Bad Right Breast

I've Always Hated My Right Breast!

The End of Radiation April 17, 2012

Filed under: cancer,radiation — Bad Right Breast @ 8:05 pm

It’s overwhelming. To see that you’ve gotten to the end of treatment, it’s overwhelming. There’s a sense of accomplishment, and why not? Mammograms, biopsies, scans, MRIs, exams, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and drugs. All for what? To be called cancer free. To be called a cancer survivor. A label I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be named. You mean, it’s not something you wish to be? It’s not a part of some fifth grade essay of what you want to be when grow up? It’s definitely not something you can choose to have. It’s not contagious. You can’t prevent it by washing hands. You can try to hold it off by not smoking , by eating well, or even by not using some plastics. But really? There are people who never smoked a day in their life and die from lung cancer. There are health nuts who eat only vitamins a, c and e, and still get colon cancer. Even after I tested negative for the cancer gene (the one and only genetic test created for cancer), despite all of the cancer in my family (see blog post EVERYONE KNOWS CANCER), they actually tell me it’s ‘just dumb luck.’ Well, you know what I say to that? Dumb luck, you’re fucking mean! Isn’t luck supposed to be a good thing? So if it’s not a good thing don’t call it luck at all. I always hear the ‘good’ kind of cancer, and I tune out which is which because no matter which one it all sucks!

So to end the treatment process is simply overwhelming. I’m done in the eyes of the medical industry, and everyone else for that matter. But in the back of my mind, I always hear the whisper, ‘for now.’ I know there are survivors out there, some for decades, and some even close friends. But the fear is there. That once this is in you, it’s in you, like some stagnant egg from alien waiting to ignite. Ending treatment is supposed to feel like a good thing, but when the doctors can’t give you a guarantee that you’re cured, a part of you feels as if it was all for nothing. I want to be told that I’m officially cancer free. I want to be told that after the 5 hour bilateral mastectomy, four and a half months of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and now five years of pill popping, the professionals that I’m in debt to (literally, now reaching over $40k – the blog is coming called ‘the costs of cancer,’ don’t you worry)… I want to be told that the professionals did their job. And since they can’t I don’t feel I can call myself cancer free, or a cancer survivor. It may seem trivial, but it’s true. I see the faces of those that fought and didn’t make it. I imagine what it was like for them to be told that the cancer came back. I specifically see my father’s cousin. I met her once when I was very young, before the cancer. She was beautiful, fun and happy. Like me, she had breast cancer at the age of 36. Like me, she had two kids. Like me, she thought she was ‘cancer free.’ Unfortunately, she was remission for five years before it came back with a vengeance. After fighting for another five years, she died from breast and spinal cancer at the age of 46, ten years after she was first diagnosed.

I am grateful, don’t get me wrong. I have the most amazing husband, who is an incredible father to our two beautiful girls. I have a family that will lay down their life for me. I have friends near and far that would be at my beckoning call should I need anything. I have a boss that doesn’t ask any questions. I have a job that I love and keeps me out of my head. I have much more than most. I know that. I know that the energy I’ve put into fighting this shit has been worth it. I just want to make sure that it’s been enough, because if it’s not, I’ll keep going. For as long as I have to, I’ll keep going. I’ll keep going for all that I have and don’t have.

 

Nearing the Finish Line April 13, 2012

Filed under: cancer,radiation — Bad Right Breast @ 8:05 pm

I have 2 radiation treatments left and as I went in today for my 28th and saw women and men still with many remaining, I do feel grateful that I’ve gotten this far. I actually had to wait a while, for before me was a woman starting her first. I’ve seen several others on the street, around the hospital as I come and go and we smile and acknowledge one another as if we’re a part of a secret club. Before treatment, I probably would have never thought about how we could possibly be connected, but how can I not now?

