Saturday, August 29, 2009

Post-Surgery Updates

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Okay, so I was waiting to share this with everyone until I had all the information, which didn't actually happen until yesterday!

My surgeon got the pathology back and it definitely looks good! I am 100%, absolutely, cancer-free!! My surgeon got VERY clean margins in all directions...except one. It wasn't a large margin (larger margins are good) in that one place, however, it was still a clean one. In that one particular spot, my surgeon was within 5mm (yes, millimeters) of some precancerous cells. Though very small, 5mm still counts as a clean margin. The reason it has taken so long to determine this is that my surgeon wanted to wait until he had consulted with my radiation oncologist as to whether she believed it was enough of a margin to begin radiation. Had she disagreed, I would have needed to go back in for more surgery so they could take out more tissue.

After double checking with my radiation oncologist, she gave the go-ahead to start radiation because she feels that margin, though small, is plenty.

The pathology also showed some new and interesting stuff about the cancer itself. Everyone kept telling me that the cancer, as it appeared on the MRI, ultrasound and all other tests, had shrunk (due to chemo) down to about 1cm x 1cm. Well, pathology shows that the area amounting to 1x1 actually included that precancerous stuff I mentioned before. The good news is that precancerous cells are not technically cancer and there is no guarantee that those would become cancerous at all--they are a pretty good indicator, but it's by no means certain. Additionally, that 1x1 area included some other stuff that wasn't actually cancer--just darkened areas that appear on the tests. As it turns out....the actual cancer was only about 1mm!!! That is HUGE news! It speaks volumes for how effective the chemo was.

It is just so amazing to me that such a teeny tiny thing can cause so much trouble and fear!

Anyway, yesterday I went back in for a 1 week after-surgery follow-up and most of my sutures were removed. Some are internal and will just dissolve, but the ones on the ends of each incision had to be taken out. As a result, I'm pretty sore and uncomfortable today, but overall I'm healing up nicely.

My surgeon also seems to have done a FANTASTIC job of balancing the....aesthetic, if you will... with the necessary. I'm going to have two pretty rockin' scars, 3 inches a piece--one in my armpit and one across the top of my breast, but I really think they're not going to be that noticeable! And just between us...and the rest of the internet-reading can't even tell I had an area of 9 square cm removed. :)

So, what's next, you may ask? Well, I meet with my radiation oncologist in 2 weeks and will start radiation 2-3 weeks from now. In two weeks, I will be released to resume all normal physical activity (soccer, running, etc.) and my hair seems to be growing back quickly and filling in pretty well! I'm looking forward to rockin' the pixie hair cut this winter! I hear it's in these days.

I am not sure of what my radiation treatment schedule will be or how many treatments I will need quite yet. That will be something I find out at my upcoming appointment on the 10th, but so far...the good news keeps coming, we're keeping the positive vibes flowing, and I'm hoping to continue healing up nicely!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In Recovery

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One more stop along the journey is complete! On Friday, as planned, I had my surgery--a lumpectomy with sentinel node biopsy. The result? The best one could hope for.

After completing the surgery, my surgeon reported that he believes he got clean margins around the cancer, though we will not know that for a fact until later this week when the pathology comes back. If for some reason the samples of the surrounding tissue do not come back clean, I would have to go back in for more surgery. At this time, however, the surgeon seems optimistic in the belief that the cancer is out and the margins are clean.

As for the sentinel lymph nodes and other lymph nodes in the armpit, they look good. The sentinel node biopsies showed no cancer in the lymph nodes! They remove the sentinel nodes anyway as a precaution, but it was not necessary for my surgeon to remove any more of them due to the fact that the biopsies were clean!

In short, I had the least intrusive, most successful surgery one can have when it comes to breast cancer. I will be keeping my fingers crossed that all samples come back looking good this week and if they do, it is on to step 3--radiation treatment.

In other news, my hair is really starting to come back now. The first picture was taken in the midst of chemo treatment and the second and third were taken today. It's still very short, but it's definitely coming back--and it's coming back brown. Of course, I have no idea what it was naturally before, so this may or may not be a change. :) It's very wispy and fine and it seems to be almost wavy since it doesn't seem to be inclined to lay down in one direction. We shall see.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

T Minus 24 Hours

Thursday, August 20, 2009

6:30am: In exactly 24 hours, I will be arriving at the Medical Center for my surgery. Needless to say, I could use your thoughts, prayers, and good vibes between now and tomorrow afternoon when I wake up from the anesthetic! Send them my way if you have a few to spare! :) I'm getting pretty nervous about the whole thing.

