Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase. - MLK, Jr.
Courage is being scared to death...and saddling up anyway. - John Wayne
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Test Results

Waiting for test results to be posted online is torture. I guess I’m lucky that MD Anderson does post results online and that I don’t have to wait for the mail to come; but they do continue to send me a printed schedule every week. I wonder if I can turn that function off…

The test results that I did get back are good. The mammogram showed just the titanium clip that was put in my tumor as a marker back in December 2009, and did not reveal any suspicious lymph nodes. The ultrasound revealed that my tumor has begun to flatten out and form what is essentially scar tissue because the cells are dead. It also did not find any swollen or suspicious lymph nodes. The test that I made me the most nervous was the CT scan. On my original scan in December they found a hemangioma, which they though to be benign. According to the Mayo Clinic a hemangioma is defined as: “Liver hemangioma (he-man-jee-O-muh) is a noncancerous (benign) mass that occurs in the liver.” It is considered to be a type of birth defect; most are diagnosed between the ages of 30-50 and discovered during a test for some other condition. The CT scan last week was to confirm that it was benign. If it had shrunk by responding to chemotherapy, or grown, it would have meant that it was not benign and may have been liver cancer. The mass has not changed and is still considered a benign hemangioma. This is probably one of the few times that a person can be happy to have a birth defect. The CT scan also reveled that my organs are all normal and that the chemotherapy did not cause kidney damage. All appears to be in good working order. Next week I’ll have another blood test and an EKG; this time they need to see if my heart is still healthy enough for surgery. I’m not too worried about this test, in fact I’m more nervous about having to give blood and get stuck by a needle (no port access this time). Oh well. I’ll just take an Ativan before they try and stick me…

Here are more pictures from the party, courtesy of Diane Jackson.

Cody, Zac, Melanie, and Steve.

Rachel, rocking the bald look, talking to Pavla and Jim.

Nancy, Linda, and Shelton enjoying conversation of small town Texas.

Lee and Paula Aaronson, we were thrilled to see you two again.

Melanie and Brady debating going in the water, Nancy and Linda having a laugh.

Cody, Shelton, and Rachel.

Thanks again to everyone that came.  We had a GREAT time!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time to P-A-R-T-Y!!

Saturday we celebrated my completion of chemo with a fantastic party. Cody moved the grill and we had chicken wings, hot dogs, and beer out by our community pool then moved in doors to play Rock Band. I want to thank Jim and Pavla, and Brady and Melanie, for bringing their game systems and props. You all helped make the party a party.

Party Pics!

Pavla, Jim, Stewart and Stephanie enjoying the beautiful day.

David, Steve, and Melanie...probably discussing the pros and cons of the oil and gas business :)

Hiding under cover from the HOT sun!

Fellow Cowgirl Amy with her kids - Mason and Hadley.

Michael and was great to see old friends again.

Cody and David having a great time rocking out!!


Cody and Brady...they just look like brothers.

I’m slowly working my way back into shape, working out when I can. Yesterday I rode about 20 miles in the morning and went swimming at Lake Travis in the afternoon. My muscles are coming back after chemo, I can feel the soreness. It is such a great feeling!! Finally!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Last Chemo Appointment

Monday was my last chemotherapy appointment. I did not receive chemo, but it was the last day of my last cycle and time to see the doctor. Mom took the day off and met Cody and me at the hospital. She was there to keep Cody company since I had a day full of testing ahead. First up, the obligatory blood test, every time I go to the doctor I have to have my blood drawn – YIPEE! This is one of the most stressful parts of the day. Then upstairs for my mammogram, it was strange because I had the same tech that I had way back in December when I had my first mammogram at MD Anderson. She remembered me, and let me know what she saw – nothing, except for the titanium clip that they placed in the tumor. Good thing they put a clip in! After this uplifting experience it was time to head to the R.O.C. (Radiology Outpatient Clinic) for my CT Scan. This test was responsible for numerous nightmares in the past month, but in the end was very anti-climatic and not the stuff of nightmares. Thank goodness. I just had to drink the stuff and get irradiated iodine injected into me. The results should be available in a week. Cody and mom decided to leave while I was prepping and getting this test, so I called them to pick me up and back we go to the Mays Clinic for my ultrasound. The ultrasound was fine. My lump is still there, but apparently had flattened out. Same area, just flat. Slightly disturbing, but at least it hadn’t grown. Cody and I finally met with Julia, my research nurse, for the last time. It was a bittersweet meeting. I really loved having her around, helping me navigate the cancer world, but saying goodbye means the end of chemotherapy. It felt good to say goodbye. And I appear to have the exact results that they were looking for – superstar. Dr. Gonzales said that the reason my lump flattened out is that the cells are dead and forming the equivalent of scar tissue. This is great news. I also agreed with her that I would rethink receiving radiation if the pathology report after surgery shows something different than what we expect it to show. Meaning that we expect only 1-3 lymph nodes to be involved, and if we find more than 5 involved I agreed to meet with the radiation oncologist that she really likes. Ok, I can agree to that. I’m still not convinced but if it makes her feel better than I’ll meet with him; but only after we receive the pathology report. I also learned how much I will be going to MD Anderson. I will see Dr. Gonzales every three months for the next two years, then every six months for the next three years, then once every year for life. I will have to go back to MD Anderson every year for life. That is a long time. My next appointment with her is at the end of July. Time to celebrate my completion of chemo and move onto the next phase of my life – surgery and reconstruction.

