Saturday, December 26, 2009

Most Awesome Breast Cancer Swag

What is the cardinal social rule of breast cancer?

If you have it, people give you oodles of free stuff.

I began noticing this right after my diagnosis. In my surgical packet was a coupon for a free wig, from the American Cancer Society. (I know it's meant to be kind and helpful but I just kept picturing the evil synthetic wigs that are advertised in the back of ladies' magazines. "Yes! You too can look like Eva Gabor!")

Two days after the masectomy, I was carted upstairs from the ICU to where the regular sick people are kept. In my room was a huge pink-tulle wrapped basket, full of pink goodies from a local breast cancer group. (Most of the stuff I used-with the exception of Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul. Those books just aren't my thing. I get easily creeped out by overly-emotional/sweet stuff.)
That basket did get me thinking about how well breast cancer research/groups are funded.

What do people get delivered to their room who have colon cancer? And is it brown? (Which I found out, yes, the colon cancer color fundraising color is brown. I'm disappointed at the lack of creativity. At the very least, I was expecting something with Katie Couric's face/bottom on it.)

Moving right along to my latest treasure trove of swag. I registered and attended the American Cancer Society's "Look Good, Feel Better," class on learning make-up and wig tips for lwomen undergoing chemotherapy.

It was an interesting class. I didn't learn much on the make-up front-but since I know how to apply stage make-up, I think I'll be OK. Learning about wigs was why I went. Since I'm about to have chemo and lose my hair, I want to be prepared. I've never looked like shit in my life and I'm not about to start-at least not if I can help it.

I walked out with over $200 in free make-up!!!!! And really nice stuff, too, like MAC, Estee Lauder, and Bobbi Brown. I knew we were going to get make-up kits to for ourselves, since the woman who registered me asked me what skin color I had. But I didn't know what awesome swag they would give out!!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"The Plan"

Sorry I haven't updated the blog on what CJ and I have decided to choose as our plan for cancer treatment.

We've decided on Plan C. Which wasn't on the original list. (I tend to make stuff up as a go along) None of the options sounded good, so this is our compromise.

Plan C

I'm going to see my third oncologist doctor, Neelima Dendalouri, on December 16th. She is recommended by both my plastic surgeon, Dr. Venturi, and the Johns Hopkins oncologist, Dr. Prowell. According to Dr. Prowell, Dr. Dendalouri will probably recommend the same chemo regimen that Dr. Prowell suggested.

This would mean:

Six cycles of TC. Taxotere and Carboplatin are the drug names. The six cycles take place over 18 weeks. During this time, I will be taking Herceptin along with chemo. I will continue taking Herceptin for the rest of the year, after I have finished chemo.

After this delightful process finishes, I will take a medically recommended break. The doctors want to see any side effects of chemo and Herceptin wear off. This way, any side effects of other drugs that are prescribed afterwords will not be mistaken for the chemo/Herceptin side effects.

And this is where I deviate from Dr. Prowell's suggestions. I am going to use this medical downtime to see how my menstrual cycle is doing after chemo. I will track it with my trusty basal body temp thermometer and my Ovusoft computer program.

I want to see if:

a. I get my period back
b. If I'm actually ovulating
c. How many days I'm fertile and see if that time period has decreased since chemo

Of course, I will also have my first mammogram since treatment and blood work to make sure the cancer hasn't come back.

Then CJ, my oncologist, and I will have a tense sit-down to discuss how many months/years of Tamoxifen I'm willing to do. The longer I'm on Tamoxifen, the higher my chances are of going into full-blown menopause. Not good since I want to have another child. Of my own. Produced and manufactured by me.

We will proceed from there. It's a "wait and see" plan. I can't make a permanent decision about my future until after I've done all the above.

I'm sure this will make my doctor slightly crazy. Too bad. I'm the one who has to live with the long-term consequences.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Mommie's Fake Boobie IS NOT A YARMULKA!!!"

Elizabeth has some very fancy and expensive new headware. It's my fake boob insert that I use to " balance" me out. Right side is a DDD; left is now a pert C. Can we say "asymmetrical?"

Anyhoo, I left it out and she decided it made a great hat.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dear Goddess-Please, Please Never Let Me Go "Brain-Dead" in a Catholic Hospital

Really, this new directive from Roman Catholic Bishops crosses the line. I hope I never end up, either due to dying from breast cancer or simply an auto accident, at a Roman Catholic hospital, in a "persistative vegatative state."

"This story won’t get as much publicity as the Catholic Church’s efforts to insinuate its doctrines on abortion into the health care bill, but the bishops also declared this week that Catholic hospitals must provide the equivalents of food and water even to patients in a persistent vegetative state.

The new directive extends to patients “in chronic conditions (eg., the `persistent vegetative state’) who can reasonably be expected to live indefinitely if given such care.” In English, what this means is that if you are unlucky enough to be taken to a Catholic hospital, and you have experienced a seizure or traumatic accident that puts you in a vegetative stage from which there is no hope of recovery, the hospital will force-feed you through intravenous tubes—even if you have a living will that specifically rejects nutrition and hydration in such circumstances.

Why, you may ask, does this matter? After all, no one is forced to use a Catholic hospital. Except people are forced to do just that, in the many areas of the country where Catholic hospitals have merged with secular hospitals and have successfully demanded, as part of the price of the merger, that health care rules approved by the church be followed in the merged hospital. For more information, visit MergerWatch is a nonprofit organization that has been tracking the effects of these unions between secular and religious hospitals for more than a decade. "

This ran on The Washington Post's website today. Here's the link: On Faith.

Good to know. CJ and I have Living Wills dictating that if either of us ever end up in a "persistative vegatative state," to unplug us. If we end up in a Catholic hospital, our families or Elizabeth will have to shell out extra money to have us transferred to a non-Catholic hospital in order to be allowed to die? (And now I worry that the Church would pull some stupid crap like fighting the family in court, refusing to release/transfer the patient to another hospital because it would be "assisting murder?")

Why should my religious beliefs on being allowed to die be negated by theirs? The principle (stemming from the First Amendment) that all religions must receive equal treatment in the law is one of the US's legal achievements. One faith cannot be legally preeminent over another. Good; let's keep it that way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"So....What Kind of Cancer Are You in Here For?"

CJ, my mom, and I made our second opinion pilgrimage up to Johns Hopkins today. We went to the "Incredibly Long-Named Building for a Rich Guy Who Must Have Died from Cancer and Gave Hopkins the Money for the Building," building, aka The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Care Center. No, really. That's the name. I hope Sidney Kimmel, whoever he was/wherever he is now, had a very good laugh making the name so incredibly long.

Once inside, sitting at Admitting, I had a good look around at the other patients there. I had the strongest impulse to poke the guy in his 20s next to me and ask in a jail cellmate-like way, "Pssst...what kind of cancer are you in here for?" Don't worry. I didn't. He was too busy talking to a patient's advocate about his upcoming surgery. And I really had to use the bathroom.

My second-opinion doctor (that is all she does-second opinions. And also works for the FDA.), Dr. Tanya Prowell  (doesn't that name just sound like it was taken from a James Bond novel?) is around my age and great. And just an FYI-her specialty is younger women with breast cancer. Oh-when you click on her bio, don't be lazy. Scroll down.

Yes, she is recommending chemo. However, she is not recommending the drug regimen that Dr. Wilkinson had recommended. (Older, harsher, more cardiotoxic drugs.)

Here are my options:

1. No chemo BUT five years of hormone therapy, i.e. Tamoxifen for the .4cm of invasive cancer that is estrogen receptor positive/ER+ and Herceptin because the cancer is also HER2 +3, which means it is way overexpressed. I cannot try to get pregnant until after that, if I go with this option.

2. This is the doctor's favorite option. Six cycles (18 weeks) of chemotherapy, using the drugs Taxotere and Carboplatin, while taking Herceptin. I would continue taking Herceptin after the chemo ended, for the rest of the year. (The 52 week year that the chemo takes place in.)

