Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's Thursday - An Evening in Pictures

When you are in a National Park never leave your food unattended - there are strict regulations against feeding the local fauna!

Mom and Dad and the Dog

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tuesday's Appointments

If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or fight like hell. ~Lance Armstrong

I liked both of my oncologists. Still processing everything but it looks like I will be starting chemo in a few weeks. It will be six treatments total with three weeks between each one. Once I start I will be finished in fifteen weeks. Then I will have a few weeks off before I start the six weeks of daily radiation treatments. Finally I will then take anti-estrogen meds for five years. Even with all of that the medical oncologist says I have just over a 10% of the cancer coming back within five years. Which means there is a well over 80% chance that I'll be just fine! My next appointment is August 14th.

Monday, July 28, 2008

One last thought for the night

Thank you everyone for all of the support. It helps so much to feel so loved and cared for. The cards, emails, phone calls, gifts, and offers of help have been very nice and I know everyone wants to do more but just sending happy thoughts my way is the best gift I can get. I am just so appreciative to have all of you in my life. I don't even know what to say except yes this does suck but I'm going to be just fine. In a few months this will all be over. So, please don't be sad for me I'm not going anywhere! These cancer cells are messing with the wrong lady!

One Week Later

I know I know - all this whining and drama and that's all I have to show for it. Hey - I haven't had any Diet Coke since the diagnosis, I have all sorts of reasons to be whiny!

Let's Get Caught Up Quickly!

OK then - I had no idea how to find a surgeon in Flagstaff. I made some calls though and low and behold the decision was made for me. There is only one surgeon in Flag who is contracted with my insurance company. He was my guy! I met with him that Thursday. No idea what all was said but we scheduled a lumpectomy on the next Monday - July 14th. I did get to meet my Angel Nancy that day. One of the first calls I made was to the Cancer Center there in Flag. I left a message saying I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and I had no idea where to go from there. Angel Nancy called me back that day and has held my hand through this ever since. She stayed with me during that initial meeting with the surgeon, has given me all sorts of great literature, and checks in with me every few days answering questions and making sure I'm feeling OK. No idea what I would do without her. She was diagnosed herself 10 years ago.

