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, February 26, 2011


I've been having difficulty sleeping this week due to a cough during the night. I finally gave in 2 nights ago and started taking NyQuil.  (You know, the "coughing, aching, snuffling, sneezing scratchy throat so you can sleep medicine.) That helps, but I still needed to get up at 3 a.m. and take another dose.  The strange thing is that when I'm up during the day, I'm okay.

Even well enough to go to the gym today. I told myself I wasn't gonig to try and time my 5k like I usually do on Saturdays. At first I thought I'd just set the treadmill for 5k and do it at a leisurely pace of 5 mph. Once there, I realized I hadn't run intervals for awhile, so set it for the interval program. For the first time, I ran several of the incline intervals. I saw an article in Women's Health magazine about how you get a better calorie burn by mixing up your running workouts: incorporating speed intervals; hills; etc.

It was great. I had given myself mental "permission" to be kind of lazy, but once there, I just took off. I have a new mix on my iPod for running. There was one point where a TobyMac song came on that is called "Feelin' so Fly."  Mixed with the natural endorphis, it was totally amazing. Some of the words:

You got me feeling so fly 

There ain't a day that goes by 
A supernatural high 
Oh my goodness - people I can't deny 
You got me feeling so fly 

Uh oh, here we go again 
Talking about that thing that so genuine 
Uh huh, gonna make it known 
So a freak like me get his cover blown 
Can't help but glorify my Adonai 
Gotta testify 
Uh oh, here we go again 
Talking bout His love so genuine 

There ain't a day that goes by 
That I'm not singing Your praise 
There ain't a day that goes by 
That I'm not lifting your name 
A supernatural high 
Your love is simply insane 
You got me feeling so fly 

So fly when it's You and I 
And the way we hanging in the morning time 
And it's so dope I can barely cope 
When you make my joy go and overflow 
I can't help but glorify my Adonai 
It's so fly that it's blowing minds 
So fly that they can't deny 

There ain't a day that goes by 
That I'm not singing Your praise 
There ain't a day that goes by 
That I'm not completely amazed 
A supernatural high 
Your love is simply insane 
You got me feeling so fly 

I seriously felt like raising my hands up to the Lord in praise as I ran. Especially when the part of "Can't help but glorify, my Adonai" came up. It was awesome. I'm so thankful to the Lord for giving me strength to continue exercising throughout my treatment.  

In the end, I was on the treadmill for an hour and did a little over 5 mph. Not my fastest pace, but  my heart rate was in the right place and I burned nearly 500 calories. 

I'm having some discomfort in my burn zones. The scar area where they concentrated at the end is the most tender. I'm peeling, but having some stabbing pains in the scar area. I go into see my radiation oncologist this week to make sure everything is okay. I'm sure it is...its just the healing process.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

All in this together

If you've been following my blog for awhile, you may remember seeing a "bucket list" of sorts several months ago. Not things to do before I die, but things to do once I was done with cancer treatment.

Radiation ended one week ago today. I'll be on Tamoxifen for at least 2-5 years. Technically, that is considered "treatment," but popping a couple pills every day is a walk in the park. I'm in recovery mode now. My burns still are uncomfortable. The outer layer of skin is in the process of turning dark brown as it dies and then peels away. It leaves a pretty tender layer of pink underneath it. It's onwards and upwards from here.

That brings me to my next challenge. I have committed to participate in the Susan G. Komen 3 Day for the Cure in San Diego this year. My mom has done the same.  My dad volunteered this morning to work all weekend (and the day before the walk) on the crew. This walk was one of those things that I said I would do when I was done.

The walk is a three day, 60 mile journey. I will be in training for several months leading up to it, just to be able to complete the walk. The physical aspect of this is daunting. But I've gone through a lot physically since June, so I know with a lot of work I can do this too.

The point of the whole thing is to raise money for breast cancer research. My mom and I have committed to raising at least $2,300 each. If we don't raise the money on our own, we will have to pay for it ourselves. That may sound like a lot of money. I've had some people kind of wrinkle their nose at the idea of participating because of the seemingly steep fundraising requirement. There are other events that raise awareness with no fundraising goals. So why participate and support the 3-Day?

When it comes down to it, money is needed to fuel research. Awareness is fine, and everyone should learn to do self exams and get screened. But in the end, no cure will be found without the research. Scientists need to be paid. Laboratories need to be stocked. In short, money is needed.

