Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Neuroblastoma surgery (tumor removal and adrenalectomy)

Below is the information I typed up back in January. Being a person that needs to know every detail and make every preparation, I felt like Emily's surgery was a black hole of unknowns. I decided I would attempt to document her surgery with a few notes to help other families that may be considering the same procedure.

Background: Emily's tumor was found in-utero and monitored since birth. It was 4.5cm at birth and shrunk to about 1cm by the age of 9 months. It had been diagnosed as neuroblastoma through MIBG and CT scan. After that time, it remained the same size (according to ultrasounds) and we opted for surgical removal at the age of 15 months.  We knew that she would lose her right adrenal gland, at a minimum. There was a small chance of losing her right kidney if the mass was adhered to the kidney.

Day of surgery:
Pre-op: As with most surgeries, she could not eat past midnight. Emily was allowed clear liquids up to 4 hours before surgery. Once we got to the hospital, there was a lot of waiting. They took us back on-time, took her vitals and gave her a kiddie gown to wear. We spoke to lots of people - surgeon, 2 anesthesiologists, nurses, students, etc. About 45 minutes after her scheduled time, they were ready for her and we were told it would take a couple hours. The anesthesiologist came for Emily and let her play with her iPhone while she slowly took her and walked away.  What a tough time to be a parent!

Surgery: Fortunately, Emily’s surgery was laparoscopic, although we had to sign off on having her opened up (if needed). I wouldn’t know either way until afterwards, they were just going to have to make a judgment call in the OR if they could not pull everything out the small incisions. The laparoscopic procedure requires 4 incisions that allow for the camera, drain, and surgical instruments. They can sometimes pull the adrenal gland and tumor through the navel, but older babies often have too much bowel and it makes it difficult for the surgeon to see. Emily’s tumor was pulled through the main incision on her right side and is slightly over 1 cm in size. The adrenal and tumor (attached) were put into a bag inside her and then pulled out of the hole. All was sent to pathology for testing. Incisions were closed using interior stitches and surgical glue/tape on the outer skin that will fall off in a couple weeks. The surgery typically takes two hours. Emily’s was complete in about 90 minutes.

Post-op: After surgery, all children are taken to the PACU (Post anesthesia care unit) for observation. One parent is usually allowed back (due to space) and the child stays for 30-60 minutes before moving to a private room. Emily had complications with her breathing and we spent a long 3 hours there. The breathing issues were related to a slight cold that she had before surgery, which was amplified by anesthesia drugs and a breathing tube down her throat. Her oxygen levels were 98% when we checked in that day, but dropped about 10-15% after surgery. She received 3 nebulizer treatments and oxygen tubes for her nostrils, which increased her levels to the mid 90s.

Surprisingly, they allowed me to hold her right away.  I was nervous about hurting her, but was told that the pressure on the incision sites feels good to them. I thought I’d have to be so careful, but Emily snuggled right in and fell asleep. Anesthesia takes a lot of you, especially if you are a little one. Once she got put into a room, she slept for most of the day. Katie, Grandma and Grandpa came to see her for a short time. She mainly just rested on me or Daddy, not really feeling up to much else. Because she was pumped full of fluids during surgery, her whole body became swollen.  You can see she looks very swollen in this photo.  You could barely recognize her!

As expected, it was a rough night in the hospital. Emily slept well, except the IV caused her hand to swell.  When we finally saw this (again, you can see it in the photo), we convinced the nurses to remove the IV during the night and put it in her foot instead (where she had another IV port already). One important lesson is to always advocate for your child because nurses and doctors are not phased by most of what they see. If you don’t think something is right, you need to bug enough people to make sure that something is done. Poor Emily’s hand and wrist were blown up to about twice their size due to IV fluids that were not circulating properly. Yes, they had to remove the wrist IV and put the fluids in through the IV in her leg but it felt much better to her.

The next day, Emily sat up in her bed and started to make some noise. We knew she was getting back to her normal self when she started pulling up her sheet and playing peekaboo. A group of doctors came to check on her during her peekaboo time and she just pulled the sheet up over her head and kept it there until they went away. Such a smart girl! We ordered her some yummy food (chicken and mac and cheese, lots of applesauce and fruit) and let her munch on Cheerios and dump them all over her bed. By the end of the second day, we got the OK to be discharged. We didn’t want to risk taking her home right away, so we headed to a local hotel for the night. Emily did great at the hotel, relaxed and played with her new doodle pad (thanks to Grandma & Grandpa). We headed home with her the next morning and kept her home for the rest of the week.

2 weeks later: Emily’s recovery has been amazing. She is such a strong girl! We went for our follow up 2 weeks after surgery. Fortunately, days after the surgery, we received amazing news…there was no sign of neuroblastoma within the adrenal gland. Emily’s doctor seems to think that the NB regressed on its own. They did find a hemangioma in her adrenal, which we were told is a very strange place to find one. A hemangioma is an abnormal group of cells/blood vessels, often found on the outer skin (seen mainly on children at birth). The doctors were interested in this occurrence and planned to discuss it at their case reviews, but did not see any reason to worry as it was all removed. It is the best news we could have hoped for!

10 months later: We are scheduled for Emily's annual follow up in about 6 weeks.  I can't believe it.  For the first 18 months of her life, I thought about her tumor EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.  After she recovered from her surgery, I rarely thought about it.  Now that her check up is scheduled, part of me wonders if we've missed something, if she's completely healthy or if something else has grown back.  We pray for a perfect check up and look forward to visiting some of our favorite nurses and doctors back at UNC.  Our family has been through enough this year and we deserve some good news!

