"Don't spend time worrying about how you are going to die. Worry about how you are going to live today"

Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year, a New Me

I am kind of feeling like somehow the new year will represent something very different.  When I reflect back on 2010, it was a great year.  My family and I enjoyed three great vacations including Disney.  We spent lots of good times with family and friends.  We visited family out of state.  My son had is 4th birthday bash which was so much fun.  We enjoyed the summer at the pool.  It was a year filled with happy times and great memories, except for the last three weeks. 

In the last three weeks, I got hit by the "cancer bomb", had multiple procedures, met with numerous surgeons, oncologists and doctors.  My world has been completely turned upside down.  Amazing how much can change in such a short time.  In three small weeks out of a whole year, everything is different.  In those 3 weeks, I had cancer.  But now, the cancer is gone!

The good news about 2011 is that it will be a complete year being cancer free, right?  It won't necessarily be an easy year, but it will be cancer free which means EVERYTHING to me and my family.  I can walk forward knowing it is gone and everything I endure will be to keep it that way.  That is what I am holding onto for 2011. 

My goal for this summer before getting diagnosed was to be working in my own business (leaving my corporate America job) and spend the summer at the pool with my son in my bikini teaching him how to swim.  Maybe that is still possible - I am going to move forward with my original goal.  Why not?  Why can't I be at the pool swimming with my son all summer?  I can't let my diagnosis and treatment take away my goals and dreams. 

One of my other goals was to have my business up and running in January.  With the whole "cancer bomb" explosion, I have not gotten much done in the past few weeks.  I just haven't had the focus, drive, energy or time to deal with it.  I guess this is a goal I need to modify a bit as the surgeries ahead of me will definitely slow down my ability to be focused on something like this.  I know my focus has to be getting well and back to myself as quick as possible, so I have to rethink this goal and how I will get there. 

Now I have been thinking about the dreaded New Year's Resolutions.  I have never been a fan of setting them and have never really followed through.  For some reason this year it seems so much more important.  I guess that is one of the many things cancer does to a person, it changes the way you think and how you feel about everything! 

So what do I want to do in 2011?  What do I want to resolve to complete?  Where do I begin...?  For now, I can think of a few:
1. Complete all surgeries and close the door on breast cancer
2.  Take a great family vacation filled with fun, good times and laughs once my surgeries and treatment are complete.
3.  Get back to teaching my aerobics classes as soon as possible
4.  Become a peer to peer counselor for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer
5.  Raise money to help fight breast cancer!  Get involved and make a difference in finding a cure!
6.  Don't sweat the small stuff...just say "who cares"?  (this will be hard...I am completely type A and a worrier!)
7.  Get my business up and running and leave my current job.  I need to bring in some money so I can make this happen
8.  Be the best damn mom, wife, daughter, aunt, sister and friend I can be!  Tell everyone I care about how much they mean to me and make sure they know I love them!
9.  Lose a little of the "type A-ness" in me.  Learn to relax, meditate, do yoga or something that will allow me to slow down and enjoy simple moments in life instead of always trying to conquer the world and plan a dinner party
10.  Continue to bring a more spiritual presence into my life and celebrate religion and faith as a family
11.  Smile.  Love.  Be positive.  Be happy.  Just BE!

So, this seems a little "lofty" coming from someone that has never followed through on a New Year's Resolution before!  I guess it's the change that cancer brings to a person once they are diagnosed.  It makes you take inventory of everything in your life.  I know I can do these things in 2011.  I believe in myself.  I have faith and hope.  With that, I can do anything, right?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My body betrayed me

Though I am over the shock of hearing I have breast cancer, I just feel so betrayed by my body.  This body I have known my whole life.  The body that I have worked hard to keep healthy and maintain.  This body that gave my son life.  This body that my husband loves to hold and touch.  I just can't believe my body betrayed me and grew cancer.  I keep asking how does this happen? 

After getting diagnosed, I can barely look at my chest.  I just can't imagine how my breasts grew cancer.  I kind of hate them right now.  Maybe feeling this way will make it easier to have a bilateral mastectomy.  I still worry about that though.  I can't imagine looking down after surgery and not seeing a part of my body there any more.  I can't imagine the possibility of never having feeling or the sense of touch in my chest area any more even after reconstruction surgery.  I can't imagine looking down and seeing new breasts there that are different than the old ones.  It's all so strange. 

I don't know why I waste my time thinking of all of these strange things, but now I think about EVERYTHING since they told me I have cancer.  It's like I wonder and question everything that goes on.  I can't shut my brain off at night.  I worry about everything.  I know that going through this will be a process and it will take time for me to get use to what is happening, but for now it is emotionally exhausting.  I am tired of thinking about everything and playing out every bad scenario in my mind.  Ugh!  I just wish that it would stop.  At this point I just want some mental peace. 

