Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ping Pong

I was supposed to have a CT scan this morning, so that my radiation oncologist could begin "mapping," or preparing a model for where and at what intensity I'll get hit with radiation. 

But first I have to have my boobs deflated.

Over the past three weeks, I've received weekly injections of varying amounts of saline into the expanders under my pectoral muscles, like ever-growing water balloons in my chest. The goal is to slowly stretch the skin and muscle so that eventually, about a year from now, they can easily insert implants into the pockets they've created. The process feels about as comfortable as it sounds.

But for radiation to work optimally, the surface needs to be as flat as possible. Turns out, they haven't figured out how to bend photons yet. Those physisicts are seriously slacking. So my medical team plastic surgeon is working to expand, expand, expand me just up to the point he has to deflate me for radiation.

Yesterday, when I asked my plastic surgeon what his end goal was - and I meant size-wise - he said simply: "Perfection." He's mentioned more than once how unfortunate it is that I have to have radiation. You're telling me, I think. He's worried about his artistry; I've promised to be diligent with the aloe and shea butter.

Perfect boobs isn't quite the same goal my oncologists have, though, and the back and forth (and back and forth some more) between my radiation oncologist and my plastic surgeon about timing, expansion, deflation, mapping and where I need to be for what appointments when has me feeling like a ping pong ball lately.

Right now, it's looking like I'll have most of the saline removed from my expanders in two weeks, then the CT mapping, and then radiation beginning right around mid-March. But I won't be surprised if that all gets turned on its head and pigs do a fly-by of my house in the meantime.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

My Valentine

I'm a few days late on this, but since we're still in the same week as Valentine's Day, I think it's still relevant. When I wrote about Quinn being my savior, my mom gave me a little bit of a rough time about it. She said, "I really think Chris is the one you should be thanking. He's your warrior." And here's the thing: she's right - Chris IS my rock. (Too corny to insert a geology joke here?) So how about I give them both credit? Because those two guys are my entire world.

If you've been married, you know that you never really know what you're getting into when you say "I do" to someone. I might be quoting from previews for next week's episode of The Bachelor when I say that marriage is the ultimate gamble.

What? It's an addictive show.

My wedding day was one of the happiest days of my life. See?
And you think you're making an informed decision, forging a bond with someone who makes your heart skip a beat. Someone who makes you feel safe and shares your dreams and makes you laugh. Someone who embraces your family and friends and you for all the imperfections and oddities and quirkiness, and opens up to let you see those same vulnerabilities in him.

But can you ever know how that person will react when you come home one afternoon with cancer?

So if marriage is a gamble, then I won that lottery. Because when I came home that day with my terrible news, and my knees threatened to crumble underneath me, Chris held me up and then shored me through the roughest two weeks of my life. Not to mention the last six months.


I guess I ought to thank him.

So thanks, babe. Thanks for letting me cry on your shoulder in the shower and for washing my "hair" when my T-Rex arms couldn't reach above my shoulders after surgery.

Thanks for being strong for me so that I could be strong for myself and for Bug, so that we could get through all of this.

Thanks for all you do to keep our household running (I swear, there will come a time when you're not constantly washing baby bottles).

Thanks for calming me down when I thought our cat had run away, only to discover him hiding in my closet 14 hours later, poor cat.

Thanks for being Bug's best friend (and mine) and for putting up with the emotional roller coaster ride cancer has led us on. We're so close to being done with this ordeal.

I couldn't have made it through any of this or gotten to this without you.

I promise to stop crying daily, one of these days, and to listen when you say that "cancer should be the one crying." And I think eventually I'll stop worrying about recurrence, that ugly word. How about I promise I'll love you for the rest of my very long life?

