December 27th of last year I found out I have cancer. It’s been 6 months and honestly, I feel like it should just be over! The big climatic ending happened right? I had a baby, pouf, now it’s done! But unfortunately the story goes on. Clearly I’ve been busy since I posted my last blog before Amari was born. We’ve learned some more information and a lot has changed.After giving birth I decided to start Tamoxifen almost immediately. This is the drug that blocks the estrogen in my body. The hormone-level swing was quite intense. Postpartum depression is linked to the changing levels of estrogen in a woman’s body- naturally going from so much to so little. Tamoxifen made this change even more drastic for me and I started it while I was still in the hospital recovering. I had night sweats and actual shivers and shakes. I couldn’t sleep, couple this with the pain meds and I was a mess… a very emotional mess! My last day in the hospital was 4 days after I had given birth and I had one last thing to do….get a PET scan. I’m going to pass on talking about the gory details and get to the point. That pain in my rib….it was Amari’s head or something to that effect! We were so relieved to hear that my cancer was only where we expected- 2 small tumors in my lymph nodes, 1 in my breast. And so, it was business as usual. One week later and I was back on chemo.
Here’s the thing about chemo and me. I run into a lot of people going through the same thing I am and they really have some horror stories with chemo. But chemo really doesn’t affect me much (in fact, I can actually comb my hair!). This can be a good thing….and a bad thing. One month after Amari was born I had a breast MRI done to see the response of chemo on my tumor. The scan showed what we really already knew. My cancer is still not responding well to the chemo. Now it’s not that it hasn’t responded at all….just not well. Again, this is a bit baffling. Chemo kills off aggressively reproducing cells. The doctors wonder if maybe my first treatment (the “AC”) did just that and what’s left over is the cancer that needs estrogen to grow. This cancer may be less aggressive and therefore, doesn’t respond to chemo well (but obviously responded to my pregnancy hormones). This sounds like a reasonable explanation doesn’t it? So, how do we know if this is the case…well, they will run a pathology report on my tumors once they are removed to see how they’ve changed.
That leads me to the next step. Given this information we decided to forgo any more chemo and move straight to surgery. And when I mean straight to surgery I’m talking like tomorrow (at 8 am). I’ve decided to do a lumpectomy. To explain why I’ll provide a little cancer lesson for those that know about this stuff as little as I did. There are many treatments for cancer. Chemo is actually a preventative treatment for early stage breast cancer. We know that my cancer likes to spread- that’s why it’s called invasive. We know this because it spread to my lymph nodes. My doctor calls the lymph nodes the “landfill of the body”. It’s where all the garbage filters to. So, my lymph nodes did what they were supposed to. They captured the cancer that left my breast. What we can’t be sure of is if tiny micro-cancer cells detached during this ride to the lymph nodes. If they did, they can travel throughout my body and lay dormant in my organs, blood, or bones and possibly grow back there. This is the cancer that can be fatal- this is the cancer that to be honest, I am scared of. Cancer within your breasts and lymph nodes does not kill you. Surgery and radiation are the medical treatments they use to remove the cancer from these areas. Chemo is primarily used to kill off any of the micro-cancer cells that may have traveled elsewhere. There are also other forms of treatment for this- such as hormonal therapy (like the Tamoxifen I’m taking). A mastectomy does not statistically give you a better chance of survival. It reduces your chance of getting the cancer back in the breast by 2% over the lumpectomy.I believe in another way of fighting cancer and that is naturally by using your immune system. I want to get back to my healthy lifestyle where my immune system isn’t constantly trying to rebound from surgeries and chemo. A mastectomy would require multiple surgeries for the next year. A lumpectomy requires one. I noticed after my C-section that my blood counts were having a really hard time rebounding. I believe this was because my body was focused on healing my surgery site and my immune system was constantly in catch-up mode. I think this is very important just IN CASE the chemo I did have wasn’t effective in getting all of the possible micro-cancer cells. I’m a runner, “a juicer”, and soon to be even more obsessed health nut. I believe that I need a less invasive surgery so I can get on to fighting this the best way I know how- with my healthy lifestyle.
And so I say, Sayonara Cancer! Tomorrow they will cut it all out! I won’t have it constantly burning in my body and in my mind.And again the story goes on but I am believing the cancer will not! What’s next after that? I will have radiation to ensure the cancer does not come back in the tumor areas. After surgery there could be some micro-cancer cells that weren’t picked up by the scans, which were missed. Radiation will kill these. There’s more I can do to make sure that any leftover micro-cancer cells are shutdown. I will most likely under-go some more aggressive hormone-therapy, potentially shutting off my ovaries. If the cancer needs estrogen to grow we just won’t give it any estrogen.
So how does this new information make me feel?Right after Amari’s birth I was sitting in a coffee shop working. I wasn’t wearing my wig and I was sporting my very short ‘cancer-do’. For a moment I thought that on-lookers are probably feeling sorry for me. Realizing I have cancer and that I’m sick and weak since I was having a hard time getting around from my C-section. And then it dawned on me…I am NOT weak! Just because I have a disease that is supposed to make me feel sick does not mean I am weak. I am strong, incredibly strong….I’m a fighter…a pull-your-boot-straps-up-and-get-the-job-done-fighter!! When I come around the corner and see Ben and Amari asleep, snuggling, my fight rages inside of me like it has never done before. I will be honest, hearing the chemo wasn’t “as effective as we hoped” and that this statistically increases my chance of dying from this wasn’t the easiest news. But it changes nothing in my mind…I WILL beat this! I will beat this with God on my side. This Sunday we learned about the power of prayer in church. Have you ever cried out to God?…I’m talking yelled and really cried. I did…I told Him I wasn’t ready to leave this party and go on to the next. Everyone knows I always arrive fashionably late! Of course I cannot see the big picture when it comes to His plan but I am truly believing that I will be fully healed of this because my family needs me and I need them. And so I say it again, I’ve got this!