Tuesday, July 29, 2008

7/29/2008: The Fill

"Is this going to hurt?" I asked my plastic surgeon. "Most people don't feel a thing," she responded as she steadied the metal detector over the top of my breast. The metal pendulum steadied … it found the port beneath my skin. She picked up the large needle on the table. She was moving quickly and I was trying to stall her with chit-chat. She said, "Here we go." I looked away, bit my index finger and filled my mind with a lovely beach scene. I exclaimed, "I didn't feel that at all." Dr. Gottlieb smiled and asked, "What does it feel like?" as she slowly filled my expander with saline. I could feel the edges unraveling while filling up and it felt as though someone was pushing against my chest. My breast grew tighter and tighter. It was like watching National Geographic when they speed up a bud turning into a flower. How on Earth do you describe that feeling?

I had horrible anxiety about having my first fill and it was a piece of cake. Life's little annoyances seem to just be a walk in the park these days. It's hard to complain about anything after going through 18 weeks of chemotherapy.

I have one more fill on my left breast before beginning radiation. Yes, they are only filling one side because I am developing too much cleavage. Agggh … so exciting! I have never had "too much cleavage." On Friday my left breast will be filled to 250cc while my right will only be at 150cc. This way, during radiation they will be able to get "a good line" to treat the membrane and lymph nodes in the center of my chest. I don't mind being lopsided for six weeks if it means preventing cancer from returning.

My radiation begins August 11 and ends September 19 and I have it every week day at 8:30 in the morning. I have a couple of pre-radiation appointments over the next two weeks where the nurses will permanently tattoo my skin (the spots will look like freckles) and run "films" to prepare me for radiation. I don't know what all of that entails, but we will learn together.

Once radiation is over, my plastic surgeon can resume filling my right breast with saline (creating amazing cleavage), so both breasts will be at 250cc. But that doesn't mean that's the size I will end up with … that is just the maximum size of the expander my plastic surgeon used. I'll leave the final size a secret for now. The implant surgery won't be done until sometime in November.

Other than making appointments, I have been busy resuming a somewhat normal life. I am back to work fulltime, working out daily (physical therapy exercises, walking and static bike), spending time with friends, resuming work on my thesis and enjoying each day to the fullest. My hate list still exists, however it is quickly dwindling. I do know that the hardest part is over, but I still have seven more months of treatment and surgeries to go. I now move into phase 3 … radiation. I am summoning all my strength, yet again, and mentally preparing myself for this next task at hand. And so my journey continues …

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

7/23/2008: Drive Home

Driving home my mother and I sat in silence watching the sun pulse through the tree line as the roads were winding closer and closer to my front door. I knew exactly what would happen if I tried to speak. I could already feel the lump swelling in my throat. How do you properly thank someone for taking on your fight along with your pain, fears and insecurities as though they were her own and devoting her life to your caretaking? I don't know that it is truly possible. I had stayed with my parents for twenty days following surgery and they drove me to every doctors appointment, participated in my pity parties, made sure I ate well, cleaned my wounds, encouraged naptime, took care of my condo, dried my tears, told me when I needed to slow down and endlessly cheered me on, even when I could see the pain in their eyes.

Life works in mysterious ways and I continue to be amazed with how mine unfolds. I wanted so desperately to have normalcy and jump back into my life, but there was also a part of me that wanted to curl up in the safety of my parents lap and not have to think, or worry anymore. I want them to wrap their arms around me, tell me it is all going to be okay and protect me from the darkness. Someone very close to me who had cancer mid-life told me that despite being an adult, she still desperately desired being close to her mother during her journey. I don't think we ever grow out of wanting our parents to make it all better.

Despite the conflicted emotions, I did return to my normal life on Sunday. My parents prepped my condo for my return by filling my refrigerator with groceries and cleaning it from top to bottom. Monday I went back to work fulltime and had my first expander fill. I have seen several of my friends already and although I thought I had missed out on so much over the course of two weeks, I really hadn't. My hair is about an inch long on my head and is BLACK! My eyebrows and eyelashes are coming back in also and are itchy. I have lost five pounds and am using the exercises suggested by my plastic surgeon to regain some mobility in my arms, especially on my left side where they removed the lymph nodes. I have now returned to my regularly scheduled program.

