My journey with breast cancer stage 0 DCIS
What do you do when you are told that you really don’t have Breast Cancer, but in reality and along the lines of “treatment plans” — You do. You pick your ass up and you move forward. That’s what you do.
The readers digest version of this story?
I was diagnosed with DCIS, Stage 0 Breast Cancer on September 2, 2014. It carries with it the same treatment as if it were a higher stage factor. Make the decision to have a mastectomy … or lumpectomy with 30 treatments of radiation. I chose the lumpectomy and radiation.
Several reasons I guess. Six can be related to in another photographers blog post here and why she hid her pregnancy for 8 months…. http://vanessajoyphotographyblog.com/2014/04/6-reasons-why-i-hid-my-pregnancy-for-8-months/
When you are in business… you have to be on point. Always. There is no time for personal interruptions.
Below are some of my journal entries along with my story for the past 4 months. It’s probably the longest blog post I will ever do. It’s the most personal look you will see into my world. If you don’t read anything else. Read the last 7 paragraphs… If you don’t scroll to the bottom. … do one thing… get your mammogram. Don’t put it off.
I’ve seen the articles. I’ve seen the ribbons – and the pink. I’ve even bought and worn both. I have a shirt that says Fight Like a Girl, and another that simply has a pink ribbon on it. I’ve had friends, cousins; three to be exact, who have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer. As women, we are all “Aware.” Aware that we need to do our monthly self exams – our yearly mammograms. Yet – as women – we are busy. We forget. We say – “Oh last years exam was good, I’ll just skip this one year. And then a year turns into Two. And then you are not sure when your last exam was. And then you play catchup, check all of your healthcare boxes like a good girl and carry on with life. Right? This is true for some…. This time. It wasn’t for me.
My last mammogram was December 2011. I was due for my yearly follow up in December 2012. December 2012 came following 2 months of being practically bed ridden with headaches that refused to go away. By the time the Christmas season was upon us and I felt better the last thing I wanted was to be in a doctors office. As January turned into February, so did March of 2013. With my yearly exam done, that box was checked, yet my mammogram wasn’t. The paperwork existed, for I had held it in my own hand. As the middle of April came and then went, my mother of 47 years did too. Yes, my mother died. She suddenly left us one morning as the result of a massive catastrophic stroke. It was devastating to say the very least. She left behind a huge hole in my heart, my cognitive thinking and an aging father with a host of his own health issues. My life focus changed, and it didn’t surround solely around me and my bubble. Again, as life unfolds – days turn into months and months become years. This past summer in June, I found myself sitting in an outside bar, with family following a family reunion. We hadn’t wanted the festivities to end, so we carried the party elsewhere. It was hot, the beer was cold and the music loud. I looked around and saw my uncle who had joined us, cousins from states away and then cousins practically in my back yard. The strength of one, in her doo rag – now going through chemo for treatment of Breast Cancer. She being the 3rd of four sisters in the last three years to go through this. Standing there on that concrete slab time stood still and as I knew we may never have this moment again, I also made a mental note, a silent promise, to myself to make my own appointment which was so far overdue. By now I was also overdue for my annual exam. Within the week I had called and scheduled for the end of July. As July approached, I realized there was something more appealing that I wanted to do, so I called and rescheduled for the following month in August. I mean after all, what’s another month… Right?
At my annual exam, everything check out great. I had lost over 25lbs in the last year and a half as a result of diet and going to the gym and I was on my way to loosing more and being healthier than ever!
Next Stop Mammogram-
Monday, August 18, 2014 saw my mammogram appointment. As the tech was checking the films she advised me to not be surprised if I got a call back since it had been a while since my last. Not to mention the fact that I had lost two cup sizes in the past year and a half. So it was no surprise when I did in fact receive that phone call for a repeat performance on Thursday, the 21st. Even though my cousins had received a cancer diagnosis, I wasn’t hugely concerned. After all, it typically is from the mothers side, and I had no other links or relatives along this line with issues. My cousins were from my paternal side of the family. I was easily given an appt and back in the squisher I went. After the repeat mammogram I was required to have a sonogram. … Ok. Better safe than sorry. Have an even closer look, even though this was not part of the routine that I would have been familiar with – but what is “familiar.”
I was then taken to the doctor who was reading the X-rays. When you are sitting that that dark room, and you see images of your breast that are larger than the size of your head, there must be some sort of chemical secreted that causes every bit of your mind to go blank. What I do remember is initially both breasts were in question, but upon my return they determined it was only the right where there was concern, the left had been a “shadow” on the films and changed when they looked closer. The concern with the right was what she called “micro calcifications.” That was it. No name – just pretty pictures that showed little white dots. Little did I know, she did have a name for it. I was told I needed a biopsy to give conclusion to what she saw.
