Friday, July 29, 2011

Was I Born This Way?

"I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way
Don't hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way"   Lady Gaga

But was I? Was I born this way? Born with cancer already set in my path?

I'm a big Lady Gaga fan and "Born This Way" is one of my favorite songs. I love the message and power behind it. As I was singing it in the car one day, I wondered if on the day I was born cancer was already there or did I or the environment do something to make it happen. 

The funny, or not so funny, thing is that I may never know. I tested BRCA 1 and 2 negative, but there are still genetic links yet to be discovered. Breast cancer wasn't a big issue in my family history - my maternal great grandmother had breast cancer. And until March 2010, no one else did and then my mother was diagnosed. Due to her age and the one person history, her cancer diagnosis was not attributed to a genetic link and she was not a recommended candidate for genetic testing. If she had been younger at diagnosis, a genetic link would have likely been discussed further. My mother is doing well now (after chemo, mastectomy and radiation treatment).

When I went in for my yearly mammogram in March 2010, I had to add my mother's diagnosis to my family history. It was tough to say the words and difficult to accept what that really meant - that I was now one of those people and breast cancer was very close all of the sudden. I got a call a day later that there were some spots in the mammogram - likely cysts- but I had to come back in for ultrasound. The ultrasound showed only cysts and nothing further was needed or recommended. I felt like I had dodge a bullet. I'd never had cysts show up before in a mammogram, but they were there. I couldn't feel them, but I could see them on the ultrasound.

The next thing I knew I was giving myself breast self-exams every other week.  

As the months passed in 2010, I was able to help my mom through surgery, treatment and recovery. I also began to think, that maybe I wouldn't get breast cancer. My mom wasn't in great health prior to the diagnosis, but I was doing well health-wise. So maybe it was possible.....

In March 2011 those ideas were dashed and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It seemed weird and freakish that almost exactly one year later, I got the diagnosis. I wondered if it was environmental because mom and I shared the same house for 18 years (and visits from college, etc). I wondered if it was genetic, but my maternal grandmother doesn't have it. Did breast cancer skip a generation and I was a fluke? (I don't have children so that was a safe go-to thinking) 

When will we know? How we will know? Will we ever know?

I don't question everything I ever ate or drank or every place I ever visited. Maybe it is a genetic link, maybe it's not.  Breast cancer is just a small part of who I am, but not what I am. 

I was born with my hazel eyes, curly hair, love for music and sense of humor which all are attributed to my parents' gene pool. I was born with my personality and outgoing spirit which I like to think I enhanced from the gene pool. I was born with an open mind and willingness to accept others as they are which didn't necessarily come from the gene pool. 
This is the way I was born.

"Just love yourself and you're set"  Lady Gaga

Thursday, July 21, 2011

But Wait There's More...

As a contestant on the Breast Cancer Life, you are still eligible for new health problems. Just because your surgery and radiation treatment are over, we don't want you to feel left out. Because you have had breast cancer you are automatically qualified for a higher risk of skin cancer and uterine cancer...and let's not forget the deep vein thrombosis in your calves. All of these things are available to you, just because you have had breast cancer.

But wait, there's more. If you act now, you can qualify for hot flashes, bone and/ or joint pain, swelling in hands or feet, vaginal dryness, decreased sex drive, headache, dizziness, depression and possibly thinning hair if you start Tamoxifen today. All this while still maintaining your premenopausal status.

Unfortunately, there is a limited supply of side-effects so you may not receive all of them but we guarantee at least one. And, don't forget the most attractive bonus - weight gain of 5-10 pounds beginning immediately after your first dose of Tamoxifen.  

If you act now, we'll throw in a set of ___________ (insert random infomercial product here) free with shipping and handling of just $9.99. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

To The Ladies of Zap

Thank you for everything you did each one of those 33 days of radiation treatment. Thank you for making a situation that could be uncomfortable and embarrassing easier to manage. Thanks for laughing at my bad anxiety driven jokes and always greeting me with a smile at such an early hour of the morning. 