I'm asking you for your support. If any part of my journey has touched you, or made you think, please consider supporting the continuation of my journey with a donation. If you really want to jump into it, you can join my team, "Pink & Plaid Warriors" and walk with us in November. The more the merrier!  Of course, you would also need to commit to raising at least $2,300 to participate. It is going to be an emotional and highly impacting event. I would encourage everyone to check out some of the videos on the 3-Day website.  If all those people on the videos can do this (both physically and fundraising-wise), I can do this. But I need your help.

Right now there are 76 people listed as "followers" of this blog. I know of many more who read it without being listed as a follower. If each follower donated just $15, I would be halfway to my goal.  Small donations add up. Bigger donations take up some of the slack for those who can't donate. How about sponsoring me for a dollar a mile? 

I understand, times are tough. But breast cancer is tough too. Without a cure, one person will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes in the United States. My heart breaks every time I hear of a newly diagnosed person. And I'm hearing it all too often. That's why I'm walking so far. To do something bold about breast cancer. I hope that you'll share this incredible adventure with me - by supporting me in my fundraising efforts.  Many companies match donations that doubles your effectiveness. I'd be happy to check to see if your company (or your spouses) is already on the list of companies that match. You can email me directly to find out. 

I know its a lot to ask. But we are all in this together, and if everyone pitches in, we can make a difference. I would like to have the money raised by my "cancerversary" of June 11, 2011. Then I can focus on training. Please consider helping me out in this by clicking on the picture below.

Blessings to you all!

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen San Diego 3-Day for the Cure!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The thief

I've been getting a lot of congratulatory wishes now that I am finished with my treatment. It is surreal to think that I am "done."  But I have this little nagging voice in my head saying...maybe you're not really done. Maybe the cancer isn't all gone. Maybe it is going to come back and will eventually kill you. Sure, you may have a few years left. But they will be filled with more chemo while you waste away and die a painful death.  You'll have to say goodbye to your friends, your family, your babies.

I had the same little voice when I was waiting for my biopsy results last June. Out loud we were saying, "its probably nothing." But this little voice in my head told me it was something. I have the same little voice in my head placing doubt and worry about my future.

It's robbing me of the relief and joy I should be having.

I still am happy. But it is sort of with a caveat.

I realize that this is an area Satan can come in and exploit. The bible says that he comes to steal, kill and destroy. But Jesus came to give LIFE, and that more abundantly.

 10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10, King James Version)

I also know that God is bigger than Satan and stronger than him.

 4Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4, King James Version)

I trust God. Even in cancer, I trust God. Even if it isn't all gone, or comes back, I will trust God. I pray that I handle it all, good or bad, in a way that glorifies Him. I know that He will work it ALL out for my own good, and the good of everyone else. I don't know what God has planned out for me, but I am willing to go and do whatever it is that He has in store for me. Cancer free, or not.

In the meantime, I need to remember that these fears are firey darts of the enemy.  I need to appropriate these promises from God and rest in them. Satan is taking pleasure in robbing me of the joy that I should be experiencing in a fuller way. That's the talk. Now I have to walk it.  Please pray for me that I be able to do this.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More than a conqueror

Pinch me, okay?  A little harder, please.  Because I can't believe that I only have one more day of radiation.

I got to see the doctor today (must be Wednesday).  He asked me if I was considering breast reconstruction. If I was, I should wait a year to let my skin heal.  Frankly, at this point, I'm not interested. Maybe I'll change my mind later. He talked about the different types of reconstructive surgery that were out there, and those that Kaiser did. It was music to my ears to hear him say I was a bit limited in my options since I didn't have enough belly fat to do certain types of reconstruction. In my case, he thought they would recommend a LAT Flap, where they take a piece of your latissimus dorsi muscle on your back to form the breast. Yuck. Doesn't sound very appealing to me. But like I said, I may change my mind later.

The Mepilex came from Amazon today, just as promised. I was a little disappointed because its not exactly the same version I have been using. This one is a 4x4 square, but has an adhesive border all around it. It's not quite as thick as the other one, either. But I stuck one on anyway. Hopefully the adhesive won't rip my skin off too bad. The burns are actually looking a little better.  The doctor said that in 6 weeks, my skin will look normal again. We'll see.

