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