Monday, June 29, 2009

BIG Decision

Well, this afternoon I still did not get an exact date for my surgery, but they said it will be between 14-31 Jul 09. The issue right now is getting my surgeon's team to marry up with the reconstruction/plastic surgery team - which is no easy task.

I'm faced with such a big decision and all comments are welcome. I have two options for reconstruction, I can have expanders put in and have them stretch the skin over a period of time, only to remove the expanders (down the road) and insert silicone implants. I know, you're thinking "Why silicone?" Well, believe it or not saline swishes when you move - at least for women who've had this type of reconstruction because there is no muscle to keep it from doing ocean rolls, so surgeons opt for silicone which is thicker. My second option is to have the "tram flap" surgery. With this, they open up my abdomen, take part of my "six pack" and push it up and under the skin where it ultimately goes into the open spaces where my breasts were. This surgery is longer and has more obvious risks associated with it. From what I understand the recovery process is harder, but everything utilized would be part of my own body and not fake.

Any recommendations out there? Or might you know of anyone who has had the tram flap?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Well, after much thought, I decided to take the first step with my hair. I wanted it to be MY doing and not the chemotherapy. I cut it to my shoulders and lo and behold it doesn't look half bad I guess. :0

My hair stylist, Jessica (thanks Jess!) had a harder time cutting it than I did making the decision. When she started, she cut an inch, then one more, and I said, "Jess - that's not even close to the shoulders, honey"......and after I explained that I needed this for me to get used to the idea, she finally said, ok...and she did a great job on the cut itself. Now, if only the nose weren't so I'm KIDDING. It's my Polish heritage and I'm keeping that! ;)

On a serious note, I think my son is finally coming to grips with this. I've been very worried about him but last night he sent me a text, "Mom, YOU are #1, and no matter what, I'm right here with you - whatever it takes" or words to that effect. It brought tears to my eyes and touched my very soul. Thank you, son......

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Today has been a day for ME to remember just how lucky I am. I have two beautiful sons, a great job, good friends, and a crazy fun family. My current condition will last for a year or two, but I fully intend to and WILL beat this.

I would like to take a moment to remember of one of my favorite angels, Farrah Fawcett. Since I was a teenager, I would cut my hair just like hers. Everybody wanted to be her and most boys had her poster on their walls. She was as popular and beautiful as....the iconic Corvette! In recent years, she battled her own beast with grace, and hope, and faith. I genuinely appreciate her own walk and sharing it with the world. May she rest in eternal peace in heaven.

For my good friend and MPD Volunteer, Don, who I just learned is now fighting a fierce battle. I know that right now it seems like, "This cannot be happening to me", but I hope you take comfort in knowing that with each day, you are exactly where God wants you to be and he will not give you a mountain that you cannot climb without him.

Finally, breaking news is saying Michael Jackson has died. Sad ending to an individual with an amazing voice who was a musical genius. I hope it isn't true.
Whatever the result, I wish him and his family peace.

Triple Negative

After going through an ultrasound on the left breast and learning they were unable to determine if the mass is cancer, they now want to do another biopsy. Why? As I asked myself (considering I'm going to HAVE to lose it anyway) - because the doctor does not want to take lymph nodes if he doesn't have to. OK, fine. So, on 1 July, my son's 23d birthday, I will undergo one more final biopsy prior to surgery. My surgery date has been pushed back to around the last week of July pending the results of this next biopsy.

Does it matter? Well, for the purposes of whether its a single or double - no, it doesn't. For increased survivability odds, it needs be the double because I am what they call a triple negative - or as I immediately thought - a triple whammy. I am negative in all three of these areas: Estrogen, progesterone, and Her2Neu (whatever that is). It would be much better to have one positive in the three. What I understand is this - it is the motherload of breast cancers. Its a mean b**** (so says my team leader), and we will fight fire with fire. How refreshing.

