#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Chronicles: #Cancer 101— What to Expect When You’re Expecting the “C” Word

Hello! It’s been a while since I last updated this blog because life has been a  whirlwind— in a good way. I am now 100% CANCER FREE and on the road to recovery. Praise the Lord!

For those just joining me, I’m the mom of 3 awesome kids and an incredible rescue-turned-therapy puppy named Sadie. I’ve been married to the most amazing hubby a girl could ever ask for going on 22 years this August.

Just last week I celebrated one year post-chemo and I’m still waiting to feel “normal” again after fighting an 18-month long complicated, harsh battle with the evil “C’ word. Here’s what I looked like before “IT”……..

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In case you didn’t know, in January of 2015 life threw me a 99-mile-per hour curve ball and I was hit with “IT.” You know— the thing you never want to be hit with or told— “You have cancer.” I found the lump while dying my fiery red hair and from Day #1 I knew the diagnosis had to be about something much more than just me. So I began a #MyLeftBoob awareness campaign and began writing to remind people to do monthly self breast exams.

On Feb. 17, 2015 I had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor— Surgery #1. I thought I’d only have to do the one surgery and 6 weeks of radiation and be done with “IT” but after the biopsy my doctor said I had a “rare and aggressive type of cancer only 1% of women are diagnosed with called “Metaplastic Carcinoma.” And I’m also Triple Negative which only occurs in 15% of women. Both of these types have a higher recurrence rate than other cancers and require very aggressive treatment and careful follow-up.

Here’s what I looked like post-surgery #1 of 4 before I knew I had “the bad kind” of cancer……..

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There would be 3 more surgeries after this photo was taken, 16 weeks of dense dose ACT “red devil” chemo, 6 weeks, 30 treatments, of radiation, tons of complications and emergency room visits along with terrible side effects.

What I know now that I didn’t know then was that life will never return to “normal.” I can’t just wrap up my cancer, put it in a box on the top shelf of my closet, shut the door and forget about it. It is who I am and what makes me stronger, more grateful, more positive, more forgiving and less stressed about the little things that really don’t matter when looking at the big picture.

In the past few weeks I’ve had several people, some complete strangers, tell me they or someone they love have cancer and they don’t know what to do or how to stay positive. They came across my blog and asked for advice and “words of wisdom” to help get them through. I’m so glad I can help others and pay it forward for all the good I’ve been blessed with.

A woman who was recently diagnosed with endometrial cancer asked me— “How did you get into ‘Warrior Mode’ and stay strong throughout your fight?” The truth is, I wasn’t strong all the time. It’s because of an army of angels that I was able to keep moving forward. I tried to only write when I had something positive to share, but there were many times I wasn’t feeling so bright and shiny. There were some really low days and some nights I felt like I might not wake up after chemo kicked my butt HARD.

What Can You Expect When Expecting Treatment for the Evil “C” Word?

I can share what I went through but everyone’s cancer and everyone’s treatment is different. I heard someone say cancer is so common now it’s like getting a cold. If only it was that easy to deal with— pop a couple of Alka Seltzers, slug back some Nyquil and voila! You’re healed! Unfortunately it’s not quite that easy. Some warriors I met along the way will never be done with their treatment— those with Multiple Myeloma, those whose cancer is resistant to chemo, those who have to deal with it spreading and recurring…..for them it’s a  living hell every day.

What Can You Expect if Expecting the Red Devil?

They call it “red devil” chemo because it is actually bright red in color and feels like the devil has invaded your body. The stuff is so toxic the nurse who administers it comes all covered up in a hazmat suit, gloves and goggles. It takes (4) huge 6″ long, 1.2″ wide syringes to get the full dose and after the fact it literally turns your pee red. You can’t touch or hug anyone for 24 hours. Not fun.

What About Losing Your Hair?

It may sound vain but losing my hair was the hardest part. Since Bible times hair has been associated with strength (Sampson and Delilah) or beauty (Jezebel) and femininity. So losing it is a tough pill to swallow. It means everyone will now know you’re sick. They’ll look at your with pity.

There were some days I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t recognize the bloated, frail, hairless person staring back at me. The worst was last August after I just completed 16 weeks of chemo and had to get another lumpectomy for another abnormal lump found in #MyLeftBoob. This was that day, two days before our 21st wedding anniversary………

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Weak….hairless….nauseous….bloated but still alive and trying to squeeze out a little smile. I know I’m not special and hundreds of thousands of people go through this battle every day. But I feel I can use my writing to help others and I feel that is what I’m meant to do.

So what is my “Cancer 101” advice and tips for the newly diagnosed patient?

1. Put Your Blinders On

My doctor told me this and I wished I listened. People will say the dumbest things in the beginning. You have to have tunnel vision and focus on your treatment and taking it one day, sometimes one hour at a time and get through.

