A Constant Reminder of Loss

When was the first day of your last period?

That’s the question the nurse asked me at my annual gynecological exam on Friday.

Here’s what I said: I don’t get my period anymore.

Here’s what I wanted to say: I don’t get my period anymore because I had to have my ovaries removed after I went through treatment for breast cancer. I have the BRCA2 mutation, which increases my risk for ovarian cancer. So, no, I don’t get my period anymore and I’m in menopause at the age of 41. I know its not your fault, and I’ve never met you before so you’re probably new, since I’ve been coming here every few months over the last 2 years…but shouldn’t that detail about no longer getting periods be in my chart? What’s the point of having a chart if no one looks at it before talking to me?

Prior to this question from the nurse, I had been sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for 30 minutes with a ton of pregnant ladies. Me with my no ovary womb and them with their big, beautiful bellies. Me empty, them full. Literally and figuratively.

At every doctor’s appointment do I have to be reminded of this? I still see one of my doctors every 3 months – either my gynecologist, my oncologist, my breast surgeon, my plastic surgeon or radiation oncologist. That’s a lot of doctors and a lot of times having to reiterate my history to a nurse: I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 39. I had a double mastectomy. Then 8 rounds of chemo that lasted 4 months. Then breast reconstruction surgery. Then 32 rounds of radiation that occurred every week day for 7 weeks. Then, just when I thought I’d get a break from cancer, the possibility of ovarian cancer crept up during my bi-monthly screenings of my ovaries. So I had to have another surgery to do a biopsy of my ovaries and decided it was just time for my ovaries to be removed.

It’s difficult to move on with my life when, at every turn, something or someone makes my forward progression pause or take a step back. I know I won’t every really be able to put cancer behind me, and I actually don’t want to forget about having cancer and surviving, but does every doctor’s appointment have to bring something up that reminds me of what I’ve lost?

It’s hard enough to be going through early menopause – hot flashes, interruption of sleep, weight issues, achy body. Do I also have to be reminded of what I’ve lost from cancer? I’ve lost both of my breasts, I’ve lost both of my ovaries, I’ve lost the carefree lifestyle that made me believe I’d live to be 90, I’ve lost my patience and my ‘let’s wait and see’ approach to life, and I’ve lost my ability to have biological children and breastfeed them.

So, when was my last period? November of 2013. Maybe the next nurse could just skip this question and go to the next one on the list.

 

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Tighter and Longer Hugs

This past week I visited friends in San Francisco I haven’t seen in over 4 years. Everything in my life was put on hold during my year of treatment for breast cancer. Last year I finally had enough energy to think about traveling across the country. But then my stupid ovaries had other plans, and I had to cancel that trip to have an oophorectomy.

Not wanting to jinx anything, I couldn’t seem to rebook my trip in fear of something else happening. Well, after several uneventful months with no health news, I made some plans to finally take that cross country trip.

I was excited but a bit nervous before I left.

Was I going to be overwhelmed by emotions when I saw all these friends?

Was I going to have the stamina and energy to see everyone I wanted to see?

Would it be too uncomfortable for people to hear an honest account of what being a breast cancer patient and survivor is really like?

Once I arrived in San Francisco, I caught up with a lot of dear friends and this anxiety quickly faded away. I’ve been very lucky in my life to be surrounded by caring, thoughtful and kind friends. And this trip only emphasized this fact. I don’t know if its our age, or my cancer diagnosis, but conversations with these friends this past week were deeper and more heart-felt than ever. Everyone wanted to know how I was doing. How I was really doing.

How does my body feel?

How does it feel to have breast implants?

Is my chemo brain still lingering?

Is my energy level back?

How is my mental health?

Is my life getting back to ‘normal’?

Is it possible to get back to ‘normal’ after a breast cancer diagnosis?

I had dinner one night with a dear friend who is also a breast cancer survivor. We were friends before either of us got diagnosed and now we’re even closer, having both gone through the trauma of breast cancer. I told her that although life is getting back to somewhat normal, I live with what I like to call the ‘new shitty normal’ because of breast cancer. My life changed, and not because I wanted it to but because of cancer. And these changes were not temporary, but permanent. No more explanation was needed for this friend. She understood what I meant.

