Monday, September 24, 2012

Reposting: My Story

I wrote this the night before my 2nd Transplant anniversary. 6 years later I thought I'd share it again... It brings back so much emotions and memories every time I re-read this...

At this very moment 2 years ago I was in my mother's car being driven at what felt like warp speed to a hospital three hours away where I was supposed to be given my second chance at life. I'd hugged and said goodbye to my best friend for possibly the last time. Called my sister and told her I loved her and her kids and even had a small panic attack while trying to calm the rest of my family by telling them it's all going to be alright (even though I was so uncertain with my own words).

I'd prayed for this day to come for a year. Each day learning everything I could about transplant and the life I could have with new lungs. I wanted to know what it was like to breathe. To not wake up every single morning unable to stand up because I was so short of breath from a coughing fit. What was it like to sleep with One pillow instead of six? To not revolve my day around breathing treatments and little windows where I felt good enough to get a quick shower, or fix myself a quick snack. Oh to not be so dependent on others to take care of me!! The possabilities I had for what looked like more of a future than I'd ever dreamed of. I had so much plans for myself and couldn't wait to get started!

So, while watching television (Everybody Loves Raymond to be exact) on a Friday night I received a phone call on my cell from an "unknown" caller. I quickly answered it and on the other line was a man's voice (which soon after this point became my hero) telling me calmly that he had a set of beautiful lungs for me if I was interested. I had to have him repeat it.. All of a sudden my ears started to ring and I couldn't understand the words being spoken to me. After he repeated himself he asked if I was interested. Was I interested? It's too soon. I'm not ready... But the only thing that came out of my mouth was YES. He gave me instructions where I needed to be, and to be there by 1am to be checked in. I got his pager number, his cell phone number and another number to his office. If I needed to call for ANYTHING, I had a way to find him.. My surgeon; My hero.

I got to the hospital by 12:30am, checked in and into my new room to wait by 12:45am. Everything happened so quickly after that with the pre op tests, questions and the wardrobe change. After all that was done it was time to wait.. Boy did we wait. Every hour or so the nurse would come in and tell me and my family that it shouldn't be much longer until the OR is ready for me.. Finally at 8am Saturday, September 25th I was being wheeled into the O.R. I told my family one last time I loved them and with a smile on my face and my heart beating almost out of my chest I said goodbye to them quietly, without them knowing.

I woke up the next day in the ICU with my dad looking over me. His first response was yelling to whomever else was in the room that I was awake. By that evening my ICU nurses already had me sitting on the edge of the bed. The next day I was in a chair and from then on I was either in the chair or walking the halls unless it was bedtime and only then was I allowed in my bed. I definitely had a love/hate relationship with those nurses, but in all honesty I couldn't have asked for better angels looking out for me. After a few complications and 12 days after my surgery I was ready to be discharged and move into what would be my new home by the beach for the next 6 1/2 weeks.
I was so homesick while living in that hotel. There isn't words to discribe just how much I wanted my own bed and my friends to visit with, but somehow time passed and on the night before Thanksgiving I was packed up and on my way home with my mom. With the car packed as tight as it could possibly be I asked my mom to stop by my best friend's house before going home. I called her from my cell and told her how much I missed her and wished I could be home to spend Thanksgiving with them. Meanwhile I was walking up her doorstep without her knowing. I rang the doorbell and on the phone I told her "ding dong". Her father answered the door and he and I just grinned at each other... She was in her room squeeling with every bit of happiness that could come from her tiny body! She ran out and gave me a huge hug. Oh what a wonderful feeling to be home! To have my people around me again.. Surely all of this crap I'd gone through had been worth it if I get to have a little extra borrowed time to spend with the people I love. I will never forget what my friend sent as a text message to me that very night before I'd gone to bed.. "You brought the holidays back with you" That love is what I fought so hard to keep, what I still fight so hard for.

So, two years later and I feel amazing. I'm not feeling perfect, but I can't expect that. I wouldn't be here right now writing this if I hadn't had the opportunity to be given two new beautiful lungs from the donor who gave one last time to a complete stranger. I spend each of my anniversaries both thrilled to still be here, but also grieving for the loss of this wonderful person who saved my life. I hope to someday get a chance to meet the family of my donor and tell them how much their child/husband/wife means to me and not a day goes by where I don't thank them for this second chance.

