No Fear

This is what I know for sure. After three diagnosis of breast cancer, I don’t fear much anymore.

It has been said that there are two psychological houses that humans approach each and every situation from; the house of love or the house of fear. If you approach life with love then you are compassionate, forgiving, loving, giving to others, altruistic, kind, empathetic, ready to serve, possess inner peace, forgiving, and you don’t lead with your ego. If you live in the house of fear, then you lead with your ego, constantly beating on your chest to prove that you are right, you are angry, hurt, snarky, rude, demanding, and unforgiving. The truth is not many humans achieve living in the house of love at all times, that is what makes us human, we possess a myriad of emotions and learning to control and direct them for the good of yourself and others is a very hard thing to do. It takes practice, discipline, willingness, and hard work.

So what is it that we are afraid of in this house of fear? I say we fear not being loved. Which let’s face it is a fascinating concept; we act in fear because we are afraid we won’t be loved, instead of acting through love where love has no fear. I know, I know… I am starting to lose myself here. It is a complex, yet simple theory.

So back to my lack of fear, when I say I don’t fear much, that doesn’t mean that I don’t visit the house of fear, it just means that I have stopped living life in fear of all things big and small. I am not afraid to take a risk, to say what I mean to say, to stand up for what is right, to show up and be counted, to take a leap, to try a new hair color, to learn a new trick, to mend a fence, or to tear one down if it no longer serves me well. No fear. I don’t have time to be afraid. Do you?

A week ago I attended a memorial service for a 17-year-old boy who died tragically in a car accident. He went to the same high school as my son, they played little league together when they were young and I have known his mother professionally for 21 years. The entire high school and their parents were at this memorial, we are a small, tight knit community and to lose one of our children had a ripple effect that enveloped us all. There is no greater a test on this earth than the one that was set before his parents.

Alex Maier

Alex Maier, a fearless hero to me.

We stood in silence in the stands of the football stadium, where Alex was a star soccer player. You could have heard a pin drop as Alex’s parents walked through the two rows of soccer players to the white chairs that were set out for them in front of a stage where large pictures of their son smiling for his senior photo sat on easels. They sat down at first, but then his mother, father, and sister, stood back up and turned around and faced all of us standing there for them and for their son. With their arms wrapped around each other for support, they stood looking at us looking at them, acknowledging all of us with love and appreciation. They were thanking us for showing up, for showing support, for sharing love with them. They did not exhibit fear at that moment, only strength, grace and gratitude.

Alex was a giver, unbeknownst to his parents he had signed up to be an organ donor when he applied for his driver’s license. He saved 6 lives with his generous gift and gave many more the chance to heal with tissue donations. I am a recipient of donor tissue. I have received this gift from a stranger during a reconstructive surgery. I quietly vowed to Alex that I would live in service of others, working hard to live in the house of love and to be forever fearless.

What do you fear? And are you a registered organ/tissue donor?

organ tissue donor

Angry Boob

 

My breast is angry, and it is shouting at me and spewing vile. I am fighting with it on a daily basis, trying to save the implant that my body is vehemently rejecting. I have been thinking about my breasts non-stop for the past five years and I am getting sick of them, but they won’t let me rest. The right one in particular is like a defiant child; always in trouble, always causing problems, not to mention trying to kill me.

After I finished chemo, the surgeons took out the implant that was placed during the reconstructive process post-mastectomy. They explained to me that I would have to have a tissue expander placed in my chest wall to hold the space while I underwent my second round of 35 radiation treatments in the same right breast. The tissues contract around the implant or expander during radiation causing pain and dimpling, which can result in an undesirable cosmetic outcome. So the soft implant came out and the hard tissue expander went in. I had to live with this expander for 9 very long months. I was in constant pain and discomfort, picture a squeaky toy in your chest wall. Finally the radiation oncologist and the plastic surgeon agreed that it was time to swap out the expander for a nice soft silicone implant. That was on October 19. Here we are on January 11th and the incision from that surgery has never closed. One of the many side effects of radiation is that it degrades the tissue and the local vasculature system and healing can be prolonged and complicated. Translation: they burned the shit out of my breast and severed the blood vessels in an attempt to keep the cancer from rearing its ugly head for a fourth time.

