August 3, 2013

Beta fish drop and so much more...

July 7, 2013, quietly come and went, marking the two-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Today, I am doing well, feeling great on most days, and glance in my rear-view mirror less frequently. As I reflect over the past six months, I am reminded of several challenges and giggle slightly – let me explain.

Several months ago, I was experiencing frequent and painful headaches along with being increasingly focus challenged. I was terrified that I was developing brain cancer – statistically, this is the next stopping place for triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). I was not sleeping; my mind was carrying my thoughts to a lonely, fearful, and irrational place. Filled with fear and concern, I made an appointment with my oncology nurse practitioner. Walking through the doors of clinic, I was resigned to the idea that I would need a brain scan to locate the brain tumors, despite my concrete objection to scans. I sat nervously in the exam room waiting for Christy Lee, NP to make her entrance; she bounced cheerfully through the open door greeting me with “how are you doing?” I must have paused a little too long… she sat down, pulled out a pen, and a paper towel to write on while remarking, “I know you are not a fan of seeing us, what’s up?” I proceeded to frantically rattle off all of my concerning symptoms – forgetting to breathe and feeling faint as I was sweating uncontrollably. To say that I was a hot mess is a gross understatement! Christy Lee tried to rein me in as we processed one symptom at a time. In-between my symptom exploration, I had a light-bulb moment. I took a deep breath and said, “I know what is going on and it has nothing to do with cancer”. The symptoms all pointed to my ADD, which left untreated, rapidly elevates anxiety. Christy Lee continued to reassure me there was no evidence of brain cancer however; she would complete a series of interactive movement tests to confirm. Nearing the end of the testing, I was to track her moving finger with my eyes, reach out, and touch my finger to hers when the movement stopped. After a couple finger touches, I reached out and missed her finger, she gasped! I laughed and said, “I am just kidding!” We both laughed; we needed a moment of levity. SO, there is no suspicion of a brain tumor. 

Then there is Auntie Flow whom is overstaying her welcome – 18, 21, and 32 days at a time. Ironically, September – December 2011, while in the throes of a chemo-induced menopause, riddled with hot flashes and ridiculous night sweats, I longed to have Auntie back in my life to signal my body was coming back into balance. Now, I just want her to leave me alone! Crazy, frequent, chunky, and lengthy, is an accurate description of my experience during Auntie’s multiple visits. I was thinking, what the hell …. Really?!?! It looked and felt like I was delivering multiple beta fish every time I stood up. During these visits, I welcomed varying sizes of maxi-pads back into my life, my boys forced to do emergency maxi-pad store runs, along with an impromptu grocery isle celebration when I discovered the BIGGEST night night pads – whoop whoop! My Ayurvedic Practitioner, Sharon Kapp adjusted my daily herbal regiment. My Acupuncturist, Mandi Schwendiman provided TCM treatments to address Auntie’s extended stay. My GYN sent me for blood work and an invasive internal ultrasound. I did my research on how to get Auntie to vacate and ordered two essential oils from Young Living, Geranium and EndoFlex. Today, all signs point toward Aunties departure and/or reduction in length of stays. 

I love the way the universe/higher-power/God provides opportunities of support and enrichment when we need it the most. During my challenges, I experienced support and encouragement from not only my treatment team but also my family and chance encounters. My sister-in-law Athena was supportive and offered words of encouragement including urging me to embrace Auntie’s visits. I found myself sitting upon my throne, talking to Auntie Flow and asking her questions – such as what are you trying to tell me? Why will you not leave? What am I missing? While waiting for my ultrasound, a frail and soft-spoken woman, using a walker, made her way into the waiting room. The young woman walking with her excused herself to grab a cup of coffee. I let the young woman know that if her mother needed anything, I would help her out. The young woman remarked that her mom was stubborn and would not ask for help. After the daughter left, I struck up a conversation with the frail woman. I told her that I too was stubborn. We exchanged our reasons for our visits. She has been battling cancer for a while and now suffers with spine and neck pain due to the cancer metastasizing in her spine and limiting motion in her neck. She told me that she had exhausted her treatment options and accepted her life may be ending, “it is no longer in my control.” I shared my diagnosis and alternative treatment philosophy along with Auntie’s prolonged visit. The woman told me not to worry about Auntie; it was simply my body’s way of cleansing itself. I agreed. 

I recently participated in an unfamiliar alternative modality with a new practitioner. The experience was interesting and revealing, not from the modality perspective, but rather my interactions with the practitioner. It was clear that the practitioner required empirical and scientific validation that her treatments were effective. Among other things, she asked when I was getting my next scan. I asked why. She wanted a way to scientifically prove she was an effective provider. I explained to her that I do not believe in scans however, I do monitor my blood work every three months. I went on to let her know that I am doing well and that I did not need anyone to tell me that I am okay…I know that I am okay. I did not need scientific proof, she did. That is it … I KNOW I AM OKAY! 

