13 posts categorized "the blip"

February 06, 2015

And that's all she wrote

About *that.*. You know...that of which I no longer speak as that would take me back to a time of fear, uncertainty and confusion. Today was my final doctor's appointment with the surgeon. I had the 'gram earlier this week (all clear), a follow-up MRI yesterday (also all clear), and was given the blessing to have only annual screenings from here on out vs. diagnostic exams.

It's been a long, weird, stressful and scarring almost 5 year journey that has been winding down for the past two years and I'm finally, with the surgeon's hearty "Congratulations," this morning, going to consider over. I know I will always have to be *aware* (how I loathe that term)...but at least I'm can feel relief in my quiet awareness.

Thank you to everyone who has been there for me...and God forbid anyone else go through this nightmare, I will gladly be there for you...

For now? Off to get Cait, visit her first-choice college and wrap up our visit to the States...and return to our blissfully normal lives in Nicaragua...

May 22, 2012

I did it!

Woot!  A whopping 29 hours since I became a single parent for the next umpteen days/weeks/months and I didn't even notice when I hit the one day anniversary. I've only been truly cranky 5 times today!  I'm thinking I should celebrate, but I can't decide between a glass of wine or a nap.

Day One miraculously included only one breakdown this morning, from Kelsey (thank you, child, for waking yourself up when my alarm failed me!).  She woke me up, asked me what was for lunch and promptly burst into tears.  I was more worried about Nick, so that one threw me for a loop.

Cait?  Nope, that girl is already (figuratively) on the plane to Iceland (notice the clever scheduling of her trip?).  She is the land of fiskur og franskar, Nói Síríus, lava fields, hot pots and all- you- can eat kleinur (and, she WILL, ahem, bring some back with her!).  She has oodles of plans and her biggest worry is how many books she can carry on board with her (please, do not utter the words Kindle, nook, or e-reader around her...it just won't happen).  

We've already had two Skype sessions with Peter who tried to make us jealous with his fabulous fancy hotel room and plush hotel bathrobe, as he has not quite reached his destination.  As IF I am jealous?! Hello, I have laundry coming out of my eyeballs, oodles of end of the school year events, the cat box to empty and the guinea pig cage to clean.  I'm swamped! 

I almost hate to admit it that we are okay.  I did have a few slightly sad moments today, but overall we are doing well.  I don't know if it's timing, that we are so settled and involved here, that we have the upcoming post or that 'that of which we don't speak' is basically over (you know, the blip), but we are hanging in there thus far, making plans and really, are quite happily busy.

I was so busy, already, that I almost forgot what happened last week!  Or maybe it's because I was being a "self-indulgent narcissist."  I know I wasn't supposed to read the comments on the Washington Post last week, but you know, it's like staring when it's just plain wrong: I did it anyway.  (This is also where I insert a huge THANK YOU to my friends, Mom2Nomads, 4Gs, Spectrummy Mummy, Daring Adventure and others for their thoughtful replies to such odious comments.) 

Just an FYI, I would never, ever call someone who blogged about such a topic a self-indulgent narcissist. Trust me, if you think talking about my cozy is self-indulgent, I will happily go back and regale you with the exact details of each and every surgery.  Then I'll find all my friends who have dealt with such issues and have them do the same.  You know why?  Because those of us who have been through a blip sort of thing like knowing others have been through the same and are willing to share.  It makes us feel better knowing what to expect or (gasp!) that things *might* get better!  It's the joy of the internet...don't want to read it?  Go to a new page!

That's not the point, though I just had to vent for a moment.  My real point:  I had not one, but two stellar appointments last week.  The first was with my plastic surgeon who is nothing short of a miracle worker. The man is talented beyond belief and was thrilled with my progress.  I was given the green light to start running (tomorrow, I swear) and he was just beyond satisfied with the outcome of the surgery.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  the man is a genius and I would highly recommend him should you need...well, whatever.

The second appointment had me a bit more freaked.  It was time for a visit with the radiation oncologist.   If you recall, when I had my last visit with the breast surgeon, she advised me not to see the RO for another 6 months (I was set to see her 3 months later).  So, by the time I saw her last Thursday (a special anniversary treat!), so many things had happened in our lives (new postings, surgeries, recoveries...) that I didn't know where to begin.  She, did, however, with the standard exam (yippee). Normally, not very exciting.   However, at this appointment, she gave me a lecture of sorts, an "I told you so."


Well, what she had told me was (in slightly different words) was that I really controlled the outcome of what would happen to my skin.  I could pamper it, take exceedingly loving care of it, slather it (8x daily) with Calendula, be sure to stretch religiously, have regular massages and MLD and I would be rewarded with skin that was nearly perfect.  So, I did.  The results?

She was utterly amazed by how healthy everything appeared to be, on top of being incredibly impressed by the surgeon's handiwork.  She said, "YOU did this.  I tell my patients, it's not the radiation treatment, it's how you handle the care of your skin and you did a fabulous job."  

Well, I certainly needed to hear that!  Especially considering what a rough time I had with radiation, despite running in a 5K a week after finishing.  It's just so difficult to look ahead when you are so mired down with the treatments...well, and busy being so self-absorbed and all!

In fact, here I am being so narcissistic again, that I forgot to mention the outcome of Kelsey's first day sans dad:  just fine.  She went to school and realized that even though she wasn't thrilled he was gone, she didn't need to cry anymore.  She was surrounded by her friends and activities and while she didn't forget, she realized that things are okay for now.   

