my Breast Cancer blog

2004, age 34 — this is my story

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Ultrasound Not Alarming

Initial news is good: no mass, tumor, lump — ultrasound showed a bunch of dense and enhanced tissue + a lot of shadows. What does that mean? Not sure, so ultrasound doc will follow up with doc who read MRI, and she will compare with my previous MRIs to determine what exactly has changed and if there is anything to biopsy. If not, a repeat MRI will probably be scheduled. Surgeon will also be looped into the mystery. So, while I did not get a definite “everything is fine,” I am at peace knowing there was nothing alarming discovered!

Suspended State

“I’m sure you’ll be in a suspended state until you know.”

Suspended state.

That’s it.

Exactly.

Credit for these words, which are so fitting for my situation, goes to Anna. She’s my boss, a faraway friend, someone I’ve never even seen in person — that is so strange, isn’t it? The virtual world makes it possible for me to work at home in Florida with a staff of others who fill a New York City office building. I am so lucky. (Not to have never seen Anna, of course, just to have the great gift of working in my house so I can be a professional and a mom.)

So, if you have not read the posts that come before this one, I am waiting. waiting. waiting. for an ultrasound (hopefully on Monday) that will give a second look at a “new conglomerate of small enhancing foci in the retroareolar region” of my right breast (not the one where I’ve already had breast cancer) and a non-mass-like something in the posterior of the same breast. Malignancy and infectious/inflammatory etiologies are considered, says the MRI report.

The MRI I had on Thursday was just a routine follow-up — a test that was supposed to reveal I am still cancer-free.

Maybe I am still cancer-free. Maybe I’m not. The ultrasound, and probably a biopsy, will flesh it all out. While I wait for that second look, though, I’m sorta just going through the motions and hanging in a balance. I’m up and down, and, well, this is what I feel:

Yes, a suspended state, Anna. I don’t know whether to feel panic or peace, nervous or calm, worry or hope. It’s crazy.

There is still plenty of happy in my world, though. I mean, how can I not count my blessings with a boy who is willing to dance his little heart out at the Gator basketball game last night just to get on TV (and in the newspaper).

All in all, I am fine. I know deep down that if cancer is back, I will just fight it again. And if it is not back, I will be the happiest girl I know.

Quick MRI Results Not a Good Sign

1. Incomplete MRI of right breast with new conglomerate of small enhancing foci in the retroareolar region and non-mass-like enhancement of posterior breast as detailed above. Malignant and infectious/inflammatory etiologies are considered. A second look with ultrasound is recommended to evaluate for discreet lesion that would be amenable to biopsy. If ultrasound in unsuccessful, MRI-guided biopsy should be considered.

2. Normal left breast MRI.

Next up: ultrasound, early next week.

Funny thing: seven years ago, just before Thanksgiving, it all happened pretty much like this.

Of course, it could be nothing.

Or it could be something.

I just want to know.

MRI No. 5

I had my fifth post-cancer MRI today. I get one every year, right at this time. It’s just a routine thing, a method of peeking at the insides of my breasts to determine if cancer is coming back or not. I don’t know what today’s results will reveal — gotta wait for my oncologist to call — but I do know it was a pretty good visit. I can’t always say that, because I usually wait so long to have my turn in the tube that I’m steaming mad by the time I slip into my awesome blue gown.

Today, though, no one made me wait, no one made me pay, I got my MRI in the new part of the hospital (first time there), and besides one minor blood spill when the needle came out of my arm, everything went well. The best part of the morning was meeting a woman newly diagnosed with breast cancer, telling her it’s been almost 7 years since my story started (see, there IS hope!), and leading her to my blog, where she can hopefully see that what lies ahead isn’t always horrible.

And to the newly-diagnosed woman — if you are reading, welcome to my blog. It’s really long (that’s a good thing — it means I’ve been surviving for a good amount of time), but I hope you’ll find what you seek, and if you don’t, please just leave me a comment or send me an e-mail (address is on the card I gave you), and I will happily answer any of your questions or lead you to someone who can. Best wishes to you!

Betting Biopsy Will Reveal Basal Cell

Dermatologist upon seeing suspicious spot on my arm: “Yea, we’re gonna need to biopsy that.”

Yea, I figured.

And in a week, if I learn I’ve got skin cancer, it will be cut out, and I’ll sport a matching slash next to the one I already have for a basal cell cancer that was removed from the same arm in 2009.

50/50 Does Cancer Good


I don’t watch movies with a very critical eye, and mostly, I don’t really care much if what I see on the big screen matches reality. I’m just happy if films make me think, laugh, learn, and sometimes cry. Tonight, though, I saw 50/50 (about a young man who is diagnosed with cancer and must endure the rigors of fighting it), and it had me thinking for all 100 minutes, “Is this an accurate portrayal of a cancer battle?”

I’m thinking it was.

Not everything mirrored what I personally encountered, but a lot of it did.

