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Monday, December 26, 2011

My life at Two Years

It has been six months since my last post.  I guess I have been trying to get on with my new life, trying not to think too much about my cancer journey.  It is the day after Christmas.  My house is empty, except for the dogs, Charlie, Gracie, and Ricky...and my Persian cat, Bailey.  Kevin is at work and the girls are in Arkansas with their father.  Landri is attending Hendrix College and playing basketball there.  She had to be back today for practice with the team.  Her father and Presley followed her on her drive back to Conway, Arkansas and are going to stay a couple of days.  I spent most of the day sleeping, did some laundry and house cleaning.

There is so much that has happened since my last post.  I had a revision surgery in August and another in November.  I will have at least one more surgery to do the nipple reconstruction.  After that, I will have the medical tattoo for the color.  We have estimated that the insurance company has paid out close to $300,000 so far since my diagnosis.  I often joke with my husband and ask him..."does this look like a $300,000 body?"  I still have weight to lose and need to start exercising.  My plans are to get on a stationary bike at the gym.  I still have daily throbbing bone pain, and my legs, feet and knees seem to be my biggest problem.  It is a vicious cycle when you need to exercise to lose weight, but the extra weight keeps you from being able to move freely without pain.  I have switched all my doctors over to UT Southwestern Medical.  I have seen a new oncologists who has sent me to a Rheumatologist, a new OBGYN, a liver and digestive disease doctor, a new geneticist, and has ordered a new set of scans which were all clean.  I did have an Antinuclear Antibodies test come back positive so they are trying to see if I have an autoimmune disease.  There are a number of things that can cause an ANA test to be positive.  Right now I am not really concerned too much about it.  I am following up with the rheumatologist tomorrow.  The main thing I have been focusing on is being a new and improved "me".  It is not that easy to be when you are used to putting everything else before yourself.  There are just so many things that are harder than ever to do since my treatments.  I know I will probably not ever be 100% in the same way I was before.  It has been almost 18 months since I finished chemotherapy.  The Taxol drug that was given to me the last 4 sessions causes neuropathy and bone pain.  The doctor told me that if it lasts 18 months, then it is most likely permanent.  I am on daily medication that helps keep it somewhat under control and I have pain medication that I use occasionally when it gets worse.  Doing things like cleaning my house have been almost impossible to achieve at least all on the same day.  I have to lay down and rest virtually everyday if given the opportunity.  Lacking the energy to do my normal tasks seems to be the most challenging.  I am adding hours to my work schedule and I am trying to build new clientele.  I try to save my energy to work as it is very physically demanding.  Sometimes I tend to overdo it on Fridays and Saturdays and I go home hurting all over from the neck down.  If the weather is about to change and get rainy or cold, the stabbing, throbbing pains start in with their unmerciful torture to my limbs.  Sometimes at the onset of the pain, I have a little panic attack and start to tear up.  Not so much from the pain itself, but more from the steady reminders of the pain of cancer treatments and the fact that my body is forever changed.  With all that being said, I like my new life.  It has made me slow down and appreciate things.  I have someone that comes in and cleans my house on Wednesdays, and I have given up feeling any guilt over it.  Her name is Lisa.  The first time she came in was after my last surgery.  I tried to stay away from the house for awhile so she could do her work.  I had just started to drive but I still had drains in my surgery sites.  I was told not to drive until they were out, but you know me.  After a few simple errands, it was time for me to lay down.  I remember going home and Lisa was only about 1/3 of the way finished.  I told her to please pretend I wasn't there as I was going to take a pain pill and recline back in the sofa and sleep. This was very awkward for me as my brain was telling me I should be helping her with the disaster my house had turned into since I had last cleaned it before my surgery.  I got over it though and quickly fell asleep as my pain receded.  It was the best most calming rest I had had in so long.  When I woke up I was not only physically better but emotionally too.  For the first time in a long time, I felt like a weight had been lifted off me as I looked around at my clean house.  I realized then, that trying to clean my house like it should be cleaned and failing miserably was burdening my body and my mind.  It was money well spent.  

