Category Archives: Updates

R.I.P. Boob

R.I.P. Boob

It’s official:  The boob and cancer are no more.

Yes, that’s right, the cancer is officially gone.  Sure, I miss my boobs because being boobless is a bit strange, but I am happy to be cancer-free, so I don’t really miss them all that much.  I already have adorable outfits picked out for my new, fabulous rack, which I will hopefully have by the end of June.

Surgery went well.  Recovery isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, and I feel like a cyborg with my funky drain tubes and pretty gnarly incisions, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.  I spent the first couple of nights in the hospital, and then I went home where friends and family have blown me away with kindness, concern, and care.  Thanks to everyone’s help, words of encouragement, and fun surprise deliveries, I’ve managed to maintain a generally positive attitude, and I’ve allowed myself to enjoy hours of guiltless Netflix paired with Percocet.

Thanks to Dr. Kantor’s chemical cocktails, Dr. Brew found and removed only .8cm of my originally 3.8cm tumor.  Margins around the tumor were clean.  She removed and bioposied five lymph nodes, and all came back cancer-free.  She is confident my lymph system was not affected.  This is all incredible news, and it really couldn’t have gone any better.

So, now what?   This past week has been a bit frustrating because even though on paper I am good to go and should now be able to focus on recovering from my surgery so that I can have my Sarah Jessica Parker boobs, my doctors asked me to consider further treatment. Although my pathology reports show that I am cancer-free and my lymph system was never affected, nothing in the cancer world is certain, so they’d like to blast my cancer with a final “F-You” just to be sure there aren’t any stray cells floating around.  My options:  radiation, more chemo, both, or neither.

After a little research and meeting with a radiation oncologist, I am 98% sure I am not going to have radiation.  I am meeting with another radiation oncologist this Thursday to get a second opinion, and I’m hopeful she too will not fully recommend it.   The first radiation oncologist has amazing credentials and a reputation for being aggressive.  Because he did not give a definite recommendation but only said that it’s an option, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to do it.  He told me that right now he’d assess that I have an 80% chance of never having to deal with this again.  Based on research that is now several years old, my chances with radiation may increase to 84%.  However, I received more advance chemotherapy than what was available when the studies on which he’s basing  that number concluded, so he thinks my odds of a recurrence-free survival without radiation might be even better.  He did tell me that radiation will for sure permanently damage my body, making reconstruction much more difficult and maybe impossible.   More importantly, it will scar my lung, possibly damage my heart, and could cause a different type of cancer years from now.   Although the truly deadly side effects are rare and unlikely, 4% doesn’t seem worth the risk.

I have to trust my doctors when they tell me that they don’t feel right about doing nothing after surgery, so I’m thinking it’s more chemo for me.  Typing that just now literally makes me want to throw up, but it is what it is, and I’ve done it before.  Dr. Kantor is recommending Taxol, which is the drug that I would have had if I didn’t participate in the clinical trial.  It is a little harder to handle than Halaven but not as bad as A/C. If I am treated with Taxol, I will post more about it later.

Final prognosis:  Surgery was a success, I am doing fairly well, and although I am not happy about it, I will most likely have 12 more weeks of chemo,  just to be safe.   Sarah Jessica Parker boobs are still in my future, but they will not be able to make an appearance until the summer of 2014.

Farewell, Boob. Hello, Sarah Jessica Parker!

Farewell, Boob. Hello, Sarah Jessica Parker!

The boob countdown begins; in eight days, the Boob and her partner, the Other Boob, will say goodbye to me and say hello to Dr. Brew and life after a mastectomy.  I’m sure they’re off to a lovely place where post-mastectomy boobs are free to roam lush fuzzy-bunny-inhabited, wild-flower-speckled valleys with clear trickling streams and rainbows.

And, I will be on my way to a fabulous pair of these

42_SarahJessicaParker

 

Shoot, maybe I’ll even treat myself to the dress.

