The Journey Continues

It’s been a while since my last post and I have so much to say!

So, let me  start with the basics:  A week ago Monday I went in for an echo cardiogram.  I still have to have one done every 3 months while being treated with Herceptin.  The appointment is about an hour.  You undress from the waist up and it’s a lot like an ultrasound – for the ladies (and men) out there that understand that process.  Several days later I learned my heart remains strong.  Good news!  That Wednesday I was back to Georgia Cancer Specialists (my oncology group) for an appointment with my Oncologist and a Herceptin treatment.  It started as always in the lab.  The Tech accessed my port but for whatever reason had a difficult time getting blood for testing – which has happened the last couple of appointments.  Let’s just summarize it by saying after multiple attempts in a variety of different positions, blood was finally taken from my arm and not from my port.  The good news is I could still intake – so I was ready for my Herceptin treatment.

After the lab, I visited with the doctor.  We checked in on a number of items and worked through my list of questions.  Well, I am officially on Tamoxifen for the next 5 years (or maybe more depending on pending research).  As a quick lesson, Tamoxifen is a prescription medication that is a lot like estrogen.  In the breast, tamoxifen can block estrogen’s effects.  Because it does this, Tamoxifen may block the growth of breast cancers that need estrogen to grow (cancers that are estrogen or progesterone receptor positive).  It is used to lower my chance of breast cancer spreading to other parts of my body.  It’s a pill I will have to take every day for the next 5 years (or more).  The positive:  Tamoxifen does not work for every woman diagnosed with breast cancer, but it could for me.  You may recall, I was diagnosed with estrogen and progesterone positive breast cancer, which means that Tamoxifen is another “tool” to help keep breast cancer from spreading to other parts of my body.  The negatives:  (1) I have to take a pill everyday for a very, very long time.  (2) The side effects:  the most common one is hot flashes.  Yeah for me.  I won’t even begin to list the more serious side effects.  However, my Oncologist assures me they are rare.  We’ll see.

Following my visit with the Oncologist, I headed to the infusion (or chemo) room for my Herceptin treatment.  Oh the hustle and bustle of the infusion room.  Something I honestly will not miss!  I only have a few more treatments to go!

I have scheduled my next surgery for Monday, April 23rd.  It is an outpatient surgery where my plastic surgeon will remove the spacers, put in the implants, and “finish up” the reconstruction.  My Herceptin treatments will be complete by then which means he will also be able to remove my port.  That’s a big deal!  While in general it has not bothered me, lately I have noticed it more and more – and will be ready to see it go!  So, after surgery and some time in recovery, I will go home that day.  I honestly don’t know exactly what to expect as far as recovery time and will start talking with women that have gone through this to get the “real” scoop.  What I do know is it is supposed to be a much easier surgery than the bi-lateral mastectomy.  Makes sense to me.  And I do know there will be no drains.  Yeah!  But I am sure there will be some recovery time.  Not sure, but can’t imagine I will be back in the gym the next day.  We shall see.  I am just happy to have that on the books!  It’s a big milestone.

On another note, a friend and mom at Gracie’s school recently had a good friend diagnosed with breast cancer.  It is ridiculous the amount of women that are being diagnosed with breast cancer.  Really, it’s ridiculous.  Anyway, she asked me my thoughts on how to best support her friend.  I found it a great exercise to go through and will share some ideas in an upcoming post.  Just maybe it will help someone else out there going through this journey.

A lot of people are asking me “how are you doing?”  Just today I had a friend say, “I bet you are sick of people asking you that!”  Honestly, I am not and I really appreciate people continuing to check in.  I have a long, long road ahead.  I have good days and bad days.  When I completed radiation, the end of December, I had a number of people say, “Congratulations!  You are done!”  The truth is I am far from done.  Yes, chemo is done.  Yes, the double mastectomy is done.  And now, radiation is done.  But the breast cancer battle is not over.  In fact, it is far from over.  I will go into it in more detail in future posts, but I am truly entering a new phase of this journey.  I am learning how to deal with my “new normal” and I have a long way to go.

Ed got great feedback on his latest post.  Thank you to all of you that provided feedback.  He’s a great guest writer and provides a different perspective to this crazy journey.  I am thinking between the two of us we might have a book in our future.  Would you buy it?

 

Surgery on the Horizon

Since my last post I have had two doctor’s appointments.  Last week Thursday I had my every 3 week Herceptin treatment.  It was originally scheduled on Wednesday, but I pushed it back a day so we could stay one day longer in Pensacola.