About a month ago, I got lash extensions from a girl at the new salon I work at, Salons of Volterra. My lashes did finally grow back but they are extremely short and waterproof mascara even slides off of them.  The lash extensions make me feel more feminine...a feeling I lost for over a year.  I remember shopping for furniture for my new salon suite this summer.  The salesman after speaking with me for several minutes called me "sir".  There is something about having no hair, no breast, and no energy that allows you to forgive those kind of mistakes fairly easily.  So now I enjoy anything that makes me feel more feminine.  Basically, if it takes stress off my body or mind, makes me feel pretty, or contributes to my overall health and well being, it is put on my list of high priorities.  Why?...because it is this time of year, two years ago that I first found my lump.  With triple negative breast cancer, the highest risk of metastasis occurs between years 2 and 3.  So this year is crucial to my survival and I firmly believe my stressful lifestyle and no time for "me" was the greatest contributor to my cancer diagnosis.  I know that it is true that God knows our needs better than we know our own. He found a way to make me slow down and appreciate everyday.  Landri and Presley continue to be the center of my world and my wonderful husband makes me thankful everyday that he is my best friend.  I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful Christmas and has a terrific and safe New Year!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Life Goes On:-)

Hello everyone!  I have many things to catch you up on since my last post.  My daughter Landri graduated from high school and will be playing basketball for a private college in Arkansas.  I am very happy for her as she did receive about $25000 a year in scholarships. She graduated with highest honors.  She has been working 40+ hours a week as a lifeguard this summer.  Presley attended her first SMU cheerleading camp, something I did for five years straight myself.  We have been having a good time being off and just hanging out together. Kevin has been fishing a lot and taking us with him whenever possible. My great nephew, Jesse came to stay with us for a week.  He is 3 and full of energy, but not as much as my two teenagers.  I think we wore him out.  Kevin's brother and his wife had a baby girl named Willow.  She is beautiful and she looks just like Kevin.  

 I have been recovering from surgery quite well and I am preparing for my next which will be August 9th, 2011.  Dr. Michel St. Cyr from UT Southwestern Medical performed the first phase of the DIEP FLAP reconstruction.  He will next create symmetry, remove extra skin on my sides, and lipo the upper part of my stomach.  He will use this fat and inject it into my newly formed breasts to fill in the upper portion of my right side.  The recessed area is caused by my rib cage on my right side being slightly concave.  Also the right side was NOT radiated so it has more "give" than the left.....but who cares at this point right?  If they will lipo my stomach anywhere, I don't care where they put it!!!  The first surgery on the 18th was 11 hours long.  They did not remove my port because they just ran out of time.  He will do that this next surgery which will only be about 2 hours long and is an outpatient surgery.  He said we will do nipple reconstruction next surgery (third surgery for reconstruction).  I am overdue for blood work but have decided to switch all my oncology to Simmons Cancer Center in Dallas.  So I am getting records together and such.  

I have gone back to work (again) on Fridays and Saturdays.  I soon will be leaving The Yellow Brick Salon to start a new chapter in my life.  I will be working at THE SALONS OF VOLTERRA in Keller, TX.  I will add Monday to my schedule.  My friends Vicky and Joyce will be sharing a suite with me.  We three have worked together for a total of about 17 years now.  We are part of about large group of salon professionals that will be leasing suites at this new and upcoming salon.  It is very beautiful, two stories, complimentary valet parking with an inner courtyard.  Our room is one of two suites that actually enters off the courtyard.  The outside window faces a pond and we have 22 ft vaulted ceilings with beautiful Tuscan-styled exposed beams.  The builders have customized some things in our room for us and it will be first class all the way.  I will miss my friends at The Yellow Brick Salon, but I will be somewhat starting over building up my clientele again so this is a good move for me.  It is closer to my home and I am ready to turn over a new leaf. God continues to bless my family and take care of us in all our needs. 

