Category Archives: Breast Cancer

But then THIS happened…

May 18, 2016

So how are you guys doing with those snacks?  Still working on them?  I appreciate you all not crunching too loudly – sometimes it’s hard to hear my own thoughts when I have distracting crunching or smacking sounds.  So thanks for that.

Well, after getting the shots in my back last week, I was thrilled to be able to move around better and get some work done.  A few weeks before last, I had made several other appointments that were either past due or soon coming up.  I made an appointment with my thyroid doctor (also the best breast surgeon in the world, who did my mastectomy and port) for my annual checkup to check my levels since she took out my thyroid in 2014.  I also made an appointment, those weeks ago, with my oncologist for my six month checkup.  I went and did bloodwork there last Monday, and was due to go to my appointment with the oncologist on Friday – but I missed it because I had put it on the wrong date in my calendar.

So, Monday, 5/16, I went to my appointment with the thyroid doctor.  Now, when she took out my thyroid in 2014, we knew that there had been an old, calcified nodule on it (part of why the thyroid had to be removed).  Pathology came back with cancer – 8mm of cancer that was encapsulated inside of the nodule.  But because it was smaller than 10 mm, no further treatment was needed.  I would just have to come in every six months for the first year, and then annually after that.  No big. No problem.

I went in, looking to have a short, 15 minute visit with one of my favorite docs, and then be on my merry way for the rest of the day.  The first thing that she does is lay me down and ultrasound my throat, to make sure that nothing had escaped into my parathyroid, I believe.  So I’m watching her do the ultrasound, as she has a big screen on the wall for patients to see.  She wasn’t saying anything, and when I looked over, her brow was furrowed and her hand was over her mouth, deep in thought.  Then she said, “Hey sit up and let me try it that way.”  So I sit up.  She continues to ultrasound me, and finally points to the screen.  “I’m concerned about these,” pointing at some dark circles.  They were fairly big, to me, and I asked her what she thought they were.  “Cancer,” was her reply.  Wait, what?  Cancer.

How can this be??  I have come to all of my appointments, and I have been cleared every time – from both my oncologist and thyroid doctors.  What in the actual hell?  I went in for a normal, routine appointment!  Stop, wait!  No!  There MUST be some mistake!  I sat down in a chair as one doctor went to the phone and called the other doctor.  She (thyroid doc) calls Texas Oncology, explains who she is and asks to speak to my oncologist.  She is briefly put on hold, and a few minutes later, he is on the speaker.  The two of them confer and consult, learning that my numbers that had previously always been in normal ranges had apparently come back high last week.  He said he had made a note to call me, since I had missed my appointment on Friday to go over the bloodwork.  Well, SHIT.  Together they agreed that I indeed am having a recurrence, and now we know where it is located.  She said that she could do a biopsy right then, right there, in her office; but after conferring with my oncologist, they decided that getting me in under general anesthesia for an excision of one of the masses/lymph nodes was a better idea.  Next thing I know, I am texting Erikka at work (which I later felt horrible for doing):

Me – Something is wrong.

She – What?

Me – I have a mass.

She – What? Where?

Me – Right side of my throat.  All of the throat clearing. She wants to biopsy right here. Now.  She thinks it is cancer. I can’t call you because I will go hysterical.

She – I will come get you.

Me – She is on the phone with Perez and he is saying my tumor markers are elevated.  They are both comparing numbers and such – recurrence.

Me – No biopsy today.  They want it done under anesthesia.  This week.

She – Do I need to come home? When can they get you in?

Me – We are scheduling.  Tomorrow or Wednesday. Which works for you?

She – Tomorrow.

Me – 1:30 tomorrow.

She – Do you want me to come home?

Me – Only if you want to.  I’m kind of in shock and just want to lie down.

She – Be there at 1:30 or biopsy at 1:30?

Me – Be there at 1:30.  Surgery at 2:30.

She – Do you want me to tell your mom or are you going to?

Me – I don’t think I can.

She – That’s what I was thinking.  I will take care of it.  I got this.

Me – I’m sorry I told you on text.  And there are three masses on lymph nodes in my neck.  She is removing one lymph node.

She – It’s okay.

Me – I’m so scared.

She – Don’t be scared.  Let me take care of you.

So let me just insert here that I have the most amazing, most supportive, most giving, most selfless wife in the world.  She kept me from completely losing my shit while in the doctor’s office, simply with those eight words:  “Don’t be scared.  Let me take care of you.”  Because of her, I was able to get things scheduled in a calm fashion.  Once I made my co-pay and scheduled the procedure, I got to my car as quickly as I could so that nobody else had to witness the meltdown that followed.  I just wanted to kick and scream, “NO NO NO…I don’t WANNA do this again!!  NO!”  

The next day, Tuesday, we got to the surgery center around 1 PM.  Got checked in, and didn’t have much time before I was taken back, gowned up, and IV in.  The nurses that I had were awesome and amazing, and kept me smiling and laughing, which really helped in that moment.  That moment when you know that something is really very wrong, and you’re scared to death, but know that you have no choice but to face it head on.  Soon after, they brought Erikka back to sit with me, and I could see all over her face that this time was different.  She looked scared, but didn’t want to say it. Her beautiful blue eyes glistened with tears that she didn’t want to let fall.  I promised her that this time would be different, if I have to do treatment again.  I promised her that the last time taught me how important it is that the caregiver be taken care of, too, because it isn’t just happening to me, but that she is going through it, too.

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Soon, the doctor appeared and talked to us about what she would be doing.  She was going to remove one of the three masses (the largest, I believe, at 4 cm) along with the lymph node it was affecting.  She said that if we had to pick what cancer we wanted it to be, then we wanted it to be thyroid.  Easy to treat – she would just have to go in and take out all of the masses, and quarantine me for three days in the hospital for radioactive iodine pills (oral radiation).  That’s the treatment.  Easy peasy.  Or it could be breast cancer that has metastasized to the lymph nodes in my throat.  This would mean chemo again, but likely no radiation because I believe that I maxed out on that during the last round.  So okay.  We would be hoping for the lesser of two evils.  I would be going to sleep with the hope of it being thyroid cancer on my mind.  I remember everyone being there – the OR nurse, the anesthesiologist and his assistant, Erikka, my doc – so I knew it was time.  I asked for a moment with Erikka as they put the “cocktail” in my IV to make me relax.  We tearfully kissed and said our “I love yous” and I was rolled away.  This time seemed scarier to me, knowing that the mass that she was going to remove was sitting on my jugular.  Oh and scarier because I knew that no matter what she found, at the end of the day, I have cancer again.  All I know is that I didn’t want Erikka to leave my side, ever.  What, why couldn’t she go with me??  

