About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's all in the genes...or is it?

Because I am "young" to be diagnosed with breast cancer, my surgeon referred me to genetic counseling to determine if I should be tested for the 2 known breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2.

It was an interesting intersection of my interest in family history and my disease. Before the meeting with the counselor, they sent me a family history form to work on. They wanted to know my immediate family, my parent's family of origin, and any other relatives I know of who had cancer of any type. Another important fact was the age at which they were diagnosed. Mom and I did our best to spread the word out to the extended family. The only known cases of breast cancer is one of my dad's sisters and one of my grandfather's sisters (my dad's paternal aunt). There were other forms of cancer here and there, but not very much.

We had the meeting with the counselor on Wednesday, June 30th. It was a bit hard to find the place-they stuck the genetic counseling department outside the hospital in a dinky building attached to a strip mall in the shadow of Zion hospital. We were a bit pressed for time because we dropped the kids off in Escondido at my mom's house while we went. I cut the timing kind of close, although we were a few minutes early. Both Eric and I are early-birds. We'd rather be early than late. Just the thought of being late stresses us out.

We finally found the building and checked in. We had to wait for about 10 minutes. I was kind of tired for not having slept much the night before. That, on top of finding out that my surgery was still 3 weeks away kind of had me drained. So I let Eric play with my iPhone. He started looking up chemo drugs on the internet on it. The counselor came out and took us into her small office. She asked the question everyone asks, "How are you today?" I said what I always thing, but rarely say: "Well, other than the cancer, I feel great!" She was really nice about the whole thing. When I told her that I had to wait for 3 weeks for surgery, she was surprised. She also encouraged us to keep calling for an earlier date.

Right from the beginning, she said that because of my age, she would recommend the genetic testing if I wanted it. I knew going in that I did. Not so much for my own decision making-I already know I wanted both breasts removed. But more so for my female relatives. I learned during the course of the meeting that it also could impact my treatment. Read on.

First, we went through my family history. She made a chart as we went through the family. For each person she wanted to know if they had any medical issues. One interesting aside...I have a niece with Turner's Syndrome. She said that babies in utero with Turner's have a 90% mortality rate. But once they are born, their symptoms aren't as severe as many other genetic abnormalities. It's kind of like nature knows that there is an issue with the baby's reproduction and does all it can to naturally deal with it by having the baby die in utero. So my niece is a true warrior who beat the odds!

Only about 10% of breast cancer is genetically inherited. The rest is a result of exposure to the environment, and genes just replicating in an incorrect way over time. That usually takes about 60 years to develop into cancer, though. So my age alone was a red flag for the medicos.

One thing I learned is that these 2 genes also predispose you to ovarian cancer. So if I were to test positive, there would be a whole host of issues to think about. Many women have their ovaries taken out. The genes are not linked to uterine cancer. However, since my cancer is hormone receptive, it is recommended that I take Tamoxifen after all of my treatment for 5-10 years to prevent any re-ocurrence. That drug is linked to uterine cancer. In that case, a hysterectomy may be recommended. They can do both removal operations laproscopically now and pull the organs out through the vagina. Wild. At least it wouldn't be like have another cesarean, being sliced open again. Ugh.

For those who know me--especially who know me from my birth activism days with the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), having prophylactic surgery is a disconnect. I've avoided medical intervention most of my life, to the point of having 2 babies at home! It is hard for me to swallow too. I've already elected to remove what they believe now is a "healthy" breast. (That opinion may change after they examine it. I know other women whose "healthy" breast turned out to have cancer in it). But a wise woman who is on a similar path as me recently said something to the effect of, "birth is normal. Cancer is not." So I am learning to lean more on the medical professionals and their opinions. Breast cancer survival rates are around 90% I'm going to go with what has been proven to work, even though it will be hard.

Would I have a hysterectomy if I tested positive for BRCA1 and/or BRCA2? Perhaps. I learned last week that chemotherapy will most likely throw me into menopause. I'm so thankful that I'm not younger, that I have 3 wonderful kids. Younger women who still have childbearing ahead of them have to make these decisions in the face of that. But cancer is scary. You just want it out. You want to remove all chances of it coming back, anywhere. To the point of removing healthy organs that you no longer need? Perhaps.

Being found positive for one of the genes could affect my chemo treatment as well. They would probably be more aggressive with it. Along with the results of the pathology report after surgery, they need to tailor the chemo to my particular cancer. Knowing if I have one of the genes is another piece of the puzzle to factor into the chemo cocktail.

Anyway, I'm all set to do the genetic testing. I could have had my blood drawn yesterday, but we just didn't have time. We had to get back to North County so we could get Olivier to his karate class. He was testing for a higher belt for the first time. I want to keep the kids' activities as normal as possible this summer. He had been waiting for this test day for months, and I wasn't going to have him miss it if I could help it. I can drop in at the lab at Zion anytime I'm down there, and I know I'll be there at least once or twice in the next few weeks.

Thank you for your prayers and support. I pray that you all are able to see God working in all of this. He is teaching me things daily about relying on Him and not myself. I pray that my will would be conformed to His, even if it means waiting 3 weeks for surgery. I've got to trust Him. The other option is to freak out. I like the first option better.

July 22 - Three more weeks??!

I finally have a date for surgery...July 22nd.

I'll have to re-do all of the lab work I did last week because it will be to far from the surgery date. (Blood work & a pregnancy test) I'm glad I didn't make the appointment for the chest X-ray before, I'd probably have to do that again as well. I'll also need to go in and see the surgeon again for a pre-op appointment. That is set for July 8th. Actually, I'm glad to go in and see her again. Especially now that she has the data from the MRI and PET Scan. I'm hoping to be able to make an appointment with the nurse coordinator, Judy, on that same day.

But I am really disappointed to have to wait 3 weeks before surgery. The thought of these cancerous cells dividing and possibly spreading past the lymph nodes is scary. They are supposed to call me if something earlier opens up. My surgeon told me that my case is one with the highest priority. But still. 3 weeks. That is longer than I've known I have breast cancer.

I've got to trust that this will be okay. That waiting 3 more weeks won't mean the spread of this disease any further. I know a lot of prayer went into this surgery date. God is in control.

In the meantime, I've got more stuff to do. Another pre-op visit with the surgeon. A visit with the nurse coordinator down at Zion. I have at least 2 more visits to the lab for blood draws and a chest X-ray. Then there is genetic testing (I'll talk about that in a separate post). Aside from the cancer, I'd like to get my teeth cleaned. The kids and I are due for it. I definitely need to do that before chemo. A massage! A pedicure. I need to buy some button up the front shirts for post-op days. Most of my shirts are pullover. That is going to be really hard to do for awhile.

Eric and I also have decided to do a little mini family vacation next week. If we can get reservations, we are thinking about going to Catalina Island for a few days next week. We want to do something fun as a family before the treatment begins. Our original plans for a trip to Idaho were nixed because of this disease. We'd like to have some happy 2010 summer memories. I don't know how far out of my mind the cancer will be. But the kids will have a good time. Plus...I'll be able to wear my new bathing suits with my "normal" breasts. Kind of weird to think that it'll be one of the last times. I think I have some processing and grieving to do over the loss of my breasts. I know its the right decision. But after nursing 3 kids for over 3 years....They were really good at that. I was a milk machine!

My prayer requests today are:
  • If it is at all possible, and in Gods will, that this surgery date will be moved up.
  • Sleep. Eric and I both aren't sleeping well this week. I thought after making the decision for the bilateral mastectomy, I would sleep like a baby last night. But I woke up in the night with all kinds of thoughts running through my head. (Well...maybe it was a birthy mojo, because I found out this morning that my sister, Tara, gave birth last night at home to my new niece, Katherine Marie. :-) )
  • That regardless of the surgery date, that this cancer does not spread. I feel like every day makes me a ticking time bomb. That some mischievous cells will burst out of my lymph node and into other areas of my body.
As always, thank you all for your prayers and support!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Decision made

I just got off the phone with my surgeon and told her that I wanted a bilateral mastectomy with a sentinel node biopsy on the right side. A sentinel node biopsy will sample a couple lymph nodes on the right side to make sure that there is no cancer there. The chances that there is any cancer there is VERY slim, since they don't "think" there is cancer on the right side. All of the lymph nodes on the left will come out, since we know there is cancer there.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, there were a lot of factors to consider. I also surveyed as many breast cancer patients and survivors as I could. I did not hear of anyone who had a bilateral mastectomy and regretted it. However, I did hear stories of women who had less invasive surgery and later did regret it. Either because they felt "lopsided" or because the cancer came back on the other side. It required them to either live with the issue (at best), or have more surgery to go back and remove the breast.

