Blog Posts - The Funny Thing About Cancer
 
UGH!  I hate cancer.  HATE it.

And here's the thing, I don't really hate much of anything or anyone.  I'm not a person that is big on strong negative emotions like that.

But cancer... I can't even tell you how much I loathe it. 

I'm sure you're wondering, where the heck did this come from????

Well, yesterday I found out that someone I know has lukemia.  This man is the father of one of my best friends from high school.  He's one of those genuinely wonderful people that, even though I haven't seen him in 5+ years, I still adore him.  My memories of he, his wife and my friend are some of my fondest from high school. 

Her parents were always there.  They never judged.  And their form of "advice" was to ask questions until you realized the answers yourself.  They are absolutely wonderful people.

And it just makes me so angry that yet another person that I care about has been affected by this disease.

My mother would tell me that anger is a wasted emotion.  To be angry with something or someone is to give it power.  And I hate to give cancer any more power in my life.

And yet, I know what lies ahead for this funny, quiet, gentle man.  It brings tears to my eyes.  Tears of sorrow that he has to battle this same demon in a different form.  His battle will be even more intense than my own. 

More than anything, it makes me wish cancer would go away.  I wish some genius out there would find a way to kill it.  Permenantly.  To destroy this disease so I no longer have to fear it.  So I no longer have to fear for those I love.  So I no longer have to hate anything.

For now, I guess I will simply keep praying.  I'll pray for my friend, her family and her father.  I'll pray for my own peace of mind.  And I'll pray hardest for a cure.
 
In two national high school science competitions this year, the winners have made major discoveries related to cancer.

First there is Angela Zhang (age 17).  What did she do?  She created a nanoparticle.  This nanoparticle targets and destroys cancer cells. 

My mind is officially blown!

A 17 year old came up with a nanoparticle that might be the cure to cancer.  Obviously this has to be tested and whatnot and might just be another exciting treatment.  But still!  SHE CREATED A NANOPARTICLE!

When I was 17, I don't think I even knew there was such a thing as a nanoparticle.  Heck, I was lucky that I could place half the elements correctly on the periodic table.  My favorite part of chem class was the time we made ice cream using liquid nitrogen.  I'm obviously a science genius.

Anywho, I read this article today and I was just blown away that there are teenagers out there who are trying to cure cancer.  CURE CANCER! 

Then there is Jack Andraka, age 15, who created a test for pancreatic cancer that is cheaper, faster, and 100 times more sensitive than the current text on the market.  Oh, and it's 90% accurate. 

Again, my mind is blown. 

Testing for cancer is usually very invasive and takes a LONG TIME.  Just for my breast cancer, I first had to go see a doctor.  Then he ordered an ultrasound (because I couldn't get a mammogram due to my pregnancy).  So I had to wait about a week to go to that.  Most patients then have to wait to schedule a biopsy if there is something suspcious, but my ultrasound tech did it right away.  The biopsy involves sticking a HUGE needle into the lump and snipping off a piece.  Then you have to wait 4-6 days to get the results back from the lab.  It took me 10-14 days to go from finding my lump to getting my diagnosis and that was actually pretty fast.

Waiting that long to find out if you have cancer is insanely stressful and awful. 

So for a 15 year old kid to develop a test where you pee in a cup and find out a day or two later if you do/don't have pancreatic cancer... that's HUGE! 

I hope that they can develop similar tests for other internal cancers!

Bottom line is that when I read these articles about these kids doing cancer research, I was floored.  I was excited to see that our next generation of reserachers and doctors is ALREADY making discoveries.  It just takes my breath away.  It gives me hope that maybe we'll actually find a CURE for this beast... sooner than I ever thought possible.
 
Tomorrow is my last Herceptin. 

It is my sincerest hope that tomorrow will be the last time I:

- ever visit an infusion room.  For any reason.
- have my port accessed
- see a nurse in a special gown that is supposed to protect her from the poison she is going to pump into me
- have to wait (and wait... and wait) for the lab to release my meds.  Seriously.  Takes forever sometimes.
- spend my Friday afternoon in an infusion room (instead of at a happy hour).

Bottom line is that I hope tomorrow is the end of my cancer journey.  I will still need to go back to get my port removed.  And I'm thinking about maybe getting one more surgery to really complete my reconstruction... but that'll be a few months away yet.

