Saturday, November 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my mother's birthday. Every special event right now seems that much more special. I'm not sure if it's the realization of our own mortality, which makes us take notice of special days that much more, or perhaps it's the underlying tone of thankfulness. Nonetheless, special days are special. But everyday is truly special. Each day is one more day together.

I'm so very happy that I live close to my mother. That we have a relationship of friends. Before the cancer I spoke to my mom on the telephone multiple times per day. We shopped together, weekly. We had family dinners, regularly. Our relationship has always been extremely close. I can't say the cancer has made us closer - as we already were. But, it has seemed to make me take more notice of the time we have together and try to notice the enjoyment it brings.

Tonight, we will have a very small, low-key celebration at mom's house. She is requesting Publix birthday cake with whipped cream icing - so, that's exactly what she will get.

Pictured above are two arrangements of flowers sent to her from her co-workers. It was one of the most touching gestures, as each person brought in a silk flower and attached a personal note to my mom. As you can see, many participated and she has been taking time today to read the notes - with a box of tissues, of course!!

To all that have been keeping my mom in your thoughts and prayers - thank you!! And thank you all for the well wishes on her birthday. She has been receiving all kinds of posts on Facebook and they truly warm her heart.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chemotherapy - Round 3 - We Need A Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute!

Last Friday began round 3 of chemotherapy. This one we went into prepared. She drank the water. She took the pills. She ate the small meals and snacks. All of the above still make it hell. That really is the only way I can describe what someone goes through as they fight for their lives by enduring hours of toxins pumped into their bodies.

Now, nine weeks into chemo, the treatments are really taking their toll physically. Her legs hurt. She equates it to the feeling of walking a five mile walk - only her walk is only halfway across her living room. Our trips out have decreased, as she doesn't have the strength or energy to walk through a store or go out to lunch. She is tired, yet, the chemo makes it so she has many sleepless nights. Often, I too, have sleepless nights, so we find ourselves texting one another, making fun of the sales people on QVC at 3am. However, they have had a lot of really neat Christmas decorations on around 5am. . .yes, we know the schedule well.

By Tuesday, mom's spirits were waning. So, amidst meals, meds and pep talks, we decided she really did need a little Christmas on Wednesday. It was November 2nd after all, Halloween has passed and while we normally wouldn't dream of decorating for Christmas so soon any other year. . .this year it feels most appropriate! She made the comment that having her tree up would make her feel like we are closer to the end of chemotherapy, since her last round is on December 30th. So, with Christmas music cranked, my brother, my mom and I put up her Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, the magic of those few moments soon wore off and she was back to feeling pretty miserable soon after, but at least her tree stands tall in her living room, beautifully lit and a reminder that soon the season of joy will bring her much reprieve from the doctors, IV's, nausea, vomiting, aches, pain, weakness, baldness and surgeries. Soon, life will return to a new normal. She will be a survivor. Her hair will grow back. Her breasts will be reconstructed and she will be able to do all the things she once did - and more!

Yes, Christmas really is right around the corner and this Christmas brings with it even stronger promises of new life, mercy and peace.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My mom lost her hair

We knew the journey would become more difficult before it got easier. But no matter how much you prepare yourself for it, you are never prepared.

Last week my mom lost her hair. It was a hard night. I knew the call was coming but we put it off as long as we could. She called and said she had lost a fairly large patch and it was time. I went over and helped by removing all my mom's hair by simply running my fingers through it. Hair came out by the handful. It was upsetting but I kept my poker face on and we kept moving forward. I know this was an extremely emotional thing for her. Words simply cannot express the sadness in this experience.

Friday it was chemo day again. By Friday night she was sick. It hit her so much harder this time. We have been battling nausea and vomiting for days. We have new drugs to help but with new drugs come new side effects. Some make her so sleepy, making her nights so much more restless. Some give her massive headaches. Some make her groggy and drunk feeling. Some give her strange dreams. None truly make her feel that much better. Only time will do that.

I can't even begin to tell you how hard it is to watch someone go through this and not be able to really help them. Sure, we all do what we can. My dad takes her to all her appointments, sits with her as she has chemo, helps her during the nights, making sure she doesn't miss doses of medications. My brother cooks dinners and keeps up with a lot of the laundry and cleaning. I keep her medications in order, make sure they are on a workable schedule, put individual doses in bags with days and times she needs to take them so we have a fighting chance of staying ahead of the pain and nausea. I watch movies with her, take her out for drives in the car when she's going stir crazy but only time will truly make this go away.

The last few days have been rough. She is sick and there is absolutely nothing we can do to take that sickness away.

Tonight, I feel sad. I want things to be normal again. Cancer changes EVERYTHING. Life is no longer the same and while I know this is temporary and we will have life again - it feels like we will never, ever experience life as we knew it. I know it's just been a rough day and tomorrow I'll wake up, go to her house and we will start the day with hope and strength again. But tonight, I'm worn down, I'm sad for my mother and I really can't wait for chemo week to be over.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And the Fight Begins

At first, immediately following chemotherapy, we thought she may make it through pretty easy. On Saturday, she felt good. We made a really quick run to Publix. On Sunday, she felt ok, we had brunch at Too Jays and then shopped at a crafts store.

Monday, she went in for a shot. It's a shot to force her body to make white blood cells again. On Tuesday, she felt ok but by Tuesday evening pain was setting in. Bone pain. They warned her of this.

Yesterday, the pain intensified and she was fearful of what was to come. She had been told she may feel as though an elephant was sitting on her chest and not to be concerned about heart attack if that were the case. She took her pain meds regularly around the clock and she fought off nausea.

This morning, she woke up and the pain was so bad she was in tears. Her body hurts right now. Most of the day we tried to stay ahead of the pain, alternating ibuprofen with hydrocodone. However, the evil beast stalked her and would creep in when the hydrocodone started to wear off. A little after 5pm her pain level was a 10. It came on suddenly and we were an hour away from time for her to take hydrocodone. My mom has a high pain threshold. She is a trooper. But this pain had her in tears. I gave her the pain pill early and I called MD Anderson. It was after hours at that point and I got the answering service. The on-call doctor called us back promptly. When I say promptly, we literally received a phone call back within 5 minutes!! He isn't a doctor we knew but he was so kind, so warm and so helpful! I explained the alternating of the meds, the dose of hydrocodone she's currently on and asked him if we can increase it by either doubling at a single time or shortening the time between doses. He said she could do either! Which ever worked best! Oh thank goodness. . .relief!

So, we have increased her doses of the hydrocodone to once every four hours and increased her ibuprofen to 600mg every six hours. Heat helps, so I ran out and purchased an electric blanket (which gets some interesting comments when purchasing it in September in Florida). I also found this moist heat neck wrap heating pad that looked like it would really feel good. She is having pain up her spine into her neck, so it seemed like something that might give her some comfort.

