Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Devastion! (Spring/Summer 2007)

It's amazing how you can keep your head about you while everything around you spins out of control. In slow motion, you see things happening but on the outer edges it's a blur.

I made the decision to have a lumpectomy and surgery was scheduled for May 16th, 2007. Since I had no insurance, it would be an outpatient surgery. Before the surgery took place, the breast surgeon decided I needed quite a few tests, including a PET. Once all the tests results were in, the conclusion was the cancer was confined to the breast and had not traveled to other parts of my body.

Surgery was successful. I remember the surgeon saying they had got it all, the margins were clean. She had also removed some of my lymphnodes in my left arm pit, which were also clean. Good news! I went home that afternoon and was to be home for two weeks before returning to work.

Recovery was up and down. By the end of the two weeks, I had developed an infection in the incision. Doctor's orders were for me to stay home another week.

During this whole time off, I trusted by employer to honor their word. But in the first part of June when I was to be paid my commissions, I recieved a very small paycheck. About 1/4 of what I'd anticipated. After numerous phone calls, I was told since I wasn't able to handle my accounts, they gave my commissions to the other rep who had filled in during my absence. Long story short by June 20th, 2007, I was out of a job and not able to draw unemployment benefits.

I had about enough saved to survive a month or so and that was it. Then my significant other, who had obtained his CDL, suggested I get mine and we would drive a rig over the road.

I couldn't see any other options. The world was spinning out of control and this felt like solid ground. So, I earned by CDL and passed my medical. Then disaster struck again . . . my significant other had a stroke while in the rig. I get a call at 4am from him and he couldn't talk, but he managed to get the word stroke out of his mouth. The company was able to GPS locate his truck in a Louisana truck stop and get help to him.

Can it get any worse? Oh yes it can. I managed to hang on till about August before every last cent was gone. I had trained for 6 weeks over the road with a trainer, but I couldn't afford to keep my home any longer. You don't earn very much in training and I was just going further in the hole.

In the end, the breast cancer of 2007 took my job, savings, retirement, and home. I had large debts and no way to pay. I was able to keep my car, clothes and my furniture went into storage. The tornado had wiped me out.

I went to Dallas, to the terminal where my big rig was parked, and prepared to start a new chapter in my life.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Something is Brewing on the Horizon (April 2007)

Ever been in a tornado? Experienced a devastating storm? You know, the kind of storm that sucks you in, you have no control over, and takes everything you have but some memories? Cancer was to be my storm.

Hopefully, as you grow older you learn emotions are to be chosen and until you learn that lesson, life can get out of control. My storm began with fear and anger setting in quietly like the beginning of the storm, just a small gust of wind and rain.

Now I needed to tell the key people in my life I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Telling my daughters was easy, but not so with my mom and to be fair I needed to tell the guy I had just started dating.

I remember calling my mom, and asking her if she was alone and sitting down. She had just lost her oldest brother to pancreatic cancer and I really didn't want to heap more on her at this time. Like myself, she didn't get to pick the time or place to get my news, she was out with friends for dinner. I played it down and let her know it was nothing serious I couldn't handle, but would keep her informed.

Now the man who I had just started dating was handled a little differently. I literal told him to RUN as far away as possible. I thought a smart man would gladly turn and run so he wouldn't have to go through anything. I've got to hand it to him, he told me I was crazy, he wasn't going anywhere.

OK, so I'm thinking this is all good. I've got family and friends support and I'd made the decision, no matter what I'm not doing chemo. Something in my gut just kept telling me the cancer wouldn't kill me but the chemo would. I wasn't going to budge on this either. So, I went to the health/nutrition store and started learning everything I could about nutrition, the bodies immune system and the cancer link. It's amazing the information that is out there that a doctor doesn't know about or won't tell you.

By the time I had my first appointment with the breast surgeon, I had crammed a lot of information into my head and started a whole new regimen of nutrition and eating. No more sugar because cancer and sugar are best friends. Lots of vegetables, anti-oxidants, and fish. No processed foods. I thought "OK, this doctor is going to be glad I've been so pro-active", but that was not the case.

My daughters were with me in the examining room when I first met my breast surgeon. She looked professional and personable, and I liked that she was straight forward with her questions. After she did her examination is when it got interesting.

