my Breast Cancer blog

2004, age 34 — this is my story

Flashback: November 29, 2004

SarahMcD ?, Flickr

SarahMcD ?, Flickr

On November 29, I met with a surgeon at Shands who prepared me for my first step: surgery. He said he would remove the lump and would determine whether or not my lymph nodes were cancerous. He would check all the margins around my breast to see if any surrounding tissue was affected and would identify all the defining factors of my cancer. If he found extensive cancer, he would have to remove my breast. I had to sign a form stating that my surgery was to be a lumpectomy but could turn into a mastectomy. My surgery was scheduled for Friday of this same week.

Live Like We’re Dying

Remember last season’s “American Idol” winner Kris Allen? Here’s his new song, “Live Like We’re Dying.” According to Austin360.com, Allen’s self-titled album, where this single lives, gets a D+. Says blogger Patrick Caldwell, it’s “precisely the sort of pop confectionery you’d expect from a carefully groomed would-be star, a generic outing that’s all soaring harmonies, inoffensive guitar and utter lack of soul.” About the single that kicks off the album, he says, “with cliche lyrics that — aside from, um, urging you to live like you’re dying — elect to go as broad as possible, lest any listener be alienated by an actual glimmer of personality.”

Call me sappy and cliche, but I, um, kinda like the song, even though the title is a little too much like this one.

Beautifully Benign

matze_ott, Flickr

matze_ott, Flickr

Five years ago, on November 24, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And today, on another November 24, I learned that my recent MRI, showing some suspicious little nodules, is nothing to worry about. The news comes from my surgeon, who offered me a second opinion. The first opinion, by the way, was that I probably had nothing to worry about, but now it’s official:

“Your MRI is fine, the small spots represent fibrocystic disease, a benign condition.”

Whew!


Flashback: November 24, 2004

 alanclarkdesign, Flickr

alanclarkdesign, Flickr

My phone rang at 10:00 a.m., and the doctor who did the biopsy said the pathology report was back already. He said that unfortunately, cancer cells were found. He said I would need a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the lump), radiation, and possibly chemotherapy. He told me to buy a book called Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book. I got the book that day.

Somehow, I made it though the Thanksgiving weekend, with my thoughts jumping from the hope that this would turn out OK to the fear that I would not see my boys grow up. My mind wandered and worried about surgery and what treatments I would have. I wondered if I could have more kids and whether or not I would lose my hair. I cried and lost sleep and was hopeful, too.

I learned a lot from reading my new book. I learned that many women do go on to have kids after cancer, but I also learned that chemotherapy in young women could cause early menopause. I learned that I have an 85 percent survival rate, and also that I will get tiny little tattoos surrounding my breast to aid in the proper delivery of radiation. These permanent tattoos will also alert any future doctors that my breast has had radiation because I can never have it again in that same area. The book helped me feel positive about this journey, but it also helped me face reality.

Note: My survival rate turned out to be more like 93 percent for five years. And here I am — at five years.

Flashback: November 23, 2004

Brittany G, Flickr

Brittany G, Flickr

On November 23, I had a biopsy. A large needle was placed in my breast and a piece of the lump was pulled out. The surgeon had a hard time getting a piece, however, because it moved around so much. He said this was a good sign, the movement. He sent the tissue to pathology and told me to call his office the next afternoon for the results.

Turn on the Boob Tube This Thanksgiving

kaleidoscope-400jd112209

womens.cancerinformation.com

Got a Thanksgiving TV tip for you, because, admit it — you know you’ll be curled up on the couch or stretched out on the recliner after your Turkey Day feast! Might as well grab the remote and tune into a special called “Kaleidoscope: A Celebration of Survivorship through Sport and Song.”

Why?

One out of every three women in the United States will develop some form of cancer in her lifetime — yikes! — and this program should very well open your eyes to the female fight against the disease.

Sponsored by sanofi-aventis, this heartwarming show will feature ice skating, music and celebrity cancer survivors. It all happens on November 26, 2009 on the Fox-TV network. Check your local listings for time (looks like it’s on at 4 p.m. in Florida).

