Friday, December 30, 2011

I'm Not Allowed to Shower.....Again

If I didn't know better (and actually, I don't really) I'd say Koreans have something against combining people and water. After my surgery I went a whole month without showering. No doctor would give me the okay to get under a stream of water. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't have been the case in Canada. Now, again, I'm not allowed to shower. This time it is to preserve three "x"s that have been drawn on me which will guide my radiation. They are covered in some plastic film so I might risk it anyway. I can't decide how seriously I should take the showering ban. I mean, these markings are pretty important but they also took about 10 minutes to draw them so I'm sure they can be redone if needs be. The other reality is that, when you have no hair, you don't feel nearly as dirty when you don't shower.

Anyway, I should be getting some tattoos on the 3rd and after that I can shower. Those marks won't be washing off. I'm surprised how low these crosses are. I figured they would be up near the girls but one is about 2 inches north of my belly button and the other two are either four inches to the left or right of that one. Now, I know I'm no expert but these seem all wrong to me. I've decided I'm going to be that annoying woman who thinks she knows better than her expert doctors and ask about it on the 3rd when I have my simulation. I'm going to be so popular at the hospital, I can already tell!

The CT scan so far has been my absolute favorite. It required no needles and it took all of 5 minutes. It was a little weird hanging out with my girls out while 4 Korean men sat on the other side of a window staring. I'm sure it's not everyday that they see a white lade with her bits all exposed so I get the interest. Plus, let's just call a spade a spade shall we: I've got way bigger guns that your average Korean lady. It's my gift and curse.

In my case, I had to lay topless on the scan bed with my arm in a brace above my head. This is the way I suspect I will spend about 1 minute every weekday for the next 6.5 weeks. It isn't terribly comfortable but the arm rest/brace thing is quite helpful in maintaining the position, so there's that. After getting into position I was carefully adjusted by two techs. And I do mean carefully. I was shoved and pulled millimeters one way or another until I was in the correct place. Then the really weird part started. Well, the second really weird part - the first weird part was when the male tech undid my pants and hooked my left hand into my underwear. I guess to keep me in place? The things that happen when you don't speak the language; people just take charge of the situation instead of trying to explain to you want they want you to do.

A male and a female tech started taping wire around my boob. I guess this shows up on the xray and helps to determine what the boundaries of my radiation field should be. I'm only guessing since I really have no idea. Maybe the real story is they have some back room competition to see who can get the biggest boob metal circle each week. If that is the case, I'm sure my techs were the winners. This day will probably live in infamy for them. They'll talk about it for years to come - that one "megook" with the rack!

I digress....the whole point is if this circle will be the extent of the field (and I hope it is) this is why the "X" markings seem so weird - they are nowhere near the field and I really hope the radiation isn't going to be heading down into my abdomen. Once they got the metal circle tapped, into the machine for me. I was all prepared to have to lay there for half an hour but in total I was probably in the machine for 3 minutes. All that deep breathing and relaxation, for nothing!

After that, all that was left was to get dressed and go home. So I did. And now I'm at home, not showering (but thinking about it).

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

I've never been one to shy away from birthdays. Turning 30 didn't freak me out, like it does for others I have heard of. I know for certain now that I will never, ever dread the rolling over of another year on my life's calendar. The day you stop getting older is the day you die and I'm certainly no fan of that option.

Today I turn 31. I'm turning 31 in a context that I did not expect at this time last year, that's for sure. Whether I knew it then or not, I still had cancer, so I'm glad to be the enlightened individual I am today. I'm also glad to say that this is the first birthday, in recent years anyway, where I am cancer free! Who knows how long Ethel had been lurking around but I'm glad to know she's been kicked to the curb. I'm also EXTREMELY glad to report that chemotherapy is no longer a thing I'm "doing". It is also in the past. Now, I can only hope that it will remain there for ever more. I have no desire to repeat that little diddy - let me tell you.

We had to make another trip to the hospital this round for some symptom management and I'm now one of those people who cries when they enter certain rooms. Those rooms are the chemo delivery rooms. I wasn't even there to get chemo, just shots to help me feel better and I was crying. And let me tell you, it was UGLY crying. Since I have no nose hairs, my nose was a faucet. Bless Paul, he had to actually catch snot with his hands. If that isn't love, that I just don't know what it. Why do I always talk about Paul and boogers? This is totally a theme, but hopefully one that will end when my nose hairs grow back.

In part, the crying was because they blew my viens again so it was a fairly uncomfortable experience (in addition to my already being fairly uncomfortable). It's also because I'm a straight-up baby! This time the nurse blew two veins in total. From what I can tell, this chemo is rough on my veins and they are starting to resent having needles put into them. I've got two nice sized bruises to show for my efforts though. Although I don't really speak Korean I'm pretty sure I understood the sentiment when I showed up at the injection room and my nurse semi-freaked out; she too remembered how hard it had been to find a vein the last time. In the end she wasn't all that successful in getting the meds into my vein but this isn't such a big deal. With chemo it is extremely important that the chemo not go anywhere but the vien - they mess that up and you can be looking at plastic surgery to reconstruct the tissue. So of the two sets of needles this week, I'm rather grateful that the chemo ended up in the right place!

Anyway, the whole point it, I'm glad to be turing another year older. I'm grateful to be doing it while on the road to recovery and during a time when a full recovery is indeed possible. Before chemo this week we met with my surgeon and my radio-oncologist. I will have 6 and a half weeks of radiation starting on January 4th, In between now and then I have some tests and some tattoos to get done. I also will start Tamoxifen, which I am anxious to get started. The sooner I start it, the sooner 5 years of it will be over. I promise a full report following my next meeting with the people in the know - which is December 29th.

So this year, I'll celebrate my birthday with Eggs Benedicts, a trip to the Dog Cafe and the hope that the new year will bring relatively side effect free radiation.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Luck, In Perspective

I found out yesterday that someone I know recently passed away from breast cancer. She was young, like me. Obviously, this is the kind of news that causes me to do a lot of reflecting and dwelling. While it is hard to stop yourself from drawing comparisons and conclusions, the reality is I don't really know anything about her cancer - meaning, I should really stop trying to glean any wisdom from her story. That is so much easier to say than it is to do.

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't spent some time over the past 5 months thinking about luck. Yesterday and today as I've been thinking about this woman and my own relationship with cancer, I reflected on my luck. It's true that I don't feel particularly lucky to have gotten cancer but it also true that I try not to dwell on that too much. It certainly doesn't help me feel any better. Instead, I've been trying to think about all the ways that I have been lucky.

I could recount them here, but I won't. I tried and it quickly descended into pretty sappy stuff. The truth is, in many ways, a lot of the stuff that is great about my life (and there is a lot of stuff) has very little to do with the choices I've made and everything to do with chance and luck. I just happened to be born to amazing parents (who also created a pretty terrific sister). I just happened to be at the right place at the right time to meet most of my friends (who are great, by the way), and definitely to meet my husband. I've never known poverty or violence, I've had every opportunity to go to school, to travel, to play sports.

The reality is that of the 6 billion people on the planet, I'm luckier than probably 5.5 billion of them. Of course, I just made that statistic up but I'm fairly confident that it is close to accurate. Whenever I get too upset about the hand that I've been dealt I try to think about all of the amazing and positive things that have come both before and after my diagnosis. In fact, I used to think about my luck in a karmic sense. I mean, I've always been a worrier, so you can add some grains of salt to what I'm about to say but it always seemed to me that I had been too lucky. It is rare to find a person who has not dealt with adversity and honestly, my life leading up to my diagnosis had been pretty easy. So maybe this is just the universe's way of balancing the scales. Or teaching me the value in reflecting on just how lucky I have been. My rational self says that isn't the case at all but my irrational self has to wonder.

Either way, I still think the scales are tipped in my favour. Not that I mind. Regardless, there is not a more perfect time to reflect on all of the gifts you've been given in your life. So, in case I don't see you until after the holidays I wish you all a Merry Christmas and urge you to take a few seconds to think about all the luck you have this holiday season.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I'm Back

I really wanted the title of this blog to be "The Bitch is Back" but then I got thinking that people's moms read this and while I can work it into a paragraph, I'm not so cool with it being the story lead. Sorry moms! Anyway, the whole point is the last entry was a downer (because I was down) but I am feeling much better. I mean, yes, I did still cry into Paul's back last night while we were going to sleep (I was having a hard time not thinking about the day I got THE NEWS) but all in all, I really do feel a lot better. Hence, the bitch (me) is back. And I mean that in the "I'm super tough, can roll with the punches, cool lady" kind of way, not the way you say it about women who are so outrageously mean you can hardly stand to be in the same room as them.

