Midlife necessities

Midlife necessities
Midlife necessities

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Happy Anniversary

One year ago today I had surgery to remove the cancer in my breast and lymph nodes. A lot has happened since that surgery, and I remember it all. I also remember the support I had from wonderful people - family, friends, and my medical team. I am now a cancer survivor, a designation that has placed me in a group I never thought I'd be a member of but am actually grateful to have joined. 

From now on I will proudly walk with the survivors.

As time goes on, I am feeling stronger and no longer need my afternoon nap. I've had to have several haircuts because my curly hair is growing in like crazy! Color, too. My eyebrows and lashes have filled in, fallen out (with help from the eyelash curler) and returned. The chemo brain has diminished but is not entirely gone (or it could be the menopause). My skin has changed. In late July I got a rash and having never had anything similar, I went to urgent care only to be told it was hives with an unknown origin. I self-diagnosed it to be an itchy heat rash, and therefore cannot wait for summer to be over. The rash itself is gone but I notice a tingly sensation when I am in the sun, heat or humidity and then I get itchy. I hope the sensitivity is temporary because I want to be outside.

So awkward to smile at yourself.

I have so much to look forward to! Trips and holidays and weddings, traditions as well as new experiences with treasured people. Not quite sure what the next steps are for me and that's ok. Today I am thankfully celebrating the anniversary of my gift of LIFE.

"Let me live that I may praise you." Psalm 119:175

Friday, May 8, 2015

Life goes on

The diagnosis of breast cancer is a lifetime journey.

I read this somewhere awhile ago and now I understand. 

My last radiation treatment was on April 14, eight months after first hearing the words, "You have breast cancer."

Better than a tanning salon.

I've spent these last weeks recovering from treatment and working to figure out my new normal. Last week I had a follow-up appointment with my surgeon. Not only did he check the breast where the tumor was, he checked the other one as well. Why? To see if there are any new lumps anywhere. Ahh. He said it's normal for me to be tired and lack energy for several more months. I will continue to see him every three months for the next two years, then every six months for the next three years.

Yesterday I had a follow-up with my radiation oncologist. She said my skin looks good and she also checked for lumps on both sides. She was pleased to see my hair and eyebrows and lashes (as am I!). She also said that I need a mammogram in six months, and because I'm taking Tamoxifen, I have an increased risk of uterine cancer and blood clots. I don't have to see her again or come back to the radiation department! Unless... ahh.

Next week I see my chemo oncologist, the one who will be monitoring me for the next five to ten years. 

I remember something a dear friend told me about the cancer journey. When you first share the shocking news that you have cancer, people react and respond. When you first start chemo, people react and respond. And then, after awhile, they don't. Life goes on. Except you are still in treatment. And when treatment finally ends, your life will be different., YOU will be different. Life goes on for everyone, but a cancer diagnosis means that your life will never be the same. You will experience a lot of emotions, body changes, LIFE changes. It can be a lonely and overwhelming time as you figure out your new normal. And when all is said and done, you will be left to put together the pieces of the puzzle that is your new life on your own, with the small band of loved ones who've always been there with you. 

God has said, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you". Hebrews 13:5

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hey I'm Still Here!

I'm still in treatment. I've been going through this breast cancer thing since August. I drive to radiation Monday through Friday, about a 40 mile round trip. I'm fortunate, there's only two Kaiser radiation centers - Ontario and LA, with a new one being built in Anaheim. I met a woman coming from Orange, she was always there early because you can't plan for traffic.

At first I felt pretty good. I was starting to recover from chemo and the radiation hadn't affected me yet. I had some energy, and was beginning to do some more projects around the house. The dogs and I resumed our regular dog walks, although I can't seem to do more than usual because I'm still quite winded from our moderate exercise. A few weeks later and I'm so tired I can barely move. Well, that's an exaggeration. But I'm really tired. I need a nap every day that I have radiation. I am having trouble sleeping through the night, possibly because of chemo-induced menopause. If I don't take Tylenol PM I'm doomed to be awake most of the night.

I had my last full site radiation yesterday and also saw the radiation oncologist again. The first time, after a few weeks of treatment, the doctor seemed surprised that my skin looked so good. As with chemo, I chalked it up to my good fortune and was very grateful. Yesterday the doctor said everything was normal, and I realized I sure don't like normal. Besides being exhausted I am now in pain, like I have a really bad sunburn under my arm. The spot is where they've been radiating the lymph area. I'm not wearing a bra (!) whenever possible because it's painful. I had been applying the Aloe Vera gel as instructed and was just told to apply Aquaphor ointment to the entire area. It feels so much better until it dries and I want to apply it again.

Today was the first of my last six boost treatments. It's one shot of radiation only to the area where the initial tumor was removed. So hopefully the area under my arm and near my clavicle (which is sore but not as sore as the lymph area) will start to heal. Both of those areas are a weird, dark reddish brown color, with spots like large freckles. 

I've also apparently had some radiation-induced motion sickness. And the damage to my fingernails from the chemo that caused a brown color now has my nails splitting. There are red spots on both of my cheeks. Looks like broken blood vessels. My hair, eyebrows and eyelashes are growing back, albeit slowly but surely. And I only have five more radiation treatments to go.

