Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Over the past two years, a lot of crazy things have happened.  First, I want to write the series of events as a series of negative statements, but then describe the same events as a series of positives.  Why am I doing this?  I don't know, but I know that I got a fax today from my father that made me want to write about all of this.

In the summer of 2007, my husband was working for a hedge fund that traded sub-prime mortgages.  I was pregnant with our third child.  I knew that the market was crumbling, because my husband told me so.  I was worried about health insurance for the baby that would be born in a few months.  It turned out that his company went under a few weeks before the baby was born but signed on with a new company days before the baby was born.

In January 2008, my brother, who was morbidly obese (6'2" and almost 480 lbs.) decided to have elective gastric bypass surgery.  He suffered a number of complications from that surgery and he died in March 2008.  He was my only sibling.

In the Fall of 2008, I got pregnant.  I was not prepared.  When I became prepared to have a fourth child (at the time, my oldest was 4, the next 3, the next not even 1) I had a miscarriage.  I had not been to a primary care physician in about 4 years, and the miscarriage made me realize that it was time to start taking care of myself and make sure I was in optimum health because I wanted to be around for my 3 children.

In October 2008, my husband's aunt had a lumpectomy from a breast cancer diagnosis over the summer.  She subsequently went through chemotherapy and radiation.  Another cousin, we found out, had pre-cancerous breast cells and she had a double mastectomy in 2006.

In November 2008, my husband took a package from his company and was laid off.  By doing so, he received a decent settlement package and health insurance coverage through January 31, 2009, after which COBRA would pick up starting February 1, 2009.

Sometime in December 2008, in the middle of the night, I felt a pinch in my left tricep muscle.  It woke me up and made me fearful that something bad was wrong, though after that moment, I never had a pain again.

In January 2009, I met a wonderful primary care physician who sent me for a barrage of tests, from a colonoscopy, to a dermatologist, to a baseline mammogram because I had lumpy breast tissue.

Late January 2009, I had my first mammogram.  I was told that there was a calcification in one area, but not to worry, that happened to alot of women at their baseline mammogram, and a follow-up sonogram would be no big deal.

February 26, 2009, I went back for my follow-up sonogram and mammogram.  They saw a spot.  I was not nervous.  They said they wanted to do a fine needle aspiration biopsy and I would know the results in 30 minutes.  I was not nervous.  The spot was only 5mm, smaller than a grain of rice.  I was not nervous.  30 minutes later, I was told I had invasive ductal carcinoma, I had cancer.  Then a nurse told me that my options were double mastectomy or lumpectomy with radiation.  Finally, I was nervous.

April 8, 2009, I had a double mastectomy and over the next month I had tissue expansions to get my breasts to about a small C size (from the 34DD size I was before).  My surgeon called two weeks later to tell me that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes so the chances of having to go through chemotherapy were very small.  Though my older daughter told me she didn't like me because of my drains that came out of my body that she could feel and for the fact that I could not pick her up. 

In early May 2009, my cancer surgeon informed me that I would have to go through chemotherapy because I was Estrogen positive and Her2Neu positive (which meant that my cancer would grow aggressively if it somehow got into my bloodstream).

June 3, 2009 would start the summer of chemo...and not chemo-lite, but chemo that made all of my hair all over my body fall out, made me lose my taste for anything sweet or tomato based, made me sick to my stomach 24/7 for the first round of treatments and then suffer from intolerable bone pain and some toe numbness for the second round of treatments, made me so exhausted during certain days where I could barely rouse myself out of bed...I could not stand the way I looked.  I would change outfits 4 times a day because I felt that nothing looked good on me.  I never went out without a scarf or wig on because I just couldn't stand the way I looked...and if I tried to exercise, my heart felt like it was jumping out of my chest and I was going to pass out at any moment...

I still have an IV drug (Herceptin) that I have to receive every 3 weeks through August 2010 that is the miracle drug for Her2Neu positive patients.  I opted not to have a port put in, so every time I have a Herceptin treatment or had to have chemo, they had to poke my veins each time.  I have such bad scar tissue in some areas that I cannot even have needles put in there.  I cringe every time I have to go back for my Herceptin treatments...

