Celeste Yarnall's Cancer Battle -- In Her Own Words
Celeste Yarnall—one of Star Trek: The Original Series' most memorable and beautiful guest stars (she was Martha Landon in "The Apple"), a familiar face at the annual Star Trek event in Las Vegas and a major proponent of holistic medicine—recently announced that she was facing the battle of her life, stage 3 Primary Peritoneal cancer. It came, as so many cancers do, out of nowhere. Yarnall, in November, endured an 8-hour surgical procedure, which seems to have been successful, and is now going through chemo treatments. She's also eager to try an experimental treatment that will transform a piece of her tumor into a vaccine that can be used to help her in the future. To defray costs not covered by insurance, and those costs are significant, Yarnall's husband, the artist Nazim, has established a GoFundMe page; click HERE to donate. Today, in her own words, Yarnall shares her experiences with StarTrek.com readers in a guest blog. Her account is harrowing, deeply personal and, be warned, graphic in its detail. Her goals, she told StarTrek.com, are to prepare people who may experience what she's experienced, and to convince people to take proper care of themselves in order to either prevent such illnesses from happening to them or to at least improve their chances of survival. Please join us in wishing Yarnall all the best as she embarks on the road to recovery.
I have cancer.
This all came as such a shock to me as I thought I had put on weight around my middle, but despite my efforts to cleanse, juice fast, etc., the abdomen would just not come down. I share this with you here at StarTrek.com so that if you ever a have a symptom like this you won’t ignore it. I started to feel on my 70th birthday in July like I was 5 months pregnant but chalked it up to spending too much time in front of the computer and becoming more sedentary in my lifestyle, though I was taking a long walk each day. Like I say, I thought the bloating must be a part of aging. Well, I was certainly wrong and discovered that when my bladder prolapsed from the weight of what I now know was fluid on my abdomen. My good friend, who is a naturopathic doctor, said when I shared these symptoms with him that I should head straight for my OB/GYN. So I set out to find a doctor nearer where I live. I was going to wait until after the first of this year so as to start the deductible out fresh, but when I was on the phone to make that first appointment the nurse suggested I come right in—and so I did.
On November 21st, 2014, I saw this wonderful new lady gynecologist who sent me straight away for pelvic ultrasound. I kept thinking this must be a gallbladder issue or that perhaps the surgery for an umbilical hernia I had a couple of years ago had re-ruptured, but this would not be the case. My new doctor couldn’t see much from the ultrasound because of the fluid she said was in my peritoneal cavity. So, that evening she convinced me to be admitted to the hospital for tests. Thank heavens I agreed, as I usually run from hospitals let alone anything to do with Western medicine, but I packed my bag and off my husband Nazim and I went to our local hospital.
There waiting for me was one of the finest doctors and surgeons for women’s issues on the planet, who sent me down for a CT scan ASAP. I got a preliminary diagnosis on the spot of stage 3 Primary Peritoneal cancer. Woah! I didn’t cry or overreact. I was calm and said, “What do we do?” He had me do that awful bowel prep you do before a routine colonoscopy for two days and then I went into emergency surgery on November 25th knowing I would do 6 rounds of chemo, too.
I didn’t take any drugs, had been on bio-identical hormones and had only ever had that umbilical hernia surgery, so I didn’t really have any experience with hospitals, although my Mom had gone through colon cancer surgery 3 times but lived to nearly 98. She never did chemo and was so very healthy again. No prescriptions drugs for her, either.
The doctors told me that even though this was stage 3 cancer than none of my vital organs were affected, that it was localized and I was in otherwise excellent health. Many of you whom I’ve met at Star Trek conventions know how fanatical I have been about taking my whole food supplements such as MOXXOR for the last 5 years every day and using my Simply Young shake and drink mixes daily, along with regular use of my BEMER Pro daily and its sleep system, along with eating an organic diet to the best of my ability. So it seems that all paid off—though I still had no idea what was in store for me.
I know that some people will wonder I’m using Western medicine. What’s happening to me, it's crazy. It’s like an alien invasion. So, yes, I had to be practical. And I just kept thinking about Steve Jobs. In my case, stage 3 was not the time for a strictly holistic attack; it was time for the big bomb because I’ve had one dropped on me. Holistic and Western treatments can be complementary.