I woke up in recovery, immediately touching a new wound on my neck and wincing from the horrible pain.  I remember a nurse putting demarol into my IV and I was out again.  When I woke up the second time, Erikka was in a chair beside me.  When I was awake enough, she told me that the doctor came out to talk to her after surgery, and told her that it did NOT look like thyroid cancer.  My heart sank.  Well shit.  After a little while, I had my IV removed and Erikka helped me get dressed.  I just wanted some food, and my own bed.  Now I was just supposed to rest, let the wound heal, and wait to hear what the pathology report would say.

Yesterday, Wednesday, I stayed in bed like a good patient.  The pain was worse, once the numbing effects of surgery had gone away.  It hurts to turn my head.  It hurts to chew.  It hurts to try and pick anything up of any weight at all.  It’s crazy how much I didn’t realize how often we use the muscles in our neck when doing anything!  Erikka stayed home with me, which I was so grateful for; I only wish she could stay with me 24/7 while we deal with this.  When the time came in the afternoon, she left for a little while to pickup Noah from school, go to the store, and pickup Harrison from school.  It was during that time, while she was out, that the doctor called.  She had the initial pathology (that she had had rushed), and it came back that the cancer cells indicate breast cancer, not thyroid like I had hoped.  I asked her what stage it was, because she had said that this biopsy would be used to stage me.  She didn’t seem to want to answer me, but she did:  Stage 4.  WHAT???  Stage 4??  That’s like, the WORST STAGE!  She told me to please try not to worry about it too much, because it is automatically staged at 4 when it moves outside of the original area.  In my case, had it been thyroid cancer, it would probably have been a lower number because it is in the neck area where the thyroid was.  But because the cells indicate breast cancer, and it is way outside of the breast area, or the area under my arms where lymph nodes are, then it is stage 4.  And I will have to have a PET scan to make sure it isn’t anywhere else in the body.  All I could think was, “Well SHIT.  Breast cancer.  In my NECK.  What in the ever-lovin’ hell??  That is some bullshit!”  I told Erikka what the doc said about the stage, and she was calm, already aware that it would be staged that way.  

So here we are.  Monday morning my life was fairly boring and normal.  By lunchtime it had been turned upside down, when the rug was pulled out from under me.  I went from survivor in remission to recurrence patient.  Every fear that I had before has returned, plus some.  We have watched several of our friends over the past couple of years battle recurrences to no avail, only to watch them deteriorate and lose their battle. It’s hard not to be terrified.

Now what?  Here is what has to happen over the next few weeks:

  • PET scan, to see if it is anywhere else in my body (and dear God I hope not)
  • Appt. w/Oncologist – this is scheduled already, for next week, Thursday 5/26
  • Day surgery to put a port back in

That’s pretty much all I have to go on right now.  We will make a plan once I visit my oncologist.  If you have tried to call and I haven’t answered, don’t take it personally or get offended.  I just haven’t wanted to talk to anyone, because I get emotional and it actually hurts my neck if I start crying – especially if I start UGLY crying!

This is my, "Damn. Here we go again" face. Sigh.
This is my, “Damn. Here we go again” face. Sigh.

People will want to know and will start asking what we need or what they can do.  Right now it is early, so we have no answers really.  But once treatment starts, there are things that I know will be helpful to me and my family.  My main request is that my darling Erikka not become overwhelmed with having to work, plus take care of me AND the kids.  There will be times that it will be great for someone to take our very active little Harrison for short visits or outings so that Erikka can have a break (for instance, on chemo weeks when I will likely need her with me).  There might be times when it would be nice to have dinners for Erikka and the kids, since I am primarily the one who cooks, and I don’t want her to have to order out all the time.  Please, this is what I am asking.  Take care of her and my babies, since they will be taking care of me.  Hopefully we can get started quickly and knock it out swiftly, and get back to our lives.  We didn’t invite stupid f&*king cancer the last time it showed up, and we certainly didn’t invite it back for a second tour.  But nevertheless, it is here, so we just want to make its stay as short as possible.  We know that we have all the support and love that we will ever need, and I am more thankful for our tribe than any of you will ever know.  Once the shock wears off, I will change to battle stance, and keep everyone apprised of where we are in our course.  Please be patient with us.  Last time, when I found a lump, there really weren’t any unexpected surprises; by the time I got my diagnosis, I pretty much already knew what I was looking at.  Being blindsided is a whole different ballgame.  There are too many unknowns right now.  But as soon as they become known, we will share.

Man…I’m SO pissed off!  I just got my hair to where I like it again!  Son of a bitch, fu&*ing cancer…I hate you!  Well, at least I can finally have that rainbow mohawk I have always wanted! (am totally going to do it when the first hairs start falling)

Pink’s Not Just for Breast Cancer Anymore, Folks!

Well, folks, it’s June 1st.  I can’t believe that yet another year is almost half over….AGAIN!  Time keeps marching on, no matter how much I just wish it would go as slow as it did when I was a kid waiting for Christmas.  Do you ever sit around and think to yourself, “What am I doing to take care of this body that I was given, so that it lasts well into my twilight years?”  Yeah, me neither.  Usually it takes something drastic for us to start paying better attention to our bodies and health – unless of course you’re one of those skinny, gym-loving, non-food addict, can-eat-anything-you-want kind of people.  But the rest of us hate those kind of people.  Not really.  We are mostly just jealous of those that it seemingly comes to so easily.  But in life, most of us learn that nothing comes easy – especially a tone, fit, healthy body.

So if you’ve followed along on my trip down cancer’s path (yeah, I used “path” because those who use “Cancer Journey” just irritate the crap out of me – not that “path” is much better), then you know that my body has been through the ringer.  Between surgeries, very little exercise, bad eating, and weight yo-yo’ing, I have been the epitome of UN-healthy.  I started looking back at the past couple of years, and WOW.   Take a look:

March 2013 – Diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer (166 lbs.)

April  2013 – Bilateral Radical Mastectomy  (166 lbs.)  

Surgery day - April 10, 2013
Surgery day – April 10, 2013

 

May 2013 – Began chemotherapy  (163 lbs.)

After 1st Chemo - May 2013
After 1st Chemo – May 2013
Fight Like a Girl photo shoot - July 2013
Fight Like a Girl photo shoot – July 2013

October 2013 – Chemotherapy ends (180 lbs.) 

Last day of Chemo - October 14, 2013
Last day of Chemo – October 14, 2013

January 2014 – Radiation begins (177 lbs.)

February 2014 – Radiation ends (186 lbs.)

Last day of Radiation - February 19, 2013
Last day of Radiation – February 19, 2013

July 2014 – First reconstruction surgery; Thyroidectomy due to Hashimoto’s AND cancerous nodule (169 lbs.)

Anniversary trip - July 2014
Anniversary trip – July 2014
Reconstruction & Thyroid surgery - July 25, 2014
Reconstruction & Thyroid surgery – July 25, 2014

September 2014 – Surgery to reverse reconstruction due to staph infection (169 lbs.)

