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June 2, 2015 – I Found A Lump

3 Jun

Last night, on the evening of the anniversary of my Mom’s death, I found a lump.

After work last night I went to Carvel and got myself a chocolate ice cream cone rolled in colored sprinkles; one of my favorite treats of all time. As I sat and ate that ice cream cone I wondered how many of those cones my Mom had bought me as I was growing up. Hundreds probably. I can tell you that back then – they weren’t $3.49! I went to the grocery store and finally got home. It was a long and sad day and it was about 7:30. I was upstairs changing, the bathroom light was off but there was daylight coming in the bathroom window. I took my cami off and pulled off my bra and with the reflection of the light hitting the mirror I saw it. I could actually see a small nodule on my chest. My heart literally hit the floor. I felt around the little bump and was hoping it was a tendon or something that was not in the form of a lump. Or a bump. Or a nodule. It was between my collar-bone and the top of my breast. Left side, the same side where my cancer was 4 years ago.

I dressed and went downstairs to work in my office on our personal bills and budget and I kept getting up to look in the bathroom mirror to see if that little lump was still there. And it was. As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep well last night.

When I got up this morning the first thing I did was check, yup – still there. I went to work with a heavy heart not saying anything to anyone about this. I emailed my breast navigator and asked her what to do. My oncologist is still on personal medical leave and my surgeon has retired. In waiting for her return email I called Dr Appel’s office. They told me to come in right away….so out of the office I ran telling Ev what was going on and that I had to go. Dr Appel felt the lump and thought it was possibly leftover drama or swollen lymph nodes from my recent capsular tear and all of the swelling I have had for 6 weeks. He also said it could be dead cells from my fat grafting surgery last September. Dr Appel is always proactive so he wanted me to have an ultrasound….he would order one right away. I thank God for this doctor on a regular basis – I am so fortunate to have him in my life. I left his office and went to my already scheduled appointment with my oncology counselor. Does God have perfect timing or what? While I was in her office I missed 10 phone calls and when I came out of my meeting with her I grabbed the last one. Could I get to the Novant Breast Center by 1:30? Could I?? I was five minutes away and it was one o’clock. They must have had a cancellation and once again – the timing was perfect.

As soon as the tech rubbed the ultrasound across my chest she said “well…there it is.” I immediately felt relief because I knew then that I wasn’t crazy. “You actually see something?” I asked. “Absolutely” she said. She did some clicking and measuring and then I knew there was something solid there. They always do that click and measure thing when they see something. She went out to get the doctor and as I laid there I began to really think this through. “What if”….what if my cancer is back? What if it’s triple neg? What if I found the nodule on the anniversary of my Mom’s death? What about the JellyBean? What if? What if? What if? For me, things tend to become crystal clear at moments like this. I lay in that room alone for probably 15 minutes. I remembered what it was like to be diagnosed 4 years ago and I also felt the magnitude of “what if?”

The radiologist came in and put the wand on me – measure, click, tilt, measure, and click. On and on – then he said that he thinks it’s a cyst. It has clear and smooth edges and is flat…apparently cancer is kind of craggly and doesn’t present as smooth. “What about the other one?” the tech asked. He moved his wand over and sure enough – there was another nodule. He also thinks that is a cyst. Phew…the tension left the room and I thanked God for His timing and protection again. These cysts need to be clinically watched over the next month or two and if they grow in the meantime – I will have to go back in…but for now, I am ok. What a great way to find a lump and know, in less than 24 hours, that it is not Mr Lumpcake coming back for revenge or to wage another war on my body. When I was diagnosed last time my healthcare provider was Charlotte Radiology and I tell you, as nice as they were, I had to wait weeks. Not kidding. Weeks. From my original mammogram, to the diagnostic, to my biopsy, it was weeks. Now that I am in the Novant Health Care System it was hours. For this I am extremely grateful and thankful to be taken care of with such professionalism and urgency. I cannot say enough about my doctors and healthcare team – they saved me an awful lot of nail-biting, stomach churning, and mental stress today. I love them.

