Sunday, October 14, 2012

September is Preparedness Month...Prepare and Plan

This message was displayed on the Georgia DOT signs on the interstates.  It caught my eye, and sort of stuck with me!  We can always make plans for how we think things should go; but sometimes those plans are blown to pieces and you are left standing looking at your plan scattered all around you.

I had finished my chemo treatments on May 3rd.  I took a little vacation to regroup, and came back with a plan of action.  I would have my port removed one month after completing treatment and follow that with reconstructive surgery to exchange the tissue expanders for the actual implants.  That was all completed in June.  By July I had scheduled the final surgery I knew I had to have done (removal of my ovaries).  That surgery was scheduled for September.  My plan was that by October any cancer conversations would be past tensed. 

I would love to say that my plan came off without a hitch, but I can’t.  The last week of August I discovered a lump in my right breast (yes, the same breast where the initial cancer had been found).  In addition to the lump under the skin, I had several cyst-like bumps on the outer portion of the skin.  I called my oncologist immediately, and was instructed to see my plastic surgeon to ensure it wasn’t an issue with the implants.  I was able to get in to see him the next day, and it was determined that it was not my implants.  My plastic surgeon called my breast surgeon and got me on her schedule that morning.  I left his office and went straight to hers.  After 3 ultrasounds, it was determined that the cysts were fluid filled and she believed them to be an infection.  She put me on a strong antibiotic for 10 days, but scheduled a biopsy for the following Friday in case they didn’t clear up on the antibiotic.  Well, 10 days came and went and there was no change in the cysts or the lump.  On September 7th, I had 3 biopsies done.  I was trying not to worry about it, but that isn’t so easy.  I had a long heart to heart with God about it because my opinion is that He already knows what you’re thinking and feeling, so why not just go on and express it.  I told God that I didn’t think I had it in me to do chemo again.  I had a peace.  Somewhere in the time that I saw the doctors the first time and getting the results of the biopsies, I saw a message on the Georgia DOT sign that I hadn’t seen before or since.  It read, “September is preparedness month.  Prepare and plan for the unexpected.”  Well, I wish I had paid a little more attention to those last six words!
I received a call the evening of September 11th with the results of the biopsies…I had cancer…AGAIN!  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  The next morning I went to see my oncologist where the news went from bad to worse.  She told me that once cancer manifests itself on the skin, as mine had, it was considered Stage 4 and there would be little chance of beating it.  She then told me that if it had spread, which chances were pretty good that it had, it definitely wouldn’t be a beatable cancer.  She said that there were exceptions to the rule, and my theory was that nothing about this process for me had been normal so why start now!  She then referred me to The Mayo Clinic.  They had a clinical trial available for women who were BRCA positive and had recurrent breast cancer.  She made me think that this was my only hope of survival.  I left that appointment feeling like I had been handed a death sentence, but I was refusing to go down without a fight!!!!  I’m NOT a statistic!  I WILL be the exception to her logical rules!

One year to the day (September 17th) that I discovered the initial lump, I was seeing an oncologist at The Mayo Clinic.  He wanted me to have all the scans done there for him to review, but he offered a little more hope than my oncologist.  In addition, he determined a clinical trial would not be the best option for me.  I knew this was God saying this wasn’t what He wanted for me when the clinical trial was closed.  It took a few days to get the tests scheduled.  They split the scans up over Thursday and Friday of that week and I would get all my results on Friday afternoon when I went back to meet with my Mayo Clinic oncologist.  I think we were all nervous going into this appointment.  We had no idea what we were facing, but our prayer had been that the cancer was contained.  Once we were in the room with the doctor, he gave me the best news I had heard this far on the journey…the cancer had not spread beyond this one area.  However, it had gone into the chest wall (including the back muscle transplanted last year) and only one lymph node.  This was good news because it meant this was beatable!  He called my oncologist here in Atlanta and discussed the treatment plan, so I could return home to begin treatments.

