July 29, 2011

The healing begins, in more than one way...

As I compose this blog, I am sipping on the ever so delicious poo poo juice [magnesium citrate] in the hopes my bowels will commence with evacuation immediately!  I am unclear which of the trifecta is most uncomfortable: the whole body fluid retention, inability to get the bowels moving, or the surgery site pain.

The morning of surgery Pam Kress with TOPS Comprehensive Breast Center greeted me with a twinkle in her eye and a comforting smile.  TOPS nurse, Afsoneh is a woman that is small in stature who radiates compassion, love, and encouragement in infinite volumes.  She gently embraces me telling me she has a good feeling about all this and that she prayed for me on this morning.  At one point, she hands me a small card housing a Wish Token – a silver heart shaped metal token with an angel embossed on one side and the words never lose hope on the other.  Afsoneh tells me she was thinking of me and wanted me to have the Wish Token.  She is an incredibly kind woman. 

The eviction process is complete; the pre-eviction process was a whole lot of OUCH!  Insertion of small wires into the tumors resembled a game of keep away, as the tumors dodged the wires.  After the wires were firmly in place, I was treated to another mammogram…OUCH!  Finally, the tumor extraction occurred as I delightfully slumbered.  The doctor removed a large section of my breast; the good news is that the implant remains intact, forming the breast mound.  I am at home and doing well, although a bit sore.  The porta-catheter is in place; a small incision was made by my collarbone, with a larger one adjacent to my armpit.  The SMART PORT (official name) is visible by way of a small bump beneath the skin.  It is very tender…OUCH!     

My Healing MantraI repeat this several times throughout the day and during meditation
I know my thoughts and my mind are powerful.  My mind is telling my body to heal itself, to adjust back into balance.  Right now, my body is working to bring itself into balance.  My body knows exactly how to achieve this.  My healthy cells are gobbling-up the cancer cells and expelling them from my body.  My body is adjusting back into balance. 

My Inner Personal Healing
Earlier in the week, while visiting the chiropractor’s office, I lay face down on the table with electrodes connected to my lower back.  Relaxing music was playing in the background of the darkened peaceful room.  Repeatedly, I began quietly whispering my healing mantra.  After several minutes, I found myself delving into a deep emotional state of self-compassion for my childhood suffering; and the anguish that was left unnoticed and silenced.  I then began speaking, with great clarity, to the child who was not seen.  She sat in a plum tree, her bare feet dangled from a tree branch.  There was deep sadness and sorrow in her emerald eyes.  I understood because she is a part of me.  I spoke words of encouragement to her and reassured her of her talents and gifts.  I spoke these words repeatedly:

“I see you!”
“I apologize that these things are happening to you.”
“Your pain and sadness is real; I hear you.”
“You are loveable and worthy.”
“Your strength is unwavering; you stand firmly in your truth.”
“I see you and understand.”

This was a powerful moment for me and very unexpected yet freeing!  I am on a personal journey seeking authentic peace, happiness, and life.  It is ironic that the path to self-discovery and enlightenment continues to take me back to a familiar place: me as a child who was not seen.  Many years ago, I accepted and came to peace with childhood trauma and suffering at the hands of others.  What I did not realize was that the healing was not complete; I needed to reach deep within myself to find the child that suffers within and to begin healing these residual wounds.  This moment came with great clarity and the setting was defined; I wanted to document the experience.  I enlisted the assistance of my artistic son who expeditiously sketched a pencil line drawing of the setting I explain to him.  He eloquently captured the moment in his drawing.  I have the drawing framed on my desk with a bright yellow star attached to the frame that reads, “I see you!” 

And the healing begins.  Today, I am hopeful.

