Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another Update - Warning: A Mostly Humorless Post

Yes, I've been absent.  Took another break from the blog and attempted to get my head on straight again.  It was tending to twist and warp.  Between Christmas and surgery and moments of complete panic, blogging was not at the top of my list.  I'm still struggling somewhat, but life goes on, and therefore, so do I.

Last Thursday's surgery went fine.  The folks at North Hills Surgery Clinic get extra points for being extremely kind and caring.  Considering I was there so briefly, I really felt well cared for and even a little bit babied.  Came home Thursday afternoon and had a very nice nap.  That nice nap is a very good memory, since I haven't slept well since then.

As far as the surgery went, Dr. Cross cleaned me out as best he could.  He said there was a lot of scar tissue he had to work around, but took whatever he could to leave me "clean as a whistle".  He did have to take a wee bit of muscle, but other than that, got every area he could find that might have lymph nodes.  After all that, the pathology report showed only two nodes, both testing positive for cancer.  Two nodes found this round, three the first, adding up to only 5 axillary (under arm) nodes...way less than the normal person (normal is 15-30 nodes), but not unheard of (I Googled it, of course).  I told you, my body is a freak of nature. 

The cancer was contained within these two nodes, though, so nothing was spreading in the immediate vicinity...also known as clean margins.  However, being in the nodes does mean there's a pretty good chance the cancer is moving elsewhere.  Because of this, and since TNBCs more often than not have early recurrences (within first 4 years), we will begin chemo again as soon as possible.

I am, again, healing fairly quickly.  My left arm is sore and feels like there is something tight running from armpit to wrist that prevents it from reaching, raising, or staightening.  I am once more, unable to sleep on my left side and dealing with a surgical drain. 

I did get results back from abdominal, chest, and bone scans.  All showed clear, except for the chest scan, which showed the lymph node that sent me to surgery last week.  I requested a brain scan, since I keep reading that it is very common for TNBC to metastasize to the brain.  I received the results from that on Monday.  It seems I DO have a brain, and that is all.  So praise God for that.  I cannot explain the feeling of fear that comes from not knowing what this evil disease may be doing in my body.  It's great to know that, at this moment, I'm clean and clear.

Backing up a bit farther...Prior to surgery, we met with the oncologist last Tuesday and got his take on the whole thing.  I arrived with my long list of questions and he was great to patiently let me ask these one by one (some intelligent, some kind of nutty - but I had to ask).  He even agreed to some of my queries about treatments and alternative/additional medications to be used...things I had read.  We will be adding Zometa to the chemo cocktail to strengthen my bones, which may help keep this from metastasizing there.  There is also a low dose oral chemo drug that I will take when I do radiation that may help the radiation kill more errant cells.

Of course, I asked about PARP Inhibitors, the up and coming range of drugs currently in clinical trial and showing some promise for a subset of women with TNBC.  He said there were many clinical trials currently in their last phases and one drug should be approved within the next three months.  When I read about the "encouraging results" of this drug giving women with metastatic TNBC 12 months instead of 7 months, it doesn't bring me a lot of comfort.  I don't like thinking in terms of months, unless you count how many months until this ENDS. 

As far as my chemo goes, ideally it would begin after my surgical drain is removed, but I think they are considering beginning chemo while I have the drain, considering the aggressive nature of this cancer.  If this is the case, it will effect how I heal from last week's surgery (not in a good way).  I go back to see my oncologist tomorrow and will find out then.

Chemo will be three weeks on (1 x week), one week off, for four cycles.  If I tolerate it well, he may go four additional cycles.  That's 8 months!  Then 6 weeks of daily radiation treatments.  I have a feeling that 2011 is not going to be my favorite year.

I'm stressing about work, substitutes, sick days (they're now officially used up), sick bank, health insurance, things I so wish I didn't have to think about.  I want so badly to return to work, while at the same time fear dealing with the stress of coordinating non-stop doctor appointments and chemotherapy (and it's related side effects) with a 7:30 - 4:00 (or later) work schedule, lesson plans, sub plans, and the myriad of other stresses that go along with teaching over 30 classes a week at two different schools.  Can I do this?  Right now, I do not know.  I really WANT to, though.  I want normal and everything that goes with it.  All that grumbling I used to do when life was normal...what was I thinking?

What I have to keep reminding myself is that right now, at this moment, my body is clean and clear.  I know there are bad cells floating around (as there are in all of our bodies - did you know that?), so my goal is to do what I can to keep myself clean and clear through diet and exercise.  I miss my sugar and fat, but compared to life and health, it's a small price to pay.  I am working on becoming as alkaline as possible.

As you can see, I continue to need prayer, and lots of it.  My communications with the Almighty have dwindled, for some reason.  I guess I am just weary and not really happy with how He is answering me, so why ask?  I know that's not right, but that's how my mind is leaning.  I need to work on that.

I think lately my biggest enemy is my own mind.  The report on my brain MRI came back with good results, but it didn't show all the darkness and doubt that keep swimming around in there. I need two things to leave me and never come back: this cancer and these frightening thoughts.  Please help pray them away.

If you've made it through this depressing post, I thank you and I also apologize for being such a downer.  Hopefully the next one will be better.  One thing I've found, when I'm down there's only one direction to go.

Right now, I think it's time to put on my sneaks and let Cleo take me for a walk.  It will be good to air the head.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Yes, I'm Okay

I know, I know...I've been MIA.  I will update more soon, but just so you know, I'm okay.  Had a lovely Christmas with family here and again in Southern OK.  Hardest part was looking in the eyes of those I love the most and seeing them tear up.  Why does Christmas bring out the emotions in us?  Christmas = family, memories, traditions, love, salvation, eternity...all such emotionally heavy words that help turn on the tears in so many.

So...let me set things straight.  This is NOT my last Christmas with you people.  :) 

I am doing fine and recovering from surgery.  I'll try and give a more in-depth update soon, but for now, know I am fine and feeling stronger each day (mentally and physically).  Thanks for your sweet notes, comments, texts, and calls. 

Love to you all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Not on My Christmas List: Axillary Lymph Node Dissection

Dr. Cross called this afternoon.  The pathology report came back positive.  The lymph node is malignant.  Surgery is a go for December 23rd; I'll know more details on Monday.  It will be outpatient and I'll be home and on painkillers that evening...and probably for several days. 


I did ask if we could still plan to drive south to see my in-laws on Christmas day, returning the next day (not our usual norm, but neither are most things this year).  He thought that might be fine, as long as we stopped every hour or so and I got out and walked around.  Don't want any blood clots.  He said he'd be available and I could call with any problems.

As far as surgery goes, he will be removing a lot of lymph nodes.  This is called an axillary lymph node dissection.  He said maybe 15 to 20 will be removed; it all depends.  Said he'd know when he got in there.  I want them gone, gone, gone...and ASAP.  He agrees with me.  Only thing is, I will now be at a MUCH higher risk for lymphedema...a very unpleasant and lifelong side effect of this type of surgery.

Many of you are asking why this wasn't done in the first place.  Well, in the first place, during my mastectomy, they did something called a sentinel node biopsy.  This is where they shoot dye into the breast a few hours before surgery.  This dye goes to the sentinel node, so the doctor knows which one to remove.  He removes the nodes that the dye highlights, a pathologist checks then and there for cancer, if none is found, that's it. If they find something, more nodes are removed. (In my surgery, the three nodes removed were clean and clear.  No cancer.) 

They then take these nodes to the lab and do even more in-depth testing to make sure there are no cancer cells hiding there.  If this were the case, I would have been back pretty quickly to get more nodes removed. 

