Friday, December 31, 2010

Hair today... gone tomorrow...

The day was Sunday, December 12th. Eric and I had attended a small Christmas party the night before. I went to the party that night looking like myself, but definitely not feeling myself. Up until this point, I still had my hair. If you didn't personally know I had breast cancer, you wouldn't have been able to tell. I found comfort in this. I still had some anonymity. I could still be Margie and not Margie with breast cancer.


I knew this change was coming as the nurse told me at my first treatment that I would likely start losing my hair before my next treatment. My next treatment was just the next day. I woke up Sunday morning to a pile of hair on my pillow. I thought I was prepared for it to happen. But when I saw the hair there, I instantly knew I wasn't as ready for that change as I'd thought. I went into the bathroom to look at my hair. It was coming out just by the touch. It's so strange how quickly that happens. Throughout the day it was falling out more and more. I will fully admit, I was a little down this day. I wasn't sure if that feeling was stemming from the fact that I soon would have no hair or if it came from the fact that now everyone would know I had breast cancer. There would be no more anonymity.


I spent that Sunday with Eric, my sister and my parents. They were very supportive and helped me realize this is all a part of this journey. I needed to embrace this change, and I did.


The next day I woke up feeling much more comfortable with the changes that were happening. My hair was now falling out by the handfuls at this point and I already had balding spots. I decided that morning I would let Vanessa and Brooke cut my hair short and then shave the rest off. I wanted them to be a part of it so it wouldn't be so scary for them to see mommy all of a sudden with no hair. We were at my parents house in the kitchen. Eric shaved his head first to show his support. My brother, Josh and nephew, Nic also shaved their heads. They all said they would have bald heads as long as I did. I thought that was very sweet. It was my turn next. Yikes! I sat in the chair and the girls went at it with the scissors. They both thought it was fun to cut my hair. Brooke kept giggling and telling me I looked silly. It made me smile. When it got time to shave it off, Vanessa was right by my side, holding my hands and asking if I was ok. I kept thinking to myself how is this sweet little girl at only 6 so strong and caring. She sat there with me the whole time making sure I was ok. I was ok.


I have had some days where I've wished for my hair back, wished for the anonymity back. But, overall, I'm ok with my hair loss. I've actually thought to myself... not having hair while going through chemo may be a little treat from god, I don't have the energy to do my hair right now anyway. :)


The pictures below were taken by the most amazing photographer and friend, Amy Walton. My make up was done by the equally amazing make-up artist and friend, Justine Martinez. They made me feel so pretty when taking these photos. I thank you both and love you to the end of the rainbows!






Study: Blueberries may prevent aggressive form of breast cancer

News and information at The Breast Cancer Site
Study: Blueberries may prevent aggressive form of breast cancer


As plants begin to flower and bloom and bear fruit after the recent April showers, doctors are advising women that one fruit in particular could be a delicious weapon in the battle against breast cancer.

Researchers at the City of Hope Hospital in California have recently reported that the phytochemicals found in blueberries could prevent the spread of triple-negative breast cancers, which typically can't be treated by other targeted therapies, ABC News reports.

The investigators noticed that when they applied blueberry extracts to cancer cells in the laboratory, the fruit seemed to stop the growth and spread of a malignant tumor.

Dr Lynn Adams, a City of Hope research fellow, said that the positive effect on the animals in the study occurred after they invested about two cups of blueberries each day.

"We actually believe that it's a combination of all the different phytochemicals in blueberries working together that aid in increasing its activity," Adams told the news source.

She added, "We want to give people every weapon in the arsenal that we can to help the prevention and reoccurrence [of breast cancer]."

Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy are currently the most common treatments for breast cancer patients, according to BreastCancer.org.ADNFCR-2795-ID-19731258-ADNFCR

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I am truly blessed.

This quote perfectly explains how I feel about the people I have in my life.


"I believe in angels, the kind that heaven sends, I am surrounded by angels, but I call them family and friends."


The day is Monday, December 6th, I had an appointment with Dr. Ellis to have some blood tests taken. This is the first blood test I've had since starting chemo. I was guessing my blood counts would be low, but I really had no idea what to expect. Just as I thought, they were low. Dr. Ellis wasn't alarmed and said they were just as she expected them to be. Besides just feeling the effects of the chemo, I really haven't been sick. She gave me an antibiotic to start to get my blood counts back up to be ready for the next round of chemo the following week.


