16 Months in Pictures

Mood: Amazed 😌

As I was looking through my pictures the other day I noticed that I have a picture of myself, taken in most months from when I was diagnosed with breast cancer up to the present time. So I decided to make a collection showing how I looked before breast cancer {the first picture} all the way up to how I look now {the last picture}. You can clearly see when the chemotherapy treatments really started to effect how I looked; the loss of my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, my skin getting dryer and my fine lines showing more.

It’s a given that the last 16 months have been hard on me both mentally and physically.  But, nothing tore me down and damaged me more than the chemotherapy treatments did. Chemotherapy took a part of me that I will never get back. When the chemotherapy treatments were over I realized how much the drugs and the stress of everything I had been through up to that point had aged me, a lot. Looking back through my pictures it’s easy to see how much my face has aged and it breaks my heart. I am doing what I can to undo the damage but it has not been an easy process.

Our Wedding Anniversary

Today is our 16th wedding anniversary and I can’t help but look back at this time last year as it was a major turning point in my breast cancer journey. The day after our 15th wedding anniversary last year I started aggressive chemotherapy. I had already gone through my first surgery to remove the cancer and my second surgery to place the port in my chest for my chemotherapy treatments, but little did I know at the time that the most difficult fight of my life was just beginning.

Everything was so overwhelming and it felt like I was floating through all of the doctors appointments, surgeries, scans and tests in a daze. The day of my first chemotherapy treatment is somewhat of a blur now but I do remember sitting down in the chair in the treatment room and starting to cry. I was terrified as I realized that the nurse was about to pump horrible, destructive drugs into my body.

My husband looked at me and asked “Why are you crying?” I said, “It’s so overwhelming knowing what is about to happen to me, what I am about to go through.” He came and sat closer to me and held my hand, trying to comfort me. He had already been through countless appointments, surgeries, etc….with me, but he has never wavered. He has been by my side through many tears, pain, sleepless nights and so many other stages of fighting aggressive breast cancer.

I love you sweetie! Happy Anniversary and thank you for being my rock during the most difficult fight of my life! 💕

16 years and counting! 💕

Oncologist Follow-up Appointment & Tele-health Appointment

Mood: Happy 😄

So besides seeing my surgeon this past Monday I had appointments with my oncologist and my nurse practitioner as well.

On Tuesday I had my follow-up appointment with my oncologist to talk about how I am doing on Anastrozole and to get my bloodwork done as well. My bloodwork is improving as time goes by. My red blood cell count is still a little low which explains why I am still dealing with fatigue, but it is not at a dangerous level at all, my body just needs more time to continue to heal.

He asked me about any side effects now that I am three months into taking the medication and I explained that I am having some dizziness and hot flashes but nothing that is taking over my life to where I am miserable. Even so, he offered to change my medication as there are a few other options, but I assured him that I am fine and if the side effects get any worse I will call him and let him know.

Overall he said that I look great and that I am continuing to do well. I really appreciated him telling me that since I certainly do not feel that way all of the time. He reminded me to keep taking the Anastrozole every day, which I do. I get the feeling that a lot of patients don’t take it regularly but he knows that I do what ever he asks me to do.

We also discussed the virus and he said that he is very happy that I am not going through chemo right now with the virus continuing to be a major concern. He said that it has been very tough on his patients, the other doctors in the office and nurses. “This virus and chemotherapy treatments do not go well together.” I can only imagine what it is like to go into the treatment room now as there is the issue of having a compromised immune system and not being able to have anyone in the treatment room with you.

I will follow-up with him again in July and hopefully by then my bloodwork will be completely back to normal and my side effects will have eased up a bit.

