Thursday, October 17, 2019

Test Results, Stress and Exercise

Hey, Y'all!

I mentioned in a previous post, which you can check out here- that I was waiting for biopsy results from the two tiny spots that were seen on my recent CT scan. Finally, after what seemed like forever, I got the call from my doctor with the results.

Those results showed no sign of malignancy! Yay! Great news! So, we are done, right??? Well, NO. Apparently, the doctor was only able to get a sample from one of the two tiny spots. So what about that second spot?

When I had the CT scan done, the radiologist suggested possibly doing a PETscan as a follow-up, but Dr. Saker said that he didn't want to do one because the areas with a lot of scar tissue would be lighting up all over the place and possibly causing concerns over nothing. He chose to do an ultrasound and biopsy instead. Now, however, he said that he wanted me to go ahead and have a PETscan done. Just to be on the safe side and to put my mind at rest.

I had been getting my test and scan results over the phone, but I was told I would have to go into Dr. Saker's office for the PETscan results.

It turned out that I couldn't get an appointment with Dr. Saker until the following week. So, another weekend to get through without knowing. That just wouldn't do. Wait, they post the results on the patient portal, right?? Should I try to decipher the online results? All of that medical speak?? That would probably be a stupid thing to do, right??

SO,  OBVIOUSLY, I READ THE RESULTS ONLINE

Looking back, that was NOT a good idea! After spending awhile staring at the document that said, "Discrete Results," I decided it was bad. Really bad. I spent the weekend trying to act normal because I wasn't going to say anything about reading the results before seeing Dr. Saker. I mean, I didn't really know what all of the jargon meant. So I kept quiet. I took a Xanax.

Ray went in with me for my appointment. Dr. Saker entered the room and said, "Pam, first of all, there is no bad news! Only I have to qualify that. We still don't know exactly what the little spot is. There is no evidence of metastatic disease. All major organs are clear, as well as the breast area where the mastectomy was performed."

So, I guess my medical-jargon deciphering skills leave a bit to be desired! Whew!! Anyway, Dr. Saker said that we could just do nothing since he really didn't think there was anything to worry about. He said that another option would be to see a surgeon for his opinion. Since my surgeon had recently retired, he said that even if the surgeon said we should just keep an eye on the spot and do nothing at this time, I would at least have met a new surgeon in case I needed one at a later time. So, it was decided. I would see the surgeon.

I saw Dr. Schwartz on Monday. I liked him a lot, but I have to admit the statement he made after reading my test results was a bit confusing.

"There is no good or bad answer to this?!" He said that he doesn't think the spot is anything worth doing surgery for at this time. He said that the area under my arm now looks like a war-zone, and it would be difficult to go in there without possibly doing some additional damage. He said that we would do another PETscan in six months. If the spot is the same or smaller, we do nothing. If it has increased in size, we would then remove it. He said that six months will not make a difference. I'm going to trust his judgment.

So now, I'm not so stressed about my health. Whatever that tiny spot is, it is not metastatic breast cancer. However, the extra expense of all of the tests and scans is replacing that stress. Boy, does it add up quickly! Again, whoever said money can't buy happiness may be right, but it can darn sure make a cancer journey a lot less stressful on the patient and her family members.

COPING WITH STRESS AND ANXIETY

So how am I coping with the stress and anxiety these days? Honestly, not as well as I would like, but I'm working on it!

Running has always been a big stress reliever for me, but over the past few years, running has not always been possible. Even now, I still have a lot of body aches and pains daily. Some probably due to aging, but some of them the doctors say are definitely caused by Letrozole, which I take daily. Sometimes I can push through the pain, but not always. It seems that the times that I need the stress relief that running used to afford me, the very most, are the very times I can't run due to physical issues.

I recently discovered, though, that you don't necessarily have to run to get a runner's high! Who knew? Certainly not me, because running has always been my drug of choice! Did you know that all forms of exercise can ease anxiety and depression? When you exercise, whether it's walking, yoga, moving to music, or something else you enjoy doing that gets you moving, your brain releases those feel-good chemicals that give your body a chance to better deal with stress.

So now, instead of stressing over not being able to run to relieve the NEVERENDING STRESS.....I turn to other forms of exercise when need be. Sometimes just some simple stretching and breathing exercises help tremendously. And you can't beat a nice walk. Especially on a crisp autumn day like today!

For the record, I walked just over 1.5 miles today. Also for the record, I would still rather be running! But walking is a decent substitute!







Wednesday, October 9, 2019

To Pink or Not To Pink

My Pink Perspective

Shortly after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I started to hear about a controversy surrounding pink ribbons and other pink items associated with breast cancer awareness. Seriously?? This was now causing controversy??? 


I did a bit of research on the subject and determined that a lot of the debate stemmed from people feeling that those who purchased pink ribbons and other pink items were being exploited. They thought that some companies were using the ribbon to advertise their own products and to bolster their image in the process. I understand the concern, but I believe that initially, the pink ribbon was about giving women the courage to speak openly about their bodies, and their illness. Not about exploitation and profit. I also believe that, for the most part, that still holds true today.


I can only speak for myself, but I have gotten through many scary and sad days thanks to a lot of amazing women whom I'm proud to call my "Pink Sisters." I have also received some of the most beautiful, heartfelt gifts involving pink ribbons.


One of the complaints I have heard is that the ribbon stands for breast cancer "awareness," and that we are all aware that breast cancer exists. I personally believe the ribbon is drawing awareness to cancer patients themselves, and to the many things that we all need, especially a CURE!


