FU2 Cancer

Sorry for the implied expletive but it’s accurate and reflects most people’s emotions when it comes to cancer. I don’t feel like just doing the “stand up to cancer” slogan. I’m kind of in the FU2 cancer phase right now! And the pink ribbon is so passive right now I don’t even want to cut and paste it here I need something more emblematic of a true fight. Any graphic designers want to help??!! And I need some way to vent and keep everyone in the loop, so my blog will now be my journal and therapy session. Feel free to ignore or read!

Let’s just say it hasn’t been the best summer. On top of my breast cancer diagnosis, we had to say goodbye to our beloved husky Luna who was the ultimate survivor dog. Found out this spring she’d been shot – her chest was full of buckshot, most likely from a shotgun years ago before we adopted her from a shelter in West Tennessee, and she was probably hit by a car which had caused her years of arthritis. My poor kids and husband have had a lot dumped on them in a short period of time. Today I am days away from my first treatment and honestly I’m beyond nervous, but anxious to get this thing done. It’s a dangerous balance of living in the present, enjoying every minute with family, and wishing this year would fly by. As a parent you know how much you cherish every (well not every but most) moments and so even wanting time to pass makes me feel guilty as a mom. Keeping my emotions in check is also hard since I tend to wear them on my sleeve as you all know. But having 2 active boys keeps me grounded and busy which is treatment in and of itself.

Quick background – late May 2016 on my normal screening mammogram which was a 3D mammogram this year – they found a tiny mass estimated at 5-7 mm. My sister Kathy is a 16+ year breast cancer survivor so I have been diligently checked for several years and was already seeing a breast specialist. I wasn’t really worried about the biopsy the area was so tiny that surgery could take care of it if needed. Biopsy was positive for invasive ductal carcinoma – the usual breast cancer. Again I thought – surgery – boom – done! I had already wanted a breast lift and had decided years ago if anything happened I’ll have a double mastectomy, so that’s what I did on June 28th. Tumor was slightly larger than expected (1.3 cm) and despite saying everything was clear post surgery – nothing in the lymph nodes! clear margins! – a week later I got the call “well there are some microscopic cells in the sentinel node” and “we’re not sure about the margin.” Not great, but honestly didn’t change the scope of treatment, just worried me. Eventually all the surgeons agreed the margin was clear just tiny. But clear. And they debated whether to go back and look for more lymph nodes, but no one thought that was necessary. So no more surgery – about the only thing people agreed on; more on that later.

The problem with my cancer (very different from my sister’s) is that I wasn’t just hormone positive (meaning taking tamoxifen or another pill could turn off my estrogen and progesterone and stop any future cancer growth) but I was also HER2 positive. Triple positive yippee! But that’s not good and increases my chance of recurrence by like 5 times. But since I was only stage 1 a cure was still in my reach. I’d just have to go through a YEAR of IV treatment on a drug called Herceptin that obliterates HER2 cancer. So on top of the double mastectomy I got to have a port installed under my collar-bone to save my veins. This has been probably my LEAST favorite part of the surgery. Then the kicker – you also need chemo. That was a bummer. For stage 1, I need chemo? For this tiny tumor? My kids were already asking me if I’d lose my hair. I didn’t want to look sick. But chemo? I work so hard to eat well, exercise regularly, not use toxic products, avoid carcinogens and now they want to put highly toxic liquid drugs into my veins??? Initial response – NO!!!!

Then came research on a clinical trial, multiple second opinions (my case was presented to tumor boards at St. Thomas and Duke), a fight to find consensus amongst various hospitals, and trying to decide on my best route to a cure. The emotional roller coaster was ridiculous – you should do a clinical trial! No we’ve changed our mind, do chemo. No really, you should do the clinical trial you’re a perfect candidate! Then – you may not be eligible for the trial after all because the hospital hasn’t sent in your tissue and we’re running out of time. Oh yeah that went over REAL WELL. If you worked in the pathology department or are a surgeon on my case you probably heard me say  i.e. scream “an administrative delay will NOT change my course of medical treatment” and “they will hear from me” a few times. And a few teary pleas to just DO YOUR JOB. I almost pulled out the legal threats but held back and just called everyone I knew and miracle of miracles the tissue was sent. Whew. My confidence level wasn’t too high at this point, so onto Vanderbilt I went. GLADLY.