For more information, please visit womens.cancerinformation.com. And if you want a cool and inspiring something to send to a friend, check out these free kaleidoscope e-cards you can craft all on your own. That’s mine pictured above.

For Kelly

kelly-175jd110809

Kelly

This is my cousin Kelly. She was 5 years old here, and she died just three weeks before her 8th birthday. This month marks 30 years since her passing from leukemia, and that means had she survived her disease, she would have been almost 38 years old.

Nowadays, many kids survive cancer. According to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,  just 4 percent of children survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia (cancer of the blood) in 1962. Today, about 94 percent conquer the disease. That’s a pretty impressive improvement — I just wish Kelly, who was diagnosed at 14 months, could have benefited from the better statistic. But she didn’t, because she fought cancer in the 1970s. And that’s just plain crappy.

So, I write this post to honor Kelly who, sadly, didn’t get a fair shot at life. Those almost-eight years sure were cherished, though. Says her brave and strong mom of the time they spent together: “I am so grateful to have had those years with her. She will live in my heart forever.”

I honor you, too, Sandy, and all the moms and dads who have loved and lost (you know who you are). I’m not sure how you go on after such tragedies, but I admire you completely for so gracefully doing it.

MRI Shows Low-Risk Changes

Crap.

I was hoping for an e-mail from my oncologist that went something like this:

“Your MRI results are back, and everything is great!”

But this is what I got:

“Your MRI report is attached; My take is that there are some low risk changes and that we should keep doing what we have been, the mammogram alternating with the MRI.  Let me know if you want to talk.”

We talked. And my doctor said he thinks we are fine to just keep monitoring — even though the report said things like: There has been interval development of few small, less than 3 mm enhancing foci located more posteriorly within the right breast which demonstrate Type II enhancement curves. No space-occupying lesions are identified. No other concerning enhancing lesions are identified.

You see, tests like MRI are very sensitive, and they pick up all sorts of things. It’s all probably benign, it could be fibrous stuff, or hormonal stuff, who knows.

The “who knows” part is what scares me. Maybe it shouldn’t. The radiologists involved are apparently very cautious, and if they were worried, they would have recommended further action. Still, I’m going to have my surgeon and some others take a look at the report on Monday.

Some good news — everything on the left side is good, and that’s where the cancer was five years ago. It’s the right side that is causing trouble now.

More as the mystery unfolds.

Flashback: November 19, 2004

Elisabeth Augusta, Flickr

Elisabeth Augusta, Flickr

I was the youngest person waiting to get my mammogram, another sign that this lump was nothing serious because it is not common for young women to have breast cancer. Mammograms are not even recommended for women under the age of 40. I am 34.

The mammogram films looked OK, and the technician told me the doctor would talk to me, but that she was not worried about anything. This was true, but she did an ultrasound anyway to look further at the lump. She determined it was not a cyst, which is fairly common, and nothing serious. It could be a fibroma (a common growth that can be removed or left in place without harm) or it could be cancer. She said she wanted me to have the lump removed. She wanted it out and in a jar, she said.

I asked her if it could be cancer, and she said it could be.

Either I’m Fine or I’m Sick

Another MRI.
Quick this time around.
Answered some questions.
Filled out some forms.

Blue gown and underwear.
IV in arm.
Beeping and screeching.
Kelly Clarkson in my ears.

8 minutes on my back.
20 on my belly.
Boobs through holes in table.
Someone snapping pictures.

“Pretty,” she called the pics.
I was still and didn’t move.
The real answer comes tomorrow:
Everything is fine, or maybe it’s not.

Relaxing at home.
Not worried, really.
Either I’m fine, or I’m sick.
I know the drill.

5 years looming on horizon.
Will I make it free and clear?
I think so.
Will let you know.

Flashback: November 18, 2004

pfala, Flickr

pfala, Flickr

I went to my OB/GYN on November 18. My doctor felt the lump but was confident it was nothing to worry about. It moved around easily, there was no discharge from my nipple, I did not feel any pain: all signs that it was benign. But it’s routine to get a mammogram for any mass so I got one the next day.

