was liver disease! I itched, and scratched, constantly. As a fat girl, I was never excited about summer shorts season, but now I dreaded it. I was extra self-conscious. The angry red patches looked horrible, were really noticeable, and often resulted in concerned questioning, even by strangers. More recently, the itching has begun on my forearms. My arms don’t have the huge red patches like my legs, but the itching is almost worse, and I do have tiny scabs now all over my arms, constantly.  DSC_3347xThere are other, less specific signs as well. You become lethargic, which, if you are already obese and sedentary, might not be easily noticeable. You don’t have as much energy, physical activities become more difficult, and you are exhausted quickly. Also, you might experience brain fog, which basically means it’s harder for you to remember stuff, you are more easily distracted, and you often feel confused. Of course, these symptoms could indicate anything, from simple exhaustion to isolated stress. They are nonetheless symptoms of an increasingly compromised liver. Toxins that were once broken down and expelled begin to infiltrate every aspect of your being. It can be scary, and it can be deadly. Luckily, if you do think your liver isn’t functioning properly, and you catch it early, it is possible to reduce or reverse the damage, mainly through diet and exercise. I can not stress this enough: Diet and exercise are your best weapons against liver disease.
  • The first photo is a self-portrait from when I was diagnosed in 2013. It shows the jaundice around my eyes.
  • The second photo was taken by my sister in 2010, three years before my diagnosis. Already, my right abdomen was starting to swell. I didn’t notice at the time.
  • The final photo is also mine, from 2013. You can see the red patches on my leg.

What I Read in 2015: American Gods

americangods

I have been a fan of Neil Gaiman since I read The Sandman comics in college – so, about 20 years now. I have owned American Gods for awhile (I think my dad bought it for me for Christmas one year), but I never read it, until recently. Actually, I read most of it last year, almost finished, then, inexplicably, I quit. I think it got lost during the holiday hustle and bustle, and was only recently recovered in my heavily stacked and piled craft room. I knew it had to be the first book I read this year, and I consumed it ravenously over the first couple of weeks this new year. It was every bit as good as I knew it would be.

It’s a lengthy book: I read the Author’s Preferred Text, which is over 500 pages long. Basically, it’s about a man named Shadow, and his travels, adventures, dreams and experiences. In the beginning of the book, Shadow is in prison, but he is soon released, and is hired by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. Shadow becomes his driver, his heavy, his occasional companion, as they cross America seeking out and talking to “friends” of Mr. Wednesday. It’s a recruitment campaign, really, for a battle left largely misunderstood until the end. American Gods has a bit of everything: mystery, action-adventure, magic, history, drama – even card tricks, road trips and zombies thrown in for good measure. I highly recommend it, as I do pretty much everything Gaiman’s ever written.

I don’t mean for this to be a proper book review. I’m sure Wikipedia does a fine job at summarizing it. I am not well-versed in general Mythology, so some of the characters I had only a fleeting knowledge of, if any, prior to reading this. However, that did not in the slightest deter from my enjoyment and understanding of the sometimes complex storylines. Gaiman weaves a number of historical/mythological figures into the story, and creates a few new ones as well, and their plights are absolutely fascinating. I especially enjoyed his use of American roadside attractions. I, like many in Tennessee, have often passed the “See Rock City” painted barn roof signs near Chattanooga, and now I know I will have to stop and visit next time I’m driving that way. One day, too, I hope to visit The House on the Rock.

DSC_0132xI got the chance to meet Neil Gaiman on his 2013 book tour for The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was over the summer, in Nashville. Actually, I didn’t get to meet him, so much as I got to stand in front of him while he signed my books, and when he looked up briefly, I thanked him for creating the character Despair (one of the Endless, in The Sandman comics). As a girl who has struggled lifelong with depression, morbid obesity and eating disorders, she spoke to me so personally it was really rather uncomfortable, as if Gaiman somehow had access to all the ugly, scary bits I strove so diligently to keep hidden from the world.

If you have never read anything by Neil Gaiman, there are a lot of options. Of course, you could start with American Gods. It’s classic American literature, and a lot of fun to read. If you are into comic books and graphic novels, I suggest taking the time to read The Sandman, which has ten volumes and can be a daunting, but soul-nourishing, task. As Halloween is my all-time favorite holiday, The Graveyard Book is a personal favorite. I am counting the days until my niece is old enough for me to read it to her – perhaps this will be the year. Speaking of my niece, I read her Fortunately, the Milk at least two dozen times last year, all at her request. She was seven at the time, and it never failed to entertain her young imagination.

