August 28, 2011

Uncomfortably Numb

I've been seeing some sort of medical professional every weekday for ten days now. At least I got the weekends off.

Friday I had a medi-port put in my chest just under my skin. It provides easy access for infusion of chemo drugs, which starts tomorrow. I will have my son take me to work, and a colleague who is just finishing her regimen will be my "chemo buddy" for my first time. Since Ben has to work, my neighbor Dee is going to babysit me tomorrow evening. (Abe returns from his national meeting on Thursday.)

I realized something yesterday: I haven't been listening to music for the past ten days. I always do in my car and often in my office as well. Each time I think of starting up the iPod, my thought has been "No, not now." It took me a while to figure out why, since music is so important to me.

Music reaches me where nothing else can, even the lame pop stuff. The powerful pieces are especially emotive for me, and that's what is stopping me. Music doesn't give me a feeling, it reflects it. I play what I feel. And I feel numb. There is no music without feeling, and so I cannot play it. It feels wrong. I did try once, but it became background noise and I turned it off.

Perhaps there is a danger in letting myself feel too much right now. I do okay at work and I entertain myself at home. But in the car, when there's nothing to distract me, I cry. It's okay, crying is good for me. But I must be holding back for fear of what may be there.

I have friends who are clamoring to help and have no way to do it from afar. But I thought of a way that anyone with just a little time can be a genuine help to me: make me laugh. No more than once a day—because I'm expecting a lot—write me a funny story about you, find me a link, send me a picture. I love to laugh, and I know it's good for me. Help me find my way back to the music.

Love you guys.

August 23, 2011

Positive Prognosis

After a series of appointments with increasingly bad news, I finally got some good news: the cancer has NOT metastasized; that means it has not spread to other parts of my body. That strong breeze you feel is my sigh of relief. What a weight has been lifted! And hope returns.

We are still waiting for the results of the HER2 test, which will determine which of two chemotherapy regimens I will follow. The first session of chemo will be this Monday. Meanwhile, I have to get ready. Today I got an echocardiogram that assured I have a strong heart. Tomorrow I get my teeth cleaned, because apparently it's really a bad idea to do that when your immune system is suppressed. After another biopsy tomorrow, on Friday I will have a mediport put in under my skin near the collarbone to provide an access point for the chemo drugs directly to the bloodstream.

I've been told to expect my hair to fall out about three weeks after the first chemo session. Since they say it's not as traumatic to lose short hair, I'm getting my hair cut very short next week. And now people will start calling me "sir" again. But hair grows back.

Sometime around Christmas I will have a full mastectomy and begin radiation. I may also be continuing a lower dose of chemo.

I have to say this is really quite inconvenient. I have things to do. But I have an army of eager supporters awaiting orders on how they might help. I really don't know yet, but when I need help, I will ask. People have been absolutely amazing. Astonishing grace abounds, waiting to be expressed. Once again, I am its recipient.

Life is good.

August 20, 2011

Diagnosis And Treatment

I had my MRI on Wednesday, and Abe and I met with my surgeon on Friday. She took us through the steps of Cancer 101 and explained the findings of the tests.

I have a fast-growing type of cancer that has spread to my skin and lymph nodes. At this point the plan is to have me start an aggressive program of chemotherapy followed by a complete mastectomy and radiation. There may be more. She sent me stat to Radiology for a bone scan and CT scan to see if it has spread further. While only the tests can tell us for certain, she used language in our meeting to indicate there is a real possibility of that.

The results of those scans might be with my oncologist when I meet with her Monday morning. I can’t help but notice all the lead times for results are being expedited and I’m being rushed to tests that normally take many days to get appointments and a week or more to get results.

Abe held off leaving for his national meeting, but he left today. He can’t do much here but hold me, and I love being in his arms. But now he’s turning his energy to what he CAN do, and that is his job. If he stays in the top ten nationally, as he has for over two decades, we might have the money to pay for all this. He will be on a plane in minutes if I ask him to be.

Meanwhile, my network of breast cancer survivors is kicking into gear. I’ve never seen anything like it. One survivor owns a day spa nearby, and on Mondays when all the other spas are closed, she opens for women fighting breast cancer and offers all services for free. That’s just a tip of the iceberg. Let me tell you, some women really know how to nurture. They are closing in around me in a warm circle of hope. I have to be honest: I need it.

I’m scared. Maybe Monday’s appointment will help me be less apprehensive about the future. A friend—one of many who are breast cancer survivors—will be with me. She had a double mastectomy a few years ago and is doing fine. She will be able to ask the questions I can’t think of yet. My head is spinning and all I know to do right now is stay busy with my work.

Shit. Pray for me, please.

August 16, 2011


Yesterday I learned that I have breast cancer. Apparently having had cancer (melanoma) before does not mean squat in preparing you to hear that word again. After I finished crying and cursing, my thought was “I’m not done!” I have so much to do before I leave this mortal coil; I don’t have time for this.

I’m still in shock. I don’t know enough—does one ever?—about this most common type: invasive ductal carcinoma. I have several friends who have been through it who are helping me choose doctors and know what to expect. The Female Medical Support Network has always been far more informative for me than any doctor, and this time is no different.

This really came out of nowhere. There is no history of it in my family at all, and I can’t think of anything that would make me more at risk than anyone else. It’s just a roll of the dice. I knew something was up when an apparent “infection” did not change over four weeks. The mammogram led to an ultrasound and a biopsy, all within a 2½ hour visit last Thursday. The ultrasound showed three spots that lit up when the doctor scanned for heightened blood flow. I suspect he knew then, but they don’t say anything until the lab results come back.

I will be having an MRI this week and probably surgery next week. I don’t know what sort of follow-up treatment will be required; more tests are in order.

I have told my family and friends, and the response has been wonderful. This may sound odd for anyone who has not experienced it, but I am looking forward to the overwhelming grace which has already begun to surround me. It happened when I had melanoma, and it really helped me deal with my fears. “Cancer” is a frightening word, and, yes, I am scared. While a number of my friends are survivors of breast cancer, three were not.

I will not go gently into that good night. I’m not done. Since this is my reality right now, I will be writing about it. Bear with me, and come along on this roller coaster of a ride.

August 1, 2011

Overheard: Heaven Scent

Abe and I split a breakfast at Perkin's and hugged in the parking lot to go our separate ways. Abe held me a little longer than usual.

"You smell good."

I don't wear cologne. "I smell like bacon!"


They really need to bottle that stuff.