For me, a big part of the decision is peace of mind. I am a warrior. I am going to stand up and fight this invasion with overwhelming force. I'm taking away its battleground. Taking the rug right out from underneath it. Game over. (I hope). I'm 40 years old. I have a lot of years ahead of me that it could come back in. I don't want to always worry that it would come back. I now have a 95% risk reduction of developing it on the right side. If it comes back, I'll fight it again. But I want to do everything I can today to fight the definitive fight.

It is going to be very strange to lose body parts. I'm not sure how I'm going to feel about losing my breasts. I don't really have a choice for the left side, there are just too many tumors in there. For the reasons mentioned above, I want to deal with both at the same time. Its just going to be very strange to be so flat after 25+ years. And just dealing with the realities of surgery. The incisions, the drains, the pain, the recovery. The down time. That is going to be hard for me to be incapacitated.

They do give you prosthetics that will slip into a camisole. I've seen some survivors refer to them as "foobs." They the shoulders and balance. After you have recovered from surgery, you can get more sophisticated "foobies." Some are even waterproof! Who knew?

I don't know right now if I will choose reconstruction are not. There are lots of options there-some that even give you the added bonus of a tummy tuck. I'm not a candidate for immediate reconstruction. Depending on the size of the tumor, I may need radiation after chemo. I'm glad that isn't a decision that I need to make right now anyway.

The next step is to schedule surgery. I should be able to do that tomorrow. My surgeon told me that my case has the highest priority. The timing is all in God's hands. Of course, now that the decision is made, I want it to happen as soon as possible. Get that cancer the heck out of my body. God will work it out so that all of the balls that are up in the air, (Eric's trip, my menstrual cycle-I don't want to be having my period while recovering from surgery, my soon to be arriving nieces/nephews, kids' birthdays, etc.) will come down in exactly the right place.

Waiting for the phone to ring

I want to have surgery scheduled immediately. If I could go in tomorrow morning, I would. But I have to wait for a call from my surgeon. She needs to make sure what kind of surgery I am electing. When we last spoke the possibility of a lumpectomy was in the air. I suspect she wants me to know for sure that she won't do a lumpectomy without chemo first. That is okay. I've ruled out the lumpectomy anyway.

I had called her office on Friday at 4:30 p.m. Some hopeful part of me was thinking I could get on the surgical calendar on Friday. Why waste a whole weekend-that is 2 more days of cancer growing inside of me. On Friday, I was told she was out of the office. The nurse was very nice-she called me at 5:45 p.m. on Friday night to tell me the doctor wanted to talk to me and she would call me on Monday. On Monday morning, the nice lady (Stephanie) called again to tell me that the doctor was out of the office and I would hear from her on Tuesday. Today is Tuesday. I called the office at 2:30 p.m. and left another message. Hopefully I'll get a call soon.

Our entire summer is up in the air without a surgery date. Eric has plane tickets for France for July 2nd. A business trip he scheduled several weeks ago is in limbo. (Okay, he'll be able to visit his parents at the same time). Both he and the company are very willing to cancel or postpone it. They just need to know. I need to know.

I was praying for guidance and wisdom this morning in my surgical decision. I came across this psalm:

"Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Consider my meditation.
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
My King, and my God,
For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up." (Psalm 5:1-3)

That was the cry of my heart at 5:55 a.m. this morning. Please hear me God...incline your ear towards me and give me guidance.

The Psalm continues:

"But as for me, I will come into
Your house in the
multitude of Your mercy;
In fear of You I will worship
toward Your holy temple.
Lead me, O Lord, in Your
righteousness because of my enemies; [cancer cells]
Make Your way straight before my face." (vv. 7-8)

My supplication this morning was all about whether to have a single or bilateral mastectomy. I know God speaks to us through His Word. Unfortunately, I don't think there is a verse in there that would say, "daughter....go forth and have a bilateral mastectomy!" But I do want to be in God's will. I want to walk down the path He has laid out before me. I want him to lead me on that straight path.

It goes on:

"Let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy,
because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You.
For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous;
With favor You will surround him as with a shield." (vv. 11-12)

I do trust God. There is a joy in knowing that despite the challenges I may be facing right now, God is there to defend me against these sick cells that are dividing. The thought of being surrounded by the Lord is awesome and mighty. I actually had an experience last week when I was in devotional time that I really had the tangible feeling of being surrounded by such love and protection. It was amazing to feel the arms of Abba Father around me, enveloping me. Protecting me. Comforting me. God is so good, even in the midst of this. When I start to freak out, I must remind myself to look to HIM. Not to try to survive this in my own strength.

Regarding the timing of the surgery...the right date will happen. "I know that You can do everything, And No purpose of Yours can be withheld from You." (Job 42:2)

God is good....ALL the time.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Holding pattern...but looking good & feeling better

Today's big event was my "Look Good, Feeling Better" session. This is a program put on by a consortium of organizations to help women undergoing cancer treatment to "reduce the visible signs of treatment." For me, it was a way to prepare for what is to come.

I was the first to arrive and sat down at a "station" with a small mirror and some cotton balls. Other women came in and at first it was a small jolt to see women with scarves on their heads. Man...that's going to be me in a few months. But it was good to see that they were mobile, able to joke around a bit and enjoy the session. One woman was very quiet and looked very sad the whole time. She didn't talk much. I sat next to another younger woman who had a baseball cap on. When she took it off, there were just a few strands of hair that she had pulled back into a thin ponytail. At the end of the session, she put on a wig that she had purchased but wasn't wearing yet. It was a really cute inverted bob style. She looked great. I hope she felt better.

The session was led by 3 ladies, one an esthetitian, and one a beautician who specialized in custom hair pieces. They gave us each a big red bag full of makeup, and then we went on to put it all on. A big issue for chemo patients is infection. So there was a lot of talk about sanitation and keeping your cosmetics and tools clean. Another big topic was drawing eyebrows. I guess hair is hair, and it is apt to fall out with the rest of it. (On a side note...maybe I won't have to shave my legs for a looong time??) Anyway, another good part of the session was when they talked about head pieces. The beautician mentioned we could use a wig and basically cut it up and use it to make other custom pieces--sewing a fringe of bangs onto a hat, and so on. Maybe I can use the freebie wig I got last week for that?

We got to take the makeup kit home with us--probably valued between $250-$300. Nice!

In the end, the best part of it for me was being in a room with other women dealing with cancer. I overheard the name of my surgeon and asked about her. The woman across the table is also her patient and LOVED her. She also gave me the name of a good Kaiser plastic surgeon. (I don't know what I'm going to do about that, if anything). I mentioned the name of my oncologist and a third woman piped in saying that she worked for Kaiser and Dr. P has a very good reputation and that I was in good hands. Getting confirmation about my care providers was reassuring. They all raved about the chemo nurses in San Marcos.

I still haven't decided about the surgery, but I think I'm leaning towards bilateral. I haven't seen anyone who has regretted that decision. But I have heard of women who have regretted a single. That's not to say they don't exist.

I'm expecting to hear from my surgeon tomorrow so we can get the surgery scheduled. Her office did call this morning to let me know I wasn't forgotten. She was just in surgery today and wasn't able to call. That was a bit of a disappointment-I was hoping to have a surgery date by now. Our family's plans are all in a holding pattern until we get this surgery date on the calendar. Dr. P's office did call for an appointment on August 5th. So chemo should start shortly after that. Surgery for Jean-Marc's birthday, chemo for Isabelle's.

