Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.

Ashley Smith

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Saga Part 2: Letting Go and the Cancer checklist!

After the trauma of the biopsy there is the torture of the wait.   

You know, the wait for THE CALL.  Anyone who has ever experienced any kind of investigational procedure knows that feeling.  Luckily, the call came from my family doctor (and friend) and not some anonymous person I had never met.  She was so awesome, to call us at home, after office hours, as soon as she had the pathology report- she knows the waiting is unbearable.  She was very thorough and caring, explaining everything as she read us the report, but she had to say the 3 words no woman ever wants to hear about her breasts:

Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

Carcinoma, of course, is the word that strikes the most fear into one’s heart, although invasive is a close second.  Yep, I had the most common form of breast cancer.  Very treatable, with a high survival rate, which is good.  However, still breast cancer which sucks is not that good.  Especially for someone who already had every spare moment of the summer planned up with fun stuff to do.  Somehow, surgeries and chemotherapy had not come to mind when planning up our calendar.   

How quickly things change.

My husband and I cried and held each other and tried to process what this really meant.
Cancer? Really? Me? Why? Why me? Why me? Why me?

After the shock and disbelief wore off, all that was left was the anger.  I was pissed.  I mean really pissed. I love my life, really truly love it.  I love my husband.  I love the person I‘ve become.  I love where we live, how we live, our animals, our friends- everything, all of it.  How in the hell could this monster be here? And how could it slam its iron foot down and change everything- our plans, our diet, how could it steal our summer away? 

Well, screaming into the wind might feel good, but it is not very productive. 

It was work, but with the sage advice and support of my friends, I got over it.  After all- it is one shit summer for let’s say 30 or 40 more years… fair trade, I guess.

A beautiful painting made by my friend Jamie, based on a dream I had.
The hardest part is letting go.  Letting go of what you thought was going to happen, what you had planned to achieve.  Letting go of what you thought of as healthy.  Letting go of your pre-conceived notion of who you are and what you will or will not do.  Letting go of the idea of control. 

The second hardest part is acceptance.  Accepting that sacrificing this summer will give you a lifetime of opportunity.  Accepting that even if you can’t work as hard as you used to, you are still good enough.  Accepting that each day is a gift, each hug, each laugh, each smile is all you ever need.

Apparently the lesson the Universe is trying to teach me is:

Let go and Accept...

Okay, I got it, I’m trying- stop nagging.

From there to here, it has been a dizzying maze of doctors, nurses, hospitals, blood draws, waiting rooms filled with patients that “really” have cancer.  Also, since everything is 3 hours from here, every appointment is an all-day affair.  Fortunately (or really unfortunately) I know quite a few women who have gone through breast cancer treatment.  Fortunate because I got all sorts of recommendations, referrals, ideas and support.  Unfortunate for the obvious reason that breast cancer is running rampant.

I’ll just hit the high points here, as I don’t need to drag you through this endless process:

This is the “I Have Breast Cancer Checklist”

1.       Find an oncology surgeon- Check. 
a.       The oncology surgeon is the one who actually cuts the G-D tumor out.  Got a fantastic recommendation for a surgeon we love!
2.       Find a medical oncologist (aka chemotherapy doctor)- Check. 
a.       This one took 2 tries but the second doc is awesome and we are super happy with the “Chemo Suite”
3.       Get an MRI- Check. 
a.       This was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  It’s loud and you have to lay with your boobies through a slot in the table for 45 minutes, but it doesn’t hurt or make you sick.  The hardest part is not thinking “Don’t move.” Because once you think that, it becomes nearly impossible to stay still.
4.       Get results from MRI- Check. 
a.       Showing a “suspicious” lymph node and a “busy” other breast and a mass that is fairly large- like 3 cm x 3 cm x 2 cm. Hmmm…
5.       Get a Sentinel Lymph Node (SLN) biopsy with the added bonus of having a Port-A-Cath installed at the same time- Check. 
a.       So this is actually pretty interesting- They “inject” a radioactive isotope right near the tumor (I use the term inject loosely- they actually use something like an air pistol to force the liquid through the skin.  Yes, it hurt.  A lot.) Once the liquid is in there, your lymph system gets to work to flush it out.  Then the surgeon can use a Geiger counter (yes like after a radioactive spill) to see where the first 3 or 4 lymph nodes are.  Then they can be removed and biopsied for cancer cells.  My nodes were negative- hurray!
b.      The Power Port Port-A-Cath is something they use for chemotherapy- it is like having a permanent IV in your chest.  It does not hurt but definitely looks like an alien is about to erupt from under my skin – a tad bit creepy.
6.       Find a plastic surgeon- Check. 
a.       Okay, of all the things I thought I would do in my life, talking to a plastic surgeon was not one of them.  My body was just my body and I worked with what I had.  Well, lo and behold, breast cancer changed this too.  I was a little skeptical about meeting this guy, after all wasn’t he all about making the pretty people prettier?  That couldn’t have been farther from the truth.  He is down to earth and kind and just wants people to be comfortable in their bodies.  We talked about all the options available to me and my husband and I have decided on this most radical surgery : the TRAM flap.  It is almost as weird as the name sounds, but the short of it is- bilateral mastectomy (both those things are getting the hell away from me, thank you very much) then immediate reconstruction using, get this, my belly fat!  So boob job and tummy tuck for me- a breast cancer perk, yay!

