Category Archives: Family Matters

The Versatile Blogger Awards 2014

February 26, 2014

*I’m not sure why none of my spacing in between paragraphs made it here.  I inserted space in three different times, and every time I save my work, it takes it away.  My apologies for everything being crammed together 😉

So I was looking at my blog tonight, and making sure that all of my “About Me” information was current, when I noticed that like, two years ago, a follower of my blog bestowed upon me a Versatile Blogger Award!  And somehow, somewhere, it completely got past me and I never knew!  Now how dumb do I feel??!!  But I read through the entire post from October 25, 2011 and was so honored to have been mentioned among her choices for versatile bloggers from all walks of life.  Plus I LOVE the idea of an annual list of awardees to come up with and share with readers, so that all of MY favorite blogs can get a public head knod and hopefully increase their traffic each year!  So thank you first and foremost to Kana Tyler of Kana’s Chronicles (http://kanatyler.com/) for giving me this awesome honor so long ago – and my apologies for not offering my thanks sooner!

Now, for those of you out there who write – especially if I have missed your blog or didn’t realize that you have one – this is a pay-it-forward award, so you can also participate and have your own award show over there on your page as well.  Also, you can comment on my blog with a link to your site, for my benefit as well as for my readers.  Here are the rules:

  1. Thank your nominator with a link to their blog.

  2. Bestow the award on 10 bloggers (sharing links to their sites, and letting them know) – I, however, am bestowing it on 11 bloggers, because I’m just crazy like that

  3. List seven things about yourself.

Easy peasy.  So here we go.the-versitle-blogger-award

Domestic Dyke’s Versatile Blogger Awards 2014 (in no particular order of importance):

* Gayby Boom Blog (http://blog.chron.com/gaybyboom) – dads Michael and Matthew Burrus-Pearce with their humoros quips about life with a toddler daughter and new infant son

* The Robot Mommy (http://therobotmommy.com) – follow along with this SAHM, as she shares her “grumps” pics, and TCIF memes (Thank Coffee It’s Friday, right?)

* The Herzy Journey (www.theherzyjourney.com) – Jenny Herzberger’s wild ride through breast cancer, treatments, and reconstruction

* Happy Herbivore Blog (www.happyherbivore.com/blog) – Our favorite resource for all things plant-based (diet, that is)!

* A Journey Through the Carcinoma Wonderland (http://mapelba.wordpress.com) – Austinite wife and artist blogging her way through breast cancer… and all that comes with it

* Slap Dash Mom (www.slapdashmom.com) – the adventures of Sadie Lankford, her wife Rachel, and their three daughters (the oldest has her own jewelry line! www.slapdashthings.com) about anything from cooking/baking, to school, to crafting, to movies, to LGBT rights, to whatever they encounter in their new home of Arizona

* Madgew-musings (http://madgew-musings.blogspot.com/) – the inner workings of Madge Woods, her friends, her family, and her travels around the U.S. and abroad!

* The Next Family (www.thenextfamily.com) – a wonderful compilation of blogs that come from a diverse family of writers on a wide variety of unique topics

* Simple Life Yoga (www.simplelifeyoga.com) – Brandie Sellers’ blog about her journey that led her to yoga, its teachings (and hers in turn as a yoga instructor), life coaching, vegetarian cooking, health & wellness, and her own experience as a breast cancer survivor

* Online with Zoe (www.onlinewithzoe.com) – amazing tales and treasures from the mind of Zoe Nicholson, human rights activist and feminist who has been on the forefront of activism, writing and speaking for many years, her writing is full of rich experiences and historical significance

* The Davey Diaries (http://daveydiaries.com) – follow along as David Mailloux rips open his insecurities to share them with others, as a white, male, educated, openly-gay recovering alcoholic…one day at a time, one step at a time

Congratulations to all of you versatile bloggers!  And thanks for sharing yourself with the rest of us!

Now for my obligatory 7 things about me (according to the rules listed above):

1.  I am still mildly addicted to Friends, the television show.  I watch at least one episode pretty much every night of my life.

2.  I once adopted two poodles from a shelter, naming the female Phoebe and the male Chandler (see?  A little addicted).

3.  I could eat tacos, in some form, every day, I think.  Egg, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, veggie, black bean, crispy, soft….I could go on and on.

4.  I have had 4 models of Jeep in my life:  Wrangler, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, and Grand Wagoneer.

5.  I took tap, jazz, and ballet for several years as a kid (yes, with the big tutus and everything), and my mother wouldn’t let me be in any sports because that was for boys.  Yeah.

6.  When I was in 5th grade, my best friend was visiting her grandmother in Wylie, Texas the night that Candace Montgomery murdered Betty Gore with an ax (and was found “not guilty” after using a self-defense argument).  Shortly after that, there were rumors that the murderer and her kids moved onto my street, one block down; never found out if they were true or not.

7.  I do not now, nor have I ever, played Candy Crush Saga.

With THAT, I say, “Keep writing my friends!  Keep reading my friends!  Keep sharing my friends!”

And take care of each other.

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The Chemo

My goodness, it has been a long time since I have written anything.  I guess between chemo, sickness, and trying to get my summer on, I just haven’t made the time.  But it’s a rainy day today, and I’m feeling pretty good (but lazy), so here we are.  I figured it might be time to share about the wonderful world of chemotherapy, now that I am halfway through.

