Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Fun!

Somehow another month has gone by!  And it's been a big month.  I am happy to say that I've successfully completed radiation (and all of my cancer treatment, for the matter).  I am also pleased with the way my skin and body has healed.  By the end of radiation I was exhausted and my skin was really breaking down.  Much to my surprise, aloe vera did the trick, and my skin healed very quickly and is now almost back to normal.  The only thing left as far as health management is a couple of surgeries (I am still waiting to have my cancer side reconstructed), drugs for 5 years (Tamoxifen) and careful monitoring by my awesome team of doctors.  I'm overjoyed to be on the other side.  Looking back, it hasn't been easy, but I truly believe the old adage "Whatever doesn't kill you will only make your stronger!"  Also, it really helps to have an amazing support network of friends, family, and kind strangers.  Huge thanks to everyone who has helped make this journey more bearable through your kindness.

In other news, Aaron and I got back last week from an epic vacation in Iceland!  Our friends, Henriet and Jon, decided to get married on a lava field there, and we decided that it sounded like a pretty sweet vacation, so we tagged along.  Also, we felt we deserved an epic vacation after making it through this year in tact.  Iceland is one of the most naturally beautiful places imaginable and it never gets dark in the summer, so you can look at the natural beauty 24 hours a day!  If you ever have the opportunity to visit, you should take it.

You can see all of our pictures by clicking of the following links:

 Right now we are in Minnesota visiting family and friends.  I love this place in the summer, and all of the great people here seem to be in wonderful spirits, as if they're just happy it's not snowing at the moment.  We had a great time at the Twins game last night, despite watching the home team give up a 7-0 lead and lose the game.  Wah-wah.

On Tuesday, Aaron and I will celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary.  Especially this year, he has passed every "for better or for worse" test with flying colors.  I couldn't ask for a better husband and best friend!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The End is Near


Sorry it's been so long!  We've been staying busy here in Hotlanta, and it is TRULY hot.  We're struggling to keep our yard beautiful through the stifling heat.  It seems so unfair that some places have been barraged with rain while other areas can't get a single drop to fall!  

Here's a recap of our latest activities:
On May 21, Aaron and I went on a zipline canopy tour in South Carolina.  This means we were zipping from tree to tree (under the watchful eyes of safety guides, of course).  The tour was by the Chattooga River (part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, I think).  This was our first road trip since we moved to Atlanta, and we were really excited to actually get out of the city and explore a bit.  We feel lucky to live in such a beautiful region!  You can view our photos by clicking on the link below:
For those of you who are worried about me overusing my arm, don't fret!  When you zipline, your body is completely supported by a harness, and I can honestly say that vacuuming my house is more physically intense than riding a zipline.  The only thing required of you is the ability to jump off a platform, and luckily heights have never been a cause of fear for me (I went sky diving when I was 19!).  

On the 29th, Will, one of my best friends from my hometown, visited for a few days.  I had an awesome time showing him my new city and catching up!

Hanging with Will

One last bit of fun news:  We have a summer roommate!  Our friend, Scott, is a student at NYU Law School and is in Atlanta for his summer internship.  He needed a place to stay, and we needed a house/cat sitter, as we'll be traveling quite a bit this summer (more on that in a later post), so it's really quite the perfect setup.  Also, it's fun to have a roommate for a while -- makes us feel young again :)

Other than that, my life has consisted of going to radiation every day.  I am so very ready to be done with radiation and to be able to say "I'm no longer in treatment!"  I have been very lucky to not experience too many negative side effects -- just the radiation burn and some general tiredness, but nothing I can't handle.  After today I only have 8 treatments left.  The end is near, in the best way possible!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Radiation and Other Spring Activities

I completed week 1 of radiation on Friday with very little drama (the server was down at the hospital on Thursday, so I had to come back later in the day, but I'm still on schedule!).  For those of you who don't know much about radiation (I suspect this is most of you), I'll describe it the best I can.  I told you in the last post that there are little black marks all over my chest, covered by little pieces of tape.  The first day of radiation lasts an extra long time because I have to have x-rays taken.  Basically, I change into a hospital gown and lay down on a table.  Then a green grid appears on my chest (kind of a laser light show) and 2-3 lab techs (who are all wonderful, lovely people) pull and tug on my gown until the green grid lines up perfectly with the marks on my chest.  This photo shows what the machine basically looks like.  The bed I lay on remains still (but my arms are back, behind my head, holding onto a handle bar), and the machine rotates around me, doing it's thing.  I imagine it's shooting little lasers at me -- it honestly all seems so sci fi when I'm laying there. 