Over the weekend, my skin will have time to recover and heal before I come back for the final two. I think I’ll start making a list of all the things I’ll want to do as soon as the skin heals. I can take bathes again. I can wear deodorant (stuff that actually works), wear lotions that smell, use my French bath wash. I’ll be able to let my girls climb all over me without worrying that they’ll hurt me. I’ll be able to give hugs with my right side again, and not just awkwardly lean in with my left. And as soon as the skin heals, I can wear normal clothes again. I’ve ruined about 10 shirts because I’ve worn them over and over. I can only wear soft shirts that don’t rub up and irritate my armpit area, but can still be ruined by the vaseline type lotion that I have to apply now nearly four to five times a day.

I didn’t start to feel pain or any uncomfortable irritation until I had about5 treatments left. But it was enough. Imagine a sunburn in your armpit. And it’s not like a normal sunburn, it’s a weird darker, skin transformation that is hot to the touch. I definitely can’t wear any bags or straps over my shoulder. Can’t wear any tight clothing that will irritate the skin. And since my mornings are spent at the hospital, I can’t travel outside New York for work. I’m a hostage to my own disease.

But come Tuesday, it’ll all be over. I’ll get back on tamoxifen, the estrogen blocker that shrinks tumors, and stay on that for the next five years. I’ll have follow-ups with each doctor in the next coming months. I’ll have a full pet scan, at my own demand, to ensure the cancer is gone. Then I’ll have my exchange surgery, sometime at the end of July or beginning of August.

The road of battle isn’t over, but continues. At least I can start getting back to normal, or at least what normal will become for me. Much love to you all.

 

halfway thru RADIATION March 28, 2012

Filed under: cancer,radiation — Bad Right Breast @ 8:05 am

We’re all creatures of habit. We often do things so many times that we blink and have no memory of what has lapsed. It happens when we drive. It happens walking down the streets of New York. It happens throughout our every day of life. So when you have to break out of that habit, it’s a bit difficult. You have to force yourself to create an internal reminder each and every time. For instance, normally I would take the subway to 50th street, exit the subway on the south side, walk downtown three blocks, greet the same bellhop in front of the Crowne Plaza, stop in at Starbucks and order from my same Barista, jaywalk across the street, greet our building’s head of security, Ben, unlock my office’s elevator floor, turn on the hallway lights, unlock the office door, and enter to finally start my work day at 8am. I sometimes do this all without blinking.

Now, for six weeks straight, instead of doing my usual routine, I have to force myself to get off at one stop earlier. It takes me a while to figure out all of the ‘quickest paths of execution’ in order to minimize how much of my day this thing called radiation takes up. My ‘regulars’ are a little different. The newspaper gal at the bottom of the 59th street escalator, the food truck guy that has no idea that he’s probably seen more cancer patients imaginable than anyone else outside of a hospital. Then it’s the rotating shift of security personnel at the hospital entrance that seem to nod me inside before I even get through the revolving doors, as if my baldness is beacon that can be seen from miles away. I wait for the elevators as everyone else is going up. I wait for the elevator that goes down to Radiation Oncology. I get stares, feelings of ‘oh she’s doing DOWN.’ Little do they know that there were days that I regretted going up, oh those days of chemotherapy. I’d trade them in for 4 months of radiation in a heartbeat. Of course , I say that now, less than halfway through my 30 treatments. But, I digress. I get off on the lower level, and enter the doors of what seems like a sanctuary. Quiet rooms filled with massage chairs, silence, beautiful plants. I say hello to the receptionist, as I make my way to the back nursing station and the women’s locker rooms. I say, ‘Hi’ to Roberta, the nurse on duty, and step into the women’s waiting area, filled with a bathroom, water cooler, comfy chairs and four changing rooms, each with a locker, hooks and a stack of hospital gowns. I turn on the light, as I’m almost always the first one there, choose a room, take off my jacket and shirt so that I’m naked from the waste up. I make sure my iPod is securely fastened to my waste and that the cord goes up and behind my neck to insert just my right ear piece. I put on a gown, opened to the front, grab my purse and exit the room. Sometimes I have to sit and wait a bit, which is when I work on email or writing or just play a no brains necessary game, waiting my turn to be radiated.

