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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Three Years

Three years ago this week, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It's still hard for me to write those words "breast cancer".   In some ways it seems like yesterday but in other ways it seems so long ago.  Sometimes it almost feels like it never really happened but then I see myself when I change clothes and see the "new me" and then there is proof it really did happen.

I am trying to reflect on all I have gone through since my diagnosis and how it has change me and my life forever.  In many ways, life it back to normal but there are some things that will never be "normal" again.  Breast cancer can change so many things if you are the person that lived it.  For those around me it's like it never really happened and they forget and think it's all over.  For me, breast cancer will never be completely "over". 

As of now (as far as I know) I don't have breast cancer.  The odds the doctors gave me were good, but most of the studies they quote from refer to the possibility of recurrence within ten years.  I plan on living more than ten years, so what happens after these ten years are up???  What are my odds then?  I don't think they really know.  It's hard to live in terms of odds for the remaining seven years!

I have lived to see many women have recurrence years out from their diagnosis.  Sometimes it can be twenty years later.  I feel like all of the treatment I have done is just to "buy time" until additional treatments are available if and when the breast cancer returns.  I continue to read about new potential medications and treatments and every day I pray for a cure for breast cancer.  I hope I live to see the day where no one must die from this horrible disease. 

I would like to think it will never return, but I am a realist.  The thought still lingers in my mind but the major difference now (three years later) is it is not a part of my life every moment of every day.  I do still think about my breast cancer everyday.  There are too many reminders, but I think of it a lot less than I use to which is great.  I can actually sleep at night without the help of medication.  That is quite different than it was three years ago!

As the holidays approach, I clearly remember going through my diagnosis privately and putting on the "happy holiday face" until I could tell my family and friends when the holidays were over.  This time of year is hard for me as now it has memories of breast cancer.  It's hard not to think about it because I remember living it.  I try to continually be positive about my future and not fixate on recurrence.  I will continue to "live in the moment" and focus on the things I can do to stay as healthy as possible.  I will continue to love my family and friends and see the good in the world.  I will have faith that I will buy time until there is a cure for breast cancer and live to grow old with my husband.  For now, life is good....really good!  A far cry from three years ago!  I never thought I would be here, but I am!  Yay!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Living The Life I Always Imagined

I remember when I got diagnosed with breast cancer it changed everything.  I felt like maybe there were things in my life that I should just give up on pursuing because of the breast cancer.  One of the things I gave up on was expanding our family.   Since I was an "older" mom (I had my son a few months before turning 41 years old) I never thought I would naturally give birth to another child.  I was not ready to immediately get pregnant and have another baby right after he was born, but wanted more children.  I always figured my husband and I would adopt a child in the future.  Maybe we would not adopt a baby because of our age, but perhaps a child close in age to our son in a few years down the road.   I always saw us expanding our family in some way. 

Once I got diagnosed, I knew I could not have more children (but by then I was already 45 and the hormones would not be good for me) but I felt some strong hesitation to even adopting. I guess I just don't want to make things more difficult for my husband should I have to deal with breast cancer again.   I know if it comes back it's going to be far worse than my first diagnosis.   It sadden me to think that I was giving up on the family I always wanted to have.  For a while I just accepted it even though it made me sad and angry at times.

Then I realized there were other ways to expand our family.  We looked into hosting a foreign exchange student.  This would be a great way to give our son the experience of having a sibling, but not a permanent situation so I would not worry about making things harder for my sweet husband if I got sick again.  So, we applied last spring and went through the process and were accepted as a host family!  It was all so exciting and the anticipation of a new child in our home was amazing. 

I am happy to say that we now have a daughter from Italy!  She is 17 and a senior in our local high school.  She is beautiful and smart and we all adore her.  She has been with us for almost two weeks now and it feels natural.  We have been emailing each other weekly since April and in that time I have gotten to know her and her mom very well.  Her mom is also a breast cancer survivor too (for 7 years now).  We have even spoken about how she felt when her mom was diagnosed and going through treatment.  This has made our bond even closer. 

