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Update

The mri and ct scan came back yesterday. My cervical and thoracic spine have “multiple hemangiomas”. These are typically benign vascular tumors. Now I am waiting for my appointment with orthopedics to find out what we can do about it. Lots of waiting these days. Still no relief from the numbness in my back.

From what I am reading these can become large enough to cause compression fractures but can be shrunken using radiation. I really have to find out more when I talk to the doctor but the good news is that my oncologist isn’t concerned about a cancer of any kind at this point.  Radiology recommended a follow up ct scan in June to see if there are any changes on a nodule that showed up in my lung (which honestly may be absolutely nothing).

Thank you for your continued prayers.

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Certifiably wonderful!

I spent last weekend at a 2-day training to become a certified counselor with Network Of Strength, a 24/7 peer support hotline for breast cancer patients and their loved ones.

I attended, along with 16 other women from around the country, and shared a hotel room with a woman whom I met at my oncology ward,  who was also in training.  Together we all learned how to help patients who call the hotline to discuss their most pressing issues and emotions while dealing with diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. I learned a lot about various aspects of the disease as well as resources that are available to patients.  I also learned a lot about the social prejudices that often keep wo(men) from seeking screening and treatment, and how to deal with people when they are at the end of their rope and want to end their lives.  It was an intense and packed-full weekend, but one that assured me that this is the direction my life needs to go as I seek to turn my cancer experience into something that helps other people. Network of Strength’s mission is this:

“…to ensure, through information, empowerment and peer support, that no one faces breast cancer alone.”

This week I took my online test and I passed! Starting Wednesday and Friday this week I will begin shadowing calls that come in through the 1-800 hotline, listening to my manager speak with people who call, and then reviewing various aspects of the conversations and what I have learned. Next week she will shadow me as I accept the calls. Within the next few weeks my computer and phone will then be wired to their hotline headquarters and I will begin to be scheduled with shifts to be covered throughout the week while I am at home.

This new position will force me to STAY home more, which I need to do in order to complete everything around the house and with  my business. I thought I would get a breather after the Christmas holiday rush, but things have picked up as much as they did in mid December!  The only way to ensure that I don’t get behind, is to commit to staying home more and filling the orders as they come in.

Good news is that I haven’t had any allergy outbreaks since beginning the daily Allegra last week, and the rest of my blood tests should be in by the end of this week.  Hopefully after the doctor reviews them all she can diagnose what the underlying cause of these are and what can be done to correct it. 

Tonight we have 2-6 inches of snow forecasted, this, following 5 inches we got over the weekend! I think 2010 is now making up for a lack of snowfall we haven’t had in the last 3 years!

The Numbers Don’t Lie!

Sample07This week I had a MUGA scan of my heart. This is a nuclear scan of the heart. Muga stands for Multiple-Gated Acquisition, a 40 minute test where the radioactive tracer injected into my bloodstream is tracked and followed by a gamma camera as I lay on a table with electrodes stuck to me and a machine records all of the activity. I began getting muga scans before starting my chemo therapy in December.  Things looked fantastic then, as I scored a 69 and was told that 55 would be optimal. Then I had another scan in March showing slight decrease in heart function at a scoring result of 65.  In July that number had gone down to 62.  That’s when I began to worry that the remaining 5 months of therapy were going to do more damage, and I’d better to something to get my heart back into shape if I could. That’s when I joined the gym and for the last 6 weeks have been exercising rigorously 3 – 4 times a week.  Tuesday’s scan showed a slight improvement and came in at 64, the ejection fraction which is an indicator of heart function.  It is no wonder! I feel great and I feel strong and am not tired all the time like I was earlier in the summer.  I will have another scan when chemo finishes after Christmas. What will a full 3 months of spin classes and treadmill do for me!? I can’t wait to find out!

What causes breast cancer? <—

The countdown begins!