Then, after a short medically needed break (not just for me-but to be able to let the drugs leave my system before starting Tamoxifen. Otherwise, it would be hard for the doctors to differentiate any side effects/problems that are caused by the new drug.) I would take Tamoxifen for 5 years and try to get pregnant.

She is recommened CJ and I see a fertility specialist to bank some embryos before chemo, as an "insurance policy."

3. The comprimise. I do the 6 cycle chemo regimen that she suggested with the herceptin, and then take the herceptin for the rest of the year. I then do two years of Tamoxifen and then try to get pregnant.

I'm only looking at option #3 right now. Option #1, aka Dying Young and Stupid, doesn't appeal to me. Neither does Option #2's heavy fertility regimen on my badly-reacting-to-any-hormones PCOS body and the possibility of chemically frying my ovaries. Plus, the outrageous cost of fertility treatments (although CJ's current medical plan does pay for it) but also finding a specialist that can/wants to deal with my older mom age, PCOS, and the cancer cherry on top.

The PCOS problem is rearing it's ugly, acne-riddne head in all of this; my fertile time during my cycle is getting shorter. Just in the past two years. How do I know? I track it by the Fertility Awareness Method, aka FAM. I have a computer program Ovusoft that does it for me. That is how Elizabeth is here. And how I got pregnant last year. So, putting off childbearing is not OK.

Speaking of Elizabeth, I have to put her to bed. I'll write more tomorrow.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Hate Being Graded Without Knowing the Criterea

So, I did some research. I'm that kind of gal.

I want to know EXACTLY why I was told by the first oncologist I saw that I need chemotherapy. I didn't grow up to mearly nod my head at everything the nice doctor told me. (If I had, then I would probably be at least 300lbs., not ovulating, really bad acne, and probably a type II diabetic by now. I had to see 5 different doctors, have 3 MRIs, 1 CAT scan, and 1 really gross 24-hour urine collection to determine that I have PCOS. But I'm damn glad I did. My reason for this gladness is now "helping" brush our very disguntled cat with syrup-sticky hands.)

No, I grew up in a house where you questioned authority. (As long as it was some non-parental authority. Questioning that got you grounded/sentanced to rake leaves or steam carpets.)

Here is rubric I've been able to garner on why chemotherapy might be or might not be appropriate for me:

1. I have Stage I breast cancer, mostly DCIS, with a small invasive component. Small enough that the preliminary pathology report from my mastectomy surgery could not see it with the naked eye or under the first microscope. I'm still waiting for the final pathology results from surgery. This will include my Bloom or Nottingham score.

2. Here is what the American Cancer Society says about how oncologists evaluate your need for chemo.

Adjuvant systemic therapy: Most doctors will discuss the pros and cons of adjuvant hormone therapy (either tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor) with all women who have a hormone receptor–positive (estrogen or progesterone) breast cancer, no matter how small the tumor. Women with tumors larger than 0.5 cm (about 1/4 inch) across may be more likely to benefit from it.

If the tumor is smaller than 1 cm (about 1/2 inch) across, adjuvant chemotherapy is not usually offered. Some doctors may suggest it if a cancer smaller than 1 cm has any unfavorable features (such as being high-grade, estrogen receptor–negative, HER2-positive, or having a high score on one of the gene panels). Adjuvant chemotherapy is usually recommended for larger tumors.

For HER2-positive cancers larger than 1 cm across, adjuvant trastuzumab (Herceptin) is usually recommended as well.

I didn't have an invasive tumor larger than 1cm. If they can't find it yet, I'm wondering if that means it's smaller than .5 cm, too. (That's good!)

My cancer is estrogen receptor positive.(That's good!)

My cancer is also HER2-positive +3. Which means it was way overexpressed. (That's bad.)

My cancer was originally diagnosed as low to intermediate grade but the oncologist seems to think that the biospy report (which was all she had to make a diagnosis from since I saw her before I had the masectomy.) was incorrect due to some cells appearing to be more organized and thus able to replicate themselves in a more perfect fashion and quickly. (Remember high school biology? OK, now-remember mitosis? Like that. Only on speed.) This would make the invasive component high grade rather than low grade. (And, needless to say, that's bad. But we area still waiting for the final pathology results which should be in later this week.)

My cancer is not inherited. (I took the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genetic tests already.) Of the many things lurking in my gene pool, breast cancer isn't one of them.(That's good.)

Since I've been looking stuff up, I feel better. I hate walking into any situation blind, especially ones in which I'm supposed to have a coherent conversation about toxic chemicals that might be injected into my body...but maybe I'm just too picky.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Top-Five List of Who I Don't Plan on Flashing

I'm certainly not shy about showing what the new boobie looks like to anyone who asks. Except for those listed below. Not that I think, for one instant, that they want to behold it in all it's glory, but rather because it would be extremely embarassing to us both.

1. My dad. Really, when was the last time you flashed your father. I managed to make it through puberty without acknowledging any change and faked my way through pregnancy, too. Honest, Dad, Elizabeth was a "virgin birth."

2. My brother, Andy. Ick. I can't remember that last time visual nakeness occured between the two of us (I have mercifully blocked it out) but I'm sure it happened sometime between the years that I was forced to change his diapers and him peeing on me, (there's an almost 6 year age difference between us) and when my mother decided to stop being cheap and forcing us to share the same hotel room bed on our yearly Easter trips to Florida. (When I got fed up with Andy's Darth Vader-like breathing and pinched his nose shut and covered his mouth in the middle of night. He though I was trying to kill him! Ah...that crazy kid.)

3. My father-in-law. Enough said. I was embarrassed enough when I when we had to share a bathroom in their old house. I turned on the faucet every time I used the toliet. Because I'm paranoid and private like that.

4. My brother-in-law, Mike. Really, as much fun as it is to torment him with the threat of that, I think leaving his niece, alone and outside of his front door with a note pinned to her shirt saying, "Uncle Mike and Aunt Lisa, Mom and Dad said they need the weekend off. My clothes and the cat are in the bag. They said they will see you Tuesday," is a much funnier practical joke. Yes, we will be filming this for YouTube and no, we wouln't actually leave her.

5 My friend Sabina's husband, Joe. He's new to the family and we don't want to scare him too much...yet.

A word to my male friends, Bill and Dave. You've already seen the "full show" when I was nursing. Yawn. Moving on now.

Human Body Aesthetics: What is "Collateral Damage?"

I get my best blog topics in the shower. So, even though it is 1am, I hastened down to my laptop to write.

I have an appointment at Sy-Lene Lingerie in DC tomorrow morning. My mom is taking me. I need another post-surgical cami that holds surgical drains in a cute little pocket. I also look lopsided,.

I was a DDD cup on the left. (Gone now!) and am still a DD cup on the right. But lefty is now an uber perky C cup. So, I have an appointment to get fit for two new non-underwire bras plus cookies, aka "falsies", bright and early.

As I showered tonight, I noticed that the swelling in my stomach was going down. Not in the "deflated dough-like" way it did after childbirth, but segmentally.  Never have I felt more like the proverbial elementary-math pie. The left upper quadrant is smaller. (Not surprising, that is where my one remaining surgical drain is. Ohh....shocker.)

I also noticed that I haven't been this svelte in years. (Since my wedding and honeymoon.) And I, vain and selfish creature that I am, like it.

However, I've always been a strange idealist/realist mix. (Hey-you try being a Capricorn Wiccan raised by a politico and a marketing exec.) I know what should be but I also realize what works. And by "what works" I mean what skims the line of socially acceptable in fashion and style.

For me.

Screw everyone else.

But am I too hasty to appreciate the new breast? It's much perkier, much more "fashionable." If it were a simple breast reduction, I don't know many people that wouldn't think that having it reduced wasn't a good idea in terms of appearance.

But having breast cancer seems to elevate it to a weird realm of fashion holiness.  I'm "allowed" by society to fully embrace my new boob whilst mourning the old. 

