T-367 days–My Cancer Leave Begins-November 15, 2012

Standard

IMG_2628IMG_2626

 

I walk into work with a strange feeling.  I know it will be my last day for quite some time.   I notice one to many people wearing pink and then I realize they are all wearing pink for me.  My eyes tear up at the thoughtfulness of my fellow staff members.  I grab my coffee and head to my class to prepare for the day.  My stomach is in a knot as I know this will be the last time I see the kids for awhile.  For lunch I go to my favorite Mexican restaurant Mi Pueblo; it will be quite some time till I eat Mexican food like that again. The kids start to come in and one after the other they are dressed in pink as well, even the little boys.  I swallow back my tears and thank them.  I feel robotic as I go through the day, going through the motions, thinking of my cancer at every turn, emotional for the displays of affection.  Teachers and parents come in with presents for me.   The entire day was spent with a constant puddle around my eyes.  I drive away thinking of them and thinking of tomorrow and my first chemo treatment.  I am so fortunate and blessed to have so many people in my life who give me such support, solidarity and love.  My medical leave has officially begun….

Advertisements

T-370 days-Chemotherapy 101 day-November 12, 2012

Standard
Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer (Photo credit: bloomingdalelibrary)

I am sitting in a tiny room surrounded by books, pamphlets and magazines about Cancer.  A Cancer Library.  Since my surgery, I have often almost forgotten that I have cancer.  I look the same, feel the same…..but now it’s time to buckle up and get ready for the Chemotherapy ride.  The nurse sits with me and goes over every chemotherapy drug they are going to give me.  My chemotheraphy cocktail is TCH.  Taxol, Carboplatin and Herceptin.  She gives me thick paper copies of each drug and goes over the side effects of each one.  Exhaustion, nausea, hair-loss, neurapathy, mouth-sores, cardio-toxicity,  menopause…..the list was endless.  With a smile she asks me if I have any questions.  Do I have any questions?  In my mind, I wanted to ask her am I nuts? I feel great and I am going to sign a paper to make me feel like that?  But we weren’t done.  She then tells me about Neulasta.  Neulasta is a shot that is given a couple days after the chemotherapy infusion to increase white blood cell production.  This ALSO has some side effects; bone pain, joint pain, mouth sores, GI sensitivities etc…   I signed my signature on papers to agree to all of these fabulous ways I was going to feel.   Now it was time to get my blood drawn.  There is a special lab devoted just to cancer patients.  I received a special stamp card that basically signified I would be a frequent visitor.  Like, a frequent flyer card but not nearly as fun.  I took my place in the chair.  The techs knew I was a new girl.  I still had my hair……, my skin wasn’t yellow…..  They asked me questions, took my blood and told me how much they looked forward to seeing me again.  Again?  Right, again.  With my green stamp card I would be visiting my new friends in the lab quite often.

Chemo 101 day was not yet over.  Now it was time to get an ECHO.  The echo cardiogram was necessary so that they could have a baseline for my heart function.  Since there are so many cardiac side effects with the chemotherapy it is required.  There again I sat in another waiting room, 30 years younger then the average age of my fellow patient.  It was a painless procedure really.  A little gel, ultrasound and pictures,  done.  If there was a competition for who had the healthiest heart out of all of the people in the waiting room I am certain I would have won.

 

IMG_2620

The day would not be complete until I went and had lunch with my dear friend Michelle followed by some more wig shopping. This time we went to Fantasy Attic, a treasured Halloween store.  These wigs were not nearly as nice as “la fancy” wig but they were also only $30.  After trying on many I decided to splurge on another wig.  A long, red haired wig, otherwise known as “Ginger”.  Now Ginger wasn’t nearly as well made as la fancy wig but I still thought it would be fun to wear.  My wig buying addiction was just beginning.  I decided then, while I have no hair I am going to make the best of it.  It will be Halloween until my hair grows back.

T-373 days-The Wig Has Arrived-November 9, 2012

Standard

ImageImageThe day had come.  The day that my “new hair” had arrived.  I anxiously drove to the wig shop with thoughts of Lady Gaga, Madonna and all other proud Wig Wearing Women.  As I sat in the “fitting chair” at Feke Wigs, I felt  like a child on Christmas morning. I waited with breathless anticipation for the great reveal.   Ta-da!  There it was, MY new hair……long and luxurious.  She put it on my head and it fit like a glove.  Perfection! As she continued to talk to me about how to brush my wig, wash my wig, care for my wig my thoughts wandered…..who was this person in the reflection? Like an actor playing a part I felt like a different person.  A vixen with a long lioness mane, sexier, younger…..Me but not me.    I still had my own hair which is thin and short in contrast to the thick luxurious locks I had just acquired, otherwise known as the $600 “la fancy wig”.  I walked out of the store trying to manage my long tendrils blowing in the wind, getting stuck in my coat, getting stuck to my face…by the time I arrived to my car the wig was pulled off my head and placed on my passenger seat.  This was just the beginning of my love/hate relationship with “la fancy” wig.

