7 Month Treatment Update…

It’s hard to believe at times that it has been almost a year since having a double mastectomy. It’s also been close to 7 full months since I started my monthly Zoladex injections and daily Arimidex oral medication. Where does the time go?

While the journey hasn’t been all bad, I can safely say that I have spent more than 70% of the time struggling with the side effects. The most common side effects were swelling in my upper and lower extremities, major hot flashes, itching and changes of my skin, nausea, joint pain and most definitely mood swings.

I am now fully convinced that every woman going through menopause should be given her own superhero name! LOL 🙂

Lab results
My lab results from 1-22-16. On 7-16-15 my readings were…. AST-24, ALT-27 and LDH-130

It was about a week ago that I got the results of my lab work, which showed that my ALT and AST levels had increased significantly after being on Arimidex for only 6 months. On July 16, 2015, my ALT was at 27, AST at 24 and LDH at 130.

I’ve since stopped the medication while my Oncologist decides what alternate medication to place me on for my continued treatment, and was asked to have a CAT Scan of my abdomen.

 

This brings me to yesterday morning’s barium cocktail. I spent years handing out these bottles of barium to my patients, and it was only yesterday that I finally got a taste of what I was previously serving up.

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I will admit, the taste wasn’t horrible but, if I can make any one recommendation, it would be to chill the barium a bit before drinking it. It reduces the after taste significantly. (Please read storage temps prior to refrigerating, to avoid damaging the barium)

Other than that, the consistency and light flavoring tricks you into thinking you are drinking a smoothie so, bottoms up! 🙂

So what’s next you ask?

Chat before IV prep
A chat before the needle 🙂

 

Well… I arrived early to my 9am appointment and after going through my financial obligations, was escorted to a holding room, where I eventually changed out of my clothes and into more of those top designer hospital gowns I’ve previously sported.

Moments later, a kind gentleman nurse came in to prep my IV for the intravenous contrast that was needed for my CAT Scan. I thank god and all of my angels that watch over me for his skilled hand, as I barely felt the needle stick.

 

IV prep

 

After my IV was prepped, the technician performing my CAT Scan escorted me to the room where my exam would be performed.

 

It didn’t take long at all, thanks to advances in technology. Other than inhaling and holding my breath a few times, there really wasn’t much to it.

 

There is one tiny little detail I’d like to share in the event you have never had one of these tests done before. Once the iodine is administered through your IV during the last part of your scan, you may feel this rush of heat enter your body followed by this terrible sensation of having urinated on yourself. Please know that this feeling is normal. It has happened to me both times I’ve had a Cat Scan done and the feeling lasts for about a minute or so until it starts to fade away.

You may even get a funny taste in your mouth which is also normal. It happens to me even when they flush my IV with saline. Just make sure you drink plenty of water after your test to flush the iodine out of your system. 😉

While I anticipate my results will be just fine, I will know for sure sometime early this week, and will hopefully then find out what new medication I will be taking to continue my treatments.

Until then, I wish you all a Happy Sunday and lots of good health. 😉 ❤

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth 🙂

 P.S. Do you have suggestions of medications you’ve tried or want to share your experience? Please email me at elizabethplaza@giftwithapinkribbon.com. I’d love to hear about your experience and/or any recommendations you may have. 🙂

 

 

Those I’ve met along the way… “The Bartender”

It was within the first few weeks of my being re-diagnosed with breast cancer that I decided to go out to one of my favorite local restaurants close to home called Tarpon Bend. This time, I sat by the bar and did a little people watching while the thoughts of the news I had only recently received flowed through my mind. In fact, I think it was one of the first times I had even given it time to really sink in.

I can’t remember exactly how the conversation started but I do remember sharing the news with the bartender and talking to her about my blog. Bartenders are like magicians, they somehow posses the ability to make you feel like you can just talk about anything. Of course, a mimosa or two can certainly help get the conversation started. 🙂

Her name will remain nameless as she shared some personal details of her life and it wouldn’t be fair for me to attach a name to the experience but, I do want to talk about what she shared.

I believe she was about 18-19 when her and her friend decided to get free mammograms that were being offered. Of course at that age you would probably think to yourself, why would she do that? I believe she had mentioned there was a family history and since the opportunity was there, why not? I’m so glad that she did. When the results came back, she was informed she had to undergo more testing and sure enough, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As she told me the story I wanted nothing more than to hug her. My heart fell to the floor at the thought of someone so young going through something so frightening.