On November 19th, my plastic surgeon performed an emergency surgery to remove the month old implant and replace it with a fresh one and then revise the incision to see if he could find some healthy skin that would heal. His thought was that there was a low level of bacteria on the implant and causing things to fester instead of healing. He put the dreaded drain back in and tried a stronger oral antibiotic to see if we could prevent my body from rejecting the implant. The incision still would not close. The prescribed antibiotics caused severe joint pain and I felt very ill and in a lot of post-surgical discomfort. I was feeling as bad as when I was going through chemo, I was expecting this part of the treatment to be easier. What was I thinking? None of this has been easy for me…

A week later, I went in for a scheduled appointment to see the surgeon and he added some stitches to the incision in his office. Not a pleasant experience at all, I struggled to maintain my composure. My son was my driver that day, and he had to wait for hours for me to get sewn up again. I was only concerned for his well-being and how the long wait was affecting him. It is very hard for him to see his mother going through so much pain and suffering and for so long. I try to hide it from him, but on this day I needed him to drive me to the surgeon’s office; so he had to experience seeing his mother in a weakened and needy state. I tried to lighten the mood by letting him choose where we would pick up dinner from on our way home. He was driving his new car, so he was enjoying that a little, but I could see the anxiety on his 16-year-old face. I wanted to protect him, not ask him to take care of me, but Joe wasn’t available and I couldn’t drive.

The additional stitches didn’t do the trick and the incision slowly opened up again from the force of the fluid building up and the foreign object in my body. An infection set in. I woke up one morning with a 102 degree fever and chills so violent that I thought I was having a seizure. I immediately called my surgeon. He told me that he wanted to start me on IV antibiotics and that I needed to stay in bed while we got this acute situation under control. I honestly didn’t have any intentions of going anywhere with 102 degree fever but I absorbed the seriousness of what he was saying.

The next day I was admitted to the “Day-Stay” department of the hospital to have a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) put in my artery where the IV antibiotics can be infused at home instead of in a hospital. I was happy to have the option to stay out of the hospital, but having a PICC line inserted was no easy task. The specialized nurse used an ultra-sound to locate the artery in my upper arm that leads towards my heart and then after a meticulous sterilization process inserted a long catheter into the artery. Dangling from the end of the catheter are two ports; one for the antibiotics and the other to draw blood from if need be. He put a complicated sterilized bandaging system over the opening of the PICC line and then wheeled me to X-Ray to make sure the catheter was placed correctly. Since I am on the thin side, I can feel the catheter in my arm inside my artery. It gives me the heebie jeebies, and I don’t like it at all. It makes me feel vulnerable to have a drain coming out of my side, a PICC line in my arm and an open incision on my breast.

After about four hours in the hospital and my first dose of IV antibiotics, I was released to go home and rest. I was assigned a home health care nurse; Eli. Eli is adorable, calm, and compassionate. I like all of those qualities in a human being so I was happy he was assigned to me. He came to the house and set up the IV pole, as well as the bags and bags of supplies that we would need to care for the PICC line and  to get those infection killing drugs into my system. Eli got busy teaching Joe how to administer the antibiotics and to keep everything sterile. I was surprised at first that they would leave this to Joe to administer, but Eli reassured us that he would be coming daily until Joe had the process down cold.

My fever broke after a day or two on the antibiotics, but the incision still wasn’t showing any signs of healing. My plastic surgeon asked me to come into his office on a Saturday; he wanted to try to revise the incision once again and put the drain back in since he had removed it on an earlier visit. We were trying to buy us some time for the antibiotics to work. I took 2 Xanax and 2 Percocet before I went to his office, I knew he was going to “operate” on me again without general anesthesia and I needed to insulate myself from what was about to come. The drugs helped, but being awake while someone is knuckle deep in your chest is not for the faint of heart. He tried to distract me by asking questions about my son, but I could see his bloody fingers and feel the pressure of his hand inside me as he tried to push the implant aside to make room for the drain. He stitched me up and I stumbled back out to Joe who was waiting for me in the other room.

Two weeks of IV antibiotics have turned into four, and an additional broad-spectrum oral antibiotic was added to my treatment. The skin around the adhesive bandaging protecting the PICC line blistered and became weepy so I ended up at the Emergency Room with a possible PICC line infection. You can imagine how dangerous that is, since that catheter is in my artery leading to my heart; and the damn incision just won’t heal.