I do not know why I wrote this blog, but I've felt the overwhelming need to talk to my donor and obviously I can't. I figured instead I could tell my story a little and possibly get others to consider talking to their families about becoming donors. I have a dear dear friend who is waiting for his transplant, but there are just not enough people who make it known they are donors, so too many life saving organs are not used to help people like my friend. If you want to be a donor, tell your family and go to">
> and find out how to sign up on the national organ donor registry. It doesn't work if you just put that pink dot on your drivers license, your family members can over-ride that.
Thank you for reading my story and I apologize for it being so long. Oh, and yes, I sleep with One pillow now = )

Happy 8th Breathday to me!

This time 8 years ago I was on my way to San Francisco to undergo a life changing [and do I even have to add "saving"?] transplant. I can't believe it's been 8 years!

I have been reminded lately by quite a few people that I'm a lucky woman... Not too many people have been given a second chance to live like I have. One person in fact actually went as far as to say "8 years is a good run, you should be happy with that", as if I should just be content with the 8 years I've been given and not wish for more. Of course I want more! It's the want for more, the need to keep living that's kept me alive this long and I don't plan on being "happy" with anything less than a full and Long life. I deserve that as much as the next guy, right?

So I had CF clinic today and my doctor talked a little about retransplant. My PFTs were down to 26% a month ago and after 2 bronchs I'm only up to 29%, so he's thinking that I'm not just dealing with the stenosis anymore... He's suspecting that I'm in a slow rejection and it's time to start revamping my "resume" for transplant. What I mean by that is that I need to do all I can to make a transplant center WANT to transplant me. Yes, I'm a very compliant patient already, so no worries there. We need to start babying my kidneys, be one step ahead of any possible skin cancers, etc. Basically I need to make sure everything is as healthy as I can get it so a transplant center won't be worried about the rest of my body having problems after another transplant.

On to better news, shall we?

It's been a little over 4 weeks since we got the keys to our new house! We have been extremely busy every day unpacking, painting, organizing, cleaning, etc. We said goodbye to lazy weekends when we got our offer accepted and haven't had a single lazy weekend since! We're excited to be throwing our first little get-together in our new home this coming weekend. It's going to be a small shindig to celebrate our housewarming, Benito's belated birthday (we didn't have time to do much celebrating with the move), and my Breathday (transplant anniversary). We still have so much to do before we're ready for people to see the house, but hopefully we get it all done before the weekend and with time to spare!

I think that's about it for now. I'm sorry I don't update my blog too often, but I'm sure you can understand why ;)

I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the beginning of a beautiful autumn!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Whoa! August 1st already?!?

I've come out of my cave! I'm so sorry I haven't written an update in 4 months. I hope you can forgive me!

Let's see...

Since I've last posted, I've been keeping pretty busy and have definitely had my ups and downs with my health. On May 19th I got to lead a team at the Sacramento Great Strides walk! This was my second year leading a team, but this year was so much more fun! For starters I found a wonderful shirt printing business locally that donated their services to print team shirts for all of The Iron Lungs (our team name). This was the first time I've ever been able to provide shirts for my team, so it was so awesome to see all the people walking around wearing our team logo. We had 28 walkers this year on The Iron Lungs, 15 more than the last time we walked (2 yrs ago). I can't tell you how much it warms my heart to see my friends and family (and Benito's co-workers) gather for such a worthy cause. We had a goal set at $3,000 overall for the team, but we surpassed our goal and raised a whopping $4,070.00 making this our most successful year yet! I'm so grateful for all those on my team and can't wait to do it all over again next spring! (See above photo of MOST of our team! The family of my dear friend Kristina Love (whom passed away last fall) walked with us and made up shirts of their own saying "Love for Leah"!

On July 6th I did my last photopheresis treatment! The protocol is a total of 30 treatments and as of July 6th I'm free of the strict schedule of getting my blood tanned ;) My doctor had mentioned a few months ago the possibility of doing some sort of maintenance schedule once my 30 treatments were up, but he has yet to set that up. I'm so extremely grateful that he was willing to try photopheresis on me when nobody else was willing to treat my rejection. I'm now in "remission" and am happy to see my lung function stable again. To clarify, because I get asked a lot how much lung function I've gained back, once someone has chronic rejection (and especially for how long it went untreated in my case) the damaged tissue is no longer viable. I will not get that lost lung function back, no matter how hard I tried, but what photopheresis DID do was STOP the progression of damage done to my lungs by my immune system. I'm currently stable at 33% lung function (fev1) and 10% small airway function (fef25-75). I really couldn't ask for more of a response from the photo treatments.