November 11, 2009, I had my exchange procedure (temporary breast expanders to final silicone implants).  I am coming upon the end of the six week recovery period.  I cannot wait to pick up my kids.

I cannot believe this happened to me.  I am still trying to figure out what I did that was so bad that I would have to suffer this pain, from my brother to my own pain.  What did my parents do to have one child die one year and then less than a year later, have the other child diagnosed with cancer.  What did they do wrong???

The positive spin:

In 2007, I gave birth to our third child, a beautiful little girl.  Despite the fact that my husband's company was defunct, he got another job and we had health insurance coverage with no problems. 

Sad to say, but I cannot find anything positive in my brother dying, except that he was finally trying to do something positive for himself, but unfortunately, never got to see the fruits of that labor...

In the Fall 2008, I had a miscarriage.  I am not sad about that because I never would have been able to manage four kids age five and under.  I joke that you would have read about me in the newspaper killing myself and my four children because I truly would not have been able to handle the madness!!!

In November 2008, my husband took a package and was laid off from his company.  Thank goodness he got a settlement that was decent enough that he has been able to stay at home during my entire cancer treatment and we are not worried about health insurance or how we are going to survive financially.  He has even been able to take on some pet projects and finance those on his own.  He is so much happier out of the industry though he does wonder why we live 12 minutes from Manhattan if he's not working there...

In December 2008, I think my brother's spirit pinched me under my arm.  I have no other explanation as to what caused that sharp pain that sent me to the doctor in January.  I know, there are numerous other explanations, but I'd like to think my brother's spirit, less than a year after his death, came to me and alerted me as soon as possible to get my ass to the doctor because something bad was a-brewin' inside me!  When I tell my dad this story, it brings him to tears.  That pinch helped save my life.

In January 2009, I went to a doctor who felt my boobs and said I should have a mammogram.  In subsequent conversations, she told me that she never felt anything, but that she thought my lumpy breast tissue was reason enough for a baseline mammogram.  I had been to the OB/GYN for  years prior to that and he felt me up all the time, and he never felt the necessity to send me for a baseline mammogram.  My primary care physician saved my life!

February 26, 2009, I was diagnosed with an aggressive but garden-variety type of cancer.  Thank goodness I found out before it had a chance to travel to my lymph nodes or become such a large tumor that I could have felt it myself.  I WAS SO LUCKY TO FIND THIS CANCER!  I had one doctor tell me that this had been growing for a matter of months...unbelievable!

March 2009, my husband and I take the kids to Disney World so that we could all have some fun before the tough stuff began.

April 8, 2009, I got rid of almost all possibility of the cancer ever coming back by having the double mastectomy.  I mean, although there was always a small chance of cancer coming back because the surgeon could not guarantee every breast cell was removed, my thought was the less tissue the less chances that the cancer would return.

May 2009, I am told I am going to have chemo.  I was told that although the tumor was less than 1 cm (9mm all in) and I was under the age of 40 (diagnosis at 37), if a microscopic cancer cell got somewhere else in my body, it would grow very aggressively, so the chemo would hopefully take care of that.  And while there are very few positive things to say about the side effects of chemotherapy (I still have not gotten my period back - is that a positive or a negative?) this made my chances of having cancer again that much less.  In fact, I have to believe if there was something else growing in my body, this poison got rid of that!!! 

September 2009, Chemo is finished!  While my hair didn't fully fall out until it was over, I am happy to say, three months later, that my hair is as long as Annie Lenox and I have had to have eyebrow and bikini waxes and I have all of my tastebuds back so I am eating sugar and tomato sauce like a madwoman (is that a positive or negative, I am not sure, my tight pants say bad, but since I was not able to eat food for so long, it's all good!)

November 11, 2009, I had my exchange procedure.  I now have my perky silicone implants.  I won't have to wear a bra when I'm 80 and, because the cancer is gone, I have a good chance of living a long healthy life!  I am also free to pick up my kids and throw them around.  Life is good!

The end of the year is near.  While I don't wish the time away at all, I am glad this year is over.  A Happy and Healthy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake!!!