Thanks for telling me my skin looked great, even when it started peeling and reminding me that my skin would bounce back. Thanks for answering all my questions - no matter how many times I asked them. Thanks for giving me the smallest radiation tattoos that can't even be detected.  Thanks for letting me choose the marker colors when you had to draw on my boob. 

Thanks for keeping your spirits up while watching all of us come and go all day in various states of healing and treatment. How you manage to do that everyday can not be easy. It's hard to understand the connection that is made between patient and zapping team, but it's there and it's strong. It's hard to understand the emotional impact that happens toward the end of treatment and especially on the last day. 

I will be forever grateful to each of you.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Oh how I wish this meant Grimace the character, but it doesn't. It means grimace as in the facial expressions I try to hide.

They call them phantom pains. I call them mighty real! The sharp shooting pains in my boob where  healing from the lumpectomy is still happening. Not looking forward to these nerves reconnecting and healing over the next 10 months. Can't it please heal faster or at least without these pains that make you gasp for breath or make a face. 

Pardon me while I grimace...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Who's Buying the Groceries?

I was drinking soy milk and eating soy healthy stuff thinking I was doing the right thing. Turns out the "right thing" may have been the wrong thing. 

The problem is that no one can agree. Should a person with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer avoid straight or concentrated soy? By eating and drinking the stuff was I feeding my tumor? 

There is the Anti-Inflammatory diet (from Dr. Andrew Weil) which was strongly recommended to me as a cancer person. This diet gives you no dairy, no this, no that, etc. OK, I cut cheeses out of my diet in Nov 2010 (because it was a "belly fat" food). I love skim milk! There is nothing better than a tall glass of "cow water" on the rocks with or without cookies. Now, I am not supposed to have that? But, wait wasn't I told that Vitamin D deficiencies are linked to breast cancer? So, what's the amount of vitamins or sunshine am I suppose to have? Oops, careful with the sunshine that pesky skin cancer risk is there. 

Then there is the Mediterranean Diet (from Mayo Clinic) also said to be good for cancer folks and a good healthy diet in general. Eggplant and tomatoes are on the "good list" for this diet, but they are considered a nightshade veggie which makes them a no-no on the Anti-Inflammatory diet. Can't win for loosing....

And let's not forget the organic food debate. Should I risk the blueberry or not? It's a great antioxidant, but unless I get organic ones some pesticide may or may not have leeched through the delicate blueberries' skin....and I may or may not be eating a pesticide. Let's face it organic foods are pricey. You definitely have to decide which things to buy or not to buy organic when you are on a budget. Give me a plain ole apple and I'll take my chances with the blueberries. I think it's more important that I am eating these foods than not eating them because of pesticide fear and organic prices. 

As if I don't have enough on my mind already  - going to the grocery store is not what it used to be. It's gone from planning a menu and making a list to a strategic trip planned by committee. Everyone wants to put their 2 cents in about what I am and am not suppose to eat and drink. 
But wait all this food and diet information could be contradicted in a news report tomorrow! 
Stay tuned....

Mark Twain said it best, "Be careful of reading health books. You may die of a misprint".  

Friday, July 8, 2011

Getting Real About Radiation

Radiation is a recommended treatment for breast cancer patients whether you had lumpectomy or mastectomy or chemo or no chemo. Radiation is said to "sterilize the breast" - get rid of any cancer cells that may have broken off during surgery. I was told about side effects and skin changes to expect but no one really gave the details so here is my blunt, unattractive truth about radiation.

First and foremost, OUCH, is the operative word after about 14 or so treatments. Nothing like a rectangle sunburn over one boob to make your clothes and some movement uncomfortable.  The first two weeks weren't bad at all. Once you get past having more and more people see your boob everyday, it's easy to manage. You don't feel anything when the radiation beam is shot into you and the treatment lasts less than 2 minutes. When the "sunburn" starts coming on, then your skin is really dry feeling and can get itchy. 