After our conversation I excused myself and in the restroom let the tears flow. It finally set in and I just couldn’t be the strong “rock” everyone was so accustomed to seeing. When I finally left the bathroom and started paying for my tab, she did the most thoughtful thing I could have imagined in that moment. She stepped out from behind the bar, gave me a hug and told me that I was a warrior and she knew that I was going to  come out of this okay.

In that moment I felt like she was another sister of mine, giving me the support I so desperately needed. I look forward to one day soon going back and seeing her again. I would love to share all that has happened since, and thank her for sharing her story. She reminded me that even though there were tough times to come, I too could come out of this smiling and living life exactly as I choose to live it…

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth 🙂 ❤

My thought of the day….

This past month has been a real struggle so I took a break from writing to try to focus on my thoughts. Even though my mind knows I have so much to be thankful for, my heart just can’t make sense of that no matter how hard I try, making me feel like a terrible person. I feel so empty and like I’m simply going through the motions as if I were a robot.

I smile because I know I should and laugh because jokes are supposed to be funny. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time but I can tell when it does because I feel like in that moment I step outside of my body and begin watching myself from across the room. Just trying to understand why, in that precise moment, I stopped feeling anything at all. I finally decided to write about it in hopes of discovering something I hadn’t already or maybe just as a way of letting it go. I chose to share it on my blog not to obtain sympathy or complain to the world, but instead educate others on the thought process I’m going through. It wouldn’t be fair or right for me to portray myself as a superhero.

Those that have been following my blog since the beginning know I’ve said it before, “allow yourself to feel sad if that’s what you are really feeling”. I’ve realized now something very important about that statement. It’s a full time job. Why you ask? For me the explanation is very simple. It’s easier to keep the sad moments to myself because too often when I provide truth about my journey, the feedback is the usual, “Just be thankful that you are still alive today”, “there are people worse off than you”, “god has a special plan for you”. While I agree this is all true, it’s not exactly comforting to hear when all you need is a listening ear.

I may be up and running but trust me when I say that each day has its challenges and looks can be deceiving. My journey is far from complete and even after a bilateral mastectomy, I’m still going through a painful breast reconstruction, am waiting to hear if radiation is still a must and have a regimen of injections and pills waiting for me to start. Not to mention the possibility of other surgeries outside of completing my breast reconstruction.

So what crazy idea have I come up with? It’s simply really. Since most people don’t really want to hear the details when they ask how I’m doing, I save them the trouble and respond with a simple, “Just taking it one day at a time”. Those that want to know more will ask and this way I don’t have to pour myself out to those that are simply just trying to be courteous. I mean, why bore people with the details if they aren’t interested in them right? At the same time, I keep myself from hearing the “Generic” comments most people use, thinking they have to say something that makes sense to make you feel better when in reality, nothing really does.

It’s like when people ask, “Hi, How are you?” Have you ever really taken a moment to notice that most people ask but they don’t stop what they are doing to hear the response? It’s terrible. As a society, we seem to have lost our human side. The side that shows compassion and true caring for others. Maybe I’m just being sensitive about the topic but I’m sharing the thought because I know there are others like me going through something similar and I want them to know they aren’t alone. I’m also hoping that people become a little more aware of their interactions with people and start showing genuine interest in each other. Cancer or no Cancer, all of us are going through something and it’s important we give each other at least a minute of our undivided attention. It can make a world of a difference…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

After My Bilateral Mastectomy….

Some hosital snap shots. :)
Some hosital snap shots. 🙂

A little over a week has past since my double mastectomy and it’s been an interesting experience thus far. I can completely understand why so many woman struggle with the decision of having a mastectomy done or knowing that its their only option. It’s scary, painful and there are so many unknowns.

Thankfully, we now live in an age whimageere so many brave woman have shared their stories, giving us front row seats to their experieces. In all honesty, this really prepared me for what was to come and has also helped me stay strong through the process.

As a way to give back, I too have been sharing my journey and will continue to do so by writing, posting photos and sharing videos. I’ve already posted many on my Facebook page but will add them to my blog for those who aren’t following me on Facebook. I hope you will continue to follow my crazy journey! 🙂

Stay tuned,image

Elizabeth 🙂

 

Click here  to view some of the videos I’ve shared since my surgery. Enjoy! 🙂

 

Pre-Surgery Update

It’s been almost 2 weeks now that I found out my cancer had returned and I’m officially packed and ready to head to the other coast tomorrow in preparation of my surgery Monday afternoon. I can’t believe how fast the time has flown by.