Race For the Cure North Texas - September 2014
Race For the Cure North Texas – September 2014

**Sometime in November, the doc added a second prescription for replacement thyroid function – weight started coming off**

January 2015 – Reconstruction do-over surgery (152 lbs.)

1st Reconstruction Do-Over surgery - January 29, 2015
1st Reconstruction Do-Over surgery – January 29, 2015

April 2015 – Second Reconstruction do-over surgery (152 lbs.)

To the outside eye, after looking at all of this, one might think that I’m doing alright after losing the weight, plus some, that I gained during treatment.  But what most don’t know if that I have no upper body strength – can’t even do one pushup.  I have no stamina when exercising, which is not very often these days.  I had very little energy, despite the weight loss, and was needing to nap almost every day.  I was relying on coffee and several sodas per day to keep me awake, and it wasn’t helping.  Meanwhile, at night, I couldn’t fall asleep on my own, and was often up until 1, 2, 3 AM; sometimes I would literally stay awake the entire night – unless I took some kind of pharmaceutical to help me sleep (sleeping pill, muscle relaxer, pain pill, sedative…or a combo of these).  After surgery at the end of January I had developed some pretty bad issues with regularity, due to anesthesia along with prescription pain medications being used day after day after day.  Then after surgery at the end of April, my “issues” got SO much worse, and constipation turned into a 7-day painfest.  Nothing worked, and by then I was TRIPLING my prescription doses of drugs that were supposed to help with it.  I stopped taking pain meds and just had to deal with it.

During that time, while I was recouperating and in bed after surgery, one of my fellow breast cancer survivor warrior friends had posted a testimonial about her use of Plexus products.  While I have had numerous friends whom I have seen using it, most for weight loss, this particular friend was talking about how it had helped her sugar addiction and improved her “gut health.”  THIS was what made me start researching it.  And don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE skeptic when it comes to stuff like this – I’ve tried numerous MLMs myself, so I don’t judge for that.  But with limited success in the past personally, I had a hard time believing that this Plexus stuff would be any different, despite what so many of my friends had been reporting.  What I found was that the Plexus Slim (aka Pink Drink that everyone was talking about) was originally created for type 2 diabetics, to stabilize blood sugar.  I have been on a prescription diabetes medicine since chemo ended, because it threw me into diabetic glucose levels (the combination of steroids during treatment + the bad, carby eating that followed the steroids).  I have been wanting to get off as many of my prescriptions as possible in my quest to get healthier.  I’m not sure if I will be able to get off of thyroid function replacement meds, since mine has been removed; but I have really wanted to get off of blood sugar meds, blood pressure meds (have been on for 20 years now), and ADHD meds.  So after all of my research, I decided to give it a try, and would keep a log of my weight, blood sugar readings, and the products that I am using.  My first focus would be blood sugar, followed by losing that last twenty pounds and getting off of the blood pressure meds.  My friend sent me some samples of the Plexus Slim, and after a few days I could already tell a difference; so I ordered my first set of products and hoped for good results.

May 6, 2015 – Started Plexus Triplex for gut issues and blood sugar (154 lbs.) – waking Blood Sugar: 150

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June 1, 2015 – 28 days on Plexus Triplex, 12 days on Accelerator +, 15 days on Block (151 lbs.) – waking Blood Sugar:  117

Lunch w/the girls - May 30, 2015
Lunch w/the girls – May 30, 2015

Do you see that?  My morning blood sugar readings are down over 30 points!  I haven’t taken the prescription meds for it in over four weeks.  My junk food cravings?  Mostly GONE!  My sugar addiction/sugar cravings?  Mostly GONE!  My carb addiction/carb cravings?  Mostly GONE!  My three-a-day Coke Zero addiction/habit?  GONE!  If I try to drink a diet soda now, I can only drink about half of it.  The sleepless nights, insomnia, and inability to fall asleep without drugs?  GONE!  My lack of energy and need to nap every afternoon?  GONE!  My “issues” with regularity/constipation?  GONE!  I’m eating proteins, fruits & veggies, with very little bread, potatoes, or rice.  I make the cupcakes but only rarely EAT one;  I’m pretty much just baking them and sending them out.  My energy is up and my blood sugar is going down!  The three pound loss is just a bonus, since that was not what my beginning focus was anyway.  The way that I’m going, the 15-20 pounds that I still want to lose should be gone in no time, all while continuing to get healthy from the inside out.

The more time that I use it, the better I feel.  The better the results, the more I am glad that I took the leap to try Plexus.  So I guess that yeah, now I am going to be one of those crazy Plexus ladies – you know, we ALL know at least ONE!  But I am trying to not be the annoying crazy Plexus lady…LOL!  So if you want to know more, or try it for yourself, then please feel free to email, message, call, text, or check out the products on my website!

http://tjdoddhise.myplexusproducts.com

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Reconstruction, Health, and The End is in Sight!

Well, it really has been a minute – or more like a few – since my last post!  In February, I promised an update as well as a blog featuring my chef friend’s new spring menu – and failed on both counts!  I know, I suck.  But sometimes life just, well, is life.  And every day comes, whether we are ready for it or not, huh?  So let’s go back and do some catching up, shall we?

As my readers know, last July, I began the reconstruction journey, even after I adamantly declared that I wouldn’t do it.  Most days I regret starting the process, but it is what it is and all I can do now is look forward, rather than behind.  I had implants, very small implants, put in, just so that I wouldn’t be caved in anymore and could wear a swimsuit without embarassment – to me AND my family!  Well, unfortunately, the implant on my left side – my radiated side – developed a staff infection, and by September I was pretty sick and the plastic surgeon had to go back in and remove it.  When THOSE bandages came off, I was devestated to see that I was now even MORE caved-in than I had been before starting reconstruction.  Deeply depressed, I cried a LOT; and upon return to the plastic surgeon post-op, he promised me that he could and WOULD make it look better, that it could be done (because I seriously, at that point, had my doubts).  He said we would have to wait several months for things to heal again before we started over, but that there was an option that did not entail putting anything else foreign into my body that could be rejected again.  He told me about a procedure called “Fat Grafting.”  This is where he first goes in and liposuctions fat from whatever area of my body that I want him to (and PLENTY of people graciously offered theirs to me as well), and then in the operating room they spin the fat to separate it from liquid.  Once they do this, the liquid is discarded, and the fat is then injected into the breast area and molded into a breast.  The only catch about this, however, is that some of the fat may not stay in place and take on the blood vessels around it, but rather just dissolve back into the body; and it would take several procedures, because only so much can be transferred at one time.  So I was in – I didn’t care how many times we had to do it (or so I thought), because hell, liposuction AND build-a-boob??  Let’s do it!

