Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SBE May Save Your Life...It Did Mine!

When I started this blog 38 days ago, it was primarily just for was my "Easy Button".    Telling someone that I was diagnosed with breast cancer was difficult, but re-telling was even harder.  Thus, "TaTas For Now" was born as a way that I can share the latest updates with family and friends, in addition to being a form of  "cheap therapy" for me.  Over the past seven weeks, as I've shared my journey,  another goal has come about from my blog...awareness!

As we come upon Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, I pray that I can make a difference, in encouraging at least one more woman to do her monthly self breast exam (SBE), or schedule her annual mammogram.  I have begun returning to work in between medical appointments, and am striving back for that "normalcy", with limits of course.  I can't tell you how many people have said, "Shelby, what if you didn't go get your mammogram?"  "What if you hadn't felt the lump?"  My husband, my principal, co-workers, friends, and family have all asked the same question...WHAT IF?  Fortunately by the Grace of God and my meddling husband and mother, I went!  (In that case, saying thank you for minding my business just doesn't have the same effect, does it?)

Out of all of the posts that I have written or will write, this is probably the one that I want you to remember the most...women and men should complete their monthly self breast exams.  I've already shared that the current statistics are 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.  (Granted, there aren't too many of them diagnosed at age 38!)  Did you also know that 1 out of every 100 breast cancer cases diagnosed are to a male? 

There are lots of different methods for completing self breast exams.  BreastCancer.Org has a five step plan.  The American Cancer Society has these instructions.   Other suggestions for the breast self exam are offered on the WebMD web site.  Once a woman reaches the age of 20, she should begin doing monthly self breast exams.

It doesn't necessarily matter if you do your exam in the shower, standing or reclining on a bed...the point is that you do it religiously at the same time each month.  One of the neatest things I've found are web sites that will send you monthly reminders to complete your self breast exam.  Bright Pink has a reminder email sign-up program.  The UCSD Cancer Center also has a monthly reminder program.  Regardless of whether you utilize one of these email programs, put it in your smartphone calendar, Outlook calendar, or just it!  As cliche as it sounds, "Feel Your Boobies". 

Current mammography recommendations differ, in that some organizations state routine / baseline mammograms should begin at age 40, while others suggest age 50.  If you are over the age of 40...when is the last time you've had a mammogram?

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure site shares the following warning signs:
  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away 

Another important factor in breast health is to know your family history.  Ask around...did Aunt Paula have breast cancer, or Uncle Steve have prostrate cancer? (Did you know that they are genetically linked?)   Forget about tending to your relative's business, but if a female relative has a lump, cyst, etc... she needs to share it with the family.

"Feeling my boobies" most likely saved my life...and it might save yours also.  (Remember that 1 in 8 statistic.)  If you don't gather anything else from my journey, remember how important your breast health is.  Complete your monthly self exam.  Sign up for an email reminder.  Schedule your routine mammogram.  Have your health care provider exam your breasts during physicals.  If you are a male, remind your female loved ones, as well as become familiar with your breast health. 

As mothers, we often postpone our health needs for the needs of our children or time constraints. This is one case where you need to put yourself first.  I'll tell you like my mother told me, when she found I put off getting a mammogram for a few months, "If you don't want another woman raising your children....go get it checked!"

(This post is lovingly dedicated to my husband...who will never let me forget how he made me go get my mammogram - via Helen!)


Monday, September 26, 2011

Look Good...Feel Better Class

Monday night, Adelia and I attended a class, "Look Good...Feel Better", sponsored by the American Cancer Society.  The program is open to all women who are undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, or other medical treatment, and focuses upon the appearance related side effects of chemotherapy and radiation on your body.  I would probably say that the class mirrored breast cancer statistics, as the cosmetologist teaching the class and I were the only individuals there (with the exception of Adelia), who were born in the past fifty years.  The best part of the evening was that we walked away with a free bag of cosmetics!

As I await my next oncologist appointment, and find out exactly what chemotherapy regime I will be prescribed, I've been researching. (Aren't you surprised to know that?  LOL)  There are approximately twenty different chemotherapy drugs on the list for breast cancer treatment.  The majority of the drugs are combined to form combinations for treatments.  All of the characteristics of your cancer, as well as your menopausal status determine which drug combination you are prescribed. 

Over the past few days, especially during the class, it has become very real the side effects that I most likely will experience on this journey.  Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, which means it's not localized, but administered to the entire body through the bloodstream.  Chemo drugs are given to weaken and destroy cancer cells.  I'm praying that my chemo will "seek and destroy" any little cancer cells floating around and blow 'em up...just like on Griffen's video games!

The "Look Good...Feel Better" class emphasized what we already know.  If you look good, you'll feel good., or at least better!  Sure, there are days that we want to lounge in our comfy flamingo night shirt (thanks to my Mother, I'm now the owner of flamingo covered sleepwear, which Jeff has taken to calling it the "Florida Lottery Nightgown!), but we know that it would be better for our "spirit" if we get up, put your face on, fix your hair, and get dressed.  If you look your best, you'll at least feel better.

I learned many things during the course of the hour-long class.  (Don't you just love it when you learn something!)  We are all taught about cosmetic safety, and the lifespan of your cosmetic products, but let's face it...most of us never follow the suggested guidelines.  As a chemotherapy patient, it is imperative that I now begin thinking about keeping my cosmetics "clean", as to avoid risks from bacteria or other infections.  While on chemo, it is advised that you utilize disposable make-up applicators, like cotton balls, cotton swabs, disposable mascara wands, or even a sanitized hand.  It was also advised that you never, ever place your hand into a jar, container, etc..., but instead, use a cotton swab to dip out of the jar or container.  This is probably a tip we should all utilize!

Information was presented about skin and nail care, in addition to make-up tips and head coverings. Yours truly was the make-up model.  (Remember, I was the only one under 50!)   Don't moisturize your eyebrows, and they'll stay in longer.  When you don't have eyelashes, it is better to "dot" your eyeliner, rather than harsh lines.  You can visit the website for the make-up guide, as well as the information on scarves, turbans, and head wraps.  One of the neat things I learned was how to take an old t-shirt and turn it into a head scarf.  I think I'll be going through some of Jeff (and even Adelia's) t-shirts, to decide which colors I need for my wardrobe!