The good news is that even when chemo sucks, and boy can it suck, the sucking usually only lasts for a week. In the future, I'm also not going to tough it out and hope that it gets better. I will be going back to the hospital ASAP to get more drugs. I had to do that this last round but I waited until Friday. When I finally dragged my ass in, they gave me another burning anus shot (still burns upon application, by the way) and two other bags of stuff. I think they were more steroids and some vitamin B. It was a rough 3 hours in which I basically begged Paul to let me rip the IV out every 5-10 minutes so we could go home. I could tell he was frustrated, since the whole reason we came was for me to feel better, but I just couldn't get comfortable. God bless him, he didn't complain but instead reminded me, repeatedly, that the whole point of the trip was so I could feel better. Some of the discomfort at the hospital was definitely physical, see the photo below, but some was also mental. The brain is a funny thing and mine is beginning to hate hospitals. Next time, I'm asking for the Ativan upfront.

As you can see, they blew the vein, which might help explain some of the discomfort. I'm sure my intense fidgeting didn't help anything. In fact, I know it didn't. I was such a spectacle and I'm already a spectacle - the last thing Korean's expect in their injection room are a pair of foreigners, one of whom is bald. No, wait, we're both bald but I think Paul is a less shocking bald person.

The crazy thing is that the bruise is 11 days old. I took that picture this morning. I can tell that chemo is working because I really don't heal quickly at all. In my glory days, I think the bruise would have been mostly resolved in seven days. I've noticed it with cuts as well. I guess that is a good thing - the chemo is doing what it is supposed to. If my totally healthy cells, of which there are many, many more, are having a hard time rebuilding I can't think that any remaining cancer cells are having much luck.

In other chemo related updates, I've noticed two other weird things:

1) All of my nails are growing in a slightly purple colour. I have a line on each one about 5 mm up from the cuticle where the purple ends and the pink nail returns. It isn't super noticeable, I just look like I have cold fingers, but it is definitely there. Once this chemo business is over, I think I'm going to have to start rocking the nail polish until the nails grow out. I've tried taking pictures but they are all blurry and I can't be bothered to go find the good camera. Just trust me.

2) Hairs inside your nose are very nice to have in winter. I miss mine. My nose runs all the time now. At first I was worried I might be sick but since this is the only symptom I've had for about five weeks, I'm pretty sure it is not an illness. I wonder how long those will take to grow back? I also wonder how long it will take me to learn to always carry tissue! I had to borrow Paul's USED tissue yesterday when we were out walking. I know, I'm disgusting. Seriously! I think if he had known I would have accepted it, he never would have offered it. Ha! I'll show him. I also did a "farmer's blow" at one point and I know he felt truly glad that we were married. (In my defence, it was in a dark side street/alley area and no one was around. Is that an acceptable defence? I don't know. Don't judge me!).

Monday, December 5, 2011

I'm Having a Pity Party and You're All Invited

This last round of chemo has been the pits. I'm dreading round 4. I suppose the silver lining is, round 4 is also the last round. In my current state of self-pity, this is of little consolation. I have to do this again. And in even suckier news, I have to do this again, 5 days before Christmas. I love Christmas. However, I suspect I will not love this Christmas.

What I really want is to be at home surrounded by family and friends, eating too much, worrying about gaining weight, fretting about how cold it is, looking at a pretty tree and petting well loved but occasionally badly behaved dogs. What we want isn't always what happens. This year has made that monumentally true for me. I hope you will forgive this moment of extreme self pity. I know its rather pathetic, but there you have it.

In more optimistic news, I will ring in the New Year being done chemo. I will only have radiation and hormone therapy ahead of me. Although I gather there can be some less than nice side effects from those, they seem not to be as bad as the ones typically associated with chemo. At least, not with the amount of radiation I suspect am going to be getting. I will also ring in the New Year continuing to try and be as positive about this whole situation as I am capable. There aren't many things you can have a choice in when it comes to cancer; one of the few is how you choose to talk about and deal with cancer. I'll be the first to admit these days I've been failing on the "being positive" and "taking it in stride" front but in general, I've tried to stay as light hearted as one can about something as unfunny as cancer. I will attempt to return to that status soon, in the meantime, pretend I just said something funny instead of three paragraphs of complaining.

I guess the other good news is despite occasionally still feeling nauseous, I know I am well on my way to better. Not better enough to hit the gym tonight, but there is always tomorrow. Well enough to eat some candy though, so there's that! AND I didn't even have a nap today. Look at me, I'm all grown up!

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Everybody, hold on to yer' butts"

So, I'm about to abandon whatever modesty, dignity and shame I have left to tell you about today's chemo appointment. Why? Well, because what happened today was pretty funny. And also because I can't just talk about the glamorous sides of chemo, like not having to shave my legs or getting to wear hats inside. I also have to talk about the dirty little secrets of chemo....

The deal with chemo is, it is cumulative. What didn't bother you in round 1 might in any other round. So far, my side effects have remained pretty similar. The first and second times I had chemo administered, the nurses warned about the burning anus shot. I laughed because I am a 12 year old boy and anuses are funny but I didn't actually have any repercussions. Well, my friends, that time is over. Oddly enough, today's nurse did not say a thing - perhaps she inadvertently jinxed me. I wasn't looking at the chemo injection (recall the "no look" policy) but all of the sudden I was on a ring of fire. I literally shot out of my seat. Well, levitated, since I was still getting pretty toxic stuff shot into my arm. Paul sort of freaked out and asked me what was wrong, to which I replied "They weren't kidding about that burning anus shot." His response "Seriously! They just gave you that 10 seconds ago." I guess this is why people progress to IV drug use. I cannot believe how quickly the stuff they put in your veins goes everywhere, and by everywhere, I mean to your bum. I said some swear words, and at that point realized just how much English the Korean nurse spoke, as she chuckled a bit. All in all it calmed down in about 5 minutes. Before they were done the treatment anyway. I'm hoping this isn't the sort of side effect that returns later on.

Also, what the hell kind of side effect is that? I know the drug is meant to help with nausea but honestly what the hell is it doing wreaking havoc on my exit bits. I probably don't actually want to know why or how it does what it does. Anyway, if you see my sense of shame, let it know I'm looking for it.

Other than that snafu, the treatment went well. I'm becoming an old pro, as this marks the first treatment that did not involve me crying. My oncologist said I am an excellent patient and handling the treatments well and living my life (as though there is an option not too! That is why I'm doing this in the first place). She also had a good laugh when I asked if I could or should take red ginseng. Her actual response: "Are you Korean?" You see, Koreans believe in the healing power of red ginseng. I am constantly being told by the ladies at work that I should take it. While I'm open to trying new things, I'm also not too keen on putting semi-medicinal herbs into my body without my doctor's say so. She said I should wait until I am done with chemo so it's good I checked.

In parting, I will leave you with a picture from our most recent Embassy event. The new Ambassador hosted a "Happy Hour" and asked everyone to dress in red and blue. The ladies I worked with decided we should take it to the next level. I don't think they anticipated my finding the kind of ridiculous hair bows I did (you can get ANYTHING in Namdaemun) but they were good sports. Most exciting for me: I wore a blue wig. The Koreans at the Embassy LOVED it. People I don't even talk to wanted to get their picture taken with me. I felt a little like a celebrity. I actually quite like this blue hair, I'll have to wear it again.

Also, as I'm sure you have noted: I am a giant here. My sister must come so we can walk the streets and blow peoples' minds.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Playing the "It Could be Worse" Game

Cancer gives you a lot of time to reflect. If, like me, you are prone to freaking out about your potential sooner-than-expected demise (and you all should be - I'm awesome) you spend a lot of time rationalizing. One of the most effective ways to do this is to think about all the ways that it could be worse. I do this a lot. Turns out, it helps. It provides perspective.

Does getting a cancer diagnosis suck? Why, yes, yes it does.

Is it worse than getting eaten by a shark? No, not really.

See, we're all feeling better.

The weird thing is, I know that I am now in one of those situations that people look to when they play the "it could be worse game." I imagine there are some inner monologues out there that look a lot like this: "Yeah, I have a really terrible boss that I totally despise, but at least I don't have cancer like Laura". I actually don't mind at all. If I can help anyone to feel better about whatever crappy is going on in their life at that exact moment, I'm happy to do that. There should be some upside to cancer, and if the upside happens to be you don't have it, all the more power to you.

The thing I don't like is how people feel they can't complain to me anymore. People! I love complaining. It's akin to gossip - which I also love! But now during conversations individuals are always apologizing and saying things like "I shouldn't even be saying this to you, it's nothing compared to what you have to deal with." Well, I'm here to set the record straight: I still care about what is happening with other people. If I'm being perfectly honest, it would be true to say that I might care more about myself these days than I would normally, but that doesn't mean I don't want to hear about how you have to pay a parking ticket even though you were only 5 minutes late getting to the car. Meaning, you can still complain to me about stuff, even stuff that you feel is trivial because I still give a damn.