So, I know I haven’t blogged about this in a while and shame on me. Do your self-exams friends. If you are a cancer survivor, know your body, know your breasts, and LOOK at yourself. Be diligent. If you have a concern, don’t bury your head in the sand – just figure it out. In that same manner, don’t let every single ache and pain make you crazy, but be diligent. A lump or nodule around your breast area or lymph nodes – get them checked. Immediately.

As soon as I got home tonight to change out of my work clothes I saw my area of concern again; plainly and clearly in the mirror. You can bet I will be watching this area like a hawk over the next few weeks/months. Poor Dr Appel is going to have to set up a room with my name on it. Be proactive friends and take care of your health and your body. Please.

Reverse Mother’s Day 2015

2 Jun

Mothers Day 2015I have waited until today to post my reverse Mother’s Day post for a reason. Mother’s Day, this year, was very special to me. I didn’t wake up feeling hollow and somewhat deflated because I don’t have a Mom anymore. This year I was able to celebrate my first Mother’s Day as a Gramma, I was able to celebrate my daughter Morgan’s first Mother’s Day as a Mommy, and we also celebrated my granddaughter’s church dedication. What a Mother’s Day it was! There wasn’t any time for sadness or any place for the hollow spots in my heart this year. For the first time in many many years, my Mother’s Day heart was full to overflowing with happiness. I think that the Mother’s Day sadness has finally left my heart and my life, once and for all. And I am so grateful. You can guide your emotions and control how you deal with them – but you cannot continually pretend that you are celebrating when you are not. I am very thankful that I had Kevin and both of my children with me on this very special day.

So, I have waited to post about my normal reverse Mother’s Day surprise until today. It is the anniversary of my Mom’s passing from breast cancer and I wanted to end today on a happy note. So that is what I am doing! See? We can control how we deal with our emotions!

Ready Morgan and Kyle? This year on July 11th you two are going into a wind-tunnel and taking an indoor skydiving trip together. I will be with you – not in the tunnel – but I will be watching everything you do! We are going to take off early Saturday morning, do this fun deed and then have a funky late lunch in a cool spot. We may even have a drink to celebrate our fun day. We shall see….I am not so sure I am ready to share a real drink with both of my kids – even though you passed the age of 21 years ago. Phew – the thought of that makes me feel OLD.

I hope you guys are happy and excited with this year’s reverse Mother’s Day surprise. I would love to be in that tunnel with you both  – but I will be watching happily from the sidelines.

Happy Mother’s Day to the two best kids any Mom could have ever hoped for or prayed for. I am so very very lucky!

Some Days Are Harder Than Others

31 May

This is always an emotional time of year for me. Relay For Life, my Mom’s anniversary of her death, and National Cancer Survivor Day…these all happen in a 10 day period this year. This year has been especially hard. One of my friends has been moved to a Hospice House, one of my friends went into cardiac arrest when she went into the hospital to have her chemotherapy port replaced, and another one of my friends has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Those last three things kicked the crap out of my spirit late last week and I cannot even remember if I blogged about them yet or not. Since Tuesday is the anniversary of my Mom’s passing, the days before that day are always spent reflecting back to the days before she passed. Waiting, we were just waiting.  I think that is the hardest thing in the world to wish someone would let go so you could see their suffering end – but to wish somehow, someway, God would step in and breathe new life into that person and give you the miracle your heart is truly hoping for. A lot of us have been there. Waiting….just waiting for the final transition to be made and the hope of a miracle cure, for that person, to be packed away forever. I guess some people get that miracle, and they pack up their beloved and their belongings and head home.

The more time I spend in the cancer community, the more I truly admire the people in the cancer community; the nurse navigators, Hospice nurses, oncologists, oncology therapists, radiation oncologists, plastic surgeons, and people who make the daily choice to surround themselves with cancer patients. I thought all of “those people” were amazing when they took care of my Mom many years ago. Now that I am friends with “those people” I am truly in awe of their strength, spirit, and never-ending love they have to give to those around us. I don’t see them as “those people” anymore; the smart ones, the trained ones, the ones that were strangers to me 19 years ago – you know, just doing their job. Now I actually know “those people” and I see the side of them that hurts right along with the rest of us, the side that mourns the loss of cancer patients and celebrates the good news with others, the ones who have hearts that break right along with the families, and the patients, that are losing these battles.

