Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Free Money!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, wanna get some fast cash? Well, if you're lucky enough, you too can get breast cancer and spend a day at the hospital getting felt up. But, at the end of it, someone asks you to sign something to be a part of a "Research Study" and BAM! One fresh benjamin, a part of it to be spent on the parking.

Intrigued? I spent my day at Northwestern Hospital. I have decided that suburban hospitals are fine and all, but I thought maybe my alma mater needed another couple hundred grand of my money. Oh, wait, my insurance company's money. Not that it was my money when I went to Northwestern. Thanks Mom and Dad. Northwestern is home to a fancy schmancy breast center so I had some consults.

Other than stifling the urge to scream, "Go Cats!" in the waiting room and then look around like I had no idea where it came from, it was a pretty uneventful but long and good day. I got another ultrasound- more gel. At least 6 different people touched me up. The joys of being at a big research hospital is that I saw research fellows, residents, teaching sessions, some guy training to be a plastic surgeon who looks not a day over 25- all of these were a part of my day. The people there are awesome. Really helpful, really knowledgable. The fertility doctor we met with was like the really cool uncle. Fertility doctor you say? Yep, one really shitty side effect of chemo is that I may go in to menopause.. so boys and girls, just like Kendall in All My Children, I am going to get pumped full of hormones and have my eggs harvested (actually, she only carried her best friend's baby which turned out to be her own... long story). Alan's part of the process is way easier. Anyone got a magazine? I will write more about this whole extravaganza another time. It's one of the more depressing aspects of this journey.

I did, however, schedule my first and hopefully only surgery. I'm going under the knife a week from Friday, on March 10. We're doing a lumpectomy and a lymph node biopsy. Hoepfully this will be all I need. There is still a possibility that I could need a mastectomy later, but we won't know how agressive we need to be until they analyze the tumor itself. Sometime in the next few days we will all sit down and have a science lesson as I teach you about Maria my tumor, types of breast cancer and all the determining factors in my treatment. Bring a notebook and a pencil.

So what about the cash you ask? This is where it's fun. At the aforementioned fancy schmancy hospital, they do a lot of research. So I was asked to be a part of some study where they take samples of my tumor and study it. Sure, I say- it's not like I want to keep it. The one with the cash, however, is a study on "information and communication." What does it entail? Alan and I talking for about 8 minutes today with some chick about what info we wish we had, what we cared about, etc. For this 8 minutes, we got $100. Then they call us a few times over treatment and give us another $100 at the end.

Hey, I got to show my tits and make $100. And I didn't even have to go to New Orleans to do it. What'd you do today?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Armchair Radiologist

Some people are backseat drivers. Sometimes there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Some are armchair quarterbacks. I am an armchair internet radiologist. Got a mass in your breast? Got an ultrasound or mammogram? I could probably diagnose ya. (Give or take)

See, I have to admit, there was a part of me that knew this was coming, the minute I went in for those tests... let me backtrack. I went in for an ultrasound and diagnostic mammogram on Valentine's Day. Needless to say, there was not much in the way of romance that night. I had my ultrasound first. The tech sat down, squirted some gel stuff on me and away we went. I have to admit, I thought my first experience with ultrasound would be when I got preggers. No such luck. However, I was versed in the procedure, having written a very dramatic scene for Kendall on "All My Children." I digress...

The tech checked me out, said she didn't see anything other than the lump. (Good thing) The mass looked solid. (Not so good) See, as the day went on, I watched my chances for "good lumps" go bye-bye. Being solid meant it wasn't just your run of the mill cyst. You know, one of the many "normal" lumps we women get. I saw the screen and saw the mass. It was oddly shaped, had wierd edges, and was very shadowy on the screen. Later, as I would compare my pictures at home to the numerous images available to me through Google, I would realize these are not good things.The tech went to confer with the radiologist. I was left alone for about 10 minutes. I cried. I felt so alone. My husband wanted to come in to the room with me, but they told him to wait outside. So he was in the waiting room, not with me. I was scared. I knew enough (from checking things out prior to this appointment) that a fibroadenoma, a "standard" solid lump in women my age, had a solid, very defined outline. My fears weren't eased when the radiologist came in and gave me a whole other ultrasound. And it HURT. He pressed really hard into me. First of all, this lump never hurt, but thanks to this day, it has hurt me every day since. I began to worry when he started looking in my armpits (well, ladies and gentlemen, this is checking for lymph nodes, something even i knew he wouldn't be doing unless he thought the lump looked sketchy). As if that wasn't bad enough, he insisted on me having a biopsy that day. Hmm... I wasn't ready fot this. It was moving way too fast. It felt like 0-cancer in .3 seconds. And shit, my chest hurt.