We sat down tonight and went through all of her meds, placed doses and times in pill bags and prepared for the next few days of fighting through this pain. I think today had to be the worst and tomorrow will be better. It WILL be better.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chemotherapy - Day 1

My day started like any other day. I woke up, put on a pot of coffee where I stand and wait the three minutes (benefits to owning a Bunn Coffee Maker) for it to finish. Some mornings, like this morning, it is the longest three minutes of my life. I grabbed a cup, took Annie, our yellow lab out of her crate and went to the back patio. I sipped my coffee with my cell phone in hand texting mom. We text a lot in the mornings. The texts are filled will reports of how nights went, how much or little sleep we each had, updates on each other's dogs and of course, a few Michael jokes.

This morning Michael was in a good mood but we knew he would not be pleased as he would not be joining us this time for the trip to MD Anderson.

Once the children were rushed out the door after slightly intensified morning bickering (all three had flu shots yesterday which did not make for the best of moods) I rushed to get ready. In a matter of a few minutes I was out the door to my mom's to pick up her and dad to go to the hospital. Mom's port was already covered with EMLA cream - my dad can make a damn good nurse at times.

We arrived at 10am. We went to the second floor at first only to find we were in the wrong place and had to go to the fifth floor. A quick elevator ride and we were in the right place. My mom was a bit tearful which in turn made me tearful. Dad was anxious but doing his best to put on the calm, game face to be strong for both mom and me. We were taken to a room with beautiful wood (looking) floors. The nurse that met us was both cheerful and informative. The amount of compassion this woman possessed in her body would have made St. Jude proud. Couple that with intelligence and charm and she was the epitome of a registered nurse. She was the kind of nurse I can only hope to be some day. She spoke to mom about what she would be doing. First removing the EMLA cream, cleaning the port site and then using a longer needle than what may be used in the future (because of current swelling from the surgical incision that is still healing). She explained that there is a "freezing" spray that is often used but she has heard mixed reviews of how well it works - so suggested mom try it with just the EMLA cream this time and if it is too painful we could go for using the freezing spray next time. The cream had been on for well over an hour and had done its wonderful work in numbing the site.

The lovely nurse skillfully placed a needle and catheter in the port. Upon the needle stick my mom winced for a moment, raised her foot in the air in pain and then it was over. She said it felt very much like getting a shot or having an IV and that the anticipation was far worse than the actual event. Once connected, there was no pain at the site. Next the nurse drew some blood from the port, added a bit of saline, provided detail down to the little caps they placed on the tubing being full of alcohol to prevent infection and promote the utmost cleanliness, etc. Once blood was drawn she took us to the chemo room.

The chemo room had a wall of windows. We met another nurse who was busy tending to three other patients. My mom took her seat and the nurse came over to speak to us about what would be taking place. First, labs on the blood that was just drawn to measure her white blood cell counts. She explained that for this time the anticipation is that they will, of course, be in normal ranges. However, next time the counts will be done and must fall into a certain range otherwise chemo may be placed on hold. It would take about an hour to get the results back and then they would start her pre-chemo cocktail. This of course has meds to prevent nausea. Those run for about 30 minutes and then the first of two bags would be hung. The first bag was a medication that she advised may cause some heavy side effects and to let her know as soon as mom felt the least bit sick or different.

With a bit of anxiety as it started we sat and waited. I read a book. Dad ran to get us all some coffee. Mom watched some tv and then read a magazine. Nothing really happened. A cookie lady came around with fresh baked chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. Mom and I had a cookie and sipped coffee. Then they gave her a boxed lunch. Still nothing. Oh thank goodness, NOTHING!

She had a small hot flash in the middle but that was really the extent while the first bag of chemo ran through the port into her body. It took about an hour.

Soon it was time to hang the second bag. It would also take an hour to run. Again, mom had very mild side effects. With this one the inside of her nose burned like she needed to sneeze but couldn't. She felt some slight congestion, but that was it.

Soon we were back in the car and on the way home. We stopped at CVS to grab a few last minute things and then that was that. We got back to her house around 3pm. My kids were getting off the school bus as we pulled up. Dad took mom in and got her settled, she was still feeling ok. I ran to the store with the family. We grabbed groceries for both houses so there would be plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, lean proteins and snackies. I had planned on fixing some chicken and rice for dinner but time slipped away so we all settled for some fresh deli roast beef (or turkey) subs made at home.

With chemo it's extremely important that mom only eat fresh fruits and vegetables that are cleaned and prepared in her kitchen. Nick dropped me off at mom's house and he took the kids and our groceries to our house once we unloaded what needed to stay at mom's.

I cleaned fresh lemons, limes and oranges for pitchers of water. I scrubbed them with antibacterial soap first, to make sure any germs living on the exterior of the fruit would not be passed into it with each slice. Mom and I joked about how I was bathing the watermelon in her sink. Soon her refrigerator was stocked with some easy to grab, healthy foods.

I left her feeling well. I can't even begin to express the amount of gratitude for everyone that has been checking in on my mom. Today really wasn't the day we anticipated. I know she isn't out of the woods yet for chemo illness but we are so, so very thankful that she didn't have any sickness today following her first treatment. We can only hope the poison which has been infused into her body will continue to show mercy on her body and they will all be this good.

Unfortunately, I do think this honeymoon will come to an end and anticipate a call in the middle of the night or in the morning that she is ill. When that happens (I'd love to say "if" but I don't think it's realistic to think she will go through chemotherapy without sickness - but it MAY happen - we'll see) anyway, when it happens we will cross that bridge.

She is one strong lady. I'm so very lucky to have her as my mom.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Wig Saga

As I posted on Wednesday, mom and I went and purchased a wig in preparation of the start of her chemotherapy next Friday. Unfortunately, the wig shop we went to was not an approved provider by Aetna, her insurance company, which meant that if we kept that wig, we would not be reimbursed for the $372 charge. Normally, I would chalk it up to our own ignorance of not checking this prior to purchase; however, we were provided an insurance code in the wig shop and told we could call the insurance company with the code for reimbursement - implying that the shop was a provider for Aetna. We even asked at the shop before the purchase if we should call Aetna while we were there and we were told, "oh no, you can do that when you get home."

So, on Friday I phoned the owner of the shop. I know she is the owner of the shop as it says she is on the receipt and on the website. However, when I spoke to her on the phone she denied that she was the owner stating once that she was "just a stylist" and then saying she was "just the manager" - but she IS the owner. This only added to my feeling that something very unethical is taking place in the shop. After four phone calls, all which she stated I would have to wait until Tuesday to resolve this issue, I decided something more had to be done. She told me she needed to wait until she could speak to this associate, as she also assisted with the sale and wanted to hear from her "what she told us."

At that point I wrote the following letter to the Better Business Bureau:

Better Business Bureau
1600 S. Grant Street
Longwood, FL 32750
Fax: 407.786.2625

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing in response to an experience with the local business Premier Hair Enhancements located at 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd, Orlando, Florida 32819. On Wednesday, September 7th, the day after finding out my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer and must begin chemotherapy on Friday, September 16, 2011, we visited Premier Hair Enhancements with a prescription from MD Anderson Cancer Center. We were assisted by Sarah Park, the owner per the company website (please see attached). She fitted my mother with a wig described as a “Medical Wig” for $372.74. I charged this item to my Visa debit card. She provided an insurance code (A 9282) and said we could call Aetna with prescription for reimbursement.