Surgery went well. My parents got here on the 10th and stayed until the 19th. Surgery day started early with blood work and surgery prep. Then it was a trip in my very own bed on wheels to something called Nuclear Medicine. Those of us now in the biz call it "Nuke Med". I was there so they could map my Sentinel Node which is the node the lymph ducts drain into and they test this node to see if there is any sign of cancer cells. They do a preliminary test while you are still on the table if they see cancer cells they take out more nodes and if cells are not found they are pretty sure that the cancer has not spread though the lymphatic system. Which in my naivety I thought it meant the cancer hadn't spread - Angel Nancy has since pointed out that cancer can spread in other ways - darn that sneaky cancer!! So, to find the Sentinel Node they shoot you up with a blue radioactive dye and then they put you under some sort of claustrophobic inducing scanner. You know the "don't move for the next 20 minutes" type of scanner. I counted 400 slow breaths and it ended up being not that bad. The shot of blue dye hurt like crazy though - luckily the assistant told me before hand that there would only be one shot. So, I sucked it up while he injected me and then gave her a look of terror when he said that he was giving me another shot. She apologized after he left saying she had never seen him give two shots. No idea what was up with that! Another interesting note - the radiologist with the big needle of blue mentioned that he had seen my name on the agenda of their cancer convention the next day. He said I was a main topic of conversation. So, an hour or so later and the Sentinel Node is found - call my sherpa and wheel me back to pre-op.
There were Mom and Dad waiting for me - my stuff was even still there - no one had absconded with anything! I had a few hours to wait and all sorts of blue dye to get out of my body so a couple of trips to the bathroom with my little IV buddy, fashionable hospital gown with all the ties gone, and my lucky sunflower socks - I got to where my lucky sunflower socks during surgery!! I ended up earlier on the operation schedule than we planned so next thing I know I'm being wheeled away. Mom and Dad sure looked sad so I think I had the easy part! Surgery sure went fast from my point of view - I think I ended up being under the knife for a little over an hour. No idea how long I was in post-op but next thing I know I'm being told to get dressed and get out - woohoo! I never did get to talk to the surgeon again that day but Mom and Dad did and he said it went well. So, loaded up on Oxycodone and on our way home. Long ride home - every time I started to fall asleep I got nauseous. Took the next day off and slept it all off and back to work on Wednesday. Pretty sore - two incisions, one on top of my chest and one under my arm. On day two I decided to look and see what was going on - the doctor said he couldn't tell me until he got in there how things would look cosmetically afterwards so I was a bit nervous. I pulled up some of the bandages and remember the blue radioactive dye? Yeah - I was still blue. I couldn't tell a thing but it did crack me up! Ended up looking pretty normal but can't believe my cool biopsy scar has been incorporated into the lumpectomy scar.
We met with the surgeon again that Friday. I was feeling good, had accepted that one way or the other I could survive 6 weeks of radiation, and was actually stupid enough to think "this breast cancer thing is way overrated, this is cake". He said all sorts of good news - no cells were found in the Sentinel Nodes, they got all of the cancer with good margins (healthy cells) around it, it was 100% estrogen positive (can means recurrence/growth can lessened with medication). Then he said that it was fairly large 2.9cms (over an inch) and that he was pretty sure I would need 6 months of chemotherapy. Talk about having the rug pulled out from under me. You would think after my previous two weeks I would know/expect/suspect/be in any way ready for - bad news. Nope - denial runs pretty thickly through my blood. Never saw it coming. Chemo?!! Six months?!! He pointed out that with all the other good news and with my age that we weren't talking about slowing the cancer down, we were talking about totally curing me with no recurrence. He said that if it was him he would not even blink at having chemo treatments.
Have you ever looked up chemo side affects? It runs into pages and pages. I won't even get into it now. Angel Nancy has since pointed out that until my ocnotype test results come back I am kind of in a grey area for chemo so it's not a given yet. The ocnotype test tells how fast my cancer cells grow. Chemo kills off fast growing cells so if mine are slow growers chemo won't help much at all. But one funny note on side affects - on one of the cancer sites I was reading about hair loss and their suggestions of dealing with it. Consider wearing more makeup and jewelry to draw attention away from your baldness. Yeah - I think that will work!
OK - so there is where we are today. It's been two weeks since surgery and I am still sore but better everyday. Tomorrow I have my first appointments with my two oncologists. Yep - a month ago and I couldn't really tell you what an oncologist was and now I not only have one, I have two! A radiology oncologist and a medical oncologist. I don't think all of my test are back yet but I might have a better idea tomorrow of what the game plan is. Here's to no chemo!!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nothing to Add Today

I want to get the story caught up to current events but I'm taking the day off today. I'm so tired of thinking about all this and I'm sure all of you are also - so today I've got nothing. I even googled "cancer jokes" to try to lighten the place up but none of them are very funny. There was the list of 10 Ways You Know You Are A Cancer Survivor but I'm not there yet so I'll save those until..well until it's more apropos.

Anyway, I do have the death in the neighborhood story. I was walking Maddie last week on the trail across the street and I saw my friend Annette up on the road. I walked up to say "hi" and she said that the elk in the neighbor's yard was really sick. He had laid down in front of their front door and was in obvious pain and breathing very hard. One of the Park Service naturalists drove by and she said they had been watching him for a few hours and they thought he had eaten something. They weren't going to do anything to help him which is the norm in the parks. Which reminds me of a very sad but kind of funny story from my Yellowstone days. We had an elk up at Mammoth Hot Springs that had somehow broken her jaw. It was very sad to see her for days slowly starving to death near my office. Someone in the Park Service finally took pity on her and decided to put her out of her misery. The poor elk was laying near the back of the hotel and no longer had the strength to get up. Tourists who didn't know that she was near death were circled around her taking pictures and excited to see an elk up close. The guy they sent over from the park service showed up and with no warning to the visitors dispatched of the elk in front of all of them. I guess there were a few kids screaming bloody murder (literally) and some very angry parents. I didn't see it happen but there was a big streak of blood on the hotel for a few days. I was just happy (if that's the right word - relieved is probably a better term) the poor elk was no longer suffering. No idea why I think the kid's trauma is kind of funny. I guess it's the fact that the guy didn't even think about it. I bet they still have nightmares about their YNP vacation. Anyway, the elk here died not long after Maddie and I finished our walk. He was beautiful and looked so healthy. I hope they figure out what happened to him. That's a picture of him from outside my bedroom window a couple of days before he died.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Waiting for The Call

