Long time……….No Posts!!! So Sorry!!!!!

I have been a horrible blog owner.  I have no excuses other than just feeling crappy enough that I couldn’t muster up the motivation to type about anything other than how crappy I was feeling!  I’m sure other cancer patients do not want to open a blog and read about nothing other than complaints from the cancer patient that’s writing the blog!  Who wants to read about one problem after another?!!  And I guess the problems are allowed if you provide a solution!  I”m sure I’ll always throw some “bitching” in, because let’s be honest here, you can’t possibly deal with cancer and the treatments that come with it without finally getting to the point that you bitch about something or another!

To make this entry rather quick, I’m going to post some hints I gave to a friend of a friend on Facebook after she went in for her first chemo.  May God Bless this young lady, she is in her early 30’s and has two small sons.  It’s going to be a rough time for her dealing with two small boys while going the her treatment, so I’m sure she would appreciate all of the prayers she can get to help her through!

When Jackie complained that she couldn’t sleep a few days after her chemo, I shared my experience with her, with hope of providing her with some information that may help her.  ……“As I’ve told you, I have been neglectful in updating my blog (I’m going to get to it hopefully Tuesday!). Everyone has different side effects, but I wanted to talk in the blog about the side effects that I had with each treatment, which for me were different each time. Some stayed with me the whole time, but I never knew what to expect next after each treatment. I’m hoping that even sharing little tidbits like taking the Claritin for a week after the neulasta will help other women going through this. I have always had sleeping problems, but it became so much worse (and i didn’t think it could get worse!) during chemo. Here are some suggestions I can offer that you might have already heard about, but in case you haven’t…..meditate and learn to do diaphragmatic breathing to help relax. I also use the apps Relax Melodies and Sleep Machine to play soothing music or sounds to help me relax. I was very blessed to not have the nausea to deal with as many do, but I took a nurse’s advice and took the nausea meds that were prescribed for me the second I got up whether I needed them or not. She said that was the best way in her opinion to stop the vicious cycle of nausea from getting a chance to start. Also, within a week of the first chemo, I started having extremely dry lips and skin. I had lip balm within reach constantly, and even developed my own body butter to help my skin heal. Another suggestion, if you don’t do this already, make sure to use a soft toothbrush, and you might even want to switch to a sensitive tooth paste. Rinsing your mouth with baking soda and water should help also. I never got the mouth sores that you will read about, but developed very sensitive teeth and sore gums. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much info at once, but as I type I’m thinking of more and more things. If you’re up to it, look for my blog update later in the week and maybe you’ll find more things that will help you. I’ll leave you with one more bit of advice today though. I don’t know what they told you about eating, but my nurse made a point of telling me the most important thing for me to do was get the calories in however I could. In her words, “If the only thing you can eat are milkshakes, drink milkshakes.” Most foods were absolutely disgusting to me so I had to take it day by day as to what I could force myself to eat (and that changed daily!) I also had a wonderful friend bring me a variety of hard candies such as lemon drops, mints, etc. to keep by my side to help with the taste you are left with after the chemo. I didn’t mean to write you a mini novel , just throwing out things that are coming to mind from my first treatment that might possibly help you. Along with lots of prayer, my daily mantra was “this too shall pass”.

When it came time to cut her hair, her husband and two little boys wanted to cut it.  This is what I told her about my haircutting experience……“I had my husband shave mine. It wasn’t easy for him (or me for that matter!), so we ended up cracking one joke after another while he was doing it and laughed the whole time. The hardest thing was talking him out of shaving his head too! He finally agreed and has sported a pink “no one fights alone” bracelet instead since that night. As someone else said, it”s only hair!’

I’m going to end my entry tonight (or this morning by looking at the glowing red 2:50am on the clock on Greg’s nightstand, by sharing an experience that happened to me a few nights ago, that I also shared on facebook.  I should come here first, type what’s on my mind, then lead everyone on Facebook back here to read it on my blog.  That’s the ticket!!!

