Settling into Month 2…

Let me preface this post by stating that I am feeling physically healthier and stronger these days now that my body is almost completely healed from the operation, eating only healthy foods, and exercising 40 minutes daily. Yes, I’m now back to exercising daily for about 40 minutes on the treadmill in addition to stretches, weights, etc.

Having said this, though, I was surprised by how unexpectedly difficult things have been for me emotionally and psychologically as I settle into month #2. Let me try to articulate the jumble of thoughts I’ve had to deal with for the past couple of weeks.

Perhaps it’s because I was on Spring Break last week and had the “luxury of time” to let the past couple of months’ events sink in or because I was now “settling in” to an established routine and no longer having to deal with new tests, new medicines, etc…or perhaps it was the continual pressure to aggressively lose my excess fat so as to minimize the unnecessary hormone production in my body but not losing it fast enough…For the record, as of yesterday’s weigh-in, I’ve lost almost 20 pounds since the day that I discovered my mass (aka almost 2 months ago). My hope is that I’ll hit my weight-loss goal for this month when I weigh myself this Sunday.

Regardless of the reason, though, last week I found myself moody, restless, uncertain if what I’m doing is effective, and a number of other emotional states and just feeling as though my ability to handle stress and life’s unexpected curve balls has been severely diminished. And for a person who likes to control things in her life, this can require a bit of adjusting. For example, my dog Bentley developed an ear infection and my subsequent ineptitude to deliver his ear medication properly made me want to cry the other day. For a day or two, I wallowed–albeit internally–in the irrational fear that this ear infection was not only going to escalate and cause him to lose his hearing but ultimately kill him prematurely…and all because his “trusty” owner–me–couldn’t figure out a way to cajole her canine furball into taking the medicine, no matter how much he hates the medicine drops.

See? Totally irrational…Ugh…I’m definitely more emotional these days than usual. 😛

Needless to say, I had to take myself firmly in check last night and tell myself to get a grip and see things in a more realistic perspective.

More than anything else, though, I think month #2 has just been more difficult than month #1 because I’m now having to deal with the permanence of things and hoping that what I’m doing right now will be effective enough to ensure that cancer never gets to proliferate again. In month #1, I kept myself busy with tests, surgery, dealing with the infection, making sure I eat ALL of my medicines and supplements, etc., but in month #2, I now have a set routine down to ensure that I’m doing everything humanly possible to maintain my health…and yet unable to do any sort of definitive testing to confirm that what I’m doing–and the drastic changes that I’ve made in my life–are sufficient to keep cancer at bay. Hmmm…I don’t know if I’m making any sense. The fear of recurrence is a trying thing…

In any case, month #2 is making me deal with things that I didn’t expect…perhaps something about “the calm after the storm”…?

Since I deal better with concrete goals, though, let me articulate a few for the next month:

  1. Lose the remaining 3 pounds this week to stay on target with my weight-loss goal. As sis pointed out, in lieu of opting out of chemotherapy, I need to lose the excess weight, eat healthy, and exercise daily with the same seriousness that I would have had receiving chemotherapy.
  2. Monitor my progress and ensure that I lose an additional 10 pounds by the end of May, bringing me into month #3 during that month. Ultimately goal is to be down to a healthy weight (115-120 lbs.) by my birthday in July, if not sooner.
  3. Get blood test to ensure that cholesterol and other levels are now within normal parameters.

For now, I am doing everything as best as I can. The rest, I’ve just got to leave up to my Lord. Otherwise, I’ll drive myself nutty with the uncertainties. 😛 Here’s praying that I continue to draw my strength from Christ who strengthens me (one of my life verses of Philippians 4:13) and retrain myself to see the positive things to everything…yes, even Bentley’s ear infection. 😛

Happy One Month Anniversary!!!

Today I celebrate the first of what I hope will be many milestones in my life. 🙂 Happy One Month Anniversary of being cancer free!!!

Yup! It’s been one month since my surgery to rid my body of those nasty cancer cells! *shudder*

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a month, or should I say only a month since I feel as though more time has lapsed than that. LOL.

I’m still learning about my health and recovering from the operation. After being riddled with a nasty cellulitis infection that just would not disappear, it’s finally starting to disappear after 10 days of antibiotic treatment at 4 pills/day. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to sleeping at 10 pm tonight since I’ve had to stay up until midnight the past ten days in order to fulfill my antibiotic regiment. 😛

Although the redness still lingers, I’m hopeful that the immune system will take care of the rest, even without more antibiotics.

