It’s been three months now since my last PET scan, the scan that looks for how active my cancer is and tells me if I have any new spots. To recap: scan 1 showed only bone involvement and only in the spine area, scan 2 showed decreased activity of the bony metastases and some healed liver spots. So now to scan three. I could do a bunch of nice lead up to the scan talking about how I only ate eggs for a day and was forced to go 1.5 days without coffee, but I think you all would like me to cut to the chase. The scan showed that everything is stable. Good right?! I should be super excited, and I am happy. Just not super jump-around excitement. I was hoping for a decrease. I am confused by the liver spots. He made it clear after the first scan that staying only in the bones is a good prognostic indicator. But those little buggers sit there inactive not labeled as healed, just haunting me. My oncologist told me that they will call bone lesions healed, but not liver. It was unclear why, another confusion in the land of cancer. All in all, good news, and I will take it as that and push those pesky liver spots out of my mind.
I also got some blood results back. Last month my cancer markers were up a bit. He postulated that it could be due to the fact that I had to drop my Ibrance dosing down as my white blood cell count, specifically my absolute neutrophil count, dropped too low. I postulate that this may be due to my body coming off the steroids. Either way it went from a 70’s number to 88. This increase did make me worry that I was going to have an increase in cancer activity, but as I said the scan showed clearly it did not. The bloodwork showed that I had a slight lowering of the cancer marker to 84. So good? Again confusing. He is still unsure if my cancer marker means anything as it went from normal right before the surgery to sixty something after the surgery. Another confusion, keep taking data and wait for some sort of correlation I have decided to get all my bloodwork printed since the March diagnosis, and I will be inputting that into an excel spreadsheet to help myself track the data. What can I say? I love numbers.
I can pour over these numbers forever and think to what they mean for the future, but that really gets me nowhere. Cancer is all about recentering your thinking. So that’s where I need to be. Where am I now? How do I feel now? Today I slung my first bag of pellets. That’s forty pounds of I feel pretty darn good. Eight months after getting one and a half bones removed I can get a bag of pellets off the ground, into the house, and into the pellet stove! I call that pretty awesome. I can pick up my younger two children and carry them around. I did my first solo run after doing some training with my kiddos. That run took me 2 miles, no stopping! That’s not bad given that 6 months ago I was just getting the neck brace off and being cleared for driving. So if you want to know how I am doing? Imagine my running. Imagine my carrying bags of pellets. No matter what my scan says, the rest of me is doing pretty damn good. What’s next? Running a half marathon, and being able to pick up my next oldest kiddo: that’s 120lbs.
At the end of February 2018 I was diagnosed with Metastatic breast cancer. I went from sitting on a gymnastics bleacher watching one of my kids have a blast, to being in a neck brace in a hospital room talking about my surgery for the next day. All within 3 hours. Once I went into surgery it was kind of all over for me. My family was left in a waiting room for hours trying to process what just socked them in the gut. The baby of the family had metastatic cancer with an as of yet unknown prognosis. I was blissfully sleeping while they wondered how bad the bones of my neck had been eaten away by the cancer. How many layers would be fused? How would I be affected by the surgery? Would I have permanent damage to my spinal cord? I was gone for about 8 hours. That’s eight hours of constant worry and unknown after a night of basically no sleep. Who was that worse for? The one who was sleeping for what seemed like 5 minutes, or the family who had 8 hours of worry? Obviously the family.
Cancer is not one person’s diagnosis. It is a diagnosis for the close friends and family. They worry about every ache and pain. They worry about not making you worry. They worry about what if…? They care for you when you cannot care for yourself. Shoot after the surgery I had it fairly easy. I lay around for a few months while my family picked up all the slack. My in-laws watched the kids so my family could be at the hospital. My older kids helped cook. My mom cooked, cleaned, and drove us all everywhere! My husband cared for the kids and was a rock for everyone while he attempted to maneuver around everyone who was helping or wanted to help. Shoot the whole east mountain community came together to help support me! This is not a individual disease it is a community disease.
As you see the ads for wonder drugs that help happy cancer patients and you see the support breast cancer research signs, think of the families and friends impacted. Support the families and friends who are at the center of this disease. Give a hug. Lend a hand or a shoulder. Make sure they are taken care of too.
1st day of pink month
Here we are again…October 1st. The beginning of pink month, the month where we are bombarded with the color pink. These days there is so much pink that I feel overwhelmed by it. I personally have never liked pink. When I was a kid all it represented to me was the “girl” color, and I tended to be a kid that did not like to conform…just ask my mom. Then I gave birth to four girls…that means at least one of them was destined to love the color. It forced me to reexamine my feelings about pink and realize that having the freedom to like pink was one of the elements of feminism. It’s not just about being able to pick blue; it’s the freedom to choose your color. Then the hammer of cancer was dropped. I was truly bombarded with the color and all my pink ill will returned.
This year the onset of pink month makes me pensive. I frequently hear and see ads for breast cancer awareness. “Self exams every month!” “Get your mammogram!” “Catch it early!” People sometimes get irritated that the professional sports players are wearing that ugly color and could they just move on from this.
But what does the inundation of pink mean to me? It means that I am reminded that despite my ability to train with my kids for a 5K, despite my ability to carry my almost 10-year-old around the house, despite my ability to strength train, despite my ability to exercise up to 3 times a day, despite my ability to drive solo to Colorado and back, despite my ability to lift many heavy boxes at Ikea and pack them neatly in the car…I have metastatic breast cancer.
I am sure everyone is now thinking aren’t there more physical reminders than the color pink?…And yes, the massive neck surgery, the monthly shots in the butt, the daily meds, and the hair falling out are reminders as well. However, I live in denial. The reason for that is that I need to keep some normalcy for my kiddos who have grown up too fast with this disease. Part of the answer is that I refuse to let the pink keep me down. A lot of it is that life does not stop; it keeps plugging along, and as a mom I have kiddos that rely on me no matter what. Not just kiddos; but girls, girls who have me as their model. That is a boatload of responsibility, and I do not take it lightly.
So what do I do now in this pink month? I will let myself be enveloped in pink. I will let others dislike the color and still more be empowered by the color. I will tell my story so that friends think to do checks even though they are under 40. I will remind my friends to get mammograms if they are over forty. I will tell women to take time to take care of themselves. I have and will continue to force myself to open up, and let people see what metastatic disease can look like. I will let my raw wounds be revealed to the world. Don’t worry I won’t show you all my scars, unless you ask.