I have no idea how they carry the burdens I have seen in the past four years, but I am glad that we have such loving and kind souls who choose this life every single day. They choose to make a difference in the life of cancer patients and their families – regardless of the outcome. They choose to love us anyway, no matter how their hearts may break one day when one of us loses our battle. They choose to stand by the other survivors at funerals and memorial services. These people are truly angels. This becomes more clear to me every single day ….I see it with my own eyes.

Relay For Memories, Relay For Support, Relay For Life

29 May

I just spent about an hour on our screen porch just trying to get my mind and my heart wrapped around tonight. I am heading to Relay For Life at Ballantyne and I cannot help but remember last year’s Relay that I spent with Michelle. I have blogged many times about Michelle, and about Relay, but tonight is a little different. Different because last year Michelle and I walked together, clowning around, joking, celebrating, and remembering people we had already lost to cancer. Tonight I have survivor friends meeting me at Relay, that also loved Michelle, so they will be remembering her and the other people they have lost already, but also celebrating their survivorship, right along with me. As we gather tonight, (some of us are from our triple negative breast cancer group) we will be remembering Michelle but we are also walking for, and honoring, our stage 4 fighters in our group. Our friend Mari has been moved to a Hospice House to get her pain under control. She is losing her battle with metastatic triple negative breast cancer and our hearts are, once again, breaking. She is young, she is precious, and she is loved. We will also be walking for Tina C, Dana L, Kelly S and Kristi K. They are all fighting metastatic TNBC.

This is tough stuff my friends…not all pink ribbons and rah-rah bows, no matter what anyone tells you. We do have more people surviving breast cancer and thanks to the American Cancer Society and other research organizations, hopefully someday we will have targeted therapy for TNBC…until then we pray, we wait, we rally, we walk, we run, we fundraise, we Make Strides, we support our peers, we help each other, and we RELAY.

I wrote this blog post last year about Relay and Michelle but the thoughts remain the same about anyone fighting metastatic breast cancer. It IS a relay.

Relay 2015

 

On June 13 I attended my third Relay for Life event for the American Cancer Society. This is the event that I attend as a survivor, not a volunteer, not a fundraiser, not anyone with a “regular ACS volunteer” face. I go to this walk to honor my Mom’s memory, honor my survivor sisters who have passed, and celebrate my own survivorship quietly. But this year was different. This year I went with my friend Michelle and we got to have some quality time together that wasn’t on the phone, that wasn’t at a meeting, and that wasn’t hurried. We are always in a hurry it seems. Michelle has never been to a Relay before so I felt honored that she wanted to attend one with me.

Before she got there I turned in my luminaria bags that I made; one for my Mom and one for Michelle. I love that part of Relay – they put candles in all of the bags and surround the edges of the track with them. The spotlights are turned off after dark and the band plays quietly. It is a quiet lap. A lap of silence so that each person can reflect, celebrate, or mourn in their own special way. I like that part the best. Everyone walks a lap or two in complete silence looking at the names and decorations on each bag. Some people have many bags donated in their honor, some people have one or two bags, and some people have none. It was nice to walk the track with Michelle talking about what we saw on those bags, what was going on in the tents around us, looking for cotton candy, and just spend time together. Precious time. Michelle found the bag I made for her and I think she was touched. Since she has never been to Relay, I am not sure she was expecting one, but I am glad I made one for her. Precious memories.

Michelle is battling metastatic triple negative breast cancer and she is a very precious friend to me. We met her through our mutual friend Andrea with one of those introductions “hey, my friend Laura had that kind of breast cancer too!” I am so thankful for this introduction. Michelle and I have quite the bond now and she is in my thoughts and prayers every single day. You see, Michelle has just started her third regimen of chemotherapy treatments for her breast cancer. She started to respond in chemo regimen #1, and then her cancer began to grow, and then spread. Then she responded to chemo regimen #2 and the nodules in her lungs disappeared. After she had some time off from chemo for her body to recover, she was scanned again, and they found that her cancer began to grow. She has been through so much, so many tests, so many ups and downs, and so many doctor appointments – things a non-cancer person cannot even imagine. But on she goes. She is one of the strongest women I know. She has a positive attitude, her faith in God is amazing, and her willingness to fight is inspiring.