It takes cancer in this society to allow us to choose what we publically like about our bodies, in the fashion-sense? The rest is just "disposable," to be cheered on when we finally "get rid" of it, either by exercise or plastic surgery? We choose healthy things in our bodies that are "collateral damage?"

Shame. I did always think it was rather funky,that unclothed, I looked like the " the "Venus of Willendorf".

Now I look like half that, half the Venus de Milo. Really, I'm not putting a link to that one-you should know it. It's on just about every Italian brochure and humorous greeting card about bodies out there.

OK  Head hurts now. Going to bed. I promise to be funnier in my next post.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How Cancer is Giving Me a Smokin' Hot Bod

From the movie, Sixteen Candles:

Grandma: "Look, Fred; she's gotten her boobies!"

Grandpa: "I better get my magnifying glass!""

Grandma: "And they are just so perky!"

Really, the new boob is very perky. Like two sizes perkier than the original. I haven't had boobs this cute since I was 11. Then it was, quite literally, downhill from there.

My abdomen is taut. Right now, it looks like pregnant taut, but it is slowly deflating. (Or rather, draining.) The skin is stretched so tight, no lines show. (Kind of like actress Nicole Kidman's face.) Because of this, I cannot stand fully upright and tip-toe around with itty-bitty steps.

It prevents me from standing for longer than a couple of minutes. Today at Trader Joe's, I had to use the scooter cart to get around. In doing so, I incurred the wrath of the over-85 crowd ("Why do you need to use the cart?) and my three year-old. "BUT I WANT TO RIDE!!!!"

I'm feeling better. I went to Dr. Venturi, the genius plastic surgeon, for a post-op on Wednesday. He removed the drainage tube leading from my new "foob." (Faux boob) He'll take out the abdominal drains at my following post-op next Tuesday.

After this, I will most likely have "touch-up" surgeries done to:

1. install a nipple

2. smooth out any lumps or puckering on either my new breast or abdomen. I now have the world's biggest smilie face. It runs from hip to hip. The good part is that surgery removed the extra skin (my so-called "muffin top") and the skin that "Dun-lapped" over the tops of my thighs.

The bad part is that I seem to have a really, really bad allergic reaction to the surgical tape that was used for external closing. It is paper tape. And since I'm pretty sure I'm not allergic to paper, it's gotta be the glue. And it is bad. Like 3rd degree burn bad. No wonder I kept telling the hospital nurses that I was itchy after I woke up.

So, future surgery might smooth this out, too. However, I'm not terribly concerned. I've never been a bikini person (I like to really swim and dive too much) and I think the last time I bared my midriff for fashion was sometime in the mid-1990s.

And if CJ wants to spice things up, he can draw a pair of eyes and nose over the smile.

A note about Dr. Venturi. I am incredibly grateful that he was my plastic surgeon reconstruction guy. He doesn't have to offer reconstruction services (plastic surgeons can afford to be picky) and he certainly doesn't have to offer the most difficult type of reconstruction, the DIEP flap. Which, of course, being me, I chose.

According to CJ, Dr. Venturi was performing surgery on me for 9 hours. Excluding lunch and trips to the potty, that is still quite a feat. He looked beat when he came out of surgery but when ICU nurses called him at 4am the following morning because they thought my new breast was getting too low in it's temp, he came right in. And reassured them that even though everything was fine, they did the right thing.

I think he is very impressed with his work. CJ and I also think it's just killing him that I didn't want him to reduce and lift my right, healthy breast at the same time. (I'm saving it for nursing future spawn.)
Dr. Venturi remarked how unusual it is to have someone choose to not do both at the same time.
Ah, asymmetry...the bane of the artist's existence. He needn't worry. I'll be back eventually. (Thank you, Bill Clinton!!)

Right now, I'm looking a wee-bit lopsided. But that is why the Goddess created falsies.
And really feeling how heavy my breast was-it was an instant 11 lb. loss. Scary.

At least I'm getting something in trade....

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I'm Back..........

and home from the hospital. I was told I could leave at 5:15pm and was out of there by 6pm. That is the fastest discharge EVER.

Elizabeth seemed kind of nonplussed to see me; glad but I was interrupting her trick-or-treating. (Mother Nature lent me a hand there. The downpour chased my kid back inside within a half an hour.)
She's a little sad she can't fully hug me but my goodness, the drains are fascinating!! We also can't play together like we do normally. No dress-up, no chase, no soccer. Hope she enjoys endless card and board games.

CJ, Betsy, and Jo have been troopers. (All of them need sleep and alone time.) I feel bad needing more help from them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Report from the Front

As Polly is currently asleep in an ICU unit in the Virginia Hospital Center, it falls on me to post the update. If my prose isn't as snappy and delightful as I'd usually compose, I hope you'll forgive me, as I've spent most of the day watching soap operas and staring at a screen that took great delight in informing me over and over that my wife was STILL in the OR.

Polly is doing well. The surgery took 9 hours in all. The mastectomy itself took around an hour and a half, and dreamy Dr Weintrit was pleased with how it went.

Good news to go along with his positive assessment - the Sentinel Node biopsy came back clean, which is a positive indicator that there is NO cancer in Polly's lymph nodes. Yay! That's a great sign that we did indeed catch the cancer as early as we thought and that it hasn't spread past her breast.

Dr. Venturi was similarly positive about his section of the surgery when he came out to talk with us. We didn't have an extensive conversation, but after 7 and a half hours of surgery behind him, I was more than happy to get the thumbs up and let the man go home.

Polly was awake when I went back to see her in the ICU, but very groggy. I doubt she'll remember our conversation but she was at least lucid and clearly not in any pain. One thing I found interesting: since she's going to be immobile for a while, they have her legs encased in special wraps that pump the skin and muscle to ensure that no blood clots happen. They say they'll try to get her up and walking as early as tomorrow. She pretty much wanted to go to sleep, so our visit was short, enough for a kiss and an "I love you." and a big sigh of relief that everything seemed to go so well.

On a final note, my thanks to the wonderful nursing and cancer staff at Virginia Hospital Center, they were fantastic throughout the whole day.

More tomorrow if I get the chance. Good night!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On the Eve of My Masectomy...Some FYIs

By the time most of you read this, I should be out cold and in surgery. Sentinel Node Biopsy is a 8am and surgery is at 9am, EST.

I am assured by the really cool breast care nurse, Jean, that the biopsy is "not going to lie to you, it's unpleasant." Which I figure is nurse-talk for "Damn that hurts!!!" And I'm awake for it. Goody. Pain and no breakfast....starting to sound suspiciously like childbirth.

We have to be to the hospital at 6am. Let me put that in bold, so you can figure out my opinion-6am. At least I don't have to do anything after that...

Just wanted everyone to know that despite the miscarriage in January, Elizabeth's constant stream of colds and ear infections culminating in tubes, putting a cat down, and THE CANCER, it really hasn't been such a bad year. I've had worse, Hello, Adolescence!!!

Seriously, I've had some really wonderful and interesting experiences this year that I wouldn't trade. While I don't view breast cancer as a "bump in the road of life;(the bump will be reduced to a cute "C" or "D" cup tomorrow), I haven't stopped filling my life with joy, when possible.

Night, guys. See you tomorrow!! (Or Thursday, whichever one has a more sentinent me.)

Why You Shoud Never "Just Say Nothing" If You Don't Know What to Say

Just had this discussion with my MIL, Betsy.

I certainly know the old Miss Manner's piece of advice:

"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything."

While this certainly is a good adage to follow if you are upset at someone, this is wholly inapropriate to someone with cancer. Why?

Because saying nothing can be taken as a rejection and/or distancing of oneself from the person with cancer.

Just tell them you don't know what to say.

What to Say (And Not Say) to Premenopausal Women with Breast Cancer

I get many wonderful, heartfelt, and most importantly, funny, things said to me about my breast cancer.

Here are the things I like:

1. "I'm sending good vibes/healthy thoughts you way."

I really appreciate this. Not on a New Age or politically correct basis, but on a truth basis. If I know you are either an athesist or agnostic, it is really weird to hear that you are praying for me. It's a "Hail Mary" pass, in the truest sense of the phrase. (I merit a suspension of your religious beliefs?)

