Tuesday, March 7, 2017

One Year

One year ago today, I had my last cancer treatment. The culmination of nine long months of IV poison, surgeries, and radiation burns. Nine months of scans, blood tests, and palpations. Nine months of warnings, advice, commiseration, sympathy. Nine months of losing all my strength and energy while everything I went toward fighting this thing. Nine months of gaining weight because there was nothing I could do to stop it. Nine months of fear, determination, and hope.

Nine months of my life gone.

Often, when I think of things I did before cancer, I forget just how long ago it was, because it really was like losing a year. Now, it's been so long that I've been out of it, it feels like a dream. If it weren't for the wreck my body was left in, I could almost forget it even happened. Of course, there's some emotional baggage that stayed with me, too. Some of it is good, and some of it is bad: I am grateful to be alive and I'm driven like never before to live the life I want and do the things I want to do. But I have more anxiety and nervousness than before. It's even harder to control my emotions and my temper. I blow things out of proportion and am more easily injured.

Overall, though, I'm good. I'm crazy in love with a man who keeps me grounded. I'm happy, I'm having fun, and every day I get a little stronger. I still get wiped out a little too easily so I have to plan how much physical activity I do in a day, but there are worse things to have to deal with. One year ago, I could barely walk a quarter mile without feeling exhausted. Now, I can run/walk 2-3 miles, swim half a mile, do weights for an hour, and even be in a three-hour-long musical. Just not all in one day!

Life is good, and what's nine months in the grand scheme of things?

Friday, February 24, 2017

There's no business like show business!

Hello, blog! I haven't seen you in a while...there's hasn't been much to report on, but reading my last post from October, I guess there are a few updates. Plus I'm having some thinky-thoughts that are somewhat cancer-related...or at least, cancer-adjacent. So, bear with me.

First the quick updates: 

  • I will probably not get my reconstruction done until next year. I have a consultation in April for the interstitial tears in my shoulders (basically, the ligament that attaches under the blade of the shoulder has torn away--probably from years of dance and exacerbated by the cancer treatments for various reasons). They will probably need surgery, and that needs to be done before reconstruction. And who knows how long it will take to recover from that, and I don't know if they'll do it in two surgeries or one. 
  • Michael and I have been waiting for certain factors to fall into place before setting a wedding date, but we're tentatively looking at August 6. It will be a simple, intimate affair at our home. 
  • We're going on a cruise to Alaska at the end of May, and we're very excited! We're going on Celebrity with some swing dance friends. Given that we haven't done any swing dancing in quite a while, I think we really need to start practicing again!
  • Just in case I forget, which I might, I finished cancer treatments on March 7 of 2016. That's a couple weeks away. So...I haven't even been out of it a year yet.

But the thing that has been occupying most of my time and all my thoughts lately is my show! Most of you know that I'm in the ensemble of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" at Davis Musical Theatre Company. It opens tonight, and I'm feeling particularly thoughtful today about what this means and thought I'd share.

What made me decide to do this?

When I was younger, I did a lot of backstage work in the Nevada City theatre community, but I never got to be on stage although I would have liked to. I was doing horses at the time, I had to work, I didn't think I could sing, excuse excuse excuse. Then life took me in a different direction. I started ballroom dancing and did a lot of performances for events at our studio or at random parties for churches, in front of a choir, etc., participated in variety shows. We danced on the Garbeau's stage and at the State Fair. It was really a lot of fun, and it was a great way to get my performance fix.

However, that bug to return to the theatre never really left me. Teaching dance made it difficult because that always happens at night, when rehearsals are. I was too busy for many years, and there was still the issue of not being able to sing if I wanted to do musicals (which I did).

Then a few things happened. A few years ago, someone got me into karaoke, and I started feeling more comfortable about singing in public. Then, I met my awesome friend Andee, who is an amazing singer and actress, and going to see her in shows rekindled my love of theatre. I started thinking about maybe doing it...but I was still worried about singing, and I was still busy with work. Then I met Michael, who pledged to take care of me if I didn't want to work so much, but it was too early in our relationship to contemplate that.

Then the whole cancer thing happened and turned my world upside-down. My priorities changed. I was literally unable to work as much as I had before. I faced the fact that I could have died, in my early 40s, having not done so many things I want to do. I discovered that I can let someone take care of me.