While my initial cancer diagnosis was triple negative (meaning not a hormone fed cancer), this cancer is estrogen fed.  This opened up some additional treatment options for me, which are all very positive!  I have been home for 3 weeks now and have completed my first treatment, and will have my second treatment on Tuesday.  Thankfully, the drugs I’m receiving this go round do not make me sick AND I will get to keep the hair that has started coming back!  I’m unsure of the number of treatments I’ll receive, which makes this process very interesting…and very difficult for me to plan out my course of action.  Clearly, I need to stop trying to prepare and plan! 

It doesn’t matter how much we prepare and plan for the unexpected because none of us can ever be fully prepared for it!  This was earth shaking for me, but not earth shattering because I know that God is in control and He has a plan.  I’m convinced that this isn’t the ending to my story…God has a bigger plan in motion here and all I need to do is trust Him!    

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

One More to Go!!!!

I’m just going to jump right in on this update. 

I’m not really sure why, but they were trying to freeze us out at the last treatment!  We were freezing! I had my heated blanket and was still cold!  I decided coffee was what I needed, so Ashlee fixed me a cup.  This coffee is HOT, and I’m not so much a fan of a burnt tongue. SO, I decided I would hold the coffee until it was cool enough for me to drink because that would at least keep my hands warm.  By this time my Benadryl had started to kick in and I started to drift off.  You know your head will jerk when you fall asleep sitting up?  Well, my hands started to relax similar to that.  Suddenly, I heard Ashlee say, “Angela, put your coffee down before you spill hot coffee all over yourself!”  She looks after me really well, and I don’t know what I would do without her!  After I finished getting my drug, I awoke to find my chemo nurse and another nurse talking about me.  My nurse came over to me and asked if I would mind talking to another patient who was getting her first treatment.  Her treatment plan is the same as mine.  After talking with her, it turns out we have more in common that just our treatment plan.  She is also triple negative and BRCA1.  She hasn’t had surgery yet, but is planning to go the same route I did.  We exchanged information, and we have been communicating since.  My desire has been that God would use my experience and what I’ve gone through to help others and to point others to Him.  I’m thrilled that He is giving me opportunities to do just that!

If there were one word I could use to sum up this day, it would be OVERWHELMED! 

I woke up this morning and had a massive to do list in my head of all the things I needed to complete today before having treatment tomorrow.  I don’t know how I got so behind on my pre-chemo checklist, but it happened.  I’m convinced it has to do with the change in days from Tuesday to Thursday.  I was able to slowly check things off my list, and it’s all going to get done before 11PM!  Miracles never cease!!!!  In addition to the checklist, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by trying to figure out exactly what I want or need to ask my oncologist tomorrow for my post chemo life.  I think I just want to be sure to ask anything and everything possible, but it’s not like I’m done with my oncologist after tomorrow…she’s stuck with me now!

Aside from feeling overwhelmed by my crazy to do list, I’ve been overwhelmed with emotion today.  My co-workers surprised me today with a last chemo celebration.  I’ve been so overwhelmed by their love, support, and encouragement through this entire journey.  I started crying and that was all she wrote!  So many people brought cards.  I took some time this evening to read them, and tears flowed AGAIN!  As I read the cards, so many referenced my attitude, my strength, and how I’ve walked this journey with grace.  I did choose to keep a positive outlook, but that’s been hard at times.  My strength and walking with grace is ALL God!  I’ve been clinging to this verse, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13)

I can’t believe it’s the night before my LAST chemo treatment!!!! I know it sounds crazy, but it feels like the time passed quickly and slowly all at the same time. I know that this isn’t the end to my journey; nor is it the end of God using this experience to help others.

I know that last sentence sounded like it was the end of me sharing my story here, but it's not...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Maybe His Blessings Come Through Raindrops

I realize that I've been slacking a little on these updates. It's not because there isn't much going on, but more a lack of energy & motivation on my part. Starting with the 5th treatment, my chemo drug changed. While my first 4 treatments were Cytoxan and Adriamycin, my last 4 treatments are the drug Taxol. I was really excited about the change in drug because my doctor had told me it usually didn't make patients sick. To me, there is no feeling worse than that of nausea. In addition to being free of nausea, I was going to be free of the day after shot that boosted my white blood cell count.

