Friday, February 29, 2008

2/29/2008: Vacuuming My Pillowcase

Today has been quite a day to say the least. I awoke to a DISASTER. I lost so much hair during the night that I could have vacuumed my pillow case and made an army of Barbie dolls. Kere came over first thing this morning and we had a buzz party! Of course, I did the first cut, then after that I handed the scissors over to Kere. I now have a half-inch of hair on my head and it's SO chilly outside. Eeek! Some people might find it strange that I decided to buzz my head as opposed to just letting it fall out naturally, but honestly, for me, it is about control. Cutting my hair off (or allowing Kere to) liberated me and made me feel as though I had a say in the situation. Strangely enough, I actually think it looks adorable!

I had my third round of Herceptin this morning, which didn't go too well. The medication gives me a horrible headache and makes me quite nauseous and sleepy. They were able to give me medication through the IV/port to help easy the side effects, though.

They checked my blood count prior to administering the medication and I was disappointed that it came back bad. My white blood count has dropped, but is basically back to where it was prior to chemotherapy, so it is considered average. The shot in my stomach had simply elevated my levels to keep them from dipping too low, but now they are back to normal. On the other hand, my red blood count is very low, meaning that I am now anemic. Not good! It is normal that the chemotherapy can do this, but I should try to adjust my diet some to consume more red meat and green veggies. It is a double-edged sword, however, since those things can make my IBS act up, especially the red meat. My nurse said they would watch my red blood count level and if it dips lower then I will need to administer another shot after chemotherapy for the red blood cells along with the shot for the white blood cells. Stupid cells. Stupid cancer.

This whole thing is quite a roller coaster. Just when you think things are on track you blaze into a dark tunnel and get swept into a cork screw.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

2/28/2008: Losing My Hair

My hair is falling out ... what a surreal feeling! The only way I can explain it is that my head is itchy and tingly. My scalp feels numb, almost as though my hair is floating on my head. Yesterday afternoon it started coming out in big chunks. I talked to some of my girlfriends about it and they were all so upset ... worried about how I was doing with it. Well, all except for Kere who cannot wait to shave it off. Haha!

I shampooed it last night and with every scrub, my hands were covered in hair. I blew my hair dry and my sink, floor ... everything was just covered in hair! It was too much to take. I sat on my bed, cradled my head in my hands and just breathed. Then the fear passed. I knew this was going to happen, but still, how do you prepare for it? I called my parents and they seemed more devastated by what was happening then I was. I guess it justifies that I have cancer and this journey I am now on. For the past few weeks I kept hearing, "Well, you don't look like you have cancer" ... now I guess I will. At this rate, I will be bald by the weekend. Thank goodness I love my wigs!

Yesterday my Dad and I met with the genetics specialist. She bombarded us with tons of information about the two genes that can mutate causing breast cancer. We all have these genes in our bodies, but for some reason some people's genes mutate. I went out with my girlfriend Kori last night and told her that I guess I am an X-Men now. She thought it sucked I didn't get a super power with my mutation. I agree, because invisibility or x-ray vision would be sweet!

The genes are BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. They took a lot of blood, which I am am becoming more and more numb to at this point. The blood is sent to a DNA lab where they basically look at my strand and try to find if there is a mutation. She explained that it is like reading a thousand page book looking for one misspelling. I loved her analogy! The test alone costs over $3,000 and I am hoping my insurance pays for some of that. That's the same cost for just one of the shots I give myself in the stomach after chemotherapy to raise my blood count. Ugh ... the bills are starting to roll in.

I should find out in a couple of weeks (3 to 4, typically) if I have a mutated gene, meaning I carry the breast cancer gene. This will then tell them how likely I am to develop breast cancer again in the other breast if I choose to keep it, or another cancer, such as ovarian in the future. Ovarian is the most common second cancer of women who have breast cancer. They believe it is because of hormones in the body, specifically estrogen. The chances of me being positive for BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 with no family history of cancer and only being 26-years-old is only 7%. That's good news! If I am positive for the mutated gene, then Mom, Dad, Joey and Kimberly will all need to be tested. They will then determine whether it is Mom or Dad who passed the gene and then that side of the family can all be tested.

