Life after Breast Cancer: New Normal Part 2

Radiation Fibrosis. What the hell is that? I actually just learned myself. In February, I had started noticing that my left side ached and my left arm had lost a lot of mobility.

From Cancer

Definition: Fibrosis is the formation of scar tissue. Fibrosis can occur as a result of radiation treatments. While radiation is being given, it affects cancer cells and healthy tissue that is nearby. In healthy tissue, small blood vessels in the area may be damaged or sealed off. When this happens, the affected tissue no longer gets enough nourishment. Radiated healthy tissue may then “fibrose” or scar. That scar tissue will feel firm or may feel like a mass or even like a recurrence of cancer. Fibrosis may also occur naturally in breast tissue that has fibrocystic changes.

In a serendipitous moment in early February, a lovely woman at work who also happens to be a breast cancer survivor asked me if I had started my physical therapy yet for my arm. Physical therapy? She had experienced the same discomfort and loss of mobility and swore by the physical therapy.

So, after contacting my breast surgeon at the urging of my coworker, I was put in contact with a physical therapist that specialized in post-radiation trauma and lymphedema. Man, I’m glad I made that call.

But, as helpful as these sessions have been, they have been a bit uncomfortable.. Let me back up a bit. Last summer, I got used to every Tom, Dick and Mary marking on, taking pictures of, feeling, smashing and viewing my jubblies. Since then, my modesty has returned intact. Returned just in time for new weirdness to begin.

Why are the sessions weird? Essentially, twice a week I’ve been receiving a breast massage. What’s not to like about a breast massage, right? Um, it’s not sensual. Have you ever had a deep tissue massage? Twice a week I get a deep tissue massage on my boob, armpit and side. It hurts like hell.

Ladies, I know you know how uncomfortable a pap smear is. That awkward chat with your OBGYN doctor about your weekend plans trying to ignore the fact that she’s examining your hooha? What if that moment lasted three times as long?

With my physical therapy sessions, the massage part lasts about twenty to twenty-five minutes. That’s A LOT of awkward conversation to be had. Sometimes I run out of things to say. For those that know me well, that may come as a shock. However, for me, the silence is worse than the rambling chatter so I ramble. On and on and on.

My poor therapist. She sure is a good listener. Do I owe her a parting gift? I mean, I’ve been seeing her intimately for two months now. Is there protocol for our eventual good-bye?

Aside from the awkwardness, the treatments have helped me tremendously and I’m so glad my coworker repeatedly urged me to make that call. My husband said  “What if you hadn’t called your breast surgeon?” I don’t want to think about it – it’s made that much of a difference.

My new normal is a pill box (I didn’t think that would happen for another twenty years), daily stretches and strengthening exercises, doctor appointments with my medical oncologist every six weeks, mammograms every six months and appointments once year with my radiation oncologist. I’m working on accepting my new normal because, as it was brought to my attention the other day, it’s better than the alternative.

I do look forward to the day when breast cancer isn’t always on my mind.

Eventually, that day will get here.





Life after Breast Cancer: A New Normal


My brain is stuck. That’s why I haven’t been writing. My brain is swirling with ideas, but it can’t seem to land on anything. Writing has become h-a-r-d. I think I spelled that correctly.

I had to sound it out. (That’s normal, right?).

If you have been a follower of this blog, you know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. June 24th to be exact (the day after my birthday). Last year was a helluva year to say the least.

My course of treatment was a lumpectomy and seven weeks of daily radiation. Woohoo. I was also lucky enough to find out that my cancer was hormone positive. I’m kind of being serious here. Hormone positive breast cancers are easier to treat than hormone negative breast cancers. Why is this important?

With hormone positive breast cancer, Tamoxifen is the recommended course of treatment – one pill everyday for five years. Unfortunately, there are serious side effects to be considered. I was given the prescription in early December and had it for thirty days before I made my decision. After visiting multiple chat rooms, viewing multiple web sites, and discussing it with friends, I decided to try it. A fellow breast cancer survivor said to me, “Jenni, why wouldn’t you want to try anything to prevent getting breast cancer again?” I couldn’t argue with that.

There are a TON of side effects with this drug. The couple that seem to be plaguing me the most are chemo brain and hot flashes.

The hot flashes were to be expected. Not to be too TMI-ish, but I had a total hysterectomy (with ovary removal) after my radiation treatment and that surgery puts a women into surgical menopause, like immediately. This drug seems to make them a bit more intense. Menopause, Schmenopause.

