Friday, March 31, 2006

The Harvest

har·vest - n.

-The act or process of gathering a crop.
-The crop that ripens or is gathered in a season.
-The amount or measure of the crop gathered in a season. -The time or season of such gathering.
-The result or consequence of an activity.

v. har·vest·ed, har·vest·ing, har·vests v. tr.

-To gather (a crop).
-To extract from a culture or a living or recently deceased body, especially for transplantation: harvested bone marrow.
-To gather a crop from.
-To receive (the benefits or consequences of an action).

So yesterday I had my eggs harvested. Good times. Let me tell you, I was ready to get those suckers out of me! I showed up yet again at the crack of dawn and was led to the pre procedure room. I was stuck with an IV- again. I was told that I needed another additional shot- in the ass. I swear, there is nothing sacred or personal about my body anymore. The harvest can bring out some nausea, so they were going to give me an anti-nausea drug mixed with demerol. Yum! Demerol- now that's good shit. The nurse told me I might experience "some burning"- that was my first tip-off. Remember the "slight burning" known as hot coals to my breast? Yeah, she shot me up and FUCK! yep, that's exactly what I yelled as she gave me the shot. I couldn't sit down. It hurt so badly it brought tears to my eyes. The nurse told me they don't tell you how bad it is because then some people might refuse it. Thanks bitch.

No worries- after about 20 minutes the drugs kicked in and I was in happy land. I was moved into the room, put in some stirrups, and ... Next thing I know, I'm waking up and eating animal crackers. I left about an hour later. I slept the entire day- I mean, really, I was awake for maybe 20 minutes- enough time to get to the car and then to a bed. I wish I could give you all the dirty details about the pac-man, but I have no idea what happened. I just know I woke up and I've been in pain ever since.

So what's the result you ask? They were able to get 31 eggs. THIRTY-ONE! A good harvest is like 15-20. So I was an over achiever. They were able to fertilize 18 of those eggs, so we now have 18 little pre-kids in a freezer for a rainy day.

Phew- it's good to have that done. Now if only I wasn't still so sore!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Could someone help me find my chin?

Seriously, I think I lost it in all the shots of estrogen. Perhaps it's hiding among the 3 or so faux chins that have sprung up to fool me. Lest I forget I'm in the middle of hormone stimulation, my faux chins are there to remind me. Also, if anyone is interested in some cheek implants, I could hook you up with some of my own stuff. The harvest is tomorrow. Thank bloody God. I've got more huevos in here than that farm they took us to when we were in third grade. Here's the deal, the eggs are almost mature, so I got my final shot (Woo Hoo!) last night. The "procedure" takes places Thursday morning at 9am. The Pac Man commences straight away. I will also get some more twilight sleep. Awesome. The closest thing to getting drunk I get. The following picture is an example of what my ultrasounds have looked like:
That is an ovary. Each one of those little black balloons is a follicle. Mature ones are about 1.7-2.0 cms. This is funny, considering my tumor seemed pretty big and it was about 3.5. Mature follicles will have an egg in them. During the Pac-Man, the needle will aspirate the follicle picking up the egg with it. This is where it gets good. And by good, I mean, "makes you feel shitty" kind of good. See, a "good" IVF cycle will produce about 15 or so eggs. Right now, be it because I actually don't have fertility problems or my age, I am actually an over achiever- I have about 25 or so in one ovary and almost 20 in the other. About half of them, at last check, were 1.5 cm or more. If you've been reading along, you will notice that's even more than last count. This is astounding to me. No wonder I've lost my chin.

While this is great on one level- more oeufs (yeah, high school French is valuable) the better, on the other hand I am a very likely candidate for "hyperstimulation". No, that's not what happens to a sixteen year old boy in the back of a car. See, these little follicles are filled with estrogen, some other hormones, fluid, general stuff. And ovaries are not actually attached to something- they float in your abdominal cavity. (For a refresher course, google women's anatomy- wait, you'll probably have to pay $3.99) So, when these little bad boys burst, all that tasty girl juice (okay, that sounded gross) can fill your abdominal cavity. They take most of the liquid when they aspirate and retrieve, but sometimes they can't get everything. Apparently, I could get quite sick. As in hospital sick. Great, I love hospitals. So for now, we're on hyperstimulation watch-meaning I have to keep hydrated, weigh myself- (as if that's what I want to see right now), and watch for any pain. Extreme pain, that is. I've got some monster pain and cramping. This does nothing for my mood.

Why is it, I have to do all of this and my husband just has to , "ahem" help himself. God must be a man.

Be prepared for good days and bad days

That's what I was told by countless people in "the club" (cancer club to those of you not in the know). Thankfully, I have had way more good days than bad. But every now and then, when you least expect it, it sneaks up on you. You almost forget you have cancer for a few days, but something small hits you and sha-zam! Cancer! Things have been humming along smoothly the last few days. I've been pumping myself full of hormones, doing the baby thing, getting ready to schedule my chemo, yada yada- same old same old.

However, and I would like to blame the extremely high amounts of estrogen, I have been a bit more moody the last few days. I've felt fat, grumpy and a bit sad. I'm not allowed to have blood taken out of my lymph node arm so all my blood draws for the baby harvest are in my right- which now looks a bit like someone beat me up. The Puerto Rican Queen who takes my blood during the week blames the weekend staff. I'm sick of needles. It's starting to hurt. And it all hit me like a catheter yesterday when I got my port in.

