I've actually felt normal the last two days. With the optimistic oncologist report on Tuesday, and the beautiful fall weather, things seem to be pretty normal again. Sometimes I even forget about the cancer. I love that.

I've started to feel creative again and the need to try a project or craft has skyrocketed into the forefront of my brain. My fingers are itching to paint something. I don't know how to paint anything really (except I can paint walls pretty good), but I really want to learn how. I'd love to get a large canvas and play with different mediums to see what I could come up with. That could get expensive though. I'll have to figure out how to re-use them if I mess up. I also dreamed up something I want to do in my living room finally. The room goes all the way up into the 2nd floor where the upper floor has a balcony looking down. The walls that are there have a lot of angles and ledges, so I've been somewhat stumped on how to decorate the room. Currently the whole room has drab flat beige painted walls which, in contrast to the beautifully textured kitchen walls, look quite boring.

Yesterday was a 90 minute MRI. It is a good thing I'm not claustrophobic. The MRI should tell the doctor whether the rest of the cancer is localized and can be easily excised with another surgery, or if it is wide-spread and requires a mastectomy. I will get the prognosis on Wednesday when I have my next appointment. I'm hoping for the former followed by the 6 weeks of radiation. It looks like I won't have to have the 5 years of Tamoxifen, which can have some bad side affects, because I can simply stop my hormone creams which will essentially do the same thing. Nice. Though James is concerned for himself about the possibility of me getting all cranky on him.

So, all in all, this week was a good week. Things are looking up. I'm starting to look up and take note of my beautiful life again.


Weight Lifting

James and I spent Tuesday afternoon (the 15th) with some new physicians that were recommended to me by two cancer survivors. I decided that two recommendations meant they must be good, and we both wanted a second opinion. The Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center is one of only a few cancer care clinics that combine medical oncology with naturopathic oncology. We met with the medical oncologist first for about an hour and then with the naturopathic doctor for another hour.

As a result of this visit, I've now made a choice to get my care from Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center in Renton. It is a lot better commute, close to my new job location which I'll be going in to at least 2 days a week (I'll be telecommuting the other three days). So convenience was also a factor.

After our first oncologist visit over a week ago, the strong recommendation to have a mastectomy didn't sit well with either of us. Our visit with Dr. Cunningham yesterday was a visit filled with optimism. We both left feeling a weight had lifted off of our shoulders. Barring a bad MRI on Friday, we can still proceed with breast conservation/preservation. Yeah! It will most likely mean I'll have another surgery to remove some more tissue and then commence radiation treatment. Given the family history of cancer on both my maternal and paternal side, they are doing a heredity test if insurance will cover it (it costs $3000). A positive results may mean a long-term care path that is much more watchful and full of even more preventative measures. I don't know what that means yet, but we'll cross that bridge when/if we get there.

I'm also excited to begin the naturopathic remedies given to me. There are a lot of non-medicinal things I can do, eat, and supplements that will work towards keeping me cancer free for years to come. I was happy to hear that many of the things I've been doing were high on their list, so it won't mean a huge life style change; things like eating organic, juicing, high vegetable intake, lean meats, and minimal red meat. It did become apparent I have to step up my exercising though - no surprise. They also recommended supplements that will take into account my low thyroid, fibromyalgia, and the cancer. It felt good to be looking at the big picture instead of just the cancer itself. Next week I'll be getting started on the supplement regime with things like: Ashwaganda, Turmeric, ground flax seeds, green tea, and more.

So, all-in-all, I feel uplifted with this new opinion. I feel a return of hope that I may actually be able to proceed with a more minimally invasive approach.

I can do this.


Naked Vulnerability

I finally said the words out loud. I'm scared. I was talking with my daughter a day or so ago, and I said it. There's something about the "C" word that spawns this ugly fear. I've known several people who have died and several who are survivors. But the fact that there are non-survivors sponsors the fear. The statistics, though improving over the last 25 years, spawns the fear.