The beauty of it:  things are fine.  I'm sure we will have ups and downs, but I'm so grateful that all is going smoothly thus far and exceedingly thankful for so many friends who have us in their thoughts and prayers right now.  It truly means the world to us. 

May 16, 2012

Wanted: Stories of the 'Real' Foreign Service

All others need not apply.

You see, as I mentioned in my last post, this blog was recently deleted from a blog roll.  Never mind the fact that its presence on that site was specifically requested well over two years ago.  The online community specialist managing the page (at the time) was eager to list it, glad for my input and seemed grateful for my participation.  I always thought it was a rather arbitrary list, but it seemed like a work in progress and names were being added, not subtracted (at first).  Recently and without warning, that inexplicably changed.  Care to guess why? 

I used the "n" word:


Sunday evening, when I noticed the blog missing, I wrote to the online specialist who had contacted me way back when.  The next day I heard from a new community specialist.  I was told in no uncertain terms that my blog does not have "content relevant to the U.S. Foreign Service".  When I replied back with a description of the content that is more than related, I received a response from yet another new person.  The response from that person?  

Hopefully, you can understand that some topics covered in your blog are very personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies, and wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of potential candidates who are interested in learning about the FS life overseas. Through our years of recruitment experience, we found that FS prospects want to learn more about the work that’s conducted, the people and cultures with whom they will interact, the travel experiences, and the individual stories our employees* have to share.  

Oh! They want travel experiences and individual stories.  I'm sorry, have I not been providing that information?

So you mean describing stories about life after a diagnosis of breast cancer while your FS husband is serving in Iraq on an unaccompanied tour 6,219 miles away is not an individual story?  You mean detailing how you got through said issue, how you managed to pick yourself up off the floor each day despite feeling like your world had completely fallen apart (oh, wait, it had) and managed to somehow dust yourself off and keep going with your Foreign Service life is of no interest?  Guess that means I am the *only* one who will ever have to deal with such a thing.

The fact that we ended up doing a second unaccompanied tour?  Booooring.  Or that I had what, 4 surgeries in the past 18 months (scheduled AROUND my husband's most recent posting, so that he would be able to complete his obligations?)?  Um, hello, that's *too* personal, repugnant even!

You know, like life in the Foreign Service.  Unless my life is somehow different and everyone else is perfect.  Do others not have family issues, worries about elderly parents,  kids with special needs (medical or otherwise), curtailments, and  health or safety issues overseas?  Apparently, with the exception of our family, for the other 10,000 or so folks, FS life is charmed.  Right-O.  

Now, if I had received some remotely logical explanation that they decided to rotate blogs (which would be fine, except that they didn't), or something even a teeny bit diplomatic, I might not have thought twice about the situation.  However, there is no way on earth that I can be told by someone who works in recruiting (and, to my knowledge, is not actually in the FS) that my blog is not relevant for FS candidates or their families.  

In fact, today I have been told repeatedly how valuable it is to others, something that made me teary-eyed, but in a good way.  Quite a different response than I had when I read the email from the recruiter, particularly the above in italics, which just struck me to the core.  How could the person manage to pick the *one* issue that would stop me in my tracks and leave me shaken beyond belief?  How could my past illness and my desire to share what I went through (God forbid anyone else in the FS deal with it) be suddenly held against me? 

All because I used the word nipple.  And you thought the lack of world peace was scary?  That's got nothing on my nipple!  

So, want the *perfect* Foreign Service experience?  Well, avert your eyes, it's not to be found on this blog!

Want real life FS experiences?  Stay tuned....because if you thought all bets were off before, you haven't read anything yet.  


A huge debt of gratitude goes out to those who have supported me in this matter today, to include those currently on the *official* roll and those who are not or were also removed or, even more inexplicably, never asked.  Many, many thanks to those who have posted (everywhere) with support, including those who are linked below:

It's the Little Things

I Guess I'm Not As Important As I Once Assumed

You're Just Not Quite FS Enough...

What Makes a Blog an FS Blog?

*Yet not all blogs (to include mine) are those of employees, but somehow I'd guess that wasn't realized.  You know, what with the focus on my nipple and all!



January 18, 2012

"You still have your

blood, honey!"

Nicholas made this statement to me last night as I ambled down the stairs after a 4 hour nap (please don't judge).  I had gone upstairs late in the afternoon as I was utterly exhausted and I knew the kids would want to play in the living room.  I cocooned myself in bed so I couldn't possibly roll over and had a variety of nightmares and/or weird dreams.  If you know me, nothing unusual about that.  

Now one might think something was terribly wrong with Nicholas noticing blood, but he was really just remarking on my remaining drain and its accompanying tube.  Did I say "remaining?"  Yes!

Monday was my first post-op visit to the surgeon.  It was a slightly painful drive, but I made it and for the first time, was truly glad to be in his office.  As you know, I very much like Dr. X., however, the primary reason behind my visits was not a good one.  But....I'm moving beyond that.

I was so excited to be there that I actually thought I might hug the doctor.  I mean, I dressed UP for the appointment.  Okay, I was clad in my standard button-down sweater, housepants, wool socks and Crocs (I'm all about comfort right now), but I wore earrings!  I (sort of) did my hair!  I actually have started to feel like I might want to expand my wardrobe once all is said and done and maybe I'll wear lipstick (or at least naturally-tinted lip balm)  twice a week.  Well, I shouldn't go nuts yet.  Now why did I feel so good?   Dr. X.

