What it’s REALLY like to have a concussion! 10-28-14

One afternoon in August, I was swinging one of my grandchildren in the back yard. It was a beautiful day, even though the mosquitoes were thick due to all the rain we had. I got the swing going really high when a mosquito bit me on the leg. When I leaned over to swat it, the corner of the big, wooden swing hit me on the head. All at the same time, I thought about what a loud, terrible sound it made, it was my head, and that oh no, this is not good! After making it into the house, calling my hubby, and using an ice pack, I decided not to go to the doctor. It did not break the skin, but I had 2 large knots and a gushy area in between (a hematoma under the scalp). My pupils looked normal, I had a headache, but everything was ok!

Symptoms, except for a big bruise on my forehead, didn’t show up until 4 days later. I woke up with the bed spins, nauseated, and a splitting headache. Ok, it was time to go to the doctor. After a CT scan, I learned I had a moderate concussion. I was told it could take up to 6 months to heal. A concussion is what happens when trauma causes your brain to slam against your skull which causes bruising and swelling of the brain. Luckily I had no fractures or bleeds. My instructions were to rest my brain so that it could heal. No studying, concentrating, computer work, video games, physical activity. This is a hard thing to do! When we got home, I settled onto the couch to watch television. Pretty soon the TV felt like the volume was turned all the way up and it was screaming in my head! Noise, even soft noise was not a good thing. Then my emotions started to be affected and all I could do was cry about nothing! The headaches got worse. I was in the throngs of a “moderate” concussion.

After a few days the nausea, intolerance to noise, and emotional distress got much better, although I still had headaches 24/7. I had a headache everyday all day. Then I started noticing extreme forgetfulness. Like I couldn’t remember something I had done the day before. I couldn’t think of names. I would go into another room to do something and had no clue what it was. The things I couldn’t remember we’re things you would never forget.

It was time to do get my hair done which is 30 miles away on a divided highway. I had driven very short distances close to home and had no troubles. But when I took off for the hairdresser, it felt like I had never driven before! I had to consciously think about every single maneuver, those that you do that are automatic, that you never, ever think about. Needless to say, when I got home, I was a nervous wreck! It is absolutely unbelievable what happens when your brain is injured, even if only “moderately”. I really can’t imagine what severe head trauma is like.

When I got knocked in the head, it also messed up my neck and back. Since I have arthritis in both my neck and back and a herniated disc in my back, I try not to do anything crazy to mess it up. Well, the swing thing messed that up too! It was off to my chiropractor to get straightened up.

Dr. Jeff Williams has been my chiropractor for several years. His office, Amarillo Pain & Accident Chiropractic Clinic, is in Amarillo, Texas. Being a Dental Hygienist, I have been going to Chiropractors for over 30 years. I can honestly and wholeheartedly say that he is absolutely the BEST! He is always attending seminars and training to stay up to date with the latest in Chiropractic care. His staff is well trained and friendly. Dr. Williams is caring and honest, and on top of that, a very talented musician and artist!  If you get the chance, go see his band, The Flying Elbows.  They are awesome!

A little over 2 months after I got my concussion, I still have some headaches. I feel like my brain is not completely healed because I still have a few of the above mentioned side affects, although they are so much improved. I am getting better every day. My neck and back are so much better, thanks to the awesome and amazing Dr. Williams.

One important thing I learned from my retina specialist, Dr. Edward Ysasaga, in Amarillo, is to take B Complex vitamins. He said that the B vitamins help the brain to heal. I’ve been taking them for over a month and truly know that it is helping. I’ll blog about Dr. Eddie Ysasaga another time.

As a stem cell transplant survivor, the survivor mode comes out in me when I experience these blips along the way. It is because of the awesome doctors who care for me and the road I’ve already been down that I know everything is going to be OK!

Nasty Melanoma 10-14-14

The dreaded yearly skin test….my first at MD Anderson was on May 29th of this year. I had been checked several times in years past by a dermatologist near my hometown and was told everything looks great! When Dr. Sharon Hymes, whom I had seen before at MD Anderson Melanoma and Skin Center for graft vs host skin issues, came into the room and looked at my makeup and concealer free face, she instantly started asking me about the spot on my left cheek. She had questions…how long had it been there? Several years. How long has it been two-toned? I don’t know because I have used bleaching creams and thought only part of the spot responded. She told me we needed a biopsy.

This seemingly innocent, annoying “age spot” was about the size of a pencil eraser. It was completely flat and smooth. The top half of the spot was a darker brown than the bottom light brown or golden color. When I asked Dr. Hymes what she was suspicious of and she told me melanoma, I was shocked! This spot was nothing like I imagined a melanoma to look like! I pictured a melanoma to be dark, purplish, blackish, globby, irregular.