I was shopping clearance sales tonight when a lady caught me off guard since she was off to my side when I heard, “Are you battling cancer?” I looked up and immediately said “Yes, I am” as my mind immediately started going through the questions of what made her ask that, when the duh meter went off in my mind to realize the scarf on my head was the dead give away. (Quick change of subject, I guess I have perfected tying these suckers because I get compliments every time I go out on how cool my scarves look because of how I’m tying them. Go me and my tying skills! ;-)) Anyway, the lady that asked me about having cancer so graciously put her hand out to me, and began to tell me how she was now a 15 yr cancer breast cancer survivor after being diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. She told me of her treatment regimen and who her Dr. was, who happens to be the Dr. that started the Space Coast Cancer Center that is my home away from home now. She ended up asking my name, sharing hers, then saying that she wanted to know my name so she could pray for me. She then gave me a hug, and ensured me that I will be sharing my survival story with others, just as she was with me. Who knew that the clearance isle of Marshall’s could bring tears and such encouragement?!

I told this story to Greg when I got home, and could barely get through it for the tears, and he could barely pay attention to the end of it for wiping his tears.  I firmly believe God sent that lady to me to send me a much needed positive message at just the right time!

I must try to get some sleep, but thank you for taking the time to read my blog and I promise to be better about getting my experiences and tips up here to hopefully help others!

Always have HOPE, and Ladies, remember to Fight Like A Girl!!

xoxoxo

Kim

One Important Word

April 30, 2014 was the day that would change my life. I woke up at 4:30 am after only sleeping a few minutes here and there throughout the night.  I knew that my phone was bound to ring some time that day to give me the results of my biopsy. I now know that it was by the grace of God that I found a wonderful Dr. that helped me discover my cancer when he did, but it was definitely not news that I wanted, nor expected to hear!  

I made myself get out of bed for just a minute to make sure that Nick was off to school and had locked the door behind him.  I went back to bed and flipped from side to side, staring at the sun light peaking in from the sides of the curtains on both sides of our bed.  It was so bizarre how I constantly played the phone call scenario through my mind. Good news? Bad news? Flip a coin Kim.

At promptly 8 am, the happy, melodic tune that I chose  as my ring tone started playing.  I immediately had a lump in my throat and cringed as I squinted to see the number on the screen. It was my Dr. Mora. I took a deep breath and  answered. Dr. Mora has a very strong Hispanic accent so I recognized his voice immediately. I’ll spare you the details of the conversation, and frankly, most of it is a haze anyway.  Honestly, I only picked up on bits and pieces of what he was saying. All I remember was “biopsy results”, “tumor”, “hormone receptors”, “lumpectomy or mastectomy” , “oncologist”, and “maybe radiation, possibly chemotherapy”.  

My world suddenly became a blur and I felt like I was on the outside of someone else’s nightmare looking in.  I was stunned. All of my imagined scenarios went out of the window.  After listening to him and trying to take it all in, the only words I could get out were, “ The tumor was……” he finished my sentence for me….. “malignant.”

There was one other very important word that did stick in the back of my mind as I hung up and tried to process our conversation.

Early”

I tried to recall the entire conversation time and time again to remember what Dr. Mora said about “early”. That’s when I remembered him saying something about the tumor being 9mm, and thinking we caught it “early”

Despite letting life get in the way, Dr. Mora felt that we caught the cancer early. That one word gave me something to cling to as I moved forward.

You Can’t Let Life Get in the Way

I became neglectful of myself and let “life” get in the way. After having mammograms yearly since my late thirties, but I eventually became complacent when it came to my health. I was busy volunteering at our kids schools, carpooling for sports, and making weekly treks to the orthodontist 30 minutes away because I thought it would be so much easier having both kids in braces at the same time. (HA! They neglected to tell me that their schedules would be different!) And of course there were the typical pediatric and dental appointments thrown into the mix.  I wasn’t worried about finding the time for another mammogram, my monthly self breast exams would be enough, or so I thought.

Ironically, that was okay for me, but not good enough for my friends or family.

