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Resume Your Normal Life


I was excited to go to the doctor for the first time ever. I was excited to see my nurses. I call them my nurses because I love them so much for saving my life. I hadn’t been to my oncologist for nearly two months because I was going through radiation.
The most petrifying moment in my life was waiting for the doctor to come in the room to tell me either my cancer treatment worked or that I was in remission.
Resume your normal life.”
I am not sure what a normal life means anymore.
I decided to take some time and heal from my treatment before tackling my next steps in life. I cannot tell you how great a feeling to be able to get up in the morning and not face the doom of cancer.
I can tell you this….Not a minute goes by that I am not grateful for my life. I am not a survivor. I give God all the glory. I think it would be insulting to those precious lives who died from this awful disease to call myself a survivor. They deserved to live.
In 2016, I wrote about my word for the year being PURPOSE. I never imagined what that word would come to mean in my life. I feel as if I have purpose in life and a path I must take now that I have been given a second chance at life.
I am a big fan of Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs fame). His Mom wrote a story about her 20 year anniversary post breast cancer that he posted on his Facebook page. She is a humorous writer and I laughed out loud when I read her post. I am posting it here and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
An Anniversary Worth Remembering
by Peggy Rowe
I was well into my treatment for breast cancer when the nurse practitioner recommended a support group.
“Oh, I don’t need a support group,” I told her. “I have a very supportive family and good friends.” But she was busy writing on a pad.
“You say you’re always close to tears, you’re angry, and your behavior’s unpredictable. That sounds like depression.” It was true. I could be laughing one minute and sobbing the next. So uncharacteristic of me.
“Here you go,” she said. “The Wellness Community is an amazing place. Believe me, nobody understands you like other people who are going through the same thing. Give it a try!”
I put the paper in my purse and forgot about it — until the following morning when my husband, John, made a ridiculously unreasonable suggestion.
“You should get out of the house and take a walk on such a beautiful day, Hon.”
So naturally, I did the only logical thing. I picked up a saltshaker and hurled it at his head. Thanks to quick reflexes, John ducked in time. While he was hiding the kitchen knives, I made an appointment.
On Tuesday afternoon I found myself sitting with a group of seven strangers – adult men and women, young and old, from both ends of the economic spectrum, all struggling to cope with the stress of living with cancer. I didn’t realize then how dramatic my introduction to the group would be.
Our leader, a compassionate, experienced psychotherapist, kept the conversation flowing, as well as boxes of tissues, and chocolates. I hadn’t yet spoken when I helped myself to a piece of candy then stood up and carried the box to Bill, who was lying on a sofa with a pillow beneath his head. Still recovering from his latest round of chemo, he had been met at curbside with a wheelchair that day. I was holding out the box of candy when I suddenly tripped over Bill’s shoes. As chocolates cascaded onto his face and neck, I fell awkwardly onto his body with my hand in a most unfortunate place. 
Appalled, I shot to my feet fearful that I had inflicted mortal damage on this poor, suffering man.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said. Bill casually rolled a candy from his chin, into his mouth, and chuckled. “Believe me, it was my pleasure. This is the first time I’ve smiled in days.”
The group laughed along with Bill and me, and when it was my turn to speak, I shared my cancer story. I finished with the saltshaker incident, hoping I wouldn’t be judged too harshly.
“Oh that’s nothing,” Carol said. “I threw a plate of sausages at my husband the other morning – for no reason at all.”
When I recalled tears of frustration over a painful radiation rash, and trouble swallowing, Betty told us about breaking down in the grocery store when she couldn’t find her favorite cereal. Later in the session when the leader brought in a bowl of seedless red grapes, Bill announced, “I want Peggy to deliver mine.”