I went into the hospital for a "simple outpatient procedure" to get my chemo port put into my chest. I'm told I will love my port. It's like a little quarter sized thing that's attached to a major vein under my skin. When I do chemo or they take blood, they just have to find the port and do it there. No more scary veins. This is "a good thing" as Martha would say. I arrived at the hospital at 7am to quickly get the egg shenanigans out of the way before my port stuff. The blood draw hurt. Par for the course.

I was set up at "interventional radiology"- who knows what that really means, and some nurse put in my IV line into my right hand. It really hurt. I've had them before and it was mildly uncomfortable, but not painful. Not this time. That is where the early hour, the hormones, the pain, the hospital all caught up with me. I burst into tears. This was real. This is my life. My life is hospitals and doctors and needles and procedures. My life is painful sometimes. It's hard. It sucks. It's totally not what I had planned. I have cancer. I have cancer. Oh, shit, I really do have cancer- the words kept echoing in my head.

It's funny, I had a part of my breast cut out and it didn't hit me nearly as much as the little needle in my vein. Funny how life works. Maybe it's because I saw the lumpectomy as a positive thing- I was getting Maria out of Dodge. The rest- it just blows.

Anyway, I had my procedure- another tiny little table. I was awake enough this time to ask them what they do with chubby people- the tech responded, "We balance them very carefully". I was given twilight sleep, which I gotta say, was bloody awesome. Normally I've just been knocked out. This was an amazing feeling of having like 8 cosmos but not having the room spin.

My shitty little nervous breakdown aside, I'm doing fine now. I'm pretty sore where the port is, and I have another awesome set of stitches and scars, but I'm okay. However, I gotta say, the next time I have a "procedure" where they tell me that Tylenol is all I'll need when I go home, I'm going to tell them to fuck off. Why don't we cut you up and glue you back together? It's not a damn headache. I'm not too proud for narcotics. In fact, isn't that one of the perks?

Port in - check
Egg Harvest- tomorrow

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Thought I'd fill you in on my current stats:

Ultrasounds: 7 (3 for babies, 4 for boobs)

Needles: 24 (7- self/husband injected. Not bad for a little over a month)

Cute little gay men: 4

Fatty McFattersons

That's me, fatter than a country pig, as my friend Hope would say. I have been taking my hormone shots for 5 days now and that bloating they warned me about- holy shit! I have had 2 ultrasounds so far and after the first one, my IVF coordinator told me to dial down the dose because I was responding so well. By well, I mean that I feel like I'm about four months pregnant and look like it too. After two days, a friend actually said to me, "Yeah, you do look a little bloated." You think? I love cancer. It makes me fat. Apparently women with breast cancer gain on average like 15 pounds during chemo as well. Cool. Cuz being pasty and bald isn't hot enough. Okay, back to the egg shots. I currently have about 15 follicles in my left ovary that are over 1cm a piece, and about 10 in my right. Oh, lord. Seriously? I'm currently cooking like 2 years worth of periods in this oven. No wonder I feel like a monster. I am not crazy moody or anything, just fat. Alan tried to cheer me up by singing "Baby got Back"...c'mon you know the words, sing along with me now..

I like big butts and I cannot lie,
You other brothers can't deny-

Yeah, yeah, I couldn't decide if it was funny or if I was offended. I chose to find it funny. The latter would be too depressing. But on the sunny side, it's gonna be a good harvest. Perhaps when it's all over (in about a week) I will have a harvest festival- you know, invite some Indians- maybe wear a big hat. I'll talk about the fruits of my labor.

All I gotta say, these kids I might have one day they better be some brilliant, tallented mother fuckers. Cuz if they're assholes- watch out!

Hmm...maybe I am a little moody.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I would like some chemo and baby back baby back ribs, please.

A couple of days ago, I went to see my new oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern. I'm beginning to love Northwestern Hospital. It's very fancy and it doesn't really feel like a hospital because they do a great job of hiding all that tile floor antiseptic smell behind closed doors. Anyway, Robert H. Lurie must have been a pretty rich mofo because the Cancer center is the whole top floor of the hospital. Walking out of the elevator sort of felt like I was going to the Ritz-Carlton of waiting rooms. I'm sure my insurance company will love it too.

The waiting area is huge, with check in places everywhere. Once I figured out just where I hell I had to go, I was given a pager and told to wait anywhere. Sweet, I thought to myself. Just like Chili's. Perhaps my doctor will tell me what the specials are before offering me a perfect margarita. I settled into a chair right next to the huge wall of windows overlooking Lake Michigan, and read a copy of WebMD the magazine. It proceeded to tell me that someone did a study on soap opera comas and how they are unrealistic. This made me chuckle. What? You mean real life isn't actually like TV?

Anyway, I was paged (appetizer sampler anyone?) and went to yet another teeny tiny room. Yet another few people felt me up. I swear, I haven't gotten this much action since I worked on cruise ships. Some oncology fellow asked if I had experienced any other symptoms, like rapid weight loss. I looked at him and asked, "Does it look like I've had weight loss?" See, I was actually losing weight on purpose before I was diagnosed. Then I stressed and wallowed. I told myself Maria liked chicken McNuggets. I digress...

