Thursday, January 31, 2008

Some "Normalcy"

I've had a busy last week. On Saturday night, Ryan and I had a night of "normalcy" and attended his year end party. I was in admiration and awe as he won 3 of 7 awards handed out. Imagine if only one of us had cancer this year what he could have done!!!

On Sunday I flew to Denver to visit the staff in the office. It was the first time that I was able to travel there in 3 years and it felt like a real milestone to be back. We went for dinner at the Brown Palace, which is where all the presidents stay when they are in Denver and the historian of the hotel gave us a ghost tour. There were enough stories to make you wonder how it could possibly be fabricated. What I was concerned about is that they don't tell people about these when they book into the "ghost" rooms...that doesn't seem to have a lot of integrity - does it?

I arrived back home late last night and spent the day today getting our house cleaned up and preparing for tomorrow. I found out that my surgery is scheduled for 1 pm, so if I wake up prior to 6 am...I can have a coffee! My parents got here today and my mom made her home made soup to remind me of the comfort of home and calm my anxieties.

Talyn has also been a bit too intuitive for my liking. He reminded me which of my breasts is "sick" and which one is "not sick" and then he did something that brought tears to my eyes. I must have been feeling a bit down one day and he asked me for some stickers. Once I gave them to him he went upstairs and asked me to stay downstairs. A while later, he came down and handed me the empty sheet and said "all done". When I asked him what he did with them, he just changed the subject. So, I put him to bed that night as usual and went to go to bed myself and noticed that my sheets had been pulled back. Talyn had placed a row of sparkly stickers right by my pillow to make me smile. I went into his room and thanked him for the stickers. He said "mommy all better now?" and I of course welled up with tears and said "yes, Talyn makes mommy all better."

I have had lots of apprehension around the surgery coming up, but only because I have had some severe reactions to the anasthetics in all of my past surgeries. But when I really think about my fears, I am not worried about the surgery at all, but the results meeting next Thursday. Every time that we have gotten pathology results, they have never been what we thought and even with me thinking about every possible scenario in advance, the results always seem to surprise me.

Ryan and Tricia will be making some calls after my surgery to confirm what we already know, that it will all go well. My parents will also be at our house for anyone who is curious and wants to call them. Around 1 pm tomorrow, please think positive, deep cutting and cancer retrieving thoughts for me! Although tomorrow makes me anxious, I know that it is only the first step in my new fight and it will be building me up for what's to come. And whenever my confidence wavers, I will remind myself of the sparkly stickers that Talyn gave me. Such a small gesture that made a huge difference.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Old Friends and New Curves In The Road

After the stress of the past few weeks, it feels like life has temporarily gone back to normal. The difference this time is that I will never forget the feeling of getting my life back. I hope this feeling is something that I can draw on throughout my life to keep me in check with what I'm doing to ensure that I am focused on my family, doing what I love at work and sharing my journey and hope with other Cancer survivors.

This past week I visited my old friend Dr. Mew. She was there when I first got diagnosed and kept me focused and calm throughout those scary first few weeks in August, 2006. She was involved in 2 of my previous surgeries and more importantly, in assuring me that we would find a plan to "mop up the remaining cancer cells" after her great work in surgery. What blew me away is that this time when I found out the cancer was back and surgery would be our first line of defense, she was on vacation. After my initial panic, Dr. Webster assured me that we could wait until she got back. In speaking to her this week, she told me that Dr. Webster had actually tracked her down on her vacation with her family to discuss my recent diagnoses and their joint plan of attack. It was another affirmation that I have the right team behind me!

My surgery is still scheduled for this week on February 1. My parents are driving up the day before to be here for Ryan and I, but I think mostly for Talyn. This is always a huge help because Talyn gets so excited about them spending time with him, that he usually doesn't notice what's going on in the background. My surgery will involve a bit more than I had originally thought, mostly that they will need to put me under. Dr. Mew will be making an eclipse incision around the lump area that was recently removed. The problem is that once she gets in there, you can't clearly see where the cancer is. I know there's a lot of research going on currently to cure cancer, but can't someone make something that you can drink prior to surgery that attaches to the ugly cells and dies them black? That way, when a surgeon gets in there, they can see what to cut out!