Within a week, I was back having a “steriotactic biopsy.” I reported to Ambulatory Surgery… yes, that is where they start you. I was gowned up, and then walked down the general public hallway to the Women’s Diagnostic Center. If you are trying to be private and not have your business in front of the world, this was not the route to travel. Awake during the procedure, it was undescribably unpleasant. When an assistant places their hands on your shoulders and advises you to hold as still as possible you know $%#@’s about to get real. I was left with a “titanium marker” within my body, “for future reference.” I was sent home with a follow up appointment with my primary care provider and told that the normal time frame for results was 2-3 days. Within that time frame, I received a phone call from a representative from the office and told it was not cancer and my follow up was scheduled for the following Monday. Yay! Right? yeah .. no.
September 2nd… As I sat waiting for the PA to come in, I was scrolling through my phone, checking messages, reading texts and glancing around the room killing time. I notice the calendar had been flipped to September. Today was the second. I smiled to myself knowing that in two short weeks I would be preparing for my trip to Hilton Head, SC where I would stay for a week learning new photography skills, techniques and soaking up a huge amount of vitamin D! Finally, after what seemed like forever, the door swung open and in came my physician. The first words spoken were “I bet you’ve read everything there is to know about DCIS.” To which I responded with a blank stare, and stated “I have no idea what you are talking about.” Rewind back two weeks to when I was looking at those pretty films. The radiologist stated THEN what she felt it to be. Unbeknownst to me, because, well… I am not a doctor and terms and medical acronyms I am not familiar with. This is why I overheard my physician on the phone – asking what my preference was – if I just wanted to see a surgeon first OR go with the biopsy. This is why when I went in for the biopsy – before ever having it done they handed me a pink folder with all kinds of breast cancer information including a list of surgeons. It was slowly making sense. I wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Two Hours Later-
After going over numbers and acronyms and pluses and minuses and what they mean, I left my easy follow up appt knowing:
1. I had to have surgery, a lumpectomy – even though there was no lump.
2. My follow up from surgery would be 6 weeks of radiation which would sterilize the breast to prevent any further cancer cells. My alternative choice was No radiation, but I would require a right breast mastectomy.
3. I would be put on a hormone therapy for 5 years to prevent any further activity in each breast. Because, even though I would have radiation, “it” could come back.
4. Ignore this completely and face full blown invasive Breast Cancer.
The World Stopped and I wanted OFF.-
By this time my phone was being blown up. I could feel it vibrating and glanced at it to see Tom was texting. He knew where I was. Knew I should have been home by now and was checking to see if all was all right. I was by myself because I had totally TOTALLY expected it to be nothing more than a routine follow-up – ten minute check and I’d be out the door. No way had I expected a fraction of what was unfolding in front of me. And so this is where I will say, if you are ever called back for a second look, you should always have someone else with you. As forward thinking as I like to think I am – I did not on this one.
It took me a bit to digest everything. I had plans ! I had dates on the calendar ! I had a trip in two weeks ! Sand – Sun – Photography !! The next day I called the surgeon to schedule my consult. There were no openings until the Monday following my return from South Carolina. I had been told during my followup from the biopsy, and the revelation of this kink in my master plan, that although it was not considered an extreme emergency, the surgery needed to take place and needed to be done in the very near future. This was something I never could have prepared for, I never thought it would happen to me. I have no immediate first line blood relatives who have received this diagnosis. Now – I am the beginning of the medical history for my sisters and my daughter and my future grand daughters. From now forward, I am a part of their medical history. They will have to be aware the rest of their life. How many of us are fully aware – regardless of our medical history – or anyone else’s? My cousins and their struggles came to mind… And yet I still let my own care lapse.
As I slowly digested the events of the last few weeks, I slowly began telling immediate family members and friends privately.
The trip to South Carolina was probably one of the BEST diversions EVER. How better can you prepare for something like that than to be at a beach resort for a week with the love of your life, learning new photography techniques. Perfect.
Monday came and the surgeon confirmed all that had been said before. The decision was completely mine and mine to make alone. Tom and I both agreed that OUR choice would be the lumpectomy and the 6 weeks of radiation. Surgery was scheduled for Friday that week. “Let’s do it, Let’s get it done! Get it going and over with.” On the bright side of things, having radiation would not cause me to loose my hair. As much as you think of the what if’s and general things, that was a concern. The surgeon told me on the outside no one would know what was going on. The radiation would probably cause fatigue, but it was manageable. It was up to me who I told about what was going on. So far, only a handful of people knew, and at this point, it’s how I wanted to keep it.