Breast Surgeon, "When did you first recognize the lump?".
Me, "Just a couple of weeks ago."
Surgeon, "Was it there last month?"
Me, "No, I think I would have noticed something this big."
Surgeon, "You need to start chemo immediately. Something that large in a month is aggressive". WHOA! She just said the other C word and I about fell off the table.
Me, "No chemo, never. It will kill me! Can't we operate and get this out of me?" Surgeon "Sure, but chemo first might shrink the tumor". I'm thinking you just blew it sister, you said might.
Me, "No chemo, what type of operation would be the best?"
Surgeon, "I think we could do a lumpectomy and be able to save the breast providing I can get clean margins."
Me, "OK, let me think about it and I'll let you know."

During the drive home to Killeen from Waco, I pretty much ranted about everything. My daughters and I went over and over everything, but a decision wasn't really reached. How do you make a decision like this without gathering information or discussing it? I didn't have a clue.

So the winds of my storm were starting to get a little stronger, because deep down I was angry and getting more angry. How did this get missed at my one and only mammogram? Couldn't I just live one year without a huge issue happening? There is no way in hell I'm doing chemo! And on and on the tornado in my brain began to spin.

A few days later, I just got home from work, when I got a call from the a lady from the American Cancer Society. "Would I like to talk to someone who has had a mastectomy, so I'll know what to expect when I have mine?" What? Who told this women I was having a mastectomy when I didn't even know myself what I was going to do! Now, I'm even madder. Come to find out my surgeon had informed the local office. American Cancer lady was very persistent that I would need this support. I was so angry by this time, I can't even tell you how I ended this conversation.

This storm was gathering speed fast. . .

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Toto, We're Not in Kansas Anymore: Unfamiliar Territory

When I left the Breast Imaging Center in Waco, TX,(April 2007)I couldn't believe what I had just gone through. It was a normal work day, sun was shining, but I had just had a biopsy done on my left breast for cancer. Surreal is the best way to explain what I felt. A normal day but I had done something very abnormal. Trying to fight back fear, tears and screaming, I kept telling myself it was all going to be nothing. I drank too much coffee, I'm older and breast tissue changes with age, or the favorite "All women get lumps during their monthly cycle".

During the drive home, I called one of my oldest and dearest friends, Lisa, and told her what was happening. She immediately said "God has healed you, it's not cancer". She has a strong faith and is a true believer and I needed to lean on someone who was strong.

I thought my faith was good. I believed and prayed. Read a little from time to time, but didn't really seek any further relationship with God. I really thought I was on solid ground, but somewhere in the far corners of my mind I was doubting God and our relationship.

I've heard it said if you have fear you don't have faith. (Actually you can read that scripture in the bible) Faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain. So I tried to have just a mustard seed of faith that when that call came, it would be good news.

I told the kids when we all got together for dinner one evening. I just came out with it, bold and blunt. It's kind a my style. :) I didn't want them to see my fear, but it was scary to tell them what had happened so far. It was all happening so fast and if I thought this was fast, it was going to really start spinning out of control!

April 23rd, 2007, I'm driving back to Killeen from Austin, TX. The sky was cloudy and we'd been having rain off and on all day. I was headed back to the office to do some paperwork from the sales calls I'd had that day. I was traveling down 195 into Killeen, when my phone rang. It was my doctor. Pulling over and sitting on the side of the road, she told me the biopsy had found malignant cancer cells. Funny, but you don't control where you get the news, it just finds you, and then it's out there in the universe.

Now I didn't sit there and start to cry, no I'd been made of tougher stuff than that, but I spewed forth questions. How big was the tumor? What were my options? Who do I go to now? I remember that doctor answering every question calmly and with as much information as she could give me. Tumor size undetermined until it is removed. Options would need to be discussed with the surgeon and she would make the referral. Sitting on the side of the road, I said "Make the appointment with the breast surgeon in Waco and lets get this thing out of me so I can go on with life". Well she complimented me for my "go getter" ambition but I was turning into a zombie.

I drove into Killeen, pretty much on auto pilot, and went into the office. I dropped my briefcase on my desk and walked into the general manager's office. I told my boss what was happening and he told me not to worry that the paper would help out and I wouldn't lose my job.

Looking back on this day, I have no idea why I told this person first. I wouldn't recommend this as the best, but I was traveling in unfamiliar territory. When I got up and left his office, I tried to work, but my face must of had the "zombie/fear" look in place. Before I left for the night, my zombie/fear expression planted firmly on my face, I had spewed my story to a few more people.