What in the holy hell is the evolutionary reason for hot flashes? I mean, really?! Was it to signal eligible bachelors that you weren’t available for procreation, but were available for recreation? There had to be a better way. Just sayin’.

The “chemo brain” is a whole other story. I started taking Tamoxifen in January and after two weeks, I noticed a SERIOUS decrease in my brain function. My kids and my hubs can back me up on this. My brain WAS a steel trap. I NEVER forgot anything. ANYTHING. That was my most annoying/endearing trait (probs mostly endearing).

Not anymore.

Since I’ve been on this drug, I feel like I’m in a fog. I want to talk, but can’t think of words. They’re there floating in front of me, but I can’t reach them. In mid-sentence, I forget what I’m saying and can’t finish a thought. I want to comment on the stories of the day, but they become vague wisps of memories even though I just read them that day. I used to be analytical (I was a math major), and now I struggle with parsing an article.

I’ve become someone I’m unfamiliar with:

  • I almost went to the store in my slippers. Thankfully, they didn’t feel quite right on the garage floor.
  • I’ve gotten to work without my laptop (way more than once). By the way, it’s impossible to do my work without a computer.
  • I’ve gotten to work and realized I forgot my make-up. Not a big deal? What do you know! I’m 48 years old! Make-up is necessary!!!
  • I’m easily distracted like a toddler. Ooooh. Shiny penny……..
  • I’m unable to focus and I think it’s affecting my work (Shhh…….)
  • I described to my daughter what I was feeling and she said, “It sounds like when I was suffering from my concussion.” Great. A concussion that lasts five years.

In addition to my addled brain, I also have been diagnosed with radiation fibrosis.

Yesterday a friend checked in with me to see how I was doing. After I explained what was happening, she aptly reminded me that even though my new normal was frustrating, it was better than the alternative. That is absolutely hard to argue with.

Wait. What? Radiation fibrosis, you say? Check out my next post.



It’s Been Nice Knowing Ya, Thor!

radiation graduation

On my last day of radiation treatment, I said good-bye to Thor, my trusty companion for seven weeks. The big lug! I can’t say that I’ll miss him, but I know he did give me everything he could give in this relationship. His treatment will reduce the likelihood of the breast cancer returning in Ole Leftie by sixty percent so I do appreciate it even though it was uncomfortable as hell both physically and mentally, left my skin permanently scarred and drained every ounce of energy from me.

It has been three weeks since my last treatment. My radiation oncologist said that the fatigue could continue for up to two months and that my skin would be back to normal in two weeks. He’s a nice guy, but also a LIAR. Okay, kind of a liar. My skin is better, but not back to normal (hence, the liar comment). However, he speaks the truth about the fatigue.

My ordeal is not quite over. I’m having surgery in October (girlie stuff). Needless to say, I will be grateful to put 2013 behind me.

It’s been strange being on this end of a serious illness. Strange and Educational.

Strange because I’m the healthy one. I don’t get sick. I don’t have ongoing health issues. That’s for other people, not me.

Okay, maybe I was the sick one this time (I’m actually still trying to come to grips with this statement).

Thank goodness for my close friends and family because I did need help and they forced it on me.

Friends: Why don’t we set up a meal train?

Me: Oh, okay. Let’s do it. I don’t think I’ll need it, but why not?

Dad: I have all of your appointments on my calendar. I’ll drive you every day.

Me: Oh, okay. That’ll be great.

I agreed because when you are going through something serious (no matter what it is), the people in your life want to do something. I really didn’t think I would need the meals and felt a little guilty about it. But, I will tell you that they were truly a gift. I honestly did not have the energy to meal plan and grocery shop. Those lovingly prepared meals allowed me to erase the images from my mind of my family dumpster-diving for food.

Also, even though I could drive, I let others (mostly my dad) drive me to my appointments. Making that trek by myself every stinkin’ morning for seven weeks would have been terrible. Thanks, dad!

When you’re having radiation treatment for breast cancer, it’s not obvious to others that you are ill or dealing with something serious. They can’t see the pain you’re experiencing (both external and internal) and they can’t see the fatigue. You’re not losing your hair, experiencing extreme nausea, or looking ill, but you’re still feeling badly (physically and emotionally) and you still need help. Let those in your life that want to be there for you help you. It’s a gift for both of you.