Friday, September 30, 2011

I'm back!

I don’t think I can begin to list everything that has been happening in our lives these past eight months. Most family and friends have been with us every step of the way and we appreciate everyone’s support. My mom was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforma (Stage 4 brain cancer) in the beginning of February. After brain surgery, radiation, chemo and constant medications, she's been stable for a few months and is one tough cookie! It is the most awful, hard wrenching, and confusing time my family has ever been through. My mom is being as tough as she can, but it is hard for unimaginable feeling and situation that she's going through.

For myself, I feel that I'm almost hardening myself to everything. Maybe it is my way of coping. The hospital chaplain said it best when he told us that everyone deals in their own way. Some may get upset, some may shut down, some may feel numb...but there is no right or wrong way to cope. I think it is the “mom” inside me that feels the need to hold everything together, keep organized and keep on going. Just like my mom is facing everything head on…I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

January was definitely the craziest time of our lives. To update those that haven't read in a while - Emily is my 2nd born and a mass was found above her kidney when I was 7 months pregnant (on a regular ultrasound). After being born, she was taken to UNC Chapel Hill, had monthly testing and it was determined that she had Neuroblastoma cancer. Neuroblastoma is a grouping of abnormal cells that can be located in 1 area or spread throughout the body, depending on the stage. I had full intentions of documenting Emily's surgery and recovery for use by other families that may be going through the same thing. I had it all typed up by mid-January, then my mom got sick and my life ceased to exist as I knew it.

While there have been so many scary moments over the past 9 months, I've surprised myself with my strength as a mother, daughter and woman.  Sure, I've had some bad days, but you also find out what you are made of and come to learn who your real friends are.  There are still "friends", and even family members, that have yet to contact me...whether they are self absorbed in their own lives or they just don't know what to say.  I will remember that about them (always) and yet I hope that they will never have to go through a similar situation.

I plan on updating my neuroblastoma surgery write up and posting it soon. I pray I can keep posting, updating everyone on my amazing family and keeping this online journal for my kids to read one day.  Here's to HOPE!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Two shortcakes at the strawberry patch

Everyone knows we've had a rough few months. I do have some saved posts related to Emily's surgery and my Mom's battle against brain cancer, but they need work and I'm saving them for another time.

On a lighter note, we've had amazing weather and ventured to the strawberry patch last weekend. It was so much fun, the girls loved it and we can't wait to go back before berry season ends. We brought home a few pounds of berries...I'm not sure how many were consumed during the "pick", but I'm pretty sure we got our monies worth.

Hope you enjoy the short video...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Keep believing...

I got this quote from one of my professors a few months back. Reading it makes me feel better, so I thought I'd share...such a great mantra.

Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

--- Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh
~ A.A. Milne

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Post surgery super baby!

Emily doesn't let anything get her down. Here she is the morning after surgery...she did this on her own and it was the first sign that our old Emily was back!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ready or not, here it comes

Did you ever think about all the preparations that we make to pull off a great holiday? Not just talking about gifts, but every little thing that eats up so much of our time before Christmas. Last minute wrapping, food lists, shopping, baking, making decorative bows out of ribbon (yes, I did this today...glitter everywhere), cleaning...and the list goes on.

Sure, many would argue that not all of those tasks are necessary, but we all put ourselves through at least a tiny bit of pain to pull off the perfect holiday (whatever that means to you). Of course, it becomes all that more important when you have kids. You want to make sure everything is perfect (if you are me, at least) and that everyone has a great time. I try to enjoy every part of the holiday preparations, but sometimes it is hard when there is so much to do. Tonight I had a few last minute errands to run and I took Katie along (even though we were out past her bedtime). She loved was dark out, she could see Christmas lights everywhere, we went to the town center where people were out shopping and enjoying their time together. Yes, that is what the holidays are all about.

So on this 22nd day of December, I say I'M DONE! I do not plan on doing anymore wrapping, cleaning or shopping. Maybe things won't be perfect, but they will be good enough...and I will spend more time with my family.
(NOTE TO JR: You can edit this post, just like you editted my Christmas card letter...but I won't care)

Sadly, I still have school work to worry about...but there is always Sunday ;)


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stickers, sisters and snow

We've had a busy month, as Emily has changed from a baby to a toddler. She is on the move and loves chasing after her sister. Sometimes she does need to get away from all the chaos...but she never goes too far, especially when she finds a stash of Sissy's stickers under their art table.

"Oops you found me!"

Daddy has been enjoying his time with Emily too. Here they are in their favorite activity...vegging. This is how he "babysits" :)
Speaking of babysitting, here is super Grandma displaying her methods for grandchild-watching.

Step 1 - give them candy and cookies
Step 2 - dump toys out all over the playroom (yes, Katie has named her own room in my parents' house)
Step 3 - put children in buckets for the night, hope they don't escape

Step 4 - if they are both too rowdy, put them in the bucket together. Push 3 year old to the bottom and hope for the best. (At least Emily seems to enjoy it)
Although we had a few inches of snow last year, I'm beginning to lose hope for a white Christmas. Fortunately a local town center makes "fake" snow for kids a few times a day. All the adults thought it was a pitiful display, but Katie enjoyed it and didn't know it wasn't real. She even dressed for the occasion (snow flake vest from Gma!)

Hope everyone is ready for the holidays. We are anxiously awaiting Christmas morning and hope the girls have a great time!
Merry Christmas everyone...hope you have a wonderful holiday!