My Mom

On the evening of November 14, 2014, my loving mom passed away peacefully surrounded by family. There are no words to express how sad I am and how much I miss her. What brings me peace is the knowledge that she is with my dad and she is happy.

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When It Rains, It Pours

I have been trying to stay optimistic throughout this year of many obstacles and trials, but this month has pushed me to my limits. I have dealt with many stresses this month. Send good juju…I could use it right now. The following paragraphs detail the stresses of October. I’ll start with the good things and then move on to the heavy stuff.

I am happy that at least one of the stresses in my life has actually been a change for the better. I was offered a job with a company where I will no longer be deep in the weeds auditing. I am doing compliance work. So, why is this good news? It has been a less stressful job. It’s so nice to be appreciated for the work that I do. It was not an easy decision to accept the job offer. My former company had treated me very well during my cancer treatments. However, it only took one comment from my boss to realize that things were never really going to change there. Sometimes great opportunities cross our paths when we least expect them and when we are feeling less than prepared. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the place that I should work and this is the work I should be doing.

The second happy thing is that my little guy, Josh, turned 6 this month. He is so excited to be such a big guy. He loves to surprise me with the new things he has learned in Kindergarten.

Sadly, my mom’s health has deteriorated rapidly over the last six months and this is a great concern of mine right now. She has been such a great support for me throughout this year. I couldn’t have battled cancer without her. She stayed with me after each chemo treatment to help me with my sweet kids. I worry about her so much and I’m grateful to my family members who are able to help take care of her right now. I wish I could help her more than I am. I know she’s in a lot of pain. I pray that we may have a few more years with her.

Yesterday, my husband started to move out. He rented an apartment earlier this week. Some might say that this has been a long time coming. My heart is broken that my beautiful eight-year-old went with him. I am trying to have faith that she will change her mind very soon and move back home with me. As tears flow down my face, I think about the tough woman that I used to be who never would have let this happen. She is too young to have to deal with this. I miss her so much already. Ethan is really struggling with the confusion. It’s not making sense to him that daddy isn’t here. Josh won’t let me out of his sight and is giving me hugs and kisses freely (which I love).

As if this weren’t enough stress, the medical oncologist put me on an aromatase inhibitor and a monthly shot that put me right into menopause. Yay. (This would be a bored sounding yay not a happy, excited yay!!) I’m still trying to figure out how to manage the hot flashes.

I met with my plastic surgeon on Wednesday who expanded me another 60 cc’s and we scheduled my “exchange,” as they call it, for February 12th. He wanted to wait four to six months after the last radiation treatment to do the surgery. Since I have to have a second surgery to even things out, next year should be fine. Plus, I will have some extra time to heal from the radiation.

Finally, I sprained my ankle Thursday morning. This one would be called Karma. The kids and I were late getting out the door for the day care and work and as I stepped across the threshold, I tripped over it and tumbled down the two steps. Luckily, I landed on my feet. I limped around all day Thursday and Friday, doing my best to keep it up. By Friday afternoon, I was in extreme pain. In the back of my mind, I worried that it was a break because the medical oncologist said that because I’m going into menopause at such an early age, broken bones will be major concern for me.

Apparently, there is something I’m supposed to learn with all of these trials this year. I will have to dig deep to figure it out but I believe in my heart that I will be a better person for having had these experiences.

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Final Radiation

I am excited to report that on Monday, I completed my 25th and final radiation treatment. Throughout most of the treatments, three areas were treated. For the 24th and 25th treatments, they only radiated two areas. I received 5,000 centigray’s of radiation throughout the 25 days. I have learned that they spread the radiation over 25 to 30 days because they want to give the healthy cells a chance to recover.

Right now, I think that I have tolerated radiation really well. I’m tired and feel like I have a sunburn and I’m hoping that it won’t scar. In about seven days, I should see my skin begin to heal and I can start using my normal products again like body wash, deodorant (yes, that’s right, I wasn’t using deodorant on the side they were treating), and coconut oil. I will also be able to take nice hot showers again just in time for cooler weather. 🙂

I am very happy that I was able to eat a normal American diet throughout the treatment period. I’m excited to start loading up on anti-oxidants through juicing again and eating leafy green salads.

