Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just Add Valium

Today began the journey, officially.  First I had an appointment with the lovely Joy at the Breast Center to talk about genetics.  I find the whole thing completely fascinating I must tell you.  She input all the info about my family into a computer program that assesses your risk for having certain gene mutations.  I'm a MUTANT!  I KNEW IT!  Finally confirmation!  Anyway, I gave her all the info on my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and brothers.  There has been NO cancer in my family EVER!  This, of course, makes me extremely interesting. I like to be interesting, it happens so rarely.

On my Dad's side, he and all of 5 of his siblings are deceased.  I had 4 aunts and the only one who had cancer was my aunt who had leukemia at age 91 and died.  But, if you are going to live that long, something is going to get you - so it's really not a factor.  On my mother's side, it's just her - an only child.  If I do have the BRCA gene (which is the gene mutation that can cause breast and ovarian cancer), it would have likely come from my Mom's side.  As my friend Viki said, "If it's not one thing, it's your MOTHER!"  Oh how true.  Haha - Sorry Mom!  See, a woman can have the gene and pass it on without ever having had cancer herself - but that's rare.  However, the fact that both my mother AND her mother both had hysterectomies due to fibroid tumors is veeeeeeerrrrrrrrrry interesting they say.  Having a hysterectomy decreases your chance of getting breast cancer by 50% - and since they lost their ovaries as well, there would be no chance of ovarian cancer. So, it's possible, that both of them were able to side-step cancer by having this done.  Interesting.  If it turns out that I do have this gene, they'll recommend a double mastectomy as well as a hysterectomy.  Wow.  I can not wrap my mind around that!  Losing ALL my lady parts in one swoop?!  Eek!  I'd have to have a shirt made that says, "I'm a WOMAN - REALLY!"

If I don't have this BRCA gene - then I'll be seeing a genetic specialist to see what IS going on.  Because it's just not "normal" to have renal cancer and then TWO breast cancers within 5 months - something is "wrong."  And they need to find out what so we know what to look for.  What other cancers am I at high risk for getting?  I see a lot of poking, prodding and tests in my future.

For the genetic testing, you can have a blood test done - but we all know that I'll do anything to avoid a needle.  So, I opted for the spit test.  You have to take a little shot glass full of Scope and drink it, hold it in your mouth and swish "vigorously" and then spit it into a tube after 30 seconds.  Okay, first of all, it's really hard to keep the Scope in your mouth that long because it burns!  Then, the tube that you spit into, well, it's narrow - you can probably see where I'm going with this...  I'll preface this by saying that I'm a drooler anyway and spitting in a controlled fashion is not one of my many skills.  So, I had the Scope in my mouth, I swished vigorously and then I went to spit and, well, SOME ended up in the little tube!  Yah Me!  However, a lot ended up on my pants, the floor, my hand and the table.  It was a disaster.  Thankfully, you have to do the whole process twice so I was given more time to hone my skills.  The second time I did much better.  Plus, they gave me the rest of the Scope for free!  Woot!  See, breast cancer does get you free stuff!

After the uncontrolled spitting episode, I, for the first time in my life, took Valium.  See, my next appointment was a MRI - and I don't do well with MRIs.  I had one, once, and I didn't make it through.  It was about 9 years ago (after a car accident I think) and, though I'm not claustrophobic, putting me in a tube totally confined where I can't move caused a bad scene.  I thought I'd be okay.  The guy laid me on the table, moved me into the tube thingie (that's the technical term) and the music came on (loudly) and the machine started making loud noises and thumps.  I couldn't move!  I started getting more and more panicked.  The guy told me if I needed him to just talk and he'd hear me.  So, I said, "I don't think I can do this..."  No response. "I think I need to get out..."  No response.  And then I'm yelling, "TAKE ME OUT!  I CAN'T DO IT!  HELP!!!"  And the next thing I remember he was pulling me out of the machine and I was screaming.  I had blacked out and apparently started screaming.  And where was HE?  He had gone to get coffee!  And LEFT me there!  To. Get. Coffee.  To say the least, I was finished and there was no way I was going back in that thing EVER!  He felt terrible and I think he was pretty freaked out that I was going to report him - but I didn't, I hope he learned his lesson...

