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15 posts from January 2011

January 28, 2011

{these moments}

{these moment} - A Friday ritual. Two photos - no words - capturing moments from the week. Two simple, special, extraordinary moments. Moments I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment(s)' in the comments for all to find and see.

  IMG_1005
IMG_1011

Let it snow, let is snow, let it snow!  Idea courtesy of Soulemama.

 


January 26, 2011

It's gorgeous outside...

but a crazy traffic nightmare in our neck of the woods. We have been on the road for almost two hours trying to get home from the appointment with my plastic surgeon and a quick trip to the grocery store.

School tomorrow? Nope, I daresay we will be happily "digging the snow" with Nicholas all day long.

Oh, and if you know me, I never worry weather...but this time? Best just to hunker down with the hot cocoa and enjoy dreams of the snow folks and forts that will be built tomorrow!

It's gorgeous outside...

I think perhaps

my expectations for Thursday were a bit too high.  I had the idea, as one might have gathered from Thursday's a.m. post that the day would be gravy. I would waltz in the hospital, don my gown, be prepped for surgery and recover nicely before heading home in the late afternoon.

In hindsight, we could have arrived at 7:30 a.m. and I would have had no trouble arriving in the OR by 8 a.m.  Although we were called back relatively quickly and had the preliminary tests (an arm-numbing blood pressure reading of 97/57...I know, kind of high for me, yes, really), temperature and oh, a special pleasure, a pee test after being NPO-ed for 7 hours!  Great news everyone, I'm not pregnant!  Yes, really, they did a pregnancy test.   I get it, but they could have at least called it something else.  While I am very happy for those who are pregnant, since... well, that will just be a topic for another time.

I finally changed, settled into the gurney, and had an IV needle shoved into my left arm (painful doesn't cut it...the nurse actually came back later and apologized profusely), while chatting with the anesthesiologist.  We reviewed my entire history (to include my birthdate for the 1,000,000,000 time) and she left us to twiddle our thumbs for 20 minutes or so.  Finally, I had enough and realized I was becoming a part of the gurney.  Just as I sat up to do a few stretches, Dr. X arrived and decided to do a few 'draw-rings' on my chest (I'd say or what's left of it, but that sounds so....honest).  I sat down just in time for him to request me to stand back up, remove the gown and let him do random squiggles and zots around my upper half.

You see, not only was I having an implant (temporary, of course) put in on the right side, but also one on the left.  As much as I was quite happy with my God-given gifts, had I not had a bit extra inserted, I may have ended up quite lopsided (as if I wasn't already).  Dr. X. also came to the conclusion that now was the best time to tighten things up a bit in that region in order to complete the look.

With the purple marker safely tucked away, I was allowed to lay down and then get a touch of calming medication from the nurse anesthetist.  Peter and I touched hands a few times, he kissed me good-bye and I dozed off before we reached the end of the hallway.  A few hours later, I awoke and realized that the morning was the easy part after all.

I had no issue with the idea of outpatient surgery, but was under anesthesia for well over two hours. When I was finally out of recovery (of which I have little to no memory), I was forced off the gurney, into the bathroom and then had to walk around the corner to a recliner where I was to continue my "recovery."  Little did I know it was going to be two hours of a nurse and Peter shoving saltines* and ice chips into my mouth while I did my best not to vomit them back up and/or fall asleep while chewing/swallowing.  No photos as not my best moments to say the least.

At long last, I managed to utter a complete sentence ("No more sherbert!") which somehow meant I was  ready to go home.  The curtain was closed around me, my clothes were carefully put on and Peter was instructed to get the car.  Just as I thought all was going to be okay, as I was fully dressed, had a miniscule amount of nourishment in my stomach and did not think I was going to pass out/fall asleep before being moved to the wheelchair, Nosey Nurse showed up.

Nosey Nurse must have been easily in her 60s and just as cheerful as they come.  Apparently the fact that I could barely stand up without help from 3 people meant nothing to her.  Somehow, she had a gander at my chart (she assisted me in no way, shape or form that morning) and realized I was in for a 'special' reason (you know, the very thing I wish to forget most days?).  Immediately she hit me with a barrage of questions:

  • Did I have an oncologist?
  • What is his/her name?
  • Do I know about "X support group", as they are wonderful for "the 38, 39 and 40s" (age groups, I guess)?

