Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Commercial Interrruption....

Hi!  I am OK, but have heard concerns from people about the fact that I have not, I promised to let everyone know why I am taking a little break.  You know it has been a long, hard year.  Right now, things are "status quo".  I will be done with all chemo on January 20th; and I am not scheduled to have any further surgery until the beginning of January.

It has been a long time since things have been this quiet.  And it is not that things are done and everything is fine.  Right now, I have one extender in and one out.  The other will be put back in after the first of the year.  Then, the recontruction begins again in earnest until the implants can finally be put in. 

For now, I am just "on hold".

So, I am giving myself a vacation.  Until January, I will not be writing anything new, unless there is something unforeseen that comes up.  And let's hope that does not happen!

So, Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I will be back after this commercial break....

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reflections on the Past Year

It's definitely been a while since I wrote...about two weeks, in fact.  During that time, my team, Rivertown's Bosom Buddies, participated in the walk for Breast Cancer Awareness on behalf of the American Cancer Society at Manhattanville College in NY on October 16th and raised over $7,000!  I am doing much better without the extender on one side of my body (it will be replaced once again in a couple months); and my blood pressure (which was a problem) is now under control.  I have been spending a lot of time lately in moments which are very reflective of my particular experience.

I keep thinking back to a year ago and where I was then and can't quite believe I have come so far.  I remember the week my sister-in-law spent with me while I was going through the beginning of chemo and when I first started to lose my hair.  I was so glad she was there and that she never showed how shocking it must have been to see me lose my hair overnight!  My husband also took everything in stride and never seemed to be "turned off" by my physical appearance.  In fact, if anything, he became more affectionate and more understanding than he ever was before.  The staff at my preschool never let me feel that my absences were a problem...truly, I feel like they worked twice as hard to make everything go "smoothly".  My church continued to let me know that even though I couldn't do all I did before, it really didn't matter.  They just wanted me well and told me so all the time.  Friends sent messages, small gifts, meals, prayers, and made phone calls to let me know I was not alone.  Of course, life is not perfect, and there were other problems within our extended family at that time that were very stressful.  These concerns made this time additionally difficult despite all the support I received.  Yet, I truly, truly felt the prayers that were being upheld for me; and it is because of these prayers that I could stand and face each wave of battle that had to be won over and over.

Creating a team for the Breast Cancer walk was one very positive action I could take at this time.  It gave me an energy to do something positive on behalf of all those who will follow me into this abyss of life-changing forces.  And it helped me to see it all beyond my own the face of one in every eight people that I meet.  I am glad to have been a part of that walk and I was overwhelmed by the number of people who joined the team and made the walk with me!  Our local newspaper even wrote an article and me, my battle, and my wonderful walking team.

But each day lately,I remind myself of how far I have come.  Not that I don't think there is more ahead to fight through or fight for...but just that I HAVE survived all that has happened over the past year and I am more than ready to keep fighting.  I have met amazing people and have found support where I least expected it and have been so thankful of those friends and family that stayed with me no matter what! 

Life will have some changes as time goes it should.  Perhaps it will have more changes because of all I have been should be expected.  I know I am changed because of it...that is a "given".  More importantly, I am proud of all I have done and will do...and I will never take life for granted again.  

Thank you, everyone, for all you have been to me and for all the support you have shown.  It is incredible, amazing, and wonderful...Thank you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Color My World...Pink!

First, to bring you up to date.  Surgery last Thursday....well, plastic surgeon found no evidence of infection (although I am still on heavy duty antibiotics in case something turns up) and could not find a reason why the skin is so "misbehavin" he decided to take out the extender and NOT put a new one in.  So for now, I am lopsided...although hopefully healing more consistently so he can try again in about 3 months or so.  I am now "stuffing a bra"...which I NEVER had to do in my life...quite an adventure! LOL! 

Also having issues with blood pressure.  After the last surgery, it went very low and I was taken off some of my meds for that--now, it is going high and I had to add some meds for that.  My body, I am sure, is saying "Enough, already!  Stick a fork in me...I'm done!"

Not feeling totally "up to par" yet.  But hoping to soon since the breast cancer walk is this Sunday and my team, "Rivertown's Bosom Buddies" are just raring to go!  Our shirts are coming this Friday ("Walking our Buns off for the Boobs") and I have been planning for this day for a while.  We have raised over $5,000 and I am so proud of what we have done.  

Each October, the world is colored PINK and breast cancer awareness is all over.  This is a pandemic, people!  Everywhere you go, look around you at people and count up to in eight people will be affected by breast cancer.  We need the PINK to remind us that we want to ensure early detection (get those mammo's, everyone!) and further research and development to help those who have already been diagnosed and those who will be.  We need to rid our bodies of this disease!  We need to take better care of God's world so that we, in turn, can take better care of us!  

Looking forward to seeing all the PINK on Sunday.  Even thinking of spraying my hair a little pink and of course, pink sneakers.  It used to be PINK reminded me of the cancer and all I was going through.  Now, it reminds me that there is HOPE and the color of HOPE is PINK!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Tomorrow is the surgery to take out the extender, clean the area, and put in the new extender.  It is hoped this will ONCE AND FOR ALL get rid of that infection that is causing that "red area" on my breast.  And I am hoping for a good outcome and the end of this endless trying to make everything "all better".  If it doesn't work, then the extender will come out, we give this side a while to heal and get better, and then try again sometime in the future.

I had a call from my "chemo friend" whom I have never met, but knows a lot more of my story than most people who do know me and see me each day.  She has gone through a lot similar to me, except for all the craziness of the reconstruction.  She has decided not to do this.  We talked about how life will never be "normal" again...but it will be a "different normal".  We both will look at things differently, make changes in our lives and the way we live them, and still mourn the loss of a whole year of our lives....but glad to be alive and have a wonderful chance of being long-time survivors!  And we intend to meet next week for the first time.  I am looking forward to this.

Around the same time as this call, my former Pastor e-mailed with a story about a conversation he had after viewing a photo of an older woman who had survived breast cancer.  The conversation was with the 80+ year old woman in the photo and she told him how God was with her all the way and made her recovery possible.  The photo showed a light coming down on her and she looked at peace with herself and her life.  I wrote him an answer and I am repeating it here:

"This is a story I feel with my heart.  And one I understand with my spirit.

I have learned that how I look is not as important as who I am.  I have learned that God can give me incredible strength just when I need it....and He can hold me and cry with me when there is more needed than just strength.  I have learned that what I will take with me from this life will not be where I went, or what I did, or how much I accumulated; but if I was a good friend and if I showed love both when it was poured on me...and when it was not.

I have had people tell me, "You actually look better than you ever have!"  And I just smile because I know now it has nothing to do with a hairstyle or make-up or clothes.  God's love is shining through my eyes and my heart and that makes anyone beautiful.  And I am at last at peace with myself because I know God sees my heart and that's all that matters.

Yes, I understand the story and the journey and the light that shines brighter because of it."

You know that saying "there's a light at the end of the tunnel"?  Well, there really is...and we thank God for that! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Rock and A Hard Place

Have you ever heard that expression "between a rock and a hard place:?  That's where I am right now.  Not moving forward, not moving back...just trying to get things normal.  No answer screaming at you in the face; just one decision after another to look at and find an answer for in the midst of so much "grey area". 

I don't get worse, it's just that the dreaded "red spot" doesn't get better.  My plastic surgeon decided I should go to an "infectious disease" doctor just to ensure he is not overlooking anything before the next surgery.  He is concerned that while all things appear to indicate an  infection leading to this area not healing...the fluid that he gets from this area is clear!  He tells me that I am teaching him some "new things".  I told him I'm just not so happy about being his  teacher for all this!

