27 August 2014

"It's the 'Real Deal' Breast Cancer."

Well, it's been quite the summer.

If you follow my Instagram account, you know what's going on. I haven't felt inclined to post here until recently, and I'm only doing so now because I feel it is important. Not just for me to vent, but for me to hopefully help one chick out there take every single lump seriously. As a matter of fact, it doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman. The most important things to remember are to take lumps seriously and if you're more lethargic than usual than PLEASE go see a doctor. Who cares if people think you're a hypochondriac? Or overreacting? Wouldn't you rather be safe than sorry? Yes. Yes, you would.

So, here's my summer journey so far:
  1. November 2013
    • I felt a lump. I was in my final month of pregnancy, and I had an ultrasound scheduled on my due date. I was told that while the lump was large, it didn't look suspicious, and that I shouldn't worry. "Breasts do crazy things during pregnancy. Come back six months after you're done breastfeeding," the doctor in Virginia said.
  2. November 22, 2013
    • My absolutely beautiful son was born, and I tried to breastfeed. I stressed myself out, and I tried and he tried, but he just didn't want to. I felt like a failure.
  3. December 2013 through May 2014
    • I felt the lump grow, and I felt some minor shooting pains, but I didn't think anything more of it, other than that it was those "crazy" things breasts do during pregnancy. The doctor said to come back six months after I was done breastfeeding, so I planned to go back in June since breastfeeding didn't work out for me.
  4. June 2014
    • My husband's company gave us an opportunity to move back to Jacksonville, Florida from Virginia. The only catch was that we had to move back immediately. I work from home for my company, so it was a cinch to say "yes" and jump on the opportunity. My husband moved down right away and I stayed in Virginia with our beautiful son until my husband found us a house and we could move.
  5. June 2014
    • I knew I needed to get my annual exam out of the way before I moved. If I waited, I knew I would take forever to find another doctor in Florida. I might as well get it done now, I thought. I scheduled my appointment and my doctor immediately scheduled a mammogram after she felt the lump.
    • The mammogram resulted in identifying something "suspicious." They scheduled a biopsy.
    • The biopsy showed a result that STOPPED ME IN MY TRACKS.
    • My doctor told me I had "the real deal" breast cancer. 
    • I kept thinking, "How can this happen? My son is only seven-months-old. I don't want him to never know me. I don't want him to call someone else 'Mommy.' That's me. I'm Mommy." I immediately had jumped to the worst-case scenario. I was a wreck. I cried constantly. I WAS TERRIFIED.
    • I packed up the house.
    • I moved with my son down to Florida. My husband had come back to do the move and drive with us.
  6. July 1, 2014
    • Two days after I moved to Florida, with boxes littered everywhere in our new house, I had my first appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. They confirmed it was breast cancer, but couldn't yet tell me what stage it was at, or if it had spread. They just needed to get it out. NOW.
    • I had a complete breakdown in my surgeon's office. What if it's really bad? What if it has spread? What will I do? I can't handle this. My son is only seven-months-old. I want to be with my husband. When will I get the test results? I can't leave my son and my husband. I still have work to do in my life.
  7. July 15, 2014
    • I had a double mastectomy performed. Even though the right breast was the problem, I opted to remove the left as well, in order to be aggressive. The doctor also found that 29 out of 53 lymph nodes had cancer in it. She removed all of my lymph nodes in my right armpit during the surgery.
    • I didn't look at myself for five days after the surgery.
    • I cried. I waited for test results. I grew paranoid about what those results were. I was terrified.
    • Finally. Some GOOD NEWS.
      • A PET scan resulted in the good news that the cancer, while it was categorized as Stage 3, had NOT SPREAD to any other part of my body other than my lymph nodes. I cried. I cried because of a combination of lingering fear, fear of my upcoming chemo treatments, and complete hysterical glee that I was going to see my son grow and that I could be with my husband for our next adventures, our next good and FUN adventures, in life.
      • But, then I realized I still have to get chemo out of the way. While one extremely terrifying part might be done, I still have more left on this ride to get done before I can breathe easy.
    • My oncologist set me up to still receive chemo treatments and radiation even though the cancer was completely removed when they performed the surgeries for both the double mastectomy and the lymph node removal. The chemo and radiation are strictly to act as an extra layer of insurance to make sure that if there are any random cancer cells floating in my body, this treatment will zap it.
  8. August 8, 2014
    • I have a procedure to put a "Power Port" into my chest, that has a tube which feeds directly into my jugular. This is how I will be "fed" the chemo, and also acts as an easy access point to take my blood work, instead of always having to find a vein in my arm. It sticks out of my chest pretty dramatically. It's not pretty, and I felt claustrophobic the first day after I got it because I could feel the tube going across my throat, but I'm used to it now.
  9. August 12, 2014
    • My first chemo treatment. They gave me a big dosage of Benadryl to relax me, and then for four hours, I laid in a bed while I got my chemo. I watched two episodes of "Lost" on Netflix, even though I struggled to keep my eyes open. (By the way, thank you to Netflix and the TV shows "Lost" and "Pretty Little Liars." You've done an excellent job distracting me from all of the crap that I've been going through.)
  10. August 13, 2014
    • I got the Neulasta shot. When you get chemo, your white blood cells drop dramatically down, and you are more open to infection. The Neulasta shot is a major jump start to grow your white blood cells, and I have to get this the day after every single time I get chemo. The only problem is that no one told me how much pain I would feel in my bones afterwards. White blood cells grow in your bone marrow, and the Neulasta shot really kicks the growth into overdrive so that you can regrow the cells to fight infection. But, man. I had the most excruciating pain for three days. It felt like I had been dragged outside into an alley and a horse dutifully obliged by kicking me in my teeth, and then kicked me everywhere else while I was down. I could feel every tooth shifting, almost like they were playing musical chairs and finding a new spot to sit in. PAINFUL.
    • The nurses recommended I take a Claritin (yes, the over-the-counter allergy pills) the two days before, the day of, and the day after I get the Neulasta shot, and it should help to minimize the bone pain. I definitely will try that for my next treatment.
My next round of chemo is next week. I'm scheduled to receive six treatments, one every three weeks, for eighteen weeks. I hear that the side effects will increase each week, because chemo builds up in your body cumulatively. I've also heard that it takes a full year for the chemo drugs to wash completely out of your body.