Answers:

  • Yes
  • Dr. D.
  • I have no interest in "X support group", please get out of my face STAT.

I have no issue with support groups in general but have realized that I am a special sort of patient for the following reasons:

  • I do not have cancer anymore and don't want to dwell on the past.  I suppose someone can argue the stray cell theory, but I had half of my chest removed, and as far as I am concerned, all of the cancer is gone, gone, gone.
  • I am looking to improve my life in the healthiest manner possible.   I do not fear the cancer (it's a known that it could come back...but it won't, I know that), but the treatments scare the cr*p out of me and I have a feeling I may be in somewhat of a minority.
  • Many of my issues regarding my diagnosis stem from worries concerning my lifestyle.  I am not against perhaps meeting with someone one-on-one, but I know that there will be few if any support groups that would truly meet my needs.

Last, but not least, I am actually okay.  While I am toying with meeting with someone with whom I could occasionally vent, I am not planning on doing much more than that.  This is a temporary issue and we have dealt with it.  Maybe I will do radiation, maybe I will take Tamoxifen...maybe I won't.  I no longer fear both as I did, but still have not come to the conclusion that they will benefit me.  What I have learned thus far, though, is that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or does.  I have to make the decisions and own them for myself.  If something happens, it happens, but at least I made the decision and I can live with that risk.

I am not decrying support groups for anyone else.  If our lifestyle were different, maybe it would be useful.  However, the more I simply go on with my life, between my resolutions to be healthier, the weekly massages and the chomping at the bit to peek at the bid list, the better I feel.  Now, if I could just get that whole "get to bed earlier" resolution down pat because you know who will be on either the treadmill or elliptical tomorrow morning, come snow or no snow. I may be slow, but I will be there and that is therapy in and of itself....take that, Nosey Nurse.

 

*I don't blame Peter for trying to push me a bit.  I'm fairly sure he understood how incredibly ill I felt and simply wanted me declared healthy/awake enough to go home.

 

 

January 25, 2011

I'll be back soon,

I promise.  Not that you missed my cranky little self, as hopefully you have been off doing far more exciting things.  I, for the record, have spent most of the past few days back in the good ole button down shirts, comfy pants, blanket covered (because cold makes my chest hurt), drug-induced (prescription, thank you very much) state.  

I have been much too foggy to bloggy despite the fact that much has been swirling around in my head, especially with regard to Thursday's events.  I will say that I re-learned the lesson that nothing is as easy or cinchy as it seems, and all the preparation in the world does not release one from properly resting and recovering from a two hour surgery. 

With that I am off to bed, as my three hour nap this afternoon can only take me so far. However, I cannot neglect to mention our continued gratitude for meals, messages, blog posts, help with the kids and concern for my well-being.  Considering all you have going on in your own lives and the craziness of today's world, well, you all rock....but you knew that, I hope!

 

January 21, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.


IMG_0970

Wishing the wintery weekend of your dreams!  Idea courtesy of Soulemama.


January 20, 2011

Right about now

I'm being rolled down the hallway towards the OR, much like I was 9 weeks, 6 days and 22 hours ago. I have been at the hospital for about 1.5 hours and have changed into my granny gown, had the IV started and I am sure a bit of calming medicine is slowly dripping into my arm.

My left arm, that is, since I cannot ever so much as have my blood pressure taken on my right side again (unless in a true emergency...all bets are off then).  I am calm, perhaps one might even say nervously giddy?  I am not here to have a treasured (well...it was) part of me removed, but instead have a reshaping, a redesign, a nip here, a tuck there...and all to make me feel just a bit more...whole.

It's not to say one can't feel complete without a breast, but I don't.  A sac that feels like a baseball in my chest, with rigid edges that poke into my arm does absolutely nothing for me and I do need something realistic there.  Right now, I feel more like a science experiment than a person.  I realize that this morning's procedure will not bring everything back.  After all, Dr. X. is really just exchanging one implant, albeit a hard, unyielding one for another. However, the other is much softer and pliant.  It will likely be kinder to my body and for that I will be grateful. 

It won't be the end result.  As we all know, that won't be for another year.  However, maybe this will bring me a few steps closer to normal for the next 12 months.  Now if I could just shake the nerves and simply be giddy....

