There are signs everywhere…

12238065_449477678577635_426028636529326597_oLong ago I read a quote by Melody Beattie that said…

“Remember the words you were told when this last adventure began, the words whispered quietly to your heart: Let the journey unfold. Let it be magical. The way has been prepared. People will be expecting you. Yes, you are being led.”

This resonated with me on so many levels. First, when I realized after being diagnosed with cancer that I wasn’t alone, and that those who came before me, had placed in my path an abundance of tools to help educate and guide me through the process.

I came back to this quote recently and the words, “let the journey unfold”, now made even more sense, when I took a leap of faith and started my nonprofit Gift With A Pink Ribbon, Inc. Everything I had gone through in my journey, and even in my new career, were tools to prepare me for my new venture.

Have you ever asked yourself, “why am I here” or “why am I going through this journey”?

I encourage you to “let the journey unfold”, by trusting the process and experiencing what may come of it. Sometimes the mere process of what you are going through, is preparation for something greater than you could have ever imagined. Embrace it, and with “the words whispered quietly to your heart”manifest in your life what you are most passionate about.

 

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth ❤

 

You can find Melody Beattie’s, Journey to the Heart, on Amazon by clicking here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! 🙂

 

 

Decisions, Decisions…

Before I talk about what is currently happening, it’s important that I bring you  up to speed with what has occurred over the last month. I’ve provided a brief summary below for your reading pleasure. 😉

  • I was informed in February that my AST and ALT exam (commonly referred to as liver function test) returned with abnormally high readings. I was then asked to stop my medications temporarily, to give my liver time to recover from the side effects of the injections and oral medication I was taking.
  • I also had  a CT scan of the abdomen, full body PET scan and pelvic ultrasound. The recommended MRI I was scheduled for, had to be canceled because of the type of expanders I have had in place since the start of my breast reconstruction. Unfortunately, the MRI will have to wait until after my expanders have been removed.
  • In March, I received news that my AST and ALT bloodwork exam had returned within normal limits. Yay! 🙂
  • During this past month, I had also scheduled my surgery to have the expanders removed, and replaced with my final implants. I’m nervous, but at the same time excited to finally be changing out my expanders, for something I am told is far more comfortable.

As you can see, a lot has happened since my last post, which brings me to present day.

This past week I received a call from my doctors office and essentially, the recommendations based on all that has occurred, are as follows…

  1. Resume my Zoladex* injections, and begin taking the Tamoxifen* I had taken once before prior to my second journey with breast cancer.
  2. Have a hysterectomy*, and as a result, not have to have the injections administered every month.
  3. Not take anything at all, and assume the chance of recurrence.

So what are my thoughts on these options?

Let’s take a closer look…

Option 1

My doctor suggested this option because she felt as though I may have had a recurrence of cancer, as a result of my not having had the Zoladex injections, while being treated with the Tamoxifen. This may be true, which in turn makes it something to consider. The medication has worked for so many of the women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and it could be a way for it to work for me too.

Option 2

This is one I have strongly considered however, my plastic surgeon is not willing to do two surgeries at once since I have had radiation treatment in the past. My risk of infection after the surgery would be much to high for him to even consider the option. Once again, I’m thankful for physicians that tend to play it safe, because I personally didn’t even consider this consequence, when suggesting a 2 in 1 surgery.

With this being the case, I will unfortunately have to wait a year or so for the hysterectomy, because it’s something I would have to plan around my work schedule. After some additional consideration, I think I’d also prefer to close one chapter in my journey, before opening another. Having a complete hysterectomy at this age, with no children, will have it’s own emotional challenges to cope with.

Option3

After realizing that the choice to not take any medications, does not resemble my white flag of surrendering, I began to reflect on my current way of life. The side effects of the injection, as well as what I have experienced with the Tamoxifen in the past, is more than I am currently willing to tolerate. This may be a bit selfish, but it’s been very difficult to deal with daily pain and inflammation, memory loss, severe hot flashes, emotional ups and downs, and to top it all off, a decreased libido at the age of 33!

I did after all experience a recurrence, even though my chances then were said to be slim to none, so why make myself miserable now for something that might not happen, or could still happen even with years of treatment?

And just for the record, I don’t blame my doctors for this recurrence. There truly is no way a physician can ever guarantee that cancer will not return when undergoing treatment, and it would be unfair for me to put that kind of pressure on such an individual. I ultimately consider myself blessed to have such wonderful doctors taking care of me. 🙂

So after what I hoped to be the shorter version of all that’s occurred, this is where I stand today; Confused and very uncertain of the “right” decision to make.

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The only thing I do know in this moement, is that my gut is telling me to live for today, and to for once stop thinking about the “what if”.

In other words, perhaps no meds for now,  followed by a hysterectomy in the future. At least this way, I can enjoy a better way of life for the time being and than later, decrease the chances of recurrence with the recommended hysterectomy.

That’s all for now, but until then…

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth 😉

 

 

 

What are your thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you! Click Here to provide your feedback. 🙂

 

 

Helpful links

 

Information on Zoladex- http://www.drugs.com/zoladex.html

Information on Tamoxifen- http://www.drugs.com/tamoxifen.html

What is a hysterectomy?- http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments_and_procedures/hic_What_You_Need_to_Know_About_Hysterectomy

 

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. 🙂

 

 

It’s Video Time- Zoladex Injection #7…

IMG_4432That’s right! This is the segment where I get to share one of my videos with you. 🙂

Click on the link below to see how my Zoladex injections are administered.