He did nearly the impossible for me.  He took a portion of extra skin from a place where it was not needed and moved it to an area that allows it to function as a near perfect breast.  No, it's not a truly working breast, but the look and feel is incredible (I just can't stress that enough).  

Not only is the shape nearly perfect in so many ways, but one can already see the outline (okay, Dad, and skittish readers, avert your eyes) for my new nipple.  Since my previous surgery was not nipple-sparing, a new one must be fashioned for me and then the color will be tattooed on my skin.  I can't say I'm looking forward to the pain, but I am quite curious to see the final product.  No worries, there will be no show on this blog, only tell if I am truly happy.

After he checked all of the areas that were involved surgically, Dr. X. allowed that I could have two drains removed:  the one from my right breast and the one closest to my right hip.  The output for both was next to nothing, and it was time for them to be adiosed.  The drain on the left side of my stomach incision is still putting out quite a bit, so it will be at least Friday before it is removed.

I can't say the process was painless, as there was quite a bit of burning, but such a relief to have those suckers out.  Band-aids were attached and I was given the green light to go.  I felt so giddy, I would have skipped out of the office would that be possible without me going into paroxysms of pain.  Oh, and boo on those of you all fancy-schmancily dressed in the waiting room giving me that "Why aren't you wearing your stiletto leather riding boots to the plastic surgeon's office?"  Don't be hating on me just because you have no legitimate excuse to wear housepants in public for the next two months.  Sorry, Botox injections don't make the cut.

I now have only one drain and I am supremely happy about that.  Even better?  Somewhere along the way, I missed the fact that Dermabond was used on my belly incision.  I knew something was glopped on there, but didn't quite catch the name nor did it occur to me it would slowly slough off.  So each day, I would look in the mirror (you know, when I was trying to arrange the drains and tubes 'just so') and see this angry red scar.  I was ignoring it for now, hoping it would one day disappear and then realized last night that it already has.  The Dermabond has started to peel off and take some of the angriness with it. In its place is skin that looks normal, pink, healthy and a nearly invisible scar.

Now this is where I say thank you once again.  So much appreciation to my dear friends who encouraged me and reminded me I could do this. Everyone who texted me until (seriously) I was headed into the OR and had to hand over my phone.  Thank you, thank you, for the push I needed.

Now it's recliner time, since Peter has totally revamped my corner of the living room by installing a new TV that is hooked up to our Apple TV.  I know, lazy, lazy, lazy, but I might as well convalesce in comfort, right?  Plus, I have the added bonus of getting to watch Little Guy play, play, play all day long (oh, the imagination....I LOVE it!)...okay, and an occasional episode of Celebrity Wife Swap (much tamer than the real Wife Swap, BTW) and my comfort movies from our library...and enjoying the yummy food our friends bring over daily...reading books on the kindle...actually having time to do the WaPo crossword...playing words with friends....healing in comfort;  I can't ask for much more than that.



January 17, 2012

I can't describe it as anything other than sheer


Well, that might be a *wee* bit strong for now, but I honestly think it is what I have been feeling for the past week or so.  In other words, that first post-surgical blog post was not just the meds talking.  If you remember, I was a bit stressed about the surgery, so much so, that I took a 'relaxation' pill the night before.  I kept the stiff upper lip and tried to be positive, but also allowed myself to think that the surgery could fail, the worst-case scenarios would happen and I would end up regretting everything.  Given that I did not expect that my world was going to improve 1000% overnight, imagine when it did?

Okay, okay, we'll leave it at 990% for now.  After all, I do have a follow-up surgery and some tweaking, but overall I am so content.  I KNOW without a doubt that the DIEP was THE best procedure for me and I am so glad that I have so many friends who would not let me skip this opportunity.  

Do you know what I did last week?  When it was finally time to take that first, real post-surgical shower, I looked in the mirror.  I gave a long, hard look and do you know what I saw?  I saw resolution.  I saw (and felt) a decision that will never, ever be regretted.  Despite what some people say, despite that there are entire groups who feel that reconstruction is a waste of time and money, I will forever be grateful for the foresight I had to research my options and go with my gut.

You see, there are many people out there who believe that reconstruction is useless.  There is the idea that breast cancer is over-sexualized and it's all about "saving the ta-tas."  Trust me, by the time you get to my point (and remember that I was only Stage 1 and am doing just fine), there was little or no saving to be done. There rarely is at that point and all of the awareness in the world is fine, but it won't necessarily prevent you from losing body parts that you have come to appreciate.

Now, one might say, "But, my God, you get to live!"  Well, it's not as if I went off on a bender, driving down the wrong side of the road or spent my days living in an otherwise reckless manner.  As some people like to say, it was a complete crapshoot.  However, that begs the question:   Why are those who are stricken suddenly supposed to hate a body part and want to immediately part with it?  Why are we supposed to be grateful to have our chests mutilated, our skin burned and perhaps our bodies filled with toxins?  If we didn't do anything wrong, then each additional "fix" just adds insult to injury.

Yet each and every day, I read of someone who decided against reconstruction because she doesn't need a breast to be a woman.  No, I suppose one doesn't.  So, then, many women who opt for reconstruction are made to feel as if they are somehow desiring to be pin-up models or are trying to enjoy that size C that God forgot to give us in the first place.  So, here is my question:  If a man had to undergo something similar (say a slightly different type of cancer) and he wanted reconsctructive surgery, would he be made to feel like less of a man?  Would he be told to just cut it off, that it doesn't define who you are, so just get over it already?