Upcoming events include meeting with the chemotherapy oncologist on Monday and then a follow up with the radiation oncologist at the end of the month. I’m looking forward to not having to go to the hospital every day.

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Hair – It Returns

Well, hello there eyelashes. Oh how I’ve missed you. You’ve been gone so long. It’s so nice to see you again. 🙂

My eyelashes are almost back. The bottom lashes are fully grown and the top lashes are about half the original full length. I’m very excited about this. I’m even more excited about how thick they are. I think they are thicker than they were before I went through chemo. This is what I used to help accelerate their growth:

Unfortunately, all of the unwanted hair is back as well. Yes, I’m back to shaving my legs again. Since I’m out of practice and didn’t realize my razor was dull, I cut my legs up trying to shave them the other day. This created a horrible mess and I ended up using several of the kids’ Band-Aids.

Happily, my days of wearing a wig are numbered…just in time for cold fall and winter days. The wigs kept my head warm some days in the cold office that I work in. It will be an interesting adjustment to have to style my hair again which I haven’t done in about 6 months. My boys say that their hair is longer than mine, but I think it’s pretty close. If my hair grows as fast as their hair does, I will have something to work with in about eight weeks. Yay!!

I’m happy to start getting back to normal.

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And So It Begins…

As previously mentioned, on Friday, August 22nd, I had what they call a “dry run” radiation session. This means that I went into the radiation room and they lined me up to the machine based on the scans, x-rays and tattoos. My job is to lay heavy on the table and let the technicians move me into position. This is harder than it sounds because it’s natural to want to help. As they moved me, they called out coordinates and someone in another room recorded them. This whole process took about 20 minutes.

On Monday, August 25th, I officially started radiation therapy. This appointment was in the morning. I saw all of the technicians I saw before plus a couple of new ones. One technician was waiting for me when I came out of the dressing room and informed me that I actually need to be ready to go back to the radiation room at my appointment time not arriving at my appointment time. No one had mentioned this to me before so I thanked her for the information. When I get back to the radiation room, the table is all set up and they ask me to sign in. This is where I put the date, day of the week, my pain level and initial it. There is also a place for the technicians to notify the doctor of any skin issues that require attention. Then I go lay down on the table and lay heavy as they adjust me. I just have to make sure I turn my head to the left so they don’t get my throat. Once I’m settled, I’m not to move and everyone leaves the room. Did I mention that the door into this room is probably about 15 inches thick? Anyway, they have a camera on me and microphones in the room so they can see and hear me.

The radiation begins with the machine above me. About 30 seconds pass before it starts and I only know that it’s working because it makes a buzzing sound. Then it moves to my left side at about a 45 degree angle and adjusts the metal things inside (not sure what they’re called but I can see them move). Then it buzzes again. Then the machine moves around me to the right side. I think this one is going for my arm pit but not sure because I’m looking left. 🙂 The machine buzzes again. Each of the buzzing sounds last about 30 seconds. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Believe it or not, I actually dozed off during my second visit.

After this first appointment, I met with a nurse for an orientation. She discussed the do’s and don’t’s of skin care as it relates to radiation therapy. I am changing my soap to Ivory soap and using my usual Aveeno fragrance free lotion because they are on the list of approved skin care items. She gave me a small Biohazard bag (LOL) full of Eucerine Aquaphor and Udderly Smooth samples. I carry one sample in my purse at all times because I’m supposed to apply some to the radiated area after each treatment.

On Wednesday’s, I meet with my radiation oncologist after my treatment and discuss how things are going. On Tuesday’s, they take x-rays during the treatment to ensure they are still radiating the correct locations. Otherwise each treatment session is the same, with wait times that vary between the technicians waiting for me or me waiting up to 45 minutes for them.

