And On We Go!

So, it’s been 10 weeks since my last chemo treatment. My hair is barely growing back. Since there are lawsuits out about taxotere, one of the drugs used to treat my cancer, about it causing permanent hair loss, I’m getting a little nervous. I’m sure it’ll come back but if after six months it’s not come back significantly…a lawsuit is mine. I’m not one to sue people for nothing, but I should have been warned about this. Yes? Yes!

I have a second cousin who has had a lumpectomy and is about to start her chemo treatments next week. We’ve grown closer over Instagram and texting the past few weeks. I want to support her as much as possible because support from other survivors helped me so much.I know she will be fine because she has her faith in God and tons of family and friends supporting her just like I did. There is nothing that tops that! You go Leigh; you got this just like I did and do girl! Traynum girls rock!!!

Right now, there are other things on my mind too. I found out Tuesday that I have to have surgery to fix a hernia that most likely was caused by the chemo I took weakening the muscle that was cut during my colon surgery last year. Yeah…more hospitals, poking, nasty smells, just yuck. And of course, with my history, I can’t have it done laparoscopically. It has to be open surgery. I’ll be in the hospital 2-3 days. At least I got to choose the hospital I want to be in, which is a plus.

All in all, I really have nothing to complain about, even with all that’s happened the past 18 months. There are so many people out there with so many more problems than I have. I have a good job where my boss is awesome and has worked with me during all this. I have great insurance that has paid for practically everything. I have wonderful doctors on every level. And I have a husband that can’t be beat. Plus family and friends who are constantly praying for me. What more could a girl ask for? So what…I don’t have hair right now. Even if it doesn’t come back and that’s the worst thing that happens, I still come out on the winning end of all this! God is good!!!

Two Months Later

Two Months Later

The last time I posted was March 9th. Today is May 8th. I have had three chemo treatments and am coming up on the fourth and final one on May 16th. Let me just say that my words from the last blog post about God being with me every step of the way still hold strong and true. Yes, it’s gotten more difficult with each treatment, but with the difficulty comes the strength of His love and basis for my faith. My faith is built upon a strong, strong foundation…and all that I’ve been through the past 18 months simply shores up that foundation and makes it stronger than ever.

I find it difficult to write posts like this and on Facebook sometimes because I have friends who are going through SO much more than I am right now. But I feel that I am being led to share my experience, from nausea to bald head to mastectomy recovery, so that maybe one other person out there will be led to lean on God. If that happens, then this has all been worth the pain and suffering.

There are so many things a chemo patient goes through that I never even considered before. Everyone knows about the nausea and losing your hair. I didn’t realize before my chemo that not everyone loses their hair. It depends on the chemo drugs you get. Most breast cancer patients do lose their hair because they get Taxotere, one of the main chemo drugs that causes hair loss. And I always thought you lost your hair simply because chemo is poison. This is not the case. Chemo targets the fast growing cells in the body, which cancer cells are. But so are your hair cells and your nail cells. Thus why you lose your hair and your nails go to pot.

I’ve also learned a lot about the side effects of chemo, which aren’t just nausea, vomiting and hair loss. You also get mouth sores. Not pleasant. And restless legs. But for every side effect, my awesome doctor has an answer. Miracle Mouth Wash!!! Truly a miracle! Basically a mixture of Lydocaine, Benedryl, Maalox and Nystatin, it kills off the yeast in your mouth which causes the sores, numbs it with the Lydocaine, hits you with the allergy medicine and Maalox which is soothing to the mouth too. I’d like to keep it around after this is over just to have on hand…it’s awesome stuff!!!

Also, the restless legs. If you’ve never had restless legs…they’re awful! You can get no sleep and if you do fall to sleep, you’re awakened by your legs literally jumping. It feels like little ants crawling under your skin; simply awful! I’ve only ever had restless legs when I had severe anemia. Well, I’m not anemic so I mentioned it at a recent appointment and immediately got a Rx for something to help out with the RLS (restless leg syndrome).