 

January 19, 2011

Tomorrow is

the big day.  At the unGodly hour of 5:45 a.m., Peter and I will kiss the still sleeping children and leave the house for the hospital. Auntie Dr. Salty Dog will be watching guard at home (along with Sandy, the Wonder Mutt) while we travel the long 15 minutes to arrive two hours ahead of time for my 8 a.m. implant exchange.

I hadn't mentioned before, but the surgery was slated to start at the reasonable hour of 10 a.m.   Plenty of time to get the kids off to school and arrive at the hospital with time to spare.  While confirming the insurance information (for the 1,000,000th time) yesterday, Pete said something about the surgery beginning at 10 a.m.

The receptionist said, "10 a.m.?  Um, the surgery starts at 8 a.m. and you need to be there at 6 a.m.!"

Peter mentioned that no one had said anything to us, and the reply indicated that the hospital had randomly changed the time the day before and that we were "in the queue" of those to be called. Oh, of course.

After several freak-outs and rambling FB updates on my part and phone calls and texts on Peter's part, we ended up being able to keep the time.  (A huge thank you to all of you who volunteered to help, we really do appreciate it!)  Despite my excitement about the surgery, this little change threw me off completely.  It just amazed me that the doctor's office didn't think to call immediately, nor did the hospital.  However, the hospital had zero issues contacting me today and pestering me for the co-pay.  Funny how that works!

I have been so busy with my new routines, that it didn't occur to me until earlier this week that I might have to slow it down for a bit because of the aforementioned surgery.  I have been told that the implant exchange is "a cinch", but in some respects, I am still recovering from the first (*shudder*) surgery.  I realized that it can't hurt to take it easy for a bit, so I am giving myself two weeks (to the day) off from Pilates and about the same for the couch to 5K.  I am planning on taking short walks by the weekend, but if you follow my workouts on Facebook or Daily Mile (and thank you for the support!), please don't be surprised by the massive drop in speed.   I know I need to work back up to my snail's pace and don't want to overdo it the first week or two.

On that note, I realized a little update is in order.  Yes, I have been keeping to most of the resolutions.  I haven't entirely eliminated meat or dairy, but did find a good coconut milk half and half (vegan) and am gradually switching over.  I still have a glass of wine now and again, but that will not happen again for a while due to the surgery.  I stopped the supplements on Monday in preparation for tomorrow's surgery, but had no problem keeping up with them.  I have exercised daily in one way or another since January 1st and since then, have

  • finally started (and am enjoying) a Pilates class (tougher than I thought)
  • walked/run 39 miles
  • lost 9.2 lbs

It's too early for bloodwork, so no news on that front.  I feel better, naturally, but no telling if that truly translates into a healthier me.  Now, to add one more set of numbers to the mix:  I will also try measuring inches.  While it's encouraging to lose weight, I find inches to sometimes be more telling.  I'll measure tomorrow and then again every 20 days.  Even if the bloodwork shows no improvement (and I'm honestly hard-pressed to think it won't), I have already seen changes in other areas, and that will keep me motivated for the foreseeable future.  

January 17, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday (or Monday) ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment* I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

 

IMG_0934

Better late than never, right?  Idea courtesy of Soulemama.

 

*The jacket is not upside-down, it's happy!

January 15, 2011

We just bought

an extra two hours a day for Peter.  More sleep, a few mornings a week at the gym, more down-time, extra playtime with the kids and perhaps dinner by 6:30 each night as a family. We both really liked the eco-friendly (and healthy) idea walking/bus/metro commute each day, however, it added a total of one hour and 50 minutes to his work day each day.  Given that he is at his desk by 6:45 a.m. and must work until 5:45 p.m., adding 2.5 hours of travel to that makes for a very long day.

IMG_0960 While it might not be our dream car (really not sure what is...) it should be an excellent second vehicle.  We have always been a Honda family, and this particular Civic Hybrid is in great shape with extremely low mileage.  Having a second car also means that should the girls decide to have more activities in the spring, we will not have so many coordination issues.  If Pete ever has to suddenly leave work to come home and help out, he will actually arrive in relatively short order.  

We hadn't planned on (ever) having a second car, but think it will end up coming in handy, even once we leave the country.  Should we be able to find someone willing to store it for us, then it would become our home leave/training car and possibly could be used for Caitlin when she is of driving age (gulp).  It does mean spending a little bit more each month than we were for commuting purposes, but I think it's a worthy trade-off, given the circumstances.  