So after they take my atomic girls, they will immediately work on the reconstruction by inserting expanders and about 4-6 weeks later, start a heavy dose of chemo. There was so much information given that my head is still in a tizzy. One thing my surgeon said was to let my body get plenty of rest before the surgery because recovery is harder for a triple negative. Fricken wonderful, eh? Oh well, I figure I have to assess this as I would any military mission - annihilate the enemy and come home alive. AND - I mean that with all due respect to all soldiers - they remain part of my family. As my picture of the sniper in my office says, "If you have but one shot at an opportunity, make it count." Amen to that.

So, as my sister and I were driving home we stopped for a Coke. In addition to the drinks, I asked for a Grouper and a specific Pick-3, to which the lady behind the counter slumped over and let out this big, heavy sigh....Uh, oh - wrong day for me, or in this case, her. I guess I hit that gray area when I said, "I'm sorry, but am I imposing on you?" and she said "No, I'm just having a bad day" - I started laughing and Sherry said her immediate thought, was Oh S*** here it comes..... and it did. "Bad day? YOU are having a bad day? Lady, let me tell you something - YOU are having a good day? Are you ok - seriously - are you ok?" Her response, "I have a headache" - She had a flippin headache, I'm glad that's all it was. However, I continued to ramble on "Trust me, YOU are having a good day, I on the other hand, am not having such a good day! I just found out that I have the worst breast cancer a woman can have and they are going to cut my girls off! THAT'S a bad day - so when you think you are having a bad day - you remember this conversation, ok!" To which the young man behind the counter said, "I'm sincerely sorry" God bless him for reeling me back in. I think my point at that moment was to let her know that SHE was just fine - give her a damn aspirin and tell her to count her blessings. Anyway, on my way out, I said, "Bet your ass you'll have a good day now, huh?" Well, Sherry and I laughed for 10 minutes because of the look on her face, and then the following thought hit me....oh, sweet Jesus - I hope they erase that tape.....

I guess it could be worse.....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The work begins

Hello everyone. Well, after a wonderful weekend with family back home in the greater Syracuse area, I now return to begin my battle. No sooner did the plane land and I spoke to my team leader who advised that with this last MRI, another mass has been my left breast. I could sure use some GOOD news. I have to believe that I am exactly where God wants me to be every moment of my life and this past weekend was evidence of that. Everywhere we went, there was karma and you just cannot have as many "coincidences" that we had, so I am sure I was being tapped on the shoulder and reminded of who is in charge of this journey. How convenient that I found a shirt through a window that says, "Cherish the Journey"....

I am deeply grateful for having had time with my family for I know how serious my situation is, yet I will not allow it to deter my strength or commitment to beat the hell out of this beast that grows inside me. I will not fall, nor fail, in this mission to save my own life and to help someone else in the future.

I want to thank my Aunt Jackie, who requested a special prayer at the Lady of Lourdes in the Masses for Healing - I have been to that Shrine and it is beautiful. Also, much appreciation and sincere thanks to Deb and Tracy, who are in from TN, prayed with and for me.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I go for one more ultrasound to check the mass on the left breast, to review all the results and set the surgery date, which I believe will be next week.

Have a beautiful week and take the time to cherish YOUR journey.... love to all.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ever notice that when your chips are down, life/God has a funny way of bringing little rays of sunshine in the strangest ways. The two most special to me are my boys, and every single day, I thank God for choosing me to be their mother. I swear I still look at them and melt - they are such amazing young men. I believe that throughout this challenge, my prayers will not be so much for myself, but for them, because I realize they too are a part of this journey.

My cousin also called today - for no reason other than to say she ran into a blast from my past and then put him on the phone - this someone I have not seen in over 20 years and I nearly fainted as my heart skipped a few beats.....NEVER saw that one coming LOLOLOL....I must admit though he sure is a fine memory of my formative years.

