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.

Monday, August 8, 2016

First hair cut! Also, claustrophobia.

My first haircut, 41 weeks post final chemo
Another one of those up-down days. Today I was supposed to have an MRI on my shoulder to rule out any other cause for the pain and range of motion loss besides the stress from treatment. It took a long time to get the referral and then to get an appointment for this issue I've been dealing with since March (but is steadily improving thanks to physical therapy and a whole lot of work on my part).

I've had a lot of scans in the past year, including an MRI, a PET scan, and several CT scans. I didn't anticipate this one being any different. Except it was.

The tech got me all prepped and gave me a squeeze ball to squeeze if I was having trouble and needed out RIGHT NOW. I almost laughed, because I'm such a rational, calm person and would never need that. Then she slid me into the tube. She'd had me close my eyes first because she turned on the lasers, but then she said I could open them as she was moving me. I opened them briefly, saw the tube was pretty small, and closed them again and decided I would just keep them closed throughout.

But then when she got me all the way in, I could feel how close the tube was around me. Much smaller than the ones I'd been in before. My chest constricted and I felt like I couldn't breathe. I tried to tell myself it would be fine, just breathe and relax, but instead the feeling got worse. She asked if I was ok, and I couldn't answer because I was trying to decide if I was. She asked if I needed to come out and I said yes. I just knew I couldn't take it for the 40 minutes or whatever the test would be. So we rescheduled for another day at another facility where they have shorter, wider tubes. I'll get valium from my doctor and Michael will have to drive me. That will happen the 17th.

So, that was frustrating. Generally, my claustrophobia has only been triggered when I feel trapped, like someone holding me down, not just from being in close quarters. I've noticed before that I have more anxiety since cancer, and this is a good example. And then not only can I not do the thing I was supposed to do, I feel awful afterward. I have a stress headache and just a general...I don't know. Discomfort--mentally and physically. As I write this, I've gotten past it somewhat but I'm still feeling some of the after effects. And it  happened two hours ago.

However, while I was out I got a bug in my ear to finally get my hair cut. I stopped at a place on the way home and they happened to have someone available right then, so I went for it. I like it! And one of the ladies working there recognized me from the dance studio, so that was fun. I think this will be my last hair photo, and when I get around to it I'll make my video of the growth to this point.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Attitude successfully adjusted

My hair, 40 weeks post final chemo. I'm
waiting for the front to get just a little longer
so I can get a cute, short, sassy cut.
It's amazing how much my attitude and general outlook on life shifts around these days. A couple weeks ago, I was miserable. I worried about the possibly cancerous cells in my remaining breast, hated physical therapy, and I struggled through my workouts and life in general. I was mourning my cat. I felt like I'd used up all my strength and rah rah attitude when I was sick, and I just couldn't take any more. But, I kept going, kept doing my exercises, kept listening when everyone told me to hang in there and it would be OK.

And you know what? It is OK. The biopsy was benign, and although I have to get the lumpectomy to be sure, I feel like I've let go of that fear. I moved past my sadness and anger and bitterness (not that I don't expect to feel that again, but I'm past it for now). Physical therapy started getting easier, and although it still takes up a large part of my day and isn't fun, I'm seeing progress. I have way more range of motion than I did a few weeks ago, which is great. I've gone dancing a couple times and did reasonably well. My workouts still leave me pretty exhausted, but at the same time, my body seems to be responding and getting stronger. Weight loss is still slow, but I'm edging my way down the scale.

So, in general, I'm doing well. I'm reasonably happy with how things are going. They could be better, but they could be a whole lot worse. My consultation with the surgeon is August 18, so I'll find out what's in store for the lumpectomy, get it scheduled, etc. I will keep you updated, as always!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I'm beginning to see the light

I think I'm starting to come out of the haze I'm living in lately. I still have pain, physical therapy still sucks and has only minimally improved my range of motion, and I still get too tired too often. But I'm feeling more accepting about it all, having raged and cried until I'm sick of it.

As far as exercise goes, I've accepted that I just can't follow any regular training plan because I have to take it day by day depending on my energy level. This week, it's very low, and since I have a few dance lessons to teach, that's going to have to be my exercise a couple of the days. However, on days I feel good or don't have to reserve my energy for something else, I'll get a work out in (and I am still doing the personal training twice a week). I'm done being angry about it and just will have to deal with it.

So, I don't know which, if any, races I'll be able to do this year. When my energy levels improve, then I'll look at getting more serious again. Meanwhile, I'm still trying to be careful about what I eat although that's always been a struggle for me.

I'm feeling a little better about work, too. I'm getting some help with the writing work getting everything done, so the looming deadlines aren't stressing me out so much. At the dance studio, I'm teaching a few hours a week, and my boss there is great about not over-working me. It helps that I work for such supportive people!

So, I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel again. And that's nice.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Anxiously waiting UPDATED!

I should get a call some time tomorrow either telling me the results were negative (which is what we want) or that I need to make an appointment to go in and talk to my doctor, which would mean it's positive (which we don't want). I managed to not think too much about it over the weekend or today since I was focused on missing Isis. What thinking I did do, I managed to become resigned to to the fact that this probably is cancer. I know I'm supposed to think positive, but last year I was absolutely convinced I didn't have cancer, and I did. So, it's hard to think positive. But it's ok. I got through it last time, and this time we're catching it super early so maybe it won't be so hard.

In general, I feel better today. A little less sad, a little less overwhelmed. The support I get from you all really makes a difference for me, so thank you. Let's all keep our fingers crossed, and I'll post tomorrow as soon as I know anything.

Update:

There are no cancer cells. It's a mucusoidal lesion (i think that's what he said), which is basically pre-cancerous. I need to have it removed, which is an outpatient procedure. WOOT!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Fun with needles

My update on facebook was pretty brief, so I thought I'd give more of the details.

So yesterday I went in for my follow-up mammogram. They told me they would start with getting the magnified images, and only do an ultrasound if they felt like they needed it. They took several pictures, squishing me in super tight, then had me wait while they looked at them. Ten minutes later, the ultrasound tech came and got me to do the ultrasound. This was painless and pretty quick, but she had me wait there while she went to get the doctor so he could take a look. As it turned out, the doctor and I know each other from dance. He was super kind...but then, pretty much everyone I've run into at Sutter has been.

He ran the ultrasound wand over me himself and said that the asymmetry and dense tissue they saw doesn't seem to be concerning. He told me to get dressed and we would talk about the calcifications. I did so, and in his office he showed me the mammogram pictures, including the ones from last year. There was clearly an increase in the number of calcifications (which are really, really tiny) since last year, which  he said is a concern. He also said the fact that they are clustered, rather than randomly scattered, is sometimes indicative of cancer but not necessarily. About 75% of calcifications are benign, but since I'm high risk, he wanted to biopsy it. He did say that there was no rush and I could do it at my convenience. I asked if we could do it that day, so they worked me in and did it. I'm going to drive myself crazy until I know, so no reason to wait.