No Mammograms at 40, No Self-Exams at All

feelyourboobies.com

feelyourboobies.com

While I find it pretty odd that the task force of 16 declaring women don’t need mammograms starting at age 40 anymore does not include any oncologists — what? — I won’t spend too much time arguing about this topic. I just don’t have the tools to determine whether or not this is a good recommendation. I mean, I tend to think not, but I see the point that over-testing does lead to false positives, anxiety and unnecessary biopsies. A mammogram did not find my cancer, after all — I did. Which brings me to the point I am going to argue.

This same panel says women should stop conducting breast self-exams, and they should no longer be taught how to perform them. Seems they are not all that effective in turning up cancerous tumors, and there is no difference in mortality rates between women who perform them and women who do not. Uh, not so fast — there’s no doubt in my mind I’d be dead right now had I not been examining myself in the shower five years ago yesterday.

OK, so I’m just one woman, but isn’t that enough? And what exactly is wrong with doing the exam? Maybe it’s ineffective and doesn’t work — but is it hurting anything to do it, just in case? Why tell women to stop? Why not just tell them to not rely heavily on the outcome?

Here’s what I’m saying: Keep feeling your boobies! When you come across something that feels funny, go to your doctor and let that person determine whether you should worry or not.

Just be safe.

Not sorry.

Slim Down to Cut Your Cancer Risk

cohdra, morgueFile

cohdra, morgueFile

This isn’t always true, because I was not overweight prior to my breast cancer diagnosis (which means something else caused my unfortunate turn of events), but carrying around extra fat on your body is definitely linked to an increased risk for developing the disease. My friend, nutritionist and author Jonny Bowden says so — “Researchers estimate that extra body fat causes 33,000 breast cancer cases a year,” he says, and guess what? Probably 21,000 cases of endometrial cancer and more than 13,000 of colorectal cancer are caused by too much weight. Scary stuff, isn’t it?

There’s good news: You can reduce your risk by losing as little as 10 percent of your current body weight. (Well, if you are overweight, that is. No need if you’re currently maintaining a healthy number on the scale.) Here’s a bunch of tools to get you started. Oh, yea, and if you’re in the market for breast cancer treatment, be prepared to pack on some pounds. It happens (I was in the 10-pound club myself) — who knows why (the drugs, maybe) — but you might very well need to shed some skin after the fact. So these tools may come in handy down the road, even if you don’t need them now.

Flashback: November 16, 2004

jacki-400jd111509

Remembering 2004

I felt a lump in my left breast while taking a shower. I have always been aware of what my breasts feel like. I have a lot of dense tissue — so dense that the surgeon who performed my breast reduction (in 1996) had trouble separating the tissue to take some out and leave some in. My breasts always seem lumpy to me, and I never knew if I’d be able to tell the difference between normal and abnormal tissue. I once had a mammogram because of something I felt. It all turned out fine. It was just the dense tissue. All of my annual GYN visits have revealed nothing abnormal. But I’ve always been aware and curious, which is why I found something in the shower. I knew it was not normal. It was hard, and it felt like a small, frozen green pea. It moved around, and for the first few days, I had a hard time locating it. Once I became obsessed with it, I could find it immediately.

(Free) Clean Houses For Cancer Patients

ToastyKen, Flickr

ToastyKen, Flickr

There’s nothing better than a little help when you’re enduring the rigors of chemo — a friend driving you to appointments, a meal delivered to your door, a buddy watching your kids while you rest and rebound from those icky infusions. What about someone cleaning your house? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Sure would — and it’s entirely possible!

Cleaning for a Reason is newly-formed nonprofit offering free professional house cleaning and maid services to improve the lives of women undergoing treatment for cancer — any type of cancer.

Here’s how it works: If you currently use a professional house-cleaning service, please call and ask if they’re involved with the Cleaning for a Reason foundation. If not, ask them to sign up right here. If that’s a no-go or you don’t use a service but want to take advantage of this program, head on over here and search by state and city to find a participating service. A quick search of my area turned up two, and you can bet I’ll be sharing this info. with anyone in Gainesville who is headed for chemo.