There are other infections I’ve gotten along the feminine line (you can guess if you are paying attention to the details of this post!), and I’ve got medicine for that too. Anything they can do to relieve your discomfort during chemo, a good oncologist will address. And quickly. I am sure I have the most amazing oncologist, at least in the Atlanta area. Dr. Jayanthi Srinivasiah is a well-established and accomplished oncologist and hematologist. I met her almost ten years ago when I had severe anemia before my hysterectomy in 2006. I had to have a series of iron infusions before my surgery to get my hemoglobin up. Just last year, right before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had to have another series of iron infusions for anemia caused by bleeding I had after a colon resection. Obviously Dr. Jay was my first choice; no thoughts about it actually. Literally just as I was over the iron infusions and about to go in for my follow-up appointment with Dr. Jay, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I went in for my follow-up appointment and told her I had breast cancer, we didn’t even discuss the anemia again! It was resolved and I was actually feeling great. Thank goodness I went for my yearly mammogram last October 16th. I did put it off four months after the year I’d been through, but when October rolled around it reminded me because October is breast cancer awareness month. So I had the appointment, went through a series of multiple scans and biopsies, and was officially diagnosed on November 4th, 2016 with Stage 1, multi-focal, invasive ductal carcinoma. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. This was the kind of thing that happened to other people, right? Not me. Wrong.

I thank God every day for what I’ve been through. It makes me who I am. The support I’ve received from family, friends, friends of family and friends, has been nothing short of amazing. The prayers that have lifted me up have been the thing that keeps me going. And I will be forever grateful to those who have lifted me with that one little word or two: “lifted” or “praying” or “prayers.” Many people don’t like Facebook and the invasion of privacy. Guess what? Anything can be used for good if you are looking at it through God’s eyes. I am humbled by the people who have sent me cards, reached out to me on FB and kept me in their prayers. The breast cancer survivors, especially from my hometown, have been amazing. If I hadn’t posted on FB that I had BC, they wouldn’t have known to reach out and had such an easy way of contacting me. Their messages and chats, and answers to my many questions about mastectomy and what follows, and chemo, have been more help than they will ever know!

I feel as though I’m rambling right now but I felt led to write a post…so here it is. Rambling or not, hopefully someone will be touched in some way, reach out to me or someone else if they have been diagnosed and need help, or simply pray to God to help them through this difficult time when they might not have otherwise. God is always good. Always. And what people don’t realize is that God always answers our prayers. We just have to be willing to accept “no” as an answer sometimes. I prayed that I wouldn’t have to have chemo. But the answer was “no.” And that’s OK because God is using it to His good and touching someone through me. I fully believe that. God uses us all during times like these and it’s up to us to lean on Him as He asks us to, using our lives as a testimony to His love.

When the other shoe drops…

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There are those times in our lives when we think we are free, the plan is set and things are going our way, finally, right?  Don’t ever count on that.

I will be starting chemo treatments this Friday, March 11th, 4 in all. Before last Friday I had no idea I would need chemo. I had Stage 1 breast cancer. It was multifocal, meaning I had three tumors. All indicated the mastectomy I had on December 22nd, 2015 got the cancer and hormonal follow-up treatment was all I would need to hopefully keep this insidious disease at bay. But I chose my oncologist for a reason. She’s intelligent, she leaves no stone unturned. She’s aggressive. I said from the beginning I wanted this out of me and to never have to deal with it again.

My 2nd series of genetic testing came back as high risk for recurrence. I wasn’t sure what this meant. So I spent all last weekend wondering. She had me in her office this past Monday at 5 pm. This wonderful woman didn’t want to wait to schedule me so she had me in her office as it was closing to conference with me and my husband. She said after the more recent and extensive tests came back high risk, she didn’t feel right not doing all we could do keep the cancer from coming back. I had always said if that’s what I needed, that’s what we’d do. So even though it was a shock, I was on board.