The  new drug can cause allergic reactions, so they try to prevent them ahead of time. My part is to take steroids prior to my appointment. Their part is to give me Benadryl prior to the drug on treatment day. This means that I sleep through the majority of the treatment time. While I would be free of nausea, I wouldn't be free of side effects. This new drug offers the lovely side effect of bone pain. When I heard bone pain, I thought a few aches & pains; but that is an understatement! I felt fine the day after treatment #5. I woke up with the intent to go in to work on Thursday (2 days after treatment). I was a little achy in my legs that day, but really thought it could be managed with could not. I did go to work and took ibuprofen all day. I realized on Friday that my eagerness to go in to work on Thursday was probably not the most intelligent decision I've made. It was my decision to go in and not an expectation. I couldn't ask for a better place to work during this journey!!! They have been so great to work with me and are flexible with me to allow me to get well. The great thing is that I know they really mean it when they tell me they want getting well to be my first priority.  I know this is a big part of why I've done so well with these treatments.

I spent that weekend taking pain meds around the clock, and felt so much better by Monday. The off week of chemo was one of the best weeks I've had since beginning chemo. I had plenty of energy and felt good! When I got to chemo #6, I was shocked to learn that my white blood cell counts were not high enough for me to receive treatment that day. I have been planning for my final chemo treatment to be May 1st. I am planning to take a little trip to regroup after my final treatment. In addition to my trip, I planned to have my reconstruction surgery mid-June (my levels have to return to normal counts & it usually takes about 1 1/2 months). While I realize some may think the reconstruction surgery isn't a big deal and could wait, it is important to me. I want to be able to enjoy my summer, which means me in a swimsuit. I wouldn't feel comfortable in a swimsuit in my current condition because chances are I wouldn't be able to wear a top without prosthetics and may not be able to find one to work at all. I can manage to make myself look normal in regular clothes, but a swimsuit is an entirely different matter! 

So, when they told me no treatment that day it meant all of my plans after chemo would be affected. My oncology staff knew my plans and wanted to work with me to keep me close to my initial end date. I started throwing out ideas of my own thinking we could come up with something! After throwing out a bunch of options, we finally decided on a plan. However, this plan required approval from my insurance company. We sat in the room waiting on that approval for about an hour. I won't lie, I was disappointed. I couldn't believe I had come this far to be hit with this challenge. I really struggled with being disappointed and discouraged about this minor setback because I know I have had a much easier time with chemo than some people. I'm so glad Ashlee is my chemo buddy for moments like these because she has no problem telling me exactly what I need to hear, which was that it was OK for me to feel that way! We FINALLY got insurance approval (Thank God for GREAT insurance)! 

Now that we had the approval, we discussed the plan. I would get up to 3 injections during the week to boost my white blood cell count. These shots force the bones to create bone marrow, and they cause bone pain. I got the 1st injection on Tuesday and went back on Wednesday for injection 2. We were going to attempt chemo again on Thursday. Since Ashlee couldn't make theThursday appointment, I found a new chemo buddy for the day. Once they got my bloodwork back, my levels were still not high enough for treatment. My #1 infection fighter had been a big fat goose egg on Tuesday and was only at .5 on Thursday. They gave me injection #3, and set me up on the schedule for chemo on Friday. By the time I got up Friday, I was already feeling the bone pain from the injections. I took a pain pill & was ready to go when my chemo buddy for that day came to get me. I'm so thankful for friends who are available & willing to help when things don't go as planned. When we got the bloodwork back on Friday the #1 infection fighter had gone from .5 to 5, so I was good to go for treatment.