Scheduling surgery starts a whole host of events. There had to be pre-op interviews and a EKG. After having to have an EKG prior to surgery, I also had to have a MRI.
We arrived at the hospital at 0930 for a one thirty scheduling. Why so early? Well, the marker that was left during the biopsy two weeks prior needed to have a wire run to it to map out the location where the surgeon would travel to remove the DCIS. The amount of tissue to be removed was estimated at about a golf ball size. Originally I’d been told it was about a half inch in diameter. The amount was different, I was told, because they wanted to make sure that the “margins” were clean. The idea of “The Wire” had wigged me out the entire time prior to being here. After all, during the surgery I would be asleep. I knew I would be awake for the wire… Entering into the room, I was sat in a chair and wheeled up to the mammogram machine that months earlier I had stood in front of when all of this started. At this point, I spoke up and expressed how uncomfortable the biopsy had been and asked for something, anything, that could possibly make the experience more bearable. This time they gave me TWO shots of lanocane. Although it was still uncomfortable, it was no where near as bad as the biopsy. Again, I felt the nurturing hands placed on my shoulders to not only console, but to make sure I did not move. The worst part was being a contortionist and being put in the machine and then having to hold still. The area that the DCIS was in was near the chest muscle. In fact, I was told it was right up against it. With that in mind, I had to really get up into the machine for the area to be seen. Once that machine grabs you – you are there… regardless of size. LOL. Unless you want to be minus a body part, you don’t move. Wire inserted I was returned to my pre-op room to wait for the surgical team which arrived promptly at 1:15pm.
Tom, Emily and my sister, Lynn had been sitting with me the whole time. Given a number, they were directed to wait in the waiting room where a television screen would identify my progress from surgery, to recovery, to post-op. My number revealed, I was in the OR at 1:29.
I climbed on the table on my own after being introduced to my team of OR participants. This team consisted of people who will possibly recognize me on the street and I will never ever know them, especially since the only recognizable asset I saw were their eyes as every other ounce of flesh was covered in surgical gear. As they fluffed and arranged the warm blankets around me there was a little piece of me that screamed “ah this is heavenly” and my mind automatically went to prayer.
Waking to beeps and more warm blankets, there was slow movement around me as the nursing staff tended to me and other patients who were in the same twilight as myself. Ah the joys of the recovery room. Thankfully, there was no sickness, no heavy feeling. Just a feeling of coming out of a deep sleep. Nice actually. That feeling where you bend and twist and point your toes and roll back over to pull up the covers. I was in no position to do that though, so just a closing of the eyes was the next best thing.
From there I was moved to PostOp. As I was being wheeled down the hallway a familiar face came into view as my blurry vision started to focus on Tom. He had gotten tired of waiting for them to bring me back and had come looking for me. It still brings a smile to my face to remember that. That’s my Tom. Very quickly, once in PostOp I was given juice and crackers. Emily had been to the cafeteria, and had bought a bag of Sour Cream and Onion chips. That girl knows her mom, my favorite. 🙂 I was allowed to have whatever I wanted, and these were at the top of the list. Having not been able to eat before the surgery, by now I was STARVING! It wasn’t long after that I was able to go home. Once home I laid on the couch and slept!
Later that evening there was a fund raiser for a friend of ours who was running for local office. Being the hard head that I am, I wanted to be able to attend. Tom had gone on ahead of me as I took refuge on the couch and the plan was for Emily to bring me over later. Armed with pain meds, and a small well concealed ice pack, Emily and I attended the event for about an hour or so. By the time I returned home, the bed was my savior and best friend.
As the new week began, so did my attention to setting up appointments for follow-ups and moving forward. New words began to enter my vocabulary… radiation, Oncologist, hormone therapy.
October 3rd, the Friday following surgery found me back in the surgeons office to get clearance to move forward. The doctor was very frank. The margins had not been clean, and I had to go back. Go back? Yup, everything you have just read above from surgery day to this moment right here… DO over. I hate these kind of do-overs. All of the healing I had already done was for nil. Surgery was scheduled for the following Friday. So by the time Friday came, I was a full two weeks into healing only to be set back again. This further compromised my plans for going away the first week of December to PA for a women’s getaway AND pushed back my finishing up radiation to right before Christmas vs having a couple of weeks to get my act together. I was pissed. And not only did I have to go through it again, so did Tom, Mike and Emily.
