Monday, March 30, 2015

Today is Gray day...and also Port Day!

Well, after an amazingly beautiful...if not too short weekend in La Jolla with my wonderful husband, it is time to get back to the business of cancer.  Today is the day I set as my "Gray Day".  15 years ago I started dying my hair, and outside of the little hints I see in my roots when it has been a while, I haven't seen my natural hair color since then.  I have often fantasized about letting it all go gray or cutting it back super short...just to see what it would look like, but I was not brave enough to actually do it. is that day... Why can't be any weirder than bald...right?  So I went down to Fantastic Sams and told the girl...see her in the picture...

I want to cut my hair down to my gray line.  She kind of looked at me like...are you sure???  Then I explained...and cried...and told her to ignore any crying.  She was very kind and understood.  When I saw the hair coming off it was a bit shocking.  When it was done, I thought I looked a bit butch...or maybe even like I just left a concentration camp.  I definitely thought I looked like someone's mother.  But after playing with it a bit... I think I like it. 

This is my natural hair color.  It looks a bit grayer in person...but not as gray as I thought.

As mentioned above...  today is also "Port Day".  In about an hour, I will be going in for surgery to plant a chemo port in my chest.  I will begin 8 courses of every other week for the next 16 weeks.  This will all begin next Tuesday.  Tomorrow I will go in for CAT scans and bone scans to be sure there is no cancer anywhere else.  Then Thursday for one last meeting with my oncologist before we get started.  So that's the scoop.  I have so much I would like to share, but not enough time today.  Sometimes I link to Facebook, and sometimes, like two posts before, I just feel like blogging.  Feel free to read when you want to, but also know that I blog for a number of reasons, one being just to have an outlet for my thoughts and emotions.  I do want to thank everyone for their kind words, prayers and support, and although I may not respond back, I truly have been touched by the extreme outpouring...even from people I haven't heard from in a long time...and those who are far away that I don't even know.    Thank you for reaching out and being so kind. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015


I watched this video a few days ago of a woman shaving her head...she was a black women look fine with bald heads.  Anyway, in the video the woman had a few people over and she had her head shaved prior to her undergoing chemotherapy.  It was a touching video, sobering and it made me cry.  I am pretty sure it was the cry music that made me cry.  I think if they were playing something like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" or something, it would not have made me cry.   Or maybe it would.  

I have a tentative date set for shaving my head which I won't reveal right now...but I plan to have some fun with it before then.  I laugh about it and joke about it (hair has never really been a big deal to me) but for some reason the thought still makes me cry...of course just about anything makes me cry right now.  I think that is kind of what this ritual of head shaving before chemo is about...having some control when you have a condition that takes so much of that away.  Kind of like saying your can't fire me...I quit!  Cancer and chemotherapy will not make me bald...I will!

Today, I went to lunch with some friends.  We were at a restaurant and there happened to be a woman who was wearing a beanie (like many I have looked at lately) on an obviously bald looking head.  I wanted to stare...  I wanted to stare into her soul and learn about her and her feelings and her experience...because she was my very near reality.   I felt that perhaps she might know that I was staring, so I tried not to, but I caught a glimpse whenever I could.  Eventually, probably due to the heat, she took the beanie off to reveal her scraggly, thin gray hair.  And I wanted to stare some more.

I have thought about the idea of going bald since I first found my tumor. I have also thought about the reaction I might get from people. I saw a bald woman in a beautiful red convertible a couple of months ago and thought... I could do that or roll my windows down and my hair wouldn't bother!  However the time is drawing nearer and what I imagined 2 months ago is almost upon me.  I imagine the bald woman at the restaurant today felt my stares in spite of my trying not to.  I wondered how it made her feel.  Angry, sad, embarrassed, awkward?  Perhaps she is so used to it by now, it didn't bother her a bit.  She may have thought that I was looking her way because I thought of her as a freak or something.  She couldn't know that in a few, short days I too would have a bald head, and I was imagining myself in her shoes. So I learned something...  We often feel more self conscious than we need to.  Most people don't think of us nearly as much as we think they do.  Some people may stare out of curiosity...kind of like staring at the many unique tattoos we see.  Some may turn as not to appear to be staring.  Some may stare because they can empathize in one way or another.  I think few will stare or not stare out of rudeness.  Regardless, I think the key is to hold your head up...bald or not...hat, wig, beanie, scarf....or not. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Recovering...and random thoughts.

Well, it has been almost 2 weeks since my surgery. I just wanted to type some of my random thoughts.  Have you every had a song that you really didn't like very much stuck in your head for days?  That is how I feel about this breast cancer thing...for almost 3 months now. What makes it even more annoying is when someone else sings that song out loud...that is how my family must feel as well...However I have heard very little if any complaining. I sure love and appreciate them and their support and compassion through all this. 

