Quick Update

I’ve healed from the lumpectomy fantastically. Now on to next steps. There are so many options in the current world of breast cancer and I am delirious that it’s 2017 and I get to design the path that’s right for me. I did a full intake with Dr. Kelly (naturopath) and she designed a protocol that will maximize my body’s natural ability to fight off disease and minimize effects of the conventional medicine that makes sense for me. I take a number of supplements each day, including curcumin, seaweed, mushrooms, Vitamin D, Vitamin B, Fish Oil, probiotics, flax seed and melatonin. I’m practicing meditation, yoga and saying no. Of particular importance for me is I’m learning to stop covering my vulnerability and uncertainty with distraction. But the tasks I use for distraction make me successful, I argue. They also keep you from being in touch with yourself and truly finding your piece. I’ve lived my entire adult life in stressful jobs. Hypervigilance, adrenaline dumps and imbalanced cortisol has been my normal. It’s quite possible it’s contributed to my getting cancer at 41. Now I’m being asked to recognize that this physical/mental/emotional state is not normal. It is not my body at balance. I’m having to slough off these layers of self-protection and it’s super uncomfortable. I’ll speak more to this personal journey later.

Radiation. That’s the next step. If I would have chosen a mastectomy, radiation might not have been necessary. But, I chose breast conservation surgery (lumpectomy) and that goes hand in hand with radiation. This will sterilize the entire breast area and the sentinel lymph nodes. Basically, if there are any micro-cancers hanging out in there, they will be eliminated as well as their pathway into my system. Is this risk free, obviously not. It’s radiation after all. It’s like a high-powered x-ray directed meticulously at one area mindful of decreasing exposure to other areas. Thankfully, my cancer is in my right breast which eliminates exposure to my heart. It does not, however, eliminate exposure to my right lung. I’ll talk more about the radiation later as well. This was supposed to be a quick update lol.

I met with the radiation doctor at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute. She was magnificent. A competent, intelligent, compassionate, knowledgeable, beautiful woman around my age. She knew things, answered all my questions down to the most hypothetical and was willing to give professional and personal advice. I start 10/23. I have EMS World in Vegas to go to 10/15-10/21. I DID not want to miss this. All my EMT CEUs, a focus on community paramedic programs and an entire tract on event medicine!!! I’m going to be there. So, on my oldest son’s 22nd birthday I begin a 30 minute a day, 5 day a week, 6 week course to cement myself as the eminent Willamette Valley Radioactive Unicorn. Until then, I’m continuing to conquer the world (but not just to distract myself).

All the Appointments

It’s amazing to think of all the appointments I’ve had since my last update on 8/19. Good thing I have my calendar to remember them all. First appointment was my post-op on 8/23. This appointment was made with Dr. Knapp, the resident doctor that helped Dr. Kwong with my surgery. It was made two weeks ago. The purpose was to see how my surgery was healing up. I also needed to meet with the oncologist. In true VA fashion, general surgery only sees patients on Mondays and Wednesdays and oncology on Thursdays. So, I got to stay another night in Portland for my two 1 hour appointments.

I get to my post op and meet with a very nice PA who looks at me kind of funny when I walk in the room. “What are you doing here?” she says. Then she laughed stating that I was too healthy and she would need to look at my file to figure out what in the world I was doing sitting in front of her. Once she read up on me, she knew why but still determined I was way too healthy to be there. Then she told me that Dr. Knapp wasn’t working that day. Ok, then why was an appointment made with him? Sigh…long story short, she got in touch with Dr. Kwong who was there but couldn’t see me that day. She knew I would be around all evening and into the next day so if she wanted to, I was in Portland. She never did. The PA checked out the surgical sites and was thrilled with their healing. I was cleared to go to oncology. Yay!

I was also cleared to go spend the rest of the day hiking since I couldn’t check into the hotel until 3pm and it was only 11am. At first they had me scheduled to stay in-house, which I determined was a double hospital room. Thank goodness another veteran had a hotel room booked and she wanted to stay in-house. We traded. I also learned that I need to have a “support person” or even a “support animal” come up with me and I can always stay in the hotel. I believe Rock counts.

I found a beautiful resource in Lake Oswego, Tryon Creek State Park and was guided to a series of trails that made a 7 mile loop. It was a gorgeous day AND the crisis phone didn’t ring once. It was so nice of people to not have kid crises while I was wandering around the woods. Not that I wouldn’t have been able to step off the path, help with intervention and then get back on my way. I’ve done that numerous times. I finished my hike right about 230pm which was perfect for heading over to the hotel.

Yes, I did go to Bannings and get treats again. I got another piece of Marionberry Poppyseed cake and a Raspberry Lemon cake. Both were delicious. For those who wonder, I had salad for dinner and don’t forget the 7 mile hike.

Next day, I headed back to the VA for my oncology appointment. Met Dr. Kittai, a 2nd year resident. Heidi, my nurse advocate went with me to be a second set of ears. Dr. Kittai was delightful as he explained all the options in my future. I wanted facts and number and research and asked a million and one questions. Several he would have to consult with the others to find the answers to. I do believe I thought of just about everything someone could ask no matter how random. He was very patient. Then on to the exam.

I don’t have a problem whipping my shirt and bra off anymore, in front of anyone, anywhere. Cancer has stripped me of any modesty I might have had. I didn’t have much to begin with. So, I got on the crinkle paper table and went to pull my shirt off. “Not yet,” he said visibly reddening. I’ll remember to wait until I’m told to take my clothes off next time.

After my exam, we talked next steps. I would be referred to radiation (which was already in the works but referred to OHSU which is not going to happen. I AM NOT driving to Portland 5 days a week for a 15 minute treatment). Several messages were in to refer me down to Willamette Valley Cancer Institute in Eugene. I particularly like the one my PA left stating, “She is a single mother of two boys living near Eugene and working two jobs. This is an incredibly appropriate referral.” It made me laugh that it’s considered a “lifestyle” referral. Working is a lifestyle lol. Dr. Kittai also scheduled an onco dx test which will test the tumor for certain elements. These elements help determine treatment steps after radiation, for example chemotherapy and hormone therapy or just hormone therapy. It will be about 30 days before the results are back. He talked a lot about side effects, long term issues, things to watch out for like bone pain (breast cancer likes to spread to the bones) and medications. It was a lot to take in. I kept smiling.

When we were finished, I got in my car and began the long drive home. It was in this silence that I began to fall apart for the first time. I had too much going on in my head. I was trying to come up with too many answers. I was trying to get control of things that were uncontrollable. I felt completely overwhelmed. I had to go into work and I was super grateful for the distraction. I just needed to not think about cancer just for a little while.