Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When Negative is Positive

WARNING:  The majority of this post details my surgery.  If you're super squeamish or easily bored, skip to the last couple paragraphs. 

So my surgery was last Thursday.  It was hard to go into it with anything other than a positive attitude, what with all of the love and support I had behind me:  There Just Are Not Words.  Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat trepidatious.  Surgery is surgery after all.

My pre-op instructions were easy -- no food or water from midnight on.  I very rarely have any food or water that late.  Except that the knowledge that I couldn't sure did make me thirsty!  I managed to get some sleep, but Thursday morning came early.  David, who is a saint, kindly carted me over to the hospital at 6:30 am, and sat with my while I waited to be called back.  Eventually, they ushered me back to a sort of pre-op holding area where they gave me two lovely light green hospital gowns to don -- one to tie in back, and the other to wrap around me like a robe.  I know they aren't supposed to be fitted or anything, but they certainly were awkward -- none of the ties seemed to line up correctly.  Oh - and there were these nifty green skid-resistant socks, too.  I kind of liked those.

After I was gowned up, the nurse took my temperature, blood pressure, pulse, etc.  By then, my Mom had arrived and was sitting in the room along with David and me.  The nurse had to run through a series of medical history questions with me, and then asked if I had any loose metal or jewelry items.  Oops.  I'd forgotten about the belly ring.  She felt fairly certain that we could just put some tape over it and all would be well.

Finally the time came for them to take me to get wired up.  (The surgery is actually a two-step process -- the first thing they do is insert a wire, using mamography/imaging techniques, which then serves as a guide for the surgeon.)  I waved goodbye to David and my Mom.  From this point on, I was wheeled everywhere and got to experience full hospital patient-hood. There were a couple of points along the way where I'd get wheeled down a hallway and then set some place for a bit until they were ready for me at the next stop.  It gave me time to process the whole patient thing -- it's a rather weird experience, that feeling of being essentially helpless and at the mercy of others.  Especially for a control freak like yours truly.  At some point, though, you just kind of have to resign yourself to it, and remember that in the end, it's all in God's hands.  

For the wire placement, the process was very much like the biopsy.  I had to lie on a table on my stomach again.  The tech apologized for the uncomfortableness of it all.  I warned her she might have to remove the padding on the table in order to position me correctly.  She was scandalized by this thought, but I assured her it wasn't so much the padding issue that caused the discomfort as the having to lie with my head to one side and not move for an extended period of time.  She assured me that this process would not take nearly as long as the biopsy -- and to her credit, it didn't.  Still, I can't wait to go make use of the Massage Envy gift card David was kind enough to donate to me awhile back.  

The tech managed to position me properly without having to remove the pad.  She had me drop my shoulder partially through the hole in the table, too, and that seemed to help.  It took a few images and some repositioning to get me set just so.  And I'll confess, one of those repositionings really squished me and hurt quite a bit. But it wasn't long before I was set up correctly, and a doctor came in to actually place the wire. This involves administering a local anesthetic, and then inserting a hollow needle next to the marker they left behind during the biopsy, then threading a thin wire with a little hook on the end down the needle.  The wire then remains in place and helps the surgeon locate the area that needs to be lumpectosized.  While this was going on, the tech related to the doc that the biopsy team had removed the table padding in order to position me correctly for the biopsy -- this was met with much clucking by the doc to my amusement.  Apparently, this simply is not done! 

After the wire was placed, they sat me up and the tech used some tape to anchor the external portion of the wire so it wasn't sticking out wildly.  I couldn't resist the urge to ask her if I could now pick up FM stations.  (What else are you going to ask when there's a wire sticking out the side of your boob?!)  Then we headed over to the main part of the Breast Care Center for an actual mammogram to verify the wire was where it was supposed to be.  Thankfully, it was, and the tech seemed quite pleased with how everything looked.  I found this encouraging. 

From there, I was wheeled to pre-op. They placed me in a bed, and handed me a lovely cap for my hair. Had to have the nurse help me get it on right, because I wasn't supposed to move my right arm much for fear of pulling on the wire.  It's a little odd there in pre-op.  A lot of activity, doctors and nurses busy charting and making phone calls.  And other patients behind the curtains on either side of you.  There was a gentleman to my right who sounded like quite the character.  He had lots of tats from when he was in the service, and was a big fan of the show Duck Dynasty.  Can't say I blame him re: the latter.