Anyway, I met my oncologist. I liked her. Seemed like a real hard ass. Younger. I immediately noticed her awesome $5k watch. Chopard Happy diamonds- red leather band. Classy, yet fun. (Remember I was the shoppping guide on ships- I notice these things.) Cancer must pay well. She told me the following-

No, don't go back in and take any more nodes. Chemo will kill it.

We'll pump you so full of drugs you shouldn't feel any horrible nausea. (sweet- drugs)

Shave your head/cut it really short after your first treatment- it's a lot less traumatizing them finding foot long clumps of hair on your pillow or in your drain.

Chemo will start in a few weeks after the baby thing.

I'll need some crazy heart scan and my chemo port put in before we actually start.

I will be getting 8 cycles of chemo- each 2 weeks apart. In essence, 16 weeks of chemo- 4 months of good times.

Okay, so that about covers it. So off I go to meet Jeffrey, my patient representative. Patient Rep- think of him as my concierge at the Cancer Ritz. He schedules my scans, keeps in touch with me, gets me theater tickets. He's a wonderful little queen. He reminded me of the wonderful nurse I had before my surgery. The queens make me feel a little bit more at home. He got a wig catalog out of a closet. Alan made some inappropriate joke (mostly to himself) about closets. He laughed at his brilliance for twenty minutes. I asked Jeffrey where the chemo takes place. Everyone I know has had chemo in like a big room with a bunch of other people. Oh, no sweetheart, he tells me. Not here at the Ritz. He takes me to what I call the penthouse. Not all chemo rooms are like this, but the one he shows me is the equivalent of a $500,000 studio apartment. Wall of windows, overlooking the lake, Navy Pier, etc. There's a bed and a chair. My own computer and TV with DVD selections. It was super sweet. All thoughts I had entertained about possibly doing chemo in the suburbs were dashed when I saw the penthouse. It's like going back to Target sheets after sleeping on 600 threat count sateen. I'm a chemo snob. Sue me.

So that's where I'm at. Chemo will swing in to high gear in a few weeks. I get my port in next Tuesday. My oncologist seems to think we don't need to do any other surgery of any kind. I want her watch. If I have to do this chemo thing, at least it will be in style.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

It's My Cancer and I'll Nap if I Want to

Nap if I want to,
Nap if I want to,
You would Nap too if it happened to you.

I've started taking naps sometimes. In fact, I just woke up from about a 3 hour one. St-reeee-ch! It started when I just came out of surgery- then I was crazy doped up. I still just get a little tired sometimes. But I've decided I will continue to take naps whenever I feel like it. Thankfully I have a job that makes this possible. See, I never used to take naps. I never had time. Instead, I had plenty of time to talk about how I didn't have time. I've decided to make time. Naps are dreamy. Tee hee! And I'm not going to feel guilty about it, either. Who's going to fault the girl with cancer for taking a little horizontal time? I consider this practice for chemo and all that jazz.

Too many times we keep ourselves from doing what we want because we don't have time. In reality, maybe if we took a little bit more time to take care of ourselves, maybe we'd be more productive, creative, patient- whatever. Maybe that's just me rationalizing my naps. Hey, I have cancer- find whatever rationalization works for you.

Other than that, I'm feeling better. My boob is still blue a bit from my surgery. The dye, not a bruise- the bruise is yellow actually. My arm is the problem. It's still very sore from the lymph node stuff. See, they sever a few nerves when they take out lymph nodes so I get a little tingling sometimes. It also hurts a bit and I have to do exercises. Other than that, I'm golden.

So it's 5pm. Maybe I should do something today.

Maybe not.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Happy Birthday Alan!

My husband turns 26 today. I met him about a week after his 21st birthday. I remember it clearly. We were in the officer's bar on a ship. He thought he was the fishizzle. "I just turned 21" he told me. I informed him that made him younger than my little brother. He came back with a pretty witty comeback not appropriate for print. (At least not when our relatives read this). We were buddies. He lived across the hall from me. He used to stumble back to his room at night singing "Fly me to the Moon" at the top of his lungs. It was endearing at best, mildly annoying at worst.

We were drunk for probably the first 6 weeks we knew each other. Then we were apart. Then together. Long story short- Alan has been the best surprise of my life. Who knew that the drunken 21 year bass player would become the rock that makes this whole drama easier.

Alan is brilliant, determined and ambititous in a way I am not, hard working, disciplined- he's a rock. When I have flown off the handle in the past (and I admit it, it's happened) he's been steadfast and real. He's a step ahead of me in almost everything. I walk in the room saying, "Hey honey- did you do such and such?" Already done, he says. And right now, more than ever, I cannot imagine anyone else to be with me. Or anyone else I would rather have at my side. Whether it's making a list of what to pack for the hospital or handling all my insurance, he is the best.

We've only been married a year and a half. I know when he said "in sickness and in health" he had no idea the sickness part would be so early. And on days like this, when we should be celebrating, I hate that we have to worry about whether I can stay out late or if I'll feel okay. I hate that right now I can't really take care of him. Because he deserves it.

If any one of you are lucky enough to have an Alan in your life- someone you can lean on completely- someone who makes your life better because they are in it- someone who would rather suffer themselves than watch you in pain- someone who makes you laugh no matter what's happening, consider yourself lucky and go give them a hug. You never know when you will need them more than ever. And if you don't- you will one day. And they will so be worth the wait.

Happy birthday honey- I love you.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Time for a goal...