Michelle started her next regimen of chemo yesterday and now we wait to see what kind of side effects she experiences. We are all hoping and praying that her cancer responds. There are so many people praying for her; praying for her strength, praying for her cancer to respond, praying for her daughters, praying for the doctors and their wisdom, and  praying for Michelle’s stamina.

I am thankful to have made memories with Michelle at Relay for Life. Rain or no rain. We laughed. We ate. We walked. We took photos. We laughed some more. I am thankful for her friendship and for her spirit. I am thankful for the memories we are making and the bond we are nurturing. I am thankful for her.

Please keep Michelle in your prayers. As we remember our Relay for Life events from around the country, it is important to remember people like Michelle…people continuing to fight cancer….this, for them, really is a relay.

 

Life Is Short. Eternity Is Long. Love People.

25 May

This morning as I sat on the screen porch, long before our neighborhood was awake, I knew that I had to blog today. I have to get these words out because they are important. These thoughts are from my heart – results of watching a recent situation unfold – but then tossed around in my mind prompted by our sermon yesterday at church. There are so many thoughts rumbling, I am not sure I will be able to write what I feel, but I will try.

Two years ago, around this time, I met my friend Mari for the first time. We met while at physical therapy for breast cancer rehabilitation – mine was post cancer and Mari had just found out that her triple negative breast cancer had returned, it was metastatic, and it was in several different places in her body. We had a great connection when we met that day and I remember driving away from that rehab center absolutely driven to do what my heart had been telling me to do for many many months; to start a group for triple negative breast cancer survivors. Some people tried to discourage me from starting this group – first of all, I am not trained – for anything…my only knowledge and experience in breast cancer has been my Mom’s battle, some of my friends, and now, my own. Boots on the ground kind of training – but that’s not “real” training at all. They also said it wouldn’t be a good idea to mix stage 4 breast cancer survivors with newly diagnosed women. So, I thought that through….a lot. My heart kept telling me to move forward but my head was telling me to move into this very unfamiliar territory carefully. I remember talking about this with a few other TNBC survivors and they kept saying “let’s do it” “let’s go” “we need this”….but I was nervous. I didn’t attend support groups, what did I know about starting one? Nothing. But I gathered the lists of TNBC survivors I had here, there, and everywhere, and we had our first meeting. I have blogged about that meeting and our group, several times, so I won’t go into details because it is not the point of this post.

Our group has been together almost two years now and we have women who come once in a while, we have many regulars, we have women that come when their schedules allow, and we have women who come every other month just to hear the speaker – they don’t want to come on the alternating months for the “social” group meetings. All of that is just fine by me. I am a full believer that if you build it – they will come…and they have. These women have become precious friends to me and I couldn’t imagine not seeing them on a regular basis.

Back to Mari – the girl who catapulted me into calling Buddy Kemp and telling them I wanted, and needed, to start a group. Mari only came to a few meetings. She has been in chemotherapy for two solid years (after her original battle); she has had some brain radiation, some procedures (surgeries) and a multitude of clinical trials. She has been through hell and I don’t say that lightly. Not very long ago Mari found out that her chemotherapy was no longer working and she made the decision to stop all treatment. Her scans were not good and the cancer was continuing to spread. Hospice has been visiting Mari several times a week and her adoring husband Jim has been taking care of her 24/7. My precious TNBC group cohort, Moira Quinn, helped us all by arranging an “Operation Mari” calendar so Jim could work on Fridays and Saturdays. She sent out an email asking our group if anyone could go and sit with Mari – and help – so Jim could work. This is where the story gets interesting….you see, no one in our group other than Moira, Michelle (who has passed away) and I actually know Mari. She didn’t attend meetings regularly because she was sick.  We were reaching out to these women and asking them to go to someone’s house that they didn’t know, to help out. Bring food, help her to the bathroom, spend time with her, and be there in case she needed anything at all. Mari is “couch bound” and not allowed to get up because she is weak and her balance is off. In fact, a few weeks ago she couldn’t have gotten up if she tried. Steroids have helped this recently, and I am thankful for this.