All of the conversations last week with friends meant so much to me. There were lots of teary moments. Nothing in life is guaranteed, and we all know that. But when it hits that close to home, you really get it. My friends all really got it too.

So while I left for San Francisco feeling nervous and a bit anxious, I returned home feeling so grateful to have amazing friends in my life. And when I said goodbye to these friends after our visit, we hugged each other a littler longer than usual and a little tighter than usual.

And that felt great.

A Change of Perspective

I’m a little behind on my blogging lately. I’ve been busy doing fun things. What a nice change from being tired as a result of cancer treatments and doctors’ appointments.

Last month, I had my first infusion of Zometa. Zometa is a bone strengthening drug, which also has shown to prevent recurrences of breast cancer in some studies. My oncologist wanted me to do this treatment since in July of this year, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis in my spine. Yes, the joys of breast cancer continue.

I was pretty bummed about having osteoporosis, but even more bummed about the treatment, since the drug is administered in the chemo area of the hospital. I never wanted to be back there. Ever.

My oncologist told me I could expect flu-like symptoms the first couple days after the treatment. So I scheduled the infusion for a Friday, giving myself the weekend to recover. It felt like chemo all over again – figuring out when my body would have the worst reactions to treatment and how long it would take to recover.

So I went to the hospital, as early as possible, to get it over with. The sooner I got there, the sooner it would be over. They start infusions at 9 a.m., so that’s what I did.

The nurses were so nice, as usual. I feel very grateful to be so well taken care of. Not everyone has that experience.

The infusion didn’t hurt at all. I barely even noticed the needle going in or out. I guess I’m just used to that by now. They started the infusion, I turned on my iPod, closed by eyes, and 5 songs later, it was over. As my oncologist promised, the infusion only took 20 minutes. The whole thing took about 45 minutes. Couldn’t wait for it to be over.

I went home and laid on my couch. I was pretty exhausted. Of course I didn’t sleep the night before. The first time I do anything, I’m always nervous. So getting rest that night didn’t really happen. The emotional toll was worse than the physical toll for this treatment.

My oncologist told me to drink a TON (her emphasis) of water. Zometa is flushed out through the kidneys. So water gets it out of the system. I spent the day on the couch, in and out of napping. I did get this souvenir from the infusion – a lovely bruise on my arm:

Bruise From Zometa Infusion

The next morning I woke up, feeling pretty tired still but not terrible. No flu-like symptoms yet, but I decided to stay in to rest and keep drinking that water.

Around 8 p.m., I decided to go to bed early to catch up on that sleepless night the night before the treatment. But that’s when the flu-like symptoms showed up. I started to get some chills and feel a bit nauseous. I actually haven’t felt cold in a long time. Hot flashes and overall heat is my normal body temperature these days, thanks to Tamoxifen and my oophorectomy (the removal of my ovaries). So in a weird way, it felt kind of nice to be cold. The nausea though, I could do without that.

The flu-like symptoms only lasted for a couple hours. As I laid in bed eating ginger to help settle my stomach and with a wool hat on my head to try to warm up, I kept telling myself, “You’ve been through worse. This is nothing.” It actually kept me calm and helped me not freak out about what was happening with my body.

Not that I really needed it, but the Zometa infusion and my body’s reaction was a reminder that I’ve been through the ringer in these last 2 years – a double mastectomy, 8 rounds of chemo that lasted 4 months, 1 reconstructive surgery, 32 zaps of radiation over 7 weeks (5 days a week), an oophorectomy, and countless tests and doctors’ appointments. My perspective has changed. A little chill and nausea for a couple hours? No big deal. I can handle that.

So, I snuggled with my dog Murphy for some body warmth and TLC. Then next thing I knew, the chills and nausea were gone and I went to sleep. Another cancer experience that I’m happy to be moving past.

 

And Now … Osteoporosis

I’m 41 years old and have already gone through a double mastectomy, 8 rounds of chemo, 1 reconstructive surgery, 7 weeks of radiation and an oophorectomy (the removal of my ovaries). All because of my breast cancer diagnosis and having the BRCA 2 mutation.

That’s enough for a lifetime, if you ask me.