In the following months, I was buoyed by members’ courageous optimism, and saddened by their despair. No one ever gave advice or told someone else how they should feel.
I felt like a fraud, sharing the limelight with people in the latter stages of the disease and suffering from the devastating effects of chemo. When I heard there was a waiting list for Tuesday afternoons, I offered to drop out and make space for someone more deserving. Our leader convinced me that my presence was important to the group dynamic.
“Please stay, Peggy!” she said. “Each person brings something special. Your sense of humor is a breath of fresh air.” And so I continued on, long after my treatment ended, and our kitchen knives were returned to the drawer. Long after my burning radiation rash faded and I resumed showering, I supported my Tuesday “family.” I was embarrassed the day Nadine shared an intimate story with us.
“Since my chemo and hormone treatments, something really strange has happened!” she told us. Whenever I sneeze, I have an orgasm.”
I wasn’t sure if she was serious, but we all laughed, and I asked her if she had told her doctor. “Maybe they can do something for you,” I suggested, with an innocent expression.
“Oh, I will,” she said. “When I get around to it.” And we laughed again.
The following week when we celebrated her birthday with cake and ice cream, I handed her a little gift. “It isn’t much, but I hope it brings you pleasure,” I said, as she unwrapped the small can of black pepper and laughed until ginger ale came from her nose.
We cheered when someone’s blood count improved, when an MRI confirmed no new tumor growth, or when somebody donned a new wig. The Tuesday thirty-five-year-old Sandra sashayed through the door sporting an outstanding pair of newly reconstructed breasts, we oohed and aahed, and celebrated with a round cake with a Hershey’s Kiss in the center. There were unspoken prayers for Carol as she traveled to far-off hospitals for experimental treatments — and mourning when those treatments were unsuccessful. I shed genuine tears of grief at Bill’s funeral and was outraged when Doris’s husband announced that he could no longer cope with her cancer — and left her, alone.
A year and a half after joining the support group, I shared how cancer had changed my life. “I woke up one morning and noticed a swelling on either side of my nose,” I told them. “I was convinced that my cancer had returned. My doctor referred me to an ENT (the same one who had removed our children’s tonsils.) During the examination, he peered at me over his glasses, and in a fatherly, Dr. Marcus Welby impersonation said, “I’m going to be honest with you, Mrs. Rowe.” I braced myself — some rare type of rhino-cancer, undoubtedly.
Then he put his hand on my arm and with a twinkle in his eye, said, “In all my years of practice, I have never seen, nor have I heard of…..a case of breast cancer metastasizing to the nose.” The group laughed along with me.
On my final visit to the Wellness Community, a full two years after joining, I shared the story of the rare “cancer” on my hand. The suspicious white streak on my knuckle had appeared one evening after my shower and by the following morning, was surrounded by redness and swelling. My GP referred me to a surgeon. In a sterile theater, wearing a mask and gown, he removed a foreign body from my hand that was roughly ½ inch in length and looked to be wooden. My husband brought it home in a jar, examined it under a magnifying glass, took a picture of it beside a toothpick, and pronounced it, “the most expensive splinter in the history of medicine.” When company comes, John shows it off like it’s the Hope diamond. “Yes siree,” he says, “the golden spike!”
This October is not just the twentieth anniversary of a frightening breast cancer diagnosis. It’s a month of reflection and awareness of others who were less fortunate than I. The Wellness Community is now HopeWell Cancer Support in Baltimore. The people in my group were real, though I changed their names.
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Thank you to all my friends and family for supporting me and encouraging me and loving me through my journey. I don’t think my breast cancer journey will ever really end. I think I will always wonder when I will get my next lump in my breast or whether cancer will travel to other parts of my body. I suppose this is life’s way of keeping my focused on my purpose by never taking my life for granted.