She also explained that if I choose to have a bilateral mastectomy, then my chances of having breast cancer again (regardless of my genes) is reduced by about 96%. The 4% is because there is no way to remove all of the breast tissue, so there is always a small risk. That just further justifies my gut instinct. They also suggest once child baring is over (between the ages of 35 to 40) to have the ovaries removed to prevent ovarian cancer by 98%. These are all things to think about in the future, obviously, but great information to have none the less.

I am taking baby steps and living on small victories right now. Let's hope the genetics test comes back clean and I am not an X-Men after all.

Monday, February 25, 2008

2/25/2008: Under the Covers

I could not be more upset today than I am right now. I called the oncologists office this morning to see when I could come in to have my Herceptin treatment. (Just to recap ... the office closed Friday due to the iffy weather and I sat around with my dad and brother for an hour waiting to find out what I was supposed to do. I never heard from anyone). One of the nurses called me back this morning and left a message while I was in a meeting. She said that I was on the schedule for 9:30am. UGH! No one had called to reschedule! SO FRUSTRATING! I left work and drove over to the office without an appointment. I explained how crappy I was treated on Friday and that they needed to fit me in today. I would have played the cancer card had I not been in an office with a bunch of cancer patients. Doesn't get you too far in that office. Haha!

I had my treatment despite not prepping my port with numbing cream. I felt every inch of that large, hollow needle get shoved into the quarter-sized contraption under my skin, above my still swollen and bruised breast. Excruciating! I sat there for an hour in the chair getting pumped with medication watching 'Price is Right' and 'What Not to Wear' on TLC trying desperately not to cry. I was alone, frustrated and scared. However, my nurse came to my rescue sensing I was at a breaking point. She sat and talked with me and was incredibly upset by my re-telling of what had happened on Friday. She left me to write an e-mail to the head of the practice. My nurse from last time, Julie, came to check on me also. I love them!

My blood count came back stellar. YES! The range for someones white blood count having my treatment is 4.1-10.9 and my count is 17.7. YAY little 100-pound body! That means the shot I gave myself in the stomach 24 hours after treatment is working. They also looked at my platelets. The range is 140-440 and I am at 292, which is average. Very good, indeed. They checked my mouth and suggested salt and baking soda mixed into water to rinse with throughout the day, then rinsing with Mylanta at night. Weird, huh? They said it leaves a soothing coat on your mouth. They were shocked that I had no sores. I'd like to take this moment to thank smoothies and ice cream for that!!! They checked my skin and lips which are in really bad shape. I am dry and peeling. They suggest cancer patients use Utterly Smooth lotion for their skin and bee's wax for their lips. Chapstick and other lip moisturizers have an ingredient called methylparaben, which doesn't help chemo patients. I am going to be SO smart when all this is over.

The nurses also checked my scalp ... and my hair is starting to fall out. (GASP!) I told them it was tingling and itching. It is hard to explain, but it feels like my scalp is numb and my hair is just floating there. They said over the next 2-3 days I will see a lot of hair loss and by Friday I will probably be almost, if not completely, bald. Thank goodness I love my wigs!!! I can't wait for Joey and I to take a picture of our bald heads together. LOL.

I made an appointment to meet with the genetics specialist on Wednesday at INOVA Fairfax. I will have an extensive interview with her about my family's medical history, then they will take lots of blood. Hmm ... more needles. Yippee! The blood work gets sent to Utah for DNA testing. They look at whether I am a carrier of the breast cancer gene and how likely I am to have cancer again. They compare the lab work to my family history to get the best possible analysis. Kind of cool when you think about it. Apparently this process/results take awhile, so I am happy to kick it off now.

I feel pretty crappy from the Herceptin treatment. It is an antibody, so equate it to the way you feel after getting the flu shot. That's how I feel every Herceptin treatment (Friday's) for about 24 hours. Not fun, but still manageable. In addition, my heart acts weird, meaning I can feel it beating off rhythm and just being all around lazy. The heart apparently repairs itself 100% once treatment is over. Stupid cancer!

Today has been frustrating all around. I'd like to just go home and curl up under the covers.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

2/23/2008: Torn and Tattered

Dad, Joey and I arrived at the oncologists office Friday for my Herceptin treatment and the office was closed from the ice storm. We waiting for about an hour and no one showed up, contacted me ... nothing. Very frustrating! I am still waiting to hear what that means as far as keeping me on schedule. Hopefully I can get it Monday or just skip it, since I get Herceptin every Friday.