Because we beat this. We won this war. We have the battle scars to prove it. And I might be quoting yet again from The Bachelor when I say that if we made it through this, we can make it through anything.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I met my radiation oncologist, Dr. Finkelstein, yesterday. I'm exhausted, and spent most of the meeting crying between rounds of questions and answers and a tour of the facility. After chemo and surgery, radiation will be step 3 of 3 in fighting this disease, and - as Dr. F put it - is hopefully superfluous. But just in case there are 2 or 3 rogue cancer cells floating around in my chest wall or nearby lymph nodes, the radiation will do them in. Current imaging only shows groups of cells once they've formed their own country; a household or small town would go undetected. Radiation eradicates those small cancer communities.

I'll have somewhere between 25 and 30 treatments, 5 days a week for 5 or 6 weeks (with weekends off for good behavior). From what I understand, radiation works because the photons they shoot into me scramble the DNA of the cells (both normal and cancerous) in the targeted region, damaging them pretty severely. While normal cells can repair themselves, cancer cells are not so good at that function, and so they die when their DNA is this disrupted.

It never ceases to amaze me that cancer treatment is in essence about as much cell damage as possible without killing the patient. How much can your body handle? One piece of good news: the cancer was on my right side, so they don't have to worry about hurting my heart in the process. I like to think that means there's no risk my heart will get broken here.

Dr. F did warn me about the side effects of radiation. There are the immediate ones - from fatigue to skin irritation - as well as the possibility of delayed side effects, such as an increased risk for certain other types of cancer down the road. Like when I'm 80. I told him if I'm around when I'm 80, I'll kiss him. That set off a whole new torrent of tears.

For women with localized disease, radiation is proven to help prevent recurrence. Where there isn't much data is for women like me, who present with advanced and aggressive disease. And the statistics they do have are ugly, quite honestly. So I ignore them. When he was fighting pancreatic cancer, my father-in-law frequently said that statistics are great for the general population, but they don't mean anything for the individual patient.

And as confident as I feel most of the time that cancer is totally out of my body, that I'll get to watch Quinn grow up, get to have a long marriage with the man I love, that this was a fluke and is never coming back, talking yesterday about the real possibility that cancer could come back put a huge lump of fear in my throat. I ran out of vocabulary, and just kept repeating to Chris through my tears: Fuck this fucking fuck disease.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My Week

There are so many things I've been meaning to write about this week, but between the pain meds and a couple of last-minute babysitter cancellations and more doctors appointments, I'm not finding the time to write (or when I do, my brain isn't working so well). In no particular order, these things are:

1. I got a shot today to shut down my ovaries. On the one hand, this means no more periods, ever; on the other, no. More. Periods. Ever. I'm not going to lie, I shed a few tears of frustration at the loss of choice this means for me reproductively, even though I ultimately knew this would probably be the path I'd have to walk down.

2. Speaking of walking, Quinn took his first steps (7 in a row!) on Monday. But every time I pull out the video camera to try to capture these steps, he plops down on his butt. Also, he attempted to climb his highchair today, which looked something like this:

I would have captured that on camera, but the little daredevil needed a spotter.

3. The post-surgical drain-grenades coming out of my armpits were removed today, thank GOD. I can finally wear something other than a post-mastectomy camisole and shower without a shoelace around my neck.

4. Today marks two weeks out from surgery, and I'm recovering okay, although still a little sore (hence the continued vicodin). I'm also still on doctor's orders not to lift anything heavier than 20 pounds, and my roly-poly Bug plowed right past that benchmark weeks (months?) ago. What I miss most? Picking him up out of his crib in the morning. Or maybe putting him down to sleep at night. Definitely rocking him for comfort after a piece of furniture gets in his way and he bumps his head.

5. One of my very best friends is coming into town to visit this weekend. Yay doesn't even begin to describe how excited I am to see her.

6. I received my wig this week (or maybe last? my brain is mush), made from my friends' collected hair. It needs a little styling, but here's a preview.

7. My friends are incredible.

8. The nurses at my oncology center are also incredible. They deserve their own post for providing me with tissues and blankets and parenting tips and therapy - and that was just at today's visit.

9. Did I mention my brain is mush lately?