The good in people

I really didn’t know what to expect when I went public a few months ago. For the longest time I wanted everything to be private. I had a very strict no social media policy. My close friends knew and family knew but I didn’t want this out there in the world. I think I was afraid of being treated differently and being treated as sick. And I’ve never believed that I’m sick. I don’t feel sick. I don’t look sick. Saying the words “I have cancer” was really difficult. And then explaining such a rare cancer was even more difficult. There is something happening to my body and it’s not happening to me. My body and mind are fighting this with every power of its being.

I never could have expected the outpouring of love and support from family to close friends to acquaintances to people I haven’t spoken to in 10+ years. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything. It all means the world to me. Every text, tweet, email, FB message, meal, it all means something.

If you ever want to find the good in humanity this is it. I’m going through something terrible and almost everyone has rallied around me. People say you learn who your real friends are when you go through something like this and that is so true. And it turns out I have so many wonderful friends. It’s a wide net and I still can’t come up with the words to say thank you. Those words don’t seem enough.

I am one day away from this surgery and have never felt so supported.

Thank you.

The Fight of my Life

20170108_134056When I was diagnosed in August my mom said this was going to be the fight of my life and I never really felt that until now. I have this huge, invasive surgery in a few days. I have read lots on it. I have listened to my doctors; all of them. I think I have now been signed off by something like 5 doctors to have this surgery (all of them think I’m healthy enough). This surgery is going to be a fight, but I firmly believe my body can handle this and that they will get everything. This does not mean I’m not terrified for this surgery. There are a lot of possible side effects, some very scary. I believe that my age and overall good health will help me. I believe in my medical team. I believe I will run again. I believe I will be cancer free. I believe in my own body.

I had the best week and weekend with friends. It was just what I needed. My friends don’t treat me different. While my huge surgery is on all of our minds it doesn’t take over. I still can’t get over how amazing my friends have been. You really learn a lot about people when going through something terrible and the people I have surrounded myself with are the best people I could imagine having with me. Planning to fill my social calendar was the best idea. It has been wonderful to see everyone. And it’s not just local friends; the calls and cards and messages from across the country and world mean the world to me. The biggest positive to come out of all of this has been reconnecting with people. I know I keep reiterating a lot of this, but “Thank you” doesn’t seem to feel like enough. Just know I’ll never forget all the people there for me.

While I greatly appreciate the boxes of goodies from everyone please do not send any more coloring books. I have more than enough from everyone who has sent them this fall and winter. I also don’t need more socks. We will probably need meals at some point, but are not doing a meal train again.

For those of you who are interested in more information on appendix cancer I have found a good resource from the ACPMP – Appendix Cancer / Pseudomyxoma Peritonei Research Foundation.

As I head in for the fight of my life later this week just know I know you are all there with me. Thank you. And so much more.

Surgery Prep

This is mainly social. There are other things I need to do, but seeing as many friends as possible is really high up there. Dinners, lunches, movies and more have filled my calendar and while I would normally yell at myself for over-scheduling like this, but I’m loving every second of it. I have a few lunches still open.

I’ve also had a bunch of doctor’s appointments and I think have now been signed off by 5 doctors to have the surgery. I’m healthy enough and all the tests they’ve done say I’m ready for the surgery.

wp-1484268957763.jpgThis week I finally found two different Appendix Cancer FB groups and they are great. I’ve heard from so many people that had my surgery and are cancer free 2, 3, 5, 9, 11 years later. It’s what I needed to see. Talking to people who have gone through this is so helpful. Yes, it’s a huge surgery and the first few weeks will be difficult, but I will come out strong. And I have my new treadmill, thanks to the best brother in the world, so I can get my walking in without dealing with Wisconsin winter. I’ve used it every day since he got it for me. I will be strong going into the surgery and will work hard after it.

On a sad note, the love of my life, Anamaya, and her parents have gone back to Italy. This little person makes my day every day. I would do anything for her. Include climb under a baby play toy to take a picture. It has been so fun to have her here and see how much she has grown and change. My favorite things is she knows me now. She would fuss with a stranger (to her) and be happy when I took her back. wp-1484268990061.jpg

Next week I’ll get around to packing my hospital bag and move back downstairs to my guest room. It’s much easier to be on the same floor as the bathroom and to be able to lock out the cats as I don’t remotely trust them to not climb on me and my incision.