To get the ball rolling, you’ll also need to sign up as a patient on the Cleaning for a Reason website. And if you’re not sure if this service is right for you, check out the testimonials from those who have received cleanings and those who have cleaned. I can’t speak firsthand about the program myself, but it seems clear that it’s a really big help. So, give it at try — or at the very least, help me spread the word.

Live Like You Were Dying

Five years ago on this very day, I was two weeks from learning I had breast cancer. There I was, plugging along nicely in life, attending playgroups with a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old, investigating preschool programs, thinking the worst of my existence was a frustrating run at potty training and an inconsistent nap schedule. Ha!

There’s no better case for cherishing the day than realizing something devastating might be lurking around the corner. It happens to people every day. Everything is fine, then BAM! — Cancer. Now, I completely hope it doesn’t happen to you (although if it does, I am confident you can totally handle it, because I did, and I’m a pretty accomplished whiner), but just in case, I suggest you really do live each day as if it’s your last, just like country singer Tim McGraw sings:

Live Like You Were Dying

He said: “I was in my early forties,
“With a lot of life before me,
“An’ a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
“I spent most of the next days,
“Looking at the x-rays,
“An’ talking ’bout the options an’ talkin’ ‘bout sweet time.”
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end?
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do?

An’ he said: “I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”

He said “I was finally the husband,
“That most the time I wasn’t.
“An’ I became a friend a friend would like to have.
“And all of a sudden goin’ fishin’,
“Wasn’t such an imposition,
“And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.
“Well, I finally read the Good Book,
“And I took a good long hard look,
“At what I’d do if I could do it all again,
“And then:

“I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”

Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An’ what did you do with it?
An’ what can I do with it?
An’ what would I do with it?

“Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin’.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”

“To live like you were dyin’.”
“To live like you were dyin’.”
“To live like you were dyin’.”
“To live like you were dyin’.”

Woman Fakes Breast Cancer for Boob Job

Photo: LancerenoK, Flickr

Photo: LancerenoK, Flickr

So her marriage sucked, and she thought a breast augmentation would help mend fences. But 24-year-old Trista Joy Lathern couldn’t afford a boob job, and that’s why she faked having breast cancer to raise some cash.

Yep, the Texas gal told friends and family she needed life-saving cancer treatment — she even shaved her head! — and then she hosted fundraisers (performances by four bands, a raffle, a silent auction and a bake sale) and raked in $10,000 for her cause.

Ironically, medical records show that Lathern did have a breast mass removed in February, but it was benign. Nothing benign about her cancer hoax, though. She’s been arrested for theft by deception, with a bond set at $7,500.

And did she get the bigger boobs before she got caught? Sure did, to the tune of $6,800. Did it fix her marriage? I’m thinking not.

Can a Bra Cause Breast Cancer?

bra

Tomás Fano, Flickr

I once had big boobs – really big boobs. So big I had them reduced and lost 4 whole pounds of tissue. Had I not had a breast reduction, my tumor might have been buried deep inside all that stuff, never to be found by me. But I did find the cancerous mass, because it was right on the surface, and so I’m very thankful that my small-ish boobs may have saved my life.

But that’s another story.

This story is about the bras I wore with those big breasts, because they were underwire bras, meant to heave those two things up and place them right in their intended spots, and there’s a doctor out there claiming that this very type of bra can cause breast cancer. Essentially, those contraptions I wore for my big boobs might have caused the cancer I found after they weren’t so big anymore.

Huh?

Sure enough, says medical anthropologist Dr. Sydney Singer, author of the book “Dressed To Kill: The Link between Breast Cancer and Bras.”

Basically we are impairing our circulation of blood flow,” Singer says. And if the flow of both blood and lymph is constricted within the breasts, this will cause the buildup of toxins, which can cause disease. Of course, family history, bad genes, poor diets, obesity and more play a role, but bras — well, they are apparently pretty dangerous all on their own.