Much love,


 

10 unexpected side effects of chemo

So happy to report that I am at the halfway point in my chemotherapy treatment. I have finished eight treatments and have eight more to go, I am nervous to continue just for the fact that my body is changing so rapidly and I don’t know what it’ll look like at the end of treatment. I am grateful though, to have a chance to heal and most of all grateful for the chance to live. I put together a list of the unexpected side effects of chemo. Some side effects may surprise you!

10. Dry Skin

I look like a lizard. or an alligator. or leather. I have to put lotion on several times a day. I think the chemo must dry your body from the inside out.

9. Sun Spots

I have sun spots in random places. Mostly my arms, but on top of my hands, under my arms and the under part of my fore arms. Its dark and patchy. Most people think it is a bruise. I have been told they will disappear after I end treatment.

8. Thrush

This side effect surprised me. I remember Hannah getting thrush when she was a baby, but it is very real for chemo patients too. My tongue swelled and was very irritated. It was difficult to eat. The only real relief was drinking cold drinks. It went way after a few days. Wayne bought me special toothpaste and mouthwash and that helped.

7.  Loss of Taste Buds

After a few treatments, food tasted different. Some food didn’t even have a taste. A couple of searches on “Dr. Google” and I found I wasn’t alone. Many people complain of loss of taste buds for a very long time. I do find myself salting and flavoring my food more. I don’t have the desire to eat some foods that I used to enjoy.

6. Forgetfulness

Some call it “chemo brain”. I will be in the middle of a conversation and the words just don’t come to me. I can’t even think of what I was going to say. It doesn’t happen often, but it is very frustrating and demeaning.

5. Collapsing Veins

Each week it is getting harder and harder for my blood to be drawn without digging around. It is very painful. I am lucky to have a port inserted for my chemo treatments. I absolutely hate to have blood  drawn from the top of my hand. I can only have  blood drawn from my left arm due to my lymph nodes being removed. Which brings me to number 4….

4. Loss of blood pressure and blood drawn from one arm

After my partial mastectomy surgery, six lymph nodes were removed. When lymph nodes are removed, there is nowhere for lymphatic fluids to drain through. Therefore, any increased pressure results in swelling of lymphatic fluids. For the rest of my life I cannot have blood withdrawn from my right arm or have blood pressure taken in my right arm.

3. Dry Mouth

My  mouth seems constantly dry. It may have something to do with decreased moisture from the inside of my body to the outside similar to having the dry skin. I keep water with me constantly even at night beside my bed. At least I am getting my water intake each day.

2. Diarrhea

A subject not everyone wants to hear about, but very much a reality.  Because of the increased risk of infection, i have to limit my exposure to germs which in turn means I limit my time at grocery stores, public places, restaurants, etc. Every meal usually results in diarrhea. Another great reason to drink a lot of water. (See number 3)

1. People Reaction

The number one unexpected side effect of not just chemotherapy, but of cancer in general, is of people reactions. I have found people fall into two categories, those that completely embrace you & step up to encourage you and those who put a wall up when the word “cancer” is brought up. I have had some very close friends who do not talk about the cancer, do not call or visit or become very nervous around me. I don’t blame them. I think sometimes when people are faced with mortality, they are scared. I try to give them  the space they need to absorb. I often find I am comforting them and I am okay with that. Who better to reassure them that God is in control than me? It takes me “outside” of myself to comfort others who may be uncomfortable.

My second half of treatment starts tomorrow and I am ready for the challenge. Wayne and I are going to take a little overnight trip to the beach this week. I think it is just what the doctor ordered!

Step in Faith,

  

My Breast Cancer Journey {Having a Biopsy}

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma on November 1, 2016. On December 27, 2016 my cancer was upgraded to Stage 3 due to the size of the tumor removed was 8.5 cm and one lymph node was malignant. One in 8 women will find out they have Breast Cancer each year. More than 80% of Breast Cancer diagnoses are Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. According to breastcancer.org :

“Invasive means that the cancer has “invaded” or spread to the surrounding breast tissues. Ductal means that the cancer began in the milk ducts, which are the “pipes” that carry milk from the milk-producing lobules to the nipple. Carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues that cover internal organs — such as breast tissue. All together, “Invasive Ductal Carcinoma” refers to cancer that has broken through the wall of the milk duct and begun to invade the tissues of the breast. Over time, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma can spread to the lymph nodes and possibly to other areas of the body.”

This is my story….

So after I FOUND A LUMP,  I made an appointment with my primary doctor. I had just finished my post operative care for my hysterectomy so my doctor’s office was surprised I was making an appointment so soon. Once i told them why, they quickly made an appointment. Unfortunately, my primary physician left the practice so I had to see a nurse practitioner whom I had never met.  Once in the office, she asked me a few questions and examined my breasts. She told me she didn’t think it was anything to worry about and that she really couldn’t feel a lump. I insisted that I could feel the lump in my upper right breast. She told me that since I was insisting that I felt something, she would refer me to get an ultrasound to ease my mind. Insisting to get a second opinion would be the best decision I would ever make.

I was able to get an appointment rather quickly, which was the next week. Wayne went with me to my appointment at a Women’s Center. The Women’s Center completely specializes in women’s diseases. It was decorated very feminine and warm. I felt very comfortable there.