I kind of feel like I should do something to mark the day tomorrow. I saw one guy who was a regular at the radiation office bring in bagels for the staff a few weeks ago. I figured that was his way of celebrating the last day. I was right, because I didn't see him again. I overheard the staff talking today in the other room while I was waiting to see the doctor. The doc said, "Who brought that in?" Someone responded with a man's name. He said, "The prostate?"  I gathered from that exchange that a patient with prostate cancer had brought some goodies in for them. I don't feel like bringing the staff gifts, but I do feel like marking the day somehow. Mom and I are planning to go to the gym afterwards. In a way, that makes sense. The day I was diagnosed, I hung up the phone with Judy, the breast cancer nurse coordinator, went upstairs and did a killer Jillian Michael's circuit training workout. I have made a big effort to continue exercising throughout this journey, to keep myself as strong as possible. So ending it with a good workout isn't a bad idea.

We are going to celebrate this weekend. I bought a heritage turkey a month ago from this ranch that I order grass fed meat from, Hearst Ranch. We'll cook it this weekend and have family over to celebrate the end of the major treatment.

The journey isn't over, though. But as my physical therapist said last week, "the healing can begin." It will be nice to know that I won't be getting pumped full of poison, or blasted with radiation. My body can begin to heal from the wounds inflicted upon it and I can get stronger. I was listening to a sermon by pastor Skip Heitzig this morning on my way to radiation. He was making a distinction between being a "survivor" and being one that has more than conquered. In Romans 8:37, Paul said, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us."  Paul was in prison, had been beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and suffered from chronic physical issues. (His "thorn in the flesh.") Yet he referred to himself not as a survivor, which Skip likened to someone who barely makes it out alive. He referred to himself as one who was more than a conqueror.  The enemy had been utterly defeated through Christ.  I like that!

In the cancer community, I am a "survivor."  I will be happy to call myself that so everyone knows my status. But I prefer to think of myself as MORE THAN A CONQUEROR!  I have been cut, poisoned, and burned. I've suffered, and will carry the scars for a lifetime. But I've come out on the other side.  The enemy has been defeated, and it is through the grace and strength of Christ that it has been accomplished.

"Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints...."  Ephesians 6:10-18

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chasing Mepilex

Taking off a Mepilex pad now is really gross because skin comes off with it.

Yesterday (Monday), I asked for another one. It was bound to happen...they kind of cut me off.  I was told I would need to have a doctor write a prescription so I could go buy more. The doctor who was there (not mine) came in and gave me the scrip. I asked him if this was the sort of thing pharmacies generally carried. He said probably not, that I would have to call around. Okay. I still was going to need one because the one I was wearing was getting gross, and I was on my way to the gym. I knew I would sweat all over it, take it off for the shower and then need a new one. I was given one that seemed to be the last of the "freebies."

My dilemma was this: I was going to need new ones by at least Wedneday or Thursday. I figured I could take Tuesday off from working out-that is my bible study day anyway. Fitting a workout around that and my kid shuttling service in the afternoons is hard. But I would want to be back at it on Wednesday and would very likely need a new pad.

I went to Kasier's pharmacy first. If these things were as expensive as I was told, at least it could chip away at my big deductible for 2011. They gave me the number for Kaiser's medical supply department. I called them on my way home and was given yet another number for their contracted supplier for wound dressings. It was getting way too complicated, and I was beginning to have doubts that I would be able to get it in time.

I called Ralph's pharmacy next. A friend of mine is the head honcho over there and said if they ordered it by 8 p.m., they could get it in the next day. Generally that is true. But as we found out, Mepilex is a new item for their distributor and they were out of stock.  The nice lady at the pharmacy suggested I try some medical supply stores.

I spent the next hour or so online trying to find a local store that I could just go to. "Medical supplies" is a very broad category. I kept finding places that would love to sell me a scooter or adult diapers, but not so much on the Mepilex pads. I found a couple online places that carried them, but to get it delivered in 2 days would cost  $26.  One bright spot was that the pads themselves weren't as expensive as I had been led to believe. It was only about $31 for 5 pads. Much better than $25 each! If I had to spend $26 for shipping, I would. But I still wanted to find a better deal.  Unfortunately, time was not on my side.

