Thursday, June 27, 2013

More Follow-Up Visits...and Better News Ahead!

Today was my follow-up visit with the surgeon (who is back from her vacation). On the agenda: remove stitches from my foot (stitches elsewhere are dissolvable), find out foot pathology results, talk about her take on pathology.

First, I realize that I never posted a pic of my awesome foot wound, so I'm doing that now. Isn't it purdy? NOT! Keith keeps offering to take the stitches out for me, but I'll pass on that thanks, especially as it might have involved AJ's glue-covered craft scissors.

Okay, I don't mean to be a wuss or anything, but getting those stitches out actually HURT. I believe I might have said "yeowch" at some point, and maybe more than once. But you don't care about this...move on to the results, right?

Here's the scoop:

Upon further review, the foot pathology initial results of "cancer cells" didn't actually show any organized cancer, so NO ONE is worried about this at all and everything appears normal now. (And if not, it's out anyway, so we really don't care). The only reason I cared about these results is the correlation between breast cancer and melanoma/skin cancer. I was concerned in the back of my mind that having let this thing on my foot go unchecked for YEARS might have contributed to the angry cancer I have now. Deep breath...doesn't look like this is the case. Now I have to keep it bandaged for the next 2-3 weeks, continue wearing only these comfy shoes (think the insurance company will reimburse us for more? And could it please stop DUMPING rain so I don't look like a moron walking around in flip flops?!), and no more pedicures for awhile. BUMMER. Someone please come paint my toes...

Yes, there was still cancer removed from my breast re-incision. If you remember WAY back to diagnosis, I have both kinds of cancer: invasive (ANGRY) and non-invasive. Obviously each is bad, and both together makes me awesome and an overachiever. If you could only have one, you'd want the non-invasive because it doesn't like to migrate other places. Turns out the cancer she removed this time, albeit a good size chunk, was the non-invasive variety. The surgeon was not actually surprised by this because this type of cancer doesn't tend to respond well to chemo. The margins were clear on 3 of the 4 sides around it, and the 4th was so close to clear and back up to the skin so she couldn't get any more out anyway without leaving a hole. 

(A funny side-note to interrupt here...the hospital sent the port she removed to the pathology place also. We had a good laugh over the part of the lab report that says: this is a port).

She says that I'm in a good place for radiation. Scars are healing nicely and should be on track for a 7/15 start date. This is terrific news and I'm going to consider it a belated-birthday present. So, on the 15th of July, I will meet with her one last time and get the all-clear for radiation. If she gives it, I will run through the hospital to start radiation right after. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday. WOW! What a year this has been. And unlike past years, I actually did age this year. Instead of 42, I think I'm chronologically about 62.

I feel like I should be posting something deep and profound here on this day. But it kinda feels like just another day. Don't get me wrong, I'm super happy to be here to mark this birthday, because you just never know what can happen. But I feel like the profound words of wisdom should wait until I'm all done with this process. And since there's still MONTHS of treatments ahead, I'm not in that frame of mind.

What I do know:
My outlook on life has really changed this year. I'm going to compose a post at some point in the future along the lines of "advice to a graduate" or anyone else at a point in their life that requires decisions or is marked by a ceremony. SO MANY THINGS you think are important...aren't really important! Just sayin'...

I have been blessed with an amazing support system of family, friends, community, school, and beyond. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

It might just be time to start re-thinking all the things I regret not doing and either (1) let them go or (2) just do them! Trust me, I now have a good start at a bucket list and it's time to start making them happen. I think that'll be another post here in the future.

All celebrations require dessert! And why not just eat it first...or instead of. Life's too short not to enjoy yourself once in awhile. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Music Monday

I absolutely had to post this as a Music Monday, simply because I love Jim Parsons and his portrayal of Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. The video is hilarious!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pathology Results on a Friday...Lesson Learned

I've been waiting all week for the pathology results from surgery #4. I knew there was a possibility the results would be delayed because my surgeon was out of town, but she had said that she'd make sure someone (either my chemo doc, or another person in the office) would receive the results so that they could call me. So, Friday morning I'm finally calling the surgeon's office asking for them myself. Of course, it's a Friday and hardly anyone is available who is "qualified" to read them so they promise to find someone to get back to me. At 4:00pm, someone leaves a voicemail that basically says, "see if your oncologist can get them or you'll have to wait until Monday when the surgeon is back." Funny! And unacceptable. 