I am living my dream of having a daughter - even if it is only for a year.  I just somehow feel a sense of happiness that my dream is coming true of expanding our family.  Sometimes you get what you want, but it doesn't look the way you imagined it would be.  It's still good though!  Both of my kids are off to start school tomorrow.  I am excited for both of them and hoping for a great school year.   Life is good....even after breast cancer!!!!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's Invading My Circle of Friends

Today I got a phone call from a good friend I have known for 13 years.  She is having breast issues.  This is the second call I have gotten from a friend in the past 6 months regarding abnormal mammograms.   I feel like the threat of breast cancer is now invading my circle of friends.  I know that over a woman's lifetime, she has a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer, but I just don't want to watch friends go through this nightmare too.  I thought I was the 1 in 8 in my group.  This is so frustrating and scary. 

At this point neither friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer, but one friend is now at a 4 to 5 times greater risk of developing breast cancer with the pathology from her biopsy.  The other friend is on a six month follow up for her abnormal mammogram and has not had a biopsy yet. 

I have lots of friends that have or have had breast cancer, but these are women I have met through my own journey of dealing with breast cancer.   My path crossed with their paths because of our breast cancer.  I just didn't expect other dear friends that are healthy to have to deal with this. 

I am very grateful that at this point neither friend has been officially diagnosed, but I am scared for them both.  I am scared for my other friends, my sister, my nieces and my friend's daughters.  Breast cancer is a horrible disease that reeks havoc on normal, healthy women.  I want so badly for them to find a cure.

In addition to finding a cure, I want women to realize that this CAN happen to you.  I never thought it could happen to me, but it did.  Breast cancer does not discriminate.  If you are reading this, please do monthly self breast exams in addition to getting regular mammograms.  Don't have a false sense of security with a clear mammogram either as some tumors are not seen on mammograms for women that have dense breast tissue (that happened to me - a clear mammogram months before I found a 1 cm lump that had been there when I had the mammogram).   Do everything you can to detect anything abnormal early so you have choices.

At this point I have started to think of breast cancer as more of a chronic disease .  I will have to deal with it for the rest of my life even if I don't have active disease.  I just keep hoping that I can continue with oral medications and when my 5 years of that is finished there will be new options and research available to lead me to other ways to reduce my risk of recurrence. 

Tonight I will pray for my dear friends dealing with the fear of breast cancer and my other breast cancer sisters.  I will again be fundraising this fall to help find a cure.  There just has to be a cure out there somewhere.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Maybe God Is Helping Me Out

Over the past few years I have had plenty of time to think about breast cancer and wonder how come I got it.  I have learned that I will never really understand how or why I won the breast cancer lottery, so I have tried very hard to let those questions go from my mind.  Most of the time I do pretty good with this, but at other times I hear those questions in my head.  At some points it has challenged my faith in God. 

When I was diagnosed I kept thinking "why did God let this happen to me?"  I also wondered if I was a bad person or had done something horrible to deserve this (the guilt comes along with being raised Catholic I guess!).  Then I began to think that maybe God had nothing to do with me getting breast cancer.  Maybe it was going to happen no matter what and there wasn't anyone that could stop it - not even God.  I think of all of the babies born sick or young children getting bad illnesses and think that God would not just "let" that happen.  I have always had faith in God.  Why was breast cancer making me question my faith? 

One day I had a revelation.  I began to think that maybe I was looking at it all wrong, and that maybe God was there to help me out.  For whatever reason, I did find the lump in my breast even when the mammogram did not find it.  I did get diagnosed with breast cancer, but it was Stage 1 breast cancer.  While getting breast cancer at any stage is difficult, I realize how fortunate I am to have been diagnosed in an early stage.  I also began to think that being diagnosed with hormone receptor positive  and HER2 negative breast cancer was also a blessing since there are more treatments available for this type of breast cancer.  Again, maybe that is what God "could" do to help me out.

Over two and a half years being diagnosed, I have come to accept so many things in my life that I never thought I would have to deal with.  I am glad that I have come to accept that God was there for me and he is watching over me.  I am grateful for every day I have to spend with my family and those I love.  I am thankful for feeling so good.  For these things, I thank God and continue to have faith.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Surgery Was A Breeze

Yesterday I had the oophorectomy surgery (ovary removal).  It's funny but after all I have been through I was not even nervous at all.  It seemed like no big deal.  Normally surgery would freak me out but after having breast cancer and all that comes with it, other things don't seem like such a big deal. 

My husband took me to surgery yesterday.  The nursing staff was great and once they put medication in my IV I didn't remember a thing.  I didn't even remember being wheeled into to operating room.  Next thing I remember I was waking up.  I didn't really have pain either.   That was a surprise!

