BREAST CANCER-THINGS I WANTED TO SAY BUT NEVER DID

 This was written during my treatments a few months after my diagnosis.

  1. To the doctor who gave me the news:  You read me my biopsy results like I knew what you were saying. Remember you were speaking another language to me, words I never heard before, especially when some of the words are in Latin!

  2. To the nurses at the Breast Center. Many of you have hearts of gold and I thank you for that, especially when I would start to cry and you responded with, "it's OK go ahead, you need to do that."

  3. To the nurses and staff everywhere:  Remember when I walked in with a smile on my face? I was pretending! Even when I was smiling I was hurting inside. Just days away from my double mastectomy and you acted like this is something you do every day, which IT IS!!!!! But not for me!!!!! Not for any of us walking in your office. 

  4. Thank you to my oncology and radiation doctors who talked with me with my clothes on. You respected my dignity and were considerate about how many times a doctor had examined my breasts in the time span of one week!

  5. To my Plastic Surgeon:  I was very nervous walking into your office. But you were so kind and explained everything to me and all the nurses were so sweet. You never made me feel like I was being rushed or you didn't have the time for all of my questions. Thank you. 

  6. To my OB/GYN. I have nothing but good words and praise for you!! Thank you for delivering two of my three girls and for taking such great care of me for so many years. You pushed me get the mammogram. You will be greatly missed in your retirement. Hopefully, your professionalism and kindness will be passed on. 

  7. To all the doctors and nurses who said, "I was lucky. I caught it early. I was going to be OK." I am so thankful for the early diagnosis and I know I am going to live and for that I am so grateful. However, it is not easy accepting the two "easy" options. 1. I can have two lumpectomies followed by weeks of radiation (and your breasts won't look or feel the same). Or 2. I can have a double mastectomy!

  8. To my family and friends!! Your love and support was overwhelming. You made me feel so loved and I can't thank you enough for your prayers, phone calls, cards, texts and special gifts!! I hope you understood when I didn't call you back, it wasn't because I didn't want to, it was because I couldn't

THE SIDE EFFECTS THEY DON’T TELL YOU ABOUT...

It’s bad enough you are going to lose your hair, right?! But sadly, the doctors brush over the many other side effects that can also be very difficult to manage. Hair loss is not only on your head. You lose ALL body hair, including eyelashes and eyebrows! Your nails become brittle and you may even lose a few, I did. Some, like me, suffer horrible mouth sores. Mine were so bad I could not eat or swallow from the pain in my mouth and throat. I also experienced horrible nosebleeds during chemo. They would last for 20-30 minutes and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

Of course, the nausea is bad and expected and also many suffer from neuropathy (tingling and pain) in their fingers and toes that can last for many months if not years. Ultimately, I was really one of the lucky ones, my symptoms were mild compared to others!

For my cancer survivors who follow me, what did you experience? What did I miss? For those just starting chemo, please let me know if I can help you in any way!!!

 

A Year of What?!! HELL NO!

When I found out I would need not only chemo but a YEAR of treatment I wanted to run and hide! What are the doctors thinking? Who has the time for a year of doctor visits, iv infusions, multiple surgeries AND chemo?!? Well, turns out, I did!!  I went to one doctor or another for 18 months.  It was awful!  One time I had 5 doctor appts. in one week! I was lucky! I work part-time, very flexible hours.  I truly don’t know how women can do it working full-time. I’m in awe of all of you who had to do just that.  XO

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LET'S BE FRIENDS!

One of the positive things about having cancer is the new friends you make. Friends who know exactly what you are going though, friends who can laugh and cry with you. I met some wonderful women through a closed Facebook group and at my chemo facility. These women have truly been there for me. Can you believe I never sat through one treatment alone! A year of infusions and not one time alone! I’m thankful that these beautiful survivors will now be my pink sisters for life.

I remember walking into my first chemo and feeling very scared and alone. I looked into my mother’s and husband’s eyes and saw the pain they felt as we all sat there not knowing what to expect. I saw women with no hair and heard some talking and even laughing. Was that even possible? As the months went by I actually started to look forward to my treatment knowing I would see these new friends and share in their love and support.

It might not always be easy to see the positive during difficult times but making new friends like these might change your mind!

Special thank you to Kate, Weyman, Heather, Mary Ellen and Carrie! XXXXXOOOOO

Gifts I Loved –Who Doesn’t Love Getting a Gift, Right?!

With Christmas right around the corner this seems like an appropriate topic! I appreciated ALL the thoughtful gifts & cards. I was given special pink bracelets, religious icons, fun themed baskets, beautiful fresh flowers, fruit baskets and restaurant gift cards. The flower arrangements gave me something beautiful to look at while I was at home recovering and at one point it even looked like a mini florist shop! The painkillers after surgery can really mess up your bodily functions (tmi) and nothing fixed that or tasted better than sweet delicious pears (you know who you are)! Another very useful gift were restaurant gift cards. It was so nice to be able to pick up dinner and order what we all enjoyed. It truly was a huge help! Thank you, thank you everyone for making me feel so special!