So for me, the course of treatment was to be eight rounds of chemo – the first four consisting of two drugs, and the last four to be a third drug.  The first drugs are known as AC, and are very commonly used to treat breast cancer.  AC is made up of two drugs:  doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide.  These are drugs that are meant to prevent cancer cells from dividing and growing, and are supposed to eventually cause the cancer cells to shrink and disappear.  One of these, for me, is given as an IV drip through my port; the other, aka “the Red Devil,” is given to me in a giant syringe, pushed directly into my IV line.

Meeting The Red Devil for the first time
Meeting The Red Devil for the first time

The red devil causes the first few trips to the bathroom after treatment to be freaky – my pee is red!  It can also cause tears or sweat to turn red for up to a day or two after treatment, but I haven’t tested that theory as of yet.  This drug is so strong that they wouldn’t give it to me directly in an IV in my arm when my port was messed up – because if it leaks out onto the skin, it will eat it away.  Kind of like leprosy, I imagine….yikes!

I have treatment every three weeks.  There are tons of side effects, and at times it seems like the treatment is doing me so much worse than the cancer itself!  Thankfully, I haven’t had near as many of the side effects as some; but it still sucks.  I started losing my hair after the first treatment, so I buzzed it down super short.  Within a couple of weeks, it was coming out in big chunks, and while we were out of town in Little Rock, it got to the point that I woke up looking like a dog with mange – so I had to go and have it all shaved off.  That was rougher than I ever imagined it would be!

Post head buzzing.  Wish I could have kept it like this - SOME is better than NONE.
Post head buzzing. Wish I could have kept it like this – SOME is better than NONE.

 

 

The day I had to shave my head - my amazing friend Marisa did hers, too, and surprised me!
The day I had to shave my head – my amazing friend Marisa did hers, too, and surprised me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, I have to call the doc if I get a fever of 100.5 or higher, which is really low for most people, but chemo causes the immune system to be compromised and blood counts to go way down.  I have only had to call once, and even then, my fever only got up to 100.2 degrees.  But let me tell you – 100.2 during chemo can make you feel like death warmed over!  There is also the well-known side effect of nausea and vomiting, and once again, I am thankful that so far I have not puked even once.  The nausea is pretty constant, and to me, that can be worse than just puking and getting it taken care of.  I have four anti-nausea prescriptions that range in strength, and I have used them all.  There are many natural anti-nausea remedies, and all I will say about those is that they work.  Much better and faster than ANY of those prescriptions.  Allegedly.

Like I said, I am now halfway through my chemo treatments.  The AC portion of the program is over, and I am extremely thankful.  The next, and final, four treatments will be of a drug called Taxol.  I don’t know near as much about this one, but I know that the doctor has assured me that it won’t make me as sick.  He did, however, tell me that it will make me more fatigued.  What the what???  How is that even possible?  I am tired ALL the time, it seems!  Well, at least for the first two weeks.  It seems like a pretty regular pattern emerged over the past four rounds:  week one SUCKS and I am tired/sick pretty much from the day after treatment; week two sucks a little less, but I am still fairly sick for most of the week; and week three seems fairly normal, where I can go and do more.  Most of the trips that I have taken this summer have been during week threes.  And hey, that has worked most of the time.  Of course, the trip I was most looking forward to was to the beach and was scheduled during a week three – and I was sick the entire time with cough and cold BS!  But what can you do, right?

Photos from Rounds 1-4 I LOVE all of the tshirts that people have given/sent me, and wear a different one every time :)
Photos from Rounds 1-4
I LOVE all of the tshirts that people have given/sent me, and wear a different one every time 🙂

Onward with the chemo – I believe that the next one (first round of Taxol), will be August 5th, the day before my birthday.  Nice.  They tell me that treatment will be about three hours, not including the bloodwork that I do when I get there, waiting for the results, and the half hour of pre-medication (they give me anti-nausea and anti-anxiety meds).  I’m just ready to be over and done with it.  I think I get a PET scan when I’m done – which of course had better show NOTHING left!  Then I have to do 30+ radiation treatments, which will be daily Monday-Friday in Flower Mound…I am SO NOT excited.  According to the calendar, I should finish up everything around the week of Christmas.  Wow.  What a long year.  But a Merry, Merry Christmas it shall be!  And the best Happy New Year will be a bill of clean health and remission!

The Radiation Oncologist

5/10/2013

Friday. Another day with yet another appointment.  My biggest meltdowns so far have been over the abundance of appointments.  There have been SO many.

Today’s appointment is just a consultation with Dr. Ilahi – the Radiation Oncologist who will administer what will hopefully the final phase of treatment, at the end of the year.  She is in the same practice as my oncologist, Dr. Perez, but she is in another office in another neighboring city.  It is MUCH bigger and MUCH busier than my small office nearby, but hey, I gotta do what I gotta do.

