525,600 minutes later

Well, folks, it’s been one year. One year since my life, and that of my family’s, has been irrevocably changed with the words, “We think it’s cancer.”. I will speak frankly, the last few weeks I have struggled. One year out, I am having alllll the feelings. Grateful to be here, angry that this happened, scared that it will come back or isn’t actually gone, angry that I have lasting side effects from treatment, sad for what my family has endured this year, thankful for the friends and family members that stepped up right by our sides to help carry us through, and on and on and on. It’s. Been. A. Year.

Quick recap….
11/22/16: received the imaging and the radiologist news that they were “95% sure” I had cancer.
Nov 2016-current: freak out
Jan 2017: bilateral mastectomy.
Feb 2017: port placed and chemo begun.
Expanders inflated over several weeks
Feb and March 2017: 4 rounds of AC chemo
April-June 2017: 12 rounds of Taxol chemo
Expanders DE-flated to prepare for radiation.
August-9/12/17: 30 days of radiation.
August 2017: Tamoxifen begun, to take for 5-10 years, with the latest research heavily pointing towards the 10 year, or even indefinite, side of things.
August 2017: port removed
October 2017: expanders inflated AGAIN
TBD…the date of surgery to remove the expanders and place the “permanent” implants, which I’m told last anywhere from 10-20 years before needing to be replaced again. We are aiming for March of 2018, skin needs at least 6 months post radiation to fully heal before my surgeon will do the surgery. Rushing it could lead to a higher rate of implant failure, which could potentially require the implants to be removed, expanders placed again, and the reconstruction process started all over. We do not want that. Good news is that the surgery to do the exchange is not nearly as invasive/difficult as the original surgery, and should be off work for hopefully just 1 week, potentially 2.

As many who have gone before me can attest to, other than the initial shock of the diagnosis, the toughest part mentally has been post-treatment. During treatment, there is SO MUCH happening that it’s hard to catch your breath, hard to spend much mental energy focusing on anything other than getting through it. Plus you feel like you are “fighting” the disease, bombarding your body with all kinds of potent chemicals and radiation that will hopefully eradicate these cancer cells forever. After treatment…it’s calm. You go from constant medical appts to few appts. Which is a welcome change of pace for the ol schedule, but not so much the emotional side of things, when you feel like, “WHO IS WATCHING OUT FOR ME NOW?”. At your periodic oncologist visits (which for me, will be every 4 months for the first few years), you…..talk. Your doctor does a pretty cursory physical exam, feels you up for lumps, feels your lymph nodes, listens to your chest, palpates your abdomen. He or she asks about any strange symptoms that you may have noticed, or changes that popped up. You have your blood drawn for basic labwork. And they say, “see you in 4 months”. This is far too nebulous for me, I crave definite answers. Guarantees. Tangible tests that can be printed out and taken home and I can point to and say, “this right here says I’m all good”. That’s not a part of a breast cancer patient’s story. I could not have remotely handled that information a year ago. To hear, “You will go through hell and back this year, and at the end of it, when you want to know if it was ‘enough’, if cancer has been ‘beaten’, all you will get is, ‘we hope so and time will tell.’”. Well, that, my friends, simply sucks.

I have spent many hours reading and researching and poring over articles, both scientific and anecdotal, about preventing recurrence. You know how it seems we are constantly getting new and conflicting information about what is, or is not, healthy? Eggs are bad for you, because, cholesterol! Wait, no, they are good for you! Alcohol is poison! Wait, not red wine, it’s good for your heart! Well, it’s the same within the cancer community. Flax seed has anti-cancer properties! Put flax on everything! Brush your teeth with it! Roll around in it! Oh wait, unless you have hormone positive cancer, then it can act as a pseudo-estrogen and grow cancer cells! No no, flax is in a different category, it’s still good for you. NO IT WILL KILL YOU, STEP AWAY FROM THE FLAX. Don’t drink alcohol! Alcohol grows breast cancer! Alcohol is fine if you limit it to 1-2 drinks a week. If you need to relax, try lavender essential oil. But not the artificial kind! That kind will kill you. Has to be pure and from the actual lavender plant. OMG THAT IS ALSO A PSEUDOESTROGEN AND WILL KILL YOU. No no, that’s crazy talk (says the person selling essential oils).

It’s overwhelming. I’m still trying to figure it all out. Figure out what changes I want to make going forward, what I don’t need to worry about (HA!), and what changes maybe could help but that I’m not willing to make at this time due to still wanting to live an enjoyable life. I’m having some issues lately that I won’t detail, but that could be Tamoxifen side effects. Some others have suggested that their side effects have been lessened by living a mostly dairy and carb free life. Well. Guess I’ll have to learn to live with the side effects, because that isn’t going to happen. On the lymphedema front, things are holding relatively steady. Don’t need to wear my sleeve every day all day, but definitely need to wear it regularly, at least for now. Which is a huge bummer, but I also don’t notice it anymore nearly as much as I did in the beginning. Hair is growing back in, and my style choices include awkward mohawk, businessman, and fuzzy q-tip. But, when you were once bald, it’s hard to complain about hair anymore! So. Thanks for hanging in there with me this year, all of you. I love you. Please continue to grant me some mercy and patience when I appear to be an even crazier person than I was before. I wish I could say we have reached the end, but in some ways, I’m just getting started, and I’m beyond thankful to have the chance to do so. Happy, HAPPY, Thanksgiving to everyone. 🙂

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