I vividly remember the happy call I got from Dr. Cross telling me my nodes were clear.  And I have that lovely path report saying they found "no evidence of malignancy" in those same nodes.  So, the fact that this lymph node has now presented with cancer is most disturbing. 

Again, I am the woman in that vast minority whose body doesn't do what they thought it would.  They should know by now that this is how my body rolls.  Nothing has gone as planned.  My body is a freak of nature.  (We've all known that for a long time, haven't we?) 

I asked him about chemo and how soon that will happen.  He's thinking it's possible that I will start the week following surgery...about two weeks before he'd normally want it to happen.  He said, and I agree, that we need to hit this hard and fast.  (Considering my last chemo - the one that didn't work - ended Sept 30, I think it's too late for fast.)  After chemo, six weeks of radiation will follow.  I'm ready.

I am trying to visualize this time next year...when this is all some kind of bad memory and only lends to my storytelling.  I know I will be dealing with cancer for the rest of my life, though.  I'm just praying it's a long enough life that they find some way to deal with triple negative breast cancers and can make my life last even longer.  I have way too much ahead of me that I do not want to miss.  Pray for the researchers, scientists, anyone and everyone who is taking this seriously, sees the urgency to find a cure for this hideous and evil disease, and is doing something about it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Quick Update on the Latest - An Ongoing Saga

I saw Dr. Cross again today.  It's a good thing I like the man, as it seems we'll be seeing each other a lot more.

I found a lump under my left armpit (surgery side) over the weekend, so they scheduled me to come in asap to check it out.  I was praying it was nothing.  Seems I was (most likely) wrong.  It's something.

He did an ultrasound and took several core needle biopsy samples.  I am going to be sore and bruised when the numbness wears off.  I guess it's a good thing that area still doesn't have a lot of feeling.

We won't know for absolute until the pathology report comes back, but he is pretty sure it's a malignancy.  It's a lymph node gone crazy.  Damn cancer.  With this I guess I move from stage II to stage III. 

One of the few bits of good news that I've had lately is that this cancer had not spread to the nodes.  That single bit of knowledge kept me (mostly) calm, and gave me confidence.  Hearing this news today has taken a lot of that away.  What next?  I'd really like one bit of good news to stick.  Or at least the bad news to quit coming.

To be fair, I did receive one bit of good news today.  Following the biopsy, while I was getting bandaged and dressed, Dr. Cross called the labs that did the CT scans and bone scan.  He wanted to know what they saw where this lump is concerned.  He had them read the scans right then and there. 

The bone scan looked good (good - a word I sure would like to hear more of), and the chest CT was clear, other than the armpit node.  No word yet on the abdominal scan.  I'll get that news on Tuesday.

He is scheduling me for surgery in one week (Dec 23).  This will be an outpatient procedure in which he will remove the node and I'll go home and recover.  I'll be taking a lovely drain with me.  Oh goody.  Merry Christmas to me.  (At least I am an expert on drain care and maintenance.)

Right now none of this is written in stone.  I am still praying for a miracle and for this node, that "looks malignant", to be just a weird benign fluke.  But, if my previous experience along this line is any indicator, I don't have a good feeling about this.

This is really getting old, but I know it's my new reality, and I am still trying to come to grips with it.  (Anyone in NWA know a good counselor?)

Thanks to so many of you for your prayers, your sweet comments (here, on Facebook, and in person), your emails, your cards, your gifts, your visits, your singing (you know who you are - Stars), your hugs (just now answered the door to a lovely friend here to deliver a hug), and your wonderful love and friendship.  You make the journey, however traumatic, much more bearable.  There's no way I could do this alone.

Bone Scan

I had my bone scan yesterday.  Went in at 8:45 and was injected with something radioactive.  Then returned later that day for the actual, rather uneventful and boring, bone scan.  Think 30 minutes of lying flat and still on a table, arms in holders at your side, feet strapped together, while a large device very slooowwwly creeps it's way down your body, taking pictures of your radioactive self. 

This brought to mind the old Steve Martin comedy routine from one of his albums (yes albums - as in vinyl)...the one that, back in the day, had us LOLing for real.  That era where every guy, at some point, claimed to be a "wi-ald and cu-rrrazy guy" and everyone else was singing the King Tut song (he's still my favorite honky).  And of course, we all enjoyed telling each other, "well, excu-use me!"

Why Steve Martin?, you may ask.  Go back to paragraph #1.  You see that word radioactive?  That's why.

Remember that one?  In that skit he discussed common things people sometimes, unthinkingly, say. 

Where, when you are speaking and suddenly can't remember what you were going to say, so you say, "I forgot what I was going to say."  (I've done that a lot lately.)

To which the listener responds with, "Well, it must not have been very important." 

The only appropriate response to such a remark? ..."Oh, now I remember.  I'm radioactive."

Well, that was me yesterday...literally.  Kind of a weird feeling, though I didn't feel a thing.  And I didn't forget what I was going to say, either.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Testing Week...But Definitely NOT My Finals!

As per the doc's suggestion at my infamous MD Anderson visit, I am having a few tests performed this week.  For whatever reason, I have escaped a number of common cancer assessing tests...until now. 

 My imagination swings back and forth where this is concerned.  Did the doctors choose not to have these tests run, knowing that ignorance is bliss and that if this cancer has metastasized, finding it early doesn't make much difference than does finding it later (or so I've been told) -- other than causing extra stress, fear, worry, and sadness?  Or...(and I like this much better), did the docs not order these tests because they truly don't think they are necessary.  As in...they don't expect to find anything unusual in this body of mine.  

Finding nothing unusual is, of course, what I'm hoping and praying for...please God. 

In Cancerland, this is known as NED (No Evidence of Disease).  I have a crush on NED.  He's my newest love interest and mild obsession.  His evil brother, ED, however, can go straight to hell.  And, as a God fearing Christian, I mean that.

Today I had three tests scheduled, CT scans of my chest and abdomen and a bone scan.  Luckily, thanks to an inquisitive CT technician (and one of my Walker parents), I discovered that the bone scan scheduled at another location later in the day was, in fact, a bone density scan...not what we wanted.  So that appointment was quickly cancelled and rescheduled at the correct location for first thing in the morning.

Also, I have an unplanned visit to Dr. Cross' office on Thursday for an ultrasound of a mysterious lump that I just discovered in my left armpit.  I am hoping that it is only scar tissue or something related to the surgery, but we will find out for certain on Thursday (with thanks to Kristen, Dr. Cross' very caring nurse who could not bear to wait until Monday and managed to work me in).

I'll be glad when these tests are behind me and will be even more glad to get good reports.  NED, I do love you. 

I know I have many prayer warriors out there.  If you are so inclined, I would appreciate some fervent appeals on my behalf.  I'd like more than anything to have something good to report in a few days.

CT scan for chest/abdomen

Of course, in searching for this photo, I read that it has recently been determined that this machine gives off much more radiation than previously thought.  Like up to 442 chest xrays.  Figures.  Maybe that's why my local docs did not immediately recommend this.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

This Teacher is Getting Homeschooled

This time last week I was pretty low.  Disappointed and disgruntled.  Disillusioned and disheartened.  Not to mention disgusted.

Enough dissing already.

The control freak in me has taken over.  I cannot sit around and wait for someone else to tell me what to do or how to win this battle, mainly because that's just not happening.  Thank God for Google...the control freak's best friend.  And the library...and Barnes and Noble.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not so stupidly arrogant to think I can do this alone or without the help of trained professionals and modern medicine.  But it has become apparent that the professionals don't know everything.  And modern medicine has it's drawbacks (and sometimes has nothing at all).