Like the blurring effect a crushing diagnosis can have.

Like the chemotherapy infusion room — same pink leathery chairs and same gathering of cancer patients making small talk that turns into something more.

Like the shaving of the hair in preparation of the inevitable.

Like the bald head.

Like the pre-op room, with family standing by the bedside and doctors buzzing around, requesting signatures and pushing drugs that cause sleepiness.

Like the post-op room, with family standing by smiling because the news is hopeful.

Like the therapist still working on her Ph.D., dispensing relaxation techniques and advice and managing anger and frustration.

Like the nausea, the fatigue, the nervousness, the insecurity.

Like the mom who worries and is always ready to help.

There was no actual vomiting for me, no “medical” marijuana, no cheating significant other, no major big meltdown (just a bunch of minor ones), no Seth Rogan funny friend.

Still, the movie rings true.

A lot.

Probably because it’s inspired by a true story and written by the guy who lived it.

(And Seth Rogan really was his funny friend).

October. Over.

October is almost over, which means (a) my house is filled with candy, and the ultimate challenge is upon me: to eat or not to eat, (b) the time will soon change, and I will begin hating how it gets dark so early, (c) the onslaught of pink that has probably been gagging you for 31 days will slow to a medium roar, and (d) it will soon be seven years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

1 in 8 Is Not Every Woman’s Risk

I’m not sure why I didn’t fully understand the whole 1 in 8 thing before this week, but, clearly, I did not. Because when my friend who happens to spend his days hunting down a cure for cancer told me that the 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer is a lifetime risk and not a risk for every woman at every age, I was sorta shocked. And way relieved.

My friend directed me to the National Cancer Institute, where I located some facts about the often-thrown-around statistic, and here is what I learned:

cancer.gov

If you are 30 years old, you have a 1 in 233 chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years, a 1 in 54 chance in the next 20 years, a 1 in 24 chance in the next 30 years, and a 1 in 8 chance in your lifetime.

Did I have a 1 in 8 chance at age 34? Nope. I still got the disease, yes (which means I’m pretty unlucky, I guess), but my chances were not as great as one might believe.

Now, your risk does increase as you age (because, as my friend told me, cancer is mostly a disease of older people), but, still, even a 70-year-old woman has a 1 in 27 chance of getting breast cancer in the next 10 years. Not 1 in 8.

I am not here to minimize in any way the fact that breast cancer strikes far too many women of all ages, and I realize there are risk factors that change the odds listed above, but, I do appreciate a little perspective.

And now, I have some.

The First Two Months

This is pretty much what happens in the two months following a breast cancer diagnosis:

  • Mammogram.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Needle-guided biopsy.
  • Echo heart scan.
  • Full-body PET scan.
  • MRI.
  • Muga heart scan.
  • BRCA genetic testing.
  • Numerous blood tests.
  • Portacath inserted in my chest.
  • 3 rounds of chemo.
  • 2 bone marrow generating Neulasta injections.
  • Hair loss.
  • Insomnia.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Bloating/weight gain.
  • Migraines.
  • Appointments with cardiologists, oncologists, oncology surgeons for my future mastectomy, plastic surgeons for future reconstruction.
  • Too many prescriptions to name.
  • Menopause … fun times.

That could so be my list (except for the PET scan and the mastectomy and plastic surgeon appointments).

But, it’s not.

It belongs to Angela over at It Is What It Is. (That’s her in the pic.)

Angela, 31 years old and mom to a daughter and twin boys, is in the midst of treatment right now, and if you are, too, or you are about to be, or you just want to follow someone amazing who is tackling life despite its hurdles, you really should go visit this spunky gal (who also happens to be giving away a Bondi Band headband).

I think you won’t regret getting to know Angela.

I know I don’t.

Snapfish PinkGives Gift Card Giveaway

Pink Hope Encouragement Card

Snapfish says you can create personalized gifts for your family and friends while you raise breast cancer awareness. It’s simple. Just visit www.snapfish.com/PinkGives, and for every PinkGives product you purchase, Snapfish will donate 30 percent of the proceeds (up to $25,000) to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Also, Snapfish members can showcase their support by sending a note to pinkgives@snapfish.com about their involvement in the breast cancer cause – could be participation in a local Susan G. Komen race or organizing a fundraising campaign or related party – for a chance to receive Snapfish-funded support as an official photo sponsor for their event. Snapfish will select four winners and will donate up to $1,500 to each event.

That’s pretty cool.

So is this: Snapfish is giving away a $50 gift card to one of YOU through a giveaway HERE.

Also simple.

  • Leave a comment and tell us how you’ll spend your Snapfish bucks.
  • Leave your comment no later than 5PM ET on Tuesday, October 25, 2011.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 and older.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing via random.org.
  • One winner will receive one gift card in the amount of $50.
  • Winners will be notified by email, so make sure to check next week to find out if you’ve won!