I was sent to see an infectious disease specialist to see if he could save this implant and get the area to heal. We knew each other from my two decades of being a pharmaceutical rep so he was very tender and kind with me and spent a lot of time talking to me and painting analogies to help me understand his opinion. Tears ran down my face as I heard his recommendation; the implant would have to come out.

A Botched Boob-Job

 

If you Google botched boob jobs, the pictures you see here will come up; grotesquely undesirable breasts complete with commentary. I had a botched boob job, but mine was far different than those of these women.

During a unilateral mastectomy (one boob) a couple of years ago, I had immediate reconstructive surgery. The breast health surgeon was there as well as the plastic surgeon. One giveth, one taketh away. It has been complicated because I had already had one course of radiation on that breast and radiation degrades the tissues and its ability to maintain a foreign object. It all went well and after multiple surgeries, I had two perfectly natural looking augmented breasts. I was impressed.

Then the cancer came back for a third time. The doctors told me I would have to have the implant taken out and a tissue expander put back in for the better part of a year while I underwent chemo and another course of radiation. I was devastated at this news. The tissue expander is by far one of the most painful aspects of this whole journey. I know I have complained about it before, but I just can’t complain enough about this torturous device. There has got to be a better way to “hold the space” for an implant without putting a hard squeaky toy in a woman’s chest wall. I spoke endlessly with my surgeons about this, even negotiated a way to live with the tissue expander for a shorter amount of time than what they originally wanted. However, I may need to become an advocate for a new type of technology, or hire a team of engineers to come up with something different on my own, because what is available is ridiculously painful.

I got through the nine months or so with the tissue expander and now it was time to remove it and replace it with a nice soft pliable silicone implant. I was never happier to undergo a surgery. But after surgery, things started to go downhill. My body was not healing. The radiation oncologist warned me that all of the radiation that I have had could cause the body to reject an implant all together. The tissue is no longer healthy, which is what they wanted in order to keep the cancer from returning. But without healthy tissue, there is no healing.

4 weeks post-surgery the incision opened up and a flood of fluid pooled around me. I was completely freaked out as I could tell that my body was “rejecting” the implant. The radiation oncologist suggested that I just remove the implant altogether and have only one breast…I looked him square in the eyes and asked him how many body parts he was living without because of cancer. He looked away. I called the plastic surgeon. 

“We need to get you in tomorrow for emergency surgery” said the surgeon. “I want to swap out the implant which has probably become infected, move the incision in order to find healthy skin that will heal and put a drain in so there is no pressure on the incision as this will take a long time to heal.”

“Fine,” I said. “We need to save her; I’m not ready for a uniboob.”

So back to surgery I went, I think this was the 15th on this same little breast, but I wasn’t giving up.

Since I was their last case of the day, I couldn’t eat or drink anything and I had to wait around all day while they squeezed me in for this emergency procedure. It was starting to get dark outside and the staff was starting to leave the surgery center for the day. Finally it was my turn. They wheeled me into the OR and I looked at the clock, it was 4:30 pm. The anesthesiologist came in and mixed up a nice cocktail for me that he put into the IV. He asked me a question, but I don’t remember answering it, man I love that stuff!

A couple of hours later I was in recovery and Joe was back by my side. We drove home and I settled in to begin the long road to healing. It has been 10 days since the surgery, I still have the drain, but the surgeon is seeing good signs of healing. I told the universe that I am coming out of this thing with two breasts and no cancer. I will settle for nothing less and I won’t give up on being healthy and whole.

But the question that still lingers on my lips is why oh why do woman have grotesquely weird augmentations done to themselves? 

Slightly Carbonated Coconut Cottage Cheese

 

I have to admit that I am stumbling towards enlightenment when it comes to super foods and supplements to support my immune system. I know they are vital to the well-being of my fragile immune system and to my long recovery ahead. I have had too many surgeries and too many treatments for breast cancer not to know that I am utterly screwed if I don’t take concrete measures to improve the way my body handles carcinogens.  I have been discovering and trying all kinds of juicing, powders and supplements, and I have learned some interesting things, some the hard way.

Over the summer, Joe planted a wonderfully abundant organic garden and we juiced daily from its bounty and drank our nutrients. Juicing fruits and vegetables accomplishes two extremely important functions; the first is that you are able to consume a lot more nutrients by taking pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing them to an eight-ounce glass of juice that is packed full of super-nutrients that our bodies need to be optimally healthy. Secondly, by juicing you free up the nutrients from the fiber that it is attached to. For example, if you eat a carrot, the body may absorb 10-30% of the beta-carotene, the rest of the beta-carotene is attached to the fiber of the vegetable and eliminated unabsorbed by the body. If you juice that same carrot and separate the nutrient from the fiber, your body can absorb 100% of the beta-carotene from that same carrot. 

