Thursday, November 28, 2013


It's Thanksgiving, and I have a lot to be thankful for. It isn't perfect, but I have a good life. I am often in situations where I just don't understand how I got so lucky. I'm a people person, and good people, people I love, literally give me life. They give me energy, they bring me excitement, and right now, they make me feel loved.

I'm not the most selfless person - I frequently get overwhelmed with life and thoughts (even pre-diagnosis) and as a result, I'm not the most thoughtful person either. I get distracted.

A byproduct of a cancer diagnosis is suddenly having to deal with all the communication surrounding the patient (me). People say that when times get tough, you see who your real friends are - but I'm not experiencing that type of distinction. Right now, my times are tough - really tough, and instead, I'm getting to see how amazing my friends, colleagues, and family are. People are stepping up to the plate.

Not to brag - but my peeps have been out of control supportive. I always considered relationships real - no confusion there. This experience has given me an real opportunity to reflect and appreciate how great the people in my life are. Cards, flowers, gifts, emails, texts, offers to help (which I take seriously - I will call you, don't act all surprised)...none expected - and none have gone without appreciation. 

You all make the world (and my life) a better place.

Thank you all.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Time to Grieve

During my personal time of panic, right after being diagnosed, I had this conversation with the Nurse Navigator at the medical center. I was sitting in her office and asking her questions. Soon, I started to cry (this is how most conversations were going at the time). In those first few days, I wanted reassurance, I wanted someone to tell me that I was going to be okay. I wanted someone to tell me that I could still live my life – the one I was currently living. I wanted someone to tell me that I could still have kids and be happy with my husband. I think what I really wanted in those first few weeks, was for someone to just take it back. It didn’t need to be some dramatic production, but I needed someone to just sort of roll things back. I was willing to pretend like nothing happened, if they were willing to tell me they made a mistake.

FYI, Nurse Navigator was not having any of it. She was not about to let me get all entrenched in denial. That afternoon, I told her I felt sad because I just really wanted to have babies…like, now. I also felt bad because (at the time) we were planning on a double mastectomy, which meant I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed even if I would be able to have children. This is what she said to me, “I know, it’s hard, this is just something you will have to grieve.”

At the time, it felt like a slap in the face. Mostly because I couldn’t conceptualize grieving the thought of something. I couldn’t conceptualize grieving an idea, or my future, or a desire. It didn’t make sense. But it does now. I’m going to be honest though, I can’t do it. I am explicitly unable to put some of these things to rest.

I don’t know if I’m being unrealistic, sometimes I feel like I just don’t know any better, but this is how it is right now.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Treat Me Right

When I was first diagnosed, we went through the process of consulting with doctors and contemplating treatments. Just thinking about the various directions in which we could go was overwhelming. After tumor board, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that I would have to do surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I think one of the most difficult aspects of being diagnosed with cancer is not the cancer itself, but understanding the difficult side effects that come with treatment. Surgery was cool, radiation sounded okay, but chemotherapy scared the crap out of me.

During the bargaining phase of our grief, C and I tried to wiggle our way out of chemo...the docs were not amused. Finally though, I decided that it was going to be okay - I was going to endure (obviously, cause you, kill the cancer). I made plans. I called a friend who does hair and asked if she would cut it short, and eventually shave it. I researched wigs - specifically turning my own hair into a wig (it's totally a thing). I made a mental list of friend who offered to sit in sessions with me - sorry if you were just saying it to be nice. :)

When we found that the cancer has metastasized, though, everything seemed to change. It's hard to tell though, if the change happened specifically because of the metastasis.

A few weeks ago, when my bone biopsy had been scheduled, before I had results, we met with an oncologist and went over our Plan A and Plan B. They are markedly different:

Plan A: Stage III: We do chemotherapy first so that the medication can go through the body and kill any renegade cancer cells. Then surgery, then radiation to the chest wall.

Plan B: Stage IV: Endocrine therapy. See how it goes. Take it from there.