 

 

January 13, 2011

In hindsight,

I probably worried the whole 'we are going to owe the plastic surgeon our first born' thing a bit too much. Realistically, there was no reason to fret.  No bill had arrived in the mail, no one was harassing us for money, EOBs are not always correct and even denied claims can be filed again.

IMG_0954 After all, the worst case scenario was that we would have a large bill to pay.  Did we owe the money? Since we were told we were covered, that part is debatable.  Did we utilize his services? Yes. Would we pay the bill had we really been in the wrong (though I find it now very difficult to believe that would be the case)? Yes, if there was really no other solution.  Would it have killed us financially?  No, not at all...it just felt that way.

Did I likely look like a complete nutcase in the post where I freaked that our life savings was going down the toilet?  Hmm, probably not debatable at all.

The issue at hand is that I am still grappling with all of the intense changes that have occurred over the past few months.  Throw the possibility of a several thousand dollar doctor's bill into the mix, all of our other new (and unexpected) expenses,  subtract out the fun times we were going to have and you have the new and sometimes a little bit quirky, Jen.  She's not crazy, she's just still trying to adjust.  

So, thanks for giving her time, encouragement, equally awful insurance horror stories, candy and flowers (the last two courtesy of Aunt Peg!).  She really, really appreciates it and hopes that one day she can repay the kindnesses.  If nothing else, she can be a very good listener...

 

 

January 12, 2011

I give up

I officially no longer pretend to understand our insurance.  Currently, we have the basic option of our brand of health insurance.  We are not supposed to receive one thin dime towards the work of the plastic surgeon, according to the benefit* guidance.  However, as of this afternoon, we have been advised that with the exception of the cost of two appointments prior to the November 11 surgery we owe absolutely nothing.  There will be no itemized bill for $5,000 plus showing up in the mail soon and more importantly (yes, I nearly cried), I can have the implant-exchange that I really need.

I know that sounds selfish, but I crave this surgery.  I need some kind of normalcy back in my life.  I still avert my eyes, as looking is just too painful.  No matter what Peter or the plastic surgeon say, I see nothing remotely happy or beautiful on the right side of my chest.  It's scary and weird and feels creepy.  I'm sure I sound ungrateful, but after the past three months, I just don't care.  I am so ready for some sort of closure on some part of this whole nasty business.

Since more stress about this issue is not what I need right now, Peter is going to attempt to acquire written (notarized, if possible) documentation from the plastic surgeon that states how we

  1. Owe nothing but the minimal costs for the first two pre-surgical appointments.  We have already been reimbursed by FSAFEDS for those, so not an issue.   
  2. All costs from the surgery not borne by the insurance company are absorbed by Dr. X's office. 
  3. All follow-up surgical appointments within 90 days after surgery are also included in the covered portion.  Therefore, all appointments since November 11 are covered and all follow-ups after next week are covered until late April.
  4. We will also request that the DIEP surgery information be included in this letter so that there is no confusion next fall/winter.

Once we have this in writing, I will be far more reassured.  Not that I don't believe Dr. X's insurance guru, but I have had it with the knots in my stomach and the crying jags for fear that yet something else had gone insanely wrong.  I honestly don't know why the above can be true, given the type of insurance that we purchased.  If we had the standard option, I would believe it, however, in an interesting twist of fate, we would be out a lot more money.  Not only would the monthly premiums cost us an additional $2K per year, but we would be required to pay 35% of the charges for a non-participating provider.

I thought we were supposed to be fully responsible for all charges in our case.  Dr. X's office did achieve an out-of-network authorization, so we understand how the insurance is paying, but not necessarily the why. Is it the nature of the surgery?    In the end, I am not sure it is important, though I do wish that they had clarified the situation at the first office visit, not just stated, "You are covered..." without further ado.  We are just thrilled that our savings will remain intact and it is one less worry for us.  In fact, I may just enjoy car shopping this weekend. 

 

*This assumes we are reading it correctly.  The benefits handbook makes my head spin, so maybe we just don't get it, maybe there is fine print we have missed.  In that case, I guess we deserve the self-imposed misery.  However, at this point, whatever works (and can be obtained in writing) is fine with me.