In my experience, the injection site stays sore and bruised (the size of a nickel or smaller) for a few days.

After that, I’m back to my good old self again. 😉

Stay tuned,

Elizabeth 🙂 ❤

 

To my newly diagnosed reader…

Dear Reader,

Being diagnosed with Cancer is not an easy thing to swallow, and if I could share some words of wisdom I would say, “let yourself be”.

Of course, there are many other important things like taking notes, asking questions and informing yourself of other treatment options available to you. You would be amazed at whats out there. However, please keep in mind that not every treatment option is the right one for you, which is why I can’t stress enough the importance of doing your own research.

Still, for me the hardest part was allowing myself the freedom to openly feel the way I was feeling in that moment without judging myself.

I would understand if your first thought was that this isn’t really relevant to your care however, it’s actually a key component. Not honoring my feelings made me realize the unrealistic goal I had set for myself. I couldn’t accept the urge to cry, feel sorry for myself or even feel anger because in my mind these were signs of weakness and/or being ungrateful. This emotional roller coaster eventually made me feel physically ill.

The truth is, these are all natural emotions, and you having them doesn’t make you less appreciative for the good things you have in your life. I say this because we’ve all heard the good old saying, “it could be worse”. I do feel it’s true and I use the phrase regularly, only now however, I do a better job of acknowledging that I am also human and am allowed to have a bad day here and there, as long as I also do my best to acknowledge the good that has come from my journey with breast cancer.

My “gift with a pink ribbon” taught me that I am stronger than I had ever imagined. I also believe that this may be gods way of using one of his social butterflies to help others by sharing my story and I am humbled to play such a vital role in bringing awareness.

So with that said, I leave you with this…

Free yourself from your emotional binds and know that it’s okay to feel what you are feeling in this very moment. It will take some time to figure it all out and that’s okay. The important thing is that you embrace each moment as an opportunity to love yourself and who you are in that moment, all judgement aside. This will help you cope with the new challenges that come your way, knowing that you have yourself on your side of the cancer battlefield, instead of working against you.

With all my love,

Elizabeth  P 🙂 ❤

P.S. Sending a special thanks to Cure Forward for encouraging every survivor to share their cancer journey with new patients.

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

I’d like to say it was about a year ago when we made a pit stop at Dunkin Donuts for a delicious coffee and snack, only to run into a very special young lady. She was so sweet and it was extremely refreshing to be around a person with such good energy after a long day on the road.

Prior to leaving I shared my contact and blog information, and to my surprise, she opened up to me about her mother, whom if I remember correctly lived in Cuba at the time. Her mother was going through her own journey with breast cancer and I could see and feel the sadness in hers eyes as she shared her moms story.

She was living so far away and I could only imagine how much pain she was feeling and the frustrations of not knowing what to expect. My heart went out to them both and till this day I keep her and her mother in my thoughts and prayers.

Truth be told, the memory of her kindness and warm embrace helped keep me motivated after being diagnosed the second time around. Knowing that in that moment I was able to provide her some kind of support, was a reminder of what I feel is my journeys purpose.

It’s not just about the support I get from others for sharing my story, it’s more about the support I can provide others in the process that really brings me joy and gives this whole experience true meaning.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been an extreme blessing to have so many wonderful and kindhearted people supporting me throughout my journey.  I honestly couldn’t imagine what it would be like without all of you being a part of it, which is why I want nothing more than to be there for others. Simply put… we can all use a helping hand every now and then.

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 🙂

Breaking Point…

After spending a week in the hospital, I was finally released with a concoction of medications that would allow me to stay comfortable while continuing my recovery at home. I thought my stay at the hospital and the pain I was enduring was the worst thing that could be happening to me until my reality started setting in followed by depression.

I hate to admit it but it’s true, I have reached a new breaking point. I no longer feel as brave as you’ve all known me to be. I’ve become fearful of stepping into my day to day routines and not being able to complete them, unhappy with the way I look and the fact that nothing fits “the way it use to”, and disappointed in myself for letting this whole experience get the best of me.

This picture was taken over the weekend while I slept. It was the only position I could sleep in that didn't restrict my breathing or cause me additional pain.
This picture was taken over the weekend while I slept. It was the only position I could sleep in that didn’t restrict my breathing or cause me additional pain.

You would think, having gone through this before, it would be a piece of cake to bounce back, but it hasn’t. This surgery and the transformation that came with it has been much harder to cope with.

I try with everything in me to smile and remember just how lucky I am, but a part of me can’t help but be angry, sad and hurt. I get frustrated by the tiniest sound and go from sweet to sour in seconds. It’s an emotional roller coaster that doesn’t seem to end.

As the swelling has gone down and my incision have healed, I’ve been able to become more familiar with the foreign objects inside me. The expanders feel so hard and stiff. I’m even noticing a difference in placement which makes me worried. “Did I do something to make it shift?” “Was it always like that?” “Did the Alloderm not take, causing my expander to slide down?”

I’ve been so careful and still have managed to over do it at times, causing more frustrations. I can honestly say that the one thing that keeps me sane are the pep talks and counseling I’ve received along the way from people who have gone through this or something similar. It’s a reminder that I’m not alone and that I’m not crazy.

I yearn to feel whole again, but for now, I can only take it one day at a time and hope that each day gets better…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth Plaza

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. ❤