I have one more fill next week, and then I will begin radiation. Radiation lasts for six weeks and I will have to go five times a week. I met with my radiologist, Dr. Jefferson Moulds, last week for the first time. He is a brilliant doctor who used to work at Georgetown. He told me how pleased he was with my chemotherapy regimen and how well my surgery went. Since he is a radiologist of oncology he was able to speak about several different aspects of my treatment and I was blown away by his knowledge. Radiation will start early August. I cannot wait to get started and cross one more piece of the journey off my list.

That drive home in the car with my mother, I reflected on the last six months of my life and how far I have come. My girlfriend Shana told me weeks ago that I have been given a second opportunity at life and that didn't really sink in until this weekend. I have the chance to reinvent myself and work towards being happy and hugely successful in all aspects of my life. Is that too much to ask? I don't think so anymore. The fact that I am now in remission completely blows my mind. I don't think I could have done it without my family and friends constantly thinking about me, tirelessly supporting me and praying for my health and strength. I want to thank my family for their endless sacrifice. I realize now that besides me, my caretakers truly take on the most difficult part of this journey. Despite the helplessness and exhaustion we feel, we continue learning, living and loving. It is a growth process that has changed us all forever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

7/15/2008: Hate List

I haven't written in a couple of days because I have been an emotional wreck … to say the least. It's much safer to write a happy blog then to open myself up and become vulnerable with airing my difficult and insecure days. But I promised you from the beginning that I would be honest with you and I intend to stick to my word. So, I welcome you all to my pity party. (No need for presents at this occasion.)

I was diagnosed with cancer back in January and for six months I have been fighting like hell for my life … FOR MY LIFE. (It still doesn't resonate completely with me.) Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and I kicked its butt in six months. Part of me is exhausted and the other part is still trying to grasp the fact that I had cancer. Several years ago I went through a horrible personal ordeal. For those of you who know me, you remember this well. Driving to my parent's house that night, I remember being on the phone with my mother and screaming through my tears, "Things like this don't happen to someone like me." I know that probably sounds like the most diva comment anyone can possibly make. You must understand, though, that I take great pride in who I am, my accomplishments and the way I live my life. However, hardships and diseases do not discriminate. I know now, that I was being prepared to take on the hardest fight of my life … cancer.

For the past two days I have been crying hysterically, venting to my family, avoiding friends and visitors, refusing to leave the house … and just all around being a real joy. (For the record, I have called myself a brat several times, and my parents told me that I deserve to have bad days, too. Otherwise, I wouldn't be normal, especially with what I have been through.) I have said several times to my Mom (while venting) to "add" certain things to my "list" of complaints. Finally, today she told me that she believed I should truly make a written list of the things that I claim to hate. So, here it is … (Prepare yourself!)

List of Things I Hate

Cancer (Did you expect anything else? The week I had my mastectomy two women who are friends of friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. They are both under the age of 35. Cancer will always top my "hate" list for the remainder of my life.)

Bad Hair Days (This includes eyelashes and eyebrows, too, since those have thinned considerably. I hate that my hair is not growing faster. I also hate the fact that ADULTS stare at me in public. Children, however, don't seem to care. Just another reason why I adore children.)

Dreaded Drains (I started out with five and am now down to two that are being extremely stubborn. They stick out from under my armpits and are extremely uncomfortable. I am unable to sleep on my side because of them and my muscle aches from sleeping on my back for two weeks. Not to mention, the bulbs at the ends of the drains hang at my stomach and make me look pregnant. I blame them for my dependence and cannot wait to get them out and reclaim my life. I hate them.)

Losing "The Girls" (My mastectomy was actually much easier than I initially presumed. The physical healing is cake, but the psychological impact is only cut out for the true varsity players. I like to think that I am pretty tough, but this has certainly been a huge challenge and one that will continue to be for some time. I wonder if I will ever be normal again.)