After my doctors appointment that day we had made plans to go over to my parents house for dinner. They invited us the previous day. We often go to my parents for dinner, so I just assumed this was dinner like any other time. When the girls and I arrived, my brother Josh, and his fiance Janette, were there also. I wasn't expecting anyone else to be over and was happy to see them. Eric was on his way. A short while later Jan showed up. This was surprising, but not completely out of the ordinary as he is still close to my family. My first thought was this must be a "surprise" dinner for me. Maybe they thought I needed a little "pick me up" or something. We visited for awhile and then Jan asked me to come into the kitchen to talk for a minute. While in there he handed me a box of tissue and told me he had something to show me. He put in a DVD of a slideshow. It didn't take me long to figure out what was going on. The DVD was of a fundraiser that Jan, my friends and family had in my honor. I had no idea any of this had gone on. I was completely overwhelmed with emotion seeing all the faces of my very best friends, family, friends of friends and people I had not seen in years all come together for me. I have felt love by so many people since my diagnosis, but nothing that compared to what I saw on that slideshow. I'm not sure if I stopped crying that whole night. I still cry when I watch the DVD or think of the love and hard work that went into planning that night. I arguably have the best family and friends around.


A special thanks to Jan for making this happen! It means the world to me that you would do this for me! Thank you to all my very best girlfriends who helped coordinate and work this event.


I also want to thank everyone who was able to attend the fundraiser and of course all of the people who made donations. You all fill my heart with love and strength.


I've attached the slideshow. I hope you enjoy!

video

Monday, December 20, 2010

My first chemo treatment.

I found a quote that seemed very fitting for how I was feeling before my first chemotherapy treatment:

"I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I've bought a big bat. I'm all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!" - Dr. Seuss

My first treatment was on Monday, November 29, 2010, and I was both eager and anxious to get started, though I had no idea what I was facing that day. But knew I was ready to get it started. I would have started chemo the day after I found out the diagnosis if I could. My sister, Breanna, went to this appointment with me. She was great! She and my parents made me a "chemo blanket" to make sure I was as comfortable as possible during treatments. It's so pretty and very cozy, and I plan to bring this blanket with me to each of my appointments. I'd never even thought of something like this. Thankfully, I have other people to help me realize what's going to make me comfortable.

The actual chemotherapy treatment wasn't so bad. They set me up in a little room with a comfortable chair, and of course I had my blanket. The nurses began hooking me up to the I.V.s through my portacath and Breanna and I watched some T.V. The nurse was in and out of the room changing the medications in the I.V., and at one point she sat down with me and talked about some of the changes I would feel when I left the hospital. After my first treatment she told me I would likely lose all my hair before my next treatment - just two weeks away. Though, I have to say, that thought never scared me. I find it just to be a constant reminder that this chemotherapy is inside me killing this awful cancer.

While there, the nurse and I began talking about Vanessa and Brooke. I told her I would be talking with the girls that night about my breast cancer diagnosis. I had wanted to tell them sooner, but there never seemed to be a good time. I just wasn't ready and wanted to make sure I was educated enough to be able to explain it in a way they could understand. My mom had given me a pamphlet on how to explain this diagonisis with children and how they may react at each age, which I found very helpful. It said that I couldn't make any promises to them when asked questions such as "was I going to be ok," or "are you going to die." Just reading those words nearly killed me. As a parent you always want to assure them everything is going to be ok and I couldn't do this. I knew I had to be as positive about this as possible as they would feel my energy.

Before I left the hospital a women came into my room with three childrens books telling stories about breast cancer and the effects of chemotherapy. I was so grateful, and seemingly little things like this to them, were major things to me. These were the exact comforts I needed, and  made me more comfortable in my decision to select Swedish Cancer Institute for my treatment. With everything going on and things happening so fast I hadn't had a lot of time to think of something like that. I read through the books that night to kind of prepare myself, too, for what we would be reading.

My sister and I left the hospital after about 5 hours. I was exhausted, but feeling pretty well considering. We went to my parents where Jan, the girls dad, and the girls were waiting. I wanted to talk to them right away and just get it out of the way. We all sat down and I told them mommy has breast cancer and what that meant. Brooke didn't understand much, just that mommy was sick. Vanessa understood a little more. She said she has heard of breast cancer, so I asked her if she had any questions and she said not yet, but that she would soon. She had to process all this first. We talked about it a little more and I explained to them I would be taking medicine that would sometimes make mommy not feel very well and that my hair would fall out. The girls thought that was silly. I promised them that when that time came, we could go together and try on wigs, an idea they liked a lot. They were both so sweet that night and hugged me a little tighter and a little longer all night. My sweet girls. We all went to Red Robin after to kind of lighten the mood and have a fun time. I was feeling a lot of relief in how well the evening had gone.