If you are fortunate enough to have expendable income, why not head to your local independent bookstore and pick up, well, pretty much anything with Neil Gaiman’s name on it. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. If money is an issue, your local library will probably have at least one of his books. Anything you choose to read will probably be better than anything you watch on television. Also, read to kids – they don’t have to be your kids, and even if they’re gamers and/or technology-obsessed, they will enjoy it, and the experience will have a positive impact on you and on them. So tell me, what are you reading in 2015?

  • Top image: The cover of American Gods.
  • Bottom photograph: My photograph of Neil Gaiman, signing one of my books, in 2013.

Welcome to Liver Disease, Fatty.

February 5, 2013: I was meeting with my doctor for the first time to discuss my recently diagnosed liver disease. I was upset that I had been given such little information when I received my test results, and anxious to find out the severity. Was it NAFLD, which is totally reversible, or was it the dreaded NASH? Not that I expected this to be a jovial visit, but I had no idea of just how upset it would leave me. The results weren’t good, sure, but it was the delivery of the information, and everything I wasn’t told, that really got to me. First up, I asked her how this could even happen, with me not being an alcoholic?!?

What I learned is that Fatty Liver is mostly a preventable, modern-day lifestyle disease. Lack of daily exercise and constant poor food choices – those are the root causes. The liver filters and breaks down everything we eat. Highly-efficient at its job, even having a regenerative quality, it just can’t keep up with today’s excesses. Eventually, the liver becomes overwhelmed, and starts storing all the extra fat it can’t process. The fat, then, forms pockets that harden into fibroids, and starts choking out the healthy liver cells. Finally, the liver starts shutting down, and then either cancer grows, and you die, or you get a transplant, and a reprieve.

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is when the liver is flooded with fat. It is an early-stage, temporary condition, though many people never progress past it. With Non-Alcoholic SteatoHepatitis (NASH), the multiple fatty deposits solidify, take up space, and the other cells die. NASH is permanent. My doctor told me that I was right in-between NAFLD and NASH. Basically, my liver was drowning in fat and having trouble functioning. Fibroids had just started forming, but if I could drastically reduce the amount of fat in my liver, I might be alright. MIGHT BE ALRIGHT. 

So, what then? According to my doctor, I had to immediately stop consuming refined white sugar and refined white flour. Oh yeah, that’d be easy – it’s only in ALMOST EVERYTHING I EAT. She continued: No more alcohol. No fast food. No fried foods. No candy or desserts. No soda. Don’t eat at restaurants anymore. Stay away from processed foods. “You have to exercise, seriously exercise, every day.” If I had any chance of recovering, I’d need to lose a hundred pounds in a year, and fifty more the year after that, and then keep the weight off, FOREVER. She thought it was ridiculous that I was having this problem, at my young age (37), and warned that I could be looking at a transplant in as little as a couple of years.

I left the office, crying. I went home and I cried a lot more. How could I possibly succeed? I kept thinking about all my new food limitations and restrictions. Then, I got hungry. I went to the kitchen and I stood there looking at all the food I wasn’t supposed to eat now. I cried some more. I went to bed hungry. I got back up, still hungry, still unsure what to eat. She had told me everything not to eat, but I had absolutely no idea what I could, and should, eat. My experience with cooking had primarily involved opening boxes and adding water, or opening cans and adding heat. I wasn’t prepared for this.

A vast percentage of Americans have liver disease. Most people with fatty liver, however, they live and they die and they never even know they have the disease, unless it progresses. By the time the disease becomes symptomatic, the damage is usually irreversible. Apparently, it’s really rare to catch it in this early of a stage. I was lucky. I felt lucky. (That last bit is sarcasm.) As previously stated, I am morbidly obese, and have been all my life. I have also had an eating disorder for as long as I can remember (since elementary school). It’s not like I never tried to lose weight, tried to change. I had tried, and I had failed, over and over and over again, for three decades. So now, facing this? Piece of cake.

