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.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

New day, new attitude

Saturday morning, 9 days post-op.

I slept pretty well last night. Taking 2 of the pain killers before bed definitely knocks me out. Eric and I watched a romantic comedy last night, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." It was a great escape, and a change from our usual viewing menu. Lately, we've been watching a lot of World War II documentaries. That's okay, but it was nice to get away from all of the bang bang stuff. For awhile, I even forgot about cancer and pain. Although when it was over, I was about 1 hour overdue for my meds. Ouch!

Eric and I had a "meeting of the minds" after my post yesterday. He had read my blog and got some insight into what I was feeling. He commented that it was pretty lame that he had to read my blog to know how I was feeling. True. But sometimes it is easier to write it down than say it out loud. It was refreshing to just be able to cry and be frustrated in front of someone. I hold it together for the kids-I don't want to scare them. I let Eric see it, though. It was good. I know its got to be hard for him. He's the sort of guy who wants to "fix" things that are wrong. This just can't be fixed so easily.

Mom and I went for a walk again yesterday. We added a lap around the lake, which made it a total of 3 miles. Before she got to my house, I tried doing some squats. That felt so good! I made up my own little circuit of various squats: traditional; sumo; side; etc. My legs felt like they got some exercise, and I'm even a little sore today. Mom and I are going to do the Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk when I'm over this. It will probably be November, 2011. We'll form a team-the Pink & Plaid Warriors. Anyone want to join us? We're going to get shirts and hats made. It will be fun, and its one of those things to look forward to.

I was a little bummed yesterday to step on the scale and find that I'd gained a few pounds. I've always exercised hard so I could be a little freer with the food. With my mother in law here, it just adds to the temptation. Dessert is considered an integral part of the meal...even lunch. So I need to resolve to be more disciplined in what I eat so this slow down in activity doesn't catch up to me and I regain the weight I lost before I knew I had cancer.

Yesterday, mom and I watched my sister Tara's home birth video. Amazing! Her daughter, Kathryn Marie, was born a month ago. She has it on video, and had a friend take the most amazing pictures as well. It was awesome to watch. She is so strong and POWERFUL! Like her husband commented right before she started to push, "She pushes like a ninja!" Mom and I were in tears by the end. It was so wonderful to see my sister so happy. Happy doesn't even quite cover the elation and joy. It was great. I feel bad because my mom hasn't been able to go visit Tara. She usually would go for a few weeks to help out after she has a baby. Now I'm the big baby who needs mom. I know everyone understands, but I can't help but feel like I'm ripping people off in a way.

I've felt many parallels between this breast cancer journey and the journey one goes through in birth. You can have support people around you, and it is great. But there are some parts, some scary parts, that you just have to do on your own. Even when physically there may be people right next to you. I should think on the similarities and differences some more and write more about it. One thing this experience is teaching me is to try and trust medical professionals. My experiences in birth activism and ICAN exposed me to so many stories and instances where women were lied to and manipulated by doctors to make "choices" that weren't really their own. It kind of soured me to all things "medical." Now I need to learn to do my own homework, listen to the counsel of my doctors, and trust them. As one ICAN friend, who is also on this cancer journey, pointed out: "Birth is normal. Cancer is not."

My good friend, Nicole, brought dinner yesterday. Nicole went through a bilateral mastectomy about 15 months ago. It was wonderful to talk to her, see how much her scars (on the outside) have faded. Although I tried to be supportive as best I could, I had no clue what she was going through back then. It is nice to have someone who has been there before that I can talk to and ask questions of.

Today we are going to take Isabelle to her riding lesson. It is fun to watch her ride. I also need to stop off at Kaiser in San Marcos and refill my pain meds. Later in the day, we need to go to Trader Joes and get some beverages. TJs is the best for juice. Organic, and not too expensive! It feels good to have things to "do" that aren't necessarily cancer related. Almost normal.

My prayer requests today:
  • That my body continue to heal and the pain subside. I'm refilling my pain meds, but I hope I don't have to use them.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Not always so rosy

I don't want to sound like this is a breeze, because its definitely not. People keep telling me how good I look. I don't know what to compare it to. I've always been one to put on a brave face and not really show how much things hurt/bother/upset me. Even now. Part of it is the way I deal with things internally. Maybe those close to me could say otherwise, but I don't think I've ever been one to wallow in my own misery and circumstances. When things are bad, I try to look to see what I can do to make it better and then set out on that course.

I've tried to do that with breast cancer. Most days, I think I pull myself out of the "dark side." I'm frustrated at the moment, because there really isn't anything I can "do" to get better right now. My life right now is all about pain management and that stinks.

I can't exercise too much. Mom and I went for a walk around the lake yesterday. It was about 2.25 miles. I was hoping to feel like I got a workout, but it didn't. Moving the muscles can't be bad, but I didn't get that endorphin dump like I used to. Not one drop of sweat. I started my post-op exercises yesterday in earnest. It felt good to feel a slight pull on the muscles in my upper body. But I ended up in a lot of pain yesterday. Did I overdo it with the little bit that I did? Should I take more painkillers? I took a total of 5 yesterday. The maximum dose per day is 12. This may sound silly, but in a way, taking more painkillers feels like taking a step back. But I don't want as much pain as I had yesterday.

I can't hug my kids. This really is hard. The older 2 understand and give me "neck hugs." Jean-Marc is only 2. My mother in law is here to keep him busy. I know he's having fun days. But in the evenings, he's fussy and just wants me. It's hard because that is the time of day when I am tired and in more pain too. I can sit there and watch her bathe him, change him, carry him, etc. But I can't do it myself. How I miss those pudgy hugs! Is he going to get used to not having mom take care of him? He has no idea what is going on. All he knows is that he's not getting the hugs and attention from me that he is used to.

I can't take care of my household. I'm probably like most women in that I am used to taking care of all of the details of the house. You don't really know how many of those there are until you can't do them. You do them without thinking. Right now, I can't lift anything over 5 pounds. I can't drive. That rules out most household activities. It's a mixed blessing. Who wants to do that stuff, anyway? But as things pile up, I can tell the tension pile up in the house as well. Eric and his mom are here to do stuff, but they don't do it like I would. I just have to bite my tongue and be grateful that things are approaching getting done at all. But then there are times (like now) when I think Eric resents it too. It's not my fault! Hey-if I could do it right, I would. I ask him what is wrong, and he says "nothing" but I know that's not true. Whatever. I don't have the energy to figure out what is being said between very few lines.

As I read this over, I'm a little disgusted with myself. It sounds like a one-woman pity party. But that is where I am this morning.

My prayer requests:
  • That I be content with what I have and where I am.
  • That my body continue to heal. Specifically, that the fluid that would have been going to the drains disperse in my body without building up. That the pain subside. I'm so tired of popping pain pills.
  • That the kids have a fun day.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A pain in the back

I thought with the drains out, I'd sleep better. I'm pretty much still confined to sleeping on back, though. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a horrible night. But I woke up with an achy back. I tried sleeping flat, rather than on an incline pillow. I still had my various little pillows around to support my arms. At one point in the night, I stretched my arms up a bit in my sleep and was met with a firey-knife feeling in my left lower armpit. Ow! I also tried to gently roll to my right side. Nope. That wasn't going to work either. The site where the drain was hurt too much. It also probably has to do with the fact that over the course of the night, the painkillers wear off and by early morning, I feel pretty fragile. My mother in law this morning asked me why I don't spend more time in bed in the mornings. Pretty simple-it just hurts my back to be in bed that long.

What I would LOVE to be able to do right now is some yoga. Especially for my upper body and back. I just feel really compacted. This surgical camisole doesn't help. It comes up pretty high into the armpit area and chafes a bit. I'll check myself for swelling this morning and wear it another day.

I did start some of my post-op stretches last night. I'm actually not as stiff on my left as I thought I would be. There is one broom stretch where you put your "bad" hand on the end of a broomstick, and then bring it up over your head as far as you can. I was able to extend it up all the way. Granted, I did have pain meds in my system. I'll keep doing these exercises, though. I really do not want to lose mobility in my upper body. I'm supposed to do them once a day for 10 days, 10 repetitions each. Then I can do it twice a day. There is a video I checked out at the library on post-mastectomy exercises that looked lame a few weeks ago. I may re-check it out now and try it. One thing I didn't like was the lady on the video, a breast cancer survivor, refers to women with breast cancer as "victims." That turned me off. I'm not a victim! I'm a warrior! But I could do the video with the sound down, I suppose.

Mom and I are going to go for a longer walk this morning around Discovery lake. I'm hoping that will get the blood flowing and help this feeling of stiffness and compaction. A brisk walk with some stretching afterwards will probably help me feel much better.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Post Op with Dr. K

The drains came out today!

