Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cloud Nine

"Walking on cloud nine" - that is what it felt like as my mom and I walked out of Kaiser General Surgery yesterday. Last week, I found out that the cancer as diagnosed last November, is gone. Yesterday, eleven days after surgery, the bandages came off and the drainage tubes came out of my right side.

I did not expect this feeling after I saw my scar for the first time. However, there was so much more to this appointment than its meager purpose. Do not get me wrong, nothing about having the drains removed felt meager. It hurt - at least for a few seconds and in my entry yesterday, I described my anguish over the drains. Still, I think it was the combination having them taken out, seeing the scar and the recommendation of my surgeon that helped me sky rocket to "cloud nine".

The recommendation: No radiation. Because, we chose the mastectomy, and all of my tests came back clean, Dr. Deree feels like there is nothing to radiate. I am comfortable with that - so is Steve - let's see if Dr. Sweet (Oncology) agrees.

The scar:
This was the scary part. At first I told her that I did not want to see it, but when my mom peeked first and said it looked good, I got a little braver. It is about nine inches long, running horizontally. It looks really clean. Dr. Deree said that I am a "super fast" healer, but the surprised look on her face said it all. I have been taking 1000 mg of vitamin C at dinner every night, as recommended by one of Kaiser's surgical nurses. Since healing occurs while you sleep, this is what must have done the trick. (This is a tip that will carry through to all types of injuries, surgeries or illnesses. I am assuming this will even help with the common cold.)

The drains: There is not much more I can say about these without my repeating myself, outside of AAAAAWWWWWW! Relief! Though, I took extra pain meds last night and I am having a pajama day today, as I now am nursing those wounds.

Since released from the hospital after my surgery, I had always planned on my mom taking me to this appointment. I told her it was a good one for her to take me to. I believed it but never though about why. Last night, it occurred to me. My mom has been to almost all of the chemo sessions with me. More importantly, she was there during my second meeting with Dr. Deree, where Dr. Deree unexpectedly recommended my mastectomy. Mom and I both cried - it was a very emotional moment. It seemed fitting that my mom was there as Dr. Deree removed the bandages on my cancer-free body. Having my mom there made me braver and together, we completed the cycle.

As I looked at the scar again last night, I felt strong. In the words of my friend, Jan, it is a badge of honor that will always remind of my journey. I do not know what lies ahead for me. I still have some recovering to do, and I will find out next steps when I meet with Dr. Sweet on May 5. Until then, like I said in my last blog entry, the rest is up to me!

Monday, April 26, 2010


I woke up comfortable this morning. Honestly, it was an odd feeling, dramatic as it may sound. Somewhere in the middle of the night, I flipped on the opposite side from which I am used to sleeping and it must have done the trick. I laid in bed as long as I possibly could. BUT...in the end, I got up to send the kids off to school. It was short lived, but a good reminder of what is to come.

The tubes that remain in my side and the drains to which they are attached make me look pregnant. I try to cleverly disguise this with scarves and blousy tops. It is still annoying. Still, more bothersome is the pain that falls somewhere in between a dull ache and constant itch where the tubes are attached to my body. This is complicated by the part of my arm where they rub (which is part way numb) seeming consistently irritated (which is especially a strange feeling because it is part way numb). With help from Vicodin and Ibuprofen, physical comfort comes and goes. However, looking at the bright side of it all (my friend Shanna would be proud!), I find comfort in a hundred other little things. Below are some recent examples:

-a good laugh with Steve last night when I came out of the bathroom looking like a Christmas elf;
-a movie with my parents yesterday, "Date Night";
-a hysterical laugh with them when I realized that the cow my brother and Kelly were buying with a few friends was not for milk. Gotta love my chemo brain;
-the magical moment when brownies anonymously showed up on my front porch just as I was craving chocolate!;
-a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon at Lahaina's in Pacific Beach with friends;
-comic strips sent anonymously to me in the mail - they made me giggle!;
-random groceries left anonymously on my front porch;
-dinners provided by families of San Diego United Futbol Club;
-a friend making our COSTCO trip for us last week and cleaning out our freezer to put our groceries away;
-home-made pickles;
-my dog ever so patiently sitting by my side every day;
-starting to get my concentration skills back so I can read book two of The Lightning Thief series. Harrison is anxiously awaiting my opinion, which is the real reason that I am reading the series at all;
-a walk with my family after dinner Saturday night; and,
-all your thoughtful, emails, texts, phone calls and Facebook posts!