July 2011 – When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was completing my undergraduate degree, had been accepted into the University of Houston: Graduate School of Social Work, and was working on an exciting project with Arrow, a Foster Care agency in Houston, Texas. 

July 2013 – I am entering year two of working with The Children’s Farm Home as a skills trainer with the Intensive Community Treatment Services program, accepted into George Fox University: Clinical Mental Health Counseling program that begins in September 2013, and am in the process of developing a program that will provide support to underserved youth. I feel like I am back on track, more grounded, and better prepared to continue my work serving children and families. 

I am excited about my future! I am eternally blessed to have my husband Curtis supporting, loving, and encouraging me each day. I am watching my boys grow into responsible young men. I am beyond thrilled to be starting graduate school in September. I am hopeful and dreaming big as I continue to develop my program to support underserved youth. Life is good.

Today, I am hopeful~

February 17, 2013

Please no more, not again...

One year and seven months since diagnosis…longing to write I made it to the five-year mark and beat the odds. The year 2016 will be a triumphant one for sure!  I am in route to Houston to consult with my Ayurvedic practitioner and to undergo an ultrasound mammogram.  Prior to my departure, my tumor makers and Vitamin D levels were checked.  While there was a slight increase in one tumor marker test the others remain fixed or slightly lower since testing three months ago.  I was ecstatic to learn my Vitamin D levels registered at 65; this is the highest level yet!  Almost to my goal range of 70-100. To increase Vitamin D levels, I take 15,000IU-20,000IU of liquid drops daily.  Appropriate Vitamin D levels signal the body’s immune system is intact and working well.  When levels are low, our bodies are susceptible to disease. 

Earlier this week I was finally able to flat iron my curls away, and I felt like myself as I gazed into the mirror.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my sista’ girl curls but my appearance has changed greatly over the past year and seven months that it was comforting to look in the mirror and see a familiar face.  I was so inspired that I headed to the salon for my first real post chemo styling haircut.  I love it! It looks amazing; when I look in the mirror it is like seeing a long lost friend … It was emotional.  At the time, cutting my long hair off prior to chemotherapy and subsequently losing all my hair was not that big of a deal, I embraced my baldness.  Rediscovering me is without question helping me find footing and perpetuating my sense of peace. 

I am allowing myself to have authentic emotional moments; the reality of this diagnosis weighs heavy on me as more time passes.  Again, longing to make it to the five-year mark.  I am more determined than ever to live life as I create my legacy.  The work I do with families and children struggling with mental health issues is enormously rewarding; I look forward to going to work each day even when I am feeling a bit drained.  My husband, children, family, friends, and clients give me purpose.  I am one lucky woman for sure!  I am fortunate to be attending my children’s sporting events in full-force this year.  Watching my boys compete and celebrate sporting victories gives me joy.  I have the most incredible, supportive, loving, and adoring husband by my side; he is amazing.  Curtis emulates awesomeness!  How privileged I am.

I wrote the beginning of this blog entry as I was on the airplane traveling to Houston for a six-month check-up with my Ayurvedic practitioner and ultrasound mammogram appointment.  The morning after landing in Houston, I traveled to TOPS Breast clinic and patiently waited for over 60 minutes for the radiologist to grace me with his presence.  I was thrilled when in walked Dr. Rose.  When scheduling my appointment, I was told Dr. Rose would not be working this day. I quickly said, “You know Dr. Rose, if you were my date, I would have left a long time ago!”  We shared a giggle and the ultrasound proceeded.  He noted that everything was looking good…so far.  My eyes fixed on the imaging screen; I noticed things were quickly changing.  I watched as I saw what appeared to be the presentation of two new tumors.  The doctor switched the view to investigate if there was an increase in blood flow to the two apparent tumors. There was.  Tears welled in my eyes.  I had not even prepared myself for this unfortunate news.  I mean, my tumor marker testing seemed to be on track prior to traveling to Houston.  The doctor turned to me and said, “I am going to have to biopsy these tumors. “  I quickly fired back, “you mean to say that you are recommending a biopsy!”  With a giggle, he exclaimed, “oh, I forgot who I was talking too!”  The gentle exchanged added a bit of levity to the topic of record.  After considering the doctor’s recommendation along with the doctor reviewing my previous ultrasounds, I chose to heed his recommendation.  It was set; in the afternoon hours, I would undergo a biopsy.