In between all the drama, I developed blood clots at the port site (don’t get me started on this), went on blood thinners (like my 87-year-old mother), and had internal bleeding which led to a second emergency surgery on July 15. That was a low point and set me back 2 weeks in recovery. Again a bummer and frustrating as I kept hearing “this is so unusual” and “this NEVER HAPPENS.” The port surgeon (again no comment) told me “you should buy lottery tickets” after telling me they had to reinstall my port because it flipped and guess what – THAT NEVER HAPPENS! Oh really? THEN STOP SAYING THAT TO ME!!!! Thank God I live 5 minutes from all my doctors. I don’t want to think what would have happened if the internal bleeding had happened on a weekend or when I couldn’t drive myself straight to the office and be in surgery within about 30 minutes. That was the LUCKY part of the summer🙂

I eventually found a great doctor at Vanderbilt I felt comfortable with, a great facility with PRIVATE chemo rooms so I won’t be 2 feet away from the next patient, full support on doing the clinical trial from my team here in Nashville, and am now just waiting to find out if I’m in the clinical trial. Once a lab in California confirms I have HER2 positive cancer (which has already been proven but needs to be confirmed by the same lab for everyone in this national clinical trial), then I’m in. Once in, I am randomly assigned to one of 2 groups. I have a 75% chance of receiving a new, targeted immunotherapy in the study group – KADCYLA – which is a bundle of Herceptin and a very targeted type of therapy that has few side effects and a much higher quality of life and only attacks the HER2 cancer cells. The whole point of the trial is that doctors feel they’re over-treating stage 1 cancer with chemo so finding a more targeted therapy will improve women’s quality of life and be just as effective. The drug has been FDA approved for years for advanced breast cancer and they are now seeing if it’s as effective in early stage cancer. That’s what I want. Only catch is you have to take the drug every 3 weeks for the entire year. So any side effects – which are pretty limited like nausea and fatigue – may haunt me for a year. Oh and it can cause heart problems in rare cases too. Nothing about this is easy. Or risk free. But kind of cool to think I could help save other women from this drama in the future.

The other part of the clinical trial is the “standard of care” group – 25% chance I get in this group which means I get the usual treatment of 12 weeks of chemo (only 1 chemo drug though Taxol) and then just Herceptin for the rest of the year. Taxol means lots of side effects and possibly hair loss, although I’ve found some cool cold caps that can help prevent hair loss (if I can stomach freezing my scalp for hours during my treatment once a week for 12 weeks). But after the 12 weeks I’d have it easy (ha!) and just get Herceptin so it will be hard at the beginning, then easier at the end. Oh and I’m going to throw in some radiation just in case there is something lingering in my lymph nodes. Better safe than sorry! My current treatment checklist looks like this: Surgery – check. Targeted therapy/Chemo – check. Radiation – check. Oral pill for years – check. Lucky me I get every treatment known to man to cure my stage 1 cancer. (Here I need to reiterate how relieved I am to have health insurance!)

So here I wait. Doing my stretches, gaining my range of motion back in my chest and arms. Hoping I do well in the treatments, stay calm, and of course remain cancer free for the rest of my very long life. All of this time at home has me feeling sentimental about the amazing help I’ve had so far – my sisters have spent weeks in Nashville helping take care of me and the family; yummy food is delivered to my door weekly; my friends here have shown so much support for me and the entire family checking in and offering to help with all sorts of things; and I’ve heard from other friends all over the world on Facebook, texts, phone calls, etc. I am so appreciative and despite all the bad luck feel so darn lucky to have the support group that I have. My husband has been beyond patient and supportive, and my kids have somehow stayed calm, made the transition to a new middle school, and now think I’m a super hero and have beaten cancer. (I tried to tell them we should celebrate later but I’m glad they are staying positive!) All the support literally brings tears to my eyes every time I think of what everyone has done. And I haven’t even mentioned Rudolph our golden retriever who is laying on my feet as I type and stays within petting distance of me 24/7. A true therapy dog! I know I’ll be relying on  this extraordinary support system over the next year so a big THANK YOU in advance🙂 I’m also learning to ask for help and not refuse the many offers which is quite new for me. But a good change I think!

The surgery removed the cancer, now it’s time to obliterate any traces of it in my body. So next week, I look forward to saying FU2 cancer.

Don’t judge a dog by its cover

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This is Sadie.  She is a gorgeous pit bull who probably weighs close to 120 pounds.  When she’s not smiling she can look scary, and when she’s loose roaming the streets I know many people would shy away from her.  But not my 65 pound, 9 year old son.  (Excuse the parental pride here!)