 I am feeling more and more energetic everyday.  I have started walking 4 days a week with Hayley, one of Landri's friends.  She is my motivator...and is also one of my angels.  She pushes me harder than I would myself and takes me through all kinds of wooded trails.  Last night we came close to stepping on a copperhead.  He slithered out of the way really fast and all of a sudden I was able to pick up the pace quite a bit....LOL!  We have long talks about everything in our day.  Hayley has received a scholarship for college and will be playing soccer.  My "workouts" are nothing compared to what she does everyday, but they are very challenging for me.  I am very thankful to have her as my trainer....she keeps me going and is someone I can be accountable to four days a week.  

My friend and client of 11 years, Ferda will be getting a biopsy this next week.  I will see her Saturday morning for a hair appointment.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer about six months before me. Last month the skin along the incision line broke out into a rash and has not gone away.  Sometimes this can be a sign of cancer metastasizing to the skin.  Please pray that this is nothing but an irritation and has nothing to do with her previous cancer diagnosis.  Ferda was a big help to me during my treatments.  She was able to give me advice and answer questions when I needed it.  She also made an appointment with Dr St. Cyr for possible reconstruction.  She seemed to really like him.  Because of repetitive infection and a compromised immune system, her expanders had to be removed by her previous plastic surgeon and reconstruction was put on hold. This makes her a perfect candidate for the DIEP FLAP reconstruction. Right now we just need to pray that all is well and this biopsy will prove to be nothing.  Ferda has always been a good friend to me....please pray for her.  That is all for now.  Until next time my friends...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Catching Up....The Night Before the Diep Flap

Hello everyone!  I have not written in a while.  I have not wanted to unfortunately.  Although I am doing pretty well, I have some very sad news.  It has been hard for me to even think about writing it down.  At the end of March, my triple negative friend, Heather, passed away.  Her family and children have had to endure the pain of not only burying Heather, but her husband Doug as well.  I mentioned this in a previous post.  He was taking Heather to Chicago for treatments and he apparently had a heart attack and passed at Cancer Treatment Centers of America where Heather was receiving treatments.  My heart aches for Heather's family, but I am comforted to know that Heather is with her true love and wonderful husband dancing on streets of gold in heaven.  I think of her often and her beautiful sisters and children.  She fought so hard.  Her strength will always be an inspiration to me.  I know everyday when I think my day is bad or I am tired or scared...I will think of Heather and her fight.  Her will to live was so strong and I will keep that in my heart and remember how much I have to be thankful for everyday.  I wish I could have held her hand or looked into her eyes.  Instead, we were connected only through our words and our mutual desire to beat this awful disease.  Our hearts were connected.  We shared our desires and our fears.  I will always remember Heather and her beautiful soul that touched my life forever.  Rest in peace Heather.  Until we meet in Heaven, I will keep up this fight...and always remember you.

So a lot has happened since I last wrote.  I found a doctor in Dallas to perform my surgery.  So tomorrow at 5:00 a.m. I will go to the hospital and get checked in for a 10 hour surgery called the DIEP flap.  This is great.  I am so glad that I will get to be in town and close to my family.  In short, the doctor will be transplanting tissue from my abdominal area (skin, fat and blood vessels) and making my breast out of this.  This is a very tedious long process.  It is the first of three surgeries that will make me "whole" again.  I am experiencing a rush of emotions, crying as I type this.  It is an end, and a beginning. It is saying good-bye to these ugly scars that I have and saying hello to a new me....still scarred but much improved.  These scars I will bear with pleasure not pain.  These are the ones that say "I'm still alive to have the privilege of repairing cancer's 'ground zero'."  I must get my bag packed for the hospital. I don't think I have cried like this in a long time.  So for now I will end this post.  I will say my prayers tonight.  I will pray for the surgeons skill and for God's complete healing.  I pray also for my two friends Kim and Heather who have both passed away fighting this terrible beast.  I pray for their families...that they may have peace.  I pray for my family, for Kevin, Landri, and Presley that they may always know how much I love them.  Until next time...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cancer...Hard to Swallow