Do you think I'll "Look Good...Feel Better" with an old camo t-shirts as a head wrap?  Exactly what ensemble would one wear with that?


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Awful Pain from the "Vampire Machine"

The Vampire Machine that attacked me!
My life has a new's what I refer to as the "Vampire Machine", and it lurks in the treatment room at Dr. Martin's office.  In real life, it's not anything out of a Charlaine Harris "Southern Vampire / Sookie Stackhouse" novel, or even related to Bill or Eric from "True Blood", but a medical grade vacuum.  Unfortunately, I had an appointment with the Vampire Machine on Tuesday.

 I noticed Monday that I began retaining fluid around my incision, and under my arm pit, so I called Dr. Martin's office.  It is fairly normal for mastectomy patients to need additional draining after the drainage tubes are removed.  Yours truly, was no exception, and had to undergo treatment from the fang-ridden, blood sucking, pain machine!
The covered needle and plastic tubing
Dr. Martin used the Vampire Machine to drain lymphatic fluids, blood and other juicy stuff from my breast area.  A sterile needle and tubing is attached to the vacuum, and then inserted into the breast area.  The vacuum was then turned on, collecting fluid into a canister.  I may complain from time to time, but I was not prepared at all of the pain that was inflicted by the blood sucking machine.  The needle was moved in different direction to suck fluid from different areas, and it was by far the most painful thing I have experienced.

I am at the stage in my recovery where much of the "feeling" is returning to my breast and arm area from surgery.  Regardless of whether it was the sensation of regenerated nerves or not, this was extremely painful.  Let me say that once hurt!  I had to take pain medication all night, and even bled through my bandages.  Please pray that I do not need to meet the Vampire Machine any more during recovery!

More than 100 cc of fluid was collected
Dr. Martin is very pleased with the way my incision is healing, and was excited about the range of motion that I have regained already in my arm.  My exercise booklet is from the American Cancer Society.  You can see the exercises here.  This appointment also served as my pre-surgical consult for my chemotherapy port.  My port will be inserted by Dr. Martin on October 3, as out-patient surgery.  Pre-op for outpatient surgery will be on September 27.

My stamina is improving everyday, as is my ability to move my right arm.  There are still some issues with tightness and swelling, but perhaps some of that is strictly from nerve re-generation.

Regardless of the reason, please pray that I have no more encounters with the Vampire Machine.  I'm traumatized...scarred for life, from this little" blood sucker on wheels".  Please pray that there is no "next time" encounter for me and this horrid machine!


Monday, September 19, 2011

It's official...I Have a Calendar!

This calendar is just for doctor visits, treatments, tests, etc...
It's official...I now have a calendar just for medical stuff!  I'm an organized person (or try to be), but the reality of having a mini-calendar just for medical related stuff is kind of hard for me to accept.  That's the point that I'm at in my life...

Friday morning, I had my appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Cheryl Jones, who practices at the Georgia Cancer Center - Macon office.  It was great to walk in and see a smiling face!  Adelia's best friend's (and my second son) mother is the receptionist there, but I noticed that everyone was treated like a "person", and not just a $ sign.  Walking into the cancer center, you knew that every person there was touched by the disease in one way or another.  I found myself wondering what their stories were... were they there due to a spouse, child, sibling, relative, friend, or were they the cancer patient?

My notebook from the Breast Health Center
Dr. Jones is highly recommended, and was very informative.  She asked me what I knew about my diagnosis...and I told her.  I've discovered that many cancer patients either know nothing of their diagnosis, know some, or are well-informed.  I realize that I am generalizing all people into a category, but that is my opinion.  I (just in case you doubted) fall into the well-informed category.  I can't imagine not knowing about the disease that is affecting your body and your family, but I know many who choose not to.  Plus, it's just part of my nature to know as much about something as's one reason why I chose my career!

Dr. Jones is a soft-spoken lady, but the wealth of knowledge behind her rimless eyeglasses is apparent.  After she reviewed all of my pathology reports, we found out additional information that wasn't apparent earlier.  ( Dr. Martin is a well-informed surgeon, with great knowledge about breast cancer, but Dr. Jones is my "cancer doctor", or oncologist.) Dr. Jones immediately saw my list of things to ask, glanced at it, and then handed it back to me.  (in the course of the appointment, she answered every single question on my list...and then some!)

Based upon my surgery and pathology reports, there are some major factors in my diagnosis that have changed. These factors will contribute to what weapons are used to fight my cancer.  The grade of my tumor, vascular & lymphatic status, lymph node involvement, staging and my HER-2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) status have changed.  You can find out more about HER-2 from this website.  The core needle biopsy was just a "snapshot" of the tumor, whereas the mastectomy produced the entire "well-circumscribed 2.6 X 2.1 X 1.8 cm firm white mass". (page 4 of my 23 page pathology report)  This is why there are changes from the initial report.

My "doctor bag", which I now carry to all appointments!
The grade of my tumor is now 3. Grade 3 cells look very different from normal cells, as they grow quickly in disorganized, irregular patterns, with many dividing to make new cancer cells. (  As shown by the positive lymph nodes, the cancer had invaded my vascular system.  Of the 18 lymph nodes removed, only 2 showed a presence of cancerous cells.  One lymph node is considered  to have "extracapsular extensions", meaning that the cancer has spread outside the wall of the node.  My report shows the size of the largest metastatic deposit is 1 cm.  The fact that the cancer had spread to my lymph system is a "whole new ballgame". 

I asked Dr. Jones how to respond to my children when they ask, "Mom, are you cancer free now that your breast is gone?"  Her suggestion was to tell them, "the doctors removed all of the cancer that they saw, but that there could still be cancer floating around in my blood."  It's kind of a different perspective when you think of it that way, as opposed to be cancer-free when you breast is removed.  My cancer stage is IIb.  You can read about breast cancer staging here.  I am just over the IIa mark, with my tumor size.  Treatment really doesn't vary from IIa to IIb.  The suggested course of treatment for me is chemotherapy, followed by radiation.

