Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2 Years

Well I have made it two years.  I was diagnosed on May 7th 2008.  When I tell people that it was two years ago that I was diagnosed, most people ask me how I feel about it.  I feel great about it.  I know that there are people who have depression after a diagnosis, but I'm not one of them.  On May 7th 2009 I felt good about making it a year, but still didn't really feel like myself.  This year I feel like myself.  My energy is back, I am not waiting on surgeries, recovering from surgeries or recuperating from treatment.  My hair is back and I feel healthier than ever.

I wish I could say that I feel like it is all behind me, but that isn't really true.  Cancer is still in my thoughts every single day.  It just doesn't really go away.  I am concerned every time I have an ache or a pain or something that is out of the ordinary. 

I still struggle with what my lessons are supposed to be.  I continue to think that I got cancer for a reason, but I don't yet know what it is.  I learned a lot about myself and about my friends and family but my life isn't drastically different than it was before.  I didn't pack up the family and move into a log cabin or chuck all of my professional experience and become a film director. 

I read recently that most people say that the age when they "found" themselves was 45.  I turned 45 in March so I have high hopes for this year.  I thought my lessons would show up with fireworks and lightning, but that hasn't been the case.  I think this will be my year.  I am happy to be 2 years out.  I am proud of the accomplishment and hopeful for the future.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Graduation Day

Last week I had an appointment with my oncologist.  I am blessed to have chosen an oncologist that I am very comfortable with and trust completely.  Its a good thing too since I have spent a whole lot of time with her over the last 2 years. 

When I first began my cancer journey, I saw her at least once every 3 weeks.  I would see her on chemo day and generally a week after chemo to check my white blood cells.  I am now on a first name basis with my doctor, her nurses, the receptionist and the nice people who take my blood every time I go in. 

After I finished treatment, I started seeing her every 3 months and have been doing so for the last year and a half.  Last week when I finished my appointment and went to make the next one, they told me they would see me in 6 months.  I had to ask to make sure that I had heard right.  Yep-6 months. 

To put that in perspective, consider the other appointments I have during the year.  2 infusions of Zometa, 1 bone Scan, 2 Mammograms, 1 MRI, 4 trips for bloodwork, 1 Ob-gyn appointment and those are all if I am healthy.  If I happen to get sick then I have to see my regular doctor.  So 2 fewer trips a year may not seem like a big deal but it is.

I love graduation day!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Birthdays and Early Departures

Today is my dad's birthday.  He would have been 69 years old.  He died of pancreatic cancer when he was 48 years old.  Too young.  My husband is now 49 years old and is in the prime of his life.  He is healthy, active, happy and thriving.  I can't imagine him not being here.

My dad's death was the first in my life and the time when I realized that people are often taken too soon.  I'm not sure what the right number of years to be on earth should be, but I think it should be more than 48.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, my doctor showed me the 10 year survival rates for someone with my diagnosis.  If I survive 10 years, I will be 53.  This didn't really make me feel a whole lot better.  53 seems too young also.  How about 83 or 93 or 103?  How about I get to actually live a good, long, healthy, happy life?  I just celebrated my 45th birthday-one which I am extremely grateful for. 

Now, 21 years after my dad's death, it seems like most of the deaths that I have had to bear have been for people that were way too young.  So for those people, here's wishing you would have had more birthdays to celebrate.

Dad-48 years old
Marty-41 years old
Diane-46 years old
Dean-30 years old
Baby Lauren-6 hours
Baby Sierra Willow-0 hours

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Panic, unbidden

Clearly, based on the fact that I have not posted in over a month, I have started moving on with my regularly scheduled life.  I have been feeling pretty good.  My energy is great, my health is good, my hair is back.  Things are back to "normal".

That is exactly how I was feeling yesterday when I was waiting in the doctors office for my mammogram.  Mammograms and MRI's are just part of my life now and this is the one that was scheduled 18 months after I finished all of my treatment.  I flipped through magazines, checked my phone, thought about  my lunch date afterwards.  I was not worried at all.  After all, I just had an MRI in January and everything looked good.

I went in and was squished and squashed and then sent back to the waiting room so that I could review the films with the doctor.  I waited and waited and waited.  As all the other women in the waiting room went in and out I started to feel just the slightest bit of apprehension.  Finally when no one else was left in the waiting room, the technician came in and said the doctor would like me to do more films. 

I burst into tears.  I had no idea how close to the surface that fear was.  I really thought that I was feeling OK with my health and that I had put a damper on that constant fear of a recurrence, but obviously I had not.  We went back to do more films and I cried through the whole thing.  Then I went back to the waiting room to hear my fate.