For more information on what a bilateral mastectomy entails, here are some useful links:

BreastCancer.org – Mastectomy

John Hopkins Medicine – Mastectomy defined and an animation of the procedure (yeah, I haven’t watched this yet, as I’m thinking it may freak me out. . .)

Dr. Brew will start with the preventative mastectomy by removing the Other Boob, and then she’ll move on to the Boob.  At that point, Dr. Mouchantat – I met with three plastic surgeons, and he was the only to entertain my Sarah Jessica Parker fantasy and also present a new “Gummy Bear” implant design option, so he’s my boob architect – will start reconstructing my new boobs by placing tissue expanders between my peck muscles and ribs where my implants will eventually reside.

Here’s what an expander looks like.  The round dark part is a port where Dr. Mouchantat’s team will inject saline every couple of weeks until my new boobs are Sarah Jessica Parker perfect.  The port will be under by skin, so the lovely, not-at-all-scary needle will go through my breast and into the port.  Yay.

expander 2

 

After expansion, I will have another surgery to place my permanent implants.  I have the option of new form-stable “Gummy Bear” implants or traditional round silicone implants.

breast-implant-shape

 

I am going to have to do some more research, as the Gummy Bear implants are very new, and there are mixed reviews:

FDA Approves New Breast Implants

FDA Approves New “Gummy Bear Implants”. . .Surgeon Urges Caution

ABC News:  ‘Gummy Bear’ Breast Implants: The Furture of Breast Augmentation Surgery?

CBS News: FDA Approves New “Gummy Bear” Silicone Breast Implant

What do you think?  Cast your implant vote as a comment today!  (So fun!)

This may all change if I have to have radiation.  Dr. Brew is going to biopsy my left sentinel axillary node to determine whether or not cancer is threatening my lymphatic system.  If it is, then I may have to have radiation, which may change my reconstruction process.  But, let’s not focus on the “may” right now, as radiation sounds horrible, and I really, really, really hope I don’t have to do it.

Here’s more information about the lymphatic system and axillary node:

Susan G. Komen: Facts for Life Axillary Lymph Nodes

September 23, 2013:  Farewell, Boob.  Hello, Sarah Jessica Parker!

 

The Boob Update (Abridged)

The Boob Update (Abridged)

Yeah, it’s been awhile, so there is quite a bit to tell.   For now, here’s an abridged version of my boob update, and I’ll write some more detailed posts soon!

1.  Chemo blows, but I’m almost done.  I have my last treatment next Friday, which means only a few more weeks of random spells of nausea, having the energy of a sloth, dealing with a brain full of fog, and things tasting really weird a lot of the time.

2.  OK, so I was being a bit dramatic in #1 because I’ve managed to start school, and despite a few hang-ups – did I mention hot flashes? – it’s actually going pretty well.  My new colleagues are super supportive, I am teaching classes with which I am familiar, and I am confident it will be a good year.

3. I got a sweet new wig:

Yes, those are margarita fixings in the background.  So, it really isn't THAT bad!

Yes, those are margarita fixings in the background. So, it really isn’t THAT bad!

4.  I will have my double mastectomy the week of September 23rd (still working out the schedule between my breast surgeon and plastic surgeon), and I will also begin the reconstruction process at that time.  I will post more about surgery soon.

5. So, it turns out that boobs can be a lot like hair when it comes to this whole cancer thing; you get to go shopping.  I’ve always liked Sarah Jessica Parker’s:

Sarah J P 1

 

Any other suggestions?

6. Although I have not had an MRI since my last one, my oncologist and I can feel that the tumor is still shrinking.  I will have another MRI within the next few weeks to officially confirm that the bitch is going down.

More details to come soon!

 

The Boob’s Going Public

The Boob’s Going Public

Don’t worry, I won’t be flashing strangers on the streets, as amusing as that sounds, but I have decided to make this blog public so that other young women going through this might find a helpful resource.

