Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Happy Anniversary?

Today is the one year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. Not the typical anniversary to celebrate but I'm so grateful to be healthy and cancer free today. So now it's time to post one last blog update.

Much has happened since my update last summer. That bone density "baseline" scan showed that I had both osteopenia and osteoporosis. At 58? It was a huge surprise and it meant a Zometa infusion in July, again last Friday and now twice a year for some time to come.

My oncologist, the amazing Dr. G. explained the long term medication I am now taking will continue to deplete calcium from my bones so it's very important to treat them with Zometa infusions and build up these old bones. It's technically a chemo drug so it's not a day at the beach but it's doable. Dr. G is confident that despite the med he can actually improve the condition of my bones with Zometa so I am thankful for that while still more than a little uncomfortable about side effects.

The long term medication turned out to be Anastrozole and I am now well in my fourth month on it. The side effects had me concerned but are there, but more mild than anticipated. So far, so good.

I didn't update this blog after that first infusion because things were so busy with the house repairs and surprisingly tougher than the first half of the year. From January to June we were so busy and just kept putting one foot in front of the other - from July on the processing began. Survivor guilt is real - losing Wendy as I was recovering was tough. I felt so blessed by friends and family who continued to lift me up with prayer and calls and texts (even to this day Laura!) and that helped so much. Philippians 4 was where I opened my Bible App daily and still do very often. I was regaining the energy that radiation had zapped and weekly Aiden Days always helped bring a smile to my face. That boy is the very best medicine and Marie was so wonderful to keep that up with us when she wasn't  sure I had the energy to be with him by myself. Gus continued to be my ever present walking and snuggle buddy but it was interesting to see that as I healed he hovered over me less and seemed more relaxed. He is such a great pup and remains my little lapdog.

During that time a former neighbor surprised me with a visit and saw the cancer books (amazing Shirley had sent) on the coffee table. She reintroduced me to her good friend who was going through chemo and Wendy and I quickly became walking partners and our own little cancer support group. It's been nice to see that our grand kids take up much more of the conversation these days.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of a Duke pain study for breast cancer patients - it consists of progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. It has been really helpful. It's just amazing how much those few minutes can lower pain and center me. Starting Tai Chi with Chris in August has also been great - I find I have much less joint pain since starting. That was the one side effect from the medication they warned me could be the worst so I'm thrilled. It's also been great for balance and flexibility and it's really nice we can do it together.

Chris has been so amazing - so supportive and so patient. I can't imagine going through something like this with anyone else. Even with all the plumbing leaks and contractors issues that we had to deal with last year he was calm and helped me to be calmer. There just aren't words to express what he and our family have been to me. I'm incredibly grateful. I also see how hard it is to be the spouse and/or family of a cancer patient and I hated that. Another piece of guilt to process. It makes that support all the more meaningful.

In December Chris sent me to California to spend time with family and friends. Getting to hug my best girlfriends and catch up with their families was the best. Staying at the Rausch House and binge watching Miranda episodes with Brittany, crashing on a couch catching up with Corrie and Steve and getting to be at a Rausch party after decades made all that time melt away. The Marasinghe's was the same. My Sri Lankan sister Migi her hubby Keith and her daughter Manik are always so gracious and loving. Getting to watch the sun set over the Pacific with Migi and Manik was such a treat and I do believe Corrie has forgiven me for going without her. =D A coffee date and conversation with Ruthe turned into lunch, too. The California fires also started as I arrived and I wasn't able to get up to stay with my Aunt Pat and whale watch but we thankfully had a lunch together. It also meant not getting to see Janet but we got a very long call in and caught up anyway. Walking at the beach, seeing Judy, Duane, Dee and Bob - my aunts and uncles - was wonderful, too. What an amazing and healing gift he gave me.

Christmas Tamale and Crafting with Gabby, Evan and Olive, Christmas Eve Eve with Marc, Marie and Aiden, Christmas Eve with Mom and Dad and family, Christmas Day tamales with family and friends was a blur but felt extra special to be a part of.

January 22nd was my one year chest X-Ray and Mammogram, lab work followed on the 26th. Although I fully expected everything to be fine it was still a big relief to get the all clear last week at the infusion appointment.

