Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Healing Journey … Chapter 6

As I am going through this process, I keep feeling my life beginning to change. Perspective seems to be changing for me, as though elements of my life I have felt to be crucial are no longer as important to me. All I want is to spend every free moment with my family, to hear them laugh and see their smiles, to watch my sons and nieces grow up, to crack inside jokes with my sister, and to spend time with my aging parents. I no longer care about work, which is horrible considering my insurance is through my work, though soon, my husband’s new position will be taking care of my insurance. There is much weight being lifted from my shoulders.

What I have also come to realize is that life is too short to spend doing what does not make me happy. I stare out the windows of the office on sunny days willing my day to move more quickly so that like a sunflower, I can turn my face to the warmth of the sun. I spend the entire day on the computer and the telephone, and while I am good at it, I’m not happy there. I am creative and have no creative outlet at work…I’m not complaining just making a statement. I have a great job, and am blessed to have one, but right now, my heart just isn’t in it. There has to be something, some way, that I can reengage in my life and have it supply money as well… where my heart comes through in a manner which allows success as well as some measure of financial income. I’m not shirking my responsibilities but keeping an open mind, much more open, on opportunities. My someday promises need to become today… time to make it happen!

In regard to my most recent testing, I did learn that I am not a carrier for the genetic anomoly referred to as BRCA… this means I am less likely to have a recurrence with this cancer, and more importantly, my boys and their lineage will not have to worry about this gene, at least not from our side of the family. That being said, that reopens the debate of removing one breast instead of two. My husband keeps saying, “Are you sure you want to remove both?” I don’t want to remove one, let alone two …. it’s a very scary thought no matter how you look at it. Major surgery is never a small task and now that I am no longer “young” it is even more daunting.

But I am sticking with a full mastectomy, and at some point in the future, having both breasts replaced. I learned, and may have mentioned, that as a smoker, I need to be tobacco free for 6-10 weeks before they will even consider reconstruction. Good lord … like overcoming this cancer is not enough, I now need to stop smoking as well? Don’t people know that smoking is tough to quit? Why did they wait until now, just before I have wrapped my head around this surgery to tell me? Doesn’t two surgeries seem more daunting and dangerous than just one? I know the argument…infection, skin breakdown, unhealthy skin trying to encompass new material. I get it , I truly do … it is no less daunting though knowing that there is another surgery to follow, to be healed and then start again, more recovery time, more missed time from work (another reason I need to work for myself.)

The good news, as I have stated is that my mother will be here, and because she will be here, my father will hover around my household as well. She will be the love and healing, he will be the strength. I am so blessed. I know that now more than ever. My sister will be the entertainment, my children the questioning expressions trying hard to not see a weakened mother, my youngest niece hoping to play nurse to her “best friend” as she recently described me, my older niece kind of hanging back, and my brother in law coming in and cracking jokes. What a great group of people to be surrounded by while recovering from major surgery … it will be a long process but one filled with so much love and adoration. I couldn’t ask for a better recovery team to be in my corner!

What I do know is that my onward and upward path has not dissipated but rather provided a rocky terrain. I’ve got to strap on my boots, trust myself and my balance, and move forward. Even careful steps are steps forward. I will not be slowed or discouraged. I will follow this path from beginning to end, growing more balanced and steady, more trusting in my ability and inner strength, learning more from guiding forces than the occasional obstacles that lay ahead of me. I feel encouraged by what I am learning about myself, feeling more confident about my path, and more positive with each step that my path has taken me to where I need to be in my life. I’m not always a Me First kind of person … and for the first time in a long time, I am wondering why I haven’t shown myself the kind of love and attention I show everyone else. Would my path have slowed if I had paid better attention? Could I have done something different? Regardless of those answers, the past is just that, past, gone, unable to be changed. What I can do moving forward is pay better attention, take better care of myself, and watch over myself as I do those I love. Having to pay better attention has forced me to slow down, reevaluate where I am in life, take in my blessings, and really begin setting priorities. I would not change a thing… one of those blessings in disguise kind of things!