Last year, they tried to biopsy this same spot, but because of its location at the bottom near the chest wall, they couldn't get to them and decided I'd been through so much with the biopsy on the other side (it was painful, they drained fluid, etc) and there was little concern about the calcifications at that time, they decided to just keep an eye on them. So, again this year they had a hard time getting to them and finally decided to go at it from the top of the breast, meaning a longer route to get to the tissue they needed to sample. Why do I have to make everything difficult? It was a good 10 minutes of one painful position after another before they finally came to this conclusion. The tech felt bad and I know she was trying her best, but it was not fun.

They did numb me, so there was only mild discomfort for most of it. There were a couple points when the needle was deep inside that there was some pinching and it was pretty unpleasant for a few seconds here and there. The doctor put in more anesthetic, but then decided they had enough samples and wrapped it up. They had me ice for about 10 minutes, then took a few more mammogram pictures (gentle this time) to document the metal marker he'd left inside to mark the biopsy site, and I was done. They will send results to my oncologist, and I should hear back Tuesday or so. I'm still a little sore.

It took all day to get all that done, and when we finally got home, we soon noticed that my 17-year-old cat Isis, who seemed fine in the morning, was acting very odd. She probably had a stroke or a blood clot or something, but in any case her condition quickly worsened and we took her to the vet knowing that in all likelihood we would not bring her home--and we were right. I didn't want her to suffer, and after talking it over with the vet, we decided to let her go. I think this was quite possibly the saddest day of my life. That cat and I went through a lot together, and she was a stalwart friend.

In general, I'm having a really hard time of it, physically and emotionally. They told me this might happen--that when the fighting was over, the enormity of it all would hit me and I might become depressed. I thought I'd escape it because I'm so strong and smart and blah blah blah, but it's hitting me harder and harder every day. All that I've lost, and how hard it is to get back. The fear of that biopsy coming back positive for cancer. The pain. Getting exhausted so easily. At physical therapy on Thursday, he told me I'm not stretching enough--I need to do each exercise three times, three times per day (so nine times per day), and I was only doing each one once, often only twice per day. They're painful. So by the time the ten minutes of torture is finally done, I'm a wreck. I feel like I have no tolerance any more. It's all I can do to get my work done, and I'm pretty sure i'm doing a shoddy job of it.

As always, Michael is my rock. I've soaked more of his shirts in tears than I can count. He understands me like few people do, and he offers perspective and comfort and lets me talk, but in the end I just have live through it and keep taking steps toward it being better. It's hard. I'll take all the love I can get, my friends.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Et tu, Lefty?

It's probably nothing. I'm trying not to panic. But...Tuesday I had my annual mammogram, and I got my results electronically last night. They said, "Questionable increase in left breast calcifications
for which further evaluation with magnification views is again recommended. Left breast asymmetry for which further evaluation to include spot CC, spot MLO, and full lateral view with possible
ultrasound is also recommended." They're going to call me for a follow up. Those calcifications were there last year, but they couldn't get to them to biopsy them and they were not concerned at the time because they were tiny. It was not fun trying to get it done last time, and I don't suspect it will be much fun this time.

Thank you to all of you who told me stories of your loved ones who beat this, never to have it come back. I need that like crazy right now. I try so  hard to just live my life and keep out the "what if?" thoughts, but then this happens. Statistically speaking, it would be very unusual to have a recurrence so quickly--but it was statistically unlikely for a 42-year-old non-jewish white girl to have triple negative breast cancer. What if I'm one of the "lucky" few? On the other hand, I just had a bucket load of chemo a few months ago, and it is systemic and should have killed everything. But what if it didn't? I had a couple friends who had something like this come up within a few months or a couple years after they were declared NED, and it was nothing. But what if I'm not like them, and it's something?

This is my life now. Worrying about every test, every lump, every pain. What if I am one of those people who spends the rest of their life fighting cancer? I know it's better than being dead, but it's a far cry from living a reasonably normal life. What if I never get me back?

On the bright side, I had my third personal training session today and it was great. Loving my trainer. Tomorrow I have my 5K at the Davis Moo-nlight, so wish me luck. According to the weather forecast, this should be the coolest it's ever been for this race--thank goodness. I know I made the right decision downgrading from the 10K, and I know I'm supposed to be grateful that I'm able to run at all, but I hate, hate, hate admitting I can't do something.

I'll keep y'all updated about when I go in for this biopsy, results, etc. Please pray for me and continue with those success stories. Thank you for your continued support!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Let's Get Physical!

My hair, 35 weeks PFC. I'd really hoped it
would be longer by now based on what I've
seen on other people, but alas I am not hair
blessed. Happy to have this much!
These days, I'm all about getting physical. I officially started marathon training for my event in December. But I gotta tell you, it is so much harder this time around. I knew it would be, but I didn't know what to expect of this new body. The good thing is, it's responding to training. I can do the workouts I'm scheduled to do. Slow, but I get them done. I'm swimming and doing some weights in addition to the running.

The problem is the recovery. I work out, then I go home and crash. I'm literally so exhausted, I have to take a nap or at least veg out for 2-3 hours. People tell me, "I get tired after a workout, too!" Not the same thing. I know what "normal" post-workout tired is, and this ain't it. So, I may have to back off a bit and take things more slowly. This may mean no marathon. We'll just have to see. I'm not giving up yet. I'll be doing a 10k (6.2 miles) next Saturday, so wish me luck!

I went to 24-Hour Fitness to re-join (I'd cancelled my membership when I got sick). I was talking to the manager, and he decided to give me this whole big sell on how important it is to eat right (um...I know) and how exercise is a part of that (um...I know), trying to talk me into his personal diet plan, telling me not to do things I know work for me, telling me I need to do things I know don't work for me, telling me to do things I'm already doing. He was clearly not listening to anything I had to say, and it was incredibly frustrating. I could tell he was another one of those who thinks fat people do nothing but eat bon bons all day and never exercise, and he has all the answers on weight management even though he's never struggled with it.

I was just about getting to the point of putting the kibosh on the whole thing, and he offered to pay for me to have two personal training sessions per week for a whole month. The only catch is that I have to show up no matter what, and if I do the whole month he'll keep paying for it. The implication being that I need motivation to go work out...well, he doesn't know me very well because that is the very least of my worries. But, hey, free training. I'll take it! So I took him up on that offer.

That was Wednesday. We set my first appointment for this morning, and I was braced for more of the same crap. I was already feeling defensive before I met my trainer, Matt. We started at a computer kiosk, where he went over their philosophy and got my background from me. He listened to everything I had to say, asked the right questions, and made no assumptions. We talked about my diet, and he completely understood what I talked about with making good choices most of the time, but having willpower failures that sideline me. He agreed with doing what works for me and made suggestions. He recognized my goals and talked about how he would design my program to help me meet them, rather than expecting me to follow some routine he does with everyone. I could feel the walls I had put up melting as the conversation went on, and I was excited to work with him by the time we were ready to actually get to work.

I don't know how long the workout was, maybe 20 or 30 minutes since we'd spent so much time talking, but it was a good level for me--challenging, but not overly so. He was clearly very cognizant of my limitations, checking in with me about how things felt, telling me to take a breather if I needed to. I left there feeling really awesome.

And then I came home and slept for about an hour and a half. And now I'm drinking coffee and trying to wake up and do a little work before we go out tonight. How is this cup empty already?