Today, Wednesday, March 9th, I had my port placed. Let me just tell you, it was NOT a good experience. Everything went fine until they started the procedure. I was supposedly given 1 mg of Versed (most people know this drug as “twilight,” which they use during things like colonoscopies, endoscopies, etc.). You don’t remember anything but you are not fully under. Not me. I take chronic pain medication so my tolerance to drugs like this is high. I couldn’t even tell that they gave me the Versed. It was, quite honestly, awful. It ranks right up there with having an NG tube shoved down my nose and throat into my stomach while fully awake. This happened last April after a colon resection when I started bleeding in my intestinal tract and throwing up blood. This procedure, the port placement, lasted a lot longer. I was so tense and hurting to much that I couldn’t ask for more medication. At one point I actually let out a yell. I have a high, high pain tolerance too. I’ve dealt with chronic pain from adhesions from old surgeries and interstitial cystitis for years, but this…this HURT. Not only are they cutting on you and shoving a piece of equipment into your chest, they are inserting a catheter into your jugular vein, which is freaky…really freaky.

After it was over and I got back to post-op, my poor husband was really worried because it took so long. He took one look at me and said, “My God, you were awake the whole time, weren’t you?” Yep. Sure was. We finally got home and I slept immediately for a couple of hours. I’m very, very sore. Not so much where the port was placed but where the catheter is in my jugular vein. From friends who’ve had ports this is common and I’ll be sore for awhile. Thank goodness I do have access to chronic pain medication.

Chemo round 1 is Friday morning at 9 a.m. I’m ready. People keep telling me how well I’m handling all this. And I keep saying, “It’s not me, it’s God.” I have no compunction asking for prayers. Nothing has gotten me through the past year and a half, and especially the past 4 months, but the prayers of so many people I know going up on my behalf and I’m humbled. Because obviously God is answering those prayers. I’ve been able to keep working, albeit only 30 hours a week. That’s not to say I haven’t had bad days and I haven’t cried. I have. And I probably will again. God never promised us this road we are on would be easy, but He did promise us He’d be with us every step of the way.

If I can testify to anything, it’s God’s amazing grace and love for us, His children who He cares so much for that He sent His only son to die on a wooden cross for our sins. Easter is a few weeks away and this year it falls on my birthday weekend. Good Friday is actually my birthday. My husband and I plan on going to SC for Friday and Saturday nights. I don’t intend to change those plans because of chemo. If God sees fit for that to happen, I’ll deal with that too, but I want to be with those I love on my special day, and I want to be at one of my dearest and oldest friends wedding on that Saturday, and I want to spend Easter praising God’s name in church and eating dinner with my family. I don’t think He’ll fail in getting me there for that wonderful weekend.

I have many breast cancer survivor sisters in my hometown, from college and even the Internet who have helped me through this too. Their advice, their honesty about their experiences, and their love have been a tremendous gift from God. Laura, Donna, Lucy, Dana, Cathy, Amy, Cecelia, Joyce and Sandra are my heroes. They’ve gone before me and their help has been invaluable. All but one of these ladies has survived breast cancer. The other has survived colon and liver cancer and is currently fighting ovarian cancer.

My favorite song right now is by a group from Brigham Young University. It’s a remix of one of the most popular old hymns that I always loved in church. If you don’t read this whole blog, at least listen to this song. The video part doesn’t matter. If God isn’t speaking to you as you listen, keep listening. I promise you, He’s there.

Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone

 

 

My Breast Cancer Story Thus Far

I feel compelled to write, to write a lot, but it’s difficult. I feel like I’ve asked for enough prayers that that’s all the talking I should do. But I know that’s not right. On October 16th, 2015 I went for my yearly mammogram, although it had actually been 16 months. That was a Friday. On Tuesday of the next week my gyn office called to tell me that some suspicious areas had shown up in my right breast and they wanted to do more mammograms and ultrasounds. We set that up for the coming Friday, October 23rd. The mammograms were targeted to the specific areas of concern and didn’t take long. The ultrasound technician took a good 30 minutes looking at my breast tissue. I knew something was up. This wasn’t a shadow, or a fold in the skin that had gotten in the way. Then the radiologist came in and they spent another 30 minutes showing me what they’d found. The radiologist’s exact words to me were, “No matter what they (American Cancer Society) says, this is why we tell you to come for your mammogram every year. 16 months ago, these areas were not here. Now they are. If you had waited until next year, this WOULD have been a very big problem.” Red flag #1.

