I write a lot about motivation and reasons to exercise on this blog. Strength, increased energy and just plain “looking good naked” are all valid reasons to workout. But imagine for a moment that you had to get in shape to save your life- literally.
We first met Tara through a friend/client. She looked like every other client that enters our program. I could have never guessed the raging battle that she was waging with cancer. Tara explained her situation.
After battling years of physical ailments and various surgeries, she was diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of cancer. Exhausting all of her options at MD Anderson, Tara was told to go home and get her affairs in order. She didn’t.
Instead she found a doctor in D.C. that performs and new, invasive treatment that would give her a chance to live. One problem- the doctor would not acccept her as a patient until she drastically improved her strength/fitness. The surgery is so tough on the body that in less Tara was in her best shape, she wouldn’t survive the procedure.
Tara dug in and trained hard twice a week. She also met with Natalie, our our RD, and dialed in her nutrition. After 3 months of diligent training, the doctor accepted her as a patient.
I’m not sure how to quantify attitude in these situations, but from what I understand, it matters! Never a complaint. Not even a hint of what she had been through or what was ahead. Just hard work and positivity. That’s the gift that Tara gives us all and for that I am truly thankful.
Hugs all around and then watching Tara bound off of the curb and hustle to her car ready to leave for DC to fight for her life, I felt nothing but pride and admiration- joy even.
Timeline, details and an update:
August, 2004 – November, 2006
40 years old, extremely tired, possibly depressed, sluggish bowel. Saw lots of doctors, lots of blood work. All blood work seemed to be fine so she started seeing a psychologist/psychiatrist twice a week for her symptoms. She was put on Wellbutrin for 8 months. After the 8 months, the psychologist felt that Tara was such an upbeat, positive person and that she really didn’t need to be seeing her. Due to lower back pain, she went to Resurgeons and had an MRI which showed herniated discs. To help with the pain, she had three epidurals which didn’t do a thing for her pain. Her dad suggested she lose weight – so she did – 40 lbs!
December, 2006 – January, 2007
Looked fantastic from her weight loss, still working as a real estate agent but went from mega producer to mediocre due to not feeling like “Tara” – no energy.
Friends and family telling her that her skin and eye color were “off”. Another friend asked if she could possibly be pregnant as her stomach was extended but Tara felt it was due to the fact that she would go for days without a bowel movement. Saw a gastroenterologist.
Tara ended up in the emergency room with severe stomach pain. In Tara’s own words, because the doctors didn’t know what was wrong and because she was “fat, 40 years old, and fertile” – it must be her gallbladder which they removed laparoscopically. While in the hospital recovering from the surgery, she became jaundiced and they found that she had two gallstones lodged in her bile duct. So simple gallbladder surgery turned into 10 days in the hospital. Still having a very sluggish bowel.
Put on 15 lbs. basically overnight (a sign of appendix cancer). Went back to doctor who did her gallbladder surgery and had more blood work – never did get the results of that blood work and somehow they mysteriously disappeared.
Tara’s daughter got married, and it was all she could do to get through the wedding as she felt SO sick.
Back in the ER again with terrible stabbing pains in her abdomen belly button area. The pains were like contractions lasting 30 seconds to 2 minutes with a minute between episodes. The hospital did CT scans, x-rays and MRI’s and nothing showed up other than her white blood count was 18,000 (normal is 4,000 to 10,000). She was admitted and stayed for 18 days while they searched for answers. During those 18 days, she never had a bowel movement. Her gallbladder doctor tried to discharge her twice, at which time she fired him. Finally day 18, she had an explosive bowel movement that was pure tar. At this point, the hospital did a colonoscopy whereby a tumor the size of a grapefruit was discovered. Surgery was scheduled for the next day to remove the tumor. This is when it was realized that the tumor was attached to her appendix. Her appendix was so diseased that she was so lucky it hadn’t already ruptured. The doctors removed 1 ft. of colon, her appendix as well as 27 lymph nodes of which 2 lymph nodes were “compromised”. She was diagnosed with Stage 3B appendix cancer.