However, upon calling Aetna, my mother was told that this shop is not a provider in the network and they will not reimburse the cost. I phoned the shop today, Friday, September 09, 2011 – only two days after the sale – and I am told she will not refund the cost, even though she misrepresented her affiliation with the insurance company. She also informed me that she is not the owner of the shop, only a manager – yet on the receipt I was given she is listed as the owner (see attached) as well as the website. She went on to tell me she would need to speak with another associate who also assisted us with the purchase so she could understand exactly what we were told – to determine the refund and that this would have to wait until Tuesday.

Mind you, my mother is a stage IV cancer patient. She begins chemotherapy next week – scheduled for surgery on Monday for port placement. We were being proactive to take care of this at once so she has the wig in preparation of losing her hair immediately following chemotherapy. Time is of the essence.

I find these business practices to be unethical. Ms. Park, being in the business that she is in, must deal with cancer patients on a regular basis. She must have known to advise us to speak to Aetna first (or even that Aetna would not reimburse if we purchased the wig in her shop). Rather than offering that level of support, she misled us into believing we would be reimbursed by insurance, by providing an insurance billing code and making the sale.

I will be contacting additional organizations regarding this business practice as I do feel the ethical and right thing to do in this situation is for Ms. Park to authorize the refund for the unused wig so we can purchase a suitable wig from a shop that is an approved provider. I believe other organizations that provide information to cancer patients need to be informed that Premier Hair Enhancements uses unscrupulous business practices, exploiting patients with the very illness they are seeking treatment from to make a “final” sale that can then not be reimbursed by one of the largest insurance carriers in our area.

Should you wish to have more information regarding this matter, please feel free to contact me at the phone number listed above.

Thank you,

My plan was to fax it to the shop, providing her an opportunity to see the complaint prior to my sending it. I called Ms. Park as the fax number was not working. Her response was, "why can't you just wait until Tuesday!!"

I again expressed that we simply don't have a lot of time. If we must seek out another wig at the Aetna approved wig store, we needed to go this weekend to do that. Additionally, we already have nearly $400 tied up in this wig that won't be reimbursed and we will still have to wait for reimbursement from the "approved" wig. We can't wait for her to make up her mind on if she is going to do the right thing, or not!

I attempted to fax again, with copies of the receipt and website. It didn't go through. So, I decided I would just pay the shop a visit on my way home from work and hand deliver the letter (and evidence gathered that she has lied to us about who she is).

At 5:45pm I walked in to the shop. At first she didn't recognize me but then immediately she appeared like a deer caught in headlights - a look she had several times over the next 45 minutes.

"I just thought I would hand deliver my formal complaint to the Better Business Bureau since your fax machine is not working," I said.

"I just don't understand why you can't wait until Tuesday for this to be resolved."

"Ma'am, with all due respect, my mother has a port placement on Monday. She has a plethora of other appointments next week, we don't have time to wait on this. She starts chemo on Friday, we need the wig before Friday and we can't get the wig that is reimbursable by insurance until we have this settled. That is why we can't wait!"

"I need to talk to the associate that helped me with this sale. I need to know what she told you."

"I told you what she told me. She gave me this code to provide to the insurance company. That alone implied that you are an Aetna provider. She also told us to go home, call the insurance for reimbursement - again, this made us believe you were a provider and we would be reimbursed. You, ma'am, are running an unethical business that takes advantage of women suffering cancer. You ma'am are doing something very, very wrong. But don't worry, I'm copying the Insurance Commissioner on my letter, I'm quite sure he will be interested in this situation. Additionally, I'm copying MD Anderson Cancer Center so they may remove you from their list of possible wig shops. I also think Susan G Komen of Central Florida and the women currently fighting for their lives need to know how you take advantage of their sisters who are just starting their journey."

"I am a good Christian woman. I have a picture of Jesus on the wall." She pointed to a picture of Jesus and a Crucifix hanging on the wall in the rear of the shop.

"Well, Jesus Christ would return this money!"

"Are you saying I'm going to go to Hell over $400?"

"Ma'am, that isn't my call. I'm just saying that there is a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do in this situation. Jesus Christ would do the right thing."

"I'm a business owner. I am running a business. If you were in my shoes what would you do?"

"Umm, obviously, I would give the refund and take the wig back."

She then danced around needing to speak with the associate again. She said that she had tried calling her all day but hadn't been able to reach her because she was at the hospital because of a lump in her breast. I pray this was only an excuse and the woman isn't facing this same battle but if she is, I pray she is met with far more compassion than my mother has while seeking a wig.

"Why don't you go ahead and give her a call now, while I'm here in the store. If you get a hold of her we don't have to wait until Tuesday, correct?"

Again, the deer in the headlights look. She grabbed her phone and called the associate. For the life of me I can't remember the associate's name so for the sake of using a name, I'm going to call her Sue.

"Sue, are you home? Are you home from the hospital?"

She immediately told the story. Sue confirmed that she provided the insurance code but told her that code is only used by the insurance to say yes or no on reimbursement. I said that is not what we were told, if it had been we would have called BEFORE purchasing the non-exchangeable, non-refundable wig. The owner then decided it was a good idea to have me talk to Sue on the phone.

"I don't understand why I need to be in the middle of you and your associate. You are the owner, you make a decision. Right thing? Wrong thing? You must decide if you run an ethical, moral business or not!"

I get on the phone with Sue who is obviously upset that the owner is placing her in this position and blaming her for the entire mix up. However, it was the owner that pointed to the desk and told Sue to give us an insurance code on the day we purchased the wig.

Finally, the owner opened the drawer, pulled the receipt out from the credit card purchase on Wednesday, asked if it was us and then ran a credit through the machine.

"I'm not going to hell for $400."

She also wouldn't accept the wig back. My intent was not to get the wig and the money. In fact, this was about so much more than the money. It was about a place of business exploiting women (and men) in their darkest hour. It isn't right.

I still plan to report this shop as something must change. How many others have gone there, been told they can seek reimbursement from, only to find out they are stuck with a purchase that cost them hundreds of dollars? It's just not right.

But, Michael stays. . .and that is a good thing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Michael Jackson

"If I am going to have Dolly Parton boobs I want Dolly Parton wigs too."

This was a statement made in the car on the way to the wig store. It was of course said in jest by my mom, and set the expectation of a jovial tone for wig shopping. We decided that we would not normally be going wig shopping, ever, so we might as well make the most of a new experience. We drove across town to a small boutique that came recommended by a survivor. We walked in the door and the overall feeling of the shop was very classy. We were warmly greeted by a lady at the door and we explained that my mom would be starting chemo next week (as early as Tuesday) and were in need of a wig. She asked another girl in the shop to assist us and my mother was seated in front of a mirror.

