For the most part, things have been going really well. Physically, I’ve felt great the last couple of weeks. Probably the best I have since starting chemo. I’ve now completed five of my six chemo cycles and continue to live life as normally as possible given the circumstances.
A big thank you for all the texts, messages, phone calls, letters and cards. It is overwhelming to think about how much love and support you guys have provided me during this process. Between appointments, support groups and Raimi’s softball stuff, it’s hard to find free time to do just about anything (including writing new blog posts.) It’s been getting tougher to keep up with everyone’s messages and invitations to get together so I apologize if it feels like I’m being flaky. It is not intentional and I promise I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Tumor? What Tumor?
Not to sound like a broken record, but I got more good news during my last ultrasound. The tech couldn’t even locate the tumor or see any indication of cancer in the lymph nodes. In case you missed my previous blogs, let me remind you that my tumor measured 11.7 cm x 5.6 cm x 10.0 cm during my MRI in November. While this is GREAT news, I can’t seem to get excited. I feel like I’ve learned to digest facts as facts and not as good or bad news.
I recently read a blog post about a thirty-six year old neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with lung cancer. I am beginning to see his mentality. He said he was neither angry nor scared when he first reviewed his MRI and realized his own Stage IV diagnosis for the first time. “It simply was. It was a fact about the world, like the distance from the sun to the Earth.” – Paul Kalanithi The blog post is about Kalanithi’s transition from a neurosurgeon resident at Stanford to a full time patient and is available here. He also published a book called, When Breath Becomes Air which I just ordered on Amazon.
Even with my emotional response in check, I can’t help but get a little excited as I realize this is a huge win for me against the disease. I see and hear stories everyday from women in my situation that are not responding well and in some cases, at all, to chemo. By responding, I am referring to whether or not the tumor is shrinking. I found it interesting that their is no correlation to the side effects of chemo and it’s effectiveness. Just like any other drug, some people have severe side effects and some have none. I happen to be one of those people that is both responding well to treatment and having very few side effects. The worst thing I can cite at this point is fatigue and some minor nausea / stomach issues. Just as you would need extra sleep to recover from the flu or a surgery, you can literally feel your body trying to heal and rid itself of the chemo drugs. Chemo is extremely toxic, hence its cancer killing ability, and the body has to work overtime and extra hard to get rid of the toxins. The fatigue gets collectively worse with each treatment and when I say fatigue, I’m not talking about how nice a nap would sound right about now. I’m talking about how I need to shut my eyes because I literally can’t be awake right now. I have no problem with this side effect though because it just means I get to sleep more!
Is One Boob Better Than None?
Warning to the men; this is the part where I talk about boobs.
I had my fourth and fifth rounds of chemo on February 10 and March 3 and my last chemo infusion is scheduled for March 24. The breast surgeon wants you to wait at least four weeks before surgery so mine has been scheduled for May 2.
Whether or not to remove one or both breasts is something I have struggled with. After a lot of thinking, I finally decided on a doing a bilateral mastectomy, meaning I will have both breasts removed during surgery. Having the non-cancerous breast removed is called a prophylactic mastectomy. According to my surgeon, while removing the unaffected breast reduces the risk of developing a new cancer on the other side, it does not change the outcome of the existing cancer and ultimately, does not improve life expectancy. In the event breast cancer cells spread elsewhere in the body (usually the bones, brain, liver or lungs,) this is called metastatic breast cancer and is considered Stage IV. If you decide to keep the unaffected breast, you run about a 4-8% chance of developing a new breast cancer in that breast at some point in the remainder of your life. I really don’t want to lose the unaffected breast but at the same time, I’d rather have the peace of mind that I’ve decreased the odds of a new breast cancer occurring down to almost zero. Plus, having both removed at the same time will provide the reconstructive surgeon with the freedom to make my new rack more symmetrical. Sign me up!
My best friend Traci flew into San Diego to celebrate her 40th birthday at the beginning of February. We met my sophomore year of college, spent years as roommates and even backpacked across Europe together. She knew I didn’t have any hair and asked everyone to wear a crazy wig. It was so fun!
I also got a new brown wig from one of my support groups. I like it so much better than my shorter blonde wig (the one I only wear with a hat) and have been wearing it everyday. Most people at work are used to seeing me as a brunette now but every once in a while, someone does a double take or compliments me on my new cut and color.
I am still not quite brave enough to go bald in public. We have yoga and boot camp at work and I’ve been going more lately. It is the one place at work I’ve been bald and it felt super awkward at first but is getting better.
I Want You to Reduce Your Cancer Risk
I recently read a great article called, “What your friends with cancer want you to know (but are afraid to say.)” I loved #9; I want you to reduce your cancer risk. I don’t want to preach to you how you should live your life but I DO want you to reduce your cancer risk!
