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.