Archive | June 2012

April 1, 2010 – Only One Pink Line

My breast has been leaking fluid—now enough to wet the inside of my bra cup.  At first I wasn’t too alarmed, but the amount is increasing.  I did buy three more pregnancy tests from the dollar store, just to be sure.  I took the final test this morning.  When I saw only one pink line again, my heart sank.

If I’m not pregnant, there is definitely something wrong.  The fluid is translucent and pale yellow/brown.  If I squeeze my breast a little, more emerges.  There seems to be no end to it.  This can’t be normal.  Could it be an infection?  I know it’s not.  I’ve had plenty of antibiotics for bronchitis and sinus infections in the past year and they haven’t affected the breast at all.  And I have been feeling really ill and fatigued for months.  I’ve lost almost 15 pounds without changing my eating habits.  This can’t be good.

I’m scared now, but I haven’t told anyone what is going on.  Why haven’t I cared enough about myself to get this checked out again?  If this were happening to anyone else, I would say, “WTF (and I don’t swear… well, not that much anyway…), it is not nothing.  You are NOT too young.  Get yourself to a doctor.  I’ll take you right now.  The money is not important.”  Why haven’t I done this for myself?

Hopefully it is nothing and I’ll feel silly when this is all over with.

But I know it’s not nothing…

March 29, 2010 — I Wish “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”

For the past 6, 7, 8 months—I forget how long, exactly?—I’ve had this feeling that reminds me of when I breastfed my twins.  It is like the “let-down” feeling you experience when nursing.  I have been joking for months that I’m actually pregnant and just don’t know it and that I will end up on that show about women who are pregnant and don’t realize it until the babies pop out onto their shoe, or in their pants, or in the restroom at a fast food restaurant.  The breast feeling has been so consistent that I’ve actually taken multiple negative pregnancy tests.  But they have been negative for women on the show, too, so that’s no guarantee.

All kidding aside, I am becoming quite concerned about this unpleasant feeling.  In the past month or so (I’ve lost track of time, but I think it has been well over a month) it has become constant.  When you are nursing, you have a break from this tingly, consuming feeling.  But it is not letting up.  I feel it ALL of the time.  I think there is something wrong.  My gut tells me that giving birth to a surprise baby in my bathtub would be the best case scenario right now.

You may be asking why haven’t I been back to the doctor?  If you are, I applaud you.  This would be my first question to you.  It is a logical question and would have been my first step a couple of years ago.

So, why haven’t I been back to the doctor?

I don’t have health insurance.  After my husband was let go suddenly from the company he worked for for a decade, we lost the policy we had for years.  I was able to secure coverage for our 5 year old twins, but my husband and I have no coverage now.  I don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize our family financially, but I think it’s time for me to see a doctor…

March 25, 2010

I’ve had these lumps in my left breast since last year.  They were small when I first felt them, but now they are not only much larger, but clearly visible when you look at my breast.  It has been so long since I actually felt my breast (I know, I know!  I’ll explain why in a minute) that I was shocked to feel how much bigger they had gotten.

It was last summer when I told my doctor about them.  She felt them, said that they “did not feel like cancer” or “like anything to worry about” and she sent me on my way.  She said that at my age, the likelihood that they were anything was remote.  Since I’d had lumps in the other breast a few years before and she had sent me for my first mammogram back then (at 29) and they had turned out to be benign, I didn’t push it.  After all, out of all the cancers in my family history, breast cancer was not on the list.

But as I put my shirt back on after my exam last summer, I heard the words, “This will come back to haunt you,” very clearly.  I heard them so clearly that it was as if someone was speaking the words to me.  But I did not listen.

This was when I stopped doing breast self exams.  Since these were not my first lumps and since the others had been evaluated and were benign, I figured that I obviously did not know what I was looking for.  If she could feel these new lumps and could identify them as nothing to worry about by touch alone, then I obviously didn’t know what I was feeling.  I decided that doing self exams would only alert me to more benign lumps and take more of my doctor’s time.  I felt silly even bringing these new lumps to the attention of my doctor last year.  I didn’t want to seem like a hypochondriac.  Women my age don’t develop breast cancer and I don’t have a family history.  At least that’s what I thought back then…

But now that the lumps are so much larger, I have a bad feeling.  And I’ve recently learned that women my age DO develop breast cancer and that a lack of family history DOES NOT make you immune.