Laura, giving a damn since 1980.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Second Verse, Same as the First, a Little Bit Louder and a Little Bit Worse

So I am now seven days out from round 2 of chemo. At this point, I would like to award gold stars to anyone who has ever done more than 4 sessions of chemo. I feel like I got off so lucky comparatively since I only have to do this 4 times. As my loved ones are fond of reminding me, this is short term pain for long term gain and in truth, the pain part is relatively minor. Chemo is not painful. Chemo is, however, a pain in the ass. I'm sure a lot of it is mental. I have always tried to be relatively pious about what I put in my body. I eat well, I drink almost exclusively in extreme moderation, I don't take illicit substances, heck I don't even usually take tylenol. My body is a temple....blah blah get the picture. This mantra is quite antithetical to willingly having poison shot into your system. I've struggled with knowing that the cure is also terrible for you and worry about the unintended consequences and side effects of this decision. I also know that had I not opted for chemo I would have regretted that decision as well. Sometimes the grass is just yellow on both sides of the fence. People should really stop peeing all over the grass.

However, for all that talk of poison, I do know that chemo has come a long way. It isn't nearly so toxic or hard to handle as it once was. And it is completely doable.

I'm sure you are all wondering what chemo really feels like. I wish I could adequately describe it. It is like the flu, only different. It is a more ominous flu, if only because you know what the symptoms really mean. In my case it has also meant crazy heartburn. I never knew what a true suckfest heartburn could be. I would like to apologize to anyone for whom I have not appropriately empathized over this problem. It sucks. I get it now. I'm sorry you have to deal with this for a longer term than the one week stints I've had to cause it is no picnic.

Chemo continues to mean a lot of napping - in the early days I was aiming for at least 2 a day. I like to aim high. Unfortunately, this round chemo has also meant more moping. Depression is another on the long list of potential side effects of chemo. Although, I have to wonder how much that one is chemo related and how much is just the fact that the whole situation kind of sucks. You would have to be a special sort of Pollyanna to run through chemo with smiles and rainbows and lemon drops everywhere. I am not that sort of Pollyanna. Baldness does not bring out my better side.

What does bring out my better side is taking my medication on time, as prescribed. Turns out all those pills they make you take actually do work. And I don't like what happens to me when I forget to take them and they stop doing their jobs. Let's just say that Saturday was not my finest day and part of it may have been spent sitting on Paul, crying. It was sort of like visiting a bald, beardless, very handsome Santa who can't grant you any wishes. Tis the season!

However, I feel that I have turned a corner and the worst of round 2 is behind me. I worked today, I'm still awake, I just ate salsa and it is only mildly burning my throat. Wins all around! By the end of the week I should be in fine form (except for the pesky not having any white blood cells and being vulnerable to illness bit, but that was a breeze last time!). We're nearly half way there team.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A New Normal

I've sat down to write this blog entry three times. I've been working on it in my head as well. I want this to be a funny entry, because there is some humor to losing your hair. The other side of that coin is the sadness. Sad that I even got cancer. Sad that I have to deal with chemo. Sad that I'm dealing with chemo in an era where it still means you lose all your hair. Sad that I am losing my hair. I've always been a bit vain about my hair. I have really nice hair. I get told this all the time. In fact, a man in Fiji once told me it was my one beauty. I am exactly like Jo from Little Women (that one is for you Jane).

Baldness is not something I ever thought would be a part of my life and certainly not at 30. However, I have had to and will continue to face some hard truths in the coming weeks and years and one of them is this: for the near future, I will be bald, and I mean "Mr. Clean" Bald.

I had been hoping to get a few more days out of my hair but on Saturday it became apparent that I was in denial. From the beginning I told Paul that he might need to be the voice of reason when it came to my hair. While I didn't want to shave my head, I also didn't want to be that lady whose hair looks TERRIBLE but no one has the heart to tell her. Besides, what had started as a hair loss trickle had turned into a mass exodus. You could literally grab handfuls of my hair.

So after a few tears and some self pity we busted out the clippers. As luck would have it, Paul is rather an expert at shaving heads. First step - create a Mohawk (or as my Mohawk friend would say, a fauhawk - he firmly believes the only real Mohawks are the ones on top of Mohwak people). I digress... here, look at me:

Then Paul did this to my head:

Frankly, I don't think I've ever looked better. But I worried about how people at work might react. So, off with the rest. Before the great unveiling I would like to point out a few things about being bald.

1. I can NOT stop touching and rubbing my head. Or picking out the remaining hairs.
2. Hair is an excellent insulator. My head is cold all the time now. I'm slowly working my way up to full time baldness but usually I'm rocking a scarf or hat. In part because I get stared at less when the dome is covered but also because it would be damn cold not to.
3. I think I can handle 6 months of this, but I'm hoping my hair comes back in faster than that.

Now, for the new bald Laura:

I think that this looks okay. I'm not saying I want to commit to this as a real hair style or anything, but I can rock the bald look. Well, mostly. And now, in parting, because no hair loss blog entry would be complete without a fake moustache picture, I give you....The Three Luigis!

Friday, October 28, 2011


I met with the Oncologist again today. This was a check-in sort of check-up, I think. She asked me how I was feeling and I told her "pretty good" and she asked again like she didn't believe me. Then she told me she didn't think I looked that good. I guess in the future I will have to wear make up to these meetings. I don't know, maybe this was the first time I haven't. I can't really remember. Anyway, I told her as much, and she laughed. She followed up by saying my colour was good and that I just looked very tired, so there's that.

I'm a "take it or leave it" make up kind of gal. Sure, I like it but I don't feel like I have to be wearing some in order to leave the house or anything. I'll go to work without any on. I suspect that is really going to change in the next few months. I'll probably become one of those women who refuses to leave the house without it. Probably because if I do, I'll also be leaving without signs of eyebrows or eyelashes and that will look weird.

Anyway, they took some blood (hence the blog title) and then counted bits in it. As expected my white blood cell count is very low. She said I should stay in the house all weekend. Doesn't she know that I have TWO parties this weekend? Of all the damn weekends! I am not one of those people with a calendar full of parties- we go to parties about once a month. Of all the times! I pretty much told her this and she said she wasn't going to prohibit me from going but that I had to be very careful.

How does one even go about being very careful at a party? This isn't the hood - the joint is not going to get shot up. I've interpreted "being careful" to mean the following:

1) I should not do the cheek kissing thing that diplomats love. However, I don't know how to stop people from doing this to me since it is the only acceptable greeting here for women. Maybe if I wear a face mask? Or just awkwardly wave at people. This one requires a bit more planning.

2) I should not "try this" from peoples' plates or glasses. This will be easier. I'll just say no.

3) My oncologist mimed me being very reserved. Like I should wear a cardigan and wrap it tightly around myself (she actually did this with her Doctor lab coat) and stay in the corner and not talk to anyone at the party and just observe other people having fun. I'm definitely not doing this one. Well, if I get to go. Paul seems about ready to dig in his heels and make us stay home.

She did also say that while my white blood cell count is terrible for an average person, it's quite excellent for someone going through chemo. She probably shouldn't have told me this because it makes me rationalize going out when it might be wiser to stay at home. Also factoring into my decision - the belief that this will be the last weekend I have a reasonable head of hair. People should at least see this adorable cut before it is all on my pillow and in my shower drain.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Blog is About to Get Mighty Boring....

Which I suppose, all told, is a good thing. I say this because so far chemo has been pretty uneventful. Here, take a look at my symptoms:

Day 1 & 2
- trouble swallowing
- a LOT of hiccups
- a teensy bit of nausea and fatigue

Day 3 & 4
- less of the first two above
- more nausea and fatigue
- weird, dry eyes

Day 5 - 7
- I cannot stay awake for more than 3 hours at a time. I have 3 hour naps and then 3 hours later, I go to bed for 11 hours.

Day 8
A miracle! I am awake for 15 hours in a row. I have a shower! We leave the house! I buy a fake head to store my new wig on for 10 bucks! I show my mom the dog cafe and have a cafe latte! I eat spicy food (which initially I thought was a HUGE mistake but then turns out to be okay - thank you McDonald's Sundae and latish night walk)!

I don't know if it is the fact that the chemo must mostly be out of my system by now, or the fact that I am finally off the insane number of pills I am required to take after chemo but I feel almost normal again. I wasn't able to complete the week at work - it was just way too much - but they are open to being flexible which I deeply appreciate. Any way you look at it, chemo week 1 has been a success. Hurrah! Now only 11 more to go. Le sigh.

