Milestones

Well, I feel like I can finally exhale. I had my swap out surgery earlier this week, and am on the mend from it. For me, the swap out truly signified the beginning of the end of this journey for me. I can stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can start to rebuild my strength and life! Words cannot express the sense of relief I feel right now.

My chest is pretty soar and swollen at the moment, so I don’t really know what my new rack looks like. I have to wear a big, supportive post-surgical bra for the next three weeks. Only time I can take it off is to shower and launder it. But, that’s fine by me. I’d rather follow instructions than risk having one of the implants float or twist into a funny position. So, for the near future, I will be sleeping a propped up on my back (no side or stomach sleeping for me).

Dr. Hong did quite a bit of liposuction around both of my armpits as well as my side boob. The tissue expanders caused a lump to form near my armpit (ladies, you know what I’m talking about — the armpit flab!). The expanders also caused a pretty sever fold of skin along the side of my boob. As a result, I am pretty soar and swollen from all the lipo. I haven’t noticed any significant bruising yet, but then again, I always have my surgical bra on — so who really knows what’s going on under there. The front of my right breast is pretty ache-y. I can feel the outline of the gummy implant a bit. But I’m sure that’ll settle in soon enough.

For any of you reading this out there who still are living with your tissue expanders, take it from me, the day WILL come when those pieces of cr** will be removed. Those hard edges that poke at you 24/7 will be replaced by soft. mushy material. I lived with my expanders for 8 months. 8 months! It felt like a lifetime. But the day came and they are gone! I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to write this post!

It is going to be a banner weekend here in SF. Not only does Pride weekend kick off this afternoon (on the heels of the SCOTUS rulings earlier this week) at 3pm at Dolores Park (which is just a few blocks from our house), but we are throwing my “I kicked cancer’s a**” party on Saturday. I can’t wait to gather with my friends and family and celebrate.

I can’t wait to reminisce about how damn far I’ve come in the past 9 months and how much further I’m still going to go. Nothing is going to stop me!

In My Ear

We are off to my swap out surgery in a few hours. Thought I’d share my cancer soundtrack with you. No need to get all deep and try to analyze the meaning behind the songs — I just like these songs. Nothing more to it! See you on the other side. Much love, A

Tomorrow Comes – Edie Brickell
Afternoons and Coffeespoons – Crash Test Dummies
Swimming in Your Ocean – Crash Test Dummies
American Honey – Lady Antebellum
Put Your Records On – Corrinne Bailey Rae
Better in Time – Leona Lewis
Come Back Song – Darius Rucker
Come Away With Me – Norah Jones
Sunrise – Norah Jones
Le Femme Accident – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Glitter in the Air – Pink
Lost Without U – Robin Thicke
Suds in the Bucket – Sarah Evans
The Sounds of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel
Scarborough Fair – Simon and Garfunkel
Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
The Only Living Boy in New York – Simon and Garfunkel
Many Rivers to Cross – UB40
Toes – Zac Brown Band
Mrs. Potters Lullaby – Counting Crows
Strawberry Wine – Deana Carter
Not Ready to Make Nice – Dixie Chicks
Wanted – Hunter Hayes
Dog Days are Over – Florence + the Machine
Marry You – Bruno Mars
Locked out of Heaven – Bruno Mars
Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepson
Halo – Beyonce
Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Iz
Say – John Mayer
Right to be Wrong – Joss Stone
Beloved Wife – Natalie Merchant
I Will Wait – Mumford and Sons
Ho Hey – Lumineers
Into the Wild – LP
She Moves Me – Paul Simon
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Feet – Paul Simon
Kiss of Life – Sade
I Couldn’t Love you More- Sade
Love is Stronger Than Pride – Sade
Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
Hold Me Now – Thompson Twins
Home – Phillip Phillips
Stay – Rihanna
Try – Pink
Starships – Nikki Minaj
Just the Way You Are – Diana Krall
Firework – Katy Perry
Party in the USA – Miley Cyrus
Suit & Tie – JT & Jay Z
I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
Can’t do it Alone – Chris Williams
Would I Know – Chris Williams
And a TON of George Winston (too many to list out!)

Pre-Op Day

We are heading down to PAMF in about 30 minutes for my surgical pre-op appointment. Tomorrow I go under the knife yet again. This time I’ll be having my tissue expanders swapped out for permanent implants.

