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.

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?

 

10 Things I Learned About Dealing with Breast Cancer

(Ladies and Gentlemen – the IT department (aka Meredith’s husband Ed) has popped in for a guest post) – colorful language warning

There are so many things you learn when helping your spouse deal with this disease known as Breast Cancer.  The following are just a couple that really come to mind (from my perspective).  These are in no particular order:

1. Take the Food
As some of you are a aware, I really enjoy cooking…a lot.  Cooking is my zen/therapy.  With all of the impending appointments, chemo-therapies, surgery and recovery, I had the vision of being able to retreat to the kitchen and relax while whipping up a tasty meal for the family.  I can totally handle cooking and nursing duties. Cue the “What the hell was I thinking” sign pointing at my head. It became apparent after planning everything out and having a ridiculous work schedule that we were going to need help with meals.  Fortunately one of our dear friends took the initiative to set up a schedule to cover meals during the most hectic times.  She used a service called mealtrain.com to setup the schedules and allow people to sign up and provide meals on available days.  This made thinking about what to have for dinner or lunch a no brainer.

2. You have a Team of Doctors
Having never been through this chaos before, we had no idea of the medical professionals we would deal with.   For some reason, we were under the impression there would be one oncologist and that person would be the point for all subsequent care.  Oh no. No no no my dear friends – there is no one stop shop for all your breast cancer needs.  You come to realize that you will be dealing with a fleet of physicians on a continuous basis.  You essentially have a team that consists of the following:

– Breast Surgeon
– Primary Oncologist
– Reconstruction Surgeon
– Radiation Oncologist
– plus all the physician assistants, nurses, and receptionists you know on a first name basis

Fortunately, we have a phenomenal team assembled and they have been brilliant in their care for Meredith.

3. You will be Humbled
You will be humbled by the outpouring of love and support by family and friends.
You will be humbled by the fact there are people you don’t know nor have met that are pulling for you and your family.
You will be humbled by the love that your team of caregivers show specifically to your situation.
You will be humbled when you are around other brave cancer patients who may not have as good a prognosis as your wife does.
I have shed many a tear over the sheer emotion this brings to me.

4. Club Breast Cancer
One thing that I have noticed is that once you have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer and start treatment you join a club.  The price of admission to the club is brutal and there are no perks.  However, once in this club, the members are fiercely loyal and supportive to each other.  There is no secret handshake but they know who is in the club.  They may acknowledge each other with a simple smile, a nod of the head, or a full out bear hug in the middle of the bakery section at the local grocery store. Yes, that last example really happened to Meredith.

5. Kids are Resilient
Early on we made the decision to be very open with Gracie concerning mommy’s “boo boo”.  I believe this was the right decision and would recommend that if asked by anyone coming into a similar situation.  Being open allowed us to have Gracie be part of the process.  We used books and talked to her so she understood mommy needed to take medicine and have surgery to get better.  She was able to be a “big” girl and help with mommy’s care.  We are very proud of her.

6. Cancer Sucks
Obvious statement I know.  I am saying that in the context of the enormous reach that this disease has on women around the world.  We participated in the Komen Race for the Cure and had several friends also participate in the Komen 3-Day Walk this year.  It was absolutely jaw dropping to see how many people participate in these events.  The statistics say 1 out of 8 women will get breast cancer.  Let me say that again – 1 out of 8.  That is mind blowing.  Ladies you need to go get your girls checked out.  Get a baseline mammogram and get it early – most insurances will allow for an early baseline.  Seriously, if I have to hire George Clooney to wear one of those “Free Breast Exams” shirts to get you in there I will.

7. There is no Finish Line
Fighting breast cancer is like a series of incremental steps/goals.  We’ve been diagnosed – need to secure a team of doctors.  Need to undergo chemotherapy – how many treatments, what are the side effects, and when do they end.  Need to do radiation – again how many, what are the side effects, and when do they end.   Need to get expanders out and the real implants in – when is that done.  Problem is that it doesn’t stop when you think you get to a final gate.  It is a life long battle of getting scanned, adjusting your diet, and taking every precaution to constantly improve your odds of survival.  It may seem like the battle is over, but the war wages on – do not doubt that.

8. Grey Area
The human race has come a long way regarding healthcare diagnosis and treatment.  Daily we are swapping out organs and making great strides to increase our life spans.  That said, there is still so much we don’t know.  With all of the latest and greatest technology and research there is still a very large “grey area” where not enough data is available to make definitive decisions.  So caregivers err on the side of caution and take any and all preventative treatments.  We felt this first hand with the recommendation for Meredith to undergo radiation.  All signs seemed to point to her not needing it, yet according to the radiation oncologist Meredith fell into the grey area.  Meaning it looks like chemo did it’s job and all looks well but we just don’t know if we indeed got all the cancer cells that may be outside of the local tumor.  So remember this when you make a donation to an organization benefiting breast cancer research.  Your funds are going to shrink and hopefully eliminate that grey area.

9. You say Shit and Fuck a lot more
Especially in the beginning after diagnosis.  In the beginning there is a groundswell of different emotions and conversations.  Inevitably it all boils down to one of these two words.  If only I had a dollar for every time either of us said fuck or “what the fuck?”. And we are not talking only in verbal communication, we are also talking social media F-bombs as well.  Twitter got quite an earful as well.

10. I Look Good in Pink
Yes.  Yes I do.

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.