 

Bald Isn’t Bad Forever

If cancer ever forces you to lose your hair, you will probably be devastated, like I was.

But, in time, you might like the benefits of bald.

Like no shampoo; no hair drying, curling, flattening; and no time at all to get ready in the morning. (No shaving or eyebrow tweezing either.)

Not that you won’t love it when your hair returns, but bald isn’t the worst thing forever. Just in the beginning.

Radiation Follow-Up Coming Up

Four times a year, I report for some sort of cancer follow-up. Tomorrow, my radiation oncologist weighs in. (I had planned to post a photo of what radiation did to my skin, but I can’t do it. It’s too gross, and it sorta makes me cry.)

Bondi Band Pink Ribbon Headband Giveaway

One giveaway wraps up (Nicole won the Creative Memories goodies), and another begins. This time, the Bondi Band headband I so adore.

Check out the awesomeness over at bondiband.com, then imagine yourself wearing a slick, snazzy band around your head. Yours, if you win, will have a pink ribbon displayed front and center. Just like mine.

So, here’s the deal:

  • Leave a comment and tell us how your pink ribbon headband will come in handy.
  • Leave your comment no later than 5PM ET on Monday, October 17, 2011.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 and older.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing via random.org.
  • One winner will receive one pink ribbon headband (value: $8).
  • Winners will be notified by email, so make sure to check next week to find out if you’ve won!

Her First Mammogram

My friend Heather wrote a story about her first mammogram, and, in the name of breast cancer awareness, she is donating it to me so I can publish it for you. Her words follow, and see that photo to the right? That’s her — the girl I first met when we were something like 25 years old, and, now, we’re something like 40.

Oh, and the “cancer-surviving friend” in the story — that’s me!

My First Mammogram

Heather Dilatush

I just had my second mammogram. I really don’t mind going to the doctor or dentist – I like staying on top of my health, but I did skip last year’s mammogram and I think I know why.

Two years ago, I went for my first “mammo.” People will probably not believe this, but I wasn’t nervous or worried about the pain that sometimes accompanies getting “squished.” I figured that if it hurt, I would take some deep breaths and get through it. As my cancer-surviving friend said, getting squished may hurt, but cancer hurts more.

But first, let me put that time in a little context. I was getting my mammo at the start of a new school year. Although I was heading into my sixth year of teaching, I was thrown into teaching photography. I am a skilled artist, but I confess, I am not a photographer. I don’t even have a background in photography. Zippo, ziltch, nadda. So I was about to learn in front of 16-year-olds. I know, fun, right? It was one of the few times in my life when I felt like I didn’t know which end was up. Everybody kept telling me I was a great art teacher and I would be good. But like all teachers, I like to know my stuff really, super double extra well so that I can teach the hell out of it. Where do you start when you don’t know anything? And another confession: I have no passion for it. I appreciate it; my partner is a great photographer, my dad had a darkroom in our basement, but that particular artform does almost nothing for me. It makes no sense, I know.

So like a good 39-year-old, I went in for my mammogram and was greeted and fondled by a very nice woman. I got squished, and it was fine. She said that sometimes people have to come in a second time, but that 80% of the time it is just to get some better shots. I thought that made sense. And I remember thinking I could never do her job. I am scared to death of my new position, but I could never work as a technician. Sometimes you have to smile at the patient knowing that something is abnormal in those images.

I got the call that I needed to come in for some more images. This time, I was more nervous because I had been trying all week to plan lessons for something I had no clue about. When my students’ film doesn’t come out, why doesn’t it? And if you have ever shot photography, is it me or is learning aperture a little tricky? Oh, and darkroom chemicals, how do those work? I felt like a fraud. Also that week, when I went into our finance office to order some supplies, I looked at Cheryl’s desk full of purchase orders, mounds of paperwork-filled columns and numbers and stuff, and said, “I could never do your job.” She said chuckling, “well, I could never be a teacher, so we’re even.”

I was feeling so scattered that when I showed up for the second mammogram, I realized I had forgotten my wallet when I went to get my money for the co-pay. They took me anyway, and when I was in the room with the technician, she said, “I will let you know that this is not going to be very pleasant.” Ugh, okay. I thought to myself, just breath, it’s all you can do. She was right. It was not pleasant. But it still wasn’t really the worst pain I have ever experienced. I used it as a time to practice breathing.

But it still happened. I panicked. I realized that she was trying to get a particular shot. There was an area of my breast that she kept squeezing the heck out of. I closed my eyes and thought about my breathing. I assume she had no idea that I was concerned. I went back to the dressing room to get dressed and was on the verge of tears. Just as I finished pulling my shirt over my head, a woman with a beautiful, warm face and handshake said in a run-on sentence, “Hi Heather, I am Doctor Bryant we will see you next year everything is fine.” When she left, I thought, I could NEVER do HER job. I went out to my car and wept. I was both relieved and upset about the upcoming year. Somehow I would get through it. Maybe I would use it as a year to breath.