I have been reading.  Reading, reading, and more reading.  Not the stack of fiction I thought I'd be enjoying over these weeks at home.  I will get to those eventually...maybe.  But first things first.  I have been reading and educating myself, not only on my disease, but on how to beat it where it stands.  And that's just what I intend to do. 

This is what I now know about Triple Negative Breast Cancer:
  • The majority of women with TNBC are...
    • African-American or Hispanic (not me)
    • Young (I don't think they mean mentally, so again, not me)
    • Overweight (uh, nope)
    • Had children at a very young age (again, no)
    • Recently gave birth (n-o)
    • Did not breastfeed (spent almost 2 years at that, so def not)
    • Have high hip-to-waist ratio (I look like a very tall 12 year old boy, so no.)
    • Drink alcohol regularly (hmmm...sometimes)
    • Have BRCA1 gene mutation (this will be investigated)
    • Used oral contraceptives, esp long term (yes, dangit)
  • TNBC remained unnamed until 2006.
  • About 10-20% of breast cancers are triple negative.
  • Approx 50% of all breast cancer deaths are triple negative.
  • There are no medications to prevent TNBC's recurrence, as there are with hormone receptive breast cancers (Tamoxifen, Femara, etc).
  • Chances for recurrence with TNBC can be high.  Way too high.  I am not quoting any statistics here.  I don't even want to think about them.
  • This high probability for recurrence can be lowered by as much as 60% with a low fat diet and 4-5 hours of exercise a week.
If I could make that last line sparkle and flash red, I would. 

So guess who's changing her diet?  Yep, that would be me.  Guess who's been working up a good sweat 30-45 min a day?  Uh huh.  Me again.  (I've got a long way to go on that second one, but you've got to walk before you can run, right?)  Get in shape or die.  How's that for motivation?  A personal trainer's dream.

I've always been a fairly healthy eater, but I certainly have also done plenty of indulging.  The fact that I have a very high metabolism gave me a false sense of security, and I have never hesitated to eat sweets and high fat foods.  And lots of them.  Entire jars of Nutella in two days...things like that.  Hello, my name is Patti and I'm a sugaraholic.  On second thought, I take that back about me being a healthy eater.

So these things I CAN change.  I never thought I'd have to, but I can.  And I will.  You just watch me. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Our Short Stint at MDA

I've got to quit getting my hopes up.  I knew Jesus didn't work at MD Anderson, but I guess I was still hoping for a miracle.  (Actually, I take that back...I have no doubt that Jesus works here...just in other ways.)

I don't really know what I expected, but, according to my mood, I must have expected a lot more than I got.

Just seeing the doctor yesterday was an ordeal. My time for registration was 4:00 and we were to see the doctor at 5:00. Since we were there early, we actually got in early, so things were looking good. I was measured, weighed, temp and blood pressure taken, stripped, then gowned from the waist up, brought a toasty warm blanket, and then parked in a room to wait.

and wait..........

and wait..........

and wait..........

We probably sat there for almost two hours. After driving all day and arriving early for our 5:00 (pm!!) appointment, this was seriously wearing on my last nerve.

After the first hour I was beginning to think we'd been forgotten, so David wandered out into the hall to find out what was going on. He found someone who checked for us and, of course, we hadn't been forgotten...doc had just had a "really tough clinic" that day and would be with us shortly.

Uh huh.

So we continued to wait. Eventually, we heard people saying their goodbyes and shutting things down out at the front desk and I know the nighttime cleaning crew was working in the rooms up and down the hallway. David nodded off for a good 20 minutes or more. We were exhausted.

After driving all that way, it's not like we could just get up and storm out, is it? However, when the doctor finally arrived, I kind of wished we had.

This is what we learned:

1)    Dr. Pusztai recommended a specific type of chemotherapy regimen. The exact same regimen that Dr. Nagourney from Rational Therapeutics recommended. The kind that my tumor had an "intermediate" reaction to...not ideal. Specifically, for anyone interested, the chemo drugs recommended are a combination of Gemsitabine and Carboplatin (or Cisplatin). As he said, this regimen has shown to be effective in a "subset" of Triple Negative breast cancers. That's the best they can do.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer is not common. About 12-17% of breast cancers are TN. There has not been a lot of study and therefore not a lot of drug choices in treating this type of cancer. TNBC has a very high probability of recurrence in other parts of the body. If it does recurr, things typically get much worse. The mortality rate of TNBCs is very high.

They are currently performing a clinical trial with some success for TNBC patients using something called PARP Inhibitors.  However, to qualify for this trial, one's TNBC must have metastasized.  I do not qualify, and, God willing, I never will.

2)    The fact that I am now Triple Negative as opposed to the ER+/PR+ shown on the original pathology report does not mean my cancer changed. It means that the original path report was wrong. Somebody at the Fayetteville lab screwed up. The group of MDA pathologists who looked at the original slides reported it to be triple neg right from the start. No mutations or weirdness...just really bad cells and a really bad path reading.

3)    The fact that, from the beginning, I had TNBC does not mean I was treated with the wrong drugs. In fact, the chemo I received would have been an appropriate regimen to try with TNBC. Sadly, it did not work with me, as it doesn't with about 2-3 percent of women. I'm sick of being in that minute percentage...except I do intend to be in the minute percentage of women whose TNBC never returns. Please, God.

4)    Doctor Pusztai recommended I get several scans, xrays, other images of various body parts to make sure the cancer is not elsewhere, which we do NOT expect it to be. These images will also be baseline images in case the cancer does reappear. Which it will NOT be doing. We were going to do this here and follow up with an MDA doc, but I have decided that these tests can all be done at home and read by my own doctors just as easily.

In fact, I am wondering why we were told to be here at all. This all seems like it could've been taken care of via phone and fax.

So, yes, I was a bit disappointed in the whole thing. He was not terribly encouraging and I really thought he would have more recommendations about what they could do for me here (whole person sort of, exercise, mental health, stress, sleep...the sort of thing I read in their literature).  I asked for an appointment with a dietician, counseling for stress and related issues (I really think this is making me crazy - I am becoming manic/depressive), and genetic testing. Today I was informed that the earliest appointments for these things would be after Dec. 15. Really?!  Why is all this not worked on before I get here? I can't hang around until the 15th!

We'll visit MDA one more time tomorrow to pick up paperwork to bring to Dr. Beck at home...recommendations for chemo and tests that should be run, doctor's notes, that sort of thing. Tomorrow evening we will head north to stay with my brother-in-law and sis-in-law in their vacation cabin in Rusk, then head back to good ol' NWA on Sunday.

I'm so ready to get back home and out of Cancerland. I do not like it here.

For more info on TNBC:
Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation

Monday, November 29, 2010

MDA, Here We Come...This is NOT my idea of a proper Texas homecoming, but I'll take it nonetheless.

In my previous post I mentioned having a few setbacks.  These are not physical setbacks.  The setbacks I refer to are more mental and emotional.  These involve knowledge and information concerning my cancer.  Knowledge that things are not as simple as originally thought. 

I had a bad feeling about this when I realized my original chemotherapy regimen (TAC) was not working.  My cancer was growing, despite the fact that I had been told that it was not uncommon for my type of tumor to completely disappear (yes, disappear) when treated with that particular chemo regimen. 

Talk about riding the cancer roller coaster.  Have I mentioned?  I hate this ride.

So, as discussed in previous posts, the results from my tumor profiling done by Rational Therapeutics (showing my tumor to be highly resistant to all normal chemo regimens), my high Oncotype score (showing my recurrence rate to be extremely high), and the most recent blow, to find out that the biopsy following the surgery showed my tumor to have changed...morphed...mutated...whatever   (from ER+/PR+/HER- to the dreaded Triple Negative...ER-/PR-/HER-), have all worked together to pull that comfortable rug called the future right out from under me. 