As I drove to that appointment, my car really wanted to head to the radiation oncologist because that’s what I did for 28 days!  Seriously, when I drive to the Northside Hospital area (for those of you that know Atlanta) I really have to think which doctor I am heading to that particular time.  I have so many!  Anyway, I headed to my oncologist’s office, checked in, and waited a brief period before I was called back to the lab.  They “accessed my port” and I was quickly escorted to the infusion or chemo room.  It was fairly empty this particular morning.  I was assigned a nurse and an area as I always am.  I quickly found a chair without anyone around it.  Perfect.  They always have great volunteers.  On my regular Wednesday visit, it’s a woman.  On Thursday’s, it’s a gentleman.  He quickly approached me and asked if I needed a blanket, pillow, and/or water.  You feel like you are at the Ritz Carlton.  Well, sort of.  Now that I am only there for Herceptin, it’s a pretty quick appointment compared to when I was there for chemotherapy.  But it was a cold morning, so I graciously accepted a warm blanket.  The appointment went as expected without too much drama.  The only fun thing to witness was a couple of patients to the right of me, several chairs down.  They were right next to each other.  A man roughly in his 60’s and a woman in her 70’s.  She was on her cell phone talking loudly.  There always has to be one, right?  I could hear her pretty clearly from where I was sitting.  I didn’t understand a thing she was saying because it was in Spanish.  The man was trying to enjoy his newspaper.  After a while, the man finally had it.  Out loud he made it known he was irritated she was on the phone holding a lengthy conversation.  He also pointed out the “do not talk on your cellphone” signs throughout the room.  But, to no avail.  While I was watching it all go down, a nurse finally picked up on his irritability and encouraged him to move to another chair.  So he unplugged his IV machine, grabbed all his stuff, and walked to the other side of the room.  That was the drama in the chemo room.  I finished my treatment and was in and out in a little over an hour.

This morning (Wednesday) I had an appointment with my plastic surgeon.  I have not seen him since November, right before I started radiation.  So, today was my post-radiation follow-up appointment.  It went really well and I am happy to report we have a plan.  He told me that I responded very well to radiation i.e. my skin looks good.  On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, he said it was a 10.  Apparently he sees some serious skin burns and deformities from radiation.  So, I was pleased.  He wants to schedule surgery in April.  I will be working with his office to work through the details and will keep you all posted.  I’m anxious to get that on the books.  That surgery will be to remove the expanders (or spacers), put in the implants, remove my port (I will schedule it after my last Herceptin treatment) and he will deal with some other little details.  That’s a big milestone that I look forward to!

Hard to believe, but next week I don’t have a doctor’s appointment related to breast cancer.  Amazing.  The following week I have an echo cardiogram, a Herceptin treatment, and an appointment with the Oncologist.  Will stay in touch.  Thanks to all of you that keep following me and my story.

Jumping into 2012

Hello 2012

Happy New Year!

Radiation is complete!  I went in for my last radiation treatment last Thursday – the 29th.  I really did feel like I was graduating.   After my appointment, we loaded the car and were on our way to Pensacola, FL where we welcomed in 2012!

Ed and I were happy to say good-bye to 2011 and hello to a new year that we are convinced will be better.  But we couldn’t help but recap last year.  The last nine months of 2011, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent 6 rounds of chemotherapy, lost my hair (and eyelashes), had a double mastectomy, went through 28 radiation treatments…not to mention the hundreds of doctors appointments.

Looking ahead, what’s next?  Well, I have to complete the full year of Herceptin treatments (every 3 weeks) that will take me through end of March/early April 2012, get my port removed once Herceptin is complete (yeah), and have one more surgery to remove the expanders and put in the implants (finally).  I am sure there will be an echo cardiogram and CT scan in there somewhere.  But, from there we should move into “maintenance” mode.   Whatever that means.

Thanks to all of you.  We wouldn’t have made it through 2011 without you!  So thank you!

 

1 Radiation Treatment Left!

So tomorrow (Thursday, 12/29) will be my last radiation treatment.  Yeah!  Yeah!  Yeah!  After tomorrow morning, I can officially say 28 down, 0 to go!  Early on I never thought I would make it through 28 treatments.  But I did it.

At my appointment this morning, the nurse called me a “short timer.”  I told the Radiation Techs – who I have grown to enjoy every morning – not to take this personally but I can’t wait to not see them every morning.  So, what should I wear tomorrow?  A cap and gown?  I feel like I am graduating.  Do you think I will cry?  Or will I run out of there with a smile on my face?  It’s all sort of surreal, to be honest.

I still look like I have a mild sunburn on my right breast, although have recently been told by the Radiation Oncologist and the Radiation Techs that my skin looks good.  It sounds like they think I am holding up well against the radiation treatment.  That’s good news.

Next steps:  I’ve been told I have to schedule a follow-up appointment with the Radiation Oncologist 6 weeks post radiation.  It sounds like it’s a quick exam of my skin.  I will get that appointment on the books tomorrow before I leave their office.

