The Five-Year Mark

It’s not October yet, but as the month approaches I always look back to the event that changed my life. This year I will reach the five-year mark, and I want to share my story with you in hopes that you will see how important early detection and yearly mammograms are.

Five years ago I discovered a lump in my left breast. I had just turned 41 six months earlier. Eight months earlier I’d had my first mammogram at 40 years-old. Just like I was supposed to. The mammogram was clear and I was relieved to be done for the year. I gave it no more thought until I found the lump.

Upon my discovery I promptly scheduled an appointment with my doctor. I didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about, but I also knew not to put it off. It was late October before the doctor could see me. He ordered some labs, which all came back normal; and a diagnostic mammogram.

It would be late November, the day before Thanksgiving before the mammogram could be scheduled. Gotta love healthcare in the US. I went for the appointment and after the mammogram the radiologist wanted to do an ultrasound for a closer look. He gave it a BI RAD score of 4C and then scheduled me for a biopsy.

The biopsy didn’t happen for another couple of weeks. Once again, no one really seemed to be in a hurry. But as the days and weeks kept passing, I was growing more and more frustrated with the timetable.

At the time of the biopsy, the results were found to be invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) about the size of a marble. That was early December. My doctor then scheduled me to see a surgeon. When the surgeon’s office called me, however, they told me that I couldn’t see that particular surgeon until January 31, 2016. I had a redheaded meltdown right there on the phone in my office at work. I told them while everyone was just dragging their feet like it was no big deal, I had something growing inside of me and I wanted it out immediately. I demanded the first available appointment with the first available surgeon in that office. The woman on the phone told me she would have to clear it with my doctor since his orders were for a different surgeon. I told her my doctor was an idiot (he was…after ordering the diagnostic mammogram and returning to him for the results, he asked me why I was in his office that day…don’t get me started). Anyway, I told the lady on the phone that it was my body and I had a right to request another surgeon. She gave me the next available appointment with the next available surgeon, but that was still two weeks out.

I had the surgeon consult mid-December and returned for surgery on December 26. At the time of the surgery the lump had grown to the size of a bouncy ball you get in one of those quarter machines. In four weeks the cancer had doubled in size.

Four weeks isn’t a long time when you are waiting on a vacation, or for school to get out, or for your wedding day. Four weeks is an eternity when you are waiting on surgery to remove cancer from your body. Had I waited to get the lump looked at; had I accepted the timeline for the surgeon; things could have had a much different outcome. I caught it early. It seemed like the lump popped up overnight. My cancer was highly aggressive, but because of early detection the prognosis was good. I still had a very long journey…lumpectomy and lymph node dissection, six rounds of a four-drug chemotherapy cocktail (the first dose took 6.5 hours), two hospital stays (one in ICU after almost dying on my son’s graduation day), 36 radiation treatments, 16 doses of a maintenance drug, and recommended 10 years of tamoxifen (I did one year and ended up with a pulmonary embolism).

Even today, five years after I discovered the lump that changed my life, I still deal with long-term side effects of chemo and radiation. I forget what word I want to say sometimes. I can’t remember anything without writing it down. I still have to go to the oncologist every six months. I still get nervous before every mammogram. I am super-sensitive to changes in my body and there are days when I have to fight the urge to wonder if the cancer has returned. It would be so easy to live there, but I don’t want to. I refuse to let it have anymore of my life than what it’s already stolen.

I am not telling you this so you will feel sorry for me. I’m telling you this so you know how important early detection and yearly mammograms are. It could be the difference between life or death. I know mammograms are uncomfortable, but they sure beat having your port accessed every three weeks or having a sunburn from radiation. And they don’t hurt nearly as bad as radiation fibrosis in your shoulder four years after treatment.

Schedule your mammogram. Make time for self-care. Listen to me. Self-care isn’t selfish. Use your personal days for something that brings you joy. Go get a massage. Get your nails done. Take a weekend by yourself. Do it! You are beautiful and you are worth it.

Health, Uncategorized


Seems I’ve finally been still long enough for the sick germs to catch up with me. Not too shabby considering my weakened immune system and all of the snot I am around at work everyday. I was wondering when it would happen and how my body would react after having cancer.

That’s the thing about being a cancer survivor…you try to stay positive and put the battle behind you and move forward, but you are always wondering. Wondering if what you are experiencing is normal. Wondering when or if the recurrence will come. Wondering what people think of your new hairstyle. Wondering if strangers can tell you’ve had cancer. Wondering if they think you talk about it too much. Wondering if what you are eating is cancer-causing. Wondering when your fingernails and toenails will grow back or if they will always be brittle. Or if the numbness in your toes will ever go away. Wondering if you’ve forgotten something important because of the chemo brain. Or if people think you’re just using it to get out of doing something because you say you need to rest. You want so badly to put it out of your mind, but you can’t.

