Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Catching cancer

I am sitting in the Infusion Center waiting for my Herceptin infusion. I have two more to go and I'll finally be done. I am coming up on my one-year anniversary of my diagnosis which seems unbelievable.

Anabelle asked me last night, "Mom, how did you catch cancer? Are you going to get it again?" I told her I didn't know how I got cancer but that I was all better now and it wasn't contagious so she didn't have to worry about 'catching' it. I asked her if she was ok, and she said she was worried I had cancer again because she saw some of my hair had fallen out on my towel after my shower. I wanted to cry, but I just hugged her as hard as I could without smothering her. Why is it that my 5 year old has to worry her mom's hair is going to fall out again because of cancer? It just doesn't seem fair.

Being at the cancer center today was an emotional experience. I never want to come back. I never want to do this again. I never want to put my family through this again. I never ever...but really how can I make sure this doesn't happen again? I feel so much anger at life for throwing us such a curve ball, because now I feel like it can happen again...out of nowhere...when we're happy with our little life (just like we were a year ago) and BAM. It hits us right in the face.

I have to keep reminding myself that I have nothing to complain about, and so much to be thankful for.

We all have so much to be thankful for. Every day we get to be with our kids, family and friends...every day we can chose to be happy and chose to be grateful for everything we are given. Life is hard, but no one ever said it was easy...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A New Year...

Happy 2013! I could not wait for 2012 to be over. I remember vividly riding the school bus in elementary school hoping time would pass faster so I could be a 'cool' middle schooler...I felt like that this last year. ...just waiting for the months to go by faster so I can put things behind me.

Today, looking back on 2012 I feel a sense of happiness. Happiness from all the love and support we got, and continue to receive - one of the many good things that come out of being sick is you really see who your true friends are; who loves you and who will actually be there for you when the shit hits the fan. Of course, there's the flip-side where some people abandon you, but that's life I guess.

A few weeks ago, I took a short 3-day trip to Seattle by myself. I am having mobility issues from my mastectomy (all normal) but needed some physical therapy done and wanted someone I trusted to work on me. It was the first time I had been back since we moved in May.

Our move was so quick that we barely had time to say good bye to anyone; most of our good byes were over the phone. Until now,I haven't had the time or energy to really comprehend what we had left behind.

In the last month, as I am finally coming out from under the chemo-cloud and post-surgery recovery I am quickly realizing and missing dearly all that we left behind. I miss our house...where we brought Sofia home from the hospital and where Anabelle became a 'kid', I miss our walks to the water tower (something I found so ugly when we first bought our house, now carries so much loving and fun memories), I miss the snow days when we would sled down Bertona with the girls, I miss our neighbors...I miss our routine and our friends...I miss the feeling I had of being able to call a friend when I just needed to get out for a drink or coffee...or a donut. I miss my brother and his fiance. I miss so much about Seattle and all that we left behind.

When I got back to SFO, I quickly recalled the last time I was at SFO taking the same exact route from the Virgin America gates to the baggage claim area. We had planned a trip to San Francisco to visit family and friends for the weekend, but a day prior I had had a biopsy done on the mass on my right breast and lymph-nodes. I was waiting in this very chair with Sofia running around this lounge with 2 car seats and three giant suite cases when the Radiologist called me to tell me I had cancer. The worst news and the worst day of my life so far…

The rest of the year was hard to say the least, but it’s amazing what your body and mind can endure if it has no choice. I’m sometimes surprised that I’m still married and my kids still love me, because I dragged them through a lot… Back in September when we were still going though chemo, I asked JM to describe in three words the last 6 months of our life...his answer: "aged ten years."

This year is about keeping the momentum moving forward, and aging only the ONE year versus the ten we did in 2012. Last week was my first week of radiation therapy...22 more to go. I will be done before the end of February, then hopefully before the summer I will have my final reconstructive surgery and my final Herceptin infusion and I can close this chapter of my story.

