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

One Tit Wonder

One Tit Wonder  

I only have one boob, so what?

It would have been nice if everything worked out the way we plan for it to, but life doesn’t happen that way. I have come to expect that if something can go wrong, it will, and I am okay with that; besides, all of these adventures give me a lot to write about. It also gives me an enormous depth of empathy for others as they work through their own battles in life, and it gives me a lot of appreciation for what I do have; one disease free perfect breast.

It was after 6 pm when my plastic surgeon called. He said, “Thank you for seeing the infectious disease specialist today, I also saw him in the halls of the hospital and he shared with me his recommendation to remove your right breast implant.” “Yes.” I replied. “Trina, it is my recommendation as well, I just don’t think your body will accept an implant at this time. You have been through so much, we need to give your body a chance to heal and then we can revisit the reconstruction process later.” “Okay.” I quietly eeked out. I knew they were both right; my body was trying to expel the implant on its own, but disappointed doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling. I had endured so much: 15 surgeries to that breast, constant pain from the tissue expander for 9 months, 70 radiation treatments, 4 months of chemo, a year of Herceptin infusions, hot flashes from the Tamoxifen, blah blah blah…This part of the treatment was going to be the easy part; exchanging the tissue expander for an implant; the end of the tunnel, the finish line, over, complete, two breasts and no cancer. I had paid my dues, or so I thought.

The day before the surgery, I stood in the shower and broke down in tears, wailing sobs, shoulders shuttering tears, hands covering my face tears. Joe came into the bathroom and said in a quiet concerned voice “Hey, hey, what’s this about love?” “I’m just so sad about all of this, my body needs a break”, I replied. Joe sat in the bathroom with me while I finished crying and then he helped to dry me off with a towel and hugged me for as long as I needed him to. “I will love you no matter how many boobs you have”, he said, and I smiled because I knew that to be true, Joe is a good man, a very good man.

The morning of the surgery, I had a quiet resolve. I would be okay, I am a fighter, I am a survivor; I am a warrior.

Breast reconstruction surgery

Can I get a frequent flyer card for all of these surgeries please?

I expected to be knocked down emotionally after the surgeon took out the implant, and left me looking imbalanced, and for a few days I was. It took me 4 days to look under the bandages; I didn’t want to see the deformity that resided below the thick white gauze. Joe and I looked up Google Images of women who had one breast, so we had an image in our minds of what to expect. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, and I knew I would have to face my own image in the mirror sooner or later.

When I was finally ready, Joe gently peeled back the bandages and I could see by the look on his face that he wouldn’t be turned off by my lack of a mammary gland, fake or real. “It’s not that bad”, he said. I glanced down and took a deep breath, “Okay” I sighed. Looking in the mirror of myself was hard, is hard. The right side of my chest looks like a little old lady took out her dentures; the left side has a perfectly proportioned implant, it is kind of comical when you think about it.

On a follow up visit to the surgeon, we agreed to take it one week at a time and give my body the time it needs to fully heal. I let him know that my goal is full reconstruction and although I have been a pain in his neck for the last 5 years, our relationship wasn’t over yet. He smiled and said “It’s always good to see you Trina, and I’m glad to see your spunk is back.”

For now I will enjoy getting on with my life and you can just refer to me as the Unaboober, or how about Lefty, or you can stare at my platinum blonde hair and not even notice the disruption in symmetry. Either way, I am cancer free and happy.

Enjoying life after cancer

Watching my beloved son play Varsity Basketball

Surviving breast cancer

Enjoying life with my girlfriends.

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.

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.

How Much Harm Can a Few Teeny Tiny Little Dots Cause?

Image

 

Four years ago I went in for a regularly scheduled mammogram. My doctors started screening me when I was 35 since my mother had a history of breast cancer. The test went off without any fanfare and I left the pink patient gown in the changing room, and went back to work. The next day, I got a call from the diagnostic imaging center asking me to come back in for more pictures.

“Nothing to worry about dear,” said the woman who did the scheduling. “This is quite normal, just routine.”  When the technician finished taking more pictures, she escorted Joe and me into a small windowless room with a round table and four chairs. On the center of the table was a box of tissues. She asked us to have a seat and told us the doctor would be with us soon. With wide eyes, I stared at the box of tissues, then back at Joe. Instantly, my mouth dried up and my hands began to sweat. Joe reached for my clammy hand and tried to reassure me it was nothing. The doctor came in carrying a large envelope with the recently taken images in it. He got straight to the point.