I finished my 25th infusion of Herceptin yesterday and have just 5 more to go now before completion, just before Christmas. Then I will officially be done with one year of chemo therapy!  While at the hospital, I got to meet with my new oncologist.  This new doctor is actually the head of oncology at Walter Reed, and has agreed to take me on as his patient.  I had begun an oral chemo medication in May, designed to block the hormone receptors which feed breast cancer, but I developed a reaction to it in the form of daily hives. After meeting with the doctor yesterday, I am no longer taking the medication and he sees no reason for me to take anything else orally. Because chemo therapy put me into early menopause and I am no longer producing the volume of hormones that I was prior to my surgery, he feels that I am not susceptible to the hormones feeding any rogue cancer cells. He feels that with the chemo therapy and Herceptin which I have been given, I have every possible chance of remaining cancer free. This was very good news to me,  since the oral therapies given women after breast cancer carry with them some undesirable side effects and risky complications. My doctor believes this is mostly because the field of oncology just doesn’t know what else to do, and the fact that other than Herceptin, there have been no ground breaking breast cancer treatments in the last 30 years. We are still using surgery, chemo therapy, radiation and oral hormone blockers to fight recurrence. Despite all of this, women continue to get new breast cancers at epic proportions.  I am reading and researching what are believed to be the major causes of breast cancer and find it interesting that so much is directed at funding the pharmacuetical companies and their studies but NOT determining and fighting the causes, namely hormones.  That would put a lot of big name manufacturers out of business. Unfortunately beating cancer is very political and financial. 006

At any rate, I am feeling great and doing well, and look forward to celebrating  my one year survival point next month! In celebration, I bought myself a new kayak last week!  I loaded her up last weekend and went with a girlfriend out on the water Saturday! I call her MY SURVIVOR”SHIP ! Now, you may be wondering how I  got that 42 pound boat up there all by myself while Tim was out of town?  With much determination!  Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I don’t let much stop me anymore…that is one positive outcome in my fighting cancer – I have a new-found strength within.  (In case you’re wondering, I bought Tim a matching kayak too.)  Now when our local marina closes for the season at the end of September, we can still get out on the water and explore the local rivers during peak fall foliage! The leaves are already beginning to fall here in Virginia!

005 I loved what a new friend had recorded on her home answering machine the other day.  After the usual message of “leave a message at the sound of the beep”, she reminded me of this:

The hand of God will not bring you to any trial where the grace of God will not protect you!

New Beginnings

Having cancer has taken many things from me beyond my control.  It has made me vulnerable and helpless at times.  spinning_class3Part of the fight in cancer is to regain something I CAN control, and decide what is right for me. 

I believe everything and every person God brings into my path, in this journey, is His divine intervention.  There are no mistakes with God!  A couple of months ago I met a dynamic woman through my kids’ high school.  She is an 18 month breast cancer survivor and a  shining example of strength and courage to me.  A powerhouse of energy and positive attitude,  I knew I immediately had to know her!  The more we talked about life beyond treatment, I learned from her and other survivors, that lifestyle changes must be made to remain cancer free.  No more free walk in the park, not exercising and eating whatever I wanted to! 

Every study I have read links diet and exercise to lower recurrences or development of all types of cancers.  Even though I have been fortunate to be able to maintian a healthy weight my whole life, and don’t struggle with high blood pressure or diabetes,  which run in my family, my greastest focus NOW is to never go through cancer treatment again.  Ever.  What better time than NOW to seize hold of something within my control while other issues are still out of reach for me (such as getting my hair to grow FASTER)!  I choose what to eat.  I choose where to spend my energies and I choose who I want to become. 