The assistant immediately grabbed a wig that was about the same length as my mom's hair. It had a bit more curl in it than my mom's and was really BIG. Mom put it on and she and I both giggled a bit. It just wasn't the right one. The ladies helping us didn't really crack a smile. I know they were just being extremely respectful and they were extremely kind. But, we were trying to make the situation light.

We eventually found a wig that was the right color and length. It does have a slight curl, which mom's hair doesn't have but it is a close enough match to work. We also went to MD Anderson and The American Cancer Society to see what they had. Both were helpful resources and mom did get a few scarfs/hats that should be comfortable.

Once home, we discovered that the head my mom's wig sits on has the face of Michael Jackson. I think it's the nose. The wig is now known as Michael Jackson. The jokes started coming. . .

Mom's on her chemo bed, ill and asks a helper, "Please bring me Michael Jackson."

Mom's riding in dad's convertible and Michael Jackson blows off her head. She shouts behind the car, "Don't run over Michael Jackson!!"

However, the funniest part is the fact that Michael now sits on top of the refrigerator. Mom is afraid Isaac, their black lab also known as "King Lab" because of his girth, will grab it and chew it up if it's not placed high up somewhere. We teased him a little with the wig. First mom put it on. He barked. Then mom made it dance in the air. He barked. Then mom put it back on the refrigerator next to the dog treats and I pretended to feed Michael Jackson a dog treat. Isaac was extremely concerned.

Today wasn't a terrible day. We shed some tears and we've shared a few laughs.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bad News Today

Well, no one told us that this was going to be easy and it is certainly proving to be one of the most difficult things our family has ever faced.

My mom had her oncologist appointment today. Going into this appointment we didn't really have any nervousness about it. We really thought it would be a pretty standard appointment, mom would pick up a prescription for the chemotherapy pills she was going to start on (which are supposed to be much more mild chemotherapy) and she would be on her way.

Wow, what a shocker when that series of events didn't pan out as anticipated.

My mom ended up having two appointments today, one with the oncologist and another with the breast surgeon. I honestly can't tell you which doctor said what, so I'm going to lump it all together.

My mom learned today that her breast cancer is actually stage IV due to the fact that it metastasized. It was her left breast that had invasive cancer. That same invasive cancer was found in a lymph node under her right arm. This is so rare that the doctors questioned the pathologist, asked for the tests to be re-run and then they sent it to the Mayo Clinic where they also confirmed the findings.

So, the treatment plan has drastically changed. Mom goes on Monday for a port placement in her chest for chemotherapy. Chemo will begin sometime next week and she will have six rounds (one every three to four weeks). She will also be going to undergo high def x-rays as they want to confirm the bone pain she has been experiencing truly is arthritis and not breast cancer that spread to the bone.

Today has been an extremely emotional day. This is all so much to grasp. We thought we were through the most difficult part of treatment and we haven't even started the most difficult part.

I assure you, our outlook is still positive. But today, it's a very difficult, emotional day. I pray tomorrow is better and brings us a sense of peace - that all will be fine. Tonight, as all this sinks in - that feeling isn't here. I'm sure God will bless us with it soon. . .just not tonight.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Two weeks after surgery. . .

It has been two weeks since my mother's surgery. It's been a rough road with a lot of ups and downs. Wednesday was a fantastic milestone - the JP drains were removed, giving my mother a bit more freedom. She's able to shower on her own now, which was a huge challenge before. It's not easy to be a seemingly healthy adult woman one month and then require help doing some of the simplest things the next month. But, she has been taking it all in stride. She thoroughly enjoyed being able to shower, alone, Wednesday evening.

Last night marked another milestone in her journey to healing - she and I went to the grocery store. She said it felt so good to just get out of the house, pick out her own groceries and just "do" something different than sitting in the chair.

Tonight, we ran a very short errand. She also cooked dinner. I helped her a tiny bit with things like peeling potatoes and so forth, but she was so happy to just make a meal. It's normalcy one craves after experiencing such a life changing event - and slowly, she is getting that back.

The medical update is minimal. She saw the doctor on Wednesday. Everything looks great. Reconstruction is going well and she will be going back in two weeks so they can increase the volume of the implants. She has started with some exercises to help regain mobility and strength in her arms. This major, upper body, surgery has taken it's toll on her strength in the upper body. So, she's working on walking her arms up the wall. They can increase the volume of the implants once she is able to lift her arms over her head - so she's working towards that goal and plans to hit it within two weeks. I know she'll do it.

She will be visiting the oncologist soon who will go over the treatment options she now faces after surgery. All of this is so positive, as it means she's making great progress in recovery. It also means time is passing and each day she is closer and closer to normalcy.

So, that's the update for now.

Now, please pardon the shameless plug but as you all know I'm walking the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on October 16th. I'm doing this for my mom. I'm happy to say our team has raised over $1000 so far, but I know we can do so much more. Please consider clicking the link in the corner, visiting my page, making a donation or joining the team. Even if you live out of state - you can join the team!! Just select "Sleep in for the Cure" and you will be part of Blisters for Becky!

Thanks everyone!! Please feel free to post comments for my mom and I'll make sure she gets your messages!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Surgery

The surgery is done and my mother is recovering.

This has been the most difficult thing my mother has ever been through. She has handled it with amazing grace and positivity and her strength is absolutely amazing.

Friday we arrived at the hospital at 8:30. They took her to nuclear medicine to scan her lymph nodes to determine which would stay and which would go. She went back around 9am and the scan took about 45 minutes which seemed to fly by. My brother, father and I sat and waited. We would be doing a lot of that over the next 14 hours. By 10am she was back with us and we walked to the fourth floor where we would spend most of the day. Around 11:15 they took her back to the pre-op area to prep her for surgery. Slightly after noon we were asked to go back to see her before she goes for surgery. She had already been given a few doses of meds which had her very calm. A few tears were shed, I love you's were said and we soon found ourselves back in the waiting room where we would be for the next nine hours.

We tried to pass the time with books, games, electronic devices and television. Around 2:30 the breast surgeon came out to let us know that the mastectomy went well and she only had to remove three lymph nodes - one from the right and two from the left. She believes the nodes were benign but it would be confirmed with pathology. Naturally, our hope is that the cancer had not spread to the nodes - so we are still waiting but going with the idea that they were benign and she won't have to undergo aggressive chemotherapy.

Now we had to wait for the longer surgery - the reconstruction phase. We watched the hours tick by and around 5:30 we started to get a bit antsy. At 6:20pm the plastic surgeon found us in the waiting room and explained that surgery was complete, the implants, filled very little, were placed and she did very well through surgery. She was in recovery and we would be allowed back to see her very soon. Relief. It was done! We would be able to see her! Finally!

At 7pm my dad was allowed to go back to see her. My brother and I were just arriving back from grabbing a bite to eat. I immediately went back to see her. She wasn't feeling well coming out of the anesthesia. She was nauseous. The meds they were giving her to fight that were causing her to be drowsy. Her body temperature had dipped down, so they were warming her up. But, oh sweet relief, the surgery was over.

