Done with Treatment

Monday was a big day although it felt quite surreal.  I had my last Herceptin treatment and what I hope to be my last experience in a chemo or infusion room.  I started Herceptin a year ago with my very first chemo treatment and have been doing it every 3 weeks since.  For those just joining, Herceptin is an antibody that has proven to help minimize recurrence in HER2 Nu (a protein) positive breast cancer patients – which I was or am.  So we hope the research is accurate and that it works!

Monday morning before my treatment, I met with my Oncologist to check-in and to talk about the “game plan” from here.  To start, I have an echo cardiogram on Monday.  They still want to watch my heart post-Herceptin.  I might have to do one more in 3 to 6 months.  I also have a CT scan scheduled for Thursday.  You may recall that they found a small nodule on my lung that we are watching.  So they are doing another CT scan (this will be my 3rd one in a year) and hopefully we learn nothing has changed.  After those couple of tests, assuming all is well, we move on to “follow-up care”.

I’m learning quickly that there is no concrete answer to “how do we manage or lower the risk of recurrence?”  We talked about some guidelines provided by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.  (1) To start, I will meet with the Oncologist every 3 months, than eventually every 6 months, and then at some point it will move to annually.  (2) Mammograms are another test we talked about, but since I have had a double mastectomy, annual mammograms are not necessary or effective.  I don’t have any breast tissue!  Side note, kind of weird I had my first and last mammogram all in one.  (3) I am on Tamoxifen for 5 years (at least).  Tamoxifen is a pill I take everyday and supposed to help hormone positive breast cancer patients (of which I am) to minimize breast cancer recurrence.

So, here’s the scary thing to me.  (4) The way we primarily manage recurrence is by symptoms.  Most breast cancer recurrences are discovered by patients between doctor’s visits.  My Oncologist listed the symptoms for me to be watching for.  Really!?  My comment to her was that is seems so reactive vs. proactive.  She agreed.  Unfortunately, it’s the harsh reality of the situation.  I keep thinking about the fact that I didn’t have symptoms in the first place.  I hate to wonder what stage cancer I would have if  I have a symptom.

In my case, after a double mastectomy, the chance of recurrence of breast cancer in my breast is minimal.  But did you know breast cancer can recur in your bones, lungs or liver?  That’s what is scary to me.

So while I am digesting my “follow-up plan” I am gearing up for surgery on Monday, April 23rd.  By the end of that day, I will be “put back together.”  And then I recover, work my “follow-up” plan, and move on.

Ladies – Are you up-to-date with your annual exams?  If not, make those appointments now!




It’s Been a Year

March 15th.  It’s been exactly one year since I heard the words “You have breast cancer.”  Some days it seems like it was just yesterday, while other days it seems like it’s been forever.

It’s been a long year to say the least.  The diagnosis, testing, six rounds of chemotherapy, losing my hair, a double mastectomy with reconstruction, 28 rounds of radiation, and almost a full year (every 3 weeks) of Herceptin.  I’m tired just thinking about it.  And I wish I could say it was over.  From a treatment perspective, I have one more round of Herceptin in early April and then what I hope is my final surgery April 23rd.

Now I have a lot of work to do on managing the thoughts in my head.  Breast cancer has changed me.  It’s just reality.  So now I am trying to figure out what my new “normal” is supposed to be.  Unfortunately, I am learning rather quickly that “normal” doesn’t exist anymore.

At my one year anniversary I want to stand on a mountain top and scream “breast cancer sucks” and “f$%@” cancer!”  At the same time I want to thank everyone that has been behind me and provided great support for me, Ed, Gracie and my family.

I am still fighting and will beat this!

Back to the OB/GYN

Today was the day I went back to my OB/GYN.  One year ago he found the lump in my right breast.  While it has been a long year, I look back at that appointment the end of February 2011 and remember it vividly.  That day my OB/GYN literally saved my life.

I was back today for my annual exam.  It’s hard for me to describe exactly how I felt, but let’s just say there were a variety of emotions.  I wondered whether I would make it in and out of that appointment without shedding a tear.  I kept it together…until I got into the car.

I felt like I couldn’t go in empty-handed.  I wanted to take him something.  But what do you give to the man that saved your life?  Well, I chose a  bottle of wine that I knew he would enjoy and a handwritten note that read:

“Dr. D – Where do I begin?!  It’s been a year since my last visit and the day you found a lump in my breast.  In some ways it feels like it has flown by, and in other ways it feels like it has been years.  It has been a tough year, but I am happy to report that I am cancer free.  I want to thank you for finding the lump and for literally saving my life.  I will forever be grateful.  I sometimes think about what would have happened if you had not found it that day?  What if it had been another full year with that tumor in my breast?  There could have been a completely different ending to my story.  So, thank you!  Here’s to a healthy, cancer free 2012!  Cheers!”  Meredith Gaile

It was a weird day.  I feel like I am still processing all of it:  the appointment, the fact that it’s been a full year since this journey began, all that we have accomplished, all that I’ve been through both physically and emotionally, and all that is still left.

