Preparation day…

After sitting with my oncologist and deciding what steps we were going to take, I scheduled an appointment to see the radiation oncologist. Together, we went over what the next couple of months would look like. All in all, the plan was quite simple. I was to first undergo 33 radiation treatments then, follow up with my oncologist so that he could start me on a medication called Tomaxifen. This medication is designed to block the hormones our bodies make naturally. Since my cancer cells were 100% positive for both progesterone and estrogen receptors, my hormones needed to be blocked in order to prevent them from feeding any cancer cells that may have been left behind.

They began preparing me for radiation by first “mapping” the area being treated with a non-diagnostic CT scan. This would ensure the radiation would only be exposed to the breast area in which the tumor had been removed, preventing any damage to my heart or other organs near by. It’s actually quite fascinating to know we have the ability to be so precise. In order to pin point the treatment area, an adhesive containing a tiny silver bead was placed in 3 different locations. One a couple inches below my left arm pit, the second, on the right side of my left breast and the third, a couple inches below my right armpit. These markings would later help them calculate the distance between the area being treated and the organs around it. Once the scans were finished, the tech tattooed the area where he had placed the tiny silver beads so that later, they would know where to focus the laser beams when positioning me on the treatment table. The tattoos are about the size of a small beauty mark so they are virtually invisible to anyone unless I point them out.

I got dressed and within a few minutes the tech returned to the room, handed me an appointment card, and with a big smile on his face, wished me the best of luck with my treatments. It was official! Each time I returned to the office, I would be one step closer to completing this part of my journey. Looking back however, I now realize how little I took into account the emotional ups and downs that could come from this. I became a pro at talking myself into positive thinking but deep down inside, there was still a sadness I couldn’t overcome. I couldn’t explain exactly why it was there so I kept reminding myself to think positively in hopes of one day no longer feeling that way. Sadly however, that’s not how the law of attraction works. You can’t just think positive thoughts and expect positive outcomes. You need to take action. Do things that promote feelings of positivity and love so that you get the same in return. Had I remembered this sooner, ย I would have later found myself in a much better place…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth ๐Ÿ™‚

ย 

Finally, I’m running again…

It had been a few months since my last run and I was ready to hear the sound of my Newton’s hitting the pavement. As I was getting dressed, I kept picturing myself running and feeling absolute freedom as each step brought me closer to my goal of running the half marathon I had agreed to run with my partner in January. The thought made me a bit nervous because I knew here soon I’d be starting my treatments but, I didn’t want to go into it already thinking about all the obstacles I might face along the way and keep myself from doing what I loved. I promised myself I would keep going until my body told me I needed a break and, I intended to keep that promise.

We drove over to one of our favorite running spots and parked the car. I got out, did a light stretch while waiting for my Garmin to find my location and remembered taking in a big breath and exhaling as if I was telling myself, “this is it, you’re finally running again”. It was a bit warm out that day but the humidity was low so it made for great running conditions. We started our run and I remember the fireworks going off in my head. It was as if I were secretly celebrating my running again. I felt amazing and unstoppable! At least this was true till about a mile into my attempt at running a short 3 miles.

My chest started pounding and I felt so out of breath. My form was a complete mess and, as I continued, I began to feel a numbing yet tingling sensation in my left arm. I wasn’t ready to admit I needed to stop so I simply slowed down a bit hoping my partner wouldn’t notice. I managed to keep running but not long before my plan proved to be a complete fail and I was busted. I had to stop. This was an instant reality check. I may have been running but, I wasn’t able to run nearly as fast or as efficiently as I had before. How on earth did I get to this place?

My arm had begun to swell a little and I was exhausted. I had barely run 2 miles yet I felt as though I had been running for hours. In that moment, it became very clear to me that agreeing to run a half marathon may not have been the smartest thing for me to have done. How was I going to get myself back into tip top shape within a month. “Hello, earth to Elizabeth!!!!” After a short break, we started to jog, slowly making our way back to the car.

I wanted to crawl up in a ball and just cry. Of all my sports, running was my strength and what I loved most. I wasn’t ready to just throw it all away. I needed to get a grip on my emotions and find some kind of balance. I couldn’t just stop running as it was the one thing that provided me with any kind of sanity so, I did the only smart thing I could do. I modified my goals and started from the beginning, just like I did when I was working with my range of motion.