That evening Tom and I were scheduled to be at the Osprey Gala for the St. Clement’s Hundred doing portraits. The evening was windy and after a trip home to change into something warmer we managed to deliver over 100 portraits in a 3 hour time span.
October 4th, 2014
A little wine and chocolate could cure the world right? Tom and I went to the Sotterley wine festival to walk around and just take my mind off of life in general. We were able to see a lot of friends, see vendors and smile in the sunshine. One of the things about seeing people in public when you are going through something like this is the smile. It’s important to smile. People in general want to be happy. I want to be happy. The last thing you want to do is bring another person down. So you smile. Regardless of what is going on in your own little bubble – you smile. As I stood talking to friends I hadn’t seen in a while, the last thing I wanted to do when asked “How have you been?” was to tell the truth and then see the “Ohhh.” So it was better to take more motrin, hold Tom’s hand and feel the sunshine on a day that was absolutely beautiful. It was during this time that a talk with my mom would have been so very nice. She always knew what to say, she always listened.
After Dad’s regular appt on with Dr. Chhabra, an Oncologist, Thursday, I stayed in Lexington Park doing errands and catching up on things that had gone undone. My own appt with Dr. Chhabra wasn’t until later in the afternoon. I had the choice of either him or another, and I chose to see Dr. C since I’d already established a relationship with him through dad. It was completely different being on the patient side of things. We went over what would be done once the last surgery and radiation was over. The “pill.” That pill is Tamoxifin. A hormone therapy that will help prevent the reoccurrence of any cancer cells. It will also throw me over the cliff of menopause. I knew it was going to happen eventually, it’s just now right in front of me. Hot flashes. In the winter that may not be such a bad thing considering I am always cold. And there have already been a few here and there… we will see how that goes. I have no choice really the way I see it.
Doc C also talked about a tumor board that three of the doctors meet and discuss; which consists of the surgeon, the radiologist and the oncologist. My “case” will be a part of the discussion on the right treatment. Why are these words even a part of my vocabulary? I tend to go into ignore mode. And that is not healthy for anyone really. I remind Tom that it’s really important for him to pay attention to these parts just in case I miss anything.
Friday, the 10th arrived and Tom and I were back at St. Mary’s. Lynn and Emily arrived and the waiting game began again. This time there was no wire to be inserted. They had scar tissue to follow to the point that needed more tissue removed. They were late this time, so my 11:30am surgery didn’t start until 12:15. Once they took me, Emily made a dash to Chic-fil-a. That girl knows how to steal my heart. After coming back from recovery, chicken strips and a container of pickles were waiting for me. It makes me smile again to think of it. It probably drove everyone else crazy smelling it. Once Lynn knew I was out of recovery she headed out since she had other plans to go to PA for the weekend. So now the healing could start again… and the hope that they were able to get it all.
Saturday brought a picnic at Cedar Lane for all of the families of the residents. Aunt Bebe, my grandmothers sister has been a resident there for the past few years. She had personally invited Lynn and I during one of our visits to come as her guest. Armed with pain medicine and a small inconspicuous ice pack, Tom and I visited for a short while. She was so happy to see everyone and it is such a blessing to still have her with us. She is 92.
Sunday was filled with a lot of couch time and then a visit to the Optimist Ball Park for an oyster scald for a friend who is running for political office. Dad loves oysters and lives less than a half a mile away from the ballpark so we encouraged him to attend as well. He did, and in his words “got a belly full of oysters.” It makes me smile.
Another week of healing following Friday’s surgery now under my belt and I
return to the surgeons office. Tom once again has CWS (compressed work schedule), so he is able to be with me. He is now going on 4 continuous Fridays off from work. Two of which he had to take leave. Fingers crossed, the surgeon comes in and announces Clean Margins ! Let the healing continue. Little did I realize though… the official healing would not begin for another 8 weeks.
Tom and I arrive in Charlotte Hall at the Chesapeake Potomac Regional Cancer Center. I had made the decision to have treatment locally… close to home… Not in Annapolis where a lot of people from this area go. Their reasons are many… mine is it is close, the pathology is the pathology, the treatment is the same and my days – 5 days a week, for 6 weeks will not be completely interrupted by this schedule. The radiation will not begin until my incision has had a good amount of time to heal. As far as skin concerns, there was no way I could be “guaranteed” that I would not “burn” as a result of the radiation. There were creams and lotions that would be recommended and they suggested I use them regularly. I asked about the pool and the gym. At this point, the gym had been pretty much cut out because of discomfort. I was still able to keep my routing of the pool on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:30am. Yes. That early. And yes, it’s awesome. Considering my incision is looking “excellent” according to the doctor, I am scheduled for sometime between November 3rd and 10th to begin. A cat scan would need to be done to determine my treatment plan. What a way to enter into the week that would begin my 50th year of existence.