Still, I waver between being concerned and thinking my concern is silly…

March 5, 2010

Sweet Mattie

 

*Though today is June 28, 2012 and it has been more than two years since I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I believe the early days of this story are important, so I will do my best to recount them based on my notes.  Welcome…and thank you for reading…*   

 

So, today is the anniversary of Mattie’s death.  Mattie was my miniature schnauzer, my first baby, my closest confidant.  She was 10 ¾ and was with me most of my adult life.  Through jobs, four homes, births, deaths and everything in between, she was by my side.

I came home a year ago today and she wasn’t quite acting like herself.  And when I went into the bathroom, she lay on my feet and looked up at me.  Her gums were white–a sign of blood loss.  Her breathing quickly became labored and everything went downhill from there.  The rest of the night was a nightmare.  I called the vet, scooped her up, and we rushed off to the veterinary emergency hospital.  Almost $700 and just a few short hours later, I would walk out of the hospital not with my vibrant and beautiful dog panting in my arms, but with a small cardboard casket containing the body of my special girl.

Unbeknownst to me, Mattie had cancer.  Hemangiosarcoma, to be exact.  Her spleen had ruptured and she was bleeding to death.  Our only options were to let her die or consent to a  surgery costing thousands of dollars in which they would attempt to stop the bleeding and save her life temporarily so she could undergo chemo.  Before discovering this last chemo detail, I quickly said yes to the surgery, even though I knew that paying for her surgery (they required instant payment) would mean we would lose our home.  I had to try to save her.  It was only after I called my mother and told her what was happening that she encouraged me to ask whether the surgery would even save her life and what this cancer diagnosis would mean for her.

It was after this conversation that I asked what Mattie’s prognosis was.  The news wasn’t good.  She had a large tumor in/on her spleen.  Once these malignancies rupture, it is very difficult to control the bleeding.  They told me that they probably wouldn’t be able to save her because she had lost so much blood, and that if they did, she would require hospitalization and chemotherapy, likely for the remainder of her life.  Even with those measures, she would only have a month, at best.  I was shocked and devastated.  Did I want them to attempt the surgery and bankrupt our family so that she might have a chance to survive and be put through terrible cancer treatments until she succumbed to the disease?  Or did I want to let her continue to bleed to death until she was gone that night?  Or did I want to euthanize her and end her pain?

It was one of the worst decisions I had ever faced.  Horrible options, no happy ending.  After questioning them repeatedly about her chances for survival and about her prognosis if, by some miracle, she made it through the surgery, I made a decision.  With a heavy heart, I told them that I would let them put her to sleep.  They brought her out to me.  She was clearly suffering.  She was too weak to lift her head or to bark, her favorite pastime.  I knew she didn’t have much time even if I didn’t choose to put her down.

They told me to say my goodbyes.  I told my little boys that Mattie was very sick.  They asked if she was going to die and I said, ‘yes’.  They were just 4 years old, but they knew that Cancer was bad, and they knew that when you were very sick, you could die. I was unclear as to what their understanding of death was at the time, but I thought it was important for them to be able to say goodbye to her.  I didn’t want them to look back one day and wonder why I hadn’t let them see the special family member they had spent their whole lives with before she died.  I also thought it was important for Mattie to hear their voices and know that they were there with her.

After lots of hugging and tears and “I love you’s”, I asked my husband to take the boys out so they wouldn’t be there for her last moments.  They had wrapped Mattie in blankets and said that she would likely urinate and defecate when she died, so I might want to position her accordingly.  Through tears I said that this was the last thing on my mind and I held her close so she could feel my warmth.  They injected the medications into her and I was filled with a sense of panic.  I told her how much I loved her and how I would always be with her and how sorry I was that I couldn’t have saved her from cancer or from death.  It was horrible.  I told her it was okay to go and that I didn’t want her to suffer anymore.  She went peacefully and I sat, shaking and sobbing.  I had tried desperately to hold it all in until she was gone so I wouldn’t scare her.  I was successful at waiting, but when I let the emotions go, it was overwhelming.

As I carried her cardboard casket into the house that night, I could barely make it through the door before I set it down and removed the lid.  I lay down next to the box on one of the two blankets she had been wrapped in when they euthanized her.  I stroked her soft white fur and told her how sorry I was and cried until I couldn’t cry any more.  I felt like a shell of the self I had been that morning.  I felt as though I had lost myself and that I’d never be whole again.  Even a year later, I still can’t believe she is gone.  Or that she died in such a sudden and unforgiving way.

