Results are in…

Good evening everyone!

I’m happy to report that the results of my first check up since surgery and the completion of my radiation treatment are in and I’m clear!

Thank you all again for your prayers and words of encouragement. I really appreciate all of you. 🙂

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

Photos and details to follow…

Saying goodbye…

It was officially my last day at work and time to say goodbye to the people I had worked with for over 11 years. I was excited to be starting a new life on the other coast, but I was also sad to be leaving everyone behind. My coworkers had become my family and my best friends.

These were the people that watched me grow into the person I am today, and taught me so much along the way. To be honest with you, even through the tough times, this was the kind of place people only dreamed of working in. My boss is the kind of doctor that works “for the people” and not “for the dollar”. Yes, we all know it’s a business but, he taught me to be compassionate towards my patients, and by example taught me, that without a good patient/doctor relationship there is no business.

As I cut my cake and we shared a few laughs, I remember reflecting back on my experiences and with a smile on my face thinking, “These people will always hold a special place in my heart”.

Goodbye to my life here in beautiful Naples, FL. It was now time to head on over to the place I would now call home. A place full of new opportunities and adventures to come, Miami, FL.

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

A few weeks into radiation…

I was starting to wrap things up at work when I looked at my watch and realized I needed head over for my daily radiation treatment. I had grown more and more excited about going with each day that passed. Not only was I one day closer to finishing, I was also meeting some really nice people along the way. To my relief, I hadn’t been experiencing any pains or serious burns either. I had started mountain biking again and was even feeling confident about running the half marathon with my partner. It was only a week or so away and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I really couldn’t understand why I had read stories of so many people having such a terrible time.

To my surprise however, shortly after those couple of weeks, my energy level did start to decline and my left breast had become inflamed and extremely painful. It began to interfere with my work, sports, sleep, and was wearing me out emotionally. I had tried several over the counter creams to help alleviate the burning and itching but nothing worked. I eventually mentioned it to the radiation oncologist during my weekly check up. She suspected the possibility of my having mastitis of the left breast and prescribed me an antibiotic along with  a cream to help with the itching and burning of the skin. Within a couple of days I was starting to feel a difference in the amount of pain and swelling I felt but, I was still tired and worn out emotionally.

Psychologically, I had reached my max. I know it sounds crazy, but I would compare the way I felt to the feeling you get after eating a meal to fast. Think about it, you eat really quickly, ignoring your stomach’s chemical signal telling you to stop. You than realize you ate way more than you could handle and now you’ve given yourself a stomachache. That’s how I felt. I had filled my emotional storage space to its max without even picking up on its distress signals and was officially on overload.

During my previous episodes of emotional ups and downs, my radiation oncologist had suggested the use of an antidepressant. I refused it, feeling that it would be a symbol of my weakness and inability to balance my emotions on my own. I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t need medication to do that. I had already been down that route years ago and had found a better way to cope with my stress through running and staying active. I remember asking myself, ” If there were other people out there that got through this without medication, why should I be any different?” I now realize that, not only was I comparing myself to other people , adding unnecessary pressure, I also wasn’t considering everything else going on in my life that made me feel so off balance. I was leaving my job after more than 11 years. I was moving away to another city leaving my family and friends behind. These were major life changes I was going through, all while juggling everything that came with having had cancer.

I continued on this slippery slope, hoping I could wake up one day feeling different but I never did. The closer I got to finishing my treatments and moving away from everything I knew, the more anxious and depressed I became. Going to my treatments was like a safe haven for me. I felt like cancer couldn’t come back while I was being treated and I feared what would happen when it was all over. I could no longer focus on work, family or my relationship with these thoughts clouding my brain. I wasn’t even enjoying my running and biking anymore. It was then I realized I was in over my head and agreed to take an antidepressant which turned out to be the best decision I could have ever made…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

 

 

My trip to Moffitt…

Today I’m hitting the rewind button and bringing you back to December 18th, the day I was scheduled to meet the Oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Centers in Tampa. I remember getting ready that morning and frantically trying to find the perfect outfit. I was looking for something cheery but still professional. It was important to me that I present myself as the knowledgeable and confident person I was. If you take yourself seriously, so will others and my health was definitely something to be taken seriously.

I finally put something together, packed up my medical records and off we went. It took us several hours to get there and during that time my nerves really started kicking in. What if I do need chemo? Not only was this going to take a toll on me physically, it was also going to postpone my plans to move. I again became frustrated with my current situation. I was so ready to take the leap and start a new life. Why was it all being placed on hold?

My thoughts were interrupted by the view outside the passenger window, we had finally arrived. “Wow, look at this place. It’s beautiful!” I felt as though I had arrived at a retreat, not a cancer facility. It was huge and the landscaping was beautifully done. We left the car with the valet and made our way into the buildings.