Educational because I learned what not to say to someone that’s received a breast cancer diagnosis:

  • Don’t say, “At least they caught it early.” The person that has received the breast cancer diagnosis, regardless of the stage, never wanted the diagnosis in the first place. Just say, “I’m sorry to hear that. What can I do?”
  • Don’t say, “My sister’s best friend just went through that and blah, blah, blah….”  The recently diagnosed person doesn’t want to hear every story about every person you know that has had breast cancer. She may not want to hear those stories right now or ever. If she wants to hear about the experience, she will ask you for more information. You should say something like, “My aunt had breast cancer and is a survivor. If and when you’re ready to hear about it, let me know,” OR “My sister had the same diagnosis and I can put you in touch with her if you want to talk to someone about it.”
  • Don’t say, “My friend had radiation therapy and it’s nothing.” I grant you, that compared to chemotherapy I’m sure that radiation is nothing. But, to the person going through it, it is something.
  • Don’t say, “Gosh, my friend went to work every day during her radiation therapy.” That statement makes the person going through radiation and not going to office every day feel like shit. I’m sure that’s not what you meant, right?
  • Don’t say, “Wow, I would just remove both of those girls.” Well, that might be appropriate in some cases, but not all. And, until you know the whole story, don’t make the person experiencing this diagnosis question that fact that breast conservation surgery is the correct solution for her.
  • Don’t say, “I will do any of those breast cancer runs or walks with you.” This is obviously a well-meaning comment if the person diagnosed with breast cancer is one of those people who participates in running events on a regular basis. If the person you are consoling is NOT a regular runner/walker, then don’t offer that up. If the recently diagnosed person wants to join one of these events, they will ask you for help. Are you supposed to be all athletic and fund-raising now that you have been diagnosed with cancer? That seems like an added pressure.

Thank you to all of you that were thinking of me, driving me to my appointments, sending me notes and emails of encouragement, making me meals, calling me and just being there. I had no idea how many people cared. I know that sounds blubber and rubbish, but I mean it. It has not gone unnoticed and has truly given me strength through this rough time in my life.

The End is Near

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Our bathroom drama is over. These are pictures of my new bathroom shower and I’m really happy with it!

However, you should stay tuned because we will be doing the kids’ bathroom near the end of the month and that should generate some more drama. Our house projects never go smoothly. Ever.

For other positive news, I only have four radiation treatments left! My last treatment is Friday, September 6th. This goes without saying so, of course, I’m going to say it anyway – I can’t wait for this to be over!

It has been a surreal time in my life. It’s strange getting up every morning and starting your day with radiation therapy. I think about three hundred strangers have seen, touched, stickered and/or sharpied my left breast. Okay, maybe not three hundred, but at least fifty. And, it’s just weird. That’s all. Why so many? Beginning in August, there was a new student observer in the room each day with the techs as they lined me up for Thor. The techs would ask, “This is Jane or John, a new student. Is it okay if they observe your treatment?”

Sure. Why not? I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

But, I will say that everyone at the Cancer Center has been wonderful – I cannot complain about my care.

The side effects are really settling in – the fatigue is crazy! Also, my breast and armpit are soooo burned. And, I have scar tissue in my left armpit from my breast surgery. How does that happen? How did the scar tissue migrate from my breast to my armpit? Ah, the wonders of the human body.

This scar tissue is causing pain when I use my arm which wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to use it. But, when you have a working arm, it’s hard not to use it. So, I may I need physical therapy.  What will a physical therapist do to my armpit? Does anyone know?

So, what are you in PT for? Oh, recovering from knee surgery? Cool. What am I in here for? Me? Well, scar tissue in my armpit. Yep.

I started having sharp pains in my right breast a couple of weeks ago, but they have since subsided. I think my right breast was having sympathy pains (and, she may be a little jealous of the attention-stealing left breast). But, no worries. She’s just a drama queen.

Let’s pour a glass of wine and say a toast.

Here’s to the end! [sip]

Cheers! [gulp]

Thor the Healer

For the last two weeks, I have started each day with an unusual regimen: radiation therapy with Thor the Healer. Thor the Healer is the name of the radiation machine that greets me every morning. I love the name.

Thor was having problems last week and my therapies on Thursday and Friday were all jumbled up, but I eventually got treated. I know how he feels. Sometimes you just don’t want to do what you’re supposed to do.

Before I started radiation, I read my Radiation Therapy and You booklet and I’ve also been on the internet visiting various breast cancer chat rooms. I was warned, “Don’t go on the internet!” Yeah, like that was going to happen.