So I madly get on the phone and call everyone I can think of that can get me those results. Again, 4:00pm on a Friday? That's really gonna happen. Luckily the amazing receptionist at the surgeon's office took this as a personal challenge to get someone to call me back and she is able to track down my chemo doc to login and get the results so she can call me back. 

So at 6:30pm, I finally get the call. And that's when I knew I should have just left it alone. What the hell did I want this kind of news on a Friday night for?? Initial results indicate that cancer STILL growing and removed from reincision; still no clear margins all the way around. UGH. Foot pathology shows cancer cells but results being sent to outside skin cancer specialist for interpretation. I am on the agenda for doctors' weekly Tuesday confab (because I'm now a really cool case) to determine what this means for further treatment. Chemo doc thinks this might mean a change in next step, but surgeon will call me next week to discuss.

Lesson learned? At this point in the process, waiting until Monday for these results would not have killed me, and probably would have been a better idea. Add this to the list of things you should keep in mind: do you really want to know the results on Friday night when you can't even talk to anyone again until Monday? When you could have lived in beautiful oblivion for a few more days? Maybe if this is new for you, you might. But I'm a "pro" now and these results really weren't going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. I should have left well enough alone!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Post-Surgery Pics

I won't be posting too much, mainly because pain meds are great but you just never know what you're really saying. Friends don't let friends post while hopped up on Oxy.

Home from the hospital, everything hurts, pain meds are great, and I'm living on the couch for at least the weekend.

For anyone not on Facebook, here are some post-surgery pics that I posted over the weekend. No, that's not horrible self-tanner...that's what iodine does to you. It's actually WAY more orange than it appears, and Keith has taken to calling me an Oompa Loompa. I am paying him back for this kindness by making him carry me everywhere.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Surgery: A 3-For-1 Special!

It's Friday, and that means surgery day. If you've been keeping up on the blog, you know that it's a 3-for-1 surgery because I'm AWESOME. Please take some time to read the past few posts to catch up if you need to.

Eleven or so months ago, I found the two lumps that have changed everything about my life and year. Since then, I've had more doctors appointments, scans, tests, and blood draws than I can actually count. I survived 5 MONTHS of chemo and have months and months of radiation ahead. But today is surgery #4 (knock on wood) and should be the last! So I can check off another step in the journey...hooray!

We showed up at the hospital at 8:30am for my 10:00am surgery. We are experts at this, maybe even frequent flyers, so we don't even look at the directions for where we are supposed to go and are flying by memory (albeit a sketchy way to go with my memory these days, but we find the right elevator to the correct wing to the right floor so we passed that test). Check-in is a BREEZE because now I know how to fill out the paperwork...and know what NOT to ask questions about.

No need to regale you with a play by play, but here are some of the funny observances this time:
(1) Pre-op nurse has AWESOME sense of humor. Why have I not had this guy the whole time?! When asked if I'm wearing jewelry (a big no-no), I fire back some quip about the awesome hospital ID bracelet, and he fires back an equally funny bit about only the best for our frequent guests. LOVE HIM!

(2) Because I've developed an allergy to tape, all instructions about what side of my body not to take blood draws/blood pressure from are now simply written directly on my skin in Sharpie.

(3) There's a doctor roaming the halls outside my pre-op room in hip-waders, I swear to God. Okay, so maybe they're only large rubber boots but I'm suddenly concerned that this is a bad sign of things to come.

(4) My surgeon BREEZES into the room in skinny jeans, a flowy top, and flip flops. Oh yes, we must make fun of her for this...and we do. Good thing I know and love her because this outfit does not exactly inspire confidence. She's obviously waited until surgery number 4 to show her true identity.

(5) The operating room nurse comes in with a bad consent form that says I'll be having a mastectomy. BACK THE TRUCK UP!!! Needless to say, crisis averted when I FREAK OUT all over them and demand they shred it.