Waiting to get all my hair cut off before starting chemo.  I donated it to Locks of Love.

Dressed up for my port surgery.

My patchy, falling out hair at the end of January.

Last infusion, number 12, of Taxol and RAD001.

I finished the triathlon...and was not last!

Finished with chemo and moving on.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bike Riding

I love riding my bike.  There is something so empowering and freeing to be zooming along at 30+ miles an hour on two wheels, under your own power.  Today Cody and I rode from our house all the way to Hwy 29.  It was my longest bike ride of the year - 32 miles round trip.  I forgot how much I love to ride, even in the heat and headwind.  I am so excited to finally be able to ride again, even if it is just for a few weeks.  After surgery I'll have to sit out at least 3 weeks, but then I'll be able to ride as much as I want.

View Larger Map

Me in my gear before riding today.

My trusty Felt FW35.

Correction to my post below:  The Astrodome is owned by Harris County, not the City of Houston.  Thanks Mom!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What kind of Boobs?

On Monday I had my first meeting with my reconstruction surgeon, Dr. Chang. This time the drive to Houston was beautiful, a few fluffy clouds, but no rain and no problems. Well there was the accident in the Galleria area, but it is Houston and that area is one of the worst in the city. There was only one problem with the slow down; I really, REALLY, had to pee. I am still surprised that I managed to hold it until getting to the hospital. I have never been so excited in my life to get to the Mays Clinic. The waiting room for reconstructive surgery is on the same floor as the breast center, 5th floor, but in a quiet corner away from all the mayhem of the breast center itself. The view is stunning in this area. You can see all the way to Reliant Stadium which dwarfs its predecessor the Astrodome. The Dome. The former eighth wonder of the world; now fighting for its life, literally the city is considering tearing it down. If the city does tear it down it would not be the first, or the last, in a long line of landmarks that the city of Houston has destroyed in the name of progress. There were a few other patients in the waiting room, one talking very loudly on his cell phone. “Can you explain to the court that we are facing a 12 hour surgery tomorrow? Maybe they will understand…How much is it going to cost us to get out of this?!!” Unfortunately I was called back, just as the conversation started to get interesting. At this appointment instead of just getting undressed from the waist up, they have you get completely naked. I was not expecting that. They do give you little underwear to wear which were obviously designed for much larger people, along with the gown, booties and other hospital garb. I really think that before my mastectomy surgery I need to go over to the Children’s Hospital complex and get some of their gowns. Maybe I should buy my own and carry it with me to appointments. When the nurse learned that I have elected not to do radiation therapy there was a minor disturbance in the hallway. I could hear people calling each other, and I braced myself for a visit from Dr. Bedrosian; but she never came. Dr. Campbell came to speak with me instead. He apparently is Dr. Chang’s fellow and was very good at explaining all of the surgical options to me. And there are a lot of options. Regular implants, sounds simple but not really, since this is reconstruction I have the option of getting silicone implants or the standard saline implants. This has been an option since 2006 when they finally disproved the whole hoopla surrounding the Dow Silicone breast implants – Connie Chung did a huge special report on the problems in 1992. There are then a variety of options using tissue from different parts of your own body; the back muscles, abdomen tissues, and butt tissues. If you elect to use the abdomen or butt tissue it is possible not to use implants at all. The downside is more scarring, much longer surgery, longer recovery time, and more possibility for things, such as infection, to go wrong. At this point I’m leaning towards straight silicone implants. If I don’t like them I can always change them, and if at some point I do need any radiation I can have them removed and then reconstructed using my own bodies tissue at that point. Now all I have to do is decide on the size. That decision can actually wait. After my mastectomy surgery, Dr. Chang will place expanders into the cavity created by the breast tissue. The expanders will remain in place for a few months to make sure that the cavity heals and is big enough for the implants. They will be pumped up, or inflated, to the size that the implants will be; then exchanged for implants. Anytime while they are being expanded I can decide that they are big enough and then exchanged once the tissues heal. The drive home was as uneventful as the drive to Houston, actually more so since there was no accidents to contend with on the way home.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