 The normal routine lasts about 5 - 10 minutes from the time I lay down to when I'm allowed to relax my arms and get up off the bed. The most important thing to note is that I do not feel anything when the radiation is happening.  It's only a couple hours after treatment that I start to notice tightness and redness.  To remedy this, I simply do my physical therapy stretches and cover my chest in aloe.  The most annoying thing is the radiation burn (basically like a sunburn).  I have always prided myself on keeping my skin protected from sunburns, so to look down at my chest and see old-looking, leathery skin is no fun.  This is when I have to remind myself that it's so much better than breast cancer!  As of today, I have 22 treatments to go (4 1/2 weeks).
I've continued to get a positive response to my hair, along with requests for more pictures (sorry for the delay).  Here is the latest, taken last night:
In other news, our yard is looking fantastic these days, thanks to a little hard work and a lot of help from mom-in-law, who was here for Mother's day, and Jenny, who was here after my surgery.  I managed to plant a flower bed and was sore for a week afterward.  My body just isn't used to doing much of anything anymore.  But I'm building back up my strength and endurance, slowly but surely.
Flower bed in front of house -- vinca and impatiens

Foxglove on side of house

The most unusual-looking plant, leatherleaf mahonia, on side of house
Jenny, who visited at the end of March, with the self-watering container she constructed and tomato plant

Left:  tomato plant Jenny put in self-watering container.  Right:  same type of tomato plant that I neglected for way too long.  Guess which is healthier?

Herbs and other plants on back patio, now with fun green stands, thanks to mom-in-law

Gorgeous blue hydrangea bushes in the back yard

Front porch adirondack chairs painted and assembled by Aaron.  I picked out the paint color :)    

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hair Diaries and Boring Cancer News

Sorry for the delayed post.  I really am determined to document my hair growth in a timely manner!  This week I turned the corner from being fuzzy-headed to actually looking like I have an intentional hair style.  I can comb my hair.  The other night at dinner Aaron remarked "you're hair is sticking out on the side."  I had taken a nap earlier and it had gotten messed up.  I HAD BED HEAD!   After months of no hair, I have to retrain myself to check things over in the mirror before leaving the house.  I have not done anything to style my hair, but now when I'm out in public instead of the stares and "oh, I wonder if she has cancer" looks, I'm getting compliments.  "I love your hair."  "I love your hair color."  I get a kick out of saying "Thanks!  It's natural!"  People have no idea I'm excited to have hair of any color.  See for yourself:
It's still coming in very blond and surprisingly straight.  I mentioned in a previous post that most people's hair grows back curly after chemo, at least at first.  I hadn't given a thought to the texture of my hair until a cancer friend (the unflattering term I give to wonderful people whom I never would have met were it not for cancer)  recently commented how straight it's coming in.  No Taylor Swift locks in the immediate future, but that's okay.
In boring cancer news, I had my CT "planning" session with the nice radiation people, and we are all set for a start date of May 9.  The planning session consisted of me laying in a CT machine, arms behind my head (This made the nurse comment "You have good arm movement!"  Those physical therapy sessions are paying off!), while my body is scanned for ten minutes or so.  The scan produces a 3D image that doc studies, and then the lab people come in to put black X's all over my chest with a Sharpie and cover the marks with clear tape to mark where I'll have radiation.  The tape is supposed to stay put for 7 weeks.  For real.  The marks show exactly where I need radiation, so the nurses reminded me about 10 times that the tape needs to stay on.  (In the past, they tattooed these marks to ensure they stayed on the body for the duration of radiation.  I guess now they just have faith in their patients to not mess with the tape.)
At the end of the appointment they handed me an "education booklet" with lots of contradictory information about how to care for irradiated skin:  "A lukewarm bath is very soothing after radiation."  "Avoid soaking irradiated area of the skin."  Regarding the marks and tape:  "Avoid direct water contact."  Call me crazy, but I shower every day.  That's a whole lot of direct water contact.  Luckily, the tape is holding up really well so far.  Thanks, "Beekley Pointguards!"  Yes, the company name is printed on each piece of the tape, along with the company's 1-800 number.  Seriously.  I wish I were joking.  My chest is covered in tiny advertisements.
On a brighter note, Mom-in-law and Dad-in-law will be here this weekend to celebrate Mother's Day.  I hope all the moms out there celebrate the best way they know how:  by sending the guys off to the golf course while the ladies drink bloody marys on the porch.  :)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Just in time for Easter: I'm a fuzzy chick (More Hair Diaries)

We have been taking the pictures every Friday, but they usually haven't been making their appearance on the blog until Mondays, mainly because I'm easily distracted and more than a little lazy.  Maybe if I put them in sequence it will be easier to see the fuzz growth?  Can you tell I'm really REALLY proud of my fuzz?



