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Dec 22, 2008

The consultation about my breast reconstruction surgery...

I am in tears. Big, fat, hot tears. I'm not used to this much reality in my life.

I won't even go into detail about the ghetto broad at the reception desk who conveniently "forgot" to check me in for my appointment... even though I got there almost 2 hours early (had my times mixed up). Although she tried to ruin my day... her part in the tragedy is really minimal.

First, let me say... the plastic surgeon is really nice and she seems to be really on top of her game. I see why she's rated so highly and is so very busy. With that said...

she scared me to pieces.

The procedure that she and I agree would probably be best is the TRAM flap. I won't explain it here, but its a pretty intense procedure that uses the fat from my belly and some of my abdominal muscles to create a new breast. Its one thing to know that and another to hear that the procedure takes 12 hours to complete.

12 hours. Half a day.

To me, that's a very long time to be under anesthesia and lying with my body open and people digging and cutting on me. I didn't cry at the office, but I am certainly crying now. Afterwards, I will be in intensive care to recuperate from the operation. ICU... that's where my dad was last summer after his aneurysm. I don't want to be there.

There's more to add... but I'll have to do it later. I'm so freaked out and scared right now, all I can do is cry.

This will be quick...

Its the middle of the night... or very early in the morning... depends on your perspective. I am wide awake... and I wish I weren't.

Its a few days after chemo... and I am in pain. Not quite misery, but quite uncomfortable. I am aching in my bones, my joints ache really badly. My fingertips and toes are still numb/tingling and I just want to rest. But it doesn't seem to be for me tonight.

I have an appointment in the morning to see the plastic surgeon. Things are going to move pretty rapidly from this point, I'm guessing. Dr. Siegel, my oncologist, wants/needs for me to be in surgery for my mastectomy by the first week of January. Not sure how that's going to happen but I'm sure it will work out somehow.

Unfortunately, time is not on my side... or rather... time has gotten away from me. It seems that the general surgeon that I've been consulting with and talking to since this entire journey began, is not available to do my surgery now. She is booked until the end of January. That won't work for me. So, Dr. Siegel's office has made arrangements for me to consult with Dr. Abell, who happens to be Dr. Lee's boss. (interesting huh?)

The plastic surgeon I am meeting with later today, Dr. Lenert... also happens to work under Dr. Abell as well. So, it is my strong hope that all of these doctors can coordinate with Dr. Siegel to get me into the operating room in a timely manner. I truly do not want to go through another dose of chemotherapy. I don't fully understand the details, but it seems important/critical that I am in surgery not longer than 2 weeks after my final chemotherapy.

One good thing... Dr. Siegel did a breast exam on Thursday and it seems that my primary tumor (Fred, the big one...) has shrunken considerably. When this ordeal started, Fred was the size of a golf ball (maybe a little smaller). Now, it might be about the size of a pea (maybe a little smaller). Dr. Siegel was extremely pleased with the shrinkage. I was too. At this point though, I'm so ready to be done with this that I am happy with every little bit of progress... no matter how tiny the step.

I mentioned to Dr. Siegel that I was experiencing some insomnia and he prescribed ambien. (rolling eyes) So many folks gave me dire warnings about using ambien... "it will knock you right out"... "make sure you're laying down when you take it"... blah blah blah.

You know that those doggone pills don't hardly work on me, right? They take hours to kick in, and then only allow me to sleep for a couple of hours. And I do mean... two.

Since it is so late, I won't take any tonight... I'll just suffer through tomorrow somewhat sleepy. I'll rest when I get home.

...so, that's all for now folks. I'll update you on the next steps once I get home from my doctor's appointment.

~Nic

Dec 17, 2008

Well... another night before chemo

Tonight is the night before my last taxol infusion. I'm excited about the last chemo (well sort of, I'll still be getting regular herceptin treatments) and I'm also freaked out. The last chemo means that in a couple of weeks, God willing, I'll be going into surgery to have my cancer removed. I keep trying to tell myself that losing my breast is secondary to getting rid of the cancer... but its not working. I keep thinking (and overthinking) about losing my breast and having a "fake" one put in its place.

I don't know how other folks handle this, or how any of you would handle this if you were me... but I feel like I'm a total and complete mess. I have cried so much this week -- I've been unable to take or return phone calls. Honestly, between you and me... this is hard. I thought that I would be feeling so much better about this by now. We're close to halfway through this thing. I have gotten comfortable with the language of cancer; how to broach the topic with strangers and old friends (not that I'm handling that all that well either); how to cope with the various and many physical changes/side effects that I go through every week... But I have not gotten comfortable with the notion of losing my breast. I'm just as angry about it now as I was back in August when I was told it was best that I have the mastectomy.

I pushed for a lumpectomy but its a no-go. I tried to be cool with that. I realize that my cancer is positioned in a way that saving my breast is not possible. I have tried to be cool with that. But now... its close to 2/3 weeks away and I'm realizing that I'm still not cool with losing a part of me.

Women undergo plastic surgery every day, willingly and at great cost to improve their looks. Women undergo plastic surgery every day, willingly and at great cost to correct a medical problem. Why can't I program my mind and my emotions... to willingly accept that this is necessary for my life? I feel like I'm being punished and I can't figure out what I've done wrong.

Keep me in your prayers... please. Its been a hard, hard week.