Since my white blood cell count dropped so much after treatment, my doctor decided that it would be best for me to go back to getting the day after shot to boost my counts. Remember, this shot causes bone pain. So, I had 3 injections, a chemo drug, and on Saturday got another shot...all causing bone pain. Needless to say, I was in terrible pain following treatment. In addition to the bone pain, the new chemo drug has a side effect that has some getting used causes numbness and tingling in my hands and feet. It is the strangest feeling in the world to walk around with your feet feeling somewhat asleep! 

So, here I am on the eve of my next to last chemo treatment updating my blog. I feel confident that I will be able to get treatment tomorrow since my counts were all good on Friday. I was in my car tonight and a song that sums up how I've felt on this journey came on the radio. I have sung this song as a prayer to God countless times! The song is "Blessings" by Laura Story. I love the chorus of this song: "What if your blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near? What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?"

If you haven't heard this song, I definitely recommend you take a listen!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ooooohhhhhh, we're halfway there...

I know several of you thought you missed an entry prior to my last treatment, but I was really tired that week and didn’t post an update. I’ll try to update on the last two treatments and what’s been going on with me the last few weeks this go round.

I had heard mixed reviews about the side effects of treatment 3. I had heard that some people get really sick because the drugs have built up in your system or that it could be the same as the previous two treatments. I guess I went in expecting the worse, but praying for the best. When we got back to the chemo room I felt so tired and wanted to sleep. I should have known this was my body telling me it wasn’t operating at 100%! I got my treatment, came home, and started feeling sick. I did get sick (the only time I’ve gotten sick this entire process). Since I got sick only once and then felt better the remainder of the week, my oncology staff seem to think I had a touch of a little bug. I actually recovered much better after treatment 3 than I had the previous treatments.

My birthday fell during the off week, so I had a week of celebration! All the celebrating made for one tired girl, but it was well worth it! The Sunday prior to treatment 4 I participated in a photo shoot highlighting individuals going through chemo. The concept of this book project is to have a picture of the chemo patient on one page with his/her story in his/her own unique way on the other page. I knew going into the photo shoot that I would be photographed with no wig…just me and my bald head. Since my hair had not fallen out completely in all areas, I wanted to fix it before arriving at the photo shoot. Since I have to be careful about cuts, I knew I couldn’t take a razor to my head. I knew that an electric trimmer, which we used to get my buzz cut, would only cut so close. I had the idea to take my electric razor I use to shave my legs and take it to my head…it worked beautifully! Once I had the head photo ready, I had to decide how I wanted to tell my story on a plain white 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper. I wanted my short page to reflect who I am as an individual and how I’m getting through chemo. I am not going to share it here on my blog until after the book is published in October. I can’t wait to see the final project and hear all the other stories of hope. I’m so honored to be part of this project!

So with my busy off chemo week behind me, it was time to head into treatment 4. This was the last treatment I was getting my friend “the red devil” and the last of the shots to boost my white blood cell count! This was cause for great rejoicing in my world! I actually recovered better from treatment 4 than I did any of the previous treatments! I only took nausea medicine the first night. I was more tired after this treatment, which the oncology staff has assured me will be normal. I’ve shared before that Ashlee and I meet and talk to people each time we go for a chemo appointment, and treatment 4 was no exception. I think we met our most entertaining person at this visit…