It is November now and the summer garden is long gone, so I searched for an alternative. A dear friend of mine who works in holistic healing brought over a green powder that consists of freeze-dried nutrients, even more potent than what we could juice from the garden. The directions said to mix 1-3 tablespoons into water and drink. I took out a small glass placed the recommended amount in, added about a half cup of water and stirred like crazy. The powder and the water were not mixing too well together and I was afraid I would end up with a big patch of unmixed powder in my mouth. I stirred and stirred, I was ready to take the plunge. Holy cow it was nasty tasting, and I was right to fear the pockets of powder. I looked at Joe and shook my head, “I don’t know how compliant I am going to be with this,” I said.

The next day I decided to mix the green powder with some organic pear nectar. I figured the nectar was thick enough to handle the powder and the sweetness should be able to help with the taste a little bit. That did work and I mixed a palatable shot that I could swallow really quickly in just a couple of gulps. “I believe in the power of these super-nutrients” became my mantra as I got through the week supply that my friend had dropped off. I called her for the source; I needed more of this stuff. My appetite is a mess from the pain medications and trauma from two surgeries back to back, and I need to continue to offer my body nutrient-dense foods. She gave me the name and number of the guy who delivers this stuff right to your door. She also kept telling me that I need to drink his coconut probiotic concoction to promote healing and keep my digestive system in tip-top condition; which is also a mess from the pain medications and prolonged use of antibiotics because of the infection.

So I called Rob the green powder guy and he was at my door within an hour with a pound of the powder and a mason jar full of coconut probiotic sludge. $95 for the two, not cheap, but that’s a lot of nutrients right?

After he left I went into the kitchen to pour myself the recommended starting dose of ½ cup of the sludge. It smelled like coconut but had chunks like cottage cheese in it. I got out a spoon and tried to stir the chunks into the liquid, but that didn’t make them smaller, nor did pressing the chunks into the side of the glass with the back of a spoon. So I decided I would just take a swig and be done with it. What hit my taste buds was a slightly carbonated coconut cottage cheese drink and I thought I was going to projectile vomit the whole mouthful right onto the kitchen counter. Rob had sold me on the benefits of the probiotic and I was financially invested in this, so the sludge was going down. I stirred and drank, stirred and drank, then followed it with a shot of pear nectar with green powder. The whole thing was exhausting so I went back to bed. 

About a half hour later my stomach started to gurgle really loudly, and churned. I had a war going on inside my digestive tract and I was crossing my fingers that I was going to come out of this without a rapid elimination of all of these expensive, hard to get down nutrients. I sipped water and my stomach finally calmed. Phew.

The next day, Joe, being the smoothie king that he is, offered to blend the sludge into a tasty mid-day snack for me. The smoothie he made tasted just like anything you could buy at Jamba Juice and I was thrilled, I could live with this. He offered to incorporate the green powder, but I didn’t want to take the chance of ruining a perfectly good smoothie so I took the pear nectar shot separately.

After about a couple of weeks of taking these supplements I can feel real energy returning to my body, and my breast is healing from surgery. Joe also said that my skin looks really good which is a plus, but that could also be because another good friend turned me onto her anti-aging creams, but I will write about that another time.

For a great documentary on the benefits of juicing check out “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” By Joe Cross.

http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/trailer.html

Thanksgiving: An American Tradition of Gratitude

 On the 4th Thursday of every November Americans gather with their friends and families to give thanks, and to indulge on turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Here a list of of things that I am thankful for this year, I encourage you to come up with your own list.

Vatican City, Rome

  • After completing chemo therapy in December, Joe and I took a celebratory trip to Italy in January. I was sick, bald, and nowhere close to recovered from the poisons my body endured, but my will was strong and I refused to wait another day to get on with my life. We visited; Rome, Florence, Perugia, Bologna, and Venice. It was magical and I loved every minute of it.
  • I am most thankful for all of the love and support that I have received from my friends and family this year. I sit in awe of the kindness that people have shown to me, everything from messages on-line, phone calls, cards, flowers, meals, visits, prayers, vitamins, rides to treatment, fund-raisers for cancer research and treatment, books, or a shoulder to cry on, my friends and family really stepped up and were there for me. I truly could not have made it through this year without this love and support, and I am humbled by it.

