And the answer is…

No tumor!

My bone scan was normal! No signs of arthritis either! No abnormalities! Great news!

My mind is at ease, but my aches are still there. As a cancer patient, every twinge and every ache become a question of where did that come from? Could it be a symptom of something worse?

I learned a valuable lesson this past month. I need to continue to listen to my body. When I have symptoms and aches, I need to address them.  This terrible disease can come back and I never want to let it grow in my because I choose to close my eyes to symptoms.

I have to be my own advocate when dealing with health care professions.
I had mentioned my back and rib pain to the chemo techs after Thanksgiving. They did not ask more questions. I’m sure they see every kind of symptom as patients go through treatment. So their non-concern gave me permission to not be concerned also. I also mentioned it to the dermatologist I saw earlier this month to remove a suspicious mole. Still no concern. Every health care professional that I have dealt with over the past ten months has been wonderful and caring. But they don’t know what is going on in my body. They can’t feel what I feel. I can try to describe it, but it’s not the same. They are focused on the reason I am seeing them. I need to be my own advocate with new symptoms.

Well I now have a rolodex of physicians. Breast surgeon, Medical Oncologist (two), Radiation Oncologist, Dermatologist, Hypertension Physician, Otolaryngologist, Urologoist, Gynecologist and Primary Care Physician, along with all their fellows, associates, nurses, techs, nutritionist, and medical assistants. I’ve got people to talk to! A few months ago, I was asked if I was going to a health screening my office was hosting. I thought maybe I should go, then paused and realized I have been scanned, x-rays, imaged and blood worked so much this year, there is nothing a health screening can discover! I hope!

I am so thankful for all the prayers, texts, emails, cards for my concerns. I am grateful to the Lord for sheltering me from the worse case scenario of this symptom. Finally, I have opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of what await me as I move forward as a breast cancer survivor.

I embrace grace through prayers. I pray for all the women fighting this disease, that you find strength in those around you that care for you. I pray for those that have fought this disease and are surviving and thriving each day, you are an inspiration to me. I pray for those who fought and lost their battle with cancer, look down on those here fighting and intercede for us.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Philippians 4:4

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Aches and pains

HEnglish: Aches and Painsalf way through Radiation! Looking forward to the new year…without the daily routine of radiation every morning!

I had a wonderful visit with my sister, Diane, who was able to come in for five days to help…and it was much appreciated! She also insisted, with my husband, that I talk to my Radiation Oncologist about the back and rib pain I have been experiencing for the past four weeks. The pain has been excruciating in my lower back, especially so when I try to stand up from sitting too long. There have been many times that I have not been able to stand straight up without help or grabbing on to something for support. It has been progressively getting more painful and debilitating.

I wrote it off to side effects of treatments, early onset menopause side effects, reactions from using my right side while no lifting from my left arm, or caused by the 20 pounds steroids have added to my hips and waist. And I was content thinking of the best case scenerio. Or was I blind?

I meet with Dr. Anne McCall every Monday during my radiation treatments. I agreed to talk to her about it. Then a few days before the appointment, a fellow breast cancer survivor reminded me that breast cancer most commonly metastasize first in the brain or bone. The light went off, the blind was removed and I began to breathe faster. My mind started to spin. I left our meeting with nothing on my mind but…”Is this a tumor? Will the new year bring more chemo? Is it back? Will it be treatable?” I remembered that Dr. Hoffman, my oncologist said if my type of aggressive breast cancer returns, it is not curable only treatable.

My drive home consisted of tears streaming down my face. I was so sure I have been moving forward. I trusted that the Lord heard my prayers. How could I bring this up to Kevin without worrying him? Was the light at the end of the tunnel dimming? What is the next step for my life?

I kept going back to my strength, my faith. I am surrounded by angels guarding my path. I had to trust that His plan was perfect. I had to.

I trust in His plan in my heart, but my head aches of the horrible possibility that these pains are more than nothing.

So on Monday, the 3rd, with my sister in tow, I spoke with Dr. McCall. I could see the concern in her eyes and knew her first thought was the last thing I thought of…bone cancer. Her kindness and compassion filled the exam room. “It could be lots of other reasons, but let’s be prudent and get it checked out.” So a bone scan was ordered for Friday.

Thank goodness my sister-in-law was able to go with me, she helped calm my worst fears. Friday morning began with an injection of tracers that will find their way to my bones over the course of three hours so that the imagining will show the bones more clearly. Then off to radiation for my daily dose of hazardous rays.

Mindy and I sat and talked about her upcoming trip to Italy, stopped in the chapel at the hospital and ran into a friend of my parents that volunteers at the hospital. She had a beautiful great dane with her that was a therapy dog. The distractions were so very helpful to keep my mind busy. Then three hours past and suddenly it was time for the scan. The bone scan was painless – they always are – you don’t even have to put a gown on, you just have to lay still while the machine does the imagining.