Later that evening, I got the girls tucked into bed and told them we'd be able to read some stories about breast cancer the next evening. I started to not feel very well and decided to go to bed as well. Within a few hours I woke up feeling very ill and a little scared. I was up the majority of the night, but thankfully Eric stayed up with me the whole time to make sure I was ok and to ensure I knew I wasn't alone. He even got up in the morning and went to work after only two hours of sleep.

The next morning I woke up with very little sleep and very little energy. Both Jan and Justine came over to help me get the girls ready for school, and to make sure I had everything I needed. Justine brought over everything she could think of to make me feel better. :) Just having her there made me feel better. I slept pretty much that whole day and began to feel better. Looking back on it now,  I felt like everything went pretty well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thank you for your support!

Since the day I found out I have breast cancer, I have been completely overwhelmed with the love, support and kindness from so many people. I've always known, and took pride in, the fact that I have such wonderful people in my life, but everyone has proved to be even more wonderful than I ever thought possible. Everyday I receive texts, emails and cards offering support, inspiration or just to tell me you are thinking of me. Every single one of these messages makes me stronger and puts a bigger smile on my face. How could I not beat this with so many amazing people fighting for me and right a long side of me. I have not once felt like this was a battle I'm fighting alone. That is a very good feeling.  


You all are amazing and I am truly honored to have you in my life!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How it all started...

For those of you who know me well, you know that I spend a lot of time in my own head...thinking. And those of you who know me well, by the time I've done all my thinking, I'm exhausted and don't feel like talking about it. :) Therefore, I decided to start this blog for two reasons: to keep everyone updated on how I'm doing and also to get a lot of this stuff off my chest. 

Let me start by explaining how this journey began for me. It was late-October during breast cancer awareness month and I was sitting in my room watching T.V. before I went to bed. A commercial came on talking about breast cancer awareness, and I thought to myself, "What the heck, I should just check." I was just sitting there so why not. I started feeling my left breast first and right away felt something that felt odd. I went on to feel the right breast as I was always told I should feel the same types of things in both breasts. Well, the hardness I felt in my left breast was not in my right breast. I obsessively started feeling around. Finally, I got up from bed and went to the living room where my boyfriend, Eric, was watching T.V. I had him feel the hardness that I was feeling. He immediately said it didn't feel normal either, and that I should call the doctor. It was so weird. I had just been to my primary doctor, Joni Ghormley, two weeks prior for my annual visit and had a breast exam. At that time my doctor did not feel anything abnormal. 

About a week-and-a-half went by before I went back to Dr. Ghormley. I just kind of brushed it aside and thought it was probably normal. That entire week my mom and Eric had asked me if I'd made an appointment to get it looked at. I finally did. I went that day thinking I left work early for no reason and that she would tell me it was just firm tissue or something. Dr. Ghormley felt the hardness I was feeling and too seemed concerned. She wanted me to have a mammogram and ultrasound done right away. She even said if they can't get you in right away to call her back and let her know. I left there feeling a lot of different things: I was in shock that she actually thought it was something to be concerned about, but I was also thinking there is no way this could happen to me. 

I called the Valley Breast Center first thing the next morning and was able to get in within the next couple of days. It was Wednesday, November 3rd. I tell you that date because everything happened so quickly after. I went that day to have the mammogram and ultrasound. Everything seemed pretty routine. No one was really acting too concerned until the doctor came in. He started asking me questions like, "Have you had any infections recently?," "Had that area been hurting?" I had not had any infections, nor had the area been hurting. He finally said the dreadful words I'd hear several times. "This mass we see is what cancer looks like." My stomach dropped. That is not at all what I expected to hear that day. He went on to say that it could of course be many other things and a biopsy would need to be done. Needless to say, I left there not feeling as confident as I was hoping, but, I still stayed positive about the situation. 