Because she will be cutting deep to get everything she can out and there isn't lots there currently, the fear is that she may accidentally cut the implant. If that happens, she will need to remove it right away and she doesn't want that to all happen while I'm lying there awake and trying to stay calm (I told you she knows me well). The hope is that I'll be able to go home the same day, but because they never know what could happen, I might have to stay over one night.

Until my surgery, my normal life will continue. In many ways this is great, but it also sometimes catches me off guard when my mind drifts off to all of the other things we are currently dealing with. Tonight we are attending Ryan's year end party and then I will be traveling to our Denver office for the first time in 3 years.

The lesson that continues to be enforced in me throughout all of this is to always be prepared for something you haven't yet thought of. Sometimes this doesn't end up as you would have wanted it to, but it doesn't always end off badly either! So keep an open mind when dealing with new things and see where it takes you.

Friday, January 18, 2008


It's hard to describe what this past couple of weeks has been like. In some ways, I wish everyone could experience it so that you could feel how precious your life really is. I felt like someone or something was holding my life in the balance and deciding whether or not I could add enough value to keep it.

Tricia, Ryan and I went in to meet Dr. Webster on Thursday morning. He came bouncing in the room (he has tons of energy all the time) and told me that the CT Scan and Bone Scan that I had done looked "pristine". That was great news! This means that no tumours were found elsewhere on my body.

But...isn't there always a but? The issue is that on the lump they just removed, they know that the edges were covered in invasive cancer, so there is still some of this stuff inside of me. However, it didn't show up on any of the tests. So, we don't really know if my cancer is local or regional. Dr. Webster's best guess is that I only have a little bit of it left inside of me and it might have moved a bit from its original area.

He said that we're dealing with a grey area now. Recurrence for someone so quickly after the original diagnosis and while I'm still in treatment is fairly rare and the best treatments for this are still really experimental. Since I've had the pleasure of dealing with him for a while now, he knows me well. He knows that I want to throw everything he has at this cancer and get it gone for good. So he put together a plan that we hope will give us the best shot at doing that.

I will go ahead with a day surgery on February 1. My previous surgeon will be doing this again and she is really great. Then I will go back to meet with my oncologist on February 7th to review the pathology results. What we are hoping to find is that we have very deep clear margins (i.e. they got it all out).

The issue then is to deal with any cancer cells that might have moved already. So, I will do 4 months of chemo. The great news is that this chemo is fairly mild so I won't lose my hair again and I will be able to continue working and living a normal life. Next is 4 weeks of radiation to the right side to hit this cancer with another shot to the head. Finally, I will do up to 2 years of a different type of hormone therapy to give it the final blow before it's knocked to the ground.

In the range of ways that this could have ended up, I am mostly very happy! Although it could have been slightly better, it also could have been a whole lot worse. The feeling of getting my life back is the most energizing feeling that I have ever felt. It's really hard to describe, but I feel that I now have a renewed passion for living a great life and helping others.

Now it's time to go knock this cancer on its butt where it belongs!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Some Negative Assurance

The last week has felt like a month in some ways. I needed 1 day to feel complete shock, 2 days to feel sorry for myself and then I finally woke up on Sunday morning feeling like I had some fight back in me. So, of course the first thing that I had to do was get organized. Tricia came with me and we scoured Calgary to find a new book to store all of my old and new cancer documents.

Although I am mostly feeling good, I do have the odd feeling of worry that creeps up when I start thinking about the range of possibilities ahead. The things that have kept me really up include the many nice emails and blog posts that I have received. Although many people don't know what to say, I encourage them all to say exactly that if they want! We also went for a nice dinner with Erin & Steve (our neighbours) which allowed us to feel normal for 2 whole hours.