I kept praying, "God, please provide a way for me to get what I need when I need it."

In a last ditch effort, I googled "Mepilex." Wouldn't you know it?  Amazon.com carried them!  I ordered 2 boxes (10 pads total) and the 2 day shipping was only $10.88!  I'll get them by Wednesday-Amazon has already e-mailed me today that they had shipped!  How is that for a direct answer to prayer? God is really good!

This is how my burns looked yesterday under my arm.  That peel is just going to continue, I think. My impression of it was that it actually looked better to me.  I put a Mepilex on shortly after this picture was taken and haven't taken it off yet to see how its doing today. The texture of all of my radiated skin is different as well. Its like fine sandpaper. I continue to have infrequent shooting pains in the area. Luckily, it only lasts for a few seconds. The skin doesn't like to be stretched very much. I'm having to baby it at the gym.  This morning, I raised my arms above my head at the radiation office too quickly and paid the price with a few seconds of pain. I've got to be careful until this heals.

I have only 2 more days of radiation left. It is strange to think that it is all coming to an end. It is kind of scary, actually. Up until now, I've had a "plan" to fight this cancer. There was some security in knowing there were more things to "do." I guess I still do have ways to fight, but its through lifestyle methods of clean eating, lots of exercise and trying to eliminate toxins from my home.  I do have the tamoxifen as well. I have to trust that the bad cells have been taken care of and not let it drive me crazy. I definitely need prayer that I don't suffer from anxiety about a recurrence. I will go see Dr. P in early April. I'm going to ask him to order a PET Scan so I can have some peace of mind that there is no evidence of disease.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fellowship of pain

The light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter and brighter.

There has been a new face lately at the radiation office, a Mexican lady who is brought every morning by her husband. I saw her in the back several days ago, dressed in the gown they give us. I assumed that it was breast cancer, since she had to change like I did. We've exchanged smiles and nods, but not much else. Yesterday, I was in the room of the radiation oncologist's office waiting to be called in for my session.  Her husband was there, getting some coffee.  For those who have known me a long time, especially family members, you know that slurping and chewing sounds have always driven me crazy. This man is a coffee slurper. Knowing that, I have tried to "beat" them by getting in before them. But yesterday, I was too late. When I walked in, he was getting the hot coffee. I mentally geared up for annoyance. I got out my iPhone and was going to check into Facebook to give myself something else to focus on.

He started to talk to me, asking questions about my treatment. His English wasn't great, and he had a pretty thick accent. But living here in Southern California and taking 3 years of Spanish, I understood him. I could see the worry on his face as we talked. I felt like such a heel for being so ungracious, even if it was in my own head. His wife was going through 33 radiation treatments as well. She had a lumpectomy. I don't know if she had chemo, he said "yes" when I asked him, but she has hair. But that could be a wig.  Anyway, he just shook his head, saying, "It's hard...worry...."

At that point, another patient came in. A tall man, probably in his late 50's or so. He was bald. He checked in and sat down. He was really friendly and mentioned that he had forgotten his hat. As it turns out, it was his first full day bald. His hair was falling out, so he had his daughter shave it off the day before.  I told him that I did the same thing too. It was too traumatic waiting for it to come out on its own, and besides, it was a mess.  I told him my hair was starting to come back in and pulled my scarf off a few inches. He was impressed. Then we joked about the "perks" of not having hair. I told him how my nose always drips because I don't have nose hair. He lamented about not being able to do his "comb over" any more. We had a good chuckle.  As I got called in, he said, "You've got to laugh, you know?" Ain't it the truth. If you didn't, you would just want to cry.

The scar session was interesting. It looks like they have customized a plate for the linear accelerator that is the outline of my scar that they did a couple weeks ago. They got everything in place and then had one of the doctors come in and make sure it was good to go. Then everyone left the room and I waited. And waited. And waited. I wondered if it would make the buzzing sound like it did before. After several minutes, the buzzing started and it was over. The tech said it took a bit longer because they were making sure everything was done right. That is fine with me. Do it right, folks!

My burns are turning really nasty. The first blister has popped and is peeling. When I took of the Mepilex pad today, there were bits of dead skin on it. Gross! I didn't want to put on my new one until I came home from the gym, so I found the cleanest spot and stuck it back on. I also have some burning on my upper back that I noticed for the first time today.

