Monday, January 31, 2011

"Let Go and Let God"

I have heard the phrase, “Let go and let God”, throughout my life and being the kind of person who loves being in control, I never really thought much of it.  It isn’t an easy concept for me: to stop worrying, stop pushing myself, and just relax.  I have always felt the need to be productive to avoid falling behind.  Looking back, I realize that I have been so goal-oriented that I have never truly enjoyed each stage in my life because I was just so worried about getting to the next one.   There are moments that I will never get back.  But as of now, I want to live my life differently.  I feel that my cancer diagnosis has made me realize that no matter how prepared you are, worrying about the future doesn’t change what will happen and what is meant to be.  Some things really are beyond our control, as much as we wish that they were not.  But we shouldn’t feel that we have to handle everything by ourselves and fight every battle alone.  God wants us to trust in Him. The future is in His hands, and He will strengthen us when life gives us trials that are more than we can handle.  As I let go of all of the things that I used to think were important, I feel that a tremendous weight has been lifted off of me.  My only priorities right now are enjoying every moment of my life with the people that I love, and letting my body fight this disease and win.  I am going to slow down, and no longer become “burned out” pushing myself towards perfection at every single thing.  Even though I don’t understand why I was given cancer, I have faith that God has a perfect plan for my life and my job is to simply let Him use me for whatever purpose my life is meant to have.  I will open my heart to new ideas, ways of thinking, and opportunities.

In the midst of all of the chaos of the past few weeks, I was disappointed to realize that I will now have to postpone finishing grad school even longer.  My plan was to take as many classes as possible while I was on maternity leave, so that I could finish within a year and return to work with a master’s degree.  The timing of this will no longer be possible, but I’m okay with not having a plan for the future for the first time in my life.  I know that one day I would like to finish the second half of grad school, but I’m not even going to worry about it at this point, since I have other things to focus on. 

This is Emi, on her first day with us!
I have also come to the realization that as much as I’d like to “do it all” and be a full-time mommy while going through chemotherapy treatments… it hasn’t really been working.  It is so unpredictable how my body feels each day, and I need to feel comfortable knowing that Ryan will be well taken care of at all times.  Family and friends have been stopping by to help take care of Ryan when Barry is at work or I have to go to doctor appointments, but the fact is that we needed even more coverage than they could provide.  We were fortunate enough that even on such a short notice, we were able to find a well-experienced, highly recommended nanny, who began working with us today.  She is flexible, kind, and most importantly loves babies and Ryan seems to have adapted well to her.  She is available to spend the whole day with us while Barry is at work, but is also okay with only coming for a few hours on days that I am capable and feeling up to taking Ryan myself.  This gives me a chance to truly rest when I need it, but still spend as much time with my baby as possible.  It is an ideal situation for us, and we are so lucky to have found her.  

I think that things went well today.  Barry and I both feel relieved to know that we have some consistent help with everything going on.  I have three days left until my next chemo treatment, and I intend on making the most of them!

A Lot To Be Thankful For!

On January 14, just one week after being diagnosed, I was admitted into the hospital to have a series of tests done, a surgery to insert a port into my chest, and to have my first round of chemo. The port is needed so that they can access my veins easily for drawing blood and giving me medicines, fluid, etc. I honestly don’t remember much about being in the hospital, probably because of all the anesthesia, pain/nausea meds they had me on. I remember coming home and being very weak and sick for about 10 days. I think I experienced a different side effect each day. After that, I just felt extremely tired all of the time, with cold-like symptoms. (I think I actually caught a cold around that time). Although it is hard on my body, I keep reminding myself how fortunate I am to have the option of taking chemotherapy, because it will save my life. There are people everyday who wish that they could take chemotherapy, but it isn't an option for them.

I am so incredibly thankful to have such a supportive family and group of friends. We’ve had several people offer to help out by baby-sitting, bringing us food, or even just leaving me positive messages on my voicemail or email to let me know that they are thinking about me. I am so blessed to have friends that are sincere and encouraging, and really willing to go out of their way to help. My mom took such good care of me during those first days after chemo, I feel so loved and know that I will always be her “little girl”. Barry has gone above and beyond by going to work, running the household, and also taking care of Ryan when I am too sick. He is such a great dad and husband... Ryan and I are very lucky! All of this has truly given me a new perspective on life. I feel so glad for each day that I have, and I can really stop and appreciate all of those little moments that really matter. When I’m with Ryan, I have never felt more grateful and proud of anything in my life. I feel that I have fulfilled my most important goal: to become a mother! Seeing Ryan smile and laugh is what keeps me positive, even when I’m not feeling good. And he is such a happy baby! Although it is never a good time to get cancer, I am so thankful that this happened after Ryan was born (in case the chemo makes me unable to have children in the future, which is a possibility) but while he is still young enough that he won’t remember it and it hopefully won’t affect him. I am also thankful that this happened while my mom is here, giving me so much strength and motivation. There really is a lot to be thankful for, even during these hard times, and I think it is important to focus on the good things instead of the bad.

I'm excited right now because Ryan rolled all the way over, from his back to his tummy, on his own today! Yay Ryan!! Here he is tonight, having baby food for the first time! (green beans… yummy!)

Thank you, God, for blessing me with a loving husband who has patience with me and a healthy baby boy who is just full of his own little personality!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Diagnosis

Throughout the past few years, I have had two minor surgeries to remove several lumps from my breasts. They were all fibroadenomas, which are harmless and somewhat common for women in their early twenties. In February 2009, near the beginning of my pregnancy, I had a regular gyn checkup and there were no lumps; everything checked out normal. I was told that during pregnancy, my breasts may become large, tender, and more lumpy, as they were preparing milk production for nursing the baby. In June, I noticed the difference in my breasts, including a small lump. I figured that it was just preparation for nursing, or possibly another fibroadenoma that I would have to have removed again, once the baby was born. (I didn’t want to put the baby at risk using general anesthesia to have it removed while I was still pregnant.) When my baby was born, I nursed for a short amount of time, but noticed that the small lump had now turned into a larger lump. I decided that I just wanted it taken out, like all of the other fibroadenomas, just to be on the safe side. I just don’t like anything in my body that isn’t supposed to be there, harmless or not.