(Photo by me: selfie with cat shadow)

The Hoard is Strong with This One.

I am a third-generation quasi-hoarder. Our nature may go back even further, but I can only speak for us: me, my mom, & my grandma (mom’s mom). Especially considering my repurposing, found art, & crafty tendencies, it is incredibly hard for me to let go of things, and stuff – even the everyday items. Somehow, my sister didn’t inherit this behavior. She is actually quite the opposite. I have always been impressed (& sometimes shocked) by her ability to let go of practically any item. Even special, handmade or family items, of significance, are fair game. Almost no thing is sacred.

I can remember a room in my grandma’s house, the spare room. I think it was also called the sewing room, but that must have been before my time, because I don’t remember anything happening in that room. What I do remember was her hoard of photographs. An entire desk was full, inside the drawers & roll-top, every inch of space crammed & covered with 4×6 photos, most still in the envelopes they had come in from the local drugstore (back then, it was Osco). She was a prolific photographer, but she never took the time to do anything with the results, which were mostly enjoyed by no one at all.

That wasn’t my grandma’s only hoard, but it’s the one I remember the clearest. I always wanted to go through those pictures, & I finally got my chance, when she died. It was bittersweet, & impossibly sad. Now, my mom put her mom’s hoarding to shame. She had not one, but two non-functioning rooms in her house. She had other, tiny hoards throughout the rest of the house: make-up, clothes, books, cheap jewelry, coffee mugs. However, those rooms were the epicenter, where she amassed hundreds & hundreds of dollars worth of unused scrapbooking supplies, which was her last, great dysfunction.

My mom died a few years ago. My sister Teresa & I went through mom’s hoard. It was hard for both of us, but it was much easier for Teresa to let go of almost everything. Me? I brought carload after carload back to my apartment. For better or for worse, I viewed most of it as my inheritance. Stacks of decorative paper, binders full of stickers, shelves of unopened scrapbooks, drawers of curling ribbon & bows, so many clothes that I knew I would never wear but I kept because they still smelled like her, even boxes full of boxes: jewelry boxes, fancy paper boxes, flat boxes, new boxes. Plus, the cosmetics.

Mom always had a full-time job, plus a hobby or two, plus her eating disorder & her pets & collections & family to occupy her time. So, of course, one day she decided to also become a Mary Kay consultant. I’m sure she sold something to someone sometime, but mostly she hoarded, or “built up her stock.” When she died, there were boxes & bags full of unopened product. We gave a sizeable pile to our cousin’s wife, herself a consultant at the time. Then, Teresa took a few bottles home, a reasonable amount, & I took home more than I could use in a decade, much less before they would expire.

This year, one of my resolutions was to de-hoard my apartment. I started today, in the bathroom. Most of what I gathered together was long expired. I hadn’t been able to let go of all those tiny tubes & glass bottles & ceramic tubs, each one carrying her contact information printed on a hand-placed sticker, like a mantra, a recipe for remembering her. Today, I finally boxed & bagged all of it up. It has taken me my lifetime to get to today. I peeled one of her stickers off & put it in my journal, to remember it all, to remember this day. Today, mom’s discarded hoard doesn’t make the tiniest dent in my memories of her.

(Photo: mine, part of today’s release.)

Fatty Fatso Liver Disease


After listening to a rather cryptic message, I had gotten out of bed & called my doctor back to get my test results. (This was in February of 2013.) Replying to the Valley Girl/nurse on the phone, whose every statement sounded like a question, I asked, “Wait – did you just say I have LIVER DISEASE?!?” 

“Um, yes? The… ultrasound results? They show that, like, you have, um, a fatty liver? If you work on your diet, & maybe, like, exercise more, that will… help?” She replied as if we were discussing a sale at the mall, something innocuous & not at all a POTENTIALLY TERRIFYING & LIFE-THREATENING DISEASE HIDDEN DEEP INSIDE ME.

I still couldn’t understanding what I was hearing. I had gone to the doctor because of a car wreck. I was expecting a cracked rib, or maybe even gall stones. How could I have liver disease?!? I knew better than to ask her, however. Numbly, I replied, “Oh, okay. Thanks?” I was unsure if thanks was the right response.

She replied, “Okay, so like, have a great weekend?” Finally, her questioning tone was appropriate.