So a biopsy was done. The top darker part of the spot was “shaved” and sent to the lab. The rest of my skin test went well, thank goodness! Now it was the waiting…do I really have melanoma? What if it isn’t contained? What will my face look like? I’m a stem cell transplant survivor…do I really have melanoma? Here is a photo after the biopsy had partially healed. I don’t have a good close up of the spot before the biopsy.

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A few days later, I got the call, and it was melanoma in situ, lentigo maligna type. I was set up for an excision with Dr. Valencia Thomas at the MD Anderson MOHs and Dermasurgery Unit. Dr. Hymes had presented my case at the dermatopathology faculty conference and it was decided that my melanoma was not a candidate for MOHs surgery. These faculty conferences at MDA are an awesome thing! Several top notch doctors discuss and decide the best possible treatment.

I instantly loved Dr. Thomas! Besides her excellent credentials (Harvard, Harvard Med School, numerous awards and honors, and the list goes on!), she is caring, compassionate, funny, professional, and an excellent surgeon. She took a lot of time explaining melanoma, the flap excision surgery, and the healing process. The actual excision went quickly. But she spent some time suturing! She is really really good with a needle and thread! This photo was right after she sewed me up.

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I had very little pain, just soreness. A week later I went to the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Dermatology and MOHs clinic to have my sutures removed by Dr.Ikue Shimizu. She had done a Fellowship at MD Anderson under Dr. Thomas 2 years ago. Dr. Thomas was very confident with her removing my sutures and Lubbock is only 100 miles away verses Houston at 650 miles. Dr. Shimizu was great! The suture removal went very well. I was happy to get rid of them!

Everything progressed nicely until I developed a large purple bump on my incision. It got larger and larger and I could no longer resist popping it! The nurse had told me that the inside sutures sometimes work their way out before they are dissolved and I thought this was happening. It turned out to be a spitting suture. I had emailed Dr. Thomas a photo of it and she put me on doxycycline and told me it would resolve. It did! Evidently I had a reaction to the suture material. She emailed me a research paper she had written about spitting sutures. The photos in the paper looked just like my bump!

Two weeks ago I went to see Dr. Thomas for my follow up check up. I’m still having a reaction to those inside sutures. She gave me a shot into the incision site where I have 2 knots or bumps to see if they resolve. On Nov. 10th I will see her again and more than likely have another surgery on the incision. The spitting suture and the bumps have caused the incision not to heal properly. She assured me that when we are all finished and healed, it will look just like my other cheek! She truly is amazing and brilliant and I have complete confidence in her! I will post a photo and follow up after I am completely healed! Here is a photo of me and beautiful Dr. Thomas two weeks ago at my follow up appointment. Even with the suture problems, my incision looks better than I ever expected it to look!

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Bottom line…I am so thankful that I saw Dr. Hymes and that the melanoma was contained and had not spread. I am so thankful for Dr. Thomas and her excellence as a surgeon. Please get your annual skin checks and wear sun screen. I will get skin checks every 6 months now, and I will go happily! I’m a survivor! Most importantly, I’m a survivor because of the best Doctors at the #1 Cancer Center, MD Anderson! I can do this!!!!!

Three Years Out….just thinkin

Today is my 3rd birthday!  Three years ago I received a stem cell transplant at MD Anderson Cancer Center.  For the past week, I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking.

Thinking about Robert, my donor.  It was because of Robert’s totally unselfish, brave, and life saving act of donating his stem cells to a complete stranger, that I am writing this post today.  He was 19 years old at the time.  Even if he wasn’t my donor, I would still be completely impressed with Robert!  We had a great time together last summer in Chicago, along with my husband, Wade, Robert’s girlfriend, Theresa, and friends, Josh and Nicole.  Since Robert and I both like baseball, we attended a major league game in Chicago, the White Sox vs the Yankees (on that very day it was decided A-Rod could play…we sat 13 rows above 3rd base, and it was awesome!).  One perfect moment of this trip was getting a cab with Robert that had a Be The Match ad on top of the car with a photo of Robin Roberts!  It was mind blowing, and I really don’t feel like it was a random thing! 

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Thinking about how my life has changed.  I have a new ability to see people and things differently.  Call it intuitiveness, perceptiveness, achtung.  My priorities have changed.  I see things differently.  I have felt more connected to people, more caring toward people.  Just one example…last year while staying at the Greenbriar in West Virginia,I felt compelled to make friends with the doorman who has been employed there for more than 50 years.  We became great friends, and have in fact, corresponded.  His name is Frankie, and he is a loveable, perfect gentle man. He was very cautious not to breech any confidentialities, but did tell me Bob Hope was one of his favorite guests!   He was going to church that night and put me on their prayer list.  Here is a photo of Frankie and me.  (And go to the Greenbriar if you can!  It is an unbelievable place!)

