Thursday, October 29, 2009

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Part 4

What came next was chemo brain… a documented condition which leaves you in a pleasant fog but also quite the stupidest person in the room. Not so good if you are a working woman. I was very blessed in that my manager was understanding and flexible throughout my treatment. My company stood by me in this fight. I had a laptop to be able to work from home, Friday chemo day half off and compassionate coworkers.

I had a big button made for me by a friend which said “Warning - Chemo Brain”. Someone could talk to me and I would nod and understand, then as soon as they walked away I forgot what they wanted. I learned to write everything down – something I had never had to do before. Complex problems brought a blank look to my face. Figuring out simple things was a challenge. I have always had a good mind, my manager used to call me Radar from the show MASH. I was always ahead of the game. Now, sometimes I am ahead but I still have my blank faced look from time to time. It is frustrating and embarrassing. I who love words, the way they can fit together and form exquisite thoughts. I have worked hard to regain my nimble mind and for the most part am successful.

Chemo infusions were made bearable by going to the hospital with my daughter Blondie and her friend Caramel. We would chat and talk and then go somewhere good to eat. We were upbeat and sometimes too noisy. So many patients were grim, sober in their illness. I don’t blame them. My chemo did not leave me retching over the side of a bed, pouring with sweat. I had it good, if chemotherapy can ever be called “good”.

I lost some hair but not enough to be bald. Next time I will shave my head though. It will just feel better.

I finished my chemo without anything dramatic happening.

While I waited the 6 or 8 weeks to begin radiation, I did fall ill. I contracted Legionnaires Disease from the HVAC system in the old building where I worked. Healthy people who are exposed to these bacteria do not always become ill or are able to fight it off with just antibiotics.

Since I was immune compromised from the chemo, I did not fight it off. It came on very sudden. I collapsed in the ER with a 104 degree temperature. That is the last thing I remember for several days.

My husband was told that I would most likely die and to prepare for my death. My daughter Blondie had to fight me for hours to keep the oxygen mask on my face. In my delirium I saw big, nasty teeth in the mask and was sure that I was being attacked. If she couldn’t keep the mask on me the doctors would have to intubate me. Once intubated, my chances of death were increased even further. Thank the Lord above for a determined daughter. I was not intubated.

I came to awareness slowly. To this day I have just fuzzy pictures in my head for most of the time I was hospitalized.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Twenty Wishes Update

List of wishes in no particular order with plan to make them come true (if I have one yet)

1. Closer relationship with God: pray nightly with rosary

2. Write a blog that expresses my creativity and experiences: Already have a blog, now learning how to make it great

3. Rent an apartment with bedrooms for everyone and washer and dryer, dishwasher: Set up savings for first last etc.

4. Buy a home of our own

5. Collect all the family recipes from my youth and make cookbook: look through recipe box and boxes in attic

6. Rent a huge house with a fireplace at the beach for Thanksgiving and invite everyone I love

7. See my adult children launched successfully: Continue to support their endeavors

That’s all I have so far!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Part III

I could feel the chemo drugs slipping into my arm, like a cold, wet weight. The feeling traveled down to my belly and grew. My months of nausea and diarrhea began then.

At my next treatment, the veins on my arm were still elusive. I decided to have a port placed in my chest. The port was inserted during a short outpatient surgery. Although I was given twilight sleep, I felt the implantation as a tugging and pushing. I was groggily aware of the whole thing. I was not happy. I was afraid of the port and somehow certain that the surgery had been improperly done. I wanted to stay overnight for observation but that was not permitted by this particular surgeon. I don’t know now if it would have helped me or not.

I again spent days clutching an ice pack to the new surgical site. I worried and obsessed over it. Although it was checked and found to be implanted properly, it took a couple of months for me to become comfortable with it.

If I had it to do over I would still choose the port. Chemotherapy was much easier using the port. Each visit required a blood test which was easily done by accessing the port and then leaving it in place for use during the chemotherapy infusion. No more worries about finding veins.

I vomited a few times during treatment but the real bane of my existence was the nausea and diarrhea. The horrid feeling that any moment I could vomit was unrelenting. The diarrhea was persistent. I worked fulltime for 90% of my treatment and making it to the bathroom without embarrassment was an hourly trial. My oncologist gave me all the medications possible to mitigate the symptoms and for that I am very grateful. I cannot imagine the dire straits I would have been in without her help.

What came next was chemo brain…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Part II

It has felt good to get this all out. Clear out my brain for new and happier things.