I started physical therapy last week for the pain and loss of range of motion in my shoulders and chest wall. They said it's not exactly frozen shoulder--there's just a lot of impingement on the joint from the stress. So, I have lots of super fun (not), totally comfortable (in opposite world) stretches to do to help get that range of motion back. It was really hard for me to be a lady when he was working on me in the office and not swear while he tortured me, but my momma done brought me up right. Anyway, I'll have four more sessions, with a lot of homework in between. I'm already seeing improvement.

Oh...and yesterday I realized I missed the one year anniversary of my diagnosis by a week. I had thought I'd make some amazingly wise and insightful blog post about it, but I forgot. I guess I'll have to wait for the next milestone!

Monday, June 6, 2016

You can take cancer out of the girl...

My hair, 33 weeks post final chemo.
Getting shaggy!
Wow! It's been a long time since I posted here--about two months. I'm happy to say that I've been too busy traveling and enjoying life and working! Things are going well in some ways, but not in others. My energy is good and I'm slowly regaining fitness. I can see improvement each week when I work out, and that's heartening. I officially started marathon training (for my event in December) yesterday, and I was able to do the required mileage and run/walk intervals. Other than the last week when I had a cold, I've been exercising six days a week--running, swimming, biking, light weights.

I finally got my prosthetic breast, two days before we left for our cruise (which was amazing!). However, I'm still so tender from surgery and radiation that I can't tolerate a bra for more than an hour or two, so most of the time I just go au naturel and lopsided. I'm used to it at this point and don't really care, but it is nice to have the option when I want to look nicer.

The bad part is my shoulders started hurting after I finished radiation. I did my stretches my surgeon gave me for regaining range of motion, exercised, used my little TENS unit, had a massage, used KT Tape, and took ibuprofen, but nothing helped and it just kept getting worse. I finally got in to see my oncologist, and he gave me a referral for physical therapy. They're full up, so I won't be able to start for a couple more weeks. I'm also supposed to get an MRI to rule out anything else, but he said this is pretty typical with all I've been through. Of course, this has a huge impact on my dancing.

Emotionally, it's still a roller coaster. I'm sure part of it is the sudden onset of menopause and my hormones are all out of whack. But part of it is that the whole experience was just exhausting and traumatizing. Sometimes I hear people say, to me or someone else, that it's "time to move on." But you know what? It's just not that easy. You don't just move on from having cancer; it's always with you, even when it's been physically removed.

In my day-to-day life, I do focus on what I'm doing now and making plans for the future. But in everything I do, I'm reminded how I've been changed. I get tired too easily. People tend to think I'm done with treatment now so I must be my old self, but I'm not. I don't have the stamina to work all day like I used to. To dance like I used to. Even to sit at my computer for hours. Because of the issue with my shoulders, a hundred times a day I do something that tweaks one or the other and it's agonizing. Even something as simple as putting on my shoes is difficult because of the ache and loss of flexibility in all my joints.

And then there's the things that blindside me. Someone tells me their cancer came back, and I wonder if that will happen to me. Three friends have died of cancer since I had my surgery and the pathology report showed no remaining cancer--in December. Each one reminds me that I could have died. Each one reminds me of how lucky I was. I manage to work through the feelings and get back to living my life, but have had some rough days. And I had it relatively easy. My friends with small kids? I don't know how they do it. The ones who have to fight tooth and nail to get their treatment covered, or whose treatment isn't working? it's awful. I feel blessed and guilty that it went so smoothly for me.

So, no, I don't know if I'll ever leave cancer behind me totally. But I am grateful I'm still here, and that I'm in a loving home in a life I enjoy. And you can't ask for much more than that, can you?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Cancer teaches you patience! Not. Well, maybe a little.

My hair, 23 weeks PFC. 
When I first was diagnosed and learned I had many months of treatment ahead of me, I was impatient. I wanted it over with. Then, during chemo, I reached this sort of stasis. I gave in to the timeline, knowing it would be months until I was done, and I should stop looking at the horizon. Resolved. At peace with what was happening to me. And now, I look back on the whole thing and it seems like a dream. If it weren't for the drastic changes to my body, I could almost forget it happened. Almost.

So now I'm trying to get my body back. I want to do the California International Marathon (CIM) again this year and a triathlon next year. Intellectually, I know it will take a long time to get back to where I was, fitness-wise. In a way, I'm patient with myself. After all, I just finished treatment four weeks ago. I spent nine months doing nothing but lose fitness and gain weight. Radiation damaged my lung (hopefully only temporarily). I know I have a lot of work to do to get back to where I was, and I'm OK with that. I see progress every week, and that inspires me. Yesterday, I swam for 20 minutes without stopping and felt good after. Last week, it was 12 minutes with a break in the middle and I was exhausted. I'm watching what I eat and have lost four pounds so far.

What's hard is, I want to do the training to get to where I need to be just to start marathon training on June 1, but my body keeps telling me it's not ready. I have no choice but to listen. Some days it's good, and others not so much. Tuesday, I was supposed to walk/run two miles and go to tap class. I also needed to do some grocery shopping, and I was feeling a little tired. I realized I couldn't do all those things, so I skipped the walk/run and just went to the store...and I was still tired at tap class. I did get all the way through it, but I struggled. My energy levels go up and down like a roller coaster.

So, I guess I did learn to be patient while taking what action I can, but it's hard not to be frustrated. People keep asking if I'm serious about CIM. I am, but I'm also realistic. I have to at least try; I owe myself that much. But yes, I am listening to my body and I won't injure myself or something trying to do more than I'm capable of. But at the same time, I keep thinking I can do all this stuff, and really I can only do some of this stuff. So, who knows if I will be running from Folsom to Sacramento on December 4. I hope so. I'm also doing all kinds of reading on triathlon training and preparedness. I want to be in with the in crowd. For now, I'm slodging along.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Improving

My hair, 22 weeks PFC. I decided to spike it
with some gel. Not sure if I like it!
Short on time today, but I realized I haven't posted in about two weeks so I thought I'd do a quick update. It's been just over three weeks since my last radiation treatment (boy, does time go fast!). I'm exercising every day, either by riding my bike or taking a walk or doing light weights. Today I added some slow run intervals to my walk. My energy is really good, although my stamina has a long way to go. Monday, I was able to do tango class and then three songs of practice afterward, where last week the class was all I could manage. Yesterday, I rode my bike for 20 minutes (3.1 miles) in the afternoon, then in the evening went to tap class and then to the park where there were food trucks for dinner. Still had energy when I got home!

Really enjoying both piano and tap, by the way. Super fun.

I still don't have my prosthetic, although I'm just a little too tender yet to wear a bra even if I had it. As I suspected, the ones the lady ordered for me did not fit. I go back tomorrow to see how she did on the reorder. My skin continues to improve, and is now just kind of tan where I was treated--I'm all done peeling. I do seem to have developed some tendinitis in my shoulders, so I'm trying ibuprofen and gentle stretching to see if I can improve that. Apparently it's a common problem.