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Thinking about MD Anderson Cancer Center, what a great institution it is, and how many lives they have saved.   Thinking about how caring and professional the staff is.  And my Awesome Doctors!  They truly are the best, the cream of the crop, unparalelled.  Dr.Garcia-Manero, my MDS doctor, and Dr. Hosing, my stem cell transplant doctor.  I can’t thank them enough!

 

Thinking about my husband Wade, my care giver.  He truly gave me the best care in the most loving, understanding way.  He provided me the opportunity to receive the best care in the world at MD Anderson.  And his caring and love never ends!  Thank you Wade!

 

Thinking about my family and the sacrifices they have made for me, and the unconditional love they have for me.  Thinking about my adorable grandchildren whom I love deeply am able to act normal and crazy with now that I am well.  This thought brings me back to Robert…

 

Thinking about Robert, who made this all possible for me.  Thinking about how thankful I am for him.  Thinking about how alike (but different) we are.  Thinking about how much I love him.  Thinking about how excited I am to see him and Theresa in just 3 1/2 weeks!  Thinking about how it was a “meant to be” thing that he joined the Be The Match registry.

 

It’s been a wonderful, eye-opening, blessed, amazing journey!  Thank you Robert!

 

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Wade, Holly, Robert, Theresa

New Beginnings – Happy Birthday!

On was the day before Easter Sunday, Wade and I were outside doing some major yard work/cleanup.  Thanks to the drought we are in, there was lots of dirt from dust storms and suffering plants and grass.  Not a pretty sight…  The following morning there was one lonely, lovely purple flower on the vinca growing along the driveway.  I had to snap a picture…it was a sign of new growth, hope, rebirth, new beginnings…all of the things we are mindful about on Easter Sunday.  It was a sign!  I was in awe!

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Two days later, the birth of a new grandchild Ella, Haley and Jon’s first child.  A new beginning!  And since then, new beginnings everywhere in my great big wonderful family and family of friends!  Relationships mended, old friendships renewed, new friendships nurtured, moving on with new jobs and endless possibilities, new opportunities, and graduations from high schools and college.

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On my last appointment at MD Anderson a couple of weeks ago, everything was really good…only a few minor problems.  Dr. Hosing is letting me very slowly try weaning off of the immune suppressant drug I am on, sirolimus.  When I tried this last fall, it didn’t work very well. Graft Vs Host set in very quickly.  There were liver issues, and I was back on the drug.  However, last Monday when I had my blood checked, it was the most normal blood test results that I have had in years!

Today is my SECOND birthday!  Exactly 2 years ago I received stem cells from my donor, Robert.  What a trip it has been!  During those two years I suffered temporary blindness and migraine headaches from drug reactions to tacrolimus and cyclosporin, all of the usual terrible side effects from busulphan and ATG, weight loss of 40 pounds, graft vs host on my skin, in my upper GI and lower GI tracts, liver, and gums, muscle weakness and foot-drop from steroid use for GVHD, deep vein thrombosis in my left leg, and a very rare virus that we stem cell transplant patients are extremely unlucky to get – The dreaded BK Virus!  Then there are all of the emotional issues I dealt with.  Some of the most difficult were friends that moved on without me, chemo brain, and dealing with depression and forgetfulness.

I am not griping!  With my wonderful husband, Wade, constantly by my side, all of my energies, which were mostly spiritual rather than physical (fellow survivors will relate to lack of energy!), were devoted to getting through…getting by…getting well.  Each baby step offered new hope.  Baby steps turned into more normal steps, and sometimes even happy feet!

So, on this special day that I am now 2 years old, I want the world to know that all of those trying times are worth it.  Be steadfast, hopeful, positive and kind, appreciating each day, turning baby steps into happy feet.  We can only have positive outcomes when we have positive attitudes.  I pray daily for positivity in my life.  And I pray for those less fortunate than me.

Speaking of all of these new beginnings, Robert, my donor, is my life saver!  With out his complete and selfless act of love and compassion by giving me, a total stranger, his stem cells and a new chance at life, I would not be writing this post.  He just graduated from college and will soon be entering law school.  Another new beginning!  I know he will be very successful with anything he does.  Robert, you are awesome and amazing!  Today I am celebrating 2 glorious years of new life and new beginnings.  But I am also celebrating Robert!  I love you Robert!  And I love my great big beautiful family!

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