Not that eventful of a day, but some baby steps were made. I appreciate everyone's continued prayer on my behalf. I don't have any new ones today--yesterday's are still appropriate.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Single or Double??

I have a decision to make.

I've decided that what I know about the left breast means that it must go. No lumpectomy for me. There is just too much going on tumor wise on the left side for me to feel like we would be getting all the cancer with a lumpectomy. I'll also lose all my lymph nodes on the left side.

My decision now is....do I have the right breast taken off as well as a protective measure?

Things that weigh against a bilateral (double) mastectomy:
  • The MRI did not show any irregular things going on in that side.
  • More difficult recovery from surgery on both sides.
  • Removal of healthy tissue...is that overkill? I've never been one for overuse of medical technology.
  • The oncologist said there was a 1 in 20 chance of developing cancer on the right side. He thinks those are good odds. (I'm not so sure).
  • With my history of breast cancer, I'll always be monitored very closely if I keep my right breast. Any cancer should be caught at a much earlier stage and not be as invasive as what I have now. (At least that is the theory).
Things that weigh in favor of a bilateral:
  • My surgeon told me there would be a 95% chance that the there would never be cancer on that side with no breast. Less of a chance of re-occurrence is a big thing. I don't want to fight this battle again in the future. Is peace of mind is worth losing a breast?
  • I wouldn't be "lopsided." Having one breast would mean I would have to always wear a prosthesis or look really lopsided.
  • With reconstruction, if I chose it in the future, would probably be easier to achieve symmetry.
  • I'm most likely done having children, so I don't need them for nursing babies. If chemo doesn't throw me into an early menopause, my oncologist suggested that may be something we force to decrease the chances of re-occurrence. My breasts have fulfilled their primary purpose, so to speak.
I've been soliciting the opinions of other women with breast cancer to see what factored into their decisions. Right now, the majority of women have chosen bilateral and do not regret it. A few had "clean" MRIs and the surgical pathology later showed funky cells on the "healthy" side. So MRI's aren't always the best indicator, apparently. There have been a few who chose one side and wish they had done both. There are also a few who are satisfied with their decision to just have one removed.

Like everyone has told me, it is a very personal decision. Right now, I think I'm leaning towards bilateral. That list of pros seems to outweigh the cons. I welcome other gentle opinions. In the end, its something that only I can decide. But if there is something that I haven't considered, I would love to know. I also need to pray about it more.

So...prayer requests:

  1. As this post shows, I need clarity and wisdom in my decision making on whether to have a single or bilateral mastectomy.
  2. That I could get a surgery date as soon as possible. The surgeon indicated it could take 2 weeks. I would love to have it earlier. It is freaky knowing that you've got cancerous tumors and cells dividing inside of your body. Or even possibly circulating through your blood stream. Jean-Marc's 2nd birthday is July 10th. I would like to be somewhat conscious of what is going on around me by then.
  3. That while I wait for surgery, the cancer does not spread.
  4. For my family. For strength for them to be able to handle what is ahead. Eric hasn't been sleeping well, and I think he is stressed out about picking up some of my slack with the kids and the house and keeping up on his work commitments. My parents also have a lot on their plates with Jared in Iraq, my sister and brother both expecting babies in the next week. The kids are also going to need to step up a bit around the house and pick up after themselves. I pray that they can do it without being hounded.
I should be able to get a surgery date tomorrow sometime. I'll post with an update then.
God bless you all!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Back to School...Chemotherapy class

No one can really describe or prepare you for how it feels when you are in labor. I suspect it may be the same way for chemotherapy. Although Kaiser certainly did their best with me this morning. I attended a chemotherapy class. There were 3 other cancer patients. I was the youngest.

They gave me a goody bag with more freebies. One was a cancer cookbook. That's cool. From everything I've read, good nutrition is key. Luckily, I've been eating organic, whole foods for the past several months on Jillian Michaels Master Your Metabolism program. I don't think that part should be a problem for me.

The first part of the class consisted of a powerpoint with slides describing common side effects. I knew most of it
already. It was good to know that many of the side effects can be treated so they don't get worse. Of course, the fatigue and hair loss are pretty much a given. They encourage physical activity, which is good. One of the big bummers of this whole thing is that I don't want to get totally out of shape. I've worked so hard over the past year to get fit! The second part of the class was a tour of the "chemotherapy suite." If you've got to do chemo, this is probably as nice as you could have it. Each chair has TVs. They encourage you to bring a friend to pass the time. Heated blankets, a fridge where you can keep your own lunch or help yourself to what they have inside. It was good to get a mental picture of where this will be taking place. (That is, unless I choose to participate in the clinical trial down at Zion). A chemo treatment can take several hours. You are able to walk around if you need to, which is nice to know you aren't trapped to an IV line. You just take the IV with you. You can bring a laptop, but they don't have WiFi. Big bummer...AT&T coverage is pretty much non-existent, unless you are by a window. So no texting while getting chemo. :-(

The two nurses who did the class work in the chemo area. They were very nice. I suspect they get to know the patients pretty well. As I was leaving, I chatted with one for a few minutes. It looks like a round of chemo consists of having my blood drawn the day before the treatment, then chemo. Then an appointment with the oncologist before the next one so they can monitor my blood cell counts and other side effects. I told the nurse the name of my doctor, Dr. P. She asked me what I thought of him with a strange look on her face. I told her that he seemed to know his stuff, that he reminded me of some of the scientists that I'd met through Eric. Apparently, he is big into research. When other doctors get sick, she said they go to him. If he's the choice of other doctors, that should be a good sign, right?

I did like the feel of the chemo suite and the two nurses I met today. It makes me lean toward staying local and sticking with the traditional treatment. I've got time to decide.

Meeting Dr. P

I had my long awaited oncology consultation yesterday.

Eric went with me. Him being in the drug discovery field and knowing many researchers (including cancer specialists) has been a great blessing. He had several pages of notes on research that he had done to get ready for the meeting. I just wanted it to start. As I waited, I played with an app on my iPhone called "Bible Shaker." You choose a category, push a button, and then an appropriate verse pops up. So I chose the topic "Fear" and started pushing the button. There was one really cool one and for the life of me right now I can't find it or remember exactly what it said. But it did say "You will not die." Thank you Lord.

The door opened and Dr. P came in and sat down. He was a quiet man who sat hunched over on the stool and looked at us over the top of his glasses. As we had our conversation, he reminded me of some of the scientists that I've met that have worked with Eric in the past. Quiet, but smart.

Had the results from this week's MRI (an answer to prayer). The MRI showed 3 tumors on the left breast that were fairly close together. That explains the strange feel that it has--it seemed huge. Now I know that it is 3, not one big one. There was a suspicious area at 6 o'clock as well, which may or may not be cancerous. If I was interested in trying to save the breast, it would need to be biopsied. If it was cancerous, a lumpectomy would not be an option. I had already decided that a mastectomy would probably be the way to go, and this sealed it. I don't want to have another biopsy and wait another week for results.

We discussed whether to do chemo first or surgery first. Chemo first would tell us if my cancer was responsive to chemo--apparently not all are. When they do surgery first, they remove the known cancer and then blast you with chemo to kill any cancer cells that may be wandering in the system. They don't know for sure that they are, its kind of a prophylactic measure. If it was responsive to chemo, the tumors should shrink. Frankly, knowing that there was something suspicious in there that we couldn't even feel yet makes me want to just move ahead with surgery STAT.

I brought up the question of a bilateral mastectomy. He did not think it was necessary. There is no evidence of cancer on the right side and I've had the best diagnostic tests done. With my history, I will be monitored very closely for the rest of my life. If cancer does develop, it will be caught early...hopefully stage 0. But still. I want to fight this right now once and for all. Do it right the first time. Knock it out with overwhelming force. He said the chances of it moving to the right after treatment were like 1 in 20. He thoughout t hose were small odds. I don't know. It seems pretty high to me. There is also the question of symmetry. I'll be given a prosthetic breast to wear during treatment and until I do reconstruction. (If I do reconstruction). I wonder if I'll be lopsided if I only have a single? The wig lady earlier this week regretted not having both taken off for that exact reason. Any thoughts you fellow pink ribbon clubbers have out there would be welcome. I was awake for part of the night pondering this question.