The nervousness I had felt in the car was slowly beginning to fade. I was in complete awe walking down the halls and through the lobbies as my eyes glanced at all of the beautiful pictures on the walls and the gorgeous scenery visible through the large glass windows. There were so many cozy sitting areas and cafés to relax in. It was in no way what I had imagined it to be. In fact, what I’m about to say may surprise you. I felt as if I belonged to this special and exclusive club. My soul was being nourished by so many loving and compassionate individuals who were there dedicating many hours of their lives to make mine better. I felt inspired and needless to say I was very emotional.

We finally reached the check in desk of the breast cancer wing. I remember feeling like I was checking into a day spa. Behind the reception area there was a wall with a large soothing waterfall and off to the side was a table with complimentary beverages. I gave the young woman behind the desk my name and after verifying a small bit of information and placing an ID bracelet on my wrist, she gave me a pager and a reusable Moffitt bag with a folder full of information, a pen and other goodies and showed me into the waiting room area.

My partner and I waited patiently and kept ourselves busy making small talk and looking at funny YouTube videos to keep the mood light. My name was called a few different times before they brought us back into the exam room. Once for insurance verification and important documents I needed to fill out and the other to get my vitals. It was a slow process but eventually moved faster once we were in the back. We met first with a physician doing her internship at Moffitt. Then we met with a counselor who provided us with information on programs available to cancer patients. I was on information overload by the time the doctor came in to give us his opinion.

Prior to my visit at Moffitt I had met with the genetics counselor and received the results of my BRCA 1 & BRCA 2 testing. Thankfully, after only a few weeks of waiting, the results were in and they came up negative. This was great news because it meant I wasn’t going to have to go in for a second surgery.

The doctor reviewed all of my records and expressed he was in agreement with my oncologist back home. There was no need for me to have chemotherapy. I would only have to undergo radiation and later be treated with hormone blockers. The doctor questioned my desire to have children as he stressed the importance of my being aware of the inability to have children during the 5 years I’d be on the hormone blocker, as well as the possibility of it decreasing my chances of being able to conceive a child in the future. It had been an emotional topic for me recently but, I reassured him that I had thought about it and was okay with the possible outcome. He also suggested going for further genetic counseling but left that part up to me. It wasn’t necessary but, I qualified to participate in a research study they were doing so he wanted to make me aware of it.

Then came the answer to a question I had been asking my physicians but wasn’t able to get a straight response to, “what stage was my cancer”? He told me I could safely call it “stage 0” cancer. Really?! I felt on top of the world, blessed, lucky and proud of myself for having caught the cancer long before it had grown into something far more severe. I was excited now knowing I could meet with my oncologist back home and officially start preparing my treatment plan. It was a very long and exhausting day but so worth it after the great news I had just received…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

My oncology team…

I was excited to finally be meeting the team of oncologists that would be overseeing my health. To me, it was a symbol of moving forward. Now, more questions would be answered and with that came a better idea of what my future would be like. My first appointment was with the oncologist. I remember walking into the office that morning and feeling overwhelmed with emotions.

Even though I had already completed my surgery, it wasn’t till I was in a room full a patients all being treated for cancer related issues, that it really hit me. We were all cancer patients. I recall being handed the stack of paperwork to fill out regarding my demographics, insurance, personal and family history. Somewhere in the world there must be one less tree that would have had my name on it as I’m convinced it must have taken the whole tree to make my packet alone.

I began filling out the paperwork and within minutes was called back into a small office. “Already?”, I thought to myself. The young lady asked me to sit in a chair located next to her desk and she began to verify my insurance and demographic information. She also asked me what pharmacy I preferred and made sure to save it in my file. Once we finished the verification process, I was asked to pay my portion of the consultation with the physician. I felt a little strange already paying for a service I hadn’t received but, I did so anyway and after receiving my receipt, I was directed back into the waiting room.

It didn’t take to long before a young man called me into the back room. At this point, the entire waiting room was full and the phones were ringing nonstop. I followed the young man down the hall where we made our way into a room with several recliner like chairs lined up next to each other. I was asked to sit in the very first chair. This room was designated as their laboratory/draw station.

The phlebotomist drew some blood which thankfully was painless. I watched as he processed my lab order and placed a label with my name on each tube. He worked so quickly and gracefully. Once he finished, he turned to me, smiled, and asked me to follow him again. Still with the stack of paperwork in my hands, I followed him into an exam room just down the hall. Here, he asked me to wait patiently for the doctor.

As I waited I finished filling out my paper work. The office was cold but well lit and surprisingly felt full of life. A gentleman knocked on the door, came in, and introduced himself as the physician assistant. He reviewed the records that had been sent to the office as well as provided me with his thoughts on my recovery and treatment plan. He explained himself very well and asked if I had any questions for him at that time. My mind was still processing some thoughts in that moment so I said no. After acknowledging my response he excused himself and returned with my physician.

My new oncologist was a complete joy. I was impressed with his attention to detail, patience while explaining my condition to me, and his ability to talk to me as a real person. When he spoke to me, he genuinely took the time to get to know Elizabeth, the athlete, and not just Elizabeth, the cancer patient. In our conversation I learned that he too was a triathlete and instantly we had formed a bond. He understood my need to get back into my athletic routine which for so long had been very important to me.