Another complaint I heard from several survivors was that the pink ribbon is just a horrible reminder of what they went through in their personal battle against cancer. That may indeed be true for them. To me, however, the pink ribbon is much more of a reminder of the support and love I received from so many people while I was battling cancer.


I personally think it would be such a shame not to recognize that something as simple as wearing a pink ribbon, a pink shirt, etc....can mean so much to many of us cancer patients and survivors! 


Again-we each have a right to our own feelings and opinions on this matter. For myself, though, I will continue to embrace the pink. After all, I think I look pretty darn cute in pink!




Whatever your personal thoughts on the subject, I urge you to PLEASE use this month of "awareness" to remind yourself that you should NEVER put off that mammogram until a less busy time. 


Do YOU have an opinion on the subject that you would like to share?

Thursday, October 3, 2019

My Pink-Cancerversary

Three years ago today, 3 days into the month that is known for breast cancer awareness and all things pink, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So, I guess you could call this my "Pink-Cancerversary."

I'm not sure what other people do on such an anniversary (or Pink-Cancerversary?). Personally, I think this is probably not a time to celebrate, but perhaps, instead-a time to reflect??

October 3, 2016

Following a lot of tests and scans, including a diagnostic mammogram, an ultrasound, and biopsy, Ray and I were now sitting in the office of Dr. Stephen Quill, an oncology surgeon. 

Dr. Quill didn't beat around the bush. He entered the room and said, "Well, Pam, you are positive for breast cancer." 


Although I knew in my heart that this was cancer, even before Dr. Quill spoke the words to me, it was still a shock hearing it confirmed. My head was spinning with so many questions.

Dr. Quill said that we were going to hit this thing with every weapon available. We would use the entire arsenal, to make sure that every cancer cell was wiped out and to ensure they didn't come back. He said there would be chemo, surgery, and most likely radiation. He then asked if I was ready to fight.

HELL YEAH, I WAS READY TO FIGHT!

And a fight it has been!

My treatment plan called for adjuvant chemotherapy in the form of four treatments of a combination of drugs-Doxorubicin and Cytoxin. Doxorubicin was fondly referred to as, "The Red Devil" by the nurses at my cancer center. This was a very accurate description, as I quickly learned!

The plan was for me to receive the "Red Devil" cocktail every other week for a total of four treatments. 

My white blood count dropped and remained extremely low during this time, in spite of the many injections of a drug to help restore my white blood cells between treatments. Following my second treatment, I had been receiving daily doses. I was not allowed to go out or to have visitors for weeks due to the threat of infection.

Between my second and third treatment, I had lost 14 pounds and had begun struggling with some pretty nasty side-effects.

After the third treatment, my doctor ordered a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound to see if there had been any significant change in the tumors. Since the test showed that the primary tumor had decreased in size quite a bit, and the smaller ones were pretty much the same, it was decided that I would skip the 4th RD treatment and move into the next phase of chemo.

The next phase involved weekly chemo treatments for a total of 12. Taxol was not as bad as the old Red Devil but did provide some adverse side-effects of its own. My WBC still remained very low during this phase, so again-HOUSEBOUND!


But at last........

WE DID IT!

Next, I had a modified radical mastectomy. No reconstruction.


Then came 33 radiation treatments.

My hair had started growing back, and the burns were healing!



This burn sort of looked like a heart, don't ya think??!

My crazy radiation folks!!

Again-WE did it!!


Although I finished with my treatments, life is not back to the way it was before. Because cancer, as most of you probably know, is sort of the gift that keeps on giving. And some of those gifts suck! 


Like lymphedema. Who knew that lymphedema could be more painful than a mastectomy?

Letrozole, the estrogen blocker that I will need for a total of 10 years, has some pretty adverse side-effects.

Neuropathy in my feet and hands can be a pain (like, literally.)

I recently found out that radiation caused some post-radiation fibrosis in my anterior right lung.

And chemo brain. Yes. It is a thing. 

A massive side-effect for me and many others-FINANCIAL DEVASTATION. My family has not recovered from the expenses, and never will in this lifetime. Every time I need a scan, a test, or some other treatment, I am stressed beyond belief. Imagine being told that your cancer may have returned, and you are more worried about the financial aspect than the physical?! Yeah, really sad, but a reality for myself and many others.

Since my risk for recurrence is pretty high, I still have to go through reasonably frequent tests and scans. In fact, this past month, I had a CT scan, ultrasound, biopsy, and PETscan. 

And if I can be totally frank here, having only one boob kinda sucks sometimes too!

Wow! I seriously did NOT intend for this to be a rambling, whining complaining type of post, but hey....it's my blog and my Cancerversary, so I guess I can write anything I want! LOL!

ON A MORE POSITIVE NOTE

As I was taking my early morning walk (and I mean early-to avoid the almost triple-digit temps expected this afternoon!), I did some reflecting on my personal journey with breast cancer.

There have been so many wonderful people who have walked the winding, sometimes very frightening roads of this journey with me. 

Old friends, new friends, longtime running forum friends whom I have never actually met, but who were there for me every step of the way. New cancer survivor friends, especially some from an exceptional group of survivors, called "Circle of Friends." 

And there was my family....could not, would not have survived without them! They are such a blessing!

I have had some great doctors and nurses who have been crucial to my health and well-being throughout this journey.

Although I placed a lot of trust in my medical team, my faith was always in God.
Joshua 1:9 Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your GOD is with you wherever you go.


TO CELEBRATE, OR NOT CELEBRATE

I don't think I will be celebrating my breast cancer diagnosis today, because let's face it, no matter how you look at it, breast cancer still sucks! 

But I WILL celebrate my abundant blessings! I will celebrate LIFE!