I was ushered to the back within a few minutes of arriving and checking in, and soon was waiting in an exam room with Harrison sitting in her stroller – NOT being quiet, by the way.  I finally got The Lorax rolling on Netflix on my phone (God I love technology), and soon she was quietly watching when the doctor came in.  After introductions were made, she began asking my history:  discovery of the lump, time frame of mammogram to surgery, when was chemo to start, etc.  She then asked about my PET scans and realized that while she and Dr. Perez had conferred over the phone on the day of my last appointment with HIM, she did not have the scan results right in front of her to refresh her memory.  She excused herself for a few minutes and went to print it out from my record, and returned to discuss.  Dr. Perez had not been too specific when he told me that the cancer had spread, but rather just told me that it was in several of the intramammary lymph nodes (that can’t be taken out) and that I would need radiation.  I appreciated that over the next several minutes, she took the time to explain that the PET scan results don’t specify how many nodes, but just whether or not it lights up on the scan in small or large amounts.  I guess on mine, it lit up in several nodes, in small amounts.  She also told me that it lit up in one node in my left collarbone area, in a tiny spot of an area.  What???  I know that this may not seem like a big deal to most, considering that it had spread, so what’s one more node, right?  Well, it was a big deal to ME.  I had a minor little freak out there, spouting off that Dr. Perez had failed to share with me the fact that it was up near my collarbone as well.  Dr. Ilahi was very understanding and told me that it should make me feel better that it was only a tiny spot in that location.  Yeah, great.  She then went on to explain to me that after I finish chemo, we will wait a couple of weeks, get me fitted for my radiation stuff, and then start 6 ½ weeks of daily (Monday through Friday) radiation treatments.  Um, what???  I know that THIS may not seem like a big deal to most, but it was a big deal to ME.  Dr. Perez had told me that it would be “about four weeks” of radiation at the end of chemo, but here I was, hearing that it would be 6 ½ weeks – 32 or so treatments.  I was already upset enough that I was having to even do radiation, and now I am hearing that it is longer than I was initially told.  I know that she, the radiation oncologist, ultimately made the call on the length of treatment and NOT Dr. Perez, I was still stunned to hear it.  Fortunately for me, Dr. Ilahi was very calming and reassuring, and somehow made me feel okay about venturing down the radiation road eventually, even if it DOES totally freak me out.  

She then asked if she could examine me, and she went over my scars and all of the edema that I have.  She was very personable, asking about my family and my life.  Once she was done and I was dressed again, she asked if I had any questions.  My last question was about staging.  I told her that after surgery, the surgeon had told me that I was officially a Stage 2b.  I knew that the discovery of cancer that had spread had surely changed my staging, but when I had asked Dr. Perez about it, I wasn’t really given a direct answer.  It seemed that nobody wanted to answer me, and while it may not be a big deal to some, for some reason, it was a big deal to ME.  She responded so sweetly, saying that no, she understood me wanting to know, and that this raises my stage to a 3.  OK.  That was all I wanted.  I had been afraid that it raised me to a stage 4, and that nobody had wanted to tell me.  It was actually a relief to hear that it was a 3!  I asked what that meant for my odds, and she said that with medicine and technology now, there was no reason for me NOT to beat this and live a long life.  Will I see her grow up, I asked, as I pointed to Harrison?  She smiled and said, “I don’t see why not.”  She then walked with us back up to the front, chatting in the hallway, and hugging me goodbye at the door.  I left feeling good, rather than scared of the next step, and super confident that I had been given the perfect match of a radiation oncologist for me.

Being good at my appointment absolutely wore her OUT
Being good at my appointment absolutely wore her OUT

And while that may not be a big deal to some, it was a super huge, big deal for ME.

The PET Scan & Results

5/1/2013

It is Wednesday morning, May 1st.  I am scheduled to have a PET scan this morning.  Nothing to eat since midnight the night before.  They are going to see if the cancer has spread.

I arrive at Texas Oncology in Plano, which is HUGE compared to the office that I go to in Carrollton.  There were SO many people of all ages, and it made me very sad as I sat among them in the waiting area.  Cancer is absolutely a demon of a beast, and it is random, nor is it discriminate in whom it chooses to challenge.  Soon, a sweet tech by the name of James came out to get me, using humor to ease my anxiety.  I spent an hour in a quiet room, sipping clear contrast liquids and reading Facebook on my phone.  Then James gathered me up again and moved me into the room with the giant, intimidating scan machine.  He basically strapped me to the table, and explained that it would take a while, but he would be coming in to check on me several times.  While listening to all of the whirring noises of the massive machine, I tried to think about anything else – my wife, my babies, upcoming chemo, my friends, any plans that we have.  I almost thought that I might possibly be able to take a little nap, if I meditated myself into a relaxed enough state, but then James came in and said that I was all done.  Within minutes I was on my way out the door and in search of food, with promises that the results would be in Dr. Perez’s hands before my appointment two days later.  

M410302-PET_scanner_342x198

5/3/2013

It’s Friday now.  I have an appointment this afternoon with Dr. Perez, my Oncologist, to go over my PET scan results and plan for chemo.  Erikka leaves work early to meet me for lunch before my appointment, and then we are on our way over to the hospital.  We are taken back almost immediately, and put into a room to wait for the doc.  When he walks in, with papers in his hand, he shakes mine and asks how I am.  “Well,” I respond, “I guess that will depend on those test results in your hand.”  He laughs and gives me a warm grin and says, “We need to talk.”  Well SHIT.  That is NOT what I want to hear, obviously.  He sits down, Erikka reaches over and takes my hand, and tells me that the cancer has spread.  There are lymph nodes all over our bodies, as we all know; and under the chest wall in the middle of our chests are intramammary lymph nodes.  It is here that the PET scan lit up with spots of cancer cells.  Just before I was going to ask if that meant more surgery, for Dr. Garner to remove these lymph nodes as well, the doctor proceeded to explain that these lymph nodes are NOT usually removed in surgery, as they are difficult to reach.  Well SHIT.  So what does this mean?  He tells me that it means that they will need to add radiation on to my cancer-fighting regimen.  THIS is what makes me cry.  Having chemo didn’t make me cry, but radiation?  Now THAT was what upset me!  I was thrilled when I was told initially that I wouldn’t have to do radiation, so it was a huge disappointment that I was now going to be facing that as well.  But I have to see the good in the situation – there always has to be something good to focus on, right?  