But even with those future procedures, tomorrow FEELS like the end of all of this craziness.  It feels like the chains are coming off and I'll finally be free!  Free from the appointments and the waiting rooms.  Free from the physical annoyances that are "side effects".  Free from the constant scheduling that all the appointments require.  Free from the emails from my insurance telling me "my claim has been processed" (for every infusion).  Free from ALL of that.

Did you know it's been EIGHTEEN months since I've gone more than 3 weeks without a doctors appointment of some kind?  For the last year and a half, I have seen a medical professional at least once every 3 weeks.  Prior to cancer, I saw a doctor exactly once a year (except for when I was pregnant).  I am so unbelievably excited for that to be over.  After I get my port out, I won't have to go see my oncologist for FOUR MONTHS. 

Now, I know I will never be truly free from cancer... any survivor will tell you that cancer will forever be a part of your life, even when you're "cured".  But to be free from the responsibility of the constant appointments and treatments will be divine.  I can't possibly tell you how exciting that is for me.

So here's to celebrating the end of treatment and ALL the freedom that comes with it :)
 
Easter. 

This holiday will always hold a special place in my heart.  I think I love Easter for so many reasons.  It's the first holiday in the spring.  It signals the end of winter with all the spring blooms that I love so dearly.  It celebrates the rising of Jesus Christ.  And (as any Wilks will tell you) the EASTER EGG HUNTS are awesome.  I love me a good easter egg hunt!

Whatever the reason, I LOVE Easter.  Every year, it just makes me totally happy.

And last year, it was especially happy because my husband had just returned from his (hopefully) last big deployment.  Even though I was still in the midst of chemo, just having him around was a relief.  And last Easter was a nice break from the normal stress of life.  We dyed eggs.  We played.  We hunted for eggs.  It was awesome.

In addition to all that fun... we took a family photo. 
Picture
My beautiful head scarf and almost no eyebrows...
Then, to comemorate the (hopefully) only time that my husband and I will be bald at the same time, we took a photo of just the two of us, shiny heads and all.

This year, we took another family photo.  And boy do we all look different.  I have hair.  And eyebrows.  And bigger boobs.  Caleb is bigger and even more handsome.  And Chris has hair again too :)

When I look at the differences between these photos... it speaks volumes.  It speaks about the happiness in our family.  About how much healthier and happier I feel.  It speaks of another year with my beautiful son.  A year mostly full of memories and laughter.  There are dark moments too, but it is the bright, shiny moments like these that makes the battles worth every little effort.

Happy easter everyone.  I hope the Easter Bunny brought you some delightful treats!  And that you had some wonderful, bright, happy moments in your life as well.
 
What I'm about to tell you is both sad and funny at the same time.  Which kind of sums up cancer and all the other craziness that goes with treatment.

Yesterday, I got a brain MRI.  And I discovered I DO have a brain :)  Ba-dum-ching!

Why a brain scan?  Well, twice in the last 2 weeks, I randomly vomited.  Right around lunch time both times, I'd eat a little something, suddenly feel intensely full and end up vomiting.

Fun right?  Well the first time, I wrote it off as a random flu bug.  But the second time, I got concerned.  So I consulted Dr. Google.  Note to any readers, especially cancer survivors, Dr. Google is no one's friend.  Seriously, Dr. Google always results in cancer.  I wish I was kidding, but I'm not.  Seriously, type in "sore throat".  The first result from medicinenet.com lists cancer as a possibility.

Note to self: avoid Dr. Google.  He's a quack!

So if you google "unexplained vomiting" or "random vomiting", within the first 5 search results is "brain cancer".  Right there!  On the page!  It says "brain cancer".

And this is when I threw up again (not really, but I kinda felt like it).

So I immediately emailed my oncologist with an email that went something like this.  "I've randomly puked twice in the last 2 weeks.  AND I GOOGLED IT AND IT'S BRAIN CANCER!"

OK, I was a little more reserved than that, but that was the gist of the email.

Now, my oncologist is a reserved kind of guy.  He doesn't like to order scans.  I don't get annual scans or anything else.  He believes (and I agree) that it's unnecessary exposure to additional radiation.  And sometimes these scans come back with false positives, which can lead to unnecessary stress and biopsies.

Anywho, my reserved, anti-scan oncologist ordered a brain MRI.

And I freaked out.  I sent a text to my cancer buddy who has the same doctor saying something like "Dr. Yee thinks I have brain cancer, I'm going to die!"