~Nic

Dec 16, 2008

I went to brunch on Saturday... and pictures were taken





I have been wanting to take some pictures during this process. Well, what I wanted was to go to a photographer and have some portraits taken. While I feel hideous right now, I did want some pictures to remind me of this time in my life. But my vain side wanted them to be done in the best possible way -- full makeup, lots of energy... that sort of thing. Rather model-esque, if you will.


I got half of my wish this weekend.

At brunch a couple of the ladies had their cameras and they snapped a few pictures of the group -- which included me. With my bald head and my bald face (no makeup).

Now, I see my face everyday -- just like you see yours everyday. And for the most part, I know what I look like. However, because I don't interact with many people on a regular/daily basis, I did not know what I looked like in relation to other people. Typically, the only people I see in a week are my parents, other patients at the cancer center (and most of them look bad)... and the medical staff at the cancer center.

I haven't seen myself in relation to other beautiful black women in months. And when I saw the pictures... I was mortified.

Disclaimer: I am not fishing for compliments. I promise you. I am being honest about what I saw when I looked at myself compared to healthy, normal, beautiful and made up sistas.

I looked sad and pitiful. I am pale. Sooo very pale. My eyes look sad and heavy. My eyebrows are definitely thin (compared to their normal jet black thickness). My poor little head... lol. Its so small... I mean, I suppose that I look okay to be in the midst of a battle like this. But I don't look so great to me.
Remember... it was my goal to make cancer look good. lol... I'm failing at my job.

I posted the pictures to my facebook account and many people commented that they liked the pictures, liked my smile...etc. However, I do not see what they see. Its possible that my mind has become warped and I have a distorted image of myself. It is very possible and highly likely. But I am vain -- have been for a long time. And I don't like not looking and feeling cute. Silly I suppose... but as a woman, being pretty is important to me.

I've been squeamish about wearing makeup. Very scared about putting anything on my skin right now. But I may have to change that perspective because I can't continue to go out in public looking like Uncle Fester. Its not fair to the public. They don't deserve that.

Earlier this evening, I got really sad looking at that picture of myself and reading the kind comments that people left me on facebook. I can't explain it to you but I cried for awhile... it made me really sad that I could not see myself as pretty anymore.
I will have to figure out a way to get past seeing myself as a monster. Not sure how at the moment... but I'll figure something out. I don't think that this is just a makeup issue.

Last week (maybe the week before)... I was at chemotherapy and I decided to walk down the block to grab something to eat when it was over. While waiting for my order at the Wendy's counter... a random guy (black, older) made a comment that he liked my haircut. Had I not been so tired, I would have laughed. Instead, I just looked at him like he was crazy and said thanks.

Haircut? Puh-lease!! I am bald. I'm not Grace Jones trying to make a statement or be bold. I'm going through some stuff right now and this look is what I'm stuck with. I hate it. I have gotten to a place of being comfortable about my bald head that I don't always wear my "indoor" hat when I go out in public. I do wear a winter hat because its cold outside but that's it. Basically, the hot flashes required that I get over covering my head because I was afraid for people to look at it. Hot flashes are also the reason why I don't wear wigs. I have two... they will never be worn -- well, maybe for Halloween next year. But they won't be worn while I'm going through this. I can't take the heat.

I have heard a few people say that (or something similar) they like bald on me, or its good that I wore my hair so short because it makes my baldness less shocking. I don't know how to deal with that. I do understand what they are saying but it feels totally different to me. Even though I wore my hair very very short -- it is still shocking to me that I have NO HAIR at all on my head. It still makes me wonder (when I look in the mirror) where my femininity has gone.

I think that my lesson for the week is... I need to start wearing makeup again when I go out in public. Even if it doesn't make any difference to people who know me, or random strangers on the street -- maybe it will make me feel better about myself.

I really hope it will help me not see a monster when I look in the mirror.

~Nic

Dec 10, 2008

Twas the night before chemo...

Well, its the night before chemo... again... and I'm a little anxious... again. But today was a pretty good day so I'm in a good mood. I fell asleep earlier today... so I'm awake pretty late. That's not unusual lately. I haven't been sleeping too well this past week. Averaging about 3 or maybe 4 hours of sleep each day (if I'm not taking tylenol pm) and that's usually in little 30 min - 1 hour naps.

I mentioned the insomnia to the doctor last week at my chemo session and its a side effect of the chemo. Its not one of the side effects that many people get -- something like 14% of patients suffer from insomnia. So I guess that makes me special. I hope that same ratio doesn't stick to me when it comes to me surviving this treatment. Currently, in my age bracket, 83% of breast cancer patients survive their treatment. That means that 17% don't. I don't want to be special that way.

I've been pretty moody and a little erratic this week. I'm blaming the lack of sleep for it. Though I know that's not the only reason. Probably not even the primary reason. I have been thinking about some pretty emotional stuff from my past... on purpose.

A few years ago, I started writing a novel. I had gotten pretty far along and then I was stuck. And I mean, stuck tight. I could not move that stupid story forward no matter what I tried to do. Finally, I took some advice from a writing book and put my book away. The advice was to put away whatever you're working on for awhile... just lock it up and forget about it... and then pick it up weeks, months... years later when you no longer can remember much about it and usually the distance that has grown between you and the work will allow you to see the work differently, more clearly and you will be able to fix and/or finish the story.