As I drove to my next appointment with Sharon Kapp, my Ayurvedic practitioner, I was clearly in a state of shock.  I called my husband Curtis first.  I do not recall what I said or even his response.  What I do recall is our mutual feeling of … this does not sound good.  I called several people, during my 45-minute drive.  It was a frenzy of calls notifying people, desperate to hear words of encouragements.  I struggled to hear some of the questions and respond in a compassionate manner.  The questions included are you going to do chemotherapy now and will you finally get a mastectomy.  To answer the first question, hell no and answering the second question, why would I do that?  I believe the first question needs no further explanation, if you truly know me.  To expand upon the second question: removing ones breast does not prevent the reoccurrence of cancer.  I wish it were that simple, if it were so, then of course I would have removed them a long time ago.  If I remove my breasts and the cancer returns, it will not have the breast tissue to feast upon and therefore the cancer will take up residency in my chest wall.  Tumors in your chest wall are typically inoperable.  My theory, leave the breast tissue there, in the event the cancer returns….give it something to gobble on, the cancer can always be surgically removed.   After a semi-tearful journey to my destination, I arrived to a loving embrace from Sharon.  I whispered in her ear “I got some not so good news”. 

Still in shock, I joined Sharon for my appointment.  I was experiencing a mix of emotions, one moment fairly rational then shifting to moments of disconnect, shock, anger, impatience, frustration.  My original intention with Sharon was to get back on track and fine-tune my regiment.  I was not seeking a complete overhaul … this is what I received.  Bottom line, we have a plan to get me back on track and work on this new development.  I am still hopeful this is just a scare, a wake-up call of sort.  The pathology report will arrive early next week.  I speak into the universe, please let the tumors be benign.  I am determined to use the next 35 days to begin to bring my body into balance, committed to my new regiment, and striving to not be angry.  I am angry, but it is deeper than this one word.  I seek to find peace and grounding quickly.  I feel a bit lost.  Actually, a lot lost. 

My visit was full of unexpected situations.  The next day following my procedure, I awoke to a glorious sunrise after tossing and turning a fair amount during the night.  I traveled to see Sharon for another treatment followed by a cooking class and henna festival.  Karuna taught the class.  During the cooking class, I met Julie; we partnered up and made a delicious date and tamarind chutney and a cake.  After all the teams finished cooking, we enjoyed our meal together.  The food was outstanding.  After the meal, I started talking to a woman named Terri, who attended the cooking class.  We chatted a bit about our lives then I left to pick-up my former mentee Maria.  Maria and I came back to the wellness center for the Henna Festival.  When we arrived, a couple women arms were adorned with their henna tattoos.  The patterns were mystical.  I chose to have a lotus flower and Sharon encouraged me to have the words victory written in symbol language.  Terri and I picked up where we left off and begin to laugh … and sweat like freaks!  I was telling her about my Ayurvedic treatments that were changing including two herbal powders that I would snort.  I pulled out the baggy of my “Ayurvedic Blow” … I was uncertain if I could really sniff a pinch of this powder up my nose.  Terri and I giggle as I tried to recruit her to try it with me.  I felt a little naughty carrying around my baggy of powdered herb.  Embarrassed, we retreated to a separate room and sniffed it up!  We were giggling the whole time.  Walking back into the main area, all eyes were on us.  It was really good stuff!  It is meant to calm your mind and give you clarity.  It worked.  Terri and I had so much fun together; it is so awesome when you meet someone and connect just like old friends.  We surely knew one another in a previous lifetime, for sure! We both may be over 40 but on this day, we were laughing and carrying on like teenage schoolgirls. 

Later in the day, I traveled to see my brother and his family.  It was good times!  From an impromptu cheese party to misreading the pancake recipe with my niece.  In misreading the recipe, we blended 4 cups of sugar into the batter …. Cleary it should have been 4 tablespoons!  It was quite hysterical.  The entire time I kept thinking, this just does not seem right.  Good times for sure.

Arriving home, I was not in a good space at all.  I presented as depressed and awaited the call from pathology.  Tuesday morning, the news came by telephone.  It was good news!  The tumors were benign.  What a relief!  The following seven days after returning from Houston, I was dedicated to following an Ayurvedic punchakarma.  My intention was to follow punchakarma for 35 days.  This did not last beyond the seven days.  Where am I at today?  I am a bit disgruntled and have a fairly poor attitude of I just do not care … forget about it. 

Therefore, I am not in the best emotional space currently.  I am disgruntled for sure.  I mean pre-diagnosis; I was a pescotarian (seafood vegetarian), did not drink soda or alcohol, did not eat greasy foods or fast food, exercised nearly every day, was thin, in shape, and was on the cusp of achieving many lifelong goals/dreams.  Yes, I was under a great deal of stress but overall, I seemed healthy!  After seven devoted days of punchakarma, I decided…screw it!  I will eat whatever the hell I want to eat and drink whatever I want to drink.  The past 10 days I have been sluggish and frustrate easily.  My body aches, I am nauseous, and have headaches.  Clearly, this “forget about it” attitude is not serving me well. This whole cancer thing is growing old.  This waiting and wondering if the cancer will come back again is emotionally debilitating at times.  I know what I could be doing to get myself back on track yet I am choosing not to do everything possible.  The question that is looming is why?  At this moment, I do not have an answer. 

Tomorrow is another day and I am looking forward to an Ayurvedic massage followed by an energy clearing.  Perhaps this will allow me to find clarity. 

Today, I am hopeful.