A couple of days after I was diagnosed, Alan told me he had sent away to get information to walk in the Breast Cancer 3 Day. This seemed a little unlike him to me. Maybe it was his need to do something- anything. It was his way to support me, do whatever he was able to do, fix something, whatever.

Anyway, the info came to our house and I read it and I watched the DVD and I cried. And I decided I needed a goal. Maybe it will serve as an impetus to get me out of bed one morning if I'm too tired- or go outside and walk around my new neighborhood if I just feel like being a grouch. Hell, maybe "training" for a 60 mile walk will help me lose the pounds I will put on by ovarian pac-man, chemo and too many cookie baskets. Either way, I decided I am going to do this walk. Alan's going to do it with me. We're doing the Atlanta one from Oct 20-22. That should be right about the time I'm finishing up treatment, so I'll probably be the poster kid- all bald and sexy. Hopefully it will be a chance to celebrate my success and help others. I have seen first hand why research is so damn important- this is the least I can do.

So expect the fundraising email to hit your mailboxes some time in the next few months. Between the two of us Alan and I have to raise like $4500. We also started a team- Team Courtney- original, I know. A couple people have mentioned the possibility of joining Alan and I for the weekend and walking with us. I can't tell you how much that would mean to me. so if you think you might like spending a wonderful fall weekend in the South, being all inspirational and shit, drop me an email. I'll bring the sweet tea.

And for everyone, please check out

It's been a long day- I need a drink. Are bloody mary's part of the training plan?

You win some...

You know the rest.

I had my follow up appointment with my surgeon yesterday. I also got my pathology report. Unfortunately it did not tell me what I really wanted to know- what color is cancer, anyway? I did, however, get all the information I was waiting to know for the last month. As with anything, it was a mixed bag. And as with anything involving this damn breast cancer, with new answers come a whole lot of new questions. And decisions. I hate these decisions.

For those of you who may be lost in the next paragraph, I suggest a refresher in breast cancer terms.

The most important thing is that the margins around my tumor (the sections of tissue they took out around the cancer) were clear. That means the surgeon, in theory at least, got it all out. The downside... well, Maria happened to be twice as big as they thought. 3.5 cm to be exact. See, mammograms and ultrasounds are only 2 dimensional. Maria apparently had some junk her in trunk and had some extra on the back end. She is latina, after all. (My tumor is just like J-Lo). So that sucks. Another shitty thing- my lymph nodes. They took out 6. Everyone has a different amount of these suckers- I have a bunch. They took out the first level of nodes in my surgery. That's why I had the radioactive mapping- to find them. While I was on the tiny table, a pathologist tested them and they were all negative. I was told that a very small amount (like 10-15%) of the time, they will find a positive node when they are actually tested into he lab after surgery. Guess what? I'm special. I did have one tiny bit o' cancer in one lymph node.

There's a problem with this. See, standard of care means that I should go back for another surgery to have all my lymph nodes taken out on my left side as a precaution. My surgeon doesn't know if it's necessary, seeing as I'll have chemo anyway. I'm meeting with an oncologist on Tuesday to discuss my chemo and whether or not we should go back in and get them. Let me tell you, not looking forward to another surgery- this one involving an overnight stay and some sort of drainage device under my arm, but if I have to, I have to. Shit happens.

The hardest part about this. I went from, "Oh, stage 1, good they caught it so early." to "Just kidding, you are Stage 2B." The fact that all of the sudden the cancer is in fact worse than we thought in terms of size and spread blows. In terms of treatment, nothing changes. It's probably more of a mental thing than anything else. The best part is that the margins were clear and they did get it all out of my breast. Then again, it had started to spread.

In the meantime, I'm hanging out, back to work. I've still got some pain and I'm a little more tired than usual, but hey- it just gives me an excuse to take a nap. And my boob is still blue from the dye they injected. That's good fun.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Good news!

Yippee! I got my BRCA (breast cancer gene) test back and they came back negative. Yep, that's right, no bad genes for me. (Except maybe the ones that didn't make me taller, or the ones that made me practically blind, etc. etc.)

The downside- now there's no easy explanation for why I got breast cancer so young. So now my family will go back to hypothesizing where it came from- the water, some x-rays...who knows.

But I'll take the upside any day :)

Holy Pottery Barn, Batman!

The last few days I have been resting nicely. Other than the dull ache, the dizziness from the pain pills and the tingling in my arm (minor nerve damage from taking out my lymph nodes)- hell, maybe I could have forgotten I was "recovering". Except for the gifts. I've received flowers, chocolate covered strawberries, books, blankies, cards- every day it's like Christmas. And every time something comes, I am reminded that there are people out there who care and are thinking of me. It's a nice thought.

Case in point. I write for a living. Writers, by nature, are a little overworked and underappreciated. This lends itself to a touch of bitter cynicism. Sarcastic, inappropriate humor- sure, that too. Perhaps it's too much time listening to our own words and the hum of a computer. Maybe we don't get out enough. Maybe we're just bitches- whatever.

Until something like this happens. I have been in awe of the wonderful people I work with. The people who normally put up such a good front at being tough and not giving a shit about anything. These people have offered prayers, family members, themselves- anything to help one of their own. I am truly blessed. I had once joked about registering for cancer at Pottery Barn- who needs flowers when you can have a terrarium lamp? They not only took this to heart, they sent me this more than generous gift certificate. I will now be able to forget about cancer for a few hours and enjoy some retail therapy. They knew, as so many have, that the way to make me feel better was to remind me that I have a whole life outside of cancer. A house, dogs, a script to write- life goes on.