The lighting is a little odd in the last picture, making my hair look darker than it appears in real life.  But Aaron was grading papers when I asked him to take my weekly fuzz head shot, and I didn't want to be too annoying, so I just let him stay where he was comfortably sitting.

Speaking of Aaron, the other night he started calling me "Tin Tin."   I had absolutely no idea where he got this, but he told me it was a favorite comics from childhood.  Apparently my current hairstyle reminds Aaron of this.  Here is the cartoon in question with his faithful sidekick, Snowy:

Of course, Mr. Tin Tin has a bit more up top than I do, and when I get that much hair, I hope to more closely resemble the model in this Nieman Marcus ad:

I won't magically shrink down to a size 0, but we're not all meant to be that skinny, right?!

In other, slightly less-fun news, I started physical therapy this week.  I am basically back to my pre-surgery self, but I still don't have full range of motion in my left (cancer side) arm.  I am also experiencing "cording" (axillary web syndrome for you medical types) which basically means that it feels like a tight cord is attached from my armpit (where they removed lymph nodes) down to my elbow.  This, as you can imagine, is part of the flexibility problem.  I have to be able to hold the "movie star pose" (hand behind head, arm bent at elbow, laying flat on table) for 10 minutes at a time for each radiation treatment, so I'm trying to regain my flexibility through a serious of stretches.  It's painful, but I can already tell a difference!

Also, I've started wearing a compression sleeve because I have a moderate-to-high risk of developing lymphedema (swelling due to a blockage of the lymph passages).  I am doing my best to wear it each day, but as it gets warmer and warmer outside, the last thing I want to do is put on a tight-fitting, hideous sleeve!  But if I can avoid my arm swelling up, it will well be worth it.  I'm lop-sided enough as it is, these days! :)

Happy Easter to all!!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hair Diaries

I'm attempting to take weekly pictures of my hair to document the growth which seems to be happening at lightning speed.  At some point I can print out all of my hair diary pictures to create a flip book.  I haven't worn my wig in a week and a half now, and I have no intention of doing so in the future.  The hair is still very soft and very blond, and it will be interesting to watch how the texture/color changes as it grows in!

Who's fuzzier?
I'll check in next week with another update and more hair on my fuzzy head!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just Call Me Mrs. Fuzzy Head

I can't believe it has been 3 1/2 weeks since my mastectomy.  I continue to get stronger every day and am starting to feel like my old self.  There are still a few rude reminders that I may not be 100% back to normal:  I still get neuropathy (tingling numbness) in my feet if I walk around too much; pushing the shopping cart around Target is a burden, when it previously had been one of my favorite activities; squeezing lemons and limes for fresh juice in my spring cocktail now has to be done by my husband; opening jars has to be done by my husband; dragging the trash to the curb has to be done by...well, you get the picture.  I secretly think Aaron likes having the extra opportunities to flex his muscles.  
There are, however, also reminders that life is returning to normal.  On Friday night, Aaron and I were getting ready to go to dinner.  Usually this involves me touching up my makeup and putting on my wig.  After globbing on some mascara (my lashes are growing in nicely, thank you very much), I said "I think I'm going to rock the fuzzy head in public tonight."  It's been in the upper 80s for the past couple of days, and my wig is just too darn hot and itchy, especially atop my new found fuzz.  Aaron was excited about the prospect of being seen with me:  "People are going to think I'm way cooler than I actually am because I'm with you!"  Yes, there are people who may think I decided to buzz off my hair because I'm just that hard core.
The reality is, of course, that my hair is finally growing in.  After months of looking like a cue ball with a few straggly hairs that never fell out, my head is now covered with baby soft fuzz.  This has caused a great deal of excitement in our household.  For one thing, we think our beloved cat, Ollie, is feeling a tad jealous of his mom's new fuzz.  When we're sitting on the couch at night watching TV, Aaron will find himself petting his wife instead of the cat.  When I drop Aaron at work, I used to just get a kiss goodbye.  Now I get a kiss AND a head rub.  We had friends over on Saturday night to celebrate patio season, and I was greeted with many hugs and head rubs.  It seems it's just instinctive to want to pet a fuzzy noggin, whether it be on a cat, dog or human.  I can't blame them.  In fact, I like it.  Is our household big enough for a fuzzy cat AND a fuzzy wife?  Time will tell.  Luckily for the cat, my fuzzy state is only temporary.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cancer Free