“Results will be at your doctors in 2-3 days” just sounded like, “continue waiting”… and so I continue to wait…

But I trust in the Lord, which has been my mantra since I began this breast cancer journey. I find peace in music and I know prayers of so many are with me and the Lord is carrying me, so I will climb this mountain too and discover myself in the place prepared for me.

Enjoy one of the songs my daughter gave to me in April, that gives me strength: I’m Gonna Love you through it

See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Exodus 23:20

Grace embraced in the comfort of prayer during times of distress and worry. I find comfort in the memorized prayers of my childhood and the honest prayer conversations I have with the Lord daily. I find comfort in the prayers of so many that lift me up every time they remember me. May God’s grace embrace each and every one of you. 

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!

M Day

Mastectomy Day is finally here.

Calmer than I thought I would be, but did not sleep well at all.  I don’t think I have gotten more than five hours of sleep any night the past month. I am hoping that changes next week, I have always enjoyed 8 hours of sleep and would like to resume that practice.

Why am I not more anxious or scared? I mean they are removing a breast, shouldn’t I be? I have never had surgery before so I figured I would be a mess. Even though I have been up since 3, I am surprisingly calm.

I feel so many prayers lifting me up.

I feel my Daddy’s presence with me.

I feel confident in Dr. Jaskowiak skill and experience.

I feel the weight of the tumor that I want out of me, more than I want to save my breast.

I feel the arms of my children and husband engulfing me with pure love.

I feel the arms of my Savior embracing me, calming me and comforting me.

No matter what happens today, I can handle it, embraced by grace.

Grace embraced: Love

Pre-Op

May 3, 2012

My last day…Surgery tomorrow at 9:30 am – “simple left mastectomy”

Today was my last day at the office for a few weeks, so busy preparing so much stuff for me to be gone for. My staff put together a lunch for me (and Jaclyn who hung all day with me). They had a great basket filled with anything needed for a hospital stay and recovery. From movies, magazines, lotion, gum, snacks, bed wedge pillow and more. Prayers filled my lunch, it was so lovely. My godson and his wife in AZ sent up a Hospital survival bag filled with LCD candles (for ambience in my room), slippers, eye mask, magazines and more – SO Thoughtful! A dear friend Kathy send over flowers to remind me of God’s beautiful creations and a cousin sent a book of HOPE stories. The cards, emails and texts are overwhelmingly appreciated. I feel so uplifted!

Then after lunch Jaclyn and I headed to U of C for the injection to map the lymph nodes. Painful, even with the numbing cream, but I see the light at the end of the first tunnel. It took almost two hours for everything and I was exhausted. As we drove home, a dear friend Mistee text about the gorgeous day the Lord prepared today – and it was as I looked westward the sun was streaming through the clouds as amazingly beautiful rays of hope and light!

We stopped to grab front opening pajamas…hard to find, but we succeeded…and then stopped by my mothers condo for a visit. Kisses, hugs and off to home sweet home.

Dinner, shower and disinfectant is a wonderful good night bedtime routine. Off to rest for the beginning of a cancer free life!

Grace embraced: The rays of light streaming God’s love from about. The generosity and kindness of friends and family. The love of Christ I felt strongly today.

MRI

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Today is the 5th anniversary of my father’s passing. Dad died of Mantle Cell Lymphoma. Today is my MRI so I can discover the size of my carcinoma. Irony? No Divine intervention. I have never felt my Dad’s presence as strongly as I did today.

Kevin came with me for the MRI. Although his office is in Darien, he is able to work out of Hyde Park if needed and so working off his laptop sitting in the waiting room as I proceeded with my IV.

I climbed on the MRI bed with my IV hanging and Vitamin E taped to my breasts. I know, Vitamin E?…That’s what they use for markers, instead of the metal circles of a mammogram. Another person handling “the girls”, think we’re at 9!

I prayed my way through the long period of laying face down on a table with my arms above my head, and I felt my Dad’s presence with me through my meditation.

IV out, clothes back on and heading home to wait for a call tomorrow. Positive thoughts, prayerful moments.

Grace Embraced:  Dr. Jaskowiak could not find any lumps on my thyroid, so we did not have to have them tested today too! Praise the Lord!

Fine Needle Aspiration

April 10, 2012

I met with Dr. Nora Jaskowiak, the breast surgeon, she and her 3rd year medical assistance examined me and measured the lump to be externally 5.5 cm x 3.5 cm. So Dr. Jaskowiak ordered a  fine needle aspiration.

Dr. Mueller and an assistant came in to perform the fine needle aspiration. They were able to take three needles of cells to be tested. The first needle was painless and then I think the hit their mark! The second and third needles were very painful.

Let’s see…that’s now 8 people who have become familiar with my left breast!

Grace Embraced: The grace was embraced as I sat in the waiting room saw the hope in the survivors that were sitting around me.