Tag Archives: Breast cancer

T-294 days-December 28, 2012-Chemo Infusion #3, Half way marker!!

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The holidays have always been a joyful time of year filled with cookie baking, presents and Christmas tree chopping. This holiday I found myself experiencing everything on another sensory level. Cancer has backed me into a corner where I am constantly thinking of the fragility of life and has made me take in every little smell, touch and feel. Awesome pros to chemo:
1. No leg shaving. My legs look great with no work and no shaving nicks
2. No armpit shaving
3. Save money on haircuts

3 days after Christmas I had to get my 3rd chemo treatment. My kids were with me but fortunately my parents are local and they were able to stay with them. They visited me for the first time which was an amazing gift. Nurses continued to monitor me closely because of the recent reaction to carboplatin. Cytoxin seemed to give me no issues and thankfully the infusion went smoothly.

New Year’s Eve was when everything hit me. The effect of chemo is beginning to become more and more difficult. The inside of my mouth is raw, I am physically exhausted, my bones feel like someone is hitting them with a hammer. My scalp hurts to even touch a pillow. Travis and I have been watching the entire trilogy of Lord of the Rings. I have never laid around and watched so much tv in my entire life.

Sometimes I think the good lord knew my life was too fast paced, too stressful, too toxic and that this was the only way
he could force me to stop, sit back and take time to reassess.

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T-365 days-Head Shaving Party-November 17, 2012

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A quick aside before I begin writing my blog.  I am quite behind in real time and intend on catching up.  Regardless, my goal is to capture the moment in time whether past or present with the raw emotions and details of those events.

I woke up after my first chemo infusion expecting to feel different, look different…..but nothing; it was oddly disappointing.  I jumped into the shower to wash my hair for the last time.  I am not one to feel an unhealthy attachment to my hair but as my fingers were going through my locks tears began to drip down my face.  How many months or years would it be till my hair would be this long again?  I reveled in the sensation of the water dripping through my hair strands, my hair getting stuck to my face….all of these minute seemingly irrelevant motions that I would otherwise rush through in my daily life.  I lifted my head high and reminded myself yet once again that I was making the right decision.  will decide when my hair is going to fall out NOT my cancer.  That sense of control during a time when everything else in my life was toppling over out of control was what I needed.

Many friends and family were attending my head shaving party.  Holly was hosting at her house, Michelle had sent out the invites and made other arrangements.  Everything was set.

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There was champagne and wine flowing, snacks to munch on, many hugs and kisses.  I counted my blessings many times to have such support from so many.  Rather then this being a somber and sad moment it was a time to celebrate!

Me and my boys.

Me and my boys.

So there we all were, with the buzz of conversation flowing through the rooms, laughter ebbing in the hallways.. I knew the time was drawing near, where the buzz would be of clippers against my head.  With my friends and family standing and sitting around me I took the honorary place at the clipping throne.  I did not have a mirror but only the reactions and sounds of everyone to guide me into my transformation.

the head is being shaved

the head is being shaved

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buzz time

buzz time

As I sat there I heard comments of how great I looked and how the “buzzed cut becomes me”.  All around I had smiling faces looking back at me with tears in their eyes.

all done

all done

In solidarity my dear loved ones also shaved their heads; Travis, my dad, Michael and Spencer.  Every one of them sat down and shaved the hair off their head in love for me.

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travis

michael

michael

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My Mr. Handsome getting his head shaved for his mama with breast cancer.

I am not certain if I was more emotional getting my head shaved or watching

Michael shave for me.

me and my girls

me and my girls

With my new Pat Benatar look I was ready for a night out on the town.  With my first chemo under my belt, my hair shaved away we headed out to eat, open presents and celebrate a momentous weekend!

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Our new shaven heads

Our new shaven heads

T-366 days-1st Chemotherapy Infusion–November 16, 2012

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IMG_2631                                                                                          My mom and Me during my infusion

I tossed and turned in my sleep.  I cried….dreading what was going to happen to me.  I took the prescribed steroids and I felt like I was on speed, everything was racing.  Feeling like a baby who wet the bed,  I sweated through my pajamas and the sheets.  Is this what steroids are supposed to do?….no one talks about this when they talk about cancer treatment.  I change out of my wet pj’s and try to sleep thinking of the imminent poison that is about to be put into my veins.   Laying there in the dead of night I start praying to God and ask him to calm me, soothe me, comfort me….and finally my eyes shut.  It seems as if an hour had passed and the alarms begin ringing,  the house is bustling with everyone getting ready to go to school.  I say goodbye to my babies and reassure them that I am going to be ok and will see them very soon.  Once everyone leaves, I embark on the task of getting dressed for my infusion. What does one wear to a chemotherapy?  I grapple with my wardrobe for a moment and turn on fun party music.  As I am singing along to Lady Gaga I decide to go with the fashionable yet practical ” loose and comfortable look  with a splash of pink”. On my wrists hung my breast cancer bracelet and my bracelet with my kids names on them, from my ears my 80’s pink earrings.   I was determined to walk in to the hospital with my head held high and a fearless attitude.  When Travis came home I told him “Let’s get this party started”.  Thus, the party began, we left the house armed with our bags filled with endless hours of entertainment; computers, cards, magazines, books, snacks, beverages.  We were prepared for anything and everything.

