Thursday, May 12, 2011

chemo. I'm a little behind in my blogging because I started my chemo in the fall of '10. I was on a form of chemo called Xeloda. It was a pill (who knew chemo came in a pill? I didn't.). I would take two 500 mg pills in the morning with breakfast and two in the evening with dinner. The first side effect was the nausea. I was given a prescription for Compazine and that didn't help. Next was Zofran, still no luck. Finally I was given Ativan and that seemed to do the trick. There weren't very many side effects at all for me. No hair loss although I was hoping for it so I could start fresh and see what color it is now :) I did get chemo brain, as I like to call it. Couldn't remember simple things, I just felt scatter-brained, a feeling I don't like. The treatment went in cycles and each cycle was 3 weeks long. I would take the pills for two weeks and then have a week off to recover and get my blood tested to see if it was working. Of course you can't go to your local pharmacy and pick up Xeloda. I had to have it FedExed to me every three weeks from a special oncology pharmacy in Texas. After about 3-4 months on this treatment my doc said it was starting to lose it's effectiveness and it was time to try something new, hormone therapy, oh joy!

My doc told me that hormone therapy works best on post menapausal women, at age 38 that is something I am not. Solution, turn me into a post menapausal woman, yippee! Once a month I had to get a Zoladex injection which basically turned off my ovaries. I was also taking the drug Tamoxifen. Both the injection and the drug caused menapause side effects such as the wonderful hot flash! My own mother didn't suffer through hot flashes and here I am at 38 fanning myself at my desk while the boys in the office chuckle (I only have male co-workers and they don't quite understand - just wait til their wives start getting hot flashes, then they will suffer too!). Lucky for me that only lasted 2 months, I am now on treatment number 3, more chemo.

Before the decision was made to switch treatments again, my doc wanted me to meet with a second doc at his practice. She did a three year fellowship at NIH specialiazing in breast cancer. After meeting with her and telling her my story she decided to have me start an IV chemo called Doxil. It looks like fruit punch but it wasn't so sweet. First I get an IV with an anti-nausea drug mixed with a steroid. Then they gave me an IV of Benadryl and then on to the main event. Within the first 10 minutes of the Doxil I felt like I was about to spontaneously combust! My face turned bright red and it felt like you could cook an egg on my chest. Lucky for me I am never alone for my treatments, I don't think I've seen my dad move that fast in a long time when he ran to get my nurse. She stopped the IV and flushed me out with sugar water and then gave me some more Benadryl. By the time she started the Doxil again I was feeling pretty good :) She slowed down the infusion and all went well. This treatment is once a month and I just went for my second dose this week. My nurse is wonderful, she went ahead and gave me the double dose of Benadryl so I slept through the treatment. As with the other treatments it is now wait and see. I will keep you posted and feel free to ask me questions in the comments.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

cigarettes. Yup, I was a smoker. Key word is WAS! My last cigarette was on Saturday, July 24. I was admitted to the hospital on Sunday, July 25. Nothing like hearing the c word to convince you to quit. I had quit in the past but I have no will power. At least I didn't think I did. So far I haven't used anything to aid in my cessation. No patch, pill, gum, etc. It's been pure cold turkey, I can't even believe it myself. It helps that I've been staying with my parents since my diagnosis. I know once I go back home and get into my normal routine I might need some help. In fact on Thursday my Dad took me to my condo to pick up my truck. The radiation obviously has worked some because I can see well enough to drive now. The problem is I always smoked when I was behind the wheel. It felt kind of funny driving myself to work without smoking, but I did it and I will continue to do it for the rest of my life!

Speaking of work, the photos show the beautiful picture window that is right behind my desk. All day long my view is of all of the other smokers in the building. What bothers me most isn't the fact that they're smoking right in front of me, but that they are smoking where they aren't supposed to! There is a designated smoking area one level down in the parking garage. I always made sure that I smoked where I was supposed to. I always considered myself to be a polite smoker. I never smoked near children, the elderly, or anyone who looked like they might be ill. I never smoked in large crowds or at the bus stop (it used to piss me off when someone did that, they were giving smokers a bad rep). I always asked friends if it was ok to smoke in their cars or homes, I never assumed even if they were smokers themselves. I even felt bad smoking in restaurants (when you could still do that in the Metro area) because it always went into the non-smoking area.

