Breasts

My Friends, for Life

Next week I’m going to turn another year older. Just a few years ago, this would have given me nightmares. But now I’m jumping up and down because another year has passed and here I am. So today, I don’t want to talk about all the pain I’m in. I want to talk about all the terrific friendships I have. All that I have to be fortunate for, because, crazy as it seems, I have so much.

So let me tell you all about my awesome friend Michelle. You know, the friend that you have known forever. No matter how many people may come in and out of my life, she is my constant, she is “the” friend. Michelle moved in next door when I was 7 and we have been friends ever since. Michelle doesn’t live next door anymore, so there are some long gaps between seeing or talking to each other, but she’s that friend where none of that matters. It’s like no time passes when we get together. I like to think of Michelle as not only my smart friend but the one who knows me the best. We grew up together. She’s my sister and I love her. She’s become such a strong woman, a great mother and my best friend forever. I’d like those who may read this to know that I don’t file a post without running it by Michelle. She is special, she’s talented, she’s kind, caring and my life is better because she’s in it!!!!

My local “posse” is pretty cool, too. My friend Patty I’ve known since we met at a Gymboree class when our first children were 3 months old. I liked her right away. Sometimes you just get that instant feeling. She smiled at me and I knew we would be friends forever … and we have been. We have raised our children together, we lost her mother together and now she supports me through all my struggles. She’s the one who ran my daughter’s birthday party when I was in the hospital, she’s the one who would drop off food when we would come home from a long day of hospital tests, and she’s the one who bought me my favorite sweater when I lost my breasts and was so ashamed. Patty ROCKS!

I can’t talk about my friends without talking about my David. He is my warm-hearted friend. He gets me. He’s so nurturing and so aware of my feelings and thoughts. He knows my needs before I do. I like to think of David as my gentle lion. When I couldn’t talk, when I couldn’t breathe, he held everyone at bay for me. He fights for me and holds my hand at the same time. He is such an extraordinary man, and I am so lucky to have him as my friend. He would do anything for me, and I for him. I’m never letting David go. He put on high heels for me and my heart belonged to him forever.

My friend Robyn lived here for  just a short time but it was enough to make me a Robyn fan for life. Robyn is so kind and insightful. She can say something in four words that others would say in 10. I truly admire Robyn. She also happens to be married to one of my heroes, a doctor who saved me a lifetime of pain and suffering. Robyn has opened her heart to me and has never let go. I adore Robyn! She is beauty within. She shines, and I’m so lucky to be in her light.

Julie, Jill, Rebecca, Elizabeth, Wendy, Amy, Kathy, Tracey and so many more friends to talk about. These girls set up a meal lineup for me that lasted a whole year. They call me, check on me constantly and breathe life into me, which all keeps me smiling and grateful for their friendships. They take my kids to soccer and call them for sleepovers when I need it most. I’m so blessed with so many people that care about me. I’m here today because of all my wonderful friendships.

Someday I’ll have to go into detail about my unbelievable family, but today was about friendships. I have a difficult time believing that there is a luckier person on this earth than I am. I would have had these relationships regardless of cancer, but cancer has opened my eyes to the depths of my relationships and the beauty of my life. I’m another year older and, damn, I get to live it with the the most wonderful support group ever!!

Hospital Fallout

Hospitals. What can I say about hospitals? I’m glad they are there, they help millions of people — including myself — but it sure can be difficult to stay in them over and over again for any extended period of time. Since November, I’ve been in the hospital four times. This most recent hospital stay, the result of a rampant infection, completely wore me out.

And the fallout continues …

More than a month later, my arm is still healing. You see, I can only use one arm for IVs and blood work. But the hideously strong medications blew out a vein once a day until we needed to resort to using my foot.

My lymphedema has gotten worse. Before, it was just my upper arm. But this latest infection — which led to my latest surgery — caused it to expand to my lower arm and my back. Now, I have to put a soft cast on my arm, then compression garments, then gloves … and don’t even get me started on what they are doing to compress my back and chest. I can’t wear any of my favorite clothes. Now they want to include me in a trial by wearing some sort of vest with arm that I need to plug into every day. Wow, I’m exhausted just writing it down … and that was all just this week. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next week!!!

And have I mentioned the nausea? I think I’ve been nauseous since the day I got my diagnosis. But a whole new level of nausea overcame me with this last infection. First, it was from those evil antibiotics. Then, post-surgery, it was the painkillers. They’d hit a nerve when they put the drain in, and my pain was off the charts. The powerful painkillers they gave me made me so sick I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow. I had to lie really, really still … even moving my eyeballs made the room spin. I had to concentrate on the TV to keep my eyes focused on one spot. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I refused all painkillers. I know it sounds crazy, but I can handle terrible pain easier than I can tolerate the nausea. That kind of nausea just overwhelms and debilitates me.