2. Don’t Check “Dr. Google”

Another thing the great Dr. Cooper advised— but the reporter in me naturally wanted to gather as much information about my type of cancer since many at Danbury Hospital hadn’t even heard of Metaplastic Carcinoma, only just discovered in 2000. A lot of the information online is scary…… and old. Your doctor knows best. Listen. Get a second or third opinion if you have to— especially if it’s rare.

3. Let It Go In One Ear and Out the Other

Everyone and their mother will try to give you advice, figure out how and why you got it and try to blame something or someone. They might even ask you— Did you take birth control pills? Did you smoke? Did you dye your hair a lot?

They will tell you— smoke pot, eat almonds, take oatmeal baths, rub coconut oil on it, buy these magic pills and it will cure you. If all of that could cure cancer thousands wouldn’t be dying each year. A nutritionist may have studied nutrition for 20 years but have they studied cancer for 20 years? No. But your doctor has. Listen and trust your gut.

4. Surround Yourself With Positive People and Get Support

Make it a point to only be surrounded by positive people who will lift you up, make you laugh, make you feel loved and supported. I went to a faith-based cancer support group at Walnut Hill Community Church.  Words can’t describe how grateful I am for their love, prayers and support. I also went to Ann’s Place which provides free therapy for cancer patients and their families— another amazing place  I can’t thank enough.

5. Start Journaling

Research has shown that a cancer patient who begins journaling does better in their treatment because they are less stressed. MD Anderson says on their website: “Journaling is one way patients can care for themselves. Writing down your thoughts gives you an opportunity to work out your feelings and emotions, which may help you relax and find reasons to be happier and more hopeful about the future.”

5. Make Time for Yourself

Get a massage, go to the beach, shut off the phone and take time for yourself. People you haven’t heard from for years, or even decades, will crawl out of the woodwork wanting to take you to lunch or a movie. Now is a time to be selfish, do what makes you happy and helps you relax. Time is precious. Choose to spend it with those who love and support you “in sickness and in health.”

6. Distract Yourself by Focusing on Others (or a project- or both)

While undergoing chemo I organized a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. It took a tremendous amount of time and energy to plan a 9-hour-long, 9-band concert, to coordinate schedules, round up volunteers and raffle prizes but in the end we raised $2,600 for the ACS. I also headed up a Relay for Life team as team captain for Wendy’s Warriors which was a great way to give back as my way of saying thank you for how many angels on earth helped me. Read about them here…

7. Cut the Negative Nellies & Ignore the Jealous Ones

People might actually get jealous of the attention, money and gifts you may receive. The ones who gave me a hard time over creating a GoFundMe page have never volunteered an hour in their life.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve been a volunteer for 15+ years and gladly do it to help those less fortunate, to be there for troubled teens or help my community heal in the aftermath of the tragedy in Sandy Hook by volunteering time and money to offer a free space to heal through the power of the arts. I was grateful to have faithful volunteers by my side that enabled us to provide a safe haven when it was needed most.

When I was learning gymnastics, my instructor used to tell me to do a somersault to look down, tuck my chin and roll and I look at fighting cancer the same way. Obstacles will cross your path in the form of people who “just want to help” and may not realize their version of “help” is actually hurting and stressing you out. People might get jealous and even tell you so and try to make you feel bad for asking for help. Just ignore them, tuck and roll.

 

8. Find Your Village and Let Them Help

It’s hard and embarrassing to ask for help. It takes a humble spirit to open your hands and ask, “Please?” And it takes a village, a small army, to nurse a cancer patient back to life after staring death in the face.  I’m so incredibly grateful that my village was ready, willing and able to support me each step of the way. I am blessed beyond words and only hope I can help half as much as I have been helped. I believe what goes around comes around. Do good for others and it will come back to you.

9. Get Info Warrior Mode

To get into “Warrior Mode” you will have to choose your weapons wisely—

  • Choose to fight obstacles with perseverance.
  • Choose to fight weakness with inner strength by feeding your spirit.
  • Choose to fight criticism with kindness.
  • Choose to fight fear with confessions of faith.
  • Choose to fight cancer with dignity, grace, thanksgiving and optimism.

I did and that’s how I got through, and continue to get through, the after effects of this horrific war.

I would not wish cancer on my worst enemy and would never dream of being jealous of someone who had to go through what I went through. I’ve been blessed beyond measure and am happy I’m still here to pay it forward and to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, I am a warrior— thanks to all of you!

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I had the opportunity to share my journey at Bethel’s Relay for Life a few months ago and hear the amazing stories of warrior sisters just like me who fought, or continue to fight the good fight. This is a club none of us ever wanted to be in and that’s why I feel it’s my duty to advocate for early detection since I was given a second chance. By the grace of God,  I’m still here. Some are not as fortunate.

Thank you so very much to everyone who was there for me every step of the way.

What are the Next Steps for Me?

With this type of cancer we don’t use the word “remission” due to the high recurrence rate. I must be diligent with follow-up which is why I’m now going to a “Functional Medicine” doctor to get my diet on track.