You know, waiting really wasn't that hard. Moving somewhere new and starting a new job are great ways to keep your mind off the biopsy you just had. My parents stayed three more days and helped me unpack. Not that I was much help - I was supposed to not even do light housework for a few days and of course went back to work the day after the biopsy. They then left on Saturday and that day two friends of mine came to the canyon. One from Denver and the other from Phoenix. We met in Flagstaff first and shopped for the back patio and had some sushi of course! We then spent Saturday and Sunday setting up the stuff we got plus hung up the pictures I collected for years on a sunflower wall. Once again I was no help - they didn't let me do anything. I was pretty sore but the hole was really cool. I was thinking that it was going to leave a way cool scar but alas I no long have that hole. It didn't even last two eeks before it was replaced with a much bigger hole. Anyway, I am skipping ahead in my story. My friends did an awesome job both on the backyard and keeping my mind off The Call. Monday came and it was back to work - no call. So, I called them - the on call nurse was very helpful and tracked down my chart for me. She called back no results yet - she said it wouldn't now be until Tuesday morning and that they would call me. Well, Tuesday morning and no call - so once again I called them. This nurse was also helpful and she tracked my chart to my doctor's desk. She said she would have it brought down and she would call me back within a couple of hours. i was really hoping to get the Call soon - I just wanted it all behind me so I could focus on other things. Seriously, I'm in good shape now, I'm fairly young, I'm a positive person, and yes while I may not eat my veggies what were the odds really that this was cancer? The whole thing had just been an eyerolling pain in the butt experience that made me make a mental note to eat less red meat. Deep down I just knew it was going to be a false alarm.
That afternoon on 7/07/08 I got The Call. The moment I heard "Hi Linda. This is Doctor Carter" my brain just stopped and time came to a stand still. I swear there was a month between "Carter" and "Is this a good time to talk?" When he said the actual words "breast cancer" I was staring out my office window at the tops of the trees noticing how much the wind was picking up. When he said I had to I quickly find a general surgeon I popped up my company email to see if there was anything new. I'm not sure what all was said that afternoon - it wasn't a long call but it lasted an eternity. I know he asked a couple of times if I was still there and he was great in offering to call around to see who the good surgeons were in Flagstaff. I even think his voice cracked a couple of times. He's been my doctor a long time and he was my surgeon back in 98 when one of my ovaries was taken out. After I hung up I remember just sitting there listening to life going on normally around me - tourists in the hallway asking where Maswik Lodge was, big tour buses full of happy vacationers driving past my window, my phone ringing, staring at my hands. I knew I needed to move that I needed to start finding help but I don't know what I was thinking, maybe just maybe if I didn't move it wouldn't be real and if it wasn't real I would never ever have to make The Call to my parents............
Well, of course, I had to start moving. First I took some big breaths, then I picked my head up and straightened my shoulders. Time started to move at a normal pace again. I slowly got up from my chair, took three more deep breaths, slowly walked across the office and closed my door I thought for some privacy but ended up closing it on my old normal life. I then picked up the phone.

Maddie Contemplates Life on the Edge

Maddie and I walked the edge tonight for sunset. She loved it - meeting all the people and watching the birds!