I set the goal over a year ago to do a musical, but I kept it quiet. First I had to finish up the cancer thing. Then I had to recover and learn how to do some solo, stage-type dancing since I only knew ballroom. So, I started with tap because there was a convenient class near me (yay Dance 10!). At first, it was a struggle to get through class, but I kept at it and got better. I knew a musical would be physically taxing, so I was going to the gym and running/biking/swimming/doing weights as well. While I worked on the physical aspect, I worked on my voice as much as I could on my own, using some exercises Andee gave me.

I finally decided around November or so that I might be fit enough, so I started looking for audition opportunities. The timing of How to Succeed was good (coming up soon, but enough time to prepare), it's not a super dance-heavy show especially for the women, and I've seen a lot of shows at DMTC so I felt comfortable there. I auditioned and got in.

How's it going?

Although I was excited, there was a lot of anxiety at the beginning. Not because I would have to perform in front of people (that part is easy), but because I was worried about carrying my own weight. Was I singing the right notes? Would I be able to do the choreography and keep my energy up through a 2:40 show? I had a little emotional break down (thank you to those who listened to all my whingeing), and then I got some help. The musical director worked with me one-on-one one night before rehearsal, and then I started taking voice lessons with Carrie Hennessey, a local opera singer. She's freaking amazing. So, that gave me more confidence with the singing, and it turned out the dancing was easy. I settled down and just enjoyed the process.

It's been a lot of hard work, but it's been super fun. The cast is like a big family, and I honestly like everyone in it. I think I somehow simultaneously under- and over-estimated how much work it would be. Things I thought would be hard weren't, but then the long hours got  to me--particularly on set construction days. There were several days I spent about 6 hours working on the sets, and I'd go home so exhausted it was literally painful and I was barely safe to drive. In fact, there was one day I had to just skip because we  had rehearsal that night and I knew I couldn't do both in a day. I felt guilty, but what else could I do?

The last couple of weeks have been the toughest, and I cannot wait until Monday when I get a rest. My legs are sore and my feet are crying for mercy (why, oh why, did I insist on 3" heels??). During the show itself I do get a chance to rest between numbers, but I also have a lot of running around to do backstage, changing sets and clothes. I'm holding up better than I'd thought I would, even though I'm tired. I'm pretty useless during the day right now!

I am SO excited to open tonight and share all our hard work with an audience. It feels like the past few weeks have flown by leading up to this moment, and although this culmination of our work will last for several weeks, I feel like it's wrapping up and almost over. I don't want it to end; I'm  having the time of my life. And hopefully there will be more shows in my future.

So, I'll just have to make sure I enjoy the hell out of every moment in every single performance. And that is definitely something cancer taught me: enjoy every moment you have, and everything you do, because you never know when it will all be over. If you want to do something, do it now, before it's too late. Be grateful for the things you can do, because someone else wishes they could, but can't.

In the group photo, I'm in the back row, third from the left.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Chugging along

Just thought I'd post a quick update, although at this point there won't be any news to report until it's time to start thinking about reconstruction. I'm thinking that surgery will probably happen in the neighborhood of March, which will be one year after radiation was completed. If you don't recall, they told me to wait a year, partly I think because of my risk factor in case something comes up and they have to go in again, and partly to let my skin recover from the trauma of radiation.

The funny thing is, I thought it would be weird to walk around with one boob, but I got used to it when I couldn't wear a bra and it was taking so long to get a prosthetic. I thought it would weird, but I realized I really didn't care. Plus, it seems no one really notices. I guess it's probably helpful that my remaining boob is small anyway, so I guess it's not as noticeable, and people don't seem to stare at each other's chests that much. I suppose that's a good thing. I'll actually have people ask me what kind of cancer I had or if I've had reconstruction yet. I look down at my mangled chest and I'm like, "really?" It doesn't bother me; I just think it's kind of funny.

We had a great time at Disneyland, and as most of you know, Michael and I got engaged. No, it wasn't a surprise, at least to me (we planned it together), although we managed to surprise most of our friends and family! We're very happy and excited. We don't have a date yet, but I'm thinking next spring or summer.

The really great thing about our trip is that my energy held up really well. We bought a four-day pass thinking we'd only be able to do 2-3 hours per day, but I actually lasted 5-6. In fact, Michael tired out about the same time I did. So, I was really happy. And it was truly a magical vacation from beginning to end!