Packing was a little different this time as there was one essential item that wasn’t coming with me. My bras! I know it sounds kind of silly, but when it finally clicked in my head that I would no longer be wearing my bras, I felt a whole in my stomach and a pain in my heart. I mean it’s not like I just received the news yesterday but in that moment, it felt like I had.

I have one day left before I say goodbye to the “lady lumps” that have been causing so much emotional stress in my life.

While removing them is the best decision for my future, they’ve been mine for 32 years now and I think that merits the right to be a little upset about losing them.

The plan for my surgery is a bilateral mastectomy, (one side required and the other preventative) with reconstruction. The reconstruction will take place in phases as they will not be putting in the final implants right away. I’ve opted to go with the placement of “Expanders” first at the recommendation of my plastic surgeon, due to the fact that I am small to begin with and have had radiation to the left breast in the past, making the healing process a more difficult one. It will reduce my chances of complications due to infection or my incision not healing correctly.

I admit I’m a bit nervous and am overwhelmed but I try to stay positive and remind myself that what I’m doing now will bring me so much peace in the future.

Flowers from my love :)
Flowers from my love 🙂

I’ve also been blessed to have such an amazing support system to help me get through my daily struggles. My partner, family, close friends and new friends. They’ve all been an essential part of my mission to “keep it together”.

I will continue to blog throughout my recovery so be sure to follow along. I hope what I have to share will be both educational and comforting to others who may be going through something similar or know someone who is.

At the end of the day my purpose for sharing my story is to educate others and help in any way I can to comfort others going through the same. The support I’ve received along the way has really just been a blessing from all of you. One of which I am extremely grateful for.

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth 🙂

P.S. The painting above was done by one of my co-workers. The woman represents me and the 2 flowers above my head represent my journey, one flower being darker than the other to resemble a larger and more difficult journey the second time around. The flowers below are white representing peace and the bird with the survivor ribbon represents my freedom and survivor-ship after completing my journey.  This painting truly touched my heart. ❤

Time for another biopsy…

It’s been almost 2 months now that I’ve had a new pain in my left breast and I finally made mention of it to my physicians when I saw them just a few weeks ago for my regular follow up appointment.

Naturally, my doctors suggested I follow up with some testing so they began by ordering an ultrasound. During this particular ultrasound, I could see the “what is that?” look on the technicians face and already knew there was more testing to come. Sure enough, I was told I needed to follow up with a bilateral MRI. Like my oncologist, The physician that read my ultrasound wasn’t convinced I had anything to worry about, but she wanted to make sure we played it safe anyway.

Having already been diagnosed with cancer once before, every pain to me was a possibility of it coming back and it drove me nuts.  I knew that I was still experiencing some of the post-surgical discomforts and effects from the radiation but it was hard to really draw a line and say ,” this is normal and this is not”. I was trying hard to stay positive but, I can’t deny it scared the crap out of me.

This past Saturday, I headed to the other coast to have my additional testing done and today I received the results I had been waiting for. While my radiation oncologists feels I have nothing to really worry about, he recommended that I have a biopsy done to confirm his thoughts. In a nut shell, he feels pretty confident that the changes in my breast are from the radiation treatment versus my fear of the cancer returning.

In my heart I feel all will be okay but I can honestly say I will feel more at peace after having the biopsy done and knowing for sure.

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth 🙂

The Honest Truth…

Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook by Judy C. Kneece I recommend this handbook to anyone currently going through their journey with Breast Cancer. It talks about everything from start to finish and is all very well explained. You can even take notes inside of it. :)
Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook by Judy C. Kneece
I recommend this handbook to anyone currently going through their journey with Breast Cancer. It talks about everything from start to finish and is all very well explained. You can even take notes inside of it. Very helpful during such a chaotic time.

Why do I blog?

A cancer diagnose will bring even the strongest individual down to their knees, regardless of the stage. It’s something we’ve all heard about but never really think will happen to us. The ugly truth however, is that it can happen and it changes your life in an instant.

After my cancer diagnoses, all I could think about was cancer. Before I knew it I was buried in articles and books, all relating to breast cancer.