In totally unrelated-to-cancer news...I got a promotion at work! It's something I'm very excited about and I'm anticipating starting in the new role as a healthy, strong breast cancer survivor.

Again, I hope you'll keep thinking about me today and tomorrow. I truly believe...really, I KNOW, that it is all of you--your prayers, your kind thoughts, your well-wishes, and your confidence--that have helped me through this!

Have a wonderful Thursday and a fabulous restful weekend, All!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another Reason for a Daily Glass of Wine

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

After I complete the second step in this process, the surgery, I will need to move on to Step 3: Radiation Treatment. If you've been following the blog then you know I had pretty extensive and pretty awful side effects with chemo, so needless to say, I've been a little worried about what the new side effects will be with radiation.

Well, today I found this article, which discusses the fact that a glass of wine each day can help reduce the intensity and severity of radiation side effects in breast cancer patients. Awesome.

Read it! It's very interesting.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Step 2: Surgery

Monday, August 17, 2009

Last week, I underwent all of my follow-up testing, which I believed would be entirely NOT interesting and totally expected. I was mistaken. What resulted was a stressful week that ended well, but was pretty emotionally tumultuous as it happened.

Friday, August 7, 2009: I arrived at the Medical Center (different than the Cancer Center) early in the morning expecting to check in at Outpatient Registration, head to the Breast Center, have a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound, followed by a breast MRI up in Radiation. This didn't exactly happen. I arrived, only to be told that I would not be having my ultrasound that day and would need to reschedule for the following Tuesday. "They" explained to me that "they" prefer to do the ultrasound after the mammogram and MRI results are received and interpreted. This made sense to me, but it inspired the question: Why did my surgeon's office schedule them all on the same day if I shouldn't have them all on the same day?

Monday, August 10, 2009: I had a relatively restful weekend. I wasn't really worried at all about my results as I wasn't done with the testing yet. In the afternoon, I received a call from my surgeon's office (not my surgeon) and was told that my MRI and Mammogram were clean and good. I asked what they showed in terms of progress and shrinking the tumor. She said, "I'm not sure." That seemed silly to me as I thought that was one of the primary purposes of the follow-up testing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009: I go in for my ultrasound. Again, I'm totally not worried because my surgeon's office has already told me that I'm fine--nothing new or questionable.
Note: It is so important to remember that "surgeon's office" is NOT synonymous with "surgeon." I like my surgeon. I trust my surgeon.

To my shock and less than thrilled amazement, I am taken back to the procedure room and the tech says to me, "Now, we're going to do a bilateral diagnostic ultrasound and we're going to focus on the area where the cancer is and on the suspicious area in the other breast." Hold the phone! Suspicious area? No one had said ANYTHING about a NEW suspicious area until this point. I was pissed. I was scared. She does the ultrasound with me freaking out. She asks me to wait (due to the fact that she KNOWS I'm freaking out) and she has the radiologist review the images right then and there. The tech comes back in and tells me the radiologist looked at it and determined it's just a cyst--definitely fluid filled and nothing to worry about. I breathe a deep sigh of relief.

I then went up to the surgery department to get my pre-surgery blood work done. I was told that if my white blood cell counts were not 3.0 or higher, I would have to postpone surgery. At this point, I'm totally not worried. I'm still a week and a half out from surgery and my counts never rebound until 3 weeks after chemo, which was still a week away.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009: Again, I am 100% not worried about receiving a call from my surgeon's office. I have already been told we're fine. I was looking forward to discussing whether we would just remove the cyst or aspirate it. That is the ONLY reason I was waiting on the call from the office. In the afternoon, I get a call, again, not from my surgeon, just from the office. I am told that the ultrasound has caused concern over what "might be a cyst" on the right side. I am told I need to go in for a "biopsy" the following morning. She also throws in there the fact that my blood counts are too low and we may have to postpone surgery. More stress!
Let's pause for a moment: This is when I freak out. I am fully aware that you need solid tissue in order to perform a needle biopsy. That would suggest that it is NOT actually a cyst and upon further examination, the radiologist must have determined that there was solid tissue, not just fluid. I spend the rest of the day and night crying and not sleeping, thinking that I am starting this horrible process all over again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009:
I arrive for my "biopsy" holding back tears, and the tech says to me, "So you know why you're here? We're going to aspirate the cyst and if it doesn't aspirate fully--if tissue remains--then we will need to biopsy that, but I don't think that will happen." At this point, I am confused. I tell her what my surgeon's office conveyed to me and that I thought I was there for a biopsy. She tells me I'm not. The procedure is actually called a "full aspiration with possible biopsy."Notice that word--possible--in there. Yeah, that makes a huge difference. Once again, a little annoyed with my surgeon's office, but not my surgeon.