His next step was to inflate me with his "double dose" (which he also did today) so he could expand the skin area and have more to work with during the surgery.  He wants to increase the amount of skin he will have to "work with" during surgery.  My appointment with the infectious disease doctor gave no answers yet; although he did say that since bacteria was found at the last surgery, I needed to know that bacteria has a tricky way of adhering to a foreign object within a body...and is very difficult to get rid of even with medications.  He thinks this is the case with me and that the bacteria has attached itself to my extender.  He has ordered cultures of all kinds to happen during the surgery and he will look at all this and determine future treatment right after surgery.  I also went to my internist (for pre-op testing) and he agreed with all of this information.  He also thinks my body is beaten down by the chemo and this infection just got the better of me.

My surgeon is saying, however, that this will be the last stop in trying to keep this phase of reconstruction going on this breast.  If there is still an indication that this is not working after this final surgery....then I will need to have this extender taken out and will have to wait for a few months before anything can even be tried again. 

So the game plan is on for next Thursday.  I go in the morning to the surgeon's surgical suite, he takes out the old extender, cleans the area thoroughly, takes bunches of cultures, puts brand new extender in....and then we all pray it works!

It's a rock and a hard place.  Not a comfortable place.  Not a place to lay your head.  But it's where I am.  It is, however, a place where God are all places.

It is here in this uncomfortable place that I need to look around me to see how God is there between that rock and hard place with me.  I look at the list of people joining me on the breast cancer walk....we are up to 51 people!  I am so blessed to have so many people wanting to do this with me!  I am encouraged by the donations to our team, Rivertown's Bosom Buddies, that came to total almost $4,000! And then came Sunday when I stood in front of my congregation and thanked them for supporting me, praying for me, pushing me, and being a part of why I was standing in front of them.  They applauded!  I walked back to my seat hearing this wanting to cry because it is God's hand through this applause telling me I can do it!  And I can! And I will!

So that place between a rock and a hard place may not be such a bad place after all.  It's just a matter of who is there with you.  And when God's there...what more can you ask?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Waiting and Walking

The first week of school is over!  A real busy time and one that last year I just kinda sailed through in a fog.  The first surgery was ahead of me; chemotherepy was on the horizon and I was so scared of it, and I was just trying to keep my head above water.

Now, it is a year later and I FEEL like a SURVIVOR!  It has been a very hard, long journey to get here; but I am so proud of myself that I made it this far and I am still intact and ready to do whatever I need to.  Lately, I have heard from some people who had relapses, and of course, this is always on a survivor's mind.  But I can't dwell on thinking about that too much when I have come so far and see "an end" in sight (we do know there is never an end, but I am speaking metaphorically).

I went to my plastic surgeon on Tuesday for that dreaded red spot and once again, it looked "better"; but it is not "good".  A hard decision for him now to make.  But he asked my how much this is all "getting to me"...and I told him honestly that it's not "paradise", but I am willing to do what I need to do to make it better.  He decided that he is going to expand me some more to give him some "extra skin" to work with, and soon he will take out the extender (in surgery in his office), "clean me out well", and then put a whole new extender in.  He feels there is still some underlying infection that just will not ease.  He thinks this will help to clear it and feels it is a good option to try.  So, as of today, this is the game plan.  I will be going back to him on this Tuesday, and the area is retaining some fluid as it has we will see if this plan still is a "go".

I also had my "every 3 week" Herceptin on Friday and it just seems to go so quickly now that it is just the one drug.  I was out of there by noontime.  My oncologist told me that my anemia is getting much better and that my latest heart scan (which I had last Friday) shows the heart ejection factor up to 60...which is "normal"! These things were good news!

This week I also went to see Andrea Bocelli in concert at Central Park; visited with some friends, went to a large Firefighters Parade, had dinner and saw a band (that used to play "back in the day" when Jim and I were much younger).  It was a very full week and I am tired....but such a good, good tired!

I also have a team that will be walking in the "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" walk at Manhattanvile College on October 16th.  We have about 30 walkers on our team, "Rivertown's Bosom Buddies".  We have raised (as of this date) $3,320!!  I remember this walk being held last year and thinking to myself that if I was able this year....I wanted to be a part of it!  So glad to be able to do this to "give back" so others may not have to go through what I did.

So this week, I wait for more news and get ready for some good things to happen.  Thanks for your continued support and prayers and please know I still need them! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Long Time No Write

Hello....I'm back.  It was such a busy two weeks, and is always my busiest two weeks of the entire year.  It is the lead-up to school beginning, all the paperwork that needs to be done and then the decisions about staff and classes, and all the last minute arrangements, questions, and details that need to be worked out..  Not to mention dealing with parents, last minute changes, new families and all that a new school year also entails.  Not always new or different items to deal with, but always details to attend to at the last minute..

And here it is 9/ New York.  A time of somber reflection and it reflects my life.  I have come a long way, no doubt.  That there is more to go, no doubt.  Can I do it?  No choice...just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I was in church today for a God-filled worship for a peaceful world.  During that time, it was announced that a friend of mine has colon cancer and is just beginning a time that will much impact the family.  Also, I talked to a "fellow cancer patient" (who has a different cancer than mine) and heard they have taken him off his "maintenance chemo" and he now needs other drugs and more testing more often.  So hard for him and his family who has been struggling with his diagnosis for so many years now...and whom will struggle even more now.  So, is my story the worst?  No.  But it is mine and I am tired and wanted it to be better.  Still, I hear these stories and realize that I need to put my life in perspective.

You see, that darned "red area" keeps acting up.  My plastic surgeon has been "babying" me along hoping it would heal slowly and gradually.  He has been most generous in his time and his concern.  Yet, it seems to get better for a while, then suddenly is not.  He gets happy and proclaims it "OK", then solemnly has to tell me that he "is not pleased but instead concerned".  He keeps trying and trying to make it OK.  I know he likes us very much and wants it to be good.  But it is skin that has a mind of its own.  And I guess, it clearly is having "issues".  Finally, last Friday, after my muga scan (which I heard from my oncologist that day turned out "OK"...not sure what that means, but I'll take any positive news), I went to see him and he took one look and clearly was upset that it had once again taken a turn.  He told me that the next step would be to take the implant out of that breast, let it heal and rest, and then begin again in three months.  He said he would make this determination on Tuesday.  But I think we both know that he is just giving me time to get used to the idea of what needs to happen.  I so don't want to do this...but there clearly is no choice.  I can't keep trying to make this skin do what it clearly cannot.  So I have made my peace with what will need to happen on Tuesday and the news he will have to tell me.  It is so surprising that it is on the breast that was not diagnosed with the cancer.  But, life is not always a perfect path.

I am, however, so glad to begin a school year and church year when I know I can begin to be a part of  "life"  again.  I feel like last year was just a blur and so full of "just getting by".  I do know how far I have come and I appreciate so much the life returned to me.  I just so wanted my implants to be working by now and to be almost finished with the reconstruction and have only the Herceptin to finish.  Not that this is the end of it all...there are still many future tests and scans and other "stuff".  Just that the worst of the worst would be over for now.

So, I ask your prayers once again.  For strength to not despair that I may have to start from "ground zero" (wow...what a metaphor!) with the right breast.  But if I do, I want to be courageous and strong.   

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Earthquake, Hurricane and Back to School

This has been a crazy couple weeks.  First, last Tuesday we had the rare earthquake event here on the east coast.  Although it centered in Virginia, it was felt all the way here in NY.  Feeling it, however, depended on where you were standing since I didn't feel anything at all.  Yet others near and further away did indeed feel it!  I was in my office at church, talking to the church secretary and we both were oblivious to any movement of the earth. Makes me feel good about the strength of that building.  In fact, the first I heard of the earthquake was when my son called from PA to make sure we were OK in NY.  I was surprised to hear his building had been evacuated.  NYC seemed to feel it even more and many people piled out of office buildings into the street.  It was eerily familiar since the same had happened after 9/11.