2. "I'm praying for you." I DO LIKE THIS. If you are a believer, any kind of believer, I appreciate it.

3. "What kind of meal can I bring you?" This is a direct action offer. I know what kind of help you can give; you know that I might not be up to my normal gourmet-cooking status.

4. "Do you need help with cleaning your house/gardening?" Haven't heard this one yet, but there is always hope. AND THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES.

5. "Let me know what I can do to help." OK, let me clarify the problem with this-it's great to want to help me. A better way to put is to give an exact suggestion, i.e. like, "Let me do your laundry."

Things Not Say to Someone with Cancer

1. "The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away." I got that from a lady at the grocery store. (I talk to people in line; so sue me.)

Um..I'm not quite sure what to do with that one. The Lord gave me a breast and is taking away. OK. See that. But then He is also giving me a new one, made of abdominal fat and tissue. Does this mean the Lord giveth and taketh away my love handles? I'm a little confused here.

2. "Everything happens for a reason." Even if you believe this, it's one of the worst things you can say. CJ & company were with my at Hooter's for my "Farewell to My Ta-Ta" outing last Saturday night and this is what our very nice waitress said.

I just really wanted my spicy boneless buffalo wings, not a debate on fate, predestination, karma, etc. Especially since my response to this theory is usually: "Really, everything happens for a reason? Is that why children get kidnapped and raped? Thanks for clearing that up."

3. Which brings me to #3. If you don't know what to say to someone with cancer, any kind of cancer, it's OK to tell them, "I don't know what to say that will be comforting." In fact, I've never met anyone, of any age/generation, that didn't appreciate emotional honesty on this subject.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oink Alert!! How Swine Flu is Already Knocking Me Down

Oh, H1N1 vaccine. You elude me like a football does Charlie Brown. Just am I close to finding a vax clinic I'm eligible for, it gets canceled.

Now, I'm not a particulary germ-phobic person. I was raised by a mother who....Let Me Eat Raw Cookie Dough! And batter! I have tried to pass on this noble activity to the next generation but have thwarted by Samonella. (Don't worry, Eleni. I always made sure the kids didn't lick the spoon when I was your nanny.)

But as I am about to have pretty serious surgery, I will suck it up and get the shot. (Or the nose spray; I'm not going to be picky.)

The other reasons I'm fairly irritated by swine flu are the new visitor restrictions that all DC-Metro Area hospitals are adopting. No child under 18, even siblings. (Which really sucks for folks in the Maternity Ward, too.)  Virginia Hospital Center H1N1 Visitor Policy

I can't have Elizabeth visit me in the hospital. It's depressing the hell out of me. But I understand. She goes to preschool. Which, next to public bathrooms at any mall at Christmas-time, is the filthiest, germ-iest, place on Earth.

I worry about how she will handle my absence. Yes, we plan to Skype. Still not as good as hugs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I'm heading out to the plastic surgeon this morning for our last appointment before surgery. Dr. Venturi will measure me, take photos (LIVE!! NUDE!! BOOBIES!!)

I have a bunch of questions about what can be done:

1. How much will the new one weigh? I know this a weird question but in the words of Bubbles on the old BBC series, Absolutely Fabulous, I've been living with "great, big, pendulous breasts," since high school. I already have back problems and was planning on getting the "girls" reduced after my final spawn issues forth.

2. Will the newbie be perkier? Really, if I'm giving up all the nerves and sense of feeling in my breast, I'd better be getting something this points up in return. (I think of it kind of like  children's bakery birthday cakes-the inside isn't that interesting but the outside looks great. Especially when covered with those impossible-to-eat rosettes.)

3. Yes, the new one will be smaller. Like a cup size smaller. (Since it was already bigger than rightie, is not a problem.) Oh, and I did figure out that they will not match after surgery. I BE SMART THAT WAY.
But I want them to match under clothes, bathing suits, or wearing a bra.

4. Can Dr. Venturi make the new one jiggle like the current model? I don't want it move like the heavily-implanted porn stars. Which means, not at all. Creepy.

5. My last and totally selfish question: Does this mean I need all new bras now?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Breast Cancer + Cat Euthanasia= Bad Karma?

With all of the other crapola I've had life dump on me lately, killing my kitty was the one I was the least prepared for.

My cat, Lilith, was almost 11 years old. She's always been a fat kitty, from the day we adopted her from the animal shelter.

She finally went into full-blown diabetes these past months. Lilith left no carpet un-peed upon in our house. (CJ's basement area rug is taking an extended vacation outside until enough Nature's Miracle kills the remaining "Men's Bathroom in a Stadium" smell.)

The vet-suggested insulin treatment course for Lilith would have only extended her life for a little while; and the chances of her going into insulin shock would get very high if we started her on it and then, due to cancer/chemo circumstances beyond our control, weren't home in time to give her the next injection.

The decision to put her down was not one that I felt I could make by myself right now (Thank you, CJ. You are a rock.) I just keep wondering if this will come back to bite me on the butt in the Karma sense...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Shrooms for Cancer!!

Cancer clinical studies are interesting. I wonder who comes up with these ideas. Take for instance, the study that Johns Hopkins is doing, named, "Psychopharmacology of psilocybin in cancer patients" , in which "Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is seeking volunteers with a diagnosis of cancer who are experiencing anxious or depressed mood to participate in a scientific study of states of consciousness brought about by the entheogen psilocybin, a psychoactive substance found in mushrooms used as a sacrament in some cultures, given in a comfortable, supportive setting."

YES!!! 'Shrooms for Cancer!!! I like the idea that I can eat a 'shroom and trip in a "comfortable, supportive setting." What does that mean? I start having a bad trip and there is someone with me, patting my hand and murmuring, "It's OK. You really aren't being chased by an army of women, in pink, demanding money."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Most Breast Cancer Books Have Stupid Covers

Finding a fresh, funny/unique approach to any non-medical study book written about breast cancer is about as easy as finding a condolence/sympathy card without sunsets, flowers, or shells.

It's a bewildering marketing wilderness of pink (ooooh....shocker.), flowers, and women's bodies (which are either pre or post surgery.) How can you judge a book by it's cover when they are all the same covers?

Granted, many people do not have the tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about breast cancer that I write about in this blog. (Or my artistic love for all things Edward Gorey.)

I'm thinking something along the lines of the the Grim Reaper getting it's butt kicked or a Grim Reaper Whack-a-Mole for a cancer book cover....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Evil Ways to Have Fun When You Have Breast Cancer-Part 2

Ha! I thought of a few more..

1. When people lower their voice and ask sympathically, "How are you?" Respond with, "You wouldn't believe how having the Clap burns!! I really dred going to the bathroom. OH!!! Wait! You meant THE CANCER?!?"

2. You can also cough delicately into your hand a la consumption. "It's THE CANCER. Ha! Kidding!!"

3. When people ask if you are bothered by the fact that having chemo might reduce your ability to have children, respond with, "But that's the great thing about being bald, frail-looking, and at the hospital all the time. No one would ever suspect you are planning to swipe a few babies from the Maternity Ward. I can scope out the ones that look good."

I'm looking for some more evil (pronounced E-Vile) suggestions to have fun when you have breast cancer. Just submit them via "Comment."

Evil Ways to Have Fun When You Have Breast Cancer-Part 1

What can I say? I have somewhat sadistic sense of humor.

1. Ask people who are enjoying a cigarette for a smoke, then tell them you have breast cancer.

2. Have a "Save the My Ta-tas" Farewell party at Hooter's. Make sure every person in the party wears a "Good-bye to My Breast-The Masectomy Tour 2009" T-shirt to the bar.

3. After losing your hair due to chemo, forgo the wigs, hats, and scarves. Wear horns like this instead. Especially when picking your kid up from preschool.

If you are uncomfortable with this option, there is always the ski-mask look. Going into retail shops and the bank might be a problem, though.