So today, along with my new friend,  bandana on my bald head, I tried a spin (cycling) class at the local gym and guess what?  The instructor is another breast cancer survivor, 8 months further ahead than me, and she has the same oncologist as I do! What are the odds of that?  As I sat on the bike at the back of the room, watching her at the front, with all her enthusiasm and zest for life, tears filled my eyes as I could see light at the end of this dark tunnel of treatment.  I saw that I can raise my head high and smile.  I saw that I can have the body I want to have, or at least one better than what I have now, and that strength will come through hard work.  I have never been one for sweat, in fact I hate exercising, not to mention PAIN!  This would be a very big step for me to take on a lifestyle change like this.  Even two or three times a week of walking around the block would be a huge milestone for me, especially if its hot outside!  But I have to start somewhere, and meeting these two women is like an ah-ha moment for me.  A motivation for change and a new beginning.  Like two angels leading the way, that God placed right in my path when I needed direction.

I’m sure I’ll be barely able to walk tomorrow when I wake up, but in time I hope to feel better and love the body God has given me, glad to be alive.

The Point Of Grace

If you, like me, have been brought to the depths, and if you have, then you know what I mean…a place where you can cry no more, and have no strength left within your being.  It is a dark place, a hard place and a place you never want to stay long.  If you have been there or are there now, then you are at The Point of Grace – the place where only God can lift you out.  I found myself there six months ago when a plan for treatment was not yet in place, and I find myself there now as I try to navigate a road to recovery that isn’t clear.  It’s as if I was placed in a blender and then poured out on the pavement and left to wander, trying to find myself again.  Where is my femininity? What is my purpose in all of this mess? How do I come to a point of acceptance when I am still so angry? Even my fingernails are peeling off now and are painful!

If you feel that way in your life, then you’ll hear these words to this song and know that there is hope and peace waiting for you.  You just have to let God find you there. No hiding from your reality. I heard this song while I was in California visiting my parents. I felt the tears flowing down my cheeks and they streamed like a cleansing river to my soul. Just when I thought I couldn’t cry any more…

Done With Chemo! Spring (hair) has Sprung!

017Here I am (gypsy-look) at the end of the last chemo drip bag,  (hey! I got a window seat this day!) looking a little worn, a little swollen from two days of steroids, but finished with the major treatments now.  Even  with all of the anti-nausea drugs they give me orally and in my IV, I still walked out of there nauseated. It subsided after dinner until around 4 A.M.  Breakfast and more drugs helped.  My day was spent chatting with the ladies in the chair next to me.  The first, a hospital administrator named Joyce, who works in hospitality at Walter Reed, she herself now a breast cancer patient, stage 3.  She was so inspiring and so glowing and full of hope and love for God!  We exchanged information in hopes of connecting again – then DeWanda took her place and was in hematology, for severe anemia and an iron infusion.  As it turned out we live just 2 major streets over from one another! Small world!  It was nice to talk about our college kids, and about living in our suburb and other places we have traveled.  I’m glad when I find other patients to pass the time with me who like to chat.  Tim arrived mid afternoon from the metro he took from work, and stayed with me the final two or three hours.

Yesterday I notice that sprouts of hair are starting to already emerge! See?012

There are quite a 011few gray sprouts in there as well, so it seems your scalp has a memory of what was there before! (If you zoom on the second photo)  🙂 It reminds me of freshly sprouted grasslings of spring! I hope in another month to have twice this much, but it will be many months before there’s enough to 005actually style. 020 You can see here that my brows have thinned but have held on enough to be pencilled in and luckily I still have lashes, though difficult sometimes to find to put mascara on.

You can see the bruising spots under my fingernails here, feel a bit tender still, the worst being on my middle finger where I wear my SURVIVOR ring and Pink Susan G. Komen ring – how appropriate!  If I can do this, I feel like I can do anything now and come out of it okay, and maybe even a better person, more filled with compassion and more aware of what life is really about.  Know what it means to fight and survive!  Today will be my “best day” this week so I have errands to run before the “crash” comes sometime tomororw, with nausea and fatigue. 

I don’t expect to post much in the next few days unless feeling up to it.  Thanks so much for meals and prayers you are sending over this way! They are so appreciated!  A sunny warm weekend is in the forecast, so hopefully I can at least get out on the porch and soak up some rays and breath in the fresh air while Tim mulches the yard!