But just because that rug was pulled out from under me and I landed on my backside, does not mean I just sit there on the cold ground.  I'm back up and fighting.  I'm looking for nails to hammer that rug back down so it does not get pulled out from under me again.  At least not so easily.

The roller coaster and the rug; mixed metaphors at their best.

To help with this fight, David and I are heading out for Houston tomorrow to pay a visit to the specialists at MD Anderson Cancer Center.   My pre-Thanksgiving gift was a call from Julissa at MDA saying she had been able to find an earlier appointment for me, two weeks earlier than previously scheduled.  So yay to that.

Today I get to run around NWA picking up medical record, films, and CDs full of images and other information. I have reams of paperwork to fill out and bags to pack.

We've been told to expect to be in the Houston area at least a week.  JC and Sean will be holding down the fort while we're gone, with the help of Cleo and Harry.  And Megan.  And that better be all.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to hearing what they recommend for me.  I'm hoping Dr. Beck is right.  He said that, even though he has never seen a case like mine, I would not be quite so uncommon at MDA.  Let's hope not.  They rank as the #1 cancer center in the United States (so doesn't that mean the world), which is comforting.

Houston, here we come.

And thank the good Lord it's not August.

Moving Forward

Been a bit silent lately, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it.  I think I reached a point where I just couldn't talk about myself anymore.  Didn't want to think about about it...share my feelings and thoughts.  Pretending things are "normal" and nothing has changed since the last Thanksgiving. 

Of course, when I stand before the mirror, hatless and unclothed, I am quickly reminded that things, indeed, have changed since last year.  I look like a character from a sci-fi movie. The one with a shaved head, unibreast, 10 inch scar, and a port and catheter protrusion under the collarbone.  Am I the good guy or bad?  It's hard to tell.  I kind of want to be the bad guy...the one who's slightly psycho, with a wicked gun and a wicked determination to kill any cancer that gets in her way. 

Make that the good guy...cancer is the bad guy.

I do look a bit intimidating though, especially now that my hair has started to come in...and is very dark.  Even the eyebrows, that had thinned out more than I realized, are coming in darker than before. 

At least the drain is gone.  That left a week ago and, after 3 1/2 weeks with that little surgery souviner, I was a happy girl when they informed me they were going to pull it.  And pull it they did.  Thankfully, and considering there was a good 12 inches of tubing under by skin, I  didn't feel a thing. It helps that I've lost so much feeling on that side.  

Dr. Cross warned me, though, that since I'm so thin and the drain was continuing to put out more fluid than they wanted to see, I should expect fluid to build up under my skin and NOT TO WORRY!  "Fluid can NOT hurt you."  He was pretty adamant that if fluid did build up, I should not be calling him in a panic at midnight.  Seriously?  Do I look like the panicking kind?

I think it was time for that drain to go...I had absolutely no fluid build up under my skin.  So buh-bye and good riddance to that thing.  (And hello to showers and sleeping on my left side - I love my left side.)

I'm beginning to get a more normal range of motion in my left arm.  I still cannot lift it like my right arm, but it's just good to know things are improving.

My energy level is much improved.  I spent a good bit of Thanksgiving in the kitchen and doing normal activities around the house, which was one of many things I gave thanks for on that day (and everyday).

I've had a few setbacks lately and things are not going as perfectly as I would like, but overall I am feeling great, moving forward, and determined to continue fighting this so I can celebrate many more Thanksgivings with my thanks for the greatest of blessings.  Life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Oncotype DX: Disappointing Results and Discrepancies

Picture me looking something like this
as you read this blog.
Last Friday I received a disappointing call from Kristen, Dr. Cross's nurse.  It was concerning my score on the Oncotype DX lab test.  Anything over 30 means I have a high possibility for recurrence.  I got a 54.  Ouch.

So this week my visit with my oncologist, Dr. Beck, took a serious turn (not that things haven't been serious - I'm getting tired of all this seriousness).  With my disappointing results from Rational Therapeutics in hand and the knowledge of that high Oncotype score, I sat before him and waited to hear the game plan.  I had tons of questions concerning the discrepancies I saw on the chemo recommendations from Rational Therapeutics, many of which he, too, did not understand or necessarily agree with. 

Then he informed me that, according to the newest pathology report from the Oncotype testing, the hormone receptivity on my tumor had CHANGED!  What the...??  Changed?  Seriously?!  

The report from the Oncotype report showed it to be ER/PR negative, as opposed to the original biopsy that showed my tumor to be ER/PR positive.  My tumor had changed!  How is that possible? 

His hypothesis on this whole conundrum was that the original needle core biopsy only showed a small section of the tumor, which apparently had positive hormone receptivity, while other sections may have been growing differently.  Then the chemo regimen I was on, which was specifically for ER/PR positive breast cancer, possibly did kill those cells, which, in turn, allowed the ER/PR negative cells to least that's the way I understand his explanation (or more like his guess). 

Of course, I queried Dr. Google about this.  He has been less helpful than normal.  In fact, it seems he knows nothing.  This is beyond frustrating and not a little bit irritating. 

A part of me wonders if someone screwed up the original pathology report.  Several weeks ago, when I realized my tumor was growing as opposed to shrinking, I actually asked Dr. Cross if that was a possibility and he promised me it was not.  And to be truthful, I remember that first 10 days or so after I started chemo thinking that my tumor felt smaller and I know it quit hurting for a while, so maybe Dr. Beck's hypothesis is correct.

Whatever the case, once again I have been told how strange this all is.  Dr. Beck now says he has NEVER had a case like mine.  That is not something to be proud of.  That's what you do NOT want to hear from your oncologist...ever. 

I asked him about going to MD Anderson and he was all for it.  He said that's what he would do and that, even though I am a strange case, he seemed to think I wouldn't be quite so strange down there.  So it looks like, at some point in the near future, David and I will be driving to Houston for several days.  MDA called me yesterday to set up everything.  I was hoping to head out asap, but their first available appointment is December 13.  They are trying to find an earlier date, so we are praying for that.  I return to school in January and would really like to get this trip behind me and get a couple of rounds of chemo under my belt...before I'm back in school.  And before more cancer has the chance to start growing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Seasons, Lab Reports, and Riding the Cancer Roller Coaster

I've lived in a number of different places in my life, but none matches the beauty of Northwest Arkansas in the fall.  In my opinion, we have had a particularly beautiful autumn this year.  I've loved seeing the leaves turn crimson, orange, yellow, and magenta.  The red maples are especially gorgeous.  I do love this season and I'm in dire need of a drive to Eureka or along the Pig Trail.

But there is something about this season that brings sadness to me, and lately I have found this feeling seeping into me even more than usual.  As I watch the maples in my front yard turn bright yellow, and enjoy the beauty of the sun shining through their lucent leaves, I feel light and happy and at peace.  Yet, I have that undercurrent of knowledge that this beauty is temporary.

Of course, we all know the parallel the seasons have to our lives.  Spring, summer, autumn, beginnings and growth that lead, inevitably, to death, dying, and decay.  So depressing, when you think about it like that.  I really hate thinking in those terms, especially not when I feel like I'm still in the summer of my life, but time tells me it's moving more towards autumn.  As much as I love autumn, I, personally, don't want to be there.  Why?  Because winter comes next.

This week, though, I've had this horrible and niggling feeling that maybe I won't get to see the entire autumn and winter of my life.  What if I don't make it to be that grey haired li'l ol' lady puttering in her yard?  And then I find myself WANTING to be that li'l ol' lady.  Suddenly the idea of getting old is not so bad.  As everyone always says, it's better than the alternative.  And suddenly, as I find myself thinking that maybe I will be facing the "alternative" golly, I want to get OLD. 

