Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Follow-Up Scans

Although I had received the best case scenario from the surgeon as to “we got it all,” (note, this does not ever mean I am 100% “cured,” just that we got it all this time) the next step in the process is doing scans at the hospital. The schedule them all on one day and that’s real handy. I am to have a chest x ray, a CT scan of my abdomen (liver and pancreas, etc.) and a full-body bone scan.

The Springfield Regional Medical Center is a fine facility and they do their best to do all these things in an efficient manner. It helps to have a spouse who is a volunteer in the hospital, who doesn't know a stranger, and gets me quickly to the places I need to be.

I arrive at the Imaging and Nuclear Medicine area right at 9:45 and am taken back to be prepped. I should mention I just don’t have very cooperative veins and we need to find a place for a port for the CT scan. The first guy blew a vein and I am quite sure it was because he was in the same general area as my IV was from surgery. It wasn't his fault. He brought in an older (not necessarily more experienced, I have no idea) man, who blew another vein and was working on a third, when I said I was getting light-headed, and he called for back-up. A woman came in and held my left arm and put her leg across my left knee, to stabilize me.

Needlesstosay, I was not comfortable. But by the time he blew the third vein, I told her, “You need to get a bed in here. NOW!” He gave it up, and they put me in bed. I never lost consciousness as I did at Crystal Clear Imaging, and we got me situated in the bed. After a period of time, the woman tried another vein, while I am lying down, and she was just about to say she blew that one (I am chewing on the imaginary bullet about now and I promise you, I wasn't swearing) when she “saved” it. I was ready to break down and cry, and I saved myself from that.

Next up, another woman came in and there was some discussion about whether I was to drink the liquid that would make the CT scan show all the colors—there’s a word for this, contrast, I believe—and my orders showed that I was not to have them. Now, understand that the fine people at the hospital are trained to spot these inconsistencies. Understand also, that we all knew I was a tad bit crotchety. I said, and we all agreed, “Let’s find out NOW!” She called the doctor’s office and it was a clerical mistake.

Are you kidding me? When she came back with the answer, I told her in my most polite voice, “I am not saying a bad word, but I am thinking a VERY bad word!” A clerical error. But, indeed, that is why there are all these people involved, to catch these things.

So, now, I have the port in and I have to drink the stuff for the CT scan. And I have a time scheduled for the CT scan (12:30) so I get the free ride to a waiting room. I can’t even figure out how to use the TV but I don’t care. We all know at least one trip to the bathroom will be involved; and by now, as the “professional patient” that I have become, I know how to ask for those warmed-up blankets. I play with my phone. They can’t find my husband. Mr. Social Butterfly is out talking to all the volunteers and employees that he doesn't know because he works M-W-F and this is a Thursday.

So, in order to be efficient, we decide to get the x-ray done during this time. I walk to the x-ray room, and they can’t find my orders. I am annoyed by this; but x-rays do not involve ports and I can walk in at any time and get an x-ray when they figure it out eventually. I play with my phone and get caught up on all the world’s happenings while she searches for and finds my orders. The chest x-ray, as we all know, takes a total of five minutes. Back to the little waiting bedroom I go. I decide to text Mr. Social. He eventually responds, and we wait until the CT scan is to begin. It’s colder than Antarctica in this hospital so I ask for more blankets.

The CT scan is what it is and other with having to mess with that dang port, causing me a good bit of pain, and of course, I needed to go to the bathroom AGAIN about this time; really went off without a hitch. Time-wise, maybe fifteen minutes. Tops.

My Cat's Meow of Community
Hospital RIP
We were “released” to go have lunch and we had an hour to do that. The Hospital Volunteer knows the lunch room well, and guides me around so I can make my choice. We have a lovely time together and we then head to the gift shop, where, you guessed it, I get to meet some more of his “friends.” It’s a nice gift shop. I buy a “Cat’s Meow” of the old hospital, where my kids were born. I have already decided, and informed my chauffeur that I AM getting a bead for my bracelet to remember this day!

