Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I "Passed" My Mammogram

(continued from "How I Found It")

I received my letter August 10, with the results of the mammogram; 

"your recent mammogram has been interpreted; it shows no features to suggest cancer"...  "Please remember 10% of breast cancers can not be found on breast imaging"...see your doctor for a clinical exam if you haven't already done so."

Look familiar?  If you are over 40, I hope it does.  What does it mean?  You've done your prevention and had your annual mammogram.  It's your "I don't have breast cancer ticket" for another year.  Whew.  

Taa-daa.  See not cancer.  Some type of mid-life change.  Nothing you can do about it.  Deal with it.

Coincidentally, I had an appointment with my primary care physician the week after I received my letter.  I mentioned the discharge to her and the visit to the breast health center.  She said, "it's probably a good idea to go see the surgeon and have it checked out, 90% of the time, it's nothing, but there are some cancers/pre-cancers that don't show up on mammograms".  "It's nothing probably, if you check it out and it happens again, you'll know the cause."   For some reason, her explanation/presentation prompted me follow up.  

Thank you God.

I made an appointment that afternoon.  The surgeon couldn't see me until the next week, but I wasn't really concerned.  I was just covering the bases to "be sure" everything was ok.  During that week, there were some other changes that started happening with that breast, but nothing that would cause me to think I had cancer.  Again, there were no lumps. Probably infection.  I looked it up on the internet.  Could be cancer, but could more likely be many other things.  

I went to a party that weekend with wonderful friends we don't see often enough.  We were catching up and I was lamenting about being a stay at home mom (being a stay at home mom is kind of out of character for me).  I was trying to live in the moment with the kids, but really wanted to be working full time and there wasn't a lot of work to choose from right now.  She said, "relax, maybe the universe is trying to tell you something."  This benign, reassuring comment haunted me for days.  I started to think, "what if it is something serious?" "what if the universe is trying to tell me something?"  "What if the last year was a gift; to be with the kids full time because I wasn't going to be around for all of the other summers?" DRAMA.  Get the drama out of your head.  You're healthy.  You're being mellow-dramatic.  You're not sick.  You've got to get a job.  Really, too much time on your hands.  So, I waited for the appointment and tried not to think about it anymore.

Of course this last year was a gift.  It's all a gift.  Everyday.  Every minute.  Sick or not.  The time you have with friends and family is time limited...you live far away and don't see them much; everyone is busy right now and as soon as _____________(fill in the blank) you'll spend more time with them; if you work with good friends; layoffs happen, transfers happen and careers change;  or they leave the world much sooner than we wanted them too.  I've always tried to remember that, but it does get lost in the craziness of the days.

Be sure to make a point to ENJOY the holidays this year.  Don't stress out over the stuffing, order pizza if you have to.  Make sure you spend time with the people you love.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So, How did you find "it"?

Everyone asks.  Well, mostly everyone, especially women.  I don't mind.  "So, how did you find it"?  Always looking very expectantly for me to say yes after the first question, "Self exam?" then the second, "Mammogram?"  I say no on both accounts.  Then, there is usually a pause, a look of confusion and a little fear.  Because, if it wasn't found like it was "suppose" to be, then how are any of us safe from it?  My first response would be to say:

But, I think that's an overstatement and somewhat reflective of my current mental state.

THE REAL ANSWER:  Know your body.  I mean, know-your-body.  What it looks like.  What it feels like.  What is normal, what is not. When something doesn't feel right, CHECK IT OUT.  Go to the doctor.  If the doctor dismisses your concerns or provides treatment that doesn't clear up the problem GO BACK.  If your think or feel that your concerns are not being addressed or the doctor keeps doing the same treatment with the same results. FIND ANOTHER DOCTOR that listens to you, provides testing or treatment that clearly identifies the problem and/or clears it up.