I have one more week to go before I can have the unlimited ability to pick up my kids and throw them around!  My six week recovery period from my latest surgery will be over on Wednesday and that just cannot come soon enough for me!

I just have to share this story from a 2 year old birthday party I attended a few days ago.  Talk about someone who needs to get a 2 year old daughter was at a birthday party.  She had a great time at the gym-themed birthday party, climbing on the balance beam, swinging from swings, and bouncing on the trampoline, but what I think she liked best was the icing on the birthday cake.  She sat for about 20 minutes daintily picking at the icing with her fork, she didn't need my help at all, and that was fine with me (as I was enjoying my own piece of cake!)

But as I am standing there watching my daughter with her icing, I see a mom of twins next to me, icing all over her fingers, throwing the icing in the garbage.  I asked her what she was doing and she said she was throwing away the icing from her kids' cake because she didn't want them getting messy...she didn't want her two year old kids getting messy with cake at a birthday party.  Is it me or is there something wrong with that?  To her defense, she does own a kids clothing store boutique, so I guess that she always wants her kids looking their best, but it's not like the icing doesn't come off in the wash!  I really felt badly for her kids, as one of them was looking at my daughter's cake longingly, and wondering why his cake didn't look the same.

I just found it so surprising that someone could be that anal with a two-year old having cake.  I thought that two-year old's were synonymous with messes but maybe that's why my house, while clean, always looks messy.  Maybe I am the one who's wrong on this situation, but couldn't she have just brought a change of clothes for her kids if she was that worried about them getting ruined???

In reality, thank god that messy icing is the worst of her concerns.  I hope that continues to be the worst thing that happens to their family.  But for those of us who have much greater concerns, I have to say, "get over yourself, lady!!!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This too shall pass...

Four weeks today since I had my exchange procedure (for those of you wondering what that means, I am talking about having my tissue expanders exchanged for final silicone implants - the ladies who will continue to defy gravity when i'm well into my 80s!).  It is amazing how uncomfortable I felt just four weeks ago.  How the stitches would pull and ache underneath the implants when I would stretch my hands above my head.  I thought I was never really going to get full mobility because they ached so much!  But now, I can put my hands over my head with no problem!  I can also walk for 50 minutes and feel no pain afterwards.  Things are good!!!

Where am I going with this rambling?  I know, I do that often.  But I am just realizing that throughout this whole ordeal I can remember thinking that I was never going to feel better, never get through the pain, never get through a night without pain/anxiety medicine to help me sleep, but it passed and now I'm at a much better place.

I even forgot how awful I would feel on my bad days during chemo, and my middle daughter, just shy of 4 years old, would lie down in bed with me and take a nap with me, just because she was worried about me.  It was so wonderful to have her near me and not afraid of me.  She wasn't like that a few months before, when she told me she didn't like me (when I had my drains in after the mastectomy).  So it felt very nice to have her near me...

I guess I just want women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and who are waiting to talk to their doctor, their cancer surgeon, their plastic surgeon, their oncologist, worried that they are going to lose their hair, that it all goes away, it does get better, it is temporary.  And while it is real and it is really awful while going through all of it, this too shall pass...oh, and by the way, I finally got a bikini wax!!!  I know, I know, still too much information, but I am glad to say that I finally needed one!!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Paying It Forward

Well, I had my first real post-surgery mentor conversation with a woman who had a double mastectomy a month ago, and is just starting the tissue expansion, and knows she has to go through chemotherapy soon.  I tried to be as positive as I possibly could, I spent most of the time telling this woman that "this too shall pass." 

I wanted to tell her that the rest of her tissue expansions (she just finished her first) wouldn't be uncomfortable (painful is the word I really wanted to use); instead, I told her that the expansions might get more uncomfortable but that it gets more comfortable (when the tissue expanders come out and the final implants are put, seriously, about a month after my final expansion I finally stopped taking pain pills to sleep).  I did tell her how I would wake up in the middle of the night and bolt upright from the pain, but that was only seven months ago and now I've got my final implants so that "discomfort" is over.