I will say though, as I try to move forward that so much of my negative energy that I kept hidden inside is creeping out. I tried to stay so intensely positive throughout my diagnosis, chemo and surgery, now that I am finally given a clean bill of health, I feel like I am finally breathing like a normal human being and allowing myself to feel things other than the “you can do it, go get ‘em” attitude I was fronting for the past 7 months.

How do I get back to that good place…that positive energy place? …maybe I should start meditating like a friend suggested to me not solong ago…or do some yoga…

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A clean bill of health

My surgeon called last night with the absolute best news ever. The final pathology was negative; both for the nodes and breast tissue. I am officially cancer free.

The emotion that overcame me at that moment was incredible. I could only say thank you over and over again to my doctor.

An amazing amazing feeling.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Moving forward

Bilateral mastectomy done. Tissue expander implanted. Now in full recovery and pain management mode. December 3rd was a long day to say the least. We checked in at 6am and I was wheeled into surgery around 10:45 and out around 5:30. The surgery was a success. The initial pathology during surgery on the nodes came back negative; there's still a slight chance the post-surgical pathology will come back positive but the doctors are optimistic.

Recovery is hard. The night after surgery was a haze of pain and nausea. The nurses gave me a rainbow of drugs to help with both but nothing seemed to work. Even my PCP drug button wasn't doing the trick. I attempted to eat...first ice cream (because why not, right?) then threw up about 10 minutes later then graham crackers which I kept down for a good 20. Then I decided to give up for the night and attempt sleep, which didn't really didn't really come easy.

Tuesday morning, my surgeon woke me up to check up on me. He took my bandages off and I got a glance at my new (let's be honest) butchered chest. He said he couldn't have asked for better - that my skin is in great condition and will do great for the reconstruction. Wonderful news. He wants me to walk around and asks the nurse to take the catheter out so I'm forced to get up to go to the bathroom. I don't feel ready for this at all, but I complied.

9am JM came for a visit with a bagel which was delicious - I hadn't eaten since Sunday night and I finally felt like I could keep food down for more than 20 minutes. The nurse suggested that I get up and attempt a walk down the 10' hallway. After my success with the bagel, I thought it would be a good idea. At this point I hadn't gotten out of bed since Monday morning before surgery. Moving my body never felt so painful - everything hurt and felt weak. I finally stood on my two feet and felt ok, took a few steps and in walks the plastic surgeon who thankfully advices the nurse that I look like I need to sit down...and out goes that delicious bagel I just devoured. Boo. I still need to use the bathroom so I waddle to the bathroom with JM's help and somehow make it back to the bed and out goes whatever else I have left in my stomach. It was only 11am and I felt completely defeated and done.

The day did get better. The doctor gave me new pain meds, a muscle relaxer and more anti-nausea meds. I got chicken noodle soup for dinner and successfully digested it, got up and went for a walk around the post-op ward and even watched a movie on my iPad. Success!!!

Wednesday morning, I was discharged with two drains and meds to keep me happy for weeks. By Thursday I was able to get my left drain removed and the right one the next day. Recovering at home is better but far more frustrating than being at the hospital. I see JM doing everything for the girls and me not being able to do a thing. I feel completely useless...well, I am useless and in fact a burden because I have to ask for help with everything.

JM is an angel. He makes me laugh and forget my pain and has been my advocate throughout this whole ordeal. When he holds my hands, he makes me feel at home. When he kisses me, he makes me feel more loved than anybody in the world. His laughter is contagious and infects my whole being, and watching him be a good father makes me the happiest of all.

The girls have also been amazing. They help me get up from my chair, cover me with blankets, put my slippers on write me cards filled with love, and give me kisses and leg hugs since they know my chest is off limits. On Tuesday they came for a visit at the hospital and Anabelle held my water bottle, opened and fed me my saltine crackers so my med wouldn't make me sick. Both girls stood on either side of my bed holding my hands; both with smiles as wide as their little faces; never showing any worry in their faces. As a mother this is something I never wanted my kids to experience but I am so extremely proud of their maturity and compassion. JM told me later that in the hallway of the hospital Anabelle broke into tears from what she saw. I can't express how amazed I am at her strength to stay so strong in front of me...even making jokes to make me laugh.