Because I’m Triple Negative, I can’t be on Tamoxifen so I describe my life now as walking a tightrope in high heels over the Empire State Building. I can look down and be afraid of falling off and plunging to my death, or I can put one foot in front of the other, take one step ahead and keep moving forward. I choose the latter.

If you know someone going through this battle feel free to send them to my blog. You can read from the beginning here if you scroll all the way down…..

https://wendipoprock.wordpress.com/myleftboob-breast-cancer-awareness-campaign/

Or they can email me at wendyannmitvhell@live.com.  Be well!

 

#MyLeftBoob Is Almost One Year Cancer Free!

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It’s been a while since I’ve written an update and wanted to let you know I’m almost done with with this year-long fight! The final surgery to get the chemo “Power Port” removed is Feb. 2, 2016! Woo hoo!

In some ways it seems 2015 flew by and other times it seemed like it would never end. We started the year with a bang with a broken bed, oven and dryer in week 1, my middle son almost dying from a ruptured appendix and torn intestine in week 2 and 5 days in the hospital (thank God he is still here!), and then me finding “the lump” in week 3, the day he came off of bed rest from his surgery. It’s all in the rearview mirror now as we look forward to the future with optimism.

On Feb. 17, 2016 I’ll celebrate one year cancer-free with a big party in Bethel, CT on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. If you’re reading this, you’re invited! It’s a benefit for The Scotty Fund and Ann’s Place, two organizations that helped our family tremendously over the last year.

There will be dinner, cocktails, live music and a David Bowie tribute band! (R.I.P., Starman). We’ll post a Facebook event once bands and details are finalized, but please save the date! For more info, email wendyannmitchell@live.com.

Some people recently emailed, confused and wondering what happened after the last update? I’m still here! I spent 2 Tuesdays in December in the E.R.

On Dec. 4 I was admitted after having bad pain in #MyLeftBoob. When I felt another lump, my doctor felt I should get it scanned. Thank God it was not cancer (again!) and was just another side effect from the last surgery in August.

It’s a seroma- a collection liquid that forms sometimes after surgery. I’ll have it checked at the end of January to make sure it dissipates on its own. If not they will have to drain it.

The second time was exactly one week later for throbbing back pain in the middle of my spine. Because of the high recurrence rate of Metaplastic Carcinoma, my oncologist felt I should go and get an x-ray to make sure it wasn’t something serious.

After a CT scan, x-rays, blood work, EKG, etc. it was determined that I have early onset arthritis due to chemo. After breathing yet another HUGE sigh of relief I asked what I can do to stop the arthritis and the doctor replied, “Stop getting old!” Very funny. I did get a chuckle but realized many of these side effects (joint pain, back pain, hot flashes, tiredness) are something I have to learn to live with.

Part of writing here is therapy, some is to raise awareness for early detection and mostly I write to educate the many newly diagnosed people with cancer, and their families and caregivers, so they’ll know what to expect.

Now that treatment is almost done, many times if I suddenly get a hot flash or feel tired/achy, people ask why. I say it’s from treatment. Almost always the response is, “But I thought you were done with treatment?” Yes, technically I’m done with chemo and radiation but the symptoms don’t magically stop the minute chemo and radiation is over.

My doctor said it could take 6 – 12 months for all the harsh ACT (Adriamycin, Cytoxin and Taxol) chemo drugs and side effects to leave my system. While I may look somewhat normal, most days I don’t feel normal due to joint pain, sleepless nights and anxiety.

Here’s some information to help you better understand the conditions I still suffer, as many cancer patients do when treatment has ended, due to the side effects from chemo:

Chemo Brain:

“Research has shown that chemo can impact the thinking functions of the brain for up to 10 years after treatment. Some of the brain’s activities
are affected are concentration, memory, comprehension, and reasoning.” (Cancer.org)

Body Changes:

“Hot flashes at night and can disrupt sleep. This can cause mood changes and make it hard for to make decisions. You may feel tired or have trouble getting to sleep, getting up early, or getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. You may experience memory problems, depression, mood swings, and irritability.” (Dana-Farber.org)

Emotional Side Effects & PTSD:

“Some people with cancer may develop an anxiety disorder called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD is most often associated with traumatic events such as war, sexual and physical attacks, natural disasters, and serious accidents, the disorder can also affect people with cancer. For example, a recent study found nearly one in four women newly diagnosed with breast cancer experienced PTSD.”

Many cancer patients will experience the same side effects months, or even years, after treatment. It’s been 6 months since the end of chemo and 3 months since radiation ended. I know I’ll get back to my “new normal” soon (and hopefully the gym) but I’m learning to listen to my body and rest when I need to…. which last weekend was 14 hours one day!

I’m happy to embrace 2016 with optimism, excitement and hope for more good things to come…. and more opportunities to pay it forward– especially with the benefit dinner/dance/concert on Feb. 26.

Thank you for your support, prayers and love. May 2016 be filled with all good things for you and yours.

