What happens when you have several unrelated symptoms making it difficult for the doctors to pinpoint the underlying issue? How many weeks are you willing to accept wishy-washy explanations from disinterested specialists while enduring off-the-charts levels of pain? At what point do you stop listening, take matters into your own hands, and finally say, "Somebody help me!"
That's exactly what happened to me. In 2021, my primary physician and gynecologist worked tirelessly for nearly 4 months trying to figure out the root cause of my pain. Meanwhile, the first oncologist I was seeing didn't seem interested in solving the mystery in a timely fashion. They only seemed interested in being "the one" who could claim the diagnosis for their own; and the moment they realized they were not going to be planting any flags, they wrote me off. I was adrift, in pain, and in the shadow of constant fear.
"Round the Twist: Facing the Abdominable" chronicles my 15-month journey from the very first symptoms (ovarian cysts) to diagnosis (Stage-4C colon cancer), through four surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. When I was going through all of this, the last thing I wanted to read was a "how-to Cancer" book. Coping with the physical effects of cancer treatments is easy compared to dealing with the reality of "having cancer." I set out to document my experience as a way to fill that void.
At its heart, the book is a story of hope and resilience, but also one of sadness at the loss of innocence. Having a body and mind ready to face something as unbelievable as late-stage, terminal cancer, at the age of 47 is not as easy as it sounds. I am a lifelong vegan, yogi, and health nut -- I was not supposed to get any kind of cancer. How does one wrap their brain around this surreality?
Since my diagnosis, I have seen so many others struggling to beat their cancer, some with the exact same diagnosis and treatments that I had. The statistics are still not in my favor. Exactly one year ago, in the summer of 2022, I was still going through the radiation treatments that nearly killed me. I am only 18 months past my original diagnosis. I have not even had a year's worth of clear scans yet. I am not dancing in the streets proclaiming that I'm cured, the doctors haven't even used the word "remission" yet. I am cautiously optimistic that all these positive signs point to me surviving long enough to be on the right side of the 5-year, 10% survival rate, statistic.
I have asked myself so many times in the past year, how could I be so lucky that 6 doses of chemo, 29 rounds of radiation, and 4 surgeries seem to have saved my life? And I keep coming back to these lines from the book: "But was it luck? Or had the very real, focused attention, expertise, and goodwill of an entire team of people, coupled with my moxie, made this happen? Luck played no part in this. My exhausted body and exhausted husband were a testament to that." ©LisaFebre2023
The Team of Grownups
Radiation Nurse*, this woman is a lifesaver in so many ways...
*I incorrectly referred to her as "Dr. Menzel's assistant in the book.
Dr. Menzel & Dr. Jacobs
What else can I say except these two saved my life.
(And they were good sports during our photo shoot!)
Rémy & Martha
Their official titles are Nutritionist and Nurse Navigator, but secretly they are Wonderwoman & Supergirl
Infusion Nurses (left/top)
Oncology Dept. (right/bottom)
Photos by: Seven Star Films
Excerpts from the book:
From the chapter: "Facing the Abdominable"
One week to the day after my CT scan, we were sitting in Dr. Messina’s office, preparing to hear what we knew would be bad news. Dr. Kagan did not send me to an oncologist because he thought it would be a fun way for me to spend an afternoon. He sent me there for a damn good reason. Yet I tried desperately to convince myself this would all turn out to be for nothing.
After a rough pelvic exam, Dr. Messina said, “Did anyone talk to you about your liver?”
Louis and I looked wide-eyed at each other, completely blindsided. “No?” I was still lying on my back with the thin paper sheet over my knees.
Snapping off the exam gloves like a character on Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Messina casually walked to the door. “Get dressed and we’ll discuss it when I get back.”
What was the most off-putting was the air of vindication. Dr. Messina was the brilliant scientist who discovered the spots on my liver first and was planting a flag. Apparently, there were three lesions that showed up on the CT scan. According to Dr. Messina, this was the absolute indicator of metastatic cancer. “But from where? That little 3cm ovarian mass?”
How was it possible that I would go from no cancer a couple of months ago to metastatic ovarian cancer? I had no symptoms of ovarian cancer. Why was Dr. Messina spitballing, live and on air, with the patient? We would have to wait for the PET scan to know exactly what we were dealing with.
We left the office with more questions than when we had arrived.
© 2023 Lisa Febre
Scenes from the book:
Deep in Chemo
Shaving my head when it was clear the hair was definitely falling out.
Taking a break while hiking during chemo, February 2023
Chemo added at least 15 years to my face. Thankfully, that also went back to normal with enough time to recover. February 2022
Luna in the Sun
Luna is so happy to teach me to forget about supposedly important human things and just enjoy the afternoon sunshine.
Struggling through an infusion (March 2022)
March 18, 2022 The day I rang The Bell, this photo shows the effects of chemotherapy on my body, the colostomy, the portacath attached to the 5-FU pump, baldness, and a face swollen from steroids.
I survived all 12 weeks of chemo
I was shocked to find my amethyst Ganesha had cracked - his ear separated from his body at first led me to believe that it symbolized the cancer leaving my body after chemo. It would be a few more months before the true meaning of the break became clear.
Prepping for surgery after chemo, May 2022
Radiation (IMRT) treatment (July 2022)
Not ready to admit defeat, radiation left me so severely dehydrated that I could not walk. I had to have hydration and supportive meds through the final 6 radiation treatments. July 2022
Outside the Disney Family Cancer Center after completing all 29 radiation treatments, July 22, 2022
Plenty of drugs to take the day before my colostomy reversal surgery
Hooray Hooray a Brand New Day!!
With Dr. Jacobs, 1 year post-chemo (May 2023)
Fake it 'till you make it!
With Abby, my infusion nurse, 1-year post-chemo (May 2023)
Suzy, May 2023
We saved Lisa Febre's Life!
Infusion nurse's enjoy the silly T-shirts I brought today! 6/27/23
Preparing for my Zoom interview with fellow author, Karen E Osborne
Traci "1Cancer Patient"
Out for lunch with my long-lost sister, Traci. Indulging in a rare blast of sugar by sharing a cupcake at SunCafe Organics
Martha is my Nurse-Navigator, and saved my skin more than once during this crazy ride. I was glad that we had a chance to hang out so I could give her a copy of the book during one of my adjuvant chemo infusions (chemo under the brown bag). July 2023