The Club No One Wants To Join - well, too many continue to join. Because of Compassion that Compels and my friend Lisa, I was blessed to help deliver a Compassion Bag to sweet, beautiful Debbie. Sharing our experiences made two strangers, sisters in Christ immediately.

Ladies, mammogram or thermography - please just do it. Men, please get regular physicals. My cancer was found at a routine mammogram and I had no symptoms and couldn't feel a lump. Take care of yourselves. If you pray, please pray for Debbie, Alyson and Jacob as they face their own cancers.



Monday, July 24, 2017


Another very quick was the first of what will be twice yearly mammograms for a while. This one included blood work and my first bone density test just for fun. Those were quick and easy but the mammogram took a lot longer than usual and I had to go back for another squishy view - after a very long wait - which made me just a little uneasy - while I waited yet again. But the wait was worth it, I was able to see the radiologist and get a clean bill of health on the spot! No new cancer was found!

I'm so very thankful and relieved. This afternoon the doctor and I discussed how fortunate I was to have the team I did and I am so aware of that. His own wife had had the very same team when she went through her breast cancer journey so he got it. So many blessings occurred during this trying time and I won't forget them. And so many prayers by so many faithful loved ones sustained me along with the calls and cards and so much love.

Later this week I'll see Dr. G, my oncologist, for a brief check in and the bone density results. My understanding is the results of the bone density test will be used as a baseline. The medication I start in September can impact bone density so that will be monitored throughout the duration of the medication.

So there won't likely be updates for a while because there really won't be much to report. This time between radiation and medication has been good. I'm healing nicely, have my energy back and even enjoyed a little drive up to Maine with Chris for a beautiful family wedding which is where this photo was taken. He's been so amazing and so positive and my rock through all of this.

But it hasn't been all good news - about ten days ago I lost a dear friend to breast cancer. A young, beautiful, funny, caring wife and mother. I hope you ladies I care so much about will get your mammograms. I had no symptoms and just went in for a routine appointment when my was found. I don't want to scare anyone but I sure don't want to lose anyone.



Sunday, June 4, 2017

Summer Break!

In the two plus weeks since my last post I am starting to feel much more normal. My skin is healing slowly but surely and while my energy is still lower than normal, it's been very livable and from what I hear it should be returning soon.

About ten days ago Chris and I saw my oncologist, Dr. G., for my post radiation/next step appointment. It's taken me a little while to process all the statistics and information we received and to process my feelings about all of it.

The short story - my lab work post radiation was really good so that was a plus. Nothing to worry about there. My "meh" news is that I will start an aromatase inhibitor medication daily in September. I had really hoped to avoid it but it just doesn't seem wise given my tumor was estrogen/progesterone receptive and adrenal glands continue producing hormones even after menopause. My nurse navigator reminded me that as studies and clinical trials continue I could be on it for five years or longer depending on what seems most beneficial. I get that medication seems easy and not a problem for most people but I really prefer natural solutions since I tend to have reactions to some medications. There doesn't appear to be a natural solution with the proven track record of the aromatase inhibitors. I do want something that has statistics behind it but I will still pursue every sound natural solution in diet and exercise along with medication to do what I can to avoid another occurrence in the future.

There are pesky side effects to the AI's but the good news is things like bone loss are going to be monitored and treated before they can become bigger issues. Apparently I will get to enjoy hot flashes again! Yay! Okay maybe there was a little sarcasm there. The better news (really) is Dr. G. believes we can wait until mid-September to start taking them so that I won't have to deal with a sticky NC summer and the repeat of hot flashes. God bless that man (really).

I came home with a prescription and a ten year follow up plan. I have graduated to the Survivor Clinic side of Dr. G's office. Between now and September I will have an appointment with one of my doctors every month or so. Later this month will be a radiation follow up. In July there will be more tests - bone density, mammogram, blood work, etc. But mostly, I feel like I'm on Summer Break!

Oh, and the feelings, Really and truly an overwhelming feeling of being blessed just washes over me. Blessed by family and friends who still reach out with texts, scriptures, gifts and most importantly prayers. Blessed that I feel as well as I do as I heal. Blessed that we have wonderful insurance through Chris' company and that so much has been covered. But also sad that others do not share in these blessings of healing and support and financial help with insurance. Perhaps I even feel guilty that I have been so blessed as others suffer more. Survivor guilt perchance? So I pray and ponder what I can do.