Besides going through the battery of tests, blood, X-rays, EKG’s etc., I was getting a bit run down, so I had to have what is called a “PICC line” surgically implanted in my left upper arm, which was done under local anesthesia. This line allows the doctors to draw blood and give my IV’s that included total nutrition and put in other meds. I started to look like the Bionic Woman as they hooked me up to all these bags! With what they call TPN, which is the total nutrition, they monitor your blood sugar regularly and when the sugar in this stuff raises your blood sugar then you get insulin shots to bring it down. I was also given an injection—to prevent blood clots—that went into my abdomen each night, which was rather painful and not something I looked forward to—but it did its job, thank heavens!
My darling husband Nazim spent every day and night in my room with me as they provided a sleeping couch for caregivers and also food for him for breakfast lunch and dinner as I got my nourishment through this PICC line, which is actually inserted into a vein that goes very close to one’s heart. It’s quite a long tube, but I was grateful it was now in place and I could be hydrated, nourished and medicated without constantly having to have a vein accessed.
I waited anxiously the morning of surgery, Nov. 25th, with my beautiful daughter Cami and son-in-law Stephen. My granddaughter was home resting, as the whole family had left for Paris (for Thanksgiving) the day I went to see my new OB/GYN. I had to call them in Paris and reached her and my granddaughter Gabby right after they landed. She immediately scheduled a flight for the family to return to be with me, and stopped to bring me some amazing presents. So there we all were in my room waiting for that gurney to get me. It felt like a lifetime. Finally they came, and Nazim and my daughter and son-in-law accompanied me as far as they could as I went in. My daughter had a protective crystal for me and kept applying lavender oil to my wrists and temples. Again, I had no idea what I was in for.
I remember going into the OR, and it really didn’t look like it looks on TV. I scooted myself onto the operating table. I said to the anesthesiologist that I had not taken drugs my whole life, but please could have some good ones now, and he said yes. Little did I know that after the lights went out for me that I would be intubated, put on a ventilator, etc. Later, when I woke up in ICU, I couldn’t talk because of that ventilator. My family was there, so I wrote very silly notes to communicate. Such as “Where is the lavender oil?” I think I was out for a while following what I found out had been an 8-hour surgery. EIGHT hours. My surgeon/oncologist, Dr. Scott Eisenkop, had a plastic surgeon with him to do the close for the incision and my brand-new OB/GYN angel, Dr. Stephanie Mandleman, assisted Dr. Eisenkop.
I was told that he got all the cancer, gave me a complete hysterectomy from the cervix up, did two bowel resections, and removed 10 pounds of cancerous fluid from my abdomen. No wonder I had that belly! He’d also had to do some scraping as this type of cancer rests on your organs rather than goes inside them. I did have a small tumor on my left ovary that hadn’t been detected on ultrasound and one half that size on my right ovary. So they call this Primary Peritoneal/ovarian cancer. There were tumors here and there, such as on my diaphragm, and they needed to be scraped off— for lack of an official term. My doctor was very confident that he got it all and that no lymph nodes were affected. That’s key to beating the disease.
In ICU, they removed the breathing machine/ventilator device. Ultimately, they took out the thing that they put in my artery on my neck that is an arterial blood drain of some sort. I had a huge bruise from that, but the NG (nasal gastro) tubes remained in my nose for quite some time. In fact, my primary complaint was the pain in my nose, throat and ears rather than my belly. Many people say the worst part of surgery is those tubes in the nose. The nurses always ask about pain levels on a scale of 1-10 and the pain in my nose, throat and ears was really terrible. So I’d say 7 and they’d give me narcotic drugs. I think they thought I meant the surgery site, but that was quite numb. My choices were morphine, Norco or Dilaudid. I took the Dilaudid. And I was so thirsty, but could only suck on those pink lollipop-looking oral moisturizers. I was in ICU for 3 days, the last of which was Thanksgiving Day. It’s so noisy in there and the lights are on all night. It drove me crazy being in ICU, so I got some ear plugs and an eye covering waiting to check out of there and go to my room. And that finally happened.