The Healing Journey… Chapter 5

I spent the weekend explaining to my boys what was happening and what the plan of attack was. Neither of them seemed to really respond except to say “At least this is the kind we can beat. That is the good news.” Positive mind over matter! I was ok with their answer. I did not push either of them to discuss this further though I have asked, from time to time, if they have any questions. So far, they are both “ok” with things and don’t have questions for me. I think they are dealing with this by not dealing with it…they are definitely My children!

When the time came to explain this to my father, I knew this would be the most difficult obstacle we would ever face together. When he came into the house, I gave him a big hug and kiss, asked if I could get him anything. As is our normal routine, we sat down at the kitchen table…or rather I sat down and he paced the kitchen. “Dad, I need to talk to you about something so please sit down.”
“No, I am good standing.”
“Dad, please come sit down. I need to tell you something important.”
He slowly approached the table and sat down. He knew it was going to be a little rough. Being that he still sees me as this itty bitty little thing, it was going to be very difficult.
“Dad, you know that I’ve been having tests done lately on the lumps in my breast. I got the results. I have breast cancer.” I waited…he shifted in his chair. “So…what I have decided is to have the left breast removed and not to have reconstructive surgery. It is what is the best for me and my lifestyle. I can’t be down for a long time and this is the safest option for me right now.” He lit his cigar, leaned back, tapped his boot on the floor and said “Whatever you need or whatever I can do, let me know. ” It was exactly what I needed for an answer. My father was terrified, I could see it on his face…like looking at my own reflection in a mirror, the same stricken expression buried beneath the calm demeanor and voice.

I had only my mother left to discuss this issue with and she was getting ready to leave for a three week vacation to Scotland and Ireland. Being a good daughter, I weighed the pros and cons of how much I should disclose. Until she returned from her vacation, I decided no information was the best option. I did not want her carrying this heavy news with her as she toured Ireland and visited with friends in Scotland. When she came home however, I had to let her know what was going on. I could live with that decision.

Two and a half weeks passed when I got the text that they had just come back across the pond and landed in JFK. I welcomed my mother home, told her I missed her and that I loved her and my stepdad Dean. I also asked, though it was late at night, to call me when they were more rested. They had been on the plane for hours and still needed to catch the tram which would bring them to a train, then from one station another train before they arrived in Trenton for pickup. I hoped for the call that evening, stayed up until 11pm which is an hour over my 10pm weeknight curfew, but the phone did not ring.

The next morning, Mom was texting up a storm, asking when she could call. I told her that my sister and I would call her at 1pm, our lunchtime and put her on speaker…two phone calls in one! At 1pm, I called my mother and as promised put her on speaker so that me and Jen could both speak to her at once. She regaled us with stories from her trip…concerts, food, cafes, pubs, the people they met, the friends they made, how fun it was traveling around with their favorite band, the sites they visited, and then how wonderful it was to spend time with their friends in Scotland. It was a once in a lifetime trip and we drank in every second of every story. The topic changed to my niece and my oldest son…how are they, how are their jobs going, etc. All good, all good. My sister looked at me and pointed to the clock. Lunch was almost over.

I took the opportunity to fill my mother in. ” Are you sitting down Mom? I have some news for you.”
“Youre pregnant!” She laughed because I had a partial hysterectomy 4 years ago.
“Umm no, but I do have breast cancer and will be having a double mastectomy.”

Insert crickets….chirp chirp chirp…followed immediately by my mother saying “You DO NOT KATHYLYNN. You are not Kathylynn. What are you even talking about?”

“Yes Mom, I do have breast cancer. Remember I was having testing before you left? I knew the results within a few days, but you were going on your trip and I couldn’t let you carry that with you. I’m ok though, please don’t worry. I’ve given all this a lot of thought, and if it buys me a future with my boys and my family, it’s all worth it in the end.”
She paused. “Oh Kath, I’m so sorry. Geesh, I can’t believe you’re telling me this. When is your surgery? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me this sooner! You’re just like Grandma, she always kept bad news from me. You’re so young Kath…it should be me and not you. Wow, I’m just speechless.”