I am not certain if I was more anxious about how the chemotherapy was going to feel when it flowed into me OR what everyone else in the infusion clinic would look like.  I continued to want to live in my fantasy world of cancer.  I didn’t want to face the reality of seeing cancer patients who looked as if they were knocking on death’s door.  My anxieties were lessened when I was greeted by my chemotherapy nurse Char.   She shared with us that we would have a private room since it was my first infusion.  Yes!  I could continue to live in my fantasy world of cancer a little longer!  What is even better is I know Char, I have known her for years.  My fears diminished tremendously.  Char begins to tell us how the day is going to run and what we should expect.  She explains that she does not want us to be alarmed when she is wearing a plastic mask and gloves when handling the chemotherapy bags.  She says that she must do this to protect her from the drugs toxicity, since she is exposed to them everyday.  Ok, wait a second!?!  My nurse is going to wear a Hazmat suit to touch the BAG my chemotherapy drugs are in…..the same drugs they are going to intravenously pour into my body……..should this comfort me or make me think that I have lost my mind agreeing to this?  Thanks to the steroids and the tazmanian devil levels of energy it gives me, my mind quickly shifts to another thought……Squirrel!

 

Travis and I at my 1st Chemo Infusion

Travis and I at my 1st Chemo Infusion

As you can see in the above picture we had a pretty cozy set up.  My own bed, complete privacy, a nice little lamp….it was like the Taj Mahal of chemo infusions.  It was time to begin.  They needed to put the needle (which looked more like a fishing 

hook) into my port.  My port is on the inside of my right arm.  Char asked if I had put the numbing cream on my skin, I bravely told her that I didn’t think I would need it.  Shots, and pricks in the arm are not a big deal to me….well let me tell you when Char drove the “fish hook” into my port I thought I was going to scream….no wait I did scream.  It was the most torturous part of the entire day.  For some reason I had this illusion that the port was supposed to me my safety tunnel into my veins, the safe passage way, like the gumdrop pass in Candy Land.  NO!  It was like the Go To Jail card.  After the initial shock and pain of the insertion, they began a saline drip on me, followed by a anti-nausea drug, followed by another anti-nausea drug (I think they don’t want me to have nausea).  Then the party was truly about to start.  They first began with the chemotherapy drug Taxol.  With her hazmat suit on Char hung the Taxol bag on the hook.  I waited to feel something, anything..but I didn’t.

As the Taxol was coursing through my body along with the other drugs that were put in me I had many visitors in my room; my mom, my dear friend Kevin, my nurse angel Karen, the hospital deacon, my dad.  I may have picked up a tinge of annoyance from Char of the constant party like atmosphere in my room.  All we needed was a strobe light and some bass.

Chemotherapy Infusion Party

Chemotherapy Infusion Party

The next drug invited to the party was Carboplatin.  Char hung the bag of Carboplatin up on the hook.  Drip, drip went the drug and again I waited to feel something…..nothing yet.  Continuous monitoring took place.  Everything was on course.  The party was really going to start with the liquid benadryl they were going to give me.  The purpose of that was to combat any potential allergic reaction that I could have to Herceptin which would be the final drug of the TCH cocktail.   As I was biting into my salad lunch I was hit with a tsunami wave of exhaustion.  I couldn’t end the party by sleeping so I continued to attempt conversation while sounding like a sloppy drunk.  Travis and my mom broke out in laughter as they tried to piece together the garbly gook that was dripping out of my mouth.  Char entered the room with the final cocktail mix; Herceptin.  She reminded me that they would keep a close eye on me to ensure that I didn’t have an allergic reaction and if I were to have one it would be immediate.  She hung the bag and I waited in breathless anticipation to breakout in a rash of purple dots but alas I sailed smoothly through the choppy waters of the Herceptin test.  As the time continued to tick away I realized we had spent over 6 hours in the infusion lab and not once dove into our bag of party goods.  We had been kept so busy with teachings, monitoring and visitors that the party bag collected dust.  My first chemotherapy infusion was drawing to a close.  Other then being drunk on benadryl, I felt no different. As we walked to the car I felt the wind rustle through my hair and I became melancholy knowing that in hours it would be gone.  One major step today and another big one tomorrow.  One step at a time…

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

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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.

 

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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-387 days October 26, 2012–Acupuncture

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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

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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.

T-389 days October 24, 2012–Lymph Nodes are clear!

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Lymph Nodes of the Upper Limb and Breast

Lymph Nodes of the Upper Limb and Breast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up anticipating the days news.  I knew that a very important phone call was to happen today.  The day I would find out if the cancer was contained in my breast or if it had spread into other areas of my body.  Every hour of the day felt like three, every ring of my phone call made me jump….it was 5:00 and still no news.  The nurse called me to tell me that Dr. Kulick was stuck in surgery and would be sure to call me when she was complete.  What time could that be?  The nurse did not know.  The day seemed to drag by….I plodded through the day, picking my kids up, going to dinner, taking Gabriella to ballet, heading to Panera where Michael and I hang out when she is dancing.

Panera Bread

Panera Bread (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There we were standing in line at Panera ready to place my order when my phone rang with that familiar number that ends in zero.  I stopped mid-sentence and stepped out of line and ran to a corner and feverishly answered the call.  On the other end was the familiar voice of the nurse.  She told me that Dr. Kulick was still in surgery but if I’m ok with it that she could tell me the results.  I anxiously told her yes I want to know!!!  She then said “All of the cancer was removed, the margins were clear, and there was no cancer present in your lymph nodes“.  I yelled yes out loud, made a fist pump in the air and my eyes filled with tears.  She then told me that I would have an Onco type DX test to determine the need for chemotherapy.  I might not need to do chemo?  That would be amazing!  I hung up the phone feeling the world lifted off my shoulders, a lightness to  my step and a smile I couldn’t take off my face.  I gave Michael a huge hug and tons of kisses on his face.  No one at Panera seemed to notice or care–U of M college students are too into themselves…thankfully. In that moment  I knew I was going to be alright!  I would beat this!! This was manageable, defeatable and I would win this war!  Michael and I stepped back into line to order some cookies and coffee to celebrate.