    Dirty Girls of Del Norte

    Trina and Reina after the ACS walk

  • I am grateful for Joe. Joe co-founded Jamba Juice, he carved out a hugely successful career for himself and when he was able to retire at age 40, he took on the monumental task of taking care of me, our (collective) three kids and our household while I battled cancer. He works tirelessly and never ever complains, instead, I hear him singing while he works. He has done an amazing job keeping it all together for us, and he does so in a loving way; I have learned a lot from him.
  • I absolutely love the maturity that my 16-year-old son Curtis demonstrated this year. Watching him blossom into a young man is such a joy  for me. He is my only child, and my illness has been incredibly hard on him. We have grown even closer over this past year and I treasure the intimate bond that I share with him. He inspires me to keep fighting every day.

    Curtis Junior Year

  • I am beyond grateful that I am cancer free today. After three breast cancer diagnosis, chemo, 2 rounds of radiation and 15 surgeries, I will always remain cautiously optimistic that the cancer won’t return, however, it is something I live with every day. What I have learned is that recurrent cancer is a host problem, meaning my body lacks the ability to effectively trap and eliminate carcinogens. I have spent this past year learning how I can support my immune system so that I may have a better chance of the cancer not returning again. Admittedly I became a little obsessed with reading the obituaries and when I saw a woman’s obit talking about how “she bravely fought cancer for x years but finally succumbed” I get very scared. Will this too be my fate? I am grateful it wasn’t my fate in 2012!
  • You know I have to mention my dog Dash, I will always be grateful for her sweet disposition and presence in my life. What a blessing this creature is to me.

    Dash

  • I am grateful that I got to see my dear friend Smith’s daughter Natalie get married. Being able to share this event with them fueled my body, and nourished my soul. Life is short, RSVP yes! to everything you can.

    RSVP – YES to everything!

  • I am grateful that I found the courage to write my story. My one book has turned into three and though not published yet, they soon will be! I have received feedback from people around the world that my story has touched; I am honored to be able to share it. I began writing because I was afraid that I would die of cancer before my son truly knew who his mom, the woman, the person was. He is not ready to read my story yet, but I am grateful that I did this for him and for me.
  • I am grateful for the lessons that I have learned this year; facing my own mortality has taught me so much about living.

    Joe’s garden nourishing my body

  • Yoga and meditation. They have changed my life and the way I handle stress. I recommend it to everyone. If you would like to take a look at meditation, Deepak Chopra is currently offering a free 21-day meditation challenge on the law of abundance. These are 15 minute guided meditation sessions that you can access by going to Oprah.com/Chopra.
  • I am grateful for my son’s tutor Sarah. She has become invaluable as he struggles to pass algebra. Today was his final; fingers crossed!
  • Our new kitchen appliances; cooking for three teenage boys is much more enjoyable with a nice range.
  • I am thankful for the continued benefits that I receive from a company that I have not been able to contribute to for over a year. I do not take for granted that they pay for my health insurance and that I still have an income because of their generous benefit program.
  • I am happy that my hair grew back. Bald is hard to pull off and wigs are hot and itchy!

    Venice, Italy

  • I am happy to have the tissue expander out of my body. I had a hard plastic “squeaky toy” in my chest wall for most of the year, and now it has been replaced by a soft implant. Unfortunately all of the radiation that I have had is slowing the healing time way down, but I have two gorgeous breasts and for that, I am grateful.
  • I am grateful for Oprah. The quality of the content that she airs literally saved my soul and I spent countless hours learning from her and her guests this past year.
  • I love the Mercedes I bought this year. I never talk about material possessions, because I really don’t care about them, but I really appreciate the quality of this car and the way it looks.
  • And lastly, I am grateful to YOU for reading all of this; YOU are touching my life one way or the other just by reading this, thank you.

    Indoor skydiving Curtis, James, Trina, Joe and Johnny

Radiation Therapy and a Dog Named Dash

Dash and I out for a walk

On the first day of radiation, the friendly medical assistant showed me into the dressing room, handed me a patient gown and a key to a locker dangling from a twisted piece of plastic in the shape of a bracelet. She showed me to a cupboard where there was a drawer labeled with my name on it. Seeing my name there in print amongst the names of the other patients made my heart sink. I wondered who these people were and what kind of cancer they had.