The tech again came in to get me and said that the doctor would like to do an ultrasound.  Before I could stop it a four letter word came out of my mouth and then once again-burst into tears.  I just started feeling normal.  I don't want to deal with cancer again.  I don't want abnormal mammograms or ultrasounds.  I just want to be healthy.

The doctor actually did the ultrasound and was very, very thorough.  The first thing she said to me was "don't panic".  Too late!  Panic was the only thing that I had to hold on to and unfortunately it had an iron grip.  I cried through the entire ultrasound.  At long last she showed me what she was looking at, a small spot in my left breast just above and behind the surgery markers that were left there from my lumpectomy.  She does NOT think it is cancer.  She thinks it is fat necrosis (the death of fat cells basically) from a place that wasn't getting enough blood supply from my last surgery.  I have never in my life thought that I would be happy to hear anything about my body regarding fat.  "Fat?"  Yes, she explained, it is just a piece of tissue that isn't getting enough blood supply so it is dying.  Fat turns into a solid and eventually will turn into an oil just like any other fat and be absorbed by my body. 

They will keep an eye on it, but she said if she had ANY inclination that it was cancer, she would be doing a biopsy immediately.  While I hated every single second of that appointment, I am glad that they are thorough.  I don't want any surprises.  I am also glad that the doctor was so patient in explaining everything to me. 

I left the clinic a weepy, shaking, relieved mess and sped off to my lunch date for which I was now late.  Credit given to my good friend Annie who immediately declared I needed a margarita given the morning I had just had.  She bought me a drink at lunch (something I NEVER do) and a nice lunch and we got to have our nice, "normal" lunch-without panic..   

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"I was diagnosed...."

A year and 10 months after being diagnosed, I have met many, many women who have said these words to me.  "I was diagnosed......"  It becomes part of a normal conversation complete with treatment, surgeries, prognosis, and more medical terms than I ever wanted to know.

It is a difficult thing as an adult to say these words and understand what they mean.  The radio station I listen to is currently doing a radiothon to benefit Children's Hospital here in Seattle.  Children's Hospital is a shining star in health care.  They take care of children who need it regardless of economic ability.  I have been listening all day and the thing that continues to bring me to tears is the interviews.  I keep hearing children as young as 3 saying those words..."I was diagnosed....".  They shouldn't even know what the word means.

Not all of the kids at Children's Hospital are dealing with cancer, but many are.  Cancer is a miserable, terrible, cruel disease and the treatment for cancer is miserable as well.  These kids who are going through chemo or radiation or stem-cell transplants are braver than brave and they don't deserve to be turned away because their families can't afford the treatment.  I hope you will join me in supporting Children's Hospital. If you are a survivor who reads this blog, I want you to remember the first time you had to say those words..."I was diagnosed".  If you are a parent who reads it, think about how your heart would hurt if you heard your children say those words.

You can Donate here

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Question of DNA

The girls are on their Mid-Winter break and we took the opportunity to find some sunshine.  My parents have a condo in Palm Desert, California and they graciously allowed us to use it for the week.  They have owned the condo for about 5 years, but this is the first time that the timing has worked out for us to use it. 

It is, of course, beautiful.  It doesn't surprise me at all that the condo is done to perfection and looks like it came straight out of a showroom.  My mother has always had beautiful taste and an eye for decorating.  She also takes great pride in having her home meticulously neat and tidy.  I am in awe of the work that she has done and the comfortable way it feels.

My mother, my sister, my grandmother and my aunt all have these same characteristics.  They all have beautiful homes and have a knack for things.  I don't have it.  I would like to think I do, but the fact is I really don't.  I know what I like and what I don't like as far as decorating, but I don't have the first clue of how to put it all together.  "Things" start to feel like clutter to me in my own home and instead of adding to the feel of the decor, they begin to feel like something else that collects dust.  It's not that I don't care what my home looks like, I do care.  I just don't know how to make it look the way I want to.

I imagine it is a question of DNA or maybe environment.  Maybe my mother got it from my grandmother and my sister got it from my mother.  So what happened to me?  How does DNA work?  If my sister and I come from the same gene pool, why don't we get the same characteristics?

The same can be said for having cancer.  Neither my mother, my sister, my aunt or my grandmother have been diagnosed with cancer, thank God, but I have.  Is it something in my DNA?  Is it something in my environment?  What is it? 

I feel like I need to figure it out because as much as I would like to have the taste that the women in my family have and be able to pass it on to my daughters, I am more concerned that what I might be passing on to my daughters is much more sinister. 