My whole body bone scan was easy. We got back early, and what I expected to be a 45-minute procedure was maybe 20 start-to-finish. It helps to be short. This was kind of fun, in a way. They stick you into the machine, and pull you out slowly, taking their image. By the time I am coming out, I can see my image on a screen above myself.  I like how I look, rather thin! My back appears very straight and I look very normal—except for this “thing” in my abdomen.

Before I assume that I have an enormous tumor (one that would have obviously presented itself with other symptoms before now!) in my abdomen, I ask the gentleman doing the test, and yes indeed, it’s my bladder. Big as day! Ladies will understand this; our bladder is really never empty! Bahahaha!

This was an easy end to the day, which began with pain and fear, and hubs and I trot off to Kohl’s and I get my bead! I wanted a better meal, but we had to eat and we only had that one hour. So, we came home and took naps.

Why do we do these scans? To make SURE that there's nothing anyplace else in the body. At least, as of today. I will be watched forever! We know that the surgeon got everything in the breast itself, but we want to make sure that there's nothing floating around in another area!

And as of today, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, I am cancer FREE! This series needs a break, and I need to get back to the person I am outside of "the lady with cancer." I will have radiation and there may be something to say about that later; it's a six week, five day a week course of treatment. But for right now, it's time to think about something else.

Like Turning 60!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

An Argument for Repeat Mammograms

We have been watching a spot since 2006. Every year, they would call me back for further testing. It was getting annoying, and somewhere, in my heart of hearts, I believed that the hospital was revenue-building. Our insurance pays for #1. Number two falls in line with our insurance policies guidelines, full pay up until we have met our deductible and 80/20 after that. Considering I usually do this during the first six months of the year, we are usually still meeting our deductible, so we are paying full price.

It continued to tick me off.

Last year, I actually requested to sit down with the radiologist to look at the films, and he kept switching back and forth until I demanded to line them up 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. The movement and size seemed minimal to me, but the doctor felt that there was enough difference to call me back.

So who was right? I will never know.

But this I do know, IF they had not been watching this little whatever, they might not have seen the cancerous mass this year. It was so near the chest wall, it always is hard to see on conventional mammogram. Bringing me back for ultrasound was the only way they would be certain. That’s when they found the mass which had cancer.

Bottom line: get those mammograms regularly (and if you are like me, you mark the date on the calendar as usually, they have to be a year apart) and if you are asked to return, suck it up and do it. No amount of money spent is comparable to finding a cancer when it’s too late!

After years of complaining, I am a new woman in this matter. I’ll be asking you, my friends, when did you last get a mammogram??

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Follow-Up With the Surgeon

I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. Even though the doctor told my husband and my mother and my aunt after surgery that they got it all, and it was all good, I DIDN'T HEAR THOSE WORDS FROM HER. I didn't see her inflections; I didn't have the details that I wanted. In my head, we didn't have THE news yet.

And I was driving myself crazy!

I went off the fabulous Vicodin over the weekend and to be sure, I didn't sleep well. This situation was like a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up speed. I was anxious, cranky and nervous. I would have one good day and then one terrible day.

My appointment with the surgeon was on Wednesday and the night before I had 2 ½ hours of sleep. I was a mess.

Actually, I had scheduled an appointment with Dr. T, my favorite orthopedic surgeon at 8:00 AM. He has seen me through various ailments, and my son’s football injuries, for at least 10 years. Last year he and I became intimate again with the breaking of my foot. I knew that I did something to my left knee, and although it’s on the back burner, I wanted to know what was going on there. I had an MRI before the lumpectomy and we were able to discuss this.

I have a small tear in the meniscus in my left knee. I believe it’s actually healing because I cannot exercise. Obviously, this is good and this is bad. I should be exercising, but it’s not happening right now. However, when the time comes that I can, I should be in even better shape and if I start slowly, we don’t see any big surgeries on the horizon. At least not this year!

Armed with that wonderful news, I went to Tim Horton’s and had a donut! Hey, I feel like eating some this week! Then, I called my husband, the hospital volunteer, and he met me at the surgeon’s office. Dr. D. was very encouraged. She explained to me the details of my surgery (I never understood about how this little tumor was lodged between layers of muscle). She had to separate the muscles—not cut them!—and that made things a little trickier. It also accounts for some of the “inside” pain that I feel.