So now that all the traveling is done, I'm back on track with my fitness and nutrition plans. I'd gained a few pounds back, so I  have some work to do to get back to where I was a couple months ago. I've already lost a couple, though, so I'm sure I'll be there soon. Just in time for the holidays!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lumpectomy and update

It's been a few weeks now, but I wanted to post about the lumpectomy for those who have to have one and want to know what to expect. Feel free to ask me any questions you have. Current update at the very bottom.

The procedure I had is actually called a biopsy/excision of breast mass/ lumpectomy with needle localization. The day began with getting checked in, vitals taken, and an IV started in the back of my hand. Unlike when I had my mastectomy, they actually got it in on the first try and it wasn't super painful. So, it seems my veins have recovered a bit from chemo. Yay!

Then I was sent downstairs to get a mammogram-guided localization wire installed and blue dye shot into the area so the surgeon would know where to go and which tissue to take out. This was actually the worst part of the whole thing, because the mass (technically, a mucocele-like lesion) was located about as deep as it could be and still be breast tissue--right in the middle against the chest wall. They had to try several times with the mammogram machine to get me in the right spot (you might recall we went through this with the needle biopsy), and none of them were comfortable. A couple were downright painful.

They finally got me in position, numbed my skin, and then injected something to numb the whole area (lidocaine, maybe?). There was a little bit of burning, which was unpleasant, but then it was a breeze after that. I didn't feel the wire or the dye going in, and then they bandaged it up so the wire wouldn't catch on anything and sent me back upstairs...but not before all the nurses asked me about ballroom dancing and planned to all go out together. See, Linda? I'm marketing! ha!

So then there was a little bit of a wait, and Michael was able to come sit with me while various members of my OR team stopped by to say hello. It was a little funny, because the anesthesiologist was the last to stop by. He was doing something with tiny bottles and my IV while he talked, and then the world suddenly started rocking back and forth and coming in and out of focus. It was very fast, and then we were rolling down the hall and Michael kissed me goodbye. We went on into the OR and I got on the table, I noticed the light above me was spinning (only to me, I suspect), they put a mask on my face, and I was out. The next thing I knew, I was already back in my little curtain room, trying to wake up.

Recovery was not terrible. I did feel weak and tired for a few days--I did not do the 5K the following Monday, nor any exercise for about a week and a half because that's how long it was before I felt really ready. I was a little tender and there was some bruising. I mostly just took ibuprofen for the pain, although a couple of times I went for the Norco, mostly after a lot of movement so stuff probably got jiggled more than it should have. My scar was glued together, so no stitches or steri-strips to deal with. It was three weeks ago, and I now feel about like I did before the procedure.

---

Fast forward to today, I still get tired every day. By 2:00, no matter how much sleep I got the night before, I'm generally unable to function, but lying down and sleeping (when I can) for a couple hours is usually enough to refresh me for the evening so I can do dinner and maybe go out. The other day I had a really long and hard day, and I was painfully exhausted at the end and it took me two days to get over it. I'm not doing much dancing as it's usually more than I feel up to. I usually mange no more than a couple of hours of work per day. I am exercising several days per week, which is good--and important for getting back to my old self.

I met with the physician's assistant at my oncologist's office yesterday for a sort of cancer debrief. Mostly she told me stuff I already know. But she ordered a blood test to check my thyroid in case the fatigue is from that, but she said it's not adrenal fatigue because then my sodium would be low, which it's not. [Update 9/29: my thyroid is normal, so I just need to be patient.]

So, things are fine. I'd like to recover faster, but I don't get a vote on that so I'm trying to accept where I'm at and do what I can.

Monday, August 29, 2016

MRI Results

I got my results from my shoulder MRI last week, although I haven't had the chance to sit down and write a post about it. I have tendinosis, which is a common degenerative malady, particularly for athletes (my years of dance). I also have an interstitial tear in the rotator cuff. The doctor is sending a referral to an orthopedist to consult with me about how to handle it.

From the reading I've done, they usually try to do physical therapy first in hopes of fixing it without surgery and often will just not do surgery, even if PT doesn't do the trick, unless you really need to lift your arms above your head. I'm thinking I really kinda do. But the PT has definitely helped a lot. Also, it looks like surgery is often indicated for tears greater than 3mm, and mine is about 4x5. So, we'll see what happens there. I would love it if we can just get it to heal without cutting me open again. My daily stretches have become routine.