We saw her in the waiting room moving from seat to seat looking for a plug for her laptop. They called us back within minutes of each other, and when I got to the lab she was sitting in a chair across from me. I use a numbing cream on my port prior to chemo, so I don’t feel them insert the needle. Since my port is about 3 inches below my collar bone, I have to put saran wrap on it to keep it from rubbing off on my clothes. Our little friend looks at me, once I sit down in the chair, and says, “You know you have plastic on your chest, right?!?!” I can be really sarcastic, and in my head I was thinking, “NO! I’m totally oblivious to the huge piece of saran wrap attached to my body at this moment!” I did not say this out loud to her, but tried to explain it to her. She seemed ok with my response and I thought I was done dealing with her. However, she left the lab and sat down next to Ashlee in the waiting area. When I came out, she was full of questions and comments. At first, the questions were normal cancer patient questions…what kind of cancer, when were you diagnosed, blah, blah, blah. Her questions soon turned into a little more than the normal…she asked me why I was getting chemo if they said they got everything. I don’t know a better way to say that I want to live a long life, and my doctor said chemo is my best option at doing just that; SO, I’ll take chemo and the hair loss and whatever else! She then proceeds to tell us about some kind of hydrogen peroxide she is drinking and some $60/bottle mushroom cream from Japan she is using to kill her cancer. Just as the awkward turtle was swimming at a rapid pace, they called my name to go to the room. The whole situation was amusing and sad all at the same time. I don’t know this girl’s name, but she could use prayers. She was diagnosed with colon cancer a year ago. She had surgery and they told her they thought they got it all, so she opted not to do chemo. This past January she went to have a swollen lymphnode in her neck checked and the cancer has metastasized to her entire body. After one chemo treatment, she was once again denying chemo.

Before every treatment they do a little physical. My nurse practitioner keeps telling me how well I’m doing. Before this last treatment, she told me that she hadn’t expected me to do this well. She really thought that I would have a hard time and lots of complications based on me having to delay treatment a week in the beginning. I know the only reason I’m doing as well as I am is because God is walking with me on this journey. I haven’t been shy about telling her that it’s the power of prayer. She said it was luck. Clearly, this is a mission field and God has placed me there for a reason. I think it’s really cool to see how God orchestrates things. I have a friend from college who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Without any prior communication regarding my doctors, she went to the same breast surgeon and is now seeing the same oncologist. This means that she will see the same nurse practitioner. Our chemo treatments will overlap some, as she is beginning and I’m on my final 4; but this means there’s one more person God has placed in this office to be a light. Neither of us would have chosen this path for ourselves, but God’s plans are not our plans.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Quietness, Trust, and Support

I began writing this post from sunny Orlando. This week would be a scheduled treatment week; but my oncologist graciously allowed me to postpone this week's treatment so I could attend an annual conference for work. I must say the change of pace and scenery was very good for me.

I've got two treatments down & only 6 more to go! Treatment day 2 was very entertaining. While Ashlee & I usually watch a movie while I'm getting my drugs, we ended up talking with the other women seated around us. Initially our conversation was about the most recent episode of The Bachelor, but it soon turned to each of us sharing our cancer story. Cancer stories are a lot like everyone's individual life two are alike & every journey is different. It was very encouraging to me to hear from these ladies who were all much further along in their chemo treatments than I am. We talked about how we each responded to the chemo & the shot the day after. I did respond a little better to the shot this time, which I'm convinced causes me the most issues (aside from nausea). The biggest  benefit this time was that I opted to not stay alone at my apartment after treatment. Ashlee and her husband were so kind to open their home to me after treatments. Since my  hair began falling out right before my second treatment, I decided to have Ashlee buzz it. I was really unsure about the whole GI Jane look initially; but now as is it continues to fall out, I'm growing more accustomed to it. In fact, there are times when I forget I don't have hair & I'm not wearing my wig! I think I freaked a bellhop out the other day when I opened my hotel room door without a wig and showing my balding head! It wasn't until I saw the shocked look on his face that I realized I had no hair! 

I don't want it to seem that my biggest challenge has been the loss of my hair because that isn't an accurate picture. The days and nights after treatment can be really difficult. I had some issues with dizziness after this treatment, which made it difficult for me to sleep. The middle of the night can also be a trying time mostly because most people are sleeping and there's a lack of physical presence. It's during these times I'm praying the most. I also sing "I've got peace like a river" over and over.  I find myself thinking, "If I can make it through the night, I'll be one day closer to feeling better. "

The Tuesday following treatment I return to the oncologist's office to have blood drawn. They check my white blood cell count among other things. After this treatment my levels were low...too low. While they said I could be out and about, I needed to avoid actively sick people. Do you know how difficult this is in the middle of cold & flu season?!?! Since some illnesses had been going around at the office and I was trying to be well enough to go on the trip this week, I was advised to work from home. I felt so defeated. I'm a people person, and here I was going on over a week in my apartment. I was going NUTS!!! I am so thankful for friends who went with me to dinner and stopped by to visit, so I had some people interaction aside from visits to the pharmacy and grocery store. I know I have issues with just being still and resting, but I'm trying to get better at it. 