4. Stuck at the hospital for your masectomy on Halloween? Dress-up as the Grim Reaper. Make sure to wander the halls with your scythe, offering to do any reaping. "It's a Mr. Death, dear. He's here about the reaping." 

5. Wear Lipstick to Your Masectomy?  Go one better and freak out your surgical team. Crotch-less panties make a nice alternative. They won't know until after you are out cold.

6. Show up to your chemotherapy session sporting a marijuana leaf T-shirt like this. Of couse, I like this one, too.

I think bumper stickers on your car would work just as well. Just put on a pink ribbon Breast Cancer sticker and a medical marijuana sticker. Roll down the windows, crank up the Bob Marley and Grateful Dead when driving through nice, suburban neighborhoods.

7. Make sure the your chemo tech catches you reading  Final Exit.

If I can think of any more, I'll post a Part Two. Until then, have fun!!

Negative for the Breast Cancer Gene!! Darwin Would Be Proud...

Yay!! I don't have to worry about Elizabeth's gene pool!! Or not adding to my own by spawning again..

My  awfully expensive (and fully covered under my health insurance!!) BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 tests for the genetic mutation that can predispose a woman or man (yeah, you read that right. It happens.) to develop breast cancer were negative.

Which I figured as the first person on either side of my family to develop breast cancer.

What does this mean?

1. Elizabeth's chances of developing breast cancer are lowered.
2. My chances of having a reoccurance of breast cancer on the right side are lessened. Otherwise, a double masectomy would have been suggested.

Oh-and sorry for not updating sooner. It's been a heck of a week, in the non-cancer sense.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Really Bad News

Today has been the day from Hell.

1. My surgery was re-scheduled back to October 28th. My parents are out of town in South America, I can't go trick-or-treating with Elizabeth, and I'm going to miss my favorite holiday, Halloween. I'll be all alone on my favorite night of the year.

2. My cat, Lilith, was diagnosed as diabetic. Lucky kitty, she gets to start insulin. Thank goodness for pet insurance.


I will have to have chemo, after all. I had my first oncology appointment today and get more pathology results.

My cancer is both estrogen-receptive positve and HER-2 positive +3.

I'm going to lose my hair, feel terrible, and not be able to take care of my child. Crap.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Don't Forget, the Pink Shit Month Cometh-Run for Your Lives (Or Wallet)

Meh. As a breast cancer patient, I'm contractually obligated to remind everyone that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month .

Don't forget to buy the pink shit to support breast cancer research. Just make sure that the majority of the money of said pink-shit stuff goes directly to breast cancer research.

It really sucks that every company with women-oriented products thinks sticking a pink ribbon on something makes it almost a one-way ticket to Dante's Fifth Circle of Hell if you actually contemplate buying a non-pink-stickered product that is an equally valid choice. (Oh! The horror!!)

CJ just pointed out that I should ask my breast cancer surgeon if I get a discount on my surgery, since I'm having it done during "Breast Cancer Awareness Month." Maybe there is a coupon from the Susan G. Komen Fund somewhere..."Race for Discount" or something...

"Age Before Beauty"-at Least in Breast Cancer Research

I'm getting really frustrated with how little research on breast cancer is being done for pre-menopausal women. Science is really lagging behind on this one.

Most research on breast cancer has been done on menopausal women. Not much for women like me; women who delayed having their first child until after 30, but breastfed. La Leche will probably bemoan a study that shows their oft-repeated stat that they tattoo on all members foreheads, "breastfeeding reduces your chance of getting breast cancer by 10% every year that you do it," depends on the age of mom. But I'm sure they'll come around.

We should probably also start a second study group of women who delayed childbirth until after 30 and needed hormonal fertility treatments, too. Jacking your estrogen levels up to get pregnant might lead to babies and cancer.

We are a large group in most metropolitan areas and getting bigger. Since I'm speaking about disease that can kill you and has a much better shot at it than if you are older, this blows.

Hey-I'm about to get my breast lopped off and I did my grad-student-like best research on the subject. How can a physician or a patient make an informed decision on material that doesn't truly apply to their age or circumstance?

Trust me, research is coming. The breast cancer demographic I'm in is only going to get bigger. Just call me a complaining Guinea pig.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reconstructed Breasts: Natural and Fake?

Since I'm about to get a (fingers-crossed) cancer-free left breast, I have been debating how "real" a reconstructed breast is in comparision to the breast that booby-fairy gifted me.

What follows is my very non-politically correct self discourse; if you would like to avoid reading something that might hurt many breast cancer patients' sensitivities on this subject, you need to stop reading now. Oh, and clearly you are on the wrong blog. (You can come back when I morph into Pollyanna. Don't hold your breath.)

First, let me say that I do not know if most other breast cancer patients debate these types of questions to themselves. I do know that the smaller-breasted women I've met with breast cancer do not seem to be as concerned about their breast's post-surgical attractiveness factor, something that I obsess over.

Second, yes, I am very aware how vain I am when it comes to my chestal region. Just check out my shirts. Not many high-necked tops in my closet.

Everyone has their own opinion of what is attractive. My mom is small-breasted. She used to point out movie stars like Audrey Hepburn-it was her version of attractive. I looked at Audrey in My Fair Lady and thought she would have looked a whole lot better if she had eaten a burger occasionally and could fill out the tops of those gorgeous dresses.

With the date of my masectomy approaching, I'm thinking about how afterwards I will have one real breast and one hybrid. (I can't think of a good term for it other than "reconstructed.")

Here is what I'm debating:

1. The DEIP flap I'm getting is all me, as opposed to an implant or skin expanders. So, it's still "real"-or at least, that's what I'm going to answer anyone who asks if they are real. (Yes, these type of people exist. Especially at bars, after a few drinks in the Ladies' Restroom.)

But, I'm also proud of them in a non-body image way. They successfully nursed Elizabeth. I really enjoyed it. (Once I got past the first weeks of no sleep and misery. Oh, and nipple shields.) The "girls" aren't perfect but they did the job. I'm saddened that the next kid I churn out won't have the same opportunity. (You bet I thank the Goddess that I live in a country with clean water and good formula. And I will bitch-slap anyone who questions my feeding choice with a glass bottle.)

2. It's not a real breast. It's purpose is totally gone. I will have no lobules (where milk is made), ducts, or even a nipple. (I keep thinking about the old Wallflower's song, "One Headlight.") The original skin will still be there, but it will be like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz; every human part of him was replaced. Emptied out, replaced, and soldered shut.

Bring on the pity party. I made my choice-the "not dying from this" choice. Still, I hate hearing people sugar-coat it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Good-Bye TTC, Hello, Retin-A!!

Really, I might as well make the most of my not trying to get pregnant right now. So, I'm going back on Retin-A for my PCOS-caused acne. The really good thing? Retin-A gets rid of acne and wrinkles!!! My dermatologist OK'd it today.

So, the rest of me might look like crap but at least I'll have nice skin.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dr. Doogie OKs Later Surgery Date; Is Grounded Untill Then

Yay!! My breast cancer surgeon approved re-scheduling my mastectomy surgery date. It will now be around Veteran's Day, Wednesday, Novemeber 11th .

As Martha Stewart would say, there are several "good things" about postponing surgery.  (And none have to do with cooking, sewing, having the perfect household, life, etc.)

Good Thing #1
My parents will be back from their trip to South America. Mom will be able to stay at our house and give my mother-in-law, Betsy, a hand with Elizabeth when CJ has overnight hospital duty with me. Dad can lend moral support.

Good Thing # 2
Halloween!!!! IT'S ON!!!!! (And I can take my favorite 3 year-old trick-or-treating!!!)