He sent me for a mammogram. For those of you lucky enough to never experience this, count your lucky stars. Then again, you have to bend over and cough.

I stood in front of the Mammomat- yes, that's what it's called, and allowed a very nice woman to touch me up and cram my boobs into horribly painful positions and then press even harder. For the women who've said it's "mildly" uncomfortable, they're lying. It fucking hurts. The only upside is that it only takes a couple a seconds for each film. Unfortunately I had like a dozen, so I had a fair amount of pain. The problem with me was that my left side with Maria was already a bit sore from the ultrasound. This was not fun. They usually don't see a lot with younger women on mammograms, but mine were clear as day. So clear, in fact, that my radiologist wanted even more angles. So essentially, after 2 ultrasounds, they wanted a second mammogram. My mammograms showed this obvious lump with a "star" sort of pattern. Yep, that's the cancer working it's way through. The radiologist brought Alan in to talk some more about the biopsy, "so we'd know what we're dealing with." He never mentioned the high chance of malignancy, which he must have known.

The biopsy also sucked. In fact, the whole day sucked. Much of what sucked was the amount of time I was left alone with my own fears (and pain) while they "got paperwork, checked films, consulted with my surgeon" (oh yeah, by now I have a surgeon.) I had what is called a needle core biopsy. Essentially, they numb the area (did I mention they had to stick me not once, but TWICE "just to make sure it was numb enough") Then they stick this horrible hollow needle into you. Not before making an incision. I swear, when he said the word, "scapel" I thought I was going to pass out. I watched on the ultrasound as the needle went into Maria. I did not look at the needle. Then, with a "Snap" a spring device pushes another needle in that essentially cuts and takes a "Core" of the mass. It reminded me of the gun they use to pierce your ears. That hurts too. Normally, they take 3 samples, but of course, that was not enough. Sure, what's more manhandling and pain? Hit me baby, one more time. Except it was two.

I was sent home with instructions to take it easy. Wasn't hard as my chest hurt so bad, I had to walk around with an ice pack to my left breast for 2 days. It still hurts. Then again, I guess I better get used to it.The next two days I spent online comparing films, reading up on ultrasounds, staying up late to find new sites to compare to my pictures. I'm smarter than the average bear. I could read the writing on the x-ray. There was a part of me that knew I had cancer. The shit was just too obvious. Even if I had gotten my med degree in the West Indies, I could see it. Oh, wait, I didn't have one at all and I could tell. It all fell into place. Wanting the extra films, wanting to do the biopsy right away, checking the lymph nodes... I had even found a website that was used internally for a course in reading mammograms. Mine looked a lot like case 27- malignant carcinoma. There was still a part of me that hoped I wasn't so smart. No such luck. I'm fucking brilliant. And I have cancer.

Rock Stars with Breast Cancer

Kylie Minogue - of "Locomotion" Fame
(also the namesake for my Golden Retriever)
Melissa Etheridge
Sheryl Crow
What you haven't heard my album?
It's right up there with David Hasslehoff's in Germany.

Friday, February 24, 2006

I'd like a 50 cent beer and some cancer, please.

Did you know that by the time Maria my tumor got to the size I could feel, I've had cancer for anywhere from 7-10 years (depending on the source you read)?

Wowsers- that's a long time. Yep, breast cancer grows silently, not unlike those extra 10 pounds. So while I was a young lass, kicking it to the Backstreet Boys at some frat party, drinking cheap beer- wait, I just realized the absurdity of boy bands at a frat party- insert booty call music here- I totally had cancer. And nix the beer, the only time I could drink that stuff was upside down in a keg stand. I was more of a mixed drink kind of girl. Do you think my tumor likes amaretto or malibu rum better?

"Maria- I just found a lump named Maria..."

Sing along with me... "and suddenly that name, will never be the same to me." My lump is named Maria. I kind of got bored referring to it as the lump, mass, tumor. So it's Maria. Alan actually named it. Then he broke into song. My husband has so many wonderful qualities too numerous to mention here. Singing- not so much. I have a couple of friends who call, "So, how's Maria today?" She's fine, kinda tired to being poked and prodded. I'm kinda sick of her- hopefully, I'll be evicting her soon.