Dr. Perez told me that it had NOT spread to any organs, or to my bones – a HUGE good.  He takes a moment and goes to call Dr. Ilahi – one of his colleagues who is the Radiation Oncologist that I will consult with regarding my radiation.  When he returns, he says that they consulted on my case, and they believe the best results would be to start chemo right away and do four weeks of radiation after chemo was finished.  I felt stupid that this made me cry, but it is what it is.  

A few minutes later, we were all done, with plans for chemo to begin on Monday, May 13th.  We were originally going to schedule the first treatment for Friday, May 10th, but decided against it so that I could have the weekend enjoying my family and Mother’s Day.  

il_fullxfull.334585623

Cancer may be taking some things away from me, but it can’t take everything.  I’m not willing to let it have any more than it has already taken.  I can kick chemo AND radiation in the ass, no matter what.

The Outcome & The Oncologist

4/17/2013

The Outcome:

One week out from surgery.  The pain is intense; the drains are annoying as hell.  My post-op appointment with my surgeon is today, and I am SO hoping that she will remove at least one of the drains today.  

We get to my appointment right on time, and are taken back right away, as usual.  She starts off by telling me that I am actually and officially only a stage 2 with my cancer; and based on the number of lymph nodes affected (9 out of 15), I was actually a 2a.  Initially, just after surgery, she had thought that based on the size of the tumor that she took out, I would for sure be a stage 3, which is what she told me in the hospital – thus upsetting me greatly before I was ready to go home.  But when I went in for this appointment, she told me right off that she had been mistaken, and I was truly only a stage 2.  She said that her first statement was based on the size of the tumor, and that it appeared to be 4 cm upon initial examination in the operating room.  The lab returned a result that it was actually 3.5 cm, and therefore only a stage 2.  I was VERY grateful for her error in judgment!  But this also told us that it had grown quite a bit, in quite a short period of time.  When I found it, my doctor estimated its size to be 2-2.5 cm.  The mammograms and ultrasounds measured it at 2.76 cm, just two weeks later.  The biopsies measured this tumor at 2.8 cm, and the final lab results after removal show 3.5 cm.  This is at least a full centimeter growth in less than six weeks!  She then went on to tell me that she got all of the cancer, to the best of her knowledge, but she suspected that the oncologist would want further body scans and brain scans, to make sure it hadn’t spread to other parts of my body (since it was so aggressive and fast growing).  I pray that the fact that it was fast growing says that it had not been there long when I found it.  I then got her to take out the right drain, which was heavenly; but she said I would have to wait a few days longer for the left drain.  

I was so excited to get a few minutes of snuggle time with my baby girl, since I can't pick her up :)
I was so excited to get a few minutes of snuggle time with my baby girl, since I can’t pick her up 🙂

4/19/2013

The Oncologist:

While on our way to my post-op appointment with the surgeon, I got a call from Texas Oncology – Carrollton.  I made an appointment for my consultation with Dr. Enrique Perez for Friday, April 19th.  The very nice lady, Roxann, emailed me new patient paperwork so I could be efficient and ready upon arrival.  When Friday arrived, we went to lunch beforehand at one of favorite restaurants – Misto Bistro – run by one of my favorite friends, Janet.  We have been friends for a while now, and I have worked with her doing catering (which I love); but our friendship has gone to a whole other level in the past several months, and she is even more special to me than before.  After lunch, we headed to Texas Oncology of Carrollton, where I met the chick who will be my supercool nurse, Amy.  I was ushered into a room, where I was asked a series of questions that I had already answered on all of the forms that I had previously filled out.  Soon, we were being introduced to Dr. Perez – a very nice and very tall man with a wonderful disposition and bedside manner.  He was able to put me to ease by anticipating my questions and answering them before I even got a chance to ask them.  I told him that my genetics testing came back negative, and my hormone receptor testing came back as a triple negative – triple negative for estrogen, progesterone, and HER2.  So now what?  I am negative for everything.  “What does that mean for me??”  I asked the doctor.  It basically means that it is harder to treat; but we are going to fight and we are going to do everything that we need to do to keep me alive.  Well alright.  That’s what I need to hear.  

Dr. Perez went on to tell me that he wants me to have a PET scan, a CT scan, and an echocardiogram before starting chemo.  He also said for me to go ahead and have the port put in, while I am waiting to start and waiting for my scars to heal.  He explained that based on all of my negative results, he was going to do a certain course of drugs (which I can’t remember the names – except that one is the evil red one that I have read about) for four rounds, three weeks apart.  The first four rounds will be two drugs together.  After that I will do another four rounds, three weeks apart, of a third drug.  He said that I WILL lose my hair, and other side effects could include diarrhea.  Yay.

Three days later I was back in Dr. Garner’s office to get my left drain out (FINALLY, thank God!).  I went over my oncologist visit with her, and we scheduled my outpatient surgery for the port placement.  It would be a couple of days later, on Wednesday morning, and she assured me that it was nothing…a breeze.  This procedure would be a walk in the park compared to the mastectomies.  

So I guess here we go.  No looking back.  Part one is done.  And as hard as it has been in the two weeks post surgery, I don’t think it will be anything compared to what is coming with six months of chemotherapy.  

Guess we will see.

The Surgery

4/10/2013

photo(13)
Holly, Lorrie, me, and Erikka before the OR

The day had finally arrived.  I was ready.  But I was also a little scared.  But I was more ready. Ready to get this thing out of me; this thing that has been growing quickly on its mission to rob me of my life.  I knew that this major surgery was the beginning of an uphill climb, but I willingly signed on for it, just like any of the 5Ks that I have done in the past – and will do more of in the future!

