Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving- a time to give thanks- a time to count your blessings- a time to spend with family and friends- the list goes on & on.  When I look back on my “memories” app- I see so many wonderful thanksgiving times for the past 9 years.  It’s nice when you can look back like that- see what you were doing on that same exact day in years past.

For me the past 9 years has included Kauai; Rome; Oahu; Sedona and then the past two years I was in full fight mode- getting chemo and just trying to survive.  This year I was supposed to be in Oahu again with my best friend- but after spending 6 days in the hospital, I had no PTO left at work and really no money to spend relaxing on the beaches.  But on the flip side- I got to spend some quality time with my grand daughter and her husband as well as my son, his girlfriend.  We had our “thanksgiving” on Friday and had a wonderful dinner with Honey Baked Ham.  Spent some time relaxing, visiting and then went to the movies as a family- and I did not miss Hawaii at all.

My bestie has her two daughters with her- so she is getting quality time and memories as well- so we both scored by my illness.

Today I had to go give the blood for my three month checkup and I don’t know if it is because I have been in the hospital so many times since August or if it is just because I am so close to my one year cancer free anniversary- but this blood work really has me anxious.  I think back on my mom and her journey with ovarian cancer and remember that she was not in remission for long- so it always makes me a bit uneasy to be fighting this same fight knowing she lost her battle.

I have many blessings- I have an amazing job- I work with truly outstanding people that love me and respect me as I do them- I have an overwhelming abundance of friends all over the U.S. through insurance as well as through photography- and I have the best family a person could possibly have.  But in the days after the blood work- I always go to a bit of a dark place- where I wonder if the fight will need to start again and how bad will this time be?

Cancer changes you- it changes you in ways you just can’t explain to others- and the sisterhood or kinship you have with other cancer survivors or when you see someone at the store or coffee shop and you know they are in the middle of their battle- the knowing look- the smile you give them- they know you have fought that battle to.

So for now, I pray, I wait, hope, and go on with the rest of my weekend.

Laugh-Love-Survive

Sunday’s

Today marks two years from my second round of chemo on the Breast Cancer and also two weeks since my last post.  It has been a pretty crazy past two weeks-  After my last posting I went about all my Sunday chores and then at about noon I got the chills- checked my temp and I was at 103.5.  Crazy high and I figured I was getting the same bug that was going around so I took some tylenol and laid down on the couch.  This was a pattern the rest of the day- no appetite, just fighting the high temps when at 2am the redness started in the right breast again.  This would make round #3 on the infection building in the right breast and this time I was determined to head it off before it put me back in the hospital again.

I called my doctor early Monday morning- sent them a photo of the affected area and they sent me some antibiotics to my local drug store- left the office to go get them, started taking them immediately and tried my best in the middle of my busiest time of the year to not only get my 11/1’s processed, but also do my best to keep my temperature below 100.  Come Wednesday morning at my follow up appointment with Dr. Dobke to see how the infection was responding to the drugs- it was a major fail- the breast was swollen and much redder than Monday morning- so yes… off to the hospital I go yet again.

They started pumping the major antibiotics in me by noon on Wednesday- and due to the infection being so close to my port- they had to use the veins in my right arm/hand to infuse the drugs.  For those that have never been through chemo- this is not an easy process as my veins are pretty much trashed and still trying to rebuild themselves from the chemo drugs put in me over & over again.  It is not only painful to try to get the IV in, but also it has to be repeated every 24 hours due to the high concentration of antibiotics pretty much also destroying the veins.  They only have the right arm they can use as the left arm is totally off limits due to the removal of lymph nodes during the double mastectomy.

By Friday morning it was clear the infection was just getting worse, the swelling was getting ridiculous and Dr. Dobke set me up for surgery on Monday morning.  He had determined that there was just no way to leave the implant in my body any longer and would be removing it, taking skin & fat from my back to rebuild the right breast from my own body.  He ordered double the amount of antibiotics to be infused through Monday morning and also told me after surgery I would be in the hospital through the following Friday.

It was actually amazing to me that I was not going into stress overload- afterall it was my busiest time of the year and here I was stuck in the hospital again… for days.  😦

The weekend passed- lots of visitors- lots of conversations with my amazing nursing staff- My “dream team” came through several times- great eye candy- great smiles- and then on Monday morning Dr. Dobke told me the infection was still too bad to do the entire surgery- so he could only go in- remove the implant and fluid and then we would have to do the other surgery after the first of the year.  That was a plus and a minus- the plus was I would be able to get out of the hospital much sooner- the minus- another surgery- another policy year to where I would have another $6600 out of pocket expense.  So that meant no trip to Florence Italy for my 60th birthday- but it did mean I could finally keep from going in the hospital over & over again due to my body just hating the right implant.

The surgery went well- I was able to go home on Tuesday afternoon and start getting back to my normal routine.  It does look really bad- the right side now appears to have the resemblance of a shriveled orange, still a bit red but getting better a little each day- still one drain left in until Wednesday when they will be able to remove the stitches and the other drain and really not a lot of pain- other than the drain site.

