Gratitude

When I think of all the things people have done for me and my family since my diagnosis, tears well up in my eyes. We have been very blessed. My mom, siblings, aunts and cousins have been so supportive. My sister has come to every round of chemo. My friends are always checking on me to make sure I’m ok. My neighbors and ward members (and friends) have brought us meals and checked on me and the kids in the evenings. One neighbor, who beat breast cancer years ago, brought me a chemo entertainment bag that included bandana’s (I’m wearing one right now) and Popsicles (love!). She’s so thoughtful. The Relief Society brought over a beautiful quilt that I’m enjoying. My colleagues who have offered to help with my work.

It’s amazing to me that my mom has taken so much time from her normal life to come stay with us and help me in the evenings with the kids. The week after chemo is rough, so weary, so nauseous. Her help has been invaluable.

My husband has been awesome. He even loves my bald head (giggle). He has been truly amazing and I love him so much.

I don’t know what I would do without everyone’s help. When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want to tell anyone. But, I’m so glad that I did. You’ve heard that it takes a village to raise a child…it also takes a village to help a family get through cancer treatments. I think this is true for any major life changing illness.

I didn’t mean for this to sound like a weird academy award type of speech…I just wanted to let everyone know that I appreciate everything they’re doing for me and my family. Sometimes just saying “thank you” doesn’t feel like enough.

Thank you to my village!! You are awesome!!

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Day 15

Sadly my hair started falling out today in handfuls. I actually have a lot of hair so you can’t see a dent in it yet…but it was very noticeable this morning when I washed my hair.

I had infusion number 2 yesterday. My reaction is better than last night which is a blessing. I’m trying to sleep and rest, take my anti-nausea meds. Food tastes funny…but not nearly as bad as the first infusion. Celebrated half way done with the AC regimen yesterday.

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Day 13

Great news – I still have my hair!!

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My First Chemo “Infusion”

Friday, April 11, 2014

My first chemo “infusion” as they say sucked. There is not a nice word for it. The AC regimen I will be on through May is rough. My thoughts are this: never ever ever have them place your port on the same day as your first chemo treatment. Why? Even though they only gave me a “whiff” of whatever sedative it was to relax me enough to stick that thing in me, it made me sick. Apparently, I’m a lightweight. I had not yet recovered from that when we needed to go to the chemo appointment. I am so grateful that my mom and my sister, Janet, drove me everywhere that day because I would not have been able to drive safely.

My appointment for the port implementation was at 6:30 in the morning. Janet picked me up and took me to the appointment. After filling out the usual paperwork (they should seriously consider networking so that I don’t need to fill those out every time I see someone new?), the nurse helped me prep and settled before the mini-surgery took place. The radiologist introduced himself to me and asked me what kind of music I wanted…The Beatles, of course. I can’t ever think of anything else.

The mini-surgery didn’t take very long. I was back in the prep room with Janet within an hour, I believe. We had to hang out for an hour after the surgery to make sure I didn’t have an adverse reaction to anything. Scott and my Mom came to see how things were going at some point during this appointment. I started to feel nauseous as the nurse was giving me instructions for after care. I asked for something to throw up into and the nurse gave me a barf bag and soon after some anti-nausea medicine. She gave me a couple more barf bags for the road and we went home to rest until my chemo appointment at 1:30.

Like most people, I am very grouchy when I don’t feel well. I hadn’t recovered from the port implant when I was time to go to the hospital for the chemo appointment. I was annoyed that they weren’t ready for me when I arrived. We had to wait a full hour before I was able to get some attention. Apparently, they have to do a blood draw before they can prep the infusions. I also have to have a steroid and anti-nausea medicine before we can start the fist infusion – A – the red ugly one. The red one took about 10 to 15 minutes and the other one was set for 45 minutes. Finally, I received some Neulasta to help keep my white blood cell count up. The nurse was very patient with me. I was incredibly grouchy.

The lady in the chair next to me was named Jill. She was a really nice lady. She bought me a pink ribbon pin. She chatted with Janet and my mom most of the time I was there.

I remember getting into Janet’s car and Janet dropping my mom off at her car. I don’t remember arriving at home, or much of anything else until Tuesday morning when I got up and got ready for work. I have flashes of memory. I remember Janet taking my car to get the oil changed and to pick up my other wig. I remember going to the eye doctor on Saturday…kind of. I remember trying to get up Monday morning to go to work and I fell asleep in the closet. Scott woke me up and told me to go back to bed. I sent my boss a text to let him know that I wasn’t going to make it. I should go back and read what I wrote. Hopefully it made sense.