I’m not going to lie to you — I have been really, really nervous about this surgery for the past week or so.  I’ve been feeling sick and want to be sure I’m going into this operation with as much health and strength as I can muster.  Obviously, when I had my bi-lateral, I hadn’t just endured 6 months of grueling chemo. So I felt pretty confident about my recovery.

This time around, my body is so weakened from the chemo.  Case in point is this damn virus I’ve been fighting for over a week. At first we just thought it was a cold. Then when I saw Garrett, he put me on strong antibiotics to get me as healthy as possible before surgery.  Only problem was — 4 days into the antibiotic course, I felt even worse.  My bones ached more than ever, the muscles in my arms felt like I had bench pressed 500 pounds, my entire body was itchy and swelling up (I had to take off my wedding rings b/c they were so tight), I had sever GI issues and was throwing up for a couple days straight. NOT FUN. (Here’s something to ponder: I wonder how much of my illness was actually nerves about the surgery versus true virus….)

We decided to switch me over to tylenol, benadryl and gas x (yup, gas x!).  After another few days — I’m starting to feel human again! But now I’m even more scared about this surgery. I feel like I just went through hell — how can I put my body through even more trauma?

I’m actually really looking forward to seeing Dr. Hong today. I know he’ll be able to put my mind at ease and get me to relax leading up to this surgery. I also know that if, for some reason, it’s unsafe to perform the surgery, he’ll reschedule me (I hope it doesn’t come to this though b/c I HATE my tissue expanders and want them out).

Alrighty, well we have to run. I’ll update you on next steps later today!

xo

Post Chemo Check-Up

Paul said I owe the world a blog post! I’ve just been feeling so tired and sick the past few weeks — I’m not gonna lie, it’s been pretty rough. But it has been awhile since I posted, so here goes!

I went to see Garrett on Tuesday for my first official post-chemo follow up appointment. It was so surreal to be in his office and not be receiving chemo.  The infusion room was pretty busy and I had an out of body experience looking at all the people and their loved ones sitting in there. Oddly, I have very little memory of being in the chair myself. I think back on all those months and I have no idea how I got through every week. I suppose it’s amazing what the mind and body will do to protect itself.

As for my appointment. We discussed the results of my echocardiogram, PET scan and, most importantly, my tumor marker blood work.

Echocardiogram: Results overall were normal. There was a notation that I am showing a slight regurgitation in both my mitral and tricuspid valves. G says it’s nothing to worry about.  A slight arrhythmia was also detected. Again, not to be worried about at this point.

PET Scan: Results overall were normal.  They noticed mild to moderate maxillary sinus mucosal thickening (oh shit! I better start using the neti-pot twice a day, don’t want to have to undergo a third endoscopic sinus surgery for damn nasal polyps).  They also noted a 4mm nodule in my right lung.  Garrett said it’s not mets (ie it’s not cancer) but it’s likely a prominent vessel or some scuz deposited by my infected port a few months ago. He said that lots of people have unknown spots in their lungs from traumas past that they are unaware of and that aren’t cancer.

In my pre-cancer life, I would’ve jumped all over both of these test results and demanded further testing to ensure everything was truly ok. Now, in my post-cancer world, I leave it to the experts. If G tells me not to stress and the results look good — I listen.  WOW, cancer really has been life-changing for me!

Tumor Marker Test: A bit of background on this one for ya. According to G a score less than 32 is good. Nobody is at a 0.  If you are at a 10 versus a 27 it doesn’t matter — that is just YOUR number. A high or low number is irrelevant. What matters is the deviation (plus or minus) from YOUR number.  So if somebody’s baseline number is a 12 and 3 months later they score a 13, that’s fine. 3 months after that, if they score a 16, there is cause for concern. Make sense?

So my baseline (which was taken before I started chemo therapy back in December) is an 8. Which means anything between a 5-11 is OK for me.  My follow-up score was a 9. yay.

The only thing that gave G pause, was my white blood cell count, it was pretty elevated, which led him to believe I’m fighting an infection.  Man, the numbers do not lie! I did come down with a terrible soar throat over the weekend, but I thought it had passed.  Turns out it was just sort of dormant and it actually ended up coming back with a vengeance two hours after I left G’s office.  Thankfully he prescribed me a 5-day Z-pak to kick it to the curb for good.