So here I am sitting on my porch this morning, drinking coffee, while the little world around me was quiet and I was thinking about the emails I got back after the women in our group had spent time with Mari. “Thank you for allowing me to meet her and get to know her.” “I am so blessed by the time I was able to spend with her.”  “An inspiration” many said. “She is filled with beautiful light and energy.” “A very precious girl and I am thankful I met her.”

The actions from these women are amazing. Would you go to someone’s house, that you didn’t know, and sit with them for 3 or 4 hours, help them to the bathroom, feed them, and spend time with them? These women didn’t have to step up and do that. The email went out to our entire group and instead of ignoring the plea for help and letting someone else step up and give a few hours, girls in our group did it; the same group that Mari inspired me to start. Talk about full circle! I am not sure I can even put into words how grateful I am to these women. They gave Jim a few days a week to be able to work and they gave Mari something extremely precious – time.

This is the side of our group that I see that others don’t get to see. Most of these women are post breast cancer treatments, but one of the women that sat with Mari is in her own clinical trial for metastatic breast cancer. These women amaze me. It’s cool for me to know how God kept gently pushing me and reminding me to start the group – and meeting Mari was the final boost I needed. Here we are two years later and sadly Mari is dying, but the women we brought together showed her love, compassion, and grace as they spent time with her and got to know her. THIS is what our group is about. When people said it wasn’t a good idea to mix stage 4 people in with other survivors I wondered how I would handle that but it seems as though it has worked out beautifully. We are doing what we said we would do – love them through it. This could be me in a year, shoot; it could be me in a week. We don’t know what we are carrying around in our bodies and neither do you.

Our sermon at church yesterday was about “time”….a few of the garbled notes that I took are:

Psalm 90:12 Teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom

The whole point of our existence is relationship.

The greatest gift we can give someone is time.

Who are we investing in? Who are we leading?

God has put certain people in our life on purpose.

Are you leaving behind a legacy of love?

Life is short. Eternity is long. Love people.

So, I have to ask, who are you investing in? I believe that some of my friends have gotten tired of my friendships with my breast cancer survivors. I also believe some of them think I spend too much time with these women and too much time on the phone mentoring newly diagnosed women. But what they don’t see is the benefit I see of investing in these women’s lives. These women are becoming friends with each other and forming bonds that have very little to do with me, but they have a lot to do with real life. Not the happy pink ribbons and pink bows; but the reality of metastatic triple negative breast cancer. This could be any of us and we all know it. Some women put their fears aside to go help out a survivor in need, some women couldn’t – and that’s ok too! Mari had enough people helping her and it all worked out. If you open the door, they will come and God always provides. Always.

I was able to spend some special time with Mari and Jim last weekend and we talked, and laughed, and cried, and laughed some more. Mari is her same spunky sweet and funny self – medicated or not – and to me – she is the core reason of why our group is together today. I could have busied myself another year or two and missed out on some of the best silver linings of having had cancer. But she inspired me to do something and now I know, without a doubt, that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Leading the triple negative breast cancer group, coordinating the Reach To Recovery Program for Novant and the American Cancer Society, and leading the Primax Pink Warriors for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is my way of investing in other people. I found where I am supposed to be and I am creating a legacy of love for survivors to pass along. The coolest part of all of this is knowing, without a doubt, I am helping people.

Life is short. Eternity is long. Love People.

Finally – A Positive For Being Negative

24 May

This is some great news for early stage, young, ER-, PR-, breast cancer patients who can research this for fertility concerns!

Many women diagnosed with breast cancer, especially younger women, are concerned about their ability to have children after treatment. Some breast cancer treatments can cause temporary infertility or make it harder to get pregnant after treatment ends. Other treatments, especially certain chemotherapy regimens, can cause early menopause and infertility.

