Sunday, July 21, 2013

A BUMP IN THE ROAD

 
 
For a survivor, the threat of cancer is something that ALWAYS lingers, even after treatment. I am reminded of it daily through the struggles of others. From my high school friend Patty, who passed away after her second bout with the disease to my dear friend who just finished treatment after having her breast cancer rear it's ugly head for the second time as well. Each person who has dealt with cancer is effected in different ways, having multiple ranges of emotions from one end of the spectrum to another. However YOU deal with the devastation of the disease is your reality.
 
I remember when I finished six months of radiation and two and a half months of chemo and had to go for my final visit to my medical oncologist for post-treatment examination. We talked about the treatment, it's effects, and how I was feeling. He did a quick physical examination. Told me I had the all clear and released me to go on my merry way. I was more than glad to be finished with the toxic chemicals and radiation but was somewhat taken aback that he didn't request I come back periodically for scans and labs just as a precautionary measure. Honestly, I was down right nervous about being just turned away into the cold, post-cancer world to fend for myself. I thought, What happens if it comes back? How will I know before it's too late?
 
Now fast-forward to a text I received from my friend two days ago, who was devastated because she was told her cancer was in remission (meaning the treatment worked) and had to return to the doctor in three months. Devastated because she wasn't told she was cancer free and devastated she had to return. We were essentially told the same thing but our perceptions were totally different. Rightfully so because for her, she has a strong family history of cancer and because this was her second encounter with the disease. This certainly changed my perspective about how I felt about being medically 'released' into the world. Needless to say I won't whine about that anymore.
 
Now, let's fast-forward to tonight, as I am laying in the bed watching TV and get a weird sensation under my arm. I go to scratch and realize there is a lump there. It's small, kind of close to the surface, and slightly tender. It could very well be an ingrown hair or some other simple irritation. But guess what, that's not my reality. My very first thought is What if the cancer is back? I'm trying not to think about it, but how can I? The fear is very real. So now I will call my doctor first thing in the morning and schedule and appointment to be seen. Meanwhile, while I'm doing water aerobics, I'll be thinking about it. While I'm eating, I'll be thinking about it. And tonight, while I'm sleeping, I'll be dreaming about it. Until my doctor appointment, cancer is my reality. Here's to just another bump in the road.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cups Half Empty

It's been awhile since my last post and I've challenged myself to do a post each month. Although the melodramatic era of my cancer is over, and has been for a while, there are always challenges you face on a regular basis. I have quickly learned that cancer is the gift that keeps on giving. Whether it be my lymphedema-swollen upper left quadrant (which I have had to go back for treatment on), the less-than normal "breast" (and I use that term loosely) exams I have to have every 3-6 months, the ankle swelling, the constant coldness of my hands and feet, blah.blah.blah......
 
Lately, I have noticed myself grieving the loss of my cleavage. I MISS MY BREASTS. It's not something new. I've experienced this feeling before, but this time the feeling has lingered. Maybe it's because, as I am planning for my wedding, the dress I am dying to wear would require a strapless bra. I can't support that....LITERALLY!! Maybe it's because of the way my prostheses float abnormally in my swimsuit, at times, during water aerobics, threatening to suffocate me. Maybe it's because mastectomy bras are basically unappealing. Or maybe it's because I often have to wear camis or tank tops under certain shirts to keep my lack of cleavage from being noticeable. Whatever the reason, it's cause for concern.
 
I could have kept one breast but I have a 'thing' for symmetry and the idea of one boob 'flopping' around is rather unappealing. Besides, there was a likely chance it might have killed me anyway. *shoulder shrug*
 
I have my moments.
 
Now, with all of that being said, I am STILL glad to be in the land of the living, no breasts and all! I could have easily not been a survivor but God saw differently and for that, I am eternally grateful. We could spend countless hours complaining about the would've, could've, and should've in our lives but what would be the gain? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
 
No  more complaints.
 
I thank God that I am able to watch my children grow up, for blessing me with a mate that loves me in ways I never thought imaginable, and for giving me a grateful spirit and the strength to have endured it all. Now,  I'm going to go put a little extra stuffing in my bra and KEEP IT MOVING!
 
 


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Happy Cancer-versary: The Survivor Series

Well, I have reached yet another milestone in this journey called life. As of December 17th I have officially become a two-year survivor of cancer. Many of you know this has been an experience with many twists and turns. There have been some ups and downs, but through it all I made it, and for that I am thankful. I could go on and on telling you how grateful I am and how blessed I have been even through the hardship and trials, but today I want to dedicate this blog entry to my friend, Patty Murphy.
 
Patty and I attended duPont Manual High School/Youth Performing Arts School together and became fast friends as we shared two hours a day together in the Concert Band and Wind Ensemble. We shared plenty of laughs. But as most of us do, we lost touch after graduation. Not so long ago we were reunited through Facebook. We spent a bit of time reminiscing about the fun we had, telling funny stories of Mr. Bischoff (our band director), and catching up on what was going on in our lives today. It was then I learned she was a breast cancer survivor.
 