A nurse came over to check on me and ask me a few questions, including the jewelry question again. She seemed a little concerned about the taping solution, but apparently checked and determined it was okay.  I was asked several times for my name, birthdate, what surgery I was having and on which breast.  I figured they'd be able to tell from the wire placement and all, but I'm happy to know they double and triple check these things before proceeding.

The anesthesiologist came over and, after determining I was right-handed, attempted to insert the IV into my left wrist.  Several times.  To no avail.  Like most people, I'm no fan of needles, but I can tolerate shots and IV insertions fairly well.  This attempt really didn't go very well, and the anesthesiologist was quite apologetic for it. Frankly, it felt like he was squeezing my wrist flat.  He worried I was going to have an awful bruise there and hate him for it.  I assured him that he was forgiven, but did warn him that I've been blogging about all this and so would certainly include that part, since I was awake for it.  I told him not to worry, though - I wouldn't use his name.  The nurse came over and, after letting me use my right hand to sign off on the consent form, inserted the IV in the right wrist without much ado.  Truth be told, I have mild bruises on both wrists, but certainly nothing traumatic.  

The surgeon came over to check in with me and see how I was doing.  She said we were ready to go as soon as the OR opened up.  She looked me over, contemplated the incision placement, and promised she'd put a lot of local anesthetic in the surgical site so I shouldn't have too much issue with pain.  Shortly thereafter, they wheeled me into the OR.  I kept waiting for someone to say something about me needing to count backward, but all I remember is the nurse placing a mask over my face and telling me to breathe.

Next thing I recall was being wheeled down a hallway and into post-op. I was definitely groggy, but I know I tried to talk.  God only knows if I made the slightest sense.  I  remember looking up at the clock and seeing that it was close to 11:00 am, which meant the surgery had only taken around an hour.  I took that as a good sign. The nurses asked me if I was in pain and I said yes, some, so they gave me some morphine. Blech. I did not like the way it felt. Just made me feel really heavy and yucky.  

After about thirty minutes, they rolled me into an individual post-op/recovery room, and David, my Mom and my Dad came in to see me.  The nurse sat me up in a sort of recliner chair, I think.  I was still feeling groggy, but not too bad.  My sister Julie stopped by to check on me.  The surgeon came in and said hello to everyone then checked on me, as well.  She showed me the incision and talked to me about the wound care and healing process.  She seemed pleased with how everything had gone and how everything looked.  She told me they would get the pathology report back on Tuesday and that would hopefully verify that the evil boob Nazis (my terminology, not hers) had been removed and hadn't spread.  

They still had me hooked up to an IV and fluids so a couple trips to the restroom were necessary.  The first time, the nurse escorted me.  The second, I was feeling well enough to walk myself.  Tricky thing about those hospital gowns that tie in the back, though -- I was a little concerned I might flash everyone, so I reached back to gather it together.  Only it was tied more off to the side than the back.  So rather than gathering it together, I did the exact opposite and ended up flashing my folks and David as I attempted to leave the room.  I'm sure that was charming.  

Finally, it was time for me to be discharged.  The nurse asked if I wanted to fill the prescription for pain medication and I decided maybe I should just to be safe, though I really wasn't feeling a lot of pain.  Once that was taken care of, they wheeled me out, and David brought the car around and carted me back home, then stayed with me and took care of me the rest of the afternoon.  I mentioned above that he is a saint. I don't say that lightly.  He has been beyond supportive through all of this and I am one amazingly lucky girl to have him in my life.  That song from Sound of Music often comes to mind when I think of him -- somewhere in my youth, or childhood, I must have done something good....