First of all, I'd like to say huge thanks for all the prayers and well-wishes over the past couple of weeks.  I made it through the surgery just fine and am doing pretty great now that I'm 11 days out, though I still have physical and visual reminders of the surgery.  Physical:  I feel really sore (It feels like there is a constant knot in my right lower back that needs to be worked out by a massage therapist, and I feel as though I've been training for a power lifting competition, yet my purse is too heavy to carry for more than a couple of minutes (this comes as a surprise to no one who has ever seen a purse of mine, but for the first time ever, my huge purse actually feels like a hindrance).  Visual reminders: one drainage tube is still coming from my back where the docs grabbed the tissue for my reconstruction; the fact that my chest looks entirely different now; the surgical tape covering every incision the docs made; the permanent marker the plastic surgeon used to scrawl over my entire back even though he was cutting from a tiny spot on my latissimus dorsi...Obviously I could go on and on.  The point is that despite the physical and visual reminders, I am healing really well. 
The first days after surgery were pretty rough.  My first nurse in recovery was determined to have me up and walking the first evening, never mind the fact that I had just had surgery that afternoon.  Sitting up for the first time after surgery was probably the most painful thing I've ever had to do in my 30 years, and I *calmly* told the nurse that there must be something else she could do for my pain in order for me to stand up and walk.  It turns out a shot of morphine did just the trick.  I successfully walked the hallway outside of my hospital room.  Aaron could see how much pain I was in told me he was proud of me.  He knows I thrive on compliments.  Aaron spent the first night in my hospital room, and he and mom-in-law spent every day in my room with me, watching me sleep and watching the NCAA basketball tournament.  Judging by some of the match-ups, I'm not sure which was more entertaining at times.
The docs were encouraged by how well I was healing and wanted to send me home on Friday, but this was delayed due to the nausea I was feeling because of all the pain meds.  I turns out putting a whole mess of Percocet and morphine in an empty tummy does not make for keeping much food down.  I finally got home on Saturday afternoon and everything has been much easier since.  Aaron and mom-in-law had the sofa bed pulled out for me, complete with about 20 pillows, fresh flowers, cards and presents waiting for me.
Interestingly, the hardest part of recovery has been sleeping!  Sitting up is basically no problem, but due to the lat-flap procedure, comfortably laying down for a snooze is just about the most difficult thing ever, but I'm taking comfort in the fact that this whole surgery (and cancer) business will be a distant memory soon enough.
I have had two follow-up appointments since the surgery.  On Thursday I met with my radiation oncologist to discuss my radiation plan.  We are going to be very aggressive with radiation due to the size of my tumor and the lymph nodes that were also involved.  The pathology report stated that the size of the tumor removed was 2.9 centimeters (down from 4 cm when I was originally diagnosed), and 9 lymph nodes were removed from my arm pit (6 of which were positive for cancer).  The good news is that the margins of the tumor were clear and my chest wall was not affected by cancer.  Thus, I can state that I am cancer free.  There are many more tests to undergo, but I am trying to relish the fact that all of that nasty cancer was successfully removed from my body. 
The plan for radiation is to do 28 treatments over the course of 5 1/2 weeks.  This means I'll get zapped for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  Everyone who has gone through it says it's nothing compared to chemotherapy, so I'm honestly not dreading it that much.  Also, we won't start radiation until approximately 5 weeks from now, when my body has healed from surgery. 
I also went to the plastic surgeon yesterday.  He looked at his work and declared it beautiful (um, good for him?), and sent the nurse in to take out two of my surgical drains.  This was a happy, if painful, moment.  Having to deal with one's own grossness seeping into surgical drains is not the most pleasant experience.  I am overjoyed to be down to one drain now!
So slowly everything is getting back to normal.  I am taking less pain pills with each passing day, and I'm able to lift my arms higher and do more for myself.  Mom-in-law departed on Tuesday and our good friend, Jenny (also from Minnesota), arrived at our house on Wednesday.  I'm not sure if these Minnesotans actually want to be here to "take care of me" or if they are just chasing the sunshine.  I'll take the company either way.  It is truly beautiful in Atlanta, and the signs of spring keep coming.  There is a huge amount of wisteria in our back yard that is quite breathtaking, and everywhere I look, I have potted flowers and herbs.  We've also improved our back patio with some new chairs, pillows and a big umbrella.  I'm not sure if there is a prescription for sitting outside in the warmth of sunshine, but I can feel the healing powers.