In other crappy, crappy news, we've had to give Hogan up, at least for now and probably forever. Once we got him home and after the initial honeymoon phase where he didn't freak out every time we left the house, we discovered his SEVERE separation anxiety. It escalated over the week but it all culminated in him breaking into our kitchen and eating enough chocolate to kill himself. We got to him in time and rushed him to the vet, so he lived. But even they commented on how they were unable to leave him in a recovery room by himself. When we went back that night to see him he was in the reception room on an IV as they couldn't leave him alone. Because we are not in a position to have a dog that we can't ever leave alone, and because we have a house that despite our best attempts to puppy proof he is still managing to break into rooms he shouldn't, we've opted to send him to boarding kennel where a guy will work with him for a month. We're looking for a new home for him and at the same time, hoping this guy can help get the anxiety under control. So, if anyone out there wants an amazing companion (we think he is a Belgian Malinois from a working line, so do your research before you commit - these dogs, while intelligent and amazing, are an insane amount of work. Had we been told this prior to fostering him we wouldn't have brought him home.) please let us know. He really is sweet, just extremely co-dependent. Like, more co-dependent than me and that is saying something.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Chemo Cut

Well folks, I took the plunge. Last night mom and I ventured out to Hongdae to surrender my 2 feet of hair. Okay, I'm not exactly sure that it was 2 feet but 18 inches at least. Here is the result, in the salon:

You will probably notice that I look tired. That is because I am tired. For those of you thinking of undertaking a course of chemo as say, an alternative to shaving your legs, let me advise against it. It won't kill you, but it isn't what I would call a "fun time". Although I am admittedly in the midst of a pity party, mostly to due to the fact that I'm not looking forward to feeling sick for the next 3 months, it isn't actually the worst thing ever. It is doable. I hope to NEVER, EVER do this again, but it is doable.

Anyway, all that whining aside, here is a pic from today. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to style this myself because I'm not sure I've ever had hair this short (except when I was 2 or whatever, and then didn't care what I looked like) but as you can see, I was successful!

So far I like it. It feels pretty crazy to run your hands through an inch or two of hair when there used to be many, many more but drying it this morning was a snap. I can only assume that being bald is going to be the weirdest thing ever. I will say this though, I've never been so zen getting a short hair cut. It really didn't matter if it was the worst cut ever because this hair will likely only be around for a month.

So there you have it, step 1 on the road to baldness. In another 7 days I should really start to notice the hair coming out and then, maybe, just maybe, some pics will follow.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Peeing Red

Well, chemo 1 is down. Only 3 to go. So far, it hasn't been the worst thing I've ever done but to say I want to do it again is a bit of an overstatement. In truth these declarations about feeling okay are probably a bit premature. It hasn't even been 24 hours since I got the big injections. Anyway, let's not dwell on what might be, let's talk about what was.

We arrived at the hospital and met with my Oncologist again. She went over all the symptoms, again. And then we were taken over to the cancer centre. My mother commented that the main building of the hospital looked like a fancy mall. She is right - it is a rather beautiful building. I appreciate that because I just feel sicker and more scared when I am in the cancer centre - a much older building that isn't so light and pretty.

At the cancer centre we met with a pharmacologist who explained all of the drugs I am taking in addition to the 2 types of chemo and 3 other injections I got. I believe (but the count could be wrong) that I am taking an additional 29 pills a day. Mostly they are to manage side effects or to help keep my imune system strong. Later, as the nurse was giving one injection she held it up and said "this one to help with nausea. It might cause burning anus." Well great! Please give me two of that one.

After the pharmacologist we met with a nutritionist. This meeting was less helpful but I suppose it is good to know. Lots of water, no booze, protein at every meal. I asked how many grams of protein a meal and she said "100g." I lost my mind. I can't eat that much protein - that's practically a whole chicken every meal. Luckily it was a translation error and I need to eat the equivalent of 100g of meat a meal. This I can manage.

And then...DUN DA DUN DUN DUNNNNN.. chemo. Here's a pic of the process...

I'm kidding. It actually looked more like this:

First they took my vitals and then they mixed my drugs. That took about 30 minutes. Once they were ready we were taken into a room to get an IV started. This is when I started to cry. It isn't even about being afraid of pain it is just knowing that I have potentially 3 months of utter shit ahead of me and it all starts with this IV. The nurse was very nice and said it was very common, so my dignity remains somewhat intact. I had 9 syringes of "stuff". It started with 2 IV anti-nausea drugs followed by 7 that were chemo related. I'm on A/C chemo which correlates to very fancy names I can't remember; 3 were the "A" drug which is the very toxic stuff (it's the bright red stuff and it turns your pee, sweat and tears red for few days) and 4 were the "C" stuff. Not really toxic but supports the A. Finally I got a saline flush. This whole process took about 10 minutes. It was an extremely unpleasant 10 minutes but I think that was mostly because I didn't want to do it and not because it was that bad.

I guess depending on how the next three weeks go I can either start dreading the next one, or try and get myself more zen about the whole thing. Either way, it's happening and I will get through it. As some wise person once said "this too shall pass." It has always been my mantra for dealing with crappy stuff but it's become even more important of late.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chemo Eve

Twas the night before chemo and all through the house....yep, tomorrow is the big day. In fact, tomorrow is probably the first day I will actually start feeling sick. Although surgery wasn't fun, I didn't feel sick really, just sore. I think tomorrow will be the day that "shit gets real".

Recently I've been having what I like to call a cancer vacation. I was able to go to Cat's wedding, I got a new dog, my boob is healing up and I've been able to go the gym a few times. Mostly life has gone back to normal. I'm not even obsessing about myself all that much these days. For now, cancer is really easy to ignore. It has been nice forgetting all about Ethel. I can look in the mirror and see the same person I've seen all along.

Tomorrow is the day I start to change. I'll probably feel crappy (but hopefully not too crappy) and I'll probably look crappy too. Before long I won't be able to hide the fact that I am sick. I think about that a lot. Right now the only people who know I have/had cancer are the ones I choose to tell. Someday, in the not too distant future, people will be able to look at me and know that something is wrong. They'll probably even be able to guess cancer. It isn't like I don't want people to know (I can hardly keep myself from telling people actually), but I like that people can forget I'm sick because I don't look sick. Technically, I'm not really even sick, Ethel is gone. All the crap ahead of me is meant to make sure she stays gone. Think of it as a very, very invasive home defence system. But either way, technicality or not, I'm about to look and feel like someone who has a serious illness.

The real blessing this past week has been getting a dog. He was living in terrible conditions in a shelter, he's way too skinny and he needs a lot of love. Having something else in the house, someone in worse condition than me, has been so helpful. It is hard to feel sad for yourself when you have a furry friend who isn't pouting at all even though he's had a rough life. I've been so busy trying to get him settled I haven't had time to worry about chemo tomorrow. And hopefully I don't have anything to worry about anyway.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Want to Know the Best Part About Cancer?

Your husband FINALLY lets you get a dog!

Meet Hogan, our Korean rescue dog. Isn't he handsome? We think he is a Shepard-Lab cross (with probably some other stuff in there) but so far he is a pure-bred gentleman.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Adventures in Oncology

We met with the surgeon Tuesday morning and he gave me the okay to begin the next steps for treatment. He also set up a meeting with my oncologist. I appear to be a bit of borderline case when it comes to my treatment strategy. If I were 45 with this diagnosis, chemo would not be considered necessary. However, since I am only 30 the international medical community has not made up their collective minds about what should be done for me. Unfortunately for me, getting breast cancer younger is not better.

We met with the oncologist on Friday and she went over all my options. In the end, she said it was my choice but that if it was her she would take chemo. I love it when doctors give you the "if it was me" option because not all of them do and, frankly, that is what I really want to know: If you were in my shoes, with my diagnosis, what would you do? We had already been leaning toward chemo anyway - I don't want to ever look back at this time and feel that I did not do everything I could have to prevent a reoccurrence. While chemo can't guarantee I won't have a reoccurrence it is estimated that it reduces your risk by about 30 percent. Meaning if I had a 100% chance of reoccurrence without any treatment (which I don't, by the way) receiving chemo would make my risk about 70%. From what I can gather, if I take all the treatment they can offer my risk of reoccurrence is about 10%. 10% is more than I would like, obviously, but in the grand scheme of things, it is pretty darn good.

Apparently chemo here only takes about 10 minutes - at least for the actual administration of the drug. There will probably be other things I have to do and it will take longer. The Doc asked if I wanted to start directly after our consult but I told her I was completely emotionally unprepared - who has a consultation and starts chemo the same day!?! No one! Plus, I told her my mother would kill me if I went ahead and got chemo before she could get here. So mom is flying in Thursday and I'm going for round 1 of 4 on Friday.

So what does chemo mean for me. Who knows! There is a good chance I will go through this feeling pretty good. The only 100% certainty is this: I will be bald. That is going to be insane. I will try to post pictures. I say "try" because while I feel pretty zen about this bald nonsense now, I still have my hair. Once it is is gone I may be less cool with the idea of parading my bald self all around the internets. I don't think it will be an issue, but you never know.