In the meantime I am relishing this feeling of a Summer Break! There is so much to catch up on around here, a stack of books to study and Chris and I are driving to Maine later this month for a nephew's wedding. The chance to see so much of the East Coast is exciting as is family time at the wedding. My beautiful Compassion Bag will do double duty carrying car snacks and sunscreen instead of my medical information and my Renewing You skin care supplies. Mostly, though, Gus and I get to continue to enjoy our lake walks.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Radiation is Finished!

Quick status update: this morning was my final morning of radiation! I cannot say I will miss my stylish blue gowns each morning but I will miss my radiation team. Tracy and Ty are pictured here - they were two thirds of one amazing team. Jerri was off today and isn't pictured. Jerri's soft Dolly Parton like Tennessee accent and demeanor were instantly soothing that first stress-filled day.This group of therapists are the kindest, most gentle people I've met. They made an unpleasant appointment bearable and sometimes almost even fun.  All three were always - always - so present and careful and kind. So that's why I will miss each of them. And get that certificate of completion! So fancy!

So now the next chapter begins. On Tuesday afternoon I will have my lab work done and on Thursday afternoon I meet with Dr. G. - my oncologist - to see how we proceed from here. As with radiation, I am not looking forward to this next stage. There doesn't seem to be a path forward that doesn't have side effects that concern me but I'm sure that just like surgery and radiation there will be positive elements.

So praying friends, prayers for wisdom and peace are coveted.

Love you all - chacha

Monday, April 24, 2017

Mornings Lately & Renewing You From Mandy!

It's been a bit since I've updated and based on the phone calls I received over the weekend, it's time I catch things up here.

Since my last post I had a long wait for radiation to start. I'll be honest, the week leading up to Easter was difficult. I was all marked up with ink and may have been having a reaction to the dyes but I know I was definitely anxious about starting radiation, too. Easter Day got a little weepy and I'm not proud of that.

I started using my tried and true Feingold detox methods to help with any dye reactions and that helped considerably. As I continue to be marked up during appointments I try to be aware and keep doing what I can to mitigate any further dye reactions.

The side effects of radiation do concern me, I'll be honest about that as well. But meeting my team, seeing how cautious, thorough and caring they are helps so much in that area. Once again, I feel as though I am in very good hands. I'm certainly not a fan of the process as lying topless in front of strangers with my arms awkwardly pinned above me is never going to be easy. However, it's slightly less horrible as the appointments are getting shorter.

This beast is the X-ray and Radiation machine, in case you're wondering what one looks like. It moves up and back and all around clicking and humming. The four blue spots in the center are where the arms go, the light blue cushion goes under the knees, so you can get an idea of what it's like.

One of the other things I had trouble with was not knowing if I would be having four or seven weeks of radiation and what the timing would be. (Control issues, perhaps.) Last Tuesday I was told it will be four weeks and my appointments are at 8:45 each morning. So I stumble through my morning halfway caffeinated getting dressed only to rush to radiation to change again. It's working out just fine.

The best part is that I am able to take off next Monday and Tuesday so that I can drive to Asheville with my aunt Pat and Dee. We'll meet aunt Dee's daughter Cindy in Asheville for a little girls' time and then Cindy will take her mom and Pat on to Nashville. Those two days just get tagged onto the end so my treatments will end May 17.

This morning was treatment number five. So far no fatigue, just irritation in the treatment area. And to that end, I want to mention Renewing You!

Mandy Cole and her mom Kathy came by for a visit while we were still germy from the flu and we visited on the porch so as not to infect them. It meant so much for them to come and check in and I loved catching up with both of them.

Mandy gave me the great little polka dot case of Renewing You products. These are skin care relief products just for cancer patients.  Last week I showed it to one of the ladies on my radiation team and she checked every product out to make sure it would be safe and seemed very surprised that each product was just right. As I mentioned, I'm only five days in and already my skin is already feeling irritated so I've opened the bag for relief. One of my favorite products in the bag is a cooling aloe vera gel that rolls on. It's so soothing and easy to apply - I just love it. There's a nice little jar of cornstarch with a pretty and handy puff to keep your skin dry. (No regular antiperspirants during radiation time - yikes, this is NC and we've already had 90 degree days!!) There's also gentle soap and a baby soft washcloth, too.