That's all I've got today!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

About that positive attitude

Quick update before my thought for the day: I'm feeling a little better every day. The red burn is fading and turning to brown, which I suspect will all peel, but new skin is growing underneath so it won't be so painful as when I was getting blasted every day. Under my arm is MUCH more comfortable, and it doesn't hurt to move my arm anymore. My energy is returning; I went to tango on Sunday (danced two tandas, which is a total of six songs) and walked 1.7 miles this morning and didn't feel exhausted after. However, it's hit and miss--last night we went shopping at three different stores, and I was wiped out. I'm enjoying learning piano, and my first tap class is tonight. I'll probably go back to teaching pretty soon, although I'll keep my schedule light for a while.

Throughout this whole ordeal, people have commented on my positive attitude. I thought I'd talk about that a bit today. Several people said it's been shown that people tend to have a better outcome if they have a positive attitude. I don't want to get into whether positive thinking can actually cure you, because that's a huge, controversial subject and one I'm not qualified to discuss. But I can talk about how it affects me.

When I am miserable for whatever reason--I'm running 20 miles in the heat, I'm sick, I'm at a party where I don't want to be, etc., my attitude may not affect the actual situation, but it absolutely changes how I feel about the situation. If I stew in my feelings of misery, telling myself how awful things are, I am unhappy. It's like a negativity spiral: I'm in a bad situation, so I think about how bad it is, so I feel bad about being there, and that causes more bad things to happen. By contrast, if I resolve to make the best of it and look for reasons to be happy, I feel happy. Maybe that happiness then causes good things to happen, so now it's a positivity spiral. The situation didn't change, but at least I'm happy while I'm in it.

One of my favorite examples of this is when I was training for the marathon I did in 2014. About a month before the big event, I did a 20 mile race. So, first of all, that was the longest I'd ever run, so it was already a challenge. I didn't prepare well for it as far as hydrating, fueling, and getting enough sleep for the few days before (in fact I ate really awful food the day before, including jalapeno poppers), so I wasn't in a good position going into it. Finally, it was in early November and we'd had several weeks of cool weather and I had acclimated to that. Yet, on race day, it was quite warm which made things uncomfortable. So it was not an ideal race. Around mile 11, I started to feel nauseous. It might have been because I ate an un-tried flavor of energy gel, or maybe all the factors I listed above, but in any case I wasn't feeling too well. I started feeling sorry for myself, telling myself how this was too hard, and maybe I couldn't do it, and how miserable was I? Things just kept getting worse, I kept feeling more and more sorry for myself, and it was overall a miserable, miserable experience.

Flash forward to the marathon, which of course is 26.2 miles so quite a bit further. For the week before, I was resolved to not repeat the experience above. I prepared my body better, but perhaps just as (or more?) importantly, I prepared my mind. I actually visualized myself running the race, talking myself out of negative thoughts. It's too hard! No it isn't, you trained for this. I hate this! No you don't, you're doing something you never thought you could do. I'm miserable! No you're not, you're fine. Get over it. I practiced that over and over, and on race day, that's exactly what happened. I'd start to have a negative thought, and I'd replace it with a positive one. And although I was damned tired and in pain by the end, I was never miserable. I was never unhappy. I never pictured lying down by the side of the course and waiting for the sweepers to come get me. Although the race was harder because it had more hills and was longer, I had a much more positive experience.

Having cancer sucked. Hard. Doing the treatments was terrible. There was no way around that. And on those days when I was really feeling sorry for myself and reveling in just how badly I felt, I was unhappy. But if I could break myself out of it--sometimes by posting here and typing the positive words and forcing myself to get in the right mindset--I actually felt physically better. More importantly, I was happy even though my body felt terrible. When I got to the radiation phase and had run out of the willpower to stay positive, I spent a lot of time being unhappy.

Some studies suggest that when you think positively, your brain produces chemicals that support your immune system, while being depressed makes you more susceptible to problems. Whether you believe that to be the case or not, the bottom line is: you can be sick and happy, or you can be sick and unhappy. Why be unhappy? When you look for reasons to be sad or offended or angry, you spend a lot of time being sad or offended or angry. When you look for reasons to laugh or smile, you spend a lot of time laughing and smiling. How do you want to spend your time?

For me, life is too short to be unhappy. I choose to laugh and smile.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I'm done, but it's not over


The Awareness Bear, my Radiation Complete
trophy, and my cancer memory jar. It has the
shredded chemo countdown loops and Dove
chocolate wrappers and gratitude lanterns
from radiation.
On Monday, I had my last cancer treatment. Huzzah! It is such a relief to be done. I cried, of course, and the techs hugged me and said they never want to see me again. Ha! The feeling is mutual. Sweet Michael met me in the waiting room with flowers, a pink "Awareness Bear" and a trophy he had made for me. Is it any wonder I love that man? I was an emotional mess all day, but they were happy tears.

So what now? Even though I'm done with treatment and in remission, it's really not over. I'll have follow-up visits with all my doctors for months for months if not years, next week I'll see if the lady at the Hanger Clinic managed to order the right prosthetic (who wants to take my bet that she didn't?), and I'll have my annual mammogram in June.

Then there will always be that niggling doubt. What's that weird pain? Is the cancer back? What does my mammogram say? Do I have cancer again? This is an experience that will never leave me. I refuse to live my life in fear, but it's hard to keep those doubts from trickling in from time to time. It doesn't help that I keep hearing about people who beat cancer, only to have a recurrence or new cancer a few years later that then metastasizes and they die. It's hard not to be scared of that. Today I heard about a lady who lost her fight with cancer at the age of 41. It's hard not to think, "That could have been me." So, if you have a survivor story where the cancer never came back, I sure could stand to hear some of those.

My hair, 19 weeks post final chemo. It's getting
almost shaggy!
And I'm not done healing. I'm still quite red, although it's turning to tan now. The patch under my arm keeps getting bigger as more dead skin falls off (sorry for the ick factor), but thankfully since it's not getting irradiated anymore, there is new skin underneath so it's not so painful. It gets a tiny bit better each day. I'm surprised that the itching isn't too bad, although I do have some. It's still uncomfortable to use my arm, but better. Hence, I haven't posted here until today.

It will take a long, long time to get my body back in shape. I walked a mile on Tuesday and again today, and it was a lot of work. But I have lots of motivation to get moving!

Of course, I carried some good things away from the experience. I have a whole new perspective on life and what really matters. I made some great memories as we partied our way through treatment and did all our little rituals. My friends and acquaintances showed me how awesome they are. And I learned that maybe I'm stronger than I thought. While I wouldn't wish this disease on anyone, it's good to have something positive to look back on. I certainly hope others can benefit from my experience and perspective as well.

I'll still have a few more posts to make. I never shared my "what I learned from chemo," and I'll do the same for radiation. I'm sure I'll have other things to share as well. So, we're not quite done here yet!


Friday, March 4, 2016

Time for me

Way back in July when I got my treatment plan and realized I would have to cut back on work and stop teaching dance for a while, I thought it was a great opportunity to take some time for myself, work on my books, take the college class I'd signed up for, etc. But I was sorely mistaken. As many of you know who have followed my journey, I spent a lot of the past eight months in bed being lethargic or in pain. When I was able to get on the computer, I had to spend most of that time catching up on the remaining work I had because I was always behind. If I was lucky, I had time for a blog post. I certainly didn't have time for working on the books, and I dropped the college class because there was just no way. And keep up on my exercise? psht!