As far as visiting me in the hospital I have no idea how I’m going to feel so please don’t ask. I will let people know if and when I’m up for visitors. You can also contact my parents.

As always I really appreciate all the good wishes and cards and gifts. I’ve stopped trying to figure out how some of you have gotten my address. I just appreciate it.

My mantra through this all is still Cancer is life-altering, but not defining.”   I mean this. Always. I know all I’m doing is writing about cancer now, but I am still me. I still like doing things with my friends and still love to travel and even have a trip planned to visit the baby and her parents later this spring. Fingers crossed I get medically cleared for that.

There’s a Plan

Let’s just start with I’m overwhelmed. About everything. I met with my surgeon this morning. My case was discussed at their tumor board meeting last night. Once again my scans were inconclusive. That has a lot of meanings, but basically they only have some idea what I look like on the inside. But he does still feel confident with moving forward with surgery and that he can get the disease.

My surgery is scheduled for January 20th. It is an extensive and invasive surgery. It will be 8-10 hours. I will be in the hospital for 7-10 days. There are lots of possibilities in what will specifically be done once they open me up. For those of you who are curious and want to know more it is a cytoreductive and HIPEC surgery. You can google it. Please read reputable sources and not crap like WebMD. My surgeon is Dr. Mogal at the MCW/Froedert Cancer Center if you want to look him up. I have, obviously, done a lot of reading on him, his experience and his research. I will reiterate that I, and my family, completely trust him. He explained a lot to me today and it was useful information.

I will be off work from 6-8 weeks. But it will take 3-6 months to get back to my baseline quality of life. As with the last surgery they want me to be mobile and walking. It will be a lot harder to do this in February than it was in August. I foresee circles around my house.

My next two weeks are filled with pre-operative appointments. They have to check all kinds of things. I am, thankfully, done with chemo at this point. It’s so nice to be more than two weeks post-chemo and to not be going back in for more. My body and my brain need this break.

On a positive note, I had a great Christmas and New Year’s with friends and family.

The whole Sturgess-Hill Family

As always I am open to questions and will answer what I’m comfortable with answering.

What’s Next?

2016 Gingerbread House


I feel like I’m back in the land of the unknown. I had my last (hopefully) chemo on the 15th and am feeling pretty good right now. I rested a lot this weekend and was reminded I don’t have the energy of a normal person when I got exhausted decorating a gingerbread house and cookies, but I’m glad I did it. The positives of no chemo over the holidays is maybe I will enjoy wine (it doesn’t taste like wine to me these days) and I get to feel good and will hopefully have energy to enjoy everything. My house will soon be full of family and I’m pretty excited to have Christmas with more than just my parents. This is the first time in five years I get my brother home. In addition to him we get to celebrate Anamaya’s first Christmas with all of her family. Soon we will have my brother’s in-laws arriving from Italy. Let’s hope the snow stays around so they can have a white Christmas.

As far as side effects and what not, my sleep schedule is bothering me a lot right now. I am someone who normally sleeps through the night and am waking up 3-4 times a night. It’s driving me crazy. Over the counter sleeping pills and melatonin aren’t doing anything and I don’t really want anything stronger. So if you want to chat with someone at 4:00am I’m your girl right now. I’m usually wide awake then. It’s super fun.

I want to take a moment to recognize the amazing nursing staff at the MCW/Froedert Cancer Center. They are amazing people and have made this whole process smoother than I can imagine. These are a special group of nurses who work on the oncology unit and I couldn’t be happier with them. As I’ve mentioned before I love my care team in general, but these nurses make a long chemo day better.

Fresh flowers are my favorite.


I am having scans, a CT and MRI, on the 27th and then meeting with my doctors. I am hoping that means we can schedule my next surgery. I don’t really know what it means though. As of right now it is my understanding that I am having surgery sometime in January. While I know this will be an invasive surgery I am ready for it. I’m tired of chemo and I want to move forward. I will most likely be on leave from work for 6-8 weeks so am compiling lists of shows to binge watch. I already have piles of books to read.

Day by Day

I didn’t want this to become my cancer blog, but that is my life right now and I know after letting everyone know what is going on there are a lot of questions. I still can’t get over the wonderful, supportive, outpouring of support I have received. Thank you so much to everyone.

