Monday, February 15, 2016

Cancerversary-Year 3

Here we are again! I'm so very thankful that this past year gave me no reason to update the blog. It was truly another beautiful year filled with so many great memories.

This past year I started a new cancer therapy. I switched from Tamoxifen to Exemestane. Recently, results of a study were published that showed that for premenopausal women whose cancer warranted chemotherapy, the disease free survival is better if those women are put into menopause either surgically or chemically, and then given an Aromatase inhibitor instead of tamoxifen. Since I was already in chemical menopause thanks to the Zoladex shot I was getting monthly, I decided to go for it. I started the exemestane in May and the adjustment was hard to say the least. My muscles and joints were very painful, my hair was falling out, and I had a short(er) fuse than normal. I almost quit. My oncologist said I had her blessing to quit and go back to Tamoxifen. But I kept going and I'm pleased that I have seemed to adjust and pretty much feel back to the (new) normal.

In October I got my oncologists blessing to have my ovaries removed and then discussed that surgery with my OBGYN. We scheduled it for January 22nd and my mind was absolutely blown that an invasive surgery like that where they remove my ovaries and Fallopian tubes, was so crazy quick. I went back at 7:20 am and at 8:00 am my doc was telling Eric I was in recovery. I looked at the clock at 8:30 am! I underestimated the recovery but turned a big corner 1 week after my surgery and now I'm feeling almost 100% again. I've returned to my workouts which was my biggest concern and my strength is almost what it was prior to surgery. Praise God, my ovaries and tubes were also free of cancer!

So that's the latest in my cancer story and I can't believe it has been 3 years.  This is a peak time for cancer to recur so there's constantly that voice in my head reminding me that my current "cancer free" life could change at any time. I'm just getting better at silencing it. Trying to keep my mind and body as healthy as possible has made me feel more in control of a situation that I know I can't control. But today I feel good and strong and healthy and that's all any of us can ask for, right?

Thank you again for all your prayers, well wishes, good vibes, and hope for my health. I feel it, and need it. Lets not talk again until next year, ok? ;-)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cancerversary-Year 2

It has now been 2 years since I picked up the phone and was told that "unfortunately" my biopsy was positive for cancer. I can remember the paralyzing fear, the literally paralyzing fear that wouldn't let me dial the phone to call my mom, or the number of the breast surgeon that the anonymous radiologist on the phone had given me. I remember sitting on the couch screaming, asking why, texting friends, crying with my mom and Eric and Eric's family. It was so ugly. What was uglier was the sheer terror that the following morning brought, and every morning in the weeks after. Every night I'd fall into bed, so exhausted with emotion, fear, and uncertainty to even give another minute of thought to cancer, and then every morning with a fresh mind, it all returned.

Last year as the 1 year anniversary of my diagnosis approached, my mental state deteriorated. I had just gone back to work and was thrust back into "normal" life when everything was anything but normal. I sat in doctor's offices with stares from other drug reps and confused looks from doctors who thought I looked familiar but couldn't place me, and if they could, asked what happened to my long blonde hair. Consumed with the fear of cancer recurrence, I was in a constant state of anxiety and was constantly numbing myself with Ativan. On my one year cancerversary, I sat in the car in front of one of my favorite restaurants where we were going to celebrate Valentine's day, and had a complete breakdown. My husband expressed his frustration that I was unable to move on from cancer, I expressed that I was so much more fucked up now than the day I was diagnosed. Cancer had broken me.

The Monday after my 1 year cancerversary, I attended a support group for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. This was a meeting I'd attended regularly through treatment and I always gained comfort  and strength from being around women who understood and enjoyed sharing stories and commiserating. But at this meeting, I broke down and cried which was out of character for me to do in front of others. And it felt like a turning point.

With the anniversary behind me, things began to change. Spring came. With warmer weather, aches and pains that worried me so much began to subside. I was able to run outside again which was cathartic. My hair started to look more like a normal hair style. I became a Younique presenter and it was so enjoyable and took my mind off of cancer. Instead of spending my time reading horror stories on online cancer forums, I was promoting this makeup that I loved and making money in addition to working my pharmaceutical job. That was going better too and I felt back in the swing of things, although my heart was no longer in it. Then on April 30th, we had a mandatory conference call where they told us that a "significant" layoff was coming in the next few months and they were offering a "hand raising option" where you could volunteer to be laid off with a severance package. It took all of 3 seconds to know what I was going to do.