Fast forward a couple of years to my diagnosis....
I had so many questions about things that came to mind AFTER leaving the doctor's office and at random points before, during, and after my surgery I would go to her for answers and advice. She had a very positive outlook and was very optimistic in our conversations. She had just finished her journey and I was only beginning mine. She shared her blog with me at CaringBridge and through her words and her blog she helped me to cope.
 
As I ended my extensive regimen of treatment, Patty was, once again, diagnosed with cancer. After a two year hiatus, the cancer had returned and metastasized to her liver and spine. She was disheartened to say the least but still the fighter she had always been. Well, about a week ago, she lost the battle. I was numb. This could have easily been me. So today I am not going to honor those survivors but, instead, those soldiers who lost the race.
 
She fought the good fight and although cancer may have taken her body, her spirit still lingers. So, today I honor you, Patty, for your courage, your commitment, your laughter in spite of the pain, and your caring soul. Yet another angel has gotten her wings.
 


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

IT'S A HARD KNOCK LIFE

I knew I wanted to do an entry as a kick-off to Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I struggled a bit with what to write, but here I am. I've been contemplating what this entry would be about for a few days since it has been a long while since I blogged, and during that time LIFE has happened to me.

Looking back over the past few years and reflecting on the journey, I must say it has been long and hard. There have been many ups and downs, too numerous to count and I'll  be the first to admit that being strong isn't all that is it cracked up to be. To be down right honest with you, at this very moment I'd just like to lay down, have a good cry, wallow in my own self pity for spell and just watch life roll on by. I deserve it. Fortunately and unfortunately, that option isn't open to me. Even in these darkest of moments I must push through, otherwise the enormity of it all will consume me.
 
Some people would tend to think the worst is over and it's smooth sailing from here. The truth is: The worst IS over. MY reality is: The sailing is not so smooth. I still suffer from aftershocks. I still get sick to my stomach everyday when I take my meds and I hate having to take so many pills for conditions I never had before cancer struck. I continue to suffer from fatigue and the only reason I'm up this late is because the lymphedema has my arm so swollen tonight that it hurts when I lay down. So, if I sound bitter, it's because I AM. I miss my life B.C. (before cancer).
 
With all of that being said, through my experiences and encounters with others since my diagnosis, I have learned that it was destined for me to have had this disease.  I can't even begin to tell you how many times people have called, texted, inboxed, or stopped me with stories of how my blog and my experience has helped or effected them in some way. So much so, that at times my spirit has been overwhelmed with the response I have gotten. I feel blessed to be a blessing to others. My cancer has not been in vain, it is part of my purpose. The BIGGER picture.
 
Yes, it has been a 'hard knock life'. One that would have been so much easier without cancer, but maybe not as rich. We must learn to take the good with the bad and find a purpose for it ALL. So, even though there are days I want to just scream and shout and cry (sometimes I do when I am alone). Those are the days I have to take two steps back and look at the bigger picture. My cancer isn't just about ME. Many have taken the same journey and some didn't live to tell their story. I did.....and for that I am THANKFUL.
 
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
 
 


Monday, June 18, 2012

Goodbye Old Friend

During this cancer journey I have suffered many losses, most notably, my breasts. Now I must bid a fond farewell once again. Tomorrow, June 19th, I will be having a hysterectomy and it is with a saddened heart that I say goodbye. 

If I'm being honest, I must admit that I'm not really sad. As a matter of fact, I'm quite ecstatic about having it done. I actually requested the procedure. My breast cancer tested positive for the HER2 protein which promotes the growth of the cancer cells making it very aggressive. That growth is stimulated even further by estrogen. With that being said, anything in my body that produces estrogen I want OUT. In conjunction with the bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, it lessens the chances of recurrence even further.

However, my female parts and I have been through a lot together. We've had some good times and some bad times. When I wanted to start a family she was very contrary. The doctors said I wouldn't be able to have children because of my poly cystic ovarian syndrome. Then, miraculously, she gave me two beautiful babies. She's been battered and bruised (Get your mind out of the gutter - I meant by pregnancies and c-sections) but she has served her purpose. I will miss her but our time together has run its course. My uterus would have to have the last laugh though by starting a period two days before surgery!!

I'm so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh or sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say so long
~Carol Burnett~



Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Dream Deferred


A DREAM DEFERRED
by
Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
 

For a long time, the idea of me feeling normal again was a distant dream. I had gotten so used to the aches, pains, fatigue, and other symptoms that came along with my disease and subsequent treatment. Through the chemotherapy, which wreaked havoc on my entire body, inside and out to radiation which was very tolerable until the end, I have experienced a wide range of conditions and variety of symptoms.