Although I've had all this time off, and it was all me, me, me as I shared my tales of woe, I feel like none of it was really "me time." I didn't get to do much of anything I wanted to do with that time. Well, other than movies and eating out and visiting with friends and stuff, but I didn't get to accomplish anything I wanted to (beating cancer doesn't count. That wasn't part of my life plan.) Nearly a year of my life, just gone. POOF! So now, as treatment comes to an end, I get to take some time for ME.

If there's a positive that comes from this, it's that I feel like I have a second chance at having the life I want, cliche though that might be. Of course, having Michael's support is a huge part of what makes that possible. But for the first time in my life, I not only get to decide what I want to do with myself since I don't need to work 60 hours a week anymore, I also have the benefit of appreciating that it's now or never.

It occurred to me the other night that I could have died from this, and if I had, what did I accomplish with my life? Not enough. Not nearly enough. There have been so many things I wanted to do over the years, and I never got around to it. I didn't have the time, or the money, or didn't think I could do it, or whatever. I look at elderly people at the end of their lives, and I wonder if they wish they'd done more. I think of my fellow warriors who lost their battle, and I wonder if they were satisfied with their life. I think it's so sad when you get to the end and you just don't have any more chances to get out and live and learn and enjoy. As far as I know, we only get one trip on earth. I intend to make the next 40 years or so good ones!

One thing I've wanted to do my whole life was learn to play piano, so I recently started doing just that. I'm also working on singing again, something I'd started a couple years ago and dropped. I'm going to expand my dance horizons, starting with a tap class in a week or two. I'm going to get my third book published--it's in the editing stage right now. I'll also be converting this blog to a book eventually. Oh, and of course I have a marathon to train for. There will be more, but I don't want to get too far ahead of myself!

Of course, my new life doesn't start on Tuesday just because I'm done with treatment. I need time to adjust. I've spent 8 months fighting, and there's likely to be an emotional let down when it's done. I need time to process that, as well as to heal. The whole right side of my chest is dark red, even purple in spots. The patch of raw skin under my arm is starting to heal, thank God, but it's still very uncomfortable. It will take a long time to reclaim my body, so I'll take it in baby steps. I'll keep my work load light so I can take the time I need, as well as finish up a couple projects I'm embarrassingly late on. And then? Well, I'll let Timbuk 3 say it for me...

Oh, and then there's the party! Come celebrate with me!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Boost me, baby!


18 weeks post final chemo

I'm going to keep this brief (famous last words), because typing is pretty uncomfortable at this point. Today I had the first of five "boosts," where they target just the area with the highest risk of recurrence, which is the tumor bed. It's right around my incision site, where there's not much feeling, so if I get even crispier or blister I won't really feel it. These treatments are much shorter: just two zaps instead of the four or five I had before, so it's less time on the table with my arms uncomfortably over my head.

Under my arm it's like a piece of raw meat. If I can hold still, it's ok. If I move my arm, it can be downright excruciating. Yes, I am aware they make aloe and a variety of other creams, and I use several. None of them actually stop you from burning, they just make it more bearable. Except the raw skin burns when I put anything on it, so the nurse said to leave it alone until it scabs over. Try to keep my arm up so nothing is touching it and air can get to it. That's basically all I can do until it heals. Thankfully, that area is no longer being irradiated, so it can start healing now, but it will take at least a week and may get worse yet before it gets better.

I like my meat rare, but this is ridiculous!
My energy level is not bad. I could actually drive myself to treatment, but we decided Michael will come with me until it's done so I have the moral support. Other than the physical discomfort, I feel OK.

My hair continues to grow, and I had to buy a hairbrush. It's reaching an awkward in-between length where it might need some shaping or styling soon. I'm not sure what to do with it. However, I'm enjoying watching it come in!

Just four more of these shorter treatments, and I'm done! FOUR. That's cake, right? Still trying to decide what I want to do for a party...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Who do you surround yourself with?

My hair, week 17 PFC. It will lie down nicely
now with no product in it. Also, I got my
eyebrows done!
Quick update before my philosophical thought for the day: 25 treatments down, 8 to go (3 whole breast, three "boosts" to the tumor bed only). I'm very, very red. Yes, I have all kinds of creams that are soothing. I alternate between Aquafor, 100% aloe, and a homemade salve of comfrey, lavender, and olive oil (I think) that someone gave me. They all bring temporary relief. I'm not in agony, but the patch under my arm is uncomfortable and there's some itching. There's some swearing that happens when I have to lift that arm, even with the bandage on it. However, my energy level is reasonable and I'm driving myself to appointments most days. And now for the thought for the day...

I've often said that this journey has been made easier because of the people in my life. Michael taking great care of me and the kids pitching in, various friends who visited, came to my hair funeral, drove me to appointments, chatted with me when I was lonely, or even just hit the "like" button on my posts. I have received so much support through all this, I had no choice but to face it all like a warrior.

I hear horror stories in my support groups about cancer patients whose partners/family/friends abandoned them. It makes me sad for them, but it reminds me to be grateful for what I have. I'm lucky to have grown up in an awesome family who love me and support me no matter what I do. I'm continually amazed at the encouragement I get from not only friends, but people I've never even met.

Under my arm after treatment 25. This pic
doesn't do it justice and I can't seem to capture
how red it is. That darkish batch at the top
really is that dark, and the red bit
within that is broken skin. 
But, it's not only luck. I didn't just happen into this awesome circle of people. Over the years, I have culled people from my life who are a drain on me. I can't stand those who are constantly negative, always complaining about their horrible life. So, I just don't associate with those people anymore. Sure, we all have our bad days and have reasons to complain. I certainly have complained plenty in the past few months. And if you're having a bad time and need to vent your frustrations, I hope I'm as good a friend to you as you have been to me. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the people who never have anything positive to say. Who take the pessimistic view on everything that happens. Who tell you how many people they know have died from the disease you're currently fighting. Life is just too short to live like that.

I also don't have toxic people in my life. People who make me feel bad about myself and my choices. People who don't support me. I don't expect everyone to run over here and make me breakfast or drive me to a doctor's appointment--in fact, there have been some people I hardly heard from after I announced my diagnosis, and that's OK. They couldn't deal with it or didn't know what to say, or it didn't occur to them to reach out, or whatever. I don't mind. The important thing is, I didn't have one single person tell me I got cancer because I'm a bad person, or that I deserved it, or that my treatments are all wrong, or complain that I'm not being a good friend or pulling my weight or doing enough for someone else, or a whole host of other ridiculous things I hear about from other people.

I'm blessed to have some exceptional friends, who are generous with their time and love. They are amazing and a role model to me!

I'll say it again: life is too short to be unhappy. Live joyfully, and don't keep toxic people in your life. They don't deserve you. If someone makes you unhappy or frustrated every time you talk to them, cut them off. You'll thank yourself!