I don't want my daughters to ever have cancer.  I sincerely hope that in the way that I missed the decorating gene, they will miss the cancer gene.  I hope they have beautifully decorated homes and an appreciation for things-all while they are cancer free.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

World Cancer Day 2010

February 4th is World Cancer Day.  A day designated to raise awareness of the number #1 killer world-wide.  Not war, not HIV/Aids, not Heart Disease, not natural disasters....cancer.  That's not to say that there aren't other worthy causes in the world, because that just isn't true, but I think that sometimes people think that cancer is something far away and removed from them. 

Cancer isn't far away at all.  It can affect you, your parents, your siblings, your children, your friends.  Here are a few examples:

My friend Michael-At 45 he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (an oral cancer).  He is not and has never been a tobacco user.  He is healthy and active and he is now facing his 4th surgery to remove cancerous tissue after already completing chemo and radiation.  He has two tween age kids.  Michael is still fighting.

My friend Ankie-At 46 she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and thyroid cancer.  She is a life long athlete, eats organically and makes sure that she uses no chemicals/pesticides in her yard or home.  She has two beautiful girls.   After chemo, several surgeries and breast reconstruction, Ankie is hopeful that she is beating cancer.

My friend Wendy-At 45 she was diagnosed with Stage IV colo-rectal cancer.  Wendy is a nurse and takes care of people every day.  She has no family history and had no reason to suspect that colo-rectal cancer was in her future.  She also has two beautiful girls.  Wendy is still fighting.

My friend Marty-At age 41 he was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Thymus Carcinoma.  Marty was a firefighter and a fitness buff, training other firefighters to improve their health.  He had two young wonderful children.  Marty lost his fight June 3, 2008

Me-Tracy-At age 43 I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer.  I have no family history and no typical risk factors.  I have two perfect, wonderful girls.  After chemo, radiation and surgery, I am hopeful that I am beating cancer.

On World Cancer Day, make a commitment.

Click to give free mammograms:  http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/clickToGive/home.faces?siteId=2&ThirdPartyClicks=BCS_linktous_120_02

Check out the opportunities at the American Cancer Society:  http://www.cancer.org/docroot/home/index.asp

Donate today. I am walking in the Susan G. Komen 3 day walk again this year.  I am hoping to raise over 5000.00 dollars this year.  http://www.the3day.org/site/TR/2010/SeattleEvent2010?px=2282716&pg=personal&fr_id=1471

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Normal Breathing

Last week was preventative maintenance week and I had my follow up with my oncologist, blood work, zometa, an MRI and a bone density scan.  All of this is part of my continuing plan to make sure I remain healthy. 

I know all of this and am thankful that I have the opportunity to have good health care, but there is a certain amount of anxiety that goes with all of these tests.  There is always the possibility that something will come back as suspicious.  Because I don't get any of the results immediately, this generally means a few days of concern.  There is just always something in the back of my mind reminding me that the possibility of a recurrence is there.  I feel like I breathe a little shallower and walk a little quieter so as to not wake up any demons that might be sleeping inside.

Yesterday I got a call from my oncologists nurse telling me that not only is my bone density holding up, but my MRI came back perfectly normal as did all of my lab work.  I took my first normal breath of the week.

Thank you God.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Doctors and Nurses and Techs, Oh My!

This week is tune-up and preventative maintenance week.  Yesterday I had a follow-up with my surgeon and a bone density scan.  Tomorrow I have a follow-up with my oncologist, a zometa infusion and an MRI. 

I currently think of myself as a healthy person so it is kind of strange to be spending so much time at doctors offices and hospitals but it also helps me to maintain the idea that I am a healthy person.

The bone density scan is something I will have once a year (this is my second one).  Because I was forced into menopause through chemo and because I am taking Tamoxifen, there is some concern about bone loss so I will have this test each year to make sure that my bones are holding up.

I have an appointment with my oncologist every 3 months.  For the most part, these are now just appointments to make sure I'm not having any adverse side effects of the drugs, she will also do a breast exam and check my lymph nodes.  I have blood work done each time that tests various things such as my iron, my vitamin D level, my estrogen level and my tumor markers.

I will have my 3rd infusion of Zometa.  Zometa is a bisphosphonate which is essentially a bone density drug.  For me, with my diagnosis, this drug is a preventative.  Zometa has been shown to reduce the risk of a recurrence to the bones by roughly 30 percent.  I will have it every 6 months for 3 years.  It takes about 45 minutes for an infusion and so far I have had minimal side effects.  I generally have a day of feeling just a bit off, maybe a bit flu-like and tired.  It isn't debilitating though, and worth it in the end.

The MRI is just one more tool in my toolkit to look for lumps or differences in my breast tissue.  I have a mammogram every 6 months and alternate those with the MRI so I am having some type of imaging test done about every quarter.  