As I suspected, two of them were definitely ready to come out. But the third was borderline. It was putting out about 50 cc's of fluid each day. At first, Dr. K wanted to leave it in. But since we live in North County, it would be more difficult for us to get back down in a few days to have the last one removed. She gave me the option and I chose to have her take the third out.

The drains basically help my body remove fluid buildup around the wounds on the inside as they heal. There is a give and take with having one or more in longer. The longer they are in, the more the risk of infection. Frankly, it is gross to have a tube coming out of your body. But if my body isn't ready to have them out, fluid may build up internally. The remedy is to have it drained with a large needle. Gulp. That sounds gross too, doesn't it? Dr. K said they would numb the area before inserting the big needle. Then I thought back to the biopsy. That needle prick wasn't too bad. And it isn't a given that the fluid will build up. Each day that goes by, the chances decrease. Dr. K advised me to put the immediate post-surgical camisole back on and put it on tight to compress the chest to help any fluid disperse. If it did build up, she said it would be very obvious--like a breast growing. So we'll keep an eye on that for the next few days.

As far as having the drains taken out, it was not a big deal. I took 2 pain pills before we went down. My usual is just 1, except at bedtime. So I was a bit lightheaded. She had me lay down and I said a little prayer. She snipped around the sutures and it was out before I knew it. I didn't feel a thing. Then she told Eric that the tubes had been at least 6 inches inside of my body. Yikes! I'm glad I didn't know that before.

She said the scars on my chest were healing quite nicely too. My next appointment with Dr. K is in 6 months, unless something goes wrong. I'll miss her. She was a great surgeon. Anyone in San Diego with Kaiser insurance that needs surgery should request her. (Contact me and I'll give you her full name!)

She is basically handing my case off to Dr. P, the oncologist. I got a copy of my pathology report on the way out. I was trying to decipher it when I got home and comparing it to some books I have on cancer. Although Dr. K (on the fly) said it was a stage 2b, I think it is actually a stage 3a. I'm not positive, and frankly, it doesn't make a big difference what the label is.

The juicy parts of the final pathologic diagnosis:
On the left: Invasive ductal carcinoma. Histologic grade: 3 of 3 (tubules 3, mitoses 3, nuclei 2)
Invasive tumor size: 3.5 cm.
Ductal carcinoma in situ: Present
Type and pattern: Cribriform and solid with necrosis
Grade: Intermediate
Lobular carcinoma in situ: Not identified
Lymphatic vascular invasion: Present
Nipple involved: No
Multiple simultaneous invasive carcinomas: No
Associated findings: Metastatic carcinoma present in five of fifteen left axillary lymph nodes (Largest lymph node metastasis 2.5 cm; carcinoma outside of confines of node capsule focally)
TNM: T2N2a

It's the T2N2a that makes me think it is grade 3 and not 2. The T2 refers to the tumor size (between 2-5 cm), and the N2 refers to the lymph node involvement (N2 means involved nodes are fixed to one another).

We'll find out for sure about staging next week from Dr. P. But again, it doesn't really matter that much. It is what it is. God is in control regardless of the stage. He'll see me through.

My prayer requests:
  • That fluid does not build up in my body now that the drains are out.
  • That I'm able to get a physical therapy appointment before August 17th. Dr. K referred me to PT to learn how to avoid a swelling of the arm (lymphedema). The soonest appointment they have right now is the 17th of August.
  • That I continue to heal and be able to start some exercise to get into condition for chemotherapy.
  • An ongoing request is for my family. It is hard on them to have me out of commission. Pray that they be strengthened and given extra doses of grace and mercy towards one another.
Bless you all!

Moving right along....or not

Day 6 post-op.

I go in to see Dr. K this morning. Hopefully the drains will come out. With Eric's help, I managed to untangle myself from the tubes and bulbs and get into the shower. This time, it wasn't as shocking to see myself in the mirror. I think Eric was more shaken than I was. It is awkward to move-I'm afraid to make sudden movements for fear that I'll pull out a tube. 2 of the 3 drains are well below 50 ccs per 24 hours. The third is just at 50. We'll see what Dr. K does with it. I'm going to take 2 pain pills before I go. Yesterday, I managed to wean myself down to 5 for the whole day. That is pretty good. But I'm not going to take any chances this morning.

You never know what a new day will bring. Yesterday morning I had a huge problem with, well....constipation. I've debated whether or not to blog about it, since it is so personal. And even at that, I'm going to spare some of the more gory details. But I decided that if anyone comes across this blog and is facing surgery, I want them to be very aware of this problem so they can avoid it.

In the hospital, they gave me colace as a stool softener. I didn't blow it off completely, but for the first couple of days just took 1 pill. They said I could take 1-2. I figured that my high fiber diet would take care of any of "those" problems. On day 4 I had my first post-op BM, which was difficult, but I managed to do it. I figured all systems were go. Then yesterday, it just would not move. It was there, but didn't move. When my mom came, I asked her to take me to Discovery Lake so I could walk a bit on flat ground. I figured if my dog needs some walking to poop, maybe I did too? It hurt like crazy just to walk, but I made it.

We got back home and still...nothing. I spent about 2 hours trying. Crying. Begging God to help me. Now, I've had 2 unmedicated childbirths. I've pushed a baby out with her hand by her head. I've pushed out a baby that has a larger head than the baby that was supposedly too big to fit through my pelvis. This was just as bad. Seriously. But worse, because at the end, I didn't have a beautiful baby! But it was also ridiculous. I was wondering what I was going to do if I couldn't get it out. How embarrassing would it be to go to the emergency room for this? I almost passed out a couple of times. Once, I even thought I felt one of my stitches pop. I don't know how mom stood it in the next room. It must have torn her heart out. I was seriously suffering. Words don't really do justice to just how bad this was. Finally it passed. But man, I never want to do that again.

Take if from one who has been there. If you are facing surgery, and they put you on hydrocodone/acetaminophen, MAX OUT the stool softeners.

Things are better in that department today, thank the Lord.

The weather has been unseasonably cool. I for one, am thankful for it. Remember about a week and a half ago when I woke up sweating? I was worrying about the heat and the drains. I did not want to suffer in summer temperatures with drains and post-operative recovery. Well, God took care of the heat for me. I realize now how I wasted that energy worrying about the temperature. That was something that God has control over and made happen in my best interests. If you think about it, everything is like that. God has control over everything, even things we *think* we have control over. We only do because God gives us the strength and power to have some dominion over them. We worry and fret about so much. But in the end, God works all of these little details out in a way that works for us. We just have to trust in Him in all these things. God works everything for the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)

I'll post again later to update on the appointment with Dr. K. My prayer requests are pretty much the same as yesterday. Healing and harmony! Love to you all!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pillows and Pathology

Day 5 post-op.

Pillows are my new best friends. I have them everywhere: upstairs; downstairs; in the car. The American Cancer Society sent me two small pillows that I tuck under my arms when I'm on the couch downstairs. Kaiser gave me a heart shaped pillow to use under the shoulder strap seat belt in the car. Up in my bedroom, I've got a big incline pillow that I sleep on. Then I've got 2 throw pillows that I tuck under each arm. Then a third pillow in the middle that my hands rest on.

Unexpectedly, my surgeon called yesterday to give me the results of the pathology report. I wasn't expecting to hear anything about the report until my post-op appointment on Wednesday. She said there were "no surprises." We go in tomorrow to see her and will get a copy of it for ourselves and go into it much deeper. But the bottom lines were:
  • The right breast was clear of any tumors. That is good-that means my right lymph nodes will all stay in my body. With the left gone, these will be working overtime.
  • The tumor on the left breast was 3.5 centimeters. It felt huge. I was afraid it was going to be much bigger.
  • She got clear margins. She mentioned something about not needing radiation for this reason. I asked her if that meant I wouldn't need radiation at all, and she deferred to the oncologist, Dr. P.
  • 5 of the 15 lymph nodes from the left side were positive for cancer. I already knew there was activity in the lymph nodes since the lump I felt was a lymph node. Because of the delay in surgery, I was afraid that all of the nodes would be positive. Having only 5 is an answer to the prayers that the cancer not spread.
  • I asked her what "stage" of cancer I have. She had to scramble a bit and do some cross-referencing on the phone, but she said the factors in the pathology report put it at a 2b. Another answer to prayer. I was afraid it was a 3.
    Eric did some research last night and there still is over a 50% chance that there are cancer cells floating around my body somewhere. I think he was kind of hoping that chemotherapy would not be necessary. He kept making comments over the past few days about how flawed the prophylactic use of chemo is when you don't really *know* there is cancer there. I've been resigned to the reality of chemo being in my future. But this 50% statistic is helping him come around to it as well.

    With this news, I am feeling pretty good. I was holding out a little bit of dread and fear about the pathology report. To see just how "bad" it was going to be. It was the last unknown, at least for now. It helps to have the enemy unmasked and out in the open.

