Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Hi, everyone! I just want to share something amazing with all of you.

I just got home a little while ago from another trip up to Tuscon to see Dr. Lang about a glitch with my remaining drain. Not a big deal. I got to get the drain out which feels heavenly, but have to wear an ace wrap around my chest for a week or so. Not fun in this heat. It is warm and very itchy! I met with the radiologist yesterday and things are in the works to start my treatments some time next week. My radiologist's name is Dr. Tannehill and I really liked him. He actually worked with Dr. Livingston and Dr. Lang in Tuscon up until a couple of months ago and has just recently relocated to Scottsdale. How awesome is it that I'm able to go to a radiologist here close to home that comes very highly recommended by my doctors in Tuscon?! He spent quite a bit of time talking with Joe, Pam, and I explaining everything and answering all of our questions. He and the other two radiologists at this radiological center specialize in breast cancer patients. That is all they do. It was pretty scary listening to all the short term and long term side effects, but it is something I need to do. I left feeling that if I had to do this, at least I was in expert hands, again.

Anyway, as you all know, the last few days have been a little rough emotionally. I really thought I was coming to the end of my treatment, only to find I still have a ways to go. My feelings have been a lot like when I was first diagnosed. Sad and scared, but also anxious to get the fight going. My last chemo was a little over a month ago, so any cancer cells left in my body have had a bit of a vacation. I'm ready to go again and do whatever it is I need to do to get rid of them!

Ok. Here is the speechless part. I was just sitting in the living room, working on a knitting project, feeling physically and emotionally tired out from a couple of long days, when Joe came in with the mail. He handed me a large manila package from his cousin, Mary Monica, who lives in California. I think I've met Mary Monica twice, both times back when Joe and I were first married. She is a breast cancer survivor, also, and has been in touch with us (mostly Joe, I'm shy about getting on the phone) frequently since I was diagnosed with words of encouragement, support, and advice. When I opened the package, my breath was literally taken away and then I just started to cry. Inside was a beautiful chain of paper cranes folded by Mary Monica and her friends for me. If you don't know the story behind Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, you can visit to learn more. Mary Monica had no way to know that I share this story with my students each year and teach them how to fold cranes. I hope she doesn't mind if I share her beautiful words here.

"This chain of paper cranes were inspired by the Sadako World Peace Project. They also represent my hopes, prayers, and wishes for you on your journey through breast cancer to regain your health, strength, (hair), and make a full recovery."

How can I possibly be down or sad or discouraged when I have wonderful, beautiful people like Mary Monica and all the rest of you rooting for me. Every time all of the medical information and treatment and side effects become overwhelming, it is met by the overwhelming love and support of my family and friends. My mind is literally without words to describe my feelings. I am speechless. Yet, my heart and spirit are filled with love and joy.

Thank you, Mary Monica! Thank you everyone! I hold each of you close in my heart.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Everything Plus the Kitchen Sink/Back in Battle Mode/D*#*m

Hey, everyone! Well, as you can see, I struggled with what to name this post. There were a few other variations on the last effort I could have listed and I'm not a person that uses bad language - ever, but like Janaya likes to point out to me fairly often, there are just some instances when nothing but a well delivered, deeply felt curse word is all that will do.

More chemo. :>(

We met with Dr. Lang at 10:30 this morning and got one of the two remaining drains removed. Luckily, it was the one that was causing me a lot of discomfort. I still have one drain left, but we're hoping it may be able to come out by Friday. She is very happy with how I've done and says my incisions look amazing - something only a surgeon could really truly appreciate. Actually, though, I am pleased, too. It is still very weird to look in the mirror at my chest, but not revolting. Just different. I won't have to see her for six months unless, as she says, I have any nodes or other things come up that I'd like her to check out. Sorry Dr. Lang, I love you, but am not planning on giving you any repeat business if I can help it. :>)

My appointment with Dr. Livingston wasn't until 3:30, so Joe, Pam, and I went to Paradise Bakery for lunch and then to the Degracia Studio. He is the artist that does those well known Indian works. After that, there was just time to stop for Cold Stone and then back to the Cancer Center.

I knew right away Dr. Livingston seemed more serious than he usually does. You might remember a couple of months ago I wrote about the radiologist who explained to me about the cancer cells that survive chemo being the hardy ones that are hard to get rid of. Well, those are the ones that made it out of my breast and into the lymph nodes. Dr. Lang removed the lymph nodes she could find, but there are others under the chest wall muscle that aren't removed during surgery and Dr. Livingston says we could assume that there is a good chance that they have some cancer cells in them.