Well, my nurse tried to warn me not to be too surprised if day seven after chemotherapy was my hardest (since that's usually when your white blood count will drop the lowest, then start replenishing itself). I thought once I got through yesterday that I was safe ... I was mistaken when I awoke this morning to my disaster of a body.

Now, this isn't as bad as I felt earlier this week with the cold/sinus infection, but it certainly is a much weaker and tired version of me. Which frustrates me to no end. I hate being slowed down.

I have always envied Angelina Jolie's lips and dreamed of luscious plump pout, but oh my ... I don't want the pain that goes along with it, please! My lips are swollen, peeling and bright pink. If they weren't hurting and peeling, I would be ecstatic. Haha! In addition, if I open my mouth wide it cracks and bleeds. So just trying to eat has become extremely painful. The inside of my mouth, gums and skin, are swollen and raw. Ugh. Have no fear though, I am still eating like a crazy woman. Stupid steroids!

My nails started streaking brown and breaking terribly, so I went to get them done today so that they don't look so horrible. Some patients actually lose their nails completely from the Taxotere medication. Mine are just SUPER ugly. At least they don't hurt. I can deal with it just being a vanity issue.

My body is absolutely exhausted and my mouth is angry. I hope that this is the worst of it and that my body will start putting itself back together. I have a feeling this will be the ugly cycle after each treatment. Lord, give me patience and strength.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

2/21/2008: Follow-Up

I honestly could not be happier today! Dad and I just came from my follow-up meeting with my oncologist, Dr. David Heyer. He is incredible and has worked with my surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Mason for many many years. I have such a great team of doctors at Reston Hospital really working in my best interest. They love me as though I am their daughter ... I can tell.

Dr. Heyer is so pleased at how well I am doing with my first chemotherapy treatment. My cold/sinus infection is clearing up and my strength is returning. My nurse Melanie ran up and hugged me when I walked in the door. Dr. Heyer shared with me some very exciting news!!! Apparently, last week there was a cancer convention where radiologists, surgeons and oncologists from all over the country gathered to discuss treatments, case studies and new techniques. They used ME as their case study. They basically pulled all my test results, images, etc. and work-shopped what to do with me. How cool is that!? They debated whether to do more biopsies, whether the mastectomy was necessary and even if I should be on the 5-year hormone treatment (which I could possibly not need once chemotherapy is done and they redo my tests). YAY!

Dr. Heyer expressed that he wants to fight one battle at a time because my course may change depending on how I respond to treatment. I was bombarding him with questions, obviously! So, for now we continue on the chemotherapy treatments every 3 weeks (ending May 30) with herceptin each week for a year. He said that the herceptin regimen may change, too. It could be anywhere from nine months to two years. Test results will give them more information to gage their treatment.

Once chemotherapy is done (May 30 ... can you tell that's my benchmark?), I redo my MRI and PETscan. That will determine if the treatment worked and killed the stupid cancer. Both Dr. Heyer and Dr. Mason are in agreement that I should still have the mastectomy. Within 3 to 4 weeks (no later) after my last treatment I will have a mastectomy with reconstruction at the same time. (I go to sleep with boobs and wake up with even better ones!) They don't want to wait too long for surgery because any microscopic cancer cells not killed through chemo may start growing again. Little bastards! The tissue and lymph nodes removed through the mastectomy will be dissected to determine whether there are any residual cells. Hopefully it will all be dead and gone!!! Within those 3 to 4 weeks after chemotherapy, I have to have my tests redone, meet with the surgeon and plastic surgeon, meet with a genetics specialist and start seeing the radiologist to set a radiation schedule. Whew ... lot's to do, but very exciting benchmarks, indeed. I need those goals in order to keep my sanity, or what's left of it, anyways.

Dr. Heyer said the genetics test will show if I carry the breast cancer gene. That will determine whether I am more likely to have cancer in the right breast down the road. This will answer the question, should I have a double mastectomy in June as a preventive measure or just a single? He believes it is highly unlikely that it will move to the right breast ... without the gene 1-2% chance and with the gene 10-15% chance. If I were to have breast cancer again, he feels that we would catch it soon enough (now that I will have testing every 3 months) that I could bypass chemo and just do radiation again. Obviously, we are thinking way down the road and dealing with a lot of "what ifs" ... but still VERY promising news none the less.

