Thursday, May 24, 2012

A year ago . . . .

A year ago this Memorial Day weekend, I began my descent into breast cancer Round II hell. On Friday, May 27th, I underwent the MRI-guided biopsies that would change my life (and my body) forever.

A year ago, on the morning of June 6th, as my daughter was yelling for me to come dry her hair after a shower, the phone rang and I heard, once again, "you have cancer." I listened to the details, thanked the caller, and got my daughter to school. I walked her there, walked home, called my husband, and fell apart. On the eve of my 10-year survivorship anniversary, I was doing this whole fucking thing again.

The summer was ruined, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We had some good times, some wonderful times with family and friends, but there was a dark cloud over it all. My impending mastectomies loomed large and it was difficult, even for a mind-over-matter girl like me, to get over the thought of what was going to happen to me. To get over the fact that once again, I was going to be forced to make what seemed like impossible choices.

I went through the motions, made the preparations, and on September 19, 2011, my breasts were amputated. I was hollowed out, implanted, sewn up, and set free to "recover." And therein began one of the most difficult periods of my life to date.

It's so, so hard to describe the myriad feelings I've felt in the last year. Terror. Warmth. Gratitude. Dread. Wonder. Longing. Happiness. Pain. And let's not forget, itchiness. I celebrated every little milestone - and some were very little: from making my own tea in the morning, to being able to shower myself, to the ability to be alone in my home once again, to finally . . . finally! being able to sleep on my side, to clearance to open the refrigerator and lift things heavier than 5 lbs., to clearance for exercise. But things were still dark. My body was banged up. My mind was running wild.

But then sometime around the 4-month mark, the light began to shine in my life again, physically and mentally. I felt myself, MY SELF, coming back. My strength and stamina were improving. I'd run into DI's office and say "look! it's 9:30 p.m. and I'm still awake!" I could rotate my arms in their sockets and I feel my entire body getting stronger, again, from the Pilates and (then very gentle) exercise I could again enjoy. I was becoming me again. Only stronger. More determined. More gleeful. More joyful. Could it be? I was RECOVERING.

Now, a year out from diagnosis and 8 months out from surgery, I'm so so so happy to report that I'm "recovered, plus." I have energy and drive and determination again. I am happy and strong and these surrogate breasts I have feel like a part of me. Sure, I'm irate and sad that I did all that again and that I'm forever disfigured because of stupid cancer, but I'm beyond that, most days. Most days I'm giving cancer the middle finger by working out hard, facing the sun and smiling, making plans for the future, stopping to smell my roses, enjoying my dear friends and family and by, well, merely continuing to live.

If not for the miracles of modern medicine, my friends, I would not be here today. That little cancer I had in '01 would've killed me by now. I'm, as another cancer blogger calls it, a "Darwinian fail." But here's the upside of that. I got a second chance. And then ANOTHER second chance. You think I'm going to squander these amazing opportunities on stagnancy and self-pity? Hell no.

You never, ever know what's coming 'round the bend. It could be shitty, or it could be great. Why not steer yourself toward the great every single day you have? Why not? Don't you deserve happiness and fulfillment? I think we all do. I know I do. Watch me go for it. I hope you will, too.

So cheers to years, my friends. The last one's been crappy, but I have a really, really good feeling about the one upcoming . . . 'cause you know what?

I'm. Still. Here.



Monday, May 7, 2012

Long time, no post! So much going on here, much of it wonderful, some of it "not so much." Click here for my latest CKN post, on the penance of survivorship . . . .

I promise to post an update soon - less than a month out from my 1 year Cancerversary - ?! Where has the time gone?



Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Have you seen the latest?

My newest post for the Cancer Knowledge Network is here. All about babies . . . or lack thereof.



Monday, January 30, 2012

Moving on . . . .

Last night and today have been interesting. Poor L. got the stomach bug that's been going around, and so last night I stayed up with her, holding hair and wiping mouth. Washing my hands more times than any manicurist would condone. And as of 4:30 today, we're both still in jammies, recovering. She's eaten, and is now asleep on the shag rug in the kitchen t.v. nook. I'm wondering if I'm coming down with what she's had or just reeling from the ikitude of vomit. I cannot STAND vomit.

But here's what I realized today. On the brink of feeling sorry for myself (. . . my productive day is shot to hell, I can't go get fitted for the new bras I desperately want and need, I feel like crap from being up most of the night . . . ), I re-framed and realized that this is EXACTLY where I want to be. Just a normal mother who's home with a barfing child. This is my WORST PROBLEM today. And that is just so frickin' great. How's that for re-framing finesse?

And to add to my good mood, an email came from the folks at the Cancer Knowledge Network. They've published an essay I wrote on how I learned to meditate during Cancer Round I. And they want more. I have a schedule of their upcoming topics and they want to do a series. Someone wants to hear what I have to say about living with cancer for the last decade?! You can see my latest here. And don't worry, I won't hesitate to shamelessly self-promote here when new stuff comes out.

So here's to sick days and cancer . . . and to good moods in spite of them.