My recovery since last Thursday has been relatively uneventful.  I took a pain pill Thursday afternoon, but it made me loopy, so I went with Advil Thursday evening so I could watch the Cards play.  I took another one Friday morning, but decided Advil was just as good and without the loopiness and other side effects.  I haven't had to take any since.  There are some pretty gnarly looking bruises on the side of my boob (which I think are from the wire placement, rather than the surgery itself) and, of course, the incision itself, but very little pain.  I've been referring to it as my Frankenboob.  (It is Halloween this week, after all.)  It looks like everything is healing up pretty well, though.  

I was able to get out Saturday morning for Holly's soccer game and then Saturday evening with David and his sister and aunt to watch the Cardinals game.  Watched another soccer game on Sunday and then enjoyed dinner with David, his sister and the girls.  Several people have remarked on how quickly I seem to have bounced back.  I'll confess -- I feel somewhat weird about it.  I know I had surgery, but it wasn't like major surgery, and I really do feel almost fine.  Yesterday, as I walked back from lunch with my friend Dean, I mentioned I had gotten a flu shot a couple weeks ago (though I usually don't) because they recommend them for cancer patients.  He said, "That sounds weird."  (Calling me a "cancer patient.")  I agree.  I don't look or feel sickly. And believe me -- I'm quite happy for this.  But it's a rather heavy mantle.  And frankly, I feel a little odd sporting it.  Because I feel fine.  Again, this isn't a complaint.  Just an acknowledgment that, considering how serious a thing this can be, I've really been quite lucky with it all.  I may feel differently after a few rounds of radiation.  Naturally, I'll be letting you know.

In the meantime, my surgeon called this morning with good news regarding the pathology report. The only thing in the specimen was the in situ cancer and the margins are negative (clean).  Which is good.  This means the cancer hasn't spread or done anything dastardly, and so, surgically, I'm all good.  Next up is a follow-up appointment with the surgeon next Tuesday so she can check out how everything is healing.  Then they'll get me set up with a radiological oncologist and medical oncologist to set up my radiation treatments/schedule and determine if I'll need to take any medication.  And we'll go from there.

Thank you, again, to everyone who's been keeping me company on this journey.  The prayers and well-wishes have been an enormous help to me in keeping a positive attitude.  Thank you to my FTR friends who, in addition to creating #TeamSmoosieQ, put together a radiothon to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and to Jennie Bos who created the awesome "Walk a Mile in My Boobs" t-shirts which also helped raise money.  I think our total amount raised was over $2200. Thank you to my friend Annie who sent me the scary/cute pink unicorn to keep me company during radiation (and one for Riley, too), since I'd told her I knew it wouldn't all be bunnies and unicorns, along with a darling charm bracelet with an "S" and a pink lady bug on it.  I'm wearing it every day.  And special thanks to my Mom and Dad for being there with me during the surgery, to my big sis Julie for stopping by to check on me, and to my love David for holding my hand through it all. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

There Just Are Not Words

Anyone who knows me knows I'm rarely at a loss for words.  This would be one of those times, so forgive me if the ones I do manage to find aren't all that eloquent.  Since I began sharing my journey through Breast Cancer Land, I have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support directed my way.  

I'll confess, I feel a bit guilty about it.  No, this isn't a pleasant sort of thing to deal with, but in the whole scheme of BAD THINGS, my particular bad thing seems relatively minor.  Don't scoff. I know CANCER isn't minor, but mine was caught so early, and the prognosis is so encouraging, that I DO feel a bit guilty, because I know there are so many people facing far fiercer foes than I am, at present.  I tell myself neither love nor prayer nor good will are finite.  But I surely do appreciate all who've taken the time and made the effort to send it my way.  I've had several people say to me this cancer doesn't stand a chance. Not with y'all behind me, it sure doesn't.  Not that I feel sorry for it. 

There's been a smidge of confusion re: the timing of it all, but tomorrow (Thursday) is the day I'll be undergoing surgery for it -- a lumpectomy which, I'm told, won't keep me down for very long.  Following that, they'll set me up for six weeks of radiation, just to be sure we kick the crud out of the evil Nazis lurking in my boob. 