And she responded with "Tomorrow you're going to find out you got an MRI to diagnose a flu bug and you're gonna feel like an idiot."  (or something like that)

So yesterday, I got my MRI.  I prayed the whole time "please let this be nothing".

I went to see my doctor.  She immediately told me that the prelim looks really great and there is no cancer.

PHEW!

"BUT," she continued, "it does show you have a really bad case of sinusiitis."

Both Chris and I stopped, looked at her and I said "whats that?"

A SINUS INFECTION

Holy cow.  I just had an MRI to diagnose a sinus infection.  A SINUS INFECTION!

I did have a cold, but I felt like I was coming out of it.  Apparently I was wrong.  And no, I didn't really have symptoms that would signal a sinus infection.  No sinus headache.  My nose wasn't runny anymore.  My ears had cleared out.  I was honestly starting to feel like my "cold" was over. 

My doc told me I'm "one tough cookie."

So now I'm on antibiotics and sudafed and feeling even better.

Granted, this still doesn't tell me why I'm vomiting.  But we're going to wait and see if it happens again before we do any additional testing.  But at least I know it's not brain cancer!

And yes, I really do find this all funny now.  I wasn't laughing yesterday morning, but this morning is bright and shiny and amazing and wonderful.  And I feel blessed and relieved and giddy.  And only a teensy bit embarassed :)
 
So, I'm kind of famous.  And by "kind of", I really mean "in my own mind".

Because like 100 people read this blog (sometimes)... nevermind that they're mostly family and friends :)

But sometimes I get a note from a reader that inspires me.  And keeps me here, blogging and sharing my experiences. 

Did you know that?  That I am actually inspired by you?

Seriously.  For every person that says "I'm so in awe of your positive attitude", it lifts me up and helps to keep me positive.  Because somedays it just ain't easy.  So thank you all for your continued support and sweet, thoughtful words.

Recently, someone I don't actually know in real life sent me a note.  He included some quotes that I want to share one that I loved.  A quote that inspires me.  Thank you, Graham, for sharing this with me.

"Sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can fall together." - Marilyn Monroe

I love this quote.  This quote is so full of promise and hope that it makes me smile.  Here's to better things falling together in my life!
 
One of my first posts on this blog was about how I am like Harry Potter.

Today's post is about how I hope to be like 'Mater.  You know... Tow-Mater.  From Cars?  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you obviously do not have a 3 year old boy at home.  My son Loves the Cars movies.  Loves. 

So we've watched Cars and Cars 2 once or twice (or 10 or 20 times...).

In Cars 2, Mater has the chance to get his dents removed, but declines saying that each dent and scar represents a memory of his good friend, Lightening McQueen.

In essence, he is proud of every scar and dent because he "earned" it.

Today, after going through all my surgeries, I look... different.  I have some scars and dents of my own.

My boobs, when covered by clothing, are pretty effing perfect (if I say so myself).  I mean, my plastic surgeon ROCKED it.  And he's very proud.  He takes alot of photos.  I think he shows them to all of his plastic surgeon friends.  And then they all ooooooo and ahhhhh over my awesome rack (in a purely professional, non-sexual way) and then clap him on his back for his awesomeness.

I'm only half joking, my surgeon is very proud of his work, which is much deserved.  I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he had photos of my foobs framed and hung up in his office.

Anywho, back to the point. 

When covered, my foobs are rock star quality.  They're beautiful.  They're perky.  They're round.  They look great.

Naked... it's a different story.  I have some big scars.  BIG scars.  HUUUUUGE scars.  On one side, the scar is probably 4 inches long and goes horizontally accross my breast (where my nipple used to be).  On the other, it's roughly in the shape of a C (a really crooked, "a toddler wrote it" looking C).  Because I had a lumpectomy... and then a mastectomy.  The doc was afraid if he made a wholely separate cut that the skin between the scars would not get enough blood flow.  So he connected them... which makes it look like a C.

Most days, I really don't care about what my boobs look like.  They do their job.  They fill out my clothes.

But some days, I struggle.  OK... not "some days", I can tell you exactly which days.  When I'm in the gym locker room. 

*cue scary music*

Once again, I feel like a high schooler.  Those days every girl dreaded when they would have to change into gym clothes in front of all of their peers.  And we all learned the crazy contortionist ability to change bras under T-shirts.  You ladies know what I'm talking about!