I made a big mistake thinking I could take those narcotic drugs with no consequences. After one dose of morphine, which I hated, as it made my loopy, I found a drug that seemed to work and that I could tolerate. I thought at this point I could just let the drugs keep me comfortable, and that was the mistake because this one caused what is called an ileus—where your bowels just go to sleep. Sorry to be so graphic, but if anyone else goes through this, I want you to understand my experience and perhaps be prepared for it – or as prepared as one can ever be. I had just gotten the awful NG tubes removed my nose and throat when I started heaving, vomiting and retching so loud that you could hear me all the way down the hall. They sent me down for an abdominal X-ray, and this showed I did have an ileus. So now they wanted to put the tubes back in my nose. Remember, I’d been under anesthesia when this was done before, and I knew how horrible this would be. I had a wonderful nurse get me through this by giving me a drug called Ativan, but it still felt like somebody stabbed me in the sinus with an ice pick and it made me pretty miserable until we could get my bowels to wake up—and they did so with a vengeance.
Now, to make matters worse, they told me I have an infection that probably came into me in the OR. The bug was called Pseudomonas. They brought in a wonderful infectious disease specialist whom I really liked, who calmed me down and said they’d just hit the bug hard with a big antibiotic for a few days and then, if all went well, taper off to something milder. He ordered a good probiotic, too, called Bio K. Meanwhile the foley catheter in my urethra drove me crazy; it feels constantly like I have a bladder infection… which I did. Now let’s not forget at the surgery site there are three drains hanging off my belly. Who knew all this was part of it unless you went through it yourself? Again, sorry for being so graphic, but it’s both to prepare anyone for something like this and to implore everyone to take care of themselves to either prevent this or increase your chances of recovery.
My doctor started my chemo therapy in the hospital in my 4th week there, after finally getting the foley catheter removed, the drains removed, the tubes out of my nose and eating real food, first a liquid diet, and then a soft diet with few other things going slowly back into my body. Before chemo we got another surprise -- and that is they needed to surgically implant a power port under my collar bone with a tube that leads to my heart on the other side (right side of my chest) whilst the PICC line is on left. This is quite a big deal. I had it done in radiology rather than the OR, and it was painful afterwards, so they gave me a few days to recover from this minor surgery before I started my chemo in the hospital.
The night before chemo—at midnight—I had to take 5 steroid tablets. Then, at 6 a.m. I took 5 more and a cocktail of preparatory drugs went in my IV drip prior to the chemo itself. The nurses get all suited up like they’re going to the moon and they access my new power port to install the needle for these various catheters to allow the drugs to go gently into my body. It was an all-day affair, and not all that uncomfortable. I usually hide from light and keep my eye shades on or watch TCM’s old movies. No news. Just old movies all day long. Of course, you get awakened every few hours for insulin monitoring, blood pressure, breathing and heart stuff. They usually come in just when you have fallen asleep.
I had a lovely room/suite on the oncology floor and finally got to eat some solid food, as I said, and two days after my chemo I was released to go home. My wonderful daughter and family prepared a guest suite for Nazim and me, and I am getting great care along with home nursing here at my daughter’s home. I’ve had my second chemo treatment, which was done at the hospital’s infusion center, and it took and will continue to take 10 hours as I get 3 different kinds of chemo: taxol, carboplatin, and Avastin, plus all the other stuff they give you. Although they say not to, I am taking my supplements, such as MOXXOR Omega 3 and drinking my shakes and drink mixes, along with D3, Selenium, immune support, whole food multi-vitamin, etc. And so far I have had a huge drop in my CA125, which my doctor was thrilled about after the first chemo. We’ll know more when my next blood results are in.
So here I am with a positive mindset, dealing with the side effects of chemo and healing from the surgery, which I won’t bore you with, but all in all I think I am coming through the mists and can see 100% healing on the horizon. Of course, all of this costs money, and my husband, to help defray costs of what insurance won’t cover, has created a GoFundMe page. Any contribution is greatly appreciated.
And, I think Dr. McCoy would be proud of this: My doctor has some exciting things for me planned, as we banked a bit of my tumor for future use to make a vaccine to give me to help my body defend itself against this cancer. This is very expensive and not covered by insurance and I will need to travel most likely by air to Texas to get these shots regularly. He has other things in mind, too, but again this requires your help. Please join me on my journey so that I can get well and get back out in the world and be of help to others, which is what I like doing best, through my books, personal appearances, speaking engagements, film production and on and one. However I can reach and inspire people to help themselves personally and help our planet come together in oneness and peace, I want to do it, and sharing my cancer story is part of that.
Thank you so much dear friends! All my love and blessings to each and every one of you and Nazim and I wish you all a healthy, happy 2015!