The next milestone is the hyper-sensitivity of the areola and especially the nipple (yep, I said it) Geez! There are no words to explain this level of discomfort. The radiation "tanning" of the surgical scars is also a bit unpleasant. That new healing skin is very sensitive to the zapping. And don't forget under your boob, that's the spot that gets the most skin damage and "tanning". The bra issue I have discussed in other blog entries is ever present and even more important now. Nothing feels comfy. I have found putting gauze squares in my bra and over the two surgical scars helps; however, there is still nothing better than being able to go topless in your house for a while. 

During radiation you can not use your typical deodorant, so I have a stick for one armpit and non-metallic deo for the other armpit. You can't shave the armpit that's being zapped. The hair is suppose to fall out, but I am hear to tell you after 27 treatments it's still growing. It is unnerving to face the mirror with scissors and cut off little short hairs from your armpit, but there is no way in hell I was going with that "natural look". You also can't use your favorite soap or body wash. I have Cetaphil for the offending area with a plain washcloth and an Olay soft skin wash with my favorite loofah for the rest of me.  

Next week I'll start the more concentrated zapping - they'll be focusing the beam on the surgical spot. This does not sound fun and I am not looking forward to having the scars "fried" any further. On the up shot, I was told that the rest of my skin would start healing once the treatment shifted from all boob to lumpectomy spot. The "suntan" is suppose to fade over time and match the rest of my skin in a year or less.  

I have tried different recommended lotions, creams and ointments during the radiation. You can't use anything with fragrance, etc. it has to be the plainest of basic lotions. During the day, after treatment, I use Natural Care Gel by Bard which I found in the hospitals out-patient pharmacy. At night or when I can go topless in the house, I cover myself in Elta which is a Swiss skin care moisturizer. These two things may have saved my skin and my sanity (as much as they could have been saved).  

I only have 6 more zappings to go! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hello Fatigue

I had hoped that we wouldn't be spending much time together, but I was wrong. I fought to keep you away, but you prevailed. Fatigue you are not my friend.

I was told that one of the main side effects from radiation treatment was fatigue (there was an actual list provided of all side effects). Since I was an exercise person prior to surgery and treatment, there was a chance that the fatigue would not be as great if I continued to exercise. Yes, that sounds crazy - keep exercising to fight off fatigue, but if you have fatigue how do you exercise - but it works. Well, it worked for a while. I just completed my 25th zapping today and I feel like a slug without traction.

The difference was clear yesterday and I knew something wasn't right. When I feel asleep watching TV before 8:30pm last night, I was sure I was getting sick. No, I am experiencing fatigue my radiation oncologist explained this morning. He added that it hits some people toward the end of radiation and others from the start of treatment. And for the bonus round, fatigue doesn't just go away once you stop zappings it last for two to three additional weeks.

I am determined to keep fighting the good fight and somehow make myself exercise today, but surrender (aka nap) sure sounds good to me right now.
Maybe ice cream would help...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Letter to Health Care Staff Everywhere

Dear Staff,

Yes, I have cancer and I am here for treatment. Please do not look at my file and my diagnosis and assume that you know me or anything about my situation. Do not assume that I am obese, do not exercise or smoke cigarettes. Do not assume I drink gallons of regular or diet soda every day and eat pounds of red meat. Do not assume I am eating fast food for every meal, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Do not assume that I do not eat fruits, vegetables or take a multivitamin daily. Do not lecture me on nutrition and "healthy life style choices" until you have asked me what I eat, how much I exercise and sleep.

I was considered to be in good health before my diagnosis - low blood pressure, good cholesterol levels, exercising 3-5 times each week, non-smoker, 64-80oz of water every day, little red meat in my diet and lots of fruits and vegetables, brown rice and "nuts and bolts" wheat bread. I did have the occasional fast food or ice cream treat, but this was far from a daily intake level. Yes, I did drink 1-2 cups of coffee every day. Yes, I have ingested artificial sweeteners and not all my food was organic.

Did these things make me have cancer? Does anyone really know that answer?

Please look at me as a person, ask me questions and get to know me before you decide how to treat me.

Thank you,

Breast Cancer Patient