This attitude - that of not making it - is NOT like me, and when I get like this I want OUT of it. 

So what the heck brought on this not-so-rosy outlook, you may ask?  I think it has a lot to do with the results that I received from Rational Therapeutics the other day...the results of my tumor profiling.  When I read their report, and did a bit of Googling (lots of Greek to decipher), it became apparent that my tumor is resistant to just about every kind of chemo regimen out there.  The regimen they recommended is NOT a normal recommendation for breast cancer.  When I read this and it began to sink in, the possible reality of my future hit me...and not in a good way.

With a bit of apprehension, I looked forward to my appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Beck, yesterday.  I wanted to hear his take on this report. 

First of all, I was not happy to hear an apology from his sweet nurse, even though I know she was just being kind and saying exactly what I would have said in her shoes.  But medical people keep apologizing to me, and I'm getting tired of it.  When someone apologizes lately, this is what I hear:

"I'm so sorry...we're really trying to help you, but we just can't." 

I know that's not what they're saying, but that's what I'm hearing. 
This is what I want to hear:

"Well, shucks.  That didn't work?  Don't you worry about a thing.  We're going to kick this cancer's butt and you're going to be just fine!" 

Do I want them to lie to me?  Maybe...sometimes...just a little bit.

So, when I finally spoke with Dr. Beck yesterday, I wanted reassurance and positive feedback.  And I think I mostly got it.  I did leave feeling much better.  I know I'll be here a while longer.  At the very least, years.  Hopefully many years.  Many, many years.  (Okay, now I'm embellishing--none of us have that guarantee.) 

He said that the fact that the cancer did not show in my nodes was "favorable".  Favorable?  I know that's a doctor's way of covering their behind, but I wanted more than "favorable".  If I told my students their art work was "favorable", they would not be impressed.  So I told Dr. Beck exactly that.  I said I did not care for that word.  I wanted to hear "fantastic!" or "excellent!", but "favorable" just wasn't ringing my bell.  He laughed and agreed and made me happy by saying that, of course, it WAS indeed excellent news that my nodes were clear.  Thank you.  That's much better. 

Because of that fact, he said I did not need a PET scan or any other testing, for the time being.  One thing he did comment on that did not make me happy was concerning the rarity of my cancer.  He said in the 20 plus years that he has been practicing, he has only seen 2 or 3 other women with my type of tumor who did not respond to my original regimen of chemo (TAC).  And my response to that information?  I'm not even going there.

To make this long story a bit shorter, Dr. Beck decided to wait on a decision concerning what exactly to do with me.  I have one more major lab test that we are waiting on, the Oncotype DX.  This test determines several things, including the actual need for future chemotherapy and, most importantly, the possibility for recurrence.  Once these results are in (next week, we think) he will let me know where we go from here. 

They did call and set me up to see the radiation people next week.  I'm on the borderline for needing that (has to do with tumor size), so I'm thinking I will get to experience that side of cancer treatment in the near future.

So, that's where my recent melancholia has come from, I'm pretty sure.  These emotional ups and downs are tiring and I, at times, feel like I'm on some kind of sick roller coaster of emotion.  Fear and anxiety---hope and peace---fear and anxiety---hope and peace.  Up, down, up, down, up.  This is getting old.  Someone stop this ride, I'd like to get off.

Thank the good Lord, though, I AM feeling more like the perky Patti that is my norm.  The tears (once again) have subsided and I'm feeling hopeful again.  I am beginning to understand that, for the remainder of my life, I will be watching over my shoulder for that dark cloud of cancer.  But, I intend to walk in the sunshine as much as I possibly can while I'm here.  I intend to count that dark cloud as a blessing.  It is helping me realize something that I've known in my head, but never had the opportunity to actually feel.  And that is the fact that each and every day is a gift and that I need to make the most of each one.  I need to make sure those I love know I love them...every single day.  

That dark cloud allows me to see more clearly the temporariness of my existence and to give thanks for the knowledge that, though my time here is very short, when the end does come, it is actually just a new beginning. 

As these seasons change and winter creeps closer every day, I will enjoy the blessing of watching that change, knowing that spring will follow.  Refreshing, renewing and regenerating spring.  Life continues and I intend to continue along with it, being confident in my future, whatever it may bring.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.  Psalm 32:7

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eldersitting: Two Peas in a Pod

Doctor's orders: my dad should not be left alone. 

He needs someone with him 24/7.  So guess what I did this weekend?  Yep, I eldersat.  Not just me, but my brother and my husband and Vickie tag teamed at Dad's house and made sure he was okay, took his meds, ate, and most importantly...did not fall down.  We will spend this week working out some kind of round the clock care for him.  The easy thing to do would be to "put him in a home", as he says.  He does NOT want this, and neither do we.  He would be lost and devastated if this happened, and so would we, so we are doing all we can to make sure he is safe in his own comfortable, secure, and memory-filled home.

The aggravating thing is...well, me and my body.  I spent several hours at Dad's house yesterday and several more today, breaking doctor's orders by driving there (please don't tell).  I admit, I was quite surprised at how much one needs their left arm when driving.  When sharp turns = sharp pains, that's not good.  But, I promise I was careful.  Drove just like a granny.

My eldersitting job was a bit of a joke, though, since it seemed a case of the infirm watching the infirm.  If he had fallen on my watch, I would've just gone down with him.  But at least I'd have one good arm with which to dial for help.

If you had stopped in to visit my dad this weekend, there's a good chance you would find a couple of feeble and dozing bodies reclining side-by-side in Lazy Boys.  Two peas in a pod.

Today, though, I was determined to accomplish something.  So, with David's help, I managed to stop by Lowe's and Walmart to purchase Dad a much needed new dishwasher (to replace his antique 1970's model) and vacuum cleaner (his sucked - or rather, it didn't).  This seemed like a simple task and I thought it would be good to actually act like a normal person, but found myself seeking a chair while waiting for paperwork to be done in Lowe's, then hanging onto the cart in Walmart and longing to get the heck out of there. 

Of course, a new vacuum needs to be tested, which turned into vacuuming most of his house.  This was a bit too much and makes me think that my body is not the only thing that is feeble right now.  By the time I got home today I was shaky and weak and felt feverish.  Had I done too much?  Duh.  Just because I think I can, doesn't mean I should.  How stupid to choose to do something that could very well set me back even more.  If my mom were here, she'd set me straight, I'm sure. 

I know I'm impatient and want to feel normal again, but pushing it isn't going to make that happen.  On the contrary.  The sharp pains under my left arm and the tinge of blood I'm seeing in my drain tells me differently.  I think I'd better start listening to my body and common sense and remember that "no pain, no gain" is a bunch of bunk.

This may not be the last time this week that I get to eldersit my dad, but if I do, I'll be more careful to act his age than I do mine.  Surely I can handle that Lazy Boy and leave the errands and chores to the young-uns.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dad: Sweet Story and an Angry Rant

I've been dreaming about my mom a lot lately.  She's been gone from this world for over 13 years now.  I don't know if it's the undying desire that so many of us have when we are sick and in need or not.  That desire...yes, I'll admit it...that I would still like to have my mother take care of me. 

When I am changing bandages and dealing with very personal healthcare issues, I know that there is no one (other than my husband - and maybe not even him) who I would like helping me more than my mom.  Maybe it's just that mother-daughter connection, but, in my mind, no one would have the tender touch, the patience, and know what to say better than my mom.  Will I ever think otherwise?  I don't think so.  I expect, even when I'm very old, hobbling around at the nursing home and in need of physical assistance, I will wish for my mom.  Is that a legacy good mothers leave for their children?  Maybe so. 