I couldn’t force myself to run at my previous speeds and distances. It wasn’t fair to put that kind of pressure on myself. I needed to gradually make my way back and remind myself once again that in time, I would regain all I had lost. This wasn’t the end of the world, instead, it was a small reminder that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that regardless of how it all turned out, I could only grow from this experience…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth ๐Ÿ™‚

The second addition to ” My Oncology Team”…

Today I was scheduled to meet with the radiation oncologist. This time, since it was so close to work, I booked the appointment late in the afternoon. When I walked in, the office was very quiet and there were two very cheerful young ladies sitting behind the front desk. After signing in, I was given a stack of forms to complete. “There goes another tree with my name on it”, I thought to myself.ย I quickly filled them out and returned them to one of the girls behind the desk.

I don’t recall waiting very long before the nurse called my name and lead me into an exam room. This office was very different from the last. There were no windows in the exam room I was in and it was lightly decorated. It didn’t feel as cozy or welcoming but, I later found out that it was due to them relocating to a much nicer facility. In any event, I wasn’t aware of that at the time so I became a little nervous, not knowing what to expect. Was the lack of decor suppose to resemble my new doctors personality? I knew she was a female based on the name but I hadn’t heard anything more about her. Was she going to be cold and dry? Well, I was about to find out.

As my brain was trying to connect the pieces of the puzzle, I heard a gentle knock on the door and in came the doctor with a huge smile on her face. She instantly lit up the room and gave it the makeover it needed. She introduced herself and with just a few words I felt an instant connection. I could sense that she was a very kind and compassionate person.

After a little game of “let’s get to know each other” she asked me to change into a gown so that she could take a look at my incision. I was still healing well which was great news because I was ready to start treatment as soon as I was cleared to do so. I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t even one cell that could do me harm left behind.

She explained I needed to give my wound a little more time to heal and since I was also going to Moffitt for a second opinion, she recommended I wait to see what form of treatment they suggested before going any further. If chemotherapy was needed, I would have to wait till I finished the chemo before I could move forward with radiation.

She also wanted me to schedule an appointment to see a genetics counselor so that they could test me for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene. The fact that I was so young and with no known family history of breast cancer was starting to raise suspicion. If indeed I was positive for either gene, I wanted to do anything I could to prevent someone else in my family from going through the same thing I was. I had a younger sister and two nieces to think about.ย With a positive gene, the recommendation is to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy as your risk of breast and cervical cancer are much higher. This was important information to pass on and it would be selfish of me to keep it to myself.

My doctor asked me how I felt about the possibility of not having my own children, should that be the case in the future, and I remember thinking, “with all of the kids in the world that need a good home, why on earth would I want to risk passing on a faulty gene to my offspring”? I had always been happy with the idea of adoption. In fact on a more recent note, prior to my diagnoses, I had decided that it was the best option because I didn’t want to be pressed for time by my “biological clock”. It was hard enough with society wondering why at 31 I wasn’t already married with children.

The truth is, I wanted to experience life more without the responsibility of having a child. I didn’t want to conform to societies belief that at my age I should already have children when I knew I wasn’t ready to give up certain freedoms that came with not having them. Who made up that silly rule anyway and when did it become so taboo to decide not to have children?ย I don’t think my doctor was to convinced but, she listen to my reasoning, gave me a smile and reassured me I was going to get through this.ย I was very happy to have her on my team.

Once I left the office I immediately called the genetics counselor to schedule my appointment. I would soon be on my way to Moffitt and I wanted to get as much as I could done before arriving. Little by little I was checking off items on my to do list and slowly I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

*** Note to reader ***

You can view the wristband given to me during the appointment in my photos tab. ๐Ÿ™‚

Inconclusive results and work challenges…

During my recovery I had been scheduled to do a CT scan of my pelvis to rule out anymore cancerous activity. I had received the results of the scan only to find that once again they were inconclusive. The area of concern couldn’t be clearly identified so, the question still remained, “what was it that lit up during my PET/CT scan”?

We were beginning to think that it may have just been a mistake and, since I was being scheduled to meet my oncology team, the recommendation was to allow the oncologist to review the results and determine what further tests needed to be done. Although I had my concerns, I was no longer as fearful of what the results might be. The fear had slowly disappeared leaving me more at peace.

My first day back at work finally came and I couldn’t have been happier. It was refreshing to have a change of scenery and be around people again. I was still coping with the emotional turmoil I held inside me but, being around people that didn’t know about my journey was refreshing. Cancer had already taken over so much of my life that is was nice to still have a part of me it hadn’t touched. At work I was the same old Elizabeth and it felt great. This helped balance me emotionally but, physically I began to cross new challenges.