This is worth talking about for a brief second. Pre-cancer, if I got a soar through, I just did Nyquil and cough drops and it went away. Post cancer, I need antibiotics to help my body fight it. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the cold I had in Hawaii because I have been really fatigued and dragging ever since our trip. To help you quantify what I mean by “dragging” I’ve spent the past 5 out of 6 days in bed.  On the one day I was out and about, I logged 5 miles and over 12000 steps on my pedometer.  That amount of exertion, landed me back in bed for two days.

So now I know, that even if I feel good, I really need to pace my recovery. What seems like little exertion to most, will kick me in the ass and bring down my immune system even more. Ugh.

But let me end this on a positive note — all of my baseline tests came back normal and my tumor marker is on target. I’m really grateful for that!

Sick in Hawaii = Bummerpants

I wrote this one on May 21st:

We landed on Maui on Friday after my last chemo. I thought all would be well, but I was fighting a slight soar throat when we left. I’ve been so vigilant about staying away from germs, but maybe I let my guard down during my last week (I’m sure the 5 hour flight from SFO to Hawaii didn’t help).  All I know is that this nasty cold has taken hold and is wreaking havoc on my body presently.

Since we landed, I’ve pretty much been rendered to the bed or to a cot (aka lounge chair) poolside. On Sunday, I went to the gym, walked one mile and did my PT exercises. Then, later that same day, I thought I’d be fine to golf 18 holes. What? It’s resort golf, Paul pretty much drove me up to every single one of my shots — but, as it turns out, that was WAY too much.  I over did it BIG time. On Monday, I was down for the count. Literally. I think I managed an hour by the pool, then it was back to bed for me. I couldn’t move.

It was pretty scary to be honest. I’ve not felt that beat down the entire time during chemo. Everybody told me it’s “cumulative” and it will bite you. But they all told me it’d be my second to last, or last chemo, that would be the worst. Well, as always, I’m the exception to the rule, it’s the week after my last chemo that’s been horrific for me.

Every single inch of me hurts. My bones ache (like as in, I can’t hold my kindle upright for too long, b/c my wrist bones start to ache at their core), my teeth hurt, my scalp hurts, my skin aches, and did I mention my bones hurts? Like my ribs hurt — so every time I move, it’s just friggin’ painful.  Who knows — maybe the sun is making everything worse. But in my past experience, the sun always makes things better for me. A little vitamin D goes a long way to make me feel better 🙂

So fingers crossed this head cold of mine and these all-consuming body aches of mine will pass very, very soon. Ugh.

(PS – happy to report that my sickness only stuck around for a few days. I was feeling like myself again by the end of the week! Yay!)

Last Chemo – Recap

Hi everyone! We’re back from our two week escape post-chemo.  I wrote a few blog entries while in Hawaii but didn’t feel like editing and posting them. So keep in mind that the next few entries were written a few weeks ago.  Once I get all of these up I’ll start posting real-time again. xoxo

Here I am — one week out since my last chemo. I’ve had a lot of firsts and milestones to acknowledge (maybe not celebrate).

At my last chemo, I woke up like I did on any other given chemo Tuesday. With a deep sadness and tears welled in my eyes.  As always, I looked over to Paul and said, once again, “I can’t possibly do it again. I don’t want to do it again”.  Ever the supportive husband, he kissed me and said, “You can do this. This is the very last time you will have to do this. Ever.”

My final chemo was bittersweet. I hadn’t had a massage prior to my last 3 chemo’s because Lisa was enjoying a well-deserved vacation. So, this, my final chemo, started with a relaxing, lovely massage. Then, off I went to Jelly for blood work and Garrett for my final consult before my final Benadryl nap. What’s crazy is that it was all sort of sad and anticlimactic at the same time. I felt that I was losing a HUGE chunk of my life and my new cancer family, yet I was gaining my independence again (whatever that means).

I’m proud to say that Garrett and his team asked me to be one of the new faces of his practice (my pic and bio will appear on his website). It just so happens, that the professional photographer for their website was coming in on my last infusion day. So it was a BIG day. Can’t you just picture it, I’m totally zonked from a massage and Benadryl. I wake up and try to re-apply my make-up and sit for a photo shoot! Ha! I was a hot mess. I planned my outfit very strategically so that I had three separate looks for the photographer. Sadly, I was in such a daze — it was all I could do to let her just take my picture — forget about transitioning looks! End of day, I was wearing my Stella & Dot breast cancer awareness scarf in the photo. I’m happy about that because I was wearing it the day of my mammogram when this entire journey began. It felt fitting to wear it as chemo came to a close.