Here are some of the side effects:


Redness – the treatment area could look like you have a sunburn or a tan. Check! I have a light burn.

Pruritus (is this really a word?) – the skin in the treatment area could itch so badly that you could scratch it until it gets infected. Thankfully, this has not happened.

Dry and Peeling Skin – the skin can get so dry that it peels. This has not happened because the radiation oncologist told me to buy a $14 bottle of lotion. It seems to be working.

Moist Reaction (I hate the word ‘moist’, don’t you?) – apparently radiation kills skin cells which can cause the skin to peel off faster than it can grow back. This can result in sores or ulcers. Hopefully my super duper expensive lotion will prevent this from happening.

Swollen Skin – the skin in my treatment area may get swollen and puffy. This is kind of hard to tell with boobs since they are both swollen and puffy by design, so I can’t give you an accurate assessment at this time. Maybe later in my treatment.

Hair Loss – radiation can cause hair loss only in the radiated area. I was told that I might lose the hair under my left arm. Put a check mark in the pro column!

Side effects not listed in the book:

Pain Bursts – radiation can cause shooting pains to explode in your breast like a punch to gut. This pain burst will last only a few minutes, but can cause you to double over, grab your breast, and cry out in agony. These pains were intense during the first week of radiation, but have slowly subsided. I think this is because Thor is slowly killing all of my breast tissue. Oh, and I read a post in one of the chat rooms that said this could be a permanent side effect. Wonderful. It has a name, but I quickly forgot it because I don’t want it to be so (that works, right?).

Nipple Fry – it feels like you have an extremely sunburned nipple. Don’t know what that feels like? I didn’t either until I started treatment. I know you’re thinking, “Duh. Didn’t she read second item in the first list?” I did, but I didn’t connect the dots that since my skin would look sunburned, that it would actually feel sunburned. And, it didn’t occur to me that my nipple was part of my skin. It’s very, very uncomfortable. It would feel better if I didn’t have to wear clothes. But, alas, social convention requires me to wear clothes. My radiation oncologist offered a special numbing cream. I told him that I would think about it.

As of today, I’ve had twelve treatments. Only twenty-one treatments to go! Usually, the days fly by quickly for me, but now the days are drifting by s-l-o-w-l-y. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Radiation & You!

Radiation. My first appointment was yesterday and it was overwhelming to say the least. It was my “practice” appointment where I was on the table and the machine ran through all of the angles without actually emitting any radiation. And, I received new markings on my torso – these are larger and more intricate than the previous ones. Yay.

One bright point: One of the radiation specialists said I was the easiest appointment of the day. You’re welcome. I always strive to do my best.

Radiation Manual

Radiation therapy is strange. Today was my first “real” appointment. I donned my pink “open in the front” gown to signal to everyone that I was ready for some radiation. I was placed on the table in my custom-fitted pillow and then the machine moved around a bit (lasted about 5 minutes) and then I was done. I felt absolutely nothing. The machine did hum a bit and that was it. Did I really receive a radiation treatment?

The VERY nice radiation techs assured me that I did indeed receive my first treatment. Okay, if you say so.

There are many guidelines to follow when having radiation. Let me sum it up for you.

  • I cannot shave my left armpit because I might cut myself. Yikes! I haven’t cut myself shaving my underarms since 7th grade, but okay. Seven weeks without shaving? Are they mad? Then, after my mini-tantrum, she did say that I could use an electric razor. Whew! The thought of having one underarm with hippie hair and one without any hair was starting to freak me out.
  • I am not allowed to wear deodorant for the duration of my treatment. Yikes, again! Armpit with hippie hair and no deodorant? Sexy, right? Again, after a look of utter disbelief, she did say that if I had a desire to wear deodorant, I could buy one of the few kinds that were non-metallic. Yes, I do very much desire deodorant so I bought some of that super expensive, non-metallic stuff. I’m not really impressed with it, but what’s a girl to do?
  • I am not allowed to wear underwire bras. Oh boy. Okay. Hmmm. Wow. She recommended that I buy some loose-fitting sports bras (which goes against the purpose of a sports bra) so I’m going shopping this weekend. Kohl’s here I come! Want to join me?
  • I cannot use antibacterial soaps. I can only use pre-approved soaps like glycerine or Dove. Got it. This is an easy one.
  • I cannot use any lotions unless they have been pre-approved. She gave me a sample of the kind that they recommend and told me the cheapest place to buy it. Fourteen dollars was the bargain price. No wonder healthcare in America costs so much. I’m supposed to use this lotion on the radiation area twice a day so the area stays supple and doesn’t dry out.
  • I cannot use my special expensive deodorant nor my special expensive lotion the four hours prior to my radiation treatment. Oh my! It’s a good thing that my appointments are the first thing in the morning. However, this requires me to remember NOT to put on deodorant (I’m 48 years old. It’s habit.) and remember NOT to put on lotion. Because of this new morning routine, I have to carry my special deodorant in my purse. Greeeaaattt.
  • I should not expose the radiation area to the sun. I can handle this one. That part of my body has NEVER seen the sun and I’m not about to start now.
  • There are certain antioxidants that I’m not allowed to take. What are they are? I don’t know yet. I’ll find out on Thursday when I meet with my radiation oncologist.
  • I am to avoid getting my lovely new artwork wet and I’m not allowed to scrub vigorously. I guess I will use my own judgment on what is too vigorous. However, avoiding wetting down my new marks will be almost impossible because there are a lot. How do they expect me not to get them wet? A spit bath is completely out of the question. I don’t think they are very effective anyway. These new marks climb up my upper chest a bit – you can see them when I wear most of my t-shirts and summer shirts. How do I explain these lovely black marks? I really wish it was winter right now.