My intent with this post is not to preach or lecture about the dangers of smoking. I'm not going to start approaching people and tell them they should quit. It was my choice to smoke, no one forced me to do so. It just really makes you think, if I never started or at least if I quit much sooner would I have gotten cancer? I always thought that millions of people smoke and they don't all get cancer. I was playing the odds, unfortunately I was betting with my life. Who knows, it may not have been a factor. I'm not going to beat myself up over it. I quit now and I don't intend to ever start again!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

confirmation. Waiting for confirmation. I had my appointment with the oncologist today only to find out that they need to determine if I am HER2 positive or negative to see what type of treatment I can receive. That is going to take until at least next Thursday, August 19th! HER2 is a protein that if I am positive for can mean an extra drug known as a Herceptin added to my treatment. It is also a more aggressive form of breast cancer.

I have finished 9 of my 15 scheduled radiation treatments and I won't be able to start any other treatments until that is done, and beyond (the effects last for a little while after they're done zapping me). My father and I met with a research nurse at the oncologist today and she gave us some information on some clinical trials that I can take part in. Not sure if that is the way we are going to go. There is alot of information out there, alot of side effects, and alot of unknowns. I may just decide to take the basic chemo that we know works, the standard of care. In two weeks I will be attending a chemo class to learn about the different forms and different ways chemo is administered. I am actually looking forward to that, I like to learn and this is something that you hear about from different people, but I need to see for myself what I am about to go through.

I am slowly trying to return to my normal routine. I have gone back to work but it isn't easy. Because of a steroid  I have been taking, I have been getting less than 2 hours of sleep a night for the last two weeks and it is catching up to me. I feel loopy and it's hard to concentrate on anything at work (I haven't messed anything up yet). The doctor did say today that if you have two patients, one who stays in bed all day and one who stays active, one has an advantage over the other. I'm doing everything I can for that advantage (plus I really like my job and I want to give my Dad a break during the day). Don't worry, I'm not pushing myself too much. I know to ask for help if I need it, and I'm not afraid to say 'Uncle' if need be.

Anyway, I wish I had more info to share at this time. I promise to keep everyone updated as I know more.

Monday, August 9, 2010


cooking. That's basically what they are doing to my skull through XRT, or X-ray Therapy (radiation). First they made a 3-D mask of my face and they use that to strap me down and zap me. It's pretty quick, one minute on each side of my head. I'm scheduled for 15 total radiation treatments. Tomorrow I get to see my Dr. and hopefully she'll tell me it's working. As for where the mass is actually located, picture the bone in your skull that is where your nasal cavity is. It's this bone that your brain rests on. It is also where the optic nerves pass through which is why I'm having double/blurry vision. It's not too bad, I obviously can see the computer and I can still read my books. The trouble is outside in bright light and if there are distractions. I can't drive is the main thing. I'm super lucky to have a retired father who is now my full time chauffeur. It's hard to lose some of my independence but I know in time I'll be able to do for myself again.

Tomorrow is my appointment with my Oncologist. That is when I find out the result of the biopsy they took in the hospital and the rest of the treatment I will have to undertake, chemo and possibly hormone therapy, whatever it takes. I know it's going to be a long road, anything worth doing takes time.

Other than cooking my skull, I need to learn how to cook for myself better. It can be difficult to cook for one, the stores just don't sell alot of individual portions and I find it easier to order out. But when I get home, thanks to my parents, I have a nice clean kitchen to start with and I'm going to make the effort. I'm eating well at Mom and Dad's and I don't want that to end :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

canine companionship. Ok, so this is going to be more of a fluff piece, literally! If you are out of my Facebook loop and haven't seen the 8,000 pics of my baby girl, she is very fluffy :) She is my 8 year old 130 lb rottweiler and I don't think I would have the attitude I do without her. Luckily she loves my parents and they love her back. When I entered the hospital last Sunday evening, it was a long night of tests. My parents left around 3 Monday morning and Mom went to my condo to pick up her granddogter. Of course she was an angel, she loves riding in the car with her Grandma :) It was Wednesday afternoon when I was finally allowed to come home and I couldn't wait to see her. She has been a Momma's girl from the start but right away I noticed something different. She won't leave my side (unless Grandma takes her for a walk). I go to the bathroom, she waits outside the door. I get up just to look out the window and her eyes never leave me. If you have never felt unconditional love, go to the shelter a pick up a puppy. I know because of her I am going to live a long and healthy life, I just wish she would be with me until the end. My family loves me, my friends love me, but there is nothing like the look in Bela's eyes when I tell her I love her. She says it back without saying a word :)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Beginning

cancer. There, I said it and I have it. cancer. No, that isn't a typo. I've decided not to capitalize it because the word already has too much power without a big c. With the encouragement of my brother and best friend I have decided to share my story with everyone. My goal is to keep my friends and family updated as I progress through treatment and I would also like to help and educate others who are going through similar circumstances.