My first procedure was January 29th, and I was not at ALL prepared for what I would wake up to physically – neither the severe pain nor the huge, shocking purple bruising that came with the liposuction.  The pain from THAT surgery was way worse than even the initial double mastectomy, and the recovery time was about twice as long.  He harvested fat from my belly and my sides (ie: love handles), and after the bruising went away, I WAS rather pleased with having a smaller gut, despite all of the pain it took to get it.  I was a little disappointed, as was the doctor, in the outcome once again on my left breast (if you can call it that).  He had had trouble, when injecting the fat during surgery, in getting the large scar to loosen and expand.  It had been opened and closed four or five times previously, so it is pretty tight.  Our plan was, in between that procedure and the next, for me to try a fairly new system called the Brava – a sports bra of sorts with a suction device, designed to pull the skin out naturally through suction, rather than inserting an expander under the skin (which, as a foreign object, I wasn’t willing to do).  The wait-time in between procedures had to be at least three months, the surgeon told me, so that the fat had a chance to take on blood supply.  About two months after the first fat transfer, my nurse called to tell me that my insurance wouldn’t cover the Brava system, because it is so new and considered “experimental.”  If I wanted to do it anyway, it would cost me about a thousand bucks.  Um, no thanks.  So now what???  They told me I could proceed and do the same procedure as before, and he would work on getting the scar out a little more this time.  So surgery was scheduled and I prepared for round two.

The second procedure was April 30th, and this time I was prepared for what was coming – but I really wasn’t.  This time, he said he only had a little that he could take from my belly, so I told him to take from my thighs.  Dear God.  He got most of the fat from my thighs, he later told me, and that was a whole ‘nother kind of pain.  I woke up in a compression garment that went from just above my knees all the way up to my ribs.  Whoa.  Then on top of that, my chest was tightly wrapped in ace bandage, and between the two things, I could barely breathe!  I used my cane for a couple of days due to the thigh pain when standing, sitting, walking – pretty much moving in any form or fashion!  But I’m almost three weeks out, and have been up and about for almost a week now – much sooner than after the last time.  Last time I didn’t drive until I was two weeks out; this time, I drove myself one time after about five days, but then waiting until my 1 week (and a day) follow up appointment with the plastic surgeon.  We were both a bit more hopeful this time when we unwrapped my chest, as there is definite movements outwards of the big, main scar, and the semblance of the beginnings of a tiny breast or pec even.  We are hoping that one more procedure will do the trick, two at the most – and that is a huge improvement over what he initially predicted with EIGHT procedures!  So yeah, I am finally seeing an end to this whole ordeal, and I’m looking forward to being able to wear a swimsuit this summer without too much embarrassment, as well as on our family cruise at the beginning of October.  Now I want to focus on my health, and toning up after weight loss and liposuction…and hopefully this whole cancer nightmare will be behind me forever, never to return!

bitch slap cancer

Wow – it’s Been a Minute!

Hey there – long time no see! It’s been a while since I’ve been here apparently! The holidays cruised on by in a whirlwind of merriment and busy-ness, just like usual – I can’t believe that I didn’t sit down and write a post! Needless to say, 2015 was ushered in pretty low-key for us (even our simple plans of dinner and movie out were cut short from a migraine); we ended up back at home, and our fancy Napa bottle of wine that was chilling in the fridge to ring in the New Year is still there, unopened. We’ll get to it eventually, huh?
All this to say, now that school is back in session for the second semester, I’m not subbing hardly at all, so I have more time to focus on my photography, salsa, meal planning, and helping Krystal get Zoe’s Sweet Inspirations off the ground. Heck it’s February and all of our Christmas decorations are piled up on the dining room table and front living room, just waiting to be packed up and taken back out to the storage shed! But whatever….it’ll get done by St. Patrick’s Day I’m sure! LOL

All this to say…a new blog posting is coming soon (in the next few days, I hope) about my most recent chapter in the reconstruction saga. And next week I should have a post highlighting a local chef friend and her spring menu. Am hoping to have another chef spotlight in the next few weeks as well. You never know what you’re gonna find here! So stay tuned….

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Walking the Talk

For many years now, I have actively made an effort to give to others more than I did the year before.  It is something that I enjoy doing, along with my wife, and together we are constantly striving to teach our children to do the same.  I am very blessed to have a teenage son who LOVES to give back to others, simply out of the kindness of his heart.  For most of his life, he has pretty much had all of his needs, and wants, met without knowing what it is like to struggle or go without.  His older brother, on the other hand, experienced struggling and going without – to a moderate degree – when he and his young, single mother scraped by for many years just trying to pay rent and buy groceries.  I wasn’t able to instill the importance of giving back to others when he was young, because we just didn’t have any extra to give.  There were a few Thanksgivings and Christmases that were so lean, that I cried at the thought of having nothing for my young son; feeling like a failure as a mother.  Of course I know that the holidays aren’t about superficial or material things, but just like most parents, you want to be able to provide gifts for those that you care about the most.  It was during those times of lean that I truly learned that there is indeed a lot of good in a lot of people.  I remember one Christmas in particular, when we lived in a small, two bedroom apartment, and I didn’t have any money for food, let alone Christmas presents for my three year old.  On a Saturday afternoon, a few weeks before Christmas, I got a knock on my door.  When I opened it, there stood Santa Claus – arms filled to the brim with groceries.  Santa Holding Stack of GiftsAs I stood there, with my mouth open, he brought them in and set them down, and then left to go get more.  He returned with more food, then left again, only to return with a large box of wrapped toys that he placed under my bare tree.  Just before he and his helpers left, he told me that someone had signed me up for the Secret Santa at the Methodist church in my town, and that he hoped that this helped us have a better Christmas.  I remember hugging Santa and crying, so thankful that someone had taken just a moment to think of us and provide such an endearing, life-changing moment.  That Christmas, and that ten minutes of my life, forever changed how I looked at the world around me.  I vowed that whenever I was able, I would always do whatever was in my power to do the same for those who needed help.

It would be a good many years before I was in a position to do very much for anybody beyond my own family.  I would donate clothes, shoes, or toys regularly, and that was all I could do for a long time.  I would donate small amounts of money here and there as I could.  I would donate my time here and there for a cause, always remembering that Christmas and knowing that someday I would do more.  Eventually, I would join a service-based sorority, and over the years have done many charity functions and events with my sisters.  It has just been in the last few years that I have been in a place where I am able to do more and give more than I ever have in the past.  We, my family, along with the families of my sisters, have started many traditions of giving that we have watched continue to grow with each passing year.  Some years we have donated our time and our cooking to feeding families staying in the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas while their children are in the hospital.

Giving Ronald McDonald some love at his house in Dallas
Giving Ronald McDonald some love at his house in Dallas

We have, for several years, donated items to Newborns in Need, who provide sleepers and blankets for young moms having babies at Parkland Hospital of Dallas.  We donate time, money, and physical energy towards at least one breast cancer event each year.  My family, along with my sisters this year, collect diapers in lieu of gifts for our daughter’s birthday, and donate them to an organization in Dallas that gives them to homeless families.  Last weekend, at her third birthday party, between my sisters and those who came to her party, we collected almost 1700 diapers to donate!