This was Friday afternoon. My enjoyment of said weekend was indeed in peril. I sat on the couch a few minutes, then said, nope, I am not even dealing with this right now, & went back to bed. When I got up, hours later, I thought, okay, liver disease. I have liver disease. What does that even mean? Which for me, living alone, meant: To The Internet! I started out on Wikipedia. Basically, liver disease is a catch-all phrase that can describe over a hundred different variations, anything from inflammation (hepatitis) to fibrosis (cirrhosis, which can lead to liver failure) to cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). But the nurse said I have a fatty liver, so I focused in on that.

                                  

From Wikipedia: Fatty liver, also known as fatty liver disease (FLD), is a reversible condition wherein large vacuoles of triglyceride fat accumulate in liver cells via the process of steatosis (i.e. abnormal retention of lipids within a cell). Despite having multiple causes, fatty liver can be considered a single disease that occurs worldwide in those with excessive alcohol intake and the obese. By considering the contribution by alcohol, fatty liver may be termed alcoholic steatosis or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and the more severe forms as alcoholic steatohepatitis (part of alcoholic liver disease) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). 

I am not at all an excessive alcoholic – I am not even a minimalist alcoholic – but I am indeed obese, and have been pretty much my entire life. And when I say obese, I mean morbid obesity. So, I read more about NAFLD, about how it’s not a permanent condition, if you eat the right diet & exercise a lot. That’s good stuff. But then I also read about NASH, which was much, much scarier, & absolutely permanent, & leads to liver failure, transplant, cancer, and/or death. So, which version did I have? How did they think it was okay to call me & give me a single puzzle piece & expect me to see the picture’s entirety?!?

I called the doctor’s office on Saturday & made an appointment to discuss my test results. Until then, I would try not to freak out. I was, somewhat, unsuccessful in that endeavor.

Full disclosure: I HATE the term Fatty Liver. In my head, I hear mean kids pointing & laughing at me, yelling & singsong, fatty fatso liver disease! You’re a fatty fatso! You’ve got a fatty liver! (There’s no way a fat person coined that term.) That’s why I tend to stick with calling it liver disease, straight up. Such an unfortunate name, it reminds me of that clothing store, Dress Barn. Have you heard of it? It is a women’s clothing store, catering to the obese. Obese women (like me!) have usually been shamed & ridiculed mercilessly, sometimes for an entire lifetime, for our weight, our overabundance. We have been called pigs and cows, and now we are expected to shop at Dress BARN?!? No sir, no thank you, not this chick. 

(Graphics: All three are from Wikipedia. The top image is a micrograph of NAFLD, the bottom image NASH.)

Crazy Cat Ladies, that’s my crew.

A year ago today, I was in Memphis, celebrating the New Year with my family. I was staying with my sister Teresa, as I almost always do these days. We were actually having a pretty ugly day: it was arctic cold (for The South), a clogged pipe had emptied nasty water into her kitchen, and we’d just discovered the water had seeped into her bedroom closet. Everything smelled like mold & old food. Happy New Year! Her husband was working, so we took the kids & went foraging for clean-up supplies. It was incredibly frustrating. Little did we know, everything was about to be beautiful. 

When we got back to the apartment, as my niece approached the front door, we heard a desperate meow. Under the discarded motor boat next door, a wee tabby cat started telling us ALL ABOUT IT! I sat down, & she ran right over to us, super-friendly & deathly thin. “Mom?! Can we keep her?!” It would drop to single-digit cold in mere hours, so we scooped that tiny cat up & went inside. Teresa checked for bugs & injuries, then gave the poor baby a bath. She thought it was a boy (SPOILER: IT WAS NOT). We put him in my niece’s room with food & water, away from their other cat.

It was never the plan to keep him. My last cat, Stella, had gotten really sick a year ago, & I’d been on my own these last few months. Well, Teresa’s husband wasn’t happy about the new guest, but she promised to put up flyers. This cat had obviously been around people before, so surely someone would claim him. He was TERRIFIED of their other cat, Oakley, and would hiss desperately when he came sniffing, so we kept our guest isolated. It wasn’t long before my niece had crafted him a collar & named him Rainbow Dash. I headed back to Nashville, & contemplated life with a new cat.