There is also going to be the option of participating in a clinical trial. If I choose to participate, I would have to do the chemo down at Zion rather than in San Marcos. They would randomly assign me to one of three groups. Each group gets a different chemo cocktail. I want my experience to help others, but I'm not sure about the trial. I also want to be treated with what is known to work. There's time to decide.

He also did a breast exam. He checked the lymph nodes in my neck. All clear. Whew. He checked the left side and felt the tumors we already knew about.

Througout the exam, Eric was quizzing him on various drugs and trials. As he helped me sit up after the breast exam, they started chatting about Eric's line of work, various uses for drugs on different types of cancer. I'm standing there in a hospital gown, just wanting to get dressed, and these to science guys are yakking! It was funny in a way. They could definitely communicate on a different level that I could.

Is Dr. P "the one?" I suppose so. I'm not really that particular about his personality as long as he is a good doctor and knows what he is doing. On a personal level, he got warmer as we went through the meeting. I get a sense that he really knows his drugs. Eric quizzed him pretty good. He made me feel like I had a good prognosis, even though he won't know the extent of the cancer until after surgery. He referred to women with "much more advanced" breast cancer. Funny how knowing there are others out there worse off than you can be a comfort.

It looks like I'll start chemo in early August. I should have the surgery within 2 weeks. I'll find out more specifically on Monday. That is an area for prayer. I want this cancer cut out as soon as possible. 2 weeks will be an eternity. I also ask for more clarity as I decide between a bilateral or single mastectomy. Thank you all, once again for being prayer warriors on my behalf. It is working!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Carpe Diem

One thing this disease has taught me is that one should do what one can while it is possible. When Olivier was a newborn, I came up with the motto: "Do what you can do when you can do it." 11 years ago, that meant if the baby was napping and I wanted a shower, I needed to do it NOW. Who knows what the status would be in 15 minutes?

Right now, I feel fantastic physically. It is hard to believe that I have cancer, actually. So I've decided that while I feel good, I want to spend some fun time with the kids. I know once treatment starts (whether it is surgery or chemo first), I'm going to be tired, sore and maybe worse. So I want to cram in as much summer fun as I can while I am able.

I don't want this to sound morbid. I have no intention of not winning this battle. I'm going to be fine. It's just going to be a difficult 6-12 months ahead. And it's not like I'm trying to fulfill my bucket list or anything. I just want the kids to have some fun summer memories before our lives temporarily change and mom is not so well. They have some activities lined up that should help: Olivier has some scout camping trips, and Isabelle has VBS. I'd like to get her to some swimming lessons too, but it depends on the timing. I don't want their summer to totally stink.

Today we went to the San Diego County Fair. In past years, I've been a bit stingy. It's a Scottish thing. I've relented to buy lunch, but generally don't do a bunch of extras. And rides? Don't think so! Today, I decided that we would do whatever we felt the urge to do. Deep fried twinkie, anyone?? Ice cream? Heck, I would have let the kids ride all the rides they wanted to. Funny-they didn't want to. Isabelle and I did get on an elephant, though! Olivier wasn't interested in the elephant ride. We passed a lady cutting silhouettes in the infield. I remember mom having ours done at Disneyland years ago when we were kids. I always thought it was neat. What the heck! I had all 3 kids sit for one. Why not?

Tomorrow, its back to cancer. I finally have my oncology consultation in the afternoon. Once again, I ask for prayer that this doctor be a good fit for us. We've been thinking a lot about the various options and hope to find out what the medical opinion is on the tumors so we can make a decision over the weekend about how treatment should start. Pray that the MRI results be in already so the oncologist can review them and factor that into his opinion. (The MRI tech said it could take 3-4 business days)

I thank you all for your tremendous support and love. I've gotten so many wonderful messages, facebook comments, and e-mails. I feel your love and support in a big way. There are times in the day when I'm just overcome with emotion and get a "poke" from the Holy Spirit. I know then that I am being lifted up in prayer, and I am so grateful. God bless you all!

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14 (NIV)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I went in for my MRI today to UCSD in Hillcrest.

I've never had an MRI before. I had heard that it was noisy and I had to lay still. That was pretty much all I knew going in.

When I walked into the building, it was freezing. I was wearing shorts. Silly me. I thought to myself, okay. I can deal with lying still. I can deal with being in the enclosed space. Freezing my bootie off would make it unpleasant! There was a lot of paperwork on my medical history to fill out. I'm thankful for having everything stored in my iPhone-the date of my biopsy, diagnosis and last menstrual period were all easily accessible.

The worker led me to a secondary waiting area with some magazines and a TV that was tuned to a sports channel. I did get to see playbacks of the USA victory in the World Cup. That was neat. There was a man there waiting. I wasn't sure if he was the patient at that point. But later a woman came out and they left together. After a few minutes, I was led to a changing room and given 2 hospital gowns to change into. One open in the front, and one in the back. That helped with my sensitivity to the temperature. She also gave me some non-slip booties to wear. I changed, locked up my purse and waited.

I flipped through a "Woman's Health" magazine. I saw an interesting ad from Ford motor company advertising "Warriors in Pink." The name caught my eye because of this blog's title. I thought.....hey! That's me! I'm a warrior in pink! (And plaid). I'm not sure what all it was, but they have some some merchandise that they sell and donate the proceeds to the Susan G. Komen foundation. I made a mental note to check the website out later. I also read an article about the actress Christina Applegate who had a double mastectomy for breast cancer. But she is alive and kicking, telling her story. Good for her!

The double doors opened and another lady in scrubs came out. She gave me an IV. I didn't realize I would be getting poked. Not a big deal, the anticipation of the poke is the worst. I asked her what it was for and she said it was for the "contrast." Hmm. Maybe I should have read a bit about MRIs before coming. After the poke, she said I might taste salt. Right after she said that I did. Wierd. She led me into the MRI room which was already buzzing. She gave me some earplugs and asked if I had any breast surgery or biopsies. Surgeries....not yet. Biopsies, yes. She had me put little stickers on the 2 spots that had been biopsied and had me lay down on my stomach on the bed of the machine.

There was a trick to it though. I had to lie down on my stomach, but there were 2 holes for my breasts to fall into, and my arms had to be up over my head. It felt kind of funny positioning myself in such a way. Thank God there was a warm sheet over it all so I didn't feel that exposed. She put some pillows under my head and said I would have to be very still. No surprise there. But as I tried to get my head comfortable twisted to the right, the pillow would cover my nose and make it hard to breathe. I started to panic a bit--I had to breathe! She saw me fidgeting and asked if I wanted one of the pillows taken away. Yes! Having only 1 pillow under my head made it possible to breathe and not panic.

Then it began. The bed was advanced into the machine, putting me right in there. She put an emergency button in my hand just in case I freaked out. I heard her on a loudspeaker telling me we were getting started. The buzzing that had been kind of a pleasant "white noise" in the background became a whirring, clanking. From time to time, the noise would change to rattles.

I knew it was key to stay calm and relax. On the way down to the appointment, I thought that I would use the time praying. I tried that, but the loud noises made it difficult for me to concentrate on my end of the dialog. What helped me the most was to simply sing worship songs in my head. Some of the words I sang to the Lord:

"No more sin, and no more shame.
We are going where the streets are made of gold.
No more tears, for they are wiped away.
We are going where the streets are made of gold.
And if we just could see
One glimpse of what will be
We'd run to win this race
Living our lives by faith....
Because heaven is our home
Where we'll reign forever
Shining like the sun
with our King forever
Every sorrow gone,
we'll rejoice forever
Heaven is our home. Heaven is our home!"