The bright spot was that I was still able to go to the gym and have a great workout. I beat my 5k time by about 45 seconds and felt like I was kicking cancer's butt every step of the way!  It is a beautiful and sunny day here in San Diego, so I also spent some time outside in a tank top to soak up some Vitamin D.

My prayer requests:

  • That my burn wounds heal without incident. I don't want to get any infections or have any complications. Let them heal and the recovery can begin!
  • That my lymphedema stays under control.

My journey, to date

I put this video together over the past couple of days to document my journey thus far. It was a pretty emotional task, and I can't watch it without tears. It's strange how you can do something over a long period of time and not think too much about the overall impact of it. But to see it all condensed into 6 minutes is a much different perspective.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The last phase has arrived

Today as I was going into the radiation room, the tech reminded me that today was the last day of this kind of treatment. I think he said "protons" and that tomorrow we would start with "electrons." Or maybe it was the reverse. I have not taken the time to really learn about what they are doing to me. At some point, you've got to just trust that they know what they are doing, I suppose. He said that the next 5 treatments would be much faster than what I have been doing. Faster? It depends on your perspective. I thought the radiation treatments had been going pretty fast. It certainly beats 3 hours in the chemotherapy suite!

After the treatment, I got to see the doctor. Last week, he was a little impersonal I thought. This week was a bit different. At least he smiled and said hi as I came in the office. He took a look at my burns and said that it didn't actually look that bad. It certainly wasn't enough for him to give me a break. A break? No way, mister! The light at the end of the tunnel burns brighter each day. A break is the last think I want! He said that the last treatments would not be hitting that particularly bad patch under my arm. By the way, he said it was bad there because radiation does not like folds in the skin.

The blister under my arm has gotten bigger. It may have even popped, I'm not sure. After my shower today, it looked a little flat. You can't really see it in this picture, but its on the darkest part of the burn. The Mepliex pads are amazing. I am able to function normally with one on.  Even working out is doable. I took one off so Eric could take a picture, and it really bothered me. I'm going to get a fresh one tomorrow, because the one I have now is not going to last the weekend.

The very bright spot was my physical therapy appointment. We measured my arm and it didn't get bigger.  She thought I had definitely gotten over the allergic reaction flare up. I asked her to check how I measured back in September, before I actually had the lymphedema triggered. In many spots, I was significantly smaller.  ("Significant" = a change of .5 c.m. or more)  Any measurements that were larger were not significant.  Praise the Lord!  I'm not "cured" of lymphedema, it will be something I have to keep an eye on and treat accordingly. But it looks like I have learned how to live with it, and the radiation has not made me swell. Maybe it did swell, but I'm spending a solid hour working on my arm every day, and any daily swelling I've been able to take care of.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tiny bubble

I was in bad need of a new Mepilex pad yesterday. The first one just wouldn't stay on after 5 days, so I just went without for about 12 hours. Yikes. I definitely missed it. When I went into my radiation appointment yesterday, I looked for the nurse but didn't see her. When I was done with my treatment, I asked the technician if it would be possible to get another pad. I didn't say it outright, but I was more than willing to pay for it if need be-whether Kaiser covers it or not didn't matter.  By then we had walked over to their "control center" that is in the next room. (The techs all stay outside of the radiation area and monitor patients on a screen while they are actually zapping them. It's dangerous, after all!)  The tech looked a little lost and said, "Well, the nurse isn't here, and I'm not sure where they are."  I pointed over to a set of drawers and said, "Well, she pulled it out of that drawer over there."  Bingo! They were more than happy to open the drawer and let me pick out what I needed. Nice!  It was instant relief. It really makes it bearable.

My skin is definitely upset about all of this radiation. I have a red arc from my collarbone, down to my rib cage that goes underneath my arm and a little onto my back. The worst patch is the underarm area where the lymph node bed was. Yesterday after my shower, I noticed a small blister forming. Lovely. I have a feeling that I have more of that in store for me.

My disappearing aloe
Today my treatment was shorter. I have gotten used to the gyrations of the machine. It moves position about 4 times and zaps from different angles. Today, it only moved twice. I was zoning out a little, waiting for it to move a third time when I felt the table I was on moving. It was time to go. Really? That was short! The tech told me that tomorrow will be another session like today, and then we will be moving on to the scar area for the last 5 sessions. Praise God! I am pretty sure that when the scar is being treated, it will leave out the underarm area. I don't think it could take much more. My poor aloe plant is running out of leaves!