Apparently when we thought I was HER-2 negative, the tests actually showed that additional testing needed to be completed.  Generally, you receive a score of 1-3 on this test.  1 being that you are negative for the HER-2 gene, and 3 being positive.  I received a 2.  According to Dr. Jones, both the FISH methods and IHC testing methods have come back inconclusive.  The report refers to "Because of a possible interference by chromosome 17 polysomy noted on the previous HER-2 analysis, the HER-2 analysis will be repeated by another method."  HER2-positive breast cancers tend to grow faster and are more likely to spread and come back compared to HER2-negative breast cancers. (  If it is found that my cancer is HER-2 positive, then it will involve a weekly infusion treatment of Herceptin, for one year.  As a friend of mine told me, that's just one more arsenal in my warehouse.  Cancer is a family diagnosis, but looking at weekly infusions for a year...that's just hard to imagine.  Hopefully the results will be back later on this week, but certainly by my next oncologist appointment.

Speaking of calendar is filling up.  Today, Jeff and I attended a chemotherapy class at the Cancer Center. Thursday is my two-week post-op and port insertion consult with Dr. Martin.  Next week, Adelia and I are attending a "Look Good - Feel Good" class at the hospital on 9/26, which focuses on scarves, make-up, accessories, etc. after chemotherapy hair loss.  Between now and my appointment on the 30th with Dr. Jones, I have to get a chest x-ray and will have an echocardiogram on 9/27.  I'm not sure where it will fall, but somewhere between my appointment with Dr. Martin and my first chemotherapy treatment (which can't be prior to 4 weeks post-op), I will have my port insertion.  As the day has progressed, I noticed that my surgical site and under my arm seems to be swelling, possibly filling up with fluid.  (Remember my surgical drain was removed last week.)  This is completely normal, but rather than waiting until Thursday to see Dr. Martin, I now have an additional appointment with him tomorrow.

Griffen in his new "Weeblo" uniform!
In the meantime, between my "calendar appointments", I'm trying to be normal: a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend.  Friday night, I enjoyed watching Adelia and the awesome JCHS Marching Greyhounds perform pre-game and during half-time.  (The JCHS football team won, too!)  I've been doing my post-surgery exercises, visited a great wig shop (that deserves its own post, though!), put patches on a new scout uniform, and have read bedtime stories.  Everyday, my stamina is improving.  I have had such a great support system of my parents, husband and children, but it's nice that I can actually help to cook, fold laundry, and do dishes!  (I think I might still be too sore to clean the bathrooms, though- how long do you think I can use that excuse? :)


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Deliveries, Doctors & Drains

As I write this post tonight, I am feeling blessed...blessed beyond measure.  (Ok, so maybe I did take a pain pill since I over-exerted myself today...but my blessings greatly exceed prescription narcotics!)  Today has been an eventful day, one full of special deliveries, appointment with the surgeon, drain tube removal, and even a Pre-K event.  It is so hard to believe that just four short weeks ago from today, I was told that there was an 80% chance my tumor was malignant.

 Four weeks later,  I have one breast, eighteen less lymph nodes and two armpits (or so it seems, from where they removed tissue and lymph nodes from under my arm!) as a result from surgery.  I know that I am supported by family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.  Over the past few weeks, you have prayed with me, cried with me, laughed with me, and rejoiced with me.  For that, I will be eternally thankful!

This morning, I received a special delivery...all the way from New Hope Baptist Church, in Jennings, Florida.  New Hope is my "home" church, over 200 miles away from Gray.  This is the church where I was baptized, and the church I was married in.  Karen Goolsby delivered two gift baskets from the wonderful "New Hope Ladies" this morning.  These are the ladies who have been there for me throughout my life...from VBS to baptism, my wedding, to the birth of all three of my children, their love and support has been as solid as the oak trees that grow in Hamilton County.  These women have shown me how to host memorable bridal showers, make the best punch in the world (can I get an "Amen" about that New Hope Punch), and have demonstrated how to be women of faith.  Now, they are specifically  praying for me and my family as I battle cancer.

The gift baskets are full of items that are very thoughtful and have such meaning to me.  Ranging from plastic flatware and tissues to relaxation candles and therapeutic pillows, the baskets were just amazing.  As I looked at each item, I wondered what sweet friend knew I would need that item.  Candy, candles, mints, journals, inspirational books, notepads, jewelry, and gift cards are just a few items included.  More importantly, I know that the baskets are full of prayers and love...which can't be purchased at any store.  To my New Hope Ladies - Thank you will never suffice.  I love you!

Arleigh enjoying a treat, while wearing her fake glasses.
The children enjoyed the sprinkle marshmallow pops that accompanied the gift basket... which I must share with all of my crafty friends.  They were the large marshmallows, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with "sprinkles".  Rather than using a sucker or popsicle stick, they used a "crazy straw" for the stick.  These were great treats, and one that I will certainly have to copy in the future!  (Won't those make great classroom and birthday party favors?)

My mailbox has also "runneth over" with well wishes and greetings from friends, family and co-workers.  It is so nice to have brightly colored envelopes and messages...makes me feel like I'm back at summer camp and it's "mail call" time!  Greeting cards and letters are so much better than getting the electric bill or insurance explanation of benefits in the  mail!

This afternoon was my one week follow-up appointment with Dr. Martin.  He was very pleased with the surgical incision, and removed my drainage tube.  Thank God!  I found that the drainage tube was the most horrid thing about surgery, even worse than the incision itself.  If you look at the picture at the left, you will see the black sutures still attached to the tube.  Everything to the left of the black thread was outside of my body, and everything to the right was inside.  He even laughed about me wanting to take a picture of it...but then we've shared everything else, haven't we.  (Speaking of that, I'll post a picture of my incision this weekend.)

Dr. Martin referred me to an oncologist, Dr. Cheryl Jones. He was adamant that I be seen as soon as possible, and between God and Dr. Martin working together, my appointment is Friday at 10 a.m.  After the appointment with the oncologist, I will have a better understanding of when chemotherapy will begin, and can plan accordingly.  I will return to Dr. Martin in one week for a check, and possibly even schedule the out-patient surgery for my chemo power port next Thursday.