So... I put away my story... and actually I started a separate story about 2 years ago I think. I never liked that second story. I now want to return to the first story and finish it... but its gone. It got lost in my moving shuffle from my last apartment. I only have one short chapter -- and its not even a real chapter, its maybe half a chapter -- to work with. My heart is heavy that the story is gone. I've looked everywhere online that I can think I may have stashed some or all of it... but I can't find it at all.

Digging into my emotions from my past is scary. There's a lot of stuff that I have pushed away and forgotten because it was painful and I needed to move beyond it. Now, I need to tap into it in a controlled way so that I can put these words to paper. I think that as emotional as I've been these past few months... its about to get worse. Hopefully you won't notice that. I will try to remain balanced as I go through these next few months of treatment and surgery.

I can tell you this... trying to type with this neuropathy in my fingers is interesting. The tingling/numbness is slowing down my typing. Whereas before the neuropathy my fingers only looked like they had been bruised (the chemo has discolored my nail beds -- a deep purple)... now they feel like they have been slammed in a door too. My toes too...

I have no idea what sort of side effects I can look forward to after this session. I had thought (before I started) that the herceptin treatments would be a cakewalk... just some hormone treatment and I'm good. But its been causing more side effects than the other medication that is killing the cancer and shrinking the tumors.

Either way... I'm hoping that tomorrow goes quickly and has no reactions. But now that I am thinking about it, I think I will throw my benadryl in my bag just in case.

I hope that you're doing well this holiday season. I know that everything is scary right now... so much is unknown and changing... jobs, housing, banks... you just don't know if you're standing on firm ground or sinking sand. But my hope and prayer for all of us is that whatever we're facing... we stand firm in knowing that God has prepared us for the going through. And He is there for us to reach out to Him and hold on as we move forward. That's what gets me through these days, even when I'm crying and I'm scared -- which is actually every single day -- I keep reminding myself that God has me. And he's prepared me for this -- even if I can't see it. No matter what happens, I've been prepared for this.

Lately my tears are in preparation for my surgery. I keep wondering how I will view myself with my reconstructed breast. But I know -- even if my heart hasn't caught up yet -- I know logically that I am not my breasts. My beauty as a person and as a woman is not attached to my breasts. But I am mourning the loss -- can't lie about it. And I am definitely worried about how I will feel about myself after I get up from the operating table.

I don't meet with the plastic surgeon for another week or so. My anxiety is building slowly... which is why I'm allowing myself to feel the fear and to cry the tears so that I don't have a melt down when I go to see the plastic surgeon. I want to slowly release the emotional steam... so that it doesn't build up to epic proportions and cause some real damage.

... its really late so I'm going to lay down for a few hours before I go to the hospital. Please continue to pray for me -- I really can feel the power it is giving me. Without your prayers, I just don't know where I would be.

~Nic

Dec 2, 2008

I fell out in the kitchen the other night... scary

So, its Sunday night and I'm trying to get a little something to snack on. I heat up an enchilada and just as I'm getting the sour cream to put on top.... I start feeling really really dizzy.

I never lost consciousness and I was aware that I was falling... but I couldn't stop myself from hitting the floor. Once again, my voice failed me... and I couldn't (or wouldn't) shout out to let my mom know that I was falling out. She was watching tv in the family room -- just across the way. And it wasn't until I was laid out on the floor for a few moments and I realized that I couldn't get myself up, that I spoke to her and asked her to get my dad from upstairs.

You know... it is amazing to me, that even in the midst of something happening to my body, I still have these thoughts of not upsetting folks or disturbing them. I think I need to call my therapist so we can discuss it. :)

At any rate, my mom started screaming at my dad to come and help me and while I was woozy down on the floor... I was trying to stay connected to the scene. After he helped me up and got me a warm washcloth for my face... I refused to go to the hospital.

It seemed illogical to me to go to the hospital because I was woozy. I was still breathing, nothing was bleeding... so... I figured I was okay. Maybe just tired, or hungry or something. When I called the boyfriend to let him know... he wanted me to go to the hospital too. But I just didn't want to spend hours and hours in the emergency room when they probably wouldn't know what was wrong with me (like before) and I would just be sitting there taking up space. I just wasn't trying to end my holiday weekend that way.

I decided to call the oncologist's office on Monday when they opened, to let them know what happened and to see if this was something that was expected or if it was unusual. I finally talked to the nurse today, after she talked to my oncologist.

And... once again, my logic is totally wrong. I should have gone to the hospital on Sunday night, and if it ever happens again, that's what I will do.

I was just sitting here thinking about how I feel like a visitor in my own body. I know that I have cancer. I know that I'm in chemotherapy. But I feel... like Nic. Nic who is totally healthy and doesn't have to worry about whether or not something is major enough to warrant a trip to the hospital to be checked out all the time. I know that people don't pass out all the time, but it happens enough that most folks don't have to go to the hospital for it. You get up, you get a warm or cold compress for your head or neck... and then you take it easy for awhile. That's it. It doesn't require a team of ER doctors to check you out.

But now I know... that for me... it does.

Last night I stumbled on a video on Google video ... about transitioning from being a cancer patient to a cancer survivor. It was a good video and I really had not thought about what it will be like when all this treatment is over and I'm back in the real world again. You would think that life would resume as usual... but what's usual isn't usual anymore. Normal healthy people can get a small fever and keep doing their normal activities. But I can't do that. It just doesn't compute in my head.

