A Year of Thriving


My mom, brothers and sisters…Love you all!

August 8, 2013 – Last treatment
of the targeted chemotherapy, Herceptin.

August 8, 2014 – A year free of treatments- JOY. A year free of needle pokes and IV bags-PEACE. A year of hair growth and personal growth-LOVE. A year filled with love of family and friends-KINDNESS. A year filled with sunshine blinding my cloudy days because I wake up every morning-GOODNESS.

My daily prayers still include some personal intentions, but they are mostly prayers of thanksgiving. I have faced the evil that cancer is and am still thriving. A sweet cousin, who also overcame breast cancer, wisely told me as I began this journey in March of 2012, that she doesn’t consider herself a survivor, she is a thriver. I have come to realize that my life too is about thriving! My prayer is that I continue to thrive and bear the fruits of the Spirit to others.

I was blessed this past year of good health to spend beautiful moments with my sisters, Diane, Teri and Toni and my brothers, Don and John. I believe our relationships grew stronger and deeper. There were many moments that I treasure with friends too, but siblings share a special bond that runs long and deep. They have seen me at my worst and my best and they continue to stand by me. I pray I have shown them and will continue to show them the love, kindness and gentleness that they have shared with me. Some of the years highlights were…

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation just before my last Herceptin with Teri and Diane for Teri’s Hawaii wedding to a wonderful new brother-in-law, Nick. Teri’s children Mindy and Jack joined us for an incredible 5 sunny days.

Kevin and I were blessed to vacation with Don and Mindy in Cancun for a glorious week in January. Yes during Chicago’s below zero temperatures we were all glad to get away and relax at the beautiful gulf waters. Their friends Tony and Diane joined us for an amazing time filled with lots of laughs.

In March we stole a few days away for my nephew’s wedding in Arizona. Pete and Melissa filled the air with the love that radiated from them. And the time with the extended Caschetta family was so much fun…lots of little ones running around the reception and leading the moves on the dance floor.

The abundant blessings came about at the end of May when we could put off no longer the trip that we had been planning in our minds and hearts for 8 years. Fifteen days in Italy…Rome, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terra and Lucca. My heart felt at home in Lucca. Maybe it was because it is where my Nonno and Noni met, or maybe it was because I knew my father had walked those streets too. I don’t know what it was, but I felt a connection to a place I had only heard stories about.

There may have been hard moments, scary moments and moments of distress this past year. But I choose to remember the moments I spent with my husband, my daughter, my son, my mother, my siblings and my friends. Laughing, loving and living…no, laughing, loving and thriving!

Grace embraced through the love I have been blessed to share with others throughout the past year. May the Lord use me to help others bear their burdens, so that I may lighten their load in some small way.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness,
gentleness and self-control Galatians 5:22-23



Feeling good and praying for Yes’s

Tuesday May 23, 2012

Second post-op appointment and going with a positive feeling. I am strong and have been resting, so I am hopeful for three changes…

1. Removal of the final drain
2. Release to drive
3. Release to go to work

Dr. Jaskowiak did say the incisions are healing really well. The surgical strips are off for good and the beautiful scar that I never imagined would be across my chest stares back at me in the mirror. It is almost a perfect line of suntanned skin above of the scar and lighter unsunned skin below the scar, visually cutting the left side of my chest not only with a scar, but with the tone of my skin…it’s very odd to see…but’s its a Cancer-Free sight too and I am learning to love its look. Realistically I know there will be days that I cry in front of the mirror for what is gone, but those days are becoming infrequent. I also think the Vicodin I was taking added to a sadness, almost depressing attitude. So pain management with Advil or Tylenol as much as possible, so that I can think clearly and positively.