A month later, the nausea hasn’t gone away. But it’s nothing like it was on the painkillers — except on the two or three days a week that I have physical therapy to try to reverse some of that new lymphedema. Apparently, having a PT mess around with your lymph nodes really messes with your whole system.

No matter what I do, I just can’t get rid of the nausea! It follows me wherever I go. I can’t drive home from my frequent trips to Johns Hopkins without taking every anti-nausea drug in my arsenal. Today, someone told me told popcorn cures nausea. How crazy is that?! I know people mean well when they offer advice like this, but I have serious doubts about most of it. Take ginger, for example. The cancer cookbooks swear by it, and my friends spent months cooking with it. I refuse to eat anything ginger again!!! It doesn’t work for me!! Yuck!!

The worst fallout of this most recent stay was how hard it was on my children. Especially my daughter. When I’m in the hospital, I can’t take her to the bus stop in the morning. I can’t come to school for lunch. I can’t take her to her activities in the afternoon. I can’t be there for her at all.

When I came home from the hospital last month, I noticed she was limping. My 9-year-old soccer star said her ankle hurt whenever she put pressure on it. I didn’t want to let any grass grow under this problem, so, despite my incredible pain and the drainage tubes hanging from my body, I drove her from appointment to appointment to get some answers. I didn’t expect the answer to be related to me.

I know it is so difficult for my kids to have a sick mom all the time. When I came home from the hospital, Bella seemed so lost, so longing to spend time with me, but I could barely get up the stairs to put her to bed. I’m always feeling like I have to make up for time lost or for not being like some of the other moms. No matter how hard I may try, I can’t seem to catch up.

So now, the doctors believe she is expressing her emotional pain in a physical way. When I asked the doctor if it had anything to do with me — with my cancer — he said that it was “very possibly so.” Apparently, this is somewhat common among children, especially girls. The physical pain she feels is very real, and the doctors even prescribed her physical therapy. I prescribed her lots of time with me. I’m happy to say both treatments are producing positive results.

But that feeling of always being behind, of being less …, well, I wonder how my children will look upon their childhood as they grow into adults. I wonder what memories will be stronger: my illness and all I couldn’t do, or my strength and all that I tried to “get in” or accomplish for them. It’s all for them. I hope they know they are the strength that pushes me within and the light that guides me forward . I hope they remember I always wanted them to be worry-free and happy. To not suffer the fallout.

Boobs

When I first got my prothesis during the holiday season, I came home and showed off my new silhouette to my family. I was so proud to have a figure again. What I didn’t realize was how pleased my children were for me. Just as my extended family all started piling into my house to share the holiday meal, my 12-year-old son points to my chest with a huge proud smile on his face and says, “Hey, look what Mom got!!”

For a moment, with my family members still bundled in their coats and perched on threshold of my home, there was nothing but silence. Then they all looked at me, and we all started cracking up.

At first my son was a bit worried he’d done something wrong. He sheepishly said he thought it was OK to tell family, and I assured him that it was fine but hoped he would refrain from telling the mailman and bus driver … what a sweet boy I have!!  I’m so lucky to have such a nice family. So caring. So supportive.

As I learn more about breast cancer, I realize how many differences there can be from person to person, from case to case. In my case, everything is so difficult. Being Stage 4 is not very convenient.

I speak with other women who have had or are living with breast cancer, and everyone’s story is different. For me, I had a double mastectomy about a year ago, and I’m still so far from getting reconstruction. And when I do begin reconstruction, I’m told it will take three or four surgeries. It seems to me everyone I speak to has been either able to have reconstruction at the same time as the mastectomy or within 3 months’ time. I’m a year and counting.

Something is always going wrong. Now granted, I do have Stage 4, so things are a bit trickier. But I didn’t really understand, I guess. Most people I know think it’s crazy that I want to get reconstruction given all I’ve been through and maybe what’s ahead of me, but, right now, I’m determined. Not necessarily for vanity, but for various reasons.

One, I am determined to survive this disease even given my odds. Why should I assume otherwise?

Two, wearing a prosthesis has a major downside. It may look nice under my sweater, but my chest gets all bruised and irritated. When I move one way, it moves another. (I have an expander on my right side, so I wear a prosthesis only on my left.) I want to be able to feel like my breasts are connected  to my body … a part of me. Even though I know they won’t be the same in any way they once were.

And three, my family will be happy if I do this. Let me be clear: I have a great husband and two wonderful kids who love me no matter what and put no pressure on me to get breasts. But I think that, collectively, we will all feel better if I do. I’m not sure if it’s a little bit of, well, … trying to forget I’m sick.  My current deformed body is a constant reminder of my illness. It would be nice to look prettier and maybe be able to forget once in awhile. Is that so bad?? Is it so bad that my family wants that too??