They fully aspirated the cyst--and yes, it was absolutely a cyst. It's gone now.

Monday, August 17, 2009: It wasn't until today that I got a call from my surgeon's office asking if I understood that everything was fine now--in reference to the NOT biopsy cyst removal. I said yes. I think I only got the call because I had faxed them the blood work I had done at the Cancer Center this morning. The good news? My blood counts are high enough to go ahead with the surgery on Friday.

So, in short, after over a week of stress and worry over blood counts, new lumps, and all kinds of things, turns out I was right from the beginning to NOT worry. My blood counts are fine. The cancer is less than 1cm x 1cm. The total area of tissue they will remove will be about 3cm x 3cm and there are NO NEW TUMORS! Good news all around.

I'll see you next week, on the other side of surgery. Surgery will be this Friday--a lumpectomy, as planned, with sentinel node biopsy! See you soon...cancer free!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cancer: The Grand Motivator

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Today I had lunch with the Susan G. Komen Public Policy Coordinator for Kansas. Not only did we discuss my desire to get involved as an ambassador--to speak to young women and groups across the state about my experience and the Komen mission--but we chatted about my story. We chatted about what I can share.

My God, if no reason can be found in this experience--and it can't, for the very disease is senseless--then I should at least be able to help others as a result of my journey.

Today, I also found this quote:

"Women agonize... over cancer; we take as a personal threat the lump in every friend's breast." ~Martha Weinman Lear, Heartsounds

After lunch today, never have I hoped so much that this quote rings true for all. For the women I know, young or old, I hope that my experience has, if nothing else, reinforced that this disease is age blind, color blind, and blind to socioeconomic status. We are all in this together. I want my experience, my challenging and painful experience, to mean something to those who know me.

If just one woman--just one of you, or your mothers, or your sisters, or your friends--remembers this blog and remembers my story when they find that devastating little lump, then this has all been worth it. If just one of you remembers my experience when your mammograms come back with irregularities, then this has all been worth it. If just one of you remembers my experience and it inspires you to take control of your own medical destiny, then this has all been worth it. And, if just one of you, particularly those women in my peer group, are inspired to start doing monthly self-breast exams, then this has ABSOLUTELY all been worth it.

I am motivated and I am committed.

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face." -Eleanor Roosevelt

Happy August, Happy Wednesday

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Today marks exactly 4 months since my first chemo treatment and a little over 4 months since I received my diagnosis on March 31, 2009. Sadly, my "five-month journey" is going to be a little longer than that if I include the radiation after surgery in the count. As it stands now, I should be totally done with all treatment by the end of October.

This coming Friday, August 7th, I have my after chemo, follow-up tests: a mammogram, an ultrasound, and an MRI. I must admit I'm not looking forward to any of these tests because they're a bit uncomfortable, but I'm also anxiously awaiting the results. It's sort of driving me crazy not knowing exactly how effective those 8 chemo treatments were. I'm relatively sure I won't know anything on Friday. I'm sure I'll have to wait a few days for the results, but I'm ready to have that next step out of the way.

When the results are in, I will have one more follow-up appointment with my surgeon and then the surgery itself, which is now only 2 weeks and 2 days away--but who is really counting?

In the meantime, I'm trying to stay relaxed and stress-free (it's only kind of working) and keep myself in good health in preparation for surgery. My blood counts were very low this week, so I'm avoiding sick people at all costs and washing my hands so often they're raw...but it's 100% worth it if I can avoid any more health concerns before surgery.

Tonight, I'm taking relaxation and health to a whole new level and I'm going to take a yoga class. I'm pretty excited about it. I've also started running again in an attempt to start getting back in shape. I'm slowing stepping back into life as usual--predictable and normal never sounded so good!