The next few hours were a bit intense. She wasn't moved to her room from recovery until nearly 9pm. My only complaint was if it was going to take that long, a family member should have been permitted to stay with her. Once on the floor, we were told we would have to stay out of her room until they "finished" - but again, being the patient advocate that I am, I firmly believe one family member should have been permitted to be with her at that point. I've worked in hospitals and I know that the decisions to exclude family are often made by nurses that just feel family will be in the way. I "get" not wanting a throng of people in a patient's room while doing assessments; however, one family member isn't going to be in the way and may actually be of assistance. But, I digress. That truly was my ONLY complaint with her care throughout the surgery and hospital stay. She had AMAZING care.

That evening was rough. For anyone ever facing this with a loved one, please know, after surgery they will always be grumpy and short tempered. They don't feel well. They are often in pain (perhaps not intense pain due to drugs) but the pain IS still there. They are hungry. They are thirsty. They are fighting to stay awake but keep drifting. They are frustrated. They itch. They feel cold. All of the above was true for my mother and it was certainly true for me after having surgery. So before getting annoyed or taking anything they say personally - step back and realize that this is the typical reaction after surgery and it will pass.

I stayed the night with her. Around midnight she really wanted a cup of coffee and some food. It had been 26 hours since she last put anything in her stomach. I made a run to McDonald's, as the hospital was no longer serving food, and I purchased their oatmeal, a large coffee and a peanut butter cup McFlurry (she wanted ice cream as her throat hurt from the tube). Once she had coffee and food, she felt much, much better.

She was a bit alarmed that she couldn't move her arms very well. But with a little reassurance that it was perfectly normal and soon she would be able to lift her arms, she felt a bit better. We giggled a bit about my feeding her ice cream and oatmeal - naturally making a bit of a mess with it and her - but it felt good to giggle a bit.

We both finally fell asleep a little after 1am. The night went smoothly, her pain was under control and by morning she was feeling weak but much better. The surgeon came in to talk to her while I was out grabbing more coffee. He told her she could go home!! Her nurse came in and said the goal would be 11am and sure enough - by 11:30 we were waiting on an orderly to bring the wheelchair.

Getting home was exhausting but she did well. I asked her what sounded good for dinner and the choice was lasagna, so that's what I made. She has JP (Jackson Pratt) drains which I go over twice a day to empty. This morning she was able to shower with some assistance, which made her feel so much better.

Each day she progresses towards normalcy again.

I write this much detail, as if anyone else is facing a similar circumstance, they at least know what to expect. I'm going to save the emotions for another post, as this one has grown extremely long. But there is another emotional aspect that really needs to be shared.

But for now, friends, I'm ready for sleep. Good night. :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Emotional Days

Today is one of those days. I'm emotional. Every little bit I cry. I've tried to be the rock. I'm trying to stay strong for my mom. But today it feels like reality has hit me like a ton of bricks. This week is it. Friday my mom goes in for surgery to have her breasts removed. My heart aches for her. I wish we could turn the clock backwards and live in a place where the word cancer wasn't part of our daily vocabulary.

To compound it, I had to use all of my time off work when Nick had both knees replaced earlier this year. It is absolutely killing me inside that on Thursday, as my mom goes to the plastic surgeon to have him mark up her body and then to MD Anderson for the lymph node biopsy followed by a visit to the breast surgeon to have guide wires placed in her breasts. . .I won't be there. Friday morning, as she waits at the hospital for surgery, with all the anxiety that will go along with that wait, I won't be there. Never in a million years would I have ever predicted that my mother would go through such a life changing event without me at her side. I will be there when she is out of surgery but I am struggling with the thought that I'm letting my family down.

I know she says all will be fine, she understands, but it doesn't change the fact that I haven't been to her doctor appointments with her, I'm not going to be there with her as she goes through all of this. . .it's like I'm the absentee daughter - and I HATE IT. I'm a caregiver by nature. When someone is sick - I'm there. When I'm needed - I'm there. The idea of not being there goes against every fiber in my being and it makes my heart hurt.

So today has been one of those really rough days. I know the first response of comfort everyone wants to give is, "everything will be ok." I appreciate that people want to reach out and give comfort, but sometimes we have to let out the emotion. Sometimes we have to cry. Right now, I'm sad. It doesn't mean I'm not positive about the future. I'm sad for today. I'm sad that my mom is going through this. I'm sad that she is losing her breasts, will be in pain, will undergo uncomfortable treatments. I'm sad that she is going to be sick. I'm sad that life as we know it is changing and will be this new kind of "different" for quite a while.

I'm just sad. There is a grieving process that takes place - a grieving of the life we all once knew. I have to go through it, I have to release this emotion. No matter how much push there is to stay positive - it mustn't stifle the process of releasing the emotions that go along with the Big C.

So this week I'm keeping the tissues handy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Decision Has Been Made

The last couple weeks have been extremely difficult. My mother has faced probably the most difficult decision she has ever faced. Mastectomy vs. lumpectomy. She's spent much time speaking with doctors and seeking opinions. She has made a very educated, thought-out decision.

Friday, August 19th, she will be going to surgery for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. It wasn't easy to come to that conclusion but it is what she feels most comfortable with.

She's met with the breast cancer surgeon, oncologist, breast cancer doctor, plastic surgeon, the doctor in radiation oncology and the dietician. The MD Anderson team is amazing and she feels so confident in the work they do.

Monday morning she goes for the PET scan. This scan will tell them if the cancer is anywhere else in her body and could change the course of treatment depending on what it reveals. We are praying very hard that only her breasts are affected and no surprises will show on the scan.

Thursday, the surgery prep begins, first with another type of scan followed by a lymph node biopsy. On Friday, it's another type of scan followed by the five hour surgery to remove her breasts and prepare her body for reconstruction. She has opted for implants, but those will not come for several months.

The doctors also advised that there is a good chance she will be undergoing some chemotherapy and radiation.

So, that's where we are today. This is her last weekend before surgery.

Please send prayers that the PET scan results from Monday will be all clear.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Appointments, appointments and more appointments - update

We have had a few weeks and the cancer diagnosis has set in. I think the shock has warn off and we are moving forward with plans.

My mom is so strong. I'm amazed at the strength she has had through all of this.

On July 19th we met with the surgeon. A few days later she had the MRI. What was revealed was the cancer in the left breast is a 1cm tumor. The right breast is so small it didn't even show on the MRI. This was excellent news. In fact, if you are going to have cancer, this seems like the best news you can really get with the big C - SMALL.

The surgeon suggested a lumpectomy and radiation. However, mom has received some other advice from other doctors and friends/family that are breast cancer survivors. She has been leaning towards the double mastectomy with reconstruction but wanted to wait for the appointment with the plastic surgeon before making a final decision.