I keep trying to understand how I'm different now. And how to reconcile that I am different and none of the standard rules apply to me the way that they used to.

I'm sure that Dr. Siegel will take a few moments to chat with me on Thursday when I go for chemo. And I don't know what to tell him. I fell out in the kitchen. I never lost consciousness... and it never occurred to me that this was something drastic that I needed to go to the hospital for. It never occurred to me.

I think I keep trying to make chemotherapy this very small part of my life. And it keeps letting me know that it is a huge part of who I am right now. I keep trying to retain a piece of me, that's still "me". And it feels like "me" is shrinking more and more every day.

Today is one of those days... where I'm just left to wonder.

Nov 29, 2008

My fabulous boobies... will always be flawed

I've spent most of the day laying down, my legs and back have been hurting something awful today. I did walk around the house a little and I even cooked a late dinner (enchiladas). But generally, I've been in a really relaxed state today.

I took some time and reviewed the entries in this blog. I took note that I didn't write much in October -- only 4 posts. I think that was because I felt particularly bad then -- chemo was really kicking my butt and I didn't know how to deal with it. And also, I was emotionally in a really dark place. It was tough to keep my spirits up while I was feeling so bad. But even when I was re-reading the entries, I couldn't think of more to add.

November has had a few more entries... but so far, nothing compares to September. That was when everything was in full flow, there was so much to think about, examine, make choices about... so much swirling in my head. Now... there is still a lot that I think about everyday, but most of it I've already shared with you. The thoughts just stay on rotation in my mind... as I try to map out the future and get myself emotionally strengthened to deal with it.


I am getting my mind wrapped about the mastectomy and the reconstruction surgeries. In a few short weeks... everything will change again. Like I said before, I am happy that the two surgeries can be done at the same time. That will really help me handle my emotions about losing my breast. But... I've been internet surfing tonight and the pictures that I've seen of mastectomy patients before and after their reconstruction surgeries.... are scary. No joke.

aaahhhh.... yeah, Nic is gonna need some more hand-holding to get through this part. FOR REAL.

The precautions, side effects, whatever... are crazy.

-my new breast won't have any sensation (wow).
-it won't look like the other one, but close
-the healthy breast will have to be reduced and lifted so that it looks similar to the reconstructed breast
-um... I might not have a nipple when I get up from the operating table
-a nipple might have to be TATTOOED on, a few months down the line (aaacckkk?)
-if I have the DIEP procedure... I might have to get a new belly button too (wha?)

-(this one is a doozy)... they can construct a nipple out of tissue from my labia (yes, part of my vagina)

I mean... I love my breasts just like I love my entire body, flaws and all. I have enjoyed my very full breasts, even when they embarrassed me. However, in considering the future with breasts that won't have any feeling, where the nipple/areola is tattooed in place, or the nipple is plastic and I stick it on when I want the look of a nipple (??)... and so forth... I am literally stunned into no emotional response at all. I'm not mad, I'm not sad, I'm just flat.

God-willing, I will have a child in a year or two. And, what's funny... though I have considered having a breast reduction in the past, I always changed my mind because I wanted to breast feed my baby. Now, (yet again) it seems that my waiting was in vain because I won't be able to breast feed my kid after all. Not a huge tragedy -- anything could have happened to prevent me from breast feeding actually, but wow. Still a blower.

Our bodies grow and change and we're never the same year after year. And getting older has it own set of physical and emotional changes due to changes in your body. But this thing is taking it too far... lol.

**HOT FLASHES ARE REALLY A PAIN IN THE ASS!! Lord.. why am I STILL itching from the chemotherapy interaction a few days ago? Pure Hell! Real sick of scratching and digging everywhere.... ugh! **

Nov 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008 - My first holiday with breast cancer

Thanksgiving 2008 - My first year with breast cancer | My Fabulous Boobies


Its Turkey Day! 


oops... I mean, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

I have been in a holiday mood for a couple of weeks now. It hit me just after Halloween and hasn't let me go yet. I am not normally this holiday happy. Usually, I get into the swing of things just after Thanksgiving... or maybe just a week before Christmas.

2008: An amazing year for Nic


This has been one amazing year. Really amazing. God has moved in some hugely miraculous ways in my life... and I am so thankful for that. I got a new job that seemed created just for me at this time in my life. It was exactly what I had prayed for -- even though it is off my career track a bit. I wanted a job that wasn't too stressful, that would allow me to go back to school and that had an excellent benefits package. I started that job a few days after my birthday this year and it was good. Nice people, great location... just nice.

New relationship


This year, I had also decided that I was going to open myself up to having a good, solid relationship. A real boyfriend, lol. It may seem weird to say..."I decided"... but I really did. I didn't know who he would be, or where he would be... but I knew that there had to be one guy out there who would look at me and see the prettiest girl in the world and want to be with me. So I decided that this year, I would be open to letting him find me and being in a relationship. I was also open to not finding him and continuing to be single too. God worked it out that I found a boyfriend in a friend I had known for many years. Like pow!

Family planning - when what I want clashes with what's possible


Thanksgiving 2008 - My first year with breast cancer | My Fabulous Boobies
I had hoped that this year, I could finally make a decision about whether or not I was going to have a child, adopt a child... something with a kid and me. My age was starting to freak me out about the whole "mommy" deal... and this was the year that I had to face the decision head on. (That was why I prayed for good benefits) And, circumstances have made that decision for me. At least for now.