In the meantime, I'd like to make a passing effort at expressing my thanks:

  • To my family, who love me unconditionally and are there for me always;
  • To my love, David, who has been the most supportive, understanding, loving boyfriend a girl could ever ask for (have I mentioned lately what a very #LuckyGirl I am?!);
  • To his family for being so very thoughtful and wishing me well through this;
  • To my dear friends who've checked in on me and offered to help however they can;
  • To friends and classmates from long ago who've generously donated to the BCRF Fundraiser which my FTR Family put together and/or bought one of these snazzy "Walk A Mile in My Boobs" tees to help us raise money for the cause;
  • Right along side many new friends from both the "real world" and on-line who've also given generously and helped spread the word;
  • To those who've quietly reached out to me to offer love and support and their own experiences with the Evil Cancer Monster;
  • To everyone who's sent a prayer my way or wished me well.
There are individual thank you notes which are due to many of y'all and will be forthcoming.  But I want to say an extra special big thank you to my FTR Family and anyone else who helped orchestrate the #TeamSmoosieQ campaign today on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  And for all I know, Pinterest.  For those uncertain as to what I'm referring, I invite you to sneak a peek at my Facebook page, or search the #TeamSmoosieQ hashtag on Twitter.  That will give you an inkling as to why I'm feeling so very verklempt/verklemmt right now.  No, there really aren't words to express it.  So I will simply say:  Thank you. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sticking Together

Note: I originally started writing this 8 or 9 months ago, but set it aside when I reached a point where I wasn't entirely certain where I was going with it. I think it's probably deserving of being completed, though, so....

Recently, a certain 10 year old I know asked me, "Why do people get married?" We've had a lot of discussions of such things of late, and I've been digging deep into the Magic Bag of Answers Moms Give to Tough Questions grasping about for responses that will satisfy without overwhelming.  I did my best to explain that most people just naturally want a partner and someone to share their life with, but the answer felt inadequate to me; incomplete.  Still, she was gracious enough to accept it without seeming overly skeptical.

The question stayed with me, though, lurking behind a few others, but leaping back to the forefront as I drove back to St. Louis today from a court appearance in Benton, Missouri.  I was traveling behind an SUV and noticed that it, like so many do, had a stick family decal on the rear window.  I recalled a conversation with a single friend several years ago wherein we both, rather ashamedly, admitted that we hate those things.  It's awful to acknowledge, but they touch an ugly, envious nerve.  And I've since learned we're far from alone in that sentiment. 

"Why is that?!" I wondered today, as I recalled the conversation.  It isn't just a matter of the grass being greener....I frequently hear friends in marriages or committed relationships fantasize about how "fun" and "exciting" it would be to be single again, but when push comes to shove, they're generally content to remain on their side of the septic tank.  Besides, if someone truly wants to become single again, they generally can arrange that.  (Not without some significant effort, and often a great deal of pain.  But it can be achieved.)  The reverse? It's far more complicated and contingent not only on other people and the many variables they bring to the table, but also, in most cases, on luck -- timing, circumstance -- things for which most people cannot control.

No, it must be more than simple envy.  I think it goes even deeper than that - I think most of us are hard-wired to familitize.  We long to be part of a family -- and not just any family -- a happy one, at that.  And when, for whatever reason(s), that isn't possible, it can ache in a way that few things in life do. Even when everything else is going well and life is good in most respects, there's that knowledge that something important is missing.  

For a long time, for me, that translated into not "qualifying" for a stick figure family on my car. I guess, in hindsight, that seems rather silly, but somehow, I had it in my head that just the two of us -- Riley and I -- weren't eligible for vehicular stick figurehood since we weren't a "traditional" family.  Then one day, I was browsing through Amazon and decided to search for the stick figures. When I found them, I realized I'd been looking at it all wrong -- they come in all different assortments, and you don't have to have a "cookie cutter" family in order to find a set that represents you. So, impulsively, I bought a set.

But once I had them in hand, I still couldn't bring myself to put them on my car. I set them aside in my "to get to" pile, and kept not getting to them. I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but I think I finally figured it out.  I think, on some level, I worried that applying stick figures to my car was somehow akin to setting my life's course in stone.  That telling the world "this is my family" now foreclosed the possibility of that definition ever again expanding. 