However, the silver lining of this (do I use that term too much?); think of all the Halloween costumes! I can go as Powder, Dr. Evil, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Boris Yeltzin! Our personal favourite/front runner is rather simple but, in my honest opinion, hilarious: I'm going to go as Paul, and he is going to go as me. I think this one might make people uncomfortable but frankly it makes me laugh like crazy and that is the important part. The only potential problem is that the Oncologist we met with seemed to suggest that hair loss might not get really going until after my second round of chemo and that is scheduled for November 3rd. Oh well, I'll do what I can.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fighting Cancer

I must confess, I left off my last blog post on a somewhat disingenuous sentiment. I don't really believe in this notion of fighting cancer or, as I said, "kicking cancer's ass". While I was waiting for my diagnosis, Jack Layton died. He died of cancer. One of the articles in the Globe and Mail following his death took on this very subject. The article highlighted this discourse - Jack didn't die of cancer because he didn't "fight hard enough", he didn't "lose a battle". He got sick and the medical treatments we have today didn't work for him. And that sucks. But the article really resonated with me.

I have never wanted to use the discourse of "fighting cancer" because I don't understand how I fight this disease. I have no idea how to personally fight cancer. I don't think anyone does. That doesn't mean I have given up but it does mean that a lot of what is going to happen to me in the next few months and years is really out of my hands. All told, that is probably a good thing - I don't have a clue what I am doing whereas my doctors and nurses deal with this sort of thing all the time. I'm perfectly willing to admit I'm no expert when it comes to cancer.

The truth is, I got lucky. And because I got lucky there is an extremely good chance I will survive and live a long and happy cancer-free life. It is also true that if I had not found this lump for another 3 or 4 or 8 years, this probably would not have been the story. No matter what, my approach would not have changed. I would have been the best patient possible, I would have done the most aggressive treatment possible and followed my doctor's orders to the letter. I would have done everything I could have to "fight", so to speak, but the outcomes likely would have been different.

This notion of fighting cancer places a lot of pressure on cancer patients. We don't want to let people down and we certainly don't want to die, but the reality is, sometimes what we want isn't what happens. When people talk about cancer using these notions of fighting and winning or losing, it can inadvertently suggest that there is something more that someone could have done to change their outcome. In one sense I suppose that might be true - I am not kidding when I say I'm going to be the best patient possible. I'll suck it up and go to every chemo and radiation appointment and take every tamoxifen pill, complaining as little as possible. I'll take every test and drug that I am asked to take. I'll continue to work out and eat well. But that is about the extent of my control. That is about the extent of any cancer patient's control.

We don't fight; we endure.

Now I know some of you are probably worrying because you have said stuff to me about fighting cancer and kicking cancer's ass. Stop worrying right this second. I said stop! Saying those things doesn't upset me or offend me or anything. I appreciate that you think of me at all and that you want the best for me. And let's face it, what the hell are you supposed to say to someone who tells you they have cancer? You want to be a cheerleader and let that person know that you think they can survive. The fighting discourse is one that people use all the time. The Canadian Cancer Society uses it. People with cancer use it all the time. So don't feel bad. I just wanted to get back on my soapbox and talk about this thing I have been thinking about. Plus, I felt guilty for breaking my own rule of not using that language (it is just so pervasive!) and needed to tell you all about it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Soul Mates

For those of you that don't know, I spent Saturday watching two people who are meant for each other get married. The wedding was the whole point of this trip back to Canada, and since it was my sister's it would have been crushing to miss it. When my infection was discovered Tuesday morning both Paul and I were quite worried it would mean the trip was off the table. Luckily, it was not.

One of the silver linings of cancer, and believe me I am always looking for them, is the opportunity it provides to really reflect on your life and the people who are in it. About a month before I was diagnosed someone asked me if Paul was my soul mate. At the time I said I thought that he was but that I also didn't believe that there was just one person out there for each person. I really believe you can have multiple soul mates and that you don't have to be married to all of them. Some of them will be friends and others will be family. I have had the great fortune to meet some people that I really believe I am meant to know. This experience has only reaffirmed that for me.

It has also proven to me that I made a great choice 6 years ago when I went to a party I wasn't all that interested in attending. I met the soul mate that has become the most important to me and has been a complete rock throughout this. I don't know how everyone would react to finding out their spouse has cancer - I only know that mine has been amazing. He has put himself in charge of tracking all of my medical records and all of the insane paperwork that comes with a cancer diagnosis. And he has never once complained about having to regularly drop everything he is doing so he can give me a hug. If nothing else positive can be said about cancer, I can say this: I have definitely found my soul mate and he is going to help me kick cancer in the ass.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Results are IN!!!

First, the good news. My cancer is Stage 1, grade II. This is news I was mostly expecting but it is still nice to have the pathology report to confirm it. And in other good news, the cancer is not the dreaded triple negative. I don't know why that is a worse kind of cancer but it is. I suspect it has something to do with having less treatment options. My tumor is positive for both estrogen and progesterone which means it is fuelled by both of those hormones. For those of you who like internet researching I have IDC, stage 1, grade II ER+/PR+ cancer with the Her2 status yet to be defined. For the Her2 status, I am right on the border between + and - so they are going to do one more test to determine if I would benefit from herceprin. I'm not sure, but it seems that positive Her2 status isn't such a great thing as it means the cancer is more agressive and more likely to reoccur. However, there is also a drug tailored to treat cancer of this kind and it seems to be quite successful at reducing reoccurrence. I have to do a lot more research (read: Paul has to do a lot more research and then tell me about it) but this herceptin sounds like unpleasant stuff. But then, so does mostly everything to do with cancer treatment.

The good/bad news is I will have to do a whole whack of treatments and therapies. The next 5 years of my life will be spent getting treatment for cancer. Chemo, then radiation, then hormone therapy. I'm glad to get it all - anything I can do to reduce my chance of a reoccurrence is something I am going to do. I'm scared about how much chemo will suck and about being bald or gaining weight - you know, all the great stuff that comes with chemo. On the upside, there is a chance chemo will make me lose weight. Yes, another silver lining! However, all this treatment means definitely no kids for the next five years. In more depressing news, it also means there is a chance that there will never be kids. Right now I can't worry about that too much. I have to make sure I'm around in five years first, but let's face it, if I can't pass on my genetic awesomeness the world loses.

The straight up bad news is my surgery site is infected. If I were not leaving for Canada today this would be less of an issue but since my surgeon can't see me for the next ten days he took an aggressive stance on treatment. Guess who had minor surgery this morning? Guess who wishes she could un-see the inside of her breast? (As an aside, it really does look like those boob models they show you in health class - fatty tissue in yellow bumpy waves. It was crazy!) Did you guess me? Smart readers! The doctor numbed me up and excised the infected tissue. That is a nice way of saying he cut it out. While I was awake. And could see. I tried not to look but curiosity got the better of me a handful of times. Oh Laura, when will you learn? You never want to know what you look like on the inside! He also drained the fluid that was building up in the hole left by Ethel with the hugest syringe I have ever seen. It looked like a lot of serum (yes, that is what they call it) came out but I asked and it was only 30 cc's. I guess that is still a fair amount but it is only two tablespoons.

Anyway, I have to wrap this up as my plane is boarding. Canada ho!

Monday, September 19, 2011

MUGA (It's the name of the test, not me losing my mind and ability to make words)

Today I went for the heart test. Still no pathology report but since they tried to bill Paul for all the tests they ran on Ethel after her removal we are pretty sure we will be getting the results tomorrow. The internet tells me that often women find this to be the most stressful time. But it also seems like I already know a lot more than most women do about their cancer. I already know (with 95% certainty, I guess the rapid lab tests they do during surgery so the doc knows when to stop cutting can be wrong some of the time) that Ethel is gone and she didn't go to my nodes. I also know she is roughly 1 cm. Once she was out they were going to measure her more precisely but it seems unlikely she will be much more than that. I saw her mapped on one ultrasound at 1.1 cms. They measure her at the widest point and this helps to determine staging.

Anyway, what that long rant was supposed to tell you is this: I'm worried-ish about the pathology report but not nearly as worried as I was before the biopsy results. Like, not even on the same scale of worry. This is like a "oh well" kind of worry and that was like a "THERE IS A TSUNAMI COMING AND IT IS RADIOACTIVE AND ALIENS ARE THE ONES MAKING IT AND THEY WANT TO MAKE US ALL INTO SLAVES a la PLANET OF THE APES!" level of worry. In truth, even if a newsperson said that for real on the real news I might be less freaked out then I was. Though the alien invasion scenario is a hard scenario to imagine so maybe that is why I can't get too worked up about it. Either way, you get the picture.

Today I got two more injections; one that was downright unpleasant and one that was fine. After, I sat around for a bit and then they hooked up some electrodes to me and put me under another large machine. Again, the internet tells me that what they did was shoot me up with radioactive isotopes that will bond to red blood cells. By tracking how those red blood cells move through the heart they can determine how much blood my heart is emptying from a ventricle with each pump. If the ventricle is emptying between 60% and 80% of the blood in there, I am in the normal range and deemed worthy of receiving chemo, which once inside me will then (maybe) attack my heart. It is one of the nastier side effects of one of the chemo drugs that is regularly used to fight breast cancer but it is also one of the rarer side effects. However, telling me something is unlikely these days doesn't mean much cause guess what - getting breast cancer at 30 is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY UNLIKELY! I should probably add another "really" or two but I think I have made my point.