So, my point for this is that for all the chaos and the crappy hand I've been dealt this month, I am reminded each day of how lucky I truly am. I am blessed with incredibly wonderful children, amazing friends - all over the world, exceptionally kind co-workers and outstanding memories. Wow....God is good.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Calm before the Storm

This week is slowly moving by as I await the news of my BRCA test. I hope it proves to be negative. Next week begins the hard work. I go in for another biopsy on the 2d tumor they've found and decide on a course of action on how best to proceed with this.

I find myself trying to gain strength, to hit this hard, head on. But I am also still having my weak moments when I am terrified. I know I can beat this, I have to - I just have to patient.....and so I wait....and pray.

I'll write more when I know about the results of my BRCA test...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

very graphic

Hello everyone. Well, leave it to me to search out and find a very brave woman who has fought the breast cancer battle and had a double mastectomy. I read her page and viewed the pictures of what may lie ahead for myself. As disheartening as it is, I know that this battle is an uphill climb and I need to make the best possible decision for my long term health.

I should warn you that if you visit this site, the pictures are graphic. I share Debbie's story with you solely for the purpose of education.

As for me, I need to take time to process it all...

Friday, June 12, 2009

One more thing

Just one more thing - I want to thank each of you, from the bottom of my heart, for your heartfelt notes, thoughts, and prayers. You cannot even begin to imagine how much it means to me, and humbles me, to know that I have you out there and on my side. I am forever grateful.

Another tumor

The MRI today went well, I guess. No major vein problems and I even looked at the pictures knowing I might not like what I see. After the long trip back and a few hours at work, I called my "team leader" because I just couldn't wait any longer...

There is some concern as they found another tumor in my breast via the MRI. It doesn't appear to look suspicious, but they want an ultrasound and more than likely another biopsy prior to surgery. Not looking forward to that.... BUT - that's the down side!!

On the upside, it appears that this little dragon is staying still for now and that is the best possible news I could have received. It is the first time since June 2d that I relaxed my shoulders or took a deep breath. It was like a huge weight lifting....thank you, Jesus.....thank you, thank you....

You see, if the cancer was already on the move, then it is possible that it had already hit my lymph nodes, and maybe even into my blood stream, and that would not be good at all, so even though another small tumor was found....stillness is good....These days, that's awesome news...

It really doesn't change what lies ahead for me. It "could" change whether I go single or double mastectomy, but at this point, I'm not sure I will change my mind because I don't want it to ever return. This has been dreadful and even if I had enemies, I wouldn't wish this on them. My whole life has been turned around and upside down.

Believe me, I'm not going to complain because I now know that I have a fighting chance, and I like my odds a whole lot more today than I did yesterday.... Regardless of what happens in surgery, I'm having a good Friday.....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The first big meeting

Yesterday, June 10th, I had my first sit down w/a team over a the VA. This VA is the only one in the country w/a Board comprised specifically for breast cancer. That's awesome! Basically, what happened was they did a BRCA (sounds like BRACCA) to see if there is some crazy mutant gene in me....go figure...must have been too much tequila in my 20's.....Just kidding. If I do have it, it is because I have inherited it via my mother's side of the family.

The other part was to complete an MRI where they basically "light up" my dragon breast to see how quickly it is moving (for which my thoughts beg, "please be still, please be still"). Unfortunately, I ended up with a completely swollen and hurting arm that kept me up for awhile last night because the nurse/tech, said my vein collapsed.....Uh - you used the SAME arm they just drew blood out of lady... Anyway, picture this, if you will, lying on a table face down - I don't think I like that position anymore!!! - with a needle in your arm. All you can feel is your arm swell up and oh s*** - that hurts. She didn't realize it at first, and I couldn't see it (thank God) but when I didn't light up, she knew and removed the needle (thank you very much). ;) At first I was highly annoyed and had to bite my tongue, after all, this IS the test that will confirm whether or not I have one or both of my girls removed. Nice. So, lucky me, I get to return tomorrow (Friday) for another "shot" at it. She will do it tomorrow morning at 0700, meaning I have to leave my house by 0400. I KNOW it wasn't on purpose, and I am NOT angry with her - it was a mistake, that's all. Long way to go for a mistake. Sherry and Ferell were with me which was great because I wasn't left to drive home with my thoughts all to myself. I'm SOOOO glad they were there, I needed their support more than I knew.