I will still post updates, but I also hope to step up the informative posts that will not only let friends and family into my world, but will also help others who are also fighting this stupid disease.

From what to do when first hit with the shocking blow of diagnosis to how to create darn-good imitation eyebrows, I hope to shed some light on the crazy world that is breast cancer for anyone who would like to or who may need to take a closer look.

Friends and family, please don’t stop leaving comments; I love them 🙂

New visitors, feel free to comment on or request any information that you would like.  Welcome!

Take THAT Tumor B$&#%!

Take THAT Tumor B$&#%!

After a second MRI a few weeks ago, I am happy to report that my tumor shrunk a little over a centimeter on each side, and there isn’t any new growth.  My lymph nodes also still look pretty good.

Hell YES, Halaven! 

I’m enjoying a nice break between the Halaven and A/C.  I start A/C this coming Tuesday.  During my break, I was able to travel, thanks to Rayan and his very generous family.  I was also able to take some time to learn how to sport the headscarf, and I enjoyed being in international cities where I was often not alone as a woman with no visible hair and fabric on her head.  At home, I tend to get a but more attention, but it’s all very nice.  I’ve received a few hugs from strangers, blessings, prayers, and even a couple of knitted hats. One woman actually carries them in her bag for when she sees someone who might need one.

Here’s my favorite headscarf travel picture:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bicycle scarf also looks quite nice on my head:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

A Much Needed Boob Update

A Much Needed Boob Update

I’m sorry to go MIA, but I’ve managed to keep myself very busy with treatment and my new job at Evergreen High School.  Yes, that’s right, I am very proud to report that I not only managed to work while beginning chemo treatments, but I also landed the teaching job of my dreams! Go Cougars!

As for the boob, she’s had her ups and downs.  More ups, I’m happy to report, than downs.

Boob downs:

  1. Although chemo really hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be, it is progressively getting worse.  The last couple of treatments were exhausting but manageable.  I am lucky that, so far (everyone knock on some freakin’ wood right now!), my only really major symptoms are fatigue and hair loss.  I got pretty bad headaches from the anti-nausea medication, but that went away the minute I stopped taking it, and I haven’t really been nauseous.  So, I’m just bald all of the time and in bed a lot of the time.  When my symptoms are at their peak, they feel like a really bad flu combined with a pretty nasty handover minus the fun of the night before.  Totally not fair.
  2. I am realizing that this is going to be a long journey.  Now that the fuzzy excitement of diagnosis and treatment planning have waned, I am now slowly realizing exactly what’s in store.   Yay for finishing 11 weeks of chemo treatments, but boo for having 13 more weeks and a couple of major surgeries to go.   I’ll get more into the whole surgery  thing in another post.  Needless to say, it’s kind of starting to freak me out.
  3. As the summer approaches, and my friends and family make plans, I am experiencing a little bit of self-pity as I realize that I cannot do a lot of the things that I like to do in the summer.  I am also, on the flip-side, recognizing how many really cool things I usually do in the summer, and I can’t wait to do them again when this is all over!

Boob ups:

  1. The number-one boob up:  The tumor is SHRINKING!  I meet with my oncologist after each cycle, and per his exams, he says that the nasty thing’s shrunk almost in half.  Go Halaven!  I will have an MRI next week after my last Halaven treatment this Friday to confirm this.  Then, I get three weeks off (heck freakin’ yes!) before I start AC (major bummer!).
  2. Sure, being bald and tired is a downer, but not having some of the other common side effects of chemo is something to be happy about.  No mouth sores, nausea, etc.   I guess that I do get achy and have a funky taste in my mouth at times, but that’s only for the first couple of days after treatment.  All of the symptoms other than fatigue go away pretty quickly.   And, even that, lessens as the week goes on.
  3. Aside from not being able to climb any 14ers or backpack for miles, I really can still do a lot of the things that I love.  I can hike, but it’s more like a slow walk, which is pretty enjoyable.  I found a cancer survivor hiking group that I hope to join up with soon.  From their pictures online, most of them are also bald, and they all wear great sunhats, which I too will sport.  I can also camp, but now I get to sit in a sweet camping chair or lie in a hammock more often than usual, which is also just fine with me.  Although my endurance isn’t as high, I did some gardening last weekend.  And, not to brag but to totally brag, I’ve managed to workout more often than I had before this whole cancer ordeal.  I can’t completely keep up, but I am now more motivated than ever to attend step and Pilates classes at my gym.  The ladies in the classes are fantastic and give me incredible encouragement and support.  One even knits me soft and adorable hats.  So, again, I can’t really complain.
  4. Yes, the road ahead is long, and surgery is incredibly scary to think about, but I do get a boob job on my insurance, which can’t be a completely horrible thing.  More on the “complimentary” boob job later.
  5. I’ve spent a lot of time with my amazing friends and family who have truly stepped up with tremendous amounts of support.  I love all of my visitors.  Please don’t stop reaching out; I tend to be the most quiet when I am feeling the worst, which is when I know that I need you the most.  Please know that I’ll rarely turn down a visit, so ignore my apologies and excuses when it comes to a messy house or fairly embarrassing appearance (spending days at a time in pajamas isn’t always the most flattering of things), and please continue to invite yourselves over.  The deck is beautiful this time of year, and it now has some lovely flowers on it for us to enjoy.  To entice you further, though it doesn’t always sound good to me, Rayan typically keeps the fridge stocked with cold beer for anyone who’d like one, and he has a fantastic collection of classy koozies that you are welcome to use.

I hope to be more active with my boob blog now that school’s out.  Look for posts on surgery, and please let me know if you have any advice or recommendations.

 

Already Made

Already Made

Well, the wig fooled my students for about four minutes.  After complimenting the color, a girl pointed out that I never usually style my hair, and it looks good styled.  Another girl then asked me if it was real.  The wig apparently looks TOO good.

I’ll let you be the judge:

redhead

So, I was very surprisingly made; I really did think I’d fool them.  Or, at the very least, I thought they wouldn’t say anything about it if they suspected something.  BUT these are seventeen-year-olds who stare at me four days a week every week, so I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure I could have played it off as just being “fresh out of the salon styled”, but I sort of froze, and that gave me away.  When I told the class that yes, this is a wig because I have breast cancer, they were dead silent.  That was incredibly uncomfortable and slightly amusing.  Another girl broke the silence by exclaiming that I was joking because I was smiling, and I couldn’t possibly have cancer and smile about it.  That kicked me back into teacher mode, and I was able to actually facilitate a brief but  good explanation of what exactly I have going on and why I chose to keep it from them until today.  They loosened up and asked some questions, and then we moved on.

After a chance to process the day, I am glad that my students know, and I look forward to the wig jokes.  They asked me to “rock the bald”, but I let them know that I would prefer to keep the distractions to a minimum and that the wig helps me feel more like myself.  Plus, bald is cold, and it’d be unprofessional to teach in a hat.

Speaking of rocking the bald, my stylist was able to give me a fun transition cut so that I wouldn’t have to experience the shock of the shave quite yet:

short

I didn’t have quite enough hair for cut #7, the most popular cut from my short haircut post, but I think she did a great job.  You should see the faux hawk.  But, you won’t.

April 22nd :: I’ve Always Wanted to be a Redhead

April 22nd :: I’ve Always Wanted to be a Redhead

NOTE:  I meant to post this a couple of days ago and spaced it.  So, here’s what was happening a couple of days ago.  I’ll whip up a nice little post to fill you in on what’s happening today very soon. 

 

Well, it’s official: I have a receding hairline.  Perhaps one might even call it a frontal bald spot. I’m sorry to announce that the combover is no longer effective.