Lunch had come to a close but having worked over the night before, I decided to stay out and finish the conversation with my mother. I told her about the entire process from start to finish, told her I had met with various members of the hospital staff and departments, that I had biopsies done and that after the results of the genetic testing had come back, we would be getting ready for surgery, preferably in mid-November based on my own plan of attack. I let it all sink in for her, answered questions for her, and remained calm and cool to avoid shaking her up anymore than the news already had. Like everyone I had talked to, my mother said “You seem so calm and logical about all this Kath, like you’ve really thought it all through. And if you’re this confident, then you’re making the right decision.” She was nervous, I knew it then like I know it now. I’ve always been the rock in our family, and my calm demeanor and even keel are comforts my mother counts on from me. If I am not shaken, everyone else can be…if I am calm, they follow.

Having wrapped up  the phone call with my mother with the promise to call her later, I went back inside to the office. When I got back inside, I did text my stepdad and tell him that although I know they have commitments when they get home, I selfishly wanted my mother to come home for my recovery period if possible. He said, my mother was saying the same thing…she was coming home and going to be here with me. It was like someone wrapping a warm blanket around my shoulders, like the perfect cup of hot chocolate…I was immensely relieved knowing she would be here with me.

Before I move forward, I must clarify that when I spoke to my father, I had just recently discovered the cancer diagnosis and felt that whatever I could do to prevent being out of work long term was the best answer for me. Yes, I’m one of those people that put and always have put work above my own needs, and for that, I definitely have some regrets. However, at the time I spoke with my father, I felt that a quick single breast mastectomy with no reconstruction would mean the quickest recovery time without any follow up surgeries or potential complications.

The more I read about and learned about breast cancer, I became more and more concerned about the “what ifs” of this illness. What if the cancer came back or spread to the right breast? What if I have to have chemo and/or radiation anyway? What if regardless of my simple decision I was out of work longer than anticipated? What if this surgery was not enough and affected my life in a greater capacity than I was planning for? And why not, if the option is there, reconstruct the girls? My friends kept saying “if it were me, I would take both of the girls off and get new perkier cha chas!” I couldn’t help but laugh but gave it some serious consideration. And when I learned from my mother that our family had suffered a breast cancer death, I knew the choice to remove both breasts and reconstruct later was my only option. I have since cleared up my plan with my father.

The remaining people in my life, my nieces and friends each had the reaction I expect people to have. Both nieces were immensely concerned, hearing only “cancer” and instantly panicking. My sister told them that based on the surgery plan and long term treatment plan, I wasn’t going anywhere, that I would still be around to see them grow up. Both girls know that they can ask me questions any time, and that if I do not have the answers, I will get the answers for them.

As for remaining friends, I am disclosing this information a bit at a time. Some of my friends are people I can count on to remain calm and logical with me, and those are the friends I have told first. The others are more emotional than I am, and truly internalize the illness as something they are suffering, making it about them rather than about me. I understand that everyone handles it differently, that each person will take the information and process it in his/her own way; I am fine with that, but selfishly, I do not have the energy to console those making it about themselves because it is about me, just this once, just this one time.

A Healing Journey… Chapter 4

A week later, I attended the counseling session for genetic testing, its importance, and how the results could affect the need for both breasts to be removed rather than run the risk of the cancer returning in my right breast. I know that everyone is removing both breasts these days, and while it seems a little extreme, I fully understand the logic in just doing the operation/recovery/reconstruction one time. I took the test…mouthwash being swished around then spit into a test tube at least 20cc’s worth of fluid. It would be 2-3 weeks before I had the results. I thanked the nurses for their time and detailed explanation then headed off to meet with the plastic surgeon.

The plastic surgeon welcome me, asked me to put on a robe and began her process. She found the lumps, examined the incisions, then took a picture of the girls for reconstructive purposes. I changed back into my clothes and with my husband, headed toward her office to discuss reconstructive surgery. At this point in my process I had decided to have the left breast removed and not do reconstructive surgery. Sadly, I didn’t want to miss any more work than I needed to being that I’m still fairly new. No reconstruction means less missed time. She seemed irritated that I wasn’t buying what she was selling, literally and metaphorically speaking…

I left with my husband, both of us on sensory overload from the information received. When we got to the car, I lit a cigarette, looked at him and said “Oh my god…too much information in a two hour span. I’m exhausted.” We had absorbed so much information, so many pros and cons to the various elements involved in this process, so many details, and so many options to consider. The doctors were open and honest which I appreciated, but two consultations in one day proved to be one too many. We had much to discuss and think about, and of course, discuss with my family.