In June, I had my breast reconstruction where they swapped out the tissue expanders with silicone implants. I also got the call that they accepted my request for separation and as of the end of June, I was a stay-at-home mom. It was undoubtedly the best decision I could have made, as shortly after I was laid off, Eric started an assignment in Indiana and was gone for 7 weeks straight. Juggling a full time job and being a single mom would have been added stress that didn't fit into my new healthier lifestyle. Fall brought the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk that I was on the committee of, and it was such a pleasure to see a year of planning come together to raise $828,000. I was also asked to be the 2015 co-chair of the event and I'm honored to play an even bigger roll this year in helping raise money for the American Cancer Society and a cause that's so important to me.

I couldn't be happier to say that today, on my 2nd cancerversary, I am so much better off than I was last year and the year before. Mentally, I'm feeling more optimistic and hopeful. Physically, my body is stronger and I'm more fit than I've been in a long time. I am loving life and so thankful for the blessings I've received in the last year. Don't get me wrong, cancer still can make me cry in the shower like it did this morning, but the sadness doesn't last long.

Hopefully there won't be any reason to update this blog until my 3rd cancerversary. Until then....thank you for all of your prayers :-)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cancerversary-Year 1

I should have known that the anniversary of a traumatic event would make me crazy. It was like that for the 1 year anniversary of my Dad's death. In the days leading up to it, I relived every moment. Luckily, on the actual day of his death I was comforted by many signs and his visit in a dream to let me know that he was fine and still with me. I only hope that today I can find half of that peace.

A year ago my life changed, and it will never be the same. Lately I have been consumed with negative thoughts, anxiety, panic, and hopelessness. I have been reliving each moment..the feel of that rock hard lump in my normally smooth breast, the cold sweat and difficulty breathing I had while telling my Mom and Eric (who was away for work) over the phone what I had found, the doctors appointments, the tests, the concerned looks on the faces of the doctors and techs, and the fake smiles I put on for everyone, the beginning of my permanent state of preoccupation.

Thanks to social media, I've "met" or read about a lot of young breast cancer girls. I need this, I need them, I need to know I'm not the only one. However, what this means is that I will inevitabily see some people recur, and I may see some people die. Some will have a better prognosis than me from the beginning and these stories will rock my core. And maybe I will be one of them, I can't yet be sure, I can only pray that I'm not, that they're not, and that we all make it. Lately I've been going to very dark places and feeling like its only a matter of time before the cancer returns. Every ache I have, which are plenty, sends me into a turmoil. The 1 year anniversary enhances this fear-if my cancer is most likely to return in the first 2 years, then will this be the year? I can't help thinking that when you're diagnosed with cancer you are handed one of two sentences. A death sentence....or a life sentence filled with the fear and anxiety that it will return.

This post makes me sick, I hate to be this negative. Especially after a period of strength and hopefulness over the holidays that made me feel like cancer was truly behind me and I had won. I hope it's just the date thats terrorizing me and that after this I can move on with a sense of calm.

I am praying with everything I have that I am updating this blog on this date for the next 40 years. And I hope that I'm able to turn February 15th into a celebration of life and I'll look back on these early dark days as times I can barely recall. I'm just not there yet.


Today I will not be recieving a call that I have cancer. That right there makes it 100 times better than last year. Instead, I will enjoy my wonderful husband who flew home from Germany to be with me and my gorgeous sweet daughter, I will go for a run, I will eat ice cream cake, I will have photos taken of my family (and I will do this every year from now on), and I will have a lovely date night with my husband. This year will be better than last. Next year will be better than this year. And so on and so on...hopefully for the next 40.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I realize that I'm terrible at blogging. The good news is, blogging less means nothing exciting is going on and I am totally fine with that. Forever.

We left off with the end of radiation. It's been a month and a half now and that ugly radiation burn is fading to what looks like a permanent tan. I've continued going every three weeks to get my Herceptin infusions. I'm very optimistic about this drug and what it can do for me but I can't wait for the day that I don't have to go to the infusion room and sit there like I did during chemotherapy.