Why is that door so thick?

Thick door closed. Beam on!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I'm Radioactive, Radioactive

So radiation.

My final chemo was on February 9 and my first radiation appointment was on February 19. The radiologist and my radiation oncologist took measurements and placed stickers all over my chest and drew on me with a red marker so they could determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. I had three CT scans to make sure the stickers and marker placement were correct. 

It's critical when radiating the breast area that as much of the lung and heart is protected from the damaging effects of the radiation. While chemo treats the cells in the entire body, preventing replication of cancer cells, radiation aims to kill any remaining cancer cells in the immediate area where the tumors were found. I am having external photon beam radiation because I had a lumpectomy, or breast conserving surgery (BCS). They are radiating the entire breast, the lymph node area under my arm, above my collarbone and beneath the breast bone in the center of my chest. They know exactly where to radiate because on February 23, I got five permanent tattoos where the stickers had been. They are just small dots, but will be a permanent souvenir of my radiation experience. I was a bit unnerved at first, having a tattoo on my neck like a criminal, but I'll work with it.

I received my instructions for radiation - must put aloe vera gel on the affected area twice daily, stay out of the sun, especially the affected area, and a few other things - and found out my schedule. My radiation oncologist said we needed three weeks from the last day of chemo for recovery before starting radiation. I'll have late afternoon appointments the first week, and then settle into my regular schedule of 12:48. I was shown the radiation routine. Check in at the reception desk where the receptionist will give me one of those vibrating disks you get at restaurants to let you know your table's ready. When the disk lights up, I place it on the stack of disks on the desk, go to the dressing room and change into my gown, then proceed to the radiation waiting area and wait for the radiologist to call my name. Pretty simple.

After my radiation appointment, I ate a sandwich that my dad made and broke my tooth. I thought I had just broken a filling but sadly, no. The dentist wanted to get the root canal done before I began treatment. So far I've had the root canal, which was actually really easy, and the crown prep appointment. Wasn't expecting that little surprise but apparently chemo affects your teeth. That's a side effect I didn't really consider. 

My first treatment was on March 3. I was in a panic getting there because a deadly accident on the freeway closed my onramp and caused backups on all the side streets. I ended up making it on time and everything went fine. It's weird because you don't see anything happen and you don't feel anything. But you do hear it, and you are always alone. What does it mean that I'm getting radiation on bare skin but the radiologists have to leave the room and close the big, thick door?

I will have radiation Monday through Friday for 31 days. If I don't miss any treatments, my last day will be on April 14. The only side effects I'm expecting are fatigue and some skin redness or sunburn. I think the time will go by quickly.

"In quietness and in trusting confidence I find strength." Isaiah 30:15

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mixed Emotions and a Happy Birthday

It's done!! My last day of chemo was February 9. I took myself to my final dressing change and blood draw, and on my way home decided that I needed a last-day-of-chemo pink shirt, so I stopped at TJ Maxx and found one. Gus took me to chemo. I had my favorite nurse, Rowena, and all my other favorites were there, too. I brought customized breast cancer sugar cookies from Bee'in Creative with Cookies by Julie Grenier as a thank you to my awesome team (thank you Julie, the nurses loved the adorable cookies!). Chemo went really fast, and I had a good meeting with my oncologist. I will see him in three months, when radiation is over, to discuss my follow-up care. I'm in remission, so that's good enough to know right now. We told him that the very next day, February 10, was my birthday, and asked him when I could have those long-anticipated foods like sushi, salad and wine. He said he felt that I could have everything, including a glass of wine...in a week! (I kind of knew that would be his doctorly advice, so I waited one day and had a fantastic birthday celebration!!) 

When my last infusion tube was removed, I asked the nurses for a photo, and I joined them all in the nurses station where we danced to Pharrell's song Happy, hugged and took pictures. It was so great! As I walked out of the lab for the last time, Rowena yelled, "We don't want to see you again!". I wasn't expecting to be teary but I was, probably because it's been my home since September 29th, and the nurses have been my family, taking care of me and making me feel safe in a place full of scary diseases and tubes and crazy strong medications. Gus asked me if they were happy tears or sad and I couldn't even tell.

So I was already weepy when we pulled up to my house and I saw all the pink heart balloons, decorations and flowers! For some reason Gus was recording me - that's because Sylvia had been in contact with him. So had Sherri, who joined me when I walked inside my house and saw more balloons, including congrats and happy birthday, a bottle of wine and two special wine glasses (cheers and congrats) and a fantastic end-of-chemo sign that she made. Ah, more tears! So amazing to see and feel all the love. I was overwhelmed, joyful and grateful.

And tired. I slept well that night and was thrilled to get more flowers throughout my birthday day. After a birthday breakfast and visit to the stables with Mary, I got a fantastic birthday present... my Broviac was removed! No more weird tube sticking out of my body, no more twice a day flushing! So exciting! And to top off the day, a fabulously special birthday dinner with Gus and a beautiful and meaningful birthday gift. I had one of the happiest birthdays ever!