So, when the mere mention of MRI came up last week, I said "Nu Uh, No Way, No How!"  But, since I have TWO breast cancers, really, it needs to be done to make sure there isn't anything else that is being missed.  Then they said, "We'll give you Valium."  I've never had Valium before and, really, I haven't been in any hurry to try it.  But, if it had to be done, give me the drugs and I'll give it a go.

So, I took one.  I instantly felt calm and happy.  I'm kidding - nothing happened.  I did feel a little giggly going up the escalator but that's about it.  I signed in for the MRI and it was a short wait.  A very nice nurse came to get me and gave me lovely hospital approved wear.  Once changed, I had to go to the bathroom and I stalled in there a little bit putting off the inevitable.  Because I maybe felt a bit calmer, but nothing cool was happening yet.  I was waiting for psychedelic colors or dancing pigs or something.

When I could stall no more without them calling 911 on me, I emerged and was led into the MRI room.  First, the test involved me laying on my back and would take about 6 minutes.  They put a washcloth over my face and said that would help.  It did help, but it didn't matter because I couldn't have reached it anyway if I wanted it off.  They gave me headphones to listen to country music (none of which I'd ever heard before - I should have chosen rock!).  I also had a bulb to squeeze if I couldn't make it anymore.  I'm proud to announce that I DID make it - but I was a basket-case by the time they took me out.  I was hyperventilating and sobbing.  But, I MADE IT!  I did it!  The whole 6 minutes!

I was able to calm myself down just in time for them to start an IV in my arm.  Oh goodie.  It took two tries - because someone that hates needles always gets to have MORE of them, or so I'm convinced.  Then, I got up and they set up the table for me to lay on my stomach.  And this is where it got hilarious.  See, they put down a bunch of pillows but then they put down a contraption with two big holes and, well, I think we can guess what goes in those holes!  Your ELBOWS!  I'm kidding - the BOOBS!  I thought that was a pretty funny sight and I joked like I was going to put my elbows in there instead - and really, these medical people have no sense of humor whatsoever - either that or they thought I was a complete idiot.

Anyway, you position yourself with the boobs in the holes and you have your head in a padded contraption and your hands above your head.   There is a mirror and you can see your hands and your hair (I found more gray hairs - thanks a lot).  This part where you are on your stomach takes about 16 minutes.  I think the Valium did actually kick in by this point because that part was really easy and I would have fallen asleep if the damn machine hadn't been so darn loud!  I mean, geez, can't they keep it down while I'm trying to NAP?!

After I was dressed and located my husband, I told him I NEEDED a McDonalds cheeseburger!  Had to have it!  I'm not a big fast food person - but I had to have one so bad!  My husband replied, "Oh great, here come the Valium munchies!"  After my cheeseburger that I totally scarfed down like I hadn't eaten in a week, I came home and slept for 3 hours.

So, I did it!  And I lived to tell about it.  Now I've also taken Valium and I didn't end up any goofier than I already am.  That's a success in itself.  However, next time I'm definitely taking two!  I want to see something cool happen!  Otherwise what good are cool drugs?!

People Outside My Family Who've Seen My Boob: 11
Boob Count: 26 (only 2 today, I'm slacking)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Telling the Children

I have two children, a girl who is 9 (almost 10) and a boy who just turned 7.  Telling them that I have cancer was the hardest part.  Back long long ago (in January of this year) when I had renal cancer, that seemed easier.  Renal cancer Stage I is "cured" through surgery.  They just lopped off part of a kidney and I was good to go (slowly).  None of that pesky radiation or chemo to worry about - all body hair intact.  All I had to tell them was that Mommy was having surgery and Mommy would need help for a while (a long while as it turned out...but still).  Day by day I got a little better.  It was a long 2 months of recovery but then everything was fine and life went on without my kids really having to face cancer on a daily basis.

But, now - I have breast cancer. Things are much more "complicated."  This involves so much more and it "feels" more serious.  It never occurred to me to NOT tell them, that's just how our family works.  We talk about pretty much everything and my kids see my husband and I naked on a daily basis (sorry to those who know me for THAT visual!).  We don't think the body is something to hide or be ashamed about and we talk about it.