From the results of the ultrasound the radiologist ordered two core needle biopsies set for Wednesday, November 4th. Although I was scared, it was relatively painless. Two days later I called for my results and was told I had invasive ductal carcinoma. I was a bit surprised that they told me over the phone but glad they did. Actually, it was sort of funny. I called the Winship Breast Care Center at Emory where I’d had the tests done, and the nurse who answered immediately told me that there was good news. One of my biopsies was clear; the radiologist was just reviewing the other one and would call me back shortly. Hmmm…really? I just happened to call in the middle of MY particular two biopsies. No. Not that coincidental. I knew then what I was going to be told. And I was correct.

From that point an MRI was scheduled. The MRI showed a larger area that the mammogram and ultrasounds hadn’t elsewhere in the same breast so I was scheduled for my second core needle biopsy. The results of this were as I expected. More cancer. I had already met with a surgeon but to make a long story short, I just didn’t click with him. My gut was telling me to look for another surgeon. I call it my gut, but it was that still, small voice talking to me. God was guiding me in what to do. I made the call to get a change in surgeons. If I was going to have to be cut up, I wanted to be comfortable with my choice of surgeon. And believe me, I’ve been cut up plenty in my day! We had a meeting with the second surgeon (this after a PET scan, which fortunately showed no other sign of cancer in my body). I was happily pleased with this surgeon, a young Indian woman with personality and compassion. The other surgeon, I am sure, was excellent. But his background was life time Army until he came to Emory. He as very business-like. I needed a little more personality and I got that with Dr. Preeti Subhedar. I recommend her to anyone in my situation. She explained things in a way that the other surgeon had not. I had three areas of invasive ductal carcinoma, meaning the cancer had broken out of the milk ducts into the surrounding tissue in my breast. 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer area diagnosed with IDC.  One area was .08 cm, one was 1 cm, and the largest was 1.5 cm. I could have done chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumors and then do a lumpectomy to remove what remained. After talking to not only my surgeon but my clinical oncologist, my husband and I agreed that a right skin saving mastectomy was my best course of action. Again, my gut told me to GET IT OUT!!!

So, on Wednesday, December 22nd at 7:30 a.m., Dr. Subhedar performed my surgery. My Mom, my sister Jane, and my Dad came down to be with me. I woke up sore but in good spirits. I was strapped into a tight sports-like bra which had Velcro everywhere it needed to attach on the arms with front closing snaps. I was covered in steri-strips so it was difficult to see what I looked like. I was in the hospital until the next day when they sent me home with exercises to do and two lovely drains for lymph fluids and blood.

I’ve had several surgeries, but never have I been so dependent on my husband. Fortunately one of my friends from home who’d been through a double mastectomy a couple of years ago told me to get one of those small nail aprons from Lowes/Home Depot to hold the drains in. Genius! I got two (.77 each!). I got ready to take a shower the next day. I had had four lymph nodes removed too to make sure that there was no cancer metastasizing there so with all that, I was not supposed to lift my arm over my head. And I couldn’t twist without pain. Scott, my husband, had to remove my bra, help me remove my underwear, position the shower head, everything. When he removed my bra I saw myself in the mirror for the first time. Would that everyone see what this horrible disease called breast cancer does to a women’s body. It’s ugly. I felt broken and deformed. I broke into tears and Scott just held me while the shower ran. I finally got into the shower and wore one of the nail aprons with the drains in the pockets, took a gentle shower, letting the warm water and gentle soap just run over my broken chest. When I got out, Scott had to dry me off, get the wet apron off and the new dry one on. I have no idea how a woman without some type of amazing support could go through this.

I was out of work two weeks, which included the Christmas and New Year holidays. I was worried about going back to work. After a hugely rough physical year which included severe anemia, I was afraid my stamina just wasn’t there. Fortunately I’d been working 30 hours/week since about August 2015 because of the anemia. Once we found out I had cancer, my boss was happy to extend that arrangement for three more months.