Peace,
Wendy 🙂

*Pictured: Me & my medical oncologist, Dr. Robert Cooper, at his retirement party in Nov. 2015.*

#MyLeftBoob Radiation #26: It Takes a Village of Vikings and Warriors to Battle Breast Cancer

Screen shot 2015-10-12 at 1.13.45 AMMy brother (center with viking hat) and my middle son (on the right) modeling the awesome Wendy’s Warriors tee shirts, designed by Lisa Kosarko Setaro. The crazy dude on the left is our good friend Shadow who came out last April for Relay for Life to support me in my fight.

I sit writing this update propped up on 8 fluffy pillows under my arms and neck and one firm one on my lap for the MacBook. I just popped a pain pill and am waiting for it to do its job, in extreme pain under my arm and chest from radiation burns.

Just yesterday I was enjoying a nice visit with two of my four sisters, our kids, my dad and his girlfriend. It’s been years since we were all together, since my sister has given up her footloose and fancy free glamorous life of yachting. Juuuust kidding! She actually did just come back from a decade on a yacht, but it was far from glamorous. She worked her butt off as an executive chef on a one of the world’s largest yachts and, after my cancer diagnosis, decided to return to dry land for good to be close to our family and I’m so happy she’s here.

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So, like an annoying aunt, I made us all take a lot of pictures. Life is short. Life is unpredictable. You never know what tomorrow holds. We ate like kings, danced like fools and acted like, for a brief moment, I wasn’t battling the evil demon. And it was good.

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And then…BAM! Reality slapped me in the face like a jealous girlfriend. You’re not allowed to have fun, it said. You’re supposed to be giving all your attention to me. I hate for my kids to see me cry but I couldn’t help myself tonight. The pain was awful. I’m sick of not being able to function normally. Imagine you have a horrendous sunburn and you’re forced to go back into the sun over and over, the very thing that caused your burn. Not fun. But it’s almost over.

The past few nights I haven’t slept well because I wake up in a pool of sweat from the burns. Not so fun fact: Did you know that chemo brings on early menopause? It’s just one of many side effects from treatment– dizziness, numbness, pain, nausea and if that wasn’t enough to deal with all at once, why not throw on some hot flashes?

I know there are people in worse shape that me. There are people who have had a double mastectomy. There are women fighting alone, single moms, struggling financially or emotionally.  There are women just starting their journey who are asking themselves, “Why me?” There are women who have endured multiple surgeries like me and we are all entitled to our feelings. Just because I write about it more often or more publicly doesn’t mean I don’t think about, try to help, and pray for those who are fighting. We are all warriors.

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My sister Becky with her adorable daughter Juliet sporting their Wendy’s Warriors tees.

Speaking of warriors, last April our Relay for Life team, “Wendy’s Warriors,” raised over $2,600 for the American Cancer Society. We did it in honor of all those we know who lost their lives to cancer: My sister-in-law who passed away four years ago at the age of 51 from pancreatic cancer, my mother-in-law who passed away in 1986 at the age of 55 from ovarian cancer, my aunt who passed away in 1999 from brain cancer, our friend’s father who suffered and passed away from stomach cancer. I’ll never say they “lost their battle with cancer.”  Anyone who fights and doesn’t give up is a courageous warrior and a winner.

warrior: noun

a person who fights in battles and is known for having courage and skill

Our family and friends were an amazing support for me throughout my journey and during Relay for Life. I was tired, and probably shouldn’t have pushed myself so hard, but it was something I was determined to do to help others. I believe if you do good things “what goes around comes around” and “you reap what you sow.” If you’ve been following from the beginning you’ve seen how much good has come out of all this and we are so grateful.

Many of you will never know what it’s like to fight and many of you will need to know…like our friend whose mom was diagnosed just last week. Our friend has watched me through almost all of the stages and I’m sure never thought it would touch him personally. But now, unfortunately it has. That’s why I write. So they can know what a cancer patient goes through physically and emotionally. So they know what to say and what not to say. So they can be prepared to support their loved one as they take each step one day, and sometimes even one hour, at a time.

 

And in the spirit of  supporting warriors would you consider purchasing a Wendy’s Warriors tee shirt or bracelet? We ordered (and paid for)  way too many and they’d look much better on you than on my couch! A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society so they can continue their lifesaving work.

Tees are white, 100% cotton and are $20. Bracelets are purple and are $4 each. Honor your warrior and make a difference in the fight against cancer. Paypal: wendyannmitchell@live.com or mail a check to: Wendy Mitchell, 9 Evergreen Drive, Bethel, CT. 06801.

If you know someone who is fighting or has fought any type of cancer, please share my blog with them. It takes a village to fight the evil demon but together we can make a difference in the war on the C word! As always, thank you for your support!