Harrison atop the diaper mountain that was donated at her birthday (and 5 boxes came in after the pic!) - Oct 2014
Harrison atop the diaper mountain that was donated at her birthday (and 5 boxes came in after the pic!) – Oct 2014

My wife and I also volunteer four times a year at a cancer retreat, where she might lead a session of arts & crafts, and I run the kitchen for the weekend.  Recently, one of my sisters and I volunteered on a Saturday morning to make sandwiches for the homeless, and were blown away at the coming-together of our community to make 4400 sandwiches in less than an hour.

My sister, Danielle, and I spending a Saturday making sandwiches - Oct 2014
My sister, Danielle, and I spending a Saturday making sandwiches – Oct 2014

Several years ago, I wanted to give back to one of the schools in our community that my middle son attended, so my sisters and I made them a Thanksgiving basket to gift to one of their families in need.  The next year, we did two baskets.  The year after that, we did three baskets.  And last year, we did ten baskets.  Our goal for this year is a dozen baskets, but we may end up exceeding that if the interest and donations are up!

So while all of this feels wonderful and makes most people want to keep doing it over and over, there often comes a time when we are faced with putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  What do I mean?  I mean that sometimes we are confronted with the choice of supporting a charity, or not, based on personal choice, moral codes, or ethical behavior that we either agree or disagree with.  I’m not talking about not going to Chick-Fil-A and giving them my money because the founder’s son doesn’t agree with gay whatever.  Or not giving Hobby Lobby my money because they stand against women’s rights of choice in their own family planning.  But we don’t typically give to Boy Scouts of America because of their stance on allowing LGBT parents to act in a role of leadership in individual troops.  We feel strongly about it, as parents, because the parents of these scouts are just exactly the same as any of the other troop leaders:  Parents.  We typically don’t give our money, or donated goods, to the Salvation Army, largely due to their anti-LGBT policies and practices of discrimination.  But those are just a few examples and reasons that are important to US – and no, we don’t expect anybody to go along with us in our stances unless they hold the same ideals and beliefs.

But what if we are called upon to provide help in a time of need to a group (like a church or charity, for example) that we don’t care for all that much, or that we don’t agree with and also know that they don’t particularly care for us?  Is it our place to judge their level of need?  Is it our place to pick and choose, knowing that without the help that we could provide, their need might not get met?  I feel like, when faced with two roads before me – one is to give without question, and one is to say that the need is not great enough – which one will I choose?  It shouldn’t be a hard choice.  If my heart has in it to give – be it time, money, service, or goods – then when a need is presented to me, there should be no question as to whether I will or not.  When charitable work becomes about US, then we are no longer doing it for honorable reasons.  So what I thought might be a dilemma should never be.  If I give of myself, and I share that with those around me, then my gift of paying something forward should never be in question because of the recipient.  THIS is how we become an example to our children, and how we teach them to become selfless people who care about their fellow mankind.  I’m excited for all of the upcoming opportunities that my family, along with my sisters, will have to give back.

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Meeting Pastor Lisa at SoupMobile in Deep Ellum last week when Noah and I dropped off blankets, sweaters, hoodies, coats & hats – Nov 2014

And all of this is not to brag, boast, or say how great I am because I do these things.  This is hopefully a way to show how easy it is to help others, and hopefully inspire even one person to do so.  Pay it forward folks.  You never know when you might be the one in the position of needing that help.  This is repayment time in life for me. Repayment for countless times of help, either monetarily or otherwise, when I wasn’t in my best places emotionally or financially. Repayment for every meal, visit, help with kids, fundraiser, message of hope, and encouragement that I received from diagnosis to remission. I am forever grateful to those who came together for me and my family after my cancer diagnosis – friends, family, and many that I don’t even know.  People gave of themselves with their time, their talent, their finances; and I will forever be indebted to do the same as often as I am able.  And always remember, a little goes a long way.  We need to all just take care of each other…okay??

The Mourning

Sept. 22, 2014

I came to a harsh realization today.

I had Cancer.  shutterstock_92336032

Breast Cancer.

Aggressive, invasive, triple-negative non-hormone driven stage 3 breast cancer.

Yeah sure, I know it was February of last year that I found the lump.  And I’m aware that the multiple biopsy results came on Noah’s 13th birthday in March of last year.  On April 10, 2013 my body was altered forever when a surgeon removed both of my breasts, all the way to the chest wall.  Chemo took my hair shortly thereafter, and by the end made it difficult to walk, even with a cane.  Radiation burned my skin, forever making that area slow to heal.  Scars were left, after several surgeries, from mid-sternum to underarm, on both sides.

Through all of that, I tried to stay positive.  I tried to keep smiling.  I tried to keep going and not think about anything but getting through the treatments and get it over with.  And I did it!  My PET scan was clear, showing no signs of cancer in November 2013.  Radiation ended February 19, 2014 – ending all treatments, and that was it.  I was done!  And every day since it ended, I woke up with an exquisite realization – I BEAT Cancer! breast_cancer_by_moydh-d4izagk

Time passed, strength returned, health returned.  I started working out again!  I started eating better again!  I started losing the 27 pounds that I gained during treatments!  Then, despite having said from the very beginning that I would have no part of reconstruction, I entertained the option for two reasons:  I did not like what I saw in the mirror, and some of my clothes were not fitting right.  Small implants should do the trick, I thought, to fill in the caved-in areas of my chest, fill my swimsuit, yet still omit the need for a bra. Sounded like a win-win to me!

I had my surgery on July 24th.  Within a week or two I felt great, and back to normal – despite the fact that you couldn’t even tell that I had gotten implants.  Five weeks after surgery, my skin split open on the radiated side, and turned into an infection that wouldn’t respond to antibiotics.  So last week, on September 18th, I was back in surgery to un-do all that had been done in July, remove the implant, and get rid of all of the infection.

Yesterday, I removed the bandages for the first time so that I could shower.  It was like someone had punched me in the gut.  It took my breath away.  The damage was worse now than way back after the double mastectomy last year.  I obviously was NOT prepared for what I saw, and I stood for what seemed like forever, mouth agape, staring at even worse caved-in scars than existed before.  There are no words, but the sense of loss overwhelmed me at that moment – and I believe that it was then that the mourning began.

The aftermath of multiple surgeries, implants, and infection
The aftermath of multiple surgeries, implants, and infection

Today, I can’t stop crying.  I have no way to explain it, except for an overwhelming sense of grief.  It isn’t about not being grateful that I beat cancer.  It isn’t about not being thankful that the staph infection didn’t get into my bloodstream and kill me.  I mean, truly, I hated my large breasts before cancer; but I never hated them enough to disfigure myself.  But it is a very odd place to be where I don’t look like a woman when topless; nor do I look like a guy when topless.  I feel like some androgynous person who gets called sir in the check-out line, and then called ma’am when they hear my voice.  I know that there is the option, after a while, to start over with something else that can be made from my own tissue, but that doesn’t take away from what I have to see today, and every day until maybe it can be repaired.  But truthfully, the more I see these scars, the less hope that I have for a repair that will look remotely like a breast.