I am now clear to begin exercising to regain my strength and range of motion on my right side.  My nurse navigator, Kim (who I can not say enough wonderful things about), spent a great deal of time talking with Mom, Jeff and I after the appointment.  She demonstrated exercises, went over pathology report details, and answered many questions we had about upcoming chemotherapy treatments.  I realize that everyone is different, but I can not imagine going through a battle with cancer, and not being as prepared as possible.  I want to know what I'm up against, and how to face it head on for the defeat.  How someone can choose not to be an "informed" cancer patient is beyond my comprehension.

The pathology report from my mastectomy is 26 pages long,  I'll post more details about the report at a later date, but 5 sentinel lymph nodes were removed, with only 2 testing positive.  An additional 13 lymph nodes were tested, but were all negative.  I also received the BRCA testing results today, and they are negative!  Another Praise, in that my cancer is not genetic and will not affect my Mother, sister, or children!

Since I was still dressed from "going to town", I mustered up enough energy to attend a Pre-K workshop at Arleigh's school.  The workshop was about their "Animated Literacy" program, which is used for instruction.  Visit the Animated Literacy web site here for more information.  Even though I was exhausted by the time I returned home (to a wonderful home-cooked meal, prepared by my hubbby), it was nice to get out and see people!

My pain is a bit higher this evening than it has been.  I'm not sure if that is due to taking fewer pain pills, healing, exercising, or a combination of everything.  Tomorrow I'm switching over to Alleve for pain, and pray that it will be minimal as I continue to heal.

From deliveries to drain removal, today was a great day.  I know that all days won't be as great, but I will continue to celebrate!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stop and Smell the Gardenias

Gardenias are my Mother's favorite flower.  She has always loved the fragrant blossoms that bloom in the spring and summer.  They are "happy flowers" for me, reminding me of summer breezes that gracefully spread their potent fragrance throughout the yard.  It saddens me, but the blossoms on my gardenia bushes are now beginning to wither.  My mother and children have been picking the flowers and placing them in dishes throughout the house, trying to wring out the last bit of perfume before the blossoms turn brown and fall to the ground.

This afternoon, we took a walk around the yard, and stopped to smell the gardenias.  At first glance, the bush was full of withered, brown blossoms, but there were a few lone, white flowers that remained.  These few blossoms were still fragrant enough to "smell up" the yard, even though they were few in number. 

Most afternoons, I would have probably found myself in a hurry, while in the yard.  I would be rushing my children inside for homework and baths, sweeping off the front porch, or picking up stray litter that blew over from the neighboring high school.  I would not have taken the time to "stop and smell the gardenias".

As cliche' as it sounds, we live a hurried life...there's always someone to see, someplace to go, or something to do.  When you are faced with your own mortality, whether you receive a cancer diagnosis or just have the dreaded common cold, we need to make certain that we prioritize the things in our lives, and take time for the little things.  I realized that today...if I hadn't been standing outside with my Mom, I would have never stopped to snap a photo of her by the withering gardenia bush, or take the time to inhale the special fragrance of the beautiful white blossom.

As life passes us by, it's very difficult to always remain focused on the positive, when it would be so much easier to dwell on the negative.  I'm not always "Suzy Sunshine", and even though I try to remain upbeat and positive (especially for my family), I'm also a realist..  Last night, as my children were asleep in their beds, Jeff and I spent some time on the back deck discussing the "what-ifs".  What if my cancer has spread?  What if it's somewhere else? It was the first time that I actually verbalized my fears, but I needed to share.  The thoughts were just fleeting, but they were still real.  I know that God is in control, but it still doesn't mean I can't ask questions from time to time...Oh, how easy it would be to dwell on those negative thoughts, and let them consume me.

Today, I ventured out of the house.  (Briefly, as it was so very exhausting!)  Mom and I went to Walgreens, in search for some children's cold medicine.  Right in front of the Coca-Cola display, Dr. Martin called.  Praise God, the only cancerous lymph nodes were the two sentinel nodes that tested positive during surgery. He reported the surgical margins were clear and the remainder of the lymph nodes from underneath my arm were free of cancer cells! God is good! (You can learn more about surgical margins here.)

Whether taking time to smell the gardenias, or turning the smallest events into "sprinkle" celebrations, life is fleeting, and passes quickly, especially in our hectic world.  Sometimes, it's the fact that most flowers are brown that makes the fragrance even sweeter, or the fact that a great news is even better after a gloomy night.  Take after the Nike commercial, and "Just Do It!"  Stop and smell the gardenias, before they are all gone.

Have to share this picture of my "angelic" mother that was taken the sunbeams were shining down, it made me think that the "Hallelujah Chorus" should be playing in the background!

Thank you for your prayers, but please remember those who may have unspoken prayer requests, also.  God knows who they are.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9-11, Ten Years Later

Cousin Georgia and Adelia in San Francisco, 9/12/01
Today, as I remembered the many lives that were lost, altered and forever changed due to the 9/11/01 attack on America, it reminded me that God has a path for our lives.  We may not be privy to the path He has chosen for us, but it will be revealed in His time.

Ten years ago today, I was in San Francisco, California.  Jeff was a delegate at the 2011 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International Convention, so we made it a family trip.  Mom and Adelia traveled with us, as I was expecting Griffen.  We planned on using the trip to explore San Francisco and visit with Jeff's sister, Frances.  This experience was going to be a memorable time for Adelia, as it would be one of the last big trips prior to becoming a big sister.

I will never forget waking up in a strange city...watching the events unfold on television.  As I literally wiped the sleep from my eyes, the realization that the events on the television were real, and not a dramatization was surreal.  I immediately knew that life would never be the same.  We prayed for those who lost their lives, as well as for safety, as San Francisco was possibly the next target.

After notifying everyone that we were safe, we set out about our normal plans for the day.  The terrorists might plow us down, but we would be sight-seeing when it happened!  We basically had the city to ourselves, with the exception of the plain-clothed officers, dogs, and soldiers stationed at regular intervals throughout the city.  I'll never forget how deserted Fisherman's Wharf was...there were only a few tourists, and what seemed to be thousands of law enforcement personnel!