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Battle: You ‘Should’ But… No Thanks, I’m Good

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In the 5 months since I’ve been bald due to ACT chemo, never once have I posted a photo of my “bald is beautiful” shiny new noggin. Nope. Because my bald head is not beautiful. Some people can totally rock the look, like my new breast cancer friend Ericka (pictured below), but not me.

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But since I am entering a new chapter of my journey, 6 weeks of radiation starting tomorrow, I figured I’d post one. And one is all you’re going to get.

I’ve had so many tell me all the things I “should” do during treatment. While it’s annoying, I know they mean well, my response has always been a very polite, “No thanks, I’m good.”

Here are some of the best “You shoulds.”

In relation to my hair….

You should just shave your head

You should get a henna tattoo on your skull, you’d totally rock that

You should invite over all your friends to draw with Sharpies on your head

Umm, no thanks, I’m good.

In relation to healing/recovery….

You should rub coconut oil on your boobs 3x a day (after I had surgery & the scar was healing)

You should smoke weed

You should do wheat grass juicing and just not tell your doctor

You should go vegan

You should eat whatever you want because you could get hit by a bus and die tomorrow

You should eat a tablespoon of coconut oil 3x a day

Um, no thanks, I’m good.

Anytime someone begins a sentence with “you should,” it immediately ruffles my feathers. I would never go up to an overweight person and say: you should eat less, you should exercise more. It’s rude and none of my business. Don’t you think they know they’re overweight?

So for all of you cancer newbies: be prepared for unsolicited “advice,” unwanted tips and unwelcome, sometimes rude, suggestions on how “you should” just do this or that and you will magically be cured of cancer! Don’t you wish all of the doctors and hospitals knew about these quick and easy tips? Then a billion dollar industry would go kaput and we’d all be better! Yay!

Sarcasm aside, sometimes it’s hard to let it go in one ear and out the other. Sometimes you get tired of explaining to people, at times even perfect strangers, what your diet is/was, what sort of birth control you were on, whether or not you drank or smoked excessively, etc. So if you’re one of those people asking such invasive questions… please stop. It’s none of your business. And for the record, none of those things caused the type of cancer I was diagnosed with (Metaplastic Carcinoma). It wasn’t because I dyed my hair or used non-stick pans or ate bacon. It just happened.

To put a positive spin on it, here are some nice things you can say to a cancer patient:

After being diagnosed:

I’m so sorry to hear that. 

You’re in my thoughts and prayers

Is there anything I can do?

During treatment:

How are you feeling?

You’re still in my thoughts and prayers

Is there anything I can do?

Some of the worst feelings of all to deal with through all of this are:

#1) Being made to feel guilty, like the cancer was your fault. I know Dutch women who literally eat lard, pork, bacon and live to be 80+ years and never get cancer. I know others who smoke a pack a day and live to be 90+ and never get cancer. On the flip side, I know women who eat healthy, grow fresh herbs, are physically fit and play tennis and they still get cancer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advising you eat lard and smoke a pack a day, I’m just saying that, as much as you want to, you can’t blame getting cancer on those things. The type I was diagnosed with was not caused by any external factors and the biggest reason I got this is, my doctor said, is because I’m a woman. Women get breast cancer. It just happens. Raising money for research and raising awareness will hopefully help other women have a better chance at life through early detection.

#2) Feeling like you’re forgotten. At first everyone calls, emails, texts and writes. They help cook, clean, run errands, etc. And then it fizzles out. I know- cancer is depressing, cancer is a hassle, how do you think I feel? It only takes 2 seconds to send a quick text that says “thinking of you” or even an emoji heart or smiley face. This goes double for family.

#3) Feeling like you’re a burden. Don’t worry. I’m not going to talk about cancer all the time. I won’t plague you with the gory details- that’s what this blog is for….haha! I won’t ruin your good time by having me around.I’m still the same person, just a new and improved, much stronger version of my former self.

Now take a deep breath. Aaah. Doesn’t that feel good? It’s called life and we are all lucky and blessed to be here. There is always someone better off and worse off than you are and there is always, ALWAYS something to be grateful for.

Today I am grateful for my sister Becky who has helped me with my many changing hair and wig styles along the way. I saw her tonight and she cut a wig I’ll be wearing to yet another job interview tomorrow after radiation. Yes, I’m trying to get a second part-time job to pay for over $30K of medical bills. My husband already works 2 jobs so he can’t do anymore than he does already.

Hopefully something will come along, or I will finally sell one of my screenplays or manuscripts, to pay all the doctors who have been keeping me alive. Oh yeah, I just have to find some time to finish them first! A girl can dream!

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Thank you Beckells for not only being a great hairdresser and sister, but for being a great therapist and friend! ❤ 🙂

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Here is an update from my Go Fund Me page. Please donate by clicking here if you can. Any amount helps and is SO greatly appreciated.

While cleaning my teeth Monday, my dental hygienist asked me what the side effects will be and I told her I wasn’t quite sure because I’ve been advised to stay away from Dr. Google. There is no use worrying about something that “might” or might not happen. Everyone is different and everyone’s reaction is different.

