Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Anniversary

Exactly two years ago I had my final chemotherapy treatment for triple negative breast cancer. It seems a fitting date to resurrect my blog. Breast cancer has been conquered for now and I have my life back. However, my life is vastly different because I had breast cancer. Just this morning when our cat, Jeremyah, woke us up at 4:45 yowling for us to put food in his dish, I thought about those early mornings during treatment, waking up, alone with my thoughts, unsure of what was coming at me in the days ahead. Here I am, in those days, and it feels good.

I volunteered for a breast cancer walking study, "Moving Forward Together," sponsored by the Centers for Behavioral & Preventative Medicine in Providence, RI. I'm rapidly approaching the goal of walking 5 days each week during this 12-week program. I just completed week 3 and walked 4 days, 2 miles each time. Now that's progress! Considering I could barely walk the length of a football field during and immediately following chemotherapy.

Before cancer, I worked -- the same job I'd had for twenty years. Post cancer, I am retired and busier than ever. I babysit two of my beautiful grandchildren on Mondays and Fridays. I take care of my 86-year old mother in the early stages of Alzheimer's. I am meeting every other week with two close friends as we engage in St. Ignatius exercises using Journey with Jesus: Discovering the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius by Larry Warner. I'm having fun making clothes for my grandchildren as I reengage with Simplicity and Butterick patterns I learned to sew with in 9th grade Home Economics class. Thank you Mrs. Lombard!

My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary on October 16, 2011! I feel so blessed to still be married to my best friend, my rock, my support, my devoted husband. Sometimes I don't feel like I don't deserve him, he is so good to me.

So I celebrate two years cancer-free and the new life that breast cancer has unexpectedly brought me to.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Life is Good

My radiation oncologist tells me my skin will start to get red after 12-14 treatments (out of the 36 or so total). I just had my 8th treatment yesterday. So far so good. I know the 35-minute drive one way every afternoon for my 2:00 appointments is going to become more and more of a drag, but I'm determined to remain positive and upbeat about it. The good news is both of my children and their families live within minutes of the Elliot Hospital. My hairdresser is there too and pretty soon I'll need to get my new head of hair trimmed and shaped. That is really good news!!

My 7-month old granddaughter, Anna, loves to rub her hands over this soft, new growth on my head. I stand her up in my lap and drop my chin as she squeals in delight to touch it with both hands. It's quite comical actually. Lots of people want to feel of it because it looks so fluffy and soft. It's fine with me. I invite them to if they mention it.

So now here I am, near the end. Because the pathology report from my lumpectomy and the sentinel node came back completely clean, we know the chemo took care of the cancer. My oncologist tells me I have a 90% chance of being cancer-free from now on. I recently read about someone who had been given that good news who had a recurrence after three years, so nothing is certain. If I approach it from a philosophical point of view, we're all going to die from something someday anyway, so if my cancer recurs, it recurs. I'll deal with it then. In the meantime, I'm not going to dwell on the possibility.

Looking back over the past eight months, I think about the three New England seasons it has spanned: Summer, Fall, and Winter. The Summer and Fall were actually nice seasons to go through chemotherapy because I could enjoy the open windows and listen to the birds and watch the leaves rustle in the breeze on days when all I could do was lay on the couch for hours on end. The easy recovery from surgery in December and January flew by. And now, with Spring just around the corner and timed pretty much after my radiation treatments will be done, it will be the season of renewal and reclaiming my life even though it is going to be much different than the day before my diagnosis!

Life is good!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Life Will Never Be the Same

I am amazed at how different my life may end up looking now that I am cancer-free and my hair is growing back. It seems surreal that my husband and I are actually giving serious consideration to the possibility that I could retire. Retire! Would we have ever arrived at this juncture if breast cancer hadn't visited my life? I seriously doubt it. The possibility is so exciting, I can barely contain myself. I'll be free to make lunch dates with old friends, read the books in my "to read" pile, take my mom to Michael's and Barnes & Noble more often, have my grandkids visit whenever, and--I'll be able to write.

It has been an arduous journey down this breast cancer detour and, like many detours, this one had twists and turns through unfamiliar neighborhoods of discomfort. The final destination remains unknown. I'm along for the ride, thankful for God's provision along the way, and plan to make the most of every moment. So far so good!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hair Follicles and Eye Lashes

"Do you feel like watching a tear jerker?" I asked my mother. She had dodged the patches of ice and crossed the driveway from her apartment over the garage and sat in our living room.

"Sure. I guess so," she said.

I pointed the remote at the TV and selected My Sister's Keeper on the On-Demand menu. "I've heard it's a really sad movie. You sure you're up for it?" She reassured me she'd be fine. I put a box of Kleenex in the middle of the coffee table.

Friends told me to avoid the movie; they thought it would be hard for me to watch. It really wasn't. Yes, I got teary-eyed and even wanted to sob out loud at one point, but managed to keep it together in front of my husband and mother. The story line about Anna's refusal to donate a kidney, one more medical procedure among many for which she had been genetically engineered from birth as a donor for her sister, Kate, fighting leukemia, seemed a little far fetched and I figured out the twist early on. However, the depiction of leukemia rang authentic given my experience walking alongside my niece fighting leukemia.

It is always interesting to see how Hollywood handles the hair loss of chemotherapy. They always look like shaved heads, not shiny bald from hair follicles dying. And one thing that can never be accurately depicted is the loss of eyelashes. Both Kate and her love interest, who also had leukemia, had lovely, dark eye lashes. My eyelash-free eyelids make my eyes look small and encased in bare flesh. I haven't figured out a way to make them up short of using fake eyelashes. I could have bought some at the wig shop and told the nice sales lady that maybe I'd be back after I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes. I haven't gone back. I've gotten used to the plain-Jane look. A little blush and I'm good to go!

