Saturday, October 31, 2015

Good Girl

Yesterday was the day of my follow-up appointment with my oncologist.  I was at the stage in my treatment where I only have to see her every four months.  Of course, there’s still the radiation oncologist and the surgeon if I plan to have reconstructive surgery, but THIS one is always stressful for me.  
Jeff had a deposition in Lexington and we rode together.  He knows how anxious I get when I have these visits so he offered to drive me.  His presence serves as a buffer between Dr. Moss and me.    I can be argumentative with her and it’s sometimes very tense in that tiny room.     Now that I’ve made it this far (28 months since diagnosis), I’ve had a little more confidence in her and have tried to keep my thoughts about natural healing, vitamins, acupuncture, etc.  to myself.   It’s easier that way.  “Honey, go to the bookstore instead of this appointment with me.  I’ll be fine.”   He gladly obliged.

Here’s the routine:  The nurse always draws several vials of blood and takes my blood pressure.  It’s ALWAYS sky-high when I’m there and below normal any other time. She weighs me.  Unlike at most doctor visits, this is NO problem because the scale measures in kilograms.   I am seriously emaciated if you look at the number and think in terms of pounds.   I don’t even have to take off my boots, socks, sweater, watch, earrings, bracelet, and hair barrettes before weighing.  This is brilliant. Why don’t ALL doctors do this?

Dr. Moss asks me a list of questions: “Any headaches?  Bone pain? Coughing? Fatigue? How’s your appetite?”  These questions are to determine if the cancer has spread and metastasized in another organ.  Normally I would look at my watch and say without thinking, “I’m fine.”  Now it’s important I think about each question carefully.   “Headaches? Definitely. But we just got back from Italy a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had jet lag and stress from catching up at work.  Also, I’m ashamed to say that after over four years without a Diet Coke, I caved a few months ago and I now have that monkey on my back again.”  She said that one or two a day wouldn’t hurt me.  I know better. 

The hot flashes continue as my ovaries “sputter” and this might go on for years.  No problem.  Jeff is used to the house feeling like a meat locker.   Same with Miranda in the office.  Dr. Moss said, “Well, I’ll see you in six months when you come back for your mammogram.  Sweeter words have never been spoken.

I get dressed and walk back to the waiting room. It’s filled with yellow-faced patients with oxygen machines, masks covering their noses and mouths, IV poles, and terrified loved ones sitting by their sides.   The receptionist offers me a sucker out of a basket on the counter.  I wondered…did Dr. Moss tell her I didn’t pick a fight today?  

I thanked her and smiled with the Dum Dums sucker stick between my teeth.  I turn around to leave and look at the patients sitting there in a daze.   Was that me two years ago?   I wanted to say. “Hang in there.  It’s going to be ok.”  But I knew better: Sometimes it’s not.   My guilt was overwhelming. How did I make it through this in one piece and so many other don’t?  My mom always said, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  
I walked out to Jeff’s car and he saw the sucker in my mouth.  “Well. Well. It looks like someone was a good girl today at the doctor’s office!!”

Click here to see some of my husband Jeff's photos from our trip to southern Italy and Sicily: 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Dream Comes True

Forgive me, friends.  It’s been over five months since my last blog post.  Until now, I really haven’t had much to say.  Jeff and I have been working long hours to get ready for our long-awaited trip to southern Italy and my follow up doctor appointments are now 4-6 months apart (Yay!)
Because of your support and prayers, a few doctors, and God who decided I had some unfinished business to tend to, I'm here to tell you about a dream of mine that recently came true.  

* If you go to the blog archive on the right side of the page, find August 2013 and click on "Bucket List", you'll see a blog entry with my bucket list.  I tried to create a hyperlink so you can click on it, but isn't cooperating.

Five years ago, after reading Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, I searched online for trips to Italy.  There were websites inviting boring geriatrics to hop aboard a huge bus and see all of the ruins.  Not for us, I thought, but could Jeff and I actually find our way around the country alone to see all of the fabulous sites?   Would we actually be able to navigate the Amalfi Coast Drive, which is a Unesco World Wonder in itself?!
The answer came in the next click.  A photo of Stephanie Chance, an exotic beauty, was sitting atop a Vespa with shopping bags in tow. Above it said, “Hop aboard with us and see Italy-two tours a year!”   The more I clicked, the more I knew that this was the perfect tour for us.  I showed Jeff photos of her small tour group having dinner with an Italian family!!  I immediately e-mailed Stephanie asking for more information. She mailed me a brochure and I opened it often, dreaming of a day we could go.  “Maybe when Jordan is out of college,” Jeff said.   At that time, he had just graduated from high school. 
Stephanie and I became friends on Facebook and I relished looking at her photos from her twice a year excursions.  Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Months became three years.   Then came D-Day, the day I was diagnosed with stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.   Soon after, I began this blog where Stephanie kept up with my treatment, my family,  the undeniable hell of surgery, chemo, and radiation, and my gratitude I tried to find in it all.  
About a year after my last radiation treatment and I started feeling human again, I said to Jeff, “Let’s do it. Let’s go on Stephanie’s trip to southern Italy!  Like having children, if we wait until we can afford it, we’ll never go!”   What I thought but don’t think I said was, “What if the cancer comes back and I’m too sick to go?” 