This week I was reading my daily Jesus Calling devotional, and it spoke to me exactly where I was last week. The devotion is written as if Jesus is speaking, "Thank Me for the conditions that are requiring you to be still. Do not spoil these quiet hours by wishing them away, waiting impatiently to be active again. Some of the greatest works in My kingdom have been done from sick beds and prison cells. Instead of resenting the limitations of a weakened body, search for My way in the midst of these very circumstances. Limitations can be liberating when your strongest desire is living close to Me. Quietness and trust enhance your awareness of My presence with you. Do not despise these simple ways of serving Me. Although you feel cut off from the activity of the world, your quiet trust makes a powerful statement in spiritual realms. My strength and power show themselves most effective in weakness." It really made me stop and think how many times I want to push myself because I want my old, normal life back. Right now, the old normal has been pushed aside for my new normal, and I need to embrace it.

So, I mentioned I began writing this post in Orlando (I'm finishing it in my neighborhood Starbucks) where I was at annual work conference. This whole week was a source of encouragement for me. The biggest thing was seeing people who I don't see on a regular basis, but have been walking with me on this journey. I think I got more hugs this week than I've received the last two months!!!! Our Sunday night meeting ended with a private concert with Martina McBride. She currently has a song out titled, "I'm Gonna Love You Through It." This song talks about a woman's journey with breast cancer and those who step up to say, "I'm gonna be by your side and see you through." I can barely listen to this song without crying, so when she started singing I knew this night would be no exception. You may be wondering why this song makes me so emotional. First, you need to listen to it! Second, I know not all friends will choose to stand by your side when something like cancer comes into the picture, so when people do it's a beautiful gift. I've had friends who have turned their backs and walked away. It's been hurtful, but I realize they are not the friends I need in my life...especially on this journey! For every person that has checked out, I've had 5 more that have stepped up to say, "I'm here for you whenever, whatever!" I've been so overwhelmed by the love and support I've received. When I say support, it goes beyond transportation to appointments, bringing food, cleaning my apartment, or running errands (all very important things). It's the smallest acts of kindness...a text message, e-mail, or phone call. These people expect nothing in return from me, they just care. I am so BLESSED and THANKFUL to have each of these people in my life!

Monday, January 30, 2012

One Treatment Down...

I'm starting to think I have a thing for updating my blog the night before chemo treatments. It feels good to have that first treatment behind me! I feel like I know what I'm walking into tomorrow morning! So unlike the last treatment where I had not a clue what to expect! They tell you all the bad stuff that can happen to you, and somehow you believe that all those things will happen to least I did! I soon learned that not everything they said would apply to me, nor would they have communicated all things to me prior to treatment. 

When we made it back to the chemo room, we got ourselves some snacks & prepared to watch a movie while I got my drugs!

I get two chemo drugs the first four treatments. One of my drugs is nicknamed, "The Red Devil." It's real name (Adriamycin) doesn't sound as intimidating, but the nickname fits! It's red & it's the one that makes me lose my hair. For reasons beyond my comprehension, this drug can't be set up on an IV drip like the other one, so a nurse sits and pushes it in over about 20 minutes. It wasn't until my second hour of treatment when the nurse came to administer "The Red Devil" to me that I realized they spent the first hour juicing me up with nausea meds and some sort of hypnotic drug. I'm not really sure what the hypnotic drug does, but I'm quite entertaining a few hours after it hits my system! The nurse suggested to me that I cut my shoulder length hair because I would begin to lose my hair within the next 14-21 days. Her reasoning was that it would hurt more the longer it was when it began to fall out. I was thinking emotionally painful, but she meant emotional AND physical pain. 