So thank you. Thank you for the thoughts, the prayers, the good wishes. Thank you for the presents. Thank you for the phone calls and the cards. Thank you for reminding me why all this is worth fighting for. And you writers- yeah, you. I see you lurking at the keyboard. I know you're really warm and fuzzy at heart. And don't worry, I won't tell anyone.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Extreme Makeover Home Edition

So here's our house! We have a closing date! This thing is being built so fast I swear there's a big coach bus parked in front. And some annoyingly loud guy telling me to shop at Sears. One might argue about the questionable quality of workmanship such speed might fortell, but hell, I've got a home warranty. More importantly, I've got brick! We will be closing the first week of May, pending chemo dates, of course. God forbid I forget about cancer for a minute.

If a kid with diabetes can do it...

What's next?? Well, as I wait for my pathology reports and my BRCA gene tests, it's time to move on to the next phase of the journey... back to ovarian pac-man. Some time this week, I will begin the fun that is known as fertility shots in preparation for IVF (In-vitro Fertilization). Did I mention a lot of shots? On Thursday Alan and I were prepped for our exciting couple of weeks. Alan shoots me up in the evening starting on day 3- that goes for a while. About 7 days later we start an additional shot to keep me from ovulating naturally, then once everything is "ready" (also known as having about 15 or so follicles ready to explode out some eggs), I will get one final shot to get them ready for harvest. The sheer volume of needles and drugs is enough to make my head spin. I swear, we upped the value of out car about 5k just by putting the meds in the trunk. The shots are "no biggie" she tells us- sure, no biggie for you. How many of you ladies would trust your significant other to shoot you up? Let me play for you a scenario:

Alan: Okay, Courtney- give me some thigh. Or do you want it in the belly?

Courtney: Please, could we not draw attention to the squishy bits?

Alan: Thigh it is, then. (twisting pen needle device) Do you remember how this works?

Courtney: Didn't you watch the DVD?

Alan: Who needs instructions? She said little kids with diabetes do this to themselves all the time. How hard can it be? Okay, Count to three. One, Two..

Courtney: Ouch! Fuck! What happened to three?

Alan: Wanted to catch you off guard. Oh, man, I didn't get it in enough. Hold on, I gotta push it in a little more.

Courtney: Ow, Ow, I swear to God, your kid had better be worth this crap.

Alan: C'mon. Have you looked at me? Of course it's worth it.

I have been told that one of the side effects of this madness can be "some bloating". Imagine how bloated you feel when you're trying to make just one egg. Well, they're going to try to get like 15-20 of these suckers. Some, my ass. Our IVF coordinator (yes, I have one- just one of the many people in my neighborhood, like the oncologist and the plastic surgeon, etc. etc.) told me to let them know if I experienced "extreme" weight gain. What is extreme, you ask? Good question. I asked the same thing. Apparently extreme means 3 pounds IN A DAY. (I guess 2 pounds in a day is par for the course). So I get to be pumped full of estrogen and chubby. Cancer rocks. I've been told my ovaries will grow to about the size of tennis balls as they grow lots of egg follicles- so big, in fact, I may be able to feel them through my skin. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, a dollar a feel.

Okay, all this wittiness has left me spent. I'm still on some drugs and they make me a little dizzy sometimes. I need a nap.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Wow, honey- check this out!

It's a couple days post surgery and I have to say- I'm doing much better than I (or anyone else) thought I would. Except for needing a little drug induced nappy nap here and there, it's been okay. I've actually been a little bored. Thank God there's retail therapy. The surgery itself was relatively uneventful. I had to be there at 6:30 am so I wasn't really awake for the beginning and the waiting. I wasn't awake enough to be nervous, freak out, anything. First I had radioactive isotopes injected into me so they could map my lymph node system. They told me the injections would "pinch and burn a little"- if by burning they meant injecting hot coals into my breast, sure, just a little. Then I was set up for pre-op, where a wonderful gay nurse chatted with us about living in Peoria and why he had to get out of there. That 12 year old plastic surgeon resident (okay, maybe 21, not 12) was there again. They drugged me and took me into the operating room. The operating room was very cold, and the table they operate on is seemingly much too small. That's all I remember.

I woke up freezing and was covered with blankets. In the recovery room there was a much too chatty guy who obviously didn't have his breast cut into. The some guy coded. There was altogether too much activity then. I was moved into another recovery room and my mom and Alan joined me. I went home about 2 hours later. Faster service than McDonald's drive-thru.

The best part- blue pee. Yep, think blue curacao. Or blue raspberry Kool-Aid. They injected me with blue dye to visually be able to see the lymph nodes (as if checking me with a Geiger counter isn't enough) and so here you go- I went to the bathroom in the hospital and it took all the strength I had not to open the door and yell down the hall to Alan, "Hey, honey- come here. You gotta see this." This is a much funnier visual when you see me in the hospital gown, complete with holding my own IV bag and surgery bed head. I guess when I go to chemo my pee will be red. All the colors in the rainbow. Who says cancer isn't fun?

So things are great. What's next you ask? Waiting for results. That will help me decide the next steps (what kind of chemo, do I have to go back in for surgery?) Also the next few weeks will be filled with embryo harvesting. You think blue pee is exciting- wait until you hear about my tennis ball sized ovaries.