She was able to remove a pancake-sized amount which included the (two) tumor mass, of about one centimeter. I will discuss later in another blog how this malignant tumor was right next to a benign (or pre-cancerous) tumor that we have been watching for 6 years. She removed my steri-strips, and told me that ugly as I thought I looked, I was very normal for 9 days post-op. (I smelled a little odd!) Now, I must begin exercises and can bathe completely normally.

I made my husband stay in there and watch. The man who dissected pigs for thirty-five years and watched me give birth twice…… He didn't pass out.

Most important, was the assurance that she got it all; and the scans and x rays that I was doing the next day was just protocol (or as we laypeople call it, covering their butts).  I am not concerned. Once we pay our share of the surgery bills, we will be in 100% coverage. Do whatever you want to do. Have at it.

I got a work release until July 1st, which will work out well. That’s going to be a short week with the holiday. Also on July 1st, as it turns out, I will see the radiation doctor, and the oncologist who will follow me with medication the rest of my life. As this tumor is estrogen-fed, I will take a pill that blocks future tumors from forming (that are estrogen-fed). If it were possible to have a tumor like this in say, my knee, it would stop that too. But we are talking about breasts here. My radiation should start July 22 or perhaps the following week. Six weeks.

I will return to see her in mid-September.

We came home and both needed long naps. After I woke up, refreshed, I felt the weight of the world lifted.

That night, I slept soundly for the first time in weeks.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What NOT to Say!

I realize that this entry may be updated later, because what you should not say to a recently diagnosed cancer patient is not the same thing as what you would say to that same person later on. In approaching this subject, let’s remember two major things.

  1. EVERY cancer in EVERY patient is different. There is simply no real comparison, even among cases that seem comparable.  There is some component that is different, be it age or whatever, that makes every case different.
  2. EVERY patient feels differently in the beginning of their journey than they do at the end, or in the middle.
So let’s take number one first:

Each patient is different. That is, different from each other, different from your sister-in-law, your mother who was treated 30 years ago, and different from someone who actually is very similar. I am going to use an example close to my heart, and this has been approved. My son-in-law’s mother is a breast cancer survivor, so we compared notes. Our stories are amazingly similar! However, she is younger, was definitely younger at diagnosis, and was pre-menopausal, while am post-menopausal. This puts a totally different spin on two situations that are very similar. Our experience is different.

What not to say:
  • I know just how you feel (can we all agree to put that one to rest?).
  • My (insert relative or friend here) had just what you have, they got rid of it, but it came back and she is (insert whatever she’s going through right now).
Choose this please:
  • I am so sorry. This must have you shook up. (Just “I am sorry!” it’s not rocket science)
  • How are you doing? What can I do to help?

Everyone’s praying, and don’t hear me say that prayer is not important! That is a sentiment that does not get old. But there may be other things that are helpful to the patient.  The post-surgical help that I have received has all been great. Patients don’t need much food the first week, if they don’t have a family. Help with simple household tasks, bathing, lifting, doing laundry or running errands is encouraging. As the patient is able, just talking with friends and loved ones is encouraging also.

Number two: Consider where the patient is on the timeline. If they are newly diagnosed, then an appropriate description would be “shell-shocked.”

  • Do not ask how they are, listen for 90 seconds and then talk about yourself. Although this won’t be forever, I assure you, the patient really DOES NOT CARE what is going on with you. She is totally self-consumed, even if that is not a general character trait. Right now, sitting and listening to you talk about yourself, your family, your job, etc. etc. because you can’t stand silence, is torture for her. Stay home.
  • Do not go into a comparison to any person that does not have a good outcome. She wants to hear only success stories.
  • DO Listen to what the patient has to say. Ask open-ended questions, but certainly listen for the “details” also.
  • And finally, after you've asked "What can I do for you?"; and she gives you an honest and appropriate way for you to help, being aware of your circumstances, even though it may mean a little sacrifice, don’t come back with silence and say “I’ll pray for you.” While prayer is IMPORTANT, you are saying that you don’t REALLY mean to help!

I ran this by a couple of people I know that have been in my place, and they approve this message. I may feel completely different in three, six and twelve months.