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No One Will Know

My first thought when I was diagnosed was, “I won’t let this change me!”  I was determined to not gain weight, keep working out and once finished live my life as I did before.  Well you know what?!? That is almost impossible! It’s nearly always on my mind but I do have moments where I actually forget all my body has been through! Today, only months after being finished with my treatments (having some hair definitely helps), people I meet have NO IDEA what I’ve been through! I’m excited to get back to my life again!!

Exactly one year from the end of chemo.

Exactly one year from the end of chemo.

Cybershopping- My new favorite hobby!!

Amazon became my new best friend! I have always been a fan of online shopping but I really took it to a new level with my cancer diagnosis.  You can order ANYTHING! I ordered headscarves, halo wigs, cleaning supplies, birthday gifts, snacks, candy, you name it, I could find it online! This helped me to keep up on some of my errands and feel like I was still contributing to help the family without being seen in public!  That’s why I really used Amazon Prime so much.  It was too much work to put something on my head constantly and I was embarrassed of how I looked.  It was just easier to stay inside all day (probably not the best decision).  I was also told the more I didn’t cover my head the better it was for my hair growth so it was really a win-win! ;)

Those Dreaded Drains

After both of my surgeries I came home with two drains (I was lucky, some have four or more) sticking out of my body! Besides having two long tubes and drain pouches attached to you, you also have to “milk” the drains and log the amount of fluid that is draining. They have to slow down considerably to be removed. This is only my experience of course, but the drains were one of the worst parts for me! I was extremely uncomfortable, I could not shower until they were out (TWO WEEKS THE FIRST TIME, THAT’S A LONG, DISGUSTING TIME WITHOUT A SHOWER) and one was pushing on a nerve making it difficult to breathe! Not fun! I was also so afraid of how much it would hurt when they were removed, but really that part was not bad at all, more disturbing than painful. I did take sponge baths and had my husband help me “kind of shower” during those two weeks but you will never appreciate a shower like the one after the drains are removed! I’ll never take a shower for granted again!!!

Depression...

Where do I begin? Having suffered from severe depression some years before my cancer diagnosis I didn’t think it was possible to feel more depressed than I already had in the past. I was wrong. It was different but it was a very sad and dark time for me.

There were many days during my treatment that I felt so sad I didn’t care if I lived another day. I remember driving recklessly a few times, I wanted to die and end my sadness not thinking or caring about anyone else. Remember, this is the depression talking, it’s not rational or caring. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it but for me it’s a hopeless feeling and an extreme sadness. It actually sounds crazy now, but when you are in it it’s difficult to get out.

There were days I cried many tears. There were days and sometimes weeks I would not cry but just stay in the house with the blinds shut so no one could see my bald head. When I lost my eyelashes and eyebrows, 5 weeks AFTER chemo ended, I hit my lowest point. I truly wanted to die. I was sure I would never recover from all the side effects so what’s the point of living.

I lost many things: my breasts, my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, my nails were brittle, my body has scars from surgery and I was fighting constantly to not gain weight. (The side effects for majority of breast cancer patients is weight gain from chemo induced menopause, the steroids and hormone blockers). Besides losing all of these feminine qualities I felt I was losing my career as a commercial actress and was tired of watching everyone else live their life while I just sat on the couch watching my life pass me by.

I think you get the picture of how sad I felt.

 

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No Two Breast Cancers are Exactly the Same

I’m not a doctor but I have learned these past couple of years that even though I met many wonderful women diagnosed with breast cancer, none of us had exactly the same kind of breast cancer.  This is the reason why treatments can be so different affecting when we have surgery, if we have chemo and/or radiation, medication given after treatment etc. 

What makes every case so unique?  Many factors including:  age of patient at diagnosis, tumor grade and size, cancer stage (0-4), tumors being hormone positive or negative and HER2 status.  (HER2+ has a protein that causes breast cancer cells to grow and is considered an   aggressive type of breast cancer).  I was HER2+.   How you and your doctor decide your treatment plan takes in these factors and more. 

Remember, a good doctor will encourage a second and third opinion.  YOU are ultimately in control of what you will and will not do.  Talk to others, ask your doctor why he/she recommends this treatment and what are the survival rates with treatment and without.  Only YOU know what you can emotionally and physically handle.  Your quality of life is often overlooked during cancer treatment.  It’s important to ask about side effects before, during and after.  Many people suffer for years and were never told anything in advance. 

Hope this helps! XO

WIGS!