As many know I’m a dog fanatic and I’ve passed that gene onto my children.  And this week Mack had his first “rescue”!  Woohoo!  He was upstairs playing when I heard him screaming “Mom! Mom!”  He does a good Stewie (Family Guy) impersonation so at first I ignored it.  Then he was louder running down the stars.  “There’s a loose dog outside we need to get him!” Continue reading Don’t judge a dog by its cover

Winter Meets March Madness

It’s been a long cold winter here in Nashville.  Just as the ice and snow hit, my projects at work were completed, so I had a little spare time on my hands.  You’d think having this extra time would motivate me to write write write! Or edit edit edit! But being the master procrastinator that I am, I’ve found ways to spend hours on the computer (and Netflix) without even touching my completed manuscript, Warning Signs. Or the [untitled] sequel work in progress.  My time inside was literally making me stir crazy and depressed at the same time.

But just as the real March madness began this week, I returned to the world of writing. While surfing a few writer and publisher blogs, I realized this was the week of several critique contests and pitch wars.  So I was in.  That was the easy part.

The hard part has been looking at my manuscript.  I received a critique in late January and had been putting off the edits.  But when I re-read the suggestions it hit home.  My manuscript, which has been in edit mode for A VERY LONG TIME, still needs polishing.  A lot.  I knew that, but was so thankful to get precise comments from a published author on how to improve it.  Not that the usual “thank you for your query” rejection letter isn’t fun to read, but it’s so helpful to get an actual critique!  I had received a few before but this was the only one that gave me concrete suggestions.

Continue reading Winter Meets March Madness

A Lesson from the Dog: Anticipation

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I finally snapped this photo of Rudolph in his daily pose – full of anticipation awaiting the arrival of my husband.  If I could, I’d Insert the vintage Heinz commercial music here🙂  He always knows when he’s coming home and runs to the front door, bumps up the curtain and stares out waiting for his human daddy to arrive.  It’s so genuine and yet another reason to love our dogs.  Who else is so happy to see you day after day?  For Rudolph, anticipation is almost always followed by pure bliss.

As I was working on this post, I realized how much time I’ve spent waiting these past few days as well.  Although I don’t have a cute photo of myself waiting because I wasn’t always a happy camper!  My youngest was finally diagnosed with walking pneumonia after eight days of high fever and no energy, and so most of the past ten days all I’ve done is check temperature, administer medicine, and wait.  And go to the doctor multiple times wondering why he was getting worse, why the “sinus infection” wasn’t a sinus infection, and why the antibiotics weren’t working.  Then we’d go back home and rest.  He’s missed the start of school, practices with his new soccer team, and the Tennessee Titans first preseason football game: the small, yet important, things an eight-year-old waits on all summer.  As parents, we’ve been waiting for that spark of life to jump back into his eyes, waiting for a sign that he’s back to his old crazy self.

He’s recovering slowly but surely, and I feel so lucky and happy that his illness is treatable and temporary.  The time we spent waiting in Vanderbilt children’s hospital for his chest X-ray this week was a true life lesson.  Mack’s eyes were wide watching all the little kids wait for their scans.  We saw a family wearing t-shirts that said “Cancer Sucks!” and heard them talk to another mom about her son who is 3 and in remission.  Mack innocently asked me if kids can get cancer.  We’ve lost a grandfather to cancer, and have my sister (his aunt) who is a cancer survivor, so he is well aware of cancer as a disease.  But he’d never seen the disease affect a child, someone like him.  Our small time waiting to find out if he had pneumonia pales in comparison to what these families are waiting on. Their strength was amazing.

So we’ve learned a lot about waiting this month.  Hopefully, we can also learn from Rudolph and spend a little time each day full of anticipation, followed by joy, as we run to our friends and loved ones.

Luna’s future is so bright…she’s gotta wear shades

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So Luna had a fed bad days after vacation and was limping and sliding on our hardwood floors. I honestly was worried her time was ending and she was in a sharp decline. She wouldn’t leave the carpet in our bedroom (which resulted in a nice accident right where I put my feet down when I get out of bed), and I was having to carry her up the back stairs to go to the bathroom.  So I called our vet who came over (a mobile vet is a blessing to an elderly dog), and her recommendation was: a chiropractor. What? Yes a doggy chiropractor!

Ironically, my husband has been going to a chiropractor for years and begging me to go. I have abstained so far, although I am intrigued. Just scared after suffering a serious car accident in my twenties with lingering neck and shoulder stiffness that never seems to go away. But would I take my dog to a chiropractor? The answer was – of course.

I knew people would laugh, but forget that. It wasn’t like my vet was making money off of this referral – it took the care to someone else. And I trust her.

Okay so why the photo? Well, the chiropractor suggested this newer cold laser therapy to help Luna’s back and hip heal faster. I thought it may be a little over the top, but after some research found it had been around a while and was extremely helpful to older dogs. I consulted with my vet, and got the go ahead. So here is Luna with her googles on, getting ready for her laser treatment. The funniest part was as soon as the glasses were on and I shrieked, the vet tech turned to me and said: “Go ahead and take a picture. I know you want to!”