So, here is the plan of attack:

- Meet with the radiologist tomorrow and hopefully, if my drain comes out by Friday, start radiation on Monday. Radiation usually lasts about six and a half weeks, Monday through Friday.
-Take an oral chemo drug called Xeloda which will potentiate the effect of the radiation as well as work on its own against the cancer cells.
-Go back to see Dr. Livingston in eight weeks when I've finished radiation and he will increase the Xeloda dose and put me on one of two other chemo drugs which will be once a week through my port. I will be on this chemo for twelve weeks.
-Start a drug called Zometa which helps prevent bone metastasis, through my port once a month for six months and then every three months for three years.

A little overwhelming to say the least, but at least I know they are doing everything possible to help me beat this disease.

Both doctors agreed I will be able and should return to work. My principal, Sheila, wants me to come back. I've signed my contract for next year already. And, I am not whole without teaching in my life. Dr. Livingsgton said the hardest part will be fatigue, but I think I get more physically and emotionally tired being home, missing being at school than I will actually teaching.

So, that is the plan. Part of me wants to crawl into my bed and just cry, but a much bigger part is glad I have a doctor who is treating me so aggressively and I really want to do my part. Too many tears and negative energy can not possibly help.

I also wanted to say thank you to all of my wonderful friends who have delivered dinners all this past week. Amazing dinners. Five star restaurant dinners. My weight today was up two pounds from last week! :>) Knowing I'm going back on chemo, this is awesome. It was so nice at the end of each day to not have to even think about what we were going to make for dinner or to clean up. Thank you all!

Closing with a picture I had Joe take of me just now in the backyard. A new hat I bought at the Cancer Center gift shop. I have completely abandoned wearing my wig. It is like wearing a wool cap in the middle of the Sahara desert. I guess with more chemo coming up I'm going to have to be resigned to being bald a while longer. Darn. I hate being bald. Anyway, I loved this hat and wanted to end my post with something happy.

Love you all tons!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pathology Results

Hi, everyone. We're back from Tucson and the news isn't great, but not horrible either. Dr. Lang did not have the official final pathology report yet, but had spoken on the phone to the pathologist. He told her that the cancer in my breast tissue had been eradicated, but six out of six lymph nodes she removed (all she could find) were positive for cancer cells. The good thing is they're out now. She did not think I would have to be on chemo again. She said Dr. Livingston will have some ideas for things to do to try and prevent metastasis. I will be seeing Dr. Livingston on Monday and will know more then. I will also be seeing the radiologist next week in order to take the first steps in getting ready for radiation. Now, they will irradiate a larger area that includes the axilla instead of just the chest wall.

Dr. Lang said 30 to 50% of patients with advanced breast cancer will develop recurrence within five years. Five year survival rates are around 60%. She also stressed that these are overall numbers and are really no indication how any one individual will do. She also said they include all patients with all different treatment plans. I have had very aggressive, cutting edge treatment and will continue to do so.

So, not the news I was hoping for, but it is what it is and we move forward from here. I've given myself permission to be sad for a little, but know that too much of that is counterproductive. Thankful that I'm going through this when there are so many treatment options and hope.

Love you all!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Home Sweet Home!

Hi, everyone! Just wanted to let you know we arrived home safely around 1:00 yesterday. The staff at the hospital - everyone we met from the preop waiting area, the OR, the RR, and the women's ward where I spent the night - were absolutely wonderful, but it still feels great to be back home.

I am doing great. The biggest discomfort comes from the drains they put in under the skin. I have two on the left and one on the right. Fluid naturally accumulates under the skin as a result of the surgery. The drains remove that fluid so I can heal. When each drain drains less than 30ml of fluid in a day, they will be ready to come out. I am taking my Vicodin regularly so that I can do slow, easy stretching exercises. I am very pleased so far with my mobility and am trying to avoid stiffening up. Dr. Lang will be referring me to a physical therapist that specializes in working with mastectomy patients to help me build up my muscle strength again after I've had a chance to heal some.

I am able to take a shower and did so last night. It was heavenly! The warm water relaxed all of my muscles and I felt clean and fresh afterwards.

The incisions aren't so bad. I had thought I was pretty prepared for what to expect, but I don't think you can really know how you're going to react until you're faced with the real thing. I had thought I would be bandaged up and there would be this big unveiling at the doctor's office when it was time for the drains to come out. Instead, I came out of surgery with a bra on that fastens in the front and it was packed with lots of soft gauze (remember those junior high years girls?). That night in my room, the nurse asked Joe and I if we were ready to learn how to clean the drain sites and put on new dressings. We said yes and that was it. No big deal. No tears. The nurse was very matter of fact about it and Joe and I felt very comfortable. I'm pretty lumpy right now. You can see the drainage tubes under the skin and there are steristrips along the incision, but I can already tell it's going to look ok when everything heals.