On the 18th, I went back to the Cancer Center for a mid-level appointment which means I didn’t meet with the doctor but with someone just below that. Her name is Shirley. At this appointment, they basically draw blood and take your vitals. I had lost 5 lbs. in six days and my immune system was very low. A cold right now could be a serious problem.

Today is Day 12 from my first chemo treatment. My chemo friend’s hair fell out on Sunday, her Day 12. When I woke up this morning, I gave my hair a little tug…still there. 🙂 I’m hoping to last until Saturday, Day 15. Wish me luck.

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Chemo Class and Wig Shopping

This week was actually kind of fun. A had three cancer related activities: 1) Chemo Class, 2) another breast expansion and 3) wig shopping.

I was a little nervous to go to chemo class. I was going by myself and I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Luckily, there was only one other cancer patient there who brought her parents. I loved to see how supportive they were to their daughter. Plus they had a packet for my that was specific to my cancer treatment plan.

The class was extremely educational. I learned all about the three types of chemo I will be receiving and each of their side effects. The one that scares me a little (ok – a lot) is Adriamycin. This one is red and has a plethora of side effects. Long story short, this one causes hair loss (more on that later) on about the 15th day of the first administration of the drug. It’s an IV push which means that the oncology nurse stands by you with a syringe and pushes the drug into your port. It is also important for the nurse to be there to observe for adverse reactions.

Yes, I’m getting a port “installed” on Friday, April 11th prior to the first chemo. I pondered the decision of whether or not to get a port for about a week. After talking to my sister, Brenda, who works in the medical field and actually assists in these procedures, I was convinced that I needed one. She said that some chemo drugs leak out of the vein. In chemo class the nurse explained that Adriamycin is one of the chemo drugs that can leak and also recommended I have a port.

The other two chemo drugs I will be taking are Cytoxan which takes 30 to 60 minutes to IV drip into my system and will be administered the first four rounds with the Adriamycin and Taxol which takes about three hours via IV drip and will be administered in the second four rounds.

The fun part of this class was that the other cancer patient happened to have had a mastectomy the same day I did. We were able to compare stories and discuss how we were feeling. We exchanged phone numbers so we can text because that is the form of communication we both prefer other than face-to-face. (I seem to have forgotten how to have a conversation over the phone without interrupting the other person). It was nice to meet someone who is going through the same thing I am going through. Her cancer hadn’t spread as far as mine and her chemo treatment is less aggressive – she will have three weeks to recover between treatments as opposed to my two weeks. So happy to have a new friend.

The expansion went well on Friday. It didn’t feel weird this time. I’m not sure why. I’ll have one more expansion, I think. The fun part about this visit is that the doctor and staff are awesome. They obviously like their jobs and always have welcoming smiles. As I walk up to the reception area, they always say, “I can help you over here, Amy”. I love that…and yes, I do realize that I had an appointment and they know I’m coming. It’s such little effort to make someone feel welcome during such a crappy time.

WIG SHOPPING!! This was actually super fun. After looking at wigs online for a while, I decided that I was going to have to go to a wig shop and try some on. I sent a text to my sister, Janet, to see if she wanted to go with me. Of course she wanted to go. We both tried on A LOT of wigs and I learned that I cannot wear a blonde wig. They washed me out and surprisingly made me look frumpy. Dark brown and auburn were a thumbs down as well. It was fun to see all the different hairstyles on me and my sister. Janet took pictures of most of the wigs on me and sent texts of the pictures to several family members including my husband for voting. I chose two wigs. I’m very happy with both of them. One is shoulder length and the other is long. I’ve never had long hair before so it should be fun.

I bought a scarf for days when I don’t want to wear a wig and a couple of skull caps to protect my head during the night and to wear beneath the scarves and wigs. Hopefully these things stay on my head after I’m bald. We shall soon find out.

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Decisions Decisions Decisions

Monday’s dentist appointment was good. They said that a lot of cancer patients deal with dry mouth issues which can cause cavities and gave me some samples of biotene to help. They also said that ACT fluoride rinse would help with the problem as well. I’m happy to report that I had no cavities at this appointment. Yay!!