A couple of really nice things happened while I was in the hospital this time- #1, first visit ever from a Chaplin during my stay.  He was quite nice- we had about a 30 minute conversation and then he prayed for me and my health.  #2- a music therapy girl came to visit- she sang three songs for me- the first being my very favorite “Let it Be” and brought tears to my eyes since I had never really had anyone “sing” that song to me.  Both visits where extremely uplifting for me and I do hope others get as much out of it as I did when they had their visits.  The Chaplin told me about 98% of patients invite him in the room- and out of the 98% there are about 50% that allow him to lift them up in prayer.  With today’s world being what it is- I think those are pretty good percentages.  🙂

The other plus from not being able to go to Florence in February?  I get to see Bob Seger here in San Diego for his last tour- so I am very happy about that.  Next trip for me will not be until March of 2019 when I head to Ft Worth for my High School reunion.  I had to cancel my November Hawaii trip due to the recovery I have to get through- I am sad, but honestly I have traveled a lot this past year and really need to focus on my health again.

Parting words for this week?  Friends and family are your lifeline- keep them close to you- let them know just how much you love them and how much they fill your life with joy.  This is a photo of some beautiful flowers brought to me at the hospital by Grisell- they bring me so much joy and I will be planting them in the front flower bed so I can see them everyday when I come & go from the house.

Laugh- Love- Survive!

45461923_10156799492591449_2440438084450385920_o

Two years ago today

Two years ago today, I went through my very first chemo session.  It was a scary thing for me, but I was truly lucky to have my son by my side keeping me entertained and not really focusing on the chemicals being pushed into my body.  I had a port placed in the right side of my chest to make the blood work and chemo sessions easier on me- no constant access needed of my veins, which I really liked since I bruise easily and did not want to look like a drug addict.

But let’s go back a few weeks to the moment that changed my life- September 10, 2016- that was the morning while taking a shower, I changed up the way I typically showered since I was in a handicapped shower at a hotel (had broken my ankle 2 weeks before)- didn’t have my cute shower puff thing that was my standard with the liquid body soap- had almost fallen so I had to brace myself with my arm up over my head- bar soap in my hand when I felt what seemed like a huge massive knot deep in the side of my left breast.  For those that have been through this- even ones that it was not cancer- I’m sure you can relate to the fear that set in.  I was at a California Council meeting- where I was one of the officers- was going to be spending the next 8 hours working- doing a speak off- helping coordinate since our chapter was the host association- my world was spinning very quickly around me- but I needed to try my best to focus and not think about what I had found.

It was truly one of the worst days of my life- I knew deep inside it was cancer and no matter what the few I let in on this discovery said to me- I just knew.  I went home the next morning from the conference, told my husband what I discovered- he was deep in a movie and his response was less than what I really needed.  I needed someone at that point to turn off the fucking TV- look at his wife, hold her and make her feel like everything was going to be okay.

I chose not to tell my children- I knew I needed a lot more information and verification that it was indeed cancer and honestly even though it was in the breast- I did not know for sure that it was breast cancer and not another type spreading through my body.  I had been going through not feeling all that stellar for several months- so at that time to me- anything was possible.

I went through the usual steps for this kind of thing- meeting with my primary care doctor- going to mammogram & ultrasound- getting biopsies as the ultrasound showed more than one area of concern- and then I left for vacation on September 17th for Hawaii not knowing what was held in store for me.  It was my grand daughter’s graduation gift and I was determined not to let anything ruin this for her.

On September 21st at 6:15am Hawaii time- I found out that my fear was confirmed- I had Breast Cancer- I did have the most common type- was stage two due to the size of the tumor- it did not appear to be in the lymph nodes, but was branching out to start this process and I was given an appointment to meet with the breast cancer surgeon the following Friday.  I was numb- I remember my best friend was sitting beside me on the couch- grand daughter was asleep in her room- husband asleep in the other room.  Her face was breaking my heart- she looked so scared and so sad but she was comforting me- helping me.  I had fought since 1995 to keep from getting Ovarian cancer and never in a million years expected to get breast cancer.  And yet, here I sat with it hitting me in the face.

I went through the rest of the day doing the painful phone calls to tell my children, tell my father, siblings- more of my very close friends, my boss- more talking with doctors telling me the next steps all while trying to enjoy the day in beautiful Maui- going through Lavender fields, the botanical gardens- I  think that may have been the day we went up to the top of the volcano as well- which was stunning to say the least.

The rest of the vacation I tried to spend it as if the news and the coming fight was non-existent- which was hard in the quiet times- easy in the busy times.  I remember the conversation with my grand daughter on the flight home- telling her that I was really blind sided by this type of cancer- but that no matter what happened in the future- I would not let it rule over me or define me.  I would fight, I would fight until my dying breath- but no matter what my life was not going to revolve around the fact that I had cancer.