I can get away with a cute hippy headband tomorrow, and then it’s off with the hair.  I bet it could last maybe another week, but I don’t want to fuss over it anymore.

The wig will have a dress rehearsal tomorrow afternoon around town and my house, and then her official debut will commence at school Wednesday.  We’ll know that she’s a keeper when my students compliment my “new color”.  My stylist is going to cut it like my hair; she’s been cutting my hair for over a year now, so I trust that she’ll make it look really, really freaking synthetic red hair good.

For inspiration, here are three unforgettable redheads:

Ariel-disney-princess-34214793-1600-1600

Ariel is a Disney princess. Obviously, her hair is beautiful. Look how full it is under the sea.

052027ec8bc5393522a5bbd297a75506

Classic.

IYbwYeq

What? You don’t remember Dr. Beverly Crusher???

A Week Off

A Week Off

After last Friday’s second dose of Halaven, I am enjoying a week off.  This officially completes my first round of chemotherapy.  So far, it’s not nearly as horrible as I’d imagined.  (I’ve held off on posting that because I’m afraid my tune may too quickly change, and I don’t want to create some sort of jinx on my easier-than-expected battle.)

As far as long-term side effects go, I am pretty much in the week of truth; it seems like most of the longer-lasting side effects kick in around week three.  Although my nails have so far remained a normal color, and I can still feel my fingers and my toes, I did start losing a little hair last night and more today.  It’s nothing major (knock on wood), and it’s coming out evenly (knock, knock), and I have plenty of hair to lose (knock), but I will need to invest in a sticky roller sort of thing if my locks survive the weekend.

I am grateful to everyone who’s reached out.  I typically forget about the boob when I’m at work, but I am usually reminded the minute I get home and am able to rest.  Not having to worry about dinner has already been a blessing.  Mornings sometimes feel like I had a lot of fun the night before minus the “a lot of fun”.  Not having to worry about a lunch is a huge help.  When I feel a little out  in the unknown on my own, someone sends a card or kind message to remind me that I’m not alone.  Thank you.

(Another longer-lasting side effect of chemo is an incredibly soft heart and a particularly gushy vocabulary.)

Hemoglobin Help

Hemoglobin Help

The only side effects I faced after my first chemo treatment were a headache, fatigue, and a dry throat.  The headache only lasted a couple of days after the treatment, and the fatigue was more than manageable.  When I mentioned these to my nurse, she revealed to me that the headache most likely came not from the chemo but from the anti-nausea medicine.  Yesterday, she gave me a different anti-nausea medicine with my second round of chemo, and I am happy to report that I do not have a headache.  I am tired and a little nauseous, but it’s nothing major.  I can’t remember the last Saturday I spent reading and napping on the couch, so I really can’t complain.

I discovered that my fatigue is due to my low hemoglobin levels or anemia.  An average woman ranges from 12 – 16 g/dL, and I was at 11.8 yesterday.  That doesn’t seem like much, and it’s not at all something to worry about, but it is enough to make me tired.

Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein in my red blood cells that transfers oxygen from my lungs to other parts of my body.

Here’s an illustration of red blood cells with red Volkswagen Beetles; you can see the hemoglobin because it’s what  makes the red blood cells red.  It’s not what makes the red Beetles red.

 beetleREDBLOODCELLS

 

Here’s a picture of a bunch of red Power Rangers in a New York City subway.  They all have hemoglobin.  Given their obvious exuberance for red power, we can only assume their hemoglobin levels are just fine.

 

Power-Rangers Subway

I learned that I need to increase my iron, Vitamin B-12, Vitamin C, and folic acid intake to raise my levels.

CLICK HERE and HERE to see what I plan to eat to help my hemoglobin.

I enjoyed a kale and strawberry smoothie this morning, I had lentil soup for lunch, and I have beef stew on the stove.

Go Team Hemoglobin!