Then I went for my Herceptin treatment on Friday.  It was non-eventful and went well.  We arrived at 8:45 and left at 10:50 am.  It's great to get in and out of there fast.  My oncologist said the anemia is still there, but holding its own (darn...have to keep taking those iron pills!).  My blood pressure was better (and I think due to the stress level of some personal matters not being such a factor this time). I thought...I have to go for the Muga Scan again just before the next treatment.  They need to see if my heart ejection factor will keep going down or if that number will hold for a while also.

In the meantime, my hair continues to fill in and grow.  Many people keep telling me that they like it the way it is now.  I am beginning to like the grey, but not sure I want to keep it this short.  (I am going to upload a picture of me in my short grey hair with my granddaughter by my side for this site.)  The "red area" still there, but again no better, no worse.  I also continue to feel "more normal".  My energy, while not up to par because of the anemia, is still not bad.  I feel like my brain is working much better now also!  Everything is "OK" right now....and I am beginning to love "OK".

Then came Hurricane Irene with all the media hype, and with all her power.  My area was pretty lucky and we escaped from flooding and still have our electricity.  But all around are families and houses that did not escape so well and it is a lesson learned about Mother Nature.  She just has a mind and strength of her own.  Of course, we all checked in with those around us; especially those who were alone.  It's what God expects of us and is a part of our connection with Him and with each other.

My next appointment is with the plastic surgeon on next Tuesday.  I don't expect much to happen then, since as I told you, they are taking it slow.  We go this weekend to see my son & family in PA and we are really looking forward to that.  Once we come back, it is time for school to begin once again....only this time I will appreciate this time of year and life so much more!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Half Past Summer

I can't believe that summer is almost over.  While I did spend most of the summer recuperating, it seems like there is just no time left to accomplish anything else this summer.  We did get away last week to the beach with quite a few friends and had a great time.  I couldn't really go in the pool water as I still have stitches and my doc gave me the ratio of pool water/chemicals vs. pee...and it wasn't a good ratio.  So, I had orders to go in the pool only up to my waist.  The ocean water was actually the more preferable option.  However, the surf was very rough and the jellyfish were present, so I didn't go in too far there either.  I also had orders to stay out of the sun since the Herceptin and the Bactrim (for infection) I am on are medications that make the skin more susceptible to sunburn.  The weather, for me, cooperated, and thankfully not every day was full of sun.  Even when it was, the air was a little cooler than it has been.  I found it to be just right for me...and glad it was so!

We got back a couple days ago and then met up with some relatives for a BBQ.  It was good to see family and share all that's been going on in our lives.  We are not the only ones with some craziness going on, and it was even good to share our stories.  

Went back to plastic surgeon's office today.  That dreaded red area is still there, but still no worse, no better.  I saw my regular surgeon's partner (since my guy is away), and he told me that it is just possible that it may never go away.  It is good it is not getting worse, however.  He also said that they will be going very slowly on the inflation, and will probably not get me to anymore than a "B" cup....which is just sooooo fine for me!  I was not looking to be the next Dolly Parton, and just wanted "enough padding" to feel feminine.  The size really didn't (and doesn't) matter.  But I was glad he shared this and that it confirmed what I was already thinnking.

The next appointment is this Friday for another Herceptin treatment.  After this one, I believe my oncologist will be sending me for another Muga Scan since the heart ejection factor needs to be addressed and watched as I am on this medication.  I don't need to see my plastic surgeon for another two weeks (they said slow...they mean slow) since they don't want to do anything to jeopardize the precariousness of the "red spot". 

A few weeks ago, I went to the "kick-off" breakfast for the "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" walk on October 16th which I am taking part in and someone there tapped me on the shoulder.  When I turned around, it was, of all people, my breast surgeon!  It was good to see her (her medical group is one of the supporters of this walk), and she reminded me that I am overdue to see her.  Of course, with all the others looking at me, I forgot she wanted "a look" also.  So, I need to make an appointment with her soon also.  Then, it is back to my internist and I need to see my gyno.  Doctors are just going to be a part of the continuous landscape anymore.

For now, I am glad to be feeling a little stronger, have more energy, be able to wear a "sports bra", and to know the worst is now behind me (I hope).  My husband and I were looking at our fall schedule the other day and realized that we could actually start making plans here and there for different events/activities.  It does indeed feel good to be able to get back to life.

This doesn't mean that I think things are done.  I know they will never "be done" anymore.  There will always be more and more checking and watching.  You never know what could "pop up" here and there.  And it doesn't mean that the implants feel entirely comfortable or "normal".  They don't...not yet.  Plus, my back is still numb and under my arms is still somewhat swollen and my chest feels "tight" and sometimes more uncomfortable than other times.  I am told that it will take quite a while before I feel even near "normal".  But I will take this present time as a gift from God and as the most normal concentration of time I have had in a good long while.  I look forward now to the fall and holidays and the walk and celebrating just how far I've come.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Slow Climb's been a week again!  I guess in this "slow climb" around that mountain, I will be posting weekly from now on...unless something occurs.

I'm "on hold".  I went to my plastic surgeon on Monday and the same little area is still red.  Nothing seems to change this.  He is just happy that the surgery is healing well and that the area seems to be the same.  I got the "OK" to go away next week, and I will be back to his office on the 22nd.  In the meantime, as an added prevention, he gave me a prescription for Bactrim, because at the last surgery, there was some bacteria found.  He wants to make sure that it is cleared up.

I also had a Herceptin infusion on Friday and received the results on my latest muga scan.  The scan did show that my heart ejection factor did go down somewhat, but still in "normal" range.  They will be doing another one after the next Herceptin.  My oncologist also said my anemia is much better and I am to stay on those iron "horse pills"

Remember in the last post when I said "...and just dealing with life is now the easy part"?  Well, I take that back.  This weekend, my husband and I received some concerning news about a family member and it is very troublesome.  I am somewhat relieved to be feeling better so I can deal with the problem before us.  Sometimes you just want to say...."You're kidding, God...right?  Cancer and now this?"  But it's life and I just gotta put on those "big girl panties" again and deal with it.  I have spent the better part of two nights wide awake praying about all this.  I've also prayed for the poor lady who disappeared from our town.  She was an Alzheimer patient and staying with her daughter when she "escaped" during the middle of the night...not to be seen since.  It reminds me of life with my mom, who also had Altzheimer's, and lived with us for a few years during the worst of this disease that robbed her personality.  It was a difficult time.

The whole world seems kinda funny lately, doesn't it?  So much seems out of control.  Starvation in Somalia, senseless rioting in London, economies all over the world bouncing out of control, newspapers and news reports full of people hurting and/or killing each other....and so much more.

Somehow I think we need to take back control of our world.  We need to stop turning from God with the busyness we have created.  We have to find a way to communicate with and to help one another.  We need to stop buying more and more and start looking around us to work on the important changes needed for our world.  We need to be better role models for our children.

In the midst of so much unrest, I sit here "on hold" and just wait for a while.  It's OK.  It's just a campsite on the slow climb around the mountain.

So while at the campsite, I have put together a team, Rivertown's Bosom Buddies, for the 2011 American Cancer Society's "Making Strides against Breast Cancer" Walk in October.  It's only been a week and we have raised $730!  I also have 32 people who have said they want to walk with me.  After all I've been through, this feels like a real positive thing to do.  It's helping the next generation of girls and women.  If you are reading this, go to their webpage and put in our Team name.  Join us on the walk...or donate to a good cause!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Long and the Short of It

First, I know it's been over a week.  Put that down to a very busy schedule last week and a troublesome computer line.  But here we are once more...

The Long of It
The obvious point is that it has been a long, long time.  I feel sometimes like I have been on this path forever!  But it has also been a most amazing journey that has changed me.  Like anyone diagnosed with cancer, life looks different, feels different, smells different, tastes different, and sounds different.  You can't help but be changed by an event of this proportion.  Life changes to fear, fear changes to survival, survival changes to hope, and hope changes to life once again.  But you are always aware that the cycle could repeat itself at some point with a different ending.  The only reality is that you have made it through before, so you are somewhat familiar with the roads and paths along the way.