The newest development in my treatment plan is that I have started to get shots in my stomach of a drug called Zoladex which shuts down my ovaries and puts my hormone levels equal to that of a woman in menopause. The reason I started this is because while chemo does induce menopause, my ovaries "woke back up". This means that chemotherapy did not permanently harm my ovaries and if a cure were to be found, I could try to have another baby. The bad news is that with ovarian function comes an increase of estrogen which fueled my cancer. Yes, I have been taking Tamoxifen which should block the estrogen receptors on cancer cells from getting estrogen but I still wasn't comfortable with having that much circulating estrogen in my system. So I went to my oncologist and requested that I have ovarian suppression started, which she agreed to. There is currently a study going on called the SOFT trial. It looks at Tamoxifen alone, Tamoxifen and ovarian suppression, or an Aromatase Inhibitor and ovarian suppression and is trying to figure out which arm is the most successful at reducing recurrence. The data was supposed to be presented at the end of 2013 but the study has had fewer recurrences across the board than anticipated so the verdict is still out. This is fantastic news that seems to be pointing to more successful chemotherapy treatments. So if the data ends up coming out that ovarian suppression is no better than Tamoxifen alone, I can always stop getting the shots. In the meantime, hopefully it won't hurt. So far the only side effects I have are hot flashes galore. I'm having one as I type. If I even think of having one, it happens. It's ok though, I will hot flash all day long if it means that any remaining cancer cells (which hopefully don't exist) are shriveling up and dying of thirst.

In December I had a very uplifting appointment with my oncologist. When I met with her in December I told her about my commitment to exercise and diet to try to reduce my recurrence risk as much as I can. I asked her if there was any specific food she would recommend I eat or not eat, any specific supplements I should take or not take. She recommended that I completely cut out red meat or keep it to once a week, which is not a problem for me as I rarely eat it. She then said "And I would recommend not spending too much time worrying that the cancer will return. All of the time, patients do better than expected. We will power studies to show a high recurrence rate and it just doesn't happen." She then went on to say that  my microscopic lymph node involvement is not very different from being lymph node negative and she felt optimistic about that. This was great to hear and really helped change my outlook and reduce some fear. Obviously recurrence is always possible, even in people with small tumors and negative lymph nodes, but there are plenty of people out there with poor prognostic factors who never recur. Everyday I'm trying to live without fear and have that hopeful optimism that I had before my cancer diagnosis.

I am back to work now and it has been a challenge to return to normal life. I have missed a lot of developments over the 10 months I've been on leave, so I've been training from home for the past few weeks. To be honest, I'm very nervous to get back out in front of customers. I feel like a new hire, unsure of myself and rusty. I'm also afraid to see everyone in the doctors offices who know what happened and will ask questions and those who don't know what happened, and will wonder why I have such a ridiculous hair style.  I obviously have no problem talking about my story, but I just know I'll be reliving it frequently and probably get some looks of pity as well, and that is something I do have a problem with.

In hair news, it's certainly growing but it's certainly unruly. Tomorrow I have my first hair appointment with Morgan since she buzzed my hair in May. I am hoping she is able to do something to make it look like a more professional, more intentional hair style. Without taking too much off since I obviously want it to grow. Poor girl has her work cut out for her!

I'll post a picture of the finished product tomorrow. Who are we kidding, no I won't, I'm a terrible blogger.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Baby Story

In the minutes and days after Harper's birth, I told anyone who would listen that she was going to be an only child. My water broke late on a Tuesday night and she was born early on a Thursday morning. The time in between those events was painful and the act of pushing her out of my body lasted a grueling 2 hours. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. Even as they wheeled me out to the car with my perfect new baby in the car seat carrier, they asked "will we see you back here in a few years?" "Hell no!!" was my answer.

In typical fashion of my life, Harper's birth was anything but ordinary. I was induced right at 40 weeks, as they had discovered that my amniotic fluid was low and my blood pressure high. I was not at all effaced or dilated and it appeared that Harper was content to stay put. I went into Harrisburg Hospital in the evening of Tuesday, December 13th. There they administered a gel to my cervix to ripen it. They assured me that this probably would not work and that I would need to come back in the morning for more gel, followed by Pitocin to induce labor. Eric and I left and went to Jo Jo's pizza for what we would soon find out would be our last meal as a family unit of two.