I tried to tell her that chemo isn't as bad as one might think, but that would have been a lie.  Instead, I told her that chemo sucks when you are going through it, and that's when you need to have a good support system to help out on the really awful days, but that it all ends and your hair does grow back and you start to forget how awful you felt and that your energy really does come back.  I told her to try and remain active, even though it was difficult to get out of bed on the worst days, and to keep focusing on the positive.

Funny, the silver lining for this woman, as it remains for myself, is that we get new perky boobs.  I didn't tell her that they don't feel like the other ones did, that even though these implants feel more comfortable than the expanders that they really don't feel like breasts to me.  That sensation is gone. 

But that is not what matters.  What matters is that I am alive and that I will be alive to dance at my childrens' weddings.  What matters is that the surgeons and the chemo got all of the cancer out of my body (well, I'm 99.9% sure of that) and that I am at a good hospital and the chance for recurrence is so small that I try to leave that fear in the very dark recesses of my mind.  What matters is that after a year of total crap, I am still fairly normal...and fairly healthy.

I am glad that I have people to talk to about my experience (ordeal?) and while there are too many other women whose names I was given to call and talk about their experiences, sometimes it does get too much.  I still find myself emotionally exhausted after a breast cancer-reconstruction-chemotherapy conversation, though the conversations are priceless and I appreciate every minute someone will spend talking to me.  And so, begins my paying it forward and helping out those people who are a few steps behind's just there are more and more women with breast cancer and it shouldn't be that way...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Making Excuses

I really hate making excuses as to why I don't write every day.  It's not like I don't have much to write about, but I swear some days I just cannot find the time to write.  Or sometimes, when I sit down to write I just cannot figure out how to get the words out...but that is another blog for another time, I guess.

Three weeks since I had the "exchange procedure".  I am feeling better every day, though sometimes at night, when I try to sleep on my side, the stitches really hurt, but other than some nagging pains every once in a while and the fact that I have to wear very supportive bras 24/7 for 6 weeks (half way there!) I am really feeling pretty good!  I don't even need to take pain meds at night and haven't taken anti-anxiety medicine since the night before the exchange procedure!  Nice to know that the surgery is over with and only 3 more weeks to go until I can pick up my three kids and swing them around a bit.  Here are some cute pictures of them from the year:

And these picutres are part of the reason I haven't been writing much.  I confess, I am not very good at putting photos in albums for my kids.  I have a shopping bag FILLED with pictures of them from the past 5 years, and while I'd like to say that I've been kind of busy (with 3 kids under the age of 5 and a husband who for 4 of those 5 years left for work before they woke up and got home after they all went to bed, and spending the last year in crisis mode with a breast cancer diagnosis and the year before that, my only sibling dying...but there I go making excuses again!)  and haven't had the chance to put the photos in albums, I'm tired of excuses.  So why is this preventing me from blogging?

I've decided that I am going to make the kids photo books for each year and just put the best pictures of the whole family in the books.  So, I have spent the past few weeks uploading pictures to Kodak Gallery and am now in the process of making the family album.

I just hope I can keep up with this every year...but before I end my blog, I want to write a quick summary of what I meant to post a week ago for Thanksgiving:

I am thankful for my health.  I am thankful for the ability to get up and move.  I am thankful for my beautiful young children who don't give me much time to feel sick or sorry for myself.  I am thankful for the most wonderfully supportive husband who tells me how proud he is of me on a regular basis and who is not only the man that I love but a person who I really like and admire.  I am thankful for both of my parents who have always been supportive in my life but have really stepped up to the plate over the past year without freaking out in front of me at all.  I am thankful for my other parents, I hate calling them in-laws, who treat me like a member of their own family, and who have also been so incredibly supportive of me and have been so helpful to our family.  I am thankful for family on both mine and my husband's side for showing us so much love and support.  I am thankful for friends, both old and new, who have come out of the woodwork to give us their support through this past year.  I am thankful for so many other things, but one thing I think I have made known through this blog is I am thankful for hair growth and the fact that I finally need that bikini wax!!!  I know, I know, too much information, but I've been talking about it so much over the past few months, I thought I'd add that in for comic relief!!!