A study shows that premenopausal women diagnosed with hormone-receptor-negative, early-stage breast cancer who were treated with Zoladex (chemical name: goserelin) along with chemotherapy after surgery were much less likely to be infertile after chemotherapy ended than women who got chemotherapy without Zoladex.

The research was published in the March 5, 2015 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Zoladex is a GnRh (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) agonist. GnRH agonists are hormones that block GnRH, a hormone made in the brain that tells the ovaries to get ready for ovulation. Ovulation happens when a mature egg is released from the ovary, ready to be fertilized. When GnRH is blocked, no ovulation occurs. So Zoladex causes the ovaries to temporarily shut down. By doing this while a woman is being treated with chemotherapy, the goal is to help protect the eggs from the chemotherapy medicine.

Doctors call treatments given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence) adjuvant treatments. Chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapy are common adjuvant treatments for breast cancer.

The study included 218 premenopausal women ages 18 to 49 diagnosed with early-stage, hormone-receptor-negative breast cancer. The women were randomly assigned to receive either:

  • Zoladex plus chemotherapy
  • chemotherapy alone

The women who were treated with Zoladex got it every 4 weeks, starting 1 week before the first round of chemotherapy. Most of the women (91%) received anthracycline-based chemotherapy.

None of the women had taken any type of hormonal therapy, birth control pills, or hormone replacement therapy in the month before the study started.

The researchers were looking for answers to several questions:

  • How many women had ovarian failure 2 years after chemotherapy? Ovarian failure meant that a woman hadn’t had a period in the past 6 months and had follicle-stimulating hormone levels in the postmenopausal range. Follicle-stimulating hormone stimulates ovulation. If your ovaries are in menopause, they no longer respond to follicle-stimulating hormone and your brain reacts by sending out more hormone. So higher follicle-stimulating hormone levels indicate menopause.
  • How many women had successful pregnancies?
  • What were the disease-free and overall survival rates? Disease-free survival is how long a woman lives without the cancer coming back. Overall survival is how long a woman lives, with or without the cancer coming back.

After 2 years, the researchers looked at information from 135 of the women in the study. This means that the researchers were missing information on 83 (nearly 40%) of the women in the study.

The results showed a big difference in ovarian failure rates between the two groups:

  • 8% of the women who got Zoladex and chemotherapy had ovarian failure
  • 22% of the women who got chemotherapy alone had ovarian failure

There was also a big difference in pregnancy rates after treatment:

  • 21% of the women who got Zoladex and chemotherapy had at least one pregnancy; 18 babies were born to women in this group
  • 11% of the women who got chemotherapy alone had at least one pregnancy; 12 babies were born to women in this group

About 24% of the women who got Zoladex and chemotherapy tried to get pregnant after treatment compared to 16% of women who got only chemotherapy.

Women in the Zoladex group also had slightly higher disease-free survival rates (89% compared to 78%) and overall survival rates (92% compared to 82%). Still, it’s possible that other risk factors are the reason for these differences. More research is needed to understand if Zoladex can truly help improve survival.

While the missing information from about 40% of the women in the study does weaken the strength of the results, the findings are still very encouraging. This is also the second study to show that suppressing ovarian function during chemotherapy can help preserve fertility.

If you’re a premenopausal woman who’s been diagnosed with early-stage, hormone-receptor-NEGATIVE breast cancer and are concerned about preserving your fertility, you might want to talk to your doctor about this study. It may be possible that you can be given Zoladex in addition to your chemotherapy to shut down your ovaries and help preserve your fertility.

If you’re a premenopausal women who’s been diagnosed with early-stage, hormone-receptor-POSITIVE breast cancer, unfortunately this study doesn’t apply to you. Still, there are other options available to you, including harvesting mature eggs from your ovaries before treatment starts. The most important thing to do is to talk to your doctor about fertility as you’re planning your treatment. You also can ask for a referral to a fertility specialist for counseling before treatment begins

Stage 4 Cancer Support Group

11 May

I love that this group is being offered…if you are in Charlotte, and if you have Stage 4 cancer, check this out. Remember, the people you will learn the most from is other survivors!Stage4

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