Some have asked how the hell this all happened. So, some backstory for you. Sometime in November I was getting dressed, taking a shower, something and all of the sudden I noticed it. It's definitely not the size of a pea or anything. I've compared it to about half a BIC lighter. It's not round per se. When I first found it, I totally remember seeing what looked like a bruise. I thought to myself, "Huh? What the hell is that? Hmm.... maybe I knocked the shit out of it or something." (Insert joke here about how I could bruise myself that badly- there of all places.) Anyway, I went along my merry way. Before Christmas, however, the lump hadn't gone away. I made an appointment to se my doctor right away. He said, "Yep, definitely a lump." I told him my bruise theory, and he seemed to think there could be some merit to it. Besides, he said, "You're so young the chance of cancer or anything is next to nothing." Most likely, he told me, it was a cyst or something. I was told to keep an eye on if for a month. Many lumps will change size with your cycle, so it's best to find out if it's hormonally related. Off I went. I worked, I played, I sort of forgot about Maria, to be perfectly honest. Then the beginning of February, I noticed it again. Huh? Still not gone. No bruise or anything, but there was definitely a dimple like thing in the skin. I would later learn that is a sign it can be cancerous and not some normal lump that women get all the time. It sort of freaked me out, so off to the doctor I went again. Not before I talked to my mother and she yelled at me to get it taken care of, like now. Amazing how you can be almost thirty years old (yes- my friends, we alre almost 30- get over it. I've got bigger fish to fry) and your mommy yelling at you brings about the same fear and loathing as if you hadn't cleaned your room this week. I went to my doctor again, who was like, "Wow- that's really a lump." No shit, Sherlock. If that's all you got, call me an M.D. Off I was to an ultrasound and a mammogram. I had those on Valentine's Day. Nothing like celebrating love and romance with a morning of breast violation. That's a story for another day...

Point of this story- don't ignore something funny. Even if we're young. Even if it only affects a teeny tiny group of us this age. Even if you go to a doctor and they find it's nothing. (STEPPING OFF SOAPBOX)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Breast Cancer, Really?

So I'm 29 years old and I have breast cancer. Wow, that sucks. Does someone have a drink? I could really use a drink. I'm not quite sure it's set in yet. Am I supposed to have a nervous breakdown? I've been known to sob in my closet laying among dresses I'm too squishy to fit in. Why do I flip out over clothes and not about cancer. Hmm? I guess we love to revel in made up drama. When the real drama happens, it's time to strap it on and get to business.

I have to admit I think having a blog is a bit self-indulgent. After all, I'm not that special. (well, I am, but not because of cancer). Why not just have a journal? Why shout it from the rooftops? Who the hell cares? There's a couple of reasons. First of all, especially right now, when my email inbox is full of 30 messages and I have voice mails and everyone wants to know what's happening but a. They don't necessarily always want to hear it, and b. I don't want to tell it a million times. Think of this as an electronic phone tree. Looking for test results, press 1, next plans, press 2, a great recipe for a Mexican lasagna, press 3.

The next reason is my friend Dave. He just finished treatment for lymphoma. He's fabulous. Some of you may know him as "Little Harold". He had a blog through treatment http://www.preservationrecords.com/blog/, and I admit I checked it regularly. Partly because it was well written, funny and interesting, partly cuz I cared, and partly becuase it was one of my many procrastinations from work. He told me the blog was so helpful to him personally as well as great way to keep everyone in the loop.

The last reason- it may help somebody. The few nights I was playing armchair internet radiologist (more on that later) I admit I googled "breast cancer blog" and I read many. They scared me, they inspired me, they gave me resources. I feel responsible even now to do something for them. Well, shit, tie me up with big pink ribbons!

It's not to say I'm not freaked out. Cuz I am. Hello? I'm still waiting on that glass of wine... Funny, as I'm not really a drinker (anymore that is) . This is really going to suck. I'm not going to drop dead of this disease, but wow- surgery, radiation, chemotherapy. Damn, the day I found out I had just gotten a really great haircut. And a pedicure. I vow to have great toes this entire process. At least when I lose my hair and it grows back we'll be able to get to the bottom of the great "what is my real haircolor" debate.

I will probably be writing on here with great frequency in the beginning. Partly to the phone tree factor, partly for catharsis, partly for procrastination. Please check back here often. I promise, it won't always be about cancer. Maybe tomorrow's topic? Sectional couches. I am currently searching for a good sectional that doesn't cost the same as a small used car.

ps. if you're wondering who the hottie is in that picture? Really, it came with the frame.

Thanks for all your thoughts, wishes and prayers.