Now, what most of you don't know is that Benito and I have been looking since late winter for our first home. Over the course of about 5 months we've seen countless houses and even put offers on 6, yes 6 homes! 5 of those offers were not accepted because of different reasons. We waited as patiently as we could and the right home finally came along. The 6th offer was accepted and we've since been doing all the inspections, paperwork, etc. to get into our first home! Our close of escrow is only 2 weeks away and we really couldn't be more excited. I've had the pleasure of meeting the seller and am even more confident that this is the right home for us now that I see how absolutely sweet this woman is. She's doing everything she can to make sure this home is ready for us to move into by fixing all the necessary issues before we even have to request them to be fixed. What a huge weight off our shoulders to know the home is in the best possible condition before we move into it!

So, the home is 1,299 square foot. 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms. GREAT covered patio in the backyard that is just begging for us to barbeque under! I just can't wait to move in and make this home OURS. I can't wait to give Roxy (our dog) a backyard to play in! The neighborhood is absolutely wonderful and I even had the opportunity to introduce myself to a few neighbors at a yard sale that was going on the same day I was there for an inspection! I can't wait to have neighbors that I can associate with and even borrow a cup of sugar from when needed ;)

My health is so-so. I'm still having problems with my breathing being too tight and wheezy, and my pain level fluctuates dramatically for no reason I can figure out. I'm just trying to ignore as much of the bad days as I can and focus on the good ones. I've had 3 bronchs since my last update. Although I felt like the brachytherapy treatment that my dr did on me in March made me feel better than I had in a very long time, it did not last as long as my dr had hoped, so he's skeptical to try it again just yet. He mentioned wanting to try and remove the existing stent I have in my right main bronchi that has fallen lower than my stenosis, but he and my CF doctors are hesitant to do that because of the risk of blood loss. That stent has been there for about 4-5 years now and scar tissue has grown all around it, so removing it is now quite a dangerous task that would require the operating room, general anesthesia, and a cardio-thoracic surgeon to perform. I'm not so sure removing the stent and replacing it with another will help my breathing, but I'm curious if it would help my pain because my pain is always in the exact same place, which also happens to be where you can feel the stent "buzzing" when I breathe. I don't think that is as coincidental as my doctors want to believe. I'm pretty sure the pain I feel has a lot to do with the stent and am considering having the stent removed purely for that reason. We'll see though... The possibility of having to have an emergency lobectomy because of tearing during removal scares me enough to really think about how necessary it is.

So that's that. Nothing else really new going on. I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!!

Hugs & stuff :D

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Just a real quick update to let you all know that I got the biopsy results back from the dermatologist. The freckle they removed was benign and nothing to worry about! It had a few days where it was getting infected, but it's starting to look a lot better and doesn't hurt so much to put pressure on it. We're huge SilverSol fans in this house... It's better than Neosporin!

I'll post again when something new and/or exciting happens!

Take care :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Two and a half weeks later...


So I know I said I would update after the brachytherapy, but I was expecting to be doing this sooner than 2 and a half weeks after the fact... Sorry about that! I'm sure you can tell that I'm awful about getting on here and updating, so I'm sure you are not too surprised to see that I wasn't on here updating as soon as the treatment ended.

Well, the brachytherapy procedure itself went really well. I was there for about 7 hours, but most of that time was recovery time and visiting with the EXCELLENT nursing staff in between CT scans and threading attempts. They ended up using a "good sized" amount of radiation in a total of 3 whole minutes. Kind of a blast of radiation in a short amount of time. The idea is that it would be enough to not need to have to go back and do it again at a later date... Hopefully all the stenosis will be radiated and break down. So far so good! Don't get me wrong, I had a very rough 10 days or so after the brachytherapy. I don't know if it was coincidental that I caught some awful stomach bug the evening of the treatment, or my body had some strange reaction to the radiation, but I spent nearly 12 hours being horribly nauseous and vomiting what seemed like continuously. I was discharged from the recovery with instructions to take my oral pain med and my anti-nausea med (Phenergan) once I got home; yeah, that didn't happen. I couldn't keep anything down, so 3 hours of continuous vomiting later Benito drove me back to the hospital so I can be seen in the ER in hopes of them starting an IV and giving me something through that to stop the vomiting and control my pain. Everyone knows that being post transplant you expect to be high priority when visiting the ER and should be taken straight back to avoid all the sickies. We post transplantees avoid the ER at all costs, so it's a big deal if we are seen in one. Well, after 4 hours sitting in the ER waiting room being told "you're next" and watching my blood pressure rise by the hour (surely because of my pain increasing w/out being treated) we decided to just go home and hope that the nausea lets up enough to where I can deal with it myself. It ended up letting up enough later to where I could hold down the Phenergan and later on I attempted and succeeded to hold down my pain medicine. It's really too bad it got that bad though and without the help I needed. (It is NOT fun to vomit continuously for almost 12 hours! Talk about a migraine!!)