October 23, CAT scan.
As Doc Settle explained, a CAT scan was in order to determine my treatment plan. This included new tattoos. These are not the typical tattoos one goes and gets on purpose. These are purposeful dots that are placed strategically on your body so you can be lined up for the laser beams on the radiation machine. I think I have 5. This was my first time meeting Liz. She ended up being one of four techs I saw when I came in for treatments.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Word started to trickle into the street. October 22nd, brought a phone call from a friend who I hadn’t talked to in a while. She had “heard” and had called to offer support. Before the call was over I was invited to a “Wine and Design” event that evening in support of Breast Cancer. I was considered a “survivor” so there was no charge for me to attend. Again, a new word in my vocabulary. As I sat painting, I was reminded of a speaker in Hilton Head at LightPro talking about the faces of Breast Cancer. She had done a piece on women, beautiful portraits with their story. I decided this is something that I as well need to do for our local area. It’s important for people to know they cannot skip their mammogram. I’m an example now. I realize too that my story is no where near so many other women who have been through this. Mine is just a scratch of the surface. Mine was caught early. Thank God. And with this knowledge, I know so many others are out there and there’s should be caught early. But it won’t be, because they won’t get tested. And then it will turn into something considered so much worse, or “too late.” I know in my heart I need to share this with others. I’m just not ready yet. It’s funny how it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and be the best cheerleader, but when thrown into the game it’s a whole different perspective. It’s true until you are walking the walk, it doesn’t truly affect you in the same manner.
I received my treatment schedule…, November 4th I was “dry fit” in the machine and November 5th day one of radiation.
November 5… Day one. My 49th birthday.
Lynn came both days and was there “just in case.” It was both comforting and heartwarming to know she was there. At the same time I felt bad that the time I was there was very little and I didn’t want to put her out. I’m used to being on the “being supportive” side of things. I was able to have her come back and see the machine that will be treating me. It’s a little intimidating, but I wanted to be able to share it. I am actually a full week ahead of what is normally scheduled following surgery date. I’ve healed extremely well and fast. I liken it to the two years of exercise and clean eating that Tom and I have been doing. I show up at 7:40am as I would everyday, Monday thru Friday for the next 6 weeks for my 7:45am appt. As the machine was being moved into position, in a room that is cold, dark and surrounded by beams of red laser lights, I just closed my eyes and began to say my prayers; my coping mechanism. This would become my ritual.
November 7, Friday.
A NEW CAR !!
After driving the same vehicle for over twelve years, Tom called today and asked if I was interested in a new car…. Duh! We came home with a Honda Crosstrack which had just 25 miles on it when I first climbed into it. Sunroof, leather heated seats. I’m in love. I swear when I accelerate it lifts up, the wheels fold under and fire comes out of the back of it ! Note to self, don’t get a ticket.
November 10, Monday
Tom took off from work to be able to be with me today. He was able to see the machine just as Lynn did earlier. I think it’s good that he see’s and knows where I disappear to and what exactly is being done.
November 15, Saturday
After attending a trade show all day I went straight to Cedar Lane to see Aunt Bebe. I’d received word that she wasn’t doing well and her birthday party for the next day had been cancelled. She turned 92 on the 11th. By the time I arrived, she had already slipped into unconsciousness. With a heavy sigh, I sat with her and held her hand fighting back so many memories of after mom had had her stroke. I am so very thankful for the time leading up to this day that I visited and spent time with her.
November 16. Sunday. 10:30pm
Aunt Bebe passed.
November 17, Monday
8 treatments down. 22 to go. I really am beginning to notice a difference in my skin. I’m actually sore and it is definitely red. Like a sunburn. I’ve been using the shea butter to moisturize. I am still going to the pool three days a week. The technicians keep asking if I’m still swimming and I keep saying yes. They are insistent I will have to stop soon. I keep piling on the lotion/cream. I learned a valuable lesson. Don’t shave the armpits. I wish someone had told me that before hand….
Lately I have been showing up for my appointments a little early. I’ve taken interest in the new jigsaw puzzle that’s currently being put together…
THINGS I’M LEARNING:
-Everyone wants someone to listen to them.
-Love goes a long way.
-Think first – Speak second
-That armpit – no shave – during treatment issue
-Live with Gratitude
-Let “it” go. What is “it?”
-Be Early – Focus on Being Early.