“Each day when you are done with your treatment, you can store your gown here to use again,” said the medical assistant. Then she escorted me to a chair to wait my turn for the blast of radiation coming from the huge machine inside the sterile room that the technicians fled from before hitting the kill button. There is no comfort in seeing the person who is administering your treatment for cancer protecting themselves from the same toxins. It makes you pause in wonderment and fear and made me want to flee with her.

The patient before me left the room and now it was my turn. My eyes darted from side to side and I broke out into a sweat as I was positioned on the table. While holding my arms overhead and tilting my chin away from my chest as I was instructed to do so, tears ran down my cheeks. I felt sad, scared and physically exposed with my breast out in the open. The machine began moving around me and made a low humming noise. A red light glowed in the corner of the room, sort of like a traffic light, warning the staff not to come in. A few moments later the machine stopped back in its original position. The technician came in and told me I could release my arms. “All done Trina,” she said. “See you tomorrow.”

This routine went on every day, and I continued to work around my treatment appointments. A few weeks into radiation, I became very fatigued. I had trouble doing the smallest of tasks and spent most of the evenings in bed after work. I would get up only long enough to try to gather up some dinner for my son. I decided I needed to take a short-term leave of absence from work so I could rest in between treatments. I just couldn’t do it all and I had a hard time admitting that to myself.

The weeks that followed were filled with daily trips to and from the clinic and lonely hours in bed. I decided I needed a full-time companion to keep me company and a dog was just the ticket. I was thumbing through a magazine when I saw an advertisement that featured a Dachshund. I fell in love with the adorable little creature in the pictures and tore out the page to show my son Curtis. “This is the kind of dog I want,” I told him. He just shook his head. If it wasn’t a big dog like the Golden Retriever his dad has, he couldn’t see the point.

On Saturday Curtis and his friend wanted to hang out at the pier in Pismo Beach and asked if I could drive them there. I thought it would be a good opportunity to walk the beach and clear my head while they hung out so I agreed. As I was coming up the beach Curtis was yelling to me from the top of the pier. “I found our dog Mom, come quick,” he shouted. He excitedly lead me to the local pet store just off the main drag, all the way I protested that there was no way I was buying a dog today. Behind the glass barrier was a red miniature Wiener dog with the most precious face I had ever seen. The clerk brought the puppy out and handed her to me. She immediately wrapped her head and neck around mine and snuggled up to my chest. She clung there in desperation as if she was willing me to take her home. I was instantly hooked. There was no way I was leaving this store without her. I bought all the puppy supplies that the clerk recommended and a $1000 later, I walked out with the newest member of our family. I named her Dash. I thought it was a fun play on words for the breed and her long body reminded me of a dash mark. That first night at home I placed Dash on the floor at the foot of my bed in the kennel that the clerk said I would need in order to train her. She whined a little and seemed scared and restless. I kept popping up from my pillow to look at her every time she moved in the night. Neither of us got a good night sleep. The next night I decided she would sleep on the bed with me. She was so small and timid and I wanted to protect her from falling off of the bed so I built a wall of pillows around her to encapsulate her. She still wasn’t settled with this arrangement. On the third night Joe was there with us. She curled up onto Joe’s chest and rested her head into his neck. She stayed like that all night and it was love at first sight for those two. From then on Dash would snuggle with us throughout the night. She burrows under the covers to keep warm, and her body next to mine is like a hot water bottle. Her calm loving spirit coupled with her timid personality made her the perfect companion for me while I was resting in bed. During the day we would take long walks together and then rush back to the comfort of our bed exhausted from the outing. This sweet little creature became one of the greatest loves of my life, and my emotional savior.

Of Course They’re Fake, The Real Ones Tried To Kill Me

October 2011

Breasts, tits, hooters, ta-tas, knockers, melons, jugs, boobs, bosoms, headlights, chest puppies, cans, the girls, rack, bazookas, or whatever you call them, they are a powerful part of the female body. Our breasts can attract mates, nourish babies, provide self-esteem, contribute to a woman’s sexual well-being and be the constant subject of male fascination everywhere. But for some of us, they are trying to kill us.