Once I read my Radiation Therapy and You book, I will share with you the possible side effects of radiation. You’ll have to check out my next post to find out what they are. I know you will be holding your breath. I am.

Cancer Sucks

Cancer sucks. I suppose I’m stating the obvious. But, I thought I would go ahead say it again anyway just in case you didn’t know.

Did you know that there are A LOT of tests involved when one receives a cancer diagnosis? So, so many. This past Monday was test day for me.

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Test One: Breast MRI / 9:15AM

If you’ve never experienced an MRI, I will tell you a secret. They are LOUD.  I mean really loud. On a conceptual level, I knew that. But holy cow. I went to a special center that was called Breast MRI North – very descriptive really. From beginning to end, the entire process lasted about forty-five minutes with the MRI portion taking about twenty or twenty-five minutes. My friend that accompanied me said that she could hear the machine from the waiting room.

Tips for a Breast MRI:

  • Know your name, date of birth and have your insurance card handy. Also, be ready to answer some rather personal questions OUT LOUD because the registration nurse, instead of handing you the clipboard with the list of questions, will read you the list of questions so she can circle ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the form on your behalf. Maybe I looked illiterate and incapable of using a writing utensil. No wait, she had me sign the form. Hmmm, maybe that’s how she gets her shits and grins?
  • Know ahead of time what you will be in the mood to listen to while in a giant tube because the registration nurse will gleefully and proudly hand you a 10-page list of CD’s and radio stations available for your listening pleasure and she will want you to choose something from list in less than five minutes. Be prepared.
  • Don’t wear pants with any kind of metal in them. When you wear pants or shorts with just elastic (like athletic shorts or sweatpants), you can keep your own pants on. If you wear pants with metal (rivets or zippers), you will have to remove them and I’m not sure what your option will be for pants. Maybe nothing. Why risk it? Just wear elastic.
  • Don’t wear metal on or in your body. You will be in a machine that uses big, high-powered magnets to create images. If you have piercings (wherever they may be), remove them before you go. It will save you time especially if you have a lot of them or have them in unique spots. Every receptionist or nurse you encounter will ask you if you have any metal on or in you. You will hear this question about five times, but don’t shout, “NO, for the freakin’ millionth time!” like I wanted to. Just be calm. Also, don’t worry if you have a titanium clip in your breast like I do, you will be fine. Apparently titanium is not magnetic. Whew, right? How would I remove that? What would happen if you forgot a piercing or forgot about that metal plate in your head?
  • Get over your fear of needles if you haven’t already. Needles will be the least of your problems going forward. They inject dye or what they call ‘contrast‘ into your veins. This was the easiest part of the test.
  • Remember, your boobs are no longer considered part of your “privates”. In order to reinforce this, the receptionist, as you follow her to the changing room, will remind you to strip from the waist up and wear the pink gown so it opens in the front. (Gee, thanks for pointing that out because I forgot I was here so you could take pictures of my boobs.)

Just repeat after me: “They are now just another set of appendages that anyone and everyone can see, touch, tug, pull, pinch and smash.” I know it’s hard to get used to, but you need to suck it up, Buttercup!