Yeah. I think I let stick figure decals and what they represent get into my head a bit. Today, I overcame that silliness. I placed stickers representing myself, Riley, Hurricane, Stormy and Pringle on my car.  (Sadly, my set didn't come with a fish sticker -- sorry, Louis!) That is, at present, my family. And we're good -- and happy together. And if at some point our family does expand and more stickers need to be added, then we can add them. And be happy together. :)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It Feels Better to Do SOMETHING

I've been in a bit of a holding pattern since my meeting with the breast surgeon two weeks ago.  Surgery is set for next Thursday, and in the meantime, there isn't really anything for me to DO in relation to this.  People often refer to those with breast cancer (and other cancers) as "fighters" or "survivors".  And I'm not going to argue with that.  It is a battle of sorts -- in some cases, a very tough battle.  Thankfully, from everything I've learned to date, my personal battle isn't going to be nearly so tough as it is for many.  I'm lucky.  In so many ways.

That said, I haven't had much to do in the way of fighting the Evil Cancer Monster since I learned it had decided to pay me a visit, and that has left me feeling somewhat asea. I've never been very good at passivity -- certainly not when a battle or challenge is at hand.  So when my good friends at FTR Radio (in particular, John Brodigan, Thomas LaDuke and Fingers Malloy) suggested holding a fundraiser/radiothon to help raise money for a breast cancer charity, I was all in.  THIS was something to DO!  I can tweet and Facebook and e-mail the heck out of a fundraiser link!

So, that's what I aim to do today. I was going to apologize in advance if it seems as though you're getting inundated with these links and notifications, as I know they can be somewhat overwhelming, but you know what?  No. I'm doing this without apology.  Since I shared my diagnosis publically, I've had so many wonderful people reach out to me and ask me to let them know if there's anything they can do to help. Often, my response has been, "Thank you, but I really can't think of anything I need right now, other than prayer."  And the prayers, I promise, are tremendously appreciated!  But now, there IS something you all can do.  Actually, there are several somethings you can do (I like to give people options!):

  1. Go here and click on the link at the bottom to donate directly to the fundraiser - our goal is $1,000;
  2. Go here and buy a snazzy pink tee - our goal is 45 t-shirts sold; OR
  3. Share either and/or both of these links via social networks or e-mails.
A little background re: the first two:  As you'll see from Link #1, FTR is hosting the fundraiser, and specifically broadcasting TONIGHT from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Eastern) in an effort to get the word out on this.  I'm not the only one at FTR who's faced this sort of battle, personally, or on behalf of a loved one. So I know it means a lot to the folks there to help raise money and awareness for the cause.  It certainly means a lot to me.  Link #2 was the handiwork (and thoughtfulness) of my friend Jennie Agape Bos, and offers another way you can help contribute -- and receive something in return. 

Lastly, I understand all too well that times are tough and money is tight for a lot of folks, so would simply ask if you cannot contribute monetarily that you help spread the word via social media, e-mail, however. 

I know I'll make it through this -- the odds are overwhelmingly in my favor, and I have wonderful friends and family supporting me.  But imagine if we could actually find a cure!  Your help today/tonight will go directly to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, where 91% of every dollar spent goes to research and awareness programs.  So please step up and help however you can.  Thank you!! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

There Are Always Reasons to Smile

Lately, my "fluffy bunny blog" posts have all been centered around my adventures in Breast Cancer Land. But, much to my surprise, neither the world nor your own life stop upon receiving such a diagnosis.  In fact, most things go on pretty much as usual. People are just extra nice to you. Which is a wonderful reminder of how much of a blessing family and friends truly are. Even in the midst of, well, okay, I'll acknowledge it, rather cruddy news, I've still been given so many reasons to smile lately. And I want to get back to writing about them, too.  For instance,