Today that appointment took place. It was a hard day for her. She heard the process she will go through to have breasts again after the double mastectomy. It's not an easy process and it's certainly not a "go in for surgery, have the old one's removed, the new ones put back and it's done" kind of thing. No, it will be months before her body is "normal" again. But, she's fairly certain the double mastectomy is the way to go.

Next week, on Wednesday, 8/10, she has an appointment with the oncologist. There she will find out about the radiation/chemotherapy options she may have to consider.

Surgery is scheduled for August 19th.

So, there we have it. The update on where we are. I'm thankful there are treatment options, but I know how hard all these decisions are for my mom.

Friday, July 15, 2011

This is some real flower power

So for those unfamiliar with breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, in my limited knowledge and reading, I found out that they often tattoo new nipples on the breasts. In talking to my mom about this, as she is preparing herself for the prospect of a double mastectomy, she made the comment, "I think I'll have them just tattoo something else there. Maybe I'll get coy fish, or daisies. Daisies make me smile and if I saw daisies every morning waking up it would spread a little cheer."

Funny stuff! But of course, now I'm wondering why the heck not? I mean, if seeing daisies there would make my mom happy and she really thinks that. . .I'm not sure why what has started as a joke shouldn't be gone through with if it truly would bring her a smile.

She also said something in the nature that it's not like tattooed nipples really look all that real anyway and if they are going to be altered, why not have something fun. Of course, it would be kind of funny at future doctor appointments after she has daisies for nipples. I can only imagine doctor's faces when they saw that. Sounds like chuckle material to me. :)


Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Club

The last two weeks have really opened my eyes to something that I think I took for granted. Perhaps took for granted isn't the right phrasing to use. It's something I didn't quite understand. I never really understood the pink ribbons, the "club" like feel surrounding all the "Breast Cancer Awareness" campaigns that have been in the media. I didn't "feel" the passion.

Honestly, I didn't have the amount of empathy I have for many other causes. I know everyone has a cause and many are health related and we kind of lump them in to what we do for work. You know the drill, someone organizes a 5k, we go on a Saturday morning, meet co-workers and walk it. Often times the goal in mind is our own fitness and the cause is really a secondary thought. At least, that is what it seems if whatever is being supported doesn't hit close to home. After all, much of our empathy comes from within, due to circumstances and pain we have already felt - and that pain is then redirected towards the individual or group with a similar plight.

So, let me share a little of what it's like after those words "It is cancer" are spoken to you or someone you love. Naturally, I can only speak for what I felt when those words were spoken to my mom.

Cold. It feels very cold. Perhaps that's in the manner which the news is delivered, but I don't think outside factors influence this internal coldness that I felt at that very moment. It was like my bones had been chilled. Goosebumps, all over my body and instant fear.

Lost. You have absolutely no idea where to turn and what to do first. It's easy to think, "well, call a doctor" but which doctor do you call? How do you know you are selecting the absolute best doctor for the task at hand? How long will the wait be? This is a major diagnosis, what is her insurance going to do, what will be covered? What won't be covered? Where do we turn first?

Afraid. Cancer - that's the big C. People die of cancer. Even if this doesn't end up being the worst type of case - do treatments hurt? Will she be sick? How will we get through that? Can she mentally bear this burden?

Hurt. My heart ached from that moment on. I feel terribly sad that my mom is going to have to make choices that will be the most difficult in her life. I know how deep and personal it would be for me if I had to make the choice between risking life or death - or keeping my breasts. If she chooses to not go the double mastectomy route, then will she live in fear that the cancer will return? Will that gnaw at her each day wondering if cells are mutating and multiplying within her remaining breast tissue? Can she take that stress? But, in turn, can she face the mirror if her breasts are removed? Will they do reconstruction immediately?

These are all questions and thoughts that weigh on the mind. Fortunately, many of the questions have have been answered. But, this is my life experience right this very second and I KNOW I'm not alone. Millions of women, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends - they are all experiencing these same thoughts. These same feelings. These same fears. This is why they are part of the "club." They are seeking comfort in knowing they are doing something.

I had no idea. I honestly didn't.

Each day my mother's cancer is on my mind when I wake up. When I go to work. When I come home. When I get on the computer. When I go to bed. No matter what I do, even if it slips out of my mind for a split second, it's looming in the background. I carry it with me on my shoulders and no matter where I go, there he sits, ready to creep back into my mind.

Why do I tell you this? Because there is something each and every one of us can do. We can support organizations that seek out research for treatment and cures. By supporting this, I am supporting my mom. By pushing this, I'm doing what I can FOR HER! I know I'm pushing this hard right now. And I know it may not be quite understood. Perhaps you are like the old me and saying your sick of hearing about breast cancer and seeing pink.

As a family member of someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer, we HAVE to do something. We HAVE to try to help. Especially if they have a personality trait like I have - I want to fix it. I want to make it better. Honestly, it's keeping me sane. I am a strong person. I am strong for her and I'm positive for her. Doing THIS helps me do that for her.

Your donations and participation in the Susan G. Komen walk with me is personal. It's meaningful. It's helping me cope with the situation that has been dealt. Just like the millions of other people affected by this and reaching out to their friends and family to support this cause.

I want to see my team hit 50 participants. I want to see us hit BIG NUMBERS.

So, I've purchased pink bracelets. There are four different "styles" - four different words. Hope. Strength. Faith. Survivor. I will begin selling these and every single dollar will go to my Susan G. Komen fundraiser. Additionally, I'm going to sell pink ribbon car magnets. If I sell out and people want more, I'll buy more to sell.

This is my way of doing something productive with my racing thoughts.

Yes, now I understand. I understand the passion behind the people that push. I understand why the "pink club" exists. I do hope you will never have to join this club. But, please consider joining me for this cause. Rally around my mom with me and let's show her how much good can come of a nasty, nasty day like "diagnosis" day.

There are multiple ways you can support this.

  • You may sponsor me with a donation to the cause - click here to donate now
  • If you are local, please sign up to walk ($25) or run ($32)
  • If you aren't local, please consider to join the team and "Sleep in for the Cure" ($30)
Fundraising is NOT mandatory, but greatly appreciated. Imagine if I was able to gather 50 people who each were able to raise $50 (that's only $10 from 5 friends - that's asking your friends to give up two trips to Starbucks). We would have $2500 in donations (in addition to my individual fundraising goal of $500). Can you imagine if we told my mother we had raised $3000 for the cause? or $4000? or $5000???? Talk about the gift of HOPE!

Please friends, we can do this. We can do it together. Join me, won't you?

Register for Blisters for Becky today by clicking here


Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I truly believe we have angels all around us. They may be a close friend who at just the right moment provides information that changes your life. Perhaps they send us small signs which tell us everything is going to be ok.

Today was a rough day for my mom. The diagnosis from yesterday hit her pretty hard. Don't get me wrong, my mom is still very positive that she will beat this. She will be a survivor. Emotions about the situation should never be confused with negativity - as they are two very, very different things. She will have rough days. I will have rough days. We both still very much hold hope that she will be well, she will beat this beast and life will be "normal" once again.