After my second diagnosis with breast cancer, my doctors informed me that I would need a mastectomy. It is my right breast that is diseased; the left breast has never shown signs of cancer. They gave me the option to remove both breasts or just the diseased breast. I chose to remove only the right breast and to preserve my healthy left breast. Why? Because there was no sign of disease in my left breast and I tested negative for the gene that pre-disposes one to breast cancer.

Besides, the surgeons warned me that having a mastectomy isn’t the insurance policy that we all hope it is.

The surgeons cannot guarantee that they can remove 100% of the breast tissue, so with even one breast cell left behind post-mastectomy, cancer can grow, which is exactly what happened to me.

I underwent the mastectomy and reconstruction, a process that was extremely complicated and painful since I had already received radiation on that right breast. Radiation degrades the tissues and makes reconstruction more complex. My plastic surgeon had to swing my latissimus muscle from my back to my chest wall in order to support an implant; he also had to harvest tissue from my back to reconstruct a nipple. He then tattooed the reconstructed nipple to match my natural nipple. He did an amazing job and I sit an awe of the results of a good plastic surgeon. When I showed a girlfriend the results of my surgeries, she asked which one was fake? That is how good reconstruction can be.

Perugia Italy January 2012

A year later the cancer returned for a third time in the same right breast. The cancer came back in a more aggressive form, an invasive form. Two rapidly growing tumors each a different type of cancer.  I would require immediate surgery, chemotherapy, 35 radiation treatments, and even more reconstructive surgeries. I was devastated as my breast continued to try to kill me even though it was gone.

Its Official; Donald Trump is Trying to Kill Me

Ready for surgery, Oct. 19, 2012

Donald Trump said he had a big announcement to make that would change the election. He put out teasers on Twitter and challenged people to tune it at noon EST today for his big announcement. I fancy myself as someone who likes to stay informed; I have been watching the debates and following the press, so I tuned in to see what Trump had to say. In a video post lasting 2 minutes and 45 seconds Donald Trump put out a hit on my life and tried to blackmail the President of the United States.

In essence he said that he would withhold a $5 million dollar donation to the American Cancer Society (or a charity of the President’s choice, but he specifically named the ACS) unless Obama releases his college and passport applications by 5 pm on October 31st. What?!? Does that sound like blackmail to you?

So Trump has the ability to donate $5 million to the American Cancer Society and he is going to withhold those life-saving funds unless the President does what he wants him to do. I’m no expert on blackmail, but this stinks up a storm to me. I am also no expert on vetting the President, but I am pretty sure where the President was born is a dead issue. To go a step further, Mr. Moneybags is publicly campaigning for Romney and the end of Obamacare. I don’t want to state the obvious, but, I will probably die if Obama doesn’t get re-elected. Why? Because I am a 3 time breast cancer survivor and the insurance companies don’t want to insure me.  Under Obama, insurance companies will have to insure me. Who do you think I am voting for? We all have our personal reasons for who we are going to vote for, and I would never try to persuade someone to vote a certain way solely for my benefit, but what Trump did today was disgusting. Utterly disgusting!

I Have Breast Cancer

“Questions?” asked the surgeon. “Do you have any questions?”

“No.” I whispered into the phone.

“We will need to schedule another surgery to do the lumpectomy and I will give you a referral to see a radiation oncologist. Martha from my office will call you tomorrow. Don’t worry, everything will be alright.” she said.

I sat in my car on the side of the road with my head against the steering wheel for a long time. My mind was racing and my heart was pounding, I started to shake. I breathed in slowly through my nose and exhaled loudly through my mouth. I had to keep it together so I could drive home. I practiced square breathing techniques to keep from hyperventilating; breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, exhale for five seconds, hold for five seconds, breathe in…I sat on the side of the road trying to digest the fact that I have breast cancer. I closed my eyes and shook my head from side to side; son-of-a-bitch I thought. After a few moments of feeling really sorry for myself, I dug deep and found some strength. I lifted my chin as high up in the air as it would go and took a deep breath in and on the exhale I said out loud “OK.”

”OK”  became my personal mantra. As if to say to myself; “OK, you can do this.”

“OK, everything is going to be alright.” “OK, you can get through this.” “OK, you are strong.” “OK, I have faith in you.” “OK, you will beat this.” “OK, I accept this.” Joe says he hears me saying “OK” to myself around the house all of the time, as if I am psyching myself up for something. This mantra has become an unconscious behavior for me now, borne out of my will to be strong and to survive.