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Many of you will be able to relate to this story. All of my breast-related experiences since May have taken me back to when I gave birth for the first time. I had a really long labor with Rachel (15 hours) which meant that multiple shifts of nurses visited me to check on my dilation status. In the dark hours of morning when the hospital was sleeping and quiet, I thought I saw even the night janitor enter my  room at one point to check on the ole’ vajayjay. Maybe there was a sign posted outside my door or someone was selling “peeks”. I just don’t know. I was in too much pain to really care.

  • Bring your own noise-cancelling headphones. Worth every penny.  If you have some, you can ignore the second item. I really wish I had had a pair of those headphones.

After the brief misgivings I had at making a hasty music selection, I got over it and thought, “Cool, I’ll get to listen to some music so I won’t have to hear this awful machine.” Uh. Wrong. As I lay tummy-down on the MRI table with my boobs dangling through two convenient holes, one of the nurses placed the headphones over my ears in a womperjawed fashion. Since my arms wouldn’t bend that way, I couldn’t fix them. Great. Why couldn’t I put the headphones on myself? Medical malpractice?

Being in an MRI machine is like being in a running dryer along with all of your shoes while the “done” buzzer is going off, and then like being inside a radiation siren while it’s sounding off during a nuclear meltdown. These sounds alternate with bits of quiet in between. The headphones I had on did absolutely nothing other than spew loud music into my ears while trapped inside the noisemaker.

Update on my MRI results: All clear! I have no other cancers hiding in either of the girls. Needless to say, I’m extremely relieved.

Test Two: CT Scan / 10:30AM

The CT scan is critical to my radiation treatment. My radiation oncologist will use these images to calculate the angles of radiation so this scan needs to be accurate. In calculating the radiation angles, they will try to minimize the impact on my heart and left lung – I’m all for that. There are possible risks to the heart and lung associated with radiation that can show up years later.

Tips for a CT Scan:

  • See first item above. The one item that will be different is that you won’t have someone asking you personal questions out loud in front of the whole waiting room.
  • There is NO music option. I took this as a good sign that the CT scan would be quiet.
  • There are NO metal worries! You can wear whatever you want. Woo Hoo!
  • There are NO needles! Can I get a, “Hell Yes!”?.
  • A nurse will weigh you. I’m not really sure why. What does your weight have to do with the scan of your bosom?
  • You will be asked to strip from the waist up and put on the pink gown so it opens up in the . . . yep, you guessed it  . . front. I’m seeing a trend here.

For the remaining part of this test, remember that your ta-tas are now just like your arms or toes. Your bosom is no longer private.

  • For radiation treatment, you will have to lie on a magic pillow with your arms over your head so your body from the shoulders up will make an impression in it. Then, the nurses do something to it so it retains your imprint. It immediately turns stiff like Styrofoam. Wacky. This will be the form you will lie in for every radiation treatment.
  • You will be asked to lie on your back on a long table. (You mean I don’t have to lie on my stomach and drop my yabbos into holes? Yessss.) And, the best part of the test? They cover you with a warm blanket because the room is flippin’ cold!
  • The CT scanner looks like a giant donut with a table going through the middle. You are on that table. The humiliating part of this test is that your breast is just hanging out there exposed like you are on lying on your back sunning yourself on a nude beach. (Now, I’m starting to like the holes in the table.)
  • The scan takes about fifteen minutes. When the blessedly quiet scan is completed, one of the nurses will get a black sharpie and mark all over your breast and torso with plus and minus signs while the other nurse covers the marks with clear circular bandages. And, you’re done. Oh, wait, you’re not done. The nurse that marked your torso will whip out a small digital camera to take a picture of your artistically altered breast.

It was a very weird feeling to have your breast exposed the entire time during the scan and to have two people draw on your breast and torso afterward. It was even weirder when the nurse with the marker asked if it was okay if he could take a digital photo of his handy work. Does the photo go into a scrapbook? Will a picture be circulated on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? I don’t think it was my best work.

  • One last item: you will be told that you can take showers, but don’t let water directly hit your breasts. Hmm. . .okay. What? I’m not a contortionist and I’m sure very few Breast Cancer patients are.

That was Test Monday for me. It was crazy and I was very grateful that my dear friend went with me because I just really needed the moral support and someone to discuss it with.

I did get the “radiation” call late this past Friday. I will be starting my radiation treatments tomorrow (Monday). The first appointment will be the longest as they will check my marks (and, they are all still there!) and perform a dry run of the actual radiation treatment so they can review their flight plan. If it all looks good, I will have my first actual radiation treatment on Tuesday.

