Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The New Normal?

It has been quite awhile since I last wrote on here, but its been an eventful summer.  I've been staying busy with work, travel, weddings, dinners, ballroom dance class, pottery class, earthquakes and just life in general.  Which is fantastic.

I've been feeling normal and well and I've got at least an inch of thick hair growing in.  Its almost like I can pretend the past year never happened.  Almost.  There are still a few tell tale signs, but for the most part my daily life doesn't suggest that any of this ever happened.  And I really have mixed feelings about that.  I can walk down the street and no one would know what I've been through this year.  You could look at me, talk to me and never know.  On one hand, when I was going through chemo and bald and tired all the time, I craved normalcy.  There was nothing I wanted more than to feel "normal" again -- thats the best and most effective way to describe it.  I wanted nothing more than to have this all behind me.  Now that its behind me and the events of the last year are starting to get fuzzy and blur together, I'm trying hard to remember.  Yes, I'm grateful to feel like myself again, but the truth is this whole ordeal is a huge part of who I am now.  I've gained a lot of patience and strength from the experience and I don't want to lose any of that.  I don't want to forget what I went through and I don't want to take any of it for granted.

So now I struggle with walking the line of moving forward, but holding on to at least a piece of what I've been through.

And I'm not quite done yet.  Two weeks from today I will have my (hopefully final) surgery to finish up my reconstruction.  I'm very eager to get it done and truly be able to have the major stuff behind me.  Once I'm done with surgery, the only piece of treatment I have left is my Tamoxifen - which is a pill I will be taking every day for the next 5 years (technically 4 years, 8 months now).  Tamoxifen is not the worst thing ever (especially when you compare it to chemo), but its not exactly a barrel of laughs either.  The biggest side effect is hot flashes -- which I experience multiple times every day.  They are definitely manageable, but annoying.  And it does interrupt my sleep, as I wake up throughout the night too hot or too cold, but I think I've gotten used to that for the most part.

But back to surgery, on September 7 at 9am, I'll start what will hopefully be my last surgical procedure for a long time.  Can't wait!

The other interesting aspect to my lift right now is that I'm starting to experience all of my 1 year "cancer-versaries".  July 4th weekend was the 1 year of when I first found the lump and all through August/September, I was getting tests done.  September 29 will mark 1 year since I was diagnosed and October will be when my Pink Aversion (and this blog) first began.  October will definitely be more meaningful this year and I'll be able to tolerate Breast Cancer Awareness Month much better than I could last year.  October is will also be the 1 year from when I started chemo.  I'm a little nervous that the cold, crisp fall air is going to make me think of chemo, but I'm planning to keep myself very busy and distracted just incase.  Regardless, this year is going to be about a lot of reflecting and a lot of celebrating, so I hope you will all plan on joining me as I commemorate all of my 1 year "cancer-versaries" this year.

I'm going to try and post a little more regularly to this thing and I hope to have some photos up soon too, so you can see more of my hair "evolution".


Thursday, March 24, 2011

These boots were made for walking

Its been one week since surgery and I feel pretty good.  Overall, I have to say that surgery was much easier than I expected it to be.  I never really felt like complete crap afterward and with the exception of being tired or being sore, I've felt great from the start of recovery.  Once again, this whole experience has been defined by the notion that nothing is as bad as what I anticipate before hand -- which is great!

After my surgery on St. Patrick's Day, I spent the night in the hospital and was discharged the following day around noon.  Since then, I've been quietly recovering at home and going to follow-up doctor's appointments. The drugs they gave me really made me feel great (but sleepy) for the first few days.  I'm not on quite as much now, but I am holding on to the pain medication.  :o)  I still have tubes sticking out of me, which are highly annoying.  They are there to drain excess fluid from the surgical site, but I'm very ready to have them gone.  I'm pretty sure I'll be able to have one removed tomorrow, but I fear I may be living with the other one for a few more days.

As I've been sitting at home, I've been catching up on my day time television.  I'm really enjoying the home improvement and landscaping shows and I've also just discovered this very entertaining blog:  Perhaps some DIY projects are in my future.

I've also seen substantial hair growth over the last couple weeks.  Its still very early, but I hope to have enough to have a real head covering do in the next month.  I'm crossing my fingers anyway.

I mentioned earlier that I've been going to doctors appointments while I'm recovering.  Yesterday I went to see my oncologist for the first time since I finished chemo.  She had the results of my pathology report from the surgery and then news was very surprising.  I knew at the time of my surgery that my lymph nodes initially came back clear (only 2 were removed), but they did further testing afterward.  It turns out that my lymph nodes are completely clear and that my tumor was mostly DCIS (pre-cancerous cells) and just little specks of invasive cancer, which is fantastic.  Now because of these two findings and the fact that I had a mastectomy and removed all of my breast tissue, I found out that I no longer need to have radiation.  I'm so happy that I can cut that phase of treatment out of my plan and start moving toward the end.  This means I can have my reconstruction completed sooner and most importantly, can start making plans for the next few months since I know I won't have to work around a daily radiation schedule.  So once Ben is finished with tax season we might actually be able to take a trip somewhere or take a long weekend, something we haven't been able to do since last summer. 

I also received my prescription for Tamoxifen, which is the final stage of my treatment.  Its a pill that I will take for up to 5 years and it is used to block estrogen and prevent estrogen positive cancer cells from growing.  It does have some side effects, like hot flashes, but I'm hoping for the best.

It's weird to think that with the exception of taking a pill and some additional cosmetic reconstruction, my treatment is essentially over, especially when I was prepared for more.  But even though I'm coming to the end of my active treatment, I'm still not ready to be done with the cause.  I'm still looking to connect with others who are going through this and to help anyone diagnosed in the future.  I a lot left to contribute.  So as a capstone to my initial fight and as a stepping off point for the next phase, I'm planning to participate in the 2011 Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure.  Since I'm still recovering from treatment, I'm only planning to participate in the 5k walk, but I'm hoping to enlist everyone who has supported me over the last few months to join me. 