On Wednesday I had a tele-health appointment with my nurse practitioner. It was so great to not have to go into the office and possibly be exposed to anyone carrying the virus. My NP is pregnant and she said that they had people coming in to have a follow-up appointment to refill prescriptions, only to find that when they went in back and had their temperature taken they had a fever, a cough, etc….and tested positive for the virus. After that happening more than once, her obgyn said that she could not work at the office anymore, so she is home doing most of the tele-health calls. I was both surprised and happy to see her when our call connected as I wasn’t sure who I was going to meet with and if they would know much about my medical history over the last few years.

My NP was the first medical professional that I saw when I found the first tumor that lead me on my journey with breast cancer. She is the one who referred me to my amazing surgeon who has been with me from the beginning, as he was the one who did my first biopsy and diagnosed me with breast cancer over a year ago. So needless to say, my NP holds a special place in my heart!

We talked about the virus and how much it has changed going to appointments at the doctors office. I filled her in on the previous appointments I had with my surgeon and oncologist, and I let her know when my surgery is scheduled for. Because the virus has changed the scope of appointments so much in her office, she actually prescribed my meds as usual for 90 days, but with a refill as well so I don’t have to go back to the office for another 6 months. She said that she knows my numbers are good concerning my diabetes and that she was confident that it was not a problem to go ahead and give me a refill, something under normal circumstances she would not do.

So it was a great week for me and it was so nice to meet with all of my doctors! With everything I have been through with breat cancer I rely on my doctors to continue to care for me and I actually look forward to seeing them, something I never thought would be the case, ever in my life.

Anastrozole

Here is some information on the hormone therapy drug that I will be taking for the next 10 years. I know that some of the possible side effects sound scary but I have found that most drugs that are used to fight cancer have side effects. It is important to remember that every cancer patient is different so not everyone will react in the same way or deal with the same side effects.

Anastrozole is used to treat breast cancer in women after menopause. Some breast cancers are made to grow faster by a natural hormone called estrogen. Anastrozole decreases the amount of estrogen the body makes and helps to slow or reverse the growth of these breast cancers.

Side Effects:

Hot flashes, headache, trouble sleeping, dizziness, stomach upset, nausea/vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight gain, tiredness/weakness, increased coughing, or sore throat may occur. If any of these effects last or get worse, tell your doctor or pharmacist promptly.

Remember that your doctor has prescribed this medication because he or she has judged that the benefit to you is greater than the risk of side effects. Many people using this medication do not have serious side effects.

Tell your doctor right away if you have any serious side effects, including: bone pain, easily broken bones, joint stiffness/pain, muscle pain/stiffness, mental/mood changes (such as depression), numb/tingling skin, swelling hands/ankle/feet, shortness of breath, unusual vaginal discharge/bleeding/burning/itching/odor, pain/redness/swelling of arms or legs, vision changes, signs of liver disease (such as nausea/vomiting that doesn’t stop, stomach/abdominal pain, yellowing eyes/skin, dark urine).

Get medical help right away if you have any very serious side effects, including: chest/jaw/left arm pain, confusion, trouble speaking, weakness on one side of the body.

A very serious allergic reaction to this drug is rare. However, get medical help right away if you notice any symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, including: rash, itching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, trouble breathing.

Precautions:

Before taking anastrozole, tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are allergic to it; or if you have any other allergies. This product may contain inactive ingredients, which can cause allergic reactions or other problems. Talk to your pharmacist for more details.

Before using this medication, tell your doctor or pharmacist your medical history, especially of: heart disease (such as history of heart attack), bone loss (osteoporosis), liver disease, high blood pressure, blood clots.

This drug may make you dizzy. Alcohol or marijuana (cannabis) can make you more dizzy. Do not drive, use machinery, or do anything that needs alertness until you can do it safely. Limit alcoholic beverages. Talk to your doctor if you are using marijuana (cannabis).

Before having surgery, tell your doctor or dentist about all the products you use (including prescription drugs, nonprescription drugs, and herbal products).

Since this drug can be absorbed through the skin and lungs and may harm an unborn baby, women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should not handle this medication or breathe the dust from the tablets.

