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The Cancer

Before January 17, 2010, I was just another gal, writing another blog. But then I found a lump in my right breast. That one lump has changed my life.

And it’s up to me to decide how I’m going to face my life after the lump.

One of the most important things I learned during all of this – and want you to also learn from this – breast cancer is not a death sentence. Not unless it’s a death sentence. But mostly, it’s caught early these days and there are things to kick the crap out of it. I had to remind myself frequently that this was not going to kill me. I’m hoping to go out while choking on the ham sandwich that Karen Carpenter should have eaten.

I had decided that instead of letting that lump make a victim out of me, I was going to make a victim out of that lump. I was going to accept that I have breast cancer and deal with it like I deal with most challenges in my life – with a very loud voice.

You can listen to my loud voice by starting here.

The diagnosis is revealed here.

Diagnosis Summary

Noticed Lump: January 17, 2010
Ultrasound: January 18, 2010
Mammogram, Ultrasound & Biopsy: January 25, 2010 (found a 2nd lump under my right arm)
Diagnosis: January 26, 2010, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

SURGERY
Bilateral Mastectomy: February 3, 2010
18 lymph nodes removed (1 tested positive for cancer)
Scar Revision surgery: October 26, 2010 I’m opting out of getting breast implants and am instead getting the scars and fat cleaned up under both arms. Especially under the right arm, where the lymph nodes were removed, having left me with a “dog ear” of fat.

PATHOLOGY
Original Tumor: 1.9 cm
Axillary (under arm) Tumor: .3 cm
Aggressiveness: 3/3
Estrogen: Positive
Progesterone: Positive
HER-2: Negative
Lymph Nodes: Cancer found in 1 out of 18

CHEMOTHERAPY
6 rounds of chemo, 3 weeks apart (if my white blood cells cooperate):
Cytoxan and Taxotere
1st chemo – March 9, 2010.
2nd chemo – March 30, 2010.
3rd chemo – April 20, 2010.
4th chemo – May 11, 2010.
5th chemo – June 1, 2010.
6th AND FINAL chemo -June 22, 2010!!!!!
Note: My white blood cells always cooperated so I never had to delay my chemo. Thank god!

CHEMOTHERAPY SIDE EFFECTS
Chemo is a bitch. I only got nauseous a couple of times, and was able to take care of that by today’s anti-nausea medications. Chemo does quite a number on your tastebuds, making everything taste like cardboard – at best. I did, however, find that McDonald’s plain hamburgers had flavor (salt) and that Campbell’s chicken-broth based soups weren’t too offensive. I managed to lose over 10 lbs. throughout my chemo. Weight I could well afford to lose. But I don’t recommend chemo as a weight loss method. It’s too expensive. And it totally ruins your hair. The worst thing about chemo is what it did to my intestinal system. I was a diarrhea mess throughout (which explains the weight loss). Sorry to have to share that but, like I learned through this stupid cancer, it is what it is. All you can do is deal with it.

FINGERNAILS
I didn’t lose my fingernails or toenails (thank god) as someone so kindly informed me of what could happen to me (nimrod) but my nails developed horizontal ridges equal to the amount of times I had chemo. It’s like they are the rings of the tree, showing a toxic count instead of age. After chemo was done I noticed a sub-layer of weirdness under my nails. It was either a thickness or a really thin layer of growth or sloughing off of the poisoned under-nail beds. Weird. It helped to keep them covered with nail polish.

LYMPHEDEMA
I developed lymphedema in my right arm (the arm where the lymph nodes were removed). It started to show approximately a month and a half after I started chemo. As I write this (September 9, 2010) my lymphedema is mild (which it has always been). When I get warm, my hand feels more swollen. Sometimes my index finger swells until it’s somewhat stiff and has pain. We had the longest, hottest summer in Minnesota that we’ve had in years so I spent a long, hot summer with a swollen hand. I have been going to physical therapy once a week for light massage and was given some lymphedema-specific exercises to follow twice a day. I was fitted with a compression glove and sleeve and instructed to wear them all day long until bedtime, when I am supposed to wrap in layers of gauze, elastic bandage and big chunks of foam. I did this for several weeks and had no difference in overall swelling (once the bandages/compression garments were removed my arm and hand puffed right back up). I am not wearing them or wrapping anymore. I’m getting more used to the feel of a swollen hand while I wait for the chemo to be out of my body totally (3 to 6 months) hoping that will be the end of my lymphedema. I’ll update.

HAIR
I started to lose my hair 14 days after my 1st chemo. By the 2nd chemo, I was mostly bald – so had my remaining hair shaved down to 1/8th of an inch. Very prickly!

Hair update September 8, 2010 (10 weeks after my lasts chemo):
I have patchy peach fuzz over my entire head that is blonde (to me) and gray (to my mean friends). This is taking forever! I attended a class for my lymphedema and the woman sitting next to me had a full covering of dark hair. No scalp to be seen. She was 6 weeks from her last chemo. Not fair!

Thank you to Andrea, who’s blog I just stole this diagnosis summary idea from.

If you’ve found yourself with a diagnosis of breast cancer, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me with any questions you may have. My e-mail is in my banner.

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