"Blessed be your name
When the sun's shining down on me
when the world's all as it should be
Blessed be your name.
And blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be your name
Every blessing you pour out, I'll turn into praise
When the darkness closes in Lord, still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

Pretty soon, the lady came in and said it was time for the "contrast." She fiddled with the IV in my arm and I again could taste a metallic salty sensation. The line that was under my hand also got cold. She said they would take 2 more images, which would be about 5 more minutes each.
At this point when the machine started its clanking and whirring, I mentally sang:

"You are faithful!
You are faithful!
You are faithful, Your joy is my strength."

Pretty soon it was over. I got up, she took out the IV and I was led back into the waiting room to change back into my clothes in the adjacent changing room. After I took off the hospital gowns, my cell phone rang. I've learned to always pick up--it could be a doctor's office or something trying to call. Not this time. It was Honda of Escondido. A few weeks ago, I had made a service appointment to get XM radio put into my Odyssey. I had to cancel the appointment last week because of doctor visits. Honda wanted to know if we still wanted the parts they had for it.

I'm standing there in my underwear, just having had an MRI to see how big my cancerous tumors were and this lady wants to know about car parts? I just laid it out there. I told her that we had to cancel the appointment for service because, "frankly, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and our summer plans kind of changed." She was apologetic. I'm sure she wasn't expecting to hear that. (It's kind of like when people ask me politely, "How are you today?" Do they really want to know? For people who know the situation, right now I'll say, "Other than the cancer, I feel great!")

Anyway, I got changed and was done. I had to drop off the mammogram films that I had carried from Kasier to the UCSD radiology department for them to digitize and give back to me. That took about a half an hour. Sadly, there was no wifi in that part of the hospital. So I got to watch and re-watch the USA winning goal.

It all took a bit longer than I had expected. But I am glad to have done something tangible in the battle today.

Next on the warrior's agenda....the oncologist on Friday. Pray that this person be the right oncologist for me. I also ask for prayers for clarity in decision making. Thank you all for your support.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hair today...gone tomorrow?

When I was in high school, I remember my friend Kelly and I talking about how convenient it would be if everyone were just bald and had a wig collection. Then you wouldn't have to worry about bad hair days. Just pop a wig on your head and you're out the door.

Having kids has wreaked havoc with my hair. After Isabelle, I had hairs on the top of my head break about 3/4 of an inch from the root. So it kind of looked like a mohawk. After Jean-Marc, my hair has been thinning. It was fine to begin with, so to lose some of it didn't help. On top of all that, I've got some gray starting to show.

So you'd think that the prospect of losing my hair wouldn't be a big deal. It's not really. Or is it? I'm not sure how I feel about it all. Today, I started considering that reality when I tried on some wigs at the American Cancer Society's shop. They give chemo patients a free wig (and a free hat, I learned). I got my wig...but it felt strange. The texture is different, the color different, the cut different. Of all the options, it was the best fit for me. I'm not sure if I'll wear it much, though.

To strangers on the street, they won't notice anything out of place. They won't give me a second glance. To people who know me, though, it will probably take some getting used to. I guess it will all boil down to how I feel wearing it. I may feel more comfortable in a scarf and hat.

I've got this catalog of all kinds of hats and scarves. It is mind boggling. I think I need to go try things on. Do I get my hair cut shorter before it all falls out?

I think I am okay with the hair loss thing...its just the process that will be kind of freaky. It is one thing to intellectually come to terms with it. But to pull out clumps of hair is going to be beyond bizarre.

We aren't 100% sure if chemo is going to be before surgery, but we are leaning in that direction. That could mean as early as next week. I meet the oncologist on Friday to find out more about what treatment he suggests. One thing I do know for sure...I want to get started, even if it does mean losing my hair in a few days.

Praise God! I have 2 cancerous tumors!

Not to be cheeky, but I AM glad about only having 2 cancerous tumors.

A big fear of mine was that the cancer had spread past the lymph nodes. Considering that it was already there for who knows how long....the possibility was there. I was so afraid to find out the results from last week's PET scan.

Yesterday, I e-mailed my surgeon-the one who ordered the scan. A couple hours later she e-mailed me back saying that there were no other areas of concern beyond the 2 that we knew of on the lymph node and the left breast. A sigh of relief washed over me and I started yelling, "PRAISE GOD! PRAISE GOD! PRAISE GOD!" The kids were startled and started asking "What?! What?!" I told them and they were unimpressed. But I hadn't really shared with them how scared I was. I started singing around the house one of the old Sunday school classics: "My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there is nothing my God cannot do!"

It was a very good piece of news. Now that I know what I am dealing with, I can face it. It is still serious--stage 2 at best, possibly even a stage 3. But it is contained. Thank you Jesus. That is a direct answer to prayer.

Now I can think about my options and what I want. Other than getting rid of the cancer, I don't know what I want. Is saving the breast that important to me? Depending on the size of the tumor there, it may not be an option. Last night, I was able to dig into one of the books I bought at Barnes & Noble, "Be a Survivor" by Vladimir Lange, MD. He spent some time talking about reconstruction options. That is a mindbender as well. But I'll save that for another post.

Thank you all for your continued prayer and support. Here is today's list:

1. That the cancer will STAY WHERE IT IS. It's a deer in the headlights, and its days are numbered!

2. For clarity in the decision making process. Chemo first or surgery? Lumpectomy or mastectomy?

3. That the oncology appointment be moved up from Friday and that the doctor I have the appointment with be 'the one.'

4. For peace for my family. I'm not going through this alone, it is definitely a family affair and it is putting stress on all of us. Pray that the Lord would grant us his grace and peace. That we would be able to not lose sight of Him during this time.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 (NIV)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Calls, calls, calls

My week is is such a flux! Today I spent a fair amount of time on the phone trying to sort out my next week's medical schedule. Man! Being a cancer patient is almost a full time job.

I got my MRI scheduled for Wednesday morning down in Hillcrest. The tricky part with that is that I need to hand carry my mammograms. I called Kaiser's X-Ray department last Wednesday to order them. They said it would be 3-5 working days. I'm hoping to be able to pick them up tomorrow (Tuesday), the day before the appointment. That would also let me go down to the American Cancer Society (ACS) Discovery shop and pick out a wig. Yes, a wig. ACS gives a free wig to chemotherapy patients. Goody. I'll take all the freebies I can get. Mom and Isabelle want to go with me to help me pick out something not too lame. Sweet Isabelle. Hopefully that will be my Tuesday afternoon. (Hee hee---I'll be able to work out in the morning!)

I tried to get Friday's chemo consultation moved up earlier, but so far there aren't any openings. I suppose this isn't like getting one's teeth cleaned. Not many cancellations. I just pray that this doctor is "the one." I pray that he is kind, sensitive, and knows his stuff. I'll keep calling to see if I can get in earlier. I'd love to have chemo ASAP to start kicking those cancer cells butts.

I've been getting the run around a bit to get my mammograms from the X-Ray department. I'm still waiting on a return call from them. If I don't hear by 4:30 p.m., (about 30 minutes from now), I'll call again.

I've also been referred to the genetics department. They sent me a family history form to fill out. Cool! Who knew my knowledge of family history would come in handy? Just another example of how God has prepared me for this fight. That appointment is a week from Wednesday (the 30th). If they think I should be tested, they will test for 2 known breast cancer genes. If I have them (or maybe even 1), they may suggest a bilateral mastectomy. The surgeon told me last week that a bilateral mastectomy would make the chances 95% that the cancer would not show up on the right side in the future. We'll see. The genetics stuff is interesting, just not a priority right now.

There is a nice program the American Cancer Society has called "Look Good, Feel Better." It's for chemotherapy patients. It basically is a 2 hour workshop with cosmologists that includes a skin care and makeup program, as well as instructions on options relating to hair loss. I guess they teach you how to tie the head scarves. (I wonder if I can wear some of my Hermes scarves that way?) They also send you home with free makeup. I'm there! Like I said, I'll take all the freebies I can. I called them today also and signed up for a session next Monday.

I've also left messages with the breast care coordinator and an e-mail message to my surgeon about the PET scan results. Eek. I will admit that I am scared to find out that one.