After my appointment in the morning, Ed, Gracie and I (and the cats) will be driving to Pensacola, FL where we will ring in the new year!  Here’s to 2012!  Wishing everyone a happy and HEALTHY new year!

 

24 down. 4 to go!

I am so close to being done with radiation!  It’s hard for me to believe that I have made it through 24 treatments and only have 4 to go.  Tomorrow morning will be a huge milestone.  My last full week of radiation.  I will have a nice break for Christmas.  They are closed on the 26th.  So I will be back for the 27th, 28th, and then my FINAL treatment on the 29th.  I cannot wait!  Some moments I think…”I can do this.”  Other moments I think, “Oh, I don’t want to do this anymore!”  But I know now that I am so, so close.  Honestly, unless you have been through this, you have no idea how ready I am to close this chapter of my journey!  An appointment every single day is a lot!

I’ve already scheduled my follow-up, post radiation appointment, with my plastic surgeon in the first full week of January.  I’m ready to move forward!  As a reminder, he has told me that we have to wait 3 to 6 months post radiation to remove my expanders and replace them with the implants.  He wants to be able to see the full effect of radiation before we do this “final” surgery.  That makes sense.

Side effects:  I am seeing quite a “sunburn” on my right breast.  Still lubing up with Aquaphor each night.  While my skin is red, it’s not anything I can’t handle.  I’ve had worse sunburns from trips to Florida.  Although,  the doctor says the treatments compound and I might see continued side effects weeks post radiation.  Will be interesting to see what happens.  I am feeling tired towards the end of the day, but still can’t pinpoint it to radiation.  Maybe in some ways it is related, but also think it has to do with the crazy holiday season and the fact that I have a busy 4 1/2 year old!  Personally, I think once you go through “chemo fatigue” nothing is worse.

I did have a  really cool thing happen last week.  I was on my way to a radiation treatment when I got a call from Georgia Cancer Specialists – my Oncology Group – on my cell phone (I have them programmed in.)  I was just in there for my every 3 week Herceptin treatment and re-arranged some upcoming appointments, so I assumed the call was related to that.  I answered but wasn’t exactly familiar with the woman on the phone.  She asked me if I was in the area.  I said I was and was actually on my way to a radiation treatment.  She asked me where I did radiation.  I said at Radiation Oncology at St. Joseph’s.  She said something like, “Well since we are not going to see you until after Christmas, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas.”  Thank you, I said.  But I’m a little confused, is there something specific you needed from me or called me for?  “No, just wanted to wish you a happy holiday.”  A little confused and trying to figure out what that call was all about, I pulled into the parking deck of my Radiation Oncology group.  I headed in to the office and checked in as I always do. I sat down waiting to be called back when in walked a good friend and sorority sister of mine from college.  What a surprise!  She was behind the “strange” call I received.  She is a faithful reader of my blog and assumed my radiation treatments took place at Georgia Cancer Specialists.  Good assumption but she found out they outsource radiation treatments to another specialty practice around the corner.  Anyway, she said she thought I needed a nice surprise and pick me up. Boy was she right!  I was called back for my treatment and she waited for me in the lobby.  When I was done, we spent some time catching up.  That was such a surprise and very much appreciated!  So, thank you!

All of you continue to help me through this!  I have so, so many people to thank.  You know who you are!  So…Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you!

18 Down. 10 to Go.

I am happy to report that I completed my 18th radiation treatment this morning.  I have 10 to go.  No drama this morning.  It went as expected.

Then from that appointment I went directly to my oncologist’s office for my every 3 week Herceptin treatment.  In a way I feel like a  “graduating senior” there.  I’ve completed chemotherapy and am on the tail end of my Herceptin treatments.  I am not exactly sure how many I have left but off the top of my head think it’s 5 to 6.  Should run through end of March/early April 2012.

A few random updates to pass along:

  • For those keeping up, after a slow response from the other insurance company, we finally took our damaged 4Runner into the Toyota dealership of our choice.  The good news it is fixable.  It’s been there for a little over a week.  We anticipate it to be complete and ready to be picked up by the end of this week.  In the meantime, we were given a rental car to drive, so at least we have had wheels.
  • My hair is continuing to grow back.  I’ve already been back into the hair salon a 2nd time for a trim and hair color.  I have to admit, I enjoyed that period of time where I didn’t have the hair expense and appointment commitment.  Now, don’t get me wrong I am happy to have hair and don’t want to go back there again!
  • Almost every day I get a compliment on my haircut from someone I meet in passing.  If they only knew what I had to go through to get here…but I appreciate the compliments.

I hope all of you are doing well.  I will keep you posted with progress.