Let me say this, fear is a sneaky emotion. This fear was slow and insidious. It allowed me to function and trick myself, but really I was not operating in full mental capacity. And then fear found a friend, anger.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Life in Texas! (2006 - 2007)

I was behind the wheel of the biggest U-Haul truck and my oldest daughter, Cassi, driving my car, we started out from Madison, WI headed for Ft. Hood, TX. Once we got to Ft. Hood, TX, my youngest daughter, Mallary, her husband, Nathan, and my grandson, Camdon would be meeting us at the visitor's center of post. My new life and residence would be living on an army post while my son-in-law deployed to Iraq for a 12 - 15 month deployment.

Needless to say I was pretty excited. I couldn't wait to see my daughter and family and live in warmer climate. My little moving caravan arrived on post on August 1, 2006 and life began again.

Not long after, my oldest daughter, Cassi, and her husband, Nick, moved from Appleton, WI to the the Killeen/Waco, TX area also. It was official, we all were becoming Texans!

By April of 2007, I had established myself in my own home and was working at the local paper, selling advertising. My daughter and family had bought a new house off post and everything for everyone was looking up. Life was good and I was enjoying myself. It seemed life was settling down and heading in the right direction. Then one morning, staring at me from my bathroom room mirror was a lump on my left breast. As I stood there staring back at it, I thought "Were you there last month?"

Okay, we all have intuition and mine kicked in big time. I grabbed my phone and called my new doctor. I was to come in that afternoon to be seen. My stomach and nerves jumped around all day.

Once in the doctor's office, in less than five minutes, I had a referral to Waco to the Breast Imaging Center within the Hillcrest Baptist Hospital system. Now, I stressed about another problem: insurance and finances. I had only been with my employer 4 months, my insurance benefits hadn't started yet. They began at 5 months. How was I to pay for a mammogram and pathology? Thank God, for the Komen Foundation which covered mammogram, biopsy, and ultrasound if needed. Before I left the doctor's office I had my appointment for the mammogram.

I went to my appointment, by myself, for a mammogram. I thought I could handle it, because I had been given a "clean" bill of health only a year ago. How could I have cancer this quick? Besides this lump was big. Big enough to be seen with a naked eye and I was positive I did not have it last month.

After the proceedure was finished and I was waiting in the lobby, the nurse came out and asked me if I could stay for a biopsy and ultrasound? What the heck was happening? Of course I'd stay. I called a friend and they came to meet me at the hospital. Things seemed to be moving very fast and I was not on sure ground.

Now, biopsies are nothing to be afraid of and don't hurt because you are numbed up. When you see size of the needles, don't pass out. Since that first biopsy, I've had plenty more and can usually tell the doctor what gauge they need to use to get a good sample from me. There is a little tugging and you'll hear a click, then a small sample is extracted for pathology to diagnose. The trick is to get enough sample to get a conclusive result.

Finally the biopsy is finished and I was told I would have my results in a few days. My son-in-law, Nate, was due home for some R&R, (mid-April) and I decided to wait to mention my "discovery" until I had all the kids in one room.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In The Beginning (2006)

All my life, I've enjoyed very good health. I never even got all the childhood illnesses. I never had surgery, my tonsils and appendix are still in me. I'm tall and have always been told I had a nice figure. Of course, I was blessed early in life with ample breasts.

I sported a D/DD cup, most my life. During pregnancies, my breast became larger, but returned to the D range after breast feeding.

Since I developed early in life, I suffered the usual teasing from my male classmates. You know, bra strap snapping, creepy attempts at unhooking my bra, and overall staring. I remember saying that when I was done having kids, I just wanted to cut off the boobs and remove the inside parts, because I wouldn't need them anymore. Little did I know that I might be prophesying my future.

But deep down I really liked my breasts. Every year I saw my ob/gyn for the normal check-up and pap, got my birth control pill prescription refilled and life went on. When I turned 40, the doctor suggested I add a mammogram to my yearly procedure. I couldn't see why, I had no problems. Neither doctor or myself ever felt a lump, so why in the world would I subject my boobs to the painful and degrading "squish & flatten" nightmare of a mammogram? My thinking was "If it's not broke, don't fix it."

In 2006, I was preparing to move to Texas from Wisconsin. Before I lost my health insurance from my current employer, I decided to get a complete physical, including a mammogram.

So, I went to the UWHC (University of WI Health Center, Madison, WI) on March 16, 2006 and enjoyed my first mammogram. (I'm being just a little sarcastic about the "enjoy" part!)

A few days later, the doctor called to let me know, I was in perfect health, everything was fine.

At the end of July, the U-Haul was packed, and I took off for Texas. Ft. Hood/Killeen, TX to be exact, where my youngest daughter, son-in-law, and 1st grandson were living on post.

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