Thursday, December 15, 2011

Small Victories

Today marks four weeks out from surgery!  I'm so glad to be mobile again.  The drains are out, I can drive, and I traded in my car for my consolation prize:

Aww yeah.  I really want a 'fuck you, cancer' bumper sticker for the back, if for no other reason than people don't think I'm rich and snobby.  I still have pink hair!  I still wear my Vans!  Don't judge me!

This week's round of appointments have all been filled with good news. The breast surgeon says I look great and he only wants to see me one more time in February to make sure I'm healing and my range of motion have returned. The plastic surgeon has started pumping up my expanders and also says that things look as they should (though quite frankly, the girls are a little lumpy at half mast right now, though the p.s. swears it will get better!). Finally, I met with the oncologist, who had the best news yet.  She says I may be able to skip the hard core chemo (AC and Taxol) and do the intermediate grade chemo (TC) instead! I'd be done in 12 weeks instead of 16 or 20!  The cancer center sent off my tumor samples to be tested for recurrence, so I'll know officially when those results come back next week. Regardless, chemo starts December 28th, and I hope to have a schedule the day before that.

Small victories is the stuff unicorn farts are made of!  True story.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Scar Project

If you haven't yet, please go take a look at and support the brave women of The Scar Project.  These are professional photos of breast cancer survivors under 40.  It's not a walk or a pink ribbon, it's reality and not for the feint of heart. Some people say they see sadness in the eyes of these women. And there's some of that yes, because we do lose a lot of our identity in this process and it can be hard to overcome that. I find myself struggling sometimes with the way I look one week out from surgery, but I also realize that now is not forever. I'll look completely different one year from now and I just have to be patient with the process. That's probably the hardest part for me - patience with myself.

What I see in this project is strength, beauty, courage, wisdom and humanity. It takes a lot of guts to accept the way we look afterwards and show it to others - to show people reality. That’s what I see.
I can accept the way I’m going to look when all of my reconstruction is over, but I’m also going to embrace everything that makes me feel beautiful again, including tattoos encompassing my scars. They’re a part of me now and I intend to make them mine in whatever way I can.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Surgery hurdle cleared!

Today is Thanksgiving and I have so much to be thankful for! I wasn't sure there would even BE a Thanksgiving, but some awesome friends brought over enough food for ten people and we've had a royal feast today.  I'm so completely grateful for the people I've come to know and love over the years.  I'm very, very lucky.

I'm a week out from surgery now. Dr. Moore (my plastic surgeon) saw me yesterday and says everything is healing wonderfully and I should have the drains out the next time I see him on Tuesday. He seemed to feel really good about my progress and the one nipple I got to keep (the left). I've only been a little grossed out when I happen to feel around one night and could feel the crinkliness of the not-yet pumped up expanders under my skin. Blech. But my tits are going to look great once they're all done and that makes me pretty happy.

I'm off the Lortab as of yesterday (thank the gods), walking around (up to a 1/2 mile today), getting up and down the stairs, and bathing and dressing myself. I still have a lot of muscle soreness and getting myself out of bed in the morning is hard, but I'm impressed with my recovery and abilities probably more than anyone else. I have a pretty low threshold for pain so I thought this would just kick my ass for a good while. I've had some crap days and some crap hours, but for the most part I'm in very good spirits and I feel pretty damn good. I'm surprised by how strong I am physically; how tough I am mentally; and how resilient I am in every way.  This is not entirely news to me, but it's nice to have hard evidence!

Next up is a follow up with the PS, then a follow up with the surgeon on Dec. 12th.

ETA:  I'm knitting today, y'all!  YAY!!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

...and we're back!

My trip to London was awesome and amazing.  I'm so glad I went!  If you'd like to see pictures, my Flickr album is here. Forgive my derp face. The sights are worth it though.

The surgery is the 17th (Thursday) and I have pre-op appointments with my surgeon, the hospital, and the plastic surgeon on the 14th (Monday). I'm not looking forward to any of these, but alas, they come next week anyway.

For those of you asking about helping out, the Lotsa Helping Hands site is up and has a calendar function with meal sign ups for now. We'll add chemo dates when I know them, in case you want to join me for IV fun times!  The wish list is linked there too, along with Carrie's Paypal (carrie.coker AT for anyone who would like to donate to purchase meals or medical expenses/leave, etc.  All the offers of help have been really touching, and I'm so honored to have such wonderful friends!