My son takes things pretty much in stride.  He's not a worrier.  He's easy-going and happy-go-lucky.  He is more analytical, more into the mechanics of HOW things work as far as medical things go.  When he came to see me in the hospital after renal surgery (my daughter was sick and couldn't come), he wanted to SEE all the tubes and WHERE they went and WHAT they did and he analyzed the whole scene.  He asked a million questions and was fascinated by the machines and their purpose.  When he gets shots at the doctor's office, he WATCHES and says, "Ohh, cool!"  I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up a doctor - and Goodness knows *I* need a doctor in the family!!!  Think of the money I'd save on co-pays!  That's assuming he'd give his ol' Mom a discount!

This medical curiosity of my 7 year old does come at a "price" though.  Still sore from the biopsy (oh yes, even a week later!), I mentioned at Applebees something about it being sore when he knocked up against me.  (Because if you've ever sat in a restaurant booth with a 7 year old, you know it's like trying to arm wrestle with an octopus - limbs everywhere!)  That is when he demanded to see it!  Right then and there!  I told him that Applebees wasn't the appropriate place to be whipping out the boobage (only I said it all like smart and stuff - in proper Mom words).  He was undeterred and tried to lift my shirt up on his own.  I'm pretty sure Applebees frowns on that sort of thing - so I had to fight off the octopus all on my own.  I won.  But, being the highly gifted child he is (and I'm not just saying that because I'm his mother), he doesn't forget ANYTHING.  So, at home later that night, he remembered that he wanted to see it.  Then he spent a good several minutes analyzing the horror scene of my boob and asking about all the holes and what they did and where and how they knew what to do and how they did it and why and pressing different places and saying, "Does it hurt HERE?!"  Then he examined his own little breast before being on his merry way.

My daughter, though, she's a different animal.  Very gifted in her own right, she's introspective and a worrier.  She takes everything to heart and is sensitive.  She and I are very close.  The news that I have breast cancer has hit her particularly hard.  She's been near tears many times in the past several days and she's asking a lot of questions.  She is complaining that she can't sleep and that her stomach hurts.  She's worried that I'll lose my hair, that I won't be fun anymore, that I'll be too sick to spend time with her, that I'll be too sore to cuddle.  She wants to start her own blog to talk about her feelings!  :)  I told her I 'd set her up but if she's funnier than me, I'm disowning her.  She's willing to take that risk.

No 9 year old should have the weight of the world on them.  "Mom, aren't you too YOUNG to have breast cancer?  Isn't that what old ladies get?!" she asks frustrated.  Yes, I'm too young - but young is good in some ways.  Young means I'm stronger (though wimpy in my own special ways to be sure) to fight this.  Younger means I really have a lot to live for and a lot to fight for.

It also means that I have two special children to come home to.  I just wouldn't recommend sitting next to either of them in a restaurant.  You've been warned.

People Outside My Family Who've Seen My Boob = 9
Boob Count = 24


When I found out I had cancer, they gave me a huge book.  Huge.  It's 243 pages (not including a bunch of random pages at the end of the book...an appendix I'll call it - to keep records) and it's not normal "book size."  It's a BIG book.  I also got mounds of paperwork to read through and fill out - about 25 pages in all.

My husband was given a tri-fold brochure.  One 8.5 X 11 piece of paper folded into thirds.  About supporting your loved one in this difficult time.  That's it.  I see some inequity here.  I was so annoyed by this that I made him carry the huge book to the car.

In the information I was given, there is a list of support groups.  There is a support group for people who have or have had breast cancer.  I just don't know if this is for me.  First of all, I'm just not a "joiner."  I've dropped out of so many groups that I've lost count.  I made it through about 4 months of a mommy group.  The longest I've ever endured Weight Watchers was about 8 months and I think that may have been my "group" record.  I don't want to have a weekly date to meet with a group.  I find it kind of boring and tedious.

Plus, a breast cancer group - I'm pretty sure it's not okay to sit there and stare at everyone's boobs.  And, let's face it, that's what I'd be doing.  I'd just be thinking about boobs the whole time and I'd be too concerned about being on my best behavior to concentrate.  I don't do well when I'm supposed to behave myself.