    Dr. K said that if the drains were draining 50 cc or less each per day, she would be able to take them out tomorrow. Yesterday, 2 of the 3 did less than that. The third drain (the second one on the left) did 60 cc. We'll see how they do today. Overnight, they did not drain much. It usually picks up during the daytime. The drains are very uncomfortable. They itch and ache where they are coming out of my side. I'll be a very happy camper when they come out.

    So now I am focused on recovering physically from surgery. I want to get back into as good of shape as I can before chemo starts. I know I won't be jumping into my Jillian workouts. But if I can do some cardio on the recumbent bike and keep my lower body strong, I'll be happy. I'll feel strong and ready to take chemo head-on.

    My prayer requests today:
    • That the drains be able to come out tomorrow. That means 50 cc or less each day. If there is more that they need to do, I want them to stay in. But if it is possible for them to come out tomorrow, it will help me rest better. I'll be able to find my new 'normal.'
    • That it not hurt too bad when they take out the drains. I'm a little paranoid about this. I've been warned that it feels creepy. I can deal with a few seconds of creepy. I can deal with pain too. I'd just rather not.
    • That I continue to be able to rest. Sleep is physical therapy. I can feel the renewal of energy and tissue when I wake up. Sleep is a godsend right now.
    • Overall harmony in the house. It is hard being cooped up during the summer. Like all kids, mine bicker and have typical sibling rivalry. That raises the level of drama for everyone in the house. Eric and his mom get all worked up about it, sometimes seeming to take one side over the other. It just escalates. Eric also gets annoyed at what he sees as the kids' obsession with video games. They don't do it as much as he thinks, really. But he always seems to be coming down hard on them for it. Everyone just needs to chill out and cut each other some slack right now.
    I want to thank everyone again for your prayers and support. I've received so many wonderful messages from so many of you. It is so encouraging and uplifting knowing that you all are out there with us in spirit. When this is all over, I want to throw a huge party and invite everyone to come and celebrate in pink and plaid!

    Have a blessed day. God is good, all the time!

    Monday, July 26, 2010

    Mirror, mirror on the wall...

    Day 4 post-op.

    I'm so thankful for sleep. Again last night, I slept over 8 hours. I'm surprised that I am sleeping so well, considering that I am not able to move positions at all. Not only that, but I just took a 2 hour nap. Thank you, Lord!

    Today I took a look at myself in the mirror. I needed to shower, so there was no getting around it. Mom came and helped get me undressed and untangled from all of my tubes and bulbs. There was a tiny bit of dried blood on the gauze that was around the left drain tube. I don't know if that is normal or not. I had a lanyard that I put around my neck and pinned the 3 drain bulbs to it. The shower felt good, but it was awkward with everything hanging from me. I was also a bit paranoid about getting the stitches too wet, so I stayed with my back facing the water most of the time. My right arm is able to move more, so I was able to wash my hair. Mom helped me dry off as I looked in the mirror.

    Gulp. It's hard to describe what I saw. I look skinny, for one thing. The sutures themselves are puckery, since they used some dermabond on them. So there are two puckery, jagged diagonal cuts about 3-4 inches long on each side. When I look down, I see my stomach. It's strange not to have anything in between. When I look in the mirror, its strange because I can see my rib cage but nothing is above it. It is totally flat, and even concave on the upper chest. I touched my skin between the scars, and it was numb. I've had friends who went through this say their chest got numb as well. Eric came in as we were re-dressing me. He wasn't there for the big reveal. He said he wasn't freaked out. And honestly, he didn't sound freaked out. I think he was worried that I was freaked out. He kept saying, "This isn't who you are." Well, yes it is. At least on the outside. But as we tell the kids, it isn't what is on the outside that counts and makes you who you are. Maybe that is what that means.

    Speaking of numbness, I'm numb on my left upper arm around the tricep area. I'm also numb on the tip of my tongue. That has been there since last Thursday. It feels like it does when you go to the dentist and get your mouth numbed. When you start to regain feeling, you get that prickly pins and needles feeling, you know? That is how the tip of my tongue feels.

    I need to try not to slouch. It is so easy to do, especially with all of these tubes and stuff. They all are tucked away in pockets around my waist. When I button up a shirt, I look pregnant. I know I have said this before, but I will be SO HAPPY when these drains come out. It is so creepy to milk the tubes and drain them. If I don't concentrate on it, I could faint when we do that. There is less fluid in them each day, which is a good sign. The fluid is turning from a bright red to a yellowish-orange color.

    How do I feel today? Mentally, I feel like I passed a big hurdle by looking in the mirror. Hopefully each time will get better. Physically, I am sore on my chest and sides. I'm still on pain meds, trying to go 3-4 hours in between each one. Yesterday I took a total of 7, whereas the first two days I took 9. The pain meds have made me a bit constipated. I've been taking some stool softener to get things moving. So far it isn't moving much, despite a high fiber diet. The sleep has been a godsend, for sure. I don't want to over do it, but I would like to venture out in the neighborhood for a walk. Maybe I'll go get the mail.

    My prayer requests today:
    • Healing, healing, healing. That is my big need right now.
    • That the lower end of my digestive system get moving. :-)
    • Patience for Eric. He has high standards for the kids. They are feeling like all he does is yell at them for playing video games or whatever. Just being kids. He doesn't even realize it most of the time. Everyone is under stress and he expects the kids to pick up some of the slack. But they are still kids and need to be given the room to be kids.

    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    Recovery can be draining!

    I'm now 3 days post-op. I still haven't completely looked at what I look like. I'm on some pretty heavy pain medication, although I am taking a little less today than I did the first two days. The pain meds make me dizzy. It also makes it very difficult for me to communicate with Eric's mom. It's hard enough to concentrate and communicate in French when I'm sober. But to do it on heavy pain meds is impossible. She wants confirmation from me about what she is doing with the kids, what she is feeding them, etc. It is impossible for me to do. I understand her not wanting to overstep any boundaries. But right now, I just need her to take the initiative and do it. I do feel better today in that department since I'm taking a little less. But I am a tad bit more uncomfortable. I'm not sure if its a good trade off! Go crazy, or feel a little more pain?

    The pain is there, but the meds are doing their job. When I do feel pain, it is a dull ache in my chest. It is kind of like the feeling when you get punched in your gut, just in the chest. It also aches on my sides where the drains are inserted.

    Ah, the drains. They are by far the most uncomfortable thing about this right now. Three times a day, we have to measure their output, log it, dump them and get them ready for more work. It grosses me out, but luckily Eric and mom deal with it better. The drains also force me to sleep on my back. Thankfully, I've been able to sleep for the past 2 nights without moving. Today I've been itching around the drain sites and under the camisole. I think I may need to take it all off tomorrow and shower.

    But that is a scary prospect. To actually take a look at what is left underneath all of this.

    I've seen it in bits and pieces yesterday. I was lying down trying to rest and felt some moisture on my left side. I started freaking out that maybe the drain was leaking around its insertion site. I jumped up, unbuttoned my shirt and saw a little bit of staining on the white camisole. Oh no. I called Eric up and showed him. We had to know if that was what was happening. If it was leaking, I needed to get some medical attention. Eric thought it would be a good idea to change the dressings while we were at it.

    But that would mean taking off the camisole and looking. I couldn't help but cry. I just was not ready for that yet. He called my mom up to help us. We decided to do it in increments, not all at once. So I took off the camisole, but held the gauze pads on my chest on. There was some rolled up gauze that fell to the floor from my left side. No wonder it felt like I was wearing a life vest. They looked at each drain, cleaned around the insertion site with a hydrogen peroxide pad. There wasn't any leaking there, no redness or swelling. They both said it looked very good. Well, as good as a rubber tube coming out of your body can look. Eric taped some gauze pads around the insertion sites and then we considered the chest scars.

    Since we were there, it made sense to check those stitches too. One by one, we pulled the gauze away and looked. I just looked down, not in the mirror. So I didn't get the full effect. What I did see was a row of stitches, closer to the top than I had imagined. It didn't look that bad, but it was flat. I couldn't look too long. We put the gauze back and I put on one of the new camisoles that I had picked up at the Women's Health Store. It is thinner than the post-surgical one.

    Hopefully seeing myself in these instances will help it when I actually see it all at once. Today while we were working on the drains, I put my hand up to my upper chest just under my collarbone and it was indeed concave. Pam, the volunteer from the American Cancer Society said I very likely would be concave. Yikes.

    I take hope in knowing that each day will get better. It will be much better when these drains are out. I have a post-op appointment with my surgeon on Wednesday. There is the chance that they could come out then.

    All in all, I'm doing okay. I'm mobile, just not moving very quickly or very far.