THE OTHER CRITICAL PIECE: Listen to yourself.  Your inner voice. Put the pieces together, if they don't add up, what needs to happen next?  Second opinion?  Talk to a friend or another professional?  (P.S. Not the friend who want to make you feel better, the one that tells you your butt IS to big in those pants.)  Don't dismiss your concern or fear by allowing yourself to get distracted by all of the busy stuff you have to do.  Because guess what?  It could be something serious. I have met many women in the last few weeks, who didn't listen to their bodies or took the word of someone else, that everything was ok.  Some waited over a year to follow up on concerns and their journey is much more difficult because of it. 

Please know I am not saying that everyone who has metastatic cancer procrastinated and it's their fault.  Cancer is mean and sneaky.  There are many different types that present differently.  There are no guarantees.  But ignoring changes in your body ESPECIALLY your breasts, can cost you dearly.

So, in a nutshell, (ha), here's how I found "it"...

Nipple discharge.  No one ever asks about it.  In July I noticed a small spot (a little smaller than the diameter of a pencil eraser) on the inside of my bra.  I was overdue for my mammogram by about two months, so, I scheduled an appointment.  Over the course of my adult life, (rare, but it did happen) I had occasionally had a small amount of discharge, so I wasn't overly concerned.  I actually thought, it was probably related to some pre-menopausal symptoms or hormonal changes.

I do self breast exams regularly.  I know the terrain very well, and had never found a lump of any kind.  My breasts have always been just regular and boring;  no lumps, no bumps, no family history.  Yey.  

My mammogram was fairly uneventful.  The only exception to this was when they asked if I was having any problems.  "I've had no problems, but I did recently have a small amount of discharge."  (I did not consider this a problem at this point-I thought it was their job to help determine if it was a problem. Right?)

This did stop the presses for a moment.  FYI...when you say "nipple discharge" in a breast health center, it's kind of like saying "bomb" in an airport.  Everyone stops, asks who you've told/seen about this and insists you talk to your Dr. about it. Immediately.

I left the mammogram center and went downstairs to my Dr.'s office.  The nurse said they could refer me to a breast surgeon for follow up.  "Surgeon" seemed a little extreme to me and while nipple discharge seemed to be a big deal, it only happened once and it wasn't very much.  I had talked to several friends about it.  It had happened to almost all of them at one time or another and was usually just an infection. 

I didn't ask the right questions or they didn't give me the right information to make me feel talking to a surgeon was warranted.  I did not listen or pick up on the not so subtle cues regarding nipple discharge. No one said it could be serious or that it could be cancer.  Even if they did, I don't eat meat, I exercise, don't smoke, no birth control,
Every time a new study comes out about how to lower your risk for breast cancer,  
I don't even try and I fit most of the categories.  HA.  Take that cancer.  I said no thanks.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Purpose Driven Day

I haven't read Purpose Driven Life, but today, I did use the title as a catalyst for my day.  I tried to spend most of my energy focusing on Luci, our 4 year old.  She has had the toughest few weeks.  It's hard being 4, almost 5, on a good day.  Throw in a parent incapacitated by major surgery and a brother/best friend/playmate with a broken arm and it really gets challenging.  She crawled in bed with me yesterday and said, "my brother is hurt", "he can't play kings and princesses", "he CAN'T even wrestle or snuggle with me".  Then, she buried her face in my neck/shoulder.

She's been giving my mom a tremendous amount of grief since she's been here helping out.  She tells my mom almost daily, with words or her tone, to leave.  After weeks of reprimand, timeout and talking we finally realized it was more about what my mom represented... a broken parent and lack of normalcy.  Someone is always doing my job because I haven't been able to do it.

So today, just Luci and I, went to Target to get a movie and snacks for family movie night.  She picked everything-movie, snacks and fire logs for a fire.  We rolled the windows down, turned the music up and sang as loud as we could...she picked ALL the songs. (and she's got good taste in music!)  I gave her lots of hugs, randomly all day.  We ate lunch at Target's snack bar and visited some wonderful friends/colleagues at my previous work.  

Everyone was all dressed up for Halloween which made it a great treat for her.  She had her picture made with Snow White and saw Jessie the Cowgirl from Toy Story.  She also got a real kick out of PacWoman-for some reason she laughed about it a lot after we left.