And, I always believe in the POWER of prayer!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Cancer Journey: The Enemy

This is a blog that I never intended to write, but begs to be written; the kind that rattles around in your head (and body) in the middle of the night, until you get up and just do it.

I’m only at the beginning of this fight, and after a night like this, I can only wonder what is coming. And that, friend, is what I call The Enemy.

Some of what I am going through presently is purely physical, and includes drying out from Vicodin. Although I am not experiencing any excruciating pain, there are side effects while taking Vicodin.  One of those is constipation; and if I have talked about sex in this blog, then I certainly can mention constipation. When you don’t eat for 4-5 days, it’s not as big a deal—certainly not as big as pain control—so you concentrate on what is most important, that of pain control. Then, you deal with the side effects. Today has been one of those days…..

Tonight though, as I lay in bed and cannot get comfortable, I think of the blessing of a quick menopause thirteen years ago and how that seems to have flown out the window. I see a commercial frequently, and for the life of me I can’t remember what it’s selling, but it has a huge wave in it. My “wave” of menopause went out to sea a long time ago, but tonight the crashing in of “climate control” has occurred twice. I have had to change clothes both times, and I am not carrying a fever. Really, menopause, NOW?

I can’t get comfortable in the bed, trying to manage the covers which seem to be all over the place (note to self: FIX this in the morning!) and tossing and turning equates pain.

But that’s nothing compared to the spiritual warfare going on. The Enemy.

Sleeping alone contributes to the “aloneness,” but I fully recognize that this can hit with someone sleeping next to you.

I turned on a light to write this, but before this I would lay in the darkness and the darkness would roll over me in waves.  What’s going to happen? How am I going to feel? Will I get through this?

There are thoughts in the darkness of night. I call them the “what if’s?” Tonight, for some reason, it’s about the money. Right now, I am ready to fight this, and we are in a good position financially to do this. We aren’t wealthy, and we pay a lot for our insurance, but this is going to be taken care of. The thoughts I have are those like “How far shall I take this before giving it up and not devastating my husband’s future?” The financial woes are not going to end with 2013.

It’s 4:00 AM and I hear my husband stirring in the kitchen. He usually wakes naturally about this time. I would love to go in the other room and share my fears, but I.just.can’t. At least one of us should get a good night’s sleep, and it’s not going to be me.

I don’t usually preach here, but an illness like this forces you to take a look at spiritual issues. I know God is with me and has not left me. I also believe that God could be using my illness for His higher purposes, although I don’t know what they are. I’m probably not supposed to know that.

But make no mistake about it, God has an Adversary, and he is not a cartoon character with a pitchfork and tail. The Adversary, The Enemy is allowed access to God’s children, for their time of testing. (Read the book of Job) And he is here tonight. I know it.

He works in the mind, because he can’t have the soul, and he knows it.

So he works his way in during the part of the night when I am alone and have no other activity. I am weak. I should be the prayer warrior who can rebuke the spirit of the Evil One. But it doesn’t always work out like that. He attacks all of us at our lowest common denominator place.  Mine is and always has been—no new thing—anxiety.

If you are praying for me, and I know many are, if you wake up in the middle of the night, pray for me. I may be having a great night, and no prayer is wasted. But if it’s a night like tonight, I can use the prayer!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Turning 60: June's Idea is Postponed!

I had a great idea for myself for “Turning 60” in June, but life got in the way. I’ll explain it in a minute, because I still am gonna do it sometime; but some things that we do for ourselves are just more important.

It was June 3rd when I went to get the results of my breast cancer biopsy. Isn’t it funny when one word changes everything? From that moment on, it was ALL about me; and I would very gladly turn it back in, and do lots of things for other people, and be without the diagnosis.

As I write this, the month is only half over, and I went from recall mammogram to surgery in seventeen days. I am recovering from surgery, waiting for the “specific” results of the thing they took out, and waiting to determine precisely the treatment as we go from here. Plan A is radiation from mid-July to late August. Of course, WHAT we find out may change all of that.

I will do whatever I need to do…..for ME, for my family, for all the wonderful people in my life. I have no fear of the afterlife, but I just ain’t ready to leave y’all yet! Too bad if ya want me to!