My husband and I met with the medical oncologist on Wednesday afternoon. Apparently, there is a computer program they use to enter your basic statistics (age and overall health) and cancer related statistics (size of tumor, number of invaded lymph nodes, etc.) and it spits out your statistical chance of survival 10 years from now. In other words, will I die from cancer setting up shop in another part of my body without any other treatment (i.e., chemo and hormone therapies). My chances of being alive in 10 years is 64% with a 1% chance of being hit by the proverbial bus. Adding just the hormone therapy increases my chance of survival 10 years from now to 74% from 64%. Adding just chemo increases my chance to 81% from 64%. Combining the two treatments increases my chance to 86%. After much thought, research, discussion with my husband and family, I have decided to do chemo and hormone therapy. Much of the decision is based on my age – I want to still be here 40 years from now – and the age of my children who are seven, five and three. They are far too young to lose their mom…even 10 years from now. Let’s just say that I never liked the movie Terms of Endearment particularly toward the end. I only saw it once, many many years ago but it comes to mind more often than I’d like these days.

I went to a baby shower Thursday evening and sat by two ladies who had survived cancer. One had survived breast cancer 11 years ago and the other had survived lung cancer. These beautiful women gave me hope. They also gave me some great advice as well as a list of additional symptoms. They called them… the ones they don’t tell you about. Some of them include what it’s like not having nose hairs and eye lashes. The fake eye lashes that I had been planning to wear may not stay on if my eyes are watering all the time.

On Friday, I met with radiation oncologist. We discussed how we can increase my chances of survival even more through radiation therapy. The percentage he quoted me was 16% if I did not do chemo or hormone therapy. They do not have stats on if you did chemo and radiation but not hormones or radiation and hormones but not chemo. Without a doubt, I feel that my best chances of being here 10 years from now will be to do all three.

At the hospital that I go to, the order in which each of these are implemented are chemotherapy then radiation therapy then hormone therapy. I will do eight rounds of chemo every other week covering 16 weeks. Radiation will begin about a month after my last chemo session and last six weeks. Hormone therapy will follow that step and last from five to 10 years.  In each of these treatments, I have some fears which all comes down to one question: how will my body react? Will I get all of the symptoms/reactions/side effects that I’ve read and heard about or will I just breeze through it. For now, I’ve decided to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

My first chemo session is scheduled for April 11th. I planned the sessions for Friday’s so I can attempt to recover over the weekend. My intention is to work throughout the treatments. I know that I need to keep my mind busy with other things so that I don’t dwell on the cancer. In my case, dwelling on the cancer will only lead to depression…and way too much infomercial watching. 🙂 Just kidding, we gave up cable for Roku several years ago. But I would probably find time to actually watch shows like 48 Hours which only irritate me because at the end of the day, you don’t know if the accused in innocent or guilty.

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Feeling Better

On Monday, March 17th, the medical assistant for my plastic surgeon took out the final drain. It hurt for a second but then I felt relief. Plus the location where the drain went in stopped itching. THAT was a good day (dance of joy!!). I celebrated with some Grandma sandwich cookies from the vending machine when I got back to work. I was running out of options for my work wardrobe. I had been wearing slightly baggy button up shirts. Button up because I can only lift my right arm to a certain point and it hides the surgical bra. Baggy to hide the drain.

My mom came from Idaho to help me with my kids and dinner in the evenings. She was a great help. She came in the house Monday night and said, “OK, I’m here. Go to bed.” I was able to just wrap up the things I had going on and then go to bed. It was great. I asked her to come back one more week to make sure I can handle things in the usual manner. But, now that I’m thinking about it, I will probably need her help through the next phase of this process.

It seems to take forever to recover from surgery but I feel like I can move a little more each day. I saw the plastic surgeon yesterday, Friday, who added 60 cc’s to the expander which is such a weird feeling. He wants me to come back in about a week and a half to see what we want to do next. The one thing I am excited about is that I graduate from the surgical bra to the exercise bra. Yay!! I am also ok’d to start stretching my arm. I have not been ok’d to lift more than 10 pounds. I’m looking forward to having full mobility again.

In my last post I mentioned that I had many appointments that I needed to make. This is not only for me but also my kids. This week, I see the dentist and the medical oncologist. There is a possibility that I was also see the plastic surgeon and the genetics counselor. My three-year-old also has a well child checkup this week. Add to that a full-time job and it will be a busy week for sure.