The entire day was surreal. I don’t think there were any other patients in the infusion room that day. So it was really quiet in the office. Paul and Tasha did a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ as the very last drops of Taxol dripped into my veins (See Paul’s blog post — I am super out of it, it’s pretty hilarious!).  Then, during my photo shoot, everybody sort of came out of the wood works to congratulate, high five and hug me.

My clearest memory from the photo shoot was of Lisa literally screaming at me “You’re done!” and DAMN, that felt F’ing good! I know she was partly trying to get me to loosen up in front of the camera — but it was all so bittersweet to me — every single day since last December, I’ve counted on Smith Integrative Oncology — the entire team, to help me get by. Everything from a paper cut (which is actually no joke when you’re undergoing chemo) — to my 10 day hospital stay. They’ve been there for me. Through think and thin. My new family.

Now, our regular dates are done. I’m happy to break up with them on the one hand, but I’m sad to know that I won’t see all of these wonderful people on a regular basis.  They saved me. Together with Paul, all of these people saved me.  They made me find the strength to go on when I had no idea that any strength was left. They made me want to put on a cute outfit and pair it with some cute Stella & Dot each infusion day so that I could make them smile.

All I can say to SIO, Paul, and all of you who have supported me along this road, is a heartfelt THANK YOU. I don’t know what else to say. I know my fight isn’t quite over yet, but you all carried me this far, and for that, you get a giant THANK YOU.

xoxo

Taxol got the last laugh

Well, we are here in Hawaii on our restorative trip. My only plan is to relax, go for walks, read books, sun myself and golf.

This is the milestone trip I’ve focused on since I started chemo. I’m incredibly happy that I made it to this point and I’m in Hawaii in one piece! Well sort of anyway….

Sadly, taxol had the last laugh. As you know, my hair grew quite a bit during my taxol infusions. But a week or so ago I noticed that the front/top of my hair was thinning. I reasoned with myself that maybe my regrowth was coming in curly, so I can see my scalp bc my hair is curling in on itself. This rationalization only lasted a few days for me.

I kept taking pictures of my had and examining them for hours on end. Paul thought I was crazy. Absolutely nutz. Then, it happened..

Yesterday as I studiously applied sunblock in our condo before heading down to the pool — my hair fell out. Yup. I sprayed my hair/scalp with SPF 30 since I could clearly see patches of my scalp. Then I tried to sort of rub the sunblock in. Much to my dismay, a rainfall of white hair descended onto my feet. I called Paul over and showed him. Another sweep of my head sent tons more whispy fine baby hair floating to the floor. Ugh.

I’ve heard stories of other women holding on to their eyebrows and eyelashes right until the end of taxol, only to lose them after their final infusion. I knew I was on that path already since my eyelashes and eyebrows grew in a month ago and then fell out a week ago. But I never, in a million years, thought the hair on my head would go too.

So, here we are in Maui and my hair is falling out. What’s a girl to do? I planned all my outfits assuming I’d have a little bit of hair. I planned all my head coverings assuming the same thing. Now, I look like a balding, elderly man who is holding onto the hair around his ears and in the back. What’s it called? Chrome dome? Yes, I think that’s it, chrome dome.

F that. I’m not going to look like that on this trip. I’ve waited too long to get here. So, yesterday, Paul made me an appt at the spa and we shaved my head — again. It wasn’t too emotional this time around. Although I feel badly for the bride who was getting her wedding makeup done in the chair next to me! Christ, can you imagine the story she’ll tell for the rest of her life, “The day I got married, some cancer chick and her husband had their heads shaved in the chair right next to me. On my happiest day of days, I had to bear witness to this sad thing.”

Maybe it was just her rehearsal dinner? I hate to think I brought down a happy bride on her big day.

So, here are a few pics of Paul and I with our new haircuts. I’m getting a lot of weird looks at the pool. And I need to rework all my outfits to accommodate the bald look — but all in all — I’m not going to let this little set back turn our trip upside down. I’ll just buy a few more hats. It’s all good.

Xoxo

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