More to come. . . .

Betrayed by One of the Girls

Where do I begin? Unexpected, devastating, shocking . . .these are some of the words that come to mind when describing the betrayal.

It could be a lot worse.

At least you found out about it early. You’re lucky.

I know someone who had the exact same experience and she is fine.

I know everyone means well and I really do appreciate it. But, sometimes I need someone to say that it’s okay to feel the way I’m feeling and it’s okay if I don’t feel lucky I found it out early and I know that others have experienced this same betrayal and I am truly sorry about that but I don’t want to hear about these stories just yet.

I need some time. I know that I do eventually have to come to grips with it and move on. And, I know this and I will do it. I just need more time to process the pain and disbelief.

What happened? I found out this past Monday that I have breast cancer in my left breast.


This happens to about 288,000 women and 2,200 men a year. Of the 288,000 women, roughly 58,000 receive the diagnosis that I received. I have DCIS which is the earliest form of cancer so I know that’s why everyone is telling me I’m lucky. Lucky is not the word I’m choosing to use to describe how I feel at this moment. Don’t worry. I’ll get there.

I’ve had to go through some rather uncomfortable and humiliating diagnostic procedures to get to this point too. Why hasn’t someone come up with a better way other than smashing your boobs in a vice and then having someone ask you if you are okay?

Um, no. I’m not okay because someone has my boob in a vice and telling me to hold my breath.

Since this is the first time that I’ve had to proceed further than the standard mammogram, there is no way I could have anticipated what awaited me in the diagnostic testing department (aka torture). Have any of you had a stereotactic breast biopsy? I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a mammogram on steroids which includes needles, vacuum-sucking sounds and also nurses asking if you’re doing all right.

Yep, I’m doing just peachy keen here with my boob dangling through a hole in the table that I’m lying on face down while a nurse hiding under the table pulls and twists my boob juuusst so before smashing it in a vice. And then with that awesome vacuum-sucking sound in the background, the radiologist is shooting me with a device that removes samples of my breast tissue. Peachy.Keen.

Did I tell you that they don’t even give you a happy pill or a shot of vodka before this procedure? What is up with that? I know people who get laughing gas just to get their teeth cleaned! It’s a conspiracy against women. It’s the only conclusion that can be drawn.

This unfortunate diagnostic torture led me to an invasive breast biopsy.  I am happy to report I was completely knocked out cold for the actual biopsy, but I had to undergo another barbaric procedure the morning of my biopsy. Again, unbelievable. I had to have a wire localization procedure which helps the breast surgeon remove the correct area (I’m all for that). However, again, no happy pill or shot of vodka. Just a boob smash, a “How are you doin’?” and then a needle in the boob leaving some wire behind.

Yep, yep, yep. I’m doing great here while you are sticking a wire into my boob as it’s being smashed as flat as a pancake.

What’s next in my future? Well, seven weeks of radiation and possibly another surgery to have my ovaries removed. I’m not using them anyway. Their removal will put me into early menopause, but let’s be candid here. I’m facing menopause within 5-6 years any way. Hot flashes, here I come!

One of the hardest parts about receiving a diagnosis like this is sharing it with your children. We talk about everything with our kids and have been extremely honest with them. We aren’t whispering the words, breast cancer. We are saying its name aloud and facing it.

This is a journey that I wish I didn’t have to take. But, I will put on my big girl bra and panties and take it.

The Mom, the 4th Grader and the ISP (aka Independent Study Project)

Independent. Study. Project.  Those may be the three most dreaded words whispered in our house.   My son, Jack, has been in the challenge program at his current elementary school since 2nd grade.   It is a program of accelerated learning and the kids in this program do the ISP every other year.  For Madeline (our middle one), it was 3rd and 5th grade.  For Jack, his rotation has been 2nd and 4th grade. 

The ISP spans 8 weeks of the school year – the kids have to pick an issue/problem to study, interview an “expert” in the topic, write a 4 to 5 page type-written paper, prepare a  “product”, prepare a tri-fold presentation board and give a 10-15 minute presentation to the class.    Did I mention that my son is 9 years old and in the 4th grade?  I don’t think I did anything like that until high school!  My son is super smart, loves math and science, loves to read, and HATES to write.  We made it through the 2nd grade ISP (topic = Jupiter)  with a large amount of micro-management (he was 7 yrs old!).  Third grade was a blessed relief and, now, here we are in the thick of another ISP. 

