I was able to participate in relief efforts coordinated by churches and city organizations in the city of Centerville, Utah raising funds to help in assisting those in Japan. It was held at one of the local parks. They had a huge yard sell with selling pretty much anything! I was glad to be able to be doing something since I felt so helpless, as I couldn’t be there physically in assisting my Japanese neighbors during this difficult time. Throughout that event over $14,000 was raised to help the people of Japan. It was great being a part of relief efforts half way across the globe.
The military began Operation Tomadachi (which means “friend” in Japanese) alongside Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) in providing equipment and supplies to various earthquake and tsunami ravaged areas. Due to the damage to the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-chi power plant, the U.S. military had authorized the start of voluntary evacuation of family members from bases in mainland Japan to safe haven areas in the United States. We could have sent our daughters back to the states, but we decided that they were needed there more to help support my husband during this time. With all of the relief efforts and being the acting GM, my husband was coordinating efforts with the base commanders in support of obtaining supplies for the Misawa community. He had explained to me that right after the earthquake since there was no power, they had to supply customers at the Shoppette who needed basic essential items by using flashlights and making manual receipts with pen and paper. In addition, the base gas station had to initially ration the amount of fuel customers were receiving to ensure they had enough and urging people to use other modes of transport when necessary to conserve what fuel reserves they did have.
Many relief efforts began with various places on the base. Many collections of numerous items such as hygiene and household items, clothing, and nonperishable foods had begun. The base had filled the high school gym with donations which were organized and delivered to areas close to Sendai where there was fairly extensive damage. One organization, Misawa Helps is a volunteer organization where Airmen give their time and energy to work alongside civilians, dependents, joint service members and Japan Self-Defense Forces in areas requesting assistance. My husband and children were able to participate in those efforts. They went to the port city of Hachinohe removing fishing nets and cleaning debris from the area. It is so amazing to hear of all the collaborative efforts among the agencies in working together to help this beautiful country my family has been afforded the opportunity in living in. It just devastates me to see so many people displaced by this awful tragedy and my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones.
I bounced back from surgery fairly quickly and was back working out in the gym the next day after I saw my surgeon for post op. I was so glad to finally be back in the gym and that felt like the most awesome workout! I think the reason that I bounced back so quickly is the fact that I have been so active prior to the surgery.
The next day was really hard for me…….I had to put my husband back on the plane to Japan as he needed to get back to work. I was left behind once again!
The day that my husband left was on March 3, 2011 and then later the following week on March 11, 2011, was the 9.0 magnitude Earthquake and Tsunami that hit Japan! That day was the same day as my mother’s birthday; she will now have to share her birthday with Japan’s devastation. My husband and daughters lived through and survived that nightmare! I was getting ready to go to the gym when my dad said “You need to look at this” where on his computer screen was the news article about the Earthquake and Tsunami. I was frantically trying to dial my family in Japan. It was a sheer miracle that I was able to get through as most of all the cell towers went down. They were sitting in our house with no lights, no heat but were with each other. I had just talked with my husband about an hour previous to the earthquake hitting! I prayed that they would be kept safe. It was such a good thing that before I left I had just ensured that our emergency kit was up-to-date and available to use.
Watching the videos on the news is just so horrible what everyone is experiencing right now. At least my family was not located near the epicenter in Sendai, which had extensive damage to the area and is located approximately four hours from where we live. Jerome was the acting GM for the Exchange during this time, as his boss was on leave. Our daughters were at the Exchange at the time that the Earthquake hit. Jerome quickly had everyone evacuated from the building. The community of Misawa came to be a Command Center where the Relief teams were centered. This is such a sad situation for this beautiful country. However, at least they are not a poverty stricken nation like Haiti and I think that they will have the means to rebuild. I think that this is harder being separated from my family than going through the surgery. I have really come to appreciate all that is precious to me – my family!
Next, in my treatment plan was to see the endocrinologist at the University. He explained that we were going to try the RAI (Radioactive Iodine) treatment first, but there was a problem. Since I had a CT Scan with contrast before coming back to the states, I would have to wait two more months before I was able to receive RAI (Radioactive Iodine) as the contrast will interfere with the RAI and I need more time to get that contrast agent out of my system so that the RAI would be effective. That was another devastating blow to me as I wanted to get back to my family! Unfortunately, my husband’s company would not authorize sending me back to Japan and then to return back for the Radiation Iodine treatment and so I had to stay here in the United States until I was able to receive my treatments.
I don’t believe that reality had truly hit me yet that I have Stage 4 cancer. When Dr. Bentz had explained the pathology to me I must have had that deer in the headlights mentality in my head and was just stunned and didn’t think to press him for more questions. I had more time to think and contemplate on what Dr. Bentz had explained. Now, I started thinking to myself how in the world am I going to survive a Stage 4 cancer? Everything I have ever heard about an advanced stage of cancer was not good, but the reality right now is that I have to remember to just take a deep breath and take this one step at a time and not worry myself with the what if scenarios just yet.
They sent me home with one drain in place and I had to strip the drains and record the amount of fluid which was draining. It was a bit awkward having this drain pinned to me, but I managed to deal with it. In addition, when I was discharged I no longer had to follow the non-fat diet and I consider myself pretty fortunate as I know other people have not been so lucky and have required further surgery to correct the issue with a Chyle leak.
I had ice packs on my neck which really helped with the pain and the swelling. I saw the doc about ten days later on March 2, 2011, to get the drain taken out and received the final pathology report. I was told by Dr. Bentz that I had Stage IVA Papillary Thyroid cancer with Follicular Variant. It was partially encapsulated as it was not completely contained in the thyroid and extended into the lymph nodes. They had removed over fifty-eight lymph nodes with nineteen of them being positive for cancer! I also had evidence of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which I would not learn until much later down the road. The surgeon said that it was very aggressive and then informed me that External Beam Radiation may be required to totally eradicate this, but that RAI (Radioactive Iodine treatment) would be tried first. Please make a note that I will avoid External Beam like the plague – I believe that there are too many more risks involved with that which I am not sure that I would be willing to take; however, it would have to be the very last option for me!