Since the diagnosis, there have been a few signs that were extremely comforting and meaningful. The first came on Saturday. Mom was sitting on her front porch and a hummingbird came up on her porch. In all the time she has lived in the house. hummingbirds have not been frequent flyers. Yet, this guy came and lingered for a short while. Shortly after, a bright red cardinal sat on the palm tree in the flowerbed right in front. Again, cardinals are common birds but my mom doesn't really have anything in front of her home to attract birds and they haven't been around before this day. My grandmother loved birds. Her favorite bird was the red cardinal. She had kitchen mugs with cardinals, she always liked to sit and watch them. She liked hummingbirds and used to put hummingbird feeders out so she could watch them. I truly believe my grandmother sent my mother the birds that morning to let her know she's still with her. She's still thinking of her. She's praying (I mean, she kind of does have a direct line since she's there and all). It's little signs that provide huge amounts of comfort - if we just take the time to watch for them and listen to them.

I also received some amazing information from a large group of friends. They recommended a new primary care physician for my mother to see. Through a series of events, we were able to have mom's appointment bumped up to see her today. The appointment was fantastic. The doctor is SO GOOD. She had already reviewed my mother's results prior to the appointment. She gave some wonderfully encouraging words but also acknowledged that my mom will have good and bad days. She gave her a prescription for Xanax for the bad days, to help her get through and remain positive. She gave her tons of information.

It was through my group of friends that we found this doctor - she is the perfect fit. Without having these folks in my life we wouldn't have this new doctor. We wouldn't have known to go to the surgeon she will be seeing next week. We wouldn't have the best oncologist in town on the case. People are in our lives for a reason. I hope, one day, I can be someone else's angel. I hope I can do as much for someone else as these people have done for my family.

Today, also a bright spot, a package came for my mother. It was a tote from a group called The Lydia Project which was requested by a very dear friend. The kindness and thought that went into requesting this gift, which will lift spirits throughout this journey was received with tears of joy and swelling of the heart. It is a faith based group and the messages were so very, very clear. Have faith - love is around you. To the person that sent this, you know who you are, thank you so much. Your kindness and love were received today in a very powerful way and you made a difference in brightening the spirit of someone who is very scared. So thank you, again.

I think it is only appropriate to share this video. It was part of the television show So You Think You Can Dance a few seasons ago. I remember when I watched it the first time I cried. It touched me deeply, however, at the time I hadn't a clue as to how deep and meaningful it truly would be.

Please, please, if you have not already, schedule your mammogram today. It just may save your life.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Second Biopsy Results

Well, the phone call came today. Biopsy results for the right breast are positive for cancer. In my quick internet search I found that less than 5% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer will have it in both breasts at diagnosis. However, having it in both breasts doesn't mean a worse prognosis is eminent. So that was good to read.

Remember, my mother's cancer cannot be felt. She didn't feel a lump and had it checked out ... this was found by a routine mammogram. Please schedule yours today.


Monday, July 11, 2011

At least we can laugh

In our normal nightly ritual, my mother and I chatted on the phone for about an hour. It was really the first conversation we've had in the last few days that didn't have the "C" undertone and it really felt good. Sure, we talked about it a little bit, but with the shock of the diagnosis wearing off and the return to normal Monday work schedules, we had other things to discuss, like So You Think You Can Dance and the Casey Anthony trial. . .her strange neighbors that seem to have near death experiences daily. For example, last night her neighbors were setting fireworks off in their driveway. They were those little ground fireworks. The strange and deadly part was the fact that it was 12:30 in the morning AND small children were within two feet of the stupid things. This happens to be the same family that the old man goes and gets in the minivan and nearly runs over his other family members because he starts to drive the car without them all in it! The other day he pulled out of the driveway and just sat in the middle of the street until his wife (also older) hobbled her way down the driveway to get in the car. Yes, we find humor in strange things.

Our sense of humor has not been lost as we approach this unknown path. Oh no, we can still cut up.

The "C" topic did come up. My mom told me that a very good friend at work had a story for her about a woman . . . I interrupted, "You know mom, when people say they have a story you need to tell them that there is a rule that you will only listen to stories that have happy endings."

She said it was, and continued. She said that it was of a lady, that after all else failed, turned to "all natural" treatments and it cured her cancer. Now, while I'm sure there are cases out there where something like this worked, I think my mom is far from needing to seek out alternative medicine at this moment. Fortunately, we have for the most part been true believers in modern medicine, so it really wasn't anything to be concerned about.

My mother's response was, "Listen, I want chemicals. I want the most powerful chemicals they can pump into me!"

7 days and counting until she meets with a doctor at MD Anderson.

No biopsy results today. We are hoping to hear something tomorrow. If we do, I'll surely update.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

The dog ate my homework

I have to share something a bit funny. If we don't laugh, all we do is cry and then what do you have? Dehydration. (Ok, not really, but whatever.)

As I mentioned before, after the first biopsy, while waiting for results, we were convinced that the dog had injured my mom's breasts a year ago when he jumped up on her and nearly knocked her out. We were sure the beast's giant paws had caused scar tissue which made the mammogram come back irregular and we would then be able to tell the dog, Issac, that it was all his fault.

Of course, the result wasn't scar tissue so our plan completely backfired.

Now to really get this, you must know a little about my mom and dad's dog. Issac is a 200lb or more black lab. Ok, perhaps 200lbs is exaggerated. But he is a HUGE black lab. It seems anything my mother cares for for any length of time, gets fat. Her kids, her dogs. . .you get the idea.  Issac is a smart dog and very sweet. But he is VERY energetic and well, as much as I know she wouldn't want me to say it, Issac is out of control. He can listen, when he wants and feels you are worthy of telling him what to do. But the rest of the time, Issac does what HE wants to do. Fortunately, he is crate trained, so their house is still standing. 

Oh and Issac is extremely spoiled (as dogs should be) but spoiled to the point that my father will sit and hold his bone while Issac chews on it. Yes, dogs are capable of holding their bones on their own and chewing them, but Issac likes it this way. He also thinks he is a lapdog and will nearly tip a recliner over as he leaps on to your lap.

So, when we found out that our blaming the biopsy on Issac fell through, we had to come up with some other way to blame Issac. Immediately my mom turns and looks at Issac and says, "you know, Ize Guy, there ARE cancer sniffing dogs out there. You obviously aren't a cancer sniffing dog. . ." and of course our banter, through tears and laughter, consisted of "Poor Ize guy failed in cancer sniffin' school."

So, Issac still gets to take the blame since he didn't sniff out the cancer. It's ok, he likes it when we talk to him. As long as we do it in that one voice, no matter what we say, he thinks it's great.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Plans Make a Difference

We are going to celebrate every single thing, no matter how small.

The night that we received the results, I was so peeved at how my mother's primary care doctor had handled the situation that I asked a group of friends for some recommendations for good primary care doctors in Orlando. Honestly, I think a higher power had control of this situation and knew she would be best served with a different doctor. His response was just the nudge she needed to switch.  One specific doctor was named SEVERAL times. The bonus is the doctor is also a woman, which my mother would prefer. So, I gave the name to mom and she called the next day to schedule a new patient visit - the appointment was August 5th which is a little long to wait to switch but we will take what we can get.