So here I am about 2 and a half weeks later and I THINK so far my airway is staying pretty much open. I still get wheezy, but my breathing is overall staying okay. When I go outside in the cold air I can still feel my airway tightening, but I started taking an allergy medication that may help with the asthma as well, so fingers crossed that helps that problem.

I had a full set of PFTs done on Wednesday of last week and my fev1 (lung capacity) is up to 35%, with my FEF 25-75 (small airways) at 10%!! That's about a 2% increase, so yay!! My PFTs have honestly not been this high in over a year, so this is really good news.

On Thursday of last week I had a Dermatology skin screening. Since I'm on immunosuppressant’s every day of my life and now that I'm doing the Photopheresis treatments my risk for skin cancers are much higher than a "normie" (non-transplantees). I've had a few suspicious spots on my hands and arm that a Dr froze with a liquid nitrogen gun a few months ago, but it was definitely time to get a full body scan done by a "professional". They went ahead and froze a spot on top of my right hand that has been problematic for a while, a spot on my chest that showed up about 3 months ago, and a spot on my right cheek (sideburn area if I were a man) that just popped up about 2 weeks ago and has since doubled in size. They called these Pre-cancerous Squamous Cell spots. If the spots come back I'm supposed to let them know and we'll try freezing AGAIN. Otherwise they saw a dark freckle on the bottom of my left foot (in the arch area, so luckily I'm not putting pressure on it) and decided to go ahead and biopsy and remove it right there in clinic, no warning whatsoever. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. As it turned out the only part that hurt was the lidocaine shot they gave me to numb the area first. Then they scraped away the freckle and put it into a little specimen cup and followed up by cauterizing the hole in my foot. I should get the results to the biopsy within the next week or so. Attached is the rad photo of what it looked like the next day when we put a fresh band aid on it. Cool, huh? ;)

On a side note, the excellent nurse who was in charge of my care at the Radiation Oncology dept during my brachytherapy treatment called me two days after the treatment to follow up and see how I was doing. He said that he saw that I had been waiting since September for a referral to go through and have an appointment made for the pain management clinic. So after about 6 months waiting (and 3 referrals put in by 2 different doctors) this nurse who barely knew me was able to call on my behalf and get them to set me up with an appointment! I got a phone call the following day from the pain management clinic ready to set up an appointment! The soonest they can get me in is mid-April, but I'm still so happy to have an appointment! Jean (my rad-onc nurse) is going to get a giant Thank You card when I go back in for a follow-up appointment! He did the impossible for me and I'm so extremely grateful. I'm so so SO tired of being on pain medication that only works about half the time; I'm really hoping that these doctors can help come up with an idea on how to treat my chronic pain w/out medication. My goal is to eventually wean off of the medication and NOT need it, so wish me luck! I'm kinda interested in accupuncture, so we'll see what these drs have to say about it.

That's about it! I'll update when / if anything new comes up!

Meanwhile, be nice and don't do anything I would do! :D

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Brachytherapy tomorrow

Just a quick update:

I'm scheduled for that first brachytherapy treatment tomorrow afternoon. After talking again with the radiation oncology doctor yesterday I feel much better about the actual procedure. This is still new territory and the risks do scare me, but I'm hopeful that I may be able to breathe better after all this is done. Please, if you will, say an extra prayer or keep me in your good thoughts tomorrow that everything goes smoothly and I get to go home that night as planned. And of course, pray that this treatment does what we hope it will do, which is break down the scar tissue that's blocking my airway, so I can start taking full advantage of what's left of my lungs. If I could open that airway I won't feel so darn sick all the time and I won't feel like retransplant is just around the corner.