The lessons are fast and furious.  
  • You learn about strength: strength of faith, strength of character, strength of attitude, strength of relationships, strength of integrity and strength of endurance.  
  • You confront what is really important in your life; you change your way of looking at what is important; and you realize many things are not really important at all.  
  • You view relationships in a whole new light.  Most people are wonderful and supportive and "there" for you.  But there are some who will disappoint you, who will say upsetting things, and whom you cannot count on.  
  • You find that just when you think you have reached your "breaking point"; you need to change that boundary to be just a little further away; that you cannot "break", because it would be so hard to put yourself back together.  
  • You stop being so vain about your appearance and just be glad to get up in the morning and be able to get dressed and get out of the house.
  • You become very aware of God's voice and find yourself concentrating more to hear it.
I know there is much more, but these are the major lessons.  They are now a part of me and who I will continue to be along the way.  and I will continue throughout my life to be shaped by these moments.  The long of it is...the journey itself and all it includes.

The Short of It
Well, I am rather short (5 feet!)...but that is not the point (LOL).  The "short of it" pertains to those moments when I am "caught up short" by realizing that I AM a cancer patient.  Even going through all I have gone through, and carrying all that baggage up above, I still have moments when I am confronted with the cancer itself and don't quite believe that I am where I am.  For instance, three weeks ago, I was back at the cancer center getting my "every three week" Herceptin treatment.  One minute I was joking with a few of the patients, and then the next minute I looked up at the IV bag...and my heart stopped for a minute.  I thought, "What am I doing here?" just didn't seem right!  The other night I was taking a shower and of course, I looked down and saw the evidence of the cancer itself and thought, "How am I going to do this?".  But of course, I am already DOING it, so the answer just putting one foot in front of the other, one prayer at a time.  The short of it is...each and every day I have and making each of those days count!

This last week was good as there was no surgery scheduled, no drains to bother me, just plain old life to deal with...and that is now the easier part.  The last surgery still seems to be holding.  I had a muga scan this past Monday to once again check heart function for the Herceptin.  I saw my surgeon today and he still thinks everything is "good to go".  It is a good week.  

Thanks be to God.       

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Happy Dance

Surgery was Wednesday and all went according to plan.  It was good not to have to go to the hospital but instead be at the surgical suite at my surgeon's office since it was all so much more "informal".  As soon as I arrived, they gave me something "to relax me"; the anesthesiologist came in and we talked, I watched TV while I waited, and then it was time.  They walked me into the surgical room where I jumped up on the table (these tables are not at a level for short people...I always need a boost).  My surgeon and his nursing staff were getting ready and I heard the anesthesiologist say, "You should be feeling a little tired real soon...".  I never heard him finish the sentence because I was "out for the count".  I remember nothing until it was all over.

As my surgeon said, he "moved the skin graft over".  I woke up on the stretcher with a "white corset-kinda thing" (that had a little red rose on it just for effect, I imagine) around my chest and feeling fine.  My surgeon came in to say "all went well" and unfortunately, I once again was going home with a drain.  Once they made sure I was fully awake and "all system's go"; my husband was asked to get the car and I was wheeled downstairs.

I feel asleep again as soon as we got home, but started to feel uncomfortable once I woke up.  Thankfully, I still had some painkillers left from the last surgery so this helped me to sleep and find a comfortable spot that night.  I wasn't to see the surgeon until Friday, but was supposed to wear that corset thing until then.  I couldn't tell if the corset was helping or hurting.  I finally had to remove it from time to time for relief.  Then put it back on for relief.  It didn't help that the drain was in a very uncomfortable area.

On Friday we went back to the office.  I was thinking things looked good, but felt even better when my surgeon felt the same way.  Although I wasn't happy to hear that the drain won't be coming out until Monday.   I still am also leery of thinking everything will be OK since "things" seem to appear after a time (as they have over the past few months)...but I am hopeful!

As I was leaving the office, he came back up to us and did a little "happy dance" and said he was excited that things were looking as well as they were.  And that "happy dance" meant to me that he wasn't just being encouraging...but actually thought this time we "had it"!  Maybe the "third time WAS actually the charm" for me!

This weekend things have been a little uncomfortable since it is the heat wave of all heat waves in our area and even though we have stayed mostly in the AC, I prefer the outside air and being able to get walking outside.  I am also swollen again all around my chest area so once again moving from lying down to sitting to standing positions take a little practice before these simple actions can be done without pain.  And drains are NEVER comfortable!

Last night I finally got to sleep and remained asleep (without a painkiller) for most of the night.  I was that tired.  I even chose to "sleep in" rather than go to church today because I just sooo needed it.

I have not yet done my own "happy dance"; but will if I get through the next couple weeks and all still looks OK.  We are supposed to go on vacation August 15th for a few days, and I am just really hoping we are able to do this

Tomorrow is Monday, and we'll see if he's still dancing "happy".  It's been a long summer already!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Third Time's The Charm?

The verdict is in...although my surgeon thinks the area is healing, he feels we need to go ahead with the minor surgery.  My healing capabilities last time proved to be an up and down battle that finally ended with me needing the skin grafts.  He is wary of letting this go and having it become a problem like last time.

The good news is that it will be done in the surgical suite connected to his office, and I will receive a "twilight" anesthesia which will enable me to walk out of there in just a few hours.  The surgery starts at 1 pm, and with time there for recovery, he believes I should be out and home by 3 pm.  I am hoping that this will indeed be the end of it and complete healing can finally take place.  My left breast is doing fine (that's the one that had the cancer), and surprisingly it is the right breast that is having skin problems.

It is getting to the point where we feel like "family" when we walk into this office.  They have called us their "favorite patients". My husband, ever the comedian, always has a joke for the girls at the desk and has a good rapport with the surgeon.  We know two of the girls at the office from our town so there was some initial familiarity there from the beginning.  They are the nicest people and all of them call us by our first names and keep telling me that they are "pulling for me" and just know that this will be the turning point.  I certainly hope so.

With all this going on, I completely forgot about my second 3 week cycle of Herceptin on Friday.  I was at work when my cell phone rang and I saw it was from my oncologist's office.  Here I am wondering why they were calling, and they were wondering why I didn't show up!  I was supposed to go to the surgeon's to have him look at that "misbehaving skin", so I quickly had to change that appointment, run to the chemo ballroom, then run to the surgeon's afterward.  It was a crazy day and I couldn't believe I had forgotten about my treatment.  My calendar is just full of doctor appointments and stuff to remember...somehow I just went on autopilot.

I was glad that the Herceptin infusion did not take that long.  I no longer have to get benedryl before the Herceptin, so all I needed was the 15 minute flush, and then the hour and a half for the Herceptin itself.  Altogether, I was out of there within three and half hours.  Remarkable!  But I am still somewhat anemic, and I need to have another muga scan before the next Herceptin treatment.  My oncologist wants to ensure that my heart ejection rate doesn't fall again.  I have noticed since the last treatment that the muscle aches and pains are back already.  I feel it also in all my joints.  I am hoping it will ease before the next treatment as I don't want to anticipate six more months of feeling like this.

You're right...this sure hasn't been easy.  I'm sure there are others who have it worse; but I sure would have liked it to have been better.

In spite of all this, I find I can still smile and know that my doctors are doing their best.  My body has "taken a licking, but it keeps on ticking".  I have a tattoo on my inner right ankle of an ichthus (also called the "Jesus fish") and when anyone asks how I keep going, I just point to my ankle.  Somehow, it seems like fate that one day last summer that my son and I decided to get matching tattoos in different places.  Mine is in a perfect place to see whether I am sitting or lying down; so it is a good reminder of strength and peace.  After this is all done, I am going to add a pink ribbon around my tattoo as a reminder of what kept me going.