As I sit here and type this post, I received a phone call from my surgeon. She is taking my tubes this afternoon. Yay! She is also removing my bandages from my mastectomy too. Not so, yay. I am not sure that I am ready. However, I believe I can endure anything to rid myself of my "drain friends" as I have been calling them. Seeing my scar is just one more check off my list.

Last week, I saw Melissa Etheridge interviewed on OPRAH. She is also a breast cancer survivor. Her new album, Fearless Love, is being released tomorrow and in the title song, she sings of living life "fearlessly". Among other points, in her interview with Oprah, she explains that instead of questioning why she got her cancer or "why me?", she views it as a wake up call that her body was not in balance. Further, she has no "bucket list" as she feels like she should live every day as if it were her last.

I was inspired. As I think about her words in context of my journey, I think that if aspire to live "fearlessly", internal comfort will follow, as well as a whole lot of fun. The rest will be up to me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ode to a Wonderful Man

Steve had to give me a shower last night. There was nothing sexy about it. Just a man helping his wife, taking care of her "for better or for worse".

My having breast cancer definitely falls under this vow. Steve has a big job. He has to be my confidante, best friend, punching bag, nurse, caretaker of the kids, caretaker of me, runner of our household, cook, dishwasher, homework police, taxi cab, accountant, coach and many other roles along the way. Everyday, I always try to think of something I can get done or arrange to get done for us, in order to help Steve. For instance, yesterday, Evelyn went to the COSTCO for us (Thank you, Ev!)- something that we had been trying to squeeze in all weekend - and my mom went to the grocery store for milk and bananas and picked up Maddie at school (Thanks, Mom!). I looked at the kids' homework and asked Harrison to take Cooper for a short walk. BUT...this is about all I accomplished.

What did this leave for Steve? Since I was in so much pain yesterday (a story in itself), I hardly helped get the kids ready for school in the morning. After work, Steve came home, prepared dinner (dinners are being provided for us, but getting it on the table is a different story), did dishes, helped with homework and put the kids in bed and that is even simplifying his task list a bit. I did chime in here and there (I am a great supervisor!)...but really, Steve ran the household. This was followed by a providing a late-night shower for his wife, running out to get cash for Gaby (who is here cleaning our house today) and a few other menial chores. Last night, he did not grade papers. Usually, he throws in some of that too.

I think this is the same type of stuff we all do everyday. Nothing too extraordinary. However, in order to pay tribute to the wonderful man that is my husband, I wanted to describe how his day is filled. And this is only what I see after he gets home.

When speaking with my Uncle Bruce last week, he advised that my Aunt Debbie (one of the kindest ladies whoever walked this Earth - may she rest in peace) always healed faster when she had no responsibility. I know that Steve is trying to make this a reality for me. As I get stronger, I will do more. In fact, I always try to do too much too soon. It is kind of my "MO". In the end, I am just extremely blessed to be married to a wonderful man who has a stronger will than I do.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cancer Free!

My recovery is going. I move around fairly decently and have unexpected flexibility on my right side. I made it to Harrison's baseball and Maddie's softball games on Saturday. Yesterday, I went to see Maddie compete at Green Elementary's Junior Olympics. Drains in tow for all. (I look a little bit pregnant - who'd thought they would attach these drains so they would hang across my belly?) My brother, Darin and sister-in-law, Kelly flew in from Portland on Wednesday night. It has been very comforting for me to have them here and my parents around as well. All have been fabulous. Kelly says my incision looks great. I miss her already and she only left yesterday. Darin leaves tonight. Thank you all for the phone calls and visits. They really brighten my day!