Ladies:  Have you scheduled your annual OB/GYN exam?  Please do.  It might just save your life.

Another Treatment Down

On Wednesday I had my every 3 week Herceptin treatment.  I dropped Gracie off at school and headed to my appointment.  I didn’t have to meet with the Oncologist that particular morning so I expected it to be a fairly straight forward appointment, which it ended up being.  I was called back to the lab by my favorite Lab Tech (really she’s awesome).  She inserted the needle to access my port.  That was done and then she walked me back to the infusion or chemo room.  I was in Meredith’s section – a nurse who has been there since I started this a year ago April.  Always a good sign when we share the same name, right?  This particular morning it was very quiet in the infusion room i.e. not a lot of activity and not a lot of drama.  I was greeted by the volunteer that is there on Wednesday’s (whom I’ve gotten to know) with a nice, warm blanket.

I do feel like in so many ways I am a “graduating senior”.  I remember when I was having one of my earlier chemo treatments, I met a breast cancer survivor in the infusion room.  She was a couple of chairs down from me and was there for her last Herceptin treatment.  We had such a nice conversation.  At the time, where she was in her treatment seemed so far away to me.  I am almost there now.

My hair is continuing to grow.  It appears to be much thicker than it used to be and it seems like it might have a little more body to it.  Is it going to be curly?  I don’t know.  The jury is still out.  While I am happy to have hair, it still doesn’t feel like my hair.  It’s still quite weird.  I look at pictures of myself with hair (taken not that long ago) and it’s hard to remember.  My nails are still a mess.  “Chemo nails” is a real thing.  I am just trying to keep them short and painted.  At some point I am sure they will be back to “normal.”  Maybe.  The effects of chemo are really, really awful.  There is just no doubt about that!  We only hope it does what it is supposed to do!

For those following and keeping track, I have two more Herceptin treatments left; one in March and one in April.  And then I will have surgery the end of April.  That will be a big milestone for me.  But before we get there we have  a couple of key dates:  (1) next week I meet with my OB/GYN.  He is the one that found the tumor in a routine breast exam and ultimately saved my life.  (2)  March 15th.  That’s the day (one year ago) I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It’s a day I will never forget and one I can relive very vividly in my mind.  Some emotional days ahead.

But this week, I don’t have any doctor’s appointment.  That’s a big deal.  Yeah for me!

My Valentine’s

Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I know not everyone does, but I find it to be a very sweet holiday.  It’s one of my favorites really.  I spent the day with my Valentine’s – Ed and Gracie.  We had a fun day!

I wanted to share this picture that was taken on Friday at Gracie’s school.  They hosted a Sweetheart Breakfast.  Gracie took her daddy, but I was lucky enough to be there as a volunteer.

Tomorrow morning I have a Herceptin treatment.  It is one of my last three – but who is counting?!  I do not meet with the Oncologist so I should be in and out fairly quickly.  We shall see what awaits me in the infusion room.  You just never know.

I hope today you were able to spend time with family or friends; or did something that made you happy.  Love to all.  XOXO!

Radiation Follow-Up

Hi to all.  This morning I met with my Radiation Oncologist. It was my 6 week follow-up appointment following my last radiation treatment.  It was a really quick appointment.  The nurse took my vitals (all in good shape) and then I met with the doctor for maybe 10 minutes.  She did a physical exam of my breasts, more specifically my right breast that was radiated, and gave me an “all looks great”.  Based on the comments from my Plastic Surgeon and then today from my Radiation Oncologist, I am gathering that my body and my skin handled radiation relatively well.  That’s great news.  She told me I was in good hands with my other team of physicians; to hold onto her contact information if I ever were to need her.  My comment was something like, “I appreciate all you have done for me, but hope I never see you again”.  She laughed and said she understood.

This week (on the same day), two women I follow (or followed) on Twitter died of breast cancer.  Honestly, it was a really emotional day for me.  It just hit way too close too home.  Both women were young and were fighters.  I had never met these women personally, but it was amazing the connection I felt to them.  The power of social media.  The power of the breast cancer community.  And, just a really strong reminder that this disease kills.  It sucks.  We need a cure.