My rock <3
My rock ❤

We arrived at the hospital just before 10:00 AM, where I checked in and waited to be taken back by a nurse.  Holly arrived right behind us, and Lorrie arrived from Oklahoma City shortly after that.  I am so blessed that my three best friends in the world were all there beside me – beside US – on this day that would change our lives forever.  The only thing I had said that I wanted to wake up to was my wife and these three best friends – and they all made sure that it happened.  This meant the world to me.  Kim wasn’t there by the time I got called back, but she arrived before I actually went into surgery.  

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“Fall Risk” – I should have one of these every day of my life

When I got taken back, Erikka went with me and stayed while I changed and went through all of the typical pre-op routine.  They made me wear bright yellow socks with rubber grippies on the bottom (like the socks we put on Harrison), as well as a bright yellow bracelet that said, “FALL RISK” on it.  I can’t really be offended, because on a good day I am typically a fall risk…hahahaha.  The girls all thought it was pretty funny though when they came back….but they know me, too.  After the socks and bracelets were on, then the nurse put my IV in.  I asked for the “calm down” drugs, but she said that I would get those after I talked to a few more people.  Pretty soon, the no-nonsense anesthesiologist came in and went through all of the same questions that the first and second nurses had asked.  Lorrie didn’t like him because he didn’t have a sense of humor when she asked if he was going to share the “good stuff” with her.  He WAS all business, this Mr. Personality.

Mr. Personality...aka the Anesthesiologist
Mr. Personality…aka the Anesthesiologist

 After he left, then the OR charge nurse, Marti, came in.  She was awesome, and had on a cool pink surgical hat – all except for the Texas A&M logos on it.  We all loved it, especially since it was Wear Pink for Tanya day, and everyone we knew was wearing pink, including all of the beautiful women that were with me at the hospital.

Pretty soon, all that was left was signing the boobs away and the good drugs. Yes, I said sign away the boobs. Each person that came back asked me all of the same questions: full name, date of birth, allergies, what procedures were we doing. Then they gave me paperwork giving them permission to lob off my left and right breasts. Somewhere in there they gave me a small bit of something in my IV to “relax” me, and I apparently started talking to my boobies – telling the left one that it was rude for trying to kill me, and apologizing to the right one that it had to be put down all because of the left one. This was high comedy I hear! After he gave me that first little bit, I I remember saying, “Oh I don’t feel ANYTHING!” and soon they were kicking the girls out to take me back. I remember hugs and kisses from Holly and Lorrie, and lastly from Erikka – and that’s all I remember. I don’t remember the trip through the halls of the back hallways into the operating room. I went OUT.

Marti - the cool OR charge nurse with the cool pink hat (except that A&M nonsense)
Marti – the cool OR charge nurse with the cool pink hat (except that A&M nonsense)
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Talking to my left boobie….telling it how “rude” it was…LOL

Hours later, I am in a private room, being awakened by a sweet nurse in pink scrubs; surrounded by Erikka, Holly, Lorrie, and now Kim, too.  I vaguely remember asking what time it was, and it was much later than I thought it should be.  

Erikka trying to talk to me as they woke me up
Erikka trying to talk to me as they woke me up

The surgery had gone smoothly and not taken any longer than it should have; I had been hard to wake up (which is typical for me after any surgery).  I remember looking at Kim and saying, “Hey!  You’re not wearing pink!”  It’s funny where the brain goes when it is in an altered state!  I was so out of it, but was SO thankful for the nice little anti-nausea patch that they had put behind my ear just before I went into the operating room.  I had a drain coming out of each side of my chest, and was wrapped in a compression bra.  I remember looking down and putting my hands on my now flat chest, and thinking, “Oh my God, they’re really gone!”  Then I was in and out of consciousness for the next few hours, while my wonderful and amazing friends stayed and watched me sleep or hung out in the waiting room.

Lorrie and Kim just before they left for the day...I was still pretty out of it
Lorrie and Kim just before they left for the day…I was still pretty out of it

 

Soon, Lorrie would need to get back on the road to Oklahoma, and Kim would need to get back on the road for Ft. Worth.  Holly was going to stay for a while and keep Erikka company and have something to eat with us.  I don’t think that any of them know how grateful I am that they spent the day in hospital waiting rooms for ME, and for my wife.  They will never know, and I could never repay, the blessing that they all were for staying with Erikka and making sure that she kept it together instead of being sick with worry and fear.  After Kim and Lorrie left, I slept for a while more while Erikka and Holly went and found some decent dinner – Subway.  It was so nice to finally be able to eat!  And something that I LIKE!  Shortly after we ate, Erikka needed to leave and go pickup our little Peanut from my mom; and Holly decided that she would stay for a while and keep me company.  I kept dozing off, in and out of sleepiness, so I finally told her to go ahead and get home and rest.  I was good for the night, as long as I had my anti-nausea patch and sweet little pain med button that I could push every six minutes.  

The night was uneventful, and Erikka was back mid-morning that next day.  Over the course of the morning and early afternoon, I had lots of visits from nurses, as well as a Breast Cancer support staff person, who brought me some things to take home.  I also had a visit from an occupational therapist, who came and showed me some arm exercises to do three or four times per day when I got home – those were tough that first time!  The last visit that I was waiting for was Dr. Garner, after she got done with her surgeries for the day.  I didn’t think that I was ready yet to go home, but rumor was that she would probably send me home if she thought I was doing well.  