This year has been the biggest challenge for all of us but I cannot wait for 2013. We all deserve an amazing 2013 and I know in my heart that it will be.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thoughts of a husband and father

"The doctor called, he said it’s malignant." Shock. Fear. Confusion.
Sadness. DO NOT CRY. Denial. "It's ok. We're going to be ok."
No way. No way this is happening to my family. She is quietly
sobbing. Be strong for her. I can't stop myself; tears stream from
my eyes and panic fills my gut. Get a grip man. Pull over. Don’t
alarm the girls Get your head straight. Hold her. Soothe her.
Everything will be all right.

I will never forget the moment that Kana told me she has cancer;
unequivocally this was the scariest part of the whole ordeal because
of the unknown. Cancer is such a big word. A few years ago, my
family had just finished dealing with a breast cancer scare. My dad
had been diagnosed, had a lumpectomy and a couple weeks of radiation.
Lucky for us, he caught it extremely early. I remember being so
much more level headed; calming my mom and helping navigate the
medical decisions with my dad. After I told him about Kana, he
reminded me that life deals us cards and we make the most of what we
are given. Don’t give up just because you don't like what you have.
Play out the hand and try to come out on top. In between my dad’s
episode and Kana's diagnosis a friend of ours was diagnosed with
stomach cancer; stage IV. I remember calling her husband after I got
a text from him telling me the staging. The doctors had talked to
them about longevity. Kana and I were heartbroken. They have 2
beautiful kids together and I couldn't help but imagine what it would
be like if we were in their shoes. We had visited them in
Albuquerque because it was important to us to make sure that when we got together
we were all together when our kids met. After she passed her
husband sent me a text thanking me for being there for them. At the
time I didn't thank him for sharing his friendship with me. I
remember seeing him care for his wife and kids and admiring him for
being such a good father and husband. I remember feeling embarrassed
about the things I complain about. She passed a few months after our
visit and 1 year later we found out that Kana had cancer. Almost
immediately I thought of them. Their experience made what we are
facing scarier than it really is but at the same time easier. Easier
because we saw first hand that when thrown into the roughest waters
that life can churn out, all is not over. They showed us that love
for one another can get you through the darkest days by helping you
find appreciation in life and celebrate even its most simple things.

Seven months into treatment and cancer has become a normal part of our
life. Kana has lost her hair. Fatigue is an issue. Chemo has pushed
Kana into early menopause and her temperament has changed. She is
certainly still more level headed than me when I'm hungry or tired.
And you guys have seen her, still beautiful. Kana is like an orchid;
vibrant and full of life yet also delicate. I suppose life is like
that too. Nowadays, for me, living a fulfilling life is about the
appreciation of the most simple and minute details of my family life;
seeing Kana wake up from a nap during an infusion and smiling at me or
holding hands while watching the kids play in the backyard. I don’t
want to miss a single moment of it. Life can turn you onto your head
in a flash second so I don’t want take things for granted. Kana asked
me to describe the last few months in three words. "Aged ten years"
and we both had a laugh. I have thought about the next ten years a
lot lately, and how I want to enjoy as many moments, from the simple
and small to the monumental and epic with Kana, Anabelle and Sofia.

Our lives have changed forever. Temporarily challenged but as I've
seen Kana fight with such elegance and grace I know that our lives
have been enriched. When you try to leave for an infusion and you
hear your two year old crying "No want mama go chemo!" and hearing
from my sister that my 4 year old cried while watching the scene in
"Totoro" where the girls are trying to visit their mom in the hospital
but can't it breaks your heart. My girls have seen their mom fight
cancer and I hope that they see that there is no challenge in life
that can put them down. Get up and fight on. Mom did it and so can

I'm finishing this entry three months after I started it. Kana
finished her last chemo infusion on October 30th. Her hair has started to grow
back and her beauty and vibrancy is starting to peek through the chemo
cloud that has been cast over her for the last six months. We still
have two more phases to go but supposedly surgery and radiation is a
cakewalk in comparison to the slow trudge through chemo. I want
everyone to think of the thing that they are most proud of in their
life. We all share that feeling of pride and accomplishment about
something and I know from deep within my soul, spirit, chakras,
whatever, that in my life I am most proud of Kana and I am truly
thankful that she is the mother of my children and the love of my
life. I look forward to celebrating life with my family and for the
opportunity that over the next 50 years, Kana will be by my side when
we watch our girls get married and play with our grand kids.