Fast-forward ten years, and now on 9/11/11...I am a breast cancer survivor!  So many things have happened in the past ten years, that were on God's time, and not necessarily mine.  In the ten year period, I have given birth to two wonderful children, relocated to another city, and been diagnosed with cancer.  When I think about the changes in my life, it reminds me of a chorus that my Mom always sings, when piddling around the house...

In His time, in His time
He makes all things beautiful, in His time
Lord, please show me everyday
As You're teaching me Your way
That You do just what You say, in Your time. 

In Your time, in Your time
You make all things beautiful, in Your time
Lord, my life to You I bring
May each song I have to sing
Be to You a lovely thing, in Your time.

Lord, please show me everyday
As You're teaching me Your way
That You do just what You say, in Your time
In Your time
In Your time.

The 2011 IBEW International Convention begins later this week in Vancouver.  Several months ago, Jeff volunteered not to attend, but to stay behind to handle things in the office.  At the time, I questioned his decision, but he was adamant about volunteering.  This is just one more thing that shows me God is in control, not us.  

It all goes along with some of those "unanswered prayers" that happen from time to time.  It's hard not to question them, but in the end, it's "His Time" that guides our lives, and those we love.


P.S.  Even with the tragedy, we had a wonderful trip to San Francisco in 2011.  Many memories were created and we were able to return home only three days later than originally planned.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Down the Drain

When I began blogging about my journey with breast cancer, I wanted to make certain that I was real.  My feelings and emotions expressed through my writing are real, and I don't want to sugar-coat the experience.   This is as real as it gets...I can't just pick the days that I want to have breast cancer, nor can I just pick the parts of surgery, recovery or treatment that I want to experience.

As I asked other survivors, patients who had breast surgery, and researched on the Internet, everyone and every article mentioned the dreaded "surgical drains", and how they were the worst part of the entire experience.  You may think this is too graphic, too much information, or that I shouldn't include this, but as my goal has been all along...this is real.  Drainage tubes are a very real part of my recovery...and therefore my blog.

A drain was inserted underneath my arm.  It is secured with a stitch, and apparently ropes through my breast area, underneath the skin.  The drain helps release blood and lymphatic fluids that could build-up up in my breast area, causing swelling, discomfort and possible infection.  You can read more about mastectomy surgical drains here.  The empty drain looks like a grenade, and the suction pulls down fluid through the drain.

 My surgical camisole has pouches for the drain, but I also received several hand-made pouches from the hospital.  Volunteers make the pouches and give them to mastectomy patients.  These are just cloth pouches with a ribbon that hangs around your neck or arm.  They are machine washable, so it's not a big deal if you get them wet or fluid on them.

 The drain has to be emptied, and the contents recorded.  The color will change from dark red (Wednesday and Thursday) to a more light color; right now it's turning orange-red.  There may also be solid bits of clots or tissue mixed in the fluid.  Each time the drain is emptied, the amount and time must be recorded.  The drainage tube usually remains in one-two weeks, so I hope that it will be removed at Thursday's appointment.

It has been a family effort to empty the drains.  I find that I like them emptied every 2-3 hours, as the weight tends to start pulling a bit on the stitch.  We've attempted several different things today, and have discovered that a piece of gauze cut around the point of insertion helps distribute weight evenly.

After each empty, the amount is measured in a specimen cup, recorded on the log and then discarded.  Arleigh has taken it upon herself to be the official "disposer"...and tells everyone it's "her job" to pour the contents into the toilet and flush!

I am very fortunate that my parents have been able to be with us during my recovery.  Mom and Dad were able to attend the "Grandparent's Day" breakfast with Griffen yesterday, and then watch Adelia perform with the "Marching Greyhounds" last night at the home football game.  Arleigh is enjoying having full access to Nana's jewelry and perfume, too!  Many of you know how Jeff's work schedule is, so having him home 24/7 is a great treat for the children.  Spending time with my family are sprinkles on my day, as are the prayers, cards, messages, emails, flowers and homemade goodies that friends have gifted us with.  Thank you!

As with most pain medications and surgery, I'm a little "behind" schedule in certain areas.  So far, no amount of Colace, watermelon, mixed green salad or raisin bran has helped.  Please pray that this will be remedied soon!


Friday, September 9, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

The past two days have been a blur, as you can imagine.  I'm on painkillers (Jeff is spinning a little as I'm typing this), so you'll have to forgive any incoherent sentences or thoughts in this post.  Maybe it's the drugs, the experience, or exhaustion, but my last few days have been very similar to The Wizard of Oz.  Part of it is in sepia, and part in technicolor.  I'll try to share as many details as I remember, and get you "up to speed" on the details.

First, THANK YOU to my incredible guest blogger, Adelia.  Her post was great, and I hope you enjoyed reading it!  (Adelia generally edits my posts after writing, so she is very familiar with my blogging process.)  Hopefully, I can convince my daughter to write additional posts and share her thoughts with you, as cancer is a diagnosis that affects the entire family.

 We reported to the hospital at 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday, and were assigned a room in the day hospital. 

There, I received a fabulous new outfit!  As Arleigh would say, they certainly didn't match!

 As with the entire experience at Coliseum, everyone was so nice and attentive.  I felt like royalty.  Two special nurses  kept coming in checking on me and my family. One is a fellow band-mom and the other is a relative of a co-worker.  The fact that they took the effort to seek me out and ask if my family or I needed anything made me feel very special.  Thank you ladies!

About 10:00 a.m., Dr. Martin came in, carrying a little radioactive lunchbox...or that's what it looked like.  (Kind of reminded me of my old Snoopy lunchbox that I had in elementary school.)  He cleared the room, and then injected the tumor and right breast with a radioactive material.  I have a fairly high pain threshold, and it was painful!!!  Dr. Martin apologized, and said that was the most he would hurt me all day.  The injection itself wasn't painful, but as the material spread throughout, it was agony and brought tears to my eyes.  Dr. Martin was ahead of schedule at that time, and stated it...well, you know what happened thing led to another, and finally around noon they took me to the area "waiting" for surgery.