Potential Suitors (I know I am going to regret putting this on the list, but so be it. It's my party. Short term: How do I even engage with a guy with C-A-N-C-E-R written across my forehead? My boobs are currently "under construction," so physically I am not comfortable or confident … um, so how does THAT work? Even if I can keep the C-card off the table, as soon as things escalate to a more "romantic" level, there will come a time where I will need to interject that information about my body. Long term: Having had cancer, I would assume most guys would consider me a "high risk investment." I certainly cannot imagine that my medical history would really be all that appealing. And forget about discussing having a family, because I am currently in menopause and who knows if my fertility will ever return and even so, I wouldn't be able to try until I am 32 and off hormone therapy. Whew! Yeah … I sound incredibly appealing and like a real attractive option for a long term investment. Who am I kidding!?)

The Comparison (Please don't take this the wrong way. I love my friends, family and sisters in survival dearly, but my situation is not like everyone else's who has cancer. I am only 26-years-old. I didn't have a boyfriend or husband by my side supporting me and telling me that I was beautiful and he would be there for me when it was over. I mean, there wasn't someone there who saw my boobs before and after and still loved me, regardless. Nor did I have the opportunity to have children or even freeze eggs because my cancer was too aggressive and they needed to start chemotherapy immediately. So, NO, my situation is very unique and no one knows how horrible it was to go through it missing those key ingredients. It was beyond devastating and continues to be.)

Body Issues (This is going to sound egotistical, but I don't intend for it to be. I have always liked my body and been pleased for the most part with the way I look. However, cancer, and especially chemotherapy, did things to my body and confidence level that even I am too embarrassed to admit. When I started treatment I weighed 99 pounds. Because of the steroids and lack of exercise during chemo I gained almost ten pounds. Again, I know this sounds trivial, but for someone who loved her yoga and palates regimen and took pride in her tone body, this is a difficult reality. My clothes don't fit the way they used to and I hate that. Additionally, chemotherapy did a real number on my skin, and I swear I look years older. I foresee many emergency facials in my near future to get my skin back to glowing and smooth again.)

My Lifestyle (I have been told that I have to "take it easy" now that I have had surgery. Um, do these people know who I am!? I am trying not to scratch my eyes out lying low and recovering for three weeks at my parent's house. I am on my Blackberry every minute of my waking hours starving for normalcy. I have to see a physical therapist in order to regain strength and feeling in my left arm. It will probably take close to six months before I am fully healed internally … not to mention emotionally and psychologically. Lord, give my patience.)

The Timeline (I honestly feel like Humpty Dumpty and it is literally taking FOREVER for the doctors and surgeons to put me back together again. I have never claimed to be a patient woman and this whole ordeal is truly taking much too long. I like to believe that I live every day to the fullest and I typically pack my schedule tight and this cancer does NOT fit in nicely. It is irritating to the point of tears.)

I could honestly continue "the list" and I intend to, but I thought I would at least share some of my current headaches with you all. After all, you have made the decision to join my journey for the good, bad and bald and I made a promise to you to share it all.

Before this party ends and I retreat to lick my wounds, you must know that despite my "hate list" I know how very blessed I am. I know that I have beat cancer and now have a second chance at life. I understand that my hair will grow and I will feel it lightly dancing across my shoulders once again. I will lose weight and complain of achy, over-worked muscles. Happily ever after still exists and if I should be so luckily, so does my prince charming (who will love my new boobs). The pesky tubes will most likely come out this week and my life will jump back into action. I will soon forget the peaceful afternoons on my parent's back porch where I cursed the sky and felt the surge of panic thinking that I had been standing still and missing out on two weeks of living. How could I have wrestled with my list and done personal growth without this valuable time? This list is how I feel in the moment and represents some of the things I think about on a daily basis. The "hate list" unfortunately (or fortunately) is a part of my journey and overall growth. Welcome to my remission … it may not be as physically taxing, but it will test me nonetheless.

Monday, July 14, 2008

7/14/2008: Remission

My ears were ringing. My oncologist's mouth continued to move, but the buzzing was enough to cast over his words. The heat rose from somewhere in my back and I felt it surge quickly to my face. Clutching my jaw tightly I tried desperately not to cry. Did I just hear him correctly? I took a deep breath and interrupted my doctor. "I apologize, but I am trying not to cry. You have no idea what wonderful news that is," I managed to say as my voice cracked.