But more times than not, Roberta tells me to go right in. I pass a patient in waiting, let’s call him Ed, an older than middle aged man, in his robe and socks, who’s almost always sitting right outside the door waiting his turn. He ever looks up at me, let alone meets my eyes. I get the feeling each time I’ve seen him that he’s had his fair share of cancer and would simply rather be anywhere else but where he is. I go through the double doors that say ‘DO NOT ENTER,’ but for some reason I’m excused from this rule. I greet my one or two radiation technicians present – either Arielina, Ryan, Mia, Charlie or Bob. Before I go in, I’m supposed to confirm that my ‘stats’ are up on each of the four monitors. I don’t know my stats. I’ve no idea what I’m looking at, so basically I just need to make sure that I see my name on each screen. Yep, that’s me. I enter the radiation room, put my purse in the only chair, and wait as they finish setting up the ‘bed.’ (I use quotes because it’s not a bed at all. It’s more like a stretcher that is just a board like a gurney. No cushion except for the pillow that is placed under my knees to support my lower back, not even under my head.) They have to put each piece on the board into the same numbered slot to make sure that I’m in the exact spot each and every time. My mold is placed at the top. They try to provide some comfort by spreading a sheet over the entire area that my body will lie, but I later realize that it’s more for their needs. I hop up, lie back, place my head into the mold at the same angle (chin up and to the left, which is the reason I only put my earpiece into my right ear), and my right arm up, pit exposed, with my elbow pressed down into its slot. The gurney moves up and then back. If I’m not perfect, it all takes a little longer. I lie with as much dead weight and as still as possible as the techs adjust me ever so slightly. Sometimes it’s just a nudge, or even a millimeter, but other times it’s pulling the sheet back and forth so they can guarantee that my tattoos line up in the exact spot every day. We chat, small talk – how was your weekend, how are the twins, etc. My radiation techs know more about what’s going on in my day to day life right now than some friends.

Once I’m set, the tech(s) leave the room and the machine moves around me. It’s not a tunnel like an MRI. I literally lie there as the overhead piece moves around me. I never got a full idea of what it looked like until I video taped myself the other morning. There’s a laser beam on the wall to each side of me, one on the wall in the direction of my feet and one on the ceiling – all about eight feet away. Nothing touches me. There is no smell. I don’t feel a thing. All I hear is a buzz that lasts 10-20 seconds. Once it’s done, the machine moves to its next position. At its position closest to my head, I can see the cross laser beams on one of my tattoos in the glass reflection. I can see the monitor that shows numbers that have to do with my exact placement, the movement of the machine, and the length of the radiation timer. My mind always wanders halfway through, and I lose myself in my iPod. Before I know it, the machine moves back to its starting place, and the bed begins to move down and out as the tech enters the room again to let me know, ‘all done!’ On good days, I’m out within 10 minutes. Bad days, more like 20.

Every Monday, I have to be examined by the radiation oncologist to make sure that I’m taking care of myself – skin care, breathing, stress, depression. I can see how people grow tired of this. It’s not really the radiation that takes long. It’s the getting to and from the hospital. It’s the prepping, it’s the patience of getting into the exact same position. You can’t move. One move, and it has to start all over. Thank goodness I’m at the beginning of the day, as to not be held up by a back log of patients. The longest wait time was because of an older Hispanic woman, who was obviously having a difficult time coming to terms with having radiation, and Arielina was talking her through it. Or the new woman that is a police officer that goes in before me. Or the business woman who has taken up doing crossword puzzles as she waits for me to be done.