I really feel GREAT today and I am visualizing the medication killing my little insect-looking cancer cells (like Aunt Mary Ann told me to). My port has healed enough now that I have started working out again, which has proved to be a huge stress/anxiety reducer. The main thing to pray for now is that this regimen they have me on is doing its job and kicking this cancer's butt. Please keep the prayers coming, visualize my cancer being killed ... I still have a big fight ahead of me yet and I could use all your help.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

2/20/2008: Infection Strikes

It seems as though my overzealous nature has gotten me into trouble. This morning I woke up and wasn't even able to get out of bed. I laid there crying and cursing my fatigued body. I attempted to go into work, but just walking down my three flights of stairs proved to be excruciating.

I called the oncologist and they asked to see me ASAP. Never something you want to hear. I managed to make it to the doctors ... it was just slow moving for this weak, little body. Once there, they took my vitals and did blood work. It only took four times of poking me until they found the vein. Lord, I am tiring of that. My nurse and oncologist both stopped to see me and were worried about nausea. I told them I was eating like a crazy woman and could not stop putting food in my mouth. They laughed and said that was exactly what they wanted to hear. I think they were pleased that my humor and spirit were still intact despite feeling horrible.

My white blood count came back higher than they wanted, which means there is infection/bacteria in my body. Blah. My throat is killing me, so they did a strep swab, but think I most likely have a sinus infection or bad cold. They put me on an antibiotic and told me I should be feeling much better by tomorrow. Thank goodness, because I cannot take this lethargic nature too much longer.

I asked if the fatigue I am feeling is normal after chemotherapy. The nurse said yes and no. Apparently, after your first chemo your body freaks out wondering what the hell you have just done to it. So, for three to four days after you can become very physically tired. The treatments get better from that point on. In my case, she said that I was feeling some of the chemo fatigue, but mostly this infection is what is bringing me down. Stupid infection!

I am home from work today trying to learn how to rest. I am not very good at slowing down and sitting still for too long. I make myself a bit nutty.

I hope you all have a great week and I will keep you posted on my journey.

Monday, February 18, 2008

2/18/2008: Slow Motion Sets In

Perhaps this is not the best day to be writing my update since I don't seem to be making much sense in my own head. People are asking how I am feeling and I find it so difficult to describe exactly what treatment is like.

Have you ever stood up too quickly and felt all the blood rush to your head and it seemed as though your mind was moving quickly, but your body was in slow motion? That's basically how I have felt the last 24 hours. Such a weird feeling! My little body just can't keep up with my active mind and that is a frustrating thing for me to try and deal with. I don't like to be slowed down. (Just ask my parents and brother how irritated I was yesterday that my body was not working the way I wanted it to. I was one grumpy girl!)

Despite my strange slow-motion-robot feeling, I am back at work today! My co-workers have been getting me lunch, etc. since my little legs shake when I stand up. (Oh my ... I am not going to be able to deal with getting old.) I am really sensitive to smells, so a couple of times I have had waves of nausea, but nothing lasting more than ten seconds. All in all, I have been doing surprisingly well for the kickoff chemotherapy treatment.

Besides the obvious fatigue and weakness, my bones ache from the shot I had to give myself in the stomach the day after treatment. Apparently, the injection stimulates the bone marrow to create more white blood cells and that can cause pain in the sternum, hips and thigh bones. Nothing a little Tylenol can't fix! The inside of my mouth is peeling along with my lips, which is an annoyance, but certainly nothing I cannot handle. I just hate when things don't taste right. My gassy, acidic tummy seems to be back on track with a little Zantec to help it out. The doctor said that was normal for someone with IBS like I have. As long as I have food in my tummy, I feel fine.

My only concern today is that I have a sore throat which according to my oncologist is not a side effect of the medications. I have been asked to take my temperature periodically throughout the day and keep up the fluids. They are afraid this may be the onset of the flu. Let's hope not! If I do get a temperature, then off to the hospital I go. BLAH!

I just wanted to let you all know that I am OK and just plugging along as best I can. I appreciate all the prayers, warm thoughts, love and support being sent to me and my family. This is obviously not just a hard thing for me to deal with, but for my entire family to battle along side me. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

2/16/2008: Round One Down

One treatment down ... ... and only five to go. Yesterday was my first treatment and it wasn't as scary as I originally presumed. My Dad went with me and stayed the full six hours until I was all medicated up. The only annoyances were the soreness when they accessed my port (which is still healing). It felt like someone pushing on a bad bruise. (That will, however, go away in time.) When I got to my last medication (herceptin) of the three I became physically exhausted. It felt as though I had worked out for six hours straight. The only side effect I had was a gassy, acidic tummy, which my oncologist said was natural for my size, the amount of meds, and the fact that I have a history of IBS. (I am sure you are cringing right now for me, Jenn. You know what it's like.) Apparently, these meds don't play well with the digestive system. The trick is to constantly keep something on the tummy so the medications can be absorbed.