Becki, a close friend, had not had a mammogram her entire life. I chewed her out for this many times whenever the topic of Dr’s visits, mammograms, general health, etc. came up. Finally, four years ago, when she was in her mid 40’s, I talked her into going along for what ended up being my last mammogram until this year. I wanted her to see how quick the appointment would be, and see that it didn’t cause me any distress.  Breast cancer doesn’t run in her family, so it wasn’t that important to her. I assured her that I it doesn’t run in my family either, and stressed that it was still something she needed to do for herself and her family because early detection was very important. She finally agreed and made an appointment!! She invited me to ride with her because we always had a good time when we would venture out together, so we made a day out of it, going to lunch and shopping when she was through. She thanked me for talking her into going, saying the mammogram wasn’t that bad at all, and told me how glad she was that she finally did it!  Yay!

Fast forward to late 2013. Greg and I decided that it was about time that we find a Dr. that we were truly happy and comfortable with as a family since we were officially reaching the middle aged “old farts” status.  After months of waiting for an appointment, we finally got in to see a doctor that came highly recommended to us in March of this year. After completing a battery of tests on both of us, he discovered that my hormones were out of whack. (Duh, I was the queen of hot flashes!!)

From a previous conversation, Dr. Mora knew that Greg and I prefer to treat issues naturally if possibly (which was one of his specialties), so he gave me the option of using a bioidentical hormone cream to treat my hormone imbalance.  As he wrote the order, he commented that the hormone cream doesn’t cause cancer, but “if you have breast cancer, it can make it grow quickly, so I want you to have a mammogram ASAP since you haven’t had one in a while. I mistakenly guessed it had been 2 years when I filled out his initial paper work. I later found out that it had been FOUR years. Let me mention that the other Dr’s I’ve seen in the previous years also knew that I hadn’t had a mammogram in quite some time, yet they ignored the fact.

My motherly duties and social calendar happened to be a bit full at that time. Nick was graduating high school with honors in a month, I was on the Project Graduation Committee, I still had to make Nick’s senior poster and plan the post graduation brunch for Nick with his long time girlfriend Alayna and her family, followed by a Graduation BBQ for Nick, family, and his friends the following weekend! To add to the upcoming excitement, I had arranged a mini reunion of sorts with several elementary classmates and two of our favorite elementary school teachers. It was perfect timing since Tara, another lifelong friend like Gina, had booked a trip here from Texas to celebrate the high school graduation of her daughter also. Unlike the last few years, since the Dr’s words hung in the back of my mind, instead of putting things off as I had done in the past, I made sure to squeeze in time for a mammogram.

Even though the mammogram technician questioned about getting my past records because there was an “area” of question she was spotting on the screen that day that she knew the radiologist would want to compare to my previous films to, I went about my merry way and put it in the back of my mind. I had too much to do to worry about it!

About a week and a half later, I received a call from my Dr’s nurse telling me that he ordered a diagnostic mammogram due to a spot found on my mammogram. She said an ultrasound would be done also if it was deemed necessary by the radiologist.  I still remained positive that it was nothing to worry about.  I had too much going on in my life to worry!

The technician doing the mammogram explained that this would be worse than normal because she really had to tighten the tension on the machine to get a good picture. I told her to do what was necessary because I wanted the best reading possible. I really didn’t have in mind for her to park a semi on my mashed boob, but that’s what it felt like!! I made a joke or two about it because I knew she hated causing me the pain, but it’s what had to be done for her to do her job. She left the room, telling me to sit tight as she took the film to the radiologist. When the door opened, I knew by the look on her face what was coming next. “The radiologist wants you to have an ultrasound.” My heart instantly sank, and from that point on, I was numb and just went through the motions.

I was escorted down the hospital hallway in my beautiful gown to the ultrasound room that seemed like it was 3 miles away. The ultrasound tech’s personality was very different from the mammogram tech. She was all business. She informed me that at times she can just do the ultrasound, talk to the radiologist, and then the patient can go home, yet other times she will talk to the radiologist and he may want to come back in and talk to the patient. I knew what that meant, but just continued to stare at the dim light overhead and pray.

She finished the ultrasound without saying a word other than apologizing for the gel being cold. She asked me to just lie there without moving, JUST in case the radiologist wanted more pictures. The door closed quietly behind her as I stared at the light above and continued to pray.