Good Thing #3
Minimal risk in delaying surgery. I talked to Dr. Weintritt on the phone yesterday. (Wow, it's nice to have a doctor that you actually get to speak to on the phone, rather than to his nurse.) He even has a sense of humor about it, "Well, I guess I can perform surgery on Veteran's Day, even though I'm a veteran." (To which CJ went: "What?!? In what war? He looks like he's 25!!!) Does this make Dr. Weintritt, "Dr. Doogie?"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Surgery Scheduled-It Might Be Changed

Well, my surgery has been scheduled....for October 28th! Not what I was expecting. I was expecting much earlier. However, my plastic surgeon is on vacation for the first week of October and his assistant is on vacation for the second week in October. So, the earliest I can get in after they get back is late October.

The date doesn't make me too happy. My parents are going to be in South America, on a trip they have been planning for a long time. Oh-and it's next to my favorite holiday-HALLOWEEN!! (Which is also a religious holiday for me.) I guess I can still dress up, in the hospital. In fact I saw a great costume at the Maryland Renaissance Festival a couple of weeks ago. It was a guy dressed in a long, black robe with a medieval plague mask . Remind me to wander the hospital hallways in that one....

I've called my breast cancer surgeon to see if I can wait until after Nov. 9th, when my parents get back. I'm waiting to hear back but it probably won't be until Monday.  Dr Weintritt, the surgeon, offered me the chance to have the mastectomy part earlier, leaving reconstruction until later. However, I REFUSE TO WAKE UP WITH ONE BOOB. Not gonna happen. Also, I would have to have two surgeries and have two hospital stays. I think that would be very hard for Elizabeth.

We'll just have to see-the risk for putting off the surgery till November is very minimal. I'm stage 0.

I guess I won't be the one making Thanksgiving dinner this year....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cue the "Jaws" Music....

That's kind of what I hear in my head when I think about the upcoming surgery. I keep thinking that it would be appropriate to score the videos of surgery online to the famous "Jaws" theme....

I'm still waiting for my surgery date. I called (harassed) my breast cancer surgeon's office again yesterday morning. The receptionist there (very cool) told me that it's more difficult to schedule surgery when two doctors are involved; however, this time, both doctors are waiting on the scheduling person from the hospital's operating room (OR). *Sigh* This is not helping my opinion of Virginia Hospital Center.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cleared for Takeoff!

As it were. I phoned my plastic surgeon bright and early this morning at 9am to see if he had seen my CT scan and the results.

Looks like the DIEP flap is a go!! Good. Implants scare me. Apparently, I still have loads of blood vessels needed for the free flap procedure.

So, now Dr. Weintritt and Dr. Venturi conference with each and pick a date. Dr. Weintritt says the surgery will probably be sometime in the next two weeks.

Oh, and as for the my hunch about the intelligence level of the Virginia Hospital Center's radiology department; their screw-up was not a surprise to Dr. Weintritt's staff. Apparently, the radiology department has a case of the stupids. Not very inspiring. I'm definately writing a letter of complaint to the hospital admistration.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Well...Virginia Hospital Center is 0-1 for Me

Their radiology department messed up. They didn't send the disc of my CT scan from last Thursday to my plastic surgeon.

I showed up at my plastic surgeon's office this morning at 9:30am in Tysons Corner-which is about 45 minutes in traffic from my house-and asked the nurse to make sure the disc had been sent. Nope.

Great. So, Dr. Venturi (nice guy) told me that since he had to go to Virginia Hospital Center today to see patients, he would go down to radiology and get my disc himself. Yay for him! Boo-hiss on them. I needed the results for my breast cancer surgeon, who I see tomorrow at 9am. ARGH!!!

I'll call Dr. Venturi's office at 8am to see if he got the results and if I am able to have a DIEP flap reconstruction.

I'm especially ticked at VHC because the moment my scan was finished, I lept off the table and asked for the disc. I was told I couldn't have it because it wasn't ready and they would send it Dr. Venturi's office. I should have been more suspicious; when I arrived for the CT scan last week, the radiology reception told me that they didn't think that my insurance would cover the scan, as the script was from a plastic surgeon. " did read the part of the script that mentions this is for breast reconstruction, right?" "I don't know if your insurance will give their approval. They don't have to cover it."

WRONG. The insurance company does have to cover reconstruction, according to the 1998 law passed under the Clinton Administration. (Why does that not surprise me? Bill really liked boobies.)

So far, I am not impressed with VHC. I've lived in Alexandria all my life and used the Inova hospitals here for everything from a broken arm in 2nd grade (which the computer pulls up every time I go in for something) to MRIs, to my C-section with Elizabeth. Inova, while slow at times, has not screwed up.

How competant VHC remains to be seen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Can I Put My Love Handles to Good Use?

Never thought you would hear that! Seriously, though-tomorrow morning is my appointment with the (hot, according to CJ) plastic surgeon, Dr. Venturi. I get to find out if the CT angiogram results showed that I have enough tummy fat cells to make a new booby.

If I don't have enough, (hard to imagine, but still possible!) I will have to consider a TRAM flap, or worse, implants.

After a decision is reached with Dr. Venturi, I then trot off to my (hot, again according to CJ) breast cancer surgeon, Dr. Weintritt, on Thursday morning to discuss what Dr. Venturi recommends.

Then I guess I'll be notified by one of the surgery scheduling secretaries about a mutually agreeable day and time at Virigina Hospital Center.

I Have Cancer; Therefore, I Blog

Starting a blog seems to be de rigueur when you find out that you have cancer and you are under 50. It's all part of the "Cancer Rules," as follows:

1. Start a blog to inform your friends and family of what is going on, a CNN (Cancer News Network), just for you.

Nothing else could have motivated my lazy butt to start a blog. Although, I could argue that a cancer blog is lazy, too. I don't have to keep calling everyone and repeating the same info, over and over again.

2. On the day you find out that you have cancer, smiling so hard that you thought your face would crack when your 3 year-old woke up and came downstairs to find you crying on the phone.

3. Joining a Breast Cancer Support Group. Check!

4. Becoming re-acquainted with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and old freshman psych class material

5. Really getting to know my health insurance benefits. (Hey! I just found out our health insurance covers most of laser eye surgery. In fact, it's cheaper than shelling out for the annual eye exam, glasses, and contacts...but I digress)

6. Having the stress level in house go up to the point where your cats become willfully incontinent. (Thank goodness for my steam cleaner.)

7. The best excuse to do all of the little home repair stuff that CJ and I have been putting off forever. Like re-caulking the bathtub and replacing the ripped stair carpet. can take Option B, aka the "Deer in the Headlights Approach" of Cancer Rules:

1. Hide under your covers and moan, "It's not happening, it's not happening."

2. Ignore reality and do nothing. At least not for many weeks or months.

Surprisingly, I have found their are people like this-I hate to tell them this but Option B is about as effective as denying labor pains in childbirth. Laying there and moaning doesn't work in childbirth and won't work with cancer, either.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wanted: An Oncologist that Isn't a Jerk

I'm in the market for an oncologist. It's like shopping for a car, in that the your money is taken and the person you are dealing with never quits. (So I'm told. Even if you are on your deathbed.) Many of the breast cancer patients I've recently met have had problems with their oncologists. Several doctors pop up frequently in conversation and the comments have not been kind.

I'm not looking for a doctor who asks me if I have any questions and then runs out of the room, telling me to save for next time.

Or someone with the personality of pitbull. When you are comtemplating suspending your menstrual cycle through drugs, in order to reduce your estrogen, gee, I want someone who can show a little sympathy.

I need the world's most amazing oncologist. Actually, I'm just looking for a relatively hyper-intelligent doctor who knows something about PCOS and cancer. I don't mean someone who read a paragraph in a book about PCOS.

Why? Because I want to make sure the oncologist is not dismissive of the PCOS, just because it is not threatening to get me RIGHT NOW. As the comedian George Carlin said, "It's gonna kill ya." Now or later (and I certainly prefer later, much later) but I don't want to die of a heart attack caused by diabetes (caused by the PCOS) either.

I realize an oncologist's job is to, "Get the cancer out!" But at the end of the day, I have to live (hopefully!) with both the cancer and PCOS.

Is It Wrong to Try to Schedule My Masectomy Around the Redskins-Detroit Lions Game?