But back to my “idea,” and I think it’s still a sound one. I want to get a motel room and spend the night alone; just reflecting, reading, praying, listening to music and reevaluating. I want to get away from everyone! Now mind you, it doesn’t have to be a five star place, but some things are required.

  • ·         A pool and hot tub.
  • ·         Free Wifi. I don’t mean unplugging; and as I think through deep thoughts, I might actually have to research something and want the opportunity to do that.
  • ·         Good food, someplace close. A hotel restaurant would be excellent. And a complimentary breakfast would be nice. I don’t want to spend a lot of time THINKING about food. I just want it close by and I don’t want to have to cook it.
  • ·         Don’t want a long drive and really don’t care about sights to see. This is about reflection and being alone with myself.

I think with everything I am going through, this is still a very sound idea and it may work out in August. But to be completely honest, I don’t really want to be alone right now. I need my husband, family and people. But, I also know that there will again come a time for solitude, and I will want it.

Maybe I will even write a couple of blog entries!

***Note that a TV is NOT necessary. If there is “one of those movies that I have been wanting to see” on the schedule, I will certainly entertain the idea. I probably would not choose a time that the Reds are in the heat of playoffs, but you get the idea. I don’t watch much TV.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Surgery Day

A day of hurry up and wait.

Nothing goes perfectly. For those of you who prayed for me, much thanks. I can hear them now, “Please guide the doctors’ hands and give them clarity of mind.”

Maybe someone should have prayed for DENISE’S clarity of mind! We left the house about 9:00 A.M. for an arrival of 9:45 at Crystal Clear Imaging, for those who know the area; north on US 68, east on 334 and south on Middle-Urbana Road. I was so careful to have all my things together; I had all my legal papers, my driver’s license, my insurance card since with Jerry on Medicare and me NOT, is just slightly different (actually the policy numbers are the same; it would probably be fine to use his.) I left the phone at home, all jewelry off, wore the simplest clothes that I owned, not the most attractive, but who cares?

I forgot my procedure orders. We were on north 68 when I remembered! We HAD to turn around and go back, and I phoned Crystal Clear to let them know we were running late, which that in itself was not an issue; but there was a timing issue with regards to the dye they were going to put in me.

We got to CC and they got me in and it was the worst part of the day. They didn't have my mammograms from the Women’s Center, so we had to do more. Their task was to run a wire into the breast to guide the surgeon and then shoot a blue dye into me to show the lymph nodes and guide the doctor in removal of “some” of them, or whatever needed done.

I am already anxious. The mammograms are difficult because of how near the chest wall the mass was. Ultrasounds do it, but do we have to go there again? Do we have the time? And most of all, do I have to stand and “assume the position” (my female readers get this, the men NEVER will!) while the Dr. does what he has to do?

And MOST of all, because it must be precise, will we have to do this more than once?

Well, the good news is that I was seated, he got it the first time, and the dye really didn't hurt more than five seconds. Then the dye does its work. The doctor kept apologizing for hurting me, but I repeated, “You are saving my life!” Maybe he doesn't hear that often enough.

The bad news is that I passed out cold.

I don’t remember this, but I do remember coming to when the radiology tech AND the doctor, who had been brought back in, together removed me from the chair and laid me on the floor. I’m NPO (nothing by mouth after midnight), so they can’t even give me orange juice as they would normally. It took awhile to bring me back around, I dressed on the floor, and they brought Jerry back to “help.”

Now I interject here that this has not been approved by Jerry and I don’t really give a darn; but it’s real handy to have a hospital volunteer as your caregiver. He knows exactly HOW to walk me, and when he sees a wheelchair setting around, he doesn't ask permission. He just opens it up, sticks me in it and takes me out to the car. Being the type of person he is, I am quite sure he returned it to exactly where he found it.

We had plenty of time to get to the hospital. We drove around some and checked out the parking at the Cancer Center, where I will go for radiation. And, we just drove around some. I love Springfield. It's MY hometown!

I was at Ohio Valley Medical Center which is across the way from the Springfield Regional Medical Center. This hospital was built by 52 investors who wanted to practice medicine their own way, not be told what to do by a big organization (can you say politics?) I got excellent care; but there are no bells and whistles. No cafeteria, no TV in the surgical waiting room (we actually had to talk, imagine that.) The building is new, a few years old, and everyone employed there wants to be there! It’s a good place to be.