    My prayer requests:
    • That my body heal quickly. That these drains do their job efficiently so they can be taken out soon. That scar tissue does not develop around the tubing that would make their removal painful.
    • That Jean-Marc be content without the normal level of cuddles from mom. My mother in law is doing a good job of taking care of him and entertaining him. But at the end of the day, he wants mommy to bathe him and get him ready for bed. It was very sad last night when all I could do was rub his arm and kiss his cheek. He looked confused, then his little mouth turned upside down as he began to cry. It was heartbreaking. I hope he does not feel abandoned by me.
    • That Olivier and Isabelle would not fight. The typical sibling competition and rivalry over screen time is exhausting. I want them to have fun with their games, but I'm pretty close to pulling the plug tonight.
    • That Eric's health stay good. When he gets stressed, he gets sick. He has developed a toothache over the past 2 days, and I'm certain it is stress related.

    Surgery, part two

    Coming out of general anesthesia is a haze. I can't be chronological about it. Rather, it is a series of impressions, senses and mental images. Confused and scattered. I had the sensation of being jostled around, moved, packed in. My first impression was pain. Thankfully, I was given something for that fairly quickly. The nurse mentioned something about how it hurt when she had it done, except that she had expanders. A breast cancer survivor? The sound of someone throwing up near me in the recovery room. Thirst, but not as bad as after my cesarean. A digital clock on the wall that read military time. It said 18 something. That is the 6 o'clock hour, right? It had been all day. My surgeon's face looming over me telling me it was over, that she had talked to my family. That I wouldn't remember this, but she had to take some extra stitches on one side. What is a few more stitches, I thought. Whatever. The original nurse leaves, a male nurse comes to take her place. I guess it was break time for her. The person next to me is still throwing up. I'm glad I'm not. Can I have some ice, please? The nurse came and fed me a cube and it was delicious. I'm waiting in a hazy doze. The original nurse comes back and makes a call 'upstairs' to see if my room is ready. After a few more minutes, I'm being moved. Can I take my ice cup? I'll even hold it.

    As I'm wheeled out, I see Eric and my parents in the hall. I lift my hand up to give them a wave. What do you say? Eric told me right away that I looked good. Gee, thanks. :-) They are told to meet us up on the 5th floor in my room.

    The room itself was tiny, and I was sharing it with another patient. The staff got me all situated and my parents and Eric squeezed into the corner. I felt a little bit like a bug under glass. Eric seemed to want to talk, but I just didn't have the capacity to do it. It is hard to know how to act in these situations. It was good to know that they were all there, though. I was thrilled to have a small pitcher of cold water waiting for me, along with 2 juice boxes. I got started on those right away.

    Several hospital staff came in and out in those first few minutes to get me settled and introduce me to themselves. They put a sign up over my head warning everyone away from taking blood or blood pressure on my left arm. That is going to be with me for the rest of my life. With no lymph nodes on the left side, I'm at risk for swelling. It's a condition known as lymphedema.

    The charge nurse came in and asked me if I wanted anything to eat. Sure. "What do you want?" she asked. How am I supposed to make a decision like that? Is there a menu? Do I have choices? I can barely form words, yet I'm supposed to come up with an idea? She suggested a sandwich, so I agreed. She brought me a turkey sandwich wrapped in plastic. I wasn't up to eating quite
    yet, but would try later.

    I could tell Eric was a little uncomfortable. I don't blame him. There was nowhere for him to sit, and what do you say, anyway? I told him that it would be okay for him to go home and be with the kids and his mom.

    Soon after he left, I got incredibly hot. I asked mom and dad to take the blankets off my legs, but it didn't help. I kept sweating. They got a washcloth wet in the bathroom and put it on my head. It helped a little, but the hot sensation just wouldn't pass. Around this time, a dinner tray was brought and put next to me. It had some turkey with a thick gravy on top. I knew I needed some protein, so I scraped off the gravy and took a bite of the meat. I could barely choke it down. There was a pear on the tray, and that was good. It was cold, and tasted delicious. I tried a second bite of meat and a wave a nausea overtook me. Oh gosh, was I going to throw up now too? (My roomie had been having a bad reaction to her anesthesia). I grabbed a styrofoam cup and held it ready to catch anything. We told the nurses and they gave me some anti-nausea medication. That was better than the barf tray I was expecting. Needless to say, "dinner" was over.

    After that, mom and dad did their best to help cool me down. They alternated cool washcloths on my head. They both stood over me fanning me with folded up paper and a notebook. Anything to help me. It started to work. Mom sat by me with the wet cloth and stroked my face and head. That felt so good to be babied like that by my mom. I calmed down, cooled down, and felt like I could sleep.

    It was around 8 p.m. and I felt the pain creeping up again. There was a dry-erase board that had my care instructions on it. It said, "Ask for help" and "pain management." So I buzzed the nurse and asked for pain meds. Much like the dinner question, she asked me what I wanted. Well, golly gee. What are my choices? It was basically IV or pill. I wanted something fast acting, so I chose the IV. As she gave it to me, she said the IV meds (morphine) would last 1-2 hours. The meds in pill form would last 3-4 hours. I made a mental note to ask for pills next time. Mom helped me get to the bathroom before they left. It was awkward in the small room, being attached to the IV and an oxygen line. When I got back into bed, the nurse saw I hadn't eaten much. She suggested some sherbert. That sounded good. And it was. Mom would have stayed the night, but I felt like I was okay. I was just going to sleep anyway. As mom and dad left, mom said she would be back down early the next day.

    A hospital is a 24/7 kind of place. There really isn't a "night" and "day." So I slept on and off. It was noisy. My roommate had a knee replacement and was on an epidural. Every couple of hours, a crew of people would come in to wake her up and move her position in bed. Which meant I got woken up every couple of hours too. On top of that, a lady would come in to take vital signs every few hours as well. I slept until about 11 and woke up. I thought I would ask for pain meds at midnight, but fell back asleep. There was a shift change right before I fell asleep, and my nurse introduced me to the night nurse. As she left, the first nurse squeezed my hand and told me that she would pray for me. I really appreciated that!

    I woke up around 4 a.m. and knew I was going to need to go to the bathroom again soon. But I hadn't had any pain meds since 8 p.m., and that was the morphine that didn't last as long. So I knew it would be very difficult to get up without getting some pain meds in me first. I buzzed the nurse and asked the person who answered. When no one came by 4:30, I was wondering what was going on. The nurse finally came, but she came in to check on my drains. I asked her about the pain meds and she gave them to me right away, but suggested I eat some saltine crackers first.

    About 30 minutes later, I asked for help to the bathroom. It was awkward again, but not as hard as it had been the first time. When I got back to bed, I just zoned out for awhile. My roommate made the first contact between us. We never saw each others faces, the curtain was always drawn. She asked me what I was in for. I dropped the cancer bomb yet again. She was very nice and I appreciated her kind words.

    They brought a breakfast tray around 7:30 a.m. I was hungry, so anything would have tasted good. It was a pretty high-carb meal of French toast and Cheerios. The only protein was the milk for the cereal. No matter-I gobbled it up. The coffee helped my head too. I am kind of suprised by the lack of healthy food in the hospital, though. I heard the meal service person ask my roommate what she wanted the next day for breakfast. Her choices were: waffles; pancakes; or French toast. What about eggs?? Anyway, I was glad that I wouldn't be in too long for that reason alone.

    My surgeon had procedures scheduled that day at Kaiser's Otay Mesa facility, so her assistant came to check on me. He asked me if I was ready to go home. I guess so. He took a peek at my stitches. I looked away. Not ready to go there, yet. He said everything looked really good. The main thing he wanted me to be aware of was that I wasn't to take any "extra" Tylenol, since my pain meds had a big dose of acetaminophen. When I was ready to exercise again, he said a recumbent bike would be the least jarring.

    The nurse sent my mom down to the pharmacy to get my pain medication, and she took out my IV. It felt good to be "unhooked." When mom got back, she helped me to get dressed. When I saw myself in the mirror with the post-surgical camisole, with drains and tubes coming out, I asked her to get a picture. I couldn't help but think how "Borg-like" I looked. I told her to get a picture, and here it is. I laughed as I thought of a fitting caption for it, "Resistance is futile!"

    I've got three drains, 2 on the left and one on the right. Each is attached to a long tube that is coming out of my side. (Ick) I've got these little velcro pouches that connect onto the camisole to hold the drain itself. They need to be measured and emptied out about 3 times a day. The nurse made sure mom and I were able to do it before we left. With all of the gauze padding, it felt like I was wearing a bulletproof vest or a life preserver.

    The nurse wheeled me down and mom picked me up in the front and we left. I have a little heart shaped pillow that I wear underneath the seat belt so it doesn't rub on my chest. Mom was really careful to drive slow. The ride didn't hurt. It was weird to be out of the hospital and see the rest of the world carrying on as if nothing had happened. Yet my life had permanently changed. Now I was on my way home to try and figure out how to live it.