Friday, March 10, 2006

I'm home

I'm home and everything went well. They didn't find anything in my lymph nodes but they took out a couple to be sure. I was home by 5pm. I'm actually feeling pretty good, but that might be the drugs. Yum....drugs. Something with more narcotics than vicoden. Sweet. I've been able to sit up and chat and see my doggies. Actually better than we all expected. Who knows how I'll feel tomorrow, but for now, everything is good. Thank God.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Warning: Sorority Pref Nite Tears Ahead!

Danger! Danger! Kleenex needed. Splotchy face. If you are all that girl (or guy) that cries- I would advise not watching this at work. Oh, hell- if you don't have cancer maybe this will just look like an erectile disfunction commerical with funny subtitles. (When you see the pristine scenery you'll understand. Side effects are mild to moderate. Please consult a physician if tears last longer than 3 hours.)

When I was first diagnosed, (or dx'ed as the lingo goes) I was sent this link. I probably watch it a few times a week. It's kinda long, and I gotta say, as a "ahem"- musician sort of in my past life, I gotta tell you I think the tempo is a bit slow. But it's pretty moving. The song on the movie was also played at my wedding (and about 4 million and 7 others) so it reminds me of that. I cannot watch it without tears. It's the good tears, though. Thought I'd share it. It's about 5 minutes long and take a minute or two to load. Feel free to pass it on to anyone. It's not like I have rights over the thing.

I may have cancer. But cancer doesn't have me.

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

I'll tell you how- you kick the bitch out. Maria is being evicted Friday. Thursday night a few friends will be joining me for a going away party for Maria. Bon Voyage! You think I can wear body part paraphenalia like those sketchy girls do for bachlorette parties at bars? Instead of penis shirts and straws, tits everywhere! In case it's giving you any ideas- I'll pass, thank you. I sort of like the idea of an evening with friends, chilling out. It keeps me from focusing too much on the next day's events. I'm not freakng out yet, but who's to say what I will be thinking Thursday night. Besides, Alan and I will have tales to tell after our day at the fertility doctor. The week following surgery I will reclining in the lap of- well, something- at the Casa de Parentals. I wonder if I can get a little bell to ring and a husband, mother or father will come running? Doubt it. One of them would likely throw it at me. Come on now, I've got cancer. Be nice.

I may be out of comission for a couple of days in terms of blogging. However, you can call my cell or my parents for an update if need be. Also, Alan may be making a guest blog appearance with an update. I cannot be held accountable for his actions. I'm his wife, not his keeper.

I've been told there are co-workers, friends (Shad- that means you. What's up with your name, dude?) and families now checking this thing. Hello to you all. Thanks for making me feel popular. It's like I'm Homecoming Queen at the most fucked up school ever.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt...

It has come to my attention that some people feel I might be masking a bit of unhealthy denial in a veil of sarcasm and gallows humor. “You do know you have cancer, right?” Yep, I respond. Is this a front? Perhaps. Is it the way I’ll get through it? You bet. How do I know this is real? I’ll tell you how. I woke up in a cold sweat last night after one of my now all too common breast cancer dreams. In this one, I went in for my lumpectomy and they found another lump, plus it had spread to my nodes plus it had spread throughout my body. After sitting in the recovery room with Will Ferrell, who funny enough, also had to pay his cable bill, I was greeted by a recently killed off character of All My Children. Ethan told me that those of us with a short time left should live it up and he refused to let me pay for whatever I had just purchased at some unnamed store. After all, he owned Cambias Industries. But if he’s so rich, why did he live in the townhouses by my parents’ old house?

While often fused with randoms, the cancer dreams do come fairly frequently now. And yes, I’m scared. I’m scared that this will change my life forever, not in the “you changed my life for the better”, forever, but more like the “how will I recover from this” forever. I’m scared that I will live in fear of this coming back for the rest of my life. I’m scared my relationship with my husband will change. I’m afraid people will think I am different than I always was. I’m afraid I won’t be looked at the same way (really and metaphorically). I’m afraid I’ll get bald and fat. (thanks chemo) I’m afraid I won’t be strong enough. I'm afraid I'll lose my characteristic self-confidence. I’m afraid I’ll never have kids. And I’m afraid if I do, they may have to see me go through all this again. I’m afraid of the shots I’ll have to have daily to help ensure those kids can happen. I’m afraid of the pain. I’m afraid I will have to cut both my breasts off- just to be sure. I’m afraid that won’t be enough. I’m afraid some of my friends won’t be able to take it. I’m afraid that 6 months from now, when this is probably at its worst, people will have forgotten. That the emails and phone calls will stop. I’m afraid to move to a new city where I know no one to help me. I’m afraid I won’t learn enough from this. Did I mention I’m afraid it will come back?

And I’m pissed. I’m pissed that this messed up what was otherwise turning out to be a pretty damn perfect life I was making. I’m pissed that we couldn’t buy the mini cooper convertible because we should plan to spend 15k on fertility treatments. I’m pissed that I just bought this big ol’ house planning to fill it with kids and now I’ll have empty rooms. I’m pissed that it happened to me and not someone else. I’m pissed that I have to put my husband and my family through this. I’m pissed at my body. I’m pissed that I have to put so many plans on hold. I’m pissed that I can’t make plans to show my dog or learn to ballroom dance because right now I don’t know if I’ll have another surgery or I may be in chemo. I’m pissed at the uncertainty. I’m pissed that I have to be so goddamn rare. And I’m pissed at myself for feeling sorry for myself. After all, so many people have it so much worse.