Pourquoi? The Detroit Lions tend to suck. Majorly. And I at least I wouldn't feel too badly about still being in the hospital, watching the game in my room.

Oh, and I have feeling that I wouldn't be allowed my hard cider, salsa, and chips. Life's little pleasures.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why Do Cancer-Info Books Talk Down to Children?

Whew!! Can I pick'em! I went online to find books that help explain cancer to my three year-old. There does not seem to be a happy medium. They are either too sophisticated or filled with euphemisms that appeal to toddlers but really don't explain anything.

The book, Our Family Has Cancer, Too!, has cartoons that aim for the K-3 set. However, the info inside is meant for 4-6th graders. It's a long read and goes into detail. "Metastasize" sounds like a form of aerobic activity to little kids. Our Family Has Cancer, Too!

The other book I ordered When Someone You Love Has Cancer, is couched in very delicate euphesmims. Too delicate. Oh, and the drawings are of elves. Yes, you read that right. Elves with cancer.

Anyhoo, not only do elves get cancer but sometimes "they don't get better" and "then they go to heaven." Uh, hey, author, excuse me-the monk who wrote it- doesn't actually mention the words, "die", or "death." The result being if a preschooler reads the book, they might believe that sometimes, people with pointy ears (elves or Vulcans, pick one), get sick, sometimes don't get better, and then go immediately to a place called Heaven. Where you can't go. (It sounds supsciously like a wild club night in New York City or Dupont Circle, on Halloween.)

I've also noticed that cancer books for kids do not rate literary criticisms. They are judged solely on educational merits. No wonder these books can suck.

I'm still on the lookout for preschool-aged books about cancer that don't read like instructional manuals with character-names instead of part names.

"High Times" Coming Maryland?

Good to know. If I do end up with chemo, I guess I can drive across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and smoke up. Either that or find someone with a boat to head out on the Potomac. (As Maryland owns the river.)

Calling Dr. Feelgood . . .

Can I just say something about these doctors we've been treking all over DC to see?

I'm not sure what kind of vortex of attractiveness we've been sucked into here, but our two surgeons, Dr. Weintritt and Dr. Venturi, must be the two most good-looking doctors in all of Northern Virginia.

Dr. Weintritt, I kid you not, looks exactly like what would happen if you crossed Elvis Presley and Frankie Avalon in their respective primes. And Dr. Venturi - well, imagine if Simon Cowell lost twenty pounds, stopped wearing too-tight T-Shirts and became personable.

Look, I have nothing against these guys for being good-looking, and believe me Polly's done the research - they're two of the best doctors in the country for this kind of surgery. It just seems remarkable that they're BOTH vying for a GQ cover shoot. Remember when doctors used to be stressed-out overweight guys who smelled of whisky and golf balls? What happened?

I keep imagining them coming into the surgery center - in slow motion - as the misty smoke of their arrival on jet packs settles in the background. As the stride towards surgery, Dr. Weintritt punches out some child abuser Clooney-style and then Dr. Venturi impregnates two women by looking at them and winking.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. They really are very good doctors with great communication and what seems like excellent staff around them as well. Say what you will about the downsides of Big-City living (the traffic, the cost-of-living, etc.), you could do worse than to be located around D.C. if you find out you've got cancer.


Monday, August 31, 2009

"My Breasts are More Important Than Yours !"

So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, breast augmentation babes!

At least, that was what the plastic surgeon, Dr. Venturi, said. Apparently, my surgery gets to bump folks with elective surgeries.

First, the plastic surgeon needs to make sure I have enough abdominal fat (I offered to eat more doughnuts to help out and was turned down.) to make a new breast with-Yes, you understood that correctly...FREE TUMMY-TUCK. My C-section scar isn't helping; it blocks the view and they need to get a closer look at the normal scarring that occurs. So, I'm off to have a CT scan on Thursday.

I'm back at the plastic surgeon's on Wednesday, September 9th for the pre-op consult to finalize what the CT scan says about my eligiblity to have a DEIP "free" flap construction. Assuming all goes well, he'll get more measurements and then conference with my breast cancer surgeon, Dr. David "The Grape Crusher" Weintritt. After that, there will be a meeting of the "peoples"; Dr. Venturi's people and Dr. Weintritt's people will figure out a mutually agreeable time and the people from Virginia Hospital Center will provide the place.

I'll be the person on the gurney wearing a corset.

Moving Quickly

Things are moving pretty fast.

I called the recommended plastic surgeon's office (Dr. Venturi) at 9am sharp this morning. His secretary said they didn't have any appointments this week and I'd have to wait until next week. Unless....unless I wanted to come in today?

You bet. I'm in the "get things planned and done" mode. The waiting is making me antsy. Not that I look forward to surgery or "putting this all behind me," "moving on with my life, " etc. because I just am not that kind of person. My experiences are always with me, a part of me. Why try to forget? They influence who I am. (Notice I said "influence. Not "make".)

I hate waiting. I especially loathe waiting for unpleasent things, like shots. The waiting is worse than the shot. Having your boob sliced off and a new one installed is a darn big shot!

I'll update on what the plastic surgeon says when I get home.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Young and the (Left) Breastless

Yep, I'm having a simple mastectomy. My breast cancer surgeon, Dr. David Weintritt (according to my German teacher friends, my doctor's last name means "grape crusher." It would have been funnier if he had decided to specialize in testicular cancer!), said this would be the most effective treatment for the DCIS and the invasive BC. The DCIS-invaded duct crosses too many quaderants of my breast to make a lumpectomy feasible.

Now I have to call the plastic surgeon that Dr. Weintritt recommended. Apparently, because I want the immediate reconstruction called the DIEP "free" flap,   my choices in plastic surgeons are limited. Think like limited to two, in Northern Virginia. Why? Because it's the most difficult and specialized type of reconstruction. The plastic surgeon must be trained in micro-vascular surgery, as a great deal of the surgery is performed under a microscope. It's a looooongg surgery, too. Like 8 hours long. (I forgot to ask how they handle bathroom breaks. I really want to know! I'll ask the next time I'm at the office.) I told CJ to bring lots of DVDs to the waiting room to play on our portable DVD player.

So, I will get in touch with plastic surgeon's office on Monday. I hope to have an appointment with him early next week. After that, the plastic surgeon and Dr. Weintritt will discuss my case, their surgery scheduling secretaries will coordinate when both surgeons are available and the OR at Virginia Hospital Center is available.

I'm guessing I will know my surgery date sometime late next week. I'll keep everyone posted.

CJ and I are heading out tonight for some much needed alone time. Thanks, Mom!!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Breasts Play Good Cop, Bad Cop

The doctor I'm getting a second opinion from, Dr. Habib, called with the results of my bilateral MRI and the mammogram that I had done yesterday on my right breast.

OK-bad cop first. The DCIS is spread throughout my left breast. Which means that a mastectomy is the surgical treatment. If I went with a lumpectomy, I'd be left with a breast shaped like a figure-8, with a nipple waving at the end. No thanks.

Just an FYI-the breast, while viewed by doctors in quaderants, is not like an orange. It does not divide neatly into segments. Milk ducts (where DCIS and most BC starts) are not linear; one duct can weave through many "quaderants" of the breasts. So, while only 1 or 2 ducts might be affected, it's the amount of location of the cancer sites throughout the ducts that dictate whether or not a lumpectomy or a mastectomy is needed.

Now for the good cop news. As I posted yesterday, the second mammogram showed that there is no cancer in my right breast. The MRI that scanned both breasts yesterday confirmed it!!! So, I get to hang on to the right one. For now. Crossing my fingers.

Even better was the MRI showing that none of my lymph nodes are enlarged! Which means that cancer hasn't or won't "brake on through to the other side."

Yes, I'm grateful. It could have been worse. But I'm still upset of the upcoming loss of my left breast. Everytime I pass a mirror, or wear a low-cut top (and you know me-I have lots of those!!), I wonder just how much longer I'll have it.