I am cancer free and officially in remission. Let me write that again simply to gloat. (After all I have been through, I deserve it!) I am cancer free and officially in remission. Can you believe it? I can't.

My mother and I visited my plastic surgeon's office for the second time this week to have another drain pulled. I had three drains pulled this week and only two left. Once they are all removed I can begin radiation and have my expanders filled. Hopefully next week the two remaining drains will be ready to be removed and I can continue my journey. At this point, I just really want a freaking shower.

After that appointment, we went to my oncologist's office to review the pathology report from surgery. The report showed that my surgeon removed thirteen lymph nodes from my left armpit and four still had residual cancer. The tissue removed from the breasts had no remaining cancer. Dr. Heyer explained that the chemotherapy was partially successful in that it got rid of the cancer in some areas and shrunk the lymph nodes considerably, but not completely. We discussed next steps, which consist of radiation for six weeks, Herceptin treatments every three weeks until February 2009 (one year), and five years of hormone therapy as a preventative measure to ensure that the cancer does not come back.

Once we had discussed some of my next steps, I asked Dr. Heyer, "So when am I officially in remission?" He responded, "Now." Obviously, I was elated and extremely thrown off by his response. He explained that the cancer is completely gone now from the chemotherapy and surgery. The radiation, Herceptin treatments and hormone therapy are preventative measures to eradicate any microscopic "leftovers" and ensure continued health. As far as he is concerned "our work here is done," however the journey is far from over.

I ended our appointment by unzipping my top and showing Dr. Heyer my new breasts. He looked at them and said, "Dr. Gottlieb does great work, but you need to lose those drains," … implying that the drains weren't particularly attractive. We all laughed. I zipped my top back up and we exited his office.

Mom and I met Dad back in Gainesville at our favorite restaurant called El Tio's. I find it interesting that our evening ended at the same restaurant that Dad celebrated his retirement and that we frequent on birthdays, holidays and special occasions. I could not have thought of a better place to enjoy my exciting news. Mom said, "Tonight you owe God a BIG thank you." Indeed I do. I am incredibly thankful and blessed.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

7/9/2008: The Championship

Written by my best friend, Kere Knapp:

Since I created this website and update it weekly by posting the blogs, the pictures and the messages (and because Jen’s my best friend), I figured I would attempt to write a blog while Jen is in recovery. I can’t guarantee that it’s going to be as well written as Jen’s are, but I can always give it a shot. (If none of this makes sense, I apologize now...)

This whole experience has been a shock, for lack of a better word. I keep trying to find a way to understand what has been going on and my mind keeps coming back to relating it to one thing: a lacrosse championship. If you know me, this probably isn’t surprising that I find a correlation between lacrosse and cancer. Maybe you have just thought to yourself, how in the world is a lacrosse game remotely related to cancer? Well, let me explain the way my mind has grasped this disease and the fight against it… (and if you don’t know the game, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about it along the way. Imagine Jennifer’s whole cancer experience of a year or so being played in a 50 minute game).

Let me start by setting the scenario of the championship day and who is playing whom.

Lacrosse is a team sport. It’s played by 12 players on a field. It’s broken down into three sections: attack, defense and goalie. A game consists of 50 minutes. Obviously, the main goal is to win the game, and to do that your attack has to continuously shoot the ball into your opponents’ goal, beating their defenders and goalie.

Team Black: Cancer
Cancer is a team sickness. They are a team of nasty fighters working together to break down their opponent. In this case, Team Cancer is known for their phenomenal offensive players with their unstoppable shots. (Team Cancer is black because it’s dark, cold and unfriendly).

Team Pink: Jennifer
Team Jennifer is Team Cancer’s opponent. Of course Jennifer has a team! Have you ever met someone that has cancer and that DOESN’T have a “team”? It’s never just one person fighting the disease. It’s everyone they know and love that fight with them. Jennifer’s on-field team consists of her family and closest friends. Team Jennifer is known for their defensive strategies. They work together in the toughest of times to come out on top with the win. (Team Jennifer is pink because frankly, she loves pink and it’s the color of breast cancer).