Late in the afternoon, Dr. Garner and her P.A. stopped by to check on me.  After she checked my sutures and drains, she deemed me to be doing great and said she was sending me home.  She did sit down and tell me that there were at least seven lymph nodes that had been cancerous, and they were still analyzing them all.  She said that based on that and the size of my tumor, I would likely be categorized as a stage 3 – which upset me quite a bit for the rest of the afternoon.  This was not the news that I had been hoping to hear.  

Off to home we went.  It felt good to be back in our bed.  Erikka tucked me in before running Noah to my mom’s for a long weekend, and I fell asleep again, thankful for our amazing family and friends who had gathered around us for this major occurrence in our lives.  I go back to the surgeon a week after surgery, and hope that she takes out one of these miserable drains, if not both.  Then I will find out more information, and probably find out about the next step:  chemotherapy.

 

The Farewell to the Ta-Tas

3/9/2013
Dear Boobies,

Well, my old faithful friends, this is it. Our time has come to an end. After years of pretty much detesting you because of your size, I am finding myself saddened that your end is at hand. Let’s think back to our long history that we’ve had…

I was about 9 years old when you decided to make your presence known. I was in the fourth grade, and not too sure about this whole bra thing. I remember being among Kristal Hodge and Alisha Harvey as one who had to endure teasing for having big boobies. Great. See the internal scarring you created in my young, tender psyche??

You did, however, serve my babies fairly well during their first months, by providing them nutrition, despite becoming larger than even I was prepared to deal with – can we say “ouch?”

Over the years, as you have stayed steady between a C-cup and D-cup, depending on my level of fatness at the time, you have been squeezed and smashed into various stages of uni-boob by sports bras galore, while still managing to pound my chest while running or get in the way of my golf swing. Now that you will no longer be with me, I am hoping that my runs will be swifter and my golf game won’t suck near as bad.

But now, our love-hate relationship is going to come to an end. I have no choice. You are sick and trying to kill me, and I can’t have that. But if it makes you feel any better as you face your imminent demise, you can die happy knowing that I have no intentions of replacing you. Tattoos will one day lie where you formerly resided, and nothing else. And while I spent many years trying to figure out how to smash you into a smaller space, wish that you were smaller, and try to workout until you became more muscular than fatty, I face tomorrow with a sadness that you will be gone forever. You have been a part of me for 42 years, and like anything, it will be tough waking up to look down to your absence.

So goodbye Tanya’s Ta-Tas. Thank you for the life we have shared. Damn you for trying to kill me. I didn’t dislike you THAT much!

Sincerely,
Tanya

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The Surgeon

4/1/2013

It’s April first.  The day after Easter, where we spent a nice weekend out of town visiting with Erikka’s extended family, like we do every year.  Like I hope to continue to do for many years to come.  Today is April Fool’s Day.  I was SO hoping that when I woke up, all of this cancer business would have been a dream or some bad April Fool’s joke.  But no.  Today brought me no joking or pranks.  Today brought me an 11 AM appointment at the surgeon’s office; the one whom I already knew from previous procedures with loved ones.

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Easter 2013

We loaded up and went to Dr. Carolyn Garner’s office right on time this morning, where I was filled with anxiety, ready to see what was coming up for me next.  After the obligatory blood pressure reading, weight report, and listing of meds that I take, we waited a few more minutes for the doc to come get us.  Soon she was there at the door, with greetings and catching up, going on about how big the baby has gotten since she had last seen her (Harrison was 4 weeks old when this doctor performed surgery on Erikka).  She then ushered us into her office-slash-examining room.  This is where she does minimal exams, but mostly consults with patients; we had been in there twice before.

Her first questions were mainly wanting to know how and when I discovered the mass – was it found on a routine mammogram or did I find it myself?  So I told her the details of how I found it, and what transpired from there.  She said, at that point, that “today, unfortunately, we don’t have anything good to talk about.”  Yeah.  I know.  I handed over the large envelope that had pathology reports from my biopsies, reports from mammograms past and present, and two CDs with mammogram images from 2008 and 2013, for comparison.  I told her that I have had the genetics testing done, and that they had put a surgical rush on it, so hopefully the results would be back by the end of the week.  I then told her that regardless of the results, I wanted her to take both breasts off.  She nodded and said, “Okay.  I agree.”  I was a little surprised that she was so agreeable so fast!  I proceeded to tell her that I understand, being a Medicaid patient, that there are stipulations based on the genetics testing to what will be paid; but I don’t care.  I don’t ever want to go through this again.  She said that given my family history, it will probably be paid for, but in the case that it isn’t, they will have me sign a form that basically states that IF it isn’t paid by Medicaid, then I will be responsible for the difference.  Fine.  I will sign it.  My next question:  When can we do this?  She said, “Well, I can’t do it today.”  Ha!  Funny lady.  “I do breast surgeries on Wednesdays, so I can do it this Wednesday, if you want.  Or I can do it next Wednesday.”  So after a moment of thinking, I said, “Next Wednesday it is.”  Within a few minutes, my surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, April 10th at Denton Regional Hospital:  a Radical Modified Mastectomy on the left side, and a Simple Mastectomy on the right side.

I then went on to tell her that I do not want reconstruction.  I am not interested in having fake breasts, as I am not a girly-girl who really cares about my curves; to which she responded, “I understand.”  From there we discussed the details about the surgery:  how she will remove the breasts (how the cuts will be done), the fact that she will be removing ALL of the lymph nodes on the right side under my arm, and what the scars should look like, given the fact that I am not doing reconstruction.  I will basically have scars across each side of my chest, and no nipples.