(6) Anesthesiologist this time says that he likes to give a different batch of drugs so that you get to the operating room and get settled before passing out. (This is unlike all my previous surgeries where I've been out like a light before even leaving the pre-op room). Well, Mr. Anesthesiologist guy, I've decided that I don't like your methods. I felt no need to remember the OR because it was crowded (and I don't really want to think about why ALL THOSE PEOPLE IN SCRUBS were in there) and FREEZING BUTT COLD. Next time, I'm going back to the good drugs.

I woke up in recovery at 11:30am, and was out the door to go home at 1:30pm. There was some confusion about me staying overnight but I definitely cleared that up right away. I was home by 2:00pm and installed on the couch where I will spend the weekend (since I now can't walk for at least two weeks because of the stitches in my foot). I'll be posting pics soon.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

In Which My Life Turns into an Episode of House

Seriously, my life could not get any crazier. 

First off, let me say, I am a HUGE fan of the TV show "House." HUGE. FAN. I am positive that I've seen every episode at least twice, and am thankful it is one of the few good shows that has re-runs airing late at night when I can't sleep. I can actually tell you which channels at which times the re-runs air if you're interested.

Now, to the funny part of the story...

Memorial Day weekend (Sunday), I am watching House re-runs. Because why wouldn't you if they are on?! Have you seen the show? Then you know how with 5 minutes to go, Dr. House swoops in with his brilliant diagnosis and saves the day. In this particular episode, (which I know I've seen but I've kept watching on this day because I can't remember what the medical mystery was), with three minutes to go, House finds a spot on the bottom of the patient's foot that turns out to be a melanoma that has been causing all the cancer-related symptoms (because melanoma is cancer, right?). When they show the "spot" on the bottom of the guy's foot, my brain says, "Hmmm...that looks a lot like the spot on the bottom of my foot. You know, the one that's been there for probably three years, and just appeared one day? Dark purple/brown/black, never goes away, never changes color. Hmmm..."

Of course the first thing I do is start Googling everything I can to see if this is a real thing or just made up for TV to make Dr. House appear even more brilliant than I know he is. Holy crap, it's real. You can get melanoma on the bottom of your foot. Double Holy crap. There's a healthier than average link between skin cancer and breast cancer and vice versa. AWESOME!

Second thing I do? Start laughing! Uncontrollably. Because, seriously? What else are you going to do?

Third thing I do? Mention all this to my husband because this is the first time I've actually told anyone about said spot on foot. Because why would you?!

Fourth, fifth, and sixth thing I do? Stop surfing the Internet. Demand dermatologist phone number from a friend who has a good one (but I refuse to tell her why. Good thing she's on vacation for the weekend and not too curious about details). Count down the hours until Tuesday morning when I can call for emergency appointment.

Tuesday morning, I make Keith call because I cannot do this and keep a straight face. We do NOT mention anything about the House episode. Truthfully, upon further inspection (all weekend long), I must admit the spot has changed slightly since chemo started. Now it is lighter around the edges with a dark spot in the center. So along with my entire medical and treatment history, this is why we tell them we are concerned. Soonest appointment I can get is Friday. Good Lord.

Friday 5/31 is appointment day. No, I do NOT say, "so, I was watching this episode of House over the weekend..." because even I know that sounds like CRAZY TALK. CRAZY. TALK. We talk about my cancer/treatments, she looks at the spot on my foot for 3.6 seconds and says, "Yeah, that's got to come out within 30 days." SUPER! Good thing I already have a surgery scheduled for 6/14, and just happen to have the best surgeon around who can do all these things for me. It'll be one stop shopping.

The scoop? It could be melanoma, but might not be. However, it MUST come out because of it's stronger than average likelihood of being melanoma, and no one wanting to risk leaving it alone, especially me! When it is removed, it will be biopsied so we'll know for sure, but at that point it will be out so unlikely to require further specific treatments.

So now my surgery this Friday is a Three-For-One: (1) Port removal; (2) Re-incision/scraping around for breast cancer cells; (3) Removing this "spot" on my foot. Lucky me. It means I won't be able to walk on my foot for at least 2 weeks, and I can't use crutches for most of that because of the re-incision surgery. Super fun.