I look at that body in the mirror and don't know what it represents anymore.  Maybe in time I can figure that out and move on.  It's all I can hope for. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More good news...wow!

I have been waiting for test results on my HER2 Neu test now for a long time.  Since getting the initial diagnosis of breast cancer, it has been nothing but good news (as far as breast cancer is concerned).  So far they tell me I have the "best" type of breast cancer you can get (as if there is really a "best" breast cancer).  While I am thankful for getting "the best" breast cancer, I would prefer not to have it all!

So the phone rang again today - one of my multiple daily calls from the cancer center.  My heart was pounding out of my chest. I felt paralyzed by fear to even answer the call as I knew they were going to tell me more test results today.  Thank God it was more good news.  My HER2 neu test was negative!  That means my cancer is a little less aggressive.  What a relief.  I ran downstairs and hugged my husband.  It is the first smile he has seen in days.  We needed this today - really.

You know, the funny thing about breast cancer is that it's just not as simple as breast cancer.  When they diagnose you and say "I am sorry.  You have breast cancer", they should add on something like "besides being scared shit less that you have cancer, you will be emotionally tortured in the next few weeks waiting for multiple tests that will take forever to get results and until then, we can't tell you much about your prognosis or treatment.  See you in a few weeks - I advise you to drink heavily as that is the only way you can get through this".  This has been the longest, scariest torture I have endured in my 45 years on this earth.  I wish it was as simple as "you have breast cancer so we will do XYZ surgery and treatment and your prognosis is XYZ", but it's not.  There are so many types of breast cancer and so many different features and characteristics that unfold in the first month after diagnosis that will paint the picture for your situation.  Every time you think you understand, another test comes into play and more waiting for the doom and gloom associated with it.  I am emotionally exhausted at this point.  I just want to get treated and move on at this point.

Now as I find out more about my specific type of cancer I am going over everything in my life that could have caused it.  What did I do?  I don't smoke, drink excessively, eat fast food/fried food.  I eat low fat food, watch my weight, exercise daily and drink lots of water.  So now I am over analyzing every glass of wine I had, every well done steak I ate, those days that I skipped vegetables and more.  Now I am scared to eat or do anything as getting cancer makes no sense to me.  I know I will never know the answer to how I got cancer, but you keep looking at your life and thinking "if I had only done this or that, maybe I wouldn't have cancer".  I know I have to put that thought aside, but for now I just wish I understood what I did to make this happen. 

For now, I will celebrate again today that I got more good news.  I pray every day that the only bad news I ever got was the day they told me I had breast cancer and that only good things will come moving forward.  2011 could be a great year for me.  I just have to keep telling myself that and get to a place where I believe it with every ounce of myself. 

He loves me, he loves me not......

Why do I question my husband's love for me when I need it the most?  Why do I let my mind go to all of those horrible places and think bad thoughts?  I guess it is just the place I am in right now dealing with the recent diagnosis.  I guess I am starting to doubt so many things now.  I want to stop, but I just can't help myself.

When I got the initial diagnosis, I kept thinking "I am ruining my husband and son's lives".  I kept telling my husband "I am sorry.  I am so sorry I am doing this to you guys". He kept saying "you aren't doing this...you did nothing wrong".  No matter what he says, the guilt is staggering.  I just feel like such a pathetic wife and mom and I feel so lame getting cancer and inflicting this on all of the people in my life.  I feel like I will become this pain in the ass burden to everyone and everyone will be consumed with my "cancer".

Now for some reason I am feeling so insecure in our relationship.  I never really felt this way before about us.  Maybe it has to do with my past experiences in life.  Years ago I was married to another man for 9 years.  Our life wasn't perfect, but I loved him so much and we seemed happy.  That all changed a few weeks after I had a miscarriage.  My devoted husband filed for divorce without saying a word, sold our home and left me for another woman he had been seeing for almost 2 years.  I was devastated, humiliated and hurt deeply.  After that I swore I would never get married again or let someone ever hurt me like that again.  At 32 I moved back to the state I was from to be near family and started a new life.  It took me years to get over what happened and move on with my life in a way that found happiness. 