The good news is that my sister was amazed by how much the incisional wound had shrunk. By her estimation, she had made about a 4 cm cut, but that is now down to about 2 cm scar. The swelling has certainly disappeared and very minimal pain remains if at all. The only thing that bothers me is that the area is still hard–almost like a rock–but that is to be expected. The good thing is that the area of hardness has shrunk as well, so on many fronts, sis is pleased with the way I’m recovering.

In fact, for the first time this morning, she told me that she had peace about my not wanting to undergo chemo. Great news! 🙂 However, I’m still vigilant and biding my time since that decision to forego chemo has to be based on massive weight loss and improved immune system in this upcoming month.

In any case, I celebrated today’s first milestone with a slice of very healthy Korean pancake, loaded with squash, green onions, etc. Yummmmmmmm. This is the first time I’ve allowed myself to have some flour-based food. 🙂

Fear not, though. I am not at risk of reverting to my old ways as the rest of the day was back to the usual grind. And to remind me not to let down my guard, I developed a slight fever en route to school and was forcibly reminded that I am a long way’s off from feeling cancer free in my outlook.

It’s ironic that my life these days seems to be marked into two distinct divisions: pre-cancer and post-cancer. I guess it’s made that much of an impact on me that I’ve begun to see my life in those terms. My pre-cancer life consisted of sleeping whenever I wanted and eating whatever I wanted; my post-cancer life is now filtered through what’s best for my body and whether certain decisions will increase the chance of cancer returning. I’m just hoping that my sciatica, which has plagued me for the past few months, quickly resolves so that I can start to actively jog on the treadmill and boost my immune system.

I’m still learning about my health and how best to deal with a cancer-free lifestyle post-cancer. For instance, I was stunned to learn today that I shouldn’t be having grapefruits while I’m on tamoxifen because of its interactions with the drug. Go figure…And here I thought I was eating something that was super healthy for me. In addition, I’m not supposed to have curcumin supplements but can have tumeric, an ingredient in curcumin supplements. Oh, and I bought Alaskan salmon omega-3 fish oil tablets and learned to my dismay that those are a no-no…although I can and should have wild Alaskan salmon. Weird, huh?

In any case, I’m thankful to have reached my first one month without serious complications! I still tire more easily than I would like and feel mentally tired from trying to remember which pills to take at which time while jugging my lecture duties–although that should lessen now that I’m no longer on antibiotics–but overall, I cannot complain. God is good. In fact, God has been very good to me.

This Holy Week before Easter is definitely more meaningful to me this year than before. I suspect each holiday I celebrate and each milestone I observe will make me appreciate the blessings of life even more. 🙂

So here’s to a happy one month! I look forward to celebrating my next milestone in five months! 😉

Settling in…

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a little more than two weeks since my surgery. For some reason, I feel as though it’s been at least a month. So much has happened and lifestyle radically changed.

The good thing is that it’s only been a little more than two weeks. My body is still recovering from surgery and doing its best to heal. The seroma that developed is natural. Having my doctor drained the excess fluid–because it was beginning to cause me discomfort due to the fluid buildup, apparently the body’s natural response to an unexpected and sudden cavity being formed where there shouldn’t be–wasn’t exactly pleasure, but I’m very thankful that I was able to have the fluids drained from my body…twice already. In total, I think we must have drained around 90 cc of fluid, but for some reason, that number seems high to me. Hmmm…or perhaps that high number would account for the discomfort that I felt before the drainage. 😛

The positive side to the seroma is that because of its presence, my right breast doesn’t look as though it’s missing a lot of tissue (I think the measurements of the excised mass was about 7cm x 4cm x 4cm or so in dimensions). In fact, other than the two incision marks, one would hardly think there was anything wrong.

The only concerning development recently was that I developed an infection around the larger incision, and the suspicion is that it may have occurred due to the first drainage when the large syringe was used. As a result, I developed a low-grade fever and just wasn’t feeling well…Needless to say, I didn’t do very much last Friday but rest and do a few light things around the house. When it was discovered Friday night that I had developed an infection, I was put on doxycyline immediately and spent the bulk of Saturday just resting and trying to recover my strength in preparation for Sunday church events. The second drainage was done using a much smaller syringe since it looks as though my body is a bit slow in closing wounds.