As with any sporting event, you have spectators/fans. Our spectators consist of Team Jennifer’s network outside of the closest friends and family who are playing on the field. It’s everyone who wishes her prayers and sends their thoughts to her; everyone who knows her and stands beside her. It’s everyone who is rooting for her to win.

Just as a side note: I, personally, would not want to be playing Jennifer’s team. Knowing Jennifer, she’s like a repeat state title winner. Team Jennifer is like Northwestern who has won the NCAA D-1 championships 4 years in a row. No one can stop her willingness to overcome, achieve, and win. For this reason, Team Cancer is the underdog. They are coming into the game shaking in their cleats, knowing that they are going up against one of the best. Who wouldn’t be afraid playing against Team Jennifer?!

Let the championship begin…

The whistle blows and Team Cancer gets the first draw. Team Cancer gets the first goal. Team Jennifer came in not knowing about Team Cancer and therefore, underestimated their skill. Team Cancer won the first draw, beat down the defense and slipped one past the goalie (Jennifer is playing in goal). Team Cancer has made itself a name and walked right in the front door. “Welcome to the Jungle ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a ballgame”! Team Jennifer is now awake and aware that something isn’t right. Team Cancer is not going down without a fight. So begins the journey of 50 minutes.

For the next 49.5 minutes, the goals are going back and forth. Team Jennifer is putting up a great defense and Team Cancer is putting up a great offense. The spectators want to join in and help, but all they can do is sit there and scream their encouragement. They can’t jump in the line of fire and play the game, all they can do is watch. Their words of encouragement and screams of joy and luck are being heard. They are keeping Team Jennifer pumped up and roaring to win.

Each of Team Cancer’s goals are a set back for Team Jennifer, but that doesn’t bring Team Jennifer down, it just pushes them to play harder and work harder. They are in shape. They’ve gone through the whole season of strenuous workouts and tough games. Each day has been a building block for this moment. Now is when it counts and now is what they have been working so hard for.

30 seconds left on the clock and Team Jennifer is up by 1. It’s been a whirlwind 49.5 minutes. Team Cancer is slowing down and you can see they are getting tired. They aren’t running as fast as they were 45 minutes ago and they are starting to bicker at each other because they know their chance at beating Team Jennifer is slimming down. The nerves are acting up as each player on their team is getting worried about what the outcome will be. They know it’s their last shot at beating Team Jennifer.

Team Jennifer is holding in strong. The fans have stuck with them for the entire 49.5 minutes and are stronger than ever. Their ranting and raving is breaking down Team Cancer. The field players have gotten a second wind and are ready for more. Team Jennifer is excited and ready to win this championship. They know it’s the last few minutes of a game that really count and when the energy is needed the most to win. They hear the bickering of Team Cancer and know they have broken them down. Only 30 seconds left…

The whistle blows and the draw is taken. Team Cancer gets the ball. They run it down the field past the offense, whittling past the first line of defense and make it to the 8 meter arc where the last few defenders are. Jennifer, in goal, can see everything going on. She is aware of the whole scenario of what can happen if they lose and what will happen when they win. She’s ready to win and gets fired up! They might have gotten through the defense, taken a couple shots, and gotten a few goals. They might have made a few setbacks to Team Jennifer along the way, but she and the team have worked too hard to get this far. She’ll be damned if Team Cancer wins this battle!

There are 10 seconds left… The fans start chanting: “9…8… 7”… Team Jennifer’s defenders force Team Cancer into a double team…”6… 5… 4”… Team Cancer breaks free… “3… 2”… Team Cancer takes the shot, high right corner… “1”…

A hush grows over the crowd. The field players have stopped moving. Goosebumps have made their mark on everyone’s arms and a lump has jumped into throats. Not a breath is being taken. It’s up to Jennifer in goal, to make the save and win the championship. The goalie is the last line of defense, and that is Jennifer…

JENNIFER MAKES THE SAVE! There’s the whistle and the game is OVER! The fans are jumping wild with screams and tears of joy. There is a mad rush to the field and Jennifer is swept up on the shoulders of her teammates and friends. Jennifer made the save and saved the game. Team Cancer was defeated.

Honestly, though, did you ever think it would have any other outcome? I didn’t think so….