This is overwhelming at the least, but I am grateful for as we waited for the blood draw, we watched a young man walk by with a nurse holding onto him. Clearly he had a severe brain injury. My heart ached for him, and for his mother.

So, referencing the BRCA, if I have the bad gene, it will be in my best interest to remove both breasts and do chemo.....if I do not and it hasn't traveled, we might get away w/the loss of one, or even a lumpectomy (which is highly doubtful due to the type of cancer I have). I've been trying to decide which part of this sucks more, losing my breasts, losing my hair (?!?), or having to endure months of painful chemo. I do know what the best part of this is though - this time next year, I WILL be cancer free!!! Maybe not forever cured, but I will have the dragon cast from my body. AND, I will get new girls.

Timeline - by Friday afternoon, we should know more about the MRI results. Hopefully w/in 10 days, we will know about the gene good or bad. As for surgery, it looks sometime during the week of June 29th.

Leslie confirmed for me that I'm not going crazy; laughing, crying, and being mad as hell, is supposed to be normal. Nothing's normal for me right now and so I'm hanging on to the fact that I know the road that lies ahead will be the biggest challenge I have ever faced, but I will control this thing, I will not allow it to control me. Yeah - that's to all...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Thought for today

I did get my phone call today, and I will have the MRI Wednesday. Everything is moving along. I am frightened, but I have faith. I am educated, but not in this. Sooo, what's a girl to do? Put my faith in God and know that I am exactly where I am supposed to And that's enough for me. As for my thought for today, I actually just now "stole" it from my dear childhood friend that I've known since first grade, Rose. She put it on her facebook page and I thought it was pretty profound:
"There are two ways to live your life...One is as though nothing is a miracle, The other is as though everything is a miracle."

As for me and my family - everything and every day is a miracle....Know that I am resolved to beat this. Just as I had a bad feeling about the biopsies, I have a good feeling about my long term health. Anyone up to buying me a pretty wig??? lol I love you all....thank you SOOOOOO much (already)! Your lifting me up in prayer has completely lifted my spirit and helped me regain my footing.

A new day begins

Monday, June 8, 2009 - I woke up this morning and said, "OK, that's it - time to get this party started!" I feel positive and I cannot thank everyone enough for their kind words, their thoughts and prayers, and surrounding me with love. Wow - my life is SO good and so blessed.

My biggest hope is not only to beat this, but that technology finds a way to prevent this from happening to other women. I'm sure it will happen one day - we have so much going on that I've never even thought about, until now.

Waiting for the phone to ring! Enjoy your day, every single moment of to all..

Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 7, 2009 – Ok, this is what know. I have is called Invasive Ductal Carcinoma? It is not estrogen fed, therefore it is aggressive and harder to treat. I already like the nurse I’ve spoken to. She talks to me straight up and I respect that. It is a serious dose of reality I was never expecting. Anyhow, read on…..

Apparently Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) is a very common type of breast cancer. It starts developing in the milk ducts of the breast, but breaks out and invades surrounding tissues. Unlike DCIS version, which is a non-invasive cancer, IDC is not a well-contained cancer. It has the potential to invade my lymph and blood systems, spreading cancer cells to other parts of your body (holy cow!). If this IDC spreads beyond its original site, it will be called metastasized.

Should I feel more comforted knowing that Invasive Ductal Carcinoma is a Common Breast Cancer Diagnosis? It is the most commonly diagnosed breast cancer accounting for about 8 out of 10 of all invasive breast cancers. What?? Are you kidding me?? My thoughts race as I wonder, what did I eat, where did I live, and how can this be so prevalent. The lump in my throat tells me this is the same mutant gene my mother and sister have. On the up side, my crazy beautiful sister Pam did say she’d let me borrow her fake boob. I almost fell on the floor laughing. I love her

OK, now for the education of this monster. Ladies – listen up! This homework takes only minutes, but it can save your life. Mine is buried deep in my chest, so I never felt a lump. Do your monthly exams and please get the BRACA (?) test. It will help determine if you have this cancer causing gene. With this cancer, time is critical!