I’ve heard people describe radiation as getting a horrible sunburn, getting burned alive, being 10x worse than chemo, being 10x better than chemo, an absolute nightmare where you can breathe and you’re always exhausted, blah blah blah…

I’m going to go Thursday morning with a hopeful and positive attitude and remember the reason why I’m there: to kill any last trace cancer cells that may try to morph into something else and show up later somewhere else in my body.

“Metaplastic” means to change in form and this type of cancer is known to come back, changing in form as lung, skin or bone cancer, even after surgery, chemo and radiation. With radiation, it diminishes the chances of that happening.

My oncologist said because the cancer was contained in one milk duct and it didn’t spread to my lymph nodes that my chances are good that it won’t come back. No “what ifs” or “buts” are allowed in my train of thought right now (or ever).

I’ve had to amp up spiritual “food” intake my and scale down the “support” groups that are not always so supportive. Some have made me feel guilty because I’m “only” Stage 1 and have said “you’re so lucky.” Yes, I’m so “lucky” to have to go through 3 surgeries, 16 weeks of dense dose chemo, 6 weeks of radiation, nausea, dizziness, exhaustion and lose all my hair. Luck has nothing to do with it. I am, however, BLESSED.

Cancer is no discriminator- it can invade your body whether you’re young or old, skinny or hefty, black or white, rich or poor. And if you’re tired of hearing about it, or talking about it, like me, sorry but it’s not going away…yet.

And that is why I do what I do- write to raise awareness, to raise funds, to help others, like me, to have a fighting chance through early detection.

So what if I’m in a little pain or feel like I have a bad sunburn on #MyLeftBoob for the next couple of months? It’s just a small blip of time in the grand scheme of things.

The after effects are not so pleasant (scars, HUGE pile of bills that don’t seem to be going away, fatigue, etc.) but this is just a season in my life that will soon change. And as Gloria Gaynor once said, “I WILL survive!”

#MyLeftBoob #BreastCancer Battle Phase 3: Walking the Tightrope While Accentuating the Positive

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“The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief.” ~William Shakespeare, Othello

Many think cancer robs people of so much and they’re partially right. Yes, it can rob us of strength, finances, hair, appetite and sometimes relationships, but it doesn’t have to steal our sense of humor or positive attitude.

It also gives us something invaluable that many take for granted- appreciating every day of life and those around us.

My doctor told me brain studies were done on cancer patients who maintain a positive attitude during treatment and they showed they have a much better prognosis than those who don’t. One thing I’ve had throughout this journey is an attitude of gratitude. I am so grateful for your donations, prayers, love, well wishes, dinners and everything else I’ve been blessed with.

This week I’ve gotten so many well wishes of people asking how radiation is going. Thank you! The only thing is- I haven’t started it yet because I’m still recovering from surgery #3.

Last Friday I met with the radiologist who discussed what to expect during the next phase- 30 doses of radiation, 5 days a week, Monday through Friday for 6 weeks. I can’t start until the surgery scar heals or there could be “irreversible damage” to my tissue. And we can’t put it off anymore because radiation is supposed to start 4-7 weeks after chemo is completed. But because I had to get the abnormal lump removed, it’s cutting it pretty close.

Next up at this appointment was yet another surprise. I didn’t realize going in that I was going to get tattooed. Those “little blue dots” the doctor told me about last week were actually 3 permanent painful tattoos on my chest and either side of my belly to guide technicians when they start. If you’ve read my earlier posts you know how I feel about needles…..not a fan.

I had to get a CT scan and get marked for the tattoos. The nurse positioned me on the table to map out a plan for treatment so the radiation doesn’t hit my vital organs…you know, the heart and the lungs? This was another thought that hadn’t crossed my mind. Oy! They found the best position, tatted me up and sent me on my way.

Next up was the surgical follow-up on Monday. The doctor removed the surgi-strips and said the scar, although still red and very tender, looked good. She gave the OK for me to start radiation on Thursday, Sept. 3.

Since talking about the next phase, a lot of people are offering tips, advice and horror…ahem, I mean first-hand experience stories. I’ve been told I’ll feel extremely tired, my ribs will hurt, I’ll have to think to breathe, I’ll lose 70% of my lung capacity, I’ll get severe burns- especially since I’m so fair-skinned, and the list goes on and on.

As I did with chemo, I’m trying not to let those comments get to me. I’m putting blinders on, going in with a positive attitude and hoping it’s not as bad as they said it will be.

One thing I’ve learned through all of this is that people really do mean well. What I haven’t learned yet is how to get people to stop telling me their horror stories or other things to instill fear into me- something I don’t need right now.