My lymphedema continues to be under control. That is another praise report, because we are really hammering that quadrant of my body that is impaired lymphatically.  But I'll be honest...wrapping my arm in bandages every night is getting pretty old. I'm not sure how much I'll have to do when radiation is over. I'll talk to my physical therapist about that this week when I'm there for my appointment.

I have something else that came up this week that is very exciting, but it deserves a post of its very own and I'm short on time today. The first half of my week is so busy with kids' activities, school, and just taking care of the family.  I will definitely appreciate having the "extra" time every day once radiation has ended.

Only 6 more to go!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Eight and running

After a couple days off for my skin, it was back to the radiation oncologist's office for another hot date with the machine.  I have 8 more sessions to go before I'm done. I hope my skin can take it!

The troublesome patch under my arm is turning from a dark purple to a dark brown. It can be uncomfortable at times, so I just try not to think about it. There are times too when I get a stabbing pain in the area. It doesn't last long, it just makes me sit up and take notice. I don't know if this is related at all, but I've also had bouts of intense itching on my upper back. It's right where I can't reach it.  It doesn't last a long time, but if I don't get to it, it drives me crazy. I tried to ignore it in the middle of the night a few nights ago, and the result was a period of wakefulness for a few hours. Now I sleep with a bamboo back scratcher by my bed. 

I still have the same Mepilex pad that the nurse gave me last Wednesday. It is getting pretty ragged. It is also slipping off a lot. Today at the gym, I was doing abs and realized that the pad was on my stomach! I noticed a little bit of pink spotting on it today as well. Is that just dirt and accumulated gunk from 5 days of wear and sweat? Or is my wound starting to seep?  I'm going to ask for a new one tomorrow if the nurse is there. I didn't see her today, otherwise I would have asked. 

My mom and I are going to an informational meeting tonight about the Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk in San Diego. Doing the 3 day was one of those goals I set for myself several months ago. 20 miles a day for 3 days in a row. 60 miles! I'm pretty sure I can handle the fundraising part. Each participant needs to raise $2,300.  I've got several months to get there-the walk isn't until November. I've been seeing inspirational ads on television for the 3-Day and am getting kind of pumped to do it. I'm a survivor! I hope they do find a cure for this nasty disease. 

Mom and I are also going to run in our first 5k race this Spring-the Carlsbad 5000. We each have been doing a little running, so we decided at the gym this morning to take the plunge and register. Most of my running has been inside on the treadmill, so yesterday I took a run outside. I didn't have a pedometer at that point, so I couldn't track how far I went. I'm sure it was at least 5k, if not more. I ran most of the time and was out for about 50 minutes. (My 5k time on the treadmill is 33:15)  I came home and found a GPS pedometer app for my iPhone, so next time I'll know for sure. 

I'm not doing the race to compete with others-its more about tackling something completely new and challenging.  Running is just that for me. I went through most of my life absolutely HATING running.  Even the thought of running annoyed me. But for some reason, I'm enjoying it now.  It's not easy, in fact it is anything but. I realized as I was winding down my run yesterday that the extreme physical challenge of it is what I enjoy about it. I had been at it for at least 40 minutes, with my heart rate around 85%-90% of its max for most of the time.  It was painful, but in a life-affirming kind of way. 

It hit me that running for me is similar to cancer treatment. Both are "races" that I'm participating in. They aren't easy, in fact, it is some of the most difficult stuff you could do in your life. They aren't a "sprint" either. (Some longer distance runners might disagree with the 5k not being a sprint, though!)   The treatment especially feels like a marathon, and I'm at that point where I can see the finish line, but am in a lot of pain.  But I know I can do it, so I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and concentrate on breathing through it. I can do this. With God's continued help, I can do this. 

My prayer requests remain the same. That my skin be able to cope with the last treatments, that I not be in too much pain, and that my lymphedema does not flare up. Thank you all for your prayers!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Asked and answered

I asked the radiation oncology nurse this morning about leaving the Mepilex pad off at night and putting Aquafor on my burns.  Her answer was a swift and decisive "NO."  Hmmm.  I'd better not mention that I did exactly that last night! She said that the pad has everything needed for the skin underneath. It's even better than Aquafor. Hopefully I didn't hurt anything too much by doing that last night. I hope the one pad I have lasts the weekend.  Working out every day is kind of taking its toll on the poor thing. At this point, I really appreciate the protection from chafing.