 

 

January 10, 2011

Save

for retirement, save for an emergency (e.g., a job loss/change), save for kids, save for college, save for a house.  The idea of saving money for future events is generally drilled into our heads from the time we can walk and talk.  Whether it is saving our allowance or hard-earned babysitting money for a rainy day, new sneakers or a favorite charity, the idea is there.  However,  it's often impossible to know how much to save, and often the expenses of life get in the way.  I  never thought we would find ourselves having to deal with this issue and had we known just how things would turn out, I might have lived on ramen for the past 13 years.  The past few months have taught me that even when you think you are doing everything right, it can still fall apart with the utterance of 5 words.  With today's news, I am now just beyond frustrated with the situation.

To recap, due to the needs of the service, we had all but given up having Pete around for the year.  We had moved ourselves 3,000 miles, sold our second car (*sigh*), moved back into our old neighborhood into a new house (+ new mortgage), purchased approximately 2K worth of needed items for Pete's move to Iraq (mostly a new laptop, which was necessary) and tried to settle in.  While we try to be financially savvy, living in places like Iceland and San Francisco were not kind to our wallets.  The up-side? We loved living in both places and wouldn't trade the experiences for the world.  The down-side? Especially after residing near San Francisco, we needed to do a good bit of bill-paying and up our savings.

Now we had been saving in some respects:  for retirement, a (short) rainy day and college.  We have allocated to the TSP (USG version of a 401K) and even when the economy took a turn for the worse in 2008, it wasn't the end of the world.  It felt like it at the time, but we are slowly inching back to where we were before.  

Now one might think that moving across the country (or around the world) on the USG's dime leaves one's wallet completely intact.  It is true that we are given decent moving benefits, however, there are always, ALWAYS unexpected expenses that crop up.  We figured since Peter was leaving the country, we would sell the Accord.  Not only did we end up with a small sum to help defray moving costs, but we were saving a good 1K by not shipping a car we didn't need (ha!) across the country.

We started settling into the new house and purchased a new computer for me, as the laptop was not doing so well (3+ years old) and we knew that reliable Skype access to Peter was a must.  We spent that small sum prepping Peter and then he was off.  While we were in a new house, our expenses were minimal.  I was too busy with the kids to go nuts decorating, energy is SO much cheaper here (lower electric and gas bills), Peter was on his own, so no worries about food, commuting, suits, or extra little expenses for him.  I started a plan to rapidly pay off what debt we had acquired in CA (yes, we had fun, sue us) and we also started to max out the contributions to the TSP.  We had been contributing a good sum, but tripled it in light of Peter's increased paychecks.

Then October 6 hit.  The financial reality didn't occur to me until a few weeks after Pete came home.  I was so wrapped up in doctors appointments and other things that I was fuzzy at best on all things financial.  Finally, two weeks after he came home, I realized I needed to change things up and quickly.  The fast-track bill-paying went out the window.  We had made good progress, but had to quickly stop the huge amounts.  We also changed up the TSP and within a month, the contribution was one-sixth of what it had been.  While we couldn't afford to stop contributing, there is no way we could continue at the same level.

The changes worked for a while, and we were still easily able to pay the bills, the mortgage, the Montessori, the college funds and have a bit leftover.  Then  I truly came to grips with reality and realized that there was no way Peter could go back overseas.  He applied for and received his new job at headquarters.  While it is incredible, and we are very grateful for a position he loves, it has also required monetary investment.  New suits and shoes without a doubt and let's not forget time spent commuting.  There were also other expenses that popped up just by virtue of me being 'sick'.  

While our location was ideal for us as a family, it makes for an interesting commute by public transportation.  While Peter is far less stressed by taking the bus and metro (and is paid back by Metrochek for his commuting efforts), we have realized that this easily adds 1.5 - 2 hours to his work day.  On a good day, he leaves the house at 5:30 a.m. and is home by 7:20 p.m.   We had considered reaching deeply into savings and adding a second car, but after Saturday, have almost put everything on hold.

When we first researched doctors, we verified everything.  We even reviewed some doctors under two different insurance plans, as we were afraid that the plastic surgeon might not be covered under the new plan.  However, now we have an indictation that he might not have been covered under the original plan, which we are still using.  

We have, as you can only imagine, a nice collection of EOBs (Explanation of Benefits) from the insurance company.  Most of them we open, review and file.  Occasionally, we have to fill out an extra form or survey, mail it back in and then the claim is complete.  Yesterday, I received two ominious looking EOBs from BCBS.   They both had to do with appointments with the plastic surgeon and both indicated that neither visit was covered as he was "not participating".  How could this be?  We checked and double-checked.  We checked again and this time found nothing.  However, both of these bills were from 2010 and given that it is 2011, it is impossible to search the old provider directory.