A Healing Journey…Chapter 3

Monday (three days later) I was home from work with a migraine, and the phone rang to schedule a biopsy, that day. Can you be here at 2pm the voice asked…it was 1245pm. Yes I responded…power shower then out the door. We can make it no problem. While I showered my husband called into work…I just couldn’t go alone to this appointment, and his presence would really help me remain calm under the circumstances. I cried for the first time as the events of this process became more real and slightly scary. I never cry…my poor husband knew he had to go with me regardless of him having to miss work.

We arrived and sat briefly with the newest doctor, Ms. Helmer. She looked just like you would expect a female doctor to. White coat, glasses, soft wavy hair, and a great little personality! I liked her immediately. After our brief conversation about what the biopsy process entailed and why the process was occurring, she excused my husband so that we could begin. When he left, Nurse Rachel came in with all the gear for the procedure. I’m not afraid of needles but the ones on that table gave me pause, briefly, until I realized I would be numb anyway. That’s right…she told me general anesthesia in the affected area. I was ok again.

When the doc returned, we began. The inital anesthesia was not bad and thus the procedure began. For each lump, a small incision was made prior to the tool entering my breast to take samples. Approximately 6 samples were removed from each lump, and since I kept my focus on the third tile of the second row of the ceiling, I didn’t see not did I want to see, the samples being removed. At the end of the procedure, sterile strips and butterly stitches closed the incisions on my breast. The incisions were bandaged up and I was sent into the waiting room to see my husband. It would be a week until we got results of the biopsy. Again, waiting to hear back was another small bit of torture but, what can we do? We left to return home, both of us quiet.

On Thursday of that week, just three days later, I received the call to come in Friday as my results were in. 1pm was the scheduled time to meet with my doctor, and my general doctor Ms Allie had already been notified that results would be in. I worked half a day Friday to keep my mind busy and to be with people, and being that I work with my sister, that made the day even easier to endure. At 12pm I left, not knowing how long it would take me to cruise along Route 1 on this glorious Friday afternoon. The sun was shining and despite where I was going, I was in a great mood. Doug was driving, I was relaxed and enjoying the view along our drive. As we turned right into the hospital parking lot, I was still ok…he however was a little pale. Being my true self I said “Please don’t worry. Whatever the outcome, we get through this together.” My doctor’s assistant took us right in, and Nurse Rachel greeted me with her warm smile as we entered Rm #2. She told me to change real quick and the doctor, Ms Helmer, would be right in. As usual, green robe, open in the front…a quick knock and my doctor was there.
“Well, we got the results…both lumps are cancerous.” Thank God I was sitting down…I felt a bit faint and short of breath.
‘Do you understand what that means Kathy?”
“ I think so yes” (I was an English major after all!) but I had not responded which is why she probably asked me that question. “ I guess my next question is what does that mean for me?”
“ Please change and then we will go to my office to discuss this.”
I did as instructed then met her outside the door. My husband and I trudged (imagine the hallway scene from Joe Vs. The Volcano) towards the doctor’s office. When we got in there, we both sat down and for a minute said nothing. There were books in front of where we were sitting…one for me, one for him, and a cute little journal.

“At this point, because of the size of the lumps, we feel that a lumpectomy is not a valid option. Your best bet is a left side mastectomy.” (Hold the phones…a mastectomy, as in cutting off one of the girls…this can not be happening. I’m 42…this is not onward and upward…this is bad news and totally defeats my plan for myself. Yes, getting healthier was part of the plan but NOT having surgery/removal of my breast.) I could barely breathe and looked at my husband.