That is a huge prayer request for me right now--that the cancer has not spread. Pray too that I not be fearful. Yesterday in church, we sang a song about leaving our fears behind and casting our cares aside to focus on TODAY, the day that the Lord has made. It's a great song. So easy to sing those words...not so easy to live it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Let's get this show on the road already!

Waiting is so hard. Last week, it felt like every day we were doing something each day to fight this thing. I told myself on Friday that I wanted to enjoy each day as much as possible outside of cancer. To do things actively with the kids while I still could. We went to the movies for the past 2 days and had a good time. (Okay, that isn't very active...but I did promise to take them to Karate Kid, and on Friday it was just serendipity that one of Isabelle's friends' moms invited a bunch of kids to see Toy Story 3). I was able to escape for awhile each time, but about 2/3 through the movie cancer thoughts came back into my mind.

Today is Father's Day. I am so thankful for my own dad. This can't be easy for him. My parents are such rocks. I am so blessed and couldn't ask for anything more in the parent department. I know if one of my kids had cancer, I would be torn up inside. Not only are they facing my disease with me, my youngest brother is in Mosul, Iraq with the 3rd infantry division. My sister and sister in law are both expecting babies pretty much any day now. The babies are happy events, sure. But still life changers. Wild time for Clan Graham.

But back to my subject. The only thing I could do for the past couple days to feel like I am fighting is work out. Always before, the focus of my workouts was getting thin. Jillian's workouts are no joke. When I would feel like giving up during insane cardio intervals, I would imagine Jillian in my face screaming at me. Now when I work out, I feel like a soldier in training. It's PT time. Like Colonel Hackworth would say, "More sweat on the training field = less blood on the battlefield."

I am in a waiting period right now. Waiting on results from the PET scan. Waiting on the oncology appointment, which is currently set for Friday. Waiting on an MRI appointment. Waiting for Kaiser to get my mammogram films together for me to take to UCSD for the MRI. I just want to get this started NOW. I think I will call tomorrow and see if the oncology consult could be moved up in the week. If I could get some chemo going this week that would make me feel like I was taking the fight to the enemy. Cancer cells could be wreaking havoc in my body, multiplying and making themselves at home. They need to be dealt with NOW!

As I type the list of all the things I am waiting for, I realize I must wait on the Lord. It will all happen on His time table and on His schedule. Sigh. He knows what is best for me. There was a verse earlier in the week I read about waiting on the Lord that escapes me right now. Something about waiting on Him and being courageous. I don't have time right now to look it up. Heck, it may have been one of those Psalms from the other day. :-)

I've got to go now. Time for church. I look forward to seeing everyone this morning. The Calvary Escondido family has been awesome in their love and support.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A dark evening

It had been a week since my diagnosis. What I do know: I have a tumor in my breast and in one lymph node. What I don't know: if this cancer has spread anywhere else. The results of the PET scan should tell us this.

As my ICAN friends will attest, I am a big fan of online support groups. When Olivier was born with a cleft lip, when I was dealing with processing my cesarean and wanting to birth vaginally, I sought out women in similar situations to commiserate, learn, and be empowered by and with. I've found a group, although I have not yet posted. It's called the Young Survivor Coalition. They've got some very inspirational stories of survival. A few days ago, it really got me in a positive frame of mind.

Early last evening, I made the mistake of going on a part of their bulletin board about metastatic cancer. Because I've got lymph node involvement, they are calling mine that. I wasn't on it long. I read the story of a young woman who discovered a lump while pregnant, her OB blew it off. After the baby was born, she was diagnosed. Her PET scan showed the cancer had spread to her bones. I couldn't read much more. It is so tragic. What an awful disease.

It just made the unknown results of MY PET scan all the more ominous. I know we are 2 different people. But it just made my mind go to the "what if" place for a few hours. I couldn't even really enjoy the fabulous dinner I made.

After the kids went to bed, Eric asked me what was going on. He could tell something was bothering me. I fell apart. Once the tears started, they just wouldn't stop. Between sobs, I told him about my fears. He was really good about trying to reassure me. We caught it early, he said. But did we? I mean, it is already in a lymph node. We just don't know. What if it is in my bones too? Or organs? We just don't know.

Then Eric asked if I wanted to pray together. Of course I did. So as I cried, he held me and prayed. It was an amazing step.

I did not want to be awake all night with these thoughts. That would be torture. Sitting in bed, I reached for my bible and opened to the Psalms. Thank you Lord for the Psalms! I want to share a couple of passages that ministered to me in my distress:

  • Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out your hand Against the wrath of my enemies [cancer], and your right hand will save me. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands [me]. (Psalm 138:7-8) I especially loved the verse "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me." Oh yes, God. Please.
  • The 23rd Psalm is always a comfort. But last night this part spoke to me: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
  • "For in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord." (Psalm 27:5-6).
I read and re-read these passages several times and just thanked the Lord for his Word. I prayed for calm and for sleep and was able to turn the light out. During the night, if I felt like I might wake up, "You grant sleep to those you love." (Psalm 127:2) and I kept snoozing. Praise God.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that what someone told me about this battle being spiritual is so true. The enemy wants to rob me of peace and joy. It is hard to keep that peace in such a turbulent time. I had a few pretty good days there, and he saw a weak spot and zeroed in on it.

I need to literally remind myself to put on my Godly armor every morning to fight this fight. I let it down last night and the results were not good. What is my Godly armor? The helmet of salvation. Knowing that no matter what, I am going to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus. This is not my home, this body is just a temporary tent. This should protect my mind from going to those dark places. The belt of truth: Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6) He girds me, encircles me and supports me. The breastplate of righteousness: I have righteousness through Jesus' sacrifice for me on the cross. My righteousness (through Him) protects my body and soul. It permits me fellowship with the Father so I can come before him spotless and ask Him for what I need and want. Thank you Jesus! The shoes shod with the gospel of peace: I carry the good news of the gospel-that Jesus came down from heaven as a man. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross for my sin. The perfect sacrifice. Then he rose again. Anyone who puts their faith in Him will be saved. Eternal life. The shield of faith: keeping my faith close to me will enable me to deflect the firey arrows that are shot at me. I temporarily forgot about that last night. The sword: A soldier's sword is protection and slays the enemy. My sword is the Word of God. It is living and powerful. It changes lives. It purifies me from the inside out. As I experienced last night, it comforts and calms. It also slays my enemy the devil. He cannot stand against it. I've read the whole thing and I know the ending. The devil loses. God wins. I'm on God's team. Yeah!

When I got up, I saw that many of you were lifting me up in prayer last night. I had posted something on my facebook status about fighting the "what ifs." Your prayers definitely worked. I slept all night and was comforted here by Eric and also by the Lord in my sleep. Thank you all.

My big prayer request is that the PET scan come out showing that the cancer is only in the 2 spots we know of, or has completely disappeared. (Wouldn't that be amazing?) It may sound strange, but if I just have cancer in my breast and a lymph node, I would be jumping up and down on the mountaintop with joy. But, above all, I want God's will to be done. So if that is not His will, then He will strengthen me to deal with it.

God bless you all!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The PET Scan

Today was a day of tests. First thing in the morning, I had a urine test to rule out pregnancy officially and a blood draw for a variety of screening and blood count tests. No big deal. There was a bright spot to the day was when the lab tech was checking out my veins in my arm she said "You must work out." When I said, "Yeah" she replied "Alright! You go girl!" Hee hee. That felt nice.

But the interesting part was the PET scan. I had to fast for this one, and my last meal (which was dinner the night before) had to be low carb with no sweets. Another bummer was that I wasn't allowed to work out the day before. (It technically was a day off from my program anyway, but I was hoping to make up for missing Tuesday!)

PET stands for "Positron Emission Tomography." Last year when Jean-Marc had his hernia surgery I passed by the "nuclear medicine" office at Kaiser Zion Hospital. Each time I would wonder just what in the world that was. Now I know. They basically shoot some mildly radioactive material into your body and then stick you into this machine. A PET scan measures important body functions, such as blood flow, oxygen use, and sugar (glucose) metabolism, to help doctors evaluate how well organs and tissues are functioning. Cancer cells apparently will gobble more of it up and show up on the scan. Lovely.

