Friday, October 29, 2010

Updates on the Breast-icles

So... in the last 3 weeks since I've been diagnosed with breast cancer, I've been going through a ton of tests to find out more. So far we know that it's triple positive, high grade, aggressive, fast growing. We now also know with some degree of certainty that it is confined to two masses, one very small, in my right breast. It's interductal, and the larger mass is invasive (spread a bit, but still in the breast, and around that mass).

I had CTs of my chest and abdomen, and a nuclear bone scan, and MRI's of both breasts, and we're waiting on news of those. Those entailed getting three kinds of dyes, so goodness knows what my kidneys are thinking! I've had ultrasounds and mamograms, and 3 biopsies: in the two masses and a lymph node, and one of the best pieces of news is that it doesn't appear to be in the lymph nodes. Also great news is that the MRI didn't show any more cancers in either breast. We'll have news about the larger body scans later, but I believe those are just to be sure, and they don't expect to find anything more.

Yesterday, I had surgery in which they installed a port catheter high on my left chest, so that the chemo can go there in the main veins of my chest, rather than blowing out the peripheral arteries in my arms. Sort of really super creepy to me, to have something like that in me, but I understand how good it is to have, and how lucky I am that Loma Linda does these routinely, when some people have to fight to get them.

So, starting Nov 8th, I'll have chemo every 3 weeks, two days in a row, for 3 hours and 10 minutes to give me 3 different chemos. After 18 weeks, I'll have a breast sparing surgery (lumpectomy), followed by radiation treatments, and finishing the year of chemo. I'll be bald, bloated, and sick, they tell me -- but I will do everything supplemental to treatment to stay healthy and positive. I'm very optimistic to come through this well, and Loma Linda's breast cancer center is an incredibly wonderful place for me to receive my care, so I am incredibly fortunate to be there.

Most of the folks at Loma Linda are warm, brilliant, and wonderful with care. Many I've met have offered me deeply personal words of wisdom, shared experiences, faith, and support that have moved me and given me such strength and lifting. They are kind and understanding, an (d just super people. I should really write down some of these stories.

Every now and then someone makes us laugh, though, like the "breast coordinator," a story in herself. Most recently, I was getting an IV put in for the surgery, and I was laughing and making dark humor jokes about how much I've been stuck and mis-stuck (missing veins) lately, and helping her to get a good stick in a good vein. Craig and I were cutting up and laughing about what we could do to help a vein come out of hiding, and especially when (sorry) my blood started spurting out of the vein she (phew) did stick.

"Whoa, looks like you found a good one! Oh, no, well, maybe too good! Thar she blows!" OK, guess you had to be there... Hahaha! But the thing that really cracked us up were this young woman's words, as she gazed earnestly up at me, and offered to me in my moment of duress, "Wow, you're so brave and positive, and it's a really good thing you have such a great sense of humor, you're really going to need it to help you handle all the terrible, awful times you have ahead of you, the horrible things you're going to have to go through." She didn't seem to understand why Craig and I about died laughing at that. But I am glad she got me on the first stick.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Matters: Doesn't and Does

Nothing like staring death in the face to make you think -- what really doesn't matter? and what does? Funny how you can tell yourself over and over to focus on the real priorities of life, and how that can be fuzzy and often forgotten. Why is that? But when you think, Wow, I may only have a few months left on Earth! well, then it seems pretty effortless to let the petty things, the petty annoyances and worries, go take a long walk off a short pier, all by themselves.

I used to lecture myself, Do I really want to waste 3 minutes of my life being annoyed about the toothpaste in the sink? Now, I look at something like that, and almost laugh. It's even kind of precious to me, like Oh, look at this cute evidence of life, of living with those I love! Sound weird?

So I just got the official word, werd, wurd, and I do indeed have breast cancer. It's really hard to sink in. You mean, me? A member of that club? But I'm sure I never sent in my application. Don't you need references? And then, it's kind of like after you have sex for the first time, and you keep expecting to look different, for the world to look different, and yet it just goes on, but still you're not a cancer virgin anymore. Like it or lump it. (Haha, cancer pun.)

I wanted to stand on a mountain and shout it out to everyone, post it on facebook as my status, start wearing a t-shirt with an arrow pointing to my right breast and the words "Cancer Here, Can You Believe It?" in bold, because the disconnect is so disorienting -- that life should go on as always, all around me, when Don't you know, friends, everything has shifted?!!

Here's the poem I wrote in a funky fugue, for my Facebook status yesterday:
* * * * * * * * *
It's positive.
Baking a pumpkin pie from "a real pumpkin" and it smells great.
The sun is shining across my arm, warm, bright.
Kids outside are laughing and calling, rolling wheels scratch on the sidewalk.
Chase is chewing on a bone under the table, at my feet, contented.
The side of my nose itches.
Yep. Still positive.
* * * * * * * * * *

Do you know what I mean?

Of course, I'm super sad and scared.

But that's only some of time. Other times, I seem to be dealing with it automatically in the same way I deal with life and things I have to take care of, generally. Such as, I actually caught myself thinking, Should I finish this hummus off now, since I might not be here tomorrow to eat it? As if I were thinking about clearing the fridge of perishables, before leaving on a journey. I actually followed the last thought with, No, it's okay, I'll still be alive tomorrow. All in my is-it-time-to-put-the-next-load-in-the-washer state of mind. Then two heartbeats later, I felt the craziness of that.

Well, really, I don't intend to die. (But who does?)