This is not to insinuate that I am helpless or fall apart when I feel ill.  On the contrary, I've always been perfectly capable of, and insisted on, taking care of myself...often to a fault.  There just remains an underlying desire for that person who was my original caretaker.  The person who made sure everything was okay, I was comfortable, well fed, and had everything I needed.  I always knew she would make everything better.  So yes, there have been many times over the years where I've longed for Mom. 

I think the first time I really became aware of how much my mother's care meant to me was when I was in college, 2 states away from home, and became ill.  I doctored myself because I had no other choice, but I still remember feeling like I wanted my mama (and feeling silly because of it).   I never thought that would be something I would continue to think about so many years later, yet here I am.

Dad...probably telling one of his
countless stories.
He has some good ones.
So, if I am going to go on and on about my mom, then why, you may ask, is the title of this post "Dad".  Let's just say I'm working through that and hope to make sense of it by the end of this writing.  Remember, I'm writing this for a number of reasons, one of them being that I was told it would be "therapeutic".  And it is.  So, if I want to write about my dad, I had to begin by writing about my recent thoughts of Mom.  You see, those two go together.  He has been lost without her for over 13 years now. 

Just as she loved serving me and making me feel better, she did the same for my dad.  Dad's health has gone downhill considerably in the past months.  If Mom were still here, we all know that would not be the case.  She would have kept his mind and body active, as opposed to his choice of slowly letting things go since she's been gone...volunteer work, recreational activities, church activities, and church attendance have all gone by the wayside.  He has decided that if he can't do those activities with Mom, then those activities aren't worth doing.  Because of this, he has gradually become weaker, and thus more and more physically dependant on others.  And because of this, he now has a wonderful caretaker who spends each day with him, making sure he has his medication, is well fed, and remains somewhat active.  

Vickie joined our family as Dad's caretaker not long before I left for China.  I don't know if I could have gone without knowing she was with him.  I remember preparing for the trip and praying that Dad would still be here when I returned.  He kept telling me he would not...and that it would be a good thing. 

Things have changed for the better in the past months, though, thanks to Vickie.  His medication has been monitored and more carefully administered, which has helped his low moods, irrational behavior, loss of attention span and, with new medication, even improved his memory.  Vickie has been a gift from God.  She and Dad have bonded and we can think of no one else we would trust with him as much as we do Vickie.  To Dad, she is like a daughter.  We have seen some of his old self coming out in the past few weeks, which has been such a blessing, especially in light of my current medical issues. 

It has been a blessing not to be so totally consumed with taking care of Dad.  Between Vickie on weekdays and me on weekends and some evenings, Dad has been doing great.  Though my weekday/weekend visits are currently interrupted, Dad has been very understanding and concerned about me.  He is patiently waiting for my healing, as am I.  And, I admit, it also helps to have a wonderful husband who doesn't mind checking in on him. 

One nice thing lately, something we've been wanting him to do for years, is that he has reached the point of desiring and acquiring a dog.  An inside dog, no less.  An inside dog named Gizmo that he allows to sleep in his bed!  My mom would be so proud (after she checked to make sure he was really my dad).

So, to get a call today that he had fallen and was in the ER with Vickie was upsetting, to say the least.  I know a lot of this upset had to do with the fact that I am feeling, at the moment, pretty worthless.  Helpless and dependant and stuck at home with my staples and my drain and my sore body. 

Here is the scoop: It seems when Vickie came into his house this morning, the first thing she saw were bloody towels on the floor.  She ran into the kitchen to find him sitting in a chair with a bloody gash on the top of his head.  He could not remember what had happened.  He had already made coffee and, with a little homegrown CSI work, the guess is that he had prepared something to eat, attempted to return to the table with his food on the seat of his walker, spilled the food, either slipped on the spilled food or fell when trying to clean up the spill, and hit his head on the corner of a wooden cabinet.  He would've had to go over head first, from where the gash was.  My brother said it looked like a CSI crime scene, with blood everywhere.  Vickie must have been terrified.  We are thanking God for her tonight...and every night.

The hospital turned into a whole 'nother nightmare.  They did run a few tests on Dad...scans, MRI, and whatnot, to make sure there were no broken bones or blood clots.  But, apparently, they kept Dad there for hours without his medication (he had not taken his meds last night or this morning - could've been part of the falling problem), without food (he is diabetic), without help in hygiene needs, laid out on a small and uncomfortable ER bed on which he is too tall to be anything but miserable.  According to my brother, Jay, it was almost surreal how bad the service was. They were insisting that Dad needed to stay at least a night or two, but doing nothing about it.  They refused to feed him, due to any further testing they might want to do.  Dad finally threw an angry fit (low blood sugar does that to him) and they gave in and brought him a sandwich.  I have no idea why they wouldn't give him medication.   

Jay said they only had one encounter of good bedside manners and helpfulness all day (by a young orderly - no doctor or nurse).  Jay finally decided that the safest thing to do was to get Dad out of there.  At that point, he said it was like trying to get away from a pushy car salesman.  As in, "what can we do to get you in this hospital tonight?"  They were even threatened with insurance not paying since they had refused treatment.  Refused treatment?  Seriously?!  Tests had been run, nothing appeared wrong.  Jay was right, Dad needed to be in his own bed with trustworthy people caring for him.  We could both invision my confused and very agitated father, stuck alone in a hospital bed with uncaring staff.  He needed to be home!  So, our angel Vickie is staying with him tonight and tomorrow.  Jay will be back tomorrow for a trip to the doctor and this weekend the Jones and Brigman men will be tag-teaming it at Dad's house.

I don't know how this whole thing will play out.  Dad keeps telling me not to worry, that everything is going to be fine.  One thing I do know, though, is that our hospital choices for Dad have changed.  It will either be Washington Regional or the VA hospital the next time.  I am sorely disappointed in the local hospital choice.  The one that promises great service in the ER.  Bull-oney.

So how did I get from writing about my care-giving mom to my care-needing dad?  Partly because I was dreaming about Mom when I got the call about Dad.  And partly because she is still a part of who he is and I know, if she were still here, he and I would both feel a lot better.  And one of us would not be in our current situation.

Jay and Dad...
Like Father, Like Son

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

First Follow Up Following Surgery

JC drove me to see Dr. Cross yesterday to get my bandages removed.  Let's just say getting something off my chest definitely changed my appearance.  Very strange.  Thankfully, according to Dr. Cross and his nurse, everything looked great.  No bruising, swelling, or redness.  Staples are all holding and the drain is hanging in there...literally.  Staples will be removed in about a week and a half, and the drain will hopefully go before then.

We had lots to talk about.  They gave me a copy of the pathology report from the surgery.  It makes for an interesting read, although can be quite odd reading so many details about a part of one's own body, including that foreign part that got me into this mess in the first place.  Somehow, the clinical terminology in a report like this does help make it seem less personal and thus, less traumatic.  The best wording on the whole report was the description of the 3 lymph nodes..."no evidence of malignancy" repeated three times.  Love, love, love those words.   

Of course, Dr. Cross was delighted that my lymph nodes were clear, but that doesn't mean I get to skip more chemotherapy.  Exactly what kind will be determined once he gets the results from Rational Therapeutics (who, by the way, received my tumor the day following surgery and called to report that it was a "perfect" specimen.  Now they are trying every sort of chemo combination with it to discovery which one kills it best).  With my aggressive and high grade tumor, chemotherapy will insure that this cancer has not spread via the bloodstream (since we know the nodes are clear).  Whether or not I will receive radiation is still to be determined.  Also, due to a variety of criteria that I meet, some of my cancerous tissue will be sent away for Oncotype DX testing, which will help make future decisions in my treatment and overall prognosis.  With all this testing going on, they should know exactly, without a doubt, what to do with me.  Right?  Let's hope so.