When I’m done, I have a pleasant 15 minute walk back to my office, as if I’ve taken up a new form of exercise. I’m less than halfway through my treatment and doing pretty well as long as I stay lathered up. I get to my office before anyone else has arrived, and have time to apply my lotion to keep the skin protected – chest, armpit, down the side, under the breast, and then the breast itself. The Aquaphor is extremely greasy, like Vaseline, so my chest emits a shiny, gleaming look which makes me want to wear a tshirt that says, ‘Of course they’re fake, the real ones tried to kill me.’ and then I go on with my day as if all is well. I get home around 6pm after picking up the girls from preschool, get dinner on the table and reapply the lotion. They often give me a double take before hugs these days to see if I’m greasy, but I’ll squeeze them anyways. And then we’ll do exercises or stretches or just play. Even though the redness and skin treatment is maintained, there is surface browning, meaning my right underam is obviously darker than my left. But it’s beneath the surface that I have to be more concerned about. My right side has gone through traumatic events in the past 8 months – mammograms, biopsies, surgery which removed a part of it’s healing system, chemotherapy, and now radiation. There is deep tissue damage, and it continues to be damaged. I must stretch my right arm constantly. There is tightness, soreness, tingling, stinging, and numbness. This may continue for years. Another habit that I’ll live through without blinking.

As for my hair, it’s starting to come back, but in splotches and as a fuzz. I just shaved for the last time so that I don’t look like I’m actually pulling my hair out, hoping it will all grow in simultaneously. But we’ll see if I’ll be the girl with the cute pixie cut or if it decides to curl up and give me a little mini Afro for a while. Who knows? If it turns it too bad, maybe I’ll continue to shave it over the summer in order to help subside these hot flashes as they continue to come and go faster and quicker than ever.

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prepping for RADIATION March 8, 2012

Filed under: cancer,radiation — Bad Right Breast @ 9:05 am

For days after my consultation with Dr. Evans, my Radiation Oncologist, I felt a bit euphoric. I can see the end in sight. I just have to take it step by step. I had to get through one more chemo treatment, one more weekend of feeling like crap, then it’s onto the burning of my skin for six weeks straight. How hard could that be? I’m sure it won’t be that bad, as long as I abide by everything they tell me. No fragrant bath washes, lotions or deodorants – now is that all over my body or just the radiated area? No hot baths or showers – thank goodness winter is almost over. (Screw that groundhog!) Keep the area very well lubricated – lotion up three times a day. Ok, that one will be hard. I’ll have to be extremely dubious about that one. Stay hydrated (otherwise only drink alcohol in moderation). So, I’ll have that glass of wine every other night then. Get lots of rest – ok so one out of five ain’t so bad, right?

Before I start radiation, I have to have a scan so that they can get a detailed look at the areas in which they’ll concentrate. I go in, and see the various waiting areas for folks’ to twiddle their thumbs depending on where they are in the process. I’m directed to the one with two massage chairs and three computers which seems like it should be labeled, ‘you’re going to be here a while so you might as well enjoy yourself.’ A woman is seated, mumbling about her daughter never putting things back where they belong, namely a pen. Hoping that it will quiet her down, I give her the spare I have in my purse. Unfortunately, this gets her going even more. Trying to stay calm, I tone her out, smile and concentrate on deep breathing. The technician, Charles, comes to the rescue moments later.

I’m led to a changing/waiting area, where I disrobe from the waist up, get into a gown, open to the front, and then Charles leads me to the scanning room which looks very much like all of the other cat scan rooms I’ve been to before. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all! I sit in the chair as he explains what’s going to happen. I hop onto the ‘bed’, and lie back onto the blue recycle bag like plastic. Charles makes sure that it fits appropriately around me. He then takes the bag from under me and places it on top of the counter. He opens two plastic bottles and pours one into the other, seals it and shakes it furiously. He lifts the bottom of the plastic open and pours the new mixture inside, while spreading it around. I lift up so that he can place the plastic underneath me. I lie back. WOW! It’s warm! Charles starts taping the plastic up around me. I raise my right arm in order to expose my armpit, and move my head slightly to the left. As the liquid cools inside of the bag, it’ll turn to a hard styrofoam, making a mold of my torso. This is what I will lie on each and every time for radiation in order to ensure that I’m in the exact same position for each of the 30 treatments. As it warms, I start to relax, better get used to it now. The ceiling is decorated with a light box, replicating looking up at trees in the park and the clouds beyond, a beautiful cherry tree, as if I’m lying in Central Park and it’s a beautiful spring day. Ah, the irony. I lie there for about 20 minutes. When all scans are done, Charles comes back with a sharpie and starts to draw what seems like targets on me, in 6 areas. He goes back behind the glass to confirm they’re in the right spots, then comes back in to tattoo me. That’s right, he takes what looks like a hand trigger and inks me in 6 spots, 6 little moles that will forever remind me of yet another part of this journey, as if I needed another reminder.