It took a while to get an appointment with the surgeon, because I first needed a note from my obgyn, then an ultrasound, and then there was a problem with my insurance covering the surgeon that I had always used before. I was finally able to set up an appointment with a different surgeon in November. The surgeon recommended that I wait a few more months and see if it shrinks, because it could be a lactating adenoma from the pregnancy. But I didn’t want to wait. I insisted on having it removed immediately. The surgeon finally agreed to do the surgery, but telling me that he was 99.9% sure that it was either a lactating adenoma or a fibroadenoma. Because, after all, breast cancer is “so rare” in someone my age. hmm.. really? After the lumpectomy surgery, I got THE phone call that changed everything. It was malignant: breast cancer. I would have to go see an oncologist to have more tests done and to talk about treatment options.

Those days are just a blur in my mind now, as I was in total shock for a while and then had nonstop panic attacks. I couldn’t have got through those early days without the support of my mom and my husband. I decided that I wanted to use my mom’s oncologist, Dr. R. who is amazingly intelligent, and warm and loving towards her patients at the same time. I already knew all of the staff in her office, because of the times that I have taken my mom there for her treatments. I am thankful to have an oncologist that I am already comfortable going to.

Dr. R. explained to me that I have a “triple negative poorly differentiated invasive ductal carcinoma”. Invasive means that the cancer was not contained, but had invaded some of the other breast tissue. My PET scan showed that there was no metastasis (spreading) to other organs in my body. This was some of the best news that we could have heard! It puts me at a stage 2. However, the tumor itself is very aggressive, grade 3, which means it grows and spreads very quickly. Usually, the younger that someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, the more aggressive the tumor is. Triple negative is a very aggressive type of breast cancer that does not respond to hormone therapy. This means that the breast cancer did not develop because of an over abundance of estrogen or progesterone. (So it wasn’t the pregnancy hormones that caused it). They don’t know what causes triple negative breast cancer, but a lot of research is currently being done on it to learn more about it. The only treatment so far that has been proven to be effective is chemotherapy.

For my treatment plan, I will be doing 4 months of the TAC chemotherapy regimen. This involves the drugs Taxotere, Adriamycin (the “red devil”), and Cytoxan. They are very intense, powerful drugs with bad side effects, but they are necessary to fight aggressively. Although the cancer tumor is technically out of me, there are still tiny microscopic cells left behind in my body that need to be zapped with the chemo. I am choosing to be as aggressive as possible with fighting this cancer, because I don’t want to just be treated, I want to be cured! For this reason, I am seriously considering a double mastectomy with reconstruction in the future. Once I beat this, I don’t ever want it to come back. In a few weeks, we will probably meet with the surgeons in Georgetown to discuss my options. I know that they won’t operate until at least 4 weeks after my chemotherapy is over. So if I do opt for a surgery, it probably wouldn’t happen until June or July. There is a chance in the future that I might also need radiation, depending on if I have cancer positive lymph nodes or not. (They won’t know this until they operate.) After that, I would need regular shots/medicines and check-ups for 5 years to try to prevent a reoccurrence. I am so determined to beat this and become a survivor… I won’t let cancer take away my wonderful, perfect life with my husband and son. NO WAY!!! I love my life and if this is what I have to do to keep it, then I will!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

But This Can't Be Real

When you hear that you have cancer, the world stops. It feels like you are suddenly thrown into some kind of parallel universe where you aren’t really “you” and nothing makes sense no matter how hard you try to understand it. Its like you are just going along with your everyday life, never knowing any different, and then the world unexpectedly crashes down on you so hard that you can’t even remember what “normal” is supposed to feel like. You stop doing the things that you enjoyed. I don’t even recognize the girl that I was three weeks ago. I still wake up from nightmares every day, but now I’m so much more scared of reality that I wish that I could just go back into the “bad dream” instead of having to face life.

For the past two years, my mom (who I am very close with) has been battling stage 4 colon cancer and she has been fighting so hard for all of us. She has put herself through every kind of treatment offered, never giving up, even when the pain and side effects became unbearable. She has been so strong and amazing! It took all the strength I had to watch the woman I love and admire go through this, trying give her all of the support I could. I know that seeing me happy makes her happy, so I was determined to be positive and loving life because I know that is what she wants for me. I put myself in denial about her cancer, and convinced myself that she was going to be just fine and that she would always be here with me. That was the only way I could think about it to get by.

Now we both have cancer. You just don’t expect to get cancer at the same time as your mom, especially when you’re only 26 years old and she is only 53. Everyone tells me that we are both “too young for cancer”. But I guess cancer doesn’t discriminate, and that statistics don’t really mean anything. They say that it is genetic. I did have a grandfather and two great aunts with cancer. But I still didn’t think that it would happen to me. I’ve had a healthy lifestyle, eating right and exercising. I never smoked or did anything that they say “might” cause cancer. But for some reason, this was meant to happen in my life at this time. I’m working on finding acceptance and a way to cope with everything.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeramiah 29:11

Dear God, I pray for peace in my heart. Please prepare me mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically for overcoming this obstacle in my life. I pray that you continue to give my mom the strength to heal from her liver radiation procedure, so that she can come home from the hospital and not be in pain anymore.

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