Now, the biggie. My tissue was sent off to Genomic Health, the company that performs the OncoType-DX breast cancer genetic test which tests 21 chromosomes and estimates that possibility of recurrence of cancer. I went back to work on January 8th and did well. All this whole time, from the time I had to go back for a second look at my mammogram through all the testing, through my mastectomy and back to work, I’d done really well. One reason. Prayer. I reached out on Facebook, which most people might not do, and asked all of my friends for prayer. My Mom did the same as did my sister. I have no idea how many people prayed for me, but I will tell you this. I could feel God’s peace upon me each day. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t have bad days or worry or think about things to come, but they didn’t overwhelm me and my co-workers seemed to be amazed by this. When asked, I immediately told them why. Not just the support of friends and family, but specifically God’s grace. Hopefully I’ve had a chance to testify to God’s amazing grace through my faith during this time. If that’s why I’m going through this, I’m happy to do it. It’s not fun, it’s not happy, it’s emotional, it’s ugly. It’s just darn HARD. But God never said every day would be easy and He gave us this life to live.

My OncoType-DX test scores are back…14! That’s a good low score so I’m hoping when I see my oncologist this week that she agrees that I don’t need chemo or radiation. But if she suggests that one or both would be expedient or a good idea, I will go with her recommendation. Fortunately I’ve known her for 10 years. She’s gotten me through two spells of severe anemia, but her specialty is….yes, breast oncology. We’ll see what she has to say this week but I’m confident with whatever she says. Regardless of whether I need chemo or radiation, I will be on hormonal treatment. Fortunately my cancer was estrogen and progesterone + which means I am a good candidate for follow-up therapy with oral chemo. This chemo is nothing like intravenous chemo. It’s a pill, and the main side effect is softening of the bones. So I’m already taking extra calcium and vitamin D. Since I’m post-menopausal because of surgery in 2008, the most likely drug I will be put on is Arimidex.

God is good and Jesus loves me, you and every human being on this earth. He chooses to use some of us to witness and testify to others with out lives and the way we live through trials such as these. I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that my Lord and Savior will be with me every step of the way, holding me up and giving me the strength I need. I may not be Superwoman, but right now, I feel like I can do anything!!!

Blessed!

I’ve had such a crazy year health-wise, but God has gotten me through it. And I face yet more challenges ahead. Last week I could not concentrate at work for anything. The unknown was looming and I needed answers. Now that we have a plan of action and I know how things may turn out, God has blessed me with a great peace of mind.

I was just texting with my Mom. I spent the weekend at home in SC which I haven’t done in a long time. How healing it was! The hectic life of living in a big city like Atlanta wears you out on any day, but add in the issues I’ve had all year and more on the horizon and it’s just overwhelming. But now, not so much. Mom and I were talking about how blessed we are for me to have the support not only of a large, loving, extended family but also wonderful friends, friends of friends, and a hometown community that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I don’t understand how those who have to go through things like I’ve been through and am facing do it without faith in God and the assurance that, no matter what, all will be well.

An old friend told me last week that she wanted to pray for specific things for me, and on that day she decided to pray for God to grant me restful sleep with peaceful dreams. There’s no doubt in my mind that God was speaking to her because I had not mentioned that I was having trouble sleeping and “turning my brain off,” as my husband says. And you know what, I have been sleeping a bit better. Why are we surprised when God answers our prayers? We pray for it, we claim it in Jesus’ name and He answers those prayers. I’ve learned to claim my blessings, from getting the new job I dearly wanted to having peace of mind about all that’s going on in my life. And God has answered my prayers and claims of blessings. He is a mighty God and all He asks is that we believe that He sent His son to pay for our sins on that cross so many years ago.

It’s dawned on me that this obstacle in my life is a huge chance to witness to others with my life and how I face this challenge. I accept that challenge whole-heartedly now! My God will never leave nor forsake me, and the least I can do is tell others how I’m handling these challenges. I hope I can hold my head high and be a good and faithful witness for my Lord and Savior.

Many people who read this may not understand. If you don’t, I’m glad to discuss it with you via email or even on the phone if that’s what you need. I’m putting myself out there, sins, blemishes and all…I need your prayers and if you need mine, all you have to do is ask.