July 26, 2011

Cloaked in the love, support, and care of those around me…

Theme song is set – Everybody Hurts by Tina Arena 

When the day is long, and the night, 
The night is yours alone,
When you're sure you've had enough of this life, 
Well hang on
Don't let yourself go, 
'Cause everybody cries 
And everybody hurts 

Sometimes everything is wrong 
Now it's time to sing along
Hold on, hold on, hold on

When your day is night alone,
If you feel like letting go 

When you think you've had too much of this life, 
Well hang on

'Cause everybody hurts. 
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts. 
Don't throw your hand, Oh, no
Don't throw your hand
If you feel like you're alone, 
No, no, no, you are not alone

If you're on your own in this life, 
The days and nights are long,
When you think you've had too much of this life 
To hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
Everybody cries. 
And everybody hurts 
And everybody hurts sometimes. 
So, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts. 
You are not alone 

Today, I am hopeful.  At long last, I received favorable news from my beloved surgeon; the BRCA 1 & 2 test is normal and the PET scan did not indicate the cancer has taken-up residency in various locations in my body.  There was a bit of a concern after a telephone call from the surgeon last evening; two blood tests revealed elevated numbers that may signal the cancer is moving along to other areas.  For now, the cancer is enjoying my right breast and has actually created yet another mass … in case you are counting, [I am] that makes four!  Thankfully, my right breast is an incredible hostess; the cancer is satisfied and comfortable.  Tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM central time, the cancer will be served an eviction notice.  A pre-surgery procedure will ensue to place a thin wire through my breast tissue and into the collective masses slated for eviction.  Followed by the official extraction to begin at 9:00 AM; at which time the masses will be forcibly removed from the premises.  Therefore, with a giant kiss I bid you [cancer] farewell; now get the hell out of here and never come back!  The End

July 24, 2011

Ready or not, here I come…

Ironically, as I write each blog, I contemplate a potential theme song to accompany my words; I am going to let this idea simmer a bit!  Watch-out cancer...I am about to obliterate your ass…seriously, Real Talk!  According to my oncologist, here is the plan:

Lumpectomy Surgery July 27
Follow-up appointment August 10
Begin Chemotherapy the week of August 15 for six months
Radiation to follow – not sure the length of treatment

The surgery on Wednesday will remove, with clean edges, all three masses in the right breast and will keep the breast intact.  In all fairness, the left breast will not be left out; the chemotherapy porta-catheter will be installed on the upper portion of the left breast.  For two weeks, my body will heal from surgery and I will continue to prepare for chemotherapy to begin.  In fact, on Saturday July 23, 2011 I took the first preparation step and cut my locks off [15 inches] that were donated to Locks of Love.  For about six weeks, I will be rock’n my fierce new cut; then bald will be beautiful.  When my hair begins to fall out, my boys plan to shave my head.  Some women are stunning with a baldhead and I was thinking …yep, I got this one until I realized there is a genetic wanky flat spot near the top of the back of my skull.  I say genetic wanky because I have visual confirmation that at least one sibling has the exact same flat spot!  Just to be sure, I did make an inquiry with my hairdresser who confirmed said wanky flatness.  Dang it all…..

Chemotherapy will occur every three weeks and sessions will last two-three hours.  As it stands now, the first four courses will consist of Cytoxan and Adriamycin AKA The Red Devil.  How awesome is it that Adriamycin is red in color, so much, so that one will urinate red or orange for up to 72 hours post chemotherapy.  Yes, I know you are jealous.  The red urine is not to be confused with potential blood in your urine [classic bladder infection] that the Cytoxan has the propensity to deliver.  Awe, so many delightfully little gifts.  The day after chemotherapy, I will return to the oncologist’s office to get a shot of Neulasta – to help boost the production of white cells.  I could recount all the super fantastical side effects of these medications; simply put, they all suck big time.  Real Talk.  After completing four courses of these medications, I will move onto Taxotere every three weeks – four courses. 

Confession time:  I am going to put this out into the universe again.  I secretly am hoping that the radiologist reading my PET scan on July 25, 2011 is befuddled beyond words, and declares, “She does not have cancer!”

Real talk here.  I am approaching my journey through cancer holistically.  In other words, integrated medicine – western medicine in conjunction with alternative modalities.  The mind, body, spirit connection is significant to bringing my body back into balance.  Since my breast cancer diagnosis on July 7, 2011 I have learned many incredible lessons, surrendered my full metal jacket, continue to practice receiving freely, and have embarked on a journey of self-discovery.  Oddly, I feel a sense of being at peace with my diagnosis, most of the time.  This is freeing; I remain hopeful, positive, and open.  Undeniably, having an aggressive breast cancer sucks ass.  But there is something beautiful and positive that is happening around me and I have a front row seat to these wonders.  Breast cancer is simply the catalyst for these marvels to unfold and develop.  Real Talk, how awesome is that?  Love it.  Right now, I feel authentically more loved, supported, and cared for then any time in my life.  It took cancer for me to surrender and receive; thank you for allowing me a safe place to expose my vulnerabilities.  Today, I am hopeful. 