Hello everyone!  I felt like I needed to update everyone on my current status.  I am feeling better everyday.  I have cracked down on taking my regular medications and supplements like I am suppose to everyday.  I am taking a food-based multi-vitamin, vitamin D3, black kohosh, an arthritis medication, 4 each of Juice Plus veggie pills, fruit pills, and vineyard (all kinds of dark berries) pills, flax seed oil, 1 prescription pill for edema, and 2 antidepressants that I have taken for years.....and finally....Prempro, a hormone.  Yes...a hormone mix of estrogen and progesterone.  This is usually a big no-no for women with a history or risk of breast cancer.  For me, my tumors were negative for all hormone receptors.  Therefore my oncologist decided that I would benefit from taking them.  For this hormone to cause me breast cancer, it would have to be a separate unrelated breast cancer.  Since I don't have any breast left to get cancer in...she said it would be O.K.  Of course this was only after begging for something to relieve me of these horrible hot flashes and night sweats.  I can't take it, people!  So far the only thing it has relieved me of is the insomnia that can go along with low estrogen levels. That was an immediate benefit.  I am hopeful that my other annoying symptoms of menopause go away soon.  Yes I said menopause.  At the age of 39 I was confirmed to be in a menopausal state.  Less than 3% of all women go in to menopause this early in life.  What can I say...I'm special!?  So because of this, I have to remember to take this little blue pill.  So I got my 7 day A.M. and P.M. pill box out and decided to get organized with my meds and supplements. This in itself makes me feel like I am approaching the nursing home soon. Within a week of doing this, I have not had to take any pain medicine.  I think that at last count I am taking 18 pills everyday, mostly supplements though.  This doesn't count my "if needed" muscle relaxer, anti-anxiety, or pain medication.  I have a neck and back that tend to go into spasms after working a full day.  Sometimes I lay in bed at night and have racing thoughts running through my head.   My mind just won't shut off thinking and worrying...hence the anti-anxiety medication.  However, I think the hormone has really helped that.  Like I said before, I haven't had to take any pain medication.  So it sounds like I have a pharmacy going within my home, but in reality, most are healthy dietary supplements, or whole food supplements. You just can't eat enough fruits and veggies.  So the big news for me is I don't have that daily onset of pain that I was dealing with before.  However, the past two days I have noticed sharp twinges and throbbing in my bones, but I am trying to ignore them in hopes that I can somehow succeed at some primitive form of "get-it-out-of-my-head-and-it-won't-be real" type of therapy.  What is really strange for me is I have never been a pill taker. With all things considered, I guess I'll do whatever I have to do if it gets me to some kind of normal.

I have a prayer request for a special lady who was introduced to me through a mutual friend.  She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer exactly one year before me.  In sorts, she was kind of a mentor to me.  Her name is Cindy.  Through several months of encouraging emails, she got me through some very low times in my treatments.  This week, Cindy found out almost two years from her diagnosis that her cancer has metastasized after being NED (no evidence of disease) for well over a year.  I hate this cancer.  It is a wicked demon.  Please pray for Cindy and her family.  Also, pray for new treatments for triple negative breast cancer survivors.  Pray for a cure for all cancers.

As for reconstruction...just have got to pay my part and we will get a date.  Probably going to be the end of March.  I will keep you posted.  Until next time my friends...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Broken Heart

Hi everyone!  I have been busy trying to live life and forget about cancer.  It's a new year.  Thank you, Lord.  I am still trying to get to San Antonio for the start of my reconstruction.  New year means more money out of our pockets for my medical expenses.  So much fun!  Thankfully, I can honestly say that this time we got our money's worth out of our insurance last year....not many people can say that. (I am looking at the bright side here, OK?)