I'll update again after all the Monday appointments, as I'm sure they'll be fascinating and full of Sharpie marks on my chest.  Woo!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

London Calling...

The whirlwind is finally dying down a bit, I think.  Since I last posted, I've meet with a plastic surgeon, got some anxiety meds from my GP, given blood for genetic testing (which came back negative! woo!), had a heart scan and gone through the chemo education appointment.

The last appointment before I leave for London is on Monday (10/31) and it's a final wrap up to make some decisions and schedule surgery and chemo. I'm a little nervous, because that makes it all real and gives me a day to dread/look forward to. My plan for London is to leave all this behind and just have an absolute blast. I may have to be given drugs in order to get on the plane back home, but I'm excited about the trip and I'm spending this week focusing on getting ready. It's surreal that it's almost here! God, I have so. much. to do.

As it stands at this moment, with the genetic test coming back negative, I won't need to have additional surgeries (no ovary removal or hysterectomy!) and I may be able to get my IV port inserted during the mastectomy surgery. I'd been on the fence for a while about whether to do the one boob or both, but I really think both is the right decision for me. The plastic surgeon can do the implant in one and a lift in the other for symmetry, but from the pictures I've seen, symmetry is more a theory than a reality. While that's important to me, I also don't want to have to deal with this again. If I keep the left one, I'll have to have a biopsy on the cyst, just to be sure, before surgery and I don't know that I can go through all the emotion and stress that comes with that again.

I’ve also had the clear reality that all of this is up to me. No one can take it away or do it for me. I know I’m not, but I feel so alone sometimes and that's really hard for me to deal with. One of the lessons to learn here, I guess: that it’s ok to be alone and that I can handle it.  But man, I hate that this shit wads up all your issues and throws them at you. It's hard to deal with health issues and emotional bullshit all at once, but you don't really get a choice. The best I can do is take deep breaths and try to focus on what I can control instead of what I can't. I have such little tolerance for being overwhelmed now, that I feel lucky if I can handle watching tv AND knitting at the same time. It's like I've totally accomplished something huge when I pull that off, "OMG I knit 5 rows and I paid attention to that show! Holy shit!".  That feels really lame, but it's just the way it is right now. I know it will get better, eventually.

I can't wait to be in London and just forget about all this for a while.  Bring it on.

Monday, October 10, 2011


I met with the oncologist today to learn about my recommended course of treatment. As I suspected, she wants to use the big guns. All of them. 'Kill it with fire' is pretty appropriate here.

After I come back from London, I'll have surgery, then 4-6 weeks after that I'll start chemo.  Two months of the AC chemo drugs (hard ass, red devil shit) for a total of four treatments, followed by once a week treatments of Taxol for 12 weeks. So, roughly 5-6 months of chemotherapy then a healthy diet of Tamoxifen for 5-10 years. No PET scan is required since things appear not to have spread beyond the one boob. Yay.

I was mostly mentally prepared for this news but I was still a bit stunned by the reality of it all. Reading about it on the internet is very different from having it told to you in a doctor's office. Suddenly it all applies to YOU. It is very real and hard to swallow.  I haven't really gotten upset about it, but the cumulative level of unfairness is overwhelming at times. You lose so much of what makes you feel feminine in all this, that it's often a mental battle just to keep your wits about you. Deep breathing helps. Knowing that it's all going to be ok in the end, regardless of what your demons tell you helps too.  Knowing that you'll still be desirable and beautiful is hard to see from here, but I believe it. I won't let it be any other way. I'm a 'make it work' kind of girl like that.

Next up is a heart scan on the 17th to make sure my heart can handle the chemo drugs (standard stuff) and a meeting with a genetic counselor to do the blood work for genetic testing. My needle phobia is in high gear since I'll be getting poked or stabbed in some way at every appointment from here on, so I've also ordered the good anxiety drugs (3 kinds!) from my GP.

I'm also putting up a wishlist on the sidebar for folks who feel like they'd like to do something to help. There is also a Lotsa Helping Hands team site, so if you'd like to be able to sign up for meals, tasks, or chemo fun times (aww yeah!), let me know or check my Facebook page for details from Carrie!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Live more, not less.