Ollie enjoying a flower arrangement sent by Uncle John and Aunt Deb

Tulips by the front steps

Plants on the back deck


Me and Aaron

Me and Jenny, enjoying the great patios

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Signs of Spring

It's March, and in the South that means spring is here (again, I say this with apologies to friends who live in areas of the country where there is still snow on the ground). Everywhere I look there are buds, blooms and grass slowly returning to green.  Except for ours.  Our grass is still dormant, and any green peeking through is actually a weed on which Aaron has declared war.  I've actually heard him talking to the weeds when we are walking through the back yard:  "Just wait.  I've got a new bottle of weed killer.  You're gonna get it this weekend!"  It's his first spring as a home (and yard) owner, and he's taking it quite seriously.

Blooms from our front yard

Other signs of growth abound, too!  I'm most excited about the tiny hairs that are starting to sprout on my lash line.  They certainly aren't long enough to hold any mascara, but they are there and they are growing, and they are a sign of what is to come.  I obsessively check on them every day with my 10x magnifying makeup mirror and I make Aaron look at them as well: 
"Look, baby!  My tiny eyelashes are even longer today!" 
"Yes, Joycie, I see them."
"But look, they're longer than yesterday!"
"I trust you."

He's never quite as excited about them as I am for some reason.  Also, I was sitting in the sun the other day when I looked down and thought that my eyes were deceiving me.  There was baby fine hair on my legs.  It was so fine that I couldn't even feel it, and so blond that I really had to be in the sun to see it, but it was there.  I had been bragging to everyone who would listen that I had silky smooth legs minus the shaving.  It was the only good thing about chemo.  Three days ago I picked up a razor for the first time since October, and I did so happily.  It seems there is something about this ritual in the shower that I missed, something that made me feel very feminine.  And now I have it again.  I'm sure I'll be complaining about shaving again in a month, but today it makes me happy.

And there is a bit more peach fuzz on top of my head these days.  It is very, very soft, fine, and blond/white.  It is also very sparse.  When I look in the mirror, I am definitely still a bald person.  However, when sitting on the couch with Aaron, I always catch him staring at the top of my head.  "I swear your hair is getting longer," he'll say.  I guess he is more excited about the prospect of having a wife with hair on her head than her lash line.

Finally, it seems I forgot to mention one *tiny* detail in my previous post.  My surgery has been moved up one week, which means I am set for surgery this coming Wednesday, March 16.  My oncologist said that 6 weeks after my last chemo infusion would be the optimal time for surgery, so that's what we're going with!  I am tempted to lie and say that I am feeling very brave and not worried at all about the loss of boobs/pain/recovery time/surgical drains/etc...  But the truth is I'm kind of freaking out.  It's not that I think anything will go wrong; I know everything will be fine.  As I've said before, I have complete faith in my surgeons.  It's just that the anticipation is killing me!  Yes, cancer can't kill me, but anticipation just might.  I want to get this over with.  Luckily, mom-in-law will be here Sunday evening to distract me during the final days before I roll into the operating room.  She has informed me that she's bringing with her an army of recipes sure to make me whole again, so to speak.  Sounds like I won't be eating much hospital food after all, thank God!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Construction Zone