I was never as glad as I was when I had taken my last treatment and felt overly-excited about returning to my 'normal' self again. Now, I heard from other survivors stories about how you never fully recuperate and how the smallest illness , like a cold, could wipe you out for weeks. I would especially hear of these tales when I would mention how tired I often was. Well, my last treatment had come and gone and I was anxiously awaiting my 'normal' feeling to return. It never did. I still woke up with horrible headaches, felt tired to the point of distraction, and still held onto the occasional body ache. Trying to sustain energy and focus for my classroom full of twenty-three rambunctious first and second-graders was almost impossible, to say the least.

As the days went by, my fatigue became markedly increased, to the point where if I sat still for any length of time I would nod. Now, when I say nod, I don't mean the slow blinks that precede a slight bobbing of the head. A nod for me was a sudden neck spasm that marked me waking up and not even realizing I had fallen asleep. Unfortunately, I most often noticed this on my rides to and from work...and it was SCARY!

I began to think that maybe what others, mainly my treatment nurses who often witnessed my sleeping habits while in their care, were saying about the possibility of me having sleep apnea wasn't as far fetched as I had originally thought. In my quest to find out what was wrong with me I scheduled a sleep study. After I arrived at the hospital to be wired and tested the technician explained the process. It was a two-part study. The first night you would be wired up and monitored in an effort to see if and how often your breathing was disrupted during the night and to also monitor the oxygen levels in your body during sleep. If it was discovered you had sleep apnea then you would come back a second night and get wired up and hooked to a breathing machine to determine how your body would respond to the treatment.

Now that you know how it's supposed to go, let me tell you how my sleep study went! Everything began exactly the way it should have. I got comfortable, put my PJs on, and the technician came in and wired me up. This process took about 30 minutes and let me tell you I looked ridiculously hilarious once it was over. Despite all that, I settled in to bed watched some TV and read a couple of magazines before drifting off at about 11:00pm. At approximately 1:00am I felt the technician gently waking me up so he could slip a mask over my head. Being that I was so groggy and into my sleep, I just let him do it then I rolled on over and went back to sleep.

The next morning I was awakened at about six thirty to be unhooked and released. While he unhooked the thousands of wires I asked how many times I had stopped breathing. He responded, "Well, by the time I came in an put you on the c-pap machine you had already stopped breathing 98 times. Your blood oxygen levels were down to 65%.
<insert blank stare here>
Needless to say, I do not have to return for part two of the study and a machine has already been ordered for me. Hopefully, it will be delivered by the end of the week.

For me this diagnosis is a RELIEF!! Finally, I understand why I feel the way I do and can do something about it. For those of you who don't know, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, fatigue, headaches, slowed metabolism and may also contribute to the development and/or progression of diabetes. Check. Check. Check. Check. and Check. I have already been diagnosed with five out of six of those conditions. Sleep apnea is also hereditary.

I was excited to know there is something legitimately wrong with me and these feelings aren't just figments of my imagination. Now I just have to wait. I'm sitting on pins and needles hoping this machine is delivered sooner than later. However, until then my dreams will have to be 'deferred'.

My message here is to always be pro-active when it comes to your health. Once it's gone you truly have nothing left. And ladies, if you haven't done it lately, PLEASE FEEL YOUR BOOBIES!!



Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Will Survive


It's past midnight and I should be in the bed. I have to be at the hospital at six in the morning for surgery prep to have my power port removed. This is the mechanism through which I have received my chemotherapy treatments for the past year. It is marking the end of the cancer era for me and the beginning of a new one....the one of SURVIVORSHIP!!

I am excited about having this foreign object removed from my body because it has been a big inconvenience from day one. The doctors all worked overtime to convince me to have this port implanted because it would make treatments go so much smoother than having to place an IV for every treatment. Their argument was that with this port they could draw blood AND administer my chemo through a one stick process every time. It sounded GREAT - but if you guys REALLY know me, then you know NOTHING medically is ever that easy when it comes to me.

From day one my port was a big PAIN IN THE ASS!!! I won't even talk about how I had to be awake during the surgery while they implanted it into my chest and ran the tube from my port, up to my neck and into my jugular vein so it emptied directly into my heart to pump those toxic chemicals through my system. Yea, I'd better not mention the HORROR of that ordeal. Or of how my port was tilted at an angle that no one could seem to access through just ONE stick. Or of how there was only one person who could ever access it properly the first time. OR of how, when the nurses saw me coming in for treatment, they scattered about like worker ants who SUDDENLY had so much to do because none of them would come near me or my port because of how I gave the business to the first nurse who inflicted so much pain upon me!! Yea, the nurses and I got a big laugh out of it MUCH later but none of them EVER attempted to try when it was time for the 'sticking' to be done. Hilarious was when they tried to send in a 'new girl' one day to do it. I didn't have the heart to send her to her demise so I properly informed her that the other nurses were setting her up for failure. Then I promptly sent her BACK out to the nurses station to tell them to quit playing!!!

AHHHHHH.....the good ol' days.

Well, I'd better go to bed because I have less than five hours to sleep. Pray for the medical staff that this all goes well. If it doesn't, you'll read about it tomorrow!!