There’s No Place Like Home

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So I realized I never gave anyone an update on my MRI and visit with the surgical oncologist yesterday! My bad! I had my MRI early Friday morning. Not unpleasant, just uncomfortable the way you have to lay…and be still. At 12:15 p.m. I had had my first visit with the oncologist. My sweet sister, Jane, came down from SC to go with me and my husband, Scott. The update for all my wonderful friends and family who have been praying for me. MRI was long and tedious. Surgeon’s appointment was good actually. The MRI showed a third area that he thinks is hematoma from the other biopsies, but he wants to be sure so I have to have another core needle biopsy on that next week. The place that they know is cancer is like.08 centimeters so pretty small. So, based on all he’s seeing and my exam, he said he would be surprised if this was any more than Stage 1. I will have to have my lymph nodes tested for sure though because it’s invasive ductal carcinoma which can easily spread. They do that during surgery. So best case scenario, lumpectomy with lymph node removal, followed by radiation. Actually pretty good news all the way around considering its cancer. I liked him also so that helped!

After the doctor visit I came home to SC with Jane. I need family time. My family is everything to me, and their support is a must in my life, always and especially now. I’ve had such a great time here in my hometown and Clemson and at my sister’s house. Friday night we simply chilled out, relaxed and talked. Just the girls: me, my Mom, Jane and my niece Victoria. What fun! This morning we got up and made the rounds. First to Mom’s house to see my stepdad, Pop, and visit for awhile. Pop gave me two aloe plants to help with the radiation burns should I need them. Then, off to Clemson we go because I needed some “BYOG” materials! Magnets for the car, Clemson flag and a t-shirt. And then of course I had to have an orange Yeti cooler. 😉

After that, McDonald’s for the niece…she’s only 8 so she was hungry! LOL! Then back to Pendleton to see my favorite pharmacist, Greg Bauld, at CVS in Pendleton, formerly known as Revco. What a great visit! My nerves have so calmed down after the surgical oncologist visit yesterday and being home this weekend. I miss it so much!

Finally, the grocery store and back to Jane’s house. The best part of the evening? A visit from my old college roommate, Lucynda Worthington Moore! Lucy is also a breast cancer survivor and she gifted me with her survivor bracelet. I will treasure it until I pass it on to someone else who needs it more than me. Lucy stayed and watched the Clemson game, and ate dinner with us. I am so thankful for longtime, wonderful friends who make life easier in times like this.

Tomorrow is another day. I get to see my Dad, and then go home to see my wonderful husband Scott again. I miss him but I really needed this time where I will always consider home, Pendleton/Clemson. There’s no place like it in the world. Nowhere. There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.

Is life still good…you bet!!!

So many thoughts. So hard to turn my brain off. So hard to take it all in. Wanting answers now but having to wait for another test and results and another doctor to see. On Wednesday I saw my gyn who ordered all the tests I’ve had and thought maybe I would get more details of this thing I have in my body now. Not really. He did explain a few things about how they get the staging results, etc., but no answers.

Until last night, I hadn’t really cried or been too upset. More anxious and nervous and wanting answers. Last night, I went to bed at 8 a.m. I slept soundly, and woke up at what I thought was about 3 a.m., but when I looked at the clock it was 12:37 a.m. Oh my…and I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. Sheesh. OK, so let’s see, what to do? I got up and finished some small packing that I needed to do for the weekend in SC. Still not sleepy. So let’s check FB. I see a post from my cousin Shelly Traynum. She had posted a song, “Be Still My Soul” by a singer named Selah.

I clicked on it and almost immediately started tearing up. Not because I was upset about my cancer or what I might have to deal with, but because I know how much God loves me, so imperfect, so flawed, yet so, so loved. It made me want to hear something I hadn’t heard in awhile, an old hymn from growing up that is still my favorite today. I can hear my Mama Nan singing it now, while I sat quietly beside her in church chewing the Juicy Fruit gum that she always had for me. The smell of it reminds me of her ’til this day. The tears really flowed then, again because I am His, He has me under His wing, and whatever happens, He will never leave nor forsake me.

Take a moment, close your eyes…and thank God that we have the blessed assurance that Jesus is ours!

I have learned to claim my blessings, as God instructs us to in Matthew 7:7 — “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” and in Hebrews 4:16 — “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” And in so many other places in the Bible. My tears fell on the pillow and I boldly claimed good news for today and strength to get through whatever is ahead with grace and my head held high. No pity party here. Not going to happen people. I have too many people praying for me, too many things still left to do in my life, and this will be a bump in the road. Maybe a bigger bump than I want, but I will conquer it with my God’s love and grace.