For those of you who know me pretty well, I'm considered to be fairly intelligent. The hardest part of all of this so far is admitting to extreme stupidity in how I handled what was happening to my body. I'm going to start off my story in the most logical place, the beginning.

I'm not sure of the exact date that I noticed the lump in my breast. It was around November 2008. I was working for Prudential and it was my first holiday season there. I volunteered to work the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays since I didn't have any travel plans like most of my co-workers. I figured I would make an appointment to see my doctor once the season was over. About a week before Christmas we were all called in for a meeting in which we were told that our office was closing and that we were all losing our jobs.
Well, that meant we were losing our insurance. Even though I was still employed until April of 2009 I didn't want to have a pre-existing condition when I started working and had insurance again. So, here is where the stupidity kicks in, instead of telling my parents I needed help, I continued to watch the lump turn into a huge almost rock hard mass.

In July of 2009 I was super lucky to find a job posting on Craigslist for the wonderful job I have now. My new insurance took effect in September of 2009. I still put off going to the doctor because I didn't want to start taking off alot of time. My brother just got engaged to my beautiful Sister-in-law and was planning on moving. The holidays started coming around again and I kept putting off seeing a doctor. I lost my rottweiler Primo in December of 2009 and was devastated by the loss. John's move to Minneapolis was coming soon after and I was planning on moving as well (DC wasn't the place for me, I'm a suburbanite). I found a great place to live for me and my other rottie Bela and we moved on February 13. Of course with all of this going on, who had time to go to a doctor? Stupid, stupid, stupid! I'm sure I could have gone after the move but John and Janet's wedding was approaching and I didn't want to ruin their day because I had cancer (John and Janet, please don't take this the wrong way, the blame is on my shoulders, I love you both and I was just making excuses).

Now it's Saturday, July 24 and I woke up with a little fever and nausea. It was super hot that weekend I just thought it was getting to me (I prefer cold). I decided to go down the street to pick up a quick lunch but I couldn't make it. I was having blurry and double vision and being behind the wheel of my truck wasn't working out so well. I decided I would just rest for the day and hopefully I would feel better on Sunday. When I woke up Sunday morning, nothing had changed. My mother called just to check in and I told her I wasn't feeling well, but again I never mentioned my rock hard breast that was about two sizes smaller than the other at this point. I called her back about 7:30 that evening and told her I wasn't getting better and that I should see a doctor. She came over to make me some soup and to help take care of Bela. That's when I finally broke down and admitted to the secret I had been keeping for well over a year.

My father told her to take me to the ER and he would meet us there. We checked in around 8:30 and saw many doctors right away. They took me in for a short CT scan to see what was causing the double vision. The cancer had spread from my breast into my skull, not my brain thank goodness. The part of the skull that is affected is where my optical nerves pass through. Next, around 1 am they had me drink two large glasses of tea with a contrast liquid in them so that I could have a more thourough CT scan and an MRI. I was first admitted to the hospital and they found me a bed on the 6th floor. About 10 til 4 in the morning they came to get me for my tests. It was about 6am when I was finished and then it was time to try to get some sleep (no such luck, I'm still trying to get a full nights sleep). My parents came back early in the morning and that's when we heard the actual news. I definitely had cancer. It started in my breast and spread to my lungs, spine, hip and skull. They took a biopsy of my breast and we have a meeting with the Oncologist on 8/10 to find out what kind of treatment I will be receiving. I am currently undergoing radiation treatment for my head so hopefully I will have my full eyesight back soon.

That's enough for now. When I know more I will come back and tell you all about it. Next week I'd like to tell you about the treatment I am undergoing now as well as how I'm feeling physically and emotionally. I at least hope that if there is anyone out there putting off seeing their doctor that this will make you think twice. Get off your ass and go! You could save a life, your own!