 In the waiting area, I really wished I had my cell phone with me.  Dr. Martin had to come in and initial the "area to be removed, per hospital policy.  That would have certainly been a "Kodak Moment"...there is my black and blue breast (still bruised from the biopsy three weeks earlier), and he has to write "KM" on it.  Like I said, it was a Kodak moment.  I had to wait for what seemed like forever in the surgical waiting bay.  Lots of women were in labor, and it seemed as if every anesthesiologist was busy putting in an epidural somewhere in the hospital.  I finally had my anesthesia consult, and then it was show time!

Another nurse wheeled me from the surgical waiting area into the operating room.  I remember going through double doors, into the operating room, and seeing my nurse anesthetist (because she had a funky skull cap on).  There was another surgeon in the room (I think I recognized him as a plastic guy, asking something about staples) and that's all I remember!  (Guess this would be the end of the sepia part in The Wizard of Oz.)

Cue music, and then I open my eyes in the recovery room, and everything is in technicolor!  (Did you know that it is no longer called "recovery", but "PACU"?)  PACU is the acronym used for Post-Anesthesia Care Unit.  I remember waking up, then Jeff being there.  After a while, my Mom, Adelia and Daddy all came in to see me, also.  As time passed, we are told there was no room on the postpartum floor (where mastectomy patients are usually placed after surgery), so I would be put in a room on the surgical floor.  (Remember earlier, when all of the anesthesiologists were busy putting in epidurals???)

I do remember speaking with Dr. Martin in PACU.  He was very pleased with the amount of skin he was able to save, and even mentioned that he told Dr. Powell (the Plastic Surgeon) that he left him a good bit for reconstruction.  Dr. Martin said that he expected my cancer to be staged at IIA, (but then he said he heard I already knew that!)  He also put a compression bandage on my chest after surgery, which is not usually done.  Apparently during the radioactive tests, five nodes absorbed the dye.  Of those, two lymph nodes were positive.  During surgery, six lymph nodes were removed from under my right arm.  (I'm still fuzzy on all of this, and will get clarification during next week's appointment).  Just because there were cells in those lymph nodes, Dr. Martin stressed it did not mean there were cancer cells elsewhere. 

I was placed in my hospital room around 5:00 p.m., and this sign was directly at the foot of my bed.  Thing were going ok, pain was minimal, and then the nausea began.  Anesthesia always makes me nauseated, so they administer extra meds during surgery and after.  I've learned this the hard way through the years with dental, sinus and even my tubal ligation surgery.  (If you haven't experienced the terrifying experience of vomiting after surgery, I pray you never do.)

I began getting sicker and sicker.  They were administering nausea meds, in addition to Demerol, but it just wasn't working that well.  It would come on, and then ease off.  One nurse even had me "sniffing" alcohol pads.  She recently read a study where the smell of alcohol helped with nausea, and I have to admit that there were numerous times throughout the night that it did help ease my nausea. A call to Dr. Martin late Wednesday evening added some additional nausea medicine, but it was still a very long, long night.  (How I longed for some Phenergan.  Did you know that it is not used in hospital IVs, due to damage sustained when administered via veins?). 
After a very, very, very long night, my pain medication was changed, as perhaps the vomiting was due to a reaction to the Demerol.  Dr. Martin came in for morning rounds, and was very pleased with the incision, and removed the compression bandage.  He said I was ready to go home and rest!  After Dr. Martin's visit, a representative from Chichesters (a local medical supply business) brought my surgical camisole, a medical case worker and Kim, my Oncology Nurse Navigator, all came to visit around the same time.  Kim continues to impress me with each visit, and this one was no different.  (She even took over "basin duty" from my Mom and Jeff, during several of my episodes while visiting.)

A change was made to my pain medication, and we were able to leave the hospital around 11:15 a.m.  I had on my new breast insert, inside my post-operative camisole, as we left the hospital.  On the way home, I took a Phenergan, per Doctor's orders.

Saying "Thank You" for your prayers and support is just not adequate, as I finish this first phase of my breast cancer treatment.  My next appointment with Dr. Martin is Thursday, September 15 at 1:40 p.m.

 We finally made it home, and just like Dorothy, I had to admit that  "there's no place like home!"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Transition from Two to One

So, Mom asked me to be her guest blogger tonight while she is in the hospital.  This will probably be nowhere near as good as her previous blogs, but I'm going to attempt it anyway.  Here goes nothing!

After Mom woke up and battled a case of hiccups for 20 minutes this morning (it took so long because she couldn't drink anything!), we made it to the hospital around 8:45 a.m.  She then got checked in, was given her "hospital jewelry", and taken into a Pre-Op Room.  We waited for 4 hours while Mom got her IV started, followed by her radioactive injection, which would be picked up by the lymph nodes so that they could be examined during surgery.

Around 12:45 p.m the nurse came and wheeled her into Holding.  There, she had to wait forever (or so she says...:) until an anesthesiologist was available, because so many of them were doing epidurals in Labor and Delivery.  To pass the time, we all went and ate in the Cafeteria (my first and last time), came back, and then waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  At about 2:15 we got a call saying that Mom had been been in the OR for around 10 minutes, and that we should be getting another call soon about the lymph nodes status.

It never came.

We waited (anybody else sensing a familiar theme here?) until about 4:15, when there was a knock on our door.  Dr. Martin himself walked in to update us on everything: Mom had minimal bleeding, no complications, etc: a good surgery in general.  The lymph nodes, however, were another story.  During the MRI, a suspicious-looking node was detected.  Out of five lymph nodes that absorbed the radioactive injection, two tested positive for cancer.  Dr. Martin said that as a precaution, he removed other additional nodes under her arm.  He also said that if he had to guess, her cancer would be at Stage 2A.

From that point on, things went pretty smoothly.  Mom woke up from the anesthesia in Recovery with limited nausea, which was fixed right away with some medicine, along with painkillers.  (Her pupils were so small it scared me!)  An hour later, she was transferred to her room for the night.  She threw up a little and felt very dizzy, but it soon passed; when I left around 7:15, she was doing fine.