I spoke to my surgeon again this morning and got a few more pieces of information - at least one mastectomy, probably (but not definitely) followed by chemo. I have oncologist and plastic surgeon appointments next week, then a follow up with the surgeon to put all the pieces together and create a timeline.

I'm finding this whole process kind of interesting, in that you get tiny slivers of information with every phone call or appointment, but the full picture doesn't emerge until later.  I can only guess what I'll be going through, though I've prepared myself mentally for as many possibilities as I can think of. It's far less scary that way.

Honestly, the waiting between appointments is the hardest part right now. I'm very good at patience in some parts of my life, but I really suck at it in others.  Waiting sucks and I am not a fan. The anxiety is a lot to handle and the scared part of me just wants to curl up and hide to wait for the next bit of information to come. But, I'm aware that there are a multitude of life lessons I could learn here, and this is one of them. So instead of running away (since my body follows me anyway, damn thing), I'm taking a lesson from meditation and just sitting with my anxiety. Most of the time just taking a deep breath, then acknowledging it and saying something like, "I'm anxious and that's ok," makes me feel better. Sometimes I have to say that a LOT for it to sink in.

I also know that for me, taking a position in fear is damaging psychologically. It causes this vicious feedback loop that looks something like this: I'm scared and I hide > I think of more reasons to be scared and stay hidden > Some tiny thing happens to refuel that fear > The fear deepens and I hide even more.  A sneaky fear spiral where every tiny thing feeds on the next and before I know it I'm curled up in the fetal position and in tears.

But that's not who I really am, nor is it who I want to be.  I'm pretty determined not to let any of this break my spirit.  Yes, I have my freaked-the-fuck-out moments, but they don't dominate.  So I make sure to say yes when someone asks me to do something, even if it's just hanging out watching silly TV shows, because that one act tells the fear to STFU, that there's no home for it here. This is not going to keep me from saying yes to life. It will not keep me from living. If anything, it makes me want to sing from the mountain tops!  We only get this one life.  And we should live MORE, not less.

 So I say this to you whether you're going through a diagnosis like this or not: Live more, not less! Embrace every moment as often as you can. Say yes to life. Yes to experiences. Yes to fun and happiness. Yes to laughter.

You have a choice. Say yes.

(One of my favorite blogs is Tiny Buddha, and this is one of my favorite posts.)

Friday, September 30, 2011


The left is all clear, it was just a tiny cyst! And the right lymph nodes are PERFECT.

Bring on the tequila, it's time to get this weekend started!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In the immortal words of Clay Davis, "sheeeeeit"

I heard back from the oncology nurse with my MRI report today. The news kinda sucks and frankly, I'm getting sick of shitty news.

The full size of the mass in the right breast is 5 cm (about 2 inches). That's um....kinda big. It's a bit of a magic number in the breast cancer world and puts me at at least stage 2, possibly stage 3, depending on what the the lymph nodes look like after some are removed in surgery.

It makes me wonder how I didn't notice. Now that I've been made aware in the last few weeks, I feel every. single. thing. happening in there. Every twinge, every sensitivity, every pain. Part of me wonders how I could have been so dense. It seems so obvious from here that something's not quite right, but I just assumed it was all normal aches and irritations.  How could I have possibly known, especially when all my annual exams turn out fine? Speculation is pretty useless at this point, though, it's all in what I do about it now.

The MRI also showed that the left breast has a friend as well, though I certainly hesitate to call anything potentially invading my boobs 'friend'. A 7 mm friend, which is tee-tiny. I have an ultrasound scheduled for tomorrow to get a look at it. If I had to make a wager, I'd say it probably gets the biopsy treatment as well next week to determine exactly what it is and if it's related. The ultrasound appointment includes an extensive conversation with the radiologist AND my surgeon. My god at the list of questions I'll have for those two! (um, I should probably get on that...)

The bit of good news from today?  My lymph nodes looked ok in the MRI.  That's probably a very good thing, so I'm staying optimistic!

More news tomorrow, post ultrasound - not that it will really tell me anything, but I hope the doctors will have something good to say.

I guess my new profession here is Cancer's Boss (pronounced BAWS, please). My mission statement?  "Get the fuck out, motherfucker."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ground control to Major Tom...

Being inside an MRI may be one of the strangest experiences I've ever had (so far!).