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    Surgery, part one

    "Cancer is like you don't know how to skydive. Then, you are on a plane. All of a sudden, someone straps a parashoot on your waist and they push you out. Then, you have to go through the trial of teaching yourself how." -Isabelle Jamois, age 8

    After three agonizing weeks, the day had finally come. Thankfully, (and an answer to prayer), I was able to get sleep the night before. I woke up around 5:40 a.m. and jumped into the shower. My surgeon had given me an antiseptic cleanser called Hibiclens to scrub my upper torso with. When I squirted it out onto the washcloth, I was taken aback by the pinkish red color. Yikes! A nice cool blue would have been better. The red just focused me on what was to come. It was hard to say goodbye to the kids. Isabelle was pretty upset. I found out later that she really was afraid I was going to die that day. As I left, I realized the outfit she had chosen to wear was...pink and plaid! I took her picture as she struck a fighting pose.

    My mom and dad met us at the hospital. My check-in time was 9:00 a.m. The four of us went into the pre-op check in waiting room and handed the employee my Kaiser card. He was a funny man, bald and effeminate. I actually remember him from Jean-Marc's surgery there over a year ago. I saw a sign on the wall that said only 1 person could come into pre-op with the patient.

    Thus began the debate...who would it be? Dad gracefully bowed out for personal reasons. ;-) That left mom and Eric. Eric said it was up to me. What?! Another decision to make? Before we could talk further, my name was called. I gave my dad a hug, thinking that this was it. The lady nicely corrected us...this was just an admission interview. I went into the room, where I gave her my Advance Health Care Directive. One thing I just love about Kaiser is their electronic records. She faxed the Directive over to medical records, and it will be part of my e-records. I went back out into the waiting room until they called my name.

    As it turned out, I was to go back into pre-op by myself. Once I was into a gown and situated, then one person at a time could come and sit with me while I waited for my turn. I was shown into a large room with gurneys lining both sides. There were curtains that could be pulled around each gurney. I remembered the room from Jean-Marc's hernia surgery. In fact, I was in the little cubicle next to where I sat with him. The nurse gave me a heavy paperlike gown to put on, some socks for my feet, and a shower cap for my head. She told me to "take everything off." It was kind of hard to do that, even with the curtains pulled. There were other people in the room that I could see through the cracks. I knew if I could see them, then they could see me. Whatever. They weren't looking anyway. I got "dressed" and got into my gurney.

    After several minutes, one of the anesthesiologists came to have a pre-operative discussion with me. She went over my medical history. As I told her, until now, my medical history has been relatively boring. She noted in my medical records my cesarean. She looked at me and said, "Oh yes, you are so little you probably couldn't push a baby out." I nicely told her that I had actually pushed two babies out after my cesarean, thank you very much. She asked if I had any questions. I shared with her one concern that I had and told her about my friend who went through a bilateral mastectomy last year. (Many of you reading this know who I'm talking about.) During her surgery, the anesthesiologist did not notice that the IV that was placed in her ankle had slipped out and infiltrated her foot. She suffered terribly from a swollen foot, needed skin grafts, and went through a lot of needless pain. She made a note of it in my record and promised me that they would be very careful with everything.

    Another lady came in to give me my IV. Every new person that would interact with me would ask me what procedure I was having. I kept having to say, "I am having a bilateral mastectomy." Say that 10 times fast. Actually, I was having a modified radical mastectomy on the left and a simple mastectomy on the right. The IV lady was apologetic about the job she was there to do. I knew that it would probably be the worst part of the whole thing for me. I've had IVs in the front of my hand before and they hurt. I was not looking forward to it. I just repeated in my head, "God, please don't let this hurt." She wrapped the rubber tube around my arm and started thumping on my hand to "scare out" a vein. I felt the cold wetness of the antiseptic swab and readied myself for the poke, trying to do some deep breathing to relax. Then I heard her pulling tape. It was done! I hadn't felt a thing. Thank you Jesus for the immediate answer to prayer! The fluids that went into my hand were cold. I wondered if chemo would feel that way later.

    Eric came in shortly after that to keep me company. There really isn't much to do but sit there
    and wait in pre-op. My surgery was scheduled for 11 a.m. We had about an hour to wait. There is a TV in each little cubicle, but that's about it. One of the nurses asked me if I needed anything to relax. I told her I didn't, really. She looked at me kind of strange and said, "Not even a little bit?" She said she wouldn't give me much, just like having a glass of wine. Hmm. A glass of wine. I told her to go ahead. Eric and I chatted awhile and then he went to get my mom to come and keep me company. My surgeon came in and I asked her if she had her Wheaties that morning. She was in good spirits and seemed very confident. She marked my chest with her initials and noted the side with the cancer. She said it would be about a 3 1/2 -4 hour surgery. She would find my family to fill them in on how it went afterwards, but it would still be a couple hours before I was out of recovery. They had a long day of waiting ahead of them. Then she was gone.

    All we had to do was wait. I turned my TV onto Fox News and we just watched. I kept thinking...at any time, someone in scrubs is going to come in and say it's time. Ack! It was interesting eavesdropping on the other people around us too. The guy directly across from me was having some kind of foot surgery and was nasty and combative with everyone. That didn't seem like a good strategy to me. The lady next to me came in self-sedated. By then, the little "glass of wine" that I had been given was worn off. It was okay, I didn't really need anything more. I thought about asking, just for the heck of it. I started to worry about my bladder. I had gone to the restroom right before putting the paper gown on. I was sitting on a chux pad on the bed. They didn't mention whether or not they would be catheterizing me. Was the chux pad because they expected me to wet all over the place? How gross would that be? By then, I kind of had to go again. Just in case. So we buzzed the nurse who came in and "unhooked" me from some of the machines. Mom helped me cover myself and hobble over to the bathroom, hooked to the IV. Better safe than sorry, right?

    As it turned out, the particular operating room I was scheduled for was running behind. A little after 11 a.m., Eric came back in to see what was going on. He expected my mom to be out in the waiting room with them again. Soon after that, yet another doctor came in. This was the anesthesiologist that was going to be with me in the operating room. It was good that Eric was there, because he wanted to ask her about the particular drugs that they would be using on me. I didn't particularly care, as long as I was asleep.

    As they chatted, a nurse in scrubs with a shower cap came in and introduced herself. She was the surgical nurse who would be taking me to the OR. It was time. The goodbyes with Eric and my mom were fairly quick. Everyone knew what they had to do. They wheeled me out of the big pre-op room and down into a maze of hallways. I heard them say we were headed to OR #3. The room itself did not seem that large. I was introduced to 2 other people with scrubs and masks on. They were going to be helping with the equipment. The pushed my gurney up next to the OR table and leveled them off so I could slide myself onto the operating table. It was narrower than the gurney. They were also debating what size surgical camisole I should get. They decided on medium, I think. (Hey-what about me being small?) They joked about how it wasn't exactly "Victorias Secret" and held it up. I told them they should dye them pink. That would make sense for breast cancer, wouldn't it?

    Everyone was very busy. The nurse started putting my arms on what was probably extensions of the table that made my arms extend outward. My surgeon came in and started briefing the team on what was going to be happening. She said they would be starting on the left side. The anesthesiologist asked if she should get started, and Dr. Khoe agreed it was time to put me out. She put a mask over my face and told me to take some deep breaths. As I mentioned in my last post, I remembered God's promise from Psalm 91. I knew He was with me, and was giving His angels charge over me. Then I was out.

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    He will give His angels charge over you

    When I was three years old, I nearly died when I came down with epiglotitis. That is when the epiglottis in your throat swells up and you cannot breathe. My dad was a lieutenant in the Army so my parents took me to the base hospital. They didn't know what was happening, other than their child was gasping for breath and had thick phlegm. The doctor on call was a major, who chalked my condition up to "croup" and described my mom and I as being hysterical. My mom summoned a courage she hadn't known until then to stand up to the man who outranked her husband. To make a long story short, I nearly died. Mom said after that that God had angels watching over me.

    I definitely kept them on my toes throughout my life, doing reckless and stupid things as a young "adult." But I never really thought about them too much. I know the bible talks about angels and celestial beings, but I never really considered them too much.

    As I shared in my last pre-operative post, the Lord put Psalm 91 on my heart the morning of surgery. It wasn't as if I was paging through my bible looking for something to hold onto. I was brushing my hair and it just came to mind. So I know it was a special word for me.

    Isabelle was pretty scared the morning of surgery. (I found out today that she thought I was going to die.) So I read her Psalm 91 and told her to refer to it throughout the day if she felt scared. The part that especially resonated with me were verses 11-12, as well as 14-16:

    "For He shall give His angels charge over you,
    To keep you in all your ways
    In their hands they shall bear you up,
    Lest you dash your foot against a stone."

    "Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I
    will deliver him; I will set him on hight, because he has known My name.
    He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.
    With long life I will satisfy him, And show
    him My salvation."