This was already an amazing start to our doctor/patient relationship. I remember him taking off the wristband he was wearing and handing it to me. He joked, expressing the wristband hadn’t helped him win any races and that maybe it would bring me better luck. I was touched by the gesture and accepted the gift. The wristband read, ” The power of positive thinking”. It couldn’t have been a more appropriate reminder.

After a small physical examination of the surgical site, he reviewed my records. In summary, his recommendation was for me to establish with the radiation oncologist to discuss radiation treatments, schedule an appointment with my gynecologist to further evaluate the area of concern in my pelvis, and to schedule an appointment with Moffitt for a second opinion on the 1 lymph node positive for a single cluster of individual tumor cells.

I immediately asked if he thought this meant I would need chemotherapy but, he assured me that his recommendation for me to go to Moffitt for a second opinion was not because he thought my condition was worse than I had imagined. Instead, it was him wanting to cross all his “t’s” and dot all of his “i’s” before starting any form of treatment I may or may not have needed.

This was comforting and once again I was filled with peace. All in all, this appointment was full of good news and I was extremely pleased with the doctor and other healthcare professionals that were now involved with my care. I felt safe and understood, two of the most important things a cancer patient could ever feel…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

*** Note to reader ***

You can view the wristband given to me during the appointment in my photos tab. 🙂

My 2 weeks of recovery…

I woke up the following day after surgery feeling like a train wreck. I wasn’t in extreme pain but I was exhausted and still drowsy from my medications. I was actually able to get around pretty well. I’d say the only surprise I had that day was the blue urine I had as a result of a dye called Lymphazurin used during my surgery to help locate my sentinel node. I was a smurf for the day, no problem! 🙂

All was going well until a few days after surgery when I finally made the decision to stop my pain medications. I couldn’t take it anymore. They were making me nauseas, constipated, bloated and I was gaining a substantial amount of weight. Within just a few days I had gained about 10lbs. I felt horrible and it had nothing to do with vanity. I just felt like I was accumulating everything and releasing nothing resulting in my body feeling like a toxic dump. It took several days before my body began to regulate itself and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable but, the pain I felt from not taking my medications was well worth feeling more like myself again.

My surgeon called me within the first week to see how I was feeling and to report his findings. I explained what I had been going through and he reassured me it was normal. Till this day I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better surgeon. He kept me informed of his thoughts every step of the way and it made me feel like I too had a say in what was happening. That’s a big deal to anyone let alone an ex control freak like myself. I wanted to be involved in everything no matter how big or small it seemed to anyone else. It was my body and I had the right to know what was going to happen to it.

He made mentioned that after the biopsy of my sentinel node they observed the cells carefully to see if the cancer had spread and, to his surprise he found 1 lymph node positive for a single cluster (5-6 cells) of individual tumor cells. Since it was such a small count he removed only a few lymph nodes but needless to say it was something to consider when I sat down with my oncologist to discuss my treatment plan.

You can only imagine how I translated this in my head. “Why is he so calm? I was told the cancer was incapsulated. If it was, how did any of it, even the tiniest bit, spread to the lymph nodes? Wouldn’t it have been better to just remove them all?” I was scared and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t understand how that wasn’t a big deal. My surgeon reassured me and helped put me at ease.

I later received a separate phone call with the news about my PET/CT scan. There was an area of concern in my right pelvis. “What?” I began to have flashbacks of the times my gynecologist suggested I have an ultrasound to keep an eye on the cysts I was developing. Prior to surgery we had talked about the correlation between breast cancer and cervical or ovarian cancer but, I wanted to believe that since I found my breast cancer on time, it wouldn’t have had the chance to spread elsewhere. However, regardless of what I thought, we had to be certain so I was scheduled for a CT scan immediately.

My family and closes friends were concerned. I hadn’t even finished recovering from my surgery and they weren’t sure if I could handle this or even be up to doing more tests. In all honesty, I wasn’t. I was afraid to know that I could have been wrong and that the cancer may have spread. That would have been the second thing I let go by. How could I live with myself? Than again, how could I live with myself now delaying something so important? If indeed there was cancer, waiting wasn’t going to change that and could potentially make it worse.

I wasn’t cleared to drive yet and since my mom and I worked in the same office we weren’t able to be off at the same time. This again was the perfect example of the importance of a solid support system. Without any hesitation my bosses wife told me she would be picking me up and accompanying me to my appointment. In fact, when the day came, she even sat in the room with me while I had my scan done to make sure they had me in a comfortable position and that I didn’t feel alone.

Between the many beautiful cards filled with words of love, prayer and encouragement, the beautiful bouquets of flowers and edible arrangements and the occasional house visits, I had all of the support anyone could ever wish for. There was still a long journey ahead but I wasn’t going to be alone. I was reminded of that again within those few weeks of recovery and it gave me the strength I needed to continue…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

*** Note to reader ***

Be sure to check out my photos tab to see pictures of me taken during my recover. 🙂