You can’t because it’s changed you forever. You are not the person you were before the diagnosis. No matter how much you try to “get your life back”, you won’t get it back because you are different. You’ve fought an enormous battle. You’ve faced trauma unimaginable. You’ve come back from death.

Your priorities are different.

Your perspective is different.

Your perception is different.

Not to mention that your physical body is also different. The chemo has killed off everything…the good and bad cells. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

Your emotions are different because the medicine has put you into menopause.

And sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes you long for the familiar. It’s not that the new normal is horrible, it’s just different and different is scary and leaves you wondering. You’re always wondering…




Mere Words

There are no mere words. In a world where words are so readily available, in print, online, streaming over a podcast, or blaring out of the TV or radio, there are no mere words.

If you’re like me, you have had more than enough of the words coming from election campaigns, yet they are still spewing forth. The candidates use words to attack and tear each other down. They use words to try to sway people to their side of the issue. Words are a strategy to gain votes. We know, of course, that most of them are lies and used solely to take the focus off of oneself and place it on the opponent.

Those are obviously negative words. But not all words are bad. People use them to communicate love and compassion. Words are used to teach, to advise, and to direct. They are used to praise, encourage, and comfort. They convey appreciation.

Words have meaning. They have a purpose. Good or bad. There are no mere words. They build up or tear down. Encourage or discourage. Comfort or cause distress. Heal or hurt. Bless or curse.

“Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21)

“Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:9-10)

Words are powerful. By them, God created the whole universe and everything in it. He spoke them into being. Likewise, our words have the power to speak things into being. I see this every day as a preschool teacher. I can say, “Don’t run” to a child and he continues to run. I can say, “You can use your safe feet in the classroom” and the child slows to a walk (usually). I am speaking that into existence. How many times have you heard someone say “ice cream” and not long after that you are craving it? Words have the power of suggestion. You can wake up in the morning and complain about being tired and all of the things that you have to do that day, and chances are, you’ll have a long day full of work. Or you can wake up in the morning and choose to say something positive and your day goes better. It’s the same day, but your attitude is different because you chose to speak the positive instead of the negative.

I lived this while I was going through chemo. There were so many days that I did not even have the strength to get out of bed. There were nights when I felt like I would not make it through. But I refused to complain. Why? Because I had the choice. Every day I had the choice to complain about the situation, and I would have been justified in that, but what good would it have done? It would have made me feel even worse. I chose instead to be positive. Our words follow our thoughts and our actions follow our words.

My challenge to you is, for the next few days, be mindful of the words that are coming out of your mouth. Evaluate them. Are they speaking life or bringing death? Are they building up or tearing down? Are they blessing or cursing? There is no in between. Words are not idle. Once they are released into the atmosphere, they are moving to accomplish their purpose. There are no mere words.

Health, Uncategorized

New Normal

It’s been a really long time since I have posted anything. In my defense, it’s been one heck of a year!

Around this time last year I found a lump in my breast and went to the doctor to have it checked out. He ordered a mammogram. The radiologist who read the mammogram ordered an ultrasound. After reading the ultrasound, he informed me that it needed a biopsy. I went for that in December and was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had the lumpectomy at the end of December, the port placement four weeks later, and started chemo the following week. I ended up in the hospital the first round because my insurance would not pay for the shot to keep my blood counts up. They had no problem paying for it after the four day hospital stay. J

I completed six rounds of chemo, ending up in the hospital again on the last round. The stuff nearly killed me. A month later I started radiation, every day for six-and-a-half weeks. I also returned to work during that time. I still have to have Herceptin infusions every three weeks and yesterday I started taking Tamoxifen. I’ve been slowly returning to “normal”. Whatever the new “normal” is.

I lost 23 lbs. during the cancer treatment. Not a great way to lose it, but a loss is a loss, right? Unfortunately, as I’ve started getting back to “normal”, I’ve gained most of it back. That is frustrating to me. I don’t want to gain it back. I don’t want to eat junk and be inactive. I don’t want to be at a higher risk of a cancer recurrence.

And then it hit me. I didn’t come back from the edge of death to live my way right back to it. I did not fight my way through death to live my way back to it. It’s time to make some changes.

When you think about it, there’s nothing that says the new “normal” has to be anything like the old one. And that doesn’t just go for me. It doesn’t just apply to someone who fought their way through cancer. It can apply to anyone who has gone through anything and is in a time of transition. A new job. A new living situation. A new whatever. Make the most of your second chance. I don’t know what that looks like for you. For me right now that means that I am starting a new lifestyle of clean eating and exercising. Embrace the opportunity for a new “normal”.