I am also hoping to be able to participate in a breast cancer walk at a local college in October.  I am going to get a group together from our church and the preschool and it should be fun and all for a worth-while cause.

So, I am hoping that "third time's the charm" and this will be the turning point in the healing process.  I'll just keep looking at that tattoo. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Never Say "Never"

I can't believe I am saying this...but I might have to have more surgery!  Yeah, I know...I said there would be no more.  I am kinda dazed myself.

Without my realizing it, it started a few weeks ago.  There was an area on my right breast near the recent skin graft sutures that developed this "blood blister" area.  My surgeon watched it one week, then two weeks ago, he kinda "scraped it" (yuck...and it hurt; even though there is not much feeling).  He told me to keep putting on antibiotic ointment and a bandage and that he would be going away the following week but that I would see his colleague while he was gone.  It did start getting red by the next visit but when I mentioned this to the colleague, but he said it would be "OK".  Well, evidently...NOT!

My surgeon was back this week, took one look at it yesterday and said, "I don't like that it is not getting better and that it is getting red.  And I am not going to wait long this time for your skin to get better.  I feel we waited too long last time.  Therefore, I am going to take this piece out and if on Friday (when he will see me again) it doesn't look any better, then I am going to have to do some more surgery.  However, please know it will not be as involved as all you have gone through.  it will be outpatient and just involve "moving the skin graft over".  Easy for him to say!

I sat there in shock as he got himself and me ready for the small piece of skin to be cut from my breast..

It is sad that I was just beginning to feel somewhat better even though there was this one little area of trouble apparently brewing.  Now, today, one day after he cut the piece out, I am once again feeling some pain and uncomfortableness (will it ever stop???) and can't stop thinking that I just KNOW my skin will not be "behaving" again.

One of my dear friends just gave me a prayer shawl that she crocheted for me.  It is beautiful and I look at it and just think of all the prayers she told me she said for me as she created the shawl.  It came at a good time since it is now my "comfort item" much like the "blankies" my preschool kids bring in with them for their own comfort.  She did make me laugh, however, when she said that it is my "lousy Irish skin" causing the problems since every Irish person she knows has had problems with their skin after surgery.  I didn't want her to know that I am not as Irish as she thinks; but I do agree with her that I have lousy skin.

I now dread going back to his office.  And I am sure I am his worst patient nightmare also as everytime he has thought we are "done", I seem to bring a surprise with me on a future visit.

So, prayer warriors...I am in need of your prayers for healing for this area so that I will not need to undergo surgery yet again.  As for me right now, I'm wrapping myself up in the prayers my shawl will whisper to me. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hair's the Story

I've been in a holding pattern this week, which is kinda nice after all I've been through the past month.  I'm slowly beginning to feel like myself and I am getting around a lot more. In fact, lately I have attended church, started to drive locally, and have been able to sit at my computer at work and "catch up" to all that has been put on hold or was awaiting my attention.  It is very good to be away from the "four walls" of my home and to "join the human race" once again.

I went for my one and only appointment this week (imagine that...only ONE!) on Tuesday to the plastic surgeon.  My regular surgeon was on vacation, so I saw his associate who had assisted on my last surgery.  He was very quiet, not at all like my regular surgeon, and the visit was quickly over.  But he did say that things are progressing normally and I still need another couple weeks for the swelling to go down enough to continue the reconstruction.

And here is the part that I think "needs some 'splaining".  I have had a few of you asking about the reconstruction since you remembered it had already begun at the mastectomy and didn't understand what is happening at this moment.  So, "hair's (here's) the story"....(forgive my pun but hair is utmost on my mind).  At the time of the surgery, tissue extenders were placed behind the muscles in my chest.  These extenders are slowly filled over time with saline solution to enable the muscle to expand to the size I will choose as my "new size".  Contrary to popular opinion, bigger is not always better and I just want a comfortable size for my height and weight.  Once this size is agreed on, then the silicone is put into place during a small procedure in the surgeon's office.

After my last surgery, however, as the saline was being inserted....all the problems with my skin were beginning.  At that time, the surgeon had to take out most of the fluid he had inserted.  If you remember, he tried various treatments to save the tissue, but my skin just (as he said) "wasn't behaving".  It was finally decided that I had to have the skin grafts in order to continue any of the reconstruction efforts.  So, the skin and some muscle was taken from my back and sewn over the "misbehaving skin".  This is where we are now...awaiting the swelling from the skin grafts to recede so the saline can once again be inserted and this part of the reconstruction can begin again.  

I hope this explanation clears up any questions or confusion.  To put it simply, the runway is built, we are just waiting for the airplanes to arrive! 

In the meantime, I am just so thankful to God that He was with me all this time and carried me through some of the most difficult parts.  It seemed over the winter that this point in my treatment was so very far away.  Now, I am here on the last of the roads I need to yet travel.  I am, hopefully, done with surgeries.  I am done with chemo and just have the "every 3 week" Herceptin for the next 7 months.  I will be on the Anastrozole medication that I will need to take for 5 years.  It is much like the Tamoxifin you may be familiar with, but geared toward women who have already gone through menopause.  It decreases the amount of estrogen the body makes and therefore, slows or stops the growth of many types of breast cancer that need estrogen to grow (which mine did).  Of course, I will also be seeing my surgeons (breast and plastic), my oncologist, and my internist more often than I had before.  But THE WORST IS OVER!  I am on my way to becoming that "survivor" and earning my Pink Ribbon!

In the meantime, hair is utmost on my mind and I am also glad my eyelashes and eyebrows are just about grown in.  I have even had to shave my legs and underarms again!  And the hair on my head is taking its time coming in; but since it is summer and just looks like a "boy's cut", I have been going without wigs all the time and without hats most of the time.  I cannot wait for the top of my head to have enough hair to "spike" with some good gel!

So, that's it for now.  I'm at a "happy lull" in the action.  And glad to be here at this point!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Warrior Princess!

Sometimes, I secretly revel in my alter-ego:  Warrior Princess!

She is always just below the surface, ready to come out and "save the day"; but sometimes to do that she has to fight through some large dark clouds that hide her way.  But she is always ready to make an appearance. 

When the Warrior Princess is around, I feel stronger than anyone around me.  I hear someone complain about some incident that now seems so trivial in my eyes and Warrior Princess wants to say, "If you think that's difficult, what about a diagnosis of cancer?"  When a friend gets so angry at waiting in a doctor's office; Warrior Princess suggests saying, "You are lucky that your doctor cares about you and wants to help you.  Maybe someone needed more of your doctor's time today.  Get over it!"  When someone complains about having to go somewhere, Warrior Princess offers, "How about staying home for a few weeks in pain, uncomfortable, and depressed!  Kinda makes being able to go somewhere less of a burden, huh?"  And Warrior Princess even goes so far as to give her opinion on what to say when someone tells Sharon that they had a lumpectomy and that's all they had to go through...but what a time they had!"  Warrior Princess wants to say "WHAHHHHHH!!  Try chemo and three surgeries.  Then get back to me!"  Warrior Princess has little time for sympathy; she's too busy fighting her way ahead and watching for danger.  She just can't deal with "the small stuff" like when someone complains about their fingernails breaking off because Warrior Princess really wants to say, "Try having a body part removed, and then give me a call!"

Yes, Warrior Princess is one tough cookie and probably eats glass or something for dinner.  And while she is needed sometimes just so Sharon can get through the day; sometimes she must also be "calmed down."  Sharon will be smiling and nodding as someone tells her yet again about a friend or relative who died of breast cancer (note to all:  don't do this to someone who is still fighting the battle!) and the Warrior Princess will keep asking, "Now? you need me now??? And since Sharon is the compassionate one of the two, she will tell her, "No, it's OK.  This person doesn't understand that their words are not helpful."  When someone asks Sharon how she is doing, and then doesn't wait for an answer, but proceeds to tell her a long, involved story of their own medical history, Warrior Princess is bursting to appear.  But Sharon tells her, "This person must feel that they have found someone who can understand just how hard a time they had.  Let them talk."