First Weekend of Freedom

My first weekend of freedom all year was spent with good friends and Cody. On Friday – DAY TEN – Pavla, Jim, Karissa, and I hung out by the community pool. It was so nice to sit in the sun, drink a beer, and converse with good friends! I managed to not get sunburned and the little bit of color that I did get added greatly to my overall appearance and self esteem. Later that evening Cody and I went and played rock band at Pavla and Jim’s place. Cody and I have not had so much fun in a long, long time. Saturday we were exhausted. We have not stayed up that late all year. It was nice to sleep in. Sunday we headed to Pace Bend Park so that Cody could ride his mountain bike, and I could read my book on the cliffs. It was so much fun reading and watching the other people at the park. There was this group of four boys and a girl, and they were hilarious. The boys were constantly doing silly things like a “triple dive” where three of them dove off of the cliffs at the same time, daring each other to do front flips off the cliffs, and other ridiculous boy things to do. Cody finished his ride and we ate lunch on the cliffs, watching the people and the boats zoom by. It was a great weekend and felt so good to spend time in the sun, getting some color, and enjoying life.

Cody and I imagined this is what the view across the lake from the park looked like back in the late 1970's.  Now it is full of houses, except for this tiny strip of parkland.

The view from my perch on the cliff.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

No Radiation

On Wednesday I had to drive to Houston to meet with my surgeon, Dr. Bedrosian. My appointment was at noon; I decided to drive down in the morning and drive home after my appointment, stopping at Mom’s house to drop off a book. The drive down was really wet and rainy. It took me almost 45 minutes to get out of Austin because of the weather. I finally settled into the 3 ½ hour drive, with the heavy rain making the drive miserable. Once I turned south at Brenham, about an hour north of the city, the rain stopped. At least I would not have to deal with Houston traffic and the rain. I found the hospital with no problem, I’ve been there so much that I must have some kind of internal homing device…maybe they implanted one along with my port. Who knows? This was my first visit to the hospital alone. It was fun eves dropping on to the conversation between the rednecks from North Zulch, TX and the volunteer who was every bit the bored River Oaks housewife. She was desperately trying to find something in common with these folks and failing miserably. It would have been depressing if they were looking for assistance, but I think they grasped the absurdity of the situation as well and were just being polite. On this visit I discovered that I have a stalker at the hospital, a spit stalker to be exact. Remember back in January, before I started chemo, I entered a study to see if they can diagnose cancer from spit? It was a long time ago and honestly I forgot about it as well until the research nurse appeared. They want four different spit samples taken during various times in your treatment. I got to chew unflavored gum and spit into a vial for five minutes. I don’t know why I like this study so much, and the best part is that I get to do it two more times. Never knowing when the spit stalker might appear and demand a sample. My meeting with Dr. Bedrosian was not that pleasant; I’m trying hard to think of a time when meeting with a surgeon would be under pleasant circumstances and not coming up with any. She has a new intern, a male intern, and the breast exam that he gave me was hilarious. He had me put my hands over my head and systematically went about trying to find my lump. When he failed to find anything in my left breast, he moved to my right breast. I could see from the look on his face that he was thoroughly confused. He then asked me, “In what breast is your mass located?” “The left one,” I told him. Onto the left breast again, “well I can’t feel anything. Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure.” Okay then. “Lay down with your hands over your head and let me try again.” At this point I mentioned that I had been on chemotherapy for 6 months, as if the hair didn’t give it away, and that Dr. Gonzales had been unable to detect a mass in my last appointment with her. “Oh. Sit up. I’ll get the doctor.” Poor guy. He was determined to find something. Dr. Bedrosian enters the room, proceeds to examine my breasts, turns to the intern and tells him, “We will probably get a good pathology report from this one.” Okay – cool. She then tells me that she has to take out all of my lymph nodes in my left arm. Not all, only the Stage I and II lymph nodes; basically all of them. Might as well be all of them. One of the things that I have really struggled with during this entire process is the possibility of getting lymphedema. She explains that they don’t have the ability yet to just remove one or two of the nodes if they tested positive before chemotherapy because there is no way of knowing which nodes have been sterilized by the treatments, and which nodes still harbor pesky cancer cells. But there is a study going on that I can be part of to help women later on not have all their lymph nodes removed. I’m still deciding about the study, but ultimately I know that I will say yes because it will help other women cope with this retched disease. And there is some noise on the lymphedema front; my plastic surgeon, Dr. Chang, is starting to see results with a new surgery to help reverse the effects. There is also some antidotal evidence that working out and staying at a health weight helps with prevention. Ultimately I may get lymphedema, but to worry about it now is silly. And if I get it I will deal with it then. She then tried again to convince me that I must have radiation therapy after surgery, even giving me a study “proving” the effectiveness. She let me know that if I decided to go through with radiation it would be another year before they could even consider reconstructive surgery, if they were able to do it at all. With facts in hand I promised her that I would at least consider the study, consider receiving radiation, and let Dr. Chang know of my plans at my appointment with him on Monday. I called Cody and we decided that I would look at the study when I got home but that he supported me in whatever decision I decided to make. I ended up running into Mom when I took her book over to her house. She commiserated with me on the lymph node removal and offered insight that I don’t have to do everything that the doctors tell me to do. “Screw them, do what you want. You’ve already done a hell of a lot.” I confessed that for the last six months I have felt like a prisoner. Unable to go about my life as I would like, always worrying about what people will think if they see my head and if I’m going to get some horrid disease. She confirmed and said that I saw the door of the prison starting to open, and just like that, slammed shut in my face by radiation. And with that I was off on my drive home. Time to sit and think about what to do.