Stupid Cancer… don’t you know that offense wins games, defense wins championships?! You chose the wrong team to play for this championship!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

7/8/2008: Pain Sets In

Is it possible to have a day that you feel absolutely miraculous followed by a day that just the effort of breathing leaves you frozen and wincing? Unfortunately it is possible and this is how my last two days have progressed.

Monday was one of the best days I have had during my recovery. I woke in the morning in good spirits. I was, however, without my parents since they took our new puppy, Abagail Marie to the vet for a meet and greet. Their absence threw me into a full-on panic attack. I realize how dependent I have become on them in so many ways. Once they arrived home, my mother and I drove to my plastic surgeon's office at Reston Hospital to have my dressings changed over my drains. The ride was a little rough for me, but I clutched my pink pillow to my chest and yelped over a couple of big bumps. On arrival, to my surprise, Candi (my doctor's assistant) told me that although it has not even been a week since my surgery, two of my drains were below 30cc and could be removed. This consisted of taking a deep breath once she counted to three and then blowing out as she yanked the tubes free from my skin. It was not painful, but very uncomfortable. I wasn't sure what to expect and my anxiety was at an all-time high, but I figured if I could survive 18 weeks of chemotherapy, I could handle tubes being pulled out of my skin. They placed band aids over the holes left by the tubes and sent me on my way. (Today the holes are the size of a pen top.) Two tubes down and three to go now … yay!

Today was the worst day since my surgery. I started weaning myself off of my pain pills simply because I hate taking them. Then I spent the majority of the night sleeping on my left side. When I woke up at 4:00am I could barely take a breath or move. I took half a Percacet and went back to bed. When I awoke again at 7:30am the pain was excruciating along the base of my left breast. I called my Mom into my room and sobbed and whimpered hysterically. (The look of helplessness on her face just crushed me. She barely ate the rest of the day.) I took a full pill which didn't even seem to take the edge off the pain. I couldn't find a comfortable position. I didn't want to eat because I was nauseous from the severe pain.

The worst part was, my poor friend Andrew spent the day with me and I was definitely not fun to hangout with. We had plans to venture out of the house and possibly see and movie, and instead he was stuck laying on the couch playing with Abagail and watching Animal Planet. He didn't complain a bit though, because he is just that good of a guy.

Was the pain due to the removal of the two tubes the day before? The bumpy ride to the hospital? Sleeping on my left side? The new camisole I wore to bed with less support? Cutting back on my pain medication? Ugggh … whatever the culprit, the pain was beyond agonizing. I upped the pain pills to two, took a muscle relaxer, a warm sponge bath, ate a little dinner and the excruciating pressure and pain became much more manageable.

I have to keep reminding myself that my body has been through a major surgery and I will have both good days and bad days. Hopefully more good then bad though. My spirits are high and my nurses are shocked at how quickly my body is healing itself. I think it's due to the walks with Abagail, my multi-vitamin, being in good physical shape and lots and LOTS of vitamin C. (Apparently vitamin C is known for helping skin and tissue.) You just wait … I will be back to myself in no time. Please keep the warm thoughts, love and prayers coming. My family and I are incredibly grateful for all of your endless support.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

7/5/2008: Recovery Begins

My dearest friends, today is the first day I feel well enough to write. The last five days I have endured anxiety attacks, severe muscle spasms, intense pain, leaking tubes and draining pumps ... I have been beyond frustrated. However, it was the constant e-mails, phone calls, text messages, flowers and fruit baskets that have given me the strength to continue my fight. Thank you to all of you who have reached out in some way to support me. Please know that it has made all the difference in pulling me out of my darkest moments.

My mother and I have been a team the last five days. She has once again stepped forward as my rock. She sleeps outside my room in a sleeping bag and if I dare make a peep she is by my side. She has constantly been on "drain check" to empty them as they get full. She has given me daily sponge baths and even today shampooed my ever growing dark hair. She sat with me and helped as we changed my dried and bloody gauze pads to replace them with clean ones. Today I was able to remove a wire that stuck into both of my breasts administering pain medication. Once I had pull them both out of my skin, I sat on the toilet and sobbed. Mom gently took a tissue, wiped the tears and said "I know baby. It sucks." It is all so overwhelming at times, although I do my very best not to complain.

