Friday, October 3, 2008

Anniversary Reflection

One year ago today, I found out that I had breast cancer again.

My first diagnosis was on August 15, 2002. I had a lumpectomy with sentinel node dissection, four rounds of AC (adriamycin and cytoxan), 6 1/2 weeks of radiation, and then 4 1/2 years of tamoxifen.

One year ago today, I was stunned to learn that it had returned (if indeed it had ever left and tamoxifen kept things at bay). My cousin Toni was here visiting and she took some pictures of me and had others take pictures of her and me at that time. My eyes looked haunted - like a deer caught in the headlights. I'll have to see if I can locate those photos - I think she sent them to me.

I hated chemo the first time and I had no desire to do that again. However, the pathology report stated that my "tumor" was only 3mm. So, while stunned and scared, I was also quite hopeful that I would have surgery (a bilateral mastectomy) and reconstruction and be done with the whole thing.

One year ago today, if I had known what I was in for . . . I might've crawled into a deep dark hole and never emerged. I might've been overwhelmed by all that has happened to me.

But it seemed that I had reason to be hopeful. So, I started collecting boob jokes and had a Boob Ball. Injecting humor into my diagnosis and then recovery seemed to make people more comfortable and able to talk to me about it.

I could talk about all the bad things that happened. But I already have. Been there. Done that. It's all (or most of it anyway) is in my blog. I could also talk about the pink ribbon marketing and how irritating it is. But I refuse to let all that pink ribbon stuff get me down. It's not worth it for me to talk about it.

I'd rather talk about the positives.

Sunil (one of my colleagues) told me today that from the research he's found regarding tumor markers and specifically the CA 15-3, doctors tend to think a good result with Stage IV metastatic cancer is if the tumor marker numbers decrease by 5-10% from its high point and stays there. Let's see. A 5% decrease would be 1.8 to 3.6 points, giving a tumor marker number of 34.2 to 32.4. My marker was 14.5.

That's a decrease of 60.4%, people!!

And, the other marker - the CEA - has had a decrease of 45-55%.

Other positives:
- I am feeling better - more energetic - and sleeping better at night.
- I feel happy and at peace - I have tried to do a lot of work dealing with some of my core psychological issues, like holding onto angry and frustration and the feeling of not belonging. I've learned a lot about myself. I think it has made my relationships with my friends, family, and colleagues much better than they were previously.
- My son is healthy and doing well in school.
- Scott and I are back together and his daughter is doing better, too.
- I still love my work.
- I have made many new friends, both in person and through blogging.
- I live in a great place, surrounded by natural beauty.
- I'm learning to balance my work with my life.
- I started tapping more into my artistic side - with coloring and creating mandalas and the mosaic in the backyard.
- I have collected a lot of boob jokes.
- My tumor markers are well within the normal range and there is no evidence of disease in my skin.
- I have learned a lot about alternative medicine and I really like the people who give me care.
- I am thankful for all the support that everyone has given me - I am truly blessed.
- I am thankful for all of my care providers - my oncologists, my therapist, my acupuncturist, and my massage therapist - and my plastic surgeon. People often ask me why I didn't seek care out of my small college town, but I've found all that I need right here.
- My family has been really really wonderful.

I bet I could go on and on and on and on. The important thing is that I'm here and doing well and moving on. It's been a very challenging year and one that I hope I never ever have to repeat it in this lifetime.

But, it's also showed me what wonderful people surround me. Thank you all!


jeanne said...

Dee -- I hesitate to say "happy anniversary" but I am happy that you are here one year later! May you have many, many, many more anniversaries, all happy.

MisAnthropology said...

Thank heaven you didn't make use of the auguries. I think that not knowing the future is what makes us brave and strong.

Yes, happy anniversary. Think of how much better life is now than it was when you were that deer caught in the headlights. That's exactly how I felt on the first anniversary of my brother's death.... lordy... it sucks that he's gone, but life is soooo much better than it was at this moment a year ago. Recovery is a joyous experience, even if we wish we didn't have this *thing* we need to recover from. You're right to pursue and relish in the luxuriously joyous experience of recovery.

mynameischarlene said...


You have gone through so much in the last year, and the fact that you are here is gratifying - you are resilient. I'm sure that you've heard that old addage "that which does not break us, makes us stronger". I think you've had that inner strength to begin with, the tenacity, the willingness and no doubt the ability to get this far and through this stage of your life emotionally, psychologically and physically.

Best wishes go out to you and your family from us and may you have many, many more anniversaries. And, I hope to see you at AFN, will you join me for an amber or a fat tire?

Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

I appreciated this "anniversary" note. That you've adjusted to circumstances you thought incompatible with a joyous life. That you have so much love and laughter in your life. That you are expanding your artistic (real: soulful) side. And that your markers are better. You are recovering in all ways.

With hope, Wendy

Teresa Hartman said...

Thanks for showing me and others that follow you 'how it is done', to successfully overcome cancer's doings. Here's to us sharing many more anniversaries into the future!

Carver said...

Great post Dee. I am so glad that you have positive news in terms of the tumor markers. Also that your life in general has so much going well. I can't wait to see the mosaic when you finish it. Take lots of pictures. I was just thinking about that and wondering how it was going. I'm tipping my glass to you!

Dee said...

Hi everyone,
Thank you so much for the "anniversay" well wishes! It really means so much to me that you took the time to read the long post and then to comment on it.

For especially the other cancer survivors - Jeanne, Teri, Carver, and Wendy - may you all have many more years on this earth as well. You all have inspired me in many ways and knowing that you are all here with all you have gone through or are going through helps me to feel that I'm NOT going through this alone and that you are all here to be my special cheerleaders.

And Mary, I can't imagine what it might be like to lose a sibling - and yes I wish there wasn't this *thing* we need to recover from, but it's there - whatever *it* is - and at some level, all of us need to figure out how to recover from such things. Thank you for sharing your story and I really wish you all the happiness as you embark on this new chapter in your life!! You deserve it, too, you know.

And, Charlene, I know that you, too, have suffered from a lot of losses and that there is a lot of negative stressors in your life that you need to deal with. I applaud all the work you've done for our community. And, yes, I do indeed hope to see you at AFN and will certainly hang with you and have a fat tire or another kind of Amber while we're there. I am looking forward to seeing you soon! I have a lot to share with you and with the rest of the commmunity - I will try to call this week, okay?

Again, thank you all for visiting and commenting and caring. One reason why I'm doing so well is that I know you're thinking and supporting me! Love to you all!