His topic of choice – Breast Cancer What?  I have discussed the breast cancer diagnosis of my best friend’s sister at the dinner table, but it wasn’t a reoccurring topic of table discussion. I tried to steer him toward a cancer topic that impacts children because I thought it would be more interesting for his classmates,  but he made a U-turn and would not be deterred.  So, here I am talking with my son about breasts, menopause, self-breast exams, estrogen, mammograms, etc.   I haven’t even had these discussions with my daughters!  Mike was like, “Testicular Cancer was already taken?”. 

Jack and I are complete opposites on the organizational scale (there should be an official name, like the Richter Scale) – I’m psycho and he’s mister “Whatever” (very similar to his father which makes our marriage work, weird, huh?).  This time around , I thought I would not micro-manage, you know, let him be a big boy and  take care of it himself. Right?  Okay, so we are about 5 weeks into the project, and on Monday (day after the store and green bean travesty), I decided to check on the status of the project: 

ME:  “Hey, buddy!  How are you doing on your timeline?  Can I see it?  Oh, your 1st draft is due this Friday? 

Jack:  “Yes, Mommy.”

Me:  “How much do you have done of your 4 pages? 

Jack:  “One. “

Me:  “ONE!?” [mommy tantrum and you can imagine the rest]. 

Okay, so now I’m back in management mode (trying not to get to the micro level).  So, we sat and got a game plan together regarding his paper.  He seemed grateful because I think he was truly overwhelmed by the scope of the project at hand.  And, remember he HATES writing.  He also types with one finger as I’m sure most 4th graders do and thus, the one page of the four-page paper. 

Tuesday, March 16th:  Jack forgot his project folder.  [mommy tantrum]  But, he was able to work on his paper because most of his research was from web sites  like, and the like.

Wednesday, March 17th: Again, Jack forgot his project fold  [I’m speechless with frustration]  So, he had to reprint the web sites (oh, the ink cartridges!).

Thursday, March 18th (night before the 1st draft is due):  Jack forgot the folder AGAIN!  For Jack’s sake, he stayed after school for something else and was able to retrieve the folder.  He put his final draft together (see prior post about the Thursday dinner).  So, the 1st draft of the paper was now complete.

This weekend begins the creation of the tri-fold poster board  presentation and the “product”.  Well, to Jack’s credit, he has made a layout of the presentation board on paper so he is thinking ahead (yeah!) and Mike will be assisting him in this part of the ISP – I mean, he is the architect, literally, of the family.  He does this for a living. I’m exhausted and it is time for some job-share.

Originally, for the Product, Jack wanted to do prepare a PowerPoint presentation, but I talked him out of it (more typing and pictures of what, breasts?).  So we needed another Product, I suggested maybe a magnet for the Mommies of his peers with some info on Breast Cancer health written on them.  Jack did agree to this alternate version of his dream of a PowerPoint on Breast Cancer (thank goodness since time is running out and he has one good typing finger).  I’m really glad he agreed to this because all of this has to be done by March 28th.    Presentations start on Monday, March 29th. 

Why do I care so much?  Well, Mike and I have talked about this many times.  We both agree that Jack truly cares about how he does in school, but the organizational skills required of him to be successful at the challenge level are higher than what he is able to give at this stage in his 9-yr-old life.   I know that  it is recommended that it is better to let our kids fail at this level than at the high school level where it truly matters.  They learn lessons, etc.  I agree with that premise when it is a child that is clearly capable and is not living up to his/her ability.  But, I am struggling with this topic with our little man because it is not a question of resistance, but a question of maturity.  You can’t MAKE someone mature because you want it.   Everyone knows that it is true!

I really do feel for him because sometimes he can’t play with the neighborhood kids after school because of his homework demands.  I do hope that this curriculum is worth it to our boy.  It seems to have helped Maddie quite a bit in junior high – she is very self-sufficient, makes almost straight A’s and doesn’t seem to struggle with written assignments, presentations, etc.  I’m hoping that he will also realize the benefits from this accelerated curriculum.

I love my little man so much and am trying to do the best by him regarding his schooling.  I have to say that we have not had any of these issues with girls, why is that?  Is it the difference in maturity between girls and boys?   I wish I knew!

However, what I can say is that Jack seems to take after his father in a lot of ways and that is not a bad thing!  Mike is a very successful human being as well as a businessman, so there is abundant hope for my little Jackie 🙂 

And, I need to RELAX 🙂