I met my current husband from an internet site...yes, I really did!  We went out on a date and I never immediately thought he was "the one".  Heck, I didn't want to get married and find "the one" at that point. I just wanted to meet a nice guy to share some fun with and have companionship.  Three years later, I told him I was in a different place and knew that after being in a relationship with him made me see that I could really share a life with someone and have a family.  I never thought I would feel this way again.  I told him that there was no pressure for him to make any marriage plans with me but I wanted to know what I now wanted out of life and a relationship.  I told him he had to let me know what he truly wanted.  If he wanted marriage and a family, that is fine but if not I would understand.  I also needed to know if he even wanted that kind of life with me.  Within a few months we were planning our wedding.  Now 6 1/2 years later we are happy and parents.  Life is good.  Life became everything I thought it would never be after my first husband destroyed my dreams. 

Now I sit scared thinking that my poor husband didn't sign up for this.  He didn't sign up to have a wife with cancer.  I am letting my mind think horrible things about this.  I keep thinking that once he sees my surgery aftermath from bilateral mastectomy he will be repulsed and not find me attractive in any way.  Then my mind wanders to if I need chemotherapy.  Who would want a bald, puffed up wife that pukes all over and is exhausted and can't do anything for herself?  I keep thinking about after surgery when he has to tend to my drains and wounds that he will be grossed out and feel "stuck" with this poor excuse of a wife.  Why do I do this to myself?  Why can't I believe with every ounce of me that he will still love me the same way?  He has only supported me in this and tells me that he doesn't care about all of that.  He says that all he cares about is the fact that I am here with him.  Why isn't that enough?

I started having nightmares about him not being there for me.  It got so bad that I now sleep with the TV on so I won't fall asleep.  I am afraid at night.  At first, sleep was all I wanted to do because it meant I wasn't spending every second thinking about cancer.  It was the only place that seemed safe and calm. Now if I do fall asleep, I have horrible dreams and wake up hysterically crying.  The theme of these dreams are always similar.  I am somewhere, scared and alone and I keep trying to call my husband or get him to help  me and I just can't get through to him or get the phone to work.  In my dream I am crying an petrified and alone and no matter what I do, he doesn't hear me calling for him.  It was so bad the other night I woke up at 2:30am and sobbed for almost an hour.  My husband held me and told me it was going to be OK and he asked "do you want the TV on"?  I said yes and just kept watching until I just fell asleep a long time later. 

I guess this is all just part of the process of dealing with cancer.  You question and doubt everything you ever believed in before.  No one told me that when they said "you have cancer".  I only hope and pray that in time I can curb my mind from going to all of those dark, scary places and find a little peace.  I know in my heart my husband loves me, but I am scared that nothing will ever be the same again.  I know I can't be the same person - both physically and emotionally after all of this.  What if he doesn't love the new me?  I can only hope that in some way he changes with me and we grow as a couple and find a new and deeper love and appreciation for each other.  I pray for that every night. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I am "cancer free" today :)

So Christmas came and went.  I suffered with a horrible sinus cold and popped "happy pills" to deal with the pain from the biopsy and lumpectomy.  It was good though.  Once it was over, I hibernated in the house.  I have had no desire to really go anywhere or do much of anything.  I know that's not good for me and I have to get out of this mindset, but it's hard.  This just stinks. 

I got the call today from the cancer center - my lymph nodes were clear!  That is something to celebrate, right?  I think so.  I never thought I would pour a glass of wine and say "here's to clear lymph nodes" and take a big swig.  I did though.  It is truly something to celebrate in having cancer. 

So since they took the tumor out and my nodes were clear, I guess technically as of now I am officially cancer free!  Why does that feel so good and so scary all at the same time?  I wish it was that simple as "poof" the cancer is gone, but it's not.  I still am waiting for more test results to tell me how aggressive this cancer is or what the likelihood is that it will return in the next 10-15 years.  I also am agonizing over my upcoming bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries.  I still don't know if I will have chemo or not which is weighing on me horribly.  I just wish I could fight this disease privately.  With no chemo I have a much better chance of doing that.  I know in the end all I want is to LIVE no matter what I have to do.  I want to be there for my son and husband. I want to be here to be a pain in the ass mother in law when my son gets married 25 years from now (I have a pain in the ass mother in law you know and I swore I would never be one too!). 

I feel good knowing the evil cancer is out of my body.  I guess now I am officially cancer free I just have to start thinking about how to live the rest of my life not obsessing about it coming back.  Good lord....this is going to be hard.  I guess as Scarlett O'Hara says "I will just worry about that tomorrow" right?  What do I do when tomorrow comes? 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve and "happy pills"

Since the lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy yesterday, I have felt OK.  I even baked my chocolate chip pound cake last night as I do every year before Christmas.  Hopefully it tastes OK since I was completely doped up on pain medication.  Does an oven qualify as heavy machinery?  You know you are not suppose to operate heavy machinery while on these medications right?   I slept OK and have a little discomfort in the area under my arm.  Now I have to get ready for a long day with family celebrating the joys of Christmas. 