The output of the drain is still over 30 cc a day and that’s the magic number…below 30 cc a day for two days…so the hope of drain being removed is gone. The drain stays in for another week. Dr. J humorously stated that if I’m still draining that much next week, she’s putting my arm in a sling to restrict movement. Suddenly, I’m confused. She said after surgery, no lifting, but that I should move my left arm so it doesn’t get stiff. Even though, Kevin would disagree, I believe I have not been doing too much with my arm. So I need to find the balance between moving, stretching and gentle use of my arm while resting and not causing more fluid drain. New goal for the week…Get The Drain Out!

After being discouraged about the drain, I really, really nicely asked if I can drive. I made Dr. J laugh! Absolutely no way will she be responsible for me driving with a drain and limited arm movement. No matter how much I tried to explain how careful I’d be, she was just as adamant about not letting me drive. Two no’s right off the bat!

But I was still hopeful and holding on to the possibility of a positive affirmation for my last request.

Am I able to return to work? Dr. J kindly asked again what my job day entails. Mostly desk work, I answer. She feels that if there is something that really can’t wait and I have someone who can drive me, maybe for an hour or two, if necessary, but only if absolutely necessary and not more than two hours. More of a no than a yes. Since it’s a 40 minute drive to my office, I can’t ask someone to drive me for an hour and half so that I can work an hour or two. Guess it is remote working for another week.

Shot down on all three.

But I have to remember it has only been 18 days since surgery. I’m becoming restless in the house, yet I need to rest to get the drain out and begin to resume a normal life. Well normal for a while, until chemo begins.
Oh, the challenges of a mastectomy patient…or maybe just a challenge for me!

We talked about the discomfort in my underarm, it’s range of motion, goals for reaching above my head and finally getting approval to wash it with perfumed soap and apply deodorant! That is a great news! Because of where the incision under my arm is from the lymph node removal, they did not want anything but gentle soap and water there, being careful not to get the drains wet that are four inches below. Finally news I could embrace!

The underarm is slightly swollen and the scar tissue and muscle is very tender, but it’s getting a scrubbing with Bath & Body Works Sweet Pea body wash tonight!

Dr. J again reminded me to work on resting so that the drain can be removed after Memorial Day. Her nurse, Sheilah, came into the room to finish us some paperwork with my husband and I. She was surprised that the drain did not come out and we talked for a minute on how to accomplish that goal. Then…I can’t believe what happened…

Sheilah opened the exam room door as she said “Janet, listen to your husband”.
Kevin exclaimed “I love you” as the staff in the hallway began to laugh.
I said “You have no idea what you power you have given him” as I smiled and laughed knowing that Kevin now felt more control over my resting schedule.
Sheilah tried to add “only from 9:00 am to 10:00 am”, but it was too late, Kevin was glad for the assurance that he will be doing more for me and helping me rest more.

In a single comment, Sheilah opened up the power of an incredibly caring husband and reminded an impatient patient that healing takes rest and time.

It was a fantastic ending to an appointment that did not go the way I had hoped. Thanks Lord for the laugh, you knew I needed it!
I did go home and rest. Kevin is the perfect caregiver, maybe a little too cautious. (I can carry my own plate to the dinner table, honey) But I am grateful for his love and assistance, since I know many do go through challenges alone.

Grace embraced: Well, I’m feeling good, even though I received no’s for my three questions, I am graced with laughter and love.

The loss of a breast

Friday, May 4, 2012  – Sorry just realized this did not post last week, so it will be out of order but I did not want to lose the entry.

Why Me?

A few people have told me it’s normal to ask Why Me.
Is it normal not to ask? I have not asked myself or God Why Me. I think, why not me?
I am a woman with breasts, why should I not be just as likely to get breast cancer?

Maybe I never smoked or drank and that makes me less of a risk factor. But really? Cancer does not discriminate.
And I know I am only given what I can handle and what I need to learn from. So today I lose a breast.

I lose a breast, but gain my life. Or is it that simple?

