Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why I am thankful this holiday season

Nine months ago I wasn't exactly feeling thankful. I wasn't feeling much of anything besides fear and devastation. To say that this has been a hard year would be an understatement.

I never would have imagined myself saying this after getting a cancer diagnosis, but I can honestly say that I am happy. I am extremely happy. Probably the happiest I have ever been.

I will not say that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me, because it is a terrible disease that I wish upon no one. What I will say is that I am grateful for the lessons I have learned from having cancer.
These will all probably sound cliche, but they are so very true.

I value my relationships so much more; my husband, family, friends and co-workers. Having wonderful, caring, and compassionate people surrounding you makes life so much more enjoyable.

I notice the world around me more than ever before. I take the time to really appreciate the beauty I see in everyday life.

I focus on experiencing as much of the world as I possibly can. I have always loved to travel and look forward to it even more now. I am much more open to new experiences. I am sick of saying "we should do this or we should do that". No more "shoulds". Now I do.

Oddly enough, cancer has cured my anxiety. I used to have so many to do lists running through my head that I would develop anxiety thinking about getting everything done. Now I realize that life is too short to spend so much time feeling worried, anxious and rushed.  I slow down. I breathe. I let go.

I appreciate my body. For a while I felt betrayed by it. Now I try to treat it like the temple it is. My experience with cancer has created a new-found passion for health and wellness. I truly believe that eating terrible food and loading our bodies with chemicals is not a healthy way to live. It's no wonder they rebel with things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

I am thankful for hair :) Never again will I allow myself to complain about a bad hair day. As long as I have hair, I consider it to be a good day!

I want to leave you with a quote I have been loving recently:

"Be calm. Be Strong. Be Grateful" Abdul Baha

I hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday filled with family, friends, and good food. Please fill your plate with vegetables :)

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Another Lesson To Be Learned From Me

One of my main hopes for this blog is that along with the updates on my progress, people will also learn to not take their health for granted. Obviously I hope that you are all now doing regular breast exams (and it makes me so happy when you tell me you are!)

Now we can add one more lesson to the list.

Don't use a tanning bed. EVER. Wear suncreen. Protect your skin.

Most people who know me well know that I have had problems with abnormal moles for several years. I have had several removed and many of those have come back either moderately or severely atypical, requiring excisional procedures (either 3 or 5 mm of tissue in either direction has to be removed from the area of the mole and sutures are placed). I usually see my dermatologist every 6 months for a full body skin exam. I was due to see her in July but delayed it because of chemo.

During my most recent visit I had 4 moles removed (FOUR!) and we are watching another one. This brings my total mole removal count to around a dozen (that I can recall). Two of the moles came back just mildly atypical, but two were moderately atypical. Out of those two, one had positive margins, so two weeks ago I had yet another excision (that brings the count for that procedure up to 5).

 *Picture1: Two of my previous scars (I have had problems with them not healing well on my back)
 *Picture 2: My newest excision. In the upper left hand corner is another one of my scars.

I'll be honest, I never really wore sunscreen until the past few years. I lived in the sun when I was younger, and lived in tanning beds at the end of high school and throughout college. Who doesn't like to be tan, right? Before Derek and I got married I was in a tanning bed twice a week for 6 months! And I tanned quite a bit before his sister's wedding the following year.

Let me just say that being tan is NOT worth melanoma. I wish I would have told my younger self that.

Because of tanning beds and not using sunscreen, melanoma is becoming more and more common in younger women. If it is caught early there is an extremely good prognosis, but once it has spread the 5 and 10 year survival rates usually aren't as high.

If you have a family history of melanoma, have a lot of moles, have a history of multiple sunburns, or have used tanning beds in the past then you should be doing monthly skin exams along with your breast exams. Here is a helpful guide to what to look for when looking at moles (from the American Cancer Society)

The ABCDE Rule:

A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

You should also see a dermatologist once a year for a head to toe skin exam. Call now, because it will probably take several months to get the appointment!
Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day

Monday, November 5, 2012

No more drains, my first oncology follow-up and HAIR!

Hey everyone!

Since my last post I am happy to report that my drains from surgery did get to come out after just one week!

It has been just over three weeks since surgery now and I really feel great. I get some occasional soreness here and there but it will usually just last a few minutes and then resolve.

I had my three month follow-up with my oncologist last week. It's really hard to believe that it has been three months since I finished chemo. Fortunately I got all good news. My blood counts are now all back to normal with the exception of my platelets. She said it might take up to one year before they go back to normal after chemo.

My follow-up from here on looks like this: I see her every 3 months until it has been 2 years, then every 6 months until 5 years out, and then once a year until I am 10 years out. I won't have any routine scans performed. Instead I have a tumor marker checked at each visit. If that levels starts to significantly increase then we get worried about a recurrence and a PET scan would be performed. I also have to monitor any symptoms I experience. The most common places for breast cancer to spread are the liver, lungs, bone and brain. If I start to have any symptoms related to those organ systems then I will have further testing. People often joke about having a brain tumor when they have a headache, but unfortunately I don't ever find that funny anymore. Luckily I don't get headaches often, but now if I do my first thought is of recurrence. I have been losing weight since the end of chemo and realistically I know it is related to diet and lifestyle, yet until I had my liver function tests last week there was a small part of me that worried about having cancer in my liver. This is unfortunately what cancer does to you. Especially for the next several years I will always have some level of anxiety and paranoia. I have heard that it decreases over time, and can only hope that is true.

I had another ultrasound of my heart last week as well. The pericardial effusion is still there but from what I could see it does appear a little smaller. I am still waiting for the final report from the radiologist. My oncologist feels that if it was related to the cancer then the fluid should be growing, so as long as it is either remaining stable or (hopefully) shrinking then we will just continue to monitor it every few months.

Now for the fun part: my hair! It has really been getting thick lately. I seem to be the only person who hasn't thought that it is coming in fast until this past week. The pictures speak for themselves!

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day