I still remember that night with such pain and sadness and guilt.  It was not the first time I had lost I someone I loved desperately to cancer.  And I knew it wouldn’t be the last.  I hated the disease.  I hated cancer.

And, at 32 years old, I had it growing inside of me, too.  I just didn’t know it yet.*

[*And, to be fair, I still didn’t know it for sure on March 5, 2010]

Yep, I’m a Cancer Patient

As you’ve probably assumed from the title of my blog, I am a cancer patient.  I first found the lumps when I was 33.  I was diagnosed exactly a month after my 34th birthday.

It sounds so simple when I say it like this.  But this experience has been anything but simple.

I know there people out there who have faced cancer and who have claimed that they were grateful for the disease.  I’ve even heard it referred to as “a blessing” by a select few.

I will tell you right now that I will never be one of those people.  Ever.  From my first real encounter with the disease (as a child watching her grandmother suffer and waste away from brain cancer), I knew that I hated cancer and that I could never see it as a blessing.

That being said, I cannot say that facing my own cancer and dealing with the aftermath of my diagnosis has been all bad.  Yes, the disease itself and the treatments, side effects, surgeries, fear, complications, etc. have been pretty awful.   I could downplay how rotten these things have been, and I certainly have done this plenty in my “real life” to make it seem like I’m fine and like it hasn’t been as bad as it has at times.  But I won’t do that here.  I don’t think trivializing these elements of my experience will do anyone any good, so I will do my best to be honest with you.

What I mean by “not all bad” is that I know there are amazing people I have met or gotten to know better and experiences I have had that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t heard those horrible words two years ago.  And that my children are better AND worse off because of my diagnosis.  Better because they have been embraced by people who love them and who will be there for them if I happen to not be here one day.  And worse because, well, having a mother with cancer is really crappy for a kid on so many levels.  And because they might have to bury me when they are still children — and there’s just no way to put a positive spin on that one.

One day I will tell you about some of the incredible people who’ve touched my life along the way.  About the amazing people who have rallied around me (and my boys) when we’ve needed support.  About the friendships that have been strengthened by cancer, and the relationships that didn’t survive.  About my sons’ best preschool friend and his parents, who went above and beyond for us.  About my children’s kindergarten teachers and a classroom full of parents who showed up on my doorstep with dinner for my kids or who took them to Chuck E. Cheese when I was too sick from chemo to do it myself.  About a school and a school district that came together to make sure my “little” ones had presents under the Christmas tree and that we never ran out of toilet paper when I was struggling to manage these things on my own.  And about nurses who’ve been my caretakers and my friends.  And people who made me feel like I’m not alone despite what could easily be an extremely isolating and lonely experience.

I will also tell you about tragic losses.  And despair.  And fear.  And sleepless nights.  And hot flashes.  And night sweats.  And dreams shattered.  And about how this disease has changed me.  About doctors who have been wonderful.  And doctors who have failed me.  I will tell you about my treatments.  About serious infections.  About what it’s like to be a young woman who takes pills that suck the hormones out of her body.  About what it is like to lose almost all of the parts that make you female by the age of 35.  And what this does to your body and your self-esteem.    About where the cancer was.  About how I found it.  And why it took months for me to have that crucial mammogram.

And one day I will tell you about my life “before” cancer.  About the people who helped to shape me.  About my family and my oldest, dearest friends.  About the things that made me “me” before this disease.  About the things that still make me “me.”

And so much more…

This is my story, for better or worse.  I plan to make it an honest account of what it is like to be given a life-threatening diagnosis at an age when your own death shouldn’t feel so imminent.

At the time of this first writing, I feel that I have so much left to share with my children and so much more to teach them.  So, more than anything, what you are reading is meant to provide a written record of my life for my children and a way for me to help them know and remember me and our story if, one day, I am not here to share in their lives.  But a part of me hopes it will be more than that and that maybe it will bring someone who is going through something similar a sense of comfort or a bit of virtual support.  Or that maybe it will serve as a cautionary tale and that someone, somewhere might pick up the phone and schedule that appointment they’ve been putting off.

For whatever reason you are here, I am grateful that you are.  Thanks so much for reading…