It is hard sometimes to force myself to spend the day at doctor's offices.  It is especially hard to have the Zometa infusion as that is in the same place that I had chemo.  It reminds me of how difficult it is.  Cancer is hard.  There is just no denying that it is a terrible, difficult disease.  However, I am grateful for good health care and thankful that so many people are on my team, helping me to make sure that I remain healthy.  So, I will go in on Friday and I will be grateful that I am going there to remain healthy and not because I am sick.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Can you say Soy?

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was told that I am Estrogen and Progesterone positive meaning that estrogen and progresterone running through my body added fuel to the fire, so to speak, by allowing cancer cells to attach onto it and grow.

It is for this reason that I currently take Tamoxifen and will continue to take it for the next 4 years if not more.  Tamoxifen blocks the estrogen from attaching to any rogue cancer cells.  It is also for this reason that I have significantly reduced the amount of soy that I have in my diet.  Soy acts like an estrogen and the research up until this point has been very very inconclusive on the effects that soy has on estrogen positive breast cancer survivors like myself.

Now, don't think that I was a soy-aholic before my diagnosis, I wasn't.  I don't like soy milk, I don't eat tofu unless it is in hot and sour soup, I don't buy soy bacon or tofutti or anything else that is suppposed to make you think you are eating meat.  But here's the problem, soy is in EVERYTHING.  Take a look at your labels, there is soy in salad dressings, bread, soups, sauces, cereal.  Everything has some form of soy in it which makes it very difficult when you are trying to avoid it.   

Since giving up sugar and sugar substitutes, I have become an avid label reader so while I can't in all honesty say I have given up soy, I can say that I avoid it as often as possible because it was my understanding that it might increase my chances of a recurrence.

Finally, there is a study that says this just might not be the case. This study says that maybe, just maybe, soy is helpful in preventing a recurrence even for people like me who are estrogen positive and taking Tamoxifen.  Could it be true that I can go to one of my favorite restaurants, PF Changs, and order the edamame and eat it without concern??   That I can give my children soy milk without worrying about their personal breast cancer risk??

Three cheers for soy!  I'm going out to find some edamame....

Monday, January 4, 2010

Measuring a Year

What a difference a year makes.  After being diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2008, everything became about cancer.  I spent the year in surgeries, doing chemo and radiation and with fear as my constant companion.  2008 brought other things as well.  Amazing support from friends and family, a newfound appreciation for good health care, a new depth of knowledge about my own health and my own strength.

If 2008 was my year of living with cancer, 2009 was my year of living without it.  I wish I could say that after finishing treatment that I went back to my normal life, but that isn't really true.  Cancer doesn't really go away.  It is something I think about every single day.  In 2009, I got to figure out what living without cancer is like.

In 2009 my friendships were different than they were in 2008.  Not better or worse, just different.  I was reminded that everyone has challenges and joys in their life and I get to participate in those.  In 2008 I knew this, but couldn't give my attention to it.

My world became broader.  This year I did 2 radio interviews, a television interview, wrote a newspaper article and was interviewed for an article.  I participated in the Susan G. Komen 3 day walk.   I had the pleasure of meeting an entire group of breast cancer survivors from around the counry.  I got to be part of the world in a bigger way than I had before. 

I am now an expert in something I never wanted to be an expert in; cancer.  I wish I could say that I didn't know anyone else who had been diagnosed, but that is not the case.  Though I am incredibly sorry that more women have been diagnosed, I am glad that I can provide some help and support based on my own experience. 

I have been unemployed since March.  While this has caused a good amount of stress financially and  my confidence sometimes takes a hit, I am grateful every day for the opportunity to spend time with my family.  I don't think I would have had the same level of appreciation for it had the prior year not been consumed by cancer. 

I have aches and pains.  Every ache and pain causes me concern.  It is very difficult to convince myself that every pain isn't cancer.  But I am remembering what it is like to have aches and pains that are part of being human.

In 2008 I measured my year in treatments and surgeries and how it was affected by cancer.  In 2009 I had to find another way to measure.  My favorite musical of all time is Rent.  My favorite song and the one that brings me to tears every time I see it is Seasons of Love.  How do you measure a year?  How about love.

Seasons of Love

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear
525,600 minutes how do you measure
Measure a year
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In 525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year in the life
How about love
How about love
How about love
Measure in love
Seasons of love

525,600 minutes, 525,000 journeys to plan
525,600 minutes how can you measure the life of a woman or man
In truths that she learned, or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned, or the way that she died

It�s time now to sing out, though the story never ends
Let's celebrate remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the love
Remember the love
Remember the love
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love