Mom drove me down to keep me company. Eric had to take a few hours off of work to play with Jean-Marc and feed him his lunch before his nap. I'm thankful to both for arranging this so I didn't have to go down there alone. I wasn't afraid of the procedure, really. But I am scared to find out the results. What if I am riddled with cancer inside and the scan lights up like a rainbow?

But back to the experience. A nice Filipino man called us from the waiting room and took us down a maze of hospital corridors. As we are walking, he asks if I had any kids. I thought he was making small talk, so I told him. When I told him their ages, he said, "Well, they are too young." What does that mean? He told me that I was going to be radioactive until the next morning and that young kids whose systems aren't fully developed are at risk of exposure to the radiation. So I couldn't be within 6 feet of them. No goodnight hugs or kisses. Hmm. That wasn't going to be easy with Jean-Marc. But I would think about that later. We all joked about how I was going to glow, something that I had jokingly put on my facebook status a few hours earlier.

He told mom she had to wait in a waiting area and led me outside into a trailer in the parking lot. Inside, I was led into a small room and ushered into a fairly comfortable chair. The tech guy was nice enough. Making small talk, he asked me if I had any plans for the summer. Yeah. I said, "uh...chemo." He seemed sorry to have asked. I wasn't upset about the question or anything. I'm trying to find the humor in situations and honestly, this struck me as funny. He tested my glucose level with a finger prick, then put a needle in my arm. It was a very strange experience to sit there watching him inject me with something that I knew was radioactive. Just bizzare.

I had to sit there for about 30 minutes for the stuff to get into my systems. He gave me some old tabloid magazines and I did thumb through one for a few minutes. I put it down when I came across a story about a reality show contestant from Survivor who had recently died at the age of 37 after a 5 year battle with....breast cancer.

Then I remembered my pocket New Testament. I carry it with me in my purse just because I like to have God's word near me all the time. The print is a bit small, but that's okay. When I was waiting for the biopsy a week or two ago (was it just that short of a time?) I had pulled it out and just started reading from the beginning at Matthew. I just continued on from there.

God does have a sense of humor. The first verse I read was this: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16) Considering the "glowing" jokes, I thought that yes, indeed...I would be shining before men-literally!

But all joking aside, I do want to handle this experience in such a way that it causes others to praise our Father in heaven. I pray that God will grant me the grace to do that.

It was such a comfort to be reading Scripture while waiting for the test. Some other verses that ministered to me:
  • "Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:8) What a comfort that is to me right now. There are times when I just am speechless before God. There are so many desires and requests I have that I just don't know where to begin. God knows what I need and the Spirit is there to help me pray. Thank you Jesus!
  • "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life...Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:25-27, 34)
These two verses taken together told me that God did not want me to worry. He knows what I need, even when I don't. He is going to take care of me under any and all circumstances. Radioactive or not. Stage 2 cancer or 3 cancer. I am of utmost value to Him. He is going to see me through because He is Faithful.

The door opened and the lab tech told me to go use the restroom before I was put into the machine. I texted Eric to give him a head's up about the fact I wasn't going to be able to be mommy for the rest of the day and headed back into the trailer.

They had me take off any metal objects and lay on the table. I was velcroed in so I couldn't move. They put a wedgie thing under my knees and covered me with a blanket. It actually was kind of cozy. The machine fed me in and out. It was pretty quiet. It would stay in one spot for awhile, then move a bit. I took the opportunity to again feel the presence of God with me. Jeremiah 29:11 kept going through my mind: "For I know the plans I have for you. Plans for good and not for evil. Plans to give you a future and a hope." A future and a hope. God knows how this is all going to play out. He knows the number of my days. I am safe in His arms. I just have to calm down and trust Him.

Before I knew it, it was over. As I was getting my shoes back on, I snapped the photo of the machine with my iPhone.

So now we wait for the results. As I mentioned before, I do have some fear of them. Given all that I know about the Lord, I shouldn't be afraid. God does not want me to worry (didn't I just read that?!) He has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) I have to constantly remind myself of this because it is so easy to have panic well up inside. Even as I type this, I can feel my heart race from time to time and adrenaline kick in.

Here are some specific prayer requests:

1. The results of this scan. That they would come quickly and show that there is no cancer anywhere other than the 2 places they already know of. Heck, wouldn't it be amazing if the scan came back and I was cancer free? We can pray for that too. God is a God of miracles!

2. That I would not be afraid or fearful. Waiting for results is really hard. I know once we know exactly what I'm dealing with we can attack it intelligently. Just waiting for potentially bad news is extremely taxing.

3. That Eric would not be fearful. He has a tendency to see things from a pessimistic angle. He is worried about how he is going to balance his job and having to step up more to take on some of my home and family responsibilities.

4. That we can decide on a course of treatment within the next week. I see an oncologist next week. We are leaning toward doing chemo before surgery. The results of these tests I'm doing should validate that. If there are cancer cells that have spread, I want to attack them ASAP. Surgery won't do that, it will only remove the tumors that we know of. Chemo will also possibly shrink the tumors that I do have and makes saving the breast a possibility.

5. That the oncologist that I see be a good fit for us. Praise God that the surgeon we met we really liked. I pray that it is the same for the oncologist. This is the person who will be in charge of the cancer treatment: the chemo and possibly radiation if I need it.

6. Our kids. Pray that they are not fearful. That they be able to step up where needed around the house, live in harmony with each other. That they be able to enjoy some of their hard earned summer vacation.

Thank you all for your continued prayers and support. I am blessed by you.

His ways are above ours

I got the first full night of sleep last night since being diagnosed last Friday. I can't tell you how good that felt. (God gives his beloved sleep-Psalm 127:2) Thank you Jesus!

I woke up being so thankful to God, realizing in how many ways He has prepared my family and I for this trial. I just want to share the few that I have realized thus far:

1. My fitness fixation. For the first time in my adult life, last summer I just got the urge to finally get into shape. I've kind of been obsessed by it. I jokingly referred to it as my "mid life crisis." Until this week with all my medical tests and appointments, I don't think I missed a workout. I've been doing Jillian's level 3 circuit workouts 4 times a week, which take about 1 1/2 hours each. Then on Saturday, 30 minutes of cardio at the gym and a Zumba class. I've been eating organic produce and whole grains with very limited processed foods. Even those had to have minimal ingredients in them. I haven't had a Diet Coke since last fall. The result was losing 50 pounds. I feel strong and capable of kicking cancer's butt. But I really believe that had I not lost the weight (going down 2 cup sizes) that I would not have felt that lump a few weeks ago. Remember, the doctors were of the opinion that the mammogram and ultrasound in April put me in the clear. It would have been at least another year before it was discovered. Praise God!

2. Getting a mammogram in the first place. Again, I just got the "urge" to go get a mammogram. Kaiser did not send me a reminder. Heck, even the government is trying to change their recommendations for women to put the age to 50 to start getting routine mammograms. (Side note to young women--DO NOT WAIT! Younger women have higher death rates because it is not diagnosed early) I truly believe that God planted that desire in my heart to start focusing on breast health. I'll confess that I've never even really been good at breast self examination. I'd lie to the docs when asked. I didn't think I had a family history, and I just never bothered. Praise God!

3. Eric's self-education. My husband, Eric, works for a company that is involved in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery. He felt he needed to do some learning on his own about biology and stuff. For the past 6-9 months, he has been listening to lectures through iTunes U from MIT about....cancer. So when I was diagnosed, he knew all of these questions to ask about the pathology. He also has contacts through his work with some very impressive cancer researchers that he has been able to consult about our decisions. Praise God!

