Monday, September 4, 2017

It's not pink and pretty

Next month is "Breast Cancer Awareness Month". The color pink will be everywhere. That little pink ribbon will be emblazoned on every kind of item for sale. Don't get me wrong, I love pink, heck, I started and art blog years ago dedicated to it.  But pink DOES NOT convey what breast cancer is actually like.

The truth is, cancer and treatment is horrible and destructive and painful.  Why they feel the need to pretty it up is beyond irritating. Pink makes people feel better about something scary, and I guess that's why it works so well to sell products and raise money. Hopefully some of that money will aid a breast cancer patient in need or go toward curing cancer, which are noble causes. However, you won't find me wearing a pink tutu or waving pom-poms. If you want to know what if feels like, think of being stabbed, poisoned, cut and burned, repeatedly....
Something to consider.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

When the cancer comes back

I know that I haven’t gone into detail about the first year of my breast cancer experience. As time goes on I may write more about it, but for now I would like to share about when I found out that the cancer had come back. I had been through a full year of treatments for stage three breast cancer. Tired and burned out physically and emotionally, I put a stop on all treatments. My body needed to rest and I needed a break from the constant doctor visits. A few months of peace and relative calm went by.  I had time to work on my art and enjoy life with my husband.  In November I saw my surgeon for a check up and also had a mammogram that day, which turned out to be fine.  Around Christmas I started to feel some lumpiness in lymph nodes near mastectomy site, told myself it was scar tissue.  It continued to get somewhat bigger over the next four months with a couple of strange bumps in my pectoral muscles. I was a little concerned but put it out of my mind that it could possibly be a recurrence of cancer. One morning in late April I was lying in bed and reached up to rub my neck when I felt a lump near my collar bone.  That was it, I knew that could not be good and immediately made an appointment to see the doctor. He examined me and let me know that if it was a recurrence of breast cancer that it was probably not good news.  Given that I also had some swelling in my right armpit lymph node it probably meant that I was now stage four....incurable.
He ordered a PET scan, some chest x-rays and blood work. Five days later I had the pet scan and three days later went by myself to pick up the results at the Imaging center. It was a blustery spring day in early May and I gripped the manila envelope tightly as I walked to my car. Sitting in my car I hesitated to open the envelope for a minute or so. Whatever it said, I would handle the news with calm and resolve.  Finally I opened it and scanned the report for the findings. It wasn't good news; I had "widespread disease" in many lymph nodes in my mastectomy site and chest going up toward my collarbone.  The quiet is what I remember about that moment.  No tears, just quiet and a resolve to fight on and live. I knew what lay ahead having been through it before and it wasn't going to be easy.  I thought of all of the things that I didn't get done in the last year.  I had only had about six "good" months from the last cancer "battle".  I should have done more art, and eaten out, seen friends, gone shopping, gone to museums…the list goes on….Now most of those fun things would be put on hold, AGAIN, as we dealt with the day to day survival of cancer and the brutal treatments.  I put the paper back in the envelope and drove home. That was enough drama for one day, tomorrow the "fight" would begin again. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Good News and More Surgery

MRI results came back, and I have a fine brain...yeah! No evidence of cancer metastasis. I had my port removal surgery and am healing from it.  That port was causing problems so it had to go.  The rest of my treatments will be given through a vein in my arm.  I'm still sort of worried about how much more chemo I can take as the cumulative effects pile up. Feeling pretty good but that will change once the poison is back in my system.  Now it's time to enjoy a walk and smell the flowers.

Brain MRI

I spent the afternoon getting a brain MRI. If you have never had one of these procedures, I will describe some of it. They lay you on a table, fit ear protection on you, lock your head down in a hockey mask immobilizer, and then move you into the machine for the scan. An injection of contrast is given halfway through. Mine took about thirty minutes but it felt like hours as it's soooooo loud and uncomfortable. I have to zen it out and do some serious inner strength stuff to get through it. Whatever they may see on the scans can wait until I see my doctor at the next appointment. Momma needs an evening off to just chill. Love you guys, take care of yourselves. You only get one chance at this thing called life.

