Monday, April 30, 2012

The struggle for peace

So for the past 3 months or so I have been doing some serious avoiding. Avoiding the reality of my diagnosis and what still lies ahead for me. I have just been enjoying living so much! I have been running again, yoga-ing, crafting and I've even taken some sewing classes and finally learned to use my sewing machine. I was suppose to have my reconstructive surgery in March, but my right "problem child" breast was not stretching very well so they decided to post-pone my surgery until May. As much as I wanted to get the surgery over with I was also not looking forward to "going back to bed" as I refer to the recovery process. So I just delved into enjoying life even more!

Now May is here and I had my pre-op appointment last Thursday. The plastics doc says that things look pretty good for me and that when he is done I'll be laying on the coast of France on a nude beach somewhere...I asked him if he was paying for the trip, he laughed so I guess that's a no go, but I did appreciate his confidence. He assured me that this would be an outpatient surgery with much less risks for infection and that it would be much easier than the mastectomy even though they have quite a bit of reconstructing to do...or he tried to assure me.

 I must admit that I am anxious about going back in for more. It was even hard to go back to the Stanford cancer center after a couple months of freedom from Cancer related medical visits. I saw so many stages of what I had been through sitting in that waiting room...the scared new patients, the women sick and weak from chemo, the woman with the drains hanging out of her shirt who had just had her breast removed, the lady who like me had the finally growing in short hair and smiled in comradery, all fellow soldiers in an ongoing battle.

That's whats been hitting me finally these past few weeks is that this is an ongoing battle. I would like to pretend that because I have made it through some of the roughest parts that it is over, but as the next stage begins I am forced to acknowledge what still lies ahead for me and the unknowns that still exist.

That's the thing about me, I want to be ok. I want to celebrate life and live and focus on the positives. I am just so happy to be alive and so happy that they caught my cancer early and that there was a way to get rid of it. But then there is the other part that I avoid or hide that is the lingering realities of having Breast cancer and having both BRACA-1 and BRACA-2 genes. I still have 2 operations ahead of me in May and at the end of July to reconstruct my breast, because I am 31 years old and I do want to have breast again. I then have screenings every 3 months to check my ovaries due to my heightened risks of ovarian cancer related to those BRACA genes and blood tests to monitor my risks of re-occurrence and other cancers related to the BRACA genes. I will have to have another operation to remove my ovaries before the age of 40, but I am keeping them for now in hopes that I will be able to have a child (or children) after my surgeries this summer. There is also the unknown of triple negative breast cancer, which means that it is not caused by proteins or estrogen or progesterone, so they are not sure what causes it and cannot provide a treatment to prevent it in the future.

This is where I am. I am struggling to find peace with this all. Sometimes I feel like I avoid it or deny it but I also think that in some ways I just refuse to let it define me or consume my life. I like to live in the good place and celebrate the positives in my life, sometimes I just visualize myself riding the waves of cancer or bending in the wind like a tree in the storm. I will always be the optimist and celebrate life and continue to focus on what wonderful blessings I have in my life and Cancer has only intensified my love for life and tightened my embrace on life! I have faith that whatever may come of the aftermaths of Cancer and the unknowns of my diagnosis that I will survive the storm and ride the waves.

Yes, I am a Cancer survivor and a fighter and I will have to keep fighting, I don't get to hang up my armor just yet and i may always have to keep it handy for the risks that I face. I am learning that I have to accept that this is part of me now, a part that I have to incorporate into my identity and a part of me I have to find peace with. I can't just hate the sick part of me, I have to learn to admire her for what she went through and not deny her but embrace her. I have seen so many people going through this battle of Cancer who have not been as fortunate as myself and who have had to endure so much worse, which makes me so grateful and appreciative for what I have. Sometimes I feel that it makes me deny myself the ability to appreciate my own struggle because I see it as easier or "it could have been worse", but I am learning that I cannot deny my own fight no matter what degree of difficulty it entailed. Because no battle with Cancer is easy and all of us survivors and fighters must embrace our strength, endurance and our fight for life. We are all veterans of the war struggling for peace.





Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Beauty and the Beast

The Beast....
On August 29th I had a complete non sparring bi-lateral mastectomy. They took all of the breast tissue out of both of my breast, took both my nipples and my sentinel lymph nodes on my right side...I am tempted to change the "my"'s in this sentence to "the" but I guess that may be because they are no longer mine. Strangely I did not feel a huge loss about losing my breast per se, but I definitely woke up from that surgery changed forever and feeling the loss of my old "normal body".