The award for "stupidest thing you can do while near a person getting a MUGA" goes to my lovely translator volunteer. I would have thought this went without saying but during the test he took it upon himself to enlighten me as to what was going on. "How did he do this?" you ask. Well, he didn't describe it! No, he took a picture of the monitor with his phone and then he shoved his phone in my face. Did I mention I was in a machine at this point? Did he put his hand and phone into the field of the test? You betcha! I figured this would have been covered in "Volunteering 101: Places you Should Not Put Your Phone (or Hand)" but apparently, not so much. I didn't want to be rude (maybe I need to get over that?) but all I could think was DON'T PUT THAT IN HERE. On his second approach with the phone (WTF) I did tell him it probably wasn't a good idea to do that and that made him profusely sorry. I mean, the poor kid meant well but honestly, I was worried he would ruin the test results and I would have to do this all over again. He also kept talking to me and I wasn't sure I was allowed to talk. Finally I asked him to talk to the tech when he came back in the room and make sure I could actually talk. I'm pretty sure while asking whether speaking was okay he also mentioned the phone incident. I'm not positive as this discussion was all in Korean but he was gesturing with his phone and at me. The tech didn't seem worried about the phone and said I could talk so crisis averted? We'll see!

Either way, I'm pretty sure I'll eventually have to do that damn test again but not until I'm well into chemo and that is at least a month or two out so I'm not thinking about that now. I'm doing this a day or two at a time. I worry about the impending appointment or test and not much beyond that. So far, this policy has served me well. It has also made time slow down. Want to make sure your life doesn't flash before your eyes? Obsess about things in 1 or 2 day increments - it helps!

And with that sage advise, I will bid you adieu. I have to go pack since I am getting on a plane tomorrow and flying to Canada for my sister's wedding. Hurrah!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

No Longer the Bionic Woman

This will likely be a short post as I don't really have that much news. Today I saw the doctor and he took out half of my stitches and the boob tube. Man, was I glad to see that thing go. It is hard to look your best when you have a bottle of boob goo attached to your belt or pants at all times. Plus, I worried that I was grossing other people out.

Since I was released from the hospital after my surgery I have been measuring the output daily. So everyday, I dump this sludge into a container and then I suck it up with a syringe to measure the output. I know this sounds gross. It is gross. That doesn't mean I didn't sort of enjoy it. I had to record the amounts in a diary the hospital gave me. When I met with the suregon today and basically begged him to remove the drain he asked me to recite how much liquid I had been oozing. I told him, but he later double checked with Paul. Perhaps he could sense my desperation to have it removed and thought, maybe, I was being a liar pants. Once Paul showed him the diary he agreed. It seems they like you to be under 10 cc's before they will remove the drain. I was at less than half that so FREEDOM!

I'm going back tomorrow so they can pull the rest of the metal stitches out. This sounds worse than it is. I couldn't really feel the stitches being removed. I could however, smell myself. Oh sweet shower, you will be mine tomorrow. Paul assures me he can't smell me but then, he doesn't really smell that well. And he loves me, so he might be lying to me. Or maybe it's a bit of both.

Still no pathology report. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe Monday. We will be at the hospital both days. On Monday I get two more needles of some other non-disclosed liquid to help the doctors look at my innards. This test will be to see if my heart can handle chemo. There is no reason to assume it can't, I work out, I'm young, but I guess they like to check these things. Better safe than sorry, I say. Especially because it will be me who is sorry if it turns out my ticker can't hack it. I'm not worried about that.

I am a teensy bit worried about airport security. Our hope is to get on a plane the following day. I don't know what they screen for at airports these days but I do know that in the past 10 days I have been injected 4 times with "stuff" and I know at least 3 of those "stuffs" were radioactive. I also know I have two more injections coming up. Am I going to be setting off security alarms? I'm going to ask for a doctor's note, or at least see if this is a legit concern. I guess, worst case scenario, I can just pull out my boob. I mean, why not the security guards too? Right?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gross Things I Forgot to Mention

As I've mentioned before, part of the intent of this blog is to help other young women who get breast cancer sort of know what to expect. I'm pretty sure that no one has just stumbled on to my blog but you never know. If I knew how to make my blog more searchable that would help. Anyone?

I know that so much of how cancer is treated depends on how old you are, where it is, what stage it is and probably a lot of other things I don't know about...yet (I bet I'm going to become an expert on breast cancer) but if I can pass along any wisdom, or even just a heads up, then I am happy to do it. In my rush to get my blog updated yesterday I forgot to talk about the two procedures I had in the morning prior to surgery. I suspect that these would be pretty typical for someone getting a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy. They were also kind of insane in a "you are going to do what?" sort of way, so my readers might enjoy hearing about them.

My first stop was the ultrasound room in the breast cancer clinic. Apparently my lump was not palpable (did I mention how frigin' lucky I am that they caught this when they did?) so the doctor planned to get a guide-wire put in. Yes, they use guide wires in boobs! Who knew. Unfortunately this procedure was done sans freezing. Barbarians!!!! Okay, I'm exaggerating but still it wasn't what I would call pleasant. I'm beginning to suspect Ethel had feelings because she certainly objected whenever anyone put needles in her. Friday was probably a rough day for her but since I have wished her a speedy death, I have trouble feeling too bad about her pain. As an aside, I should probably stop personifying her as I'm beginning to feel guilty.

Okay, back to the point - the tech, using ultrasound, put a piece of wire in to point out the lump. The wire looked bigger than your average needle but then, I wasn't super calm at that exact moment so it probably wasn't. Once she had poked Ethel she wrapped up my boob with the wire still sticking out. I'd say it was out about 5 cm. Certainly not something I was expecting at 7:30 in the morning.

Next stop was back to nuclear medicine. Now you may recall that I listed the bone scan as my favorite test. This was the same machine but this was not my favorite test. As I was laying there for this test I was debating whether I disliked this one more than the MRI. In the end I came to the conclusion that I did not but it was close. In this particular test radioactive isotopes were injected into Ethel. FYI, radioactive isotopes in the breast burn like a mother! Made all the worse by the subsequent massage. I guess the massage (which is weird but remember that whole post about saying goodbye to modesty) helps get the isotopes up into the lymph system so they can establish the sentinel node. After a few minutes she came back with a needle-like thing and a pen. She used the needle-like thing to track the isotopes and then drew on me. She was able to establish the node, she marked it and off I went back to my room to continue waiting.

I'm back home now, which is awesome since the TV in the room turned itself on every morning at 6:30, breakfast was served promptly at 7:30 and people came in and out of the room ALL NIGHT LONG. I plan to get a good sleep tonight, maybe even the first since my terrible biopsy on the 27th. The only gross thing, besides the fact that I haven't showered since Thursday, is the drain that is still in me. Tomorrow I have to measure the amount of "stuff" that comes out and write about it in this journal that the hospital gave me. Paul says if I can't stomach it, he will. What a good man.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Boob Tube

First, let me say that Ethel doesn't live here any more. And in even better news, while Ethel was a completely unwelcome visitor, she was also pretty good to me during her stay. She left without packing up my breast, instead leaving with a lump of tissue about 3 cm by 5 cm. The surgeons also took three lymph nodes to biopsy for cancer and they were all clear! YAY! This is the best possible news I could have gotten. Well short of someone saying "Hey, that lump isn't cancer!" which wasn't really a possibility. So celebration all around! (I celebrated by drinking water at 5:00 pm yesterday. It was delicious. Paul also let me have 10 spoonfuls of gelato before he apprehended it from me.)

Want to hear about my surgery? Of course you do, that's why you're here. At about 11:00 am yesterday a nurse came in to start an IV. They opted for my foot since there was a possibility that I would be getting flopped all over during surgery. The nurse starting this IV was so nervous because my veins were not easy to find. I guess it is because I have cold feet which means the veins are smaller to begin with and I hadn't had any water or food in about 12 hours so I was dehydrated. After much debate she settled on her vein of choice. But first, I had to don my lovely compression stockings. Yes, that's right. I went into surgery wearing nylons. I guess this helps with preventing clots. All I know is I plan on keeping these things to use for long flights since I also get cankles when I fly now. Like, seriously body, what are you doing to me?

After the IV was started we sat around for another hour until someone showed up to wheel me to the OR. I rode there on a bed which made me feel slightly ridiculous but by then I had already been given some shot of something meant to help relax me so I didn't feel totally ridiculous. I think it helped because in the pre-op room there was a Korean woman wailing and some part of me knew that should freak me out but mostly I was just enjoying staring at the ceiling. I'd like to think ordinarily I would have more empathy for others in pain.