“I see some micro-calcifications on your mammogram, and because of your mother’s history with breast cancer, I want to biopsy them.” He took out the images and showed me the tiny dots on the film.

“Is there a tumor?” I asked.

“No.” he said. “In some cases these micro-calcifications turn out to be a pre-cancerous growth in the milk ducts and we need to investigate that. It is highly treatable and curable, but first we need to remove a few cells and test them.” I looked at Joe and the box of tissues and took in a deep breath. “Okay,” I said. I wouldn’t need the tissues today.

“First we need to find out what this is, and really, how much harm can a few teeny tiny little dots cause?” the voice in my head reasoned. Before we left, the doctor handed me some pamphlets explaining how the biopsy would be conducted, plus a card with the scheduled appointment on it. I immediately called my mom and told her the news. Having had a similar mammogram 20 years prior, she’d undergone a unilateral mastectomy, the cancer was gone, and she was declared cured. So of course she was empathetic, assuring me that even if those little dots were cancerous cells, I’d have a similar experience and everything would be fine.

On the day of the needle biopsy, I was overly anxious. I changed dutifully into the familiar pink patient gown and was taken into a small, warm mammography room. They explained that in order to isolate the area where the biopsy needle would be inserted, they would have to position my breast in the mammogram machine. Once positioned, they said, the doctor will come in and insert a long needle and withdraw some tissue samples. The whole thing should be over quickly, they said, and the numbing agent should help with the discomfort.

The positioning took a long time. The little bastard dots were hiding out in an area that kept eluding the technician. When she brought in another technician to help, that little warm room was suddenly crowded, and I was just as suddenly claustrophobic. My A-cup breast didn’t help matters; there just wasn’t a lot to work with. While one tech pushed my little breast down onto the machine’s plastic plate to make it spread out more, the other tech looked at the monitor. They moved my head this way, then that. They moved my arms this way, then that. Meanwhile, the mean machine squeezed my breast ever-more tightly while I struggled to remain standing. Finally the doctor came in and without even saying hello or my name, he picked up a large and imposing needle, and inserted it into my squashed breast. I began to lose consciousness, and slurred out something like, “I’m going down.” The technician scrambled to release my breast from the machine’s grip, and the doctor withdrew the needle. I felt myself sliding towards the floor just before I blacked out. 

The Quality of My Battle

Image

Not looking so good!

Ouch!

I am literally paralyzed with anxiety and depression. Writing this sentence is taking all of the strength and courage that I have left in me today. My fingers are throbbing from the nerve damage that the chemotherapy has left behind, and the drugs that the doctors have prescribed to ease the pain impair my cognitive function. Yet I gingerly and slowly type these words, because to not do so would take away what little power I have left. One more word written, one more step towards recovery.  I command myself to move forward; otherwise the nervous breakdown that is waiting for me behind the prescription bottles that are neatly lined up on my bed side table will win this war. I am in mourning. I am grieving the current loss of my healthy body that has always been strong enough to conquer any challenge that lay before me. I am grieving the loss of my position at a world class pharmaceutical company that I am not healthy enough to return to, and that they are no longer willing to hold open for me while I finish treatment. I am grieving the happiness that I used to feel. I am grieving the laughter that used to burst from my mouth easily. I am grieving the optimism that I just can’t seem to find today. I am grieving the loss of my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes and my fingernails which have or are in the process of jumping ship, knowing that this vessel is toxic. My right breast aches with pain from a recent surgery, and that requires a different pain medication that I swallow thru tears. Then there is the Prozac for the depression, but that doesn’t seem to be helping and my doctor has prescribed Wellbutrin to add onto it.  When my heart races and I can’t catch my breath because of the large anxious pit in my stomach I nibble on a low dose of Xanax to keep the mental breakdown at bay. “Is this my new normal? Is this the quality of my life from now on?” I ask my dear friend John who is a physician and married to my best friend Reina. “No sweetie, this is the quality of your battle” he replies.