So we have all our ducks in a row.  Now, it is just getting through the chemo.  I have had my first treatment and aside from being excruciatingly fatigued, no big side effects. One down, seven to go.

The chemo doc told me to expect my hair to fall out around the 21st day after the first treatment.  So I went and got it cut. Short.  I mean super short, like high school gym teacher short.  I hate it, but at least I won’t miss it as much when it falls out!  And my beautiful long hair was donated to Locks of Love.  Another breast cancer perk!
Anyway, I think you can tell that I am in a pretty good space with all this now.  There are times (okay days really) when I feel pretty sorry for myself, but honestly if this had to happen now is a good time -  I am young, strong and otherwise healthy.  I have the most awesome support team, headed up by my husband and rounded out by everyone I work and play with.  It’s summer so the days are long and the roads are good.  I mean really, what have I got to complain about?  Oh, that big tumor?  Forget about it- we are kickin’ some cancer ass over here!

And next summer- look out!  I’ll have perky new boobs, a flat tiny belly and a big attitude.  What more could a girl ask for?

As a sign off, I want to share this comic I love from Dharma Comics , although it would be more applicable to me if it said "I'm Pissed."  and then the other guy could say "I know!"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Saga

I hesitated whether to post about this…My posts are usually light-hearted accounts of life on the ranch.  This one, not so much.

Some of you may know and some of you may not know, but I have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It sounds shocking, and it is really. I am young and healthy, I eat a fairly good diet, my life is mostly low-stress. Yes, I like to drink a few beers.  Yes, I love cheeseburgers, fries and chocolate shakes.  But seriously?  I see how other people live- they smoke, drink excessively, eat junk food as their staple diet… they don’t have cancer.  It doesn’t really seem fair. But then, I guess there were never any guarantees about fairness when I signed up for life on planet Earth.

So enough whining (for this moment anyway).  This is where it is.

Early this year, I felt a lump in my right breast.  Ever the optimist, I assumed a cyst or something benign like that.  I finally went to my doctor in March and she recommended a mammogram and an ultrasound.  Still unworried, I went to these appointments. My first twinge of concern came when the ultrasound showed this big, black tentacled monster thing in my boob.    

This is basically what I imagined was living in there:

 I Googled tentacled monster and this image came up.
Courtesy of

This twinge was confirmed when the ultrasound doctor came in and was very concerned and caring.  The reason this freaked me out is because looking at him I could tell he was the “typical scientist”- not unfriendly or unkind, but business like and probably just a little reserved.   When you get concerned eye contact and arm patting from a scientist, it sets off some warning bells…

Next step: Needle biopsy.

I pride myself on not being scared of needles- I’m just not. I’ve donated blood, received injections, given injections, all stuff needle-related is no issue. So when they recommended a needle biopsy on the lump, I thought no big deal- I even told my husband “No reason for you to go, it will only take a few minutes and it’s just a needle for cripes’ sake.”

Famous. Last. Words.

What they failed to tell me is that the more correct term for the procedure I was getting is Core Biopsy.
Core Biopsy… inherently different from a needle.  Think ice-cores, treecores, even an apple corer and you can see the difference.  Well, I didn’t know any of this when I waltzed into the surgeon’s office all proud and brave.  Here is a photo of the device used to “harvest” 3 samples:

Celero breast biopsy device
I laid on my hands so that I wouldn’t slap the surgeon.

Yeah. So not a needle.  

 As Lou Reed aptly put it:
 “Then I guess she had to crash,
Valium would have helped that bash…
She said, "Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side"

Walk on the wild side indeed. They do give you a local anesthetic, but it really doesn't reach in to where this cutting dagger goes.  Let's just say I screamed bloody murder and then burst into uncontrollable tears.  and then they had to do it 2 more times...

After regaining my composure and drying my hysterical tears, I was able to walk out with my dignity and my boob mostly intact.

Take home lesson: 
NEVER go to a biopsy appointment without your support person.

Tomorrow I will post the subsequent scenarios, as this is a pretty long story!

Stay happy. Stay healthy. And check your boobs- seriously.