The fact that I developed the infection–and so late after the surgery–gave everyone cause for concern, so much so that part of the weekend was spent contemplating the pros and cons of adding IV chemotherapy to the oral chemotherapy that I’m currently taking.

However, my earlier comment that it’s only been a little more than two weeks still gives me hope that my body is slowly but surely recovering and fighting whatever rogue cells may still be in my body. The conclusion? I’ve decided to wait the typical four to six weeks that it takes for patients to recover from surgery and see how my body fares at that point.

The concern? The oncotype results came in, and my cancer is in the high-risk category. Nasty little thing! I’m such a turtle; why does it have to go against my nature and be fast and aggressive? Hence the reason why adding the IV chemotherapy is even a possibility that we are considering. Otherwise, my daily pill, natural supplements, and 180-radical lifestyle change should suffice. *sigh*

Last night, though, I noted the dichotomy of our approach to this cancer. On one hand, as of March 10, 2017, with the excision of the mass with very generous margins, the cancer was, for all intent and purposes, removed quite effectively from my body. Even the discovery of the micromets in one of the three sentinel lymph nodes extracted is considered in the medical field as the same as being negative. So…I am theoretically cancer free now.

However, on the other hand, given the nasty nature of my cancer and my current health state, there may be rogue cells and/or cells that may present themselves in the future, whether immediate or remote. It is in anticipation of that future event that this second phase–adjuvant therapy–has started. My hope is that the tamoxifen is effectively doing its job as I work to get my body healthier.

The one big decision that I did make this weekend is the decision to not work at all this summer. Given the seriousness of the situation–still can’t get over the “we have a fighting chance now” comment–I decided that I need to devote all the free time that I can get after my mandatory spring term teaching is done. Luckily, my finances should be okay during the summer months without my having to work. This should allow me the time and energy to devote all of my focus toward getting healthy.

The tangible goal? I need to lose all of the excess abdominal fat and eliminate the unnecessary hormone-producing source to minimize further risk.

So far, I’m settling in to this new routine. It just feels as though I’ve been at this for much longer than a month, which is when I first discovered the mass.

Hmmm…time is such a loopy thing. If nothing else, it’s certainly making me appreciate each new day much more than I did before. I woke up this morning, greeting everyone in the house with “Good morning! God’s blessed us with another new day!” 🙂

Strategic Attack Has Begun…!

BCA 1

After receiving prayers from both father and mother, I have officially begun my strategic attack against any possible remaining rebel cells tonight.

The plan? Take the medicine–adjuvant therapy–while I lose much of my excess fat and strengthen my immune system. It would be foolhardy of me not to do so when my cancer likes estrogen, and my excess fat cells are hormone-producing.

Once I get down to a healthy weight, though, and my immune system is back to normal fighting mode, I’ll reassess with my “medical team” and decide the next move. By my calculations, this first phase of my war against cancer should take about 4 to 6 months. Hopefully, by then, my immune system will be back to tip-top shape and ready to fight what are naturally occurring cancer cells in the body. Cancer only really develops when the immune system is weakened and can’t keep do its job properly, hence my cancer cells were allowed to proliferate unchecked. With my new lifestyle and eating changes, my immune system should be better than ever!

And the great news about this plan is that unlike regular chemo, the pill form that I take has very few side effects and won’t throw me into menopause…at least not permanently if it does end up affecting my menstruation cycle. Praise the Lord!

I am at peace with this, especially as it will allow my God-created body to get stronger and do its job properly. And until that time, I’ll be using the advances of modern medicine to buy myself some time and reinforcements. 🙂

Strategizing the Attack

Surgical removal of the mass with very healthy margins went well. Praise the Lord! It went so well, in fact, that I was able to work the following day! Crazy, I know! 🙂

A few things I learned from and after the surgery:

  1. The extremely rare occurrence of seeding from the core needle biopsy actually happened in my case, something that my surgeon had feared. Historically, the major hospitals recommend core needle biopsies because they are less invasive and just as effective in procuring samples for diagnosing, but most surgeons opt for excisional biopsies in the very small event that some cells become loose during the needle biopsy and float away from the mass. According to my pathologist, he’s never seen it happen during his 20+ years of practice, but it apparently happened in mine, and he wouldn’t have looked for seeding in the needle tracks had my sister not asked specifically for it. Needless to say, the pathologist will be reexamining the specimen with special stains so that he can document and report this to the field and hopefully add to the data and discourage core needle biopsies in the future…just in case to prevent something like mine from happening. And the good thing was that because I have a super-sensitive sister, she made sure to cauterize (burn with a surgical tool) all of the needle tracts before she closed me up; we found out after surgery about the seeding.
  2. Receptor results came in with very good news! My cancer has receptors that are almost 100% estrogen and high 80-something % progesterone. This means that my treatment options can now include an old and well-recognized drug called tamoxifen, which is taken orally and for the next 5 to 10 years. However, given the nasty nature of my cancer (grade 9), I’ll be taking it for 10 years to ensure that the drug binds to any current and new cancer cells that my immune system can’t handle and starve them to death by either slowing their growth or stopping it entirely. This should also take care of any “loose” cells from the biopsies that may be floating around or hiding within my body.
  3. When the results mentioned in #2 came, my sister kept saying it was great news and that “we now have a fighting chance.” That inadvertent slip-of-the-tongue from her made me realize last night that although we had been approaching this cancer removal and treatment with optimism and faith, the realities from a specialist’s experience and knowledge was that I would most likely not survive the 5-year mark. Sobering. My first goal in actively fighting this cancer is so that I don’t ever give my parents the pain of burying a child. Don’t get me wrong. Although I want to fight–and fight hard–so that I can live a FULL life (I plan to live until I’m 90 years old like Albert Schweitzer) and go through life with my good friends and siblings, my first reason to literally fight for my life is my parents. In any case, that cold dose of reality only reaffirmed for me last night that sis wasn’t kidding when she said this fight with cancer for the rest of my life may very well be the biggest fight that I need to keep fighting for the rest of my life. I can’t get complacent and think that I have beaten this thing…not when its grade of 9 is such an ominous sign. I can’t just have a “fighting chance.” I need to eat and do things so that I beat this thing, knock it cleanly and clearly out of the existence and keep it in oblivion.
  4. The high estrogen and progesterone results mean also that my cancer mass can now be sent for oncotyping, which apparently allows for more detailed analysis of how treatments will affect/benefit me (learn about it here). For now, I know that my cancer can be treated with tamoxifen, whose side effects are minimal and won’t disrupt my daily life. Once the oncotyping comes back, we’ll have to decide if chemotherapy is something that we can or should pass on. My hope? That I don’t have to undergo chemotherapy, not because I’m afraid to lose my hair and experience all the negative side effects of that treatment but more because I fear my weakened immune system–which allowed this cancer to develop in the first place–won’t be able to withstand what it needs to withstand. I’ve noticed marked changed in my body the past two years–signs of a weakened immune system–so chemo is definitely something that I am going to avoid…unless the oncotyping comes back with overwhelming evidence to suggest that I have to undergo it.
  5. Once I start tamoxifen, I will effectively enter menopause. Options of ever having my own little mini-me running around on this earth are a thing of the past now. In order for me to have my own biological child, I would need to freeze an egg, fertilize it in a laboratory setting when I’m ready, and then implant the embryo into a body. To me, this seems above and beyond what I feel is comfortable for me in my faith walk. In addition, not only would I not be able to conceive a child using my own body’s abilities, I wouldn’t even be able to carry it since I’ll still be on the medication. Someone would have to carry it to term for me. And although I already have a willing volunteer to do this for me, this drastic measure is just more than I feel I can consciously agree to and execute. It almost feels as though I’m telling God that I’m taking my life into my own hands and using all of the advances of technology to ensure that my genetic material gets passed on to a future generation despite what my biological, God-given body is telling me…

So many other developments that I’m sure I’m forgetting to chronicle, but I think these are the major five that I want to make sure I record.

As I lay in bed last night, I finally allowed myself a bit of time to reflect and process all of the events of the past week from the initial discovery to the diagnosis and now nearly-finalized treatment plan. In those few minutes, because I’ve always been trained to think analytically, I allowed myself the luxury of exploring those implications–immediate and remote–and the consequences/analyses were far more reaching than I imagined. After all, for the past week, I’d been solely focused on identifying the mass, eradicating it, treating it, and making changes–radical changes in my life–to ensure that it never comes back because if it does ever return, the prognosis won’t be good then. I confess that in the quiet of the night last night, as I lay in my bed, I cried silently for the first time. My parents had cried on my behalf; my sisters had cried on my behalf; my friends had cried on my behalf; but I hadn’t given myself the time to process and grieve a bit for what-could-have-been and to accept and acclimate to what is now a will-be.

