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.

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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 WebMD.com, BreastCancer.org 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 🙂