When he’s done, I get up, get dressed and return to work, all inked up. At home, the girls get beyond the ink, but graham is constantly bothered by the targets, so for fun, I don’t shower for 2 days. I get my kicks when I can! Pictures soon to follow.

 

Our Last Two Months August 22, 2011

Filed under: chemotherapy,mastectomy,radiation — Bad Right Breast @ 4:19 am

Dear Family & Friends,

As some of you may know, but most of you not, the past couple of months have been a worldwind.

Less than a week ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I found a lump early July, waited a few weeks to confirm that it didn’t go away (and I wasn’t crazy!), & then got a mammogram & sonogram that confirmed something was ‘suspicious.’ I then had 4 biopsies done, 3 of which came back as invasive carcinoma, one of which is in my lymph nodes. I waited to post any news til I saw a specialist, which happened this morning.

Needless to say I feel so comfortable with my team that I’m not even waiting for a 2nd opinion, because as you can imagine the waiting is nearly just as horrible.  Dr. Estabrook is amazing & my kinda gal. No nonsense, didn’t rush us, answered all of our questions. Good news is that my tumors are estrogen positive, which means they’ll be receptive to estrogen blocker pills. I’m starting on that today to shrink the tumors, and will continue on them for another 5 years.

Because of the 2 tumors in the breast, I’ll need a masectomy. Because of the tumor in my lymph node I’ll need chemo, but we won’t know the extent until I get more tests. I’ll get a left breast MRI on Wednesday to confirm it doesn’t have any tumors (would know results after 3 hrs). And then I’ll get a pet-scan to confirm there’s no cancer anywhere else in my body. I gave blood for them to analyze today, so along with the MRI she’ll be able to give an estimate of the stage of cancer.

Because of the high risk of cancer in my family I’m testing for the cancer gene on 9/9 but the results take 3 weeks. She said I could wait for the cancer gene results & left breast MRI results to see the current possible outcome of the left breast before opting for a double masectomy. However, I’ve chosen to not wait any longer and to go ahead and do both. This isn’t something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of days, or the past month. With the amount in my family, and especially now having kids, I don’t want to live my life constantly worrying if it’ll ever come back & be in and out of chemo forever. Ten years down the road, I don’t want to have to go through this all over again. She said it’s what she’d recommend in my case but never wants to come out and immediately suggest it, and that she talked with my doc already & they both agreed.

So this note isn’t just an update on this horrible incident happening. I found it because I did a self-exam (3 months after my GYN did my annual). I listened to my body. I was already scheduled to get annual mammograms because of my family history, but the self exam pushed me to make that appointment that much earlier. Right now, I want each of you who read this, women & men, to think about the last time you examined yourself & do it now!

I’ll be fine. This sucks more than anything. But on the bright side of things, I’ll get that breast reduction surgery alot earlier than planned, get a great weight loss program started, and maybe even get a tummy tuck to boot! (But not my butt, I like that part of me way too much:)

And if anything, this is just another part of life that makes me put it all into perspective. I’ve always known I’ve had friends & family that love me, but you truly don’t realize the depth until you hit a low that’s unimaginable. I love you all, and looking forward to you watching me kick cancer’s ass.
Bad news? I fucking hate pink!

With much love and inspiration,
Laurie