It’s scary enough to be told you have a life-threatening illness, and that it’s really rare and very aggressive, and that it has a high recurrence rate. Then on top of that to be told how someone knows someone who died from this or didn’t get the best care or had it come back to their lungs or skin or bones or brain 2 or 3 times. No, I don’t need to hear any of that. Keeping my mind in a good place it of the utmost importance right now. And that’s why I must again remind myself to focus on the positives:

1. We caught it early at stage 1
2. The tumor was contained to one milk duct
3. It has not spread to my lymph nodes
4. With dense dose ACT chemo and radiation there is a 90% chance it won’t come back
5. March 5th’s PET Scan said I’m cancer free!

A few people have asked why I had to get chemo and radiation if I had a lumpectomy and they got it all out. It’s because Metaplastic Carcinoma (MpBC) is a very aggressive cancer so my treatment needs to be aggressive as well. And MpBC grows very quickly.

They want to make sure to kill any last trace cell that’s too small to show up on a scan. Metaplastic means “change in form” and this type of breast cancer is known to come back and change in form, spreading to the lungs, skin or bones.

Others have asked what follow-up meds I’m on and when I say “none,” a look of shock comes over them. Because I’m Triple Negative I have no estrogen, progesterone or Her2 receptors so there’s nothing I can take for prevention. It’s a frightening thought and sometimes I feel as if I’m walking on a tightrope in high heels with no net. But I do have my balancing stick and a fancy outfit. As long as I keep my eyes straight ahead, focused on the end result and don’t look down, I’ll be okay.

As Sam Cooke once said, I’ve “got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, but don’t mess with mister in between.”

And as God once said, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” ~Isaiah 41:10

So I will keep walking the tightrope, peach fuzz topped head, with a smile on my face and slight numbness in my fingers and toes. And I’ll do some really big jazz hands when I finally get to the other side. TA DA!!!!!!!!

CLICK HERE to support my breast cancer battle on GoFundMe.com. Any amount, no matter how small, helps with my medical bills. Thank you! 🙂

#MyLeftBoob Preps for Phase 3: 6 Weeks of Radiation

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My fancy long-sleeved hospital gown matches my chemo cap perfectly.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.  Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave.” ~Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, 1894

Today marks four weeks since I completed 16 weeks of dense dose, kick-your-butt-and-make-you-feel-like-a-Mack-truck-hit-you-while-having-the-flu-every-day-for-four-months, chemo. I wish I could say I was done with treatment after 8 months of this crazy, fast-moving roller coaster ride, but I still have a few months to go. We’re getting closer and closer to the finish line each day and that’s something to celebrate.

I say “we” because cancer affects everyone- the whole family. I can see the toll it has taken on my husband who is working so hard for us but is emotionally drained. The last surgery was the hardest, he said. It’s tough to see someone you love in so much pain, he told me. The kids seem fine and have been extremely helpful, but I know underneath their smiles they worry too.

This morning I met with the radiologist who checked my surgery scar (my 3rd since February) to see how it was healing. For those just joining, the first surgery was to remove the tumor, the second was to place the port for chemo and the third was for an abnormal lump they found post-chemo. Everything looked good, my doctor said, and I should begin 6 weeks of radiation, 30 treatments, in about 2 weeks. That means tomorrow I go in for “mapping.” The doctor explained that it will take about 2 hours. I’ll get tiny blue “X marks the spot” dots on my left breast so the technicians know where to shoot the radiation.

Radiation will be 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Appointments will last about 45 minutes. Thankfully I work from home and can schedule my work around my treatments. I tried to get a second part-time job recently to help with the doctor bills since the hubs already works 2 jobs, but I couldn’t keep up. I was just too exhausted all the time. I need to learn to listen to my body and rest when I feel tired. My doctor said my treatment will go better if I take naps and get plenty of rest.
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As far as the after effects of ACT chemo (Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Taxol), I still have neuropathy in my fingers and toes. I’m still tired many times throughout the day and sadly, still hairless– no eyebrows, no eyelashes, and no fiery red crazy hair. But it’s a small price to pay for my health.
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Learning still to ignore silly comments has been a big test of my patience. While in line at a retail store the other day a woman who obviously had no filer loudly proclaimed, “You’re wearing fake eyelashes!” I said, “Yes!”  She continued, “Oh how fun!”
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While everyone in line stared at my fake lashes and penciled-in eyebrows, I thought to myself, Yes Ma’am, what fun it is to be told you have a rare and aggressive type of cancer with a very high rate of recurrence. What fun it is to go through 4 months of dense dose chemo, 3 surgeries, 2 E.R. visits and 6 weeks of radiation. Yes what fun indeed. But alas, I held my tongue and smiled.
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My “hair” now, A.K.A. “peachfuzz,” is currently in the crazy Brittney phase, and closely approaching the Pope bashing Sinead phase. I’m quite ready for the Demi-length GI Jane ‘do after 5 months of this ‘bald is beautiful’ nonsense, but for now I’m wearing the scarves and head wraps. The wigs were way too hot and itchy.
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As long as everything goes well I should be completely finished with treatment by the middle/end of October. My doctor says I can expect hair to be back by November- just in time for Thanksgiving. And boy is there a lot to be thankful for this year.
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After treatment is complete, I’ll need to be seen every 3 months for the first year for follow-up since Metaplastic and Triple Negative both have a very high rate of recurrence. Because I’m Triple Negative I can’t take the traditional preventative medicines they prescribe to “regular” cancer patients because my body won’t respond to them. My oncologist and radiologist both said that because the tumor was contained in one duct and it did not spread to my lymph nodes, that my prognosis was very good. But still, I need to be vigilant about follow-up and get the second opinion at Sloan Kettering.
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Life has been a whirlwind since first finding the lump in January, and I’ve had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but having a small army of supportive friends, family, bosses and co-workers makes my fight so much easier. Thank you.
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CLICK HERE to support my breast cancer battle on GoFundMe.
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“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” ~Isa. 40:31
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#MyLeftBoob is #WinningTheBattle