I went to bed and woke up at 11:45 to a gush of fluid when I turned over. My water had broke. I remember being so excited that I got to experience water breaking like I always saw in the movies since many women do not have their water break spontaneously. We left for the hospital around 3 am and settled in for an unproductive 10 hours of no progression in my labor. Finally at 1pm they started the Pitocin and by 5pm I was in agony and chanting in tongues. I knew there was a way out--the celebrated epidural.  The thing is, I took a birthing class and they teach you how to power through this pain without medicine. My back labor was terrible though, surely I was 8 cm now and gave it my best effort. The nurse checks my progress. 1 cm. It had been 5 hours of Pitocin on full blast and I was only 1 cm? And here I was, ready to ask for the drugs at 1 cm dilated. I was weak!

I go through with the epidural and it only works on half of me. I have no idea why but half of my back still feels every contraction. I suffer more and then somehow I manage to drift off. I wake up to the tell tale feeling of needing to push and the nurse checks me. I'm 10 centimeters. It's close to 1 am and show time. The nurse tells me to start pushing and I say wait a minute, where is the midwife? She tells me we push until right before the baby is ready to come out, and then my midwife will come in and deliver the baby. This horrifies me but I start pushing. And pushing. And pushing. For 2 hours I do the most physically demanding thing I've ever done and I feel like I'm going to throw up with every push. Finally the nurse comments on how much hair the baby has and says she's going to get the midwife leaving Eric and I alone in the room. I'm so afraid this baby is going to come out without a medical professional in the room. The nurse returns with my midwife, an awesome woman who delivered most of our friend's babies and 4 babies earlier in her shift. She sits down on the edge of the bed and says "let's have a baby!" I continue pushing, aware of everything since my epidural is only half doing its job. I'm in the zone and then I hear "Get a doctor, I need a doctor!" I'm jolted out of my baby birthing trance and filled with fear, what was wrong with my baby? Again she says "Somebody get a doctor, I'm going to pass out." My eyes fly open and there I see, on the edge of the bed, my midwife slumped over unconscious. What the hell did I have going on down there that made her pass out?! The nurse hits a button and every nurse on the floor comes running! They wave smelling salts under her nose and she comes to. They put her in a wheel chair but she insists she's ok, that she can deliver this baby. They tell her no and take her to the emergency room. The nurses turn to me and tell me to relax and not push while I scream at them to get a doctor in the room. They assure me that a doctor will be here soon. I apologize and tell them that I'm sorry, but I can't not push. A contraction comes and so does my perfect, drama queen daughter, on to the edge of the bed, with no one to catch her.

My midwife never found out what happened that caused her to pass out, and it had never happened before or since. I don't blame her for anything. Do I wish a doctor had been readily available to take over? Of course. But in the end, Harper was fine, I was fine, and we certainly would never forget that night.

But like all new moms, I somehow forgot the pain of childbirth within a few weeks time, and declared I was having another baby, maybe a few. I loved being a mom, I loved breast feeding, and I had loved pregnancy. I couldn't wait to do it again.

Two weeks ago I went to my first OBGYN appointment since the day I went in there with a lump in my breast. I closed myself in the bathroom and cried because the waiting room made me think of being pregnant with Harper, the signs promoting breast feeding on the wall made me nostalgic for a time when I felt my body was doing what it was made to do. If cancer had never happened, I would have been trying to get pregnant right now or perhaps I would already be pregnant. I might be coming in for my 12 week appointment, eager to hear my baby's heart beat and make guesses at the gender. Instead I sat in the exam room and spoke with my doctor about oopherectomies and hysterectomies and hormone tests to check that the hormones that make me a woman, were suppressed. I was never going to have another baby again and there was a possibility that in due time, every body part that made me able to grow and then nurture a child would be removed.

Growing up, all I wanted was a daughter. I always pictured myself having one child who was a girl but I assumed that it was because that is what my family unit looked like growing up and I couldn't picture what I didn't know. It turns out that our family will be what I always imagined. I can't even begin to think about what my life would be like without Harper and every day I am glad that I didn't find my tumor any earlier if it would have meant not having her. I am more thankful for Harper than I could ever put into words and know that I am beyond blessed with this little person who has such intelligence, personality, and spunk. But I'm still angry that cancer is taking away my ability to make another wonderful child.