There is just no way to gracefully get into that thing face down.  Everyone in the room is going to see all your junk and you have to be ok with that.  Luckily I have no shame, so this was not really a problem.  I tried to equate it with being on a massage table, except that your boobs have to hang down in their own little sections and just...hang there.  Like they're having their own little special party and no one else is invited, "Sorry!  This section is for tits only!".

So once I assumed the position, the trolley thing rolls forward into the MRI machine and dizziness ensues!  I'm pretty sure the tech said something along the lines of, "Don't worry, it's just your protons being realigned".  I'm lucky that I didn't realign some protons right onto that machine.  After that feeling passed, disorientation and the sound of bad electronica began. I pretended I was in space for a while, and I had to open my eyes every few minutes to reorient myself.  Otherwise, I just tried to breathe and use the time to meditate and add my own beats to the sounds of the machine.

In short - I lived.  I did not pass out from the IV (yay needle allergy!) and I kept my wits about me.  Medical procedures are really not my thing, man.

I should hear results by Friday.  All crossables are crossed!

Monday, September 26, 2011


I'm going to throw myself a big party. Parties and fun times always help in times of crisis and I think that's true especially now. Bring your happy face, favorite drink and most fabulous shoes. But do not bring anything pink unless it's really fancy and/or tacky.

I'm still have trouble believing this is all true. It's just...that's not me. I'm not that person. I don't *want* to be that person. I didn't think it could happen to me.  I'm young and healthy and just generally awesome. That's not going to happen to me. Yet, here we are. And it's ok. It's all going to be ok. I do keep hoping the phone will ring with someone telling me that it was all a big mistake. "That pathology report?  That's Some Other Melanie, sorry!" So far that hasn't happened, but I secretly hope.

I think when receiving a diagnosis like breast cancer, we naturally wonder why.  Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong? We think back to everywhere we've ever worked or lived, all those times we put our phone in our bra (don't tell me I'm the only one), our family histories, our old bad habits, and on and on until we drive ourselves nuts.  We wonder why our last annual exam didn't catch the lump.  Why we didn't notice it a month ago or a year ago or more.

But the reality is this: we can't know and it doesn't matter. You could be the best person on the planet and check your boobs daily, but none of the things you do are really preventative measures.  You can only hope to catch it early.  Sometimes shit just happens.  Sometimes it happens to you.

And sometimes when shit happens we throw a party.  Out with the old boobs, in with the new!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dear cancer...

I always thought that the most ironic birthday gift was the day you got the bill for your car tag.  Like it's taunting you: "Happy birthday! Send us $400!" This year is different. I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer on 9/20/11 - ten days before my 35th birthday. Talk about irony. "Happy birthday, you have cancer!"

It has been a long month, which started with finding a lump (late August), having a mammography and ultrasound (9/8), followed by a biopsy of two lumps (9/15) and a diagnosis (9/20) of stage 1 or 2 invasive breast cancer in my right boob. I've never experienced such a roller coaster of emotion, from fear and despair to absolute peace and gratitude.  There are fewer WTF moments like the one when the voice on the other end of the phone says, "You have breast cancer." That may be the one moment in all this so far that absolutely makes me catch my breath. I will never forget it.

Things are still very surreal.  Processing what all this means and what is still yet to come is...bizarre.  Sometimes it's really painful. Sometimes I'm at peace with it. Sometimes it's terrifying. Telling my family and friends has been very difficult. Despite it all, I'm so very grateful that I've spent the last year working on myself: my strength, self esteem, confidence, peacefulness, and gratitude.  Through yoga, affirmations and meditation, I've worked hard to be at peace with myself and I'm counting on that strength (and my sense of humor!) to get me through the next few months.

If you know me, you'll know that I'm tough.  I'm funny.  I have a great attitude about all this. That doesn't mean I'm a super hero, and I certainly won't pretend to be one. If I were, I'd be really disappointed with my super ability to need to pee at the most inopportune times and my incredible ability to consistently spill coffee on myself.  I'm human. I'm scared and worried.  But I'm not going to let this kick my ass.

The next steps include a complete diet overhaul, more exercise, and an MRI on 9/28 to determine what kind of surgery I'll need (lumpectomy or mastectomy).

Dear cancer: You picked the wrong bitch.

Stay tuned.