The wonderful medical staff at University of Chicago was welcoming and calming, but it’s still a sobering experience to say goodbye to your children and spouse before being rolled into the operating room. Looking at the amazing faces of my husband, Kevin; daughter, Jaclyn; and son, Zachary and saying goodbye was hard. While I knew I would be fine in my heart, I still knew the small possibility of the worst case. I was so thankful that our dear friends Dan and Mistee were on their way to be in the waiting room with my family.

I remember entering the operating room and them stretching my arms on either side of me for  blood pressure cuffs, monitors and such. I looked passed the large round lights above me and focused on all those praying for me. I asked my Dad to be with me, I asked my sister, who has been my guardian angel since she passed away at two years old to be with me and I relinquished myself to the Lord and the Doctors that would have my fate in their hands.

I awoke in recovery five hours later, looking into the loving eyes of my husband. We have spent most of our life together, Since high school I have trusted those eyes with my life and my heart and they did not fail me now. He was worried and relieved. The tears of joy told me I survived, but the sadness told me there was more.

After Kevin, my daughter, then my son came in to see me. Zachary was able to walk along as I was wheeled to a room in Bernard Mitchell Hospital. Brad the transporter was a Christian that shared his faith with us. It was exactly what I needed to hear, God’s mercy sent through this young man.

I rested after a short visit, hug and kiss from Dan and Mistee. It was so good to laugh. Dan, I hear you asked if I ate nails for breakfast, since I was so tough. Thanks and I am looking forward to breakfast with your family soon 🙂 I love you, Mistee and the boys!

With an exhausted family from a looong day, I insisted Kevin and Zach head home, while Jaclyn insisted she was sleeping in the chair all night and not leaving my side.

It was a restless night with drains, monitoring, new room-mate and meds ..but I survived with my daughter’s strength holding me up.

Grade embraced: Thank you Lord for the grace of steady hands for the surgeons and caring hearts for the medical staff. Thank you for the blessings of so many loved ones and the grace of opening my eyes to look into the eyes I want to grow old with. I may have lost a breast today, but I gained so much more.

Pathology report

May 13, 2012

Today is Mother’s Day. I have never felt so much love from my family on Mothers Day as today. Maybe because the pathology report was not the best as we were praying for. Maybe it’s just because I AM a great mother 🙂 Whichever the reason, it doesn’t matter, I taking all the love I can get today! Homemade omelet served by my husband with fresh fruit and OJ. Movie matinée midday if I’m strong enough and hopefully I will be able to attend mass tonight. Flowers from my daughter in AZ and the love of friends and family walking to fight breast cancer! Love embracing me all day today!

Now for reality…pathology report was the hot topic of conversation last thursday for the interdisciplinary conference at the University of Chicago Hospital. The tumor in the breast was larger than expected: 8.5 cm x 6.1 cm x 4.7 cm. Sounds like a trophy size, maybe I should have asked for a picture? The trophy is that it is not longer a weight on my chest and it is OUT.
They removed 33 lymph nodes from my left underarm and side. I honestly did not even know a person had that many lymph nodes one side. I guess I was thinking about 7-10. They saw only two that appeared abnormal, but 18 have tumors. When Dr. Jaskowiak said “tumors”, it sounded much more cryptic than “abnormal”. It took me back.

I thought, why am I always receiving this news over the phone and alone. But that’s God’s plan, so I accept it and grab for paper and a pen.

33 lymph nodes removed – 18 had tumors. Scribbles, noted, ask questions Janet…

“So what stage am I at post-op?”
“You are now categorized: T3, N3, M0 – Stage 3C. Herceptin and radiation will be effective to HER2 positive receptors”
I don’t understand what that all means, but I write it down and figure I can understand later.
I need the right medical terminology to be able to understand it later. Write it down correctly Janet.

“Where would it travel to next?”
“Great question” But I don’t want to be asking these questions, but I know I have to. “The next basin is usually first the mediastinal nodes between the chest that they do not do surgery to remove, so chemo and radiation will attack them. The other area would be the lymph nodes near the left clavicle area. So we will concentrate chemo and radiation on that area also.”
I am thinking chemo and radiate my whole body – get rid of it everywhere!