We briefly discussed my next surgery, which won't occur for quite a while.  It will be for removal of the right breast, with reconstruction of both, and will most likely take place next summer.  Dr. Cross is already contemplating how this will occur, considering that I am so thin and don't have a lot of spare flesh.  He was trying to figure out how things will be moved around to adjust for this, then decided to worry about that at a later date.  First things first.

Right now I am looking forward to the removal of this drain in my left side.  Along with being seriously awkward, it's quite uncomfortable and can even be painful...sometimes to the point of feeling like I am being impaled with a rubber tube.  Oh, wait...I am. 

Overall, though, I am doing quite well, just really tired and still depending on an occasional Percocet to manage pain.  I find it odd that I feel pain, when large areas of my left side and arm are completely numb, and, apparently, will be for some maybe forever.  (Seriously?!)  I tend to wake up very stiff and sore and almost need someone to push me into an upright position.  It's depressing how quickly I've lost muscle tone and strength during this whole thing.  Just a few months ago I was in pretty good shape.  I've got to start doing something about steps, I guess.

Baby steps, one day at a time, one hurdle at a time...all moving forward...away from cancer.  Moving backwards is not allowed.  As long as each step I take leads towards healing, I'm a happy camper.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Getting Something Off My Chest

When I left my students last week for this extended sick leave, my 4th and 5th grade artists were in the middle of an idiom project.  As we strive to integrate literature and language into the art room, each of these students chose a common American idiom which they have been illustrating...literally.  Some of the most popular choices have included idioms such as "it's raining cats and dogs", "head in the clouds", and "butterflies in the stomach". 

However, there was one particular idiom that caught my attention more than normal this year.  Several of my artists chose to illustrate "get something off your chest".  I've watched with great pleasure at my student's creativity in illustrating this idiom.  I could totally relate to their literal interpretations; this is the idiom I would have chosen this contest.  And you can probably guess why. 

Of these few illustrations, one that stood out in particular was that of someone frantically fighting a huge, hairy, fanged and clawing beast, as it fiercely hangs onto their chest.  When I saw this depiction, I had to laugh, and thought, "By golly...I think that might be me."  Of course, I didn't tell the artist that.  That would've been a heavy concept to lay on a 10 year old.

Yes, for a long time I've felt like I had an evil creature attached to me...on my left breast, to be specific. Just like the subject of my student's illustration, I have wanted to fight and destroy it from the moment I found out it was there. So these many weeks knowing it was there...weeks that I had to live with it, sleep with it, eat with it, teach with it, and walk around with it have been long, unnerving, and, frankly, torturous, to say the least.  I could not wait for the day when that alien creature was GONE!

As most of you know, last Wednesday was that day.  My attacking beast has been vanquished and, I'm happy to say, I no longer feel like that monster is on my chest.  It's been removed and destroyed. 

My 5th grade artist will never know his illustration impacted me like that.  I look forward to seeing his finished work of art and will try and post a pic of it here.

From now on when I say, "I need to get something off my chest," I expect it will mean something a little more to me than to most people.  It's a great feeling to have won that beastly battle.  Good riddance to my monster.  May you never return!

Friday, October 29, 2010

One Big Hurdle is History

The big surgery hurdle has been leaped.  I returned to Home Sweet Home in less than 24 hours...about 9:30 yesterday morning.  Let me just say that everything in my previous blog post was answered.  The surgery went without a hitch, as did all things pre and post op.  According to Dr. Cross, it went better than he imagined. I wonder what he imagined.

The day of surgery began bright and early at the Breast Center, where I received several injections of radioactive dye.  This was to help locate the sentinel node(s) during surgery.  From now on, when there's a lull in the conversation, I can perk things up by mentioning that I was once radioactive. 

From the Breast Center we headed to the hospital.  Knowing what was ahead of me that day, they sent me off by pinning a lovely pink and bejeweled "guardian angel" to my jacket.  So touching and sweet.  The people at the Breast Center are always so kind.  I left with instructions to continually massage my left "smush and push".  This helps the dye find it's way to the nodes.  I found it sort of awkward, sitting in the surgery waiting area in the midst of strangers (all but David), while smushing and pushing.  We decided I was spending a last bit of quality time with my left girl who was about to be sacrificed for the well-being of the whole girl.

While at the hospital, things stayed pretty much on course.  Pleasantly, there were no surprises or delays. Wait...I take that back; there was one very nice surprise.  When I was in the pre-operating holding area (or whatever it's called) Dr. Cross stopped in to visit and go over what I should expect following surgery.  Right before he left to scrub up he asked if I'd mind if he prayed.  Wow!  Of course I didn't mind.  He took my hand and prayed for guidance and healing.  I'd been strong and tearfree...until then.  I was still strong...but the tearfree part was not happening.  What a comfort it was, going into surgery knowing my surgeon also puts his faith in the Great Physician.

What we learned from the surgery and subsequent hospital happenings:

The tumor>>
The big bad tumor was loose and not attached to anything (like my chest wall).  No damage to muscle is a very good thing!

Lymph nodes>>
Three lymph nodes showed up as sentinels (glowing with radioactive dye ) and were removed.  None of them appeared abnormal and, according to the pathologist who was working with Dr. Cross at the time of surgery, no cancer cells were found.  There will be more in depth testing (frozen section and other things I don't understand) in which they will be able to say for sure if there were or were not cells.**  I will know this on Monday when I return to see Dr. Cross.

Drain (singular!)>>
I received only one drain, as opposed to the earlier estimate of 3-4.  Why the difference?  I do not know.  The fewer the better, in my opinion.  This will come out in a few days, but for the time being I have a long rubber tube emerging from my body, connected to a rubber ball sort of thingy and pinned to the bandaging on my left side.  This fills with drainage from my surgical area.  We get to empty, measure, then flush it's contents 3 times a day.  Yes, I know...ewww.  (But good experience for JC, future EMT.)

I discovered that coming off of general anesthesia does make me nauseous.  I felt it in the recovery room and was medicated as soon as I mentioned it.  I then awoke to more pain and nausea later that night.  This time I wasn't medicated quickly enough and, therefore, got to know the plastic wash tub up close and personal. I noticed that the next time I hit the nurse button and asked for pain meds, they were much more prompt.

Bearers of good news>>
Following surgery, it was a great pleasure to be rolled from recovery to my hospital room and be greeted by several of my favorite people in the whole world.  I knew that Dr. Cross had spoken with them, and so I was anxious to hear what news he had shared.  However, as I was rolled into my room, everyone seemed especially solemn and quiet.  My first thought was that something was wrong.  Why else would they be acting like this?  So, of course, I asked.  I was quickly relieved by their positive responses..."Everything went great!"  "Couldn't have gone better!"  So, FYI, when you have good news for a patient, don't hold back!  Not only was I happy to see my dear family and friends, but was happy to hear them bear the good news.

Arm sling?? >>
The arm sling I'd been forced to wear made no sense to me.  When Dr. Cross walked into my room Thursday morning, it made no sense to him either.  First thing he said to me, after "Good morning,"  was "Why are you wearing an arm sling?!"  To which I responded, "I have absolutely no idea."  I was glad to know that my continual questioning of that silly thing was for good reason.  As he mentioned to his nurse, "We've been seeing some strange things lately."  Apparently his post-op instructions involved keeping my arm elevated, and, to someone along the way, a sling made sense.  Go figure. (And I have to think it probably added 100 bucks to my hospital bill.)