My mother suggested that maybe I'd think about seeing a psychiatrist instead - to talk about my feelings and about how I'm dealing with all of this.  It's a good suggestion.  But, then, if it's just me sitting there talking about breast cancer, won't the psychiatrist be sitting there thinking about and trying to not stare at MY boobs?!

(Boob Count = 22)


I hate needles.  No, really, MORE than YOU hate needles - trust me on this.

Why does someone who hates needles as much as I do have so much contact with them?  It seems like every time I turn around, someone has another reason for sticking a needle in me.  When I go to get a blood test, I have to sit down (of course) but sometimes I have to lie down!  And sometimes, I have inadvertently ended up on the floor.  I'm known by the technical term: "Passer-Outer."

I believe this all started when, at the tender age of 7, I begged my Mom to let me get my ears pierced.  She said I was old enough to make the decision for myself and marched me down to the local jewelry store.  I remember being a little nervous - they said it would be over before I knew it.  "It's just loud, it doesn't hurt!" they said.  Well, I'm here to tell them that, yes, it was loud but it also HURT!  I remember it.  I remember thinking that maybe just one pierced ear would look cool, why need two?!  But, I went through with it and had two perfectly pierced ears.  Instructions were given and my mom paid.  I felt...well...weird.  But, what did I know?  I was 7!  We walked out of the store and down the sidewalk, waited to cross the street and that's when it happened....in the middle of the street.  I passed out.  Down for the count.  My mother will contest this story by saying it was NOT in the middle of the street, but on the sidewalk outside the jewelry store but I specifically remember nearly getting run over by a bus in the middle of the street.  Okay, there was no bus, but it was in the crosswalk.

After that experience, I remember my mother telling my father that she was NEVER taking me anywhere to get anything that dealt with medical issues or needles again.  That was now my father's job.  I remember my father being completely unconcerned about this new responsibility.

UNTIL, I was 17 and registering for college and MY MOTHER had lost ALL proof that I'd ever had any baby shots or vaccinations - EVER!  Well, guess what, they don't allow you to get a higher education without proof.  To get into a university, not only do you have to be smart-ish, you also have to be fully vaccinated.  It was time for my poor father to "man up."  He bravely drove me to the county health department (which, as I remember was not a fun trip, I was a basket case and I believe I threatened vomiting several times).  He took me in and I got the shots.  I had to lay down for a quite a while but I did not pass out.  Just barely.  I think they gave me a cookie.  A cookie!  Hmph!  I should think so!  I still haven't forgiven my mother for losing my shot records!

Through the years, I've passed out too many times to count.  I feel fine and then BOOM someone is waving smelling salts in my face and yelling at me.  I've been told several times, "Wow! I've never had to actually USE the smelling salts before!"  Always comforting.  And in case you are wondering, the floor of the labs where they take your blood is really cold and hard.  I know this because I've ended up there often.

My fear of needles is exasperated by the fact that I apparently have "thin, ropey, rolling veins."  It's hard to find a vein and when they do, I guess they like to roll away.  Just even *thinking* about my veins makes me feel like I should lay down and get a cookie.  <shudder>

So, the whole point of this rambling is to ponder why someone like me, deathly afraid of needles, comes in such frequent contact with them...

I'm going to need another cookie to come up with any answers.

(Boob Count = Still 19)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Have Breast Cancer - Day 1

I'm 41 years old. Today, May 25, 2011 is the day I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer.  I say "officially" because, basically, I already knew.

At my annual visit-o-fun with the OB/GYN, my doctor found a lump in my left breast.  When he found it, I laughed.  See, I JUST survived Renal Cancer and I've already lost half my thyroid to a benign (but very rare) tumor.  Another lump?  Really?  I was joking when I told my friends and family to call my "Lumpy."  But, now they really are starting to call me that.  Who can blame them?  My doctor was taken aback by my response.  Probably people don't usually laugh when he finds a lump in their breast.  I think he sent in a referral for psychiatric care after that appointment.

However, he felt pretty confident that it was "just a cyst."  He put my mind so much at ease that I didn't even make the mammogram appointment until a week later.  I had already had a benign lump removed from my right breast at age 13 (talk about AWKWARD!), so I figured it was just more of the same.  Another reason for the "Lumpy" nickname to stick.  In fact, I made the appointment as quickly as I did because my mother kept calling me everyday to ask if I'd made the appointment yet.  That gets old fast.