I was escorted to the back dressing rooms and changed into a gown. Since I had an ultrasound many times before I wasn’t too concerned. I was placed into a dimly lit room on a padded table. Two ultrasound technicians conducted the ultrasound. It lasted about 20 minutes. One of the technicians took her findings to a doctor who examined the pictures. The doctor then came into the room and introduced himself . He told me he wanted to take a better look at my right breast. I started to get a very uneasy feeling. My instincts told me I had breast cancer. After the doctor looked at the screen and asked me a few questions, he told me he wanted me to do a biopsy to get a closer look at the lump and know for sure whether or not it was cancer.

My biopsy was scheduled for November 1, 2016 at the Women’s Center with the same doctor. My Mom went with me to the appointment. I never had a biopsy and didn’t know how the procedure would go. The experience turned out to be one of the best I have had with a doctor. The nurse brought me and my Mom back to the dressing rooms. I changed into a gown and they took us into the doctor’s office where he thoroughly explained what to expect. He expressed his concerns about the size of the lump and the timeline to hear about the results of the biopsy.

The doctor took us into the exam room. A nurse was in the room waiting. They were both so sweet and caring. The doctor turned on some light music and brought out some aromatherapy oils (I kid you not!). He told me they were meant to relax me so it wasn’t such a scary experience. The nurse gave me a pillow and some tissues. The doctor rubbed some oils on my pillow. The nurse draped a sheet over my neck so I wouldn’t see what was happening during the biopsy. They allowed my Mom to stay in the room to make me more comfortable.

I laid on my side and was given a local anesthesia. I didn’t feel a thing! The doctor took five samples. I overheard the doctor and nurse talking about “floaters” and “Sinkers”. I asked what they were referring to. The doctor was very upfront with me and told me “floaters were benign and sinkers are most likely malignant”. I had one sinker.  I asked him if he thought t was cancer and he said “yes”. I didn’t cry. I think I knew in my gut that I had cancer, He told me to call my primary doctor and make an appointment no later than three days from my appointment so I could get the results immediately after she received them. I was able to get an appointment the following week within five days from my biopsy. The biopsy lasted about an hour.

My primary doctor (nurse practitioner) confirmed that I had cancer. Wayne went with me to the appointment. She gave me a hug and told me a story about her sister whom had cancer and made a complete recovery. I was encouraged by her story, but had so many questions that she could not answer. She told me most of my questions would be answered by my surgeon and oncologist. I was happy to know the wheels were in motion to curing my cancer and I was anxious to get moving.

Next time, a visit to the surgeon and how things started moving very, very fast! Until next time…

Hysterectomy Recovery {Feeling Pain & Getting a Diagnosis}

This is my experience recovering from hysterectomy surgery. Your experience may differ. I share my story so other women can be informed. I strongly encourage each of you to get a regularly scheduled examination with your doctor. Early detection is key to diagnosis of most women’s diseases.  

What started out as a dull ache on my right side rapidly changed to severe sharp pain whenever I rolled onto my right side. Initially I wasn’t concerned too much because I had experienced abdominal “pain” since the day I started my period at about age 13. I had been diagnosed with endometriosis since I was 17. A tumor was discovered on my right ovary at age 21 and I had subsequent surgery to remove the tumor . Thankfully it was benign. However, after my surgery at 21 I was told I may not be able to have children. My right ovary was not fully functional, but given my age the doctor didn’t want to remove it. After meeting my husband and getting married, we decided to try to conceive even though we were told our chances of getting pregnant were slim. I was blessed to get pregnant and give birth to a beautiful baby girl (who is now a healthy 20 year old!). After her birth I began having symptoms with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and was finally FINALLY diagnosed with PCOS when I was  30. With PCOS came infertility and I was never able to have any more children.

Fast forward to age 46 and I was tired of the pain. My monthly menstrual cycle was increasingly painful and lasted 10 days at a time and often started again after a 10 day “break”.

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I went to see my primary doctor who gladly sent me off to get an ultrasound. (I have been so blessed to have doctors who go the extra mile for me). When I went to my ultrasound appointment I knew from the look on the technician’s face that something was abnormal on the screen. They took many, many photos (I assumed due to the many clicks of her machine) and told me to follow up with my primary physician within three days. I was nervous, but not surprised. I knew something was wrong by how I was feeling.  Sometimes our gut instinct is the most truthful way of knowing something is wrong with our bodies. 