Friday, January 20, 2012

Cold cold cold like an ice cream cone

Just back from my first follow-up with my breast surgeon since surgery. She's the one who does the digging out of all the breast tissue and the sentinel node biopsies, and then steps aside for the plastic surgeon to rebuild you. I have felt a great fondness toward her over the 10+ years I've known her, and she is a surgeon to the stars - an expert in her field and with an unusual amount of humanity for a surgeon. She is special.

But today's visit left me cold. I think it's me, but might be a little her fault, too. First off, I felt something akin to mild panic as I made my way to suite 9A again . . . the last time I was there was when my dear Dr. Y. told me and DI that he was a mastectomy advocate. And the time before that was our 5 hour, one room ordeal. I had to rush like a madwoman to make it there for my appointment early this a.m., only to wait over 1/2 hour for the doc today. My blood pressure and my ire were up already, going in.

Then she arrives to do the exam. She doesn't remember "the rash," and passes the buck to anesthesiology to get a copy of the inter-op report over the the allergists, and then proceeds to tell me that things look, "really, pretty OK" and that "if you prop them both up into a bra, well, I bet you can't see any difference." And although, yes, I know that I am not the proud owner of a perfectly matched set of breasts (thank you, Cancer Round I), hearing your surgeon say something like this is stinging. Guess what? I'm not going to be in the book she shows to women contemplating this surgery. I'm only an "OK" outcome, cosmetically.

Whatev. Moving on. Not new news. Topless dancing career is over, anyway. I tie my Johnny back up and she sits down to debrief me on the plan going forward. 1% chance of recurrence. No screening at all, ever again. That's right. She says no mammos, no MRIs. Ever, ever again. All the breast tissue that remains in me has been pushed forward to the surface - it's what makes up the wafer-thin envelope she left behind that encapsulates my implants. So if something's there, she says, I'll feel it. Like a "mosquito bite" that "won't go away" she says.

OK, that's nice. But I've had 2 cancers, one very serious one, that were never palpable. And that 1% she's quoting is for DCIS patients, and my first cancer was a crazy invasive wild-woman. Maybe my risk of mets is the same from that, but now I'm down to 1% because I've had the amputations? I'm waiting to check in with Dr. Y. on this one. I see him in a couple of months.

So I'll follow-up with her in a year, because "breasts are dynamic" - and although I know she means "changeable" and that's what my PT has told me, too, I smile inside to think of my super-hero implants and how now only do I have a dynamic personality, but dynamic tits. Yeah!

But then there's this - "down the road," she says, "we may need to replace your implants." "You have a pretty good life expectancy," she went on, and I'm thinking "Pretty good? Why not excellent?" And she goes on to explain how they "might, at some point," need to swap out implants. I replied, "Well, I should HOPE I'll need them replaced as they've only got a 10-15 year life-span and I hope to be at least 80 before I kick the bucket." And she said "We have no idea how long they'll last," implying that they might last my lifetime. What the what?? Maybe I'll get lucky and get 20 years out of these things, but freak, I'm 42, can you IMAGINE that these'll last for 40-some-odd years? I've never heard such a thing, even from the rose-colored-glasses-wearing implant manufacturers themselves. I think that's just plain dreaming.

And that was it. Schedule a follow-up with her in a year, seeyalaterbye.

And yet again, I came out of there with mixed feelings:

  1. Excited, because I don't have to have any more routine screenings if I don't want to;
  2. Pissed, because I feel that some of her information was inaccurate, and if I were not a woman who researched things to death, off I'd go hoping that I'd have these water sacs in my chest for life, and thus be woefully disappointed when, in 10-15 years, I have flat boobs;
  3. A little sad, because I've gone through all this and ended up with less than spectacular foobs; and
  4. Set adrift.
You are reading the words of a 42-year-old woman who currently sees no fewer than 9, yes 9 doctors regularly. And who, until recently, has gotten a mammogram annually, and MRIs EVERY SIX MONTHS. So if you do the math, I've been seeing some sort of medical professional or having some test (or both, sometimes 3 or more in a month) EVERY SINGLE MONTH OF EVERY SINGLE YEAR FOR THE LAST 10 YEARS. So while I applaud the gains in free time and the reduction in my consumption of contrast dye, I still feel a little like I went through a revolving door too fast and got spit out the other side. I don't quite know where I am right now.

I'll find my way, I always do. And chatting w/Dr. Y. about real recurrence numbers and whether MRIs might really be helpful will put my mind at ease. But I guess what this a.m. did was pull me back by the collar a little . . . to say "Hey! Your head's not all wrapped neatly around this latest episode yet." It's a reminder that I'm fresh out of the box, still. A newly-minted "two-time survivor."

And that I don't know what this means, yet.



Sunday, January 1, 2012

Today, a new page

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

~Albert Einstein

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called "Opportunity" and its first chapter is New Year's Day.

~Edith L. Pierce

Here's to a new year, one filled with promise, health and abundant happiness for all. Thanks for getting me through the last six months, everyone. Couldn't have done it without you.