The study is of approximately 600 women under age 35 at first diagnosis, with ER negative Stage II breast cancer from 1973 to 2006. It does not take into account any other type of therapy for cancer (chemotherapy would be one example); except mastectomy, vs. mastectomy with radiation, vs. lumpectomy with radiation. It does prove that over 250 months, approximately 20 years, that those who receive radiation after mastectomy have an improved survival rate of roughly 3% over the 20 year period. How many of those women received neoadjuvant or adjuvant chemotherapy? How have surgical techniques changed since the early 1970’s? How has breast cancer treatment itself changed since the early 1970’s?

I’m still not going to have radiation. If I get cancer again, I get cancer again. If I die from cancer, I die. I’ll deal with it, Cody will deal with it, and life will go on. So with that decided Cody poured me a glass of Prosecco and we celebrated.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sleepless Nights

I'm finished with chemotherapy, and that scares the hell out of me.  How am I supposed to fight off all of the other cancers that I seem to accumulate on a nightly basis?  The fear is all consuming and sleep has become secondary to worry.  People have fears of death and dying, but I've been forced to face that fear every day since December 9, 2010.  Every twitch, everything that does not seem quite right is a new sign that I have some new form of cancer.  Last night I was convinced that I had melanoma, colon cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, and some form of bone cancer.  As I get closer to my "final" testing day, May 21st, my anxiety grows and I am convinced that the only reason they are doing another CT Scan is that I have liver cancer.  They just are not sure how bad it is, so they are not going to tell me until they know the extent.  My normal, sane mind knows that this is ridiculous, all the tests are routine and perfectly normal tests to have after chemotherapy; but there is a very vocal part of my brain that thinks differently.  There is always the recurrence of breast cancer and what would I do if that happened?  All of these fears rattle about in my brain and make for sleepless nights.  Hopefully once I have the results of all my tests I can put these crazy fears to rest.  Until then I see a lot of sleepless nights in my future.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Birthday Card

This card that I received from Cody for my birthday made me laugh, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh...

Friday, June 4, 2010


Today is my birthday - weee!!  It is also the day that I feel well enough after my last chemo session to post some pictures from the big day.

Cody and I getting our picture taken outside his parents house before our last chemo day at MD Anderson.

We have been so LUCKY that his parents, and my mother, both live in Houston and allowed us free reign of their homes when we need to be in Houston.

Let's get this over with already!!!

Last time I have to haul all of my stuff to the bathroom with me.  It will be so nice to go without taking a bunch of medicine with me.

Celebrating the finish line with a Sprite Zero, and the required bendy straw.

And just like that it was over...June 1, 2010 6:18pm.

Ringing the bell...with a cheering section of nurses...

The Ringing of This Bell
Marks the End of One Chapter
and the Beginning of a New One...


With loving thanks to all the staff
From Naomi Arbel - Cancer Survivor 2007

...then I was done...until the next day when I had to come back for my shot of Neulasta....and couldn't help ringing the bell again!!!!