Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Cancer Journey

My Cancer Journey

In December of 2006 I was mom to four already plus my soon to be step daughter and pregnant with our number six. Kevin (my fiancĂ©e) found a small lump in one of my breasts. I asked my OB/GYN about it immediately. The doctor was certain it was just breast changes from being pregnant. I reminded him that my mother had breast cancer and he responded that my risk factor was low. Dismissed. About a week that small lump was almost twice as large. My OB/GYN again said. “We’ll, just watch it, don’t worry.” Days went by and now my small, turned large lump was four times the size it had been when we discovered it. Where do you think I headed…back to the OB/GYN. Finally, he scheduled me for an ultrasound. Did I mention, finally?

Three days later I’m big, fat, pregnant and at the hospital getting my ultrasound. After that I was sent for a mammogram. They fitted me with a makeshift lead shield with the lead aprons to protect the baby. Then they sent me back to ultrasound again. The radiologist came in and told me I will need to do a biopsy as soon as possible.

Friday, January 13th I had the biopsy. Monday evening we were just finishing dinner. I’m sure you can imagine how crazy it can get with five kiddies in the house, getting them all fed, clean up dinner and all of them baths. My phone rings and it is my OB, remember him? “Sorry Tammy, I sure didn’t see this one coming! You have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. This is an extremely aggressive type of cancer so we really have to attack this head on. You need to get a lumpectomy followed by Chemotherapy and Radiation”. More was said but my brain seemed to malfunction. So…that was that.

Later that week I had the surgery. I had to have an axillary lymph node biopsy because of the pregnancy and couldn’t have the dye required in the less invasive biopsy. They removed one-quarter of one of my breast. The pathology report determined that there were clear margins! And my lymph nodes were all clear! I only had eight more weeks until Ki could be delivered full term. The OB, Surgeon, Pathologist, Oncologist, and Radiation oncologist all had a meeting to “discuss my case”. After lengthy discussion they agreed to wait until after the baby came to begin further treatment.

The baby’s scheduled inducement date (to weeks early) came. I chose to have an epidural block. It helped with the pain…way too much. Apparently I had too much medicine and it flowed up virtually hibernating my heart and lungs. Finally they got it all straightened out, of course that meant NO MORE PAIN KILLERS!!!! There she is, the newest addition to our family!

Six days after the birth of our sixth child I began chemotherapy. The very first session clashed with my medications because I felt suicidal (which is extremely not me). My meds combined with the stresses of being a mom to six children, still recovering from childbirth, dealing with a newborn, finances and the fact that I was losing my insurance in five weeks, apparently was too much for me. Jeez!

My hair lasted about 15 days, then it all started coming out. Not just a little here and there, by the handfuls. Weird!!!! I tell you some people are really rude too!

The next three and a half months of chemo went like this; total exhaustion, weight gain, weakness, absent-mindedness, clumsiness, nausea….I still did everything I always had done (laundry for eight people, cooking, cleaning, kids, normal stuff).

As soon as I finished chemo I started radiation. I had forty-three treatments of radiation to my right side. I found that radiation made me even more exhausted than the chemo did. It was summer vacation so I had all my children in tow for my treatments. This went on everyday, Monday thru Friday for 43-8 minute long sessions.

Now I am on Tamoxifen for five years. I also had an oophorectomy (removal of my ovaries and tubes). This was in hopes of reducing my estrogen.

You’ve heard about my cancer itself so far but the effects on life and my family in general was a whole other battle.

One of my daughter’s (six at the time) was parading around the house one day in one of my hats and said “When I grow up and get cancer, can I wear this hat?” To hear those words come out of your daughter’s mouth and then rationalize the fact that could be a reality for her.

On a separate occasion my step-daughter who was 5 at the time and myself were sitting on the swing talking. We were in the back yard and I asked her what if we saw a snake right now! She said I have an idea Tammy, you could just take off your hat and you head would scare him away! Was this what my reality was becoming? A scary old snake scarer!

Financially the impact was horrendous and we still haven’t recovered. In order to qualify for Medicaid I had to quit my job. The loss of my income made and is still making it extremely difficult just to pay for life necessities.

Cancer did give me a different view of life: I have absolutely no idea what trials and tribulations others are walking through; There is more to life than just getting dinner on the table, the laundry done and all six kids bathed; I want to enjoy every single day.

Through it all I had a beautiful daughter who thank God was not affected by my cancer and Kevin and I got married in February 2007. As far as I know I’m cancer free. Unfortunately I have been without insurance for some time now so I haven’t had any of my follow up testing done. However, at the end of the day I must say thank you to everyone who was there for me.

One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. When breast cancer is found early, the 5-year survival rate in the United States is 98%, which is why there are over 2 million breast cancer survivors today. Whether you are 20 or 80, you need an early-detection plan.

Every month (regardless of your age) you need to do a self-exam. Taking a few minutes to do a breast self-exam a minimum of once a month can make the difference of a lifetime, literally. Nearly 70% of all breast cancers are found through self-exams. Write it down on your calendar. I send out reminders on the 19th of every month (my birthday falls on the 19th). If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic—8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous.

Once a year have a clinical breast exam by a qualified nurse or doctor to check for lumps or other physical changes.

Get a mammogram once a year. A mammogram is an X-ray photograph of the breast and the primary tool in diagnosing breast cancer.

Early detection is essential ladies. If you forget to change the oil in your car…your car may have engine problems….if you skip your self-exams, you just might lose your life for it.

Please CLICK HERE for great instructions for a breast self-exam. THESE ARE SOOO IMPORTANT LADIES!!!

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