Doctor tells me “All margins were clear.” All five of the oncologist at the conference were encouraged by the report.
So I guess I’m encouraged too. Even with the bad news there is good news – I will beat this horrific disease – even if it doesn’t seem that today. Tomorrow will be better. I am confident in that fact.

She suggests that I meet with the Medical Oncologist the week after next to talk about starting Chemo in June. Of the five at U of C, she recommends Dr. Phillip Hoffman. He is also a hematologist, which would be helpful since I have a blood mutation that increases my risk of blood clots. The interdisciplinary conference is suggesting AC TH herceptin chemotherapy. I’ll learn more about those initial through online research I’m sure. I want to meet with Dr. Hoffman with questions about the drug and treatment I will be facing.

Finally, Dr. Jaskowiak explains that the numbness I am feeling in my arm, may go away, but may be permanent. I will be researching if there is anything I can do to help my nerves heal, prayers for healing now include nerves as well.

I walk out into my kitchen, completely numb, and join my sister, niece, son, mother, brother and sister-in-law and choke out the news about the tumors. The amazing turkey meatballs and pasta my sister-in-law made was delicious yet I did not taste anything.

Somebody make me laugh…I need laughter. Kevin arrived home from work at 7:45 pm, the first time this week before 8:00 pm and was I glad to fall into his arms.

Next year’s Mother’s Day will be completely different.

Grace embraced: The grace of knowing what the final pathology report in. Good or bad news, I need the truth and together we can face any truth that lays in my path. I plan on jumping right over the crappy stuff that is in my way and getting to the finish line arm in arm with Christ! Happy Mothers Day!

Moving Forward

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dr. Jaskowiak called. She caught me at work, so I closed my office door and waited for the news. She began with, “so we got most of the results back and your case is so interesting.” Is that good or bad? I am cautious, since I don’t know how to read her yet. But she is always honest.

I have embraced the graces that I have experienced each day so far, so I not going to stop now, and there are more graces than worries.

So the news is:  The biopsy shows that I have a 8.2 x 5.7 x 4.7 cm (the largest measurement is in it’s depth)

Classified as a “infiltrating ductal carcinoma with lobular features” Grade two – Don’t know about you, but I thought that sounded impressive…or frightening…but I was going with impressive.

When I asked what stage it was in, Dr. Jaskowiak said it is T3, N0 – clinical stage 2B. If during the surgery they discover cancer in the lymph nodes they will categorize the tumor as a T3 N1, Stage 3A.

But remember, there have been many blessings also. A CT of abdomen and stomach were clear. The bone scan was clear and the right breast is clear. Two lymph nodes at left underarm are asymmetrical, which they will look at during the surgery.

So the next step is for left mastectomy surgery on Friday, May 4th they will remove the lymph nodes if they are discovered to be cancerous.

After approximately a 4 weeks recovery they will begin chemo, followed by radiation and possibly hormonal therapy. Six weeks after completion of radiation they will do reconstruction. So who wants to spend the summer with me now! Doesn’t that sound like the best summer ever? Well, really when you look at the positive, and that’s what I chose to do, summer is a wonderful time for all this. I will be able to sit on my back porch, go for beautiful walk, feel the wind on my face. I could go stir crazy in the winter holed up inside, so you see blessings!

I pray for the Doctor’s steady hands and all the health care professionals that I will encounter this week at the University of Chicago Breast Care Center. I know that the Lord is with me every step of the way and I feel my father’s presence as well as all so many people thoughts and prayers. I look forward with a positive outlook and the strength of so many loved ones.

Grace embraced: The laughter of my daughter as we talked about all the wonderful times we are going to spend together this summer, snuggling and watching family movies! The smile that I can’t help getting when I get a new pic on my phone of beautiful Gianna or the little man, Nic. The love and innocent of Daniel’s prayer for me and my decision. I love you all!