Well, today as a 31 year old, when I go to the gym locker room, I feel like I'm back in high school again.  Instead of just changing and ignoring all the other women there (like I used to), I'm back to attempting to be a contortionist... and at 31 years of age, I am NOT as flexible as I used to be.

All because I am painfully aware of my scars. 

Why?  Because unlike boobies, which every woman has... no one else has scars like mine.  Trust me, I've looked around, I haven't seen a single missing nipple or scar.  My boobs are now "one of a kind".

I still don't know why I'm so shy about it.  I mean, I've never caught another woman sneaking a peek.  I've never had anyone react to my breasts at all.  I'm pretty sure no one has even noticed.  But I dread the day that someone does.  I dread the "double take" that I'm sure will come.  Some woman being overtly shocked at the appearance of my breasts. 

And that is how I wish I was like Mater.  I wish I was proud of my scars.  I wish instead of seeing my scars as blemishes, I wish I looked at them and saw it as a badge of honor. 

One of the other survivors I've spoken to pointed out that my scars, if they ever draw attention, are an excellent way to educate other young women.  When she goes to the gym, she changes just like all the other women.  If women ask her about her scars, she tells them her story.  She reminds them to do self-exams and that cancer can hit at any age.

When I heard that... I had a bit of an epiphany.  An "aha" moment. 

No one else has my breasts... and I do not want them to!  Early detection of cancer can make the difference between life and death.  Or giving the choice between lumpetomy and mastectomy.  Or chemo and no chemo.  Early detection is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING when it comes to cancer.  If I can inspire a handful of women to do their self-exams regularly, it will be worth any embarassment I may feel.

But ugh.  Lemme tell you, saying is easier than doing.  I'm still a little embarassed, but I'm working on it every day.  I no longer change bras under my shirt (much to the relief of my joints).  I'm slowly becoming more comfortable with the idea, slowly gaining some confidence that even if some woman DOES give me a double take, I will be able to look her in the eye and be proud. 

My scars have a story.  A story to be shared in hopes that it can bring positive change in another person's life.  Let's just hope I'm brave enough to share when that time comes.
 
Today, I turn 31.  Wierd! 

Last year, I think I posted something similar.

But this year, it's wierd in a different kind of way.  There's joy that I'm celebrating another birthday.  What a gift!  You know the American Cancer Society's motto is "more birthdays", and that strikes a bit of a chord.  I truly am celebrating today.

But at the same point, there is a small part of me that finds celebrating with ALL the joy in my heart to be difficult.  I'm not sure if I can describe the "why" adequately, but I will try.

First is the worry and fear.  Right now, I've survived for 1 year.  Recurrance rates are highest in the first 3 years post treatment.  And I will be considered "cured" after 5 years.  So there is a sense of holding my breath, waiting, watching, hoping that I will continue to survive.  Holidays are big reminders that time is passing.  The question that hits me at every holiday is, am I counting down the days to long term survival?  Or to the day when recurrance comes and my life is once again turned upside down?

Let me follow that up by saying I do not spend every day obsessing about recurrance.  I'd say 75% of the time, I am convinced I will live til I'm old and gray.  The other 25% of the time... I'm convinced my next oncologist appointment will hold news of a recurrance.  I hope that with every passing appointment, those fears will lessen.

Second, this is my first true year of life as a survivor.  Last year, my life was crazy.  I was so caught in the hustle and bustle of treatment that it was difficult to step back and take it all in.  Now, each holiday causes me to stop and consider how my life has changed. 

Pre-cancer, my birthday would've been a time to grab a beer with friends, maybe go out dancing... just a day to have fun MY way.  Post-cancer, my birthday is a celebration that I'm not sick or dying or dead.  Isn't that an uplifting thought?

Don't get me wrong, I am thankful and happy that I'm alive and well and healthy, but to consider your mortality on your birthday is a bit of a downer. 

I guess the best way to describe it is that there is a small part of me that mourns for the loss of the easy innocence and naivete that was life before cancer. 

And honestly, I think that mourning is healthy for me.  Some cancer survivors I've become acquainted with seem stuck for years on how cancer has ruined their lives.  The way they describe life post cancer is as this awful shadow of their previous life. 

I do NOT want to be them.  I REFUSE to be like that.  I want to accept that life has irrevocably changed.  I want to embrace it.  I want to rejoice in it. 