Keep in mind that most lumps will be fibrocystic and no big deal – it’s the other 20% that is scary. If it is caught early, your chances of survival are very good.

I don’t what stage I am at, nor do I yet know my prognosis, but from my standpoint, I feel I caught it early. Doctors should start talking prognosis of my future outlook for survival shortly – probably this week and I’ll post it here. I’m still having a hard time saying it without tears, but as each day goes by, I become more determined to fight this and get it out of my body.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

As it begins

Many who read this may already know me, but for those who don't here's a brief bio. I am a 44 years old and the youngest of ten children, all living, and our parents are deceased. A 21+ year retired Army veteran, who holds a two-time title of Soldier of the Year amongst several other honors that I proudly display for my children. Obviously, a very happy mother of two beautifully talented young men ages 20 and 22. I consider myself fairly educated holding a Bachelor's degree and working on my Master's. Everything has been moving along so nicely and without incident until this past week.

On Tuesday, June 2, 2009, the nurse where I had a biopsy done, called and said the doctor was ready to talk to me, and my stomach went haywire. That feeling of dread – wow, it has never been so prevalent in my life. All I heard was, “Arla, I’m sorry to tell you that you have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and you need to see a surgeon as quickly as possible.” I’m sure we were on the phone for four or five minutes, but I heard nothing else. I could feel me try to speak, but no words came, just tears. I lost my own mother to a mean cancer, and watching her slip away, well, it was just ugly. For me when I found out, my thoughts was oh my God, I am scared to dea….. yeah, no, my bad….. Oh my God, scare me healthy, please…. Please scare me healthy.

I’m too young for this and I feel like I’m living someone else’s life as I continue to read more information and talk to specialists. For heaven sake, I don’t even have grandchildren…

June 5, 2009 - I’m a fighter and this mountain, I WILL climb and I will be better for it. I have to. As I sit here and write my body shakes and my heart aches. I’m not cold, I’m not hot, I think I’m just afraid of what other bad news tomorrow will bring. Today, I was told that this is the bitch, the meaner aggressive kind. Yeah for me. Monday can’t get here quick enough as my phone will ring and the VA will tell me when to come in for the consult. Let the fight begin.

My older sister Sherry, damn, she must be a saint. She would probably go to the ends of the earth to help me, and yet she too must be scared. Of us 3 girls, she’s the only who hasn’t gotten this and she’s 10 years older. My personal thoughts on her safety are this – she had a breast reduction several years ago. Is it possible that doctors took out what has caused this to Pam and I? When Pam fought this 18 months ago, I thought she was strongest woman I'd ever met, and I was so proud to be her sister. Anyway, I don’t know this happens. What I do know is that my mind never sleeps anymore. I am in this to win this and I know that the more knowledge I empower myself with, the better choices I hope to make.

My little dogs, Reina and Chy, they never want to leave my side. Do they sense my fear? I think so. Having my two dogs is an absolute joy for me. I can tell them things that I know they can never share (aha!) with anyone else.

My promise to myself, working out twice a day as I have obviously isn’t the answer, but I’m sure it will give me the strength I need to conquer this. Food, well, I hope I will choose more carefully. I will admit I haven’t always done that and the Army didn’t care too much either. They gave me stuff that I don’t think my dogs would touch. But I am very grateful for the three things I did get, my (ex) husband, and my children. They taught me what love and life truly is.

I hope this blog will serve to help me deal with what comes my way in the near future, but more importantly, I hope it finds its way into someone else's home. I hope to keep this uplifting, yet, I will share both the ups and downs so as not to give more credit to this ugly cancer that grows inside me. Wish me luck.