Today was my sixth straight day of radiation. I had to go in last Sunday to make up for last Friday when their machine (which I now know is a linear accelerator) was down.  I'm very glad to have the next two days off to give my skin and body a break from the treatment.  I'm not in too much discomfort. It's probably a good thing that I have nerve damage from the surgery and have a large portion of my chest and underarm area that is numb. Burns hurt like the devil, and with what it looks like, I should be in a lot of pain. At least one would think. The lack of sensation is probably a good thing for me right now.

The red patch is turning a dark purple.

I was reflecting on the toll that cancer treatment takes on the body. It's like using a nuclear bomb to take out a single terrorist cell in a city.  It gets the bad guys and prevents them from recruiting more, but leaves the city and surrounding landscape barren, scarred, burned and weakened for a period of time. I especially feel that way as I examine my ever darkening burns each day. Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for the advances that have been made in treating breast cancer. But it is strange to watch your body go through so many adverse physical changes and all you can do is stand by and watch it happen. Maybe that is another reason why I enjoy exercising. At least I can have some influence over my body when I work out. By the way, I am very sore in the legs from the workout yesterday!

But I digress. Thinking about modern cancer treatment reminds me of scenes from the old original Star Trek series. (Yes, I've been known to enjoy Star Trek in all of its various forms.) Dr. McCoy often talked with disgust about the "primitive" medical methods of the 20th century. How they would cut someone open to heal an organ, and so on.  I wonder what he would say about chemotherapy and radiation?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Burn, baby burn

I've been an ostrich with my head stuck in the sand.  Or a little kid who didn't want to hear something, so she sticks her fingers in her ears, closes her eyes, and says "lalalalalalala!" really loud.  Or maybe just preoccupied with life to really think about the effects of radiation.

Compared to chemo, radiation isn't that bad.  At least not yet. Chemo made me feel like a different person sometimes. It really messed with my hormones and emotions. It fogged my brain.  I couldn't articulate my thoughts and forgot details. It changed my taste buds. It changed my outward appearance in several ways.  Luckily, those effects were temporary and are going away. I feel like myself again. My hair is starting to grow back. My nails still look bad, but I can cover that up with some polish.  Except for the toenails that fall off!  I'll have to wait for them to grow back before I can have normal looking feet again.

So after all of that chemo-drama, I didn't really think a lot about radiation. They said it would make me tired. Okay, maybe.  Chemo gave me some tired days too. So far, I haven't had fatigue, thank you Jesus.  They said my skin would get red, so I should put on creams several times a day.  Starting on day one, I did just that.  I've also been using pure aloe and drinking aloe juice. The redness has come, and continues to grow, both in size and intensity.  And I still have 10 more treatments left.  So it's going to get worse.

A fellow cancer-blogger, Charmine, posted a photo of her radiation burns at their worst for me and gave me some tips on her blog. (Thanks, Charmine!) Yikes. I hadn't thought of blistering, peeling, and oozing burns. But that may happen, especially considering the state I am in now with 10 more treatments to go.

This is what it looks like today, after 22 treatments. The dark red patch under the arm is where I'm putting the pad on that the nurse gave me.  (You also get to see a little bit of my mastectomy scars...lovely, eh?)

I've learned a bit more about "the pad" as well.  It's called Mepilex. It apparently is just a dressing that will soak up ooze from a wound. I asked the nurse about getting more today. She has to order it, but promised not to leave me hanging if I needed it. They have more "samples" in the office.  That's good. Now my question is about moisturizing the area. If the Mepliex is just a dressing, the area isn't getting moisture. She told me to keep it on 24/7 except when showering.  But then the area isn't getting any soothing relief from anywhere. I plan on asking her about this tomorrow. I'm wondering if it would make sense to Aquafor the area up at night and let it soak in, then put the Mepilex on in the morning and for the rest of the day. At this point, there is no broken skin or blisters.  It feels good to have the pad on--it cushions the area and prevents chafing from my upper arm.