Somehow, I think not.  So why can't women enjoy the same privilege?  Why is it assumed that we are aching for a Playboy contract (let's face it, that's not happening) or that we don't feel whole without body part that so many deem to exist solely for a sexual purpose?

Maybe, just maybe, it's like any other body part.  Would you not be upset to lose an arm or a leg?  So, why are we so quick to decide that this is so much less necessary than any other limb?  

For many women, the breast is much more than just a sexual object, as it is also a primary source of nourishment and comfort for wee ones.  I don't know how I would have gotten through the feeding and comforting of three children without them.  Yet, because a miserable cell invaded one of mine, I am supposed to discard it like yesterday's trash. I was supposed to look in the mirror and feel whole again despite the fact that there was a blank slate where one of my primary tools of early parenting was cut off, poked, prodded, tested and thrown away.  I was supposed to feel stronger and more self-assured because I lost a body part?

No, thank you.  If there is an option to make me look and feel whole again, I will take it. I look in the mirror now and while I don't see a perfectly matching set (but never did), I do see a work in progress.  I have cleavage that looks and feels natural.  I feel pressure, pain and hot and cold in growing amounts each day. Nicholas can snuggle up against me (okay, not right now, but one day soon) and he will be able to rest his head on my chest as we read books or tell stories and it will feel as natural and normal as it did in the past.  However, decidedly, the best part of the whole situation is how I feel at the moment.

I feel Glee (yes, with a capital "G").  Glee for making the right (and only) decision for me.  I feel sorry for those who feel as though they have to continue to push the idea that reconstruction is somehow bad or wrong.  I would never tell someone that they should or shouldn't (though would give my experience if asked) and think that the needs of the person dictate what should happen.

I also do not think that it is correct to imply that anyone who pursues their surgical options naturally has less self-confidence.   In fact, I feel quite the opposite.  I took a huge risk and had to have not only an enormous amount of confidence in my doctor, but also in myself....and thus far, nearly 11 days later, I do not have one regret nor do I expect I ever will.

January 03, 2012

Forget about Friday,

today was my day of stressing beyond belief.  This afternoon, at 2:30 p.m., was the yearly exam that I had been dreading.  I had managed to put it off a bit, but realized I needed to get it out of the way prior to surgery and thus arrived just in time for the annual 'ogram at Sibley this afternoon.

I was a wreck.  We went to the wrong imaging department at first and I could barely choke out the reason I was there.  While then waiting for the elevator to get to the right wing of the hospital, I remarked how I wasn't even supposed to be there yet.  Really, this type of exam doesn't start until one (well, a woman) hits age 40. Lucky me, I started two years early.  Peter nodded and agreed, but it didn't change the fact that I was scared beyond belief.  I knew nothing was wrong, but God forbid there was a false positive...

We finally arrived in the right location and I filled out all of the necessary forms.  Oddly enough, we had passed by my breast surgeon on the way to the check-up...you know (to me) that was a bad sign. Surely, I was destined to get bad news, especially as at that particular moment, Peter and I were actually laughing and joking.

A few minutes after our arrival, the receptionist called me back.  I changed, put my clothes in a locker and sank into a chair in the gowned waiting room.  Unlike in October 2010, I couldn't even touch a People magazine or any other guilty pleasure.  After all, wouldn't it be my luck to come in and find out (only three days before surgery) that yet something else was wrong?

Not 10 minutes later, I was called back.  Due to the fact that I still have an implant on the left side (for cosmetic purposes only), there was much manipulation involved and two extra shots.  Oh, and did I mention the confusion over why I was there?  For whatever reason, the script incorrectly said I was there for a pre-radiation mammogram...shudder.  No, just a normal screening.  I clarified for the technologist and she went on with her work.

I do have to give her credit.  I never learned her name, but I know she could tell I was nervous.  She didn't say too much, just gave me gentle direction and went about her work.  Not too much chatting and when we were finished, she gently guided me into yet another waiting room.

Which would have been fine, except I was already worried.  It was a general waiting room, so a grandmotherly type was also seated, waiting for her results.  She started chatting about my shoes, how they looked so comfy (could she tell I was ready to...?), and just kept talking.  I couldn't help but engage in the small talk until a nurse walked in and told the woman she was in the clear and free to go. However, I still had to wait until they could review my films, compare them to the old films and give me the results.

There was lots of action in the background and someone was having an issue somewhere.  I could overhear a conversation and then drifted off.  The next thing I knew, in my mind, I was being directed to another room, they had called Peter in and everything went downhill.  I saw myself being biopsied and just as I was imagining myself curled up in bed, hugging Nicholas and bawling my eyes out, the nurse bounced in.

"Here's your paperwork, you are all clear and good to go!  See you next year!"

I sprinted back to the changing area.  As I was changing, I responded to a friend who had texted me that all would be fine...and let her know she was right.  I managed a slightly furrowed brow as I headed into the waiting room, but broke into a grin before Peter could get too worried.  In fact, I was so giddy that I was simply going to walk out until I realized that I still had my balled-up gown in my hands.  I walked back into the waiting area, handed the gown to a nurse and we both had a good chuckle.