While I registered and waited, I sent Jerry out to Wendy’s. I knew he needed to eat. I was starving. When he returned, I was being taken back to the prep area. The downside of this afternoon was that a surgery scheduled for 1:45 actually commenced around 3:45. So, thirsty as I was, they did start an IV and you know where this is going—several trips to the bathroom. That was fun. 

So, we sat there on the tarmac for two hours; but I knew that my surgeon was, if nothing else, thorough. She came in before the surgery that was before me, and told us it was a simple one. I don’t mind. If she spends time on the other surgeries, she’ll spend the time she needs to on mine. Joel came over from his new day job and spent some time with us, keeping us entertained. I was able to update my Facebook through his account on his phone. I told Jerry that whoever chose the "playlist" for the music coming through the speakers, must have known all my favorite songs!

Waiting is not my strong suit, but I did get some fabulous news! My nurse anesthetist was to be the same woman as I had for my breast reduction surgery in 2003. She’s the one holding my life in her hands—I was thrilled. We already had a “connection.”

As for the surgery itself, I am told, it went very well.  She was able to get the mass and what she needed around it. As far as lymph nodes go, she took three, but they all looked good. If you are not a medical person, think of your lymph nodes as bowling pins, she saw something in the first and second, MAYBE (she wasn't sure but took it while in there) so she took three. She found the tumor between strands of tissue, which is good, I guess.

Keep in mind that cancer in the lymph nodes is NOT a death sentence, it is very treatable. We will know more next week, and I will have a better explanation at that time.

I was in the recovery room at 6:00 P.M; at least that is when I saw the clock. We left the hospital by 8:00, and yes this is too soon. I threw up on the way home. We weren't prepared. I threw up in my shoe. “Good call!” said the chauffeur, when he considered that cleaning out my shoe was a LOT easier than, well you know. (Come to think of it, I haven’t “baptized” this car!)

The evening was spent in and out of consciousness as we watched the Reds. Me, Vicodin and the Reds. I checked all my FB messages and the lovely “flowers” that people send me via text. That was so nice! I went to bed about 11:30 P.M. and woke several times, but always went back to sleep. I won’t use the word “refreshed,” and I will be napping a good bit today here on Day Two.

And, that’s what I need.

P. S. For all you medical types, I am Stage One because is infiltrating (invasive) and NOT in situ. Look it up. I can’t explain it. But it’s NOT bad. I wouldn't even be a Stage One (yet) because the size is about 1/3 inch. That’s like Stage Zero. This is all good news. I will have the typical body scans; chest/lungs, bone and CT on abdomen (liver) and brain. There is no reason to expect these to be bad; although if they are, it changes the treatment.  I will begin radiation mid-July and take me through end of August; in time for me to watch my son’s football team kick some butt!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Meeting The Surgeon

It was a good day. It’s as good as you can get when you have a malignancy growing within you.

My husband and I went to the surgeon together and we had to wait two hours because of staff error in scheduling. I was really frustrated—because at the time I didn’t know what the problem was—but he was so calm. The doctor’s time was worth waiting for; she was very thorough and educational about what was being presented to us. My husband, the educator, was impressed.

I have an invasive ductal carcinoma of approximately .8 cm. Because of the word “invasive,” we call this Stage One. It’s so small you almost would want to call it Zero, but you can’t do that when it’s invasive. This means that the original cancer cell has impacted the cells around it, although we don’t know how much at this moment. It doesn’t matter; it’s only .8 cm. And it has to come out.

We all agreed to get on it as soon as possible, so I am scheduled for a lumpectomy Monday June 10th at the Ohio Valley Medical Center. That will be followed with radiation four weeks out (beginning in July) for a period of six weeks. Then I will take a pill (the name of which I forgot to write down) for the rest of my life that will restrict estrogen receptors.

My prognosis is as good as it gets. We caught this early and got right on it. By the way, this is NOT the same spot we had been watching the last six years. IT WAS A NEW ONE! I did not know this until this morning.

So therefore, ladies, get your mammogram promptly!