Then into the OR where I met my anesthetist. We spoke for about 11 seconds, he wished me a sweet dream and someone put a mask on me. I was breathing in this scented oxygen thinking "I don't think this stuff is working" and then suddenly I though I could understand all the Korean being spoken in the room and everyone was talking about crazy foreigners and how anesthetic never worked on them. This clearly is not the case because the next thing I knew I was back in recovery. Chances are I didn't suddenly become fluent in Korean as I can't understand it now. I'll just assume my brief sojourn into fluency was actually the drugs. Anyway, first thing I did after waking up was feel myself up. Although I have a lot of dressings on the wound and a compression garment I was pretty sure that I still had my boob. Hurrah!

One of the things I was super impressed with here is the way they keep families up to speed on what is going on. Like in an airport where you can check in on flight status, you can do the same thing here. A board will tell you when your loved one is in pre-op, getting surgery and in recovery. Here is my board:

Once the pain was more under control I got wheeled out to meet Paul. He was actually the one to give me the good news about Ethel. I suppose it is possible that someone had already told me this in recovery but I was still pretty out if it and in quite a bit of pain. He was quite shocked that I had no idea as he had known what the deal was for about an hour by the time he saw me. Again, thanks to drugs, I wasn't too concerned that no one had told me anything. Once back in the room I got more drugs (hells yes) and had a tiny nap.

It was only after waking from this nap that I became aware of the drain. I won't post pictures of that because, frankly, it's gross but it did inspire the title of this post. I have my very own "boob tube". Basically it is a tube coming out of the incision so all the fluid that would normally be building up inside me has somewhere to go. All of this stuff is going into a bottle which looks kind of like a super turkey baster that has been deflated - I guess to act as a slight vacuum. I'm told it helps with healing. All I know is I have a bottle of blood in my front pocket. Yes, I know, it's gross and maybe I didn't have to share that last part but I just can't help myself. To make up for it, please enjoy this picture of me post-surgery, eating my Korean dinner and looking gorgeous.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Decisions, Decisions....

I'm lucky that this process has moved at such lightening speed. I know a woman in Canada who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27. It took them three months to finally make the diagnosis. For me, it will have been 23 days from the day Ethel was discovered until the day she gets evicted. The only downside is that we have been asked to make decisions as break neck speed. So far, there haven't been that many but today I had to make decisions about if and how I want to rebuild my breast if Ethel ends up getting the best of it.

The day began with a meeting with our potential plastic surgeon. He spent the entire meeting massaging a silicone implant which I only really noticed in retrospect after Paul pointed it out. I think it was a nervous tick. He was, after all, depending on a young, male volunteer to translate everything he was saying. And our poor volunteer! This kid couldn't have been more that 25 and he had to talk about breasts with some woman he has never met before. Bless his heart, he did such a good job and was so professional but his forehead was literally beading with sweat when he first started the translation for us.

Let me just break away from the surgery at hand discussion for a second to talk about this other thing that is kind of weird: my breasts are now a normal topic of conversation. Paul discusses them with coworkers, I have a blog about them, they end up on display with startling regularity. I don't even feel that embarrassed about it but I do occasionally pause to think about the fact that many people are probably thinking about my rack way more than they were two weeks ago. And that is super weird, I'm just saying.

Anyway, we've made a decision and now hope that it is one we won't need. The doctors still seem pretty confident that a lumpectomy is an option. But just in case, they sent over another doctor this evening. He took picture, after picture, after picture. See, everyone has seen my girls by now. Oh, but it gets better. After all the pictures he started drawing on me. Lines on my back for where they might take tissue, lines on my collar bone, lines on my rib cage. I look ridiculous. No, there will not be pictures of that. But here is one of me taken after I stopped being a colouring book. Please note the hospital pajamas that I have to wear at all times.

Finally, I will leave you with my good news. The results from my tests have come back and Ethel seems to have been a well-behaved squatter. We won't know about the lymph nodes until after the surgery but in all other respects she seems not to have ventured beyond my breast. I'd like to say something positive about her for that but frankly, we aren't on speaking terms. She is getting the boot - tomorrow, actually. I guess until then we will just try to be civil roommates.

Here is a bonus photo. I'm too tired to figure out funny things to say about this photo but it sums up how I spent a good chunk of my day - laying on my bed in my silly outfit waiting for some medical professional or other to come in and tell me something or draw on me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

MRI? Add more Dye

See how I made the title rhyme. I'm pointing this out because I am particularly proud of that one. It just came to me. Anyway, I digress....yesterday I had a bone scan and a contrast MRI. Both required needles filled with unknown substances and then laying very still while being shoved into machines. On my scale of how much I like these tests, so far the bone scan has been my favorite, followed by the PET scan, then I'm going to leave some spaces for future tests which I'm sure will be better than the MRI and then the MRI.

Now, I know many people have had MRIs and said they were fine. Maybe those people didn't need the contrast dye? Or - and this might be the more realistic option - maybe I am a giant baby? For mine, I had to lay on my stomach with the girls pushed through two holes. I think so they would hang just right, I'm not really sure. My arms were above my head and my chin was sort of jammed into this pillow. MRI tubes are not that wide so let me offer some advice to you, it's free, so listen up! If you ever have to get one try to make sure your appendages are not touching the tube wall. The vibrations from the giant magnets in combination with my weird positioning made my arms fall asleep in about 5 minutes. That was probably the worst past because by about 20 minutes it was pretty painful. Well, that and the contrast dye which is cold going in and then feels like fire. They have you on an IV the whole time and at about the half way point you can tell that suddenly new elements are being introduced. The cold introduction was fine but the hot body after-burn was less enjoyable. I was actually dripping sweat during this test and I soaked the pad I was laying on. Just picture that for a while. Go ahead, I'll wait.... I know, I don't look that good, do I?

They did give me a panic button but I was able to complete the test without sounding the alarm. I came close a few times because they don't really explain how weird is too weird when it comes to what you feel when the dye enters your system. I know that I am prone to hyperbole and panic when it comes to my health but I have been trying to suck it up. So far this philosophy, coupled with deep breathing, has been a success. I'm such a trooper.

The bone scan was a breeze. You get a needle, four hours later you lay on a bed and an xray machine zaps you for about 30 minutes. However, the actual needle was a bit weird. First, the guy giving it does so from behind a metal wall with this glass plate for him to see what he is doing. It makes you wonder just what the heck they are putting in you when the dude is behind metal.

Second, the guy giving the needle had this back and forth plunge method. I have a STRICT no look policy but Paul watched the injection. It seems he wanted to be very sure that the stuff he was pumping into me was going into a vein so he made sure to see blood before taking the final plunge. Luckily I could not feel this at all. I have a feeling my aversion to needles is going to be completely solved by the end of this whole ordeal. Look! Another silver lining!

Til next time,

Monday, September 5, 2011

Laura - Now in 3D Imaging

Today was PET scan day. What is a PET scan, you ask? Hell if I know, and I've had one done. Apparently it is a really good picture of what is going on in your body and somehow it involves something nuclear. There were radiation signs all over the rooms we were in today. One of the down sides to getting treatment in Korea: all the signs are in Korean. Everyone is very nice and does their best to explain what is going on, but their English only goes so far. My level of Korean is enough to order food and give taxis directions. It certainly cannot talk medicine so thank goodness these nice people have learned what they have.

We were taken to the cancer centre this morning. Let me tell you, walking into a cancer centre as a place where you yourself are going to get treatment is a trip. I don't think I've fully adjusted to this whole "I have cancer" business. First stop was a small changing booth where I got robed in Korean hospital garb. Hospitals make you wear pajamas that are branded. I don't know why, maybe it is so if a patient escapes on to the streets of Korea they can be easily returned to their rightful hospital. I have seen people at the 7-11 in these pajamas with their IV stands, so I know you are allowed to leave. I don't get it, but I like it. Of course, the pants and the sleeves on the top were a bit too short but it all fit, and I was happy. Every time I am given pants here I worry that they are not going to fit and then what am I going to do? Walk around pants less? In the end, I didn't correctly tie the robe top up but a lovely old Korean lady pointed out my error and I fixed that easily enough. It is amazing what sign language can accomplish.

After this they started a line in the back of my hand and to be sure I wasn't allergic to CT dye put a drop of it in my eye. I willingly submitted to this, if you can believe it, but in retrospect testing for allergies on my eyeball has not been my favorite idea. Whatever, the eye ball is intact so I guess they know what they are doing. I've decided to try making this a bit more visual so I made Paul take a picture of my IV. He took a full body shot too but it was blurry. In the future I will have to review his work more carefully.

Following my non-reaction I was led to a tiny room where I was put on a waiting bed. I asked if Paul could come with me, which I know always surprises these people but they let me. So he got to sit at the end of the bed while this young Korean man held up some of the biggest syringes I have EVER seen. I'm pretty sure I made a noise and immediately covered my eyes with my non-IV'ed hand. This was the radioactive dye! Yes, that's right, as I type this I am more radioactive than the average human. He shot me up, I squirmed more than it hurt because, people, it was scary, and after about 40 minutes of laying there, the real fun began.