    As I read it to her, I couldn't help by tear up. That isn't uncommon for me when I feel the Holy Spirit speaking to me. Especially when facing something so huge. I explained to her how I knew that this was God speaking directly to me that morning as I went into surgery. That I would be okay. See? It says it right here in His Word.

    Several hours later, after I said goodbye to Eric and my mom, I was being wheeled into the operating room. I kept repeating in my head, "He is giving His angels charge over me....He is giving His angels charge over me..." As the anesthesiologist put the mask over my face, I kept repeating this as I drifted off to sleep.

    The next thing I recall was a blurry scene with noises and fuzzed images. (I did not have my glasses or contacts in). But overriding all of these senses was the thought, "He gave His angels charge over me. I am okay."

    Needless to say, the whole thing blew my mind. It was experiential. It no longer is theological or intellectual. I experienced the care and safekeeping of the Lord, who gave His angels charge over me. I had before, of course. But I wasn't aware of it at the time. This time, God let me know ahead of time so I would not be afraid. And I wasn't! I didn't need any pre-op sedative. The lady in the pre-op bed next to me took it upon herself to take Valium before she came in, and asked for more when she got there. I had something better. I was scared, but I had a peace that passes understanding.

    He gave His angels charge over me. I am okay.

    I will describe the surgery day in more detail very soon. I even have some pictures to share.

    My prayer requests:
    • That my body heal from surgery. I am sore around the drain sites. I am taking pretty powerful painkillers, but they have some side effects.
    • That scar tissue does not form around the drainage tubes, which would cause pain when they are taken out.
    • That I be able to look at myself in the mirror. I have the post-surgical camisole on right now. My surgeon says I can shower. But the thought of taking the camisole off and seeing what is underneath gives me the shivers and makes me want to puke. They gave me extra dressings to put on afterwards, but still. It freaks me out.
    • That my family be able to recover and rest.
    • That I be able to rest. I can only sleep on my back, and moving at all lying down hurts.

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    What God put on my heart as I go into surgery

    Psalm 91 (New King James Version)

    Psalm 91

    Safety of Abiding in the Presence of God
    1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
    Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
    2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
    My God, in Him I will trust.”

    3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    And from the perilous pestilence.
    4 He shall cover you with His feathers,
    And under His wings you shall take refuge;
    His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
    5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
    Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
    6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
    Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

    7 A thousand may fall at your side,
    And ten thousand at your right hand;
    But it shall not come near you.
    8 Only with your eyes shall you look,
    And see the reward of the wicked.

    9 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge,
    Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
    10 No evil shall befall you,
    Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
    11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
    To keep you in all your ways.
    12 In their hands they shall bear you up,
    Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

    (I like that! The image of angels bearing up up in their hands to protect my body. No evil will befall me. Praise God!)

    13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
    The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

    14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
    I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
    15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will deliver him and honor him.
    16 With long life I will satisfy him,
    And show him My salvation.”

    So I know I will get through this. I will be delivered and saved. Thank you Lord.

    Thank you for your prayers. Keep them coming!

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    The day has arrived, almost

    It is the day before my surgery. I'm glad this day has finally arrived. I remember blogging about what an eternity 3 weeks was going to be. I some ways, it was. But I had to accept it and use the time as best I could.

    So where is my head at today? It is hard to describe. It's a mixture of many things, some of which shouldn't really go together: anxiety/anxiousness; dread; relief; stoicism; sentimentalism...I could go on.

    I did a few more "lasts" today. My last workout at the gym. I met my mom there and we did a good 90 minutes of cardio. Mom doesn't like to sweat, but we did today! I did some sprints on the treadmill that were awesome. I got to that point where it felt like I could run forever. But every footfall I couldn't help but think, "When will I be able to do this again?" We finished it off with about 20 minutes on the recumbent stationary bike. That was easy. I'm thinking that, along with walks, will be a way for me to ease into exercise again. I know I shouldn't push it, but it is going to be very difficult to go "cold turkey." Who knows? Maybe I'll be in such pain after the surgery that I won't notice?

    There are still so many unknowns. That also is a hard thing. How long will I have to wait in pre-op tomorrow? I don't want to wait for hours in a hospital gown waiting for my turn. I check in at 9:00 am. I want to go in and get it over with. We aren't sure of how "bad" it is, although we know it is in at least one of the lymph nodes. That's bad. But is it in all of them? Will radiation be necessary after chemo? I just don't know. How much pain will I have after the surgery? Pam, the volunteer from the American Cancer Society, warned me that it would be painful to wipe after going to the bathroom. Lovely. Will I be able to sleep? Another warning was that its hard to lie flat on your back. And turning on my sides will be out of the question. I have a wedge pillow, and the ACS was going to be sending me more.

    I'm trying to get loose ends wrapped up today. I'm doing as much laundry as I can. I'm changing the sheets on my bed so I come home to a clean bed. I need to pack for my overnight hospital stay. That is weird too. I'm just going to wear down what I plan to come home in. So button up shirts, here I come. Here's another strange thing: I won't need the bra I wear tomorrow again. I might as well toss it into the trash at the hospital. For that matter, I won't need any of my bras. When I do heal, I'll be getting mastectomy bras to put prosthetic "foobs" into.

    My mother in law arrived from France last night. I am thankful to have her here. She told me this morning that she is basically at our service. She will take care of the kids, especially Jean-Marc. She also is an ironing maniac, so I've been saving Eric's shirts for her. She's actually standing behind me ironing them right now! It will be nice for Eric to have his mom here to talk with for him. He's had a hard time too. Sometimes I think partners of cancer patients need their own support groups so they don't burden the person with cancer with their issues. With the kids occupied, my mom can focus on helping me more.

    We are going to order Fish House Vera Cruz for dinner tonight to take home. I was going to cook, but when she made the offer, I thought, why not? I want to have a good meal tonight because I probably won't be able to eat much tomorrow, even after surgery. Another unknown.

    I've been getting many comforting messages on my Facebook page. Thank you all for your prayers and support. I also appreciate the help with meals. It helps to know there is one less factor in the equation to cover. It is a blessing.

    My prayer requests today:
    • That we all be able to sleep tonight. I've actually been getting about 6-7 hours each night for the past few nights. I think that is one thing that has helped me not to completely be a wreck. I saw a nurse friend today who just learned of my diagnosis. She told me that in her jargon, I seemed very well "psycho-socially adjusted" to my situation. That is the result of God's grace, not anything from me. I know there are so many out there praying for me, and sleep has been a big issue for me. Eric and our parents need their sleep tonight as well.
    • That I would be able to get in quickly tomorrow without undue delay in pre-op.
    • That the surgery go well. That nerve damage be minimal. There will be some permanent damage on the left side. I also pray that the surgeon does not need to remove any muscle. If there is cancer there, she will. But hopefully that won't be the case. Pray that the cancer is maintained in a small area.
    • That my body tolerate the surgery well without complication. A friend of mine suggested I take the homeopathic remedy arnica montana 30x. I've been doing that for the past few day and am going to keep it up. She had a mastectomy 8 weeks ago and she said it helped keep the swelling down for her.
    • That the kids not have too much fear and anxiety. Isabelle brought the surgery up today at lunch. She's been extra clingy. Pray that they feel the comfort that only the Lord can provide.
    I don't know if I'll have time to post again before I go. If something comes to mind that I want recorded, I will. Otherwise, I'll post again on the other side.

    Blessings to you all.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    A series of "lasts" ... for now

    I've read in books where cancer survivors have described their lives in two parts: BC (before cancer) and AC (after cancer). The diagnosis has been hard, for sure. But physically my life has not changed yet. Of course, that will all come to a screeching halt in two days when I go in for surgery.

    Over the past few days, I can't help but think of things and activities as I do them as being the "last" time I'll do them normally. With my whole body. Last Friday, we went to the beach. I couldn't help but think that it would be the last time (before surgery) that I would go to the beach. Not that I was ever much of a beach junkie. It is like everything is taking on extra meaning as I do it as I always have done....for the last time. Last Sunday was the last time in church before the big day. Next time I go (which I am hoping I only miss a week), I won't be able to give and receive hugs like I did last Sunday. And boy did I get some really heartwarming hugs!

    Today I'll be doing my last Jillian level 3 circuit. I have promised myself that I am going to get back to the place physically when I can do it again. But it is going to be awhile. The physical hit that I'm about to take is on my mind a lot. I've worked really hard over the past year to get to this point. Those level 3 workouts are no joke! It takes me about 70-90 minutes to do them. They involve strength training with hand weights, as well as insane plyometric moves. It is crazy! When my youngest brother, Jared, was here before his current deployment to Iraq, he came over and did them with me for a week. They were a challenge to him, and he maxes out the Army physical fitness test! It has been a source of pride for me that I've been able to get to this point. It's about to go out the window. (But perhaps, that is one of the things I am here to learn. I know God prefers humility over pride. Hmmm...)

