Uncategorized

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.

Cancer, Survivorship, Uncategorized

The Finish Line

I crossed the finish line today. This past year’s journey has been a long, grueling marathon. There were hills and valleys, there was scorching heat and cold rains. The wind tried to knock me off course several times. But today I crossed the finish line.

I’m not a runner by any stretch of the imagination. I like the thought of it. I’ve started the couch to 5k plan a few times, but never gotten past the second week. So I don’t know what a runner feels when they cross the finish line in a long race. I imagine there is elation. I would think there would be a sense of accomplishment. Pride. A need to celebrate the victory. And then a crash from exhaustion. That’s exactly how I feel after finishing the year-long battle. I’m elated that I won. I feel proud that I made it through everything I’ve gone through this year. It is true that you don’t know how strong you are until you are tested.

There were so many times I wondered if I’d ever cross the finish line. There were nights when I wasn’t even sure the finish line was real. And then I could see the finish line, but didn’t seem to be moving toward it with any amount of speed at all. But I finally crossed it today.

And I feel tired. I feel like I can finally let my defenses down and just rest. Pretty sure I hear a beach somewhere calling my name….

~Sondra

Health, Uncategorized

Wondering

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…

-Sondra

 

Faith

It Is Well

I’ve done a lot of reflecting the past couple of weeks. I don’t know why, exactly, that it is happening now. Maybe it’s the new medication. Maybe it’s a survivor thing. It could be a combination of both, I’m not really sure.

What I do know is that when I look back over this past year, it’s hard to believe that it happened. Some days it feels like a really bad dream that went on and on forever. I know it wasn’t a dream because the scars are there and I still have this foreign object known as a port protruding from my chest. But it doesn’t seem real when I look back. Or maybe it’s real, but it doesn’t seem like it was me. Like one of those dreams when you feel like you are hovering overhead, watching yourself. Maybe that’s what it feels like. Like I watched it happen to someone else.

But I know that it happened to me because I can see the effects. Cancer changes you. The treatment does things to your body, of course, but the cancer experience changes your whole being. I read a quote today that said, “Sometimes God allows you to face Goliaths in your life so you can find the David within.” Everything happens for a reason, and sometimes that reason is to make you stronger. Or show you that you are strong when you thought that you weren’t. I read a book in the midst of my journey called, “Stronger” by Clayton King. I recommend it.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QMSCICM/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Before cancer, I was a wimp. The least little thing went wrong and I was whining, sometimes to God, sometimes to a friend, but I was whining nonetheless. I thought tiny inconveniences were the end of the world as we knew it. After cancer, I’ve learned to stand and say, “It is well.” Storms and hard times and inconveniences are going to come into our lives, but we can trust God through the storm. Sometimes He calms the storm, but sometimes He calms His child in the midst of the storm. He didn’t calm my storm. I went through the whole process and it was hard. There were nights I thought I was going to die and there were a few when I wanted to. I prayed for healing every day, but trusted that if healing didn’t come, God was still in charge and He had a bigger plan.

I think that’s the hardest part about storms. Trusting God no matter what. We have no problem trusting Him for healing or deliverance out of the storm. That’s what we want to happen. We want the easy way out. Trusting God through it is another matter, but I can promise you from experience that the same God who heals and delivers is the same God who holds us for the duration. To quote a Casting Crowns song that got me through some difficult days, “When you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away, you’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held. Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place. I’m on the throne, stop holding on, and just be held.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIZitK6_IMQ

I can’t tell you why we go through things. I know that God has a plan, but sometimes it’s hard to see what that plan is. What I can tell you is that it is well. It might not feel like it right now, but it is well. It might not sound like it right now, but it is well. It might not look like it right now, but It. Is. Well.