Hollywood has its limits and I guess only those of us who've had the real experiences will pick up on them. Mom mentioned mid way through the movie that it sure was a tear jerker, but I was the only one blowing my nose and dabbing my naked eyes!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Private Caller"

A few nights ago the phone rang. I held it in my hand and read the Caller ID. "Private Caller," it said. "Hmmm, should I answer?" I said to myself. I don't see "Private Caller" often and it's usually not someone selling something. I answered.

"Donna! How are ya?" I tried to place the male voice who made it sound like he was an old friend.

"I'm fi-ine," I stammered. "Who's this?"

"I'm calling on behalf of the Professional Firefighters..."

I immediately interrupted, "I'm sorry, but this isn't a good time," and hung up. I'll admit to feeling a little guilty being abrupt, but geez, he was disingenuous as he wanted me to believe he was someone I knew and that bothered me a lot.

So last night when the phone rang and the Caller ID again said, "Private Caller," I decided not to answer. An hour later, I noticed the "Private Caller" had left a message, so I turned on the speaker and Buck and I listened together. It was my surgeon calling with the results of the pathology tests. She said the sentinel node was completely fine, that the treatment protocol obviously worked. She said I would need another mammogram in January, but otherwise, no more surgery would be required.

"Oh, I'm so bummed I didn't pick up," I said to Buck. "I really wanted to talk with her since I didn't get to see her after my surgery."

The news was wonderful to hear though and I said outloud, "Thank you, God! Thank you!"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I'm Getting Off Easy

My husband helped remove my bandages this morning. Fresh wounds creep me out and I really didn't want to look but I knew I had to. It wasn't so bad after all! I feel very fortunate that I didn't have to have a mastectomy. I've had people say, "If it were me, I'd tell 'em to take it off." Someone said it to me again today over lunch with friends. I know they mean well but I'm not sure they really know what they are saying. I've met some women through my blog and also at my church who have had mastectomies and the picture ain't pretty. The process of reconstructive surgery is long and painful and to all my breast-cancer sisters who have faced that, I say I'm so proud of your courage. I'm getting off least so far so good.

Having lunch today to celebrate a good friend's birthday was so much fun. I feel a little funny going with no eye makeup, but I have no eyelashes for mascara. I brush on some blush and that's the extent of my makeup these days. The other day I lamented to my husband that I hate not being able to wear makeup. He said, "You don't need it. You look beautiful without it. I've always thought that!" Ahhh, he really knows what to say, doesn't he?

There was no way I could face my wig today but felt comfortable wearing my turban among friends. (My hair is growing back fast though.) As we sat in the restaurant's second floor dining room with a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean in front of us, we watched the high surf the blustery nor'easter left in its wake, and there were moments when I felt like my old self; when I forgot about the discomfort of the surgery.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Surgery Has Come and Gone

"Let's leave early," I had said yesterday morning as we got ready to go to Mass General for my surgery. "The last thing I need is to be nervous about being late on top of surgery anxiety!"

My husband agreed and we gave ourselves a full two hours. However, there was heavy traffic going into Boston. I was nervous we'd be late. So we turned on our Garmin GPS, punched in the address and checked our arrival time. It said 8:42, twenty minutes ahead of our 9:00 am check-in time. I gave a sigh of relief! We eventually lost the extra time in the traffic, however, we pulled into the Parkman Street parking garage at 8:55 and I arrived at the Wang 3 day-surgery check-in station right at 9:00.

After stripping down and donning hospital garb, I was wheeled to the breast imaging center for more mammograms. This time my right breast was squished as two doctors hovered over it and placed wire markers so my surgeon would know the exact placement. First, they squeezed from the top down and then sideways. That experience ranks pretty high on my list of most painful procedures I've had. Not so much the actual mammogram but the invasive nature of placing the wires. That phase was all done by 11:00, I was on my way back to the day surgery floor and wheeled into a spot with an empty bed. "You go ahead and crawl onto the bed. I'll get some warm blankets and let your husband know he can join you," the nurse said.

That's when the interminable wait began. I had asked a couple of technicians along the way if they could tell me when my surgery was. No one could answer me. Bear in mind I'd had nothing to eat or drink since midnight (10:30 to be exact) and the discomfort levels began to rise. At 12:30, I asked a nurse to find out when my surgery was scheduled. She came back and said 2:00. However, I didn't actually get into the operating room until around 3:00. Those were the longest four hours, laying there, on my back with an IV in my left hand and wires protruding from breast, though folded flat against my breast and covered. My flannel mouth was really getting to me. Luckily, I was able to sleep through a good share of the wait time.

At 3:00, they showed up, wheeled me through double doors into a long, brightly lit hallway with operating rooms on both sides. Stretchers lined the walls, some carrying patients, some empty. Supply cabinets everywhere. More chaotic that I would have imagined. I said to the attendant, "So this is what the bowels of the hospital look like!" Before I knew it, I was waking up, feeling good, had some graham crackers and cranberry juice. By 6:00 I sat in the wheelchair and someone pushed me down to meet John who had pulled up to the front entrance. I slept most of the way home until John drove into our driveway at 8:15.

So far, nearly 24 hours later, I have very little discomfort. I slept good last night and am resting today but able to do some hand quilting. The perfect activity for a cold, wintry day where the thermometer hasn't reached above the twenty-degree mark.

It's done! The surgery is behind me, it will heal soon. The surgeon said the sentinel node she removed looked good but we will have to wait another week and a half to know the results of the pathology tests. I'm not worried. What will be, will be.