Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!

Jun 26, 2012 | On Being Positive

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Lynne Tapper

I am a lifelong endurance athlete with the dual goal of training and racing until my bones turn to dust and sharing that passion with as many people as possible.

Although what I am about to write is far from funny, I am reminded of a joke that I learned when I was a kid.  We used to tell this joke so much, that we would just use the punch line and it still got a big laugh.

The Captain called the Sergeant in. “Sarge, I just got a telegram. Private Jones’ mother died yesterday. Better go tell him and send him in to see me.”

So the Sergeant calls for his morning formation and lines up all the troops. “Listen up, men,” says the Sergeant. “McGrath, report to the mess hall for KP. Smith, report to Personnel to sign some papers. The rest of you men report to the Motor Pool for maintenance. Oh, by the way, Jones, your mother died, report to the commander.”

Later that day the Captain called the Sergeant into his office. “Hey, Sarge, that was a pretty cold way to inform Jones his mother died. Couldn”t you be a bit more tactful, next time?”

“Yes, sir,” answered the Sarge. A few months later, the Captain called the Sergeant in again with, “Sarge, I just got a telegram. Private Johnson’s mother died. You’d better go tell him and send him in to see me. This time be more tactful.”

So the Sergeant calls for his morning formation. “Ok, men, fall in and listen up. Everybody with a mother, take two steps forward — NOT SO FAST, JOHNSON!”

In late March, after an exciting family trip to Hawaii, I came home to a similar yet tactful message.   My gynecologist left a message on our home answering machine. She asked me to call her back and left her cell number and said I could call until 11:00 p.m. at night.  Did I mention that it was Sunday?  None of this added up to good news.   When we spoke, she proceeded to tell me that when I had my oophorectomy (prophylactic) in November 2009, the tissues from that surgery were retained as part of a study.  For some reason, the folks in the study pulled 1000 of the samples in the study (one of which was mine) for review in March 2012.  Of the 1000 samples they looked at, they discovered a previously overlooked “micro-invasive serous carcinoma of the fallopian tube” in one (and only one of the 1000) samples.  Guess whose it was?  If you guessed mine, you win the ultimate booby prize.

Everybody who thinks they don’t have cancer, take two steps forward — NOT SO FAST TAPPER!

So, on the one hand, I had cancer.  On the other hand, the cancer had been removed.  On the other hand (yes, three hands), I was now 2.5 years away from that surgery, totally asymptomatic, and passed whatever tests they have been giving me with flying colors.  While, yes, it was discovered in a tissue sample that was removed from me, they couldn’t be 100% certain that there was not any cancer still inside me.

Over the next few weeks, I learned that this is pretty uncharted territory.  All of the medical professionals with whom I spoke, no one really knew what to say or recommend.  There was no data or research to back up this finding. I was a statistical anomaly.  The “tumor board” had been discussing what to recommend and they really had little to go on other than “if it were me” scenarios.  Ultimately, they suggested that I have a hysterectomy as well as remove anything else that they think needs to be tested and/or biopsied to determine if I still have cancer.  My gynecologist also had me in for a battery of blood tests, biopsies, pap smears, strep throat swabs, nail clippings, and anything else she could think of.

As you are reading this, you might be thinking what I’ve been thinking.  I had this surgery over 2.5 years ago. I’ve been completely asymptotic.  In addition, I’ve completed numerous endurance races and events.  I’ve pushed my body to run two half marathons, eight triathlons, three endurance swim events (the longest was a 4.4 mile swim across the Chesapeake Bay on June 10th), and a few shorter running events — all from March 2010 through June 2012.  It’s hard for me to fathom that I could have cancer and be able to train and compete at that level.  But, I am learning that anything is possible.

Woody Allen is credited with saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  Well, I had PLANNED to end this blog when I completed my first triathlon since the breast surgery this past November.  I am proud to report that I participated in an Olympic distance triathlon this past Sunday (June 24) and I felt strong and invincible. (No, I didn’t win!) I was smiling as I crossed the finish line and proud of what I had accomplished in less than eight months!

But…it was bittersweet.  Normally a June triathlon means there are many more to follow.  This time, I am saddened by the reality that I don’t know when my next triathlon will be.

My hysterectomy is scheduled for Tuesday, July 3rd.  It is eight months to the day of my last surgery.  I will spend one night at Hartford Hospital and then come home. I am not allowed to lift more than 10 pounds (it might be 5, but I wasn’t paying attention), swim, bike, or run for at least 2 weeks.  After my post-op appointment (already scheduled for July 16th), I will find out what I can do.

However, this is not exactly like my other surgeries. While it is prophylactic, the removal of the uterus is almost secondary to the surgical evaluation of my abdominal cavity (and it is really a cavity now based on all the organs I’ve had removed).  Multiple tissue samples, removal of something called the omentum* (and no, it has nothing to do with momentum), pelvic washings and god knows what else.  Even if they find nothing during the surgery, I still have to wait 7-10 days for all the pathology reports to come back.  If they are negative, all will be right in my world.  But, one doctor in Boston told me that if they find anything, they will treat me with chemotherapy as soon as possible.  He wasn’t a ray of sunshine during this process but offered a sobering assessment that I am an unstaged cancer patient.  So, now I have to check off the “yes” box on all future health forms when it comes to cancer.

I cannot even imagine this. I have had many meltdowns in the past week. I’m pissed and shocked!  But I need to take it one day at a time.  It’s hard not to feel like I can’t catch a break through this whole process, but I’m also in a definite “glass-half-empty” state at this point.  As my mother pointed out, if she hadn’t had the BRCA test in 2003, then I wouldn’t have had the test either. And I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make the decisions I’ve made over the past 3 years. I probably would have had cancer and found out about it at a later and more difficult stage.

I had PLANNED on writing this blog to document what I thought would be my final surgery and it turns out that it’s just the beginning. Is God laughing now?

I know that I will make it through the surgery.  I don”t know what will happen after that.  I can use all the strength and positive energy thrown my way.

Stay tuned…the finish line seemed behind me, but now it’s moved ahead of me…somewhere.

*omentum /omen·tum/ (o-men´tum) pl. omen´ta [L.] a fold of peritoneum extending from the stomach to adjacent abdominal organs.


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