I had a good chuckle...after a mammogram...picture that.  Then, I left.  No, I BOLTED out of the door. Even better? The more time that passes, the more I realize I need to quit worrying, as I am reminded again and again that this was just a blip.  In fact, I'm *almost* excited about Friday and having a stellar reason to test out my new recliner (and perhaps not stress about tomorrow's appointment with the oncologist?)!


January 02, 2012

I don't normally

go for New Year's Resolutions, but managed to make two (very informal) promises to myself.  

1. Declutter big time.

We have too much stuff, plain and simple.  Not way too much (no, we wouldn't qualify for Hoarders), but just too much that we don't need.  Some of it is due to the fact that some items are waiting to be Craigslisted, eBayed, Freecycled, you name it and there just isn't enough time in the day.  Then there's the stuff that just needs to be better organized.  Last, but not least, there is just that extra little bit of stuff we could do without.

Instead of waiting until the new year, I started on that project last week.  I sold 4 items on Craigslist to the tune of nearly $200.  I tell you, that's motivation right there!  I then took three boxes to Goodwill on Saturday, but really only itemized 1 box of books.  Sometimes it's nice just to give away for the sake of giving away (and way too much random stuff to Freecycle). 

Last night, I tackled our bedroom and tonight tried to get through more laundry (well, that won't ever truly go away).  However, bit by bit, progress is being made and I don't feel like I will be completely behind once Friday arrives and I am out of commission for a while.

The second resolution?

2.  To make it until Friday, January 6, without becoming a complete stress basket.  I still question whether I am doing the right thing or not, but realize I MUST do something.  Right now, this is the most natural surgery I can do and the only way I might truly feel better.   So, my #2 goal, well, really #1 goal for 2012 is simply to make it to the hospital on Friday without being a nervous wreck and just get this out of the way.  

No more implants, bikini season might be even easier next year (though, seriously, if you think that's why I am doing this, then....) and a sense of being whole once again. If I can do that, the rest of the year is gravy...and, yes, that includes Peter departing for parts over there in late May.  Quite frankly, I think that will be a piece of cake in comparison.  Wish me luck!


August 10, 2011


She stepped back, smiled, folded her arms across her chest and said, "Ideal!" again.  

"That is exactly what you should look like!" Dr. RO stated firmly, still grinning.

With that, my 3 month post-radiation exam was complete.  We had waited over an hour, but the actual appointment lasted maybe 7 minutes.  Dr. RO asked how I was doing and did a quick exam with a few questions.  She noted that not only must I be doing massage (yes, on my boob, it's not that sexy, I assure you) and stretching, but that I was clearly using the Calendula lotion on a daily basis.  She then checked my range of motion and noted that it was perfect and that I simply could not look any better. My appointment ended and the next evaluation was scheduled for 6 months in the future.

Maybe not the ideal way to spend a vacation day morning, but lazing the rest of the afternoon away at the pool with the Salty Dogs more than made up for it.  Now I just need to gear up and do a whole week's worth of work on the house tomorrow before we depart to go back to Massachusetts, catch up with the kids and visit a bit more with friends and family and perhaps celebrate a certain upcoming event just a wee bit... 

April 27, 2011

"The good news:

Your skin looks great!" the doctor stated happily.

The bad news:  my skin looks too good.

Yesterday was doctor day for me.  Once a week, my stress level skyrockets and I come down with an instant case of white-coat syndrome as I have to meet with Dr. R, the radiation oncologist.  She might be nice, but she is a doctor and since last October anyone with an M.D. after their name has two strikes against them in my book (sorry non-vet doctor friends).  

We are supposed to meet, discuss how I'm doing and I go on my merry way.  Normally there is nothing else, no skin check (unless I request one) and I skedaddle so I can spend the next 23 hours forgetting what I will do the next morning.  Yesterday was different.

As I was getting off the table, the tech reminded me it was doctor day.  I nodded and then she went on, "And today she decides whether or not to stop the wet towels!"


You see, I have been receiving a "bolus" every other day.  Basically, it is supposed to increase (yes, shudder, vomit) the amount of radiation the site is receiving.  It's not bad enough I'm frying my chest to death, they do things to make it worse.  Now, I just assumed this was SOP for the entire time.   I'm only having 25 treatments, no boosts (extra frightening zaps at the end) and I was blissfully ignorant that my wet towel days might be numbered.

Then the tech continued, "But she's probably not going to stop because you are not crispy enough!"

Well, if telling me that there was a chance they could stop wasn't bad enough, she had to add insult to injury.  I have NO intention of becoming "crispy." I'm still against the radiation in the first place, but am doing the day-by-day thing and handling it well enough (I think).

I retreated to the dressing room, slathered and stretched, changed and sat down with Peter in the waiting area to share the not-so-great news.   He held out hope and I tried to be positive and perhaps inspire my chest to momentarily glare in the doctor's face and encourage her to believe that I should be finished with that whole bolus business.

No such luck.  She took one look and declared that my skin looked "GREAT!" so the towel treatments would continue every other day.  She then asked about range of motion (still besting Pete, so guessing it's okay) and if my skin was itchy.  She seemed surprised when I said no, but seemed happy that I am in good shape overall.  