Since I was trying to be zen, most of my time in the PET machine was spent with my eyes closed, deep breathing. Probably this thing would be SO MUCH FUN to just try but since I was in there having people look to see if Ethel is wreaking havoc on my body, it was less fun. I will tell you this - it looked like two white giant donuts that I got passed through. Several times. They didn't make that much noise, just a hum that sounded so much like an approaching subway I just imagined I was on a subway platform. Well, laying on one, with my eyes closed. So I guess I was pretending I was one of the homeless people in the subways here? I don't know. In all it took about 30 minutes.

For the final part of the test, they add some contrast dye to your system. The young Korean who had been overseeing this whole thing came back into the room to fiddle with my IV and add this stuff. As he was doing this he said, "If you have any unusual side effects, just yell really loud." Yes, that was quite comforting. I immediately asked for clarification as to what "unusual side effects" are but he didn't really respond. This is radioactive dye after all. And if Paul's comic books have taught us anything, this is how 65-70% of all superheros are created. Is superhuman strength an unusual side effect? What about the ability to shoot webs out of my wrists? Of course, I said nothing nearly as creative as this and just said "is it supposed to feel this warm?" and he smiled and nodded and shoved me back in the donut tube.

So far, I've been out of the tube for 5 hours, I've had one nap (does radioactive dye make you very tired?) and I have had no indication that I am going to be the next superhero crime fighter (or I have, and that last statement was just a herring to throw you off my trail. Ha HA!). In fact, I feel fine. Maybe that is the craziest part of cancer - I don't feel any physically different knowing I have cancer than I did when I didn't.

In parting, I will leave you with my current plan, as suggested by a good friend back in Ottawa. He is quite a humorous fellow, if I do say so myself. I plan to take his advice and:

Keep my chin up
And my chest pushed proudly out!


Friday, September 2, 2011

Knowing is Better

So far, the time between getting a biopsy and getting the results was the absolute worst. Of course, it didn't help that the lovely Korean doctor doing my biopsy told me there was a "high probability of malignancy". Imagine being left with that for almost a week?!? Maybe she was trying to prepare me for the results but all it did was freak me out.

The crazy thing is that when we got the results I got the exact answer I was fearing most during that week and after about 2 hours of living with this new reality I felt better. My heart was no longer pounding, I wasn't sobbing all over Paul and I wasn't pacing around the house. I don't really understand it. Maybe it is as simple as now I really know what I am up against - there is no more hope that maybe it is just a weird lump. I have to accept that I really have cancer and in accepting it I can begin to deal with it.

The reason I mention this is that I think people sometimes avoid going to the doctor because they don't want to know if something bad is going on. I can understand that and I know first hand the stress you feel while waiting to find out the awful truth. But I can also say, with complete and total sincerity, that while having cancer is the absolute pits knowing about it is about a million times better than worrying about it. Especially because now I'm doing something about it - not sitting at home worrying about what I might have to do. I'm formulating a plan that involves snooping on Ethel, finding out what she has been up to and getting in some reinforcements to get her the hell out of dodge.

"What are you trying to say, Laura?" you might be asking. Well, friends, let me tell you. I'm telling you this so you don't put off going to get something checked out that you should. And in your case, it probably won't be cancer so just go already!

The other thing I wanted to mention briefly, while I'm standing here on my pulpit is this: DO BREAST SELF EXAMS. I got so unbelievably lucky because guess what, I don't do them. I don't do them because I always figured I was way too young for breast cancer. I meant to start, down the road.

I just happen to have a cyst in my other breast that doctors have been keeping an eye on for years. That cyst is just a run-of-the-mill, benign thing; not even worthy of a name. In Canada they never even bothered to check out ol' Righty because my long time cyst-friend is only in ol' Lefty. God Bless Korean health care - I almost stopped the ultrasound tech when she started since I was so used to ultrasound people ignoring my right side. That is the great story of how my cancer was found - by accident! Maybe I wouldn't have noticed the lump right away even if I was doing BSE, it's still pretty small. But I can assure you that many women find their cancer this way. And I am living proof that (though statistically unlikely) young women get this disease.

So do me a favour - go feel yourself up right now. And once you have done that, keep doing it every month for the rest of your life. Do it as a personal favour to me. C'mon, I have cancer, you can't deny me this one!

Goodbye Modesty!

"Hey, I have breast cancer, want to look at my boobs?"

Seriously, I feel like everyone in Korea has seen them now. I don't think this is going to change any time soon. Today, I have gotten dressed 5 times and undressed 4.5 times. I say 4.5 times because for an EKG they just make you shove your shirt and bra up into your armpits. Yes, it is terribly comfortable. I don't know why everyone doesn't just sleep this way, it makes getting dressed in the morning a cinch.

Luckily I have never been too concerned about people in the medical profession seeing my bits. It's not like I have something they haven't seen before (although I guess in Korea I have MORE of the something they have seen before). I suspect by the end of this I will be a complete exhibitionist. And in Ontario, I am legally allowed to be from the waist up.

Other than these insights, I don't have any concrete news to offer. I got poked a bit more today, I peed in a cup, I finally got to eat and drink at 12:30 and now we are back home. Paul is mailing insurance people to try and get that side of things handled and I am writing this blog which upon rereading, I realize, is not terribly interesting.

Don't worry, I'm sure I will be able to regale you with crazy stories of my stay in the hospital. As in, you have to bring your own towels. And family members are expected to do most things that a nurse would do in Canada. AND Paul will get to sleep on a "plinth" whatever the hell that is. I suspect I will be sending him home for sleeping. Who wants to slumber on a plinth?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm Sorry to Meet you Here

So, you've heard. And, I'm sorry to tell you, you have heard correctly. I have breast cancer. I am 30. This sucks. Let's just get that out of the way right off the top.

I've decided to start this blog for a number of reasons but mostly it is because I live in Korea where almost no one I love or care about actually is and I want to keep everyone who wants to be informed, informed without having to tell that same story 60 times (okay, that is an exaggeration, there aren't likely to be 60 of you, but you get the idea).

I belong to a fairly exclusive club now. While waiting for diagnosis I did a lot of research on the probability that someone like me would get cancer. I found a lot of statistics and they all said pretty much the same thing: I had nothing to worry about. One online test (and of course you can trust everything on the internet) suggested my probability of getting cancer was 0.43%. Despite that, I have cancer. And I know that there are a lot of other young women out there that have cancer so maybe my story can help them feel less crappy - assuming of course they find this blog.

Anyway, let's get down to the business of discussing my tumor, which I have named Ethel. What Ethel doesn't know is I am making speedy plans to get rid of her. She is an unwanted roommate and I have called the cops. Want to know Ethel's details? Well, she is sneaky so I don't know much yet but here is what I do know.

She is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. In breast cancer land, she is pretty common. 80-85% of all breast cancer is IDC. We also know that she seems to be small - probably right around 1 cm. If that is indeed the case, I likely have stage 1 cancer. This is a good thing. It means the odds that our break-up will end with me alive are pretty darn high. We will know more once they start putting radioactive die in me and taking pictures of my insides. After that they will actually start poking around in my boob and the definitive answers will come. Has Ethel invited friends to live in other parts of my breast? Does she have a nasty ex lurking in my lymph nodes? Who knows! This promises to be an exciting week. The doctors seem very calm and reasonably hopeful that the cancer is still just in my boob and not in my lymph nodes.

I met with the Dean on Oncology today. Obviously, I am a person of importance. He said the following, in a way that was not at all rude and very reassuring, "Breast cancer is not a big deal. To the patient, I know that it is a big deal, but honestly it is not a big deal." I wanted to kiss his little old man self for at the same time telling me to get over myself and acknowledging that most people in my shoes are worried.

In the upcoming week I have a lot of tests ahead of me. Some are just to see how I will respond to anesthesia. Korean's are heavy on the diagnostic tests so I have to have an EKG and blood work and a whole lot of ultrasounds. I also have to have an MRI and a PET scan which will help tell if that cancer has spread at all. Once this is all compiled I will meet with the surgeon to discuss options. At this point I favour a lumpectomy but I'm going to do whatever I need to to make sure Ethel has been kicked to the curb. If that means she gets the boob in our divorce, I guess that is the way it has to be.

I will continue to update this as much as I feel able to. It is an easier way for me to connect with people back home given the time difference and the fact that you are all mostly employed people or people dealing with young babies. The bottom line that you should take away from this at the close of my first Boobey Trapped post is that, in spite of cancer, I am doing well. I plan to continue to be my awesome, hilarious self and I invite you to treat me the way you treated me when I didn't have cancer. Let's not change what was already working well. Okay, maybe you can baby me the teeniest bit for the next few months or until I am done my treatment but mostly I'd prefer if we all just continued living our lives as though Ethel had never existed.


PS - I know that is a weird way to spell "Boobey" but "Booby" and "Boobie" were already taken. Live with it. I am.