For decades, Jeff and I have dreamed of going to Italy, specifically the Amalfi Coast and Venice.    Although we didn't see Venice this time (that will be our NEXT trip!), the Amalfi Coast was our last stop on a 12 day adventure this month!   
For almost two years, I've stared at a painting of Amalfi, Italy hanging in my office and dreamed of the day we would stand on that coast and have our photo taken in that exact location.  Well, here it is: 
The painting in my office

                                   Can you find us?
The Amalfi Coast Drive- Mamma Mia!

                                                  Jeff and me on the beautiful Amalfi Coast
Positano-my new favorite place on earth!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Life Returns

I know the exact day it happened.  It was April 11, 2015 when I finally felt a little like myself again.   My friend (and breast cancer survivor) Jo Ann said it happened for her a year after her last radiation treatment.  For me, it was exactly 14 months and 14 days after mine. It could have been the beautiful crisp sunny day, the green that finally began to sprout from the trees, or maybe it was my first trip to Lowe’s this spring to buy some Gerbera daisies. On second thought….no. It was my ponytail, or a semblance of one.  It was about an inch long and I had to sweat a little to cram it in the elastic band, but it was a joyous occasion.  I ran into the living room and squealed, “Look honey (queue the twirl)!  A ponytail!!!”   He smiled, kissed me and said, “I’m so happy for you.  I know how long you’ve waited for this moment.”  It sounds silly, but when you spend 18 months either bald or having some kind of hair crisis, it’s such a relief to finally have a little hair on your head.

My ponytail stub.  :)

  Lauren and Jordan help me through one of the most difficult moments of cancer treatment.

My annual mammogram was April 20.  It’s always a day of dread for me. April 20, that is.  That’s the day my dad died.  A few days later would have been my mom’s birthday and I just felt really sad those few days.  Why in the world would I schedule a mammogram that week?  I’m on edge a few days before, imagining myself walking into that same office where just 22 months ago, they dropped a nuclear bomb on my little world.  
I walked into the waiting room and counted the women sitting there.  There were eight of us.  I thought, “One in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer.”   I said a silent prayer that I had been the only one in THOSE eight women who was diagnosed with breast cancer and that none of us would get called into that dreadful little consultation room today. 
The technician was very kind and respectful.  I’m sure she’s seen it all.  She placed wire tape over my scars so that the radiologist could easily determine where the tumors were removed.   The technicians, the way they pick up and contort your breasts and manipulate them into the perfect place between the two sheets of plexiglass, resemble a baker with a slab of dough squeezing it into a pie pan.  “How are you doing…emotionally, I mean?”   I felt my throat tighten up and swore I wasn’t going to cry today.  “I’m terrified.  With every headache I think it has spread to my brain.  If I’m aching, I’m sure it’s in my bones. What is this organ? My liver?  I feel twinges sometimes….”  She nodded like she understood.  “I was diagnosed with melanoma a few years ago.  I’ve had several surgeries since then, but I’m here.  And you are too…and we have to live each day to the fullest and put it in God’s hands. Hold your breath…(the machine whirs)……..You can breathe now.  All done.  Have a seat in this room and I’ll come back and get you if we need more pictures.”      I waited for about 20 minutes. The sweet technician with the big brown eyes said, “Everything looks great. You don’t need to come back for a year.” 
“You mean the radiologist already read it?”  She nodded, hugged me, and said she would pray for me.   I wanted to say that I would do the same for her but my throat was burning and I felt the tears coming and I really didn’t want to cry.  So, I nodded and mouthed, “Thank you.” 

I have an appointment soon with a plastic surgeon.  If he can spackle this hole in my breast, or better yet- transfer some fat from my belly into that hole- I’ll be a happy camper.  If he can do it outpatient so I can get back to work in a day or two, even better.  I’m just now beginning to have a little energy and can’t imagine wanting to start from square one with an extensive reconstruction surgery. My body has been through enough these past two years.

When Jeff was two years old, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was a very religious woman and prayed that God would let her live long enough to see Jeff graduate from college.  He graduated in May 1984 and she died two months later.

My dad always told everyone that he’s always somehow known that he wouldn’t live to see 53.   He was in his 20’s when I first heard him say it.   I was 7 or 8 and didn’t worry about it much because 50 seemed really old to me.  He was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer at 52 years and 7 months old and died four months later.   Does our brain have that much power over our bodies?   Just in case, I’m telling myself and everyone else that I’m living to be 100!