I woke up heavily sedated and in and out of pain and awe at the freakishness of my body after the surgery. It all felt so strange. I have never been seriously injured or needed surgery before breast cancer and I have always hated needles, blood and detailed medical scenes. I love CSI, Greys Anatomy, Law and Order SVU...but I always look away when they show the bodies and gore. I think one of the scariest things for me was to look under the bandages after the surgery, I was scared I couldn't handle the sight. Fortunately, Dr Magic Hands at Stanford sewed me up nice so I was pleasantly surprised. The drains on the other hand were completely disgusting and I thank my mother and husband so much for helping me with them. I will spare you the details of the drains...just know they are completely annoying, gross and just a pain in the ass!

I showed up for my follow up with Dr Magic Hands September 8th...wore my lucky underwear hoping this would ensure the early removal of my drains....the underwear are no longer "my lucky pair". Dr examined me and all looked well he was hopeful about removing the drains too...then he pressed on my right breast and suddenly fluid came out of the incision. This led to a whirlwind of various doctors coming in and out poking, prodding, cutting open and then the waiting. Lying there just waiting for an answer to what was going on. Luckily one of my best buds was with me and he whipped those Stanford docs into shape and they made their decision...back to the hospital for me! Noooooo! It was the first game of football and the Packers my husband and best buds favorite team! We had plans! Infections were not in the plans!!!!!!!!

See that's the thing about the beast, the cancer beast can tear you apart it can mutilate your body and make you bleed, suffer and fight to regain your strength and just when you think you have the beast contained, you think you have enough strength to get back up and get back on the road....Guess who decided you WON'T be watching the game with your friends in the comfort of your home....cancer.

I was back in the hospital and on Friday September 9th they took  me back into the operating room and had to clean out the infection in my right breast. They were able to clear out the infection and  keep my breast expander in which is allowing me to continue with my breast reconstruction, which was the best news. They had to sew things up and back together again inside me so when I woke up I was in a lot of pain, more pain than they had planned for. It was one of the worst days of my life. I had never felt pain like that before. I guess that's another well known quality of the beast, to show you pain like you have never seen or felt.

I was released on Sunday September 11th only to return on Tuesday night via the ER with pain, redness and swelling in my arm. The ER was crazy, but isn't that the nature of the ER? I feel like at this point the beast could do nothing to surprise me...I believe I was in some sort of state of shock or maybe just forced acceptance. I went through hell that night starting with the ER nurses attempting to access my port with a needle that was too short and then insisting on making it work and then casually being wheeled into get an ultrasound of my arm with NO meds and the ultrasound technician squeezing my arm with all her might to get the blood flow going! And just the pure number of old peoples butts I was flashed that night! They decided the next day that I had an infection in my arm from the IV from my last stay and they wanted to keep me one more night to monitor me and administer antibiotics.

Minutes before they were going to take me up to my room they asked if the could move me for a few minutes to the xray room across the hall. They barely got me to the hallway as teams of nurses and doctors wheeled in a man that was non-responsive. There were so many doctors and nurses around the mans bed that many of them looked so helpless. I saw this glimpse of humanness as many of them frantically worked to save this mans life but that some of them just had to stand back and watch. I watched there faces as if they were a mirror to the bed letting me know if the man was going to live or die. The chaos stopped and many of the nurses and doctors smiled, people breathed, a few men clasped their hands together shaking upward (to the "man" in the sky), the patient was stable. How do you get on that ride everyday? At the end of the day somebody has got to fight the beasts....we can't do it alone.

The beast had ravaged my body, but it wasn't done with me. I began my second round of chemo October 10th. This time around I was joined by my stepmother who was now fighting her own beast, her own breast cancer. This made me hate the beast, this made me angry...ya finally I was pissed off! How could God let this happen? How could he let the beast get to her? But I soon figured out that was what the beast wanted...he wanted me to stop believing in the good, the positive, the ultimate plan and lose faith. Instead the beast gave me an amazing soldier to go into this next battle with...to cry with, fight alongside and grow with.

We went through 4 cycles of a chemo regime hahaha regiment called TC. TC is a combo of 2 drugs,Taxotere and cyclophosphamide, and they suck! This chemo made my first round of 6 cycles of chemo seem like a cake walk. My body ached so bad I had to take hard core pain killers and my stomach and bowel problems were awful and seemed never ending through the entire 3 months. I spent so much time drugged up to avoid the side effects and wishing the days away so it could just be over. After the first cycle I began to lose my hair. It started one day and within about 4 days it was all gone. The beast continued to wreak havoc on my body until the end. It beat me down until my white blood cells were wiped out and then the beast stabbed at my heart when the doctor told me I couldn't spend Christmas with my family because I could not be around groups of people.

 December came to an end. January I had my follow up with my oncologist and he assured me the breast cancer was gone. I had an ovarian screening (not fun!) and it was clear. All looks good so far. Having the BRACA 1 and 2 genes still worries me at times, it feels like the beast is lurking around and could rear his ugly head anytime. The beast has taken a lot from me and left me nursing a lot of wounds. But we all know how the story goes right?? There is the beauty....

The BEAUTY...