I went to see my oncologist in May for my 6-month check up. She wanted me to do a bone density test, mainly to get a baseline, she said. Having my ovaries removed and taking tamoxifen, my body is not producing or getting any estrogen, which helps keep bones strong. So I figured I would be at risk for osteoporosis, but not for a while.

Last week I finally did my bone density test, which, by the way, was the easiest test I’ve ever done. No IV, no drugs, no fasting. You lay down, they scan your spine, then they scan one hip. Then you’re done. In and out in 15 minutes. Best. Test. Ever.

Two days later, I got the call from my oncologist. My spine already shows signs of osteoporosis. DAMN IT!

So now she wants me to be given a drug called Zometa. Zometa is a bone strengthening drug, which also has shown to prevent recurrences of breast cancer. Both good things.

Here’s the good news – I will only have to be given Zometa once every 6 months (twice a year). It only takes 15 minutes to administer the drug.

Now the unsettling part – Zometa is given through an IV. That kind of sucks. But the worst part – I have to go to the chemo area of the hospital to get the infusion.

I never wanted (or want) to see that stupid chemo area again. When I said goodbye to those lovely nurses who helped me through chemo two years ago, I said goodbye. Not see you later. Goodbye. Have a good life. I’ll never see you again.

But here I am, being told to get an osteoporosis drug administered in the chemo area of the hospital.

Now, I know I should be grateful that I’m only going there for osteoporosis, and not because I have a recurrence of breast cancer or some other cancer (fingers crossed that’s always the case). And I should be grateful that my oncologist is aggressive and assertive on my behalf with any health issue. But that somehow isn’t making the tears stop flowing when I think about walking into that chemo area. Having to see all those people, who I used to be one of, get chemo – that’s going to be hard. Talk about PTSD.

I guess the other upsetting part is that this is just one more thing I have to do now because of stupid f*$%ing breast cancer.

I see at least 1 doctor every 3 months, I get blood work done every 6 months, I go for scans every year, and now I have to go get this drug pumped into me every 6 moths. It’s just one more thing that I have to do in a hospital with doctors. And that just sucks.

It reinforces the fact that you’re never really done with cancer. There’s always something.

Time For My First Doctor’s Appointment of 2014

This Friday I’ll have my first doctor’s appointment of 2014.

The appointment is with my gynecologist for my annual exam. Two years ago, I would have said the appointment is *just* my annual exam. No big deal. But since my breast cancer diagnosis, just isn’t really in my vocabulary anymore.

I’ll be going to see my gynecologist for the first time since my oophorectomy. It’ll be weird to sit in those stirrups when there’s so much less to look at with no ovaries.

And doing a breast exam with fake boobs….that’s still strange for me too. I can’t feel anything in this area, so its bizarre to have hands on my body with no sensation that this is happening.

They say someday I’ll get used to my new body. Not sure who *they* is, but I’ll believe this when I feel it.

I’m trying to stay calm about this appointment. Since my oophorectomy two months ago, I reduced my risk for ovarian cancer from 15% to 1%. So that should tame my worrying – *should* being the operative word.

It’s hard not to worry about cancer when you’ve had it and you read about so many other people having recurrences. I guess once you’ve had a cancer diagnosis, there’s really no such thing anymore as a routine doctor’s appointment. Another part of my life I have to get used to.

Riding The Coaster

As I wrote in my last blog post, I need to have surgery to find out if what they see on my ultrasound is ovarian cancer. I met with my gynecologist oncologist last week and surgery is set for tomorrow.

When I named this blog – navigating the roller coaster of being a breast cancer survivor – I didn’t know how true these words would be. This week it’s really hitting me. Being a cancer survivor really is a roller coaster. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. These past two weeks have been a lot of downs.

I’m in a bit of shock about it all. How can this be happening to me? Again. It’s going to suck to have to go through chemo again. I know I might be jumping the gun on this, but once you’ve had a cancer diagnosis, it’s hard to believe that everything will be ok.

This week I’ve been nauseous, have had stomach pains and don’t have an appetite. Is that ovarian cancer or is that nerves? I guess we’ll know tomorrow.

Fingers crossed for good news. I could really use some.