The one thing all of you know I won't use, but should, are darling little sticky notes to ask for help with.  Yes, we all know I have issues!

But seriously, it was such a thoughtful and useful gift and something I knew nothing about prior to this journey.

The Renewing You bag fits into my Compassion Bag that holds my purse and clothing so I have everything I need to change twice each morning and be comfortable.

So now we're all caught up again! I can never thank everyone enough for the love and prayers and cards and calls that have come my way. It means so very much.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Compassion That Compels & A Quick Update

This photo was taken shortly after my diagnosis in February. I was blessed to meet my friend Emily for lunch and conversation. Emily is a breast cancer overcomer and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Having gone before me, she was so comforting to speak with and has been such a great sounding board for my questions and a prayer warrior extraordinaire. Emily surprised me with this beautiful and thoughtful bag from Compassion That Compels. She had received her own Compassion bag during her battle with cancer and has since become friends with Kristianne Stewart, the woman behind this beautiful ministry which is in Louisiana.

Honestly, that first week after diagnosis, my head was spinning and trying and I was trying to learn so much, process so much and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. The bag and thoughtful items that filled it were almost too much to process right that moment as grateful as I was. This was the first of many overwhelming moments in this journey.

Later, when I had some quiet time and really looked through the bag I was touched to reread an encouraging and beautiful note from Paula, the woman who sponsored my bag of thoughtful gifts selected for this journey. Paula is also a cancer overcomer. Kristianne's own card explained her ministry and had such a perfect verse at the bottom of the card.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

That's one I'm holding on to. Along my favorite devotional was an amazingly soft and cozy blanket, two journals - each beautiful and with scripture, a travel mug, mints, tea, a beautiful "beanie" for chemo patients, even a sweet scripture pen was sent by Rosie. Rosie's card has "prayer warrior" as her title and the back is filled with perfect advice to live by.

Shortly after I found out that I wouldn't be having chemo a handyman came to our house to repair a door. He was telling me about his sister and her battle with breast cancer and how she has lost all her hair. I grabbed the beanie and asked if he thought she might want it. He was so sweet and said yes, it looked like something she would wear and enjoy. It was so fun to wrap up for her. How wonderful it was able to pass on one of the beautiful blessings.

My bag goes to my appointments to hold all my paperwork and snacks. Especially snacks. =D

Compassion That Compels is a beautiful ministry and non profit started by Kristianne after cancer touched her own family.  Not only providing specific items of comfort but lots of prayer and support. It has really been beautiful to see Kristianne's posts on Facebook and Instagram. Kristianne is so much more eloquent than I could hope to be, I hope you'll check out the site and read through some blog posts.

And the update.....

Today we met with Dr. S. who is my new Radiation Oncologist. As with each office we've be working with in the journey everyone was amazing from R at the front desk to V, his nurse. He took time to explain and allay my fears about radiation. Yes, I can hug my family. No, I will not glow green.

For the first time my staging came up. I'm technically 1a.

My next appointment is Monday afternoon where I will have a CT scan to help Dr. S. map out my radiation treatment plan. The following week we will likely mark me up and start radiation. At that point I will know if the shorter radiation plan will be right for me but either way I have a lot of peace about the process now.

So until then, have a great weekend.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Captain of My Ship.....

Chris and I saw Dr. G. last night for my treatment plan. We do get a little punchy sitting in waiting rooms together.

At the end of my post op earlier this month with my surgeon, Dr. C., she appointed Dr. G. the new captain of my ship and I'm thankful he is. He has taken and is taking care of people I love.

He was pleased with my Oncotype score and was adamant that chemotherapy would be of no benefit in my situation. That felt great.

He then went on to give us a crash course in some of the current clinicals and so, so many statistics. It was a little mind numbing but the purpose was to show us why my treatment would be as it is.

Dr. G. referred me to a radiologist who will be administering my radiation. He is hopeful I will have a four week long treatment period - once per day each week day for four weeks. Dr. S. will make the final decision. Praying friends, four weeks is my hope!

So now it's time to wait for radiation to get started. I won't see Captain G. for about eight weeks when we'll move onto medication.

And praying friends, some traveling mercies for Chris and he flies to visit his family would be much appreciated.

All my love,