Friday, July 25, 2008

and oh yeah

I found a sunflower growing beside my house today! How Awesome is That?! It was looking a bit ragged so I propped it up and gave it some water. I'll get a picture of it in the morning for the next post.

"I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it." --Garrison Keillor
I had The Biopsy on July 2nd which also happened to be moving day. I finished up at the old job, teared up at leaving dear friends, cleaned off the desk, turned in my keys, and drove to my parents. My friend Lillie had made me promise to take someone with me. I thought this was a bit much and a waste of someone's time but of course my parents were going to be there no matter what. And after what they did to me that afternoon I was really glad they were there.

Stereotactic biopsies are such an amazingly barbaric procedure to have done to your body. I bet they used these as torture in medieval times - heck, President Bush and his buddies wouldn't even agree to use this on terrorists. Anyway, I am not sure I can give this procedure the description it truly deserves but I'll try. Before that though I will freely admit that they had tried to get me to watch a video about the procedure and had even given me literature that remained unread - so that afternoon and everything that happened should not have been a surprise. This is one of those rare cases where denial can be a negative! Plus the doctor and staff were very nice, helpful, and did all they could to make sure I was comfortable.

Hard to believe though that with all the $ spent on cancer research we still have to do things this way. They start by lying you face down on a table with a circular hole about a foot across in it. They position you so the breast for the biopsy is in the hole and your face is looking towards the wall. They must have you look away so you can't see what their faces look like - just in case you run into them on the street and you start uncontrollably screaming. They then start by putting your breast in some sort of vice and then turning it this way and that while they take some sort of images. They talked about a big artery near the mass that they were trying to move around so they could take tissue without cutting it. I was down with that - uncut arteries are a good thing and it really wasn't that uncomfortable. Plus it really wasn't that uncomfortable other than not being able to see what was happening. They found what looked like a good position and we waited for the doctor. He was only a few minutes and agreed with their positioning. At this point I have not met the doctor and haven't even been able to see him except for vague images in the reflection of the picture on the wall. The painting was some sort of idyllic calm peaceful landscape - much too pastelly. He explained that they were going to give me some Novocain to numb me and then would start the biopsy. It was all still good - hardly even felt it. Then things went downhill fast. They inserted the big needle - I didn't really feel much but it was getting more uncomfortable laying there. I didn't really want to move with my breast in a vice with a large needle in it and even taking a swallow made me feel the pressure and a kind of distant pain. He told me that they were now going to send in the smaller needle (or whatever it was that took the samples) and that I would feel a pinch and a loud noise since it was on some sort of spring. At that point one of the nice ladies started to hold my hand and honest to God another nice lady laid across my back to hold me down. What the ..?!?!?! It happened so fast - one minute I'm laying there feeling a bit uncomfortable hoping I wouldn't fart and the next minute someone is holding me down. Unbelievable - this is really going to suck - I started to sweat and the doctor started to count down - three, two, one.... then nothing - well that was overdone I thought and started to laugh (well a small giggle so I wouldn't move much). But not so fast missy - I hear one of the nice ladies swear. She starts to apologize to the doctor (what about me! apologize to me!)- she had forgotten to set the gun thingie up right and it didn't fire. Confusion reigned. They tried to figure out if they could set it while the huge honking needle was in me. I'm lying there facing the nice cottage in the woods trying to see in the glass reflection what the heck was going on - all while having my breast in a vice with a huge ass needle in me. Lots of whispering, more discussion, I'm trying not to swallow because it is really srtating to hurt - A Decision is made. They need to pull out, reposition me, set up the gun, and start over. Now I have all sorts of time to think about what's going to happen when that spring goes off. They are pretty quick getting us back to that point and five minutes later I now have TWO! of them laying on my back holding me down, three, two, one - SPROINGGGG, small pin prick and it's over. Not so bad after all. If I wasn't shaking so badly I might even have smiled a little. They get their samples and the doctor pops up on my side of the table - ah, a face for the torturer. He's wearing a hawaiian shirt. He explains that they are done and are just putting in a titanium staple to mark the tumor. What the?!?! Can they do that??!! I know I signed all sorts of things without reading them but can they put something in me and leave it without my permission. It's not like I can move, I can't even talk and complain, I'm in a vice with a NEEDLE in me. He says it will stay in me forever unless this tumor needs to be removed. I am really really starting to hate this day. So, titanium chip inserted, needles are pulled out, dressing is applied, and the nice ladies help me up. Doctor comments that I didn't really bleed too much, to take it easy for a week or so, and walks out. Didn't bleed too much! I look down through the hole in the table and there is blood everywhere and then when I sit up it looks like a movie massacre on the floor. I am just beside myself at this point. It was the most degrading thing I have ever been through and trust me I'm an expert at degrading myself. I don't think I would have been able to drive myself home. Walking out and seeing my parents sitting and waiting for me made just about everything better. I just love their smiles.