Being brutally honest here, the idea of looking down and seeing a vacant spot where my breasts were doesn't sit well with me. The idea of putting on a cute nightie and having the bodice hang loose and unfilled sounds grotesque. How can I be attractive to my darling husband with a scarred, or two scarred remnants of breasts? How can he possibly be attracted to this misconfigured person? Oh my head knows he loves me, and my heart loves him deeply to the core. But I'm struggling with reconciling the knowledge how how men work and how my husband has cherished me and my body all these years. I don't understand. My sorrow is deep.

But then my darling husband, hoping to cheer me up, said he could only handle a half rack anyway. (He had just watched an Outback Steakhouse commercial touting their ribs). Silly James.

I'm feeling better now.


Mortality Musings

Finding out I have cancer really opened up a lot of avenues of thought I've never really pursued before. Specifically, I have been re-thinking my priorities. Relationships take a front seat, that's for sure. Even though my cancer is in the early stage (stage 1), it makes the life I do have on this earth very precious. None of us really know how much time we do have. I have found some silver in the lining of my cloud. Finally some things are coming into better focus; things I should have paid more consideration to now have my full attention. Other things are moving into the background at a rapid pace.

I was snuggling next to my six year old niece the other day while watching the NASCAR race. She was trying to pick a new driver to follow (she's bailing on Biffle for some reason) and I offered to share my driver, Denny Hamlin. She liked that idea a lot. During this and other meaningful discussions with her, like what to name a kitten that she wants for Christmas, a thought crossed my mind. What if I knew I only had one year left with her? Ten years? Or only twenty? How would it change me? How would it change my relationship with her and others I love? The magnitude of that thought brought tears to my eyes. Normally I would shake it off and not even consider dwelling on such a morbid thought but this time I let myself. Immediately I teared up. How precious she is to me. How painful it would be for her to experience the loss of a close family member. Now, I plan on being around for dozens and dozens of years to come, but it did bring some poignant thoughts about priorities.

Climbing the corporate ladder - I am realizing my top priority is keeping a good job, not putting myself into a stressful one, or clawing my way through the anxieties of the corporate political game. I've been doing that for years and now I don't care so much. I just need a good, safe, well-paying job - with insurance.

Acquiring Things - Instead of spending thousands on a new couch or wall hanging, or purchasing the newest gadgets or updating our vehicles, the thought of spending that money to go places with my sweet husband and build memories with him are much more to my liking; his too. We both have found that our longer trips of 3 to 6 weeks build some amazing camaraderie and strengthen our bonds of love when we have that uninterrupted time together. Needless to say, we both are really craving that right now.

Time-Wasters - This one is a little harder. I have a lot of things that I do that are time-wasters: internet browsing (it's research, right?) and TV are the big ones. There are a lot of things I like to do that have sat dormant for a long time. I'd love to learn how to paint. I like to cook. I like to write. I need to exercise more. There are so many activities that I've pushed aside for the stupid time-wasters. I really need to get a grip on that and start living my more creative life.

I have always been very goal oriented; writing them down annually, both long-term and short-term goals. This process has been very successful in helping me achieve the things I want to. But I'm considering re-doing my list now that I think I have a much clearer picture of my life in general. Even though I'm not dying, waiting for diagnosis and prognosis for a span of 10 days makes you think about life and death. How would I live different? How should I live different? How would God want me to live? I believe His answer would be the same whether I had 1 week to live or 50 years still to go.

Now I just have to figure out what that is.


Back to Square One

One of the doctors warned me, saying that this whole process would be a "hurry up and wait" situation. He was right. Now, not only do I have to keep waiting, I have to start over with more tests and the possibility of more surgery. The oncologist I saw yesterday met with his team about my situation (which apparently is not that common) and they are even recommending a full mastectomy now.

I had my follow-up appointment with the surgeon on Thursday September 3rd. The good news is that all of the invasive cancer is gone and none of the lymph nodes were compromised. The troubling part is that the tissue sample did not have "clean margins" where there was good cancer-free edges. It turns out there is another type of cancer in the tissue, albeit a non-invasive type (DCIS). But the sample had a lot of it. So we are now faced with trying to figure out the best course of treatment for that.