-Start to USE that time for journaling OR reading
ONE THIRD of the way DONE ! Celebrate ! I am itching like you wouldn’t believe ! They have suggested Benadryl cream. So far I have used Arbonne Moisturizing cream, Forever Eden shea butter, natural Aloe, Aquafor and an all natural soap.
November 23, Sunday
Treatment today so I don’t have to come in for Thanksgiving or the day after. Yay! Long weekend.
November 25, Tuesday
I am now halfway done. I saw Dr. Settle yesterday – weekly I see one of the doctors in the office and my skin is checked – I also get x-rays to check the progression of the radiation. I’ve had a couple of blisters so I am really beginning to get concerned. By now I’ve been prescribed a Rx cream that is also an antibiotic. Aside from the couple of blisters the skin has been doing really well, but this morning will be my last swim in the pool until after everything is over. Before leaving the office I had another CAT scan and new tattoos because I will be laying in a different position for the machine. I’m entering into the home stretch. The last 7 treatments will be done with me laying on my back, arm over my head. So far, I’ve been laying on my stomach, with an opening on the table on the right hand side; hands stretched out over my head like I’m super woman. Hey, why not? I am concerned about the last 7 treatments. Dr. Settle has specifically said she does NOT recommend the pool. I’m definitely more sensitive now than before, I guess I just tend to push forward. I’m so afraid of burning, so I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize my skin. My friend, Clare picked me up to drive me this morning and she said today was “my” day so we went to Bob Evans for breakfast after treatment.
After Clare dropped me off, I called to check on Dad who had been at the ER for a nose bleed. I went to sit with him, and 5 hours later he was finally taken care of and released. It was a day full of chores, then a nice dinner and falling asleep on the couch in front of the tv. The fatigue is definitely starting to set in so I am learning to pace myself and take naps when I needed. As luck would have it, dad’s nose started to bleed again, so it was back to the ER for him. Another couple of hours later, and we were back home.
November 26, Wednesday
Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I am thankful for everyone ! I give the entire staff hugs before leaving after radiation. Tom is with me today and is standing there holding my coat as he has every other time. He just smiles and shakes his head as I cause a ruckus saying Happy Thanksgiving and giving hugs to everyone.
We’ve prepared an awesome set in our living room to do Santa photos for the holiday season. I’ve managed to get the tree up early after having to return the first one. Too big. I feel like goldilocks. Anyway – I have filled my calendar so full I don’t have time to think about hurting or not feeling good, or pains shooting through my chest or the fact that I’m really getting tired. On top of that, if anyone catches wind that I may remotely be sick – business could suffer and I cannot let that happen.
Tonight I am teaching a wreath making class. Mom would be so proud. I have eight people scheduled to show up. Tomorrow Tom and I will be taking promo pictures of Mary’s kids in the Santa set so we can start promoting the pictures. The wreath making class and the photos have generated such a buzz on Facebook that I have more people asking for additional classes. I’ve added Friday the 5th of December and Tuesday the 9th. I also have one private class. Now to gather all of the greens and buy the supplies. By the time I finish the classes I will have helped others make over 25 wreaths for the holiday season.
Help Portrait. We are back at the Charlotte Hall veterans home donating portraits to the residents there. We have about 10 other volunteers with us and by the time the day is over have donated over 65 portraits. This is the 5th year we have done this and I always consider it the best way to begin the holiday season.
Eight treatments left. This will be the last one laying on my stomach as super woman. Tuesday will begin the last seven. They tell me the last seven will be more concentrated in a smaller area, no additional radiation – just concentrated in the area where the cancer was. We are in the home stretch – hoping beyond hope to get through this with minimal skin issues. Right now my skin is very dark, especially under my arm.
I’ve started to make sculpty clay “glow worms.” ha ha – get it? Glow worms. Some of them have wire framed glasses. I plan on giving them to each of the people who have been taking care of me at the center. I also plan on getting a box of Krispy Kreme donuts to share. LOL. I know – sick sense of humor, but oh well. You have to laugh about it all. I will be so glad when it is done and over with.
December 11. Thursday.
When I walked into the treatment room it was SO cold. I complained about it and one of the techs said “Oh, it’s not THAT bad. I told him “You bare your chest to it and let’s see what YOU say.” To which he told me he had no breasts. I then told him, “Yes, but you have nipples and they would not appreciate it!”, to which he took his hands and covered over his nipples over his shirt and laughed. When you are in this “space” – conversation flows a little more freely and modesty is a thing of the past. Once on the table I actually started to shiver it was so cold. And then they told me to hold still ! I told them to turn the heat up and it would be easier !! My tolerance is becoming less and less – know my time is limited. Cold is not my best test of tolerance either though.