As the door swung open, I took a deep breath and looked over to see a man in a lab coat following behind her. The radiologist extended his hand and introduced himself. Again, I knew by the look on his face that he wasn’t there to bring good news. “There is a mass on your mammogram and ultrasound that warrants you needing a biopsy.” I had a tear form in one eye as I kept silently telling myself to suck it up. I wanted to hear what he was saying and knew I couldn’t focus if I was blubbering like an idiot! I listened to him explain the differences between a fine needle aspiration biopsy vs. a stereotactic needle biopsy. He left the decision entirely up to me, so I went with my gut decision and chose the fine needle aspiration. The technician was very matter of fact, dismissed me to get dressed, then pointed me toward the exit.

I walked out of the hospital feeling like I was in a trance. I somehow managed to find the Armada and climbed in. I stared out of the window for a minute, then began replaying the radiologists words in my head.

Greg knew I had the appointment and I figured he was at work waiting to hear from me, so I pulled out my phone to call him. Before I could dial, I started thinking about my Mom. You see, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer on Mother’s Day of 2012 after being a smoker for 50 years. By the time we received her diagnosis, the cancer had already metastasized to both adrenal glands, and had developed into four tumors on her brain. The health issues that the brain tumors caused were eventually what led to us discovering that she had cancer. There is no way of knowing how long she had actually been sick without us knowing.

There is no doubt in my mind that Mom that would have jumped my butt for letting so much time slip by without having a mammogram done even though she was also one to let life get in the way. She was also very neglectful when it came to her own health. Had she gone to the Dr. years, even months earlier, the cancer could have possibly been detected early enough that she could have had a chance to beat it. We lost her six months later at the age of 72. Watching her take her last breath was the most excruciating thing I’ve ever witnessed.

Thankfully, no one else was near my vehicle at the time, or they might have thought that I needed to be admitted to the loony bin because as I sat there, thinking of Mom, and trying to dial Greg’s number, I yelled to myself “get it together Kim!” I was my mother’s daughter, and she was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. I was going to get through this, and if nothing else, I was going to give it hell. I also knew that I had to pray that Dr. Mora sent me for the mammogram in time to catch it early if in fact I did have cancer.

I hope anyone that’s just read this picked up my lesson for the day…….

DO NOT LET LIFE GET IN THE WAY!!!!

The Beginning of the Bald and the Breastless

I celebrated the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month by completing my 4th chemo treatment!!  Four down, two more to go!!!!

I have talked about wanting to do this blog since my very first surgery and learning that I knew nothing, NOTHING about breast cancer, other than the statistics that you read or hear about. Through my Dr.’s and their staff members advice, and the graciousness of friends of family and friends that have been willing to share their insight with me as I began this journey, it all has been a complete learning experience! I decided that I needed to make this blog a part of my journey, while hopefully helping others that are walking down this same path avoid tripping over the many obstacles that appear out of no where as you embark on this venture that you never in a million years dreamed you would be taking.

I need to begin by pointing out the obvious, I AM NOT A WRITER!  I’m sure that this was apparent by the time you made it to this paragraph!  I can claim to be many things, (and have been called many things), but a writer is not one of them!  So please forgive my rambling and just pretend that you are on the phone with a crazy old friend while you are sipping on a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine, because we all know that it’s 5 o’clock somewhere) as I share my whirlwind experiences with the overall intention that I can provide some helpful information to you or someone that you love, with maybe a smile thrown in here and there for good measure.

The Bald and the Breastless is not meant to make light of breast cancer!  It’s just my warped sense of humor at work.  Since my diagnosis, I’ve repeated to myself and others upon deciding my course of treatment that my breasts nor my hair define who I am as a person, so when I decided to finally get started on this blog,  the minute the title of The Bald and the Breastless came to mind, I laughed to myself and knew this had to be my title!

My faith and the power of prayer are extremely important to me and are a part of my daily life.  But I’ve also had cliche’ after cliche’ run through my mind since my cancer diagnosis as another way to help my feeble brain cope with the current state of my health and life…….”The early bird catches the worm.”  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” “This too shall pass!”  “Everything happens for a reason.”  and finally, what gets me through each day, “Laughter is the best medicine.”

