Monday, January 16, 2012

New Year, New Me

Okay, so it's been 6 long months since I last typed anything here.  What can I say?  Life gets busy, I have less cancer-related news to report (that a very good thing, in case you were wondering), and I may have discovered Angry Birds.  Also, I've been typing away at other projects in my life.  This summer and fall I taught courses at the Art Institute of Atlanta, which meant I had to write a whole mess of lectures.  And I have returned to working on my never-ending dissertation.  So you see, at the end of the day writing a blog doesn't quite carry the same appeal that it once did.
Let me catch you up.  October 4 was my one year "cancerversary" (anniversary of the day I was diagnosed).  I decided that I wanted to spend the day in a happy place, so naturally I headed to the zoo :)  Aaron was kind enough to take the day off to spend it with me and the lions, tigers, pandas and meerkats.
The fall was filled with a whole bunch of checkup appointments with my team of doctors.  Each time I heard "all clear" was a blessing and a relief.  The summer and fall was also spent meeting with my plastic surgeon every 2 weeks, when he would inject saline into my breast tissue expanders in preparation for reconstruction.  As you may remember from my previous posts, the tissue expanders are basically temporary implants.  So I spent the summer and fall watching my cup size change a tiny bit at a time, until my skin and my chest were just too tight to accept any more saline.  The well-meaning plastic surgeon asked "are you sure those are big enough?"  You know what, they are.  I've had small boobs my whole life, and I will continue having a small chest.  And I'm just fine with that.
Along with the holidays came the annual Aaron and Joyce holiday letter and photo.  If you weren't lucky enough to receive one of these prized papers in the mail, never fear!  You can read it right here:

Hello Friends & Family!
Another year has passed, and what a doozy it’s been!  2011 was jam-packed with travels (including trips to five weddings) and lots of visitors.  We can’t include everything in this letter, but we had a great time visiting with everyone.  When we wrote last year, Joyce was in the middle of treatment for breast cancer and Aaron was busy teaching and researching as an Assistant Professor at Georgia State University.
Winter brought with it some memorable events.  In January, Atlanta was greeted with an ice storm and a few inches of snow, which shut down the city for five days.  Aaron’s mom, Becky, flew into town the night it started snowing, and we spent the week baking, building fires and generally having fun, though Aaron went a little stir crazy.  Who wouldn’t want to be trapped in a house for a week with his mother and wife?!   Aaron, apparently.
February 1st marked Joyce’s final chemotherapy treatment.  Words can’t express how wonderful it felt to say goodbye to the infusion center for the last time. In mid-March, Joyce had a bilateral mastectomy with partial reconstruction.  The surgery successfully removed the cancerous tumor and affected lymph nodes.  Family (Aaron’s mom and Joyce’s parents) and a good friend (Jenny from MN) took turns staying with us for a total of three weeks to help out with the surgery and distract Joyce from pain and worry.  This was our first spring in Atlanta, and it is a fantastic time of year in the South.  It was wonderful to witness growth and renewal as Joyce was healing the same time everything in Atlanta was blooming.  Joyce’s hair also started to grow back around this time, and she was happy to say goodbye to the wig that she wore throughout chemo.  Joyce then underwent radiation therapy for six weeks (May-June), which was the final piece of her cancer treatment.  So long, cancer!
This summer we were fortunate to have a housemate in our guest bedroom.  Scott, a friend from TX, was in Atlanta for the summer while completing a legal internship.  It was wonderful to have an entertaining guest at the dinner table every night, and to have someone make sure the cat and garden survived while we were away.  Or was it the cat that kept Scott fed and watered?  All we know is everyone was fine every time we got back from the airport.
In June we traveled to Iceland to see Minnesota friends, Jon & Henriet, get married.  It was a wonderful week of swimming in hot springs, catching up with friends, and taking in the natural beauty of the land of Vikings and trolls.  If you ever get the chance to go to Iceland, you should take it!
Aaron had a very busy summer, as he traveled to a teaching workshop (“nerd camp”) in Vermont, and made research visits to the LBJ library in Austin and the FDR library in Hyde Park, NY. 
In July, Joyce returned to teaching at the Art Institute of Atlanta.  She was very happy to rejoin the working world and to have someone to lecture to other than her cat.
The fall was a whirlwind, as both of us were teaching and we traveled to three weddings in Colorado, Minnesota, and Arizona.  We are headed to visit Joyce’s family in Texas for Christmas.  Joyce is also getting ready for another surgery (the remainder of her reconstruction) on January 4.  We would like to thank all of you who have been so generous with your thoughts, prayers, gift baskets, and visits to Atlanta.  This year has shown us how wonderful people truly are.   We feel loved!
Happy Holidays, and Happy 2012!
-Joyce and Aaron 

So this brings us to the surgery I had on January 4.  The procedure was reconstructive and was the exact same procedure I had on my non-cancer side immediately after my bilateral mastectomy in March.  This procedure (latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction) involves taking tissue from my back and swinging it around to my chest to create a new boob.  One of my favorite bloggers, Chemobabe, recently had the same procedure done and is much better than me at describing exactly what it entails.  You can read her description here:

As far as my surgery is concerned, everything went fine.  The procedure took about an hour longer than predicted due to the amount of scar tissue that had developed as a result of radiation.  This wasn't a huge complication and really wasn't that surprising, but made things a little stressful for my dear husband in the waiting area.  I came out of the surgery fine, and my first memory is thinking "Wow!  I'm in significantly LESS pain than I was after the last surgery!  Hooray!"  I spent 2 days/nights in the hospital and was home by the afternoon on January 6th.  The next day, my lovely mom-in-law came into town to make sure I was well-fed and entertained, and that my house was clean.  She stayed for an entire week, and we had a great time as we always do.

I am now well on my way to being healed.  I still have one surgical drain in place, which quite literally feels like a thorn in my side, and my back and left side of my torso are quite sore, but I can feel that I'm getting stronger and have a bit more energy every day.  Most of all, I am terribly excited to be completely FINISHED with all of this cancer business.  It has been a long road, now complete, and not a moment too soon!

In case you were wondering, my hair continues to grow in thick and curly.  Below are photos from my 31st birthday.  Blowing out candles feels extra nice now :)


Thanks to everyone out there for your thoughts, prayers, love and support throughout my "cancer time."  You have truly made a huge difference in my life.
Unfortunately, two of my good friends were diagnosed with breast cancer this year.  So if you have a moment to spare, please say a little prayer for them.  They are both going to beat this maddening disease, just as I did.  Connie and Kristin, you got this thing licked.  I just know it.