My faith is strong. My love and commitment to God is still strong and hasn’t wavered throughout this whole journey, but my human side grieved a bit last night for the what-ifs that are now won’t-bes. It’s certainly interesting that even though the results might have been the same–after all, I may never marry and have biological children of my own due to age and choice–having the option means a whole world of difference from not even having that option any more.

Today as I taught my classes, I started my period, a sure sign for me each month that my body is still “normal.” Today’s start of my menstruation cycle, however, was a bittersweet one. This will most likely be the last time my body has a “normal” menstruation cycle, for once I begin my treatment, my body at age 42 will enter menopause…most likely permanently. Despite my thankfulness that I am alive and thriving with a good chance of beating this cancer, unexpected and forced menopause will take a bit of time to adjust to and embrace.

In my office, I have a wall decal that reads, “Cherish yesterday, dream for tomorrow, live for today.” Those words, I suspect, will continue to have increasing weight with each passing day.

Am I saddened by certain developments? Yes. However, I’m also more grateful that I have been spared greater heartache(s) and now “have a fighting chance” at keeping this cancer from ever reappearing. Do I intend on living a very full life? You bet! It just won’t be the one I envisioned, but then again, what I envision sometimes and what God has in mind for me are completely different, and God’s ways, I’ve found, are infinitely better. I just need to wait and see for myself.

Here’s to living life to the fullest each and every day!

Initial Diagnosis

So I learned the “complete” initial diagnosis today after work. It’s what I was hoping it would NOT be, but thankfully, we caught it in time…we hope! The final complete diagnosis of receptors/markers will take a bit longer, so I’ll find that out by the end of the week.

On the troubling side, the grade of the tumor is a 9 out of a scale of 1-9. This means that it’s the highest grade, and my little abnormal cells are dividing at the highest speed and looking VERY unlike my normal cells. Needless to say, alarming news like this calls for drastic measures.

Instead of taking medication and waiting for mass to shrink as originally planned before undergoing surgery, I’ve asked for immediate excision of the physical mass to minimize on any chance of growth or further mutation. Surgery is scheduled for this Friday and recovery time is anticipated to be quite short–shorter than I expected. Basically, I could potentially be working the next day. Whoa~! Amazing!

However, I’ve now learned not to push my body too much. So…I will be taking it easy all weekend long and focusing on improving my immune system for the REAL battle that is ahead–chemo and possibly radiation therapy.

I am still in strong spirits and prayerful. 🙂 I know that my God is in control of everything. And my prayer these days? That He not take me to my eternal home until AFTER my parents have lived their full lives on this earth. 🙂 No child wants her parents to EVER go through that type of pain.

So, I am optimistic that all will be well. I have been blessed with some very special people in my life who will ensure that I receive the absolute best medical care and support! God is good!

Day 1

encouragmentToday is the first day after my ultrasound. I ended up having the initial ultrasound at dad’s clinic with sis and then followed it up with an expedited mammogram and ultrasound with technicians at an imaging facility when sis discovered that the mass I was feeling wasn’t just “dense tissue” as she suspected and hoped.

I had a feeling as such since the tissue feels like nothing I’ve ever felt before. And although I had felt the density of my breast in previous months, for some reason, that area just felt harder and more localized–discrete if you will–the last two months, hence my prompting her for an actual professional’s manual breast exam.

Thanks to God, I’m feeling in strong spirits and not devastated by the news, which is always a good sign. Sis has pulled a few strings with her colleagues, and I’ll be going in for a needle biopsy this Monday morning. Hopefully, I won’t have to cancel my Monday lecture, but who knows. I’ll take another day to think about it before I make the final decision Sunday whether to cancel or just teach Monday’s class. It’s only one lecture session, so perhaps I should try to just teach it, especially since it’s the beginning of our “Critical Approaches” section.

Needless to say, I’m going to think of this as a strong wake-up call to jump start my road to health. As sis put it, this may very well become the fight for my life and the changes that I make for a healthier lifestyle need to become permanent ones. And as I told her last night, I have every faith that this is God’s way to giving me a wake-up call before the first half of my life draws to a close so that I can live the second half of my life to the fullest.

When I awoke this morning at 5am–perhaps an internal urging to pray a bit–I was encouraged by today’s Bible Verse of the Day: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Good reminder and command from God’s word. Be strong and courageous.