July 21, 2011

Some things are meant to be~

So, today was the big decision day, in theory.  First appointment of the day was to meet the oncologist, then collaborate with a nurse navigator, and finally attend a pre-op appointment.  Within minutes of meeting the oncologists nurse, I knew this was not going work for me.  I gently encouraged Curtis to leave the exam room to contact the surgeon to let him know we need to move to plan B.  As we departed the oncologist’s office, I was in a full-on panic.  I did not have a shred of confidence that she would help me live.  I later learned the results of my MRI, it revealed a third mass.  It appears even the cancer in my breast is an overachiever.....

Enter my Dream Team: Pam Kress, nurse navigator and Dr. Phillip Sutton, surgeon, immediately calmed my panic.  You know that saying, “right place, right time”, well it materialized in an enormous and unexpected way today!  It was an amazing turn of events.  An oncologist was consulting with the surgeon at his office; Curtis and I were invited to come and meet her.  Unfortunately she turned out not to be in our medical insurance network of physicians.  However, she generously offered to review my case and consult with her esteemed colleague, at no charge, to develop a treatment recommendation for me!  She further offered to continue consulting with the new oncologist!  AMAZING does not even begin to describe this turn of events.  It is not often that we meet individuals who become personally invested, or what I refer to as, dialed into their patients.  Next stop, pre-op appointment; the nurse was a native Oregonian from Coos Bay.  Her spirit emitted kindness, compassion, a desire to go above and beyond with a twist of Oregon love.  Equally, the group of women in the surgery center lab brought a joyful giggle to me and engaged in comforting conversation.  Finally, while I awaited a chest x-ray, I had the opportunity to converse with a remarkable woman who shared her journey.  As we spoke, we instantly connected!

On the ride home, I remarked to Curtis how comforting it is to be surrounded by so many individuals who are invested in my health and me.  Who concretely and authentically desire a positive outcome for my journey through breast cancer.  Friends, family, and complete strangers are fighting the good fight with me!  The encouraging, kind, and heartfelt words from everyone create a positive environment and I thank you for this.  Today was a fantastical day.  I am hopeful.

July 20, 2011

Awe yes, a bit of levity in the face of cancer~

As predicted yesterday, an irreverent accounting of today’s glorious events is about to unfold!  Not to worry, I did manage to represent, loud and proud, my new-found status as a crying person.  Oddly, it suites me.  Memorial Herman Hospital hosted my bilateral breast MRI today; it was extraordinarily special and surprises were plentiful.  While finalizing paperwork and checking in, SURPRISE, we shall inject your veins with a special dye that will aluminate during imaging.  Okay?!?  While changing into the gown/robe/pant apparatus I paused and said out loud “not sure how this is supposed to work!”  Holding my pants up, trying to keep body parts from flying out, I made my way to the imaging room.  Two steps into the room I stopped, looked at the imaging machine, looked at the nurse, looked back at the imaging machine set-up, and back at the nurse.  Alrighty then, atop the table sat, what is best described as, this miniature podium with two holes cut in the top.  Nah, it could not be that I must drop my breasts into the two holes, SURPRISE, you shall!  Beautiful?!?  Although I wore earplugs and sound blocking headphones, the machine radiated shockingly loud clunking noises that at one point, sounded like chaotic boisterous chanting.  Nearing completion of the 60 minute MRI, I became a crying person; the reality and seriousness of my cancer overwhelmed me.  The nurses pulled me out of the machine and I attempted to concurrently sit-up while holding the blanket by my face; I was a hot mess.  Note to self, next time you need to break down, consider that you are lying face down on the table and cannot move. 