Right now, I feel pretty good. I am, if nothing else, a get ‘er done person. And we will……

Monday evening I probably won't feel like writing. But I will write as soon as I am able.

P.S. Remember, there have been so many advances in this type of cancer, that many treatments have changed over the years. Twenty-five years ago, I would have had a mastectomy. That is overkill in my situation at this time. Of course, we will always be watching in the future. There is never a 0% chance of return. At least the medical professionals do not put themselves into a position of saying that!

Also, some interesting stats. One in eight women will have breast cancer in their lives. Only 15% of those are genetically related. While we ALL should encourage our loved ones to get their mammograms, there is no reason to have unwarranted fear about this. Angelina Jolie obviously has an issue, but she's in the very minority. She just gets a lot of press!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What NOT to do!

What NOT to do as you are learning about ANY diagnosis!

You have the biopsy on a Thursday, and on your way home your primary care provider calls you on the cell phone. You are sailing along in the car, not driving, on your way to the cemetery to take care of your relatives’ plots and the flowers you placed on them the week before. (I think this is ironic and maybe even deviously humorous) Well, since you've been whacked on a little, your spouse is actually going to tote the water and do the watering, and you know you've got a good guy there, since he barely knew most of these people!

Your care provider tells you she’s going to try and get this information by the weekend, but doesn’t—can’t—make promises. However, she has gone on and made an appointment with a surgeon for the following Wednesday. OK! I guess I trust her on that one.

By the following day, we know we aren't going to see the results, so she has the receptionist call and say “Be here Monday at 8:30, and whatever is on the fax, we’ll go over it together.” This makes for such a fun weekend.

Fundamentally though, and if you don’t read further, read this. I didn't think it would be malignant. My life partner didn't think it would be malignant.

I put myself in a position for a free-fall.

Monday, she didn't beat around any bushes, which is why I go to her. But, hear me, reader, when that word is used……your brain stops. It’s like it refuses to hear anything else. I could feel this happening; and I am professional enough to know that I had to LISTEN and I had to LISTEN now and well! It just so happens that I am trained in this, but make no mistake, when you are the patient, it all changes!

Physically, I felt like someone had thrown me in a large, deep body of water; and I had to dog paddle up really quick to get to the top. I had to, I didn't have any choice. But, it would have been easier psychologically if I had someone with me, preferably the person that I now just throw the bills at and tell him I don’t want to deal with it! Mom would probably not have been a good choice; maybe a good friend or one of my kids. My daughter-in-law, the nurse, might have been good.

This is how you will feel, on impact, so have someone there to help you.

I did it wrong.

So, in shock, I go out in the car and text a few people, including my husband who is volunteering at the Springfield Regional Medical Center.  The dings keep coming in as I continue. That’s kind of nice. The first call, no surprise, comes from my BFF Jean.

I head to work, because I have an assessment to do on a 97-year-old woman (mostly done with her daughter). I love the way God gives us gifts and infuses humor into the time we need it. I didn't feel like doing this assessment, but like most of us, we pull up our underwear and do it. I put the phone on vibrate, and it kept buzzing during the interview. The older lady was stone deaf (but NOT demented!) and could not hear this, but her daughter could. I explained to the daughter what was going on, didn't get into it, but if I seemed anything less than professional to her, which I would never want to be, she would understand. We continued our time together, which is a funny story in itself, but I can’t go there, when the daughter walked me out to the car and said to me, “I think you should go get a margarita now!” Bahahaha! As IF! But laughter is good. It’s just the kind of thing I needed to hear.

My office-mate was ill that day, and although I would never wish anyone to be ill, the solitude was a gift to me. I could do the paperwork on this interview, answer my ringing telephone and talk to the people I needed to in private. Not that anything REALLY is private in our office! But I had my day to decompress and I could talk to who I needed to.

By the evening, my husband and I sat side by side and looked stuff up on the Internet. We watched the Reds. My mom called, my friend Jean called, and mostly the evening was quiet. That was needed.

Today, a new day, with the MRI for my knee in late afternoon. Tomorrow we meet with the surgeon. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 3, 2013

My Wellness Journey: A Journey of a Different Kind!