I have mixed feelings right now.  It is Christmas.  I should be happy and full of good thoughts right?  Instead, I am popping vicodine every four hours and trying to act "normal" so no one will know my cancer secret.  The first mission is to find clothing to hide the enormous pressure dressing on the side of my breast so no one will see it.  I am shopping through my closet trying to find something to hide this stupid thing.  I found a sweater that I bought a year ago that I never wore.  I got it on sale - tags still on it.  It had the baggiest sleeves ever and was bulky and wrapped around me with a matching belt.  I don't know why I bought it.  It's not really my taste to much.  Now it had a purpose.  I put it on and went downstairs and had my husband take a look.  It hid the large gauze wad in my shirt well. 

Our first visit of the day was with some friends in the neighborhood.  They stopped by to have our kids exchange gifts.  It was so hard to keep my head on straight.  I felt so dizzy and confused from the medication.  Completing my thoughts and speaking correctly was even hard.  I think they looked at me a little strange at one point, but I am not sure. My husband knew I was struggling to look and act "normal".  I was so relieved when the left.  I kept praying the pain medication would wear off a little before we got to my brother in law's house.

On the drive over there I fell asleep in the car.  I am not a napper at all, but I could not stay awake or function well on the pills.  We just planned to tell everyone I was getting a sinus infection and the cold medication was making me dopey and tired.  Now I had to explain why I couldn't use my arm much....that lie was a pulled muscle from working out (which is believable since I workout all the time).  Here I was, lying to family and friends on Christmas.  I feel like a horrible person! 

I decided I would take less pain medication so I could function in a way that appeared more normal.  The pain was not too bad, but I did have discomfort.  The rest of Christmas Eve went well until after our visit at my brother's house.  When we got in the car and pulled out of the driveway to head home after a great visit, I burst into tears.  I saw everyone having so much fun and everyone looking so happy and I was just dying inside.  I feel so deceitful keeping my cancer secret, but I could not bear the thought of telling my family before Christmas.  I know since this started on December 7th, my husband and I have been a wreck.  I have had the most scary, morbid thoughts about my future and horrible fears about what is to come.  I am scared more than I have ever been scared in my life.  I know this news will change everything forever once I tell my family.  No one will ever look at me the same.  No one will ever not think about my cancer.  I know not telling them is the right thing for now, but it doesn't make it easy.  I am just dying inside.  My anxiety over telling my mom and brother is overwhelming.  I dread looking into their eyes and saying the words "I have cancer".

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sentinel Node Biopsy and a Surprise Lumpectomy for Christmas

So when someone asks you "what did you ask Santa for for Christmas?" does anyone ever say "I would like a sentinel node biopsy and a lumpectomy, please"?  Well, that is what I got this year.  Lovely.

So it's two days before Christmas and I have a sentinel node biopsy test scheduled.  So they say this is not going to be a fun experience, in fact the nurse on the phone said "it is an unpleasant experience".  That is a nice way of saying "this is going to hurt and suck" right?  Merry Christmas to me.

My friend agreed to take me for my surgery this morning so I could spare my husband from missing more work.  She was already off for the day and volunteered so it made sense.  I was petrified.  I have had surgery before, but this was different. Everything was different now that I have cancer.  I feel so fragile.  It's like I am a huge glass wall with a crack in it and I am just waiting for something to make the crack grow and shatter me completely.  

I always thought of myself as a tough girl that could get through anything that life threw my way.  I got through a horrible divorce years ago, built a new life and career and found love in success in recent years - all of which I never thought would happen.  I even got the gift of becoming a mom which I never thought would happen.  At the time going through the divorce and aftermath seemed so incredibly hard and overwhelming.  I was filled with such hurt, sadness and fear of how to move on and live my life alone.  Now all of that seems so insignificant.  That was nothing. How the heck do I get through cancer? 

Yesterday I went to the hospital to prepare for today's surgery.  They injected radioactive material into my breast - yes, directly into my breast so they could find the first few lymph nodes my breast empties into.  Then the do special x-rays to identify where these nodes are so the surgeon can find them and remove them the next day.  So here is the "unpleasant" part.  They take a needle and do three injections into the nipple area.  Can I just say "ouch" and "$%$^&"!  So the person that did the injection was nice and patient with me.  She indicated she was doing a study on minimizing pain with these injections and she would inject one slow, one at a medium pace and one at a fast pace to determine if that helped with minimizing pain.  I agreed to participate.  OK all I can say is if you have this done, have them inject as fast as possible.  The slow injection should never be done on anyone again.  Good lord!  The fast injection was not that bad.  Yes this was "unpleasant" but it was bearable and did not hurt after it was done. 