If you've seen any of the previous posts, you'll know that we are at Stage IV. The oncologist basically said that we don't want to exhaust our options. We want to try different methods, see what works, and proceed once we know how the tumors respond. Many women prevent breast cancer and/or prevent recurrence by taking tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is a hormone receptor suppressor that blocks the flow of hormones to the tumor. Many breast cancer tumors are very sensitive to estrogen and progesterone. Right now, this little pill keeper is my BFF. I used to have a moment of panic when I didn't put my keys, or my makeup in my purse. Now...on my drive to work each morning, I reach into my purse and make sure this baby is with me.
For the time being, I take tamoxifen everyday, along with my other vitamins. Because the tumor on my spine has already started to wear a little on the bone, I also get a monthly injection of Xgeva, which is typically used to treat osteoporosis. One doctor recommended injections of Lupron as well. Lupron shuts down ovaries and all hormone production. It also puts the patient into menopause for about a month (for reference, women usually experience menopause over a period of two years). I can handle a lot, but I can't handle menopause at 28. Funny how we have our tipping points. I told my oncologist that I'll do Lupron if I don't see decent results in six months. He's down.

Almost one month in, we aren't doing too shabby. I feel grateful each day that I get to hold on to a little bit of "normal" by doing this first. I don't know what the future of my treatment plan will bring, but I'm not inclined to worry about this now. Two weeks ago, I started to feel hot flashes. They don't really bother me much. I find them more amusing than anything - luckily, I'm too brown to look flush.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Achieving the Everyday

One thing that I have been striving towards is stability in my everyday life. I have to say, 7 weeks post diagnosis, I have very few unexpected bouts of crying (compared to before). Success*! A major part (I think) is actually starting treatment. This is the beginning of this part of my life where I take action and do what I can to save my own life. The day to day feels better, knowing that something is being done.

I can't say that I don't love my everyday life - it is pretty sweet. I love my husband, I love my routine, I love Candy Crush...etc. We aren't without stressors, but things we love aren't meant to come easily. Aside from the everyday, I'm trying to be more present so that everyday is good. I am also trying to inject my weeks with little things I love.

A few weeks ago, C and I killed some time running some canyons in San Gabriel Valley. It's where we went on our first official date.

It was fun to go back. It's been over five years now, and we have been married for two. Time races.

*Success is totally relative.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Not as Planned

I met with a breast surgeon at City of Hope on October 16. It was the day after I had the PET scan. I had to drive there myself from work and my husband met me there. I remember City of Hope being a totally different animal - they assign you a number, you meet with a representative who orients you, they give you a patient card...a lot happened. 

When I went into the examination room, I don't know why, but everything started to wear on me. I had handed over all my slides and information, I was waiting, I wanted my husband to be here now. The nurse spoke to me a little severely and I lost it (a little). It was embarrassing, I started to cry. Finally, she left. 

It seemed like an eternity before my husband showed up. 

When the door opened again, it was a man - not the doctor I was expecting. He was a surgeon fellow - and he looked like Zach Galifianakis. He was wearing a bowtie. He examined me and then once again, we waited.

Finally, the surgeon walked in. Immediately, I loved her. She was small and slightly frantic. For some reason I enjoyed this. She talked extremely quickly. Love! We started to talk about options. At City of Hope, their plan wanted chemotherapy first. The idea is to kill all the cancer cells floating about in the body before you have surgery. This sounds good...this sounds like a really great plan. Out of nowhere, there's a knock on the door, a hand pokes through with a stack of papers and the doctor takes them. Once again, I'm blown away by the amazing treatment we are getting. The report from my PET scan has been rushed and we have the results. Totally amazing.

I stare at the doctor and she stares down the page. Everything seems okay, until she gets to the end. At this point, my impatience gets the best of me and I ask if everything is okay. 

No. There is one thing that concerns her. A spot on my spine.

Fast forward to today, these are the things that have happened:

1) I have a bone biopsy: totally cool. Completely knocked out for this - almost no residual pain. The nurses had a little bit of trouble with my i.v. Seriously...that part was torturous. But it's cool - one nurse called my veins squirrelly, which totally made my day.

2) I get the results of the bone biopsy: totally not cool. The breast cancer has spread to my spine. 

3) I have a new job: I'm working closer to the doctors and the hospitals to make treatment more convenient.

4) I've been staged: I have Stage IV cancer. Here's the thing...from III to IV, there is a huge paradigm shift in terms of treatment that I was not aware of. We aren't treating to cure anymore. That is difficult to absorb.