The following Friday I met with my Breast Cancer surgeon, Dr. Blair with another bestie by my side.  Bobbie showed up with her journal full of notes- it was awesome to see someone so prepared- for me I showed up- no notes at all. 🙂   Dr. Blair was very matter of fact- she was really the type of doctor I needed with my personality, because I don’t like sugar coating- and she is far from a sugar coated type of doctor.  She explained to me that they would want to do chemo first to see how the tumor reacted instead of the old way where they took the tumor out, gave you chemo and hoped it was the right kind- also referred me to a genetic counselor as she felt due to my family history that I most likely was BRCA1- which meant I really had a lot more on my plate than just breast cancer and then also referred me to the Oncologist I would be working with through this part of the journey.  I promised her I would not refer to “Dr. Google” on my questions and left there feeling quite a bit more informed, felt a bit better about the process- and was thankful I had Bobbie with me during this appointment.

The next few weeks were filled with more appointments- had to get cleared that my ankle was completely healed because I couldn’t start chemo with any broken bones- found out I was indeed BRCA1 and therefore my children had to be tested- met with the oncologist, Dr. Roesch who is simply amazing- got chosen for the clinical trials for the weeks of chemotherapy orally and by infusion and also feeling quite relieved that the chemo would not start until close to the end of my busiest time of the year.

I lot of things happened during that time before chemo- some good, some bad.  Received an overwhelming amount of support from friends- some of which I only knew through facebook- others that were models, photographers I had worked with- seemed like every day I came home to gifts waiting at the front door- boxes upon boxes of things- blankets for use during chemo- journals- socks to wear- bags to carry things in to & from appointments- ginger candy to keep the nausea at bay- books of inspirational quotes- flowers sent to the office- just so much stuff.  These beautiful bracelets that reminded me to fight and be a warrior-

14753464_717352661753811_6886081507610274325_o These were sent by a friend of mine up in San Francisco- Rae Lynn knew how I loved the bling!  All of this leading up to this first session two years ago.

The clinical trial I was chosen for you took chemo orally everyday for 12 weeks and then you would have an infusion session every other week to mix things up.  The next 12 weeks I would have infusions of a different type every other week and they would be much more severe as far as the side effects.

I went to the session not knowing how I would really feel after the infusion- it was actually pretty nice being in this particular clinical trial because I had my advocate there with me for each blood test and each infusion session- she didn’t stay for the entire session, but she was always there for about the first 20 minutes asking me questions about the last few days- how I was doing emotionally- what my body seemed to do as far as reactions- etc and then I also had my son there next to me for this first one.  I wasn’t entirely sure I would be able to drive afterwards- not sure if I would really want to eat- no clue of what was in store for me.

The first session lasted about 2 hours- and honestly each and every time- I just was so disgusted by the fact that these chemicals were getting put in my body.  The access of the port, the tube coming out of my chest- watching the drip- grossed me out.  Every time I was so happy when it was over with so I could get on with the rest of my day.  But for this particular infusion session- it was not that bad as far as side effects- I was able to go to dinner after the session with Mark- was able to drive home with no issues and then of course it made me really tired later that night to where I was just totally exhausted.  But I promised myself that I would stay positive through all of this- I told everyone all negativity was to be left at the door- do not bring it in the house or around me as it was more toxic than the cancer or the drugs being put in my body.

14889819_727546654067745_4843401509734119077_o

They told me that I would begin to lose my hair within about 3-4 weeks after this start date and that the oral drugs I also started taking at this time could have me sick as well- so I had a ton of prescription drugs for nausea, constipation, etc.

The past two years have been a journey for sure- A lot of things have happened and just like with death in a family, disease brings out the best & worst in people close to you.  In an effort to free myself of people and things that hurt me emotionally- I chose to get divorced from my husband.  It was a hard decision and I kept thinking and trying to free myself of all of the hurt over the past two years- but I am the type of person that just can’t forget or forgive certain things.  It was getting way too toxic and it is not his fault he is the way he is- it is mine for thinking that anything would be different than it was the first time we were together.  I am angry with myself for going down that road again.  I had just gotten out of a long term relationship where the last two years I really just had not laughed that much- he came back into my life at a low point and really made me laugh.  Unfortunately the laughter was short lived and we were way too different in culture and beliefs and then the cancer came and it got even worse.

I am an extremely passionate person when it comes to life and love- I give way too freely for my own good- and people really can take advantage of me and my ways.  I have worked my entire life very hard to get where I am in my career and I have worked so hard to raise my children in the same way I was raised.  I am proud of the life I am able to have and I am so proud of my kids and the lives they have.  I will get past this anger I’m sure- it does take time and I’m sure he is pretty pissed at me for the blindside of divorce- but needing a life without negative energy from someone that close to you is essential in this constant fight to keep healthy.  I live my life three months at a time for now- since each three months I have to get my test done to see if the cancer cells are increasing- every six months I get a CT scan to make sure no areas of concern- to also live with constant unhappiness mixed with this is just not an option.

I have started journaling again in an effort to do two things:

  1. help myself heal and continue to get healthy inside and out
  2. inspire & help others to make changes in their lives to move toward health and happiness as well

 

Until next time- Laugh, Love, Survive!