They are both halves of me lately; and I need them both.  Warrior Princess gives me strength and allows me to rant and rave and sometimes even get obnoxious.  But my truer self is also needed because I do understand that everyone around me just wants to help; that people need people; that it's sometimes hard to know just what to say; that God is not going to let me down; and that Warrior Princess is a gift to carry me through.

Today I went back to the plastic surgeon for another follow-up.  He said all is fine and said, "I bet it's good to hear that after all you've been through."  And I didn't need Warrior Princess to say, "Yes, you got that right!"  He is going away for a week, so I see one of his other colleagues next fact, the one that assisted in my last surgery.  For the next couple weeks, we just wait for swelling to go down and for the dust to settle.  And be thankful that things are good.

Sunday I get to spend the day with my "old-same"...someone who never has to see Warrior Princess directly; although we do compare our "Warrior Princesses" and the times they have swept through our week.

Warrior Princess wants to end this by saying, "If you haven't had your mammogram, just what are you waiting for?"  And you better listen to her...she's can be quite forceful! 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Drain, Drain, Go Away

I am finally "drain-free"!  

As my surgeon took the last one out today, I said to him, "That wasn't so bad."  And he answered dead-pan, "Well, unfortunately, you have had enough experience with them."  He's right....I feel like a sieve.  I have more "holes" in my torso than a slice of swiss cheese!  Just kidding, but there are quite a few of them; eight to be exact.  Four from the first surgery and four from the last surgery.  Getting comfortable is still a feat of endurance!  All around my chest area is so much swelling plus the swelling on my sides, that I kinda feel like the Michelin Man...not such a good look.

My surgeon has always called the need for skin grafts the "Plan B" (for when your breast skin fails you as mine did).  He was so proud that he had not had to go to "Plan B" with any of his patients.  Well, he will remember me, for sure, as you never forget your "first".  I did tell him that I could have done without being the first of his to have to go this far, but I am so glad the option was there. 

He also officially declared me "cleared for reconstruction".  The skin has taken well and after a couple weeks of letting the swelling go down and letting it "sit"; my body will be ready for him to get back to the job of reconstruction.  What a relief to now be at this point!

Tomorrow I go back to the "chemo ballroom".  I am so glad that the nausea from the anesthesia is gone.  I don't know how I could have walked INTO the ballroom feeling nauseous.  I am still not looking forward to it, though.  My oncologist told me that this initial dose of Herceptin (the three week dose) will be a little longer the first time; and then shorter after that.  Although I would love not to have to have more chemo medication, this is another layer of protection.  After coming this far, there is no quitting allowed now!  I just have to "put on my big girl pants" and get on with it!

A  good friend recently told me to envision this as climbing a mountain.  But not a "straight-up climb"...rather a circular climb slowly to the top.  This has really helped me in envisioning my recovery from here on.  And I can do the circular climb rather well.  It was the straight-up arduous climb I was trying to do that was getting too difficult.

It will take a couple weeks, but I should be feeling much better soon.  And my husband and I have planned a vacation for the middle of August, which we are looking forward to enjoying with a group of our friends.  OK, things are looking up.  I'll just keep climbing up that circular pathway. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On The Road Again

I will be the first to say that this weekend was a tough one.  For me, that is saying something!  I mentioned in the last blog about the nausea from the latest anesthesia, and boy, it stayed with me until Monday!  I was also experiencing a lot of "brain fog" and my body just wanted to lay around and not move.  The two drains on each of my sides were so achy; and the swelling and bandaging made me feel like a sausage ready to break out of its skin.  I was glad, however, that it was so nice and cool this weekend that it made being in the house more bearable.  With all that I was carrying around on my body, it was hard to find something to wear, so I ended up wearing some t-shirts of my husband's since they were big, loose and comfy.

Today I went back to my surgeon for him to look at everything.  Before I tell you what happened, I have to let you know what a wonderful person he is.  First of all, he did just about everything he could do before he needed to stick me back in that operating room again; and I appreciate that very much.  But what I will tell you next will show his character even more.  

I get updates on line from my insurance company on each and every claim.  The day of surgery I was looking around the site and found the claim for the mastectomy was posted which said I would owe $38,000!!!!  I almost dropped on the floor!  I knew that logically, this would might not be true in the end, but I had no time to investigate further.  When I went to the office today I asked to speak to the person in charge of billing to create some type of payment plan and find out where we stood.  She told me not to worry...that my doctor accepts (for his breast cancer patients) what insurance will pay.  He figures other patients come looking for cosmetic changes; but breast cancer patients have no choice in their procedures and he likes helping his breast cancer patients this way.  Now tell often do you hear that today with everyone just interested in money, money, money?  Not often.  So, he is a keeper and my husband and I both love him and his sense of humor.

Getting back to today....the surgeon removed all bandages and dressings and pronounced everything "looking good" and then proceeded to take out three of the drains.  The best news was that I could take a shower when I got home (oh, the bliss!).  All I have now is one drain and a few large band aids.  This is quite an improvement!  I am still very swollen all around the upper half of my body and it feels a little uncomfortable, but it should start easing up soon.  After the appointment, we went to breakfast, and then proceeded home where I had to nap (exhausted from it all!) before I could finally get into that shower.

I've told you before how God is in this with me and I still feel that strongly.  I've had people mention that "God must have something special in mind for you when this is done."  And I disagree.  The truth is that He has "something special" in mind for all of us since the day we are born.  I am just glad that I was open to his call and that I could be so aware of His walk beside me and His care for me.

Blessings along the journey have been many, surprising, and fulfilling.  I am so glad to be reconnected with people from my past once more (especially my first Pastor and his never forget your "first") and to know just how many people I can count on for support and encouragement.  That is a large part of the "healing process" so never think that anything you do for someone goes unnoticed.  Each act of kindness matters....a lot.

On Thursday I go back to the surgeon to possibly get this last drain out.  On Friday, I go back to the "chemo ballroom" for the first of the "every three week cycle" of Herceptin (for the next 7 months).  It is hard to think that we will be going back, but it has to be done.  They have shortened the time I will be on it, though, so that is good.  And on next Tuesday I see my "primary care" doc to see how this blood pressure is behaving.  (So far, so good....we are taking it at home.)

We are "on the road again" and not looking for any more detours along the way!  And I am glad to be there and at the very point I thought about often during those winter months.  A time of sunshine, healing, butterflies, and a new beginning. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig!

OK, I guess once you are an early childhood person, you are always an early childhood person.  And if you are also one, then you and I are the only ones who will "get" the title today.  But that's not the point....the point is that, I am, indeed home!

Got up early Tuesday morning and it was hard to wait until 2:00 pm to get to the hospital to await my surgery.  Once we got there we had a larger surprise!  My surgeon came out and told us that the person who was supposed to be operated on before me had some complications, so I was "on-deck".  There was no time to think, thankfully, and they whisked me through registration and right into the pre-pre-op room.  Everyone came in to have their peak and/or ask the same questions, and then before I knew it, I was wheeled into the actual pre-op room.  There I met my anesthesiologist and assorted other surgery people, and before I knew it, I was "out like a light".