I don’t know how to mourn.  I don’t know how to grieve a major loss and then let it go.  I know how to shove down feelings, sometimes to the point of omitting them from my memories.  I know how to stifle tears that start to choke me, for fear that if I let them go, they won’t stop and will overtake me.  When death has touched my family on rare occasions, I will usually cry at the intital news but then keep it together from that point forward.  I did fall apart after the loss of a baby and again when my oldest moved out, and that was enough for me.  To me, it doesn’t seem to be productive to fall apart, when I would much rather just face things, deal with it, and keep smiling and cracking jokes in order to cope.  So for whatever reason, now, all of these months and months and surgery scars later, my psyche has decided that THIS surgery was the one.  The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.  Floodgates are being pressed hard by weird, foreign, emotion-type things like the levees in New Orleans during hurricane season.

No matter how much I downplay it, no matter how much I laugh it off – body parts are gone forever.  No matter how many more procedures it takes to rebuild some semblance of a chest – they will never be the real thing or look like the real thing.  I know that my physical appearance doesn’t define me, and never has – so why in the holy f&*k is this driving me mad NOW???  I just don’t get it.  And this whole piece is NOT for advice on how to deal with things, or for great words of wisdom, or for anyone to tell me to “buck up, Buttercup” – because I’m telling myself that one plenty, thank you very much.  This piece was just how I know how to process things, and that is through writing.  I only share in hopes that if there is one person out there who goes through something remotely similar, that they will know that they are not alone, and that they can, should, and will go through a mourning of their own.

But, I came to a harsh realization today.

I had Cancer.

The Reconstruction

* I just realized that a previous blog post briefly covered some of this information, so my apologies for some repetition. I think I was in the hospital still when I wrote the last one – there were pain meds involved, and thus my recollection of it is a bit fuzzy *

So I guess it has been a while since I have updated in the post-cancer saga, huh? Well there wasn’t much to tell, thankfully, after treatment ended. I finished radiation in mid-February and then just went back to life as usual. My first 3-month checkup was in May, and all of my labs indicated that my tumor markers were normal. In September (well actually, next week) I am due to follow up with both my oncologist and my radiation oncologist – this will be six months out. In between, we finished the last school year, had a fantastic family vacation to Colorado, took an awesome anniversary trip to San Francisco and Napa, and then returned to get ready for Noah’s summer camp just before he started his freshman year of high school. I had been feeling great, working out, finally losing weight, and was getting better and better with each passing day. I knew that I needed another surgery to remove some skin and fat from each side of my scars, under my arms; plus I also needed to have my thyroid removed now that I have insurance. My surgeon had scanned my thyroid several years ago and discovered that there was an old, calcified nodule on it. Once I went in to discuss the thyroidectomy, she scanned it again just for kicks. Yup. Still there. I then started talking to her about possibly having small implants put in, only because I was caved in and my clothes were not fitting that great. She encouraged me to go and get a consultation from her friend and plastic surgeon before we scheduled the surgery – and so I did.

Two of my babies visiting me after surgery
Two of my babies visiting me after surgery

I went for my consultation, and after some discussion we devised a fairly simple plan for some small implants. The first surgeon would go in first and remove the thyroid, and then the plastic surgeon would take over to remove the skin and fat that was under the arms, and add the small implants. We scheduled it for the end of July, the week after we returned from our amazing trip to California. Three nights in the hospital and we came home for what I thought would be a short recovery. WRONG. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, prepared me for the recovery after reconstruction. The pain. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, prepared me for the pain after reconstruction. It was way worse than the double mastectomy had been, most definitely. It took weeks to move without flinching, and I was restricted from lifting anything over five pounds for six weeks…including Harrison. When I woke up from surgery, the first thing that I asked about was not the implants, but about the areas under each arm that needed to be removed – and they were still there. Something about not being able to get to them while I was under. Needless to say, I was NOT happy about that. Follow-up appointments revealed that while he had not been able to get to the areas easily while in the operating room, he could easily access them in one of his procedure rooms at his office. I went in a few weeks post-surgery to have the procedure done in-office, where he numbed me up and snipped and sutured. It’s not as flat as I would like on one side, but it can always be touched up at another visit.

Having my in-office procedure...awake and with a camera phone!
Having my in-office procedure…awake and with a camera phone!

Another one of the disappointments upon getting home and healing a bit was to see that I could hardly even tell that an implant had been added. My chest was so caved in that it pretty much swallowed up the entirety of each of the implants, moreso on the right side. So now, I find myself with a small bump on my left breast area, and no bump at all on the right side. Dear Lord baby Jesus, was this even worth doing? Ugh. So I discussed it with my plastic surgeon, and he said that he cannot go back in to fix it until November. I’m not sure that I get the reasoning behind it, but that is what he said. He said at that time, he will take the current implants out and place larger ones in (and the right one will have to be bigger than the left to accomodate the bigger cave-in). I am really, really hoping that it will be the last one.

Sidebar on the Thyroidectomy: A few days after I got home from the hospital, my surgeon who removed my thyroid called me. She had the pathology report back from the nodule that they removed from the thyroid. Cancer. GREAT. So now what? She said that the good news for me is that it was totally encapsulated inside the calcified, rock-like shell. It was 8mm of cancer, and the other good news is that no further treatment is required unless it is 10mm or larger. Whew. I barely skated out of more treatment! So for now, she is monitoring my meds and my TSH levels, and every six months I have to go for tests to make sure there is no cancer in my parathyroid.  At least this scar, the one on my neck, is healing nicely and hasn’t given me any problems whatsoever.

So now here I am, six weeks or so out from surgery. I don’t know if I was moving around too much or if I didn’t wait long enough to pick up Harrison, but my sutures that looked almost completely healed have opened up. First in one spot, then in two, then in three, until I saw four open spots over the weekend. I went last Friday and the doc looked at them, said that there is no infection, and that it is just really slow healing because it is the side where radiation took place. Even though I did wait the amount of time that my radiation oncologist said to wait, and then some, it apprently wasn’t long enough. The plastic surgeon said that the radiated side would be slow to heal for any reason, for the rest of my life. GREAT.

I now, for the most part, really regret even going down this reconstruction road. But I’ve come this far, I pretty much have to see it through – unless I just say “Screw it!” and have the doc reverse it and take the implants out altogether. I’m not to that point yet, considering all of the pain and soreness that I have endured….but I am SO ready for all of it to just be over.