Who am I?–A Cancer Poem

Standard

Who am I now?

Where did I go?

Cancer arrived and like a strong wind blew me away, parts of me scattered

Uninvited and unwelcome

Pieces thrown about

Hair in hibernation

Who is that in the reflection?

An unrecognizable shell

A flicker of who I once was I see in a photo

Scattered mind   A flicker of who I once was I see in a photo

I already said that?  Right, I forgot….scattered mind

Achy bones, creek and ache.   Bones that once ran, leaped and jumped.

Body like a jar of molasses, slow and thick yearning for her spry, limber flexibility

Tingly fingers and upset stomach that  waltz harmoniously

Broken drippy faucet of tears; drip, drip, drip

38 going on 55

Pop, pop, pop, goes every pill in my mouth

Heavy lids, heavy steps pace the day a step ahead of the exhaustion that will befall

Tired, so tired

Where did I go?  I miss her, I call for her, I cry for her,

When will she come back?  Will she ever come back? Did Cancer take her forever?

I want me

T-374 days-November 8, 2012- Kids visit to the Cancer Center

Standard

Some say it’s a weakness, some say it’s a strength…..my ability to be concerned about everyone else before myself; particularly my kids.  I have been hyper-focused on their adjustment to my new “condition”.  Condition?  I don’t like using the word disease, too scary; cancer, too final.  This condition that would change me, my life, their lives….at least for a time being, maybe forever. So far I have emailed their teachers, their coaches, their dad and anyone that is a part of their circle and can support them.  Trying to think of every way possible to put their minds at ease.

FEAR-comes from not knowing.  Not knowing what to expect, not knowing what is coming next.  I decided to take away as many of the unknowns as possible for my kids.  My first chemotherapy infusion was pending and I wanted them to know everything so the fear was gone.  My amazing Nurse Angel Karen set everything up for us.

IMG_2608

We arrived at the Cancer Center, the smiling face of Karen greeted us at the door.  We entered the room that I sat in for hours on my Cancer 101 day.  It was surreal to be there again, this time with my kids.  Remembering that room where I sat with doctor after doctor filing in and tears streaming down my face.  In contrast, my kids were now giggling practicing with the stethoscope and thermometers.  We continued our tour of the cancer center which led us to the Infusion Room.  I’m not sure what I expected,  I was surprised to see an oval room filled with recliners and tables.  A recliner that I would be sitting in while chemotherapy drugs dripped through my veins.  My kids looked all around with their big wide eyes wondering and looking at everything.  Gabriella had many questions; she wanted to know what the bags looked like, she wanted to know what color the fluid would be in the bag, how they would be put it in. As each question was answered I could see their anxieties lessen, their fears wither away. They walked away with smiles and laughs  Whoever thought a cancer center tour could rival a night at the movies?

T-375 days-November 7, 2012-Cancer Support Center, Time to Focus on My Kids

Standard

photo (7)

 

Minutes, Hours and Days had passed and throughout that time I came to slowly accept my fate of chemotherapy.  In the mail I had received my 6 months worth of oncology appointments.  As my eyes scanned the dates, the words, the times I knew that this chemotherapy was going to be a much more arduous and grueling journey then my surgery.  With diligence and care I entered each date into my phone and watched how my life was being consumed with doctors appointments.  Each date entered was another step closer to the acceptance of the journey ahead.

With this new found acceptance I poured all of my energy into my kids and their adjustment to this metamorphosis that I was about to begin.  I had learned of the Cancer Support Center from my Nurse Angels.  An amazing facility that offers many types of activities and seminars for people with cancer.  I took my kids to the Family Support time.  We entered a bit nervous and anxious.  We had dinner and I was delighted with how my kids were incredibly open and comfortable.   We separated into groups after dinner.  The kids went and completed their own activities and the adults had time alone for talking.  At the end we came together to complete a family activity.  During the kids time they created their own individual wish boxes and as a family we created our own family wish box.  ImageWe cut out pictures from magazines and used stickers to decorate the box that were symbols or traditions of our family.  The most touching moment was when we found words in the magazine to put into the box.  Words like bunny, pictures of baking, words that say happy.  The two clippings that brought tears to my eyes were a picture of a mom and a daughter hugging that says “imagine a life without breast cancer” and lastly “With God All Things Are Possible”  photo (6)As we shared our box clippings with the rest of the group Michael said that he hopes everyone gets better from cancer.   In my kids faces I saw courage and resilience. Their beautiful little faces reminded me that there would be times that I could draw strength even from them.