But even though this cancer may delay my ability to have kids -- it is not over for me yet. I was talking to one of the ladies who works at the cancer center last week about having babies (she's about to have her second one any day...) and she told me about two patients from the cancer center who have become pregnant after their illnesses. One lady got pregnant for the first time at 49 (I think!). Now that's amazing. I don't want to do that...lol. So, I'm keeping hope alive that I'll still get my little bundle of joy at some point in this life.

Travel plans? On hold for now


What else did I want for this year...? Oh! I wanted to travel this year. I didn't do that. I had started my plans though. I will be travelling next year -- no doubt. I am fortunate that my really good job, has really great vacation days. So, I am really excited that when I return to work, I will be able to go on a few nice vacations next year.

I think the reason why I got hit with the holiday buzz so early this year... is because I have so much time on my hands right now. I'm not as caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday living... so I've had lots of time to reflect on my year, and my life.

Grateful for dad's recovery


There are two things that I am extremely grateful for this year... My daddy's amazing recovery from his aneurysm tops the list though. My dad has never been really ill. I can't even remember him having the flu or something like that. He's just an ordinarily healthy guy. With the exception of really bad allergies... he never seems down or out of it.

When he got sick and I saw him in the hospital with all the tubes and machines... it wore my heart out. My dad is a really good guy. He can make you smile in a minute by telling you some long drawn out story... lol... that you'll swear he made up but he'll swear its the truth. He has an opinion on EVERYTHING... especially politics... and he's more than happy to share it with you. He loves kids and kids love him. He's just... dadddy. And I couldn't love him more if I tried.

Seeing my dad in the intensive care unit was really hard. But seeing him now, back at work and functioning like nothing ever happened is amazing. I can see a shift in his eyes now... I think he's much more aware that he's fragile (something I can relate to myself) but he's still here and he's still daddy. That is a huge blessing.

...and I'm super thankful for ME!


Thanksgiving 2008 - My first year with breast cancer | My Fabulous Boobies
The last thing I am super-thankful for -- is me. I don't say that lightly because I am sure that few of us are ever so self-focused that we are simply thankful that we're here. Providing something to the world that no one else can or does.

I have pouted, cried, wailed, shouted... and more... about this breast cancer. It has taken me through pain, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, hair loss, skin peeling, skin darkening, mouth sores, and more. I have been in the hospital for days... getting blood transfusions and other things.

I have been to the cancer center getting chemotherapy more days than I'd like to count now. I have made friends with nurses, and medical staff in several medical facilities in the city.

I have carried cd's of my sonogram -- where my enemy Fred was located -- in my purse for days. I have shipped films of my mammograms across the city -- hoping for a different answer.

But in all of this... I am still here. I am still smiling and I am able to have dinner with my parents today... and say a short prayer of thanks to God that I am able to still write down my thoughts and share them with the world.

This Thanksgiving means the world to me


I know that Thanksgiving isn't a big deal to a lot of people. And I know that many folks don't celebrate it, or see the need for a special day to say thanks. But I am not that person -- not today, not this year. God has been too good to me, for me to take this day in vain and not say..

I am so thankful... for everything in my life. Good and bad. Because what seems like bad... can also be seen as good. There is really a blessing in everything if we open our eyes to see it.

I don't know how many people read this blog on a regular basis... but I am thankful for your listening ear. I am grateful for your prayers, and good wishes and gifts. I am so blessed that you care enough to listen and watch me go through this process of healing and growing. I cannot say thank you enough...

But I will certainly try. Thank you. And have a great Thanksgiving Day!!

Finally... how am I feeling?


Honestly? Its a typical second day after chemo... I'm achy and I'm itchy (that's the reaction to the medicine...) and I'm okay with both.

Its time to eat!


Nov 25, 2008

This post will be all over the place... but I'm excited today!





I'm going to start by talking about something TOTALLY non-related to breast cancer.

Tina Turner is an ICON!! Oh my goodness. That lady is fabulous... personified. I was blessed and fortunate to be invited to see her concert on Sunday night. Amazing is the only word that I can use. To be 69 (she had a birthday this week)... and able to rock it out for hours, belting out songs, kicking, dancing and generally having a grand old time -- shifted my paradigm for living.

This "thing"... can't stop me. Tina got beat by her man... overcame all of that... reinvented herself and her career, retired from touring, came back and she's still just as fabulous (if not more so) than she ever was. I mean... THAT'S what it has to be about. Starting over and doing it way big each time... that's my new outlook on life.

I was a little tired just watching her. I purposely wore comfy flat shoes to the show because I didn't want my feet to hurt and cause me to be distracted from the event. Meanwhile... Miss Tina rocked some shoes that were so fabulous I had to post a picture of them for you to see.

Yes... for those who know about shoes. Those are Christian Louboutin's (you can tell by the red sole) and yes... these mere shoes rock out at about $1000 per pair. I'm guessing that Tina's were slightly different, possibly customized because her had a real sparkle to them. My girlfriend and I were trying to guess whether they were studded with rhinestones or if the lighting from the stage was just catching the sequins. Either way... I was mesmerized and dumbfounded for most of the show. (she wore those shoes... with that outfit)

Just wow. She pushed the bar through the roof. I have to do that. I have to. (I think I'm starting to get some of white girl, blonde hair, blue/green eyed ambition about life now.... lol)

So after that concert, I started my week with a new standard of "excellent lady living" etching its way through my brain...