Not so fast, says the American Cancer Society — they refute the claim that bras are a risk factor for breast cancer. Although Ken Smith, an American Cancer Society Breast Health Facilitator, does agree that more research is necessary on this topic. Probably won’t happen, though, he says, because many hospitals and breast cancer research centers are supported by undergarment sales profit. Hmmm. Good point. There are more good talking points in this article, which is all about the bra-breast cancer connection. Take a look for yourself, and tell me what you think:

Are bras to blame? Or not?

Fight Cancer by Reducing Your Forkprint

www.to-goware.com

www.to-goware.com

Breast Cancer Awareness Month may be over, but that isn’t stopping the company To-Go Ware from continuing to help fund a cure. Check out this To-Go Ware RePEaT Utensil Set (in a pretty Beet color), because for the rest of 2009, 10 percent of the purchase price of this bamboo set will be donated to the Breast Cancer Fund!

Consider it a toolkit for life on the go, says To-Go Ware. A handy carabiner on the back lets you clip and carry a fork, knife, spoon and chopsticks wherever you roam, and RePEaT utensil holders give plastic bottles a second shot at a useful life, they say — no landfills necessary. And what’s with the funky RePEaT name? Well, it’s made out of RPET (recycled PET plastic), and the To-Go Ware folks like to call it “RePEaT” because it lets plastic reincarnate into something kinder and gentler.

OK, so in this handy-dandy kit, you’ll get bamboo flatware and chopsticks that are heat-resistant and won’t absorb flavors. Everything is lightweight, strong and long-lasting, and the wood utensils are top-grade, and made with food-safe wood oil.

For just $11.95, this makes for a great holiday something for friends, family, that hard-to-buy-for co-worker or wait — why not give yourself this gift that keeps on giving?

Want to learn about how this company got started? It’s a pretty cool story, really, that started when one University of Michigan college student sat down for some ice cream with her sister.

Fight Breast Cancer and Other Major Diseases

clinical-research-400jd1104

ClinicalResearch.com

The following was written by Julie Hurvitz, on behalf of Quintles and ClinicalResearch.com

It’s wonderful to know that approximately 89 percent of women with breast cancer will be there to tell bedtime stories to their children this year. This number is much higher than it was 20 years ago due to early detection and improved treatments. As a daughter of a breast cancer survivor myself, I’m thankful for every single day my mother and I have together and every telephone call that is made and received. Medicines and procedures such as chemotherapy, hormone therapies and targeted biologics slow cancer down and keep it from coming back. And these victories are all due to advancements in medicine made possible by clinical research.

Today, I’m proud to introduce you to www.ClinicalResearch.com, a new resource that provides important facts about clinical research, encourages more people to become champions of clinical research and builds excitement for the promise of tomorrow’s medicines!

Sponsored by Quintiles, www.ClinicalResearch.com presents easy-to-use, comprehensive information for those who have little or no understanding of clinical research and the value it brings to healthcare. With a few clicks, patients who visit www.ClinicalResearch.com can identify ongoing or future clinical trials appropriate for their disease or condition and narrow them down to those that are geographically convenient. What else can ClinicalResearch.com provide?

  • The Web site puts you in touch with supporting information about clinical research
  • www.ClinicalResearch.com also provides videos and news from recent studies

In order to win the fight against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, viral diseases, heart disease and stroke, millions of people need to be aware of and participate in clinical trials and research. But more help is needed!

The clinical trial became the standard in developing drugs in 1962, and since then, the FDA has approved over 1,019 novel therapies. Virtually all the medicines used today are a result of clinical research, including all drugs for cancer, heart disease, depression, HIV, Alzheimer’s and asthma. Clinical research through clinical trials is arguably the greatest medical invention of the 20th century. It continues to deliver life saving medicines and treatments and gives hope to patients in need of better care and effective medicines. Need another reason to consider clinical trials? The research pipeline holds over 9,605 potential breakthroughs!

To hear patients and doctors tell their story about clinical trials, please click here.

Take a moment this afternoon to visit www.ClinicalResearch.com, browse around, and learn more about getting involved.