Erika came to visit over the weekend and we had an amazing time as usual with a crazy beach day and Fred's Coronaritas, wine tasting, sushi, and coffee of course. (Allie is coming to visit in April to celebrate the end of radiation). My friends and Gus helped me continue my birthday celebration for a couple of weeks with lots of fun activities, good food and drinks that I've missed! One day Gus and I jogged along the beach and played tennis. I felt so great at the time but then needed extra sleep for the following week! And I rested and napped, broke a tooth and had a root canal, focused on recovering from chemo and prepared for the next phase of treatment which starts tomorrow. 

Some of my chemo side effects are diminishing, like the heartburn, congestion and insomnia. The hair on my head is growing back, mostly on the sides. I have now lost all my eyelashes and most all my eyebrows. I started taking Tamoxifen.

So thankful for the caring family, friends and medical team that God has used to surround me on this journey. "You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit." Job 10:12

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Light at the End

Well it's finally here. The last day of chemo is tomorrow. After 15 Mondays spent in the Kaiser Hematology/Oncology infusion lab, tomorrow is my last one. I have mixed emotions. I've got a routine, and generally know what to expect in my daily life. All that is going to change.

I've done some research (of course I have haha) on what to expect once treatment ends.  I have been eager to sign up for a celebratory 5k as soon as possible, and was looking forward to start hiking again and playing tennis. I read that it takes the same amount of time to get back to normal life as the amount of time from the date of my suspicious mammogram until the last day of treatment. I should be finished with radiation in early April, so that would mean that after radiation ends, I may be about nine months away from feeling normal, or actually my "new" normal. Apparently there will be lingering and accumulated effects of everything, starting with surgery and anesthesia to chemo and radiation. Plus, there's the hormone therapy for the next five to ten years. So tomorrow I complete one phase of my treatment and still have several more phases to go. I'll have a new schedule for radiation, and I'll get used to it and then it, too, will end. I guess all I can do is take one day at a time, and be thankful for each one of those days. Tomorrow is my last day of chemo, and for that I'm definitely thankful.

Last week my dear friend Christie took the day off to take me to chemo and then to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. Yum! We had a good day! I had another good day on Tuesday, down days Wednesday and Thursday, then good days again. I know tomorrow will definitely be good day!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


This month has gone by quickly. I have my chemo routine down, and generally know what to expect the rest of the week. There was just a little post-holiday blues, more down days than usual, but lots of good things to balance it all out. I've eaten Cuban, Italian, Chinese, seafood, good old American, my first dim sum, and Filipino. There was a treat of fresh strawberries, only because we bought them from a stand and knew they were grown organically and picked right there in Anaheim Hills, and Gus washed them about four or five times!

I've seen some movies (we know where to sit for minimal crowd contact), Unbroken and American Sniper, and finally watched the movie that's been sitting on my coffee table for about a month, Philomena. I've had coffee & breakfasts, lunches & dinners out with friends, played bunco with the church girls, worked on my bible study, done lots of research on tons of things, and added a new old vase to my small carnival glass collection. I had a fun outing to get my make-up done by my lovely and talented niece, Diana, who works for Bobbi Brown. I've also done a lot of office work. Finally finished shredding 30 years of bills and receipts. My shredder died so I had to borrow one to finish the job! Too many phone calls and emails, trips to the post office, Auto Club, car repair. 

I was also surprised by some unexpected expenses. The car repair was unexpected. I needed a smog for my registration and wouldn't you know, it didn't pass. $400 later, it passed. And I'm getting new health insurance next month, courtesy of Covered California, with a delightful monthly premium of $513. And that is with my premium assistance! I have to get the platinum insurance due to my ongoing treatment, and I also now have copays, plus a 10% coinsurance for all my "special" appointments, treatments and chemo meds. I don't even know what to expect. But God is working it all out like He did previously. A large bill I was paying was paid off in December, just in time for me to pay my large premium this month. Amazing grace!

The chemo side effects now include more of each, in no particular order: metal mouth taste, runny nose and weepy eyes, congestion, insomnia, fatigue, tire easily when walking, heartburn, a few queasy moments, weight gain, sore body, dry mouth, brows and lashes nearly gone, menopause hot flashes, and of course the chemo foggy brain where I can't remember the key word of any given thought in a sentence. I'm trying to focus on my health and not worry about what I'm going to do next (when do I start job hunting? And for what? Aagghhh!) I've been looking up 5k runs to do, and I want to start now, but then I think, "what am I thinking?" I can't even go up the stairs without panting! I know it will take some time to get back to normal after chemo is finished, but at least I know that it will happen (but when???!!!). And if nothing out of the ordinary happens in the next two weeks, I will have Chemo #16, my last chemo, on February 9th! Only two more treatments to go! 

Photos top to bottom: Chemo #11, 1/5/15, with Sherri, Chemo #12, 1/12/15, with Darlene, Chemo #13, 1/19/15, with Holly (new baby hair fuzz!), Chemo #14, 1/26/15, with Holly (starting to see some black hairs in the fuzzy mix!)