Today was treatment day six and it is the first time that I’ve noticed where they are treating me. My pain level is still zero, as they say, but I can definitely tell where the treatments are focused.

Only 19 treatments to go!!

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Radiation Therapy

Happiness is…finding out that I only have five weeks of treatments instead of six. Which translates into 25 treatments on business days (I get Labor Day off) instead of the 30 I was originally told I would have. For those of you not familiar with radiation, this is localized and only treats the area where cancer was found. In my case, the cancerous tumors were found in my right breast and in three lymph nodes including the sentinel lymph node (the “first” in that group of lymph nodes).

On Friday, August 15th, I met with my radiation oncologist. He and I visited for a few minutes in one of the patient rooms. I asked questions about anti-oxidants and what to expect during the treatments. Regarding anti-oxidants, I can eat fresh fruits and veggies. I cannot take anti-oxidant supplements. Regarding what to expect, I won’t feel anything during the treatments but the effects will accumulate as the days/weeks pass and I will begin to feel more and more tired and my skin will become less elastic and damaged like having a sunburn. Unlike a sunburn, my skin will stay tight forever where it has been treated. When I start to feel the effects of the radiation, I am to ask the nurses for creams to treat the affected areas.

Once our conversation ended, I put on one of their lovely hospital gowns and waited to be taken back for a CT scan. The machine is smaller and open ended so it wasn’t as scary as the MRI. Plus, I was able to keep my wig on and most of my clothes including my shoes. They put a thick elastic band around my toes so they stuck together. I’m not sure why. The machine is not nearly as loud as the MRI so I didn’t need to have ear plugs.

They marked with a Sharpie places on my body that were key to lining me up for my radiation treatments. The doctor and lasers identified these locations. Then they started the machine after they all left the room. I moved in and out and in and out and in and out. Then they came back into the room and proceeded to mark the “line up” locations with ink and a needle (aka tattoos). I have six tiny permanent dots that will line me up each day for the treatments.

The rest of the appointment consisted of a walk-through of what I will do each appointment going forward. This includes checking myself in through a touch screen, changing and then waiting in a waiting room to be called back for the treatment. Each appointment should take no more than 20 minutes.

On Friday, August 22nd, I am scheduled for a dry-run of the process. They may or may not do a treatment at this time. According to my oncologist, they don’t start treatments on Fridays. So, it’s very likely a treatment will not occur until Monday, August 25th.

I’m having a little anxiety about this part of the process because I know that the outcome of it will determine which surgery I will have for the reconstruction step of the process. But, I know that everything will be ok.

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Peach Fuzz

It’s a good thing it’s peach season ’cause I’ve got the hair for it. Bwahahahaha. And…that’s why I’m an auditor and not a comedian. 🙂

Seriously, though, I’m super grateful to have hair coming in. It originally looked white but now I can see a bit of my strawberry blonde. The strands are very thin and weak and appear to have the chemo curl I’ve heard so much about. I will continue to wear my wigs and my scarves in public until my hair is long and thick enough to cover my scalp.

Sadly, I only have a few eyelashes left on the top eyelid. They actually started to fall off after my final chemo. I was really hoping to make it through without this happening. After some research online, I learned of a product that helps prevent eyelashes and eyebrows from falling out while you’re going through chemo. I’ll post that information at a later date. Since I didn’t have this product while on chemo, as I understand it my eyelashes and eyebrows will come back after my hair comes back. My eyebrows are sparse as well. I attempted to put on fake eyelashes. It was a disaster. I put one on correctly, the other was pointing down. Those that noticed politely said how great they looked. So sweet of them but the lashes did NOT look great. So, lots of eyeliner and eye shadow it is. I can definitely do that.

I’m thrilled with my hair growth so far and I think I can contribute the success of that to rubbing aloe vera on my head twice a day and taking lots of vitamins. I’m also eating plenty of fresh fruits and veggies now that they are an option for me again. My sister gave me a serum to use on my eyelashes and eyebrows to help them grow in more quickly. Fingers crossed that all this works. I long to return to normal.

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