The pathology report indicated a cancer that is very rare in a 43 year old. The cancer is seen in 70 or 80 year olds or those who are smokers, miners, etc. They had never seen a pathology report like this so they sent it to Mayo Clinic to confirm as well as to MD Anderson (which reconfirmed the original findings).
Her oncologist had Tara undergo a PET scan before beginning chemo whereby a huge tumor was discovered between her C7 and T3. She had 78% compression on her spine, and everyone was amazed that she wasn’t a quadriplegic. The oncologist sent her to the chief of neurosurgery at St. Joseph’s who had never seen anything like it. He had to bring in special nerve equipment to remove the tumor. The tumor itself turned out to be calcium (benign), but a hammer, saw and drill for 8 hours were needed to remove it. By month’s end, Tara started 12 rounds of chemo every 2 weeks.
July, 2008 – November, 2008
Tara finished her chemo in July, and was pronounced cancer-free. Scans were performed periodically and in November she went back to work.
Tara ended back in ER with stabbing pains. Her ovaries were now eaten up with cancer so a hysterectomy was done on Valentine’s Day. She later learned that women with colon cancer should always have a hysterectomy as it tends to spread to the female organs.
April, 2009 – March, 2010
Went to MD Anderson for one week and it was agreed that she needed 12 more rounds of chemo. A port was put in for the second time. Every other month Tara would go to MD Anderson, and in March, 2010 the hospital said they would wait 4 months to rescan – BIG MISTAKE.
A scan was done at MD Anderson and a 3 cm tumor by the right kidney was discovered as well as 3 nodules in her omentum. Tara was told to go home and get her affairs in order. Tara took a Xanax, a two hour nap, woke up and went into solution mode! It was during her solution mode that she found Dr. Paul H. Sugarbaker, Director of Surgical Oncology at Washington Cancer Institute. Tara’s first step was to get Dr. Sugarbaker to agree to take her as a patient, and one of his directives in order for Tara to be considered was for her to lose some weight and get in a stronger physical condition. When Tara told Pam Scudellari (her close friend and also a client of NPPT) what she needed to accomplish, Pam jumped on the phone with Anthony (her trainer at NPPT) to get Tara hooked up. Tara met with Joe the next day, and the rest is history. Tara worked out twice a week, met with Natalie (our dietitian) and with all her hard work, Dr. Sugarbaker agreed to take her on as a patient.
On Thursday, November 18, 2010 Dr. Sugarbaker performed the new cancer treatment, HIPEC, on Tara. HIPEC combines extensive surgery to remove all visible signs of the cancer with heated high-dose chemotherapy administered directly into the abdomen. In the procedure, a large incision is made in the abdomen, and the tumors are excised. Then the heated solution is placed in the abdomen for 90 minutes and removed. Because it’s heated and comes into direct contact with the cancer cells, it’s more effective and less toxic than intravenous chemotherapy. The procedure lasts anywhere from six to 18 hours, so it can only done on selected patients – those who are otherwise healthy and have not major heart or lung problems.
The probability of success of combined treatment with complete cancer removal is 50%. There is a 30% chance of incomplete cancer removal. Tara can expect to be in the hospital anywhere from 14 days up to 30 days.
Update- from Laurie, our office manager
She had her surgery yesterday and this is what we know so far:
They did find cancer tumors in 3 areas; one in the omentum and the other two were in the colon area. They had to remove half of Tara’s large intestine and 2/5 of her small intestine due to the cancer. They are not sure if she will need a bag or not (hopefully not!). She was in surgery for 12 hours. Dr. Sugarbaker said that because Tara is so young and STRONG, he was able to go through her whole body and removed over 200 nodules. He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t showing any pain because there were 3 to 4 nodules that were about to completely block her intestines – which would have killed her in a short amount of time.
I will keep you posted!
For more on Tara- http://www.caringbridge.org/