I remember researching and stumbling across women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer but were far more advanced than I was. It made me feel blessed that I wasn’t as advanced, yet insignificant all at the same time. Like I was crying over spilled milk. Why couldn’t I find more women who were going through something similar and were willing to talk about it. I felt terrible talking about how I felt emotionally with someone that was worse off than I was. How dare I complain, right? Still, with that being said, I had a voice and needed to be heard. I had fears and needed to express them, but to who? Who would be able to understand how I felt and remind me that it was okay to feel that way?

This is why I wanted to take a moment and encourage you to please share your story. I never wish for anyone to feel the way I did, trapped and feeling guilty for being so sad. I promise you that you will be making a huge difference in someones life.

Breast Cancer Support Partner Handbook by Judy C Kneece I recommend this book to all the caregiver out there. You play such an important role in our journey and for that I thank you. <3 <3 <3
Breast Cancer Support Partner Handbook by Judy C Kneece
I recommend this book to all the caregiver out there. You play such an important role in our journey and for that I thank you.

This message goes out to the Caregivers too. Don’t think even for a moment that I have forgotten you.

You know first hand that caregivers need just as much love and understanding as the patient themselves do. Your insight might be just what other caretakers need to help get them passed a hurdle or two. Sharing your journey will also remind others that they aren’t alone. It will even help us, as the patient, better understand some of the struggles you go through.

I really hope that at this hour I’ve been able to really express just how important it is to share our experiences with one another. No story is to small, and no moment of sadness less worthy of a shoulder to cry on than another. This is why I blog…

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth ❤ ❤

So, what now?

So now that I’ve shared my story, the biggest question lingering in my head is “what now? What else do I write about?” Sure I’ve had new struggles, but I no longer know whats important and useful to share. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure this whole thing out myself. Many people think that once you’ve gotten over “the worse part of the journey”, things are smooth sailing from there on out. Here’s the thing though, “the worst part” is different for us all.

Let’s take me for example. I sailed right through my surgery and radiation like a champ. Even my doctors were worried about the fact that I was “taking it so well”. Later though, when the storm had past, I expected nothing but rainbows to follow. The “worse part of the journey” was over right? Not exactly. Instead of rainbows, a tornado swiped through unexpectedly destroying the very foundation I had been standing on for so long. It was as though every emotion I had suppressed had come bursting out of a secret box buried deep within. I began to ask myself, “Am I really a survivor?” To me the word “survivor” meant it was all over and life would be what it once was. Why wasn’t that happening?

I knew I couldn’t be the only one feeling this way so I decided to write about it. It’s about the only part of my journey that really makes sense to me at the moment. I’ve realized that the life I once lived can no longer exist exactly as it was. No matter how much I try to even think the way I once did, it’s impossible. It’s like buying a delicious ice cream cone with all of your favorite toppings and watching it hit the floor just before you start eating it. You can’t just put it back on the cone and eat it without thinking about the “slow motion” fall you just witnessed. Instead, you learn to appreciate whats left of it and go on your merry way.

Learning to cope with the side effects of my surgery and medications, while remembering how lucky I am to be typing away at my laptop sharing my random thoughts with the world, is my version of “learning to appreciate what is left of it and going on your merry way”. I too am guilty of finding it hard to see the silver lining at times but I promise you, it’s there. It’s just difficult to see when our emotions get the best of us. Just take a moment and remind yourself of your many accomplishments. You will slowly start to realize that there is no way you could accomplish so much and be the same person. In time you will find you are far more amazing, courageous and beautiful…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

The Voice Within….

Do you ever find yourself at a cross point where one part of you is happily making it’s way from one goal to the next, while the other half is busy looking for shortcuts and not taking a moment to appreciate what you’ve learned along the way? “I have!”

At first I thought this was all happening as a result of my journey and my history of always being so hard on myself. However, I later realized that this happens to a number of us on a far to regular basis. Sometimes, we even find ourselves daydreaming of the life we want only to feel stuck in the life we are living, not even taking into consideration that the current situation/opportunity is what will prepare us for what is to come.

While aspiring to be more and have more can be great, when does it ever become enough? Better yet, why does it make us forget the great things we have already accomplished or why have we lost so much patience with ourselves and the sacrifices we must sometimes make to get to our next goal in life? I myself, even after all I’ve been through, am still guilty of not giving myself enough credit and taking some life lessons for granted.