So yes, I know I have cancer. It blows. But I’ll stick with the witty observations and clip art. It’s much better than the alternative.

The Sad Eyes

A couple of days after I was diagnosed, I was speaking to my friend Dave (you know, the one who also had cancer) and he asked me if I'd gotten "the sad eyes" yet. Sad eyes? Huh? No, I replied. But then again, most of my friends are long distance and I haven't actually seen anyone other than my husband and my family.

Until this weekend.

Alan and I were out Friday night and ran into one of our friends around here. She's fabulous. A real contributer. Alan must have told her becuase she walked right up to me, didn't say a word, and BAM! There were the sad eyes. The eyes that say, "Oh, God, you might die." or at the very least, "I don't know what to say." Still wordless, she hugged me and gave me the double hug- you know, the hug with a little pulse in the middle as she hugs me tighter. Then I could hear the quiver. I've gotten used to the quiver. I hear the quiver on the phone a fair amount. I like to nip that quiver in the bud. "Shut up. Stop it." I say.

While appreciate the emotions that the sad eyes and the quiver portray, it is sad to me to see an otherwise fiesty chick speechless. We all know that is not in our nature. So no sad eyes, please. I personally cannot take it. I won't cry because of the situation, I'll cry because you're about to. I call it "sorority pref night syndrome". So if you see me, please say instead, "Oh man, Courtney, this sucks. Can I buy you a drink?" Or, if you prefer "I'm so sorry. Did you hear about Nick Lachey?"

Cuz I'm not any different. I've always loved a challenge.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Why Dogs are Better than People

Dogs are wonderful. Who else will spend hours entertaining themselves with their own tail? Who wakes you up every morning with kisses? Who is always happy to see you when you come home? Doggies, that's who.

When I got the call telling me I had cancer, I started to cry in my parent's laundry room. Kylie, my golden retriever ran straight to me and started to whine and get in my lap. She's very sensitive- a lover, not a fighter. Her little face says, "Mommy, I love you. Don't worry, I'll take care of you." How can you not feel better after that?

Harry, our newfie, is a big doofus. He's like Snuffleupagus with a big huge tongue. He's the kisser of the family. Whenever I'm freaked out, I just have to sit in front of Harry- at 115 pounds his head is bigger than mine. He will give you kisses until you can't breathe. Gross, maybe. But guaranteed to make you laugh.

Dogs never fault you for your moods. They are always ready to play, to cuddle or just to listen. Even better, they rarely talk back. Even husbands don't look at you adoringly all the time. Better yet, at least for me, dogs are a reminder that even when I feel like shit, and even though I'm sure it's going to get way worse before it gets better, there will always be some puppies waiting to greet me when I walk back in the door.

Sometimes you need comfort that only a four legged furball can provide.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Get out those notebooks!

Or, if you were like me in my classes in college- go grab the paper, US Magazine, or hell, just ditch this entry. It's time to learn a little bit about breast cancer. First of all, let me preface by saying the only science class I've taken was "Diversity of Life"- otherwise known as the easiest class at Northwestern. Seriously- even easier than Breathing for Credit. I write soap operas, so what I write here is like Cliff Notes- if you want the full story, please read an actual book. If you are ever interested in learning more about Breast Cancer, a great website is, funny enough,

There are many different types of breast cancer and how you treat it is just as varied. So here's a primer for you. That way, when I talk about pathology reports, treatment options, etc, you'll be at least sort of prepared.

Let's start with the basics. Boobs are not just for wet t-shirt contests. Their primary function is for milk making. (Insert Udder joke here). The first breast cancer distinction is here. There is ductal breast cancer (Originating in the ducts that carry the milk) and lobular cancer (the lobules are where milk is actually made.) Ductal is much more common and lobular is actually a bit more scary. Lobular is a sneaky little bitch- hard to find and has a higher chance of showing up in the other breast. So, if you're going to have breast cancer, ductal= good and lobular=bad.

Right now, without taking Maria out, I have ductal with "lobular characteristics". We won't know what that means until Maria's in a jar and on some slides. I do know, if I have lobular, many argue I should have a double mastectomy because my chance of recurrence in the other breast is a lot higher.

Okay, next thing to worry about- how big is the sucker? Mine's about 1.7 cm. This is still stage 1, although if they find cancer in my lymph nodes, I will then be stage 2. My cancer is big enough to feel and big enough to worry about, but not so big to panic. (Okay, maybe still panic, but you get it.) The bummer about Maria's size is that any tumor over 1 cm, especially with my age, makes me candidate for chemo. Lucky me.

My cancer is invasive, meaning it's broken out of its little cancer shell and started to move. This is obvious by my star pattern on my mammogram. Cancer that hasn't yet broken out is "In Situ". Usually you don't have chemo with that one because it hasn't gotten into your body.

Okay, so to keep score, so far I am stage 1 (pending lymph node biopsy), IDC- invasive ductal carcinoma.