All in all, it's been a funny couple of weeks here. I self-diagnosed via a House episode. I've spent more than my share of time wishing Hugh Laurie was my doctor (because that might actually make all of this worth it). And I've learned some valuable lessons:

(1) Always pay attention to spots and lumps.
(2) Never find something wrong with you on a weekend or a Holiday, but especially a Holiday weekend.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Pain, Pain, and More Pain

So, you probably thought that you were keeping up with the blog. 

And now you feel like it's been awhile without any news and you're thinking maybe you weren't on top of it after all and must have missed some posts.

No, you haven't. It has been more than a few days since I posted any updates. Here's why:

(1) Reading like a crazy woman because it is about to be Summer Reading season and I MUST get my list done!

(2) Getting everything organized for the last week of Pantry Packs for the school year...HALLELUJAH!

(3) I have been in CONSTANT pain. And let me clarify what this means. Today (Weds. 6/5) is the first day in 10 DAYS where I haven't felt like I wanted to die. For some reason, I woke up the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend in pain from head to toe. Not just a general achy-ness, but total body pain. Of the stabbing/shooting pain variety. 

After 4 days, Keith was calling the doctor because this clearly cannot be normal. I do not look right when I move (if I can move), and there are times when I'm brought to tears. Around day 5, I am finally able to put into words what is going on: you know those spikes that some people wear on their shoes to aerate the lawn? It felt like a 400 pound man was wearing those and walking all over my body, ALL DAY LONG. 

3 Tylenol and 2 Ibuprofin every 4 hours was not making a dent in the pain. And I refused to take the good drugs (Oxy) because that's not really a solution in my opinion. (Though one friend suggested taking enough Oxy to put myself in a coma for 4 days and then maybe when I woke up the pain would be gone. By day 7, I was actually considering this, if only I'd been able to get the dosage correct).

What's really special about this entire cancer/chemo/treatment process is that feeling bad is the new normal. If you talk to anyone that I interacted with last week, I appeared to be okay. At least, I was upright and functional most of the time. It's sad what you get used to experiencing.

But today, KNOCK ON WOOD, I haven't experienced the stabbing me with steak knives pain, so I'm hoping I'm in the clear from whatever the hell this was. Doctor has no real answers except that everyone experiences chemo differently, and it is not unusual to have delayed side effects. Great! Any more surprises up your sleeve?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Against Medical Advice

So, I have finally reached my decision about what treatment comes next! For those of you keeping tabs, the delay in moving forward was because I was being a "bad patient" and not wanting to have a double mastectomy. It just never felt like the right decision for me (damn you Angelina Jolie for "coming out" when you did because if I have to hear one more person point that out to me, I might scream). 

After WEEKS of tests, scans, and doctor's appointments with EVERY doctor on my "team" and then some, here's what I can report:

I am going Against. Medical. Advice.

(1) The breast MRI I had done two weeks ago came back CLEAN (This is a miracle of God, BTW)!

(2) I have had all the genetic testing there is to have and I do not carry the BRCA gene. Yeah for me...and my daughter...and my son and any kids he might have some day...and my brother's kids (again, some day...ha, ha).

(3) It's all about risk/reward for me, and no one could sell me on the fact that the reward of this surgery actually outweighed the risks. In all honesty, I'm more likely to die from a heart attack now (thanks to the chemo), leukemia (again, thanks chemo), or lung cancer (chalk that one up to radiation) before the breast cancer came back...if it ever comes back. I'm really not increasing my risk by any significant percentage over the course of my lifetime.

I will NOT be having the recommended double mastectomy (bad patient = me). (Some day, I will tell you the story of how I played my doctors against each other like a teenager manipulating their parents. It was quite funny, and what happens when you have three doctors with very distinctive personalities). 

Instead, on 6/14, I will have ANOTHER surgery (a "re-incision," my 4th) just so they can open me up and scrape any microscopic cancer cells that might be hiding. Honestly, I really don't think they need to do this but the radiation oncologist said it would make him feel better. Fine. Whatever. 

Somewhere around 7/10, I will begin radiation treatments, which will be every day, 5 days/week for 7-8 weeks, taking me through mid-September-ish.

That's what the plan is right this minute. Thank you for your continued support and prayers!! And for not posting links to articles about how amazing Angelina Jolie is and how I should just suck it up.