CJ, Elizabeth, and I are planning on going to the Maryland Renaissance Festival this weekend, when it opens for the season. Renn-geek that I am, have my own, very nice bodices. Yeah, they show off the girls. It's part of the "atmosphere" of the Renn Faire. I'm guessing this will be the last one that both "girls" go to.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Bright Spot (Or a Very Good Lack Thereof)

I never realized how relieved I'd be by the second mammogram of the right breast turning up clear. Hey-this time, I got to actually see the images right after they were taken. (Which I personally think should be the law!)

I just really felt lighter after seeing no calcifications on Ms. Righty. I'm counting on it for a very-much-hoped-for second pregnancy, after surgery to take the left one off, put a new one on, and lots of drugs thrown in.

I have one more blessing to count today. I feel very grateful. (And a shout-out to my friend, Faith, and the healing circle her coven did for me last week, on the new moon. Bright Blessings and thank you.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

As Images of "TRON" Dance in My Head..

At least I've learned to take a nap in the MRI machine. Then I get the mammogram on the right breast. I had my bloodwork today. I'll be able to check three more things off the "You've Got Cancer" list. I always hear that voice of the AOL guy that does "You've Got Mail."

The MRI machine always makes me think of the movie, TRON. The blue lights scanning your body do it. (What can I say? I'm a child of the 80's. Which is a whole other blog.)

Friday is the big appointment. The one where CJ and I sit down and talk to the doctor about what the MRI, second mammo, and bloodwork said, what they mean, and what he recommends as treatment.

Both doctors I went to had the same opinion about me needing a simple mastectomy-they were 90% sure.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Now That I Have Cancer, Do I Have to Fundraise for Pink Shit?

'Cause I'd really rather not. I don't want pink cookies, mugs, t-shirts, anything with a pink ribbon other than the "Save the Ta-Tas". (Because I enjoy that phrase.) Breast cancer research is important, no doubt about that. And thankfully, it's very well funded by private donations.

I am just getting the feeling that there is an expectation from doctors, hospitals, support groups, etc. that when you are diagnosed with cancer, that you will hop on the fundraising bandwagon. Unfortunately, along with that stance is the disapproval of ladies who do not want to "buy pink stuff."

Hey-I figure that charity work/helping out is a great thing. However, pick something that you want to do. You shouldn't be pigeonholed into supporting something just because you have it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Futility of Planning Ahead with Inova

The Inova hospital system seems to offer a lot of great, free stuff for cancer patients. However, they do not offer a calendar of all their classes, tours (How to Get a Mastectomy, etc.), support groups for the next month. Apparently, I'm not the first one to complain to my breast care "navigator" (No, not kidding. That's what they are called. I kept wanting to break out the old, "O Captain, my Captain!" line). about the difficulty of planning for these classes, etc. if the next month isn't posted until the 1st or the 2nd of the month.

I keep thinking maybe it's all part of the plan-they don't know who will still be there to attend class the next month....

Things to Do On My Cancer Checklist

Here's my tentative schedule for the next round of stuff I need to have done:

1. Mammogram of the right breast, Friday Aug. 20th at 11am

2. Bloodwork-probably right after the mammogram as I won't have my 3 year-old running the clinic in a room full of needles.

3. MRI-Tuesday, Aug. 25th at 8am. A bilateral peek-a-boo at both ta-tas, with a concentration on the poor left one.

I guess I'll have to squeeze in breathing and reflection on my changed health status later. After I finish feeling sorry for myself.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The private details of our sex life are "icky?"

Not sure how to take that, really.

Let Me Clarify the " Discussing Our Sex Life" Comment

No, we're not discussing details or anything. More like questions about how breast cancer affects anyone's sex life. For example, post-mastectomy and breast reconstruction, the breast is completely numb. Do you/your partner touch it during sex?

I would never get into the private aspects. That's icky.

If You Have Both Breasts Removed, Can You Go Topless at the Beach?

Seriously, if you don't them reconstructed, can you? You're not showing any nipple.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I had two doctor's appointments this afternoon. Every scrap of info on breast cancer out there says to get two, so I went out and got two. Not that there was much difference, nor did I expect there to be.

So, here is what both doctor's agreed on:

1. I need to have an MRI to get a closer look at the DCIS in the lower quaderant of my left breast and check out the microcalifications in the top section. The MRI will be bilateral, so they'll take a gander at the right one, too.

2. Bloodwork, of course!! My cancer "experience" wouldn't be complete without it.

3. A sentinel node biopsy. To check for more cancer in the lymph nodes closest to my breast. If there is cancer in there, uh, that's bad. Like "you'll need chemo and we'll have to harvest your eggs because you'll never conceive naturally again," bad, worse-case scenario. Or, if the docs are feeling footloose and fancy free about just a few cancer cells having made their way over to the nodes, they'll just remove the nodes, check for more cancer in the next set of nodes, wash, rinse, and repeat. You get the idea.

Eventually, I'll just be out of nodes, catch a bunch of infections, and develop a really big armpit (which is called lyphmadema). Maybe shaving will finally be easier.

4. I'm probably looking at a simple masectomy. There are numerous califications throughout my breast. And unless I want my boob to look like a figure 8, a lumpectomy is most likely out.

Here is the one thing that the second doctor, Dr. Christine Habib added. She wants me to have another, closer mammogram of my right breast, because of the minor califications there. Shit.

To be continued later....

Dr. Weintritt's P.A., Leah, was great. My age and asked me right off the bat how much information I had been given/researched. (Hey, I can't imagine someone my age NOT doing research.)

"I believe you can joke about ANYTHING"

The above quote comes courtesy of George Carlin, whose philisophical impact I personally put squarely between Socrates and Lao Tzu. Carlin went on to prove his point by making fun of rape. Personally, I don't find rape very funny, but dammit if Carlin didn't have me laughing seconds later, as he envisioned Elmer Fudd raping Porky Pig.

See, some of you are laughing right now, and some of you are pinching up your faces, thinking "nope, its still not funny."

That's also pretty much the reaction I would expect to a lighthearted blog about my wife's breast cancer entitled "Gallows Humor." I assure you that the idea for the blog as well as its title were both Polly's. I can further assure you that while she is not at all pleased to be dealing with F-ing CANCER at the age of 35, she also is the last person in the world who would jump in bed, hide under the covers, and pretend it all isn't happening.

Not my wife, sonny boy.

No, in typical Polly style, she's grabbing her cancer by the horns and wrestling that sucker HER WAY, and while yes, tears have been shed and will likely be shed again, overall, she's delt with this the same way she's dealt with everything in her life: straight on. Its part of the reason I fell in love with her in the first place, and part of the reason I continue to fall a little more in love with her more every day.

. . .


Too schmaltzy?

Screw it. My wife has cancer, dude. I'll get as schmaltzy as I damn please about it.

One last note. Polly and I have agreed to be very honest on this blog, so in that spirit, expect future posts from me exploring our sex life, my thoughts on her breasts (past, present, and future), and all other manner of personal stuff that are going to be affected by this. Mom, avert your eyes. Dad, just stop reading now.

How to Make Other People Feel Guilty with Your Cancer

"Andy, if you don't come over tonight to hang out, you better have a friend that more cancer than me. Because otherwise, I WIN!!!"

Der Humour

"The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure." Sigmund Freud, Der Humour, 1927

I thought having a blog about my having breast cancer is easier on everyone. If I keep using Facebook to update people on what's going on, I'll begin to sound like "Debbie Downer" from SNL. Yeah, no thanks.

Plus, it's a good way to let friends, family, and other interested parties know how to speak to me about having breast cancer.

For example, I'm (so far) a good little breast cancer patient. I toddled off immediately to all of the big sites, Susan Komen,, American Cancer Society, and National Cancer Institute (NCI). Great info, but the way in which these sites, especially the American Cancer Society, uses euphemisms to talk about cancer really brings on some unholy laughter. Like the term, "Managing Your Cancer Experience." WHAT?!? Like the Jimmi Hendrix Experience? Or a Jimmy Buffett experience...which I have had and that was much more fun.