My first mammogram was May 18, 2011.  My mom went with me.  She likes to see other people tortured.  I'm kidding (sort of).  She went with me to offer her moral support.  I wasn't too concerned, as I said.  The mammogram was pretty typical (from what I'd heard of them).  After manhandling my boobs and being touched all over by some woman that now owes me dinner, I was led to sit in a "calming room."  There was one of those little counter top waterfalls, those always make me think about having to pee.  I spent the majority of the time trying to NOT think about having to pee.  I guess, in a way, it did take my mind off of things.

Unfortunately, the boob-manhandler came BACK for me.  They needed more "pictures."  I really didn't know that my boob could move that way or in that many directions.  I should enter a contest at the fair or something.  Anyway, more "pictures" of my poor boob followed.  I almost passed out.  Hey, don't judge!  It's very hard to hold your breath, stand perfectly still AND have your boob smooshed all at the same time.  The result is that I felt really woozy and had to sit down between each picture.  The boob-manhandler was not amused by my wimpiness.  She also didn't like any of my boob jokes.  Probably they hear boob jokes all day long.  Hey, have you heard the one about the boob, the Rabbi and the Catholic Priest....

But, I digress.  This is where I started to feel a little concerned, but my optimistic nature just kicked in.  Damn that optimism!  I just figured, "Hey, they are being thorough!"  After a few more minutes concentrating on NOT concentrating on pee in the calming room, I was taken to have an ultrasound of the questionable boob.

An ULTRASOUND OF THE BOOB!  I've had many ultrasounds before.  I have two children and have had a laundry list of health problems that have ended up with me on the other end of the warm gel and ultrasound wand.  But, never of my BOOB!  It's just...well...WRONG!  Anyway, this was done by a different lady who was very nice and DID laugh at some of my boob jokes.  I still wasn't terribly concerned, I knew they were just looking to see if the lump was a cyst or not.  However, having warming gel put all over your boob...well, it's exactly as weird as it sounds.  Plus, that gel gets EVERYWHERE!  I think I found some on my ankle.

I'm not even sure how long the ultrasound took.  A little less than FOREVER is a good time estimate.  There was a lot of measuring a lot of poking around and, as I said before, A LOT of gel.  Still calm and optimistic, the technician told me she needed to get the doctor in charge and she left the room.

And that is where my optimism failed me, finally.  I lost it.  I KNEW it was bad.  They never leave the room to get the head doctor because they are going to give you an award or something.  It's always because they've found something bad, really bad.  I've been through this drill before!  By the time the technician re-entered with the doctor, I was in tears and completely panicked.  They were very kind and understanding and they gave me a box of those hospital tissues and told me I could HAVE the WHOLE BOX!  I like free things. Plus, with as many people who had seen and touched my boob there, they owed me SOMETHING!

After the doctor looked around a bit, she put her hand on my arm.  Again, never a good sign.  I had three lumps.  THREE!  See, I like to be an over-achiever.  I couldn't only have ONE, I had to have THREE!  It turns out that one lump, they weren't terribly concerned about, "probably a cyst," I was told.  Another one was questionable and the one my doctor had found?  That one was "bad."  That was the word she used, "BAD."  "Do you think cancer?" I asked tentatively.  "Yes," she replied.

I've already faced down cancer once before this year and I'm not even sure I'm CURED of that yet!  And now, again, 5 months later, cancer again!?  I didn't even know what to feel.  They were both so nice to me and told me, "Hey, THIS is what we do here - we CURE Cancer!"

I was allowed to leave behind the lovely floral hospital gown and get dressed.  I sat and cried for several minutes in the dressing room trying to put myself together before going to the lobby to tell my mother that it was not good news.  When I met my Mom in the lobby, she cheerfully asked, "Well, how was it?!"  I just shook my head and said, "It's not good news Mom."  Several other women in the lobby looked on sadly.  This is where my mother said, "Well, DAMN!"  and then, "I have to go to the bathroom."  She does that a lot.  (And she's going to kill me for saying that...)