So, that's a general run down of my first major surgery and brief hospital stay.  It was so great to be driven home in the bright autumn sunshine yesterday morning and enjoy the bright autumn colors, feeling fairly bright inside (some thanks to the Percocet, I'm sure).  It's wonderful to have jumped that big hurdle and have it behind me.  I know there are more hurdles to jump, but, with help, I pray that all of them be leaped with equal smoothness.

**Great news!  Dr. Cross called me this morning to tell me he'd gotten a call from the pathologist.  All three nodes were clear! Yes, CLEAR!  No cancer cells in ANY of them!  This, my prayer warriors, is a miracle!  Your prayers have been heard and answered!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Right Now...A Prayer

Surgery is scheduled for 12:30 today.  If all goes as scheduled I should be in surgery at this very moment

Dear God, be with me.  Please guide the hands of Dr. Cross and the rest of the medical team. May they swiftly and easily remove the cancer from my body.  May there be no complications or unexpected negative events.  Father, guide the hands that cut and sew my body.  Allow the anethesia to go smoothly and recovery to be quick and uneventful.  God, please guide the nurses that attend me following surgery.  May they have empathy, patience, and a soft touch.  Lord, bless my precious friends and family who wait patiently for good news concerning this surgery.  Be with those in the waiting room right now.  Give them peace and comfort.  

Thank you God for blessing me so mightily in the past few weeks.  You are my strength and my shield, my comforter and encourager.  I praise you, even now, as I am unaware of what is going on around me.  I praise your Holy name.
Through Christ, my Savior,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Surgery, Sick Leave, and Peace, Perfect Peace

Is it just me, or did these last two weeks go by way too fast?  The time has really come.  My surgery is tomorrow and so is the beginning of the longest sick leave in the history of Patti. 

I worked late tonight, prepping for tomorrow's sub at Walker.  It was so weird leaving that building, my home away from home, and knowing I won't be back to teach my kiddos until January.  If this were June and the last day of school, I'd be skipping right out of there and not looking back.  Yippee!  Summer!  But this time away from school is certainly not summer and the school year will be going on without me. How is that possible?  I do NOT like that idea. 

I AM, however, ready to get this show on the road and ready to get this major hurdle behind me.  I have a great peace about this whole thing. People keep asking me if I am scared or nervous and the answer is no.   I feel no fear or unease, only calm and peacefulness and knowledge and confidence that, not only am I going to win this battle, but I am not alone.  I know that everything is going to be just fine. The peace that passes understanding is a wonderful thing.

Much of that peace stems from the fact that so many of you have been praying for it.  To add to that, David and I met with our church elders last night.  That was an amazing and very comforting experience in itself.  One by one, each elder annointed me with oil and prayed for healing and comfort and peace.  I highly recommend this experience if you ever reach a crisis point in your life.  Amazing and humbling.

So, yes, I most definitely am feeling that peace tonight.  Even though I will miss my multitude of students, my two classrooms and my fellow teachers terribly, I know that all is well.  And this time tomorrow all will be even more well.  Surgery, here I come.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  John 16:33

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How Do I Thank Thee? I Cannot Count That High.

I’m a big Seinfeld fan. Isn’t everyone? That may be the only show in history whose reruns still make me laugh.  No telling how many times I've seen each episode, yet I still watch.

There is one episode in particular that I’ve been thinking of lately. You remember the one where Jon Lovitz’s character, Gary, lies about having cancer?  This turns into a pretty good deal for Gary.  People are extra nice to him, he gets the girl, and Jerry buys him a gift certificate to the Hair Team for Men. As Jerry puts it, “I was so nice to him, I almost made myself sick.” Well, I have to admit, from the very start of this whole cancer episode of mine, I’ve thought of that crazy show. People have been so nice to me; I hope they aren’t making themselves sick.

From the first week I have had friends bring dinner, cookies, pies, candy, gift cards, flowers, homemade bread, giant jars of Nutella, and more. I have received a prayer quilt and a prayer shawl, both handmade, plus a hand knitted hat and scarf. Not to mention the cards, letters, and books. After each round of chemo my family has been treated to wonderful home cooked meals prepared by wonderful, and very busy, women…women who really don’t have time to be cooking for someone else.

On different days, I’ve walked into my room at school to find a variety of surprises, from a gift bag full of BeautiControl products for my lizardy chemo skin, to beautiful flowers and cards and even several anonymous gifts that encouraged my faith and hope. I have enjoyed perks such as free make-up from the Look Good Feel Better program and been adopted and cared for by the good people at Therapon Skin Health.

The caring, love, encouragement, and generosity of friends have been so much more than I ever expected. I keep expecting things to slow down…something like donor fatique, but my sweet friends and supporters continue to be steadfast and hanging on with me. And this last week has really topped it all.

Last Saturday I had several of my China travel cohorts participate in the Little Rock Komen Race for the Cure. They informed me a few weeks prior to the race that they were planning to walk in my honor. They did just that, and even had tee shirts printed that named their team “Patti’s Pirates”. (This was due to me feeling like a pirate in my scarves and, at some point, mentioning that I needed an eye patch and parrot. They took this idea and ran with it, creative girls that they are.) I was humbled and amazed that friends who I just met this past summer would do something so sweet for me. Of course, traveling around China for three weeks does tend to bring people close.

Patti's Pirates at the Komen Race for the Cure in Little Rock.
Next year I plan to join them as a survivor.
Then, when I went to Shaw last week (my second school), the faculty there surprised me with a Pink for Patti shower. The last time I had a shower I received baby clothes and diapers for Sean, who is now 6 feet tall and in college.  No diapers this time.  Instead, I received some of the coolest hats, scarves, and other comfort items (think cozy sleepwear and girlie stuff).  I was floored, especially considering that this is not my home school.  I do not attend faculty or inservice meetings with them and am only there two days a week.  Most of the faculty, though as kind and sweet as can be, do not really know me.  Their kiddos do, but the teachers really do not.  Wow!  Like I said...floored. 

I finished out my week Friday night at La Huerta's with the Nons.  We gathered for one last hurrah before my surgery.  Earlier in the day, I was contacted by one of my elementary art teaching cohorts in my district and was told that a couple of them wanted to meet with me to make a delivery from all of the art teachers, so they just joined up with my group of Nons.  It was a blast mingling one group of friends with another, both equally special to me.  In fact, everyone got along so swimmingly that those art teachers may just have to join us again seems Nons and art teachers have similar temperaments.  We gabbed and talked shop and basically celebrated life. 

Then it turned out both groups had gifts for me.  It was beginning to feel like my birthday...and beginning to be a bit embarrassing. 

I was starting to feel like maybe I was Gary.  Was I taking advantage of my condition?  Should this be happening?  Yes, I was enjoying the attention and the gifts...cancer's perks maybe?  But unlike Gary, I did not feel fact I felt a bit guilty.  Surely there is a limit to how much a person can be supported and fawned much niceness one person is allowed.  Was I not over my limit?

But then I came home and went through my week's worth of gifts.  I showed my family my hats and scarves and modeled a few.  They marveled at all the other gifts and at the kindness of my friends and coworkers.  What a great example this has been to my sons.  My father, who is currently suffering the slow decline of dementia, has been amazed at my stories of the support I have, and always exclaims, "You have lots of really nice friends!"  To which I reply, "Yes, I surely do, Dad." 

There is no way anyone could ever actually enjoy having cancer, but what a blessing it is to have friends who know how to make that almost seem possible.