We drove back to their house, picked up Maddie, got in two cars, and moved me to a new state and a new life. I was so thankful that I got this done when I did so it would be nothing and I could start my new adventures without worrying about it. I enjoyed the drive five hour with my Mom. She drove while I kept a bag of frozen corn on the hole left by the biopsy. It cracked me up to see how happy Mom was to find tootsie roll pops (chocolate of course) at the gas station in Gap, Arizona. It was a nice night and the canyon was beautiful. Life is good.

And let me tell you about my new bathtub! It's like a peachy pink and just the perfect size and the water is so deliciously hot - as long as I keep an eye on Dad turning down the hot water heater! I had a bubble bath last night - my surgeon would frown on me but if I twist quite right I can submerge about all of me and not the incisions! See - I told you life is good!

Next time - waiting for The Phone Call and we had a death in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

One last random thought

You have no idea how strange it is to me to know that from now I will always be known as a "Cancer Survivor"

Step Two

They were able to get me in for A Mammogram fairly quickly. It was Monday afternoon just a little over a week later. I had a lot to do and was pretty busy between the two and didn't really think about it, much. I also had a dentist appointment on the next Tuesday to have a wisdom tooth taken out - ouch! My boss was in town for some crossover before I left and my sister and her family were visiting (see pic of me and my favorite niece Hannah!) so had a great week with them. That weekend my brother-in-law Matt and sister Lori came with me on a road trip to move some stuff to the South Rim - we had a great time and they got to see my new house and meet some of my friends. I came back and did not have a bed or about anything else so stayed in a hotel in Springdale. Monday was the big going away BBQ - man that was fun, my Springdale friends are so fabulous! OK - enough avoiding the story I'm trying to tell. I went to The Mammogram on that Monday. I told them about the lump like the doctor had told me to but since it was not detailed on the referral they weren't going to look at it right away or take images of it. I got a little upset at that point and told them that I was moving in a few days and was not going to be able to come back. The ladies there were very nice and I happily waited while they tracked down the doctor and got the referral changed. We did The Mammogram which did not hurt half as much as some say and I took a seat. The lady who did The Mammogram ran the images right back to the doctor. While I was sitting there in my little hospital gown I saw them come out to talk to all sorts of ladies - smile at them - and say "it's just a cyst" you can get dressed now. The very very first sign of anything to come was when the lady came back out and told me to get dressed and that then another lady and I would go talk to the doctor. She talked in the softest of tones and had a look of resigned sympathy on her face. I wonder how many women she has used that tone with - what a hard job. I hope she is paid well. Anyway, we walked the long hallway back to a dark room. The doctor had my images up on a big display on the wall. I don't really remember what he was saying but I do remember the images. He showed me where the lump was and compared my left and right breasts. There was no doubt that something was there. He said there was no knowing what it was but that it was not a cyst and recommended a biopsy right away. The nice lady walked me back down the long hallway to her very bright white office. She offered to show me a video of what they were going to do but I said no. Seriously - I just didn't have time for this and I still figured it was going to be benign. How the heck was I going to fit in a biopsy in the next two days before moving?! This was Monday - I was planning on working until noon on Wednesday and then was going get into the car, pick up Maddie and drive to start Arizona and work on Thursday. Lucky me, apparently the only day they schedule biopsies is Tuesday - alright! "You haven't taken any blood thinners in the past week have you?" Oops - remember that wisdom tooth? I had taken blood thinners until Saturday with that stupid tooth gone. I told her that I had quit taken them on Thursday and she called a doctor on his day off to see if she could schedule a stereotactic biopsy for me with him on Wednesday. He said yes and it was going to work perfectly. Get off work at noon, biopsy appointment at 2pm, and on the road by 4om. Get me to the canyon not too much past dark. I was relieved that I could get this all behind me before I even hit Arizona. The nice lady walked me to the door with a stack of paperwork about what they were going to do to me. As she closed the door behind me she opened the door again and said "you do have insurance don't you, dear?" I said yes and she sighed and said "thank God".