When I arrived back at my parents house after sleeping in the car on the way home I literally could not keep my eyelids open although my mind was wide awake. What a weird feeling! I slept about a total of nine hours last night. My dog Carly Anne decided to come play under the covers at about 1:30am to make me feel better and Joey (my brother) had arrived home from work around that time so we chatted a bit. I experienced some nausea, so I took a pill, and ate and drank. Didn't take long and I was passed back out again under my new heated blanket ... mmm.

I continue my allergy and nausea pills until Sunday. My nurse said Sunday is the day that I should start to feel the actual fatigue because I go off the steroid, which is a upper, and within 7 days of treatment my white blood cells will hit the lowest they will go. All in all, this coming week will be challenging due to the amount of medication they gave me. Thursday I meet with my oncologist to follow up on how I did with my first chemo treatment. Hopefully I can tell him, "GREAT ... keep 'em coming."

Lastly, my bone scan that took place on Monday came back completely clear. The sixth rib did not light up, nor did anything else. They presume the rib lighting up on the PETscan was probably a lymph node at the back of the breast tissue that they misread. YAY! So, the cancer is completely contained as far as we know. GREAT NEWS! My heart scan showed that the muscle is strong and can take these meds like a champ. And my blood work was stellar. The nurse was extremely pleased at what my benchmark looks like. She said, "Besides cancer, you are incredibly healthy and will just bounce right back from this after treatment."

All in all, I survived round one and now that I know what to expect, I am so much more at ease with all this. (Please know that I took the books, stuffed animals, good luck charms, etc. with me to help me through the process.) Also, all the text messages, phone calls, friends wearing pink, e-mails, warm thoughts, prayers and other outpouring of support truly surrounded me yesterday and lifted me up. It was exactly what I needed to get through this. Thank you ... for being you. I am incredible blessed to have people like you in my life who genuinely love and care for me.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

2/14/2008: Morning Before Chemo

Well, tomorrow is the big day and I would be lying if I didn't say that I am scared. I allowed myself to feel the anxiety of the situation (as suggested by my best friend, Kere) and I cried myself to sleep last night. But, I really did need that. Today is a new day and although I am still nervous about the unknown, I am ready to start the fight, officially. I have put behind all the "Why me's?" and the "I don't deserve this" spouts and have fully accepted what is happening ... and it really is OK (as Mom always says ... my ROCK).

I took my first round of medications this morning to prepare for chemotherapy and let me tell you, OH MY ... holy side effects. I took Decadron and have to take it twice a day for three days. If you have taken this medication before, then you know what I am talking about. I feel like I have had six caffeine pills. If you have spoken with me today, then forgive me for my quick speech and run-on sentences. I feel like the energizer bunny! And I get to take another round tonight, so no shut eye for me. (Nothing new in that department.) My condo is going to be SO clean by the end of this whole ordeal. One VP here at work suggested I come to her home and entertain her two-year-old daughter with my energy since she doesn't sleep at night, too. This masters thesis is going to get done in no time!

On that topic, I applied for graduation this week and sent in all my paperwork. (This was a huge feat for me. I am really proud of myself!) I have exceeded the necessary credits and am dead-set on completing my masters degree this time next year (defense and all). My adviser thinks I am completely nuts (which is true), but she told me that I am ahead of the other students in the program, so more power to me. My professors know about my breast cancer and have offered an adjusted schedule for me. I thanked them and let them know that if I felt it needed to come to that, then we would discuss it at that point, but not until then. Life plays out normally as far as I am concerned. No use in crawling under the covers and taking three months off from living.