December 12, Friday
Today is Tom’s CWS day so I have company! After this mornings radiation, I have only 3 treatments left. It can’t be over soon enough. This morning as I came in I did my usual GOOD MORNINGs!! As I turned around I saw sitting in the waiting room someone I knew. It caused a little bit of an interrupt in my stride, but I also realized that they
hadn’t planned on seeing me either. We all have private things going on, and this is a very public place. They must have listened to me yesterday about the temperature. It was a little warmer and before the tech went to touch me to move and align my tattoos he rubbed his hands together to warm them up. Seems like he listened and it’s things like that that go a long way in comfort and care.
This past week has been really tough. I am burning more – I itch terribly and my skin is constantly on fire. I am tired. So tired of the whole process and I just want to be done.
After leaving my appointment this morning, Tom and I went to breakfast and then on to the Loffler Senior Center. We are donating portraits to the Seniors during their annual holiday party. We gave away over 100 free portraits. Afterwards a lunch at Red Robin – YUM. I am SO tired. I noticed today that where I am receiving radiation under my arm, the hair is no longer there. Nice. The hair has been burnt off of my body.
December 13. Saturday
A day without radiation ! A day to heal. Only THREE more treatments! It’s gone by fast, yet it seems like a lifetime. Mom would be here helping, if she were here. I looked at her photo last night – often I won’t allow myself that luxury, it makes me sad and angry that she is gone. Looking at her photo, my first thought was “I wonder when she will be home – because I am REALLY getting tired of waiting.” Really tired of being patient. Then the reality; I really do wish she were here. Trying to find my place, or space – trying to make sense of everything that has been going on – loosing Aunt Bebe. New traditions. Holidays. Old traditions, gone.
Simply – to…
Make a difference?
Be a difference?
Be Who You Are…
Return to the simplistic.
December 15, Monday
Today would have been Mom’s 80th birthday. I wake at 2:30am. I’m doing this quite a bit now because I’m sore and getting comfortable is a challenge.
This morning while watching the news, Channel 9 came on with a “Health Alert” from the Journal of the American Medical Association reporting that women diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer are receiving too much radiation. Two thirds of women are getting it for too long, currently receiving treatment for 6-7 weeks and they are finding that 3 weeks is just as clinically effective. Um. Um. I’m finished with this whole thing Wednesday. sigh.
Almost Done !
I was laying on the table I told the tech, (who I hadn’t seen in about a week) that I had only 2 treatments left. He immediately looked at my chest and exclaimed “Your skin looks amazing!” Any other time this would be really really awkward.
I packaged up all of the little glow worms to pass out tomorrow. Tom and I will stop by the grocery store and pick up the Krispy Kreme’s in the morning.
December 17th, Wednesday. 5:33am
I’m Here ! I Made It!
Tom took off the day to be with me in celebration !
Two months ago this day seems to far away. Last day of radiation therapy ! My six weeks are over ! 29 treatments done ! Number 30 to be done in a matter of a couple hours. I saw Dr. Settle yesterday, I will follow up in a month for a recheck and then back again in 6 months. She told me to keep doing what i was doing that my skin looked really good. that she could tell where I wasn’t receiving radiation any longer and the skin was beginning to heal. I never attributed the peeling I’d been experiencing the last week “healing.” But that made sense. One of my complaints right now is the pain that randomly shoots through the chest. Using cold packs and 800mg motrin takes the edge off of it. I’m looking forward to the two weeks from now when it feels better and then two weeks from then when it is a distant memory.
Today was a flurry of gifting the Glow Worms and Donuts. To Mrs. Dyson at the front desk I have been nicknamed “Sunshine” and “Peppermint Lady” (one for now, one for after treatment, and one to find in my coat pocket later as a surprise!, she always encouraged me to take a fourth for “Just in case.””) I changed into the same type gown as all the times before, got one the table, got my last ZAP and that was it. As I lay there, listening to the sounds of the machine move over my
head and around me, my memories of the music being played during the last 6 weeks ran through my head. They had a range of reggae, to jazz and ended with todays “Oh Holy Night and Fa La La La La La La La La… I laughed to myself thinking of the week before when I told them they needed to change the music currently playing if they expected me to sit still. I’ve never been successful sitting still when disco is playing… and then… I was done. I floated out of the place. Noticing, as I had every time, the beach chair photos and canvases that are on the wall to represent calm. The magazines that never changed during the time I was there, that dated back three years, but the information contained within the was just as current as a new magazine is today. Everyone gave Bone Crushing hugs… and before I knew it – it was over…. I told them how much I was going to miss them all… but not really. And they understood.