We have never received a bill from the doctor, but now wonder what will come in the mail soon.  Did we misunderstand them when they said they took BCBS (we asked, they answered "Yes")?   Did we only imagine seeing the names on-line in some sort of stress-induced haze?  Did we have to get these in the mail on a Saturday when no one was around to answer our questions? If somehow we completely screwed up, then we not only owe them a small fortune, but also have to cancel my implant-exchange (which I was actually excited about) and start the plastic surgeon search all over again.  Very few doctors do the type of reconstruction I want to have eventually, and I can only hope I find one who gave me the level of comfort that I had with Dr. X.

The irony is that we had just finally come up with a financial plan that worked to ease my worries about our near future.  We originally had three college plans (pre-paid tuition plans in VA) for the kids.  However, the combined contributions were making us crazy without the extra income.  Since we had envisioned Peter would be gone for a year (and making extra $$ in OT, etc.) we weren't concerned.  We were planning fun trips, to include a family vacation overseas (to Italy and Iceland...) as well as upgrades around the house, such as badly needed windows and flooring upgrades.   All of that has since gone out the window, and we again revamped things savings wise.

We finally decided to close Nicholas's plan, and apply the proceeds to Caitlin's and Kelsey's plans.  This move will completely pay of Caitlin's and pay down a bit on Kelsey's.  It means we have to start over with Nicholas, but he is young and this will free up a good chunk of change on a monthly basis.  However, then we received the EOBs and I now fear we are back at step one, all over again.

No, we aren't destitute, I suppose far from it, but I think it's reasonable that I am feeling overwhelmed by everything, because the future now seems so...murky.   I am dreading tomorrow's follow-up conversation* with the doctor's office and am scared to death to see the bill that might soon show up. We are going to have to get a car, so hopefully can find something reasonable with a low monthly payment.  Keeping our savings (yes, we have a good bit, but it was more an emergency fund) intact as possible is the new goal.  We even toyed with the notion of taking Nicholas out of Montessori, given that we only put him in since we would have the extra income (and I needed a bit of free time each day).  However, he loves it, is thriving there and I may need that time for doctor's appointments and treatments.  Removing him now would probably just do more harm than good, though I guess we'll have to consider it as another savings option.

In the end, I just don't know what to think.  I finally thought we had everything together, that things were finally going according to some plan.  I guess I thought by giving up the year with Peter, I was somehow being given a get out of jail free card on bad stuff happening to us for a year or so.  Instead, it's just the opposite...when it rains, it pours.

I know it could be worse, and honestly, that's what I fear at this point.  I know we will manage for the time being, but worry about not going overseas next year or something else going wrong.  I just don't even want to think about what...and yes, to answer the obvious question, I think about going back to work.  However, I then add up the costs with daycare, summer care, possible treatments, commuting and throw in Peter's schedule and it just doesn't work. We may also switch insurance plans, to one that offers both orthodontia (we can see the need miles away) and increased alternative care benefits.  I may cut down on the massages, but can't give up their theraputic benefit entirely, as it just does my body too much good.

So, I will try very hard each day to remember the good things, like Peter deciding to work for the government.  While his paycheck might not go up this year, it won't go down.  Even with the gigantic amount of sick leave he used, he still has 5 weeks + left and a month of vacation saved.  We may not go overseas this year for a family trip, but we might be able to eke out a few days at the beach.  Also, without a doubt, we live in an area that is exciting enough that we will have plenty to do this summer, whether it be visiting museums, sailing or just plenty of outdoor fun.

The entire scenario has also given me an idea, a way to pay it forward for someone else who may end up struggling to figure out their future (or present) far more than we are.  After all, we have been given so much by friends and family, and I haven't forgotten that aspect.  I am not entirely sure of the plan, but will hopefully come up with something that will give a much needed lift to someone else when they find themselves in similar circumstances.  Honestly, I just hope that no one else ever has to go through what we have been through the past three months;  no one deserves this kind of worry and stress, financial, medical or otherwise.   Excuse me while I shuffle off to weep over the latest EOB from the surgery...