This time after surgery I spent a little time in the post-op room since my blood pressure was quite low.  They finally brought me upstairs around 8:30 pm.  I vaguely remember saying "good-bye" to my husband and my niece and then nothing until morning.  That night I had a nurse who was very funny and she kept my spirits up in spite of my feeling nauseous and anxious.  I did fall back to sleep often and really don't remember much of this night.  The next day, I had a nurse who was brand new at the hospital and apparently she gave me my blood pressure medicine BEFORE taking my blood pressure.  So, my pressure started going low once again.  They gave me a lot of liquids, got me up and walking and it slowly got up to an OK range by that evening.  During the day, I was still nauseous and not sure if it was the blood pressure or the anesthesia.  Food has not really been my friend since, but I am trying.  Although the nurse was new, after this initial  mistake, she turned out to be the most thorough nurse I had.  And the hospital had her "shadowed" by another nurse.  She did come in often to check on me and change my dressings, and empty my drains and just to ask how I was.  She was very gentle and very young, and very caring.  She will eventually make a great nurse.  That night and next day were much the same with my blood pressure staying low, and then leveling out.  I was not feeling great, but still wanting to get home.  Even the pain meds this time had me feeling nauseous.  I was glad when Friday morningcame and my surgeon told me that I could indeed leave the hospital.  (My blood pressure OK once more). 

So with drains all around my waist like a "six-shooter" gun belt, and numerous bandages and gauze pads and dressings on my body, I squeezed it all into my clothing and we rode home.  It felt so good to be home I couldn't help crying.  Last night I had a great night's sleep in my own bed and today I am just trying to get over the nausea and hoping to feel better.  My husband keeps presenting food like it will help but the sight of most of it makes me want to run.  But it is sweet that he is trying.  

I admit to not feeling as "chipper" as I did last time.  Although the pain is different (not as pressing and severe), I just don't feel like me at all yet.  I go to see my surgeon on Tuesday and hopefully he will be able to remove some drains and I should feel more comfortable.  And perhaps by then, I will be feeling better all around.

Thanks, everyone, for your support and prayers and know because of your prayers, God sent plenty of angels to carry me through once again.  Peace out! 

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Day Before Surgery #2

I am really feeling OK about tomorrow.  Hoping all goes well, and not looking forward to the pain and uncomfortableness...but actually feeling OK about it.  I guess resigned to it is more accurate.  Had some additional problems this weekend with the one breast (won't go into it but it involved mucho leaking) which only makes me want to get this done all the more.

I had asked the surgeon how I would be feeling after the surgery; especially since the cutting would be on my back and the grafts on my front.  He told me "you won't like me for a couple days, but then it will get much better".  Hey, it's not his fault that my skin is so thin.  But he did also say that the recovery with the back will not be as painful as I am expecting.  So, a bag half-full perhaps.

Last week on Wednesday I had gone for my muga scan again; on Thursday to see my internist for pre-op; and Friday to oncologist.  My internist said "Pre-op, again?  What happened?"  I explained my predicament, and he told me that actually this happens more often than people think.  And he told me that it will ensure the area is safe for expansion.  And he's right.  We went through the same information we discussed just before the last surgery, and then I was off to get bloods done.  That never used to bother me, but now that the veins have been a problem, I'm not a fan of blood tests.  However, perhaps because I have been away from chemo longer, there was no problem and that was an utter gift!  

Then on Friday, it was my first visit to the chemo ballroom and my oncologist since mid-April.  We felt like celebrities, my husband and I!  Everyone was saying, "Where have you been?  Are you OK?  Are you done with chemo?, etc."  It was actually good to see everyone, and they made us feel so welcome and appreciated.  One of the chemo nurses came in the to flush the port and to take blood again (but, thankfully could use blood from the port).  We waited for a bit and then my oncologist came in and we hugged "hello".  She told me that I was looking very good and asked how things were.  I told her all that had been happening and she wrote notes as I spoke.  Then she told me that my bloods looked very good and that my last muga scan showed the heart ejection factor had risen...which was very good news!  This means I should be OK taking the Herceptin, as long as I am closely monitored.  She then set up the Herceptin appointments for the next 12 weeks (I return for the Herceptin IV every 3 weeks for another 7 months), and then I was done.  My next appointment in the chemo room will be next Friday at 8:45 am.

So there is some real good news in the midst of everything.  Once tomorrow is over and I am recovered, I am actually getting near the end of my treatment.  I will have the Herceptin for 7 months, and will be taking the Anastrozole (a new drug for post-menopausal women who are HER2 positive.  If you heard of Tamoxifen, then this is about the same) for 5 years.  But almost done!  My hair is growing back and I am told I look like Annie Lennox from the Eurythmics...only my hair is white/grey!  But this weekend I started going out without a cap, so that is another victory I am claiming!

Tomorrow around 4:30 pm, if you are looking at your clock and think of me...just say a little prayer that all goes well.  I am looking forward to being able to write you about this next detour on the journey.  We'll be back on the main path soon. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Verdict is In

First, thank you to those who sent e-mails or made phone calls of encouragement.  I did really need them and they really did help.

Today was the next check-up appointment after the news that skin grafts would be needed.  My husband and I were hoping to get a few days away before the skin graft surgery, and my surgeon was hoping that we would be able to do this.  However, today he told us he is just not liking what he is seeing and even called in his associate for a "second opinion".  The verdict today was that the skin grafts are not only needed, but cannot wait.  So, quickly arrangements were made to have the surgery scheduled for next Tuesday.  Today I had my muga scan, and tomorrow will go for the pre-op testing (yes, have to do it again already since once it is over a month, insurance companies require this), and Friday go to oncologist.  WHEW!  I feel like I keep going through revolving doctor/hospital doors!

My initial frustration at needing more surgery is now tempered with the fact that my skin is just not "safe" right now.  I feel like I am "walking on eggshells" and even the surgeon keeps telling me to "lie low" and don't do anything crazy.  For someone who is always on the move and needing to be doing something, this is harder than ever; and a little scary too.  I worry about the incision opening up like it did on Monday.  So even though it is not the best news, I know it needs to be done and it will ensure a good outcome for the reconstruction.  You can't build upon something that has sand for a foundation (hmmm....I remember that VBS song about the "wise man who built his house on rock vs. the foolish man who built his house on sand"...), so we're going for "the rock".

This journey has certainly hit all the highlights and then some!  I just about think I have caught up to all the surprises, and then another pops up in front of me.  But again, how do folks do this without faith?  No matter what surprise appears, I pray for the strength to get through it, and it might take a little while sometimes, but it comes.

My husband asked lots of questions today and even had the surgeon draw on my back where the skin and muscle would come from and how big an area it would be.  It is kinda a "leaf" shape and is really more on the side than the back itself.  I keep thinking, it's gonna be fun then trying to find a comfortable spot to sleep.  I thought it was hard now.....?  But again, no choice and there is the need to strengthen the area.

One thing I have been very lucky with is all the people I have met and all the professionals who have been taking care of me.  From receptionists and office workers, to nurses, to "chemo ballroom" pals, to oncologists, to hospital personnel, to those who give the scans, to those who take the blood, to doctors and surgeons and all other people I have met on this journey....all of them have been caring, gentle, and concerned and kind.  Sometimes the people in the medical profession get a "bad rap", and I want to truly say that they work in a difficult profession, yet can smile and make you feel like everything is going to be OK.  And I thank them for that!

So the next road on this journey has been planned and I am getting myself packed and ready to start taking the steps forward.  And I know there will be another set of steps right beside me.  Yeah, my husband...but also God leading the way.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Round Two

It has taken me a few days to reconcile my emotions with the news I received on Friday.  It was not a pretty appointment.  By the time I got to the plastics surgeon's office, the incision site on the one breast was "oozing" pretty bad (sorry to gross you out!), and the skin looked "black and blue".  He immediately had to cut again on this side just as he did with the other side.  There is no infection, it was just "leaking fluid" since the skin is so thin.  And that is my problem more than anything else right now.  He told me he has not seen skin this thin in a long time and unfortunately, the verdict is that I will have to have the skin grafts.