She then reminded me that this was the last full week and next week we get to discuss follow-up appointments.  Really, the towel business wasn't bad enough, she had to throw that in there, too.  We had already informed her two weeks before (and before starting treatments) that we have no intention of sticking around beyond next summer.  She wants to see me (or have someone see me) everything three months for two years*.  She'll get her wish for the first 15 months, but then any other visits will be follow-ups with the breast surgeon (who wants to see me for another 4.5 years...blech).  I'm not wasting any more time here when I could be happily doing the expat thing elsewhere.  So, I'm trying not to stress about it because:

A.  Nothing is going to happen

B.  There are plenty of good doctors outside of the U.S.

C.  My other doctors already agreed that they don't need to see me more than once a year once we move (IF I don't find doctors locally/regionally at our next post)

D.  Nothing is going to happen

Six more days...six more days..six more days...it's like a mantra.




*The every 3 month thing is bizarre as the other doctors only want to see me every 6 months...but whatever.

April 17, 2011

Pardon me?

Friday I was chatting with a friend, a very nice lady who hires Cait to babysit and thus, gives her spending money.  We *heart* her.  Her kids love Cait, Cait gets out and makes $$ and we are all very happy.  She mentioned that she heard I was going to undergo "treatments" soon.  I then mentioned I had already started and was nearly (as of Monday!) halfway finished.

"Oh!  Really?  How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Well, fine, I guess," I replied, not sure what else to say.  I mean, quite honestly, I am fine.  My skin is holding up (so far), I'm not bloody exhausted (yet), still doing the Couch to 5 K and am making it to appointments without the need for a mocha or xanax.

Then she asked very innocently,  "So, are you going to lose your hair soon?" 

Um, how does one answer that?  The question had been posed so casually, as though she was asking if I took cream with my coffee or did I notice that it was supposed to rain today.  

I looked at her, replied that it was 'only' radiation (there's nothing 'only' about anything blip-related, but...).  Not wanting to delve deeper into a topic I loathe, I left well enough alone and didn't mention body parts. After trying and failing to discuss more important issues, we said our good-byes.  

I walked home and just wondered...when people look at me, do they see me or do they just see a disease, symptoms or side effects that I don't have?  Are people watching and waiting for me to somehow fall apart one day? I had just recently finally gotten to the point where I didn't feel as though things were abnormal on a daily basis.  Oddly enough, doing the radiation and having no side effects thus far has helped me get there.  I know it was best to be open and honest about the situation...but I really hope I haven't permanently tatooed a red C on my forehead. 


March 17, 2011

So, I'm either brilliant and a bit

brave or I'm off my rocker and about to make things worse.  We had a second opinion with a radiation oncologist today.  I had been given a recommendation for a particular person at the same hospital, however, she is no longer with the group.  Despite that small setback, the RO we were to meet with had experience at one of the top cancer centers in the nation and her current hospital recently became a part of a larger, well-reknowned hospital group.   We threw caution to the wind and kept the appointment.  I had no idea what to expect and feared the worst, given last week's appointment.

I was grateful to be pleasantly surprised.  

We were first met by a nurse who reviewed my basic information.  She touched on everything from medications to my recent weight loss (yes, that 13 lbs since last October was intentional).  She was very kind, not at all pushy and left us alone to review departmental information and guidelines while we waited for the doctor.  

After a few minutes, she stepped into the room and greeted us.  With a rather pixie-like figure, she was not nearly as forbidding as her picture led me to believe.  She asked for a brief history, though she had gotten a bit of information from *the* oncologist and was curious as to why we were there at this point in time.  I explained how I simply couldn't make a decision regarding radiation.  Everything from the way my skin might react to the length of time and side effects worried me.  More importantly, given that I had been told I was in a "grey area" I just wasn't sure how to proceed.

She admitted that I was indeed in a grey area (score!).   She then went on to indicate how despite the fact that I had the close margins with the DCIS (vs. the invasive cancer), this was actually a bit more...worrisome.  It was just too close to the chest wall and could easily turn into something else, given time..or, it may not.  However, the five weeks of radiation would bring down the chance of recurrence significantly and would nearly guarantee that my natural lifespan would not be affected. Not that I have any doubt it would be affected, but something about the way she spoke was far less frightening and more motivating than our visit to the last RO in late November.

Instead of fearing the treatment, especially given the shorter length of time, I felt as though it might be doable.  She reassured rather than bullied and reiterated that due to my health and lifestyle, I was unlikely to be affected by the treatment in the long run. She offered that side effects such as exhaustion could occur, but would not likely be debilitating.

She did not scare me and did not talk down to me.  She didn't stare at me with bug eyes, nor did she look at me like I was nuts.  We also touched on the Tamoxifen issue and while she (of course) encouraged it, she listened to my fears and offered that perhaps a visit to a hematologist might be in order.  Given that I don't fit the profile of those who normally have clotting issues on Tamoxifen, a hemotologist could give me a truly thorough work-up that could put my fears at rest regarding an inherited disorder.

Did I mention she also listened to the entire sordid story of my mother's death?  She didn't just blow me off, but wanted to know all of the details and was appropriately horrified at the lack of care Mom received just prior to her last day.  Why my own oncologist couldn't think to do that is beyond me. The fact that the RO took that much time to engender my trust today went a very long way.

Peter and I somewhat silently discussed as the appointment neared a close and realized perhaps it might not be so bad.  It's not what I want to do, but especially given my concerns about Tamoxifen (and who knows if I will tolerate it?), this will give an extra measure of cover if the drug does not work.  The length of time is better, the location is much nicer and the doctor worked so hard to ensure that I was informed, but not scared.  I felt like I was actually making a rational decision versus being frightened into something that would just make me worse rather than better.