    I found a book at the library yesterday about exercise and breast cancer. The exercises looked so wimpy to me. They said to be sure to get your doctor's approval before starting anything--even simple arm stretches. The book said it could be about 6 weeks before you start exercising. 6 weeks!!?? I work out 6 days a week, doing dozens of pushups! This is going to be very tough, indeed.

    Some "lasts" I was okay with. Like the last time I mopped the floor. :-) Others will be a bummer. Like the last time (for awhile), that I can get Jean-Marc out of bed in the morning. I love that time. He is so excited to see me. He's fresh, happy, and so darn cute. He lets me squeeze his pudgy little toddler body and give him dozens of kisses as I carry him downstairs for breakfast. I'm going to miss that. It will be one thing that keeps me going--the anticipation of that time again. But will it feel different in my altered body? I'll let you know when I find out.

    I am looking forward to the surgery, though. At least then I'll know that the tumors are gone. I will have made a devastating first strike at my enemy. But it will be at some price to me as well. It will be the sacrifice of my life "BC." So I guess I am in a bit of mourning for that life. However, I know that God has plans for me. "For I know the thoughts I think toward you. Thoughts of peace and not of evil, but to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11. He will turn these ashes into beauty. I just have to remember His promises and look toward the future that He has in store for me, and not look back with sadness. The joy of the Lord will be my strength.

    Thank you for your prayers and support. I'm headed down to Spring Valley today to spend the day with my sister and law, niece and nephews. I look forward to holding my newest nephew, Caleb James, for the first time. God is good, all the time.

    My prayer requests are the same as before: that the cancer would stop dead in its tracks; that my family and I would not be fearful; and that I would recover quickly without complication. Blessings to you all.

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Someone who has been there

    I got a call today from a volunteer from the American Cancer Society (ACS). They have a program that matches cancer patients up with survivors with similar situations for advice, counsel, and overall mentoring. I told ACS this morning that I would be interested in talking to someone, and I got a call the same day. Pretty efficient. (As a side note, the American Cancer Society has been amazing. A very worthy charity, they do a lot for cancer patients)

    "Pam" was diagnosed at the age of 44. By all measures her cancer was "worse" than mine. She was a "triple negative." The bottom line of that is that it was a more aggressive cancer and not receptive to hormone treatment. Her grade and stage was 3. She had a bilateral mastectomy, which is what I'm mentally gearing up for on Thursday. It was nice to talk to someone else who had been there. I do have a good friend who went through this about a year and a half ago that has been very open with me. But I'm always on the lookout for more information and experiences.

    Some useful advice Pam gave me:
    • When I wake up, my chest will be flat or even concave. She advised me to wait a day or so to look at it in the mirror. Maybe put my hands up there to "feel" the flatness first. When I do venture a peek, have someone there with me.
    • The fluid in the drains will start out red. There may even be "floaties" in it, tissue or other stuff like that. Don't freak out on it. Just measure it and dump.
    • The drains will make it difficult to be comfortable. They are probably the worst part. In the hospital, prop my arms up on the sides with pillows. Speaking of pillows, ACS is going to be sending me 3 special pillows to help in my recovery.
    • When the drains are removed, it may hurt. The tubes are going to be about 1-2 inches inside my body for several days, if not a week or two. There is the possibility that scar tissue may form around the tubes. When they yank it out, it could hurt. Judy, the nurse at Kaiser, suggested I take a pain pill before the appointment. I will definitely do that.
    • Many people have never had cancer or been touched by cancer. So they will say "let me know if there is anything I can do." This is their way of trying to help. I need to let them. Rather than say everything is okay like you have been doing all your life, now is a time for you to come up with things that you need done. Even if its a ride for the kids, or having someone bring you a food you are craving. Get over being self-sufficient.
    At one point in the conversation, she mentioned that she didn't know how "attached" I was to my breasts, but they are killing me. I shared with her that I am very aware of that, and wish they were gone already. That I don't even want to touch them. I have very similar feelings towards my cesarean scar, although those have faded with time. But I am repulsed by my breasts, especially the left one, to be sure. Yet, at the same time, I have flashes where the thought of surgery puts a panic in the pit of my stomach. It reminds me of feelings that I have had when pregnant. I'd be going along just fine, and then think about the looming challenge of childbirth and have a momentary freak-out to myself saying, "Oh my God....can I do this?" It is kind of like that, but worse. Because at least at the end of childbirth, you have a baby. At the end of this, I'll be scarred and mutilated with painful recovery and chemo to look forward to.

    Pam has survived a stage 3 cancer that was more aggressive than mine. She has gone on to finish her education and live life. She said that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It's just that the tunnel takes turns at points where you can't see the light. In those places, you just have to get past it. She is sending me a bunch of stuff, pillows, bra stuffers, etc. from ACS. Nice! More freebies! She is going to call again on Wednesday night to see how I'm doing and answer any last minute questions I may have.

    On another positive note, Eric gave me the go-ahead to get some help around the house. I've had two wonderful women here cleaning my house all day. It has been 7 hours so far! They are dusting blinds, doing windows, cleaning appliances...it is fantastic. They are going to be coming every other week for the foreseeable future. He doesn't want me exposed to bacteria and stuff once my immune system is down during chemo. That works for me, I've got to say. :-)

    My prayer requests today:
    • That I be able to sleep. I've actually slept 6-7 hours each night for the past few nights. But I know that is a gift from God and I'd like it to continue. Especially the night before surgery. I have to report to Kaiser at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday.
    • That the cancer not grow anymore.
    • That my family not be fearful. Eric had an episode today where he started crying in front of the kids saying that the thought of me not getting through this, "scared the hell out of him." We all have our weak moments. Everyone needs extra strength this week as we gear up for what is to come.

    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    Spa Day

    One of the things I wanted to do before surgery was get a massage. Yesterday, I met my best friend Kelly at Glen Ivy for a spa day. I met Kelly at Alvarado Intermediate school in the 7th grade. We were in Mrs. King's social studies class. Kelly sat next to me and my earliest memories of Kelly were of me always borrowing paper from her. I wonder why I never had my own? Anyway, we became best friends quickly. I remember in Jr. High I would get teased for being short, and she would get teased for being from New Jersey. Aren't middle school aged kids great? In 8th grade, some would refer to us as "the Siamese twins" because we were always together. It was the same for much of high school as well.

    As we got older, life took us in different directions. There have been some years where we never saw each other at all. But when we do, it is like time stood still and we are still the same silly teenage girls that we were in the 80's. No one can make me laugh with a look like Kelly does. It's fabulous!

    Kelly lives up in Los Angeles, so its about an hour for each of us to get to Corona, where Glen Ivy is. She wasn't able to get there early in the morning, so I decided to book a massage for myself in that time before she could get there. I was hoping to get an 80 minute one, but they didn't have any available in the morning. So I went for the 50 minute and got "upgraded" with some Temescal stone therapy.

    Going in, I knew they were going to give me a health questionnaire. There was one time years ago when I was only a few weeks pregnant that my masseuse said I couldn't get a massage that early in the pregnancy. I was so disappointed! I did NOT want to have that happen to me again. I really was looking forward to this massage. So I was a bit anxious to see if the health questionnaire would ask about cancer. When I glanced at it, my heart sank. Sure enough, on the list of conditions was cancer. If you checked any of the boxes on the list, there was space to "explain." I sat there staring at the box. Should I just not mention it? I know that lying is a sin. But I really wanted that massage. I filled out the rest of the form and then came back to that part. I decided to be honest. In the explanation box, I wrote, "breast cancer. Treatment not started. No medications." I turned it in and prayed that it wouldn't make it so I couldn't have the massage. I thought to myself....I'm a lawyer. I can ask for a supervisor. I can sign whatever release of liability they have. I asked my doctor last week if I could have a massage. She didn't say no. So who are they to say no? I was gearing up for a fight!

    The masseuse came out and took me into a room. She looked at the form and didn't say anything. Thank you Jesus! She asked me if there were any areas to avoid. I told her to avoid the lymph nodes on the left side. She nodded sympathetically. Then she got on with the massage. It was great. It had been awhile since I had one. I asked her to push hard, and boy did she. Almost to the point of pain. But I kind of like that in a massage. It feels like things are being broken down, you know? The rocks were amazing. Totally worth the $15 upgrade!