“Here is a PowerPoint showing information on your type of breast cancer as well as pros and cons of the surgery. Some of these women had just a single breast removed while others opted to have both breasts removed. These pictures show post surgery scars prior to the implants being filled.” OMG… I had just found out that I have breast cancer and Now a mastectomy was my best option for survival but that I should be considering both breasts to truly prevent the cancer from returning…and now I’m seeing women with scarred chests prior to the implants being filled up. I could feel myself slumping into my chair, getting as far away from the screen images as humanly possible. I’m 42 and acting 10…I was afraid, nervous, overwhelmed (apparently overwhelmed is the most common word for women in my position.) Ms. Helmer continued “Once the implants are in place, they are filled a little at a time, to monitor the healing process and avoid infection. These pictures are of the women’s breasts after the implants have been filled partially or fully. Reconstructive surgery is a wonderful option and we have an excellent plastic surgeon on staff for this very reason. You will be meeting with her next week to discuss your reconstruction options. Kathy…Kathy…you seem overloaded. Do you have any questions? Can I help in any way?” Clearly my eyes had glazed over and my brain had shut down. I couldn’t be hearing all of this information in one sitting. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Again I responded “No, no questions right this minute.” So she continued…” When you meet next week with the plastic surgeon, you will also talk to the Breast Care Center about genetic testing to determine if this cancer is hereditary or if it’s just your body. Oh, and because you still have your ovaries, we will be recommending you see an OB/GYN and probably have those removed.” Before I could censor myself I responded…”So while I’m asleep, why not just give me a penis? Seriously…I might as well be a guy with all my feminine parts being cut off or out.” I didn’t mean to say this outloud and laughed, embarassed and immediately apologized. It was not her fault that I had this cancer, and she was providing me with numerous opportunities to speak with everyone involved and knowledgeable in this field. I agreed that the testing is a good idea being that my grandmother had a breast removed and, as I learned later, that my grandmother’s father (my great grandfather) died of male breast cancer. My mother and sister needed to be aware of the hereditary repercussions, and because my sister has daughters, we really need to know. I have boys…but if they have girls, it would be crucial we know. Yes, I’m definitely ok with the genetic testing.

When I left this appointment, I texted my sister to let her know the results were in. She was waiting and knew I would text as soon as I knew…we had agreed that I would let her know, that we would get through whatever together. Jen, my sister, is my best friend in the whole world. Her love, support, and friendship have gotten me through so many rough patches, gotten US through so many rough patches. We could get through this too.

“So…I got the results of the biopsies. I have breast cancer.”
“OMG Kath…are you ok?”
“I’m as good as I can be considering the news. Just so you know, they are recommending a mastectomy of my left breast with reconstructive surgery being optional.”
“Wow… cant you just have the lumps removed?”
“No…too big an area. Mastectomy better option.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too. Call me later when you’re out of work.”
“I will…talk to you soon. <3″

We normally go out on Friday nights and I knew tonight, I wanted to stay home. My friend Jeanne texted to get the results. When I told her she took a minute to respond. She is the tenderhearted of the two of us…she was crying, told me she was sorry and that she loved me. I definitely wasn’t going out tonight. Later that afternoon, she texted me again…”Are you coming over tonight?”
“Yes, I will, I could use a drink. LOL. But don’t freak out on me…”
“LOL…I won’t I promise. We don’t even have to discuss it if you don’t want to.”
“No we will chat for sure but I can’t do the teary eyed thing. I have to be logical about this, taking each step in stride so as not to get as upset and overwhelmed. Know what I mean?”
“I do…see you in a bit.”
My husband and I did go see Jeanne and Jeff, got a little tipsy I admit. It was a good decision…I really needed it!! It was the perfect end to my day!

A Healing Journey… Chapter 2

Having accomplished my first goal of finding a new job, I was thrilled when September 1st came along, signifying my trial window of 90 days had ended, I found myself not feeling so great at work. I had what can only be described as a mild case of vertigo. Vertigo never strikes unless I’m on my way to a serious cold, and being that I now had insurance, I called my doctor and went over to the walk in clinic. Being told that I was totally fine was great news…maybe stress or being overtired or whatever had caused this odd sensation. The NP recommended I go home for the rest of the day and get some sleep, and of course, drink lots of fluids. She scheduled a follow up appointment the week later with my new doctor, Ms. Allie, and I headed for home to sleep away being a bit dizzy.

A week later I returned not only to follow up the vertigo which had pretty much lifted, but to meet my new doctor, have a general getting to know each other session, answer health questions, and determine her plan for my health as needed. I don’t go to the doctor’s offices unless something is wrong, so being here chatting was a nice change of pace. Ms Allie did ask if I had any health concerns. I answered yes…I had a few lumps in my left breast and felt she should take a look. Being extremely ticklelish, I had to warn her ahead of time…then pick a solid spot on the ceiling to focus on and get me through this breast exam like a grown up. She confirmed that yes, there were indeed lumps, and we should schedule a mammogram. This was a Friday.