I had another first today. I finally went poop. I know, insignificant to most, but since I hadn't gone since Tuesday this was a HUGE accomplishment. I yelled the good news from the bathroom and both my brother and mother praised me like a new puppy. It was hilarious and we all had a good laugh about it.

Speaking of a new puppy ... this week we also welcomed Miss Abagail Marie into our home, which has made recovery so much more manageable. This has probably added more complications for my parents, but it is great for me. Haha! She is a year old Yorkshire terrier weighing only four pounds. She follows me everywhere I go and has become my little companion through my healing process. We even take daily walks, which helps ensure that I do not get an upper respiratory infection. She is an absolute doll and the impact she has made on me during this time in my life is one that I cannot explain. We love her so dearly.

My spirits are high and I am pleased that my body is getting stronger each day. My drains are collecting less fluid which means they can come out sooner. So far, everything is going according to plan. I will call my plastic surgeon first thing Monday morning and hopefully go in for a follow up and possibly have one of the drains removed for good.

Typing is making my muscles strain some, so I must end this note here, but please know that your warm wishes, prayers, kindness, thoughtfulness and support have truly worked. Now that I am feeling better, I am definitely up for visitors so please feel free to stop by and visit if you would like. I'd love some "entertainment."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

7/3/2008: Mastectomy

Written by my mother, Judi Kwiatek:

Tuesday, July 1 was perhaps one of the worst days of my life. When Jennifer was diagnosed with Breast Cancer I never realized the steps that needed to be taken to lead us to July 1. We knew she needed a bi-lateral mastectomy and lymph node surgery, but it was always in the distance. Work and things at home kept me busy and my mind away from it all, but only for a time being. Tuesday was a nightmare for me. Jennifer and I made a promise to not cry until it was all over, but when they began to slowly wheel her to surgery, I completely lost control and the nearest person to me to grab and hold me back was my sister. I think had she not been my sister I would have "beat her up", but instead I cried and screamed and simply could not breathe for quite a while.

Surgery lasted about 4 1/2 hours and then another hour in recovery. She arrived off the elevator to her floor at Virginia Hospital Center in great spirits asking for a cheeseburger and how wonderful her breasts looked. She remained in good spirits and I stayed the night with her. She was uncomfortable, but never in severe pain. Sleep escaped her (so naturally it did me as well) and finally at about three in the morning she asked for a sleeping pill. We slept only until five o'clock. As the day went on she made the decision to come home the next day (she had the option to remain a second). The trip home was horrible as we were driving from Arlington to Gainesville in semi-rush hour traffic and terribly bumpy roads. She cried and clutched a blanket the entire trip home and we could not pull into the driveway as it was too bumpy. She settled in and was able to finally sleep.

Every four hours is spent emptying the five drains she has coming from her breast and under her left arm. This has not been a challenge, but keeping her pain at a bearable level has been. She is not really in pain, but tremendously sore.

Today was the day to call the general surgeon Dr. Kenneth Mason, as he said he might have the pathology report. Bright and early the phone call was made and finally this afternoon about 6:00 he called. His report was as such: There was NO cancer found in either breast, although out of the 13 lymph nodes removed from the left arm, four had residual cancer. He indicated that the testing of the tissue and cells was not complete nor had they found the primary source, but he seemed confident that information would come once all the testing was completed. It appears, at present, that Jennifer has escaped Lymphadema in the left arm which is a blessing. She will still need to be fitted for a "sleeve" that she will need to wear when she travels on an airplane.

Thanks to each and everyone of you who have kept her in your thoughts and prayers and have kept our family in your thoughts as well. Her journey is by far not over, but Joe, Joey and I continue the path with her and our thoughts are with the many women who are being diagnosed daily with this terrible disease. Just today Jennifer heard from a friend that her best friend was diagnosed TODAY! This is horrible and must be stopped. We must find out what is making our young women sick. These seemingly healthy women are being diagnosed with breast cancer and the vast majority are under the age of 35. Is it the antibiotics being fed to the animals? Perhaps the radiation of chicken and eggs? Have we become too clean? Something to think about as I am off to take care of my precious Jennifer.