Anastrozole is used mainly in women after menopause. If you have not gone through menopause, this medication must not be used during pregnancy. It may harm an unborn baby. Discuss the use of reliable forms of birth control (such as latex condoms) while taking this medication and for at least 3 weeks after stopping treatment with your doctor. Products containing estrogen (such as birth control pills) should not be used. If you become pregnant or think you may be pregnant, tell your doctor right away.

It is unknown if this drug passes into breast milk. Because of the possible risk to the infant, breast-feeding while using this drug and for at least 2 weeks after stopping treatment is not recommended. Consult your doctor before breast-feeding.

Oncologist Appointment: The Start of Hormone Therapy

Mood: Nervous 😕

Today I had an appointment with my oncologist to discuss hormone therapy. This is one of the final steps in my treatment for breast cancer. I will be on medication for 10 years and it will give me a 75% chance of my cancer not returning.

Just as I did all summer long while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, they started my visit with taking a few vials of blood. I haven’t had my blood tested since my last chemo treatment and that was way back in the beginning of October, so I am nervous for the results which I will have by the time my oncologist walks in to see me….yes, it is that fast!

After they took my blood I went into an exam room and waited for my oncologist. As with most cancer oncologists and surgeons as well, my oncologist is very friendly, caring, a good listener and compassionate but also very direct as we are dealing with a serious disease. I trust him, I respect him and his opinion as he is here to help save my life. My blood test results showed that my white and red blood cell counts are a little low but nothing to be alarmed about. My body has been through a lot over the past year and it will take a bit to recover and have everything go back to normal. We talked about the different options as far as medication goes and he decided to put me on Anastrozole. He asked me to give the medication a month or two for my body to get used to it as some side effects will go away with time. But, he is not expecting me to have any major issues as I have done well with everything so far and my body will start to recover and get stronger as I get further and further away from all that I have gone through. If I have any severe side effects I will let him know immediately and we can try a different drug, there are two other drugs that he can put me on if I have any problems. I have often read about other breast cancer patients having a lot of terrible side effects from the hormone therapy meds, so I would be lying if I said I am not both scared and concerned about how my exhausted body is going to react. I have also noticed that a lot of patients end up opting out of taking the hormone therapy meds, much to their oncologists disappointed I am sure, but I don’t feel that I have that option and here is why.

When I came out of my first surgery back in April, which was to remove all of the cancer, I was moved from stage 2b to stage 3. We were expecting 3 to 5 lymph nodes to be removed but my surgeon ended up having to take out 18 which is a high amount, making my cancer not only invasive which we already knew, but very aggressive as it had spread so much in a relatively short period of time. My surgeon and oncologist seemed to ramp up the urgency in my recovery from surgery and my starting chemotherapy treatment as soon as possible. The words “very aggressive” and “maximum treatments” were used, everything had changed, and my anxiety went through the roof. I remember my surgeon telling me during my follow up appointment after my first surgery that all 18 lymph nodes were positive for cancer and that he was aggressive during surgery so my margins were clear, meaning that he removed all of the cancer up to where the surrounding tissue had no signs of disease. But, with all of that being said, I would now have to go through the maximum, aggressive chemotherapy, a reconstruction surgery, the maximum radiation treatments and hormone therapy for most likely 10 years, for my type and grade of breast cancer.

So you can see why I feel that I don’t have a choice when it comes to going forward with hormone therapy. Of course, I do have a choice, but to me it is a simple choice between doing everything my doctors and I can do to keep my very aggressive breast cancer from coming back, or giving breast cancer a chance to come back, bump me into stage 4 and eventually kill me as there is no cure for stage 4.

9 months have passed since my first surgery and in the meantime I have had two more surgeries, 20 weeks of chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments and I am now facing another scary part of my treatment, but I will get through this like I have with everything else, prayer, love from my family and friends, and most definitely, a few more tears.

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