A lot has happened since I last wrote.  I received my final chemotherapy infusion (Hooray!!!), I had a breast MRI to check on the size of my tumor, and I met with my surgeons to talk about our game plan.
First, the chemo session seemed to take  Every drip drip drip from the chemo bag seemed to be spaced five minutes apart. For my final two chemo sessions I had graduated to the private chemo room, which made me feel quite VIP, but I was so antsy this last time that it hardly mattered.  This particular type of chemo is served up with a side of Benadryl, which puts most people to sleep.  Oh how I wish I was one of those people.  It turns out that Benadryl makes my heart race, which only amplifies the antsiness (sure, it's a word) and makes the hours of chemo seem to crawl by at a tortoise pace.  But no more! I am DONE with chemo, and not a minute too soon.  They say the effects of chemotherapy are cumulative, and boy did I feel it this time.  The pain in my legs was almost unbearable at times, and there were shooting pains in the rest of my body that would strike randomly.  Thank goodness for my attentive and sympathetic husband who would give me hugs, massages or draw me a hot bath when I needed him to.  And he listened to me whine.  A LOT.  Not just this time, but throughout the past 4 months of chemo he has been the best caregiver a gal could ask for.  I would have never made it through this without him, and the great part is that I get to keep him even though I'm done with this nasty part of treatment! Incidentally, today marks the 5th Anniversary of our first date.  In some ways it seems like only yesterday, and in some ways it seems like we've been together forever!

Disclaimer:  This next part talks about boobs and surgery.  Shocking, I know.
A week after my last chemo session I had a breast MRI.  I thought this would be as simple as laying back and dozing off while they run me through a machine for half an hour, much like the PET scan I had when I was first diagnosed.  Oh how naive of me.  If you haven't had one, allow me to describe an MRI for you.  Car horns blaring at you, stopping, starting, stopping, starting over and over again.  Every time the blaring would start, I would jump, and of course you are expected to be completely still the whole time.  Why are these machines so God awful loud?  Seriously, I'm asking.  If anyone knows the answer, please pass it along.  To make matters worse, I had to lay on my stomach and put my boobs into square holes while having cold fluid pumped into my veins.  I was laying there thinking "take me back to the PET scan!"  The one saving grace was the lab tech who was prepping me for the test.  She was spunky and hilarious:  "As you can see, this machine was designed by a man, one who thinks women have square breasts.  They told me how much they spent on this shiny new machine, and I told them to send it back."  So funny.  Thank God for her.
The good news is that the MRI shows the tumor has responded to chemo and is smaller than it was before we started treatment.  The bad news is that it is still big enough that I need to have radiation after it is removed.
This leads us to my meeting with my surgical oncologist and my plastic surgeon.  As I mentioned in my last post, I am having a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.  Even though there is cancer in only one boob (I like saying "boob" instead of "breast."  "Breast" just sounds so clinical, doesn't it?), we're going to remove both because it lowers my risk of cancer coming back in the other one (from 20% to 4%).  The plastic surgeon will be able to reconstruct my right boob (no cancer) immediately following the mastectomy.  He literally walks in with his team as soon as the surgical oncologist leaves with her team (and my boobs).  Unfortunately, I have to wait a long while before I can get the side with cancer reconstructed.  This is because radiation does some nasty things to skin and tissue.  But radiation is also supposed to get rid of any remaining cancer cells, which is the whole point of treatment after all. 
So this spring/summer I am going to feel a bit like a construction zone.  A lop-sided construction zone.  The surgeons are able to do a skin-sparing technique where they are able to save a good deal of my own skin.  This, along with the back tissue used (latissimus dorsi flap procedure) will help make my new boobs feel more like my own.  An interesting thing to note is how reconstruction is different from your everyday boob job.  In a normal breast enhancement, an implant is place under the woman's breast muscle.  With reconstruction, there is no breast muscle to work with.  This is why I've opted for the "lat flap" procedure.  This way there will be at least some tissue of my own in there.  In addition to tissue from my back, the plastic surgeon will put a "spacer" in my chest before sewing me up.  This is basically a deflated implant that will be filled with saline as I heal.  Once a week I will head to the hospital where the plastic surgeon will pump a little bit of fluid into my spacer until one day I look down and say "Yes!  That's it!  That's my perfect dream boob!"  Then he will take out the spacer and replace it with a real implant.  I'll eventually do the same thing on the other side. 
Radiation lasts for 6 weeks and then I have to wait 6 months before the radiated side can be reconstructed.  This means I'll probably be sporting one of those space-age prosthetic boobs that I referenced in my post on Oct. 17 in an attempt to even myself out.  Because it's already getting warm here in the South (apologies to friends in the Midwest and Northeast), and because chemo has put me in early menopause which causes awful hot flashes, I can imagine that there will be a good deal of time when I am quite simply lop-sided.  I can see it now:  Aaron and I are snuggled on the couch, watching a movie when all of the sudden a hot flash comes.  Normally, this happens and I push him away and rip off my wig and fling it on the coffee table, causing the husband and the cat to give me strange looks.  Soon it will be the same thing, except it will be my prosthetic boob that I fling on the coffee table.  Hopefully this won't happen in public.  It is for this reason that I think I need a t-shirt that reads: "Construction Zone"