My biggest thrill was not having nausea and vomiting after surgery.  Usually I get super sick from anesthesia and throw up for a whole day.  It was a pleasant surprise to feel OK after surgery and not feel like puking!  That put a smile on my face!

I was home from the hospital by 11:30am and spent the afternoon chilling out on my couch.  I napped off and on and woke up feeling rested this morning.  I have not had to take any pain medication either. I could not have asked for a better surgery experience!  I am glad it's over with though!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More Surgery...This is Nothing!

Well I have still been busy living life and loving it so I have not posted much.  I am doing OK but as the title says, I need more surgery.  I need to have my ovaries out....joy hu?  There is a cyst that just won't go away and my doctors want to be very thorough with things given my history with breast cancer so out comes the ovary.  Since I am having one ovary out and estrogen is not my friend, I decided to have both ovaries out to further reduce any estrogen in my body. 

What's funny is having surgery doesn't even scare me.  I guess you put it all in perspective with what I have already been through, and this means a laproscopic oophrectomy seems like nothing.  My surgery is next month and the recovery should be pretty easy from what I am told. 

So I got excited that I would have less estrogen in my body since my breast cancer was fueled by hormones but then my medical oncologist took the wind out of my sails.  He ordered a DEXA scan to get a baseline on my bone density.  The results indicated I have osteopenia which is a precursor for osteoporosis.  I am only 47 years old!  That was a huge shock.  I already exercise, maintain a low body weight, eat healthy, don't smoke, avoid processed foods, take calcium, etc.....how the heck did I get osteopenia?  I guess this will be another question I will never know the answer to. 

Now that I have osteopenia, I will most likely not be able to switch to an aromatase inhibitor (which is what post menopausal breast cancer patients take if their tumor was estrogen dependent) which offers the best protection from recurrence.  The aromatase inhibitors can directly affect bone density and since I am at risk already, this is probably not the best choice for me.  I guess I may stay on tamoxifen which does not effect bone density but is a little less effective in post menopausal women.  This is so frustrating.

I am off to see an endocrinologist to discuss my bone density issues and see what they recommend.  Looks like I will be put on some type of medication to help with my bone density.  I feel like an old lady!  I take pills daily and go to the doctor all the time.  So now I have a whole list of doctors:  medical oncologist, plastic surgeon, internist, gynecologist and endocrinologist. I also have an orthopedic sports medicine doctor and am doing some physical therapy for a hip injury a few times a week.  Crazy!  Isn't this what old ladies do???  LOL!

Oh well.  Either way, I am thankful for the overall health and life I have now.  I will continue to do what I can to stay healthy and hopefully live a long life.  Each day is a gift and can be filled with joy if you let it. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Just Busy Living Life

I feel bad that I have not posted in a long time, but as the title of this post says "I have just been busy living life".  That's a good thing right?  I guess what I mean by that is I have not had as much time or focus on thinking about breast cancer as much as I use to.  I have been very actively starting my art business (that was my 2011 New Year's Resolution - yikes!) that I have been behind on.  I am also working on decorating our new home.  I volunteer at my son's school art class and teach fitness programs for the kids sometimes after school.  I am on the PTO (never thought I would say that!) and help raise money for the school.  In addition, I continue to help newly diagnosed breast cancer patients by talking to them and offering encouragement (I talked to three newly diagnosed women just this past week!).  I also write letters new newly diagnosed women through Girls Love Mail (link at bottom of my blog).

As I think about all that has transpired in the past two years since my diagnosis, it is a lot to take in.  So much has happened at times it's hard to comprehend.  For me though, I continue to try to move forward in my life in a healthy, positive way.  I am to a place where breast cancer DOES NOT define me.  It is something that happened to me - but it is not who I am.  I really believe that now.  I don't know when I got here in my thoughts, but it is a GOOD feeling.

I know I will never truly be free from breast cancer.  It will always be a part of who I am, but as time goes on it  becomes a smaller and smaller part of me.  For that I am grateful.  Life is amazing and I am so happy.  I won't let breast cancer rob me of that every day.  I won't be defined by breast cancer or the fear that comes with it.  I just won't!  I guess that is why I don't post as much anymore.  I am just busy living life! I hope that anyone newly diagnosed or at the beginning of the breast cancer road holds on to this post and keeps the faith that they will feel this way too one day.