It's been a while since I have written. It's hard to write when you are in a place of uncertainty. It's hard to write when you don't know what's going to happen next week. It's hard to write when several things are coming at you at once.

I referenced my knee injury in this blog. This happened on April 25th, and my initial x ray showed arthritis and this is not INCORRECT, but was not the entire picture. Again, as last year, I focused on what I could do and not worry about what I could not do. However, when healing did not occur, and of course My Fitness Journey became very stagnant as a result, things got very low for me. I couldn't do anything and I didn't even know why! I have lost ground and it's depressing.

But that's nothing compared to the possibility of having breast cancer. I do know my priorities and dealing with this rises to the top of the stack of everything! We have been watching a spot since 2006, and in 2012 I actually demanded that the radiologist sit down with me and pictures and put them all side-by-side from 2006 through 2012, so I could literally see the "changes." I believed that repeat mammograms were a revenue-building mechanism by our medical system and since the first one is 100% paid for but the second is out-of-pocket; I questioned the wisdom of doing this year after year.

This year AGAIN I was called in for a repeat. I wanted the same radiologist as I had last year, and he does lots of things other than sitting in an office at Springfield Regional Medical Center. He goes out and teaches and does presentations to groups and lots of other medical-type stuff to his peers in radiology. I am sure he is excellent at it.

So, I put off the repeat for a couple of weeks, until finally I thought, "I need to do this." The mammogram tech, who I have known for 19 years, looked at me when I came in and said, "Denise, we NEED to see you this year!" That got my attention!

Because the spot is so close to the chest wall, she and I and the machines were having a little trouble getting a good picture, so we went right to ultrasound, and the doctor came in after the procedure and talked with me. Yes, it was time to do a breast biopsy, as soon as possible. The Memorial Day holiday was in there and I couldn't get in for 6 days. 

Waiting is not my strong suit, but sometimes we are forced into doing things that are not in our strong suit. During this time, I saw the orthopedic surgeon about my knee and he agreed that it was more than arthritis, so we should schedule an MRI. I was not able to get an appointment for that for two MORE weeks, putting that fully six weeks out from "injury" (I still don't know what the heck I did!) and keeping me from exercising and thus, losing more ground.

The week of my biopsy, I also saw a specialist to look at my right hand, which has SEVERE arthritis in it. Together, we determined that the hand was down the priority list, and he did give me a shot of cortisone, which I fear, as I write (type!) this, is not working. I'll think about that tomorrow, as Scarlet says. When I actually had the biopsy, the doctor asked me how it felt and I said, "Pain wise, this is NOTHING compared to a cortisone shot!" Now to be sure, I was in an awkward position, and there was some nervousness in the unknown involved, but PAIN? No. Maybe it's as much mental, knowing this HAS to be done, get over it.

We hoped that by doing the biopsy on Thursday, we would have results Friday. My primary care nurse-practitioner's office closes at noon on Friday. It wasn't happening. However, she called me and said she wanted me into the office at 8:30 AM Monday and we would face whatever together. And meanwhile, she was making an appointment for the surgeon on Wednesday morning following, which we could cancel if need be. I met this surgeon about three-four years ago, so I already have a relationship with that doctor.

So I get to have a fun weekend of more waiting. I just don't do waiting well. The weekend was scheduled with activity and one of them was cancelled, and that was really OK. Although it gave me more time to mull, I needed the rest too. I had been negotiating all these appointments as well as working 30 hours a week. I gave up on the gym. I can't do it all. I froze my account for one month, and sincerely hope it's only one month, but these other things need attention too. (And I have to get my hair done too, for crying out loud!)

I am at the doctor's office at 8:00 AM Monday morning, I am nothing if not prompt! My nurse practitioner came in and did not beat around the bush. It was breast cancer. At this moment, the brain shuts down and you hear nothing else. I knew I had to fight against the normal tendency and LISTEN to what she was saying. There are many unknowns at this moment, and the path could take several turns in its course. For this week, I will see a specialist on Wednesday and we will go from there. 

My Fitness Journey becomes another journey, but it's all the same, My Wellness Journey. I am not a victim, but neither am I Superwoman. I will fight this and I will fight hard!