I don't want this to slow me down! I don't want to give into cancer. I went to the gym after treatment today and did an hour on the treadmill, alternating between running at a 10 minute mile pace and walking a 15 minute mile pace on an incline. Being paranoid about the chafing, and a little worried that too much sweat would make the pad fall off, I tried to do some of it with my left hand on my hip. It was easy to do while walking, but a little awkward on the running parts. I finished the workout with Jillian's "lean and mean" leg circuit workout. Man, I'm going to be sore. It took me about 20 minutes and consisted of 475 squats/lunges. She said to do the circuit 5 times, and I did. I didn't plan on doing all 5. But once I did 3, I figured I was more than halfway there. I burned 200 calories on that leg workout alone! (A total of 662 for the whole session!)  I may not be able to do upper body and my burn may slow down my running.  In that case, I'll do what I can do! I may not be able to walk tomorrow, though!

Praise report! Another bright spot came today at my physical therapy appointment. My swelling is definitely under control. My upper arm is a whole centimeter smaller than it was on December 22. All of my measurements were either smaller or the same as before. The bandaging is definitely working. I am so thankful that the lymphedema isn't acting up while I am coming to terms with radiation burns!

My prayer requests:

  • That my skin not burn any more than it has. If it does, that it be manageable. That I be able to cope with the physical effects of radiation and still live my life. This too, shall pass. 
  • That my lymphedema continue to be under control. 
  • My friend from church is having her hysterectomy today for uterine cancer. Please pray that the surgery be a success and that the cancer isn't as bad as they initially thought. Pray for her recovery from surgery and strength for the road ahead. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I get to see the doctor...it must be Wednesday

The first part of the week is so busy for me, I just can't get to the blog. I'm just hoping to be able to squeeze in a workout this afternoon.

Anyway, the radiation continues. Today as they were finishing up my session, they told me I was to see the doctor. Ah yes.  It must be Wednesday, then.

The nurse took me into an exam room and pulled my record up on the computer screen.  She asked how I was doing and looked at my burns. The patch under my arm is the worst, and she definitely looked concerned. She asked if I was allergic to anything. Well, yes....sulfa drugs and cipro.  As it turns out, they treat the burns on most people with....sulfa drugs. So that is out of the question for me.  She looked at my upcoming treatments and shook her head.  Apparently, that area has more "treatment" coming its way.

The doctor came in and basically said the same thing. He mentioned some kind of medicated "pad" they could use, but Kaiser doesn't cover them.  In my mind, it didn't matter. I'm willing to pay out of pocket for something if I need it. The doctor said we'd keep any eye on it and deal with it later. It really isn't bothering me that much. It does annoy at night, especially when my arm is bandaged. The top of the bandage rubs against my armpit and it reminds me that I'm burned. It's getting a little harder to get comfortable to sleep, too. But I'm not in serious pain, so I let it go.

The good news was that my blood counts are all good. So no worries there.

After the doctor left, the nurse told me to wait a minute. She turned around and started to shuffle through a drawer.  She came back opening a package of something. It was the medicated pad thing that the doctor was talking about. Bless her heart! She stuck it on my underarm and told me that I could wear it for several days, taking it off only to shower. It's about 1/4 inch thick.  She said when the skin starts to peel (and apparently, all of my skin is going to be peeling off at some point), the patch under the arm can get really bad. So she wanted to treat it before it got bad.  Hopefully it will keep it from deteriorating to the point of too much pain.  Each pad is about $25, so they are "golden" as she put it.

So I guess I have some more burning and then peeling skin to look forward to. I don't mind if it looks ugly and freakish. Heck, it looked freakish enough when I started. I just would rather not have too much pain. I also want to be able to keep active. The pad helps cushion the area as my upper arm moves around as well as treating the area. Today was treatment number 22. I have 6 more treatments to the area, and then 5 that are coded differently on my schedule. I'm assuming that is the "scar boost" that I've heard of at the end. 11 more days total.

My prayer requests:

  • That my skin hang in there through the end of the treatment. That this pad thing work to help it from getting out of control.  That I not be in too much pain from it all. 
  • That I continue to feel good and fit enough to exercise. 
  • That at the end of all of this the doctors declare that there is "No Evidence of Disease."  (NED) I may have to push for a PET scan, but I'll talk about that more later.