I am constantly humbled by how good you all are to me. I fear I don't deserve it, but I'll take it and be grateful. If you need me, and I'm too self-involved to notice, please tell me and I'll be there for you if I can. I'm just kind of a dolt sometimes and forget to think about others, but this experience is teaching me to be a better friend.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Up, down, up, down

Have I mentioned this disease is a roller coaster? A couple weeks ago, I realized I only had 30 treatments scheduled, rather than the 33 I had pessimistically assumed. I was so happy. Then this last Friday, I happened to look at the patient website and saw I had a bunch of appointments added...the RO apparently decided to give me the 28 whole breast and 5 treatments after all, for a total of 33. Argh! For some reason, this just hit me really hard. It's only three more, but it was enough to bump me into the next week. I just so, so, want this to be done. And I'm already so burned.

My burn after 23 treatments. Under my arm is even redder.
Friday night I started feeling nauseous again. This time, I managed to not throw up. The Zofran helped, and then I remembered I had the Relief Band from chemo (duh) so I put that on and that helped as well. I didn't sleep well that night and felt pretty worn out and delicate all weekend. Happily, I'm feeling better now.

By Saturday, my skin was starting to break down under my arm and it was getting pretty painful--there would be a burning sensation when I put my arm down. Applying lotion helped for a short time. I did find some undershirts that help keep skin from touching skin. We also took a soft t-shirt and cut off the bottom, then cut a hole in it to put my arm through. This is soft, yet provides that barrier. It helped.

Last night we tried something that also gave me some relief: I took a bath (not toooo hot but hot enough to be comfortable), and Michael made some oatmeal water by just soaking quick-cook oats for about 15 minutes, then using a spoon to squish all the good stuff out of the oats and grind up the flakes a bit. Then we soaked a cloth (the rest of the t-shirt we cut up, actually) and laid it over my whole burn area and under my arm. The water was cool and it was very soothing. I re-soaked the cloth every 5 or 10 minutes and reapplied. It was quite soothing while I was in there, so we will probably do that every night until the burns subside after treatment.

The nurse looked at my skin today and gave me some Mepilex, which is made for this sort of thing. It's kind of like a bandage that you stick on the affected area. It has a mildly adhesive back, and she stuck it on under my arm to keep skin from rubbing skin. Instant relief from the burning sensation there.

So, 10 more treatments. Five whole breast, then five boosts to the tumor bed, which should actually be easier and the rest of me can start healing. I'm already making all kinds of plans, so let's get this done so I can get on with them!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What size boob do you want?

My hair, 16 weeks post final chemo
Thankfully, I'm doing pretty well now. I'm not as fatigued and am back to driving myself to treatments, although yesterday Michael went with me because I had my appointment at Hanger Clinic to get fitted for a mastectomy bra and prosthetic. I was kind of excited about it, but left feeling annoyed and pessimistic. The story gets a little personal because of the subject matter, so if you're uncomfortable reading about bras, stop reading. 

The woman who worked with me measured me for band size and had me try on a couple of bras to make sure the size was comfortable, but they didn't have any with my cup and band size to get an exact fit. I understood that since I have an unusual size, so that was fine. 

She asked what kind of bras I like, and I said I usually wear something like a demi cup. She didn't know what that was. Maybe not everyone does, but if your job involves helping women pick out bras, shouldn't you have some basic knowledge of the different types? Plus, since there's some flexibility in the sizing, I had to decide whether to go with my exact band size or the next one up and she didn't have any advice in that regard which would have been nice. 

Anyway, she gave me a catalog to look through, and I picked out a couple I liked that came in my size. My insurance will cover two bras per year and a prosthetic every other year, but they're pretty affordable on Amazon so it's not a big deal.

So then she looked up my size on a chart to determine the right prosthetic, and when she pulled it out it was humongous. Like a D at least, and I'm a B. She recognized that it was ridiculously big and said, "Well, we'll order a couple of sizes and see what works." I knew she had some smaller ones in stock because she showed me one at the beginning. I guess I should have suggested we look at them, but I was getting tired at that point and didn't really feel like telling her how to do her job. So we made an appointment for a month from now (they need three weeks to get in the order, but at that point I'll probably be blistered and sore and hating life) to try on what they ordered for me. I bet Michael $10 that the prosthetics she ordered will be the wrong size. 

I don't know. Telling this story after the fact, it doesn't sound as bad as it felt at the time. Her manner during the whole appointment just seemed uncertain, like she didn't really know what she was doing. Yet, there were certificates on the shelf indicating she'd been doing this work for like 15 years. I wish she had been more confident and knowledgeable so she could advise me and I could feel comfortable about what I'm going to get. I'm just glad I don't have to pay for this, because if I did I'd probably be even more annoyed.

It's a good thing I'm not that hung up on appearances and am willing to walk around with one boob since it will take a while to get the prosthetic. I just walked away feeling less than confident I'll get something I'm happy with from them. We'll see, I guess. 

Radiation #21 today, so only 9 left! Single digits!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Over halfway!

I was looking forward to getting through treatment today, because #17 would put me over the halfway mark. Then, last night when I was lying awake not sleeping after an evening of throwing up and generally feeling lousy (not really sure why), I was counting days and realized that my end date, March 2, is only about 2.5 weeks away, or 14 treatment days including today.

When I first met with my radiation oncologist back in October, he said I'd have 30-33 treatments and that he'd make sure I blistered in order to make sure the skin is good and cooked. Pessimistically, I said, "So, 33?" and he nodded. So, I've been assuming I'd have 33 treatments all along. But last night I realized I'm only scheduled for 30. And when he examined me yesterday, he said with my fair skin I'm burning so fast he sees no reason why he should have to extend my treatment, because I should blister with no problem. Yay? Anyway, so that means I only have 30 treatments. The end date is the same as I already knew it was (unless I have to take a break to let my skin heal), but the difference is that now I realize I passed the halfway mark on Wednesday. And I only have 13 treatments left! That's not so bad, is it?

So I'm feeling better today, although my stomach is still a little delicate so I'm still taking anti-nausea meds. The general crappy feeling is definitely improved. But, I'm still exhausted. I'm exhausted every day. So, I'm going to wrap this up and see if I can take a nap.

Have a good weekend, and Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

So tired

Hair week 14!
This radiation thing is really for the birds. People say it's the "easiest" of the treatments, but I think there's a pretty negligible difference in how much this sucks vs how much chemo and surgery suck. Basically, they all suck. While this isn't as debilitating as chemo, it's every day and there's no break. With chemo, I'd have a really awful week, but then I'd have a pretty good week. Now, I'm exhausted every day. Even on the weekends when I don't have treatment, I'm only marginally better than the weekdays. Plus, driving downtown every day just sucks.

I'm tired. Once again, it's a struggle just to get on my computer and try to get anything done. Mostly. I lie here and play on my tablet or watch TV. I want to sleep, but I generally can't.

Sunday night, we were playing games with friends and at one point I was laughing and suddenly felt lightheaded and thought I might pass out. We called it a night a little while after, and I had a mild headache and felt weak. We determined I must have been dehydrated, because radiation can have that effect on you. So, I'm trying to make sure I get plenty of liquids and protein. Michael ended up working from home yesterday so he could take me to treatment, and he drove me today as well. We'll just have to take each day as it comes and figure out what I can and can't do. Some people only struggle with their energy level the first week or so, so maybe it'll get better. So far, the burn is not bad. Some pinkness and freckling and it's mildly tender.