I scheduled the biopsy for the following Monday, November 8th, and that was the appointment where I think I really knew I had breast cancer. I'm not sure what it was about this appointment, but I left there pretty certain of the results. During this visit I was told again that "this is what cancer looks like." I had come to hate those words. I kept this feeling pretty much to myself as I didn't want to send out any negative energy or worry anyone. The next few days were complete agony for me as I anxiously awaited the test results. I suspected I would get the results on Thursday, so I went to work that day thinking I could use the distraction. As you can imagine, I didn't do any work that day. My mind was racing out of control. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and asked my manager, Kathy, who coincidentally, is a breast cancer survivor and the only person at work who knew what was going on, if I could come to her office and talk. I couldn't bare to sit at my desk another moment. I brought my phone with me in case they called while I was with her. No more than 2 minutes later, my phone rang. It was Valley Breast Center. There was a short exchange of hellos and then she went right into my results. "The results came back positive." I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing. I don't really remember anything she said after that. I wrote some stuff down and got off the phone. Kathy immediately grabbed me and held me while I cried...harder than I had ever cried before. Looking back, something in me must have known they were going to call me then and I had to be with her. I sent Eric a text and told him the results and asked him to please come get me. He was there within minutes. Kathy didn't leave my side until he got there. She was so great! That car ride home was kind of a blur. I called my normal doctor to try and get some more information, and while on hold with her I tried to convince myself that I must have heard wrong. I just knew she was going to tell me she didn't know what I was talking about. That didn't happen as she confirmed the terrible news. She gave me the name of the surgeon, Dr. Tori McFall, who would go over all the pathology results. I wasn't able to get in to see Dr. McFall until the following Monday. That night I was with Eric, my parents, my sister and my two best, and longest friends, Jenny and Justine. My first reaction was I wanted to be alone, but they wouldn't let me. Thankfully. This, actually, was exactly what I needed.

That weekend was probably the longest of my life, though I got through it knowing I already had breast cancer. That was the worst of it right?

Monday, November 15th came and I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't know much about breast cancer. I just knew it wasn't good and I didn't want it. I did know, however, that there was a positive and negative type of breast cancer and that if I were to have it I'd want the positive. As Dr. McFall was going over everything with me all could think about was if it was positive or negative. She got to that part...I have a triple negative breast cancer (learn more about Triple Negative Breast cancer at http://tnbcfoundation.org/). I think my heart stopped. She informed me that this was a very aggressive breast cancer and my tumor was on the larger side. She instantly asked if had an oncologist in mind. With my days before this appointment, I had spent time researching Seattle-based oncologists and spent time talking to other breast cancer survivors, so I felt I had done my research and knew who I wanted to treat me. In fact, I had already begun making calls. I told her the oncologist I had hoped to see, Dr. Erin Ellis at Swedish Cancer Institute, was booked out four weeks. Dr. McFall jumped up and made a call to Dr. Ellis' office right then and there and was able to get me in on the following Wednesday, November 17th. What a relief! While there, she also told me about, and suggested I take, a test called the BRCA gene test. This would tell me if I am a carrier of the gene that causes breast cancer. Of course I wanted to do this as I immediately thought of my two daughters, Vanessa (6) and Brooke (4) and what this could mean for them and their future, and I went in first thing the next morning to take the test. I subsequently found out a couple weeks later that I was not a carrier of this gene. Phew! That was some great news that was much needed! 

The following Wednesday was a busy day for doctor's appointments. I went and had an MRI in the morning, which would tell me if the cancer had spread to the right breast or lymph nodes, and then went and met with Dr. Ellis later in the afternoon. Dr. Ellis talked with me again about the type of breast cancer I had, the chemothreapy treatment she had already planned in advance, and her thoughts on the results it could bring, specifically for me and my type of breast cancer. The chemotherapy plan I would be on would be a six-month plan, and Dr. Ellis said I'd need to start chemotherapy as quickly as possible.

The following week, the week of Thanksgiving, was filled with appointments to get a portacath installed along with a bone scan and CT/petscan. A portacath is a small medical appliance that is installed beneath the skin. A catheter connects the port to a vein under the skin and has a septum through which the chemotherapy drugs could be injected and blood samples, which would soon become a weekly occurence for me, could be drawn many times, usually with less discomfort than the typical "needle stick." I had the bone scan on Monday, the CT/petscan on Tuesday and the portacath installed on Wednesday. These tests were major tests as they would tell me if the cancer had spread, but the portacath instillation was a relatively minor procedure. Dr. Ellis knew that waiting on the test results would cause a lot of anxiety and didn't want me to wait over the long holiday weekend so she had me come back in a few hours after my appointments to go over the results. She gave me the best possible news she could give me. The cancer was contained within my left breast and had only spread to four lymph nodes. Finally, news seemed to get better each time I saw her. The next good news was that I was going to start chemotherapy on Monday, November 29th. I was very anxious to get started and get this nasty cancer out of my body!