** Added segment 9/12/2014 **

Fast forward to today. Over the course of this week, the pain has been steadily increasing in my left implant, while the wounds are still draining (over a week now) and not looking any better. I went back in for the doc to look at it, with pain so intense that it hurt to breathe. As soon as he took a look at it, he said, “Oh damn. That doesn’t look good.” He examined it, touched all around it, got a Q-tip and dug around in it (not pleasant, by the way), and confirmed that it is infected – probably with staph. Wait, WHAT?? Staph?? Um, are you going to put me in the hospital right now and take it out, and stick an IV in my arm to pump antibiotics in?? He was very calm, telling me not to freak out or be afraid, because staph is just the type of infection that takes place in this area when it happens. He said that he wants to try to save it if possible until we are ready to swap it out in November for the larger ones. I am to spend today and the weekend taking lots of antibiotics orally, along with pain meds, and report back to them on Monday morning. If it is not significantly better, then he will put me in on Thursday and remove the implants. This basically will mean that all of this pain and limitation will all be for nothing, and IF I decide to start over, we will do so with expanders once the tissue is completely healed. Again. And all of that means that there will be surgery next week, then another to insert the expanders, then another to take the expanders out and add implants. Ugh. breast-reconstruction-jo-400x400

This makes me extremely grumpy.

The Final (hopefully) Cancer Frontier

July 26, 2014

It’s been a minute since I have blogged about the whole breast cancer journey, mainly because I finished treatments back in February and haven’t really done much else. A few weeks ago, I had my first three-month labwork and appointment with my oncologist. I was nervous before going in, knowing that they would be checking my tumor markers to make sure that they were not elevated (which would mean recurrence). Thankfully everything turned out wonderfully normal!

So a few weeks ago, I went back to the surgeon – Dr. Carolyn Garner, extraordinaire – who performed my bilateral total mastectomies last year, as well as my port placement and repair for chemo. A year or so before I even got diagnosed with cancer, my family knew and loved Dr. Garner’s work as a surgeon. She had removed the thyroids from our friend Holly, Holly’s mom, Erikka (right after Harrison was born), and my mother. Dr. Queen of the Thyroidectomy! One of the times that I had gone in with

My girls came to visit - and borrowed my bed!
My girls came to visit – and borrowed my bed!

Erikka before she had her thyroid removed, the doc did an ultrasound on my throat, just for kicks, since I had so many symptoms related to a problem thyroid. I didn’t have insurance at the time, but I did have an obvious nodule that was likely making my thyroid absolutely useless. Flash forward to 2014, when I finally obtained wonderful medical insurance. I had to wait until I was completely done with treatment, or at least that what was recommended, before finally addressing my throid or anything else that would require surgery. I went in, she wanded my throat again, and just confirmed that the nodule was still there, and appeared to be very calcified. We also discussed removing my chemo port, which she had previously sewn to my chest wall. Yes. Good times and great comfort, particularly all of the times that Harrison hit it with her head or body-slammed me. And then, as an afterthought, change of heart, whatever, I started asking about possible small reconstruction. She had removed my breasts and had gone as close to the chest wall as she could, and this left me flatter than a boy – I was actually caved in. Some shirts and swimsuits just don’t fit right anymore, and I had become very self-conscious about it (and I just KNEW that I wouldn’t care about that kind of thing). Well, apparently, I was wrong.

Two of my babies visiting me <3
Two of my babies visiting me ❤

Next thing I knew, Dr. G had my shirt off and was snapping pics of my chest with her iPhone, and then texting the pics to her friend the plastic surgeon, Dr. Sanderson. She said he was a fantastic plastic surgeon, and that I should consider a consultation with him before we scheduled surgery; and yes, all of the procedures could be done on the same day. When I left her office that day, I called and got an appointment with Sanderson for the consult, and a few days later was meeting him and discussing options. I ultimately decided that I would go with just a small, A-cup implant, and had just enough skin to do it and not have to get expanders. Within a few days, surgery was scheduled, insurance was verified, and I felt really good about my decision. Our anniversary trip was already planned and booked, so surgery would be the week after we returned, with plenty of time to heal and be up and about in time for the new school year that begins at the end of August.

Thursday, July 24th we checked in at the hospital at 8:30 AM for my 11:30 AM scheduled surgery. IV put in, visits from doctors and anesthesiologists, and soon I was in la-la land and off to the operating room. Dr. Garner took out my thyroid and chemo port, and when I asked her about the nodule, she said it was bigger than we anticipated (the size of a marble), and solid like a rock. She said that the lab will have to soak it in a solution that will soften it enough to cut it open and do the pathology on it. It could be cancerous, and if so, that will mean more treatment, but nothing near what I have already done. If it is, that means three days in quarantine taking radioactive treatments – and that is it! So I’m not overly freaked out about whether it is or isn’t, because while it may be an inconvenience, I can certainly handle three days of treatment and then it be over!

When Dr. G was done with her part, Dr. Sanderson took over for the reconstruction portion of the program. I think he was at it for a couple of hours, opening up my previous incisions, placing the implants, and building barriers on each side of them to keep them in place (since I had no expanders or pockets placed previously). I don’t think that I woke up at all in recovery, and was up in my room before I did. At first I didn’t think the pain was too bad – until the first time I had to get up to use the restroom. Whoa! When gravity hit, even in little boob gravity world, THAT was ROUGH. I had not been given the handy dandy little morphine button, and nobody knew why; but I made it very clear that I wanted and needed it! When Dr. S stopped by to check on me, I was in a lot of pain and he didn’t understand why I didn’t have the button either, so he was ON IT. Got me hooked up within a half hour, and I was much better – well at least every six minutes I was a lot better…hahaha. I soon discovered that the pain in my chest from the reconstruction was WAY worse than the double mastectomy, and I’m not sure that I understand why. But I went home after one night in the hospital for that one; this time I have been here going on three nights, and hoping to go home tomorrow. My chest is still wrapped really tightly in dressing and ace bandage, so I have yet to see the results. I know that it isn’t going to be much bigger than before the implants were placed, but I expect not to be caved in anymore, with just enough curve (hopefully) to fill my swimsuits.

Mama Burt stopped by to see me!  Love her!
Mama Burt stopped by to see me! Love her!

Soon enough, I will heal again, and start looking for tattoo artists that have experience in post-mastectomy tattoos. If I find someone good that will take me on as a client, then I will start with 3D areola/nipple tats. After that, I want to put the Biohazard symbol where my port scar is, and then later figure out some cool, non-floral designs over other portions of the surgery scars. I never, ever planned on doing any kind of reconstruction, but am glad that I reconsidered and left it as a possibility after all. We shall see!

Beautiful flowers from Mom & Dad, and a new Willowtree figurine from my awesome wife <3
Beautiful flowers from Mom & Dad, and a new Willowtree figurine from my awesome wife ❤

The Radiation

Chemotherapy finally ended in mid-October, and soon plans were being discussed about starting radiation.  I had another surgery that I was waiting to have approved, one that would, for all intents and purposes, be my version of reconstruction.  The surgeon needed to go back in and remove more skin and fat, as I remained a bit deformed and misshapen after the double mastectomy in April.  Once the second surgery was approved, I spoke with my Oncologist, and he said to proceed with it before starting radiation – otherwise I would have to wait a while, until my skin had completely healed from treatments.  And I did NOT want to wait any longer.