I guess my blood pressure was pretty low during the surgery and so they ended up giving me five and a half liters of fluid. I looked a little bit like the Michellin Man the first night after surgery, but the swelling is starting to slowly go down.

Pam, Joe, and Janaya have been wonderful. My girlfriend, Carol, has arranged for friends to bring meals for us for the next week. I have recieved the nicest notes and words of encouragement. It is amazing how technology has enabled us to keep in touch with and be there for each other in ways we weren't in the past. Over and over throughout this journey, I've witnessed people dealing with similar or more difficult situations with little or no support system. I will be forever grateful for all of you and the love you've shown me.

I am going to close this post with a saying someone posted on a breast cancer support site. I read it a couple of weeks ago and it really helped me have the right frame of mind going into this surgery. Here it is:

"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn-out, shouting "Holy Sh*t, what a ride!"

Isn't that great!

Love you all!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In My Room and Doing Great!

Hi, everyone! I have been in my room for about two hours now and am doing great! I saw Dr. Lang in the recovery room and she seemed very pleased with how everything went. They did do some frozen sections during the surgery of some breast tissue and lypmph nodes and they were all negative. We will have a complete pathology report when we have my follow up appointment on Wednesday.

I am having very little discomfort so far. I have two drains on the left side and one on the right. The one on the right is pretty sore, but they gave me Vicodin and it feels much better.

They gave me a menu to order dinner and I'm having macaroni and cheese, mashed potatos with gravy, a chocolate brownie cupcake, and a slice of carrot cake! My appetite has come back with a vengence! After that, I plan on crawling into bed and going to sleep. I'm tired!

Thank you everyone for all your prayers and good thoughts today. I am so glad to have this behind me!

LOve you all!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Surgery Tomorrow!

Well, my surgery date is finally here. The past three weeks have gone by very fast. I've vacillated between wanting the time to slow down because I'm, in my heart, dreading the surgery, and wanting the time to fly by so I can get this behind me. But, by this time tomorrow I'll be in surgery, so it's time to just face it and get it done with. It will definitely be a relief to have it over with. I've looked at pictures on the Internet and so I know what to expect. Totally gives a new meaning to having a boyish figure! I've bought some pretty feminine tops and new pajamas so I have something to look forward to wearing afterwards. It's funny how new, pretty clothes can make almost any situation bearable!

My family and friends have been wonderful over the last couple of weeks. I've never laughed so much or felt so loved!

Spa day was a hit! The massage was great, but the facial was heavenly! My skin has taken a beating from the chemo and the skin on my face had become dried out and has big brown blotches and lots of wrinkles that weren't there before. The facial left my skin feeling softer than I can remember in a long time. Also, now that I'm done with the chemo, it's not nearly so dry and the brown blotches are so very slowly starting to fade. No eyebrows yet, but one and a half eyelashes! We also had lunch, hung out by the pool, sat in the suana, and lounged in the jacuzzi. Here's a picture of Pam, Janaya, and me waiting to go in for our massages.

Notice my new wig? It's so funny because everyone who sees me in it for the first time exclaims, "You got your hair cut!"

I had a great time visiting Pam and her family in NJ and also got to drive up and see Joe's family.

Joe and I spent this past weekend up in Flagstaff visiting Joey and had a great time. His first summer class, public speaking, started last week and he is enjoying it so far. He also got hired to work at the NAU Dome and loves it. Friday night they did all three of Flagstaff's high school graduations. He is really looking forward to having spending money without having to call home for it. First thing on his list - a new long board.

My friend, Jo, hosted a girl's lunch for me this week and it was wonderful! Then, I went to happy hour with the Margarita Express, minus Carol who was sick, :>( on Monday. Lunch yesterday with Janaya and Michael. Add into all this activity that my brain must be confused as to why I'm going to the hospital because I've developed nesting syndrome and haven't been able to stop cleaning, and the time has gone by very fast.

I plan on taking my new mini computer with me to Tuscon and will post as soon as I'm able. Pam will post on facebook as soon as my surgery is over to let everyone know how it went. The plan is to be discharged by noon on Friday and as long as everything has gone smoothly, which I know it will, be home Friday afternoon.

There have been studies done that show that people who laugh and who have the love and support of family and friends heal better and also have less chance of recurrence. All of you are a very important part, the most important part, of my medical team. You're all awesome and I love each of you so very much!

Talk to you soon!
Love you!

PS: All of my girlfriends know why I added Heat Wave to my song list. Can you guess? :>)