Birthday Trip 2020

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were finally able to get away and take our annual birthday trip. This particular trip had been rescheduled a few times due to my chemo treatments last year, and the resort we wanted to go to, not opening when scheduled due to the pandemic.

It wasn’t easy to travel internationally during the pandemic, but it was well worth it. We had to get a COVID test within ten days of arriving in Jamaica, and within three days of arriving, we had to go online, fill out a form for each of us, and send our COVID results in for approval. So, time was short, especially to get the test results back and sent in. We didn’t hear anything back after a little over a day, and we started to panic, so we called our travel agent to see if she could help. It just so happens that she has a contact at the Jamaica Tourist Board, so she got in touch with her, had us send some information to her via email, and we had our approvals the day before we were scheduled to leave by 6:30 am the next morning. Whew!!

I am not going to go over all of the details of our trip because this isn’t a travel blog; it’s a blog concerning everything related to and revolving around my breast cancer. So, something happened while on our trip, and to say that my reaction shocked me is an understatement.

A few days before we left, I let my husband know that I was not ready for the trip as far as my energy level was concerned. I had been battling fatigue, and I still am to this day, so I was concerned that the trip was going to wear on me far more than it did back when I was healthy. But I needed the break as I had recently been under a lot of stress, and it felt like everything I was dealing with was becoming far too much for me. We all have our breaking point, right? Well I was very much on edge, and I knew that I was headed for a mental breakdown if I didn’t get away to relax and destress. As it turns out, I was right; about halfway through our trip, I was already physically exhausted even though I kept my activity level much lower than I usually do while on vacation. But I powered through because we had some wonderful surprises during our trip that made everything we had to go through to get there, worth it!

So two amazing things happened during our trip! The first was getting to see and spend time with a few employees from the resort we were supposed to go to. Because the original resort didn’t open on time, there are several people from the entertainment department that are traveling around and performing at some of the resorts that are open in Jamaica. We have been friends with these amazingly talented people for years and years, and they are like family to us. We hadn’t been able to see any of them in two years, so I was super excited when I found out that they would be at the resort we were going to. So we had a family reunion of sorts, and we were able to have lunch together quite a few times and find a little bit of time to spend together on the nights they were at the resort to perform.

It was amazing to get to spend with our friends, and it made me so happy! But, at some point during the trip, I don’t remember precisely when, out of nowhere, I had a complete breakdown. Sadness suddenly overcame me, and at first, I didn’t understand why. I was embarrassed because an employee saw me start to cry and walk away from where we were seated, and she followed us out of concern for me. It was very kind of her to check on me, but I was overcome with grief and sadness, not a good moment for me, especially while on vacation in my favorite place in the world. I remember feeling like I did when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I asked, “why did this have to happen to me? why me?” while crying my eyes out. It was painful because I remembered how things were two years ago when I saw my friends. Life was normal two years ago; life was good, or so I thought. The reality is that I already had breast cancer in September 2018, but I didn’t know I had it; there were no signs of it at that time. I eventually calmed down and enjoyed the rest of our trip, but my breakdown was a harsh reminder that it had not been that long since I found the first tumor and started down the long road of fighting cancer.

Our friends & family in Jamaica

The second amazing thing that happened was getting to see two more of our friends from the scuba diving department. My husband is a Master Diver, and a considerable part of our trips involve him diving twice a day, every day. As with our friends from the entertainment department, we have known most of the dive crew at our favorite resort for years, so they are also like family. My husband received a curious message from a friend the day we arrived in Jamaica, and we didn’t understand what he meant until a few days later when he arrived at the resort to dive with my husband! It was an incredible surprise to see our friend and find out that he was staying for the week to dive specifically with my husband. Our friend lives in Ocho Rios, where our favorite resort is located, and that is one and a half hours from where we were. The next day our friend’s boss arrived at the resort and had lunch with us! So we had another friend of ours came to see us, and that was another wonderful surprise! It was great to see my husband so happy and enjoying his week with a dear friend and having a few surprises along the way; it absolutely made his trip!

All in all, we had a wonderful trip, and it was great to get away and relax somewhere besides home. The next time we can travel and see some of the people we love, I will not be surprised if I have the same reaction; in fact, I will be expecting it. I am human, after all, and I have a very different outlook on life after everything I have been through.

Cherish your family and friends, and stop taking people for granted because someday, they might not be there anymore.

How Do You Tell People That You Have Cancer?