James and I left the appointment pretty bummed. We were hearing suggestions to have a mastectomy, more tissue gathering surgery to get clean margins, MRI's, and genetic testing. All this would be minimized if I had just had the bad girl amputated rather than opting for the breast preservation route. The idea of still having the possibility of losing my breast, or both even, is very discouraging. James and I both were pretty frustrated and full of even more questions. By the end of the day we were both just plain tired of talking about it and even thinking about it.

The same "hurry up and wait" doctor also said this was like putting a puzzle together. We have to get as many of the pieces of information as we can in order to find the best course of treatment. We all thought we'd have the information needed by now, but now we need to know more before we can finish this particular puzzle. The oncologist office scheduled and MRI for Friday next week. They need to get a better picture of how much of this other cancer is there and if it wide-spread, in the side, or is it just that small area. Their recommendations will largely be determined by the results of that MRI. Then we can find the right path and start our journey.

People have been great. I've had lots of suggestions, advice, prayers, encouragement, and more. My family has come forward with great love and care as well. My sweet little sister found a pretty pink sapphire breast cancer cure ribbon necklace that I now wear every day close to my heart. Another sister got me a basket for my bike (gotta stay active you know) so I can take my little dog, Trevi, with me on rides. My brother-in-law brought me a DQ Peanut Buster Parfait! Yumm, chocolate and ice cream. What a treat. My niece came and worked in my flower garden. My older sister brought me her juicer and showed me how to juice vegetables for their antioxidant properties, and I now juice lots of stuff and love it. There are so many other wonderful things people have done that I can't even mention them all.

One thing I have discovered, is that James is going through this almost every bit as much as I am. He is with me every step of the way. He has stepped up to this challenge with me like I never thought he would. I cannot imagine not having him with me. He is my sounding board, my shoulder, my pillow, my personal trainer (he makes me get up and be active when I don't want to), my food police (have to eat healthier than ever, right?), my psychiatrist, my retriever, and everything else I could possibly need. He is here and feeling it all the way through step-by-step with me. God sure loved me when he gave me James.

My world is still upside down and I don't know when things will begin to right themselves. It looks like I have a couple more weeks of information gathering to go before we are going to be able to chart the course.

I must work on keeping my chin up. Lord help me.


Bright Spots Here and There

Little Kayla Joy was born this week, on Tuesday.
She weighed 7 lbs 13 oz and is 19 1/2 inches long. She's beautiful. Daniel couldn't be prouder of his new daughter; he grins from ear to ear and loves holding her. Mandy is recovering and they both are home learning the ropes of being new parents. It was the really bright spot of my week.

On Thursday I had my return visit to the surgeon who peformed my lumpectomy and lymph node biopsy. He had the pathology reports at hand and was able to tell me the results. It was primarily good news, (bright spot) but with some bad news thrown in. They got all the invasive cancer and there were no other remnants in the tissue surrounding the area. So that means I'm at Stage 1 (five stages: stage 0 through 4) - bright spot. The bad news was that they did find DCIS, Ductal carcinoma cancer in the surrounding tissue. DCIS cancer is generally not life threatening and has a 99% cure rate; another bright spot.

However, given that there is this other cancer in the tissue and the hormone receptors in the cancer cells tested out positive, it looks like I may have to have long-term hormonal treatment which can be a variety of different drug treatments that I have to do for anywhere from 1 year to 5 years. We'll also have to keep a very close watch for years to come. Apparently they think my recurrence risk is high. Not bright.

So as I began to research these follow-on treatments, I got pretty discouraged. There are a lot of side effects to be aware of. I started checking into these on Friday and spent part of the morning crying in James' arms. Then I went and cheered myself up by visiting Mandy and holding my new little granddaughter for a few hours. That really helped.

I'll find out more about what is likely to happen on Tuesday morning when I have the appointment with an Oncologist (cancer specialist). I'm hoping for a bright spot.