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Treatments Plan

On Wednesday of this week, I saw the plastic surgeon who removed one of my drains (yay!!) and then gave my expander 30 cc’s. He said the skin was healing really well considering all the bruising I had from the biopsies on surgery day. He was concerned there would be some complications. Luckily, there were not. He also gave me a doctor’s note to return to work on Friday (yesterday).

The cancer conference was on Thursday in which my case was one of 15 discussed. The conference includes about 10 to 15 cancer experts and included one of my surgeons, my Breast Care Coordinator, oncologists, a social worker, etc.  My surgeon called after the conference to inform me that I would receive radiation in two locations – the chest wall and the arm pit where the lymph nodes were removed, chemo and hormone therapies. An aggressive treatment plan.

Thursday night, I attempted to fold some laundry, thinking it was a simple task. Unfortunately, it is also a repetitive task and I was in quite a bit of pain that night. I called the plastic surgeon’s MA (medical assistant) Friday morning to make sure I didn’t screw anything up. After a series of questions and some ibuprofen, I felt better. It will be a while before I fold more laundry.

On Friday, I went to work. Luckily, I work in an office setting where I audit data and systems all day. There is very little physical exertion. Overall, it was a good day and I was missed.

I’ve made appointments with both oncologists, radiation and medical. I pushed them to later this month so that I have time to heal and to be expanded.

My husband and I went to dinner last night. Tepinyaki. Yum. It has two of my favorite things to eat, steak and sushi. I opted for the steak. Scott ate about half of it. 🙂 The servings are way too big for me. I had a tough time deciding between steak and sushi. We also went to Cold Stone where I had my favorite, Cake Batter ice cream.

Today, I’m being a lazy bum. The only thing I have done is take my almost 3-year-old to get his 3-year-old pictures taken. He has started his terrible twos late and it took a full hour to coax some decent pictures out of him.

Only one planned doctor appointment in the week ahead however, I do need to make sure I see the eye doctor and dentist before the treatments begin. Always, a long list of To-Do’s.

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Stage 2

So, it’s official. I have stage two breast cancer. It could definitely be worse, right? I’m counting my blessings. 🙂

The largest lump is 3 cm x 2.2 cm x 2 cm. The cancer had spread to the sentinel lymph node and to two additional lymph nodes for a total of 3 lymph nodes that are cancerous out of the 10 that were removed and biopsied. I met with the general surgeon yesterday who explained the results of the pathology reports and how the staging works.

Today was a day off from everything in which I was supposed to pick my radiology oncologist and medical oncologist. And…I was a lazy bum and didn’t do it. Maybe later tonight. We shall see.

I’m still hurting, having trouble sleeping and super annoyed with the drains. I can’t wait for them to come out tomorrow!! Apparently, the plastic surgeon will take them out. I’m really looking forward to this appointment.

I have only showered twice since the Monday before the surgery. My hubby washed my hair for me on Friday after the surgery and I had taken a sponge bath at some point after the surgery but by Sunday, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I really needed a nice hot shower. I kept it short but it was soooo nice.

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I made it…

Yes!! I made it through surgery. I still feel like crap, but I made it. I’m exhausted but can’t sleep. I hate that.

In surgery on Tuesday, they removed one breast and 9 or 10 lymph nodes.  Two of the lymph nodes tested positive for cancer soooo we’re waiting again for the next steps. I meet with the general surgeon on Monday and the plastic surgeon on Wednesday. I anticipate meeting my oncologist next week too. On Thursday of next week, the cancer team of doctors and pathologists will meet to review my case and determine a game plan. It’s likely the approach will be aggressive meaning radiation, chemo and hormone therapy…all three. I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to go through chemo, but it looks like it’s inevitable.

Yesterday I started watching youtube videos on how to put on a wig because I’ve never thought about it before. It looks simple enough and there are some really cute wigs out there. I’m really trying to find the silver lining in all this. I’m also trying to mentally prepare for the situation.

My sister is visiting from Denver and my mom came from Idaho. I love that they dropped everything to come and help take care of me and my family during this stressful time. I definitely needed the help. I’m feeling very blessed.

Speaking of needing help, it’s time for me to wake someone up so they can open my pain medication. This is something I cannot do for myself right now.

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