We are still working on the financials, as we realize we have to have everything insurance-related settled before we start this procedure on March 28. (I simply can't handle any more scary you-know-what bills showing up in the mailbox, so we are certifying everything in triplicate.) I also have a pre-treatment MRI next week, which will just ensure that there isn't anything to be concerned about.  The doctor is sure nothing will show up, but always does this as a failsafe.  She was even thoughtful enough to be concerned about whether I could tolerate the MRI....all things considered, that will be a cakewalk.

So, there we have it.  I am either brilliantly killing off some stray cell that managed to escape the butcher's knife or I am brutalizing my skin and what's left of my breast for no good reason.  I suppose the only good news is that I will likely never know.  I think in this case, that's probably for the best, as I'm already quaking in my boots about this plan and whether it's truly right for me...



March 06, 2011

The Blip

Despite my promise that I would not forego weekly therapeutic massages due to either cost considerations or time issues, I ended up missing my session last week.  Perhaps due to the harder workouts, extra work around the house or picking up the LG the wrong way one time too many, I ended up with quite a bit of lower back pain and realized I needed a session at the Teal Center before things became worse.

It was one of those wonderful massages, a combination of manual lymph drainage, stretches and deep muscle work that had me drifting and dozing nearly the entire time.  I chatted with Jean,  the day's massage therapist and with another who had worked on me in the past while paying, and was glad to hear them say how far I had come.  In fact, Jean said she was amazed by my range of motion and Lucille (who did my pre-surgical massage and several follow-ups) chimed in that she felt the same way.  I mentioned how I didn't see how I could have gotten through this mess without therapy of some sort, and they noted that they wished more people understood the connection between the mind and body when dealing with this sort of scenario (hint: surgeons acknowledging the benefits would be a huge help!).  It's not just being told to take medicine or have a surgical procedure, but working on healing your body in a way that relieves stress and lowers the risk of post-surgical side effects.

I thought about this as we were talking and we all wondered why more people don't take advantage of such offerings.  Do they not know about them?  Do they think the benefits are just hooey?  Is it too expensive to contemplate with all of the other expenses involved?  I know I had begun to think that and thus, we recently switched our insurance from BCBS to the FSBP, which covers 30 massages a year at $40/session.  While we were not entirely unhappy with BCBS, that's a savings of $1200 that we can't afford not to take.  Combine the insurance coverage with the Teal Center's oncology discount and I will be paying approximately $25 for a one hour session for 40 weeks of the year.  

While trying to get through these past few months, there is one thing that I have avoided and too much time on sites that focus specifically on my type of cancer.  Yes, I have researched the topic and found the information useful, but I loathe pigeonholing myself.  I do not consider myself a member of any 'club' nor do I feel as though my life has to change extremely because of this scenario.  I find when I focus on my type that I end up stressing myself out more.  Therefore I have decided that those services and information sites that are most useful to me are those that focus on overall health and wellness.

In light of that, I am creating a new selective blogroll.  The items included will be those that have helped me through these past few months, have helped me in my healing or could be useful to someone else going through a similar experience, as with the links to Camp Kesem and Lotsa Helping Hands (and many thanks to Jill, again, for all of her work with my LHH group!).  I am not taking credit for finding everything myself, as many were sent to me, or introduced to me by friends, to include Daily Mile.

What does that have to do with my situation?  When I started on the road to recovery, I wanted a way to track my workouts.  While I had a decent iPod app, I wanted a more interactive, user-friendly method of uploading my stats from any location.  I noticed that a friend utilized Daily Mile and each day had her daily workouts, from yoga to running pop-up.  The site would allow me to sync my Garmin Forerunner (easy upload of walk/run stats) and I was sold.  No more being limited to the iMac or iPhone for updating purposes and so easy to see exactly where I am with my workouts.  

Even better, they offer a widget for blogs.  My workouts (or not, as was the case on Friday) are displayed in one of three layouts and a good reminder of my daily status.  My friend, Heather, an avid runner, recently posted on this very topic.  Whether you blog or not, those of you who are inspired to get moving (or those who are, but not tracking it) should consider utilizing the widget and/or simply post your updates on Daily Mile.  There is nothing more motivating than watching your friends daily stats (or yours) pop up and knowing that each workout is a step towards a happier, healthier you.

The two remaining links on the currently (very short & sweet) blog roll are more related to my original diagnosis.  Being Cancer, is a compilation of blogs and websites written by those who have been there, done that.  While it may be sorted by type, it excludes nothing and can be an excellent resource, as can Crazy, Sexy Cancer.

Not long after I was diagnosed, I was stressing (okay, still am) over treatment issues.  I wrote to a friend in California that I had met through my Holistic Moms group.  She recommended a website started by Kris Carr, who had to deal with a different, but very scary type of cancer and is thriving today primarily due to lifestyle changes.  I'm not going to go through her whole history (it's on her site), but suffice it to say, Kris is an inspiration to anyone in remotely similar circumstances.  While I am not yet the epitome of perfect eating, we have much improved our diets even over what we were doing in California.  I was even lucky enough to meet her at a recent Borders book signing and have a photo snapped (not posted due to me being 4 days post-op and looking more like 4 hours post-op!).