During this blog, I have mentioned a few women that I have met that also were battling triple negative breast cancer.  One local woman, a single mom with three kids, Kim.  I met her in chemo.  Her nice fiance would sit through her chemo and Kevin would sit with me.  I remember watching them both playing games on their IPhones while we were being infused with poisons and cancer drugs.  Kim showed me how she tied the scarves on her head that she always wore.  She was beautiful and always so positive. She was about 4 weeks ahead of me in treatments.  My last week of radiation I saw her in the waiting room as I was coming out.  She looked amazing and had grown a full head of curly hair.  She had stopped in to deliver some Scentsy candles to someone who had placed an order with her.  She had already finished all her treatments.  In the next few weeks, her facebook posting announced that her cancer was back and she was going to look for a clinical trial to get in if possible.  If not, everything else is experimental at this point.  Well, Kim married her fiance in mid January and I found out yesterday that she passed away last Friday.  She was just here.  I think I cried most of the day at this news.  My heart is breaking for her family.

Then came more horrible news...My friend Heather, triple negative in Van Wert, Ohio has been battling for her life since the same time that I was diagnosed.  We are the same age and she has two boys and a wonderful husband, 44 year old, Doug.  Heather has been receiving treatments at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.  She has been fighting with everything she has in her.  During their most recent visit to Zion, Illinois (please excuse me my details are sketchy at this point)...Doug apparently had a heart attack and passed away.  That is what Heather told me that they thought was the cause of his death.  Why????  Please someone help me to understand this....better yet speak to Heather when you leave your comments.  I am at a loss for words why one person should have to bear all this.  I know that God always knows the bigger picture that we can't see....still I am speechless.  There is this empty hole in my gut.  I can't even imagine the pain and sorrow that tortures Heather right now as she fights for her own life.  It literally hurts my mind to even try to wrap my head around this.  It hurts.  Please read my earlier blog posts to find out more about "a spec on a pig's butt" I think on May 19th 2010.

Please leave some comments of encouragement, prayers, or words of wisdom....anything....but talk to Heather in my comment section because I know she will eventually read this.  Help me, and help her.  Pray for Kim's family, especially her children and new husband.  Also, pray for Heather...until next time....:-(

Friday, December 31, 2010

Ringing In The New Year

I just got home from work.  It's New Year's Eve and I am kicked back trying to relax.  I thought I would give an update to my blog.  I am happy to say that I am adjusting to the "new normal" of life after cancer treatments.  I have a head full of curly hair.  I have continued bone pain that I am managing with pain meds, as little as I can possibly take to do the trick. The depression has subsided for the most part.  However, I have horrible insomnia.  It is to the point where I start feeling very anxious at bedtime, especially on Thursday and Friday nights when I have to work the next day.  I looked at the clock this morning at 4:56 and I had not slept a wink.  I have racing thoughts that circulate through my head as fast as lightning.  I have tried all kinds of things that might knock me out, but to no avail I am tossing and turning with an IMAX pictured show going on in my head. 

A lot has happened for me in 2010.  It has been over a year since I felt "the lump".  I remember thinking..."I know what this is, and its not good," but I just did not have time to hear someone tell me I had cancer.  I knew my life had to change.  I knew I had to change my lifestyle and my stress level and make some time for me.  With the sale of my business...the business that owned me, I finally had time to go in and get it checked out by a doctor.  I was told by the radiologist to come back in six months...actually I was told by the sonnogram  girl because the radiologist was too busy reading his newspaper to come and tell me himself after he spent 33 seconds looking at my films.  In my gut, I knew this was wrong.  After getting a biopsy by another doctor two weeks later, I was told the following day I had cancer.  She called me from her cell phone on a Friday night.  That Monday, I found out that my cancer was extremely aggressive, fast growing and there were five tumors totaling about 10 cm.  It was a rare form of breast cancer, triple negative.  So two weeks later at the age of 42, I had both breast removed and started chemo immediately after the drains were removed.  Radiation followed.  So here I am.  The new year is upon me.  What will it bring?  Hopefully, it will bring my reconstruction surgeries soon.  I am ready to get them over with and try to find a way to forget about having cancer.  I have a new outlook on life and the things that really matter.  I have friends and I have family, and most of all my faith.  