Thanks everyone! I'll try and let you know how it all went as soon as I can, but please don't be worried if you haven't heard back from me in a week. A normal bronch usually knocks me on my bum for a few days, so I expect this will be not much easier.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eeeek! Has it really been over 5 months since I've posted on here?!? I'm SO sorry if I worried anyone. I'm doing okay... I've definitely had less ups than downs in the past 5 months and it's just made me feel like crawling into a cave and hibernating until everything works out on it's own, but of course I can't do that now, can I? ;)

Only 2 weeks after my last post I lost another very close friend to Cystic Fibrosis. Christen and I met at CF camp back in 1990 and have been pen-pals ever since. A few years ago she switched hospitals and started seeing the same doctor I go to, so when she was admitted into the hospital I was able to come visit and see her again after so many years just communicating via email, facebook, or telephone. I was "lucky" enough to be able to spend a few days with Christen prior to her passing away and had some long talks to her and her mom about Christen being ready to leave this world. Although talking about that with her was very difficult (especially after having said goodbye to Kristina only weeks prior), I'm glad I got to have that time with her and it helped me knowing that she was ready. I wish I could say the passing of my two closest CF friends wasn't completely devistating to me, but it was and I'm still grieving over the loss of two such beautiful and loving friends. It breaks my heart knowing that I will not see their smiling faces again until it's my own time to leave this world (which, for the record, is a very long time from now).

So as you can imagine, my holidays were difficult to get through, but they came and went and I turned another year older just before the New Year. I'm so extremely grateful to everyone who has helped me get to this age that I never expected to see. Life really is precious!! After tomorrow I drop down to every 6 weeks for the photopheresis treatments and I'll be completely finished by July! So far it looks like they are keeping the rejection from progressing any more and I haven't lost any significant lung function since last May!! I'm really so happy I finally found a doctor willing to treat me and not tell me retransplant was my only option. Yes, it's nice to know I can get another transplant later down the road when I really need one, but that time is not now, thank God. Besides the rejection at bay, my health has been really rough the past 5 months. The stenosis (narrowing) in my airway has been giving me a lot of problems so I've gone in twice now to have it lasered to open it up more and although I can feel them lasering the airway (burns and I can actually smell my lungs burning), and I feel pretty awful for a good week afterward, I feel like this is the longest periods of relief I've gotten after any intervention with the airway. I still don't have a long time of feeling able to breathe well, but it's better than not lasering. I was referred to a radiation oncology doctor in December and Benito and I both talked with her about a treatment called Brachytherapy. Aparently one doctor says they've done this treatment previously on at least one patient whom had "somewhat" similar circumstances as I, and another doctor is saying no, they've never done this before, but they are willing to try it (in theory it should work). So the brachytherapy machine was down back in December and they said they expect it to be back up and running late January. I haven't heard back from them about scheduling it, but whenever it gets scheduled I am to be scheduled for a bronch and lasering no more than 5 days prior because they want my airway to be at it's most open during the brachytherapy. Now, here is what brachytherapy is as I understand it: Brachytherapy is a form of topical radiation to a specific area, in my case the stenosis in my right main bronchi. They'll go down in my lung with a tube and figure out exactly how far down said tube needs to be in order to be "sitting" on the stenosis. Once it's placed they'll x-ray and double check it's in the correct place and tape it down to my face so it can not move. After the tube is secure they'll thread a wire which has a radioactive tip on it down the tube and have it come out just at the end of the tube so the radioactive tip will be on the stenosis. They will leave the radioactive wire there for however much time they've calculated is enough time to be beneficial, but not enough to do serious damage then pull the wire and tube back out. The idea is that the radiation will break down the cells of the scar tissue that is my stenosis and after a period of time it will have broken all the scar tissue cells down and I'll have an open airway again. The tough part is knowing how much is enough, but not too much to cause the good cells that are my actual airway to break down. Oh, and I have a much higher risk of lung cancer after 10yrs they said if I do this treatment. So, it's something to think about, and it does sound kind of desperate, but I AM desperate. I am so tired of feeling like I'm ready for another transplant when I still have 15% more lung function than I did at the time of my first transplant. This stenosis at it's worse (which is like 90% of the time) feels like an extremely SEVERE asthma attack in which medications do not help. So, I ask you, wouldn't you be desperate too?

I have day 2 of my photo treatments for this month tomorrow and I need to get to bed. They still take a lot out of me and I feel like I could sleep for a few days after each set of treatments. Again, I'm very sorry I took so long to get on here and update you all. I hope you can forgive me... It's just been a very hard year already ;)

This year I'll be leading a Cystic Fibrosis Great Strides walk team again, so if you would be so kind to visit my Great Strides page....

Leah's GoFundMe Transplant Fundraising Page