Today, the house is quiet. I am sitting by our front window. Regardless of the clutter remaining from our remodel, the new design of my front room looks beautiful in the morning light, as I sit on my new comfy couch. I am actually sitting in the space next to the window which our dog Cooper, considers his spot, to my parents' chagrin. (I can see why he likes it - the fresh air and view out the window is outstanding.) I have my coffee and both phones should someone call. I am at peace.

The phones are amazingly silent. I mean this in a good way. Yesterday, I received a fantastic report from my surgeon - all pathology reports from my mastectomy returned clean. The phone did not stop ringing for the rest of the day. When I heard the results, the first thing I wanted to do was tell the world, hug someone, jump up and down and scream. I was by myself in the house - but I made a fair attempt.

Before my mastectomy, I knew chemo had been approximately 75% effective. After the surgery, I knew that three of the "seven or more" lymph nodes that looked concerning in my PET scan (November, 2009) looked unhealthy. While I did not dwell on the pathology report too much, I knew it would be the determining factor in what happens next. I also knew that know matter which scans are performed, physicians cannot really "stage" cancer until they perform surgery and receive the pathology report. So, even though my surgery went well, the skeptical side of me could not celebrate the milestone until the pathology report returned.

That being said, I was not prepared for my emotions yesterday. I compare it to the emotions I felt when I found out that my second child was going to be a baby girl. Having my baby boy (Harrison) in 2000, I learned that while I am a "girly girl", I really love everything about my son. Boy clothes are cool. Boy toys are cool. Harrison was an easy baby. When I got pregnant for the second time, I had resolved myself to the fact that we would inevitably have another boy because Steve was essentially the determining factor in the sex of our child and we have five nephews and one niece on Steve's side of the family. When I found out that we were having our Madison, uncontrollable happy tears streamed down my face and I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion that I never knew was there. I guess I wanted a girl more than I knew.

This is exactly how I felt yesterday, after speaking with my surgeon. I never considered the fact that I could be "cancer free". I was OK with that. I knew radiation and time would take care of any residual micro-disease and honestly, I was really more scared that they would find some lurking tumor that did not show up in scans. Crazier things have happened.

Now, I can focus on healing and prevention. I will likely still have radiation. I will also have my second mastectomy at the time of reconstruction, some time this fall, I presume. The reality is that the type of cancer that I just fought (and beat) is still a puzzle to doctors - they do not know its cause, unlike other forms of breast cancer. This makes it a bit more of a threat for a repeat visit in the next 2.5 years. At the same time, if I can keep it at bay for the next 2.5 years, then it is unlikely to return. At least, this is the way I understand it. Either way, I still have some work to do. A lot of it also involves changing my diet and adding supplements geared towards cancer prevention. I can do that. Easy, peasy.

For now, I just want to relish in the the words "cancer free". Wow. In the words of my good friend Doug, "That is something."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Home Again, Home Again

This is Steve again - Marsi stayed the night at the hospital, which was well needed due to the nausea and pain she was in. They took care of her all night and the surgeon saw her in the morning, clearing her to go home. All did go well and Marsi is recovering perfectly. I picked her up at 10AM, after seeing H run the 880 at school for his Jr Olympics and brought her home. She is too tired to write, concentrate or post anything on Facebook yet, so I am continuing my duties. She is in good spirits and continues to amaze me with her strength and positive attitude. The surgeon did indicate that she feels she got all the cancer due to the tumor being located more forward (as opposed to closer to the chest wall) and shrinking much as it did during chemo. Also, she was encouraged by the fact the lymph nodes looked surprisingly unaffected. We have to wait about a week and the surgeon will call back with the pathology results. Then, we will know for sure if the cancer has spread or not, which will determine our next step on this long journey. Until then keep all your prayers and positive energy pointed our way. Marsi still has a long road ahead of her, but now we know, without a doubt, that my beautiful warrior WILL be a survivor.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nesting Away

I am nesting. I find it incredibly exhausting yet at the same time it calms my nerves. I have especially been on edge for the last 72-hours or so, with each hour bringing me closer to being cancer free.