I will keep my blog updated from time to time, but it won't be as often.  I would like to not think about this disease.  I hope I never see it again.  I have done what I can to help spread awareness about triple negative breast cancer.  If you are just now reading this blog, I encourage you to go back and read from the beginning.  I welcome any questions or comments and I hope that I have enlightened others about this horrible disease.  Life must go least that is what I am hoping for during my upcoming new year.  I don't know why this happened to me.  I do know that God works everything, even the bad...he works it out for the greater good.  I give so much thanks to my husband, my girls, my family and my co-workers and friends.  I am glad I have not had to go this alone.  I continue to pray for the friends that I have made that have been stricken by this disease.  I can only have hope that a cure will come soon.  May God bless you and your family this year!  Until next time my friends...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Picking Up the Pieces

 am a month out from finishing treatment for stage IIB, grade 3/ triple negative breast cancer. I have battled more depression and anxiety since the treatment than any I experienced during. I think of it like the marathon runner who finally crosses the finish line. Many times they collapse on the ground once they finish. During treatment you are battling for your life. The shock of the diagnosis can be surreal and you have to be strong during the battle. When its over, you have more time to think about it and the side effects of treatment are magnified when you are supposed to be "done battling". Everyday I feel good at some point, but everyday I feel bad too. It is a small window of good. My faith has always been strong and I know there is a reason for everything. The fear that this disease will return is very strong and overwhelming, even though I know I should not fear. Knowing that I am 43 and have so much life to live, makes me want to live life to the fullest everyday. However, how do you do that when your body is your prisoner? I pray for strength and I want so much to not be physically limited. My job is physically demanding and I have been self employed for 13 years.  From where I stand now, it is hard to imagine carrying the load that I had before I got sick.  I thank God that I have Kevin.  He has been so great during this time.  He has done so much of picking up the extra slack since I have been sick.  As all couples do, we have our ups and downs.  However, relationships are not about the day to day short runs. A marriage is not a sprint, it is  a marathon. I am just glad to know I have my family and all the support they bring, and I am so grateful for Kevin.

I have not updated this blog in a while.  I have been trying to not think about cancer.  I have been enjoying the time with the kids and trying to get back in the swing of working. Christmas is right around the corner, and for the first time I am not too far behind everything.  The girls and I put up a pink tree with survivors names on it...about 60 total. They really enjoyed doing it.  My hair is coming in so curly. If I dyed it black I would look like Betty Boop.  Well, probably not that good...actually, not even close!

Today I worked from about 8 a.m. to about 4:30...a very long day for me.  It was a pretty good one.  I have enjoyed my clients and how supportive they are of me.  They are very encouraging.  They have been very good to me.  I am so thankful for the loyalty that I have seen with a lot of them.  Many have reassured me that they will be here for me when I get through my surgeries.  It is a good feeling.  Even though I have lost many, God is faithful in his promises.  He has taken care of everything we have needed and then some.  (Debra S...thank you for your encouragement and your kindness.  You are awesome!)  I have clients that are praying for me and tell me all the time.  I called one of my clients and left a message with her husband yesterday.  Afterwards, he began to tell me how they were both praying for me.  I have never met him.  Tonight, I returned a call to one of my long time male clients (about 18 years). After setting up his appointment, he prayed with me over the phone and reassured me that God would provide a way for me to be off work and get my reconstruction soon.  It is times like these when I think..."why am I afraid at times?"  So many people have faith for me...what am I worried about?  Oh well, this journey is not easy.  My emotions are on a wild roller coaster ride.  As my good friend Patsy says, "this too shall pass!".  I feel as if I have rambled through this post...probably because I have.  Hey, it is called "chemo-brain".  It is the inability to focus, remember things, and stay on track.  Today I went to work with one black shoe on one foot, and one brown shoe on the other.  Last Saturday I had some friends stop by the house.  After they left, I realized I had a beige tennis shoe on one foot and a green on the other.  So this is my life.  I have had a few brain cells killed.  I was on the phone with Vicky yesterday at the end of my work day.  I walked around ten minutes looking for my cell phone while I was talking to her (on my cell phone!)  It is pretty scary.  Well, Kevin is on his way home so I am going to end this now.  Until next time my friends...