I am a little discouraged since I was just beginning to feel more myself and now I will be beginning again at "square one".  At this point, I am out of the "emergency status", but it still needs to be done.  He is thinking in a week or two since he wants to give the skin a rest, if it can cooperate and take one!  So life is once again "on hold".  The surgery to come is about 3 hours and they will take some skin and muscle from my back and graft that onto the breast tissue.  Once again, a two day stay in the hospital, the drains for a week, and about three weeks recovery.  I feel like my life is playing a "rerun" of a few weeks ago.  My husband keeps reminding me that the "good news" is that the cancer is gone and I will live a long's just that I have to get over this unexpected hurdle.  And I am trying my best to keep my mind on this positive news.

On a lighter note, and a sweet one...since I was so upset this weekend about the news, my husband asked me if the surgeon could take the skin from his back so I didn't have to have the "double whammy" of all the painful surgery sites.  That was so sweet of him, but of course, this can't happen...and as I told him, I don't really want to have "hairy breasts".

Yes, I can still joke and try to stay positive and I know God will walk me through this one more time.  But I could use your encouragement this time.  Please write some words or prayers to lift my spirits.  I would so appreciate hearing from you.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Looking for the Comfort Zone

Today the phone rang and it was my oncologist with a reminder that since it is three weeks from surgery, it is time to have another mugascan (to check the heart ejection factor) and come back to see her.  That means I also need to start up the Herceptin once again.  I am not looking forward to the leg and joint pains coming back again.  Besides the pain of the mastectomy surgery, I have not had that pain for a while now and just feel like I would like to get over one thing before adding the other.  But I guess that is not to be.

Since I wrote last, I went back once more to the plastic surgeon on Tuesday.  He saw something else he "didn't like" on the other breast, but said it was only "superficial" and he cut just a small piece out.  He said it should be OK, and I could now go one week before seeing him again.  However, today, I don't like the look of it since it looks infected and I am going to have to call him again tomorrow so he can "give it a look".  However, the other side is looking good.  Maybe once I get this other side under control, then I can get back on the wagon train to reconstruction.  

I am still feeling uncomfortable and sometimes it is still painful (especially at night).  I have very few painkillers left, and I am very selective about when I use them.  Sleep is not easy as I am a stomach sleeper and obviously, cannot do that now.  I can get more on my side now for a while, but my back feels so uncomfortable some nights that I have to go from bed to bed to couch to wherever I can get comfortable enough to get some sleep.  

I have also found it necessary to get some clothing that I feel comfortable in right now.  Most of my summer clothing is a little more form-fitting, and I am just not feeling good about my "form" right now.  So I have gone shopping to get some tops that will be somewhat loose enough so my changing "form" is not so obvious.  I keep wondering what I am going to do for a swimsuit...but I've got time to think about that (and to see what kind of "form" I will have by then).

It is still a little hard to be at home so long.  I am so used to coming and going at will.  And I miss my kids at preschool.  I am going to try to get back there by the end of next week, which is the last week of school before summer.  And I definitely want to be there on Friday night for Graduation.  I haven't missed one yet, and don't want to miss this one.

So this week it's all about trying to find "the comfort zone"...a place, or a position, or a feeling of relief whether I am sitting, standing, or laying down.  At least, it has created a lot more prayin' time since God's up all night anyway! 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

It is the Best of Times, It is the Worst of Times

It's been two days since my visit to the plastic surgeon on Friday.  They were a good two days and it was a good appointment.  He was amazed that the breast looked as good as it did and if all looks the same on next Tuesday, then I am "home-free" from needing the skin graft!  It was a happy moment and I could feel the doctor breathing a sigh of relief also.  To celebrate, my husband and I went to lunch nearby and a store to get some needed items for home.  It's funny how being in a different place (rather than a doctor's office or home) makes you feel a little "fuzzy-headed" when it is your first time after surgery.  I was glad to be trying to maneuver around a place that was familiar, yet busy and noisy.  It felt like one step closer to getting back to the world again.

Then, the next day we were invited to a BBQ at a friend's house just down the street.  We debated about going, but then realized I would be sitting there just as I was sitting at home and we could leave as soon as I was tired.  It was so great to see our friends once again and they were all so caring and concerned and asking "how I felt."  Someone said to me, "You must hate answering that question over and over."  But I did not hate it at all.  I was too overcome by gratitude to have so many people take the time to see how I was doing.  These were the same people who had supported me and carried me through this very difficult year.  It was a chance for me to thank all of them.

We left after a couple hours and I did find myself exhausted.  It was probably because my husband and I also had done some walking that morning.  Maybe too much in one day?  I was so exhausted that I found it hard to sleep last night, so I am paying for all I did yesterday today.  I've got to learn to take it slow.  But it was a great two days.

It has been a difficult year.  I still can't quite get my head around all that I have been through.  The terror of the "red devil"; feeling sick and tired (literally); the pains in legs, head and now breast; losing hair all over my body; the numbness in my fingers and toes; the scares of heart problems; the difficulties of decisions that would impact me forever; dealing with "normal life" at the same time as these serious issues; and now recovering from the breast surgery and awaiting all the changes that reconstruction will bring;   I have been told by the plastic surgeon that this also will be a slow process.  I know that I am a strong person; but if it weren't for a strong faith, I would have given in to despair a long time ago.  That does not mean there have not been times of many tears and feeling sorry for myself.  It does not mean that I have not been angry that this happened to me.  But it does mean that I could deflect these feelings knowing that God was taking the next step with me and wanted me to come out on the other side whole and new.

So it was indeed "the best of times and the worst of times".  Finding out more about myself and my own inner strength and what is really important to me at the same time as the daily struggle and the daily renewal.  A see-saw of emotions accompanying an unfolding journey that will impact my life forever.  And somehow, I do think it is making me a better person.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Cutting Edge

I went back to the plastic surgeon today for another post-op check.  As he stared at my one breast, he said, "I don't like the looks of this."  Not exactly what I wanted to hear.  It seems he "hasn't really like the look of that breast since the first time I saw him in his office.  He "had a feeling" some of the skin was just not going to "come alive".  And in fact, today he was right and today he decided to do something about it.  And today was the day my husband didn't come with me (a friend drove me), so I didn't have his hand to squeeze during the next part of the visit.

You see, some of my skin was no longer "alive.  Instead it had died and needed to be removed.  He went into his cabinets and started taking out all sorts of stuff and putting on gloves and draping the area around my right breast.  He asked if I indeed was as numb as he thought I should be and then he started.  The first thing he did was take out some liquid from the expander so "he had more skin to work with".  Then, he cut the dead skin away and then sutured it all up.  All within 45 minutes.  I did not feel a thing, however the sounds of what he was doing will be enough to make me squirm for the next day or two.  I go back to him on Friday to find out the verdict:  if indeed it will work or not.  He told me the chances are 80%-20%, so please send your prayers this way that it will take.  If not, I will have to endure (as he calls it) "Plan B" which is to take skin from my back and graft it to my breast.  I am so hoping that this will not have to be done.

This past weekend was not a pleasant one.  I was feeling "not too bad" with all the pain killers and meds, but as I was slowly taken off of the them, the real discomfort began.  It was hard to find a comfortable place in which to sleep and I would be gratified for a couple hours together of sleep whenever I could get them.  Waking up in the mornings, it would feel like there was a square all around my chest that was pressing into me.  As I would move, I could stand it more and more and get through the day.  By night time, the muscle spasms started and I just couldn't seem to find a way to be comfortable whether I was sitting or laying down.  Standing and walking around however, was strangely the most comfortable.

I'm still finding it hard to be patient in the waiting and the healing.  And today certainly is not helping.  I feel like I am taking one step forward, then one step back.  I am certainly hoping that I will not have to have the skin graft and believe me, if the cutting he did today does not work, then I have found the answer to the question, "Could it get any worse?"  Clearly, that is a rhetorical question. 

Least you think that I am depressed, however, I am not.  I was warned that this "could" happen, so it was not a total shock.  I was just hoping it was not something I would have to worry about.  I keep thinking to myself just to get through one thing at a time.  So right now, I am looking to just get through until Friday when I will find out the answer and know what the next step will look like.  I will let you know.