With that being said, I’ve spoken to a lot of people this week that haven’t given themselves the pat on the back they deserve and are also feeling stuck in their current “journey” and I wanted to remind them, as well as myself, that what we are going through is just that, “a journey”. This means we aren’t stuck in this phase of our lives forever and life still has so much more in store for us. If you think I’m lying, read the definition of journey below…

jour·ney

noun
1.
*an act of traveling from one place to another.
“she went on a long journey”

*a long and often difficult process of personal change and development.
“her spiritual journey towards Roman Catholicism”

verb
2.
travel somewhere.
“they journeyed south”

See, there is nothing in that word that states there is no moving forward from here. So keep your chin up butter cup, life is full of many blessings and you are just one of them. 😉

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂

2 weeks completed, now it’s time for another amazing vacation ;) …

It was only about 2 weeks ago, that I was blogging about how my first week at my new job going. Since then, so much has occurred. My first 2 weeks at the gynecology office had gone really well. My coworkers were great and it felt amazing to be in the workforce again. However, traveling was proving to be a little tougher than I had anticipated it would be. I was finding myself spending anywhere from 2-3 hours of my day, driving to and from work. I didn’t think it would be such an issue considering I had traveled long distances before for work, but it was really starting to wear me down. Luckily, I had planned a vacation prior to starting my new job and it would serve as a good break for me to recuperate.

It was August 16th, when we hopped on a plan heading to San Francisco, California. I was super excited to embark on another new journey. This time I was doing a spiritual retreat in Mount Shasta. I honestly didn’t think much of it at first. I just knew we would be hiking, meditating, and doing some yoga. That alone was a great vacation in my book.

Our flight from Ft Lauderdale, Florida to San Francisco, California was 6 hours long, and Mount Shasta was a good 5 hours away from San Francisco.

And we've arrived to San Francisco!! :D
And we’ve arrived to San Francisco!! 😀
Time to hit the road and make our way to Mt Shasta :)
Time to hit the road and make our way to Mt Shasta 🙂

For the record, I would recommend arriving in Sacramento or Redding, California instead. It will easily cut the drive time in half. If you don’t have that option, plan to stay the night in San Francisco and drive up the next morning. You’ll be happy you did.

Upon arriving at the lovely Mt Shasta Bed & Breakfast, we checked in, I placed my bags on the room floor and passed out like a baby after a heavy meal.

The next day, I showered up and made my way to the dining room where breakfast was served daily to all of the house guests. There, we slowly began to meet some of the individuals that were also partaking in the spiritual retreat. They were all very sweet and pleasant to talk with. Each with a unique background and wealth of information. As much as I enjoy being a social butterfly and talking to others, I found myself happily listening to each conversation, eager to learn more about the people I would be spending the next 7 days with.

Later that morning, we explored the town a bit and decided to rent some mountain bikes. The sun was out and there was a cool breeze in the air. With the view of the beautiful mountains surrounding us, it was hard to deny myself the desire to ride again. We mounted our bikes and cruised through the city and eventually made our way to lake siskiyou. It was so beautiful to see a big lake surrounded by such a majestic mountain. When I took a closer look, I could see the locals swimming and canoeing, while others played fetch with theirs dogs. In that moment, I began to feel grounded again. The fast pace of the city was drowned out by the nature all around me. I could have stayed there all day, only we had to return the bikes to the store and make our way back to the bed & breakfast for our first group meeting.

Lake Siskiyou :)
Lake Siskiyou 🙂
Me+My bike+lake siskiyou= awesomeness!!! :D
Me+My bike+lake siskiyou= awesomeness!!! 😀

Andrew, our group leader, and his partner in crime Lauren, welcomed us and gathered us into a circle. One by one, we were asked to introduce ourselves and express to the group why we were there. In other words, what did we expect to get from the retreat. I was honestly looking forward to some time off. However, when it was my turn to speak, the most natural explanation to leave my mouth was, “Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I’ve wanted to stress less about the little things in life and focus more on living my life and my true purpose”. I can’t recall if I worded it just so, but it’s pretty close to what I remember saying. I don’t even know where the words came from. I hadn’t met any of these people before, and here I was, sharing such a personal experience without flinching a muscle. I have blogged about it, yes, but never have I spoken to such a large group of people about it. In that moment I knew that this “vacation” was going to provide me with more than just time to meditate, hike, and do yoga. I was going to continue my growth in a way I had been longing to for some time and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth 🙂