On the morning of the surgery, my friend picked me up at 5:45am.  We had an hour to drive.  My husband hugged me and we cried before I left.  I was scared.  So was he.  My friend was supportive the whole way there as I cried.  She is a blessing in my life.  We arrived and they took me back right away.  It was time to really get ready.  The staff was very nurturing and nice as they prepped me for surgery.  The anesthesiologist met with me and discussed what would happen.  They hooked up the IV and started giving me something to take the edge off.  Now it was time for me to go.  My friend hugged me and kissed me on the forehead as they wheeled me away and tears fell down my cheeks.  I remember being wheeled into the OR and having them put an oxygen mask over my face. 

I woke up 2 hours later in the recovery room.  I was so tired, but I felt like I wanted to be awake.  I didn't hurt much that I can remember.  I was just out of it.  They brought my friend in and gave me some more pain medication in case.  Then the doctor came in and told me he took 2 nodes and upon appearance looked fine but test results would tell us everything.  He then told me he removed the lump while he was in there.  The lump was so close to the area where the nodes were, he just decided to take it out.  I was shocked. I had no more tumor and potentially no more cancer in my body.  It was more "good news" right?

I went home a while later with my "happy pills".  I took a nap and had lunch while my friend stayed with me until my husband came home from work.  I didn't hurt much and slept OK because of the pain medication every four hours.  I am glad so I could be more rested for Christmas Eve the next day.  I needed to appear "normal" as my family still does not know anything of my diagnosis or surgery.  I didn't want to rob them of the holiday with my "cancer bomb" so for now we agreed to keep it to ourselves until we had more information on everything.  Now we have more waiting.  No one tells you that when you get diagnosed with cancer you will be tortured not only by the diagnosis, but the unbearable waiting that goes with it.  Now on to tomorrow, acting normal for family and friends while keeping my cancer secret.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My phone keeps ringing

So my morning began like most other mornings, getting up and getting my son ready for school.  I crawled in bed with him this morning like most other mornings.  I hug him and talk softly to him to wake him up.  This is the best part of my day.  Being near him and loving him.  I love when he wakes up and says "I love you Mommy".  I just want to cry inside knowing I have cancer.  

I got him up and out the door with my husband.  I tried to eat a little, but even that his hard.  I forced myself to go to the gym just for 30 minutes.  I did do it and by the time I got out of the gym, my phone was ringing.  Now that I have started the process at the cancer center, things are in full swing.  Today I had at least six phone calls from various nurses, schedulers, etc.... getting everything set up.  This is my new daily routine - calling back all of the people at the cancer center. 

After the gym, I stopped by church.  Praying has brought me comfort.  I try to go at least a few times a week.  After I left, the phone kept ringing and ringing.  I just kept trying to return all of the phone calls and get showered so I could get to the plastic surgeon's office on time. 

Next thing I knew it was time to leave for the 1 hour drive to the plastic surgeon's office.  It was 12:30pm and I had still not eaten.  I didn't have time to eat....I had to leave.  I grabbed some crackers and a bottled water and got in the car.  The whole way there I was returning phone calls and trying to talk with my husband about any other questions we had for the surgeon (my husband was at work - I told him I could do this by myself).  I felt out of breath by the time I got there.  I had not had one minute to catch my breath all morning. 

I got to the appointment just in time and met with the surgical resident.  She was kind and took at least 30 minutes to explain my options and review things with me.  As I feared, I was not much of a candidate for any flap procedures as I am too thin.  I guess that's what all of those years in the gym gets you - less surgical options.  Oh well, there is nothing I can do about that and it certainly doesn't help that I have lost 8 lbs since getting diagnosed due to stress.

The surgeon came in and explained everything.  I guess my best option is immediate reconstruction with tissue expanders and implants.  If I end up needing radiation my plan would change to a modified lat flap on the breast cancer side followed by tissue expanders and an implant.  The other side would not have a flap procedure at all, just tissue expanders and an implant.  It is so disappointing to realize that no matter what, this will take several surgeries over the next year.  I just want to put this behind me and move on but instead it has to be dragged out for months and months.  The thought of having this hang over my head and have a daily reminder seems so unbearable.  I just want to move on and get over cancer and not deal with it anymore. 

The surgeon was kind.  Ninety percent of his practice is dedicated to reconstruction surgery post lumpectomy or mastectomy.  He made me feel comfortable and took a lot of time to answer my questions.  I liked him.  He made me feel like he could make me look good and that I could have a very good outcome.  I hope he is right.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dealing with this and hoping for more "good news".