We are not vegan, but have cut down even more on meat and cheese (to reduce my intake of estrogen) and, of course, watch the amounts.  Even prior to learning about CSC, we had acquired a kick-butt blender and nary a day goes by without a wheatgrass smoothie (also includes strawberries, bananas, pineapple and sometimes steel cut oats for an extra oomph).   The kids (okay, the younger two) were already huge smoothie fans, so they make for easy and healthy morning breakfast treats.  

I don't have a set limit for this list, but would like to beef it up a bit.  If you have a link that you think would be perfect, please feel free to comment and/or send it my way via email.  Oh, and why the "blip"?  Well, in the end, that is what this experience will be...nothing more than a blip on my radar of life.  Not to diminish any good, but the bad parts are not something I wish to dwell on and hopefully, will continue to be few and far between.




March 04, 2011

One likes to assume

that one knows her children.  She knows what they like to eat, what they like to wear, whether they are morning kids or night owls.  She knows when they are being honest and understands where they are coming from when they stretch the truth a tad.  More importantly, she would like to think she knows her kids inside and out, so much so that she can predict the exact outcome of a distressing situation on her children.

You know, such as when one parent is deployed overseas for a year and the other is diagnosed with two types of what could be a nasty cancer.  Even the best parent in the world (not making implications), might be so overwhelmed with decisions, options and stress that she somehow doesn't notice exactly how her child is affected.  

It suddenly occurred to me today that perhaps I had done that.  Perhaps I had made a huge mistake or at least been a tad negligent in areas regarding the mental/emotional effects of this whole scenario on the kids.  They have not seen therapists, did not want to participate in support groups or related family potlucks and we had no desire to push them or go ourselves.

We haven't been ignoring the situation, but we have always been a bit more...laid-back with the kids.  We chat openly about anything (yes, anything) when they need to, but we don't push topics that might make them uncomfortable.  They know they can ask us about anything and while we do have talks, we don't go overboard.  I was actually thrilled when Caitlin found out about my diagnosis by accident.

Not only didn't I have to sit her down (or worse, both of us), I think she took the news far more in stride than if we had a face-to-face.  She digested everything in her own time and while she might have a been a tad bit perturbed, I think this was far easier on all of us.

We really didn't say much at all to Kelsey other than a basic explanation that I needed surgery.  I wasn't "sick" sick, I was just not as healthy as I could be and hopefully the surgery would correct that. When I finally got around to saying something to Nick about needing to see the doctor, his response was, "Are you going to the hostibal?  Are you going to have a surgery?  I can fix you!"  He then proceeded to find a toy saw and, well, let's just say he had an amazingly accurate idea of what was going to happen.  He wasn't frightened or upset, just very matter-of-fact.

I realized today when I received an email from a friend that it had been ages since we discussed 'it'. Things have been so much more normal lately, that there really hasn't been much to say.  In fact, the most discussion was probably a look I shot at Cait last week while driving when an ad related to my previous condition came on the radio.  She looked at me, changed the channel at lightening speed and we went back to our prior topic of conversation.

The email was concerning a sleep away* camp.  Though we are supposed to be planning Kelsey's birthday party (desperately need ideas for every aspect), I am also already looking forward to the summer.  We are hoping for lots of sailing, swimming and just plain fun, but camps are also in the picture.  Kelsey has requested both animal and nature camp, whereas Cait will be thrilled with one week of camp at the animal shelter in Alexandria.   We hadn't really thought of much more, so I was quite interested to read about the camp in the note.

It is  a camp for kids whose parents have dealt with my issue in any manner of speaking. Whether they have cancer, had it, are in remission...all are eligible.  I originally thought it was just on the west coast, but turns out there are many locations throughout the country and they run through the end of the summer.  It appears to be a great opportunity and I wondered if perhaps my kids needed this more than I thought? The deadline for registration was not far off and I quickly shot off a note to Pete and to someone else who might be considered a confidant for Cait, if no one else.

After a bit of discussion, we decided in all likelihood we would not go for the camp.  If nothing else, considering that I have not been through as much as I could have been (no chemo/no radiation**/good diagnosis), it seemed like perhaps it was best to save those spots for other kids who have really been through much more.  However, even after conferring quite a bit between the three of us, I realized I should still give Cait, if not both girls, the option of attending.

I mentioned it to her this afternoon and she asked for more information.  I explained the details I had gleaned from the website and while she said it sounded like a great camp, she just didn't think she needed it.  After all, she was really fine.  I wondered aloud if that was truly the case and she just looked at me and asked me what I meant.

I indicated that I just wanted to be 1000% sure that I was not ignoring her needs or pretending that she was fine when she was really quite worried.  Cait just looked at me, half-laughed and shook her head.

"Mom, I'm fine.  Really, I'm fine.  Yes, I was bit concerned in the beginning, but I knew you'd pull through!"

Oh.  And with that, it will be shelter camp for Cait, shelter & animal camp for Kelsey and lots of sailing, swimming and beach time for the rest of us.  However, I will, as long we are in the area, keep the other camp in the back of my mind, whether for us or someone else.  I know all too well that stressors can pop up any time, and it never hurts to have something in place.  Meanwhile...I'm still grinning about the pulling through bit.  Classic Cait...she always has just the right words for the situation!


*If you know anyone who might benefit, please pass along as the registration for the DC area camp is April 1.  Many thanks to Christy for sending me the link!

**Sigh, someday we will figure this one out...still on the table, still no decision.