And the best part, well the second best part:  the bill. Yes I said the bill. The laser therapy was a whopping $45! (I know Nashville prices may be slightly lower than the national average!) And the adjustment – $65. But the real best part is getting Luna back.  She’s all smiles again, trotting along on our nightly walks, and letting Rudolph know through a few growls that he is not welcome to eat her food.  She’s also off her pain meds, although I think she may miss the chicken flavored pill pockets.

Really wish we had this therapy years ago when I had to replace knees on both of my dogs (for a cool $2,000 each).  But at least now I know a new treatment exists for aging dogs with hip and arthritis issues.  She may only need monthly or quarterly tune ups, depending on how often Rudolph tries to jump on her or wrestle.  But it’s a small price to pay for her quality of life and mobility.

So rock on, Luna, you still have some good years left after all🙂

Luna’s Story

Sometimes we focus on the new shiny object, or the new baby, or puppy and unintentionally overshadow someone special.  I am guilty of that – mostly because my youngest pup Rudolph has given me so many things to blog about!  So today we hear Luna’s story.

School is out and so my boys are all about staying up late and sleeping on the couch.  Yes good parenting I know!  The other morning I woke up early to see my 10 year old snuggling with Luna.  This is such a rare occasion I tried to snap a photo, and apologize for the quality.  I was so touched to see his hand over her and her looking back at him, because I know she doesn’t always get equal attention.

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After I lost Cato back in 2006, I wasn’t sure I’d want another Siberian husky.  But I slowly became (slightly) obsessed and would yell every time I saw a beautiful husky walking in our neighborhood.  Another year or so passed, and I realized I was ready for another dog.  And it had to be a husky.  I went on pet finder and saw a picture of Luna – then known as Lollipop.  I just about cried and thought that’s it.  I packed up my two toddlers and drove over two hours to go see her.  We were just going to look at her – yeah right – and of course we came home with her.  The night drive back was gorgeous with a full moon so we decided to name her Luna after the moon (and her white face also resembled a moon).

Luna was found in a Wal-Mart parking lot outside of Jackson, TN a few hours from Nashville.  No idea what happened to her but she was very thin, and not ready to share much when she came home.  Her tail appeared to have been broken; her back right hip was slightly weak from genetic problems or possible trauma. She fought several times with our older dog Solo – who also was a rescue – but we knew she just needed time. After Solo passed away, she got her day in the sun, but that time was limited because soon thereafter came Rudolph, a 6 week old Golden Retriever puppy who was ridiculously cute.

But Luna didn’t fight with Rudolph.  She embraced him, acting as his mother, cleaning his ears, and watching out for him.  DSC03386

She took on a new role, and it was obvious by this time that her estimated age was probably a little off.  We thought she was 2-3 years old when we got her but feel sure now she is much older.  Flash forward several years and Luna is a polite, sweet older lady. Her only flaw is her breath which, even after having 12 teeth pulled, is beyond death🙂

Rudolph is 4 now and full of energy, and therefore gets more attention.  Luna is probably between 10-12, and starting to slip and slide a little, but always up for a walk. And a treat.

We are blessed to have Luna, and so when I saw Murphy snuggling with her, I made a new resolution to make sure we give her what she deserves.  We know her life was hard, and yes we have spoiled her over the years. But this old lady needs some more loving.

And we will make sure she gets it!

Why Dogs are Better Than People

I’ve been struggling recently with the realization that a close friend was not the person I thought he was.  I won’t go into details, but it involves infidelity and much heartache, and impacts not only their entire family, but also us friends who are their extended family.  Many times it’s so easy to say these situations are just between spouses, but when you see firsthand the impacts on the kids and grandparents, you realize we are all in this life together. 

As usual, I find support in my love for animals.  Animals are honest – they don’t pretend to be someone they aren’t.  They don’t hold back resentment over years.  Each day they are truly happy to see you.  And if they’re mad at you – you know.  They growl, snarl, maybe even snap.  But wouldn’t that be better sometimes to know where you stand?  To not hide your emotions, but to express them? (Assuming, of course, that we humans keep the normal social behavior standards and not bite or hump in public!) 

Which brings me to Lance, one of the VICKtory dogs rescued seven years ago from Michael Vick’s disgusting dogfighting ring.  See the cute photo below.  Those animals were subjected to unmentionable pain and torture.  I was brought to tears by Lance’s heartwarming story (to read more click here: http://bit.ly/VicktoryDogLance) – because now after six years of therapy and support he has found his forever home.  If ANY animal deserved to hold a grudge, and lash out at people, it would be Lance.

But he didn’t.  Image 

Because in life sometimes, dogs ARE better than people.