Since then, Mom has thrown up more and had lots of dry heaves, but is now asleep. We are so appreciative of all the prayers, love, and support that have been received -  Mom is amazed by it every day.  We now pray for her to have a speedy and relatively easy recovery, so that she can be one step closer to winning this battle.  Thank you again for helping us get through today, and hopefully Mom will be able to blog tomorrow night!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thirty Six Days...From M to M

Tomorrow is THE day...the day that I have my right mastectomy. The day that my breast will be removed, due to Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  After surgery tomorrow, I will no long have breasts, but a breast.  For 38 years, my breasts have been part of my body.  They have been part of my sexuality, and have given my children nourishment, comfort, and a built-in pillow (as Griffen says!).  Apparently, my right breast is also trying to kill me.

In 36 short days, I will have gone from my first mammogram ever, to a skin sparing mastectomy of my right breast.  A self-breast exam most-likely saved my life.  (Speaking of that, have you completed your SBE lately?)  As much as I think I am prepared for surgery tomorrow, I know that I am not fully prepared for the realization that I will wake up from anesthesia, with only one breast.

I am to report to Coliseum Medical Center at 8:45 a.m., Wednesday morning.  All of my pre-op admission paperwork, blood work, EKG, etc., were completed on Friday, so that's out of the way.  From what I have been told, I will receive some IV fluids for approximately two-hours.  I will then receive an  injection of a radioactive substance for the sentinel node biopsy.  Read more about it here.

My bag is packed, and I have a list of last minute things to pack in the morning.  I'll wake up in the morning, and try to have a "normal" school morning for Griffen and Arleigh.  We have decided to let Adelia accompany us to the hospital, as she certainly won't be able to concentrate at school tomorrow, anyway.  My wonderful parents have been here for a few days, and will be there for support and comfort...not only for me, but for Jeff and Adelia, also.

I am humbled my the continued outpouring of prayers, well-wishes and love from my friends.  To say "thank you", is not sufficient.  As always, I know that the journey I am traveling, is much easier knowing that I have God and the support system that I do.

My Facebook will be updated throughout the day tomorrow, and maybe I will be able to blog.  If not, look for a guest blogger!

God bless you,
TTFN - (guess that tomorrow I'll be TFN!)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Shopping With the Girls...

Today was a girl day...I spent the day shopping with Adelia, Arleigh and Mom.  We started off visiting some of our favorite local shops, and then traveled into Macon, hitting up the Labor Day sales at the mall.  They love to shop.  I have always hated it, but go along for the laughs and "woman bonding".  I've always hated to shop...fortunately for my Mom, Adelia and Arleigh inherited her love of department stores and boutiques, so she's in luck.  All Nana has to do is mention a "mall", and they come running!

As we were in one of the stores today, we walked through the lingerie / bra department.  It really made me think...even though it's superficial, I will not be purchasing any new "regular" bras in the near future.  My new bras will come with a pocket for a breast prosthesis.  My physician will give me a prescription, and insurance will pay for them.  No more picking up a C cup from just any store...

That led to a conversation with my Mom, about my bra history.  (So, think this is a little too personal?)  She reminded me about how self-conscious I became as a young girl, and always insisted on wearing undershirts.  (Now, I guess we would call them "camisoles"!)  From there, I progressed onto training bras.  It was probably either a AAA or AA!  When I think about my first soft cup bra, (which I'm sure I didn't need, but convinced my Mom that I did, because "all the girls are wearing them"), all I can remember is how it itched!!!  There wasn't enough baby powder in the world to stop that white training bra from itching.  (Maybe it was lined with fiberglass?)

Through the years, my bra style has fluctuated.  I've had lined, un-lined,  underwires, no-wires, t-shirt, push-up, maternity, and nursing bras, but I can't say that I've ever had a mastectomy bra.  Thursday morning, I will leave the hospital in my very first mastectomy product...a post-surgery camisole.

From the outside, it will look very similar to a tank top or half-slip.

The inside however, is very different.  There is a pocket for the prosthesis I can wear home, as well as pockets for the post-surgical drains.

My days of bra shopping at Victoria's Secret may be over for a while, but with the continued prayers and support of family and friends, I'll be walking out with a little pink bag again in the future! 


Sunday, September 4, 2011

From the Beginning...

Julie Andrews in the popular 1965 musical, The Sound of Music
Picture Julie Andrews, singing in the Austrian Alps, with children dressed in curtains, and the beautiful Austrian countryside in the background.   One of my favorite musicals is The Sound of Music, which inspires today's post.   

The Sound of Music also happens to be my Mother's favorite musical, as well as Adelia's.  I think I have always known the words to all of the songs in this musical, as does Adelia, now.  It's been passed down for three generations.  My favorite song is "Edelweiss", but another beloved melody from the musical is "Do-Re-Mi". 

Today, we're going to start at the very beginning...

"Let's start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi"

My journey has been a speedy one, and I am thankful to God and my doctors for that.  In case you've missed some of my posts, here's a quick re-cap of how things transpired...

August 2 - Mammogram / Ultrasound   This Can't Be Good
August 18 - Consult with Surgeon / Core Needle Biopsy  Suspicions  
August 20 - Confirmation of Diagnosis  Today's the Day
August 25 - MRI   The Tale of Two Boxes
August 30 - Appointment with Surgeon / Surgery Scheduled  Results Show Part I
September 1 - Pre-Op Bloodwork Completed
September 7 - Right Mastectomy Scheduled...

What a difference 36 days can make in your life!


Saturday, September 3, 2011

What a Difference Two Weeks Makes...

Two weeks ago, my life changed forever.  I didn't fall in love, give birth to a beautiful child, discover the cure for a disease, or save a life...I was officially diagnosed with cancer.  What a difference 2 weeks, 14 days, 336 hours or 20,160 minutes makes in your life.  You may have compassion and understanding for the diagnosis, but until you have heard the words spoken to yourself, "You have cancer", you just can't fully comprehend the magnitude of those three words.

In those two weeks, I have said, written and done things I never thought I would do in my life, and run the entire spectrum of emotions.  Telling my children that "Mommy has cancer", as well as answering all of their questions (especially the ones a nine-year old can come up with), are some of the most difficult conversations I have ever had. My husband has held me while I've cried, and I've held him when he cried.  I have had to accept the fact that I have breast cancer, and face the challenge head on. I never thought I would be snuggling up with my son, looking at a wig catalog, either...but it happened this week.  People have commented on my great attitude...but I want to ask, "What would you have me do instead?"  It may try, but cancer will not define me.