I moved on to... "time to kick it in gear for the next phase"... meaning that I needed to focus my attention on my mastectomy surgery and the reconstruction surgery that I will need to have in the next month or so. Yesterday, I spent a few hours researching the procedure and getting my emotions in check around it. I won't lie... I was freaked out a bit -- even though the procedure seems like a great option -- and I cried for awhile last night. No matter how much I grow and learn... this is all still really overwhelming. Admittedly, the overwhelming moments are coming in longer and longer intervals, so I know that I'm doing pretty well trying to handle this. But I still have moments that are deep and core shaking at times.

Also, yesterday was the day before chemo day -- which is usually very emotional for me. My chemotherapy treatment was early this week because of the holiday. It took me most of the day to realize why I was feeling out of sorts. But chemo today was really interesting.

Let's see....

First... my doctor and I had a good chat (mostly about Tina Turner...lol) about next steps and what I can expect for the next phase. He was really happy with the way that I handled the chemotherapy -- even with the little hospital set back, I did really really well comparatively speaking. He would like to see me in surgery two weeks after my last chemo treatment on December 18th (yeah.... Merry Christmas Nic!).

I made a call to the recommended plastic surgeon this afternoon -- he cosigned on my general surgeon's recommendation and from my research last night, this lady is pretty doggone good at what she does. So I'm more than thrilled with that. My appointment isn't until December 22 (again, Merry Christmas)... but hopefully someone will cancel earlier and I can slide in to see her before then.

While in chemo today -- guess what? I had another bad reaction to my medicine! Ugh. It was funny though because my god brother came to hang out with me today (yay Tony!)... and just after he had gotten there and we were chatting.... suddenly... I was itching all over like I had just rolled in some hay or something. It was CRAZY! Seriously. Turns out that I was having an allergic reaction to something that was mixed with the medicine... so they had to get me off of it and fast. That itching was like FIRE ANTS on my skin. Whewwwwww... not fun.

Today was a long chemo day. I was anticipating being at the cancer center for about 5 hours getting all my medications. Just this one drug that I was reacting to... takes 4 hours to drip. Sometimes longer. Well, when they had to change drugs... the new drug they gave me took.... (wait for it)...

30 minutes!!

Can you believe that? The replacement drug was hella faster than the regular drug. I'm sitting there like... well, dang, why didn't ya'll give me this stuff in the first place? I'm going to ask my doctor tomorrow what the difference is in the two drugs because as much as I like the ladies at the cancer center... spending 5-6 hours every other week there, isn't the most fun I've ever had in my life. Wow. Though the plan is to give me the new concoction next time -- just so I don't have to go through the reactions again. But still.... you have to wonder... why?

So... I got to leave much earlier than I had planned... then I had lunch with my godbrother -- something we really don't get to do too much (though we used to do it all the time)... and then... his younger brother joined us. It was like the 90's had a come back (that also could have been because my god brother was rocking the old school Fila sweatsuit with the Fila sneakers...lol).

We ate and laughed and laughed some more... it was a good time. I needed that laugh today.

I'm having slight itches... but nothing that some cortisone can't help. I feel okay today. But tomorrow's injection may make me feel rather achy and sore -- yay neulasta! -- but I'll take it because its almost the last one.

I am hopeful (and my oncologist really wants this for me)... that I will be having my surgery the first week of January, hopefully as close to New Year's as we can get. That means, no inauguration parties for me. Honestly, I'm not that sad about it. I had already made up my mind that I wanted to watch all the festivities from my house. And now, I know that I will definitely be doing that. (also saves me money on dresses and accessories... )

Its about that time for me to start reviewing my year and thinking about my goals and resolutions for next year. Somehow, I don't think I made my goals this year... but I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

As my friend Chellee told me...

"I'm just happy to be here... "

~Nic




Moving on to the next step in this journey

I have only two chemotherapy treatments left. (not counting the herceptin treatments that continue for another year) Tomorrow is the next to the last one... (yay!) But that means that now its time to prepare for surgery.

I already have a general surgeon, Dr. Lee. Interestingly enough... she entered the scene quite early and has been really helpful and supportive throughout the process. She explained to me awhile ago, that it is possible to have the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery at the same time. I had no idea.

In the past, many woman had their breasts removed first, and then months (or even years) later, they had follow up reconstructive surgery. Isn't that crazy?

Naturally, I have lots of reservations about this whole process but the more I learn, the more I'm calmed. Well, calmer. :)

There is a surgical option that will also allow me to have my breast reconstructed from my own body -- rather than have an implant shoved into my body. I'll be honest, I was not pleased with the thought of losing my own breast and having to replace it with a bag of salt water. Just not happy with that thought at all. But after Dr. Lee mentioned this procedure that can take fat and skin from my abdomen and use that to construct a new breast -- I've been really interested in it.

Also... what's even more fabulous is that the reconstruction can happen while I'm in the operating room having my breast/tumors removed in the first place.

So, I can (if things go well)... go into the hospital with two breasts and 4 tumors... I can come out a few days later with two breasts, no tumors and a tummy tuck.

Wow.