I couldn’t work as quickly as I did before. My ROM was much better but the amount of weight I could handle was very minimal. While working with patients, there were times I needed to assist in lifting them and that proved to be a challenge. So much, that I would have to call for assistance, as my number one concern was patient safety. Working with heavy files was also difficult but, eventually I figured out a way to work around it and was able to find my own rhythm again.

It wasn’t long however, before other aspects of my recovery slowed me down yet again. The skin on my left arm and breast area had become so sensitive. It felt as though it were on fire. Each time my clothing or bra would rub against it I wanted to scream. Can you recall a time when you had a really terrible sunburn? One so bad that the best remedy was to be in the nude? Well, multiply that several times and that’s what I felt.ย To make things worse, when I would sweat, even the tiniest bit, it would sting like salt to an open wound.

My doctor had warned me about the discomfort I would feel because of the nerves that had been disturbed during my surgery but, I never imagined it to be so painful. I just wanted to lock myself up in the bathroom and cry. In my desperate attempts for a quick solution, I began to utilize ice packs to somewhat numb the area and keep it feeling cooler. It seemed to be working so, I did it as often as I needed to in order to remain sane at work.

This continued for weeks before it eventually calmed down and became more tolerable. I just kept telling myself, ” if this is the worse thing that happens today, things are really looking good because it could certainly be worse”. I’m fully aware of the fact that we shouldn’t write off our own hardships as something we need to just simply get over but, there were others going through far worse and it helped me to stay focused on the positive…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth ๐Ÿ™‚

The start of my emotional roller coaster….

I was successfully reaching my physical goals during my recovery but, emotionally I was riding the most intense roller coaster of my life. The kind that made your stomach tie itself in knots and could make you lose your lunch. Since the beginning of my journey I tried to keep a very positive outlook. I refused to say things like “I’m going to win my battle against breast cancer” or even refer to it as the “fight against breast cancer”. Why? Well, it all starts with the “law of attraction.”

My partner and I were so turned off by the amount of negativity in words like “fight” and “battle”, that we agreed to use less aggressive words. For example, instead of “my battle with breast cancer”, we refer to it as “my journey with breast cancer”. Did you notice the difference? One almost instinctively sends you into “defense mode” where as the other places you into a sort of “daydream” as I like to call it.

A journey is often times associated with something positive so your mind begins to create happier thoughts allowing you to question the good that can come of your current situation. For a while this really worked for me because I was genuinely ready to explore what this gift was trying to teach me. However, even the most positive people can hit extreme lows. That’s what began happening only days after my surgery.ย I was motivated to set physical goals but emotionally I had become angry and resentful.

Why me? I’m a good person. I even began to question god himself. With so many bad people out there, why did he choose me? I have never be one to wish anything bad on someone else but I was just desperately trying to find logic in something that I couldn’t understand. I felt like such a terrible person. How could I question god and his plan for me? Why couldn’t I just be happy that I was given another chance and continue to see it as the gift it was?ย I realize now I was chosen because of my strength but none of that made sense then. I was fearful of the unknown and I felt tainted. I was marked by this disease and I would forever be known as the girl with cancer. I felt like somehow I had lost my identity.

I had so much time to think in those two weeks and all I was doing was feeling bad for myself. At times I would even cry myself to sleep. I was so scared of the cancer still being there after surgery or the possibility of it coming back. My mind was playing dirty tricks on me and making me sick to my stomach. I had reached a new level of weakness and vulnerability. A side of me I never wanted to encounter. I wanted so badly to set a positive example and resemble a woman full of courage and strength but the truth is, I was a frightened little girl drowning in my own fears.

I remember asking god to please help me find my purpose in this journey and apologizing for my ungrateful behavior. There were people losing there lives because of cancer and here I was complaining I ever had it, even after a successful surgery that had removed it from my body. “I’m such a horrible person”, I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe how selfish I was acting and how much I couldn’t control those emotions. I think back to that moment and realize now that the emotional roller coaster I was on was normal and all part of the journey but, in that moment, all I could do was write and pray that I would one day regain my sanity and again feel like the Elizabeth I once was…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth ๐Ÿ™‚

 

*** Note to reader ***

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!! See you again Monday! ๐Ÿ™‚

 

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! ๐Ÿ™‚

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.ย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

*** Note to reader ***

Be sure to check out my photos tab to see pictures of me taken during my recover. ๐Ÿ™‚