My lumpectomy is Thursday. It shouldn't be too bad, but I'm not looking forward to it. I am looking forward to having it behind me, though!

Recovery is getting better. I still conk out every afternoon, but it seems like I can get more accomplished before that happens. I've lost about 18 pounds now since I finished treatment and getting stronger all the time. My trainer keeps making my workouts harder, yet I manage them more easily. I'm very happy about that!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

MRI done and surgery scheduled

I went to my MRI last night. When the lady at the first one (where I nearly had a panic attack and had to stop before it started) rescheduled me for this one, she assured me the tube at the downtown location was much bigger and shorter. IT WAS NOT MUCH BIGGER OR SHORTER. However, I did get a prescription for valium from my doc and took one about an hour before the procedure. And then I made sure to close my eyes before they slid me in (just in time--they could have warned me!) and keep them closed the whole time except for one brief moment near the end when I accidentally opened them for just a second and wished I hadn't.

The valium helped, although if I have to do another MRI I'll take two next time. I had to work at it a bit to stay calm. A lot of self talk and deep breathing, and then distracting myself going through dance routines in my head, then more self talk when I remembered where I was. I felt like I was in there for an hour, but Michael said I was gone for a total of 20 minutes. I question his math.

So then we were back downtown this morning to meet with my surgeon. The lumpectomy sounds like it won't be too big of a deal. However, we had to schedule it for September 1... four days before a 5K I'd entered on Labor Day. Michael says I'm not allowed to run 3.1 miles four days after I have surgery. So, now I'm pouting like a child. Yeah, yeah, I know. There will be other races. Poop.

On the day of surgery, I won't be able to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before. I'll check in at 11:30 and get a mammogram-guided wire and some dye stuck into my breast to guide the surgeon to the spot. Then he'll take out all the suspicious tissue--he said the size of a golf ball, and when I told him that's about all I have, he amended it to a marble. In any case, he said it won't be enough to change the size or shape or cause dimpling or anything. Then he'll glue it shut and I'll go home a couple hours later. I will be under general anesthesia, which is probably the hardest part of the whole thing to recover from. That and not getting to eat all day!

Anyway, so that's the scoop.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Feeling great

It feels really good to feel so good. For the most part, I have reasonably good energy. The scale has been going down steadily--I've now lost 15 pounds since I finished treatment. Although I'd hoped to lose twice that by now, I'm thrilled to have finally broken through that plateau. I think working with the personal trainer is a big part of that--he works me pretty hard with a combo of cardio and strength training, and I think that's made a big difference. And then because I'm seeing results, I feel motivated and have better willpower when it comes to what I eat.

Exercise goes pretty well, and I'm definitely seeing improvement. Bigger weights, faster times. But it takes a lot out of me. Between that and my physical therapy stretches, and then resting from doing it, it's most of my day. That's OK because I'm seeing results, but sometimes it means I run out of energy early in the day. I want to go dancing or to see friends or do something else fun, and I'm often just not up to it. But getting my body back is my priority right now, so that other stuff can wait.

I finally came to terms with the fact that doing the marathon this year is out of the question. My body just isn't up to that level of training yet. I'm disappointed, but I also know I've done absolutely everything I can and it's not my fault. The poison that saved my life causes a lot of damage, and it's just going to take time for that to heal, and there's only so much I can do about that. Plus, all this extra weight I'm carrying around makes it way harder. So, I'll keep running the shorter distances and everything else I'm doing and try to keep my focus on just getting better and improving and getting lighter. Next year, it's triathlons.

I'm so stubborn; it's hard for me to not think about training like a regular athlete. How many times this year have I had to accept that this isn't going to go the way I want it to? It's hard to give up on a goal. Michael says I'm not giving up, just postponing it, but it doesn't matter. I didn't get to do what I set out to do. Ugh. Anyway, I'm accepting it all in small steps and by pieces. One day it will stop being a revelation. But honestly, despite my whingeing, mostly I'm happy. Life is good.

Tomorrow I get the MRI on my shoulder to see if there's anything wrong besides the impingement from treatment. They've gotten way better with all the work I've done on them, but it will be good to rule out any other problems. Then Thursday I meet with the surgeon about my  lumpectomy. Would love to hear your stories about how your lumpectomy went and what recovery was like! I hope it won't set me back too much.