I've spent a good portion of the day, researching the plastic surgeon that my general surgeon recommended and also looking for information on this procedure. It is called the DIEP Flap.

DIEP (Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator) flap sounds like a pretty intensive procedure... but I am really hoping that I am eligible for the procedure. (and that my insurance will cover the cost)

Here's a link to a medical facility in Wisconsin that performs the procedure: http://healthlink.mcw.edu/article/1031002690.html

If you want to read more about how its done and all that.

My goal this week, is to get on the plastic surgeon's calendar for a consult right after the holiday and hopefully coordinate with her, my general surgeon and my oncology team -- so we can keep this ball rolling.

Honestly speaking... I do not ever want to wear a prosthesis. Of course, I will if I have to. And if I have to endure having a body with just one breast -- even for a short time -- I'll do it. But I'm praying everyday that neither of these options are in my future.

~Nic

Nov 23, 2008

A writing contest entry that I'm sharing with you

Essence magazine and Ford had a short writing contest (it closed last night at midnight)... about breast cancer.

The entry requirements were simple: 250 words or less about how breast cancer has touched your life. I just decided to share my entry here -- not that I think its good because I really don't -- but because it represents a shifting in my heart about how I'm looking at myself, this disease and my life in the future.

There are a couple of other writing contests that I am going to enter before the end of the year -- and one of them is related to breast cancer. But the fact that I'm back to writing -- even when I don't like what I've created -- gives me a joy that you cannot probably understand.

I hate being sick but I love my life. :)

Let me add why I don't like the entry -- its too doggone short. lol... I could have spun this into something awesome with another 2000 words or so. But, for something brief, it will do.

------------------------
Thursdays are special days for me.

Breast cancer changed what Thursday meant to me. I used to believe that Thursdays were for celebrations. I was born on a Thursday in May years ago.

I grew to embrace that Thursdays are for cocktails. Happy hour on Thursday was how I looked forward to ending a stressful work week.

Now, Thursdays are for chemotherapy. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in July of this year. I am 39 years old. I have never been married and I do not have children.

The cancer center on Thursday isn’t often a jovial and happy place. But it is becoming an extension of what I think my life’s purpose is.

This summer I was diagnosed with breast cancer. By my 40th birthday – I will be a breast cancer survivor who will have had one breast removed. My heart still aches when I hear myself say… breast cancer.

I’m still a bit of a party girl in my heart. The adjustment to my new Thursday cocktails has been a difficult one. However, I suppose that in my growing and aging… I have learned that Thursday – even with breast cancer – is still about celebrations and cocktails. Now, I celebrate life and its fragility and I take a cocktail of medicine that will allow my life to go on.

Thursdays are still special to me – just different now.

I feel GOOD!!

I feel good y'all. Really good. Like my old self.

I have energy. I'm not aching. I can eat. No diarrhea, no nausea, no vomiting. My skin isn't peeling like a snake either...

And I think I have two strands of hair on my head. (I'm shaving them off tonight, but right now... they are there!)

WOWOWOWOWOWOW!!

I am loving this feeling. :) Hope for the future...

==========

So, the other day... I was chatting on-line with a buddy of mine and she mentioned to me that I needed to get off refined sugar. She's one of those science people -- she does some sort of research or something and she's really ridiculously smart. There is some sort of connection between cancer cells and sugar --and she felt that if I worked on eliminating refined sugar from my diet, it would give my cancer cells less food to munch on.

Okay. Seems easy enough, right?

I purchased a book that she recommended (I got it on my new kindle -- I'll get back to that wonderful surprise gift in a sec) and started reading more about nutrition and cancer.

First of all... wow. We eat some garbage in this country. And while I didn't need a book to tell me that -- since I started doing a little research the other day, I have been alternately disgusted and angered by what I've been putting in my body. Second... the garbage is in EVERYTHING.

After talking to Chellee for a few emails... and reading a little bit (guess I'm going to have to go back and read that crazy sexy cancer book too....grrr)... I accepted that I need to give up refined sugar and white flour. This is going to be my new challenge (on top of getting rid of cancer) for life because ... I love pastry, pasta, bread, etc.

Right now... since I've only been thinking of this and trying to figure out how to incorporate these changes into my life... I'm focusing on getting off white sugar and white flour. I talked with my mom about the things that Chellee told me and she agreed that I needed to do whatever it took to make myself healthy. Neither one of us realized just how deep this could get. lol...

Friday morning, my mom and I ventured to the closest Whole Foods grocery store. I wanted to look around and get an idea of what they had there -- that was different from what was in the regular ol' Safeway around the corner. I had a couple of things that I wanted to pick up and I wasn't sure that I would be able to find them at the Safeway but generally, I didn't have much of an agenda.

I think that Whole Foods is a cult or has a cult following. The store was ridiculously crowded. But more than that -- their prices are outrageous. I couldn't believe the prices on the food. It was insanity. Seriously.

As I walked the aisles, trying to read labels so that I was buying food that would fit into my new mindset, I quickly became overwhelmed.

My frustration is that while I can cook, I typically don't. And I don't because cooking for one is .. well, dumb. I came to the conclusion many years ago that cooking for one is pretty wasteful and its time consuming. My habits when I lived alone were to cook one or two meals a week and then eat the rest of my meals out. Unless I had a taste for something specific, there wasn't a need to stand in the kitchen for hours fixing a meal for just myself. And if I really wanted something special or particular -- I often made more than I could eat alone and ended up either giving away my food to someone else, or eventually throwing away the food because I wasn't going to eat it.