Nobody claimed Rainbow Dash, he fought constantly with Oakley, had nuclear-powered room-clearing poops, plus my sister didn’t have the extra money to care for an additional pet. It was only a matter of days before my niece called to ask me, “Nana, will you take my new cat to live with you in Nashville?” (FYI, kids call me Nana, as Angela is quite a mouthful for toddlers.) I replied, “Only you are fancy enough to have a Memphis cat & a Nashville cat! Of course I will.” By now, Teresa had figured out that it was actually a girl, growing quite the belly in her new, safe & loving home.

By the time I made it back to Memphis, everyone had a different name for her. My nephew called her Bad Dash (from all the hissing & admonishing). My brother-in-law called her Diamond Dash, because he thinks he’s hilarious. My niece had already given her a second name: Dash McLarson, after a member of our favorite band (The Aquabats), Crash McLarson – she also thinks she’s hilarious. My sister, when I arrived, informed me I had to use ALL THE NAMES. (Bunch of comedians, my family.) So, her formal name is Rainbow Diamond Bad Dash McLarson, but I just call her Dash. 

Today is Dash’s birthday, because why not? I don’t think she was a full year old the day we met, but she was close enough. So, today she is two. Teresa says she won the stray cat lottery, when she found me. She was still so much a kitten herself, filling in over the next few weeks. Well, she got fat. It had been over a decade since I’d lived with a kitten, & she was a hilarious hellion. When I came home to find her under a plant she’d pulled down on herself, I grinned. When she woke me up, belly trapped in a purse handle, I laughed. When the vet verified she was indeed pregnant, I WHAT THE WHAT?!? 

Perhaps it was I who had won the stray cat lottery…

I’m a wreck.

This all started with my wreck. August of 2012, I was on my way back to Nashville from Memphis (Tennessee, The South, The States, The Earth). It’s a trip I make at least once a month. I moved to Nashville in 2006, because employment, but all my family and close friends are still in Memphis. I may never know what actually happened, but I was driving fast, like I do, and they say there were brush fires by the road up ahead, causing rubberneckers. All of a sudden, there was an 18-wheeler right in front of me (he didn’t appear to have any working tail lights). I swerved to miss him, lost control of my car, cut right in front of him (I could have reached out my window & touched his grill), then careened into a ditch, flipping my car three times in the process. 

It was fast, intense, and terrifying. I was lucid for the duration. As soon as I landed, right side up, luckily, several Good Samaritans were running towards me. They gathered my camera and my laptop from the field nearby, and told me not to move. All I wanted to do was get out and take a picture of my car. There was glass everywhere. I remember being surprised at how little I hurt. My seatbelt kept me in place as my car flipped and rolled, and when I got still, I looked at my body, amazed there wasn’t much blood, and no protruding bones. Paramedics loaded me onto an ambulance, called my dad, and off we went to the hospital in Jackson. Dad, his wife Millie, and my sister Teresa got there impressively quick. A couple of x-rays later, we were on our way back to Memphis.


Weeks later, I started having intense pains on my right side. They had x-rayed my leg and collarbone, but not my torso, so I became convinced it was a fractured rib. My first visit to the doctor, they laughed at me and sent me home. Over Christmas, it got really bad. The pain was sharp, piercing – it would take my breath away – especially after meals. I went back to the doctor in January, and she told me it was probably gall stones. Ridiculous, I said, as my gall bladder was removed in high school. She then proceeded to explain to me how you can still grow gall stones, even without a gall bladder, on the tiny piece they used to leave in the old surgical procedure. I don’t know about you, but that just seems cruel to me, malicious even.

The doctor scheduled an ultrasound, which in itself was pretty painful. I was already kind of freaking out. Gall stones, really? Would that mean surgery? Not that anyone loves surgery, but I REALLY don’t care for it. To be honest, I’m afraid of dying on the table. Even tiny, minimalist, same-day surgeries scare me – anytime gas is used, I’m wary. Well, my results came back several days later, but I was asleep when they called (I’m a night shifter) and they never leave that kind of “test results” information in a voicemail. When I called them back the next day, I was on hold awhile, then this very Valley Girl-esque nurse got on the phone and said: “Um, so like, you don’t have gall stones? (Every sentence sounded like a question.) It looks like you have, um, like, liver disease?” WHAT THE WHAT?!?