Needless to say, the outcome of my surgery was a bit of a disappointment.  This whole thing has been discouraging from the very start as the news just seems to be getting worse all the time.  As I went into surgery, I thought I had it all figured out. We would remove 2 cm tumor and 3 mm extension, a few lymph nodes would be removed and would be found clean...if not just a tiny bit of spread.  I would do about a week of radiation and a few months of chemo, take Tamoxifen for 5 years and be on my way back to health.  That's not how it turned out. There were 4 lymph nodes out of 6 that had cancer in them.  Three were significant measuring 1.1 cm, .9 cm and .6 cm.  The fourth was just a tiny amount.  I went in stage 2 and came out stage 3.  Really I was stage 3 all along and didn't know it.  My worry is that I could be stage 4 and not know that either.

It was a hard week following surgery.  My recovery has not been so bad, but the emotional roller coaster has been a bit rough.  On surgery day, I was in good spirits and the people working with me were very nice.  I hardly even noticed that I hadn't eaten all day.  After the surgery, I went home fairly quickly to recuperate.   The pain was manageable and the narcotic medications were not necessary.  My incisions are healing nicely and the swelling is going down and discoloration is almost back to normal.  I think the scarring will be minimal and will blend into the stretch marks in time.  There is pain in my arm that goes to my elbow.  I learned that it is called "cording" and it has something to do with the lymph nodes being removed...kind of a thrombosis kind of thing.  Hopefully it will resolve itself soon.  I will begin seeing a physical therapist on Monday to help with that and to help prevent lymphedema. 

I've seen so many doctors it is getting very old, and every one gets to feel my boobs.  (sorry if that sounds offensive, but that is how I feel.)  I am beginning to wonder if they just do it because they want to.  I know that might sound crazy...But I have seen the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and I'm beginning to wonder....

 Be sure when you read this you do so with a southern drawl... 

Ron White: I got in last night, and some guys wanted to take me to a topless bar. I didn't want to go,
[audience cracks up]
Ron White: but I ended up going, cause you guys will back me up on this, you've seen one woman nekid... wanna see the rest of them nekid!   It can be an old biker chick, you know...they're gonna hang down to here.[Gestures to his belly]  'Wanna see me nekid?' Yeah, I do!
[Waits a few seconds]
Ron White: All right, roll 'em back up now! I've seen enough.
[Ron does pantomime of rolling her breasts up like rolling a cigarette]
Ron White: Things that make you go buhhhh!
[Ron shudders]

I'm pretty sure the radiation doctor that felt them yesterday, had no real good reason to do so.  I can understand needing to look at the surgical site and all, but they have been mammogrammed 3 times, ultrasounded twice, MRIed twice...I am pretty sure his fingers aren't going to find anything that technology hasn't found.  The radiation doctor I saw today (because I didn't like yesterday's doctor) even said..."I don't need to feel them, I am sure the your surgeon has already done that"...THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!! Don't even get me started on the cosmetic surgeon who wanted to take a picture for my file...before I had even met him.  I guess he has a topless photo of every woman who comes in....EXCEPT ME...because I said "No!".

Speaking of  radiation doctors.  I have learned today, if I hadn't already known it, that a good doctor is hard to find, but worth looking for.  I had already chosen my radiation doctor (Dr. Tannehill) weeks prior to my surgery and I really liked him.  However, he is in South Gilbert, a fair drive from my home, and once I realized that I would be going the 6-8 week radiation route (instead of 1 week), I decided to look into a closer doctor who had been recommended to me.  The 2nd doctor's office was so depressing to go into, it reminded me of going to the DMV. (For those who live here in Mesa, I am talking about the one on Mesa Drive and the 60...not the nicer ones.)  I was immediately turned off by that and meeting with him made it ever worse.  He seemed put off by and impatient with my questions.  To put it simply his office staff was nice, however.I DID NOT like him at all.  I decided that it is worth driving an extra 15 minutes each day to be seen in a bright and cheery office by a doctor who is respectful and talks with me about anything I feel I need to talk about.  Dr. Tannehill answered all the questions I had and even told me things that were out of the realm of his specialty.  He was awesome.  Yesterday I left the doctor feeling depressed, uncertain and scared, but today I left feeling perhaps still a bit scared, but also informed.  There is great power for me in being informed.  It is far worse for me to imagine than it is for me to just get the facts outright.  That is what Dr. Tannehill did for me today.

So my treatment schedule has changed.  Because of the cancer in the lymph nodes, radiation will wait and chemotherapy will come first.  I will first have a PET scan to detect the possibility of cancer spread to any other area of my body.  Then the chemotherapy will begin. I have not yet seen the Medical Oncologist who will be the one who comes up with the chemotherapy treatment plan...I will see him on Tuesday. Treatment will begin in a couple of weeks. I believe the type they will use is what they call TAC which is used to treat aggressive forms of cancer.  My radiation doctor confirmed this would probably be the case, however I guess I'll know for sure soon enough.  After about 4 months of chemo I will start a course of about 6-8 weeks of daily radiation. 

From what I have read, my hair will likely begin to fall out about 2 weeks after my first chemo treatment.  With TAC, hair always falls out.  I don't think I will wait for it to do so.  I am planning on getting it cut really short just before my first chemo day.  I haven't seen my natural hair color in about 15 years, so I have been letting it grow out so I can cut it to the color line.  I am pretty sure it is mostly gray, but it will be fun to see for a week or so.  Then I will just shave it all off... That should be interesting.