Now, typically... I love going to the grocery store. I enjoy good food and the grocery store is filled with really good food. But I hated being in Whole Foods. I was so frustrated and upset -- it was like someone had dropped me in a foreign land and I didn't know the language.

I was frustrated because it seemed like the only things I could eat would be salad and protein. And while I enjoy a good steak and a salad... or some chicken and a salad -- I know I can't maintain a diet that limited. I'm accustomed to eating a wide variety of foods. As I thought about different meals and snacks throughout the day -- I realized that even in Whole Foods, I still reached for convenience foods.

For example... I did purchase regular fruit. But I also found myself reaching for fruit cups when I was on that aisle -- because they have been a snack that I've reached for many times since I've been sick. But its the difference in tastes and textures between eating a fresh pear and having a fruit cup of peaches -- that started to upset me.

Changing my diet isn't going to be easy. In fact, its going to be really really quite difficult. Not because I don't eat good wholesome food -- but because I am also accustomed to eating lots of convenience foods and they satisfy a different taste for me than plain food.

I have a lot of questions and I'm back to being annoyed that George Washington University Hospital's Cancer Center doesn't have a nutritionist.

I will be on trial and error time regarding food -- for some time it seems. Its not going to be as simple as buying something sugar-free now, or buying the whole wheat version of something else. Our foods are labeled misleadingly. Our foods -- even the ones that seem so very basic -- are filled with different chemicals and sugar alternatives that it becomes a real challenge to figure out what you can eat and what you can't.

For me, the one good thing is that I'm not allergic to these food items. Meaning, if I do consume white sugar or white flour, I won't die. So, that takes a lot of the urgency and fear out of the situation for me. However, knowing that I am really trying to change my lifestyle around food, I know that I will really have to be diligent about what I put in my mouth from now on.

No more McDonalds, no more sodas, shoot... no more cheetos! Dangit. But its even simpler things like... oatmeal. I love oatmeal -- have loved it since I was a kid. I love cereal for that matter -- and have since I was a kid. I eat a lot of both. But now... I have to buy it differently. I'm used to buying the instant packets of oatmeal - but I don't think I can continue to do that. There is the sugar issue and the refined flour issue as well. Making that change to my oatmeal -- also throws me into the kitchen for 20 mins instead of 5 -- because I have to cook my oatmeal rather than microwave a quick packet.

With cereal its weirdly complicated as well (and these are my EASY foods... grrr). I have to search for new cereals that I enjoy eating, that don't have the refined sugar/flour issue going on. I am lucky that I do enjoy pretty natural cereals (or what I thought was natural anyway) so I'm hoping that I can find something that doesn't taste like tree bark but still satisfies that cereal comfort for me.

Ooooohhhhhh... let me tell you about BACON! According to the book I read, I'm also supposed to stop eating cured meats, smoked meats, bacon, etc. Now, I really enjoy bacon and I like to eat pork period. Sunday w/out sausage doesn't make sense. But its going to have to start. I made the critical error of buying some "non-cured" turkey bacon at Whole Foods. First, the price was outrageous -- but I paid it. The darn stuff tasted gawd-awful. I was too mad. Momma just laughed and laughed. But it was horrible. Really horrible.

I don't know if I'm going to have to switch to meatless bacon (and/or other meat products) because they will likely taste more like what I'm used to. Or if I'm going to have to torture myself into getting to like this crap. Ugh. I'll spare you the story about the gluten-free frozen waffles I tried. Let's just say... somebody needs to hand me an Eggo waffle and quick!


I'm going to go on and put it out there -- I'm going to eat like there's no tomorrow on Thanksgiving. But I'll be back on the internet and going to the bookstores to find books to help me with the transition on Friday.

I want to eat well, and I don't want it to feel like I'm punishing myself or putting myself on a really restrictive diet. Because I will stop entirely if I feel like I'm depriving myself of anything. And I can't stop this -- its a lifestyle change.

I'll keep you posted about the food changes. Bleah.

--------

My new kindle. :)

Some really kind person sent me a surprise gift about a week ago. It is a kindle. And it is AWESOME! If you don't know what a kindle is... go to http://www.amazon.com/ and check it out. It is an electronic book reader and it is simply phenomenal. I had been thinking about getting one for months... actually its been a year since I saw an in-store ad for the Sony book reader. I hesitated for a few reasons. One being the price. The other, I'm not that much of a gadget girl. I wasn't sure how I'd like reading on a machine all the time, or how easy it would be to get good books to read etc.

Well.... I'm loving the kindle. I don't read it everyday, but I do use it fairly often. It won't keep me from buying regular books -- but it will help me to limit what books I do buy. Because I love books so much, I will always have books around me. But now, I can reserve my book buying to those books I know I want to keep for my library. And I can use the kindle to buy other books -- like the nutrition books for my cancer.

It is awesome. If you are into gadgets, or if you read a lot -- it might be something you enjoy as well. And you can subscribe to blogs through the kindle as well.

Okay... that's enough for now. Just wanted you to know that I feel good, I'm re-learning how to eat, and I'm reading a lot these days.

Now... I've got to get ready.

I'm going to see TINA TURNER tonight!! Woo hoo.