And if I am 100% honest with myself, I am a better person today than I was before all of this.  I know in my heart that I am a better person.  Dealing with the tragedy that was the last year of my life has made me more empathetic, it has caused me to slow down and appreciate life in a new way, it has opened my eyes to so many things. 

I know that without question, I am a stronger and better person today than I was 2 years ago.

But before I can truly celebrate the person I have become, I think I need to take a little time to mourn the parts of me that I lost.  To say good bye.  To know and accept that life can never be the same as it was... but it can be even better. 

So today, on my birthday, I will take a few minutes to mourn what I have lost. 

But only a few minutes.  Because, more than anything, the overwhelming emotion I feel is Hope.  I am hopeful that in another year, I will be that much closer to long term survivorship.  I am hopeful that in another year, I will feel nothing but joy and pride in my heart at the woman I have become.  I am hopeful that each day that passes will continue to hold less fear and more joy.

Today, as I look back at 2011, the word that comes to mind is Faith.  After having my life torn apart in the space of 1 month, I relied on faith to rebuild.  Faith in my doctors.  Faith in my Lord.  Faith in myself.  Faith in my family and loved ones.  Just faith.  That faith is at the center of the person I am today.

As I look ahead to 2012, the words that I want to live by are Faith, Hope and Joy.  I want Hope to continue to grow in my heart.  Hope for continued good health.  Hope that each day will be better than the last.  Hope that, someday, we will be able to have another child.  And I want to find the Joy in every day.  I want to continue to be overwhelmed with the intense joy that comes in life's little moments.  The joy of being a mother, of watching my son grow up, of having a husband that I adore in every way.  I have SO MUCH to be joyful about.

If I can keep Faith, Hope and Joy in my heart... there should be little room for fear! :)
 
If I thought my plastic surgeon would get the joke... I might do this.  Unfortunately his sense of humor is a little slow.
 
Just wanted to let everyone know that my surgery on Friday went well.

I'm alive.  And in pretty much no pain.

My biggest complaint is that hangy down thingy in the back of my throat is swollen and sitting on my tongue (damn intubation).  Which I don't know if that sounds as miserable as it feels... but it's kinda like having a giant snot ball sitting on your tongue in the back of your throat.  Yeah... that sounds pretty miserable.

It's gotten better... so it's not as miserable as it was.  Hopefully by tomorrow or Wednesday, my hangy down thingy (aka my uvula?) will be back to normal size and shape.

That being said... I think if my biggest complaint about my exchange surgery is that I have a swollen uvula, I'm doing pretty darn well.

In other exciting news, my foobs are no longer hard!!!!  Which is wildly exciting.  And they MOVE!  Hip-hip-hooray!

I don't think I can express how good it feels to have boobs that both move and are soft.  I don't think I realized just how uncomfortble the expanders were until I got my implants.  It's like during chemo when I didn't realize how crappy I felt until it was all over and I felt better again.

But all in all, I feel great and now I just have to wait for the swelling to go down to see what my foobs will really look like.  Pretty exciting!

Another funny story about my surgery.  Remember how my doctor told me to bring a picture of boobs?  Well I went and got myself a playboy (kinda awkward experience).  I looked through it and didn't love anything I saw.  So I took to the internet to see if I could find any good photos... also a new experience. 

FYI googling "boobs" brings up some interesting websites.

Anywho, I found a photo of boobs that I admired.  I showed the photo to Chris and he agreed that they were nice.  Another thing I never thought I'd do... surf the web for pictures of naked women and then show them to my husband.  Thank you cancer!

So anyways, it's Thursday night.  I just showed Chris the picture.  And I suddenly realize Chris does not have a printer.  SHOOT!  I've gone through all this work to find a photo... but now I have nothing to print it with!  Now what?

Did you know Target has photo printing machines?  Yep... that's right.  I loaded that photo on an SD card, took it to Target at 9:15 on the morning of surgery and printed it off.  Don't worry, I cropped the photo strategically so it only showed the woman's torso... b/c I thought that would be less awkward? 

Can I just say how awkward it was to print off a cropped picture of a naked woman at Target?  I'm pretty sure when the girl handed it to us she was thinking "PERVERTS!"  And I wanted to be all "I swear!  I'm not a perv!  This is for a MEDICAL PROCEDURE!" But then I figured that'd just make me sound wierder.

Anywho, lesson learned: when looking for pictures to give to your doctor of your perfect foobs... make sure you have a printer handy b/c it is never comfortable getting said picture printed at Target (or any other store).