A blessing in disguise...You don't know what you have until its gone...Within crisis are the seeds of opportunity...Was cancer really a blessing? a gift? and opportunity? Ask me in the beginning, middle and today and my answer is the same...."yes". Yes it has been a hell I would never wish to go through or wish for anyone, but there is a beauty in it all.

What happened to Scrooge when the ghosts of past, present and future visited him? What happens on those shows/movies when people get to visit there own funerals and see a glimpse of their own life from afar...I  feel like this is kinda like what going through cancer has been for me.

When I was first diagnosed I can't even explain the beauty of the out pour of love, kindness, encouragement and support that immediately surrounded me. As the news of my diagnosis traveled the love and support was overwhelming...how had I touched so many lives that so many people cared so much for me? It was beautiful...it was a gift to see this before my eyes...my living eyes. I cry tears of joy even as I write this because I am and forever will be touched by each and every one of you who reached out to me during this crazy journey. The beauty of human love and kindness was so amazing. The gift of love was visible in a way I have never seen before.

Lesson 1 was tough but beautiful: How to receive love and support. I love to love. I love to give. I was missing an important part... how to take in love and support. Cancer helped me learn to accept from others. There were times I could not physically or mentally do for myself and I had to learn how to allow others to do for me and also ask for help. This is a lesson I very much needed to learn. I never realized how you can deprive people and almost act selfishly when you don't allow them to give back to you or to help you. Once I was able to open myself to let others give, love and support me I learned how much joy others could have in doing for me...it was beautiful. I grew, my relationships grew and we are all stronger.

Life is beautiful. What would you do if life was taken away tomorrow? Would you be happy with the life you had lived? I now had a new lens to look at life through. There were so many things that I still wanted to do with my life when cancer came along. I hadn't even began to get my career started, I was suppose to be this successful doctor of psychology helping kids and families and I had just started making some money for once! My husband and I wanted a family and we had just been getting ready to start. It seemed that so much of my life was being taken away by the beast! So you have the choice look at what you don't have, what you are losing or look at what you DO have.

I have had an amazing 31 years of life. I have followed my dreams of working with children and their families and I have not made a lot of money doing it but I have been able to touch many lives along my journey of becoming a doctor. I have met and enjoyed the company of so many amazing people and been touched by so many lives and they have touched mine as well. I have formed an amazing network of friends who are each a gift like none other. I have a loving family who support me in whatever I do. I have the most amazing best friend who has had my back to the fullest since age 12 when we became inseparable soul mates for life. I have met the love of my life who has loved me in a way I never could have imagined being loved and cared for. I have a place to lay my head at night next to an amazing man and food to nourish my living body. I have the love of God and all the blessings in life that he has provided...Life IS beautiful.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". When we look in the mirror we want to see something beautiful looking back. I took at least an hour to "get ready" every day making sure I could get my hair and make-up just right before leaving the house. I have obsessed over my weight since high school always striving to be "skinny" and fit and look good in the latest fashions. I was actually feeling my best about my body being close to my goal weight and feeling fit when cancer came along. Steroids, medications, and lack of exercise changed my body and my second round of chemo took my hair and eyebrows and gave me a crazy rash reaction all over my face and body....now define beauty. I thought I would freak out about it all, I thought I would hide in the house and be embarrassed to go out. But again in the face of the beast Beauty shone through. I never realized how much beauty I really possessed until those surface things were taken away. Once my "looks" were gone I found a gorgeous confidence that I never knew I possessed, glowing love, compassion and kindness that shimmered and glittered like no eye shadow on the market, a smile brighter and more beautiful than any hair color I have ever had and the most beautiful thing I see in the mirror every morning is being alive! The best part is my wonderful husband who every day tells me how beautiful and hot I am as I walk around the house with my bald head, no eyebrows and in sweat pants...ohh did I mention my beautiful taste in men ;)

The Beauty in cancer has shown me things about myself that I can't imagine learning any other way. It has been an ugly, scary and painful process...it is a beast. But if you can look past the fear, monstrosity and pain you can see a beauty beyond your imagination. My faith has been tested through this process but in the end I am closer to God and his plan for me and I am renewed in his love and amazing grace. The power of life is so much greater than us and sometimes we get lost in trying to create a life we are proud of thinking that owning a home, a nice car, marrying, having children, a good stable job, nice clothes and the latest gadgets will make us happy....but what is it that we are really living for? I have had so many opportunities of the latter taken from me in the past year which has left me to look at life so purely and look at the basics...What makes life beautiful? What makes me happy? What will continue to make me happy if I never obtain those material things or societal accomplishments? When you have a glimpse of what it might feel like to have your life taken away, you realize the most beautiful and amazing thing is to live. Do what makes you happy, spend time with those who you love and show you love, share with the world the talents and gifts you have been given and have faith that all else will fall into place if you just believe in the beauty of life.