T-380 days-November 2, 2012–Chemotherapy….please no!!

Standard

Travis and I entered the oncology office armed with my big blue bag filled with files spewing with papers of chemotherapy information, alternative medicine, and innumerable amounts of breast cancer articles.  Affectionately known as my “cancer chica bag”.  I pulled out my purple binder filled with numerous questions.  My oncologist walked in to the room unaware of the onslaught of inquiries that would soon fall upon her.

I filled with pride as I asked many questions about statistics, current studies, new types of treatment.  I had convinced myself that there was no reason for me to have chemotherapy.  Why?  Well, the cancer is out–all of it.  My lymph nodes are clear thus it should not have metastasized into any other portions of my body.  Why would I fill my body with toxic poison when I may not even have any cancer in any part??

So there I sat asking question after question after question.  I could tell my oncologist was becoming a bit frustrated.  What were her answers you ask?  The standard ones.  “Yes, that is a great drug but it so for advanced cancer you would not qualify for it.”  “Yes your cancer has not metastasized based on your lymph nodes BUT you are young and Her2 positive thus we need to do Herceptin and chemotherapy and be aggressive”

Now to backup a bit on my cancer:  I am Her2 positive.  The drug Herceptin (Traztumab) is a targeted therapy drug that directly targets the protein that is surrounding my cancer cells. This drug has no side effects to minimal side effects. Statistically speaking:

  • Breast Cancer that is Her2 negative have a 12% chance of recurrence
  • Breast Cancer that is Her2 positive (ME)  have a 35-40% chance of recurrence–with chemo and herceptin the risk is 20% chance of recurrence, with tamoxifen it is 12%

Armed with all of this information I tried to convince my oncologist that I should just do Herceptin the targeted therapy without the chemo.  She said that wasn’t possible. I told her how I read in other places that it was.  I could sense her blood pressure rising at ridiculous rate although she was tandemly patient at the same time.   She took a deep breath and told me that beginning chemotherapy was not like signing into a 30 year mortage and that if at any time the risks outweighed the benefits that we would then quit.  She then went onto say how difficult she knew his was and that I’m desperately trying to gain control in a situation that I’m wasn’t happy about.  The questions continued on for some time.  She never waivered.  Her recommendation remained the same. Chemotheraphy, TCH, every 3 weeks for 6 treatments.

She left the room, closed the door and I slumped into my seat, defeated.  I couldn’t argue the statistics….what if I did turned down chemotherapy and my cancer came back?!?  I would always wonder.  Wonder if I had done the prescribed regimen that things would be different.  I have 2 little kids, I HAVE to do everything to ensure that this cancer or any cancer won’t ever come back. Or do I?  How do I know she is right?  What if do more harm then good with the chemo?

P Volcano

P Volcano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we were driving home I replayed the words from my oncologist over and over again in my head like a cd with a scratch that just skips over the same words.  I didn’t want to believe it.  I wanted to hold onto my hope that I could somehow fight this cancer without chemotherapy, without losing my hair, without toxins infiltrating my body, without carditoxicity side effects….without any of the evil things that comes with chemo.  A fiery rage was bubbling at the core of my being.  An anger, like one I had never experienced.  An anger so prevalent and fierce that I didn’t know what to do with it.  I ran into the house, into our room and I collapsed into my bed and sobbed.  I pounded the pillows with my fists, threw them on the ground, threw the sheets on the ground…..but it wasn’t enough.  I was a volcano that needed to explode.  I ran into Michael’s room and grabbed his group of small soft balls and I began throwing them against my bedroom walls.  Over and over again I threw those balls with all of my bubbling rage, tears streaming down my face, my chest convulsing in out of sync breaths until I finally collapsed on the floor and sobbed.  My entire body shaking, my breath hyper ventilating, my face covered in tears I lay there on my carpet utterly defeated, angry and exhausted.  Luckily I am a terrible thrower, so my walls don’t even have a mark.

T-382 days October 31, 2012-Happy Halloween

Standard

photo (3)photo (4)photo (5)For the first time since I have been teaching I didn’t dress up for Halloween.  It all seems surreal……going to work right now….when I all think about is my cancer….when every time my phone rings I need to run and answer it because it is a doctor.  Knowing that my leave will be happening soon.