I am bracing myself.  I hear the phrase, "it's doable", in reference to chemo, everywhere. So that's what I will be doing. Summer will pass and Fall will come and my treatment will end and I will feel better...and Christmas will come and 2016 will be a new year. Bring it on!

 I used to hear commercials for breast cancer awareness, or about women who were doing 3 day walks, or  who were survivors or whatever...I never thought much about it.  I even felt slightly annoyed by what I thought was "all the hype" about breast cancer.  Surely I never dreamed I would have never even crossed my mind.  Even when I first found out, I was still in that mindset.  What's the big deal?  Suddenly, I understand...breast cancer is a big deal!  I now know what it means to be a survivor...and I am looking forward to the day when I can say, "I am a survivor!"...and I am praying that I will say, 5 years down the road, "I am a survivor"...and I am praying that I will say, 10 years down the road, "I am a survivor"...and for many years after...because surviving breast cancer is really something... It is a big deal...Something worth celebrating, something to be very grateful for!

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Quick Update...

What a long day today was. I am recovering...watching Camelot tonight.  I love that movie and what a great excuse to do absolutely nothing, but watch.  Good news...The tumors are gone..along with 6 lymph nodes.  Not so good news...4 out of six had cancer.  Oh well...what's a person to do?  Kind of a bummer, but that's life sometimes.  I guess I have about 6-8 weeks of radiation ahead of me.  Right now I feel pretty good, except  my right hand is numb an swollen, kind of like I slept on it wrong for hours and hours...and I am finding it difficult to type.  Hopefully that will wear off soon.  Anyway...that's all for now.

Today is THE Day!

Well, it is finally day. It is 4:00 in the morning and I am up...because I have a sore throat. if I needed that today.  So I can't eat or drink anything 8 hours before surgery...which is at 12:30, and I can't suck a Cold Eeze on an empty stomach.  So I ate some lemon cookies, sucked a Cold Eeze and am sipping on hot tea that is supposed to help with a sore throat.

It has been a busy week this week.  I had a garage sale last weekend and sold a lot of my clutter...and made a cool $1500.  I just love the part of the garage sale when people come and take my things away and give me money in return.  That was very useful.  It is such a relief to have that stuff gone.   I have cleaned, organized and even done some redecorating to prepare for this day. Things like this are a great motivator to get things done. I didn't get it all done, but I am hoping the earth will continue to spin regardless.  My garden has begun to pop up a few little sprouts...  I am so excited!

On Tuesday I played a game of racquetball with Jacob.  I haven't played with since a wrist injury a few months ago, but I figured if I was careful we could give it a go. I beat him.  Then yesterday, I  got to do a little fencing with a friend of Sarah's.   I don't know for sure, but I think he beat me, but I got him last. I was going to take a fencing class this semester with Sarah, but once I found my lump, I realized I wouldn't be able to finish the class.  I don't like the idea of not having a fully functioning right arm for a while. ...Maybe I'll learn to be a lefty...just for fun. 

I have done well at keeping my my mind on other things for the past few weeks.  As the day approached, thoughts began to creep in, and so did the nervousness...sometimes I would even start to cry.  **strange**    I'm not quite sure why I am nervous.  I guess it is just reality in my face.  This is real, and I am THAT person...and this is something I will be doing...starting today.

Here is a list of some of the things that go through my head...and what I am nervous about.

I hate anesthesia...especially how I feel afterward.
I don't like being in pain much, and think I will hurt when I wake up.
the "good" pain meds make me want to barf.
It will be hard for me to take care of my family for a while.
I am worried about lymphedema and hope I won't have to deal with that.
With the worry about lymphedema, I am worried that my right arm won't be the same.

I hope there is no cancer in my lymph nodes.  I feel a small lump, but think maybe I'm being paranoid.
I hope I will be able to do only one week of radiation, instead of the 6-8 weeks.
I don't want to feel irritable.
I wonder what the scar will look like.

I wonder how chemotherapy will affect me. I hope I won't feel too sick.
Although, it would be nice if I could lose a few pounds...I mean if I have to go through chemo anyway.
I am looking forward to reading a few good books...something I rarely ever do.
I really hope this is the only time I ever have to do this.

It feels a bit like an adventure...only I do prefer the ones where I grab the kids,  get into a VW Vanagon and     drive across the country.
I wonder what I will learn.

So this morning I will scrub myself with antiseptic soap, put numbing cream on and head to the Scottsdale Medical Imaging Center where they will do an MRI guided wire placement into the tiny tumor that was found...just to be sure they know where it is and they take it out along with the bigger lump.  Then I am told that they will inject some dye into my breast that will travel to my lymph nodes in a couple of hours.  This will tell the Doctor which lymph nodes to remove.  I was told I would also get a sedative at that time...and won't likely remember much after that.  Surgery is at 12:30 and they should be waking me up at about 2:00.  If all goes as planned, I should be sent home a couple of hours later.  So...I guess I had better get started.  Wish me luck!!