Emotionally, I'm OK. Frustrated, but OK. I'm back to feeling helpless again, and I hate hate hate that. Annoyed that I may not get to do much of anything for the next four weeks or more. Counting down the days--nine down, 24 to go!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

My radiation ritual

My hair 13 weeks post final chemo
I've come to realize that I like rituals. I always sit in the same place at the places I frequent, Michael and I have certain things we say to each other at certain times, etc. Having the rituals during chemo really helped me get through it--we'd take a pic in the morning with the race bibs he made me, get breakfast on the way there, always had our bag of snacks and entertainment packed, lunch on the way home, and then cut off the loop from my daisy chain. Oh, and I got a new charm for my bracelet each time. It helped to make things feel a little normal, I think, and gave me a mini celebration to keep me positive.

So when I was struggling with my feelings last week, someone suggested I do a ritual for each radiation treatment. I agreed it was a good idea, and several of you gave me some good thoughts on what to do. I combined a couple of them with an idea I had found to make a keepsake of the chemo loops.

I went to Michael's (the craft store) and got a cute square jar with a lid. I shredded the chemo loops and put them in. Each day when I get home from radiation, I get to eat a Dove chocolate and put the wrapper in the jar. If I like the sentiment on the inside of the wrapper, I fold it inside out so it can easily be read. Otherwise, I've folded them into different shapes or into balls. I also got some little origami papers, and after each treatment I write one thing I'm grateful for on the white side of the paper, then fold it into a little Japanese lantern (don't be impressed. My origami skills are...not) and put that in the jar, too. So I have this jar of memories and positive thoughts and blessings. I like it!

Today was treatment #6. I get tired after every single one, and most days I don't even feel like getting on the computer or doing much of anything once I get home. I'm already turning pink and feeling tender. I ended up seeing all three of my doctors yesterday for follow ups, and they were all surprised. Apparently I'm "lucky" in this regard and will not have an easy time of radiation. Joy. /sarcasm

The funny thing was that the radiation oncologist said he wished he could publish me because I line up on the table perfectly every time and all of my xrays and whatnot always come out right. I did not realize this was so difficult....I knew I was good at lying down, but not this good! (ha) Anyway, he said I turned pink faster than he expected and that we might end up having to take a break at some point to let me heal before they continue if it gets too bad too fast. This is just sounding better and better! I hope it doesn't get dragged out too long. I want it over with, and I want to heal before we leave on our cruise May 1!

During my follow up with the medical oncologist, he told me my stiff joints are related to chemo-induced menopause. Apparently, joints like estrogen, and when there's a sudden deficit, they stiffen up. This is not an issue with normal menopause, because the body slowly adjusts over a period of years. Mine should improve with time when my body adjusts, but there's no way to know if I'll stay in menopause or pop back into my normal cycle.

The surgeon I ended up with when my original one had to go on leave is hilarious. During my appointment with him, he said, "Well, your path report was clear so I basically did nothing." I said, "You disfigured me, so there's that. I'd like to thank you for saving my life, but...well, you didn't. So, thanks a lot." It was pretty funny. Sometimes you just have to laugh at this stuff.

I don't need to see either the MO or the surgeon again until June or July, and I don't need another mammogram until then, either. So, I'll have a nice little break from cancer crap after radiation is finally over. Looking forward to that!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Laughter is the best medicine!

Thank you all for your encouragement yesterday. Being surrounded by so much love is definitely a help! After whining to several friends, getting a really good night's sleep, and playing games all morning--err, day (oh crap...how is it already after 3:00??) with Michael and the kids and laughing so much I was crying and my abs hurt, I'm feeling much better. I might dip back into the doldrums when I go back to treatment tomorrow, but I know y'all will help me through it.

And really, I know this is temporary, and it'll only last a few weeks. Someone suggested I do something to count down the treatments like I did with chemo. I wasn't going to because A. there are so damned many and B. I didn't expect to have such a hard time with it. But, I think it's a great idea and maybe it'll help keep me positive. Now, I need some ideas! The chain of loops was awesome but there will be too many. What else can I do? I will be shredding the chemo loops to keep in decorative jars. Maybe something that can also go in the jars? Thinking caps, people!

And you know what? Despite all this crap, I am the happiest I've ever been. I'm with a great guy who treats me well and takes care of me, we live with his fun kids and laugh every day, and I'm financially secure. I have just one more bump in the road, and it's a sucky one, but in the grand scheme of things it's not so bad. Warrior on!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Struggling with my attitude

I'm struggling a bit with my attitude about radiation. I'm feeling pissy about having to go, and I'm tired...and it's just getting started. Driving downtown and dealing with traffic and parking, especially in the rain, is stressful. It's been a long and emotional rollercoaster of a road, and I want to be at the end. My joints ache, especially my hips/lower back, and I feel like an 80-year-old woman whenever I stand up, sit down, or go up/down stairs. Both days after treatment I got pretty tired, so I don't think this is going to be the breeze I hoped it would.

With the stress and emotional crap, I'm having a hard time managing my temper. I don't know how people manage it when they have longer treatment protocols than I did. Or whose cancer keeps coming back, or who have chronic illnesses. For those of you who manage to keep up a positive attitude through it all, you're amazing.

In reading my support group forums, I found out that both of the above issues are pretty common. As for the attitude, by this time the number of appointments and decisions and things have slowed down, giving the patient a chance to process what has happened. Suddenly we're not so focused on fighting and survival, so anger at the injustice, realization of the fear, etc., have had a chance to seep in. I hear stories of the cancer coming back and I can't help wondering if that will happen to me. As for the joints, the other women who are experiencing this also had Taxol. So I suspect that's the cause. I hope it gets better with time. Exercise does seem to loosen me up a little. Oh, and my vision got worse, for which I can probably thank chemo.

The second day of treatment was shorter than the first, since they didn't have to do xrays. Part of my treatment regimen is to have a "bolus," which is a heavy sheet of fabric with little metal discs all over it, placed over the affected area during part of the treatment. I'll get this every other day, and the purpose is to bring the radiation closer to the surface.

No real sunburn yet, since it's early. I do seem to have some freckling already, though. I'm happy to have started in the middle of the week so I'll have two weeks (beginning and end) where I don't have to go five days a week.

I didn't exercise the last two days because I didn't feel up to it, although I did go grocery shopping so I was at least on my feet and moving around. I need to figure out how to get up and out earlier in the day so I can get some exercise before treatment, because afterwards I think I'll just be too tired. I don't know how much I'll be able to do during the next few weeks, but I'll do what I can.

That's it for today. Hug your loved ones, especially if they've been through something like this. We could use it.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

First radiation treatment

I'm pretty tired, so I'll make this quick for once. I went to my first radiation treatment today. It was a little weird, because I went alone--the first time I've gone to an appointment alone since this started. Michael and I talked it over and agreed that makes the most sense, as he would miss too much work to take me every day and it's too much to expect anyone else to do. Plus, I'm feeling well enough that there's no physical reason I can't drive myself, and the appointments are quick and no one can come in with me so it's silly to have my emotional support person go just to sit in a separate waiting area.

So after I put on my gown, I was taken into the treatment room. They got me on the table with my mold under my shoulders/arms/head and adjusted me until I was in the right position. Only my right side was taken out of the gown, so it was reasonably modest and I didn't get cold.