A few days after the ultrasound, I received a call from my doctor’s office requesting I come into the office as soon as possible. My doctor confirmed a tumor was found on my right side next to my right ovary and uterus. I was referred to a gynecologist surgeon to evaluate and find the location of the tumor. I was scheduled for exploratory laparoscopic surgery in May 2016.

Laparoscopic surgery is much easier on the body. According to my doctor:

Exploratory laparoscopy is surgery to look for causes of pain, abnormal growths, bleeding, or disease in your abdomen. During this surgery, small incisions are made in your abdomen. A small scope and tools are inserted through these incisions. A scope is a flexible tube with a light and camera on the end.

My recovery from the laparoscopic surgery was relatively easy. I had three small incisions in my abdomen with one of them through my belly button. My surgery was scheduled for 6:00am and I was released from the hospital the same day about 2:00pm. The surgery took about an hour and a half. I was able to resume regular activities within about two weeks. The incision through my belly button was the largest wound to recover.

I returned to my doctor’s office for my post-operative check up after two weeks. My doctor determined that my tumor was about the size of a tennis ball. He gave my my options and together we determined that a hysterectomy was the best course of action given my age, pain level and size of the tumor. I have a history of ovarian cancer in my family. This was a big factor for hysterectomy as well.

My second surgery was scheduled for August 5, 2016. I look forward to sharing with you that surgery. Until next time…Step In Faith!

Finding a Lump….

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma on November 1, 2016. On December 27, 2016 my cancer was upgraded to Stage 3 due to the size of the tumor removed was 8.5 cm and one lymph node was malignant. One in 8 women will find out they have Breast Cancer each year. More than 80% of Breast Cancer diagnoses are Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. According to breastcancer.org :

“Invasive means that the cancer has “invaded” or spread to the surrounding breast tissues. Ductal means that the cancer began in the milk ducts, which are the “pipes” that carry milk from the milk-producing lobules to the nipple. Carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues that cover internal organs — such as breast tissue. All together, “Invasive Ductal Carcinoma” refers to cancer that has broken through the wall of the milk duct and begun to invade the tissues of the breast. Over time, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma can spread to the lymph nodes and possibly to other areas of the body.”

This is my story….

As I shared in this post HERE, me and my family were travelling across country to move my Mom to California from Indiana. We had decided to treat this trip as a sort of “vacation” and make stops to visit places we would normally not see. One of our stops was in Fort Worth, Texas to visit my stepsister and spend a couple of days sightseeing and eating barbecue! It was after I got out of the shower on the last day of our visit that I noticed a raised area on the top of my breast. There was a small dimpled area, but nothing too unusual otherwise. My breast didn’t hurt so I thought maybe I had just strained myself while packing the moving van. I decided to wait to tell my family until we got to California so they would not worry. I was so so sure it was a fluke thing and my doctor would check it out and my breast wold return to normal in time. I had no family history of breast cancer. In fact, I had been checked for cancer in August when I had my hysterectomy and my tumor was benign. I also had a mammogram at the insistence of my primary physician in April 2016 and all was fine with no abnormalities. I was sure all would be fine.

When we left Texas and drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico I decided to share my concern with my husband because it was weighing heavily on my mind. I wanted his reassurance that I was just imagining the lump. As soon as he felt the lump he was very concerned and we decided to get checked as soon as we arrived home. We arrived home on October 15, 2016 and I was able to get an appointment with my doctor for October 19, 2016. As soon as I told the scheduler I found a lump in my breast, I got an appointment right away.

 

Stay close by as I share my experience with Breast Cancer diagnosis and treatment.  I hope by sharing my story I can help other women with early detection and treatment. 

 

I have breast cancer….

There really is no easy way or right time to say “I have breast cancer”. My doctor confirmed my pathology / biopsy results were positive for breast cancer on Thursday, November 17th. I wanted to keep it a secret for awhile, but as with other life altering situations that have happened in the last year and a half, I decided to share my story to provide strength and encouragement to other women who are going through painful situations. I plan to document my journey through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment so that I can bring awareness to the disease and hopefully provide strength and comfort to other women.

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My journey with breast cancer started less than 6 weeks ago when I discovered a lump in my breast while driving across country moving my mother to California from Indiana. We made a stop in Texas to visit my stepsister. A day I will never forget. I will share my story beginning from that day in my next post. I look forward to hearing your story as well. Until then….