Another thing to note is the pending results of my BRCA test. (Are you falling asleep yet?) There is a very small portion of the population that has this gene mutation that makes them like 60% (some say almost 80%) likely to get breast cancer (as opposed to about 14% normally%). Even though I don't have family history, my young age makes it a possibility. A very small fraction of breast cancers are a result of this gene, but it's still something I'd like to rule out. Plus, there is anecdotal evidence of a link between BRCA and colon and prostate cancer- both of which I have been lucky enough to have in my family. I should be getting the results of this very expensive test that insurance only covers a fraction of in about 2 weeks. If I were to test positive, that is another reason for the double mastectomy. There's also an argument for taking out the ovaries, but we'll cross out that bridge when we come to it.

Finally, another big question right now is my hormone receptor status. I could be estrogen positive (er+) or progesterone positive (pr+). This is actually a positive you want to be, because it means the cancer is susecptible to hormone therapy. So after chemo, I'd take a drug called tamoxifen for 5 years. I've been told the likelihood of being er/pr+ is smaller in younger women, so we'll see. Another funny (by funny I mean Alanis Morrisette fucked up ironic) this is if I'm er+, it makes it much more complicated to get preggers eventually, due to the crazy estrogen being pregnant causes. And you definitely cannot get pregnant while taking tamoxifen- unless you want a kid with 5 arms and 3 eyes.

Round up time! Lobular- bad = mastectomy (as least for me)
Lymph nodes positive= stage 2 and more drama
BRCA- bad= mastectomy
ER/PR+ = good for cancer fighting, bad for baby making

The final thing is my her2neu status. I could go into this long song and dance (what rhymes with proteins?) but the point is, if I'm positive for this, it's bad. It's a sign that the cancer is aggressive and needs more chemo- in fact, there's a chemo style drug called herceptin that I'd need for ONE YEAR. Yep, chemo for a year. That's hot. Apparently, I will be too- in flashes.

I think that's it for now. Please email or comment if you have questions. I will know the answers to these questions after the pathology report comes back after my surgery. The answers will tell me if I need a mastectomy, what kind of chemo, etc. etc.

It's a real pain in the ass.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ovarian Pac-Man

Next Thursday, the day before I give Maria the heave-ho, I have an exciting morning at the Fertility Doctor. As I've mentioned earlier, one of the downsides of this cancer shenanigans is I may go into menopause. One could sit back and reflect on the amount of money I could save by never buying tampons again, but I won't. See, as a 29 year old, I was sort of ready for the whole baby thing. In fact, Alan and I were practicing quite hard for this very event. It's amazing how at 17 we were told we would get pregnant by even looking at some boy, but in fact, getting pregnant is kind of hard. There's a reason why they call it a miracle. You will probably see baby rantings in this blog a fair amount, as I have to say, aside from the disease, death, pain- this is the number #1 shitty thing about getting breast cancer so young. First, I could go into menopause- the chemo does it to you. Among other delights like hair loss, nausea, possible weight gain... yuk. If the "chemopause" isn't permanent (and the younger you are, the more likely it won't be- thank heaven for small favors), you could be on a drug for 5 years that will prevent you from getting pregnant. If you aren't eligible for that drug, there's still the dilemma of waiting, as most cancers recur in the first 5 years after diagnosis. Most doctors will tell you to wait. Then there's the whole issue of recurrence in general- how aggressive can we be now because you don't want to have to go through this crap with a little kid or two around.

Needless, to say, it sucks. So off we went to hedge my bets and see a doctor. Thankfully, I have a donor (Alan) and we will go through the process of harvesting embryos. What does this entail, you ask? Well, first I will be pumped with enough estrogen to make even a beauty salon full of southern women cringe. This hormone extravaganza will last about two weeks. This, I'm told, will make me SUPER FUN. If by fun you mean crazy, yes- then fun. I keep thinking about Charlotte on "Sex and the City" getting shots in the ass every night right before she went crazy at the cardboard baby. I will do all this while recovering from surgery. We can't start chemo until this little ditty is taken care of. Then the Pac-Man Begins.

Pac-Man. That's kind of how my doctor described the procedure. See, my ovaries will be bursting with little eggs. Then they'll take this little device- there's a medical name for it but please, they're sticking something in my whoo-hah, I'm not one for specifics. It has a camera on it, but it's nowhere near as fun as a camera between your legs should be. They will insert it into my ovaries and then- his words, "It's kind like a video game." They will go around and try to capture as many little eggs as possible. Fifteen minutes later and done. Yep, weeks of foreplay and it's all over in fifteen minutes. Who says this isn't like the real thing?

Then they take the eggs, Alan's "deposit" (His job is way easy), and scramble them up. Voila! Little half breed Brits. They will then be frozen and saved for a rainy day. Hopefully, I may not even need them- hopefully we can do it au naturale one day. But for now, this will be the closest thing to making babies we get for a while. That sucks. But thank God I have some of these options. I am beginning to thank God every day for the research, the money, the doctors- everything that makes it medically possible for me to even have these choices. If it's a choice of no babies or Pac-Man, I'll take Pac-Man any day.

Ahead of Schedule

So in the middle of all this drama, we're building a house. Thankfully, we're ahead of schedule! We should be closing in May and moving the beginning of June. Looking at pictures of my house and mentally decorating is one of the high points in the chaos. The bummer, I'll be in the middle of chemo when we move, the upside- I probably won't have to do much packing! This is my house- eventually, it will have red brick and shutters and a big double door, oh my!