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June 2012

Reality Bites

The past week has been an emotional roller coaster, full of highs and lows.

First, the high of getting through surgery with relative ease. Then, the low of dealing with a surgical drain and the pain that arrived once the anesthesia and pain killers wore off. I have limited use of my left arm, can't lift or carry anything over 10 lbs, can't sleep on my left side, can't move too quickly, or pick up the dog. I also can't look at the incisions because it makes me queasy, but I've been told my surgeon did a remarkable job, I'm healing well, and will likely have minimal scarring from the lumpectomy.

Next, the high accompanying the kindness of friends and strangers alike. I've received all kinds of Get Well wishes - balloons, flowers, a fruit basket and teddy bear - that have brightened our home and lifted my spirits.

Reality Bites Reality Bites

Reality Bites

I even received a lovely Get Well necklace from the girls at Mint Julep, a great boutique in Brookline. I had purchased a dress there recently which ended up having a small tear in it. When I brought it back they graciously offered to replace it with a new one that would be shipped from the manufacturer. I casually mentioned that they needn't rush because I was going in for surgery the next day and it would be weeks before I could return to get it. They were kind enough to not only ship the dress to my office, but include a get well note and necklace with it.
So I was on a high, thinking that getting this drain out would be the last gruesome procedure I'd have to endure, and while it didn't come out this week as I'd hoped, it will surely come out early next week and then I could move on with healing.

And then I received a call from my surgeon, and with it, a new low:

The pathology report came back, and the cancer had spread in a way that prevented them from getting all of it. While the main mass did shrink fro 4.6 cm to 1.5 cm, they found numerous other small, cancerous cell throughout, and were unable to get clear margins (meaning that the cancerous cells extend to 0.1 cm from the top, back, and side of the specimen the removed, an indication that they likely exist beyond that area). They recommend a mastectomy, to be completed at the end of July after I have healed from the last surgery, followed by radiation.

That's all for now. I think I'm going to take the weekend off from Cancer, and then resume another cycle of research/questions/debate next week. Thank you for all of your support thus far. I was hoping that this post would be the one where I say all the prayers had been answered, but we can't give up just yet!

 

 


Easy Peasy

Surgery is complete! And despite my anxiety going into it, everything went smoothly.

I arrived at MGH a little before 6am (a big thank you to the special folks who sent a car service for me) and promptly went into pre-op.

The needle localization procedure that I dreaded was first, and while it hurt a bit, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd thought. I had some Ativan in me to calm me down, and I listened to the relaxation tape throughout. Both helped. And now I know why you have to be awake for this procedure: it involves standing up at a mammogram machine, and while your breast is compressed in the device, the doctor threads two thin wires through it to localize the califications for surgical removal. You then leave with the wires sticking out of your chest. Good times.

I then went back to my room where I watched tv and took a nap before the lumpectomy and lymph dissection. I barely remember going into that procedure, because I (thankfully) received anethesia for this part of it. The next thing knew it was about 6pm and my parents joined me in the recovery room. Dr. Specht was her usual upbeat self, indicating everything went according to plan and that she was really pleased with the outcome.

We got home to my parents' house at about 8pm last night (I slept the whole way) and after a quick bite I went to bed.

Easy PeasyAnd I feel well today!

A bit grossed out by the drain in my side that removes fluid from the surgical site, but I'm getting used to it. I'll spare you the real-world picture and share this image instead: the egg-shaped plastic piece hangs from a thin tube that is attached to the incision. It fills with fluid throught the day, and I (and by "I" - I mean "my mom") have to empty it out morning and night. When the fluid output is <30cc (usually after a week) the drain can be removed.

It will also take about a week to get the pathology report back on my tumor.

But for now I just relax and heal (and wait for my hair to start growing again!), until I go back in to meet with my oncologist on July 9th and find out my radiation schedule.

Thank you, again, for all the kind words, care packages, well wishes, wish bracelet and prayers...they really worked!

 

 


The Incredible Shrinking Tumor

Finally some good news from the health front: the chemo worked!

Back in January, the tumor in my breast measured 4.6cm and was too large to surgically remove and obtain clear margins. So I was prescribed a 4-month course of chemotherapy designed to shrink it to a more manageable size, and I'm happy to report that the lastest MRI shows that it is indeed much smaller - now less than 2cm!

I had the MRI on Wednesday and actually went home with copies of all my images on a CD. I debated whether I should look at them or not - the technicians at the imaging center don't share any information or results with you, and I wasn't scheduled to get the final readout from my surgeon until Friday - but curiosity got the best of me and I did. At first I didn't know what I was looking at, but after a little Googling ("How to read a breast MRI") I felt pretty confident that the outlook was good. And it was confirmed yesterday when my surgeon informed me that she was thrilled with the outcome (and that I'd been spot on with my interpretation of the MRI).