Surgery was performed December 2nd, with an overnight stay at the hospital, and then it was back home and back to doctor appointments, follow-up appointments, lab work, and consultations to plan for the next round of treatments.  Once I consulted with Dr. Ilahi, my Radiation Oncologist, it was decided that I could get through the holidays and begin radiation on January 7th.  I was beyond thrilled!  During the interim, I had gotten a follow-up PET scan, and on November 14th was given the report that there was no evidence of previous tumors in any of the areas where it had been given.  In other words – the chemo had worked and I was cancer free!  This made me really question why I absolutely needed to continue on and put myself through radiation; but Dr. Ilahi said that it was an extra measure to help prevent it from coming back – like, by a large percentage.  So with that information, I knew that it was something that I needed to do, as much as I did not want to do it.  For myself.  For my wife.  For my children.  If it increased my odds of STAYING cancer free, then hell yes I would be doing it.  

Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went, and I began to slowly start feeling better after chemo life.  Dragging my feet, I went in and started the routine:

  • Treatments would be every day, Monday through Friday, at 3:30 PM, for six and a half weeks

  • Dr. Ilahi would see me every Wednesday to check my skin

  • There would be 33 treatments, of a particular dose, and none could be skipped

  • Since it is like sun damage, the negative effects would build, each week getting a little worse (and would end up like a bad sunburn…so they said)

  • Fatigue would be a side effect, but it wouldn’t get too noticeable until around week four

    Anna (one of my radiation techs) showing the machine of my torture...LOL
    Anna (one of my radiation techs) showing the machine of my torture…LOL

Me, on the table, about to begin treatment
Me, on the table, about to begin treatment

By week three, my skin was already a ruddy red color, all across my chest on the left side (where they were radiating).  I battled with nausea, which boggled the doctor and techs’ minds, because supposedly nausea is not a common side effect when getting radiation in the chest area.  But then again, EVERYTHING makes me nauseous.  By week four, I started getting tired.  And I started noticing, for the first time, that my left armpit was getting really dark.  They were blasting me in the armpit, too??  I had no idea.  By week five, I was getting really tired, really easily.  My chest became blistered, but no skin had opened up.  I developed itchy, little, red bumps on my upper back from exit radiation.  My armpit got darker red, and started to hurt.  By week six, I was tired.  Like, bone dragging, dawg ass TIRED.  I was using up to four lotions/creams at a time, multiple times per day, on my chest and armpit areas.  They both hurt and itched all the time.  By the final week, which would only be three days, I was beyond ready to be finished.  I could barely stay awake during the day or evenings, and couldn’t wait until kids went to bed at night so that I could retire to our bed as well.  I had prescription hydrocortisone for the itchiness, and was using it rapidly.  And with three days left, my second degree burns under my arm had opened up, now requiring Silvadene cream twice a day.   

It got to the point that I was in tears.  

Shot of part of the chest burn, just a few days from the end
Shot of part of the chest burn, just a few days from the end

Three days from the end, and it finally got the best of me.  

The 2nd degree burns under my arm (and yes, they got worse than this)
The 2nd degree burns under my arm (and yes, they got worse than this)

But the end was in sight…

The Chemo, Part 2

So chemo is all done now, just over two months now actually, but I’m going to back track a little since I slacked off in my writing and updating.
Once I got done with the first four rounds, I was halfway done, and oh so glad to be done with the Red Devil that made me sick for what seemed like an eternity. Starting with round 5, I was supposed to finish out the last four rounds with one drug instead of two: Taxol. Several people, both medical professionals as well as former chemo patients, had told me that Taxol would be much easier to deal with, as it didn’t have the nausea side effects of my first two drugs. Well, good! Thank God, I said. All I have to say is….LIARS!
I had my first round of Taxol, and thought to myself, “Hey yeah! This Is easier on me and I don’t feel sick. Yay!” Within two days, my feet started to ache. Then it got worse, moving up my legs, making me wonder what I had done to cause the soreness, not taking I to account that it was chemo week and DUH, this could be a side effect. By day four, I could barely walk, and nothing I could take was easing the pain – and then it hit me that perhaps I should look up some of the side effects for this new drug. Ah. Bone pain is a common side effect. Lovely. And then, to top it off as the pain got more intense, I had an allergic reaction to the Taxol. On the evening of the fourth day, as I lay in bed in the dark, I started to itch. This led to scratching that accompanied the already annoying tossing and turning, writhing in pain. Erikka said, in the dark, “Honey….why are you scratching so much?” I didn’t know, so I turned on a lamp. Picture in your head a duet of gasps – as we saw the rash and inflammation that was taking over my body. Earlier in the day, the oncologist had called in a steroid prescription for me to help with the bone pain, hopefully. So when we saw the rash, we immediately thought that it was a reaction to THAT. We looked it up online, and it said that if you have a reaction like I was having, to go to the ER immediately. So I loaded up myself and drove to the ER, calling the answering service as I went. Once there, I was loaded up with IV meds of Benadryl, some other allergy meds, and Morphine. It took about an hour for the rash to go away and for me to get some rest, and then they released me. That was probably the worst reaction I had, since it was coupled with the bone pain; but little did I know just how bad the remaining treatments were going to get.
The second Taxol treatment had no skin or allergic reaction, so I thought I would be okay. I was wrong. The bone pain came back within a day, and was so strong that I had to purchase a cane to help walk even the shortest of distances for the week after treatment. I felt like an eighty year old! I remember lying in bed, crying and saying that I had NEVER felt this kind of pain, and that I didn’t think it was worth it. During the first four treatments, while my hair had all fallen out, I had managed to keep my eyelashes and eyebrows – well that was all over, and out they came. That was when I really started looking as sick as I felt. I walked into the bathroom one day, and was so shocked at what I saw…it made me cry. I exited the bathroom and came into our bedroom, crying that I finally looked like a cancer patient. It was a sobering moment.
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After that second treatment on the Taxol, my doc decided it was too strong, so I would need to start going weekly for lower dose treatments – this did NOT make me happy. I just wanted to serve my time, get my sentence over with, and go on with my life. However, while it didn’t take away the pain, the smaller doses did make it more bearable. Weekly trips to the Oncologist for labs, doc visits, and treatments became my new routine. While he was giving me steroids with my treatments and for pain, I was blowing up, gaining almost 15 pounds, eating really crappy, and looking like a swollen excuse for a woman. I know it had to be hard on my wife and our kids to see me that way….hell, it was hard on ME! But eventually I got through it, and soon, it was October 14th and I was taking my final chemo treatment, thrilled out of my mind!

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