A dear friend asked me early in this process what I was afraid of most. I said spiders.

Random thoughts - Funny I can't even say the word cancer anymore. I just call it "my news" or "I've got a health issue going on". I'm not that girl - cancer girl. I hate that people look at me or think of me as that girl. It feels wrong to have "something like this" going on while I'm feeling so healthy. It's hard to think of myself as "sick" when other than the holes poked into me by doctors I feel normal. I love the first few minutes in the morning when I wake up and see my surroundings - my first thought is "yea" I love this house and the sun is out and I'm excited for my day. Then I remember........ I love that I haven't incorporated "this" into my dreams yet - not that I plan to. I've started to read some of the cancer boards. There are some absolutely amazing beautiful bald women out there. I find them all so inspirational. And the humor they show in their pain - both mental and physical - is a beautiful thing. They have already reached out to me even though on a scale of one to ten - my prognosis and treatments are like a four and is easy compared to what they are or have gone through. Simply amazing. And then there are my friends and family - I am so so blessed to have their support through this.
Next time - the most barbaric thing I have ever been through, The Stereotactic Biopsy and wow I can't believe my good fortune of having a bathtub again!

Monday, July 21, 2008

And so it begins..............

In early June - I wish I could remember now how I found it but I think it hurt a little so was rubbing it - I found a lump at the top of my right breast. It felt big but to me nonworrisome. I had just accepted a new job with my company at the Grand Canyon so was planning on moving in early July. I had other things on my mind and maybe I was just imagining the lump anyway. Luckily in anticipation of moving I had already made an appointment in late June with my gynecologist. I put it out of my mind knowing I would show it to him then and it would be nothing. I had turned 40 the year before so I was supposed to have already had a mammogram but had been too busy at the time he recommended it so I never made the appointment. Aren't they supposed to be not very helpful anyway - I swear I read that somewhere. So, on June 20th of 2008 in my 41st year of this life I went to my appointment and showed him the lump. He said it wasn't my imagination but he was pretty sure it was a cyst that only needed to be drained. He did though highly recommended I get a mammogram to make sure before I moved on the 3rd of July. He gave me a written referral and said if I explained about the lump and that I was moving they should be able to get me an appointment in the next week or so. I was so focused on moving my stuff - changing addresses - saying good bye to my dear friends - starting a new job - finishing up the old job - all the usual excitement, sadness, frenzy, stress of starting a new chapter in life that I almost didn't make the appointment. I'd like to say that I am really happy that I did but then maybe if I would have ignored this whole thing it wouldn't be happening.

So why a blog? I say to myself it's to help me remember as I go through this process the different things that happen and to help keep dates, people, test results, etc. straight. I know though that it's going to be an outlet for me when I am alone. I am scared silly for myself I am having a very hard time letting myself be seen as scared silly to my wonderful family and friends who hate seeing me scared and are scared themselves.
I know I have to do this - I'm just not sure I can do this well. And I so want to be seen by those I love as doing this well.....
Next Time - The Mammogram and what is there really to be afraid of?