I received my post surgical biopsy report yesterday and much to my surprise it was inconclusive. It stated that the specimen did not survive processing. Of course this was very disturbing to learn. I have since learned that this occurs for various reasons, not always within human control. I have to believe that my doctor’s initial observation of a herniated muscle causing the lump is correct. I just cannot subject myself to additional surgery right now, and continued surveillance will be vigilant of course. This is where my faith rubber hits the reality road, for sure!! My follow up appointment is in another week.
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.
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!
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!
Today is June 1st, 8 months since my breast cancer diagnosis. Sometimes it seems a lifetime ago and sometimes it seems like just yesterday. Some days I feel I have survived the worst of it and then some days I feel like I am still fighting. I have met many breast cancer patients and have found that some call themselves ‘survivors’ from their date of diagnosis and some from the date of their surgery. I don’t know when I will call myself a true survivor. All I know is that I don’t feel like one just yet.
Maybe that’s because I am still going through IV infusion treatment, spending the day in the chemo ward every 3 weeks, and maybe that’s because I still have very little hair at all, and my fingernails and toenails are rotting, bleeding, and falling off. ( Gross, I know, but that’s the raw truth.) I escaped to a movie theater a few days ago and got engrossed in the show, forgetting for three hours that I had breast cancer, only to go to the restroom after wards and find blood on my shirt from my bleeding fingernail. I wrap band aids around them and try to keep them on. “This part is taking too long”, I think to myself, this part of regaining my body after chemo therapy. And even the therapy I am getting now, though not as toxic as the last four and a half months, still causes me headaches and fatigue and I am scheduled for nuclear heart scans every 120 days to check for cardiomyopathy, a side effect to the drug Herceptin, which I get every 21 days.
(Tim and me, out to dinner last weekend, with his parents who came to visit from St.Louis)
On a lighter note, though, I was traveling back from California a couple of weeks ago and in the airport magazine/book store the clerk said to me, “I love your hair color! It is really nice with your brown eyes.” I smiled and then leaned over to her and said, “I have a dirty little secret to tell you”…and then I told her about my wig and breast cancer.
I thought to myself, I could say “thank you” and go about my business, or I could put a face to breast cancer and let people know that it is not your great aunt’s disease anymore. It is affecting more women than ever before, in staggering numbers and to people whom you never would have suspected. Many celebrities have hidden it from the public until now. The risk factors are becoming more widely advertised and discovered by scientists.
I don’t know what my life after breast cancer treatment will look like, but right now it includes a desire to let people know that finding a cure, though a great hope for us all, is only one piece in a very larger puzzle of finding the cause. The more I read, the more I see how our society and foods, and lifestyles play a big role. Now if I could only get myself to make some of the changes that will reduce my risk of recurrence such as daily exercise and eating a large diet of fresh fruits and vegetables! I’d better get off this computer now, and put on my walkin’ shoes!!
It’s been more than a week since I last posted. I’ve been getting ready for my trip out to visit my family in California, and the day has arrived! I will be gone today through the 20th of May.
For over a week now I have resumed most of my daily activities of running a house to include the grocery shopping, cooking, laundry and upkeep, even though I am still anemic. They checked my blood levels last week and my white cell counts are normal, so not as susceptible to infection, but the red cell count is still low, causing anemia. I was also catching up on all the back-ordered jewelry orders that had stacked up and then I put my shop on vacation mode – I plan to resume after June 1st. That has taken a lot of pressure off of me and freed up some time.
I began my “maintenence” Herceptin dose infusions last week, three times the levels I had been receiving, since they are every 3 weeks now instead of every week. Tomorrow is the first Wednesday since New Years that I have not had to be at the hospital! That, in itself, feels amazing! The only side effect I have noticed is one my doctor warned me of, and that is a constant drippy nose accompanied by scabs lining the nostrils. Hopefully those will subside with time as my body adjusts and I get back some nose hairs. I don’t go anywhere without my Kleenex!
My oncologist denied my request for a manicure, since one of the nails started lifting from the finger and was oozing. The bleeding under the nails has continued, but I went ahead and painted over them for my trip since they look pretty ugly. I just can’t have the soaking and cuticle treatment that a typical manicure includes. I am keeping them short so they don’t get caught and then pull right off – they are tender and still a little numb.
I shaved my legs for the first time in 6 months too! California is HOT already and shorts and skirts mean no covering up the stubble that is beginning to return. 🙂 Hair is starting to fill in the bald spots on my head, though just grayish colored (ugh) chickadee “fuzz” right now. I am still sporting a wig when I leave the house, and a scarf or bandanna while staying at home. I don’t think there will be much swimming pool or beach activity for me this summer!
I signed on to be a “chemo-angel” to a cancer patient just beginning her chemo treatments….a source of encouragement to someone else and a real place to help me begin recovery as I reach out to another woman affected by breast cancer. Channeling my time and energies into helping others will help me from holding my own pity party now that I am going through the post chemo “fall out”. Nobody warned me of the feelings I would have as I begin to process the emotional after effects of treatment. And in some respects I feel like I am still IN treatment until the new year, as I go once or twice a month to the chemo room for infusions. A ‘new normal’, they call it. All I can say is I just want my ‘old’ normal back, and that is a loss I must grieve over time. I appreciate your prayers to that end.
‘Til next week!