So I got up this morning and thought about everything that happened yesterday at the cancer center.  I am counting my blessings that my cancer is Stage I, ER/PR+ and Grade I.  They tell me that is all good. I am not out of the woods yet though.  There are a few pieces of the puzzle we don't know yet that scare me horrible.  My HER2 status was equivocal so they sent it off for further testing.  If it is positive, I have a more aggressive cancer but it responds to Herceptin as a treatment.  If it is negative, I have a less aggressive cancer but it does not respond to Herceptin so it gives me one less treatment option.  So I am not sure exactly what I am hoping for on that.  I am also worried about the Oncotype DX test results which can't be done until after the tumor is removed.  This will tell me how likely my cancer is to return in the next 10 years.  As I wade through this information, the best case scenario is to be HER2 negative and have a low oncotype score I guess.  That would mean I avoid chemotherapy.  I keep saying "if there is a God in heaven, hear my prayer on this, please".  We also won't know for sure until next weeks that my nodes are really cancer free.  I feel like I am praying to God for something that may be so hard to grant.  Please God, show me a sign I will be OK and hear these prayers.....

For some reason I am more OK with having a bilateral mastectomy than going through chemotherapy. Don't get me wrong, I am not just OK with losing my breasts, but at least that is private.  Few people will ever really know that.  Once I have chemo, it's like tattooing "I have cancer" on my forehead.  I feel like that is just one more thing I don't have control of.  I don't want the whole world to know I have cancer.  Let's face it, when you have diabetes, a heart condition or AIDS you can keep it private.  No one knows any of that is going on most likely.  Once you get chemo.......everyone knows.  The thought of going through this and having the whole world know feels so violating to me.

The worst part for me is having to explain cancer to my 4 year old son.  My initial thoughts were if I could just get by for surgery as treatment I would not have to explain cancer to my son at this point.  I could just tell him what I needed to tell him that I had a boo boo and the doctors did surgery to fix it and I will be sore for a while.  Once I have chemo I have to explain so much more.  I feel like I am robbing him of his childhood and security by planting the cancer seed in his head. No four year old should ever have to learn about cancer.  It seems so unfair and cruel.   I feel guilty. I feel like a horrible mom doing this to my child.  I feel like I am ruining my son and husband's lives.  I feel like I will be a burden and bring everyone down.  I am struggling with this so much.  My guilt is overwhelming.  I just feel like they will begin to resent me and my illness after time.  My son won't understand why I can't hug him and play with him and be hurt, scared and angry. 

I don't know how I will get through this. The road ahead of me seems so long and uncertain. There is so much fear of the unknown.  I am trying to take it one day at a time, but even that is hard.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Meeting with the doctors

So six days ago they told me I have breast cancer.  Now today I face meeting all the surgeons, oncologists and team of specialists at a local National Cancer Institute to tell me what is going to happen and what they feel my prognosis is.  I am petrified they will give me more bad news - as if having cancer wasn't bad news enough. 

I went there at 8am and everyone was nice and helpful. They took all my scans, mammograms etc....and then got me registered for the full day.  Once they reviewed my information, they had me meet with a surgical oncology fellow.  She was kind.  She made me feel comfortable and took at least an hour reviewing everything done to date and what it meant.  I tried not to cry, but at a few points I teared up and struggled.  She was supportive and kind.  Then the surgeon came in and spent at least 30-40 minutes with us reviewing things and answering questions.  They told me I was hormone receptor positive with my cancer (ER/PR+) which is "good news".  They kept telling me it was great news that I was only Stage I and Grade I.  So far they kept just telling me what they think is "good news".  So I jokingly said "so I won the lottery if you are getting breast cancer...I got the best kind to get?".  They pretty much said "yes". 

So now after talking to them I have tough decisions to make.  Lumpectomy and radiation or mastectomy.  I know in my heart exactly what I must do.  I want a bilateral mastectomy.  I can't take one small chance that the cancer will be there again or that it will come to the other side too.  I  knew I wanted a bilateral mastectomy as soon as I read the data on recurrence rates.  I wanted to come into this meeting with all the surgeons with an open mind, but I just can't bear the thought of having my breast stay when it had cancer before. 

After my meetings, they sent me to have all new ultrasounds and mammograms.  They wanted their own images to review.  My case was presented at the tumor board meeting today with all of the oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists and such and they really all agreed on my treatment options. There were no new surprises other than there were some calcification's in my affected breast that were not seen on the other ultrasound from the other cancer center I had been diagnosed at.  Now the choice is mine....lumpectomy and radiation or bilateral mastectomy. 