To fill people in a bit more I am willing to answer questions and give more information than I did in my initial post. I may not be willing to answer all of them but I’ll try.

Every day really is different. Some days I feel great, almost normal, other days I am stuck on the couch and barely move.

In August I went to see my primary care doctor about some pretty non descript symptoms, basically being a woman. She took what I had to say seriously and ordered ultra sounds right away. I ended up meeting a gynecologic oncologist a week later and immediately had surgery scheduled. We thought it was a possibly malignant ovarian cyst. My appendix and ovaries were removed during the initial surgery.  There was so much disease on my ovaries no fertility could be saved. It was when I woke up from surgery I first heard the words”we found cancer”. I had no idea how to respond. It took me awhile to go from “they found cancer” to “I have cancer”. Those words are really different and I had to get there on my own.

Because I’m young and in good health (other than cancer) they started chemo only 4 weeks after surgery. I was able to go to New York for a friend’s wedding and to meet my wonderful niece at just 3.5 weeks post surgery. I had three doctors sign off on it. As soon as we got back after Labor Day I had a port put in and started chemo. I really had no idea what to expect. Chemo days are a lot of waiting around and a lot of sitting around. They start with labs, which always take forever and I don’t even understand why they take appointments. I then meet with my medical oncologist and the PA. These are wonderful people who listen to me and talk to me, not at me. After that I have to go check in to the Day Hospital where they don’t even mix your chemo until you check in so more waiting. We learned really quick to bring our own food as the “Bistro” in the Cancer Center makes horrible food. Once they finally call me back I get pre-drugs and then a 2 hour chemo drip. I then get another drug and finally they connect me to a pump that I am stuck with for 46 hours for a slow dose drug. There are days I spend more time at the Cancer Center than I would at my desk. Chemo happens every two weeks so I do get time off from it all. My side effects have mostly been fatigue and neuropathy in my hands and throat. I’m getting pretty used to drinking room temperature water and hot beverages.

I’ve now been through 7 rounds of chemo. They changed the drug mix after 5. I do not like the new drug as it makes me a lot more tired and non-functional. I thankfully work with some of the best people ever and am able to work from home as needed. I don’t know what I would do without my team that is covering all kinds of things for me.  I don’t even know how to thank them. I have one more round of chemo scheduled on December 15th and I am oh so hopeful that is it and I get a break for the holidays.

I have started losing my hair which I’m not handling well. I was told I wouldn’t and I’ve never had thin hair in my life. I hate this so much. I want my hair back. I want my curls back.

As I said before this is really a day by day thing. I never know how I’m going to feel and while trying to hold on to as normal of a life as I can I make mostly tentative plans. Thankfully my friends are amazing and never question anything. They have driven me all over, taken me to brunch, taken me to the doctor. I am in awe of how wonderful you have all been and how supportive you are. Thank you.

Today is a rough day so I’m on my couch, but who knows what tomorrow brings.

2016: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

Anamaya Sturgess-Hill was born on 7/6/16. I became an aunt this year and while aware I am very biased, she is the most wonderful baby ever. I have loved watching my brother and sister-in-law become parents. I owe them the world for bringing the baby on three transatlantic flights so I have seen all of them a bunch this fall. She brings so much joy into my life and we’ve all already agreed I will probably never say no to her.

Our first meeting

The Bad

2016 election. Enough said.

The Ugly

My whole life was turned upside-down in August. I have appendiceal cancer. I went in for surgery on August 10th to have an ovarian cyst removed and not only was that malignant they found a tumor on my appendix. Four weeks later I started chemotherapy and have been undergoing treatments every two weeks since September. At this point I have one more treatment left before they do more scans and schedule a second surgery in mid to late January.

Appendiceal cancer is extremely rare and even more so in a 31-year-old. They see maybe 1000 cases a year and in comparison, see 140,000 colorectal cancers. I have an incredible care team that I 100% trust.

A lot of you know this and I couldn’t be more grateful for the outpouring of love and support from my friends and family.

I decided it was finally time to go more public as it has taken over my life, but I will not allow it to define me. I am not cancer. I am not a cause. It is something I’m going through. And something I will get past.

Cancer is life-altering, but not defining.