    After the massage, I had about an hour to kill. They announced a yoga class on the front lawn. What the heck, I thought. This is my day off of exercise, maybe I can get a little exercise as "extra credit?" It was a pretty mellow session. The instructor was a skinny guy with a beard. Looked like he was right out of Woodstock. As he walked out, one of the women said, "He looks like a yoga teacher." As we did some of the poses, he would talk about the physical benefits of each one. At one point, he had us lightly tapping our upper chest. He said a chiropractor friend of his taught him that. It stimulates some gland that deals with the immune system. He said if you do it for 5 minutes a day, it can help you get over sickness. He said it got him over strep throat. Something to file away for chemo time. It can't hurt. I may look a little silly. But it can't hurt!
    Kelly got stuck in traffic, so she still wasn't there by the time the yoga was finished. But as luck would have it, they announced an aqua aerobics class in the lap pool. That pool just happens to be next to the check in, so I could do that while keeping an eye on the door for Kelly. It felt a little silly, but the guy was playing 80's tunes. Besides, the water felt good on such a hot day. It was around 100 degrees.

    When Kelly got there, we got in line for lunch. We had to wait awhile because it was so busy. But that was no matter--we still could talk! Kelly asked from the beginning what I wanted our day together to be about. Did I want to talk about the cancer? Or not? Or whatever else. She was totally there for whatever I needed. I definitely don't mind talking about it. In fact, I think I need to. I might as well, since that is pretty much the only thing on my mind!

    We had a wonderful time over the afternoon. Not only did we talk about cancer, but our families, her work, our lives, even recalling some of the funny stuff from our past. One funny thing happened when we went to do Club Mud. It is basically a shallow pool, about thigh deep with warm water. In the middle is a pedestal with a big mountain of mud clay. You get in and rub the clay all over yourself, get out and let it dry. When you rinse off your skin is really soft. We were in the pool, wading over right next to the pedestal when my foot nudged something squishy on the bottom. Ick! It felt like a, well...it felt like I stepped in a pile of poop! I gasped because I didn't make the connection that it was just a pile of mud that had fallen off the pedestal. It probably doesn't strike anyone else as funny. But the ridiculousness of it made me giggle. Kelly had no idea why I was giggling. When I tried to tell her why, it just made me laugh all the more. Goofy, huh? It was good.

    Of course, it all ended way too soon. The spa closed at 6:30 p.m., and when I looked at my watch it was 5:30. We still had to shower, change, and with the 1 hour drive home, I would barely make it home for dinner. It was hard to say goodbye, but I am so glad that we were able to carve out the time to have a fun day before my treatment started.

    Eric was an absolute prince to take care of the kids all day. He shuttled Isabelle to her riding lesson, picked up Olivier from his boy scout camp, and took Jean-Marc to a remote control airplane park in between. Took them to lunch at Rubio's, got Jean-Marc down for his nap, and had dinner ready when I got home. And he didn't complain or huff about any of it. When I called to tell him I was on my way, the main thing he wanted to know was: "Did you have a fun time?" It was a total act of love on his part, one that I will never forget.

    Battle Lines

    As the title of my blog indicates, I view this journey with breast cancer as a battle.

    I woke up yesterday morning at 4 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. I lay there pondering the idea of battles, God, and how He comforts and strengthens His people who are in a fight. A few weeks ago, Pastor Miles mentioned a verse from the book of Joshua: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) I wrote it down because it spoke to me so directly.

    I started thinking about Joshua and the battles that he fought to secure the Israelites place in the promised land. He had this promise from God from the beginning-that God would be with him. And God did show Himself mighty on Joshua's behalf. Being outnumbered, weaker in terms of weaponry, as long as Joshua and the Israelites remembered God as the most important factor in the battle, they won. However, when they tried to go into battle without direction from God first and fight in their own strength, they lost miserably.

    I feel a bit like Joshua myself. I am clinging to the command and promise from Joshua 1:9. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go. He's with me in the sleepless hours of the night. He's with me in the doctor's office. He will be with me during surgery next week. If God is with me, then who or what can be against me? The battle belongs to Him, I am merely a foot soldier.

    I looked up the word "battle" in Blue Letter Bible and found this:
    • "When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. So it shall be, when you are on the verge of battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people. And he shall say to them, 'Hear, O Israel: Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them; Deuteronomy 20:1-3 It is very similar to what God told Joshua, and it speaks directly to me. Cancer is scary. It can make the heart grow faint. Kind of like what it would feel like as a soldier going into battle and seeing the enemy for the first time. An enemy that is notorious, strong, and vicious. But God has brought me out of the land of Egypt. He has saved me from the eternal consequences of my own sin. Here I am, on the verge of battle with my enemy, cancer. I am not afraid. The Lord my God is with me.
    • And they were helped against them, and the Hagrites were delivered into their hand, and all who [were] with them, for they cried out to God in the battle. He heeded their prayer, because they put their trust in Him. 1 Chronicles 5:20 I must put my trust in God. It's easy to say on a sunny day. But when facing something big and scary, it can be hard to walk the walk. I must continually cry out to God in this battle. He will hear my prayers. He will deliver me from this.

    I've been mulling this whole topic over for the past 24 hours and have decided to do a couple things. First, I want to re-read the book of Joshua before my surgery. Secondly, I want to study this more in depth in the next few months. In addition to Joshua, I can think of several warriors and battles from the Bible (Gideon, David, Jehoshaphat, just to name a few). I want to study how God was involved in the battles they faced. Then I want to see how that speaks to me and relates to my upcoming battle.

    My prayer requests:
    • That I be able to follow God's command to not be fearful in the face of my enemy, cancer. The mental and spiritual battle is almost as bad, if not worse, than the physical one at this point. I need help walking the walk here. I know God's commands are also His enablements. He does not command us to do anything He wont' help us to do. The thought of this surgery is scary. It's a mutilation. I will have battle scars. I'm looking forward to it because it will mean the known tumors are gone. But I still will come out of it physically changed. I don't want to be afraid of what I will look like. Not in a vain kind of way. But seriously, when I look at it in the mirror, I don't want to puke. I know it can all be "fixed" on the outside. I don't want to be afraid of this and I need God's help.
    • That I be able to be "present" for Eric. He is going through so much too. It is hard for him to watch me struggle with all of this. He would like my company from time to time. My body may be in the room, but my mind is often elsewhere. It's hard to even have a conversation because I'm always thinking about something related to cancer. I need to be able to be a partner to him right now, even while gearing up for battle.
    • That the kids would not be fearful. I'm doing my best not to show fear to them. I'm trying to have fun with them each day so at least their minds aren't focused on cancer. I want them to have a fun summer and have their lives as normal as possible. I want them to trust God in this situation. I want them to see how God is at work, is on the throne, and is in charge of everything. Let this situation teach them this for life.
    Thank you all for your prayers. God bless you.

    Friday, July 16, 2010

    Packing it on?

    I've put on 5 pounds since my diagnosis. Ugh.

    Fridays have always been my "weigh in" day. I almost didn't even step on the scale today, kind of knowing the direction it was headed. Today was a good 5 pounds more than I was a month ago. Not good. Now it is that time of the month for me, so that may account for a pound or two. But I don't want to re-gain weight because of this disease. I'm going to need to be more disciplined about things.

    I'll admit, my "carpe diem" attitude has followed through to the table a little bit. I've been good with the meals, pretty much cooking as I did before, avoiding processed foods and eating organics. Trying to bulk up on veggies and fiber and less on animal proteins. However, being French, Eric considers dessert an essential part of every meal, including lunch. So there are always sweets in the house. I've been following him right along. I've also been allowing myself wine every evening. Might as well enjoy it while I can, I figured. But the scale has busted me!

    I'm going to enjoy food & wine through the weekend. Its not like I'm falling down drunk. I'm just having it with dinner and dessert. Come Monday, I'll stop the wine. With surgery on Thursday, I need 48-72 hours without any alcohol. That alone will stop any weight gain. With the painkillers post-op, I probably won't be able to have a drink for a long time. I'll weigh myself again on Thursday morning so I can give the anesthesiologist an accurate number. I'll enjoy food until Wednesday night at midnight, though!

    The other component of weight maintenance for me has been working out like a maniac. I've missed a couple workouts over the past few weeks because of appointments. I'll miss a cardio day tomorrow because I'll be at Glen Ivy. When I was in weight loss mode, I would do some "extra credit" cardio a couple times a week just for the calorie burn. I haven't really had the time for that with the kids out of school.

    I have 2 more days of Jillian level 3 circuits: Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday is supposed to be my day off, but I'll just make up the cardio on that day. That will be my last day of exercise before surgery. The exercise for me now is less about weight and more about being strong. Especially upper body strength. I'm not going to be able to do upper body exercises as I've been doing now for some time. It'll be goodbye to push ups, military presses and plank exercises. Sigh. I wonder how long it will take me to be able to even lift my arms above my head?

    I'm hoping to be able to get up and get moving as soon as I can after surgery, just for recovery purposes. The sooner I'm able to move and get the blood flowing, the faster recovery will be. They will give me some exercises for my arms to do once the drains are out. Right now, I wouldn't even call them "exercises" but I suspect it will take a lot of effort to do these stretches.

    I almost didn't write this post. But I want to remember the state I was in every step of the way. In writing it, I guess I have to publicly admit some slipping in the diet department. Oh well.