 

*Peter had one conversation with them today when he could finally reach the person in charge of insurance at the doctor's office.  "Oh, of course you are covered!"  Funny, the EOB received today indicates minimally at best.  I can only hope tomorrow we hear that there was some giant mix-up and we only owe a tiny amount...fingers crossed, as I'm not sure how much more I can handle with regard to this very costly (time, money, sanity...) medical issue.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 07, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

 

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Wishing you a weekend of happiness!  Idea courtesy of Soulemama.

 

 

 


January 06, 2011

Nate the Great

IMG_0912 IMG_0909 IMG_0901 turned one last week and the party of the year was held on Sunday afternoon.  Nate is our sweet little godson a.k.a. the Salty Pup.  We had anticipated his birthday celebration eagerly since receiving the hand-made invitation in the mail in early December.  The theme of the day was toys of the past (retro, old-fashioned) and the decorations and favors were nothing short of stunning.

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IMG_0890 IMG_0891  My only wish would be that I can soon acquire a better camera for such events, as mine has completely bitten the dust. I still managed to catch a few precious shots, including one of Nicholas after his first (large) bite of cake.  As soon as I clicked, he shouted, "Let me see!"  He realized from the picture that he had a large gob of icing on his chin and promptly started to lick off as best he could, thrilled with his discovery.  Ah, the sweet joys of childhood...

 

*The above shots are of the wrapping paper the girls made for Nate's gifts.  Since gifts in the olden days were likely not wrapped in fancy sheets from a purveyor of paper goods, we figured we would add our own old-fashioned touch.  Cait promptly Googled "old-fashioned toys" and the two of them worked tirelessly for over an hour to recreate the pictures they found.  Considering my lack of skilz in the drawing department (stick figures, anyone?) I was mightily impressed by the results.

The incredible cake?  That was created by another friend, Jen P., who used undisclosable amounts of butter to create quite the treat for Nate and then offered the leftovers in the form of frosting shots.  Heavenly for a certain 8 year-old!

 

 

 

January 04, 2011

Resolutions

for the new year are not my strong suit.  It only takes one seriously freezing morning to quell my desire to continue my new exercise plan or a fabulous meal out (with select 'forbidden' food) to quash my good intentions of a stricter diet. I was going to resolve not to resolve (as many wise people do) and then fate intervened.

Remember that guinea pig post a few weeks ago?  I was moping and griping about me having to be one of sorts, as the doctors didn't seem to have any experience dealing with someone who has had my combination of issues.  Well, we finally met with the gatroenterologist (or Dr. K.) on December 23rd (a great pre-Christmas Eve treat!) and guess what?!

I was right. Oh, the suck, I was 100% correct.  The doctor of the day indicated that I would make a "fabulous case study" and that they would likely never find someone else who had already been through cholestasis of the pregnancy, then not, then BC and now dealing with medication issues.  He did say that it was an excellent idea to have met with him first, and then told me the only testing to prove whether (or not) I really had cholestasis was too invasive.  Apparently, he missed the memo where I have been subjected to fairly invasive stuff recently.  Too bad, as I was all geared up for a final yea or nay.

Alas, it will not happen, but he is "on my team" and given my excellent lab results, I should likely not have any issues.  He decided another ultrasound (of my liver this time...woot!) couldn't hurt to have as a baseline of sorts and sent me on my merry way.  While I am thrilled to have yet another doctor to add to ye old card directory, I am really weary of the not knowing.  Now, what on earth does that have to do with New Year's Resolutions?

Working backwards a bit:  I finally met with the doctor of functional medicine the day before I met with Dr. K.  We reviewed my history thoroughly, she confirmed that "the" surgery was the correct option (I'll not say a word here...sigh) but then went on to review the other treatments.  I was really more curious as to her assessment of radiation and Tamoxifen.  If you remember, I was recently (still am) up in the air on both.

Her answer?  If it was a choice, hands down take radiation over Tamoxifen any day.  She realized it likely was not necessarily an either/or and went on to mention that most patients she treated did not have a good experience with Tamoxifen.  Granted, I realize there are many who may be fine and thus didn't seek treatment, but it unnerved me a bit.  Then she offered that I might take a blood test and depending on the results, it may pinpoint whether Tamoxifen could be of assistance.