So, overall, it was a very boring, regular day--just like old times.  

She didn't complain once.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guaranteed Recovery

I am continuing to recover, slooooooooowly, but steadily.  I called the Dr.'s office earlier this week to get a "refresher" on what I can do and cannot do.  I'm feeling better and have more energy and stamina, so "resting" is becoming more challenging.  My "can do" list is always a little more limiting than I remembered. 

Our other exiting news is that Elliot broke his arm this weekend.  It was his right arm...and my extra right arm.  He's been so helpful during all of this to lift or open things for me.  That was a set back for both of us!!  He is doing better and will get his "real" cast on Friday, which will provide him a little more comfort and mobility.

My mom has been here during the weeks since my surgery, next week, she is going to stay home.  She is going to call and check in, but we think I can make it on my own.  Yea!!

Today I had my first "fill" with the expander.  It wasn't bad at all.  I dreaded it a little more than I realized, I think.  In the end, it took longer to park the car than to complete the procedure.  I think some of the anxiety came from being on the heels of finishing up several chapters of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book.  It has a tremendous amount of information in it about breast cancer, treatment and all that comes with your "cancer package" whether you ordered it or not.  It was a bit overwhelming.  Basically, there are no guarantees.  Not a surprise, but scary and disappointing if you're in a position to want a little bit of certainty back in your life.  

     "I may not have control over what happens in my life, but I do have control over my attitude."  Laura's quote of the day.  Just put on a little lipstick

I have met many people who have much greater challenges to resume a life free of Dr. appointments, if its possible at all.  I realize I have many things to be grateful for in all of this; early diagnosis, treatment (or lack thereof), the prognosis, my friends, family, neighbors and medical community that have made a sudden and traumatic event pass with the swiftness and ease I could not have imagined 6 weeks ago.  That has been my focus from the beginning and will continue to be what sustains me.


Top Ten Ways to Make Mastectomy Recovery Fun...

10.  Narcotics!
9.    Good food/new recipes.
8.    Good food/old recipes. 
7.   Spending more time with my mom in the last four weeks than I have in years.
6.   Appreciating the kindness of strangers in this crazy busy time.  (Opening the door for               someone who "looks normal" can really be a big deal and you don't even know it!)
5.   Getting to know new friends.
4.   Hearing from old friends and talking about the "good ole days".
3.   Riding on the city streets with my mom who doesn't like to drive in the city.
2.   Riding in the bike lane with my mom on the way to the doctor's office. (Not on a bike, but         with only two wheels in the lane, so technically, we are legal.)  :)
1.   Realizing the blessings that I've had all along, but didn't have time to see.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Drain Free and Ready to Drive!!

The drains are out!!  I love freedom!!!  It's so nice to move around without having to make sure you don't get hung up on something because of tubes hanging from your body.  Not to mention the ease of going to the bathroom or changing clothes without having to juggle slow moving body parts with limited range of motion AND dangling tubes. 

The title is somewhat of an overstatement on the driving part.  I did drive Saturday morning, which will probably do it for a while.  There was a lot of discomfort during and after.  Plus, I'm really trying to keep the movement down.  Excessive movement produces fluid, and without the drains, this could cause more discomfort and the need to go back to have the fluid drained.  Who wants that?  NOT ME!

I am walking regularly and building up my stamina. If my progress continues, I think I will be on the shorter end of the predicted recovery time instead of the longer side.  I also have to remember, this is a process that takes months from start to finish. I try to stay focused on today and making sure it goes well before thinking about tomorrow's progress.

With that said, I should probably say WE (including many of you) will be on the shorter end of the predicted recovery time.  I cannot imagine going through something like this without the support, encouragement and ALL of the tangible things that so many of you are doing for our family to make such a crazy situation seem not to out of the ordinary especially for the kids.  They haven't missed soccer practice, play dates or anything AND they have eaten healthy and regularly throughout this whole ordeal.  It a world where, everyone is sooo busy and doesn't have time for any extras in their schedule, the time you have taken to help us through this has been priceless. You are truly a blessing to us.