On a more serious note, the oncologist that my surgeon referred me to is out-of-network and the insurance company denied the surgeon and primary physician’s requests for her to treat me post-surgery.  Curtis made a valiant and persuasive effort with his employer to allow a change to the insurance policy; the insurance company would remain the same it would be a small policy shift.  Despite his efforts, the employer would not budge.  On to plan B.  My primary care physician made a referral to an oncologist and the appointment is at 10:00 tomorrow morning (7/21/2011).  Tomorrow is the first big decision day; treatment decisions will be made based on the test results that are currently available. 

Confession time:  I secretly am hoping that the radiologist is reading my MRI film, befuddled beyond words, and declares, “She does not have cancer!”   

**I added a couple tabs at the top of the Home page where additional information is available and will be updated regularly.  Today was a good day, I am hopeful.

July 19, 2011

Steel Metal Jacket is off….

Recently I was reminded of my inherent need to protect those around me by shielding them from sorrow, miss-steps, hurt, anger, and unjust situations.  But at what cost?  The season has arrived to observe the lessons taught to my children, in action.  I must remove my steel metal jacket....it is off! Provided the opportunity, I see glimpses of boundless compassion and the desire to care for their mama.  Often I discover my happiness, joy, and personal rewards when witnessing my sons applying life lesson I have taught them.  Equally, I am blessed with a husband that adores me, just as I am and children who love me despite no biological connection.  This makes our mama son relationship just a touch more special. 

Confession time: As of late I have been deep in thought and yes, I am taking my place as, what I refer to as, a crying person!  [At times, my vernacular is plentiful with Christina’isms – from real talk, hot mess, and crying person there is more to come.]  Unable to sleep last evening I thought it wise to engross myself in three hours of cancer research reading; not a wise choice.  The time was 4:30’ish AM when I decided to close my eyes; I intended to relax my mind and enjoy a moment of peaceful slumber.  This did not happen.  I was frightened, felt a complete loss of control, and a panicked sense of absolute helplessness.  In my lifetime, I have never felt so lost and unsure how to regain my emotions.  My husband Curtis comforted me, was incredibly gentle, and compassionately understanding.  Setting the tone for day, I surrendered to my newfound status as a crying person.  The outpouring of love, thoughtful words, unexpected support, and genuine empathy overwhelms my heart.  I feel loved, encouraged, and supported.  I am a determined and self-sufficient woman who is learning to receive; this is far removed from my traditional gift of giving.  I am optimistic, I want to live, and I need to live.  Your comments feed my mind, body, and spirit.  Many thanks to feedback, private messages, note cards, donations, and telephone calls.  This is what it is all about, being surrounded by caring individuals.  MRI is scheduled in the morning, I have a feeling something irreverent is on the horizon.  <3 Christina 

The journey begins......

You have breast cancer; hearing these words robbed my lungs of breathe.  I am a wife, the mother to 16 teenagers – five currently living in the home, and me’ma to a grandbaby; I want to live, I need to live.  Please join me as I chronicle my journey through breast cancer, the triumphs, and struggles written from the heart using what I call Real Talk.  Real Talk (RT) will expose painful emotions, the not so pretty side of cancer, irreverent humor, the need for laughter, and the journey of self-discovery.  Choosing to share this journey with others is beyond difficult.  I am a private person.  I am the caretaker.  I am the problem solver.  I am the one who cleans-up the messes.  I am the one who supports.  I am the one who advocates.  Nevertheless, today, I surrender and acknowledge that now is my time to receive your support, love, and care.  

Not all breast cancers are the same; regretfully my type of breast cancer (diagnosis) is perhaps the least favorable type.  Within three weeks from today’s date (7/19/2011) all results will be in – MRI, mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy pathology, PET scan, lumpectomy pathology, BRCA 1&2, and blood tests.  The next step is for my medical team to create a treatment roadmap to kick this cancers ass!

Diagnosis - Triple negative (TNBC) infiltrating ducal carcinoma (IDC) breast cancer.

Description – IDC is the most common form of breast cancer and starts in the milk ducts, the tumor ruptures the duct, and the tumor invades the surrounding breast tissue (infiltrate).  TNBC typically affects premenopausal women, the tumors are aggressive, and frequently metastasize in other parts of the body.  These TNBC tumors share three specific characteristics – no estrogen receptor, no progesterone receptor, and are HER-2neu negative.  The lack of these receptors means the tumor will not respond to oral medications; this is where treatment options become limited to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.