Last week I had a mammogram and an ultrasound. They provided me with a document that stated that they had seen no abnormalities. Tricia calls this a "negative assurance". It just means that they didn't see anything worrisome. But since these tests can't see everything, we don't know for sure that there isn't anything there. Although it's not "for sure" news, it is something positive.

Today I had a bone scan and then a cat scan. These are the big tests! I have a follow up appointment to review these next thursday morning, but I asked that they call me if they get them any sooner. This will then tell me what I am dealing with and then we'll discuss treatment options.

To keep me inspired, I started reading Lance Armstrong's book. Throughout all of the reading that I have been doing on my situation, the statistics have shown that I have anywhere from a 25-80% chance of this not ending well. Lance had similar odds, but he beat it all and I need to understand how he did that. Right now I'm at the part when he just found out how bad things are and what his treatment options are. So, I'm hoping to quickly fast forward to the part when he finishes his treatments and kicks this cancer for good!

The next week will be really hard. I will be going to work and spending time with Tricia and my family as I always would, but will always have this lingering wonder in the back of my mind. What will the next few months hold for me? I am not the most patient person, so this will be another test for me.

The more time that passes, the more accepting I am of this new challenge. It has pushed me to want to do something more for cancer fighters everywhere. Once I finish my direct involvement with fighting this disease, I plan to use some of my time and energy to help others do the same. With a great support system like all of you, anything is possible!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Delicate Balance

Ever since I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer in August 2006, there has been a delicate balance that exists between the health news of my husband Ryan, my best friend Tricia and myself. It has literally always been within a week's time that if one of us gets good news, we all brace ourselves for one of the remaining two to get bad news.

Ryan's brain tumour started to rear its ugly head again in September 2007 and he started a mild form of daily chemotherapy shortly afterwards. In December he had a follow up MRI and it showed no new growth. Of course we were thrilled by this news, but also worried of what was to come.

In November, I found a small lump near where my first invasive cancer tumour was originally. I told my oncologist about it and we thought that it was most likely surgical (3 surgeries in the past year can leave a lot of scar tissue). But, we went ahead with an ultrasound anyhow. Once they took a peek at it, they were concerned and wanted to biopsy it to check into things further. But, when I went for this procedure, they were unable to do a typical biopsy because they were worried of rupturing my implant. So, they took out a bit of tissue through a small needle, but the results were inconclusive.

My oncologist was still certain that it was surgical, so he scheduled me for another ultrasound on January 7th to check for any changes. On December 20th, I had a follow up appointment with my plastic surgeon and I decided to ask him, since he was the last surgeon in there. He wasn’t sure if it was surgical or not, so he wanted to find out for sure. He removed this lump the following day in minor surgery and sent it off to be reviewed.

Most of you remember that I had a bilateral mastectomy in May and was told that I had clear margins, so how can there even be a suspicious lump? Well, they told me that doing this surgery would reduce my future recurrence risk by 95%, but if there was any recurrence, it would be above my implant and right below the skin because they had to leave some skin.

I went in on Thursday morning to get the pathology results and was absolutely stunned to hear that it was Invasive Cancer, high grade and no clear margins. Not good. That means that I was relapsing, that the cancer was growing very aggressively only 6 months after my last surgery and while I’m still doing treatments and there was still more in me. In addition, invasive means that it can spread elsewhere in my body, so there were lots of risks to get my head around.

I went to see my oncologist on Thursday afternoon to discuss next steps. The first priority is to determine what we’re dealing with. We are all hopeful that it is still contained in my breast area, but because it is invasive there is a risk that it is not. So, the next week is filled with many diagnostic tests to give us this answer. Then they are also re-running the pathology to determine if it is the same cancer as before or whether this breast cancer has different characteristics. As long as it’s still contained, then I will have another surgery as the first step and they have already tentatively got me a date. Following this, I will do radiation. If this is unsuccessful, then I will be back through another session with Chemo, but with different drugs this time.

So, I have another big challenge in my way and the next 2 weeks will be really important to tell us what we’re dealing with. Once I have a plan in place to deal with it, I’m sure I’ll be feeling a whole lot better about things.