Phrases That I Will Never Forget
  • "It's the 'real deal' breast cancer." Spoken by my Virginia doctor who first diagnosed me. I felt like it was a nickname, like in boxing, and I had just stepped into the boxing ring for a fight I NEVER wanted to be in.
  • "You're young and you're healthy." I didn't realize being 40 and having breast cancer meant being "young and healthy." But, okay.
  • "You should prepare for a very tough year. Because of the fact that you are young and healthy, the Mayo Clinic is going to throw everything at you to get rid of the cancer."
  • "You're going to be okay." Although this was questionable as I waited for test results, I would still repeat this over and over to myself.
Quick Reflections
  • What has been the worst part to deal with?
    • WAITING. Waiting for test results, waiting to go in for the biggest surgery of my life, waiting to get chemo, waiting for the side effects to kick in. WAITING. I'll bring up the test results again. Waiting for those brought up the most intense fear and paranoia I've ever experienced in my life.
  • What stage was the cancer in?
    • Stage 3. Stage 4 would have meant it spread to other organs. In my case, it only spread to my lymph nodes, but it DID NOT SPREAD to any major organs.
  • Is my hair starting to fall out?
    • Yep. I cut my hair short so that I wouldn't have to deal with the emotions of my super-long hair falling out. It's expected that all of my hair will fall out by next week.
  • Can I taste my food?
    • Right now, it comes and goes.
  • Did I have any nausea after my first chemo treatment?
    • No, but I took them seriously when they said to take the anti-nausea pill at the first questionable feeling.
  • Do you still feel like a "breastfeeding failure?"
    • HELL, NO. If breastfeeding had been successful, I still would not have gone to the doctor yet. Remember, I was supposed to go back six months after I was done breastfeeding. What if I had been breastfeeding for six to eight months? I wouldn't have seen any doctor until next year. And that might have been just too late.
  • Did you get the genetic testing done?
    • Yes. I want to see if I have any mutations in my genes which would show I was predisposed to get breast cancer. I opted to have the most extensive genetic testing done so that I can find anything I could potentially develop (of course, the testing can only show so much), now that I've had breast cancer. Why? Simply because once I know what I might get, I can now MONITOR myself with regular testing and screenings so I can always try to catch things EARLY.
  • Did I go to a support group?
    • I thought about it, but I chose not to at this time. My family and friends have been INCREDIBLE. My husband is the most AMAZING man on the planet. I love him so much and he's working double overtime in this house to take care of the house, me, our son, our dog and cat, and everything else. He is a HERO.
    • My sister came down with her husband, sixteen-year-old son and twelve-year-old daughter twice to help around the new house, take care of my son, and just make noise. (I learned I hate hearing people whisper around me. It makes me feel like they think I'm going to die. When my friends and family are in the house, there's regular happy noise and it makes me feel so much better.)
    • Everyone's journey is different. I would highly recommend looking at taking advantage of support group resources and making whatever decision feels right for you. The bottom line is: You cannot do this fight alone.
  • Am I religious?
    • I am Catholic, but have never been a practicing one. Coincidentally, I was already curious about faith and religion BEFORE all of this started, and when I was diagnosed, I easily grew much closer to my faith, and I'm happier for it.
  • Am I reading?
    • I am still voraciously reading and listening to audiobooks, but my urge to craft a review is fairly minimal right now. I'd rather spend my time with my son and husband when I'm feeling well.
  • What's next?
    • 2015. I can't wait for you. I am going to be cancer-free, no more chemo treatments, have breast reconstruction (should I throw in a tummy tuck? Heck, yeah!), and plan an extra-long vacation for just my sweet little family to enjoy. An island paradise at an exclusive resort? Sounds good. A retreat to Paris, followed up by a bar crawl in Ireland? Oh, yeah. Something like that.
  • What do I need from you?
    • KICK ASS vibes, prayers, and thoughts. No sympathy, no pink, none of that. I just want WARRIOR thoughts sent my way. I'm not quite finished with this chapter of my life.
The two reasons that make my life worth living, and loving.

My husband's friend sent me this shirt after my surgery. This rocks.