My scars should look similar to this
My scars should look similar to this

I can either have them tattooed on, or I can have other cool looking tattoos done if I don’t want to leave it plain.  We discussed the time frames:  length of stay in hospital, recovery time, visit to oncologist, and approximate time for chemo to begin.  Radiation will probably not be necessary, unless the cancer has invaded the chest wall.  She said I should be in the hospital for one night – what??!!  One night??  Her response to my surprise?  “Welcome to drive-thru surgery.”  I’m not sure if it is a Medicaid thing or just an insurance thing.  When my mom had her mastectomy and reconstruction, they tried to send her home after one night; to which I bitched and told them that I REFUSED to take her home that early….so they kept her a second night.  So the plan is one night, however, I typically get a fever every time I have surgery, and end up having to stay an extra night.  She said that recovery time is about two weeks, but I find that highly optimistic.  I’m betting it’s more along the lines of 2-4 weeks.  That’s 2-4 weeks of trying to recover a range-of-motion in my arms.  That’s 2-4 weeks unable to drive, raise my arms above chest level, pick up my sweet baby girl, work out.  She said that after that time, I can go back to cardio activities, but no weights for a while.  I will have to find an oncologist and plan to go a week or two after my surgery; and will likely begin chemo 4-6 weeks after surgery, depending on how the healing is going.

After that, she took a few minutes to examine the “affected breast.”  She barely touched me and responded, “Oh wow.  That really IS big.”  Um, yes, I know.  After her exam, she told me again that she thought that mastectomy of both sides was definitely the way to go, and she would tell her own sister the very same thing.  Soon we were on our way out with paperwork to take when I go to register.  By the time we reached the Jeep and got loaded up, we were both in a much more somber place.  As I tried to discuss some of the details of surgery day (who can keep kids, etc.), my beautiful and strong wife became a little overcome by emotion.  This was the first time that I had seen her show anything but positive words or strength through all of this.  But yeah.  It hit us both.  This was overwhelming for her – for us.  And as the day went on, it became way too “real” for me.  This is really happening.  I REALLY have cancer.

And I’m not going to wake up and it just be a dream.

The Cause

3/26/2013

It is very odd to lie flat on my back these days.  If I do, and I put my hands behind my head, then it makes the tumor in my breast very prominent and noticeable, even if just to me.  It is fairly large in size, so whenever I lay down, it is a constant reminder of what lies just beneath the surface.  Do you know how strange it is to walk around knowing that there is this thing with me, all the time, that I can touch and feel…a thing that has the potential to kill me?  I will tell you.  It is the most peculiar, uncomfortable, uneasy feeling that I have ever had in my life.  EVER.

As the days pass by, waiting for things to start moving and happening, it gives me a lot of time to think.  I have yet to have the inner dialogue of, “Oh God, why ME??  Woe is me and why would you do this to me, Lord??”  No, that hasn’t happened.  But I HAVE wondered what I could have done differently over the course of my previous 42 years to prevent this.  Did all of those years of smoking contribute to my cancer?  Did my miscarriages also raise my risk of developing this particular cancer?  I know that both of these things are supposedly risk factors that can increase a woman’s chances – but did they in my case?  I will never know that.  Did being overweight for so many years increase my chances?  Or being sedentary for so long?  Or perhaps the deoderant that I use – did using a rollon instead of a spray do it?  Yeah, there are all kinds of wacky theories out there.  But seriously, I have to sit and wonder what I did to contribute to the development and discovery of cancer in my body – and will I develop it somewhere else, too?

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There is also the possibility that I inherited the gene that producees breast cancer.  After all, my mother has had it.  Her only sister has had it.  I think they had maternal aunts with it.  One of my father’s sisters has had it.  I got whammied on both sides on the gene pool.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), I go back to UT Southwestern to have genetics draw blood and begin the process of testing me for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.  My part is simple – they draw a vial of blood and send it off.  The hard part is waiting for the results – 14 days.  This, however, will help the surgeon determine if she should take just the affected breast, or preventatively take both (which is what I want).  Even if I don’t test positive for the gene, I want to have both breasts removed, so that I don’t ever have to go through this again.  For those who do not know, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are known as tumor suppressors, and are linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers (according the the National Cancer Instiitute).  I read some interesting information regarding the genes and testing, which helped me understand it more.

Both men and women who have harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations may be at increased risk of other cancers – NOT just breast or ovarian.  Women who inherit a harmful mutation has an increased risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer at an early age (meaning before menopause).  Men who inherit harmful BRCA1, in particular, also have an increased risk of breast cancer, and possibly, pancreatic, testicular, or prostate cancers.  Lovely.

I believe that the foundation is covering my genetics testing, or they will bill to Medicaid once I get coverage.  I was, however, encouraged to hear that if I am positive for either the BRCA1 or BRCA2, then there is a chance that the foundation will also bring my boys in and perform the test on them.  It would be very beneficial to know if either of them are also positive for these genes, so that they can be proactive in their health to do whatever they need to prevent getting an active cancer diagnosis.  Plus, Nicholas already has a baby girl, whom can also inherit this gene if her daddy is positive for it; something that I would HATE to see happen!

So I guess that if the tests come back as positive for this, the “breast cancer gene,” then that can pretty much explain the cause of my cancer.  If not, I guess I will never know what caused it or how I possibly contributed.  All I know is that it is here now, but I want it gone.  Soon I will begin the fight for my life, and I am so truly grateful for every well wish, every email or Facebook message, every prayer, every offer for help and/or babysitting, and every dollar that has been donated to help during this time that I won’t be able to work.  I truly believe that together we can and will triumph over this horrible mutation, and live to write about it all!