Today I decided I would also call her for an appointment so I can get established and ask for a referral for my mammogram. I'm not a fan of my current primary care doctor, so figured there is no better time than the present to just do it. I called the office and spoke to an extremely pleasant person on the phone. She took my information and said they had just had a cancellation and the next available appointment was next Wednesday, July 13th. I was so excited!! Not for me, but for my mom! I immediately told her that my mother had called yesterday and scheduled a new patient appointment and we would love it if she could have that spot and I'll take a later spot. She was so sweet, said of course we could do that and booked my mom for the 13th. The timing is perfect! So mom will go to her next Wednesday and I'll go on August 10th - with my first mammogram soon to follow.

Another glimmer of light is through asking many friends in the area for surgeon recommendations, we received the same name over and over again. She is a breast surgeon at MD Anderson. My mother went ahead and called and they were able to schedule an appointment for July 19th. (We were anticipating a much, much longer wait). When I got home this evening, a very good friend had asked her friend that is also a doctor in Orlando (OB doctor that delivered Matthew, my first son, actually) and he gave the same name. We just know she's going to the right place and we are finding the right doctors for the case.

All of this just makes this process a little less scary.  A plan is already in place. And we will celebrate every little thing we can.

You are welcome to leave comments on this blog for my mom. I'd also love to know if you have scheduled your mammogram yet?


Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Mother Has Cancer

Those words are extremely difficult to type and as I do it feel as though I'm typing for some other person. The last few days have been a whirlwind and I know this is only the start of a very difficult journey. My mother is strong and she will win this battle. I can't even begin to tell you how lost we have felt not knowing what was really next. At first I was unsure how to talk about this. I didn't want my words to cause any additional pain to my mom. I didn't want to overstep boundaries of privacy. I wasn't sure if I should tell anyone, do I call family for her? Is it too difficult for her to talk about to others? I need to do something but WHAT DO I DO??

My mother is so strong. I am so fortunate to have her as my mom. She is my best friend. I talk to her several times a day on the phone. I often see her several times a week. She knows everything that goes on in my life, as I do hers. So, I just asked her who she wanted me to tell and her words were pretty much, "this is no secret, Elizabeth. It is what it is. Not talking about it to people isn't going to make it go away. If talking about it makes others go get their mammograms, TALK ABOUT IT!"

When I mentioned the Boobs in a Vise blog, again, she had the idea that if capturing this journey will help someone else, we need to do it. So, let's start at the beginning.

This really started in May. My mother went for her routine mammogram (she's 56 so gets them regularly). She went to one of those standard, somewhat big box imaging centers. You know the place, they x-ray knees, they do mammograms, they do ultrasounds, etc. It's a cold, sterile kind of place, everyone is really a number and rarely do you see the same tech or receptionist twice. She received a call a week or so later that her mammogram was showing some irregularity and she would need to have a second level mammogram. However, the big box imaging center was no longer a provider on her insurance so she would need to pick up her films and find another provider. This was actually a blessing.  My mother called the Women's Center for Radiology in Orlando.

I cannot sing enough praises about the Women's Center and the doctors who practice there. She went for her second level mammogram and waited for results.  That evening she told me of the center, the fancy bras they have hanging around the office, the lack of paper gowns (rather they use pink smock type shirts - sometimes it really is the little things that make things more comfortable) and how friendly the staff was. She was pleased that she had to change centers, even though initially it seemed as though it would be an inconvenience.  Soon after she received a call that there were spots showing in her left breast and she would need a biopsy. This was feeling more serious, so I went with her for the biopsy. She was nervous, of course.

The day of the biopsy we drove to the office. The conversation in the car was something like, "I'm sure this is nothing. They have to be thorough and it's probably just a cyst." At one point we had even convinced ourselves that the dog may have caused scar tissue from jumping up on her (very hard, btw) a year ago. He did nearly knock her out, so we thought perhaps it was equal to trauma to the chest and it was a little scar tissue. . .

Anyway, my mother said the actual biopsy wasn't nearly as bad as she thought it would be. She was numbed, the tech that was with her told her what was happening every step of the way and she only had some minor soreness for the next couple days. She did take a Tylenol 3 in the evening which helped her get some rest but other than that, the biopsy (as scary as it sounded) was fairly uneventful.

The biopsy was on Wednesday, June 29th. On Thursday, June 30th in the afternoon my mother's doctor's office called her to tell her that her results were in and she would need to come in to the office to discuss with the doctor. The soonest he could see her was the following Tuesday, July 5th. I found this to be a tad insensitive but was hopeful that it was just routine to discuss results. The July 4th weekend felt long and drawn out as we anticipated the news.  Tuesday finally arrived and we went in to the doctor appointment. He is a very matter of fact doctor with poor people skills. I think receiving the news from anyone other than this doctor would have been a softer blow. Basically we walked in his office, he asked why she had a biopsy, grilled her as to why she went to the Women's Center for Radiology and then very matter of fact stated, "You have cancer."

Without even pausing to allow those three words to sink in he said he would be right back, she needed a biopsy of the right breast and he would send her "next door" to the surgeon this afternoon. The next moment he was walking back in the exam room with a hand written note to a doctor in an opposing building. He didn't want her to go back to the Women's Center for Radiology.

We went to that surgeon's office. It was sterile, paper gowns, signs hanging all over the office and immediately knew she would be going back to the Women's Center for Radiology. He gave us some information but she just knew she wasn't comfortable there and asked to go back to where she knew. He wrote the script and we were on our way.

Her biopsy on the right breast was today. It was about as uneventful as the left breast biopsy and we are hoping and praying that these results come back as no cancer in that breast. It seems one cancerous breast is enough to deal with right now. The radiologist was nice enough to tell us next steps would be to seek out a surgeon.

Our plan is to go to MD Anderson Cancer Center where they have the best doctors and nurses available. We are fortunate to live in an area that has not just one but two fantastic cancer centers.

So tomorrow, my mother is calling to hopefully get on the schedule for a surgeon. She won't be able to meet the doctor until the biopsy results are in (sometime early next week) but it can't hurt to at least call and see if an appointment can be made. We've been told it can take a few weeks to get in to see the doctor, but is well worth the wait.

So, here is to waiting.


Get your boobs in a vise

Sad. Mad. Angry. Lost. Scared. All emotions I felt the moment I heard those words spoken to my mother, "You have cancer."

On July 5, 2011 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Everything is unknown right now. In fact, today she has an appointment to have a biopsy on her right breast to see if the cancer is also there.

I hope and pray all will turn out ok. I'm starting this blog as a record of this journey.

My mother's message to everyone today - go get your boobs in a vise! Do not delay. Get your mammograms TODAY!

I'm quite sure as time goes on I'll fill these pages. But for now, this is all.