The day after my treatment I have to go back and get a little shot in the arm to help boost my immune system. Basically the shot forces my bones to produce bone marrow, so my white blood cell count will come back up. The nurses said the shot would cause pain similar to severe menstrual cramps. I've had severe cramps before, and the pain from this shot made those cramps look weak! First, this pain is all over your body...every bone aching! The pain was so severe for me that I couldn't get out of the bed for a whole day & barely made it out the second day after the shot! Thankfully, I only have to get this shot after the first 4 treatments...1 down, 3 to go! 

I did get my hair cut really short...the shortest I've ever had it, but not the shortest it will be on this journey. It was probably a good thing I was still under the influence of the hypnotic drug & some nausea meds when my stylist cut my hair because I'm sure I would have been much more of an emotional wreck! And now we are at day 13 and my hair has begun to fall out. I feel like I've somehow prepared myself emotionally for it, but for the physical pain I was not!!!! It feels like someone is taking each individual hair all over my body and yanking each one out down to the root! I want to avoid the mess of losing the hair on my head, so I'm planning to have someone shave it for me. I ordered my wig & was told it would be here by today, but it wasn't. I'm a little anxious about having a bald head & no wig, but I'm gonna embrace it! 

The big question that I haven't answered yet is, "How did I do after treatment?" Aside from the severe bone pain, I was only tired and nauseated. I've heard conflicting comments on how I will respond to future treatments. I've heard that how my body responded to the first treatment is what's can expect for all treatments. BUT, I've also heard that my body could respond differently as the drugs build up in my system over time. I am praying AND believing that nausea is the worst that comes my way. I know others are praying, too. I've already seen God answer so many prayers throughout this journey, that I know NO request is too small for my VERY BIG God! 

Monday, January 16, 2012

An Update...FINALLY!!!!

I know it's been a while since I've updated the blog. It's been hard to find words to express how I'm feeling & what I'm going through at times. With that being said, I'll update on my progress thus far. 

Surgery day came and I was ready to just get the show on the road. I was so blessed to have an amazing operating room nurse! She looked a little like Lucille Ball and was so sweet! She told me how beautiful I was from the time she started wheeling me down the hall to the operating room until we made it into the room! Keep in mind, I'm in a hospital gown, hair net & have ABSOLUTELY NO make-up on my face...she's either sweet or incredibly delusional! Since she was my "bodyguard" while I was unconscious, I choose incredibly sweet! :) I don't remember much about that day except somewhere in the fog of the anesthesia wearing off I remember hearing an announcement over the PA system at the hospital stating visitor hours were over. It wasn't until the next day that I realized I was under far longer than anticipated. There were no complications, my surgeon just wanted to take his time & make sure everything was perfect.

Day 2 - I woke up that morning & thought, "What was I thinking having them take my back muscles?!" I won't lie, it was painful! You don't realize how much you use those muscles until they aren't there! My mom was really quick to remind me that when I see the end result I'll be so much happier that I did go with this option. Now keep in mind that I've been in the anesthesia fog & haven't a clue what anything under the gown looks like...until my surgeon comes for rounds. If you remember from my last blog, I was expecting to be flat-chested...I was not & I'm still not flat-chested. SHOCKING revelation there, but I was in lala land between the anesthesia & the pump of whatever pain killer they had me on so this revelation wasn't as shocking to me that day ad it was later. Not much info my surgeon shared with me that day shocked me, except 2 pieces of instruction... 1) I could not shave under my arms until the 4 drain tubes were removed, which could be 4-6 weeks later AND 2) I would not be able to wear my high heels for a while because of balancing issues. The shaving thing really bugged me because I'm a little OCD about it & I'm not one who is longing for the European look or smell! The shoes I felt I could handle a little easier since I wasn't feeling the whole walking around business much at that point & knew I'd be out of commission for a while. However, these 2 pieces of info got a shocked response out of me! 