4. Changing insurance options. The kids and I have been with Kaiser for a few years. I like Kaiser. But I've wanted to open up a Health Savings Account for awhile now and just procrastinated about it. To do that would mean I would have to apply for a slightly different "HSA compatible" policy. I just didn't want to take the time. But for some reason, in May I just decided to do it. We were approved, and effective June 1, we are on a different Kaiser plan. I haven't had to make a single co-pay thus far. The old plan had a $30 co-pay for each visit, and the mammograms/ultrasounds were nearly $200. I'm not 100% sure on what our maximum out of pocket will be by the end, but if I read it correctly, it will only be a few thousand dollars. Chemo is covered. Plus, now that I have an HSA, any out of pocket expenses we do have up to $6,000 will be paid out of pre-tax dollars! Praise God!

5. My marriage. No doubt, the last week has been stressful. But it has brought Eric and I closer together as we figure out how we are going to fight this disease and raise our family at the same time. I'm discovering how much I appreciate him. I think that the concept of life without me has shaken him up too. Praise God!

6. Relationships with God. I pray that this will draw everyone closer to the Lord as we learn that we really depend on Him for every day, every breath, every heart beat. I pray that this will help Eric in his spiritual life as well. This is an area that you can also pray for. God is faithful to complete this work!

I am sure there are other ways God is working in this, these are only the ones I have realized so far. Thank you Lord for opening my eyes and allowing me to see YOU on the throne rather than the trials that face me on this day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How I got here

I turned 40 last October. I've never been one to go to doctors much. Heck, I had 2 of my 3 kids at home with a midwife! But turning the big 4-0 made me feel like I should be responsible and go in for routine physicals and my first mammogram. Plus, a good friend of mine who was only a few years older than me was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. So in April 2010, I went in for the big squish (a mammogram).

It was no big deal, but I did get called back a week later for further ultrasounds on the left side because of some "areas of concern." Okay, that was a little bizarre. But in I went, and the radiologist said her opinion was there was nothing to be concerned about. I went on my way thinking I was healthy.

And I WAS healthy! I've lost over 50 pounds in the last 9 months doing Jillian Michaels level 3 fitness plan (yes, level 3, baby!) and reading "Mater Your Metabolism." (Love Jillian!) I seriously am in the best shape of my life-thinner than I was in high school. I was having a ball shopping and buying increasingly smaller size clothes--even a pair of size 4 shorts. No way! The summer was going to be so much fun-beach; running around with the kids; a road trip to my cousin's wedding in Idaho. Bring it on!

It all came crashing down on me over Memorial Day weekend when I felt a lump under my left armpit in the shower. On further palpation, there was another lump on the left breast itself. My mind started rationalizing all of the things it could be. First off, I had gone down 2 bra cup sizes with all the weight loss. I wasn't even sure what "normal" felt like for me at this point. I nursed Jean-Marc until he was 13 months old, and he isn't even 2 yet. So maybe it was milk in there? Or maybe some wierd hormonal swing? And oh, yeah...I had a cyst on my right breast in 1994 that just went away on its own. Lots and lots of reasons other than the "C" word could explain it.

I called Kasier the next business day (Tuesday, because of the 3 day weekend), and was seen the next day in their breast care clinic. The nice lady felt the lump and ordered an ultrasound. I actually wasn't too concerned at that point really. Ultra sounds were no biggie to me. So I went in the following Monday for what I thought would be a routine in and out kind of morning.

The same radiologist was there and after the ultrasound tech did her ultrasound, she came in and did another one of her own. She really didn't seem to know what to make of what she was seeing. The one under the arm looked like it was attached to a lymph node, but the other one she didn't know what to make of. If I had time, she said they could biopsy both that morning. Oh, and more mammograms.

Wait...a biopsy. That's the long needle. Yikes! Now, I'm not afraid of needles. But not one sticking into me for a long time like that. Give me a shot, I'l even give blood. But the thought of a biopsy was chilling. But I had to do what I had to do. So I got into the hospital gown and was ushered back out into the purple chairs to wait for a pre-biopsy mammogram.

I had my iPhone with me and decided to see what was going on in Facebook land while I waited. My Aunt Meg posted a bible verse on her site. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) It really hit the spot and reminded me that the Lord has ultimate victory and that He was with me in that moment.

After the mammograms, I went back in for the biopsy. It was a little intimidating, the doctor got into a gown, they had me sign a consent form and it was like I was on the fast track to something, but I wasn't sure what. They gave me some shots to numb the area before the BIG needle went in. I'm not that sensitive to little needles, so it didn't bother me all that much. But again, in that moment and during the whole procedure, I felt the presence of the Lord with me like I've only felt one other time--when I was in labor with Jean-Marc. Aside from the verse from John, these words kept coming to mind: "For I know the plans I have for you. Plans for good and not for evil. Plans to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11). What a comfort!

The biopsies themselves are not that comfortable. If I let my brain wander to what was going on in my body at that moment, I could have easily freaked out. There was a lot of pressure and movement. The needle mechanism would make a loud click sound each time she would draw out a sample. She took several from both spots. They bandaged me up and sent me out again to the purple chairs for more mammograms. Gosh, I'm an expert at mammos now. But I've got to say, to all you ladies out there who have had a mammogram....imagine them trying to get a film of your armpit. Not that easy! I was basically standing still in a backbend position looking up at the ceiling!

So that was my Monday morning. I was told if I didn't get a call from "Judy" by next Monday, that I should call her.

It was very strange that whole week thinking....I am waiting on biopsy results for cancer....I am waiting on biopsy results for cancer. Yet, I had all of those reasons to believe it was not cancer. But a small part of me thought....maybe it was.

I got the call from Judy on Friday right before lunch. Unfortunately, she said, there was the presence of cancer in both spots. My brain started spinning. Jean-Marc was clamoring for my attention and I was trying to absorb everything she was telling me. I would be getting a consult from a surgeon...surgery possible in a couple weeks...lymph node....chemotherapy...can we stop now??

I hung up the phone and just looked at Eric. He could tell by my end of the conversation what the news was.

I had cancer.

Welcome to my blog....wish we weren't here

In big events of my life when I've had an emotional upheaval, I've journaled as a way to work out my thoughts and feelings. After I met Eric and Club Med on that whirlwind week in 1994, I came home and wrote pages and pages on legal pads as a way to relive each moment we had. It's tucked away in a secret place now. :-)

So too, when I found out I had breast cancer last week, I wanted to journal it. Things happened so fast, so much has gone on in the 5 days since we found out I don't know if I can recapture those first days. I bought a paper journal over the weekend and tried to start, but had so much to write and was so emotionally drained that I could only do a few pages. Since I type much faster than I can write, I decided to journal the modern way with a blog.

This will be a way to keep everyone updated on how I'm doing too. I am so blessed to have so many praying for me. I really can feel the prayer. I'll be going about my day trying to be "normal" and I'll suddenly feel overwhelmed by the Spirit and I just know that it is in those times that I am being lifted up by someone, somewhere. Please, please, keep the prayers coming.

This is going to be uncensored, though. I don't want to have to choose my words and worry that someone will be offended. This is where I am coming from, this is who I am right now. I'm going through something huge and will have my bad moments. I really want to fight this battle and be a good witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I know that God works ALL things out for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28) I am definitely in that group. I've said in the past that I trust God in all things. Now it is time to live it. But I do struggle with fear, which I know is from the enemy. I've read that once treatment is started it gets better. Right now, waiting around is probably the hardest part.

I don't have a lot of time right now to write more, but I wanted to put some specific prayer requests out for those awesome prayer warriors:

1. Pray that the hormone receptor results come back "postitive." (I'm not 100% sure what that means, but they tell me that is better)

2. Pray that I am able to move my oncology consult from June 25th to an earlier date. I need to start chemo ASAP and need to get in to see them.

3. Pray that the oncologist that I do see is a good one that is competent and that we trust.

4. Pray that the cancer has not spread beyond the 2 places we know it is. It is in at least 1 lymph node, and that is a concern.

5. Pray that the MRI I will be taking in the next week will not show any other areas of concern that would necessitate additional biopsies. With a biopsy comes a poke, but even worse...more waiting.

6. Pray for my kids. It is rough on them to have our lives turned upside down like this.

God bless you all. Blessed be the name of the Lord.