Surgery is Wednesday. I am checking in at 12:30; "OR time" is scheduled for 2:30-4:30; and, then, I should be in recovery until about 6:30 p.m. I had a call from my surgeon yesterday, and then today, a woman from Kaiser Admitting called me to begin their process.

With the surgery and its preparations on the forefront of my mind, I am reminded of when I was pregnant and the "nesting" phenomenon that almost all pregnant women experience. The garage sale we had planned motivated me earlier this week to clean out several drawers in the kitchen. The fact that there were very few customers in the early hours of the garage sale motivated me to keep going. My friend had called the day before and offered to help with the garage sale. Since, Steve had it under control, we charged ahead with organizing my Tupperware drawer. (Thanks, Lisa!) I did not stop there. One thing lead to another and I have been cleaning and organizing my house for the past 12 hours. Yes, I am definitely nesting.

However, tired as I am, as I sit down to write, I realize that I am not overly emotional, I am not coughing and all in all, I feel pretty good. Let's just hope that the experiment I threw in the oven to serve for dinner tonight (we are low on groceries) will not cause too much of a commotion and we will be all set!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cancer Be Gone!

I have writer's block. I think it is due to the fact that I am having a hard time putting into words how I am feeling about my mastectomy, to occur next week (April 14).

I have started to prepare. However, I find myself focusing more on family activities and obligations rather than my feelings about the surgery. Maybe this is a good thing.

Typically, this blog has helped me express these feelings. Writing is my outlet. What I am finding is that my feelings about my mastectomy are so personal that I cannot put them into words. Maybe this is a good thing as well.

What I can say is that I have had a wonderful break from cancer treatments. Finishing my sixth chemotherapy treatment was a major accomplishment. Steve and I celebrated at Disneyland, while the kids were visiting Darin and Kelly in Portland.

Recovery from the sixth treatment is still in process. My taste buds are still off and my mouth is still healing from the dozen or more mouth sores that got me in the end. (A very common side affect of Adriamycin, I successfully avoided getting mouth sores through treatment five thanks to my vitamin regimen of lysine and folic acid.) I am still tired and a little bit anemic. Naps are helpful.

Tomorrow, I will complete the pre-testing for surgery, which is mainly blood work and an EKG. Monday, we will meet with a plastic surgeon. Other than that, I am waiting for an exact surgery time. I should know early next week. I believe the surgery will occur on Wednesday afternoon. I will stay the night and return home on Thursday.

I have heard all kinds of accounts as to how easy and hard the surgery has been for others. I have heard everything - not all are completely relevant due to when surgeries were performed and/or the fact that they were not all radical mastectomies, meaning there was no lymph node involvement. People mean well, however. So I do not mind hearing the stories, I just can't say that they do much to alleviate my concerns.

Mostly, I am worried about the emotions involved in losing such a personal part of my body. I am also worried I could end up with lyphedema in my right arm when they take out my lymph nodes, though I know chances are slight. I am worried that the pathology report after the surgery will determine I need more chemo. I am worried that my body is a bit weak and this weakness may delay my recovery. I am worried about losing feeling in my arm once when they sacrifice the nerve necessary to remove my lymph nodes. This list could go on and on, but this is where my writer's block impedes my ability to share. It is just too personal.

Despite my concerns, last night, it occurred to me that I ought to focus on the fact that they are removing my cancer next week. After watching Crazy Sexy Cancer this weekend (see previous post), I appreciate that they can remove my tumors and I am hopeful that the only existing cancer is that which they have seen in scans. I am more than ready to give these tumors the boot and get on with my life. Can I keep my focus here? Maybe not, but I am sure going to try.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Crazy Sexy Cancer - A Movie that Inspires

Steve and I watched the movie today, Crazy Sexy Cancer, a documentary by Kris Carr for TLC. Kris is a survivor of cancer of the vascular system. It was really well done. Steve thought it was really positive and hopeful - and for me, that says it all. If you would like to see clips and Oprah's segment as presented by Dr. Oz, click here. I highly recommend it.