The Consultation

3/21/2013

Today has been a miserable day for me, feeling like my throat is on fire and a cough that just won’t stop.  I finally had to give in yesterday and admit that hey, I must really be sick, so I threw in the towel and went to the doctor this afternoon.  Throat infection, probably stemming from allergies.  Damn allergies.  I did, however, have a fun morning with my friend & hairdresser for years, Liz.  She so graciously gave me a cut and color – and BOY did she give me color!  I left with blonde and two shades of pink!  SO awesome…I love her so much.

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But let’s go back to yesterday.

I had an appointment at Moncrief Cancer Institute yesterday at 1:30 PM, in Ft. Worth.  Oh THAT was a fun drive.  There is construction EVERYWHERE between here and there, so the normally 45 minute drive took me an hour and a half.  Good times.  But it was necessary and definitely important to this whole process, so I wasn’t going to bitch.

The first part of the appointment was brief, spent with a nice chick named Yesenia, filling out paperwork for Texas Medicaid.  I gave her all of the documents that they said that I needed to bring, and she told me that it would take 6-10 business days for me to get into the Medicaid system and have an ID# – but she said that I DO qualify.  Huge relief #1.  She explained to me that it is good for six months, and if I am still in treatment at that time, then all I had to do is renew it by having my treating doctor fill out a form for me.  Easy peasy.  She also explained that this particular Medicaid program, while it will cover most of my treatment, there are some things that it will not cover, and only covers three prescriptions each month.  So I will have to be careful to pick and choose wisely which ones to use it for – I remember when my mom went through treatment, her anti-nausea meds were OMG expensive, even on her good insurance.  And you can guaran-damn-tee that I am gonna want the good anti-nausea drugs!

The next part of the appointment was longer, spent with one of the nurse caseworkers named Edna.  We discussed the next step, which was a consultation with a surgeon.  She said that a preliminary staging would probably put me at a 2, but that my official cancer stage wouldn’t be given until after my surgery.  She had a piece of paper that had the surgeon’s name on it that they were referring me to, and I could read it upside down.  I thought I had read it wrong, so I asked, “Does that say Dr. Carolyn Garner??”  She said, “yes?”  I was like, “Out of Denton Regional?  Cute little soft-spoken redheaded doctor?”  She said, “yes?”  I said, “Well that can’t be right.  She is an endocrinologist.  Does thyroid surgery.  I know her.  My friends know her.  My mother just had her thyroid removed by her about six weeks ago!”  Edna looked at me and said that she has dual specialties:  endocrinology surgeries and breast surgeries.  Ohmygod seriously???  THAT is awesome!  Huge relief #2.  I would totally go to her in a heartbeat, plus I am already in her system because I had a consultation with her about my own thyroid last year, when I briefly had insurance.  That took a huge weight off of my back!  I would definitely rather have surgery at one of the bigger hospitals than at Denton Regional, but I trust this surgeon, so I know it will all be good.

Once we got this part out of the way, we discussed various things regarding treatment, and what to expect as best that I can.  She said that because of my age and family history, that they want to do genetic testing on me, for the BRAC gene.  She said that they want to do it right away, so that the results can go to the surgeon, and we can make a definitive decision regarding surgery.  If I am positive for the gene, then I have the option of having both breasts removed and it would be covered completely; while if I am negative, then only the affected breast is eligible for surgery and reconstruction.  If I am positive, they will also test my two boys for the gene; because men can get it, too, as well as pass to their daughters (and one of my boys already has one of those!).  If I am negative, I could still have the unaffected breast removed electively, but it would likely be out of pocket.  I have been saying, for many years now, that if I ever get hit with this type of cancer, then I would for sure want to have them both removed.  And I still say that now.  I don’t want to ever go through this again!  Take them both, take them now.

So now I am expecting a call from the genetics department.  She also said that I would get a call from one of their social workers, who will keep connected with me during the course of my treatment, to make sure that I have everything and all of the support that I need.  They have support groups.  They will be mailing me an A to Z book about breast cancer, since they were out of it yesterday while I was there.  I gotta say, this place, Moncrief Cancer Institute, is an amazing place.  Nothing but positive people, pushing calm, peacefulness that is full of hope and light.  Next week on Wednesday, I am supposed to call and check the status of my Medicaid.  If I am in the system, I can get the ID# and make my appointment with Dr. Garner.  From what I can tell, with genetics testing (and waiting the 14 days for the results) and any additional testing that Dr. Garner may want to do, I will likely be having surgery around mid-April.

With what I have had to take in during this short time so far, I am glad that it is finally moving along.  My biggest fear, in the beginning, was the fact that I had no insurance.  I am SO thankful for the programs that exist, for the knowledge to find them, for a great doctor’s office to direct me, and for the grants & donations that fund these programs.  I have had amazing support from family and friends, both near and far, in person and across the world of Facebook.  My dear friend, Madge, stepped up immediately and set up a fundraising site online for people to donate towards – and after three days she has gotten over $3000!  I am overwhelmed and blown away by the humanity of my friends, her friends, and many people who don’t know me at all yet have graciously given a donation!  This money will help SO much in the absence of my income, and will help pay the bills that I usually cover, as well as gas to and from all of the countless appointments.  Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough.  I am humbled and honored by each person who selflessly gave, and will keep it with me always so that I can someday pay it forward.

Onward we go.  One foot in front of the other.  One step at a time, one day at a time.