Now, on the eve of Kana's mastectomy I want to give my deepest thanks
and appreciation to our family and friends who have made this past 7
months easier and supported us. We are looking forward to finishing
up and celebrating with and thanking all of you in 2013!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Out of the dark

I just got home from my MRI at the Stanford Imaging Center in Redwood City; the 7pm appointment was the only available time so I had to take it. I went by myself because JM had to stay at home and watch the girls. I was only one of four cars parked in the dimly lit parking lot. I parked and walked up to the building and was greeted by a guest services staff who pointed me in the right direction. 

The lobby was filled with the sounds from the self-playing piano and low-lights that left the lobby feeling eerie. The one advantage to geting the imaging done so late in the day is that there's no wait. I checked in and before I had a chance to open my book and read, I was ushered into the dressing room. I undressed and put on my two hospital gowns as instructed and looked in the mirror and giggled. I looked silly; my riding boots, leggings and my oversized flower-printed hospital gown with my purple scarf...not that I was going to a party, but could they make these hospital gowns any less attractive? 

I got an IV (for contrast injection) and followed the Tech to the room. Laid down face down with my breasts hanging down in the MRI contraption, got some ear plugs and headphones and waited. I was given some instructions about the injection then the machine slid me in. As I laid there, I closed my eyes and my mind started spinning. The last couple of days of imaging brought me back to the very beginning of this whole ordeal.  The anticipation and nervousness all came rushing back and my body felt unbalanced and unstable. What if they find something. What if the chemo did not accomplish all that we thought it had.  I tried to ignore it, but it kept getting worse. I opened my eyes and the spinning stopped. I tried to remember the positive results of the mammogram and ultrasound from the day prior to calm my nerves, but every time I closed my eyes my mind wandered to places I did not want to be and thoughts I didn't want to think. 

All the unknowns and what-ifs that have been creeping into my mind for the last six months exploded over me like an avalanche as I laid on the table in the dark in what felt like a coffin. The edges of the machine were pressing up against my arms and making me feel claustrophobic. The loud foreign noises were making me feel anxious and uneasy. My body got more and more tense as the scan went on and on.  My body involuntarily jumped at each noise and vibration during what felt like hours. When I felt like I couldn't take it anymore, the tech finally came back in and I was done. I was rolled back out of the machine, got off the table and remembered that I am not the same person I was 6 months ago. I have been through what felt like hell sometimes and am now back recovering and trying to slowly regain composure of myself.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All done. Oshimai. Sayonara.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 was my last chemo infusion. My Oncologist said we looked giddy, which was probably an understatement. I was so beyond excited to get to this day and be done. Nights before this day, I started thinking about what it means to be a survivor of cancer. Thinking about what if it comes back or what if I develop a new cancer somewhere else.

For the last 6 months I have been sunk deep in trenches of fighting this cancer; not thinking about much else but getting through chemo, then surgery, then radiation, etc. I'm slightly afraid to face 'regular' life after all this is done and I am back to 'normal'. I feel a little like I'm standing alone on a big stage with hundreds of people expecting something from me. But I have nothing to offer - no words of wisdom or direction on my own life.

What do I do once I'm all done with this fight? Where do I go? I'm starting to ask myself these questions a lot now and get no clear answer.

I still have multiple surgeries and radiation ahead but I feel like I can let out a big sigh of relief with the end of my 6-month marriage to chemo. Last round of chemo's side effects are all the same: nausea, nausea, fatigue and digestive issues. I've been sleeping for the last two day and nights to ignore my symptoms as much as I can, but I should probably wake up and eat a little something and drink a little more water.

Thank you all for your texts messages, cards, emails and flowers celebrating my last day of chemo. I feel like a lucky girl to have so many behind me along this journey.