I have been overwhelmed with  love and support during the past two weeks.   Not only my family, but folks from my hometown , childhood friends, college friends, new friends, co-workers, church family, teachers, and students have reached out with their words of encouragement, offering their prayers and love.  It has been overwhelming, and often the messages have caused more tears of love, rather than tears of fear.  Without that support and love, I'm certain that my attitude and outlook would be very different!

As I'm sure with every major diagnosis, there has been a fleeting moment, where even my religion has been questioned.  I say fleeting, because how anyone can not rely on their faith when dealing with a diagnosis, such as cancer, is beyond me.  I believe and have faith in my God, and know that He has a plan for me and my diagnosis.  If the journey is not favorable, I know that I will have eternal life. So many wonderful and inspiring verses and passages have been shared with me over the past two weeks, too.  My favorite Bible verses (since childhood) are Proverbs 3: 5-6, and is what I rely on daily during my journey with cancer.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
      And lean not on your own understanding;
       6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
      And He shall direct your paths. 
During the past two weeks, we've had a crash course in breast cancer.  (You know me, I've researched, read, highlighted and made lists about breast cancer!)  IDC, ER, PR, HER2, BRCA, Surgical Margins, and Sentinel Lymph Node are just a few of the new words in my vocabulary.  In two weeks, I've also had an MRI, another appointment with the surgeon, appointment with the Oncology Nurse Navigator, scheduled surgery, and had my pre-op appointment.

I have also noticed that face to face, people act differently around you.  First of all, they quickly glance at your chest. (Maybe I should put a big bow on the right one?)  They also tend to be one extreme or the other in their words, (though this statement doesn't apply to don't get offended,☺) quickly offering their sympathy, or not knowing what to say.  Most men fall into the second category.  They acknowledge your situation with a nod or smile (which often can speak much emotion), but when it comes to words, they are at a loss.  Friends and my child's friends no longer know what to say.  Others, are often ready to share their breast cancer stories.  Although they are heartfelt and meant to be reassuring, no breast cancer cases are exactly alike.  The encouragement about so many breast cancer survivors is incredible, but it might not be the best idea to share a story about some 90 year old grandmother who has breast cancer, with a newly diagnosed 38-year old, mother of three.

Two weeks have shown me that I am a strong woman, and that with God's grace, and the love of my family and friends, I will survive.  I may question the path that I am on, but I'm here now, and must travel the road called "Breast Cancer".

Last night, the Jones County High School Marching Greyhounds wore pink ribbons on their uniforms in memory of a fellow band mom, Kelly Pittman Swafford.  Kelly courageously lost her battle with breast cancer Thursday.  It was quite emotional to see all of those students with their pink ribbons.  Please keep the Pittman-Swafford family in your prayers.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Too Much "To Do" Thursday

Remember many, many years ago, when gas stations were "full-service"?  You would drive your automobile up to the gas tank, activating the bell?  The station attendant would come out (if they weren't already), and ask if you wanted him to "fill 'er up"?  There were times, when you just had to use the bathroom.  Maybe even your Mama warned you "not to sit down" in some of these fine establishments!  One thing that I remember about the old-timey service stations, is the cloth towel holder.  Remember those?  It was a continuous piece of cloth / towel that you pulled down, and it just went around in a circle?  (Why did people think that was a sanitary idea? Am I missing something?)

My mind is like that towel...going round and round.  The towel is my "To Do List", and it is continually evolving and changing as I add items and delete items.  I'm thankful for my Franklin Planner training, in that I know how to prioritize tasks.  What has to be done today?  What needs to be done tomorrow?  What should I be doing in the future?  I have my work list and my family list, but the problem is I'm running out of time to mark off all of my "to do" items.  Tomorrow is my last day at work, prior to surgery, so time's up for that list!  (You might even can tell how frazzled I am feeling right now, with how jumbled my thoughts and words are in this post.)

Today was definitely a "Too Busy Thursday".  I know that everyone has a busy life.  Some days,  finding time to go to the restroom is a challenge.  Today was one of those days.  Regular motherly tasks, next-to last day of work, appointment with the the Nurse Navigator, and also Family Book Fair Night were on the schedule for today.  What a day!

Weeks ago, we planned a big parent event at school for the night of September 1.  Well, any good library media specialist knows that it's a great time to have have a book fair, if you have a planned parent night.  Let's just say this week has been challenging, to say the least.  (Remind me never to schedule a book fair the week before a mastectomy, again!)  Amongst regular media center tasks, checking out books, checking in books, technology issues, and book fair, I am attempting to prepare for the substitute who will be working during my absence.  Plus, you always have to clean up when company's coming...don't you?  LOL

I left school early today, as Jeff and I met with my Nurse Navigator, Kim.  She is a great resource, and a wealth of knowledge.  Did you know that the chances of a 40 year old woman having breast cancer is 0.4%?  (Guess that makes me very special...wonder what the odds are for a 38 year old woman?)  We discussed the genetic BRCA testing, as well as my pathology and MRI results, and possible treatment plan.  She was able to answer many of the questions I have, and gave us post-op instructions.  I really like her, and know that when she says to "call her" if I need her, it is said with sincerity.  Since I was told that chemotherapy is part of my treatment plan (we just don't know the drugs or administration schedule), Kim is contacting Dr. Martin's office to see if a port, also called a portacath, will be installed during surgery. She will also see us before and after surgery next week.  I walked out with a big pink notebook full of information, and a new resource!

I left the hospital, just in time to return to school for Book Fair Family Night.  Special thanks to my great co-worker and friend, Lori, for assisting with the book fair!  After that, it was time to head home to help with bath time, kitchen clean-up and laundry.  (No rest for the weary!)

As I go to work tomorrow, I know that my "To Do" list is finally dwindling down.  I've made arrangements for as many job responsibilities as possible, but want to make certain that everything is taken care of...that's just the way I am.  It's kind of surreal, like I'm planning for maternity leave, but know I won't come back with a baby...instead, I'll return with just one breast, and hopefully be cancer free!