So here come my plea: if you are able, please go to this link and sign up to join my team for the walk on June 4 in Washington DC (and please feel free to invite anyone else to join who may be interested).

If you can't join but would like to contribute to our team, then of course I welcome that support as well.  I hope that we can turn this day into a celebration to mark the end of my treatment and walk together for a great cause. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Moving ahead

I'm now 4 weeks out from my last chemo treatment and I'm feeling good.  I think my hair is finally starting to grow again, though its hard to tell because I still have some stubble on my head from before.  While I'm fine with the whole being bald thing, I am ready to have hair again -- I miss it. 

I've been pretty busy over the last couple weeks.  I checked out events for two organizations with groups in DC.  YSC ( and i2y (  i2y has these fantastic bracelets:

I finally got to schedule my surgery (left mastectomy) and its slated for March 17 (St. Patrick's Day).  I guess this year I'll be getting green jello instead of green beer.  I'll be glad to get the whole thing over with so I can move on to the next step. 

Other than preparing for surgery, I've been feeling pretty good over the last few weeks.  It is so so good to feel like myself again -- I only hope I can bounce back from surgery quickly so I can go back to feeling good.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Back and better than ever

I'm done with chemo.  Done!  Done!  Done!  Done!  Done!



As many of you know, my last chemo treatment was on Thursday, February 3.  Finally, I'm starting to feel like myself again (I'd say I'm currently at about 65-70%) and each day I'm feeling better and getting stronger.  Today was a big day for me and I just realized how many positive things have happened over the last week or two that have helped to bring me to my current outlook.  As of today, I feel like I have a renewed sense of purpose.  I feel excited about things again.  And I feel like the first chapter of breast cancer is coming to a close.  Sure, I know I'm not done yet, there is still quite a bit to do, but I feel like the hardest part is over and I can handle the next phase much better.  Things are starting to come together and everything now feels like its happening for a reason.

A couple weeks ago, I was stressing out about my surgery options.  I felt sure that I was going to have to have a mastectomy due to the size of my tumor and I just couldn't get comfortable with the idea.  But after meeting with another surgeon (and having almost completed chemo) I found out that my tumor has shrunken significantly and that a lumpectomy may now be an option. My tumor was initially about 9cm large and is now estimated to be about 5cm.  This made me feel so much better.  I can always go back and have a mastectomy later if I want, but for now, I'm way more comfortable with the less invasive procedure.  I'm still waiting to confirm with my primary surgeon, but I feel good about it.

Throughout this whole thing, I've been on a quest to find another twenty-something going through what I'm going through.  I knew they existed and I'd heard and read about them, but I needed to meet someone to prove to myself that I wasn't alone.   But all I had found were women who had breast cancer when they were in their late twenties but now its 5, 10, 20 years later and women who are in their mid thirties- to mid forties who currently have breast cancer.  All of these women have been wonderful and great resources, but I still felt like there was something missing.  But last week I met a 29 year old going through chemo and last night I met another 28 year old who was just diagnosed.  And now I feel a sense of victory.  I'm sorry that these women have to deal with this, but it feels good to see another way too-young face whose doing the same thing I am (I say "way too young" because most of the women I've met I think are too young to be dealing with this).

Finally, as I've mentioned in this blog before, my goal from the beginning of this was to take something away from this whole experience -- to get something good out of it and be able to contribute something back.  I do not want this experience to be a waste.  Until recently, I was only able to deal with getting through chemo and just making it through everyday, that I wasn't able to see beyond that first hill.  But now that I'm over the first hump, I feel like things are starting to fall into place and my purpose is starting to reveal itself.  I'm also starting to feel like my old self again.  Not who I was 6 months ago, but who I was 2, 3, 5 years ago.  This sounds corny, but I feel a new fire in me and the passion and drive I have been lacking for awhile.  And it all seems so easy ... things are starting to fall into my lap and make sense and the path just seems so clear that I would be blind if I didn't just follow it.  

Today I was encouraged to start a young women's breast cancer group and for any of you who know me well, this is something that is right up my alley.  I've gone to a couple of young women with breast cancer support groups, but they are for women under 40 or 45 and dominated mostly by women in their mid-thirties to mid-forties.  These groups are great -- they meet once a month, are facilitated by a counselor and give everyone a chance to air their concerns, talk about their feelings and ask question.  What I haven't found is a young women with breast cancer social group.  Arlington, Alexandria and DC are filled with young professionals and more and more young women are being diagnosed with breast cancer.  When you have breast cancer, you don't want to dwell on it all the time, you want to take the moments when you feel good and have fun -- live life.  I have a lot of resources now at my disposal and I think there could be a growing group of women who would be interested in getting together and hanging out with other women like them and doing something fun.  Something not related to cancer.

This is my new project.  And I'm excited.  I want to get started immediately.  I just keep thinking in my head "I'm baaaack!" and it feels so good to feel like this again.

I realize this whole post may sound extremely corny, cheesy and lame but I'm not sure I really care.

I also have to say that I'm extremely excited about my end of chemo celebration next Friday (2/19) and I cannot wait to see everyone there.  I think I should be back up to at least 95% by then, so be ready to party.  I also want to take lots of pictures to document the night, my post-chemo self and my perfectly-shaped for scarf wearing head, so plan to bring your cameras.

And if you hear of any young women (or anyone really who needs it) with breast cancer whether they are in the area or not, feel free to send them my way.  I look forward to being a resource to others who have to go through this.