Since the breast surgeon so delicately ripped out four lymph nodes on my right side, I can never have blood drawn on that side again.  Guess where the good veins are?  Yup.  So, they dug deep on my left arm, found a vein, and ten minutes and a numb arm later had enough blood to measure my estrogen levels.  If one was found to be particularly out of whack, it could indicate an imbalance that could be helped by the Tamoxifen.  

Last week the test results arrived, and lo and behold my 16-alphahydroxyestrone level was through the roof.  It's considered, to simplify, a bad estrogen.  The good estrogen, 2-hydroxyestrone, level was just fine and the ratio of both was, well, okay.  However, those who tend to have higher levels of the 16 (as I call it for short), also could tend to have the same problems I did.  Naturally, I freaked.  The last thing I want is confirmation that this nasty drug (sorry, it is...I don't think anyone can argue that) might actually help me... if the side effects don't prevent me from taking it.

Along with the test results were ways in which I could lower the 16.  Mind you, I don't think I am doing a lot to increase the levels, so unfortunately it may be a predisposition for me.  However, am I doing absolutely everything to change them?  Well, I wasn't.   Here's where we get back to that resolution business.

After reading the test results (and for the love of God, why didn't my oncologist just order this test?) and pondering the information for several days, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot rule out that Tamoxifen, as dangerous as it is, might be worth a try.  However, there is an 'if':  I will consider giving it a go if I cannot somehow resolve this issue naturally.  Now, how to do that?

By creating a short list of resolutions that I must keep and ensure that I work on them every day for the next two months.  At the end of the two months, I will have my levels re-checked.  If there is little or no budge, then I may have to re-consider the *shudder* medication.  If there is a significant to huge decrease, then I might have justification for revamping things even more and possibly avoiding the medication entirely.

What will I try?

  • Giving up my glass o'vino.  I'll allow myself a few special occasions (yesterday and one other 'night out' next week), but other than that will just do away with that for the time being.
  • Exercise daily.  If nothing else, I will walk for a minimum of 35 minutes.  Yesterday found me hopping with no time to walk during the day, so I headed out at 9:50 p.m.  Late, but I got the walk in and felt all the better for it.  I've also re-started the couch to 5K, am signing up for a Pilates program, will be hitting the gym for the elliptical and will also try my hand at a Yoga class again.
  • Really, really watch what I eat, with veggies coming first.  I won't become a vegetarian overnight, but will work to limit the meat.  I'm already careful about the meats we buy and try to eat as much organic and all natural as possible (veggies, too).  It's not always possible, but I'll do what I can.
  • Limit my sugar intake.  I am working on substituting agave and maple syrups for sugar and upping the good spices for extra flavor.  I really am not a huge sugar nut, but it can't hurt to be more careful.
  • Watch my dairy intake.  I've never been a big milk drinker, though the brie does like to call my name (occasionally).  Other than half and half in my coffee (sorry, some things are off limits from limits), I won't be going nuts.  
  • Ensure that I am supplementing properly.  Though kale chips are my new favorite snack, the multivitamin, fish oil, turmeric, Flaxseed (ground) and Vitamin D supplements won't hurt.  I prefer to get my vitamins from my food, but the extra (in proper doses) has been put forth as a good idea by both my functional medicine m.d. and my oncologist.
  • Try to get a good night's sleep.  I'm a night owl, and as you have probably noticed, this is an area where I need work.  The past few months have been particularly difficult due to stress-related insomnia.  However, with Pete back at work and the kids in school, I'll be up at 7 a.m. at the latest and likely exhausted earlier than usual (we'll start that one tomorrow night).

I have probably missed something, but leaving it at that for now.  I have until February 28th and then it's all up to the testing gods.  Am I hoping for a miracle, that my estrogen somehow drops like a rock to a more acceptable level, making me some sort of wunderkind of resolutions?  Yes, that would be fabulous and I would throw a rockin' organic vegetarian mocktail party to celebrate.  

Do I expect that to happen?  No, quite honestly, I don't.  I would love for any sort of decrease, at least into an acceptable level (I am about 25 points above) and would do jumping judys and jacks for hours if that happened.  Even if I ended up taking the dreaded dose, at least I would have the knowledge that I could naturally effect some change and that would be a reward in and of itself.

The absolute worst case scenario?  My estrogen level drops the teeniest bit, I am still in scary-level land, but I drop a pant size or two and gain more muscle and flexibility.   I have a hard time finding the down side in those results.