#MyLeftBoob Continues to Kick #Cancer Butt 3 Weeks Post #Chemo

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It’s been 3 1/2 weeks since I finished 16 weeks of dense dose ACT chemo and I wish I could say life has returned to “normal.” After last Tuesday’s surgery for “abnormal cells” and another lump they found in #MyLeftBoob, I’m still sore and bruised.

I won’t go into gory detail about the radioactive seed implant but I will say it was brutal and nothing like the last time. This time they stuck 2 needles in me- one to numb the breast and one to guide the seed implant. I had to sit perfectly still while a needle was sticking in my boob, then get my boob mashed and squeezed with the mammogram machine. I’ve been told I have a very high pain tolerance, but this was one of the worst procedures so far….because I was awake.

We got through about 15 minutes of pain and a few images before the doctor declared, “We have to do it over again. You moved.” I moved? If you count breathing as moving then yes, otherwise I wasn’t sure why she was blaming me. So here we go again, two MORE pokes into my already tender breast, more squeezing and compression. Thankfully I had a super sweet nurse to help calm me down.

Okay, so I ended up telling you most of the gory details. I was left a blubbering mess, almost passed out and later that night swollen and bruised. Five days later I was in for it again. I had to have surgery, my third in 7 months, to remove the lump.

You’d think I wouldn’t be nervous after two successful surgeries, but when the nurses call you the night before and ask if you have an “Advanced Directive” (living will) it gets your mind wandering to places nobody should have to go. Surgery went well and I got my biopsy results in a few days.

“Good news!” the nurse told me on Friday, “Everything looks normal, the biopsy results came back as abnormal cells that are non-cancerous but there’s nothing to worry about.” I got to bask in the joyful glow for a few days before seeing my oncologist today who interpreted the results a lot differently.

“They found more abnormal cells around the lump, but we knew that going in.”

Wait……WHAT? I thought the results were normal, they got the lump out and there’s nothing to worry about? He saw the distressed look on my face and said, “Maybe I’m reading this wrong. I’ll have to talk to [the surgeon] and I’ll give you a call.” He ended the visit by telling me I have a very “active breast” with “a lot going on.”

Well that doesn’t sound good. If there is so much going on why not just go for the mastectomy and be done with it instead of all this worry? He reassured me that if any of the abnormal cells were to grow into “something” that the radiation would kill them before it got too far.

I wasn’t satisfied with that explanation and didn’t waste any time calling my surgeon, radiologist and second doctor at Sloan Kettering, none of whom where available.

My surgeon called back to tell me what the oncologist said- that radiation should work and that would be the next step.

If you think this is all way too dramatic, you’re absolutely right. Imagine how I feel. I’m living it. The only thing I can do now is make sure I stay healthy, eat healthy, get lots of rest and educate myself so when I do see the doctors I have a battle plan.

Except the “get lots of rest part” is hard since I’ve recently taken on another job to help pay for the mounting medical bills. With a high deductible insurance plan from February’s procedure and now this one being in a new insurance year as of July 1st, we have two whopping bills to cover.

I’m trying to stay positive and focus on what the oncologist said in one of my first appointments: “You’re only stage 1 and it hasn’t spread to your lymph nodes. You’re prognosis is good. You’re going to be fine.”

I’m still in treatment for a few more months and need to stay focused on my fight right now. When I’m done with treatment I’ll try to save the world and help raise awareness again but for now, I’m just trying to get through each day and remember to breathe.

Staying busy is what got me through the first few months and I think that’s what will get me through the next few months. And before I know it, my doctor tells me, this year will be one small blip in the grand scheme of things.

So what are the next steps you ask? Waiting for 2 doctors to call me back to interpret confusing pathology results, getting a second opinion at Sloan Kettering, starting radiation soon and above all enjoying each moment I’m blessed to have with the special people I love.

“Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite. Or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a better break or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls or another chance. Everyone is just waiting.” ~Dr. Seuss

CLICK HERE to support My Left Boob battle on GoFundMe.com. Any amount you donate, no matter how small, is so greatly appreciated!

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