My boyfriend Brad recently decided to make some lifestyle changes and I’m so proud of him. He’s doing the Whole30 diet for the month of March which cuts out sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy and legumes. Basically, the concept is to eat only real food for 30 days and then slowly reintroduce the other stuff back in to see if and how they affect your body. Even more amazing is that he gave up vaping nicotine cold turkey at the same time. Even though our diets are not exactly the same, he’s been eating better and drinking less since my diagnosis and I’ve been eating less carbs, sugar and dairy since he started the Whole30. I’m so thankful to have a supportive partner by my side. Love you babe!
I got such a great response regarding my last post and ways that you can reduce your risk that I’m going to be hosting a Beautycounter event at my house on March 22. Not only is my friend Karly a Beautycounter consultant but my friend Candice that I used to work with at the Waitt Family Foundation is one of the company’s founders. Their mission, We All Deserve Better, is outlined in this short 3 minute video and really resonated with me. I hope you can swing by between 5 and 7 pm for samples, appetizers and cocktails. Beautycounter is a big supporter of The Breast Cancer Fund (BCF) which works to prevent breast cancer by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease. They also do a lot of work to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products. Karly will generously donate 10% of any sales from the night to their fund. I know many of you have been looking for a time to get together and I hope you will at least come by and say hello!
How You Can Help
So many people have asked what they can do to help me as I go through treatment. I’m pretty independent and not good at asking for or receiving help. The truth is I do want your help and I’ve been trying to think of what would truly be meaningful to me. I know different people may want to help in different ways so I’ve been brainstorming things that I think would be helpful or are important to me.
So here goes….
- Mealtrain.com – I will be immobile for the first few weeks following by bilateral mastectomy. I’ve signed up with a service called mealtrain.com that enables people to sign up to bring a dinner over for me and my family. I’ve asked for two meals per week following my surgery on May 2 and you can sign up to bring one of those meals over via this link. I’ve only done the month of May for now but if it works out well, I may extend it into the summer.
- Monetary Donations – Mealtrain.com also allows for donations through the same link as the meal signup. I am so blessed to be financially stable (at least for the moment) but cleaning services, out of pocket costs, take out when you don’t feel like cooking, buying a recliner for sleeping upright after surgery, etc.
- Surf for Life – I will say that supporting Surf for Life is my top choice in terms of what would be most helpful. Literally a month before I was diagnosed, Brad and I signed up for a volunteer trip to Costa Rica to build a school in Costa Rica via Surf for Life, a non profit 501 (c)(3) organization. As crushed as I was to receive my diagnosis, having to postpone our trip to Costa Rica was almost as devastating. We’re not sure exactly when I’ll be physically strong enough to reschedule our trip but it will definitely be late summer or fall of this year. Our goal is to raise $5,000 which goes directly to Surf for Life to support our specific trip, in addition to our travel expenses. If you donate through Surf for Life, it is 100% tax deductible. Please visit our fundraising page for more information on Surf for Life and how to donate. If you prefer to donate directly to me, my employer Cisco will match your donation. Either way, it would mean so much to me if you would support this cause that I really believe in. Our friend Sierra Brasher Nichols works for Surf for Life and we’ve been able to see first hand all the great work they are doing in under developed countries, typically ones where increased tourism can cause a strain on the local infrastructure. This is Surf for Life’s sweet spot and I am so excited to be healthy again so I can participate.
- Gift Cards – Gift cards, especially for restaurants, are always appreciated. There are many times when we just don’t have the energy to cook.
- Make Small Changes – As I said above, I want you to reduce your cancer risk; educate yourself, limit your alcohol intake, get out there and do something active once every day, ditch processed food, read labels, support businesses that make safe products, buy organic, don’t eat meat or dairy that was produced via hormones and antibiotics, write your government representatives and tell them you want some kind of regulation of our household products. How many lawmakers have you heard say that marijuana is unsafe, even though there are studies and numerous testimonies that show cannabis can kill cancer cells while protecting healthy cells? And yet, there are no laws regulating the carcinogens that are found in almost every product in our homes because the corporations that make these products are the same ones that put money in the lawmakers’ pockets. You don’t have do to everything immediately (but you can!) but please make changes to your lifestyle now, even if they’re small.
- Tell a Friend – More and more people, young people in particular, are being diagnosed with cancer. Please help me spread awareness as to why this is and how people can reduce their risk. Cancer is certainly prevalent, border line rampant, and rates will continue to rise. It is important that people understand they can turn the odds in their favor by knowing what environmental factors contribute to cancer and avoiding them. Be informed, tell my story, share this blog and most of all, don’t bury your head in the sand like I used to.
Even during chemo you’re allowed to have fun. We try to take the kids to the snow at least once a year and I happened to win four Big Bear lift tickets at this year’s company holiday party. Although Zak decided to stay home this trip, Brad’s sister Sarah came with us and skied like a rock star for her first time on skis. Everyone had a great time but now that we’re back, the exhaustion of last Friday’s chemo is starting to set in. I’m used to the routine and try to stay ahead of the symptoms with my meds but can’t wait until next week when I should be feeling better again.
Until next time, thank you for following my journey. The support of friends, family, fellow survivors and even strangers has been truly inspiring and keeps me going.