On the 3rd day, my surgeon let me go home. I convinced him that I would rest much better at home. Honestly, there isn't much resting happening when you have a hard time getting comfortable because you've been cut front & back, you've got tubes  coming out of you, and you're bruised from the whole business of them flipping you during surgery. The rest came in spurts & I took it as it came. 

A week after surgery I went for all my follow-up appointments. First up, the breast surgeon...they gave me the final lab results & the cancer had NOT spread to any lymph nodes! This was a huge answer to prayer! I had been stressed about the cancer spreading after my initial visit with the oncologist. I can't remember if I've shared this or not, but I have what is referred to as triple negative breast cancer. This type is not hormone fed & it is most likely to spread. Without chemo treatment, 1 in 3 women die from this type of breast cancer. Hearing that type of statistic will scare you! After hearing they got everything, I left that appointment & just breathed a sigh of relief! My second stop that week was the plastic surgeon. Everything was healing beautifully & I had better range of motion than most of his patients after 2 weeks (I may be a little bit of an overachiever)! BUT, with all the healing there was a slight problem...I had an allergic reaction to all the bandages & glue used to put humpty dumpty back together again. So a week out & all bandages have to come off! I'm put on Benadryl & another round of antibiotics. Once the bandages were off, things started improving on the healing & comfort sides. 

After that first week, it's just been a lot of me resting & being carted to and from Dr. appointments by friends since I was unable to drive until about week 5...and only now in week 7 is it starting to feel extremely comfortable. My plastic surgeon has been the primary doctor on this journey up until chemo treatments, and he allowed me to go out of town for Christmas. It was good to get away because when I came back I hit the ground running with all sorts of appointments. There were so many things that had to be done prior to starting chemo. I had to visit the cardiologist to have my heart checked out, go to chemo class to hear everything that may happen to me on the treatments, and have my port placement done. On January 5th I went in to have my port placed, so I could begin chemo on the 10th. They were careful to not use latex, but used my old friend dermabond to seal up the wounds. I was more stressed about the fact that I was starting chemo in 5 days than to think about the allergic reaction I was having to the dermabond. I was so stressed about chemo that I was physically sick for 3 days leading up to the treatment day! I hadn't noticed the severe rash I had developed from the dermabond because when I looked at the port site all I saw was bruising! When we (me & my chemo buddy & friend, Ashlee) get back to the room the nurse basically tells us she doesn't know if I can get treatment that day, but the final word would come from my nurse practitioner. Well, she came & the answer was, "No chemo for!" I was deflated. I had psyched myself up for treatment & then I couldn't get it...all because of a stupid allergic reaction! They wanted to give it a week to heal & sent me on my way. 

So, here I am the night before my 1st chemo treatment. The rash is gone, which I'm confident is all because of the power of prayer.  A lot of people have asked why I have to have chemo since the cancer hadn't spread & they were able to get it all. The answer: 1) I have triple negative breast cancer & this is my best chance at survival! The odds without chemo are scary, but there's a flip side to it...triple negative breast cancer is MOST receptive to chemo!  So, if I have to lose my hair & my eyebrows (praying not) for several months in order to live a long & healthy life, I'll take it! 2) I'm 35 & have breast cancer...they treat aggressively when you're this young! I don't feel nearly as stressed about the treatment as I did last week. I'm still not quite sure what to expect, but I'm ready to get this thing started! I'm sure Ashlee and I will find something to laugh about (as usual) and get laughs & stares out of other patients, family members, & office staff. I'll be the first to admit that the cancer journey can send you on an emotional roller coaster. While I think every emotion is a valid & necessary part of the process, I don't dwell in the dark places long. I find scripture or songs that encourage me to keep fighting & not lose hope & when necessary I reach out to those around me that I can trust with my feelings & are walking with me on this journey. So, while I haven't a clue about what this 1st treatment will be like for me, I hope that Ashlee & I find something to laugh about & bring smiles & offer encouragement to those around us...if nothing else we are entertaining! :)