Driving home from work I became melancholy thinking about Halloween with my kids, still filled with fear wondering if this would be one of the last.  My eyes welled up with tears and I knew at that moment I needed to fully dive into the Halloween experience.  I picked up the kids and they were bubbling with excitement about getting dressed in their costumes and getting candy.  This year Gabriella was going to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Michael was going to be a soccer player from Spain.  Spencer was going to dress up as Zombie and Travis and Connor had masks.  We arrived at home with pizza in our arms, quickly wolfed down the food, and then began the flurry of putting on costumes.   The kids asked what I was going to dress up and I as the n sound started to come out of my mouth for the word nothing I stopped and said “it’s a surprise”.  What was I going to be?  I quickly remembered the witch hat and thought how I could pull something together to be a witch.  I came out and revealed my costume…..the kids loved it.

We began the walk around our new neighborhood as the kids ran from door to door screeching about the fabulous candy they received from the homes I just smiled thinking of how lucky I was to be with them and see such pure joy.

T-387 days October 26, 2012–Acupuncture

Standard
English: Acupuncture needles. Deutsch: Akupunk...

English: Acupuncture needles. Deutsch: Akupunkturnadeln. Français : Aiguilles d’acupuncture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Acupuncture

English: Acupuncture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I have mentioned before, I think one of the biggest challenges with Cancer is the loss of control.  I have felt that I have been able to gain some control back based on the alternative therapies I am choosing to do.  One of them being acupuncture.  Although, I have never participated in this practice my dear friend Ann does and she recommended her acupuncturist to me.  There I was in this office with this adorable woman from China, Jing Fei.  I explained to her my diagnosis and she told me how she has had many cancer patients in the past.  Although, I was a bit skeptical of how having many needles put in me would help me feel better during the battle of my breast cancer, I took the leap of faith and laid down on the table.   Like an artist on a blank canvas, or a seamstress needling thread,she began to expertly insert needles allover my body.  Each one felt like a mosquito sting or a tiny little pinch.  Then like a magician done with her magic she left the room.  So there I lay with a bunch of needles poking out of me listening to meditative music.  I felt like a forgotten voodoo doll.  What if there were an emergency?  A fire alarm?  I couldn’t very well bounce up from the table that I lay on looking for the nearest emergency exit.  Thus, I lay as still as a mouse, for fear that any slight motion would hurt or interfere with the magical power of the acupuncture needle.  20 minutes had passed or so when Jing Fei entered the room again.  Just as quickly as she inserted the needles she pulled them all out.  There I lay and wait, waiting for a “new feeling” to come over me……it didn’t.  Jing Fei reassured me that acupuncture takes time.  I walked away from the office, still a bit skeptical but confident that I wanted to go back and continue my “voodoo doll” experience again, confident that someday I would feel the benefit.

T-388 days October 25,2012–Post op appointment

Standard
English: pink ribbon

English: pink ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mom and I drove to Dr. Kulick’s office.  We walked in and went through the typical routine of a doctors appointment.  She walked in and I wanted to give her a hug.  She looked at the scar on my breast from the surgery and the scar on my arm from the port placement.  She was very satisfied with how they were healing and how they looked.  We talked about my results and she said how great it was.  I asked her about the onco test simply because I was so thrilled about the thought of not getting chemotherapy.  That’s when my step became a little heavier and my heart dropped a bit; when she said I won’t be taking the onco type test.  She then went on to explain that since I am Her2 positive that I don’t qualify for the Onco test and am automatically a candidate for chemotherapy.  The fact that I am Her2 positive definitely makes my breast cancer more serious although the tumor was small and there wasn’t even any cancer in my lymph nodes.  Basically the fact that I am Her2 positive makes my risk of getting cancer anywhere in my body again 35% where as women who have breast cancer with Her2 negative have a 12% chance of getting cancer again.  Thus, there is a chance that the cancer could have a micro metastasized somewhere else in my body that would not be picked up by any tests.  The chemotherapy would most likely take care of any cancer that may have jumped my lymph nodes and set up shop somewhere else in my body.  I am comforted in knowing that Dr. Kulick did a fabulous job on me–my scar is minimal, she was able to remove my lymph nodes from the same incision where she removed the tumor, thus having one less scar to heal.  The port insertion continues to be more bothersome then  I ever thought would be, but she was not concerned about that and said it was all very normal.

After the visit with Dr. Kulick my mom and I went upstairs to visit my Nurse Angel Karen.  I wanted my mom to meet her.  As always when I see her I am filled with such a sense of comfort.  This was a good day and I am blessed with so many fabulous people in my life.