I have a love/hate relationship with my wigs! Wigs have come a long way but nothing compares to your own hair. It’s amazing it’s even possible a wig can be made out of your own hair (before you lose it) or others real hair. I tried many synthetic wigs that were extremely uncomfortable and I was constantly worried the thing was shifting on my head. Besides that, the synthetic hair would tangle and become brittle very quickly. When I got my real human hair wig it changed everything for me! I’m very grateful my husband pushed me to get one (I was hesitant because they are very very expensive) but even that wig was not very comfortable!

Everyone is different; some have no problem showing the world their baldhead, I was not!! It’s a personal decision and you won’t know how you feel until you get there. I was most happy when no one knew what I was going through. I certainly didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me and looking back, I think I was kind of embarrassed to even have cancer! I still don’t believe it to this day!

+’s of wearing a wig:  Easy to do your hair, it doesn’t gray, can change your look on a whim, no one has to know you have cancer.

-‘s of wearing a wig:  VERY uncomfortable, expensive, you still have no hair when you take it off.

My most natural wig.

My most natural wig.

One of my hat with "halo" hair covers.

One of my hat with "halo" hair covers.

Last Herceptin Infusion!

I wanted to share an exciting update …. TOMORROW IS MY LAST TREATMENT! ☺️ It’s been a exactly a year and a half since this nightmare began. Honestly, I have mixed emotions. I am so excited to be DONE but I’m not sure where I go from here. I’ve literally dedicated the past 18 months to getting through this. Recovering from my surgeries and chemo were actually easier than the emotional toll the treatment has taken on me and losing my hair has been devastating!

Anyone who thinks it’s only hair and it will grow back just doesn’t get it. Having breast cancer means losing EVERYTHING that you find feminine: your breasts, your hair, your eyelashes, your eyebrows, your nails are weak and brittle, your body looks different and then one day you can no longer recognize the person in the mirror. That is a very sad day. I cried many tears. I stayed inside for days and sometimes weeks when I was just too sad to go out in public.

Thanks to all of your kind words, thoughts and prayers I’ve been able to survive and slowly rebuild my body and my life again. Thank you for supporting me and encouraging me to continue. Many of you told me I was brave but really I felt so weak. I hope to put this behind me forever! I will keep you posted occasionally but I hope with only good news!

Please remember I am here for you if you ever need. Enjoy every day! Do something fun! Don’t wait to take that vacation! I love you all more than any words can describe!

TOP 10 ITEMS TO PUT IN YOUR CHEMO BAG

What to bring? What not to bring?  Here’s a list of items that worked for me.

1.     Gum/mints or ginger chews to help with nausea and/or dry mouth.

2.     Protein bar or nuts (Sometimes I got very hungry during chemo especially if I was there for 4 hours, so plan accordingly.  I had friends who were there 8+ hours and that’s too long without food)!

3.     A special blanket (Mine was a very special blessed blanket and given to me by a dear friend whose husband had used it during his chemo and it’s continually being shared with other church members going through cancer treatment).

4.     A special prayer book or Bible reading

5.     Lip Balm

6.     My phone

7.     Word search or crossword puzzle book to keep my mind occupied (although I ended up talking with new friends or family who went with me the entire time)!!

8.     Hand Sanitizer

9.     Large water and Ice container (I suffered from horrible mouth sores and the ice helped).

10.  Money (Just in case you need food before, during or after).

Chemo Chemo Chemo

Of everything I went through I was most scared of this.  To me chemo represented:  poison, no hair, sickness, nausea, cancer, sallow skin, depression.

I didn’t know what to expect.  I thought I would be sick immediately (I wasn’t), I thought I’d lose my hair immediately(I didn’t), I thought I’d lose weight (I didn’t- insert angry face)!

Truthfully, the side effects of the steroids were probably worse than the chemo.  I never threw up but ½ way through my 12 weeks I did become extremely nauseous the following day and could not do anything but sit on the couch watching the clock, hoping the time would pass so the day could be over and I could hopefully sleep it away (I did). 

The hardest part of chemo was watching everyone live life while mine literally stopped!  Everyone was living, working, shopping, laughing, meeting with friends, going to school, church, the gym, etc…while all I did was see more doctors and have more medical tests.

Depression set in.  I’d have to climb back out again as I had already done before.

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Why Chemo? My Doctor Finally Answers

Well, I finally got the answer to my question! Why am I doing chemotherapy and this year of torture, I mean treatment??!!

My oncologist said today, "The latest study from MD Anderson said without treatment you would have a 1 in 4 chance of the cancer spreading. The breast cancer you have is not only very aggressive but when it spreads, usually in the first five years, it goes to the lungs, liver or brain, and is considered stage 4 and incurable. Treatment at that point is a lifetime of chemo and drugs just to stay alive."

When she refers to the breast cancer I have, she means HER2+ Breast Cancer.

Now I know why I'm starting chemo in late July.