Strangely enough, I have several friends who are now going through biopsies and awaiting cancer results. They have reached out to me for support, so I have decided to document everything that I am going through in both a journalistic and pictorial format and create a website of my journey to hopefully help others. (Actually, Kere is the one creating the website for me.) It will show the good, the bad and the bald. I have been speaking to a local girl who went to UVA and was diagnosed at the age of 25 with breast cancer. She has been an amazing resource. She has a page also ( and told me how therapeutic it is for her to share her story. She and I are a lot alike. I will certainly let you know when the website goes live so you can follow my journey if you'd like. (Or just come for the drama -- see me go nuts cutting my hair like Britney Spears. Kere, you will be taking the pictures. Prepare yourself for my insanity!) I promise it won't be all tears ... that's just not me. This whole thing is an adventure and does not consume my life ... it is only a small part of it! My friend James told me a year from now I will be telling people at parties that I survived breast cancer simply for shock value.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2/12/2008: Doom and Despair

Oh my ... Dad and I just met with the head nurse at the oncologist's office and it was all doom and despair. (Dun, Dun, Dunnnn.) Basically, she went over everything that could happen, but that wouldn't necessarily happen to me. I guess she is required to do that, but it was all a bit much for me and Dad and unfortunately when that happens I get a tad curt (to say it nicely).

I will be injected with Herceptin every week (including with my chemo treatments which are every third week). They start by giving me two hours worth of medication the first treatment, then 90 minutes the second, then 60 the third, then 30 for the remainder of a year. Herceptin effects the heart muscle in a negative way making it slow and lazy. Daunting thought, indeed! They will continue doing heart scans every three months to make sure my heart is still OK. Once the treatment is over, my heart will repair itself. Breaks my heart! (I know, a bit cheesy! OK, a lot cheesy.)

Taxotere and carboplatin are what I get every three weeks with a dose of herceptin. Taxotere is a beast! The possible side effects are horrible with this medication. This is the medication that kills the white blood cells, makes hair fall out, creates sores inside your mouth, and can even make your nails fall out. (Not that I am too concerned with vanity at this point.) It basically tracks down any cells in the body that multiply quickly (that it how it categorizes cancer). Unfortunately, that also includes the cells in your mouth, so while having treatment they are being killed and trying to repair themselves ... hence the sores in the mouth. Because this medication is so beastly, 24 hours after my treatment, I have to give myself an injection in my stomach to make my body create more white blood cells so that I can attempt to remain healthy and strong throughout this process. She suggested my arm, but when she tried to pinch some fat she realized I had none and said, "nevermind." If I ever wished to be heavier, it would be NOW. If you know me, you know how I feel about needles. Holy hell ... this is not going to be enjoyable. At this point though, I almost don't even care about being poked and prodded ... you kind of just accept it and move on after awhile. Ugh. Stupid needles. I have to just keep thinking of the cute boobs I will have when this is all over!

I have a ton of prescriptions to fill that I take the day before chemotherapy, the day of, and the day after. Most are to reduce nausea and allergic reactions. One is a low does of steroid which she said may make me gain 10-15 pounds of water weight. (Again, screw vanity at this point.) Apparently, the beastly taxotere has been known to cause some nasty allergic reactions, like fluid around the lungs and heart. UGH! My first treatment (this Friday, Feb. 15) will help them gage how I will react to the different medications. They told me to expect that my IBS would act up since my tummy is so sensitive. Awesome ... can't wait!

I know I sound extremely "Debbie Downer," but it is just my nerves. Once I survive treatment #1, I think it will put my mind at ease a bit. It's that whole notion of not knowing what to expect or how the medicine will make me feel. I am certainly ready to get started ... I am just scared. That's what it comes down to.

That's basically the latest. My hair is already falling out from stress ... I haven't even done chemotherapy yet. I am sleeping on average about four hours a night. (I have coincidentally gotten a lot of organizing and projects done around my condo though.) The port is still a pain and causing me grief. All in all ... I think I am losing it. (Just kidding!) I know I will be OK, but like I said before, it all just seems so daunting.

Monday, February 11, 2008

2/11/2008: Wig Shopping

I had a really rough weekend with the pain from my port. I called my surgeon's office and had the doctor on call paged. He called me back and I explained how black and blue I was down my left side, the horrible swelling, the oozing (eww) and the pain I still have around the port, around my ribs and on my diaphragm. He explained that because of my petite size and lack of fat that the blood that flooded the chest cavity would take some time to be absorbed back into my body and the bruising is just because I am little and there is not a lot of tissue where they placed the port. I also told him how sore my throat is. He told me that when I woke up from surgery screaming that I could not breathe, they knocked me out and scoped me fearing my lung was punctured. Glad no one told me that! The surgeon suggested continuing to take the pain killers and to come into the office Monday if I was truly concerned, but it all sounded normal for someone who is 100 pounds.