I had two male techs and one female, who was on lunch when I got there so I only met her at the very end. They said this would be the longest treatment because they had to get some films. They will take xrays every week moving forward. I was on the table for about 20 minutes or so, although I couldn't see a clock to really time it. There was a monitor on the ceiling with pretty pictures to look at, but I had to turn my head away from the side being treated so it was hard to really look at them. There was music playing, so I could listen to that.

One of the techs drew on me, then started the machine and I lay there for a while as it rotated around me, shone green lights on me, and made a variety of beeps and whirs. The tech came back in, drew some more, and left. More of the machine moving around and whirring and beeping, and then the woman came in to tell me I was done and could put my arms down. That's it! I wasn't even entirely sure when the filming ended and the treatment began, although perhaps it was when he drew on me the second time. I didn't feel anything from the treatment.

It was my day to see the doctor, although he had been called to the OR so I had a replacement. She felt me up, told me my skin was dry and I could use whatever lotion I had on hand for now, and sent me on my way. It was pretty quick. I am feeling pretty sleepy, but that might be because I didn't get much sleep last night.

One down, 32 to go!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My, how time flies!

Hair growth, 12 weeks post final chemo.
It's looking sandy blonde.
I was diagnosed on June 23rd of 2015, and I remember when I found out I had four months of chemo ahead of me, I felt like it might as well be a year. Sixteen weeks seemed like such a long, long time. Now, it's already been 12 weeks since my last chemo. It's crazy to think that much time has passed! It's been seven weeks since surgery (or will be tomorrow). If it weren't for the butch hair and the missing body part, I could almost convince myself it was all a bad dream.

I have to say, cancer has definitely taught me patience. Even though I want it to all be over with, I feel a little more patient than I did back in June. What's six weeks compared to four months? That attitude has even bled into my non-cancer life: I don't drive so fast on the freeway, because what's an extra minute or two? I don't mind waiting a few days until I can do something fun, because what's a couple days? That doesn't apply to the whole weight loss thing, though. That I want to happen RIGHT NOW. I'm even being pretty patient with myself about fitness, as long as I do a little more at each workout and continue to improve.

Radiation starts tomorrow. Six weeks, then I'm done with treatment. I'll still have reconstruction, but that's not happening until next year so I might as well not even think about it. That gives me a year to get a bunch of this weight off so I have a hot body to go with the new rack. :) I believe I'll be getting mammograms every four months for a while, then six, and I'm sure every little twinge or mole will send me into the "is it cancer??" mode. But at least I know I won this round, and if I have to do it again I will. But I sure hope not.

It's date night. I'm going to go have some fun with my honey!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Radiation Simulation

My hair, 11 weeks after the
last chemo treatment
Last Thursday I had my radiation simulation in preparation for my upcoming therapy. The short version of this is it's an appointment where they set up you and the machine so your therapy is precisely targeted to the right areas, with as little involvement of the unaffected organs, etc., as possible. I'll give the full blow-by-blow below.

I start therapy this coming Thursday, and I will get 33 treatments--28 to the whole breast and 5 boosters to the tumor bed. The only real side effects this time will be a sunburn that slowly worsens until it blisters and fatigue--but hopefully the fatigue will be nothing like chemo (should be much easier based on reports from sister warriors).

I have to say, I'm a little bummed to still have to face this. I've had weeks of not having cancer and starting to feel normal, and it's daunting to face yet another treatment and its side effects--especially since I'm in remission. I know it's necessary to prevent recurrence, and there was never a doubt in my mind I need to do it, but I don't wanna. So there.

I am still recovering from everything I've been through so far. My hair is growing back at a satisfying rate, on my head as well as body hair. While I'm still frustratingly far from even a normal fitness level (much less where I was at before getting sick), I'm able to exercise a bit and you may have seen my dailymile reports on facebook. I'm doing light weights, walk/running on the treadmill, and taking short rides on the bike I got for Christmas (my first real attempt at this as an adult). I'm pleased with how I'm doing considering all I've been through, but it's hard to be patient knowing it will take a long time to get back to where I was. Especially since radiation will slow me down again, although I plan to do as much as I can to keep trying to improve.

I'm back to dancing a little, although my range of motion is still limited so I have to be careful what I do and with whom I dance. I'm able to do just a little more each time I go out, which is gratifying, and although I'm exhausted when I get home, it's totally worth it. One more piece of normalcy returning.

Details of my radiation simulation:

(bearing in mind that every place is different, so other people's experiences may vary)

When I arrived at the radiation center, they showed me to a dressing room where I was to remove anything I was wearing on top and put on a gown with the opening to the back. There was a locker to put my clothes, purse, etc., and a wrist thingy for the key. There was a women-only waiting area, where I was pleased to see there was a jigsaw puzzle to work on rather than the typical fashion magazines that hold no interest for me.

They then took me into a room with a CT machine and had me lie on the table. My gown was undone, so my whole torso was exposed although I didn't really get cold. They covered lefty when they could, which was nice for some sense of modesty. Some people, through this process, feel very exposed and emotionally uncomfortable. For me, I figure so many people have seen and/or felt up my breasts by this time, what's the difference? There were three female techs working on me, and they were all very sweet. Had I felt nervous or unsure, I think they would have put me right at ease. I'm a pragmatic sort of girl and just wanted to get it over with.

They had me put my arms over my head with my hands behind my head and my face turned away from my affected breast (err...lack of breast). There was a sort of bag under my shoulders that would become a mold to ensure I was in the exact same position each time I went in, and they worked together to quickly get it in place and set. Although my arms were not really comfortable, it wasn't long before they at least felt supported. I do not have good range of motion in my shoulders even not considering the surgery, but it wasn't an issue.

I ended up lying in that position for a total of about 40 minutes, which was pretty uncomfortable and my hands fell asleep. However, I shouldn't have to do that for so long again as future appointments will be 10-15 minutes. There was a pretty forest scene on the ceiling lights, so I had something to look at, plus it took away the harshness of the lights.

Anyway, after they got me all set, they did a quick CT scan purely for mapping purposes, not diagnostic. They left me there while they consulted in the other room amongst themselves and the radiation oncologist. They made marks on my skin with sharpies, which was a little weird just because I couldn't really feel it. They consulted some more. Finally, they came in and gave me my three tattoos, which are permanent. There is a dot near my collar bone, one near my breast bone, and one on my side below my armpit. The first two I barely felt a little prick, since I have almost no sensation there, but the third one was nowhere near the surgical site (so therefore full sensation), and it felt kind of like a bee sting. However, the discomfort quickly went away.

Finally, I was allowed to lower my arms and put my gown back on. They led me to an exam room to talk with the RO. He looked at my lack-of-boob and pronounced it highly acceptable, checked my hands and arms for strength and range of motion, and told me the nurse would go over skin care and answer any questions about the procedure. I got dressed, met with the nurse, and that was it. All told, it was about an hour and a half. I did not get to see the radiation machine, but I figure I'll see enough of it over the coming weeks. I'll go in every day, Monday through Friday, and meet with the RO on Thursdays.

That's all I can think of. Feel free to message me or post a comment if you have questions!