This title is also a nod to my history of years of complaining when as it turns out, I really didn’t have anything that was really important to complain about!   I was born with curly locks that people have admired my entire life, but despite the envy, compliments, and life long question of “Is your hair natural? It’s just beautiful!”  l have always moaned, groaned, and complained about my “frizzy” hair that I could never do anything different with.  I always longed for beautiful, shiny, straight, glamorous hair.  When my hair started falling out by the handfuls within two weeks of my first chemo treatment, I couldn’t help but laugh (with a few tears thrown in to prove to myself that I’m not completely crazy) about the years of complaining about my hair!!

I also inherited ample breasts.  For years I’ve heard (and contributed to), the big boobs jokes.  I’ve complained about the cleavage, about clothes not fitting correctly, about my back and neck aching, about not being able to sleep on my stomach, yet bragged that I could never drown because those suckers would always keep me afloat!  One of my best friends of 45 years, Gina, had even larger breasts, so I have taken great pleasure in picking on her over the years since she could commiserate with me.  A few years ago, we even discussed going in as “buddies” and getting a breast reduction done at the same time, but the more we researched it, we discovered that the typical surgery required that your nipples to be removed during the surgery.  We both agreed that we weren’t going to voluntarily go under the knife and have our nipples cut off and placed on a surgical tray!  We joked about the various scenarios, that with our luck, would happen to our loose nipples.  We had numerous laughs about this during our many late night phone conversations.  I have to admit, we’ve had a few laughs about those very conversations again over the last few months as well!!

Since my diagnosis, I am repeatedly praised for my positive attitude, but I’ll be the first to tell you, it is for the sake of my mental health that I MUST try to find the silver lining to make sense of it all.  The way I look at it, I wasn’t given a choice of whether I got cancer or not. That hand was dealt to me, but what did become my choice was my course of treatment, and how I chose to mentally deal with this horrible, ugly ass disease! I could either fall apart and potentially slip into a deep depression, or I could choose to be thankful for everyone in my life that gives me strength, and fight through this with a positive attitude.  My choice was a no brainer!

I am very blessed to be married for 32 years to Greg, my rock of a husband that refuses to let me mutter anything other than “We’ve got this!”  I just lied. He will let me slip in a “this just sucks” occasionally, but within a few seconds, he’s reminding me again that “We’ve got this!” And when he says “we”, he means it. He has been there by side to help me fight every step of the way!

I have the support of some great family members.  Notice that I didn’t say ALL of my family members, but doesn’t every family have a few rotten apples and wackadoos in the mix?

I also have fantastic friends!  I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve these people in my life!! They more than make up for the wackadoo family members!  I am touched and amazed daily by the outrageous support, laughter, thoughtfulness, and out and out love that I receive from all of these people that I’m so very blessed to call my friends!

Greg and I have two beautiful, young adult age children (Kailey is 21, Nick 18) that keep me fighting to get through this also.  They still need me! They miraculously always find a way daily to remind me how much they still need me, even if it’s just a subtle hint to let me know that they need a refresher course on how to get by. Things as simple as still not remembering to pick up their clothes, and understanding that the dishes aren’t meant to grow homemade antibiotics in, and that their bedrooms shouldn’t be classified as a hazardous waste facility. They even display the desire to be taught the simple little things in life repeatedly, like how to put their keys in the same location every time they walk through the door so they won’t have to spend the next three hours walking in circles, moving furniture that has been in the same location for over a year as they panic, repeating, “where did I put my keys?” . What would they do without me?  

My mother used to sing the song “Day by Day” as she cleaned or cooked when I was young. I never had an inkling how important that song would be to me so many years later, on so many levels!  As positive as I have remained throughout these last few months, I am honest when I say that I still have some pretty lousy moments. Wouldn’t getting stuck on a toilet because you can’t get up due to not being able to use your arms after a bilateral mastectomy cause most people to feel like they’re having a lousy moment?  I have my moment, and then I can’t help but laugh trying to envision what I must have looked like trying to get up!!  It’s during those lousy moments, then finding the laughs that follow that I hear mom’s beautiful voice singing “Day by Day”.  And that’s how I shall continue to fight this……..day by day.