The following Friday I found myself at a local breast care center, preparing for my midday mammogram. I admit, having heard all these horrid stories of pain and prodding and pinching, I was seriously nervous. I wasn’t nervous about the lumps mind you, just the potential torture and squeezing. I was greeted and taken to a changing room…there, I put on a robe, wiped off my deoderant as instructed, and headed to the mammography room. After listening to the woman explain the process, we began. It was an easy procedure, painless, and much easier than my imagination had led me to believe. The woman told me that normally, the mammogram is the end of the process. Showing me the photos she explained that I had dense breast tissue, and that although the lumps were visible, clarification was needed
Rather than returning me to the changing room, we proceeded across the hallway for a sonogram with another woman who specialized in reading breast sonograms. The warmed gel was placed on my left breast and the process began again. Lay on your back, lay on your side, ok on your back again is fine. I was tired having worked half a day, the room was softly lit, and the bed warm and soft. In and out of sleep during the process, I have no doubt I missed a few key phrases between the two women, but in the end, I was wide awake and alert. “Based on what we are seeing, you should have a biopsy on both of these lumps. The procedure is fairly simple. After a general anesthetic, biopsies will be removed from each of the masses then sent to the lab for testing. We will call you with a date and time, probably the sooner the better. Do you have any questions?” Biopsies…the sooner the better…based on what we are seeing…”no, no questions right now.”

It was as though someone had hit me with a brick. I was wide awake now and my mind was reeling out of control. The last biopsy I had was on my cervix, on my 20th birthday, having just dropped my husband off at his submarine for a 6 week cruise. It was an awful experience…I couldn’t even enjoy my birthday. Yuck, I really don’t want to do this again! As I was returned to the changing room, the nurse reminded me that I should expect a call soon. This was Friday.

Returning home, I told my husband about my mammogram and sonogram. I told him that someone would be calling to schedule a biopsy session soon. He was slightly panicked but we agreed to stay calm until we knew more. Good plan! My sister sent me a text to see how it had gone…I told her ok and that I was going to need a biopsy as the next step in the process. I told her I felt the doctors were already leaning in one direction but that the biopsies would provide a definitive answer. She seemed satisfied with that answer. We both agreed that until we had concrete results, neither of us was going to discuss this with Mom, Dad, or any of the kids. It seemed easier to provide solid answers rather than “well, we are still waiting on test results. “

The Healing Journey … Chapter 1

My goal this was year was simple, to move onward and upward. In my mind, that simply meant to begin really taking a look at every element of my life, seeing where improvements could be made, what transitions were coming down the pike, and how I might simplify to keep my focus in the right place as I admit, I get sidetracked easily.

I figured that 42 was a realistic number to begin planning the next chapter in my life. My kids are 20 & 18. The oldest has graduated and is working on his license, and my youngest is a senior with just a few months of school left. All we have to do is get through this year, and each of them will have met another milestone on their way to their “adult” lives. It’s been a long and scenic tour with these two, and while I’ve celebrated every success with them, their failures and frustrations could have done us all in. Success and can do attitudes brought us to where we are, and while I will never push them out of the nest, even the tiniest baby birds learn to fly! But it’s time for them to write their own next chapters, and I’m so blessed to be a part of that process. Their growth has been fantastic, ideas and thoughts and plans coming into focus, both working full time, and both ready to blow our little popcorn stand of a town.

It seemed a simple enough plan when I made this commitment to myself in January just after my birthday. It was something that didn’t cost a cent but has a priceless value after a stretch in my life that seemed to fluctuate, change, and turn upside down at every curve in the road. If I couldn’t see it on my straightaway, I definitely didn’t see it until I rounded the next corner.

As chapters continue being written, I felt it only fair that I could also begin writing my own next chapter. Granted, I’m on what I refer to as the five year plan. In order to achieve that I needed to change jobs and I did that…check! I want to go back to school and focus once again on my writing and photography skills…I’m working on that. My husband needed to get onboard with the plan to move forward, onward and upward…and he nailed it recently with his promotion at work. My house is getting in order, I’ve thinned out the clutter and tuned into the intended goals. Nowhere in this process did my latest bit of news come in to play… “You’ve got breast cancer!”