Chemo Day Experience

Treatment for breast cancer is a rough road. I have finished round six of chemotherapy (twenty two total rounds since this "adventure" began two years ago). Here’s a small taste of what the experience is like. First, it always seems to take at least three hours. Rush around and get to the clinic on time. I check in and get an arm band, just like you would if you checked into a hospital for a procedure. Wait around a little then get called in to be weighed, then vitals taken and an RN comes in to either access my port or place an IV in my arm. Since I didn’t want my port accessed (that’s a whole other painful drama!) they put an IV into the vein in my right wrist. I can’t use the left arm for blood draws or blood pressure due to lymphedema risk. Everyone is different with how they feel pain, but let me tell you that it HURT when that IV went in! It felt sort of like an ice pick getting jammed in my arm. After it’s taped down a couple of vials of blood are drawn and sent to the onsite lab. They always check how your blood levels are before doing chemo. Doctor comes in and we talk and he checks me over, looks at my blood results, and makes recommendations for future treatments. Then it’s off to the “chemo lounge” for infusion. We walk in and I scan around looking for an open chair. There are about ten lounge chairs that face each other around the room in a circle. Everyone tries to respect each other’s privacy and space as much as possible and eye contact is limited. I pick out a chair and Mr. gets a small fold up chair and sits it next me, puts down our cooler with ice and water, and bag of other “stuff” like music player, scarf whatever I can bring to make the experience a little more comfortable. Nurse starts the IV of saline and I get that awful smell taste from it, usually I remember to pop a Tic Tac into my mouth which masks the taste a little. We wait about thirty minutes or so for the chemo to get measured and mixed. My hand and wrist and arm are aching from the IV and liquids going in. The nurse finally brings over the bag of Abraxane and attaches it to my infusion line, first scanning my wrist band and verifying my identity for safety. It takes about thirty minutes to an hour to finish. The chemo has a milky white color to it and I try not to cry as the poison snakes down the line toward my arm. At this point it’s critical that I drink ice water and keep my mouth, hands, and head as cool as possible to ward off the nasty burning sensations and keep the Abraxane from attacking my nerves (toxic peripheral neuropathy). Even though I have a warm blanket on me, I am usually shivering because, stress, cold infusion liquids, and drinking cold water, etc. But I would rather be a little chilly during infusion than have lots of pain later when I get home. I have my little mp3 player and headphones to try and distract myself with music. It doesn’t usually help much. Trying to keep my core warm, edges cool, and trying not to get nauseous. Back and forth to the restroom a few times (which requires some major skills while wheeling an IV pole). Finally the machine beeps that I’m done. IV is taken out (ouch again), and we gather our stuff and head home feeling like crap. Then it's time to rest, deal with pain and try to recover before going back again for another round.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The day my life changed

It was two years ago today that my life changed forever. I had been having some pain in my breast off and on that summer and after several weeks of hoping it would get better, the pain had increased and it was obvious that I needed to make an appointment with the doctor. The first available time was two weeks out, so more time to worry and think the worst.The day finally arrived and I reluctantly went to the hospital. On the way there I was thinking that if I had breast cancer, my life would never be the same. The rather young doctor, whom I had never met before, asked me some questions and did a quick exam. He obviously saw the redness and felt the now walnut sized lump in my breast. The look on his face was enough for me. He recommended that I immediately go to radiology and get a mammogram. A whirlwind of tests followed that day, including mammograms, ultra-sound, and a VERY painful and rather gory core biopsy. Samples of my tissue were sent to the lab and I was sent home with and ice pack and instructions to follow up with the surgeon in a week for the test results. The following week I sat on the exam table in another one of those funky hospital gowns, wondering what the doc would say. He came in and was very kind and gracious, but also direct with news that indeed it was breast cancer. Due to the size of the tumor it was considered stage 3c invasive ductal carcinoma. We listened, asked questions and tried to take in as much information as possible at that point. Although it was depressing, I was not that shocked in finding it out. The task ahead was to try and eradicate the cancer, and it was a daunting task. There were tests, a port surgery, massive chemo, mastectomy surgery, radiation, medication and more. My body and very being went through hell for a full year of treatments. I enjoyed some time as NED (no evidence of disease), and then the cancer started to come back in my lymph nodes. More doctors, more tests, more treatments, more surgery, more pain, more lost time to fatigue. They have told me that I will be living with breast cancer for the rest of my life. No one can answer how long that will be. It has been a difficult experience, but I am stronger for having gone through it. Hey, I’m still here and that is something. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful, and I cherish every day, even with cancer.