  • Parkway West won their first varsity football game in two or three years last Friday - was so neat to see how excited the kids were, especially since it was Homecoming.
  • Got to see some dear friends and hear some great speakers at last weekend's CPAC - especially enjoyed our lunch and then drinks later that evening.
  • Dinner with my beau that same evening - I know it's corny, but I just enjoy his company so.
  • Our long walk and lunch the next day, followed by watching Holly's soccer game.
  • Got my office (at work) cleaned and mostly organized - this was much needed!
  • Probably a silly little thing, but I've really been having fun lately with Instagram -- taking and posting photos to it and viewing those posted by friends. It's simpler and more low-key than Facebook or Twitter.
  • Another trivia night this past Friday - even though the questions were on the tough side, still had a great time with David and some of the other soccer parents from Emma's team.
  • Last night, bowling and laser tag with David, Emma and Riley - had so much fun, including the part where we all danced to "YMCA" - followed by board games at David's house - who knew they actually made a game out of "Awkward Family Photos"!?! 
  • The Tigers, Blues and Rams all won this weekend. (The Cardinals need to wake up!)
  • Emma's soccer game today - yes it was cold and windy, but we managed to stay mostly warm, and her team played great!
  • My family and friends have been so great - so supportive and intent on letting me know they're there and praying. 
  • My daughter. She's such a sweet kiddo anyway, but she's been making extra efforts lately to be helpful -- cleaning and organizing her room and helping out with other chores around the house, helping me out when we go grocery shopping. We've gotten to spend some extra time together the past week or two, and she regularly makes me laugh, whether it's joking about "wheatzas" (pizzas on wheat dough) or "nazis" (knots) in her hair. I'm so lucky to be her Momma. 
Anyway, the thing is, I am once again reminded just how very blessed and lucky I am. Thank you. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Well, at Least My Car is Super Clean

So, today was Breast Surgeon Day.  Part II, actually, as I explained here.  I won't go so far as to say I was looking forward to the consultation, but, having waited since last Wednesday for additional info as to my prognosis and recommended treatment, I was rather ready to have it.  

In the interim, I've done a bit of work on the education front -- researching DCIS ("Ductile Carcinoma in Situ), and familiarizing myself with such terms as "micropapillary" and "cribriform".  Oh and "breast conserving surgery."  There's a lot of talk of BCC sprinkled throughout the land of DCIS. Which is why I wasn't horribly surprised when Dr. Surgeon outlined my options today.  Yes, I'll admit it -- I was holding out hope that I'd fall into "Monitoring Camp," and simply have to endure more frequent and consistent squishings. So I'm sure my shoulders did droop a bit when the options presented consisted of Lumpectomy + Radiation or Mastectomy, and nothing quite so simple as Keeping a Watchful Eye. 

Still, it wasn't shocking news.  Dr. Surgeon, whom I must say I really like -- she's sharp and very easy to talk to, felt like we connected right off the bat -- did a great job of describing the disease and the treatment options and their various pros and cons.  She also said something very important to me:  "You now have a white card (figuratively, not literally) which entitles you to politely ignore the numerous offers of well-meaning advice people will give you based on their aunt or co-worker's treatments and experiences. This is your experience."  I laughed when she said that at told her I'd come to the realization that being diagnosed with breast cancer is in some ways similar to being pregnant -- everyone is super nice to you and everyone has a story to share.  She laughed, too, and agreed.  

Which isn't to say I intend to ignore any of the kind and supportive things people have said and done or will say and do.  I feel so very blessed to have as many wonderful people in my life as I do. As much as something like this can tend to make you feel somewhat alone, I've been reminded quite a bit lately how very much that isn't true for me.  And I'm so very thankful for that!  But I also know I have to do what's right for me, after weighing all of the information I've been given.  And, to that end, I'm opting to go the more conservative route (go figure) of lumpectomy and radiation. (Tempting as the thought of reconstruction/expansion might theoretically be, I think I'd rather keep as much of me with me as possible.)  

No, I'm not particularly looking forward to surgery (scheduled for about three weeks from now), although Dr. Surgeon assured me it would only knock me out of commission for a couple days. And six weeks of radiation sounds about as fun as having sand in your shorts. Permanently.  But there are people who've endured far worse and, in the whole scheme of things, this is but a speed bump.

Speaking of which, after my appointment, I stopped off to fill up my car at Waterway.  And, being as my car hasn't had a right proper bath in, oh, a good three years, I treated it to one.  I think I actually heard it let out a happy sigh as I pulled away from the gas station.  Either that, or my radiator's about to blow.  But my car sure looks awfully pretty for a change!