Monday, January 31, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Joyce Edition

Incredibly, I have my very last chemo treatment scheduled for tomorrow.  I cannot believe it's here.  You know what they say:  "Time flies when you have cancer"...or something like that.
I've been thinking a lot about makeovers lately.  Maybe it's due to awards season, and the fact that I can't help but watch all of the Hollywood starlets as they arrive on the red carpet.  I love it when movie stars look nothing like the characters in their films.  Yes, these really are pictures of the same woman (the fantastic Melissa Leo from "The Fighter"):

In character as Alice Ward

On the red carpet at the Golden Globes

At least Ollie loves the bed

Or maybe my love of makeovers is due to my addiction to HGTV, and my desire to have one of those celebrity designers come and decorate my bedroom.  I even made an audition video to be on an HGTV show.  I figured I might as well pull the cancer card, considering these shows like to dramatize everything.  I can see it now:  "Joyce was suffering from breast cancer.  Things weren't looking too good until we came to give her a relaxing oasis for a bedroom where she could heal.  Now, remarkably, the cancer is gone."  Seriously though, you can go online to view my video (which is completely embarrassing) and vote for us:  We're asking for "one star" votes, because the "uber ugly" rooms are the most likely to get made over, right?

Or maybe this makeover mentality is due to my own current appearance.  As I mentioned in my last post, my eyelashes have fallen out.  At this point, my eyebrows are pretty much gone, too.  Now when I wake up and look in the mirror, my face (and head) is completely void of any defining features.  My first thought is always "Good Lord!  When did that cancer patient sneak in here?!?"  My friends who have known me since high school can attest to the fact that it has always taken me a very long time to get ready.  Now my makeup process is even more extensive:  dealing with dry, chapped skin (from the chemo) that is even more acne-prone than it used to be (from the steroids), gluing on eyelashes, penciling in all adds up to quite a bit of time.  At least my hair is easier than before.  I literally just throw it on.

Fake hair, eyebrows, & lashes!

The good news is that hair starts to regrow as soon as chemo leaves the body.  The bad news is that it might be 6 months before I have enough hair on my head to where I don't feel bald.    The exciting part is that there is no telling what my new hair color and texture will be.  If often grows back very differently after one has undergone chemo, and it usually comes in very curly, at least at first.  Might I have gorgeous locks like Taylor Swift?  In my dreams! 
Additionally, I have scheduled my surgery for March 23.  This is definitely the most "extreme" portion of the makeover.  I will have a bilateral (both sides) mastectomy with reconstruction.  I have another meeting with my surgeons (oncology and plastics) next week, but based on my initial consultation and my own consideration, I will be having a "Lat Flap" procedure (Latissimus Dorsi Tissue Flap Breast Reconstruction).  Rather than posting diagrams, I'll just let you Google that one on your own.  It sounds like a crazy surgery, but I've talked with women who are really happy with it.  And again, I'm at Emory, where breast reconstruction was pioneered.  I'm truly in the best facility for it. 
While I'm looking at a major surgery and major recovery time, I will luckily have my in-laws here during and after the surgery.  Dad-in-law is an ear, nose & throat surgeon -- not a breast cancer specialist, but someone who knows a little something about the human body, surgery and recovery, so he's good people to have around.  Mom-in-law is an accomplished cook, book provider and mother who can lovingly tend to my needs as well as those of my husband, who might be freaking out and feeling a bit helpless during this process.
So this is my makeover story.  I'll post more details about surgery as they become available, along with a disclaimer about the contents of the post.  Some people are curious, but others get a bit squeamish when it comes to gory details.  I am normally in the latter group, so I totally get it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Comes to Hotlanta

Somehow another two weeks has passed.  Highlights/lowlights of the past 14 days include:  Another chemo treatment; My beloved Colts losing to the Jets in the playoffs; Mom-in-law visiting from Minnesota; Four inches of snow that shut down Atlanta for nearly a week; An unexpected visit from a dear friend;  Attaching false eyelashes where my own used to be; Relearning to knit at a knitting workshop; My nemeses, the New England Patriots, being eliminated from the NFL playoffs (after my team is eliminated, I have to root for something, you know?).