Kere, Leslie and baby Hadley went shopping for wigs with me this weekend which proved to be a hilarious adventure. I wasn't necessarily thrilled about the shopping trip, but having my friends with me made it bearable ... hmm, even enjoyable. Kere actually tried on some wigs. (We have photos to prove it.) I spent time with my girlfriends this weekend and even gave one of my wigs a test drive on Saturday night for Girls Night and NO ONE could tell it was a wig. SUCCESS!!! The more time I spent with my friends over the weekend the more strength and courage I was able to gain from them.

Today, I had my bone scan, which was SO easy. (Thank goodness, because I am at a breaking point with being poked and prodded.) It takes 24 hours for that test to come back, but my doctor may wait to have both the results of this test and my heart scan on Wednesday before he talks to me. We are hoping that the bone scan shows that sixth rib as a "hot spot" and no other bones with cancer. I also swung by my surgeons office and had them look at my incision. Same answer ... "you're just tiny, the blood has nowhere to go."

So ... tomorrow I have my chemotherapy information session at the oncologist's office in the afternoon. After waiting an entire month on tests, I am SO ready to get started. After that, I have my heart scan on Wednesday. Then, I start chemotherapy Friday.

That is the latest! I will keep you posted as I find out more.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

2/7/2008: The Whirlwind

This week has been quite a whirlwind. My heart hurts deeply.

I went into the hospital Wednesday afternoon for a simple outpatient procedure where they were going to put in the port for my treatment. The port was put in successfully. When I woke up after the procedure I could not take a deep breath. I just sobbed and screamed in pain and my surgeon sat holding my hand and wiping off my smeared mascara. It was the most unbearable thing I have ever experienced. My surgeon gave me pain medicine to knock me out. An x-ray was taken immediately because my surgeon was concerned that he had accidentally punctured my lung. My lung was fine, however upon placing the port and pulling out the catheter, blood flooded into my chest cavity. I am OK now, but was on serious pain medication until about 1 am Thursday morning. They took another x-ray in the morning and then released me. My surgeon and nurses were amazing.

I met with the oncologist this afternoon with my parents. The PET-scan showed "hot spots" (cancer) in the lymph nodes under my armpit, in the center of my chest and also slightly in my sixth rib that also lies under the infected area. The good news is that it all appears to be around the left breast and has not entered the blood stream and spread to my bone marrow or organs. Also, we were told that I am HER2-positive. This is also a good thing, because there is an antibody that they can give me that kills this aggressive protein.

My oncologist wants for me to have two more tests. I have a bone scan scheduled for Monday and a heart scan scheduled for Wednesday. I start chemotherapy on Friday, Feb 15. I will be on a regiment of three medications: taxotere, carboplatin and herceptin. I will get all three at the same time. The first two (taxotere, carboplatin) are the chemotherapy and I will get them once every 3 weeks for 18 weeks. The last medication (herceptin) is for HER2-positive protein and I will take that for an entire year. Once chemotheraphy is over (18 weeks), I will have a mastectomy and reconstruction of the left breast (I go to sleep with breasts and wake up with breasts), then continue with the herceptin and start radiation of that left breast. Once all of that is finished, I may go on a hormone regiment for five years since I was estrogen positive in order to keep the cancer cells from coming back. Is your head swirling? Mine sure is!

My spirits are low and I am exhausted from Wednesday night and the severe pain I endured. My poor parents had to experience all that and I know it broke their hearts to see me in that much pain. Please keep me and my family in your prayers. I am off to rest.

Monday, February 4, 2008

2/4/2008: Fear Sets In

I am exhausted from another sleepless night and feel completely abandoned. Of course I know that I am not (considering my amazing family and friends), but my heart hurts and the weather sucks. I just want to crawl back under my covers and cry.

I had my PET-scan yesterday and hopefully will get those results soon. I had blood work this morning for my surgery scheduled for tomorrow and my arm is completely black and blue and swollen from all the IVs, medications and contrast. They are running out of veins at this point in my arm to use. I don't want to have my port put in tomorrow, but just like the last few weeks, I am stuck in the whirlwind of just going with the flow and putting my trust in my doctors. I just wish I could fast forward and be done with all of this already.