I was "fit into" the schedule for the following Monday for a biopsy.  Oh, I'm sorry, not just ONE biopsy - but THREE.  THREE!  I hate needles.  Like a lot.  A lot A lot!  However, I came home and researched everything I could find (I like to KNOW) and read all about breast biopsies until I felt woozy and started to pass out.  I was as prepared as I could be.

The following Monday, May 23, my husband drove me to the Breast Center in Everett for the biopsy.  It was insanely early and anyone who knows me knows that I do NOT appreciate early-risers.  We were the first ones there.  After checking in, we sat on the lobby couch and my husband complained that it was hard and uncomfortable.  I told him when they started talking about sticking multiple needles in his boob, I'd have some sympathy, but I wanted to hear nothing of the hard couch that he would have to endure for the next 90 minutes while he played "Angry Birds" on his phone.

The biopsy really wasn't bad.  And, I'm a big chicken so if I say it's not bad, it's really not.  They numb each area and that is a bit of a pinch and then do a biopsy of each area.  I actually watched the biopsy on the ultrasound screen and that was pretty cool to see the needle going towards each area.  I was just so thankful that I had an ultrasound guided biopsy - and not "the usual kind."

"The Usual Kind" of biopsy - involves you laying on your stomach with your boob through a hole in the table! And then they ratchet you up like a car (thanks to my friend, Pam W. for making this analogy) and the doctor rolls under you and does the biopsy from underneath.  I've never seen this before but the picture in my head is downright hilarious.  I have a sick sense of humor though...

Anyway, the biopsy was fine.  The ladies that did it were both really neat and we chatted about the new BBQ grill the doctor had just gotten and who we thought would win American Idol (all bets on Scotty).  Again, the doctor confirmed what the other doctor had suspected, one was a cyst - two were very likely cancer. Afterwards, I was told that if I iced exactly as the directions stated (20 minutes on/20 minutes off), there would be minimal pain and no bruising.  That was a bold-faced lie.  I was the perfect textbook icer and I'm here to tell you that my boob is very sore and a rainbow of colors from yellow to blue to brown.  It's quite a beautiful array of colors actually, I just wish it weren't on my breast.

This brings me to Wednesday morning, the day I found out.  You have to make an appointment to find out your results and go in - they don't do it over the phone.  Pretty much, that rule screams, "YOU HAVE CANCER!"  My husband went with me again and we were led back to a private room where we met "Joy," a NP who would help us navigate the beginning of this journey.  (The irony of her name being "Joy" is not lost on my, by the way)

We all sat in comfy chairs and she told me, "You have breast cancer."  I said, "Yes, I know..."  Just as suspected, the one lump was a cyst, the other two are cancer.  We went over all the results and medical mumblejumble.  Whatever it is, we caught it early.  Both lumps are under 2 centimeters - Stage I or II.  (The Stage will be determined after surgery when we know whether there is involvement in the lymph nodes)  Joy was great, she was very reassuring and she made all the initial appointments with all the doctors which was just so incredibly helpful.  As my mind was spinning, she was calling and arranging days and times and confirming appointments and addresses.  I think I saw a little halo on her head, but I can't be sure.

So, this is where we are.  I have breast cancer.  5 months after renal cancer.  Since it is a Grade 2 cancer (mid-high aggressive), things start very quickly.  Genetic testing, MRI, appointments with surgeons, oncologist and other specialists - all within a week.

In the midst of all of this, I sadly turned to my husband and said, "I'm so sorry I'm so defective!"  It's not lost on me how much HE goes through every time there is something wrong with me.  We've been married 12 years and, during that time, I've had 2 very difficult pregnancies, one emergency c-section, one planned c-section, one cancer scare, 3 other surgeries and renal cancer - and now, breast cancer.  After I apologized for being defective, my husband, in his usual supportive manner replied, "Aww, that's okay honey.  I already knew you were defective."  How sweet.

I invite you to join me on this journey via this blog.  I can't guarantee that I'll keep up with it - I don't like commitments and I'm not much for blogs - everyone and his pet stylist has one!  But, I do think I have something to say, for once.  Plus, I just really like the word "BOOB."

(Boob Count = 19)