Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Beginning of My Journey as a Breast Cancer Survivor

December 24, 2010:   My journey in life has dramatically changed.  Amazing.  And here it is that I've picked Christmas Eve to begin writing about my new journey.

 I was diagnosed with breast cancer in early November, and that fact alone has completely turned Dwain's and my lives on it's proverbial heads and spun both of us like out of control tops.  It's the scariest ride you'll ever ride, believe me.   Nothing, not even Christmas 2010 is normal, but we try to pretend like it is.  We do all the normal things because it is the Christmas season.  We do this because it's traditional. We do this for the sake of our families, children and grandchildren and perhaps even for our own selves.  Sometimes doing "Christmas stuff" even makes us laugh and forget our troubles for a few hours. 

On Wednesday, December 22, 2010, I had my first appointment with my medical oncologist.  I remember sitting outside the medical building in my idling car with the heater going thinking, this is the same doctor who treated my father; the same doctor who fed chemotherapy drugs into my dad's surgically implanted port.  This was a doctor who tried hard to save lives but in the process made people feel very, very sick -- people who came here often lost their hair.  I simply did not know if I could actually get out of my car and walk inside that door.  It's a free country.  I didn't actually have to go in there.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.  Maybe he would look at my results and say, oh wow, you are so low risk that don't need any systemic treatment at all.  But I knew that I was deluding myself with that thought.  After all, my breast surgeon had warned me, you absolutely will have to take some type of medical oncology systemic treatment if you want to lessen your chances of the cancer from returning.  What I actually expected the oncologist to say was what my lymph test results predicted and suggested, that I would take a pill of some sort.  No radiation.  No chemotherapy. 

 It was only a few feet from my car to the door, but let me tell you what, that was one unbelievably long walk.  After the usual piles of paperwork/medical history/insurance forms that take about 30 minutes to complete, the nurse called me back to do the weigh-in, blood pressure check stuff.  Then she asked me the funniest question, "Why are you having your oncology treatments all the way up here?"  I said, because my doctor in Little Rock was kind enough to make the appointment for me.  Wasn't that nice of her?"  Then the nurse said, "Why didn't she make the appointment for you in Little Rock?  Do you have family up here or something?"   I about died laughing.  "I live here.  My breast surgeon lives in Little Rock." 

The nurse lead me into a room to wait for the doctor.  I had not been in the room five seconds before Dwain arrived. Whew! At least he would be there to keep me company, hold my hand, and hear what Dr. Abdelaal (Ab-da-la) had to say.  The keep me company part was huge because it took the doctor for-ev-er to make his way into my room. The nurse warned me when she left me in there that Dr. Abdelaal would be looking over my chart and history before he came in.  She wasn't kidding either. 

He arrived with a kind smile and shook my hand then Dwain's.  He then asked us if we knew a local dentist in town, without  offering any other explanation.  Dwain and I exchanged confused looks but assured the doctor that not only did we know the dentist but that he and his wife were good friends of ours.  He asked me to hop up on the examination table, did a general exam, you know, with the stethoscope (heart and lungs) and reflex hammer on my knees.  Afterward he said I appeared to be a very healthy "young" woman.  Young?  Healthy? I'll take healthy and young.  This was very nice to hear.  The bombshell he dropped next was, to say the least, a shock.  Evidently being young and healthy were good reasons to drop such a bomb.  He said I needed to have chemotherapy.  Six of them over the next 18 weeks.  Chemotherapy?  Eighteen Weeks!  Are you kidding me?  What does this mean?  What will happen?  Will I lose my hair?  Will I be able to work?  How will I feel?

The main answer I get is, everyone reacts differently to chemo.  Evidently losing your hair sometimes happens and sometimes does not.  Sometimes it just thins a little.  I will most likely get fatigued.  He will give me anti-nausia medication that will  help a lot.  Apparently the nausia resolves itself after a couple of days.  Most people continue to work.  My chemotherapy will be once every three weeks.  One of the scariest  things is that chemo puts your immune system at serious risk.  Oh goodie!   When I am at work, I'm among huge crowds of people all day long -- sneezing, coughing people.  

Little by little I'm getting teeny-tiny tidbits of answers to the million-and-one questions I have and even some questions I haven't been smart enough to form yet.  Thank goodness for volunteers who just tell me stuff, like my dentist friend's wife, Margie, who suggested that frequently washing hands in warm soapy water was the single best thing one could do to keep germs at bay.   And then my sister-in-law Carolyn who told me about a Cancer Society non-profit business in Mountain Home where I could be fitted for not one but two wigs, completely free of charge.  She said that I should go there while I still have hair so they could match my hair color and hair style.  They will show me how to style it and so on.  If I don't lose my hair (fingers crossed on that one), I can just return the wigs for someone else to use. 

My focus should be on the big picture here, and that is my life.  All the doctors that have treated me so far have focused on that one "life" thing first and foremost.  Secondary they have focused on my (and my husband's) comfort and pain levels.  I've been very blessed.  But I HATE this.  I hate that I have to go through this in the first place.  I hate that Dwain has to go through this with me.  We both feel like we are bushwhacking our way through a dense, dark forest with very dim flashlights. 

In the next blogs I will backtrack a little bit and tell about my journey up to this point.  Like I said before, maybe it will help someone going through the same thing with the million and one questions they have.  Obviously I do not have very many answers, but as I learn what helps me, I will share. 

And by the way, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night...  Clement Clarke Moore (1779 - 1863)


  1. I hate it that you're going through this! I'm praying for you...for peace, complete healing, and protection from other's germs this winter.

  2. Oh Angie, God Bless you for your prayers. I hate this too. Can you believe it? But I'm thinking how everything will be so different just one year from now. But oh how much sympathy and compassion I feel these days for others going through this. You're my sweetie. Thank you. -Megan-