I have back-to-back meetings all day and cannot seem to focus on anything. I am scared of what lies ahead and feel as though I am doing it alone now. My heart is breaking ...

Saturday, February 2, 2008

2/2/2008: Becoming a Survivor

I woke up this morning and realized that some how, some way, I have completely changed. I don't know how it happened, but I have never felt this strong in my entire life. The anxiety of the whole situation remains, but my heart and soul feel ... almost renewed. Is that possible? Hopefully this is not just a one day thing. I found myself singing in the car at the top of my lungs and smiling randomly at the small beauties of the day. Weird how that works ... maybe I am just appreciating things more. I finally have a reason to stop and smell the roses along the way. Perhaps this is a sign that I need to slow down and be more appreciative of the little things in my life. Who knows.

I heard so many wonderful things this week. Patty's neighbor said the most incredible thing "the moment she was diagnosed, she became a survivor". My co-worker of seven years told me that I am a first class woman and that he doesn't know of anyone stronger than I am. He said life constantly will push and pull and you either crumble like a piece of coal beneath the pressure, or you come out as a beautiful diamond like I always do. Gotta love creative people and their analogies. These words, and many others have touched me deeply and I realize how grateful I am for all the amazing people in my life. I am, without a doubt, one lucky girl.

I don't know why I wrote this. I suppose it is like a journal for me. Some people wrap themselves in a cocoon when they are suffering and I know that will only make things worse in my case. I have to express my feelings and feel like I am somehow understood. Please know how thankful I am for the love and support and that I am ready for whatever life throws at me next.

Friday, February 1, 2008

2/1/2008: Meeting the Oncologist

My family and I met with the oncologist yesterday afternoon for about an hour and a half and let's just say ... it was more than we could digest or bear to hear. It was very emotional. We are scared and devastated by all of the news. This whole thing has happened so fast that we haven't even had time to process it all yet.

The next step is the PETscan which is scheduled for Monday at 5:45pm. Drew will be taking me. I am holding my breath as to what the PETscan will show. I will need to have a "port surgically implanted and a breast biopsy of the area that showed some contrasting in the MRI report. I assume this will be done SOON, perhaps early next week. My oncologist said that if you divide the breast into four equal parts the contrasting in the MRI showed in the upper two quarters. He did also mention possibly having the breast partially or completely removed should most of it be grossly infected. I am TRYING not to jump ahead and get too worried about things that "might" be the case. One battle at a time!

It appears now that the cancer may have started in the breast and moved to the lymph nodes under my left armpit where I discovered the growth originally right before Thanksgiving. There is no way to tell how long I have had it, but he said in most cases, it has been a couple of years. I will begin treatments (chemotherapy and radiation) immediately after the port and biopsy are complete and the treatments will be for 16 weeks, every other week (8 treatments total). Every chemotherapy is different and mine will be made up of three different types of medication. The chemotherapy will cause my hair to fall out completely and my chances of having children down the road will be minimized due to the treatments. This bothers me A LOT. I am going to do EVERYTHING in by power to minimize the risk of infertility. They are treating this very aggressively and my oncologist wants to begin the treatment ASAP.

The oncologist showed us the treatment room (they have a section set up for treatments there in his office), and the port that would be installed. The port will be placed in the opposite breast and will have to remain there for the duration of the treatments. A lot to digest ...

The oncologist is having a second opinion made on the biopsy which is routine for his practice. Some cells were HER2 positive and some were negative. HER2 is a more aggressive form of breast cancer. If after further review they find I am HER2 positive, then after the 16 weeks of treatment (chemotherapy and radiation) I will keep my port in and undergo a year of antibody treatment for HER2 (which is like an antibiotic through an IV. My hair will grow back, etc.). Yes, they have created an antibody to completely destroy HER2. If I am HER2 negative, then I will only do the 16 weeks of treatment. My cells showed some positive and some negative reactors for estrogen, also. There are still several unknowns. They need a definitive answer as to the makeup of cancer in order to determine the ingredients for my chemotherapy recipe ... so to speak.

The next appointment with my oncologist is scheduled for this coming Thursday at 11:00am. By then, we should have the results of the PETscan and a definitive answer on whether I am HER2-positive and whether estrogen is a factor from the biopsy.

My family and I need tons of prayers and support, please. I will keep you posted as I learn more.