I spent days with ice packs clutched to my breast. Any bump or jostle caused me pain. Accidental brushes against my husband’s arm or body were jarring and scary. I developed a bubble around myself augmented with pillows whenever possible. I still sleep with a pillow around my chest. My husband while understanding, is irritated by this. In his defense, I have been cancer free for a couple of years. I hope to let go of my bubble by this summer.

After several weeks it was time to talk with the oncologist. She is a lovely woman, knowledgeable and friendly. I felt at home with her and her staff right away. She suggested a gene test of the tissue in order to better target my breast cancer with chemotherapy. We had this done. We talked about options: chemo and radiation, just chemo, just radiation. I chose chemo and radiation – let’s kill any remaining damn cancerous cells.

The day arrived to begin chemo. There was trouble accessing my veins – it took forever and was painful. Finally the line was in and the cocktail of chemicals poured into my body. The setting was calm and welcoming despite the underlying tension and fear. The nurses brought lunch bags of food and warm blankets. Around me were women silent and women chatting and women knitting and women sleeping. No hair, wigs and close cropped heads. Cool, chic business women with high heels and briefcases, charging in to tackle this task. So many women affected by cancer - everywhere - I was stunned.

I sat in my treatment chair, wondering what would happen next.

Monday, October 19, 2009

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I have heard it said “write about what you know”. I know breast cancer.

Cancer has always been a specter in my life. My mother, Betty died of colon cancer when I was 16 years old. Most of her eight siblings died of one type of cancer or the other.

One morning I woke up with pain in my right nipple. It felt like I had been nursing a baby. Not a bad pain, just noticeable. This happened for several days and so I shared it with my husband. He said, “It is probably nothing but knowing you, you’d better get it checked out. Otherwise you will obsess about it.” He was right.

I went to my doctor, he examined me, found nothing but said what my husband had said. “It is probably nothing but knowing you, you’d better get it checked out. Otherwise you will obsess about it.”

Next step was a mammogram. I brought my oldest daughter for support. I was asked twice that day for more mammogram views. Next they asked me if I would have an ultrasound done on my breast. I said “Certainly, is there something you are seeing?” The answer to that was yes, but we can’t yet tell what it may be. It is probably nothing.

Ok, suck it up. Don’t freak out yet. A fabulous woman does the ultrasound, she is careful and thorough, reassuring. Over and over she ran the cool slick liquid under and around my breast, stretching it, pushing. Finally, she stopped. She told me that there was something hidden there in the area under my breast, close to my chest wall.

The next step was a needle biopsy. They gave me the option of coming back another day… I told them that now was good for me. I took a Xanax; they waited for it to take affect and then began. I had heard that this procedure was painful. I held tight to my daughter’s hand. Outside of a slight prick I felt nothing. I did hear the loud snap of the device as it collected the breast tissue. My daughter was fascinated by the process.

They gave me some pain medicine and some tiny ice packs to fit into my bra and sent me home. They were the best, kind and gentle but honest. They told me it would be several days to find out the results. I was in shock. I now freaked out a bit… I was sure it would be cancer but held out a slim hope for a benign result.

Much of what follows is hazy, shrouded in denial and pain and confusion. Accuracy in dates is not what I have to give you. I can share my feelings and the events I recall.

The call came. It is cancer. I don’t know where I was. I think that later that day we went on the candy rounds with my nephew for Halloween.

Next was the selection of the surgeon. I had a recommendation from the breast care center. I spent time online looking and found that I was already at the best place for my care. All of my surgeries and treatment took place in the same hospital complex.

The surgeon explained all that would happen to me, my options and her recommendations. I chose a lumpectomy. In the end she took out about one-third of my right breast. Having the lumpectomy and a sentinel node biopsy was not particularly painful and I am a huge baby when it comes to pain.

Recovering from the lumpectomy – now that hurt badly and took far longer than I anticipated. The weather was horrid and cold and wet and our power went out several times for hours during my recovery. A very good friend visited from far away but the visit was disastrous. I had expectations that were not in anyone’s power to meet.

When breast tissue is removed, fluid races to the breast. This is partially for healing purposes. I was told that it was best for the fluid to be reabsorbed by the body. Unfortunately for me an excess of fluid built up and my breast ballooned to a very, very painful state. I went back to the surgeon’s office and my breast was drained using a needle and a suction jar. The relief was instantaneous and made me cry. This happened twice and then my breast began to heal.

More on my journey tomorrow.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Writers Block

Talk about frustrating! I had no sooner started this blog than I was overcome with writers block. I can't decide what to put in and what to leave out... I searched out a resource to help me and I have been successful in finding a very good one. Blogging in Pink: A Woman's Guide

I found it here:

I am reading it now and will be back soon with my new efforts.