They sent me to a patient education class to review all of the treatment information on breast cancer and to meet the social worker.  After that session, it was back to meeting with the surgical oncologist.  We discussed everything and he scheduled a sentinel node biopsy for 12/23.  At that time they would remove my lead lymph nodes and review them to make sure they were cancer free.  It's all happening so fast that it's overwhelming.  I don't even have time to think, but I know I have to just do all of this. 

Then the social worker came in to counsel me and my husband.  She was kind, compassionate and very understanding.  She talked with us for about an hour and gave me emotional support.  She hugged both of us when we left.  She offered her services and plans to meet with me again in January.

We were suppose to meet with the plastic surgeon, but he was in surgery and got delayed.  They scheduled my meeting for 12/22 with him to review my reconstruction options on the same day I would have the radioactive injection for the Sentinel Node Biopsy test. 

Somehow after leaving the Cancer Center I felt a bit of relief.  I knew so much more about what the specialists think and about what my future looks like.  It's still scary, but I know so much more which makes me feel better in some odd way.  Now I continue to wait for more information and further tests to really finalize my treatment plan.  The waiting is the hardest part really.  There is too much time to think and too many things to think about.  It's hard to not let your mind go to those scary, dark places. 

For now, I will deal with the next steps which are meeting with the plastic surgeon and getting the Sentinel Node Biopsy this week.  I am scared, overwhelmed and nervous about all of it.  I have to do this though.  I have no choice.  This is all part of having cancer.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"It's not good. There are cancer cells".

This is what the doctor said as soon as she walked in the room today.  I just sat there in disbelief.  I really do have cancer.  How can this happen?  I am healthy.  I workout.  I eat well and try to do what I can to reduce risk of any disease.  This can't be happening...not to me.  How does this happen?  Why me? 

Then the "good news".  The doctor tells me it is probably stage I and we caught it in a very early stage.  She kept saying "it's very treatable".  They start using all of those "nice ways" to say things when they tell you it's cancer.  While I would rather be "treatable" than non-treatable, it's still so hard to hear those types of terms. I just want my life back. 

My husband and I sat there and cried in the exam room.  He held me. I just kept saying "I am so sorry...I am sorry I am doing this to you".  I just felt so bad like I was ruining my husband and my son's life with my diagnosis.  I feel angry, mad, scared and guilty all at once.  I feel so alone no matter how much my husband holds me and tells me I can do this.  The reality is that I am the only one with cancer.  It just feels so damn lonely and scary.  I begin to question my faith in wondering why God has chosen me.  I begin to question whether I am a good person or not.  Why me?  I keep going to church and want to believe that God will hear my prayers and help me be healthy again.  I need to keep faith and hope alive.  It's so easy to let your mind go to the dark and scary places instead of staying positive. 

Now I know - I have breast cancer.  Now what do I do? I went home and got on the phone with the other local National Cancer Center and started scheduling appointments.  Now I have to deal with it.  I got over my fear of the Internet and started reading and reading.  I have to figure out what to do to get rid of this and live my life.  It's so overwhelming.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Waiting Is Killing Me

So how exactly do you keep moving and living life like nothing wrong once the "cancer bomb" has been dropped on you? So they tell me they think I may have cancer and then say, "we will know in six days". So my mind is racing. My insides are trembling. I am trying to go on like nothing is wrong. I am putting up Christmas decorations for my son and baking cookies. I am hosting a Christmas cookie party today for 12 kids and 24 adults all while I am waiting to find out if I have breast cancer. I feel crazy. I am trying so hard to stay busy and keep things "normal" for everyone else, but I am shaking inside. How do I do this for one more day? How do I deal with knowing that I actually do have breast cancer? What does my prognosis look like? How do I tell my family? Will I have chemo? My mind is racing with so many thoughts - none of which are good. I just need to start getting through this - whatever it looks like. I keep going to church and praying for strength, health and love. I hope God hears my prayers and spares me the worst that this horrible disease can dish out.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Much Can I Cry?

I woke up this morning and for a split second when I opened my eyes, I forgot what happend yesterday. Then, I remembered. They think I have breast cancer. I thought about tucking my son in to bed the night before. When I put him to bed, my eyes teared up and I wondered "what if I am not here in a year to tuck him in like this anymore"? I hugged him and kissed him goodnight. I could simply say "I just love you".

How do I face the day knowing I most likely have breast cancer? The answer to that is "you just do". I got up, got dressed and went in to my son's room to wake him up just like any other morning. Life is going on and I have to keep going.

So here I sit alone. My husband went to work and my son is at school. I sit here alone staring at the Christmas tree. Who knew two days ago when we went to cut down a fresh tree that I would find out I could have breast cancer. I wanted to get on the computer and google everything about breast cancer, but I was so scared of knowing anything. I was petrified and parlized by my own fear. I sat there on the couch alone and cried and stared at that beautiful Christmas tree for hours.