I drove home knowing that my family would be waiting for me and waiting for the results from the pathology report. I had to deliver this news. I had to say it out loud. I have breast cancer.

I walked into my house through the garage door and into the kitchen where my mom and Gene sat watching the evening news. They turned to look at me with expectant faces and without saying a word they knew what I was about to tell them. I braced myself on the counter, “Its cancer” I said. “Oh no!”, my mother cried and jumped up to wrap her arms around me. I didn’t feel like crying as I received her hug, instead I again raised my chin as high in the air as it would go and declared that I would beat this thing and everything would be OK.

Sculpture Garden, Friday Harbor, WA

All of this Breast Cancer Awareness Doesn’t Pertain To Me.

Curtis, myself and my mother, Rita at the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk Oct. 2011.

Continued from Part 1; How much Harm Can a Few Teeny Tiny Little Dots Cause?

When I came to I was crying and having a full-blown panic attack. My fingers curled into claw shapes as the blood left my hands to protect my vital organs. I was hyperventilating and couldn’t catch my breath and I was also aware that the gown was no longer providing me with any real modesty. On the other side of the door Joe was waiting in a chair typically reserved for the next patient. He was helpless as he heard what was going on inside the room. The two technicians knelt down to comfort me and wipe my tears away, while the ill-bed-side mannered doctor suggested they bring in a tall stool for me to sit on and put on the air conditioner so he could try again. I took some deep breaths and gathered myself up and sat on the stool. The technicians were able to quickly position my breast this time but when the doctor inserted the needle for the second time I began to lose consciousness all over again.

“You will require a surgical biopsy” the doctor said and left the small room.

I apologized to the technicians and stumbled into the comforting arms of Joe.
A few days later I received a call from the office of a female surgeon in my area that specializes in breast health. They scheduled an appointment for me to come in and consult with her about a surgical biopsy. I immediately felt relief that the surgeon was a woman and that she specialized in breast “health” – code for cancer to make the patients feel better, but I liked the word health non the less. Her office was decorated in everything imaginable made with a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon. There were dolls, plaques, pictures, framed prayers, bumper stickers, magnets, vases, pens…a sea of pink, and a sea of ribbons. At least all this awareness doesn’t pertain to me I thought, I merely have a few precancerous cells that need extracting. The surgeon was just a few years older than me and told me about her daughter as I told her about my son. We compared parenting stories and she made me feel at ease. She explained to me in detail what, when, why and how the surgical biopsy would go and we agreed on a date before I left. “Easy breezy Chucky cheesy.” I thought.

Supported by my dear friends, Jen Luce and Deana Seawall at the ACS walk.

My mom and Gene came down from Sacramento for the biopsy and of course Joe was there. On a Friday morning I was admitted to the same day surgical unit at Marian Hospital. The anesthesiologist assigned to my case was a friend of mine from my neighborhood who I had played on a softball team with. I settled into my hospital gown and sedative and even cracked a few jokes. This was a hundred times better than that attempted needle biopsy. The attendant wheeled me in to the operating room and as I drifted off to sleep I imagined that all of those tiny dots would be out my breast soon and life would be back to normal. Over the weekend my family kept me busy by playing scrabble and comfortable by draping blankets over me as I sat on the couch to watch TV with them. We would have to wait until Monday or Tuesday for the pathology report. Monday came and went without news and you could feel the tension in my house rise while we waited. It only took a couple of days to heal from the biopsy and I was at work on Tuesday driving between sales calls when the call came in from my surgeon.

“I’m sorry to tell you that the cells that I removed show evidence of cancer” she began.

“The good news is that we caught this very early in the disease process and it is highly curable. It is called DCIS – ductal carcinoma in situ. Ductal meaning the milk ducts, carcinoma meaning cancer, and in situ is latin for contained within the site. Treatment generally consists of a lumpectomy to remove any tissue necessary to gain a clear margin and then a course of radiation to prevent it from recurring. I would also like to do a genetic test on you to see if you carry the gene that predisposes you to breast and ovarian cancer since you are so young”. Breathe I kept telling myself, just breathe, slow deep breaths, in and out. I was driving so I had to pull over in fear that I would have another panic attack and crash. “Do you have any questions?” she wanted to know. Questions? Do I have any questions?

My friends and family who walked with me in the ACS Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk.

 

Walking the Talk

 

My wonderful friends and family walking for Trina’s TaTas

 

My mother and myself holding our team banner.