Today thru Sunday, a visit from my brother, George and his wife, Kathleen.
What a gift! What a blessing! George and Kath are visiting and staying with us until Sunday morning. I haven’t seen George since Lynn and I visited him in WV over the summer following his heart attack. What a special treat to end radiation and have George visit.
Oh how special is this ?!?!!? Winter Solstice is always so special to me. It’s a celebration of the days getting longer again. A “return of the light.” Oh how perfect that this comes following the end of radiation and four months of trials and tribulations. Tom and I celebrated it in our backyard by having a bonfire with a few close friends and Mike and Emily. I wrote on a piece of paper the things I wanted to let go from 2014 and the things I look forward to in 2015. A bottle of champagne that dad had given us from mom’s refrigerator in the barn was cracked open and “Celebration” was the subject of the evening.
December 22nd, Monday
It’s the morning after the Solstice – The Return of the Light. I breath in and out – Just as much a sigh of relief as it is a will to push forward. I’ve driven to Colton’s Point, so I can watch the sunrise. The new light in the new day. And even thought it is not a spectacular sunrise, I know in my heart this is exactly where I am suppose to be. And it really doesn’t matter. The sound of the water is my only background music, that and the constant knocking of the metallic pulley banging against a naked flag pole. The air is cold. Thirty four degrees to be exact. I’ve left the warmth of my fireplace to be here. On the point – the closest place I can find to be – when the new sun – the new day makes it’s appearance. I’ve written this “blog post” – this writing a million times in my head in the past few months as I’ve driven back and forth to treatments. I’ve had so many rewrites and cross thoughts. And I am still at a loss for words… My brain has written in fractured sentences… and so it was here that I began the writing of this, probably my longest blog post ever….
and so here we are….
Since the time of my own diagnosis, I have had several people tell me that they have scheduled their mammograms because of me. Mammograms that they didn’t think they would need – or ones they thought they could skip. I have one friend who has received a call back… and I pray all is well.
So many days… holidays have come and gone. Months ago – I was in one of the scariest moments of my life. I began hearing words I’d never heard and words that I still don’t understand. I am SO glad that it is now over. I am SO lucky that it was caught so early. It was caught early through the grace of God, not by my being diligent in getting my mammograms done regularly. I am so fortunate that it had not spread. I am so fortunate that it was seen at a time that it was advanced enough to BE seen. There was No lump. I always did my self exams. There was nothing there. But deep within, within the microscopic view of a mammogram it was found.
The months of November and December 2014 will be marked as my time as Super Woman. My point to prove – whatever that was. My point to prove that I was “Ok.” My zest to give back and pay it forward however way I could.
During the time of two surgeries and 30 radiation treatments, I attended numerous events for friends running for political office, photographed the Ghosts of Sotterley, walked a 5k for Breast Cancer, had 10 scheduled photo sessions, said a final good-bye to my Aunt Bebe, photographed and donated over 240 portraits (with Tom’s help), helped others create over 25 wreaths (and donated a couple to boot), had two full scale Santa sessions which captured and restored the magic of Santa and Christmas to over 16 children, 2 cats and an owner who loves her cats as if they are her children. Even though I was right up to the last minute Christmas eve wrapping gifts. I had gifts. I had completed all of the shopping needed. I’d given myself permission to just buy gift cards if it came down to it, but it didn’t. All of this time… I continued to take care of my dad.
This experience has been a good one. Really. It has. And parts of it have been not so good. I am very thankful for everything. Every experience. Everyone in my life. They all have had a purpose and a reason. There have been days when all I wanted to do was crawl up into a little ball. But I made it through.
Where do I go from here? An appointment next week will start hormone therapy for 5 years. Monday will start me back in the gym. I’ve gained five pounds and my body feels like it has gained fifteen. I need to kick my muscles back into gear and get my body back to where it was the third week in August before all of this craziness started. I will have mammograms every 6 months until they tell me otherwise. I will continue to pray that I never have to go through this ever again. Or any other woman for that matter. And I am a lucky one. Mine was Stage ZERO.
As women – in this particular circumstance, we are all sisters. Look out for your sisters. Take care of the girls. You never know when you could BE the one to start your own family history. There are times when I am still in denial – I push it away to the darkest parts of my thoughts I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to remember. And then I do. I’ve had Breast Cancer. It’s been fixed. I still need to get it checked regularly. I am a survivor.