I knew I had to call my friend and explain. She knew it was not good news. I called her and broke the news to her as I cried. She was great. She is so strong and supportive. She committed to be with me through everything. I didn't want anyone to know, but I knew there was no way I could hide this secret from such a close friend. She already guessed. She knew better when I didn't call her back. I guess it's a blessing to have her know. I need her now more than ever.

Tonight I talked with my husband and I told him I just could not tell family before Christmas. I begged him to keep things between us and my sister and two friends. My sister and one of my friends work in the oncology field and can help us wade through the information in the coming weeks. We agreed that we would wait until after the holidays to tell anyone else.

That night my brother in law was in town on business from out of town so he stayed with us. It was so hard to act "normal". What is normal anymore anyway? I acted like the perfect host and tried to keep it together so my secret would be safe. I prayed that night for the tests to reveal no cancer, but somehow I just knew it wouldn't be. Now I only have five more days to find out the truth. I am scared. The wait is so hard. My mind keeps going to the darkest, scariest places right now. I can't stop myself from thinking horrible things about my future. I am so frightened of what is to come.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It No Longer Looks Consistent with Something Benign

I started this day like any other day.  I got up, got showered and dressed, woke my son up and got him ready for preschool.  I kissed my son and husband goodbye and said "I love you - have a great day".  I was going to head to work right after my stop at the doctor's to do a six month follow up appointment.  As I got out of my car at the doctor's parking lot, my phone rang.  It was my usual morning phone call from one of my best friends of 10 years whom I work with.  I said "gotta call you back....just doing my 6 month breast check up".  She said, "call me when your are done".  Little did I know everything would change that morning.

The lump I had found several months earlier.  Six months ago they said it looks like a fibroadenoma - a benign mass.  I was relieved.  I really didn't worry.  I had no idea that everything would change forever today.  After the follow up ultrasound, the physician told me "the lump no longer looks consistent with something benign".  I can still hear her exact words.  She kept saying that.  I finally said "I HEAR what you are saying...I GET what you mean, you think I have cancer".  I sat there alone and in disbelief.  Shocked.  Scared.  She told me we needed to do another mammogram and a biopsy immediately.  After she left the room - I just sat there. The first thought that entered my mind is "have I lived the life I wanted to live?  Have I lived a life that I am proud of?  Have I been the best person I could be?"  Then I thought, "How do I tell my mom I have cancer?  How do I tell my precious 4 year old son I have cancer?  How do I tell my husband - the man I love and created a wonderful life with that I have cancer?"

The next four hours were a blur.  I was shocked, half crying, shaking inside, terrified.  They completed the procedures and told me I would get the results six days later.  I walked out of the hospital got in my car and sobbed.  I pulled out of the parking garage and saw the most beautiful winter day.  The sky was perfect blue and clear.  The sun shining bright.  How could this most perfect and beautiful day be filled with something so horrible and wrong?  I got on the freeway and drove to my husband's office.  I kept sobbing and crying and trying to figure out how I was going to tell him.  I had barely mentioned the doctor's appointment to him so he really had no idea anything could be going on. 

I walked in his office and shut the door.  I started sobbing.  I kept trying to say "they think I have cancer" through the sobs...he kept saying "What?  Tell me?  What is going on?".  Then he actually heard me.  He held me and we cried there in his office.  I never felt so scared in my life.

By now it was 1pm and my friend who had texted me a few times was worried.  She texted "Are U OK?".  I responded "No.  Don't feel like talking".  She knew and texted me back "When I didn't hear from you I was worried it was bad news.  I am praying for you and will be there for you".  I left my husband's office.  He was going to meet me at home in an hour.  My son was still in school.  I promised my son I would finish decorating the house for Christmas that day.  I also promised him pancakes for breakfast tomorrow.  I went to the grocery store and shopped..numb.  It was an out of body experience as I trembled inside, I completed everything I promised my son and drove home.  My husband met me there.  We sat on the couch and cried.  I decorated the house for the holiday and made sure his Christmas Elf Harold was waiting for my son when he got home.  I put on more make up and picked up my son, just like any other day. 

This was not any other day filled with work and trivial things that drive a person crazy.  This was so unlike any other day and it would be the day that changed my life forever.  This is the beginning of a new journey in my life.  A journey I never thought I would be on.  A journey that seems unbelievable, scary and long.  I don't know where to begin.  Somehow I thought documenting this would be a way to help me get through this or share this experience with someone else facing the same uncertain journey. 

This blog is my story about having breast cancer.