My Harpy turns 2 years old in less than 2 weeks and I can't believe how much joy can fit into two years. Here is my miracle and biggest blessing:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Life on the Radiation Table

They really do try to make radiation as pleasant of an experience as it can be. The ceiling of the room is covered in stickers of planets and some of the ceiling panels have been replaced with a blue glowing constellation. The technicians are kind and personable. The whole experience, even as your skin is getting more and more burnt, is nice.

The radiation machine looks like one of those microscopic sea creatures. I had to google it to figure out what specific creature I meant and have decided that it looks like a Water Bear. I try to keep my eyes closed for the majority of the treatment since I have this irrational fear that if I open my eyes, all of the radiation in the room will burn them out of my head. On the occasion that I absolutely must sneak a peak, the face of that radiation water bear is right in my face, and if you look beyond the black tinted window, there are things that look like teeth. They open and close in order to take X-rays, shoot radiation beams, eat my flesh, I don't really know.

A water bear:

I pride myself on knowing a lot about my disease and treatment but radiation is the one area I have not read up on. Frankly because it scares me. We spend our whole lives trying to avoid radiation: don't swim in the water by Three Mile Island, cover your body with metal blankets for dental X-rays, don't put your head in the microwave. After being told to avoid it your whole life, its strange to be strapped down to the table, just laying there and taking it, intentionally.

I'm in my last week of radiation therapy. Each evening my chest is bright red and it fades a little bit by morning. It is starting to get really sore on my side, the area of the lower axilla they are radiating because of the positive lymph node.

But as in all hardships, this too shall soon end. I can't believe I am a few days away from the end of my standard treatment. It's been a long 9 months and at the same time it's flown by. Because I've been blessed to be in the Herceptin arm of a clinical study I will continue to go to the infusion center every 3 weeks until the end of June. I will also keep popping my Tamoxifen each day, running 4 times per week, juicing, drinking the green tea, trying to lose this damn chemo weight, and of course lots of praying.  It comforts me that there are things I can still do after treatment ends to make me feel like I'm continuing to kick cancer's ass.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

He Listens

I arrived at the medical center before 8 am for my radiation practice run. Medical students shuffled across the parking lot from the student housing, sharply dressed sales people wheeled cases of samples through the doors, and the female valet parked cars. I couldn't help but think that I should be any one of them instead of myself, preparing for 6 weeks of another potentially harmful treatment that while it may help rid my body of cancer cells, is not without damage to other currently healthy organs. I wore a pink ribbon baseball hat over my short hair and was in the cancer institute, so there was no mistaking my affliction. Many people that passed me said hi, the others stared a beat too long. I knew they were all thinking the same thing, that poor girl, she's so young. For some reason, this doesn't bother me as much as it did while I was going through chemotherapy. Maybe it's because I know that I'm about to reemerge as a new person, a hopefully cancer free person, who once again, looks healthy to the naked eye.

I will spare the details of the radiation simulation because they are boring. It was a bunch of laying, exposed breast pointing at the ceiling, techs calling out numbers, and X-rays being taken. A red marker draws a rather large outline of the radiation field and I am on my way, and told to return tomorrow for treatment # 1.

I went upstairs and found myself following my nose towards the Starbucks, and my heart, towards the chapel. I spent a lot of time in that chapel last summer, on my knees begging for my dad to get well. I wrote my prayer requests in the book specific to that days needs-end the fever, regain kidney function, wean the ventilator. On this day, I read over the prayer requests and felt the pain of every person who put that pen to paper. This time, I added one for myself. Afterwards I entered the worship area and took to my knees in the familiar spot. I asked God to give me strength to get through this next part of the battle with as much ease as He's allowed me so far. I prayed that I would be cancer free for the rest of my life, or at least long enough to meet my grandchild and dance at Harper's wedding. I asked that I be used for a purpose.

I felt moved to open the book of Psalms laying in front of me and read the first thing my eyes focused on. What do you know? The Lord may not have given me any answers yet, but He proved that He was listening. I read:

Jesus answered and said to him "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this."