Chemo continues to go as well as can be expected.  After tomorrow morning's treatment I will only have one infusion left.  This is mind-boggling to me, as it feels like chemo has just become a way of life.  After February 1 I will be completely done with this part of my treatment and looking (forward?) to surgery.  That part still scares the bejesus out of me, so I'm trying not to think about it just yet.

Aaron's mom, Becky, was here for 5 days.  We picked her up from the airport Sunday afternoon, went to the grocery store where we proceeded to buy half the store, and went home before the snow started.  We woke up to this sight on Monday morning:
Back Deck

Back Deck/Woods

Back Deck/Woods

Front Porch/Street

This may be only four inches of snow, but to the folks in Atlanta, it's a week off from school.  You read that correctly.  A WEEK!  Granted, there was a layer of ice over the snow, but there was some good melting/road treatment going on prior to Friday.  I hope the kids in Minnesota don't hear about this.  Because mom-in-law was here and because we were well-stocked, we had a great time being stuck indoors, cooking, baking and hanging out by the fire.

On Friday I dropped Aaron and his mom off at the airport (Aaron went to Minneapolis for the weekend) and met my dear friend, Ashley, along with much of her family at the Varsity drive-in.  She was in town due to unfortunate circumstances, as both of her mother's parents passed away within a week of each other, but we were able to share some hugs and catch up a bit over a quick lunch. 

Ashley and her adorable daughter, Josephine
Josephine sporting the official headgear of the Varsity

Apparently she is not a fan of hats
Finally, the inevitable has happened.  My eyelashes have left me.  This is the day I've been dreading ever since I started to lose the hair on my head.  I've never had particularly full or thick lashes, and they've always been very blonde, but clumping on tons of mascara has always made me feel quite feminine.  Just like Julia Roberts in "Charlie Wilson's War" I would put on as much black gunk as my tiny lashes could hold and then do my best to separate the clumps into spidery threads.  What's a girl to do without her magic tube of mascara to make her eyes stand out?  Well, she goes to the nearest Target and buys fake lashes.  I'll get to Sephora one of these days to get some fancy lashes, but for now I'm getting lots of practice (and it takes a LOT of practice) with the cheap ones.  I'll post pictures once I really get the hang of it!  My eyebrows are also starting to thin out, but there are some stubborn hairs that are holding on for dear life.  It's good to know that even some of my hair follicles have a bit of fight left in them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011? Really?

So much has happened since I last blogged.  It is now 2011 (seriously? how did that happen?), I am now 30 years old (for real?), the holidays have come and gone, and the TCU (my alma mater) Horned Frogs are Rose Bowl champs (the game provided the perfect excuse to sport my purple wig)! 

Aaron and I had a great time visiting with my family in Dalhart, TX.  I'm not sure Aaron would describe it as "relaxing," considering he is a favorite uncle to jump on, play video games with, and read stories with. 

We hadn't been to Dalhart since last Christmas, so it was good to catch up with the family. We heard on the news that Atlanta had a white Christmas for the first time since the 1880, but we were okay with missing it.  If we get too desperate for snow, we can just hop on a flight to visit family in Minnesota.

We are home in Atlanta again, and aside from a minor cold all is going well.  Aaron is working on lectures for the two classes he'll be teaching this semester, and I go in tomorrow morning for my second Taxol chemo treatment.  I mentioned in my previous post that Taxol is "chemo-light", but maybe I should just call it "chemo-different."  While it is very nice to have little-to-no nausea, the bone pain that comes along with this type of chemo is quite uncomfortable.  I noticed it especially in my legs, where it felt like I had terrible shin splints, something I didn't think I'd have to worry about, as I'm not running while on chemo.  Still, I would pick bone pain over nausea if I had to choose. 

After this treatment I'll only have two more chemo sessions to go!  It's hard to believe, but tomorrow will be my four month "cancerversary."  Four months have gone by, and I'm still receiving cards and care packages from my wonderful support group.  Thank you all so very much!  One member of my support group, my mom-in-law, is flying in on Sunday and will be here through Friday the 14th.  We can't wait to see her and reap the benefits of her cooking prowess!