Yesterday I was also able to get my hands on the images from January, and it's really clear when you compare the before and after. Here they are in all their glory - cropped so as not to reveal too much of my anatomy :) The brighter white areas are the cancerous cells (which glow in the MRI thanks to the contrast dye injected into my system beforehand); the black circle is a metal clip that was placed as a marker of the tumor location. You can see how much smaller the white area is on the image on the right:

Before
 January 2012
                
After
June 2012

So things are looking good. And how's this for a sign: my friend Ana had given me a Wish bracelet back in February, which I dutifally tied around my left wrist (the surgery side). Now, you cannot have jewelry of any kind on when you go into surgery, and I was wary of having to cut the bracelet off (superstitious that it would result in bad luck!). Wouldn't you know - the bracelet fell off on its own yesterday, which I discovered while out for a celebratory dinner with my girlfriends, Ana included. I guess my (short-term) wish came true!

Wish

While all of this is this is great news, I'm not done yet. I am scheduled to proceed with a needle localization, lumpectomy and lymph node dissection next Wednesday, so keep the prayers and positive vibes coming to help me get through this next hurdle.

I'm anxious about the procedures (the needle part in particular) but feel really good about the plan - chemo plus lumpectomy and radiation (which I'll have for about a month after I recover from surgery) has been shown to yield the same long-term outcomes as a mastectomy, while preserving the breast and having minimal scarring.

Finally in the home stretch!

 

 


D-Day and the Ghost Army

Time to take a break from chronicling my personal battle to remember one of great historical importance. Today is the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the World War II invasion of Normandy, France, by the Allied forces.

I had the opportunity to tour the beaches of Normandy back in on the 59th anniversary, June 6, 2003. It's a remarkable and moving experience, even if you're not a history or WWII buff. And whenever I think of that trip - as I did today when I heard reference to the anniversary on WBUR - I think of our chance encounter with a group of British vets who were part of the 6th Airborne Division. These guys were the paratroopers who glided in to secure area bridges in order to limit German counter-attacks during the invasion.

We were driving home to our place in Honfleur, when we randomly came across Pegasus Bridge, where 181 men from the 6th Airborne Division/7th Parachute Battalion glided in on the night of June 5, 1944. We stopped to check it out and were enchanted to find a group of those very men celebrating the anniversary over beers. They were so delightful - and so eager to share their experiences - that we ended up visiting with them for hours, even following them back to their inn to share dinner and a homemade bottle of Calvados. They were full of life and remarkable stories, like how they reunited at the bridge every year since the War, and in the early years they would get drunk and dig up old grenades that they had buried upon landing. When the War ended in Europe, some of them went on to fight the Japanese in Burma. These were incredibly tough guys. And the bridge was actually named in their honor - it was originally called Caen Canal bridge but later renamed after the Pegasus emblem that adorned their uniforms.

Here I am with Wolfie (top) and Jim (bottom). I'm sad to say that after exchanging Christmas cards for a couple of years, we lost touch.

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But turning back to WBUR - today they interviewed Lexington filmmaker Rick Beyer, who is working on a documentary about the Ghost Army of World War II, a top secret group of men who used "trickery and artistry" to fool the enemy. It's absolutely fascinating - many of them were artists who would later become famous (e.g., fashion designer Bill Blass, photographer Art Kane <- this is an awesome site, btw), and they used inflatable tanks and sound effects, among other tactics, to fool the enemy in Normandy. It was a group of 1000 men who would set up camp on the front lines, making it appear as if they were a group of tens of thousands. The interview is worth a listen, or you can get the full backstory on the documentary at GhostArmy.org where Beyer is soliciting donations to help fund its completion (Rick: if you read this, you should consider setting up a Kickstarter campaign!). And if you want to see more, the Ghost Army exhibition is on display through the month of June at the Beverly Historical Society.


Phase I Complete!

Today I received my last chemotherapy infusion. It was sort of anticlimactic - no spontaneous singing (like Cracker Barrel on your birthday), or confetti falling from the ceiling. But it was a big milestone in my treatment: Phase I is now complete.

It was a long 4 months and while I'll miss seeing the smiling faces of my care team, I am soooo happy to have that phase behind me. And I chatted with a fellow patient today who provided a sobering reminder of how lucky I am to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He is battling multiple myeloma, a terminal case of cancer of the bone marrow. I've been spending 7 or 8 hours at the hospital per treatment knowing that it would end on this day, whereas this poor man spends 12 hours per visit in the latest clinical trial, hoping to get some short term relief.

I still have some occasional bone pain, random ankle swelling, night sweats, cording, and a fair amount of fatigue, but for the most part I feel much stronger than I did at the beginning. I can't say the same for my hair, brows, and lashes - they have finally given up the fight. Here's what they looked like back in February:

Before

...and here's what they look like now:

After

But the good news is that I should start seeing some new growth on my head in about a month. Word is, it'll be peach fuzz, possibly light or gray because chemo kills the pigment, and maybe even curly. But it'll revert back to my straight, brown locks at some point.

And in the meantime I've poured my cosmetic energy into my nails and did this fun sponge application which I first spotted on Pinterest:

IMAG1019

So next up is Phase II: surgery. I go for my breast MRI next Wednesday, followed by a surgical consult on Friday, and surgery on June 13th. I'm currently reading Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster, as recommended by the social worker at MGH, in hopes that some of the mind-body techniques it teaches will help me get through it without stress.

But for now we'll just celebrate the fact that I made it through chemo!

IMAG1035
            Chemo #1 (February 2012) and Chemo #8 (June 2012)