Telling people that are close to me that I was diagnosed with breast cancer was a very personal and difficult decision. I am sure you are thinking that I am crazy for saying that and I would have agreed with you when I was first diagnosed, but I don’t agree now. Why wouldn’t a patient want to tell their family and friends? Or, what would make a cancer patient regret telling them? It will probably surprise you to know that I have spoken with some cancer patients that didn’t tell anyone, or that after the fact, they had wished that they hadn’t.

Family members, friends, and co-workers are never comfortable hearing that someone they know and care about has received a breast cancer diagnosis. It is a hard subject to discuss and every cancer patient knows that to some degree once they start telling people that they have cancer, the flood gates open with questions and in some cases blame. It is sad but true that sometimes out of fear, people are ignorant enough to ask a cancer patient what they “did or didn’t do to get cancer”. I can tell you that I was blaming myself early on. I was sure that it was my fault, that I had done something wrong and that is why I ended up with breast cancer. I know now that it was ignorant of me to blame myself. I didn’t do anything to cause my cancer, cancer chose me.

Sometimes people stay away because it is easy for them to assume that since someone they know was terribly sick during chemo, that you will be too; or someone they know did not survive breast cancer, so you won’t either. Understandably, they are afraid to be close to you because they think that you will die and it will hurt more if they step into the reality of your cancer so if they don’t talk to you, it isn’t real. I have found myself reminding people that I am still me, that every breast cancer patient’s experiences and outcomes are different, even if they have the exact same diagnosis. So many factors go into how a patient will respond to chemo and radiation treatments as well as undergoing multiple surgeries like most of us do, so it is impossible to predict what will happen. I am happy to say that I am doing well now that I am well over a year out from my diagnosis…I am a survivor!

I didn’t tell anyone right away because my husband and I were in shock and we needed to process what was going on. I also had my first biopsy to go through and I wanted to have the specifics of my breast cancer before sharing the information with anyone. Just a few weeks later once all of the test results were back, I told my family and close friends first through phone calls and private messages. As the news spread of my diagnosis, some people reached out to me immediately and others often times the people I wanted to talk to the most, stayed away from me, not knowing what to say. I can’t blame people for distancing themselves because I understand how hard it is to hear about the pain, endless doctors’ appointments, and everything else that I had to endure both physically and mentally for months on end. I also understand that people think that they would be bothering me or burdening me if they wanted to talk about things that they are going through, but if that is what they are thinking, they couldn’t be more mistaken. Right now, especially while I am laid off from work, I need my friends and family, I need to connect with people.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer has taught me that we never know what tomorrow will bring. Putting off spending time with the people that we care about and love should not be left until tomorrow, or next week or when we think we will have time because time is not on our side. {Yes, I know that the virus we are all dealing with is not helping bring us together, face to face, but there are other ways to communicate.} Sometimes the choices we make will only bring us to feelings of regret in the future, and sometimes it is too late to go back to the cherished moments we should have had with those that we love and value.

Breast Cancer Glossary: 41 Terms You Should Know

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer it was unimaginably overwhelming in so many ways. My head was spinning with questions and fears and like many newly diagnosed patients, I felt like I needed to quickly learn a new language. Little by little I began to understand my diagnosis and what it meant for me as a breast cancer patient. Now, 16 months later, I have come across all of these terms either through my own experiences, discussions with my doctors or by reading the endless sources of information that I have discovered along the way. In the beginning of my journey it would have been so helpful to have all of the information below in one place for me to reference. I hope by sharing this article I am able to help answer some of the questions you might have as a breast cancer patient or a caregiver to a breast cancer patient.

At the bottom of this article, Monica suggests writing your cancer story basics using this guide. I am finding that quite often people will ask me for this information whether it is in a new forum that I have joined or during a conversation I am having with someone new. I have included my cancer story basics here in this blog post and on my “About Me” page.

My Cancer Story Basics: I was Dx at age 51 w/ ER/PR+, HER2-, IDC. I have had ACT, Rads, and I am on a 10 yr plan w/ HT, Anastrozole. My cancerversary is the date of Dx on February 25th, 2019. I have had a partial mastectomy, port-a-cath insertion, reconstruction w/reduction mammoplasty and insertion of breast prosthesis following reconstruction.

The author of this article, Monica Haro, is the community guide for the breast cancer support app BC Healthline. This particular app has been an amazing source of support for me both while I was in the middle of fighting breast cancer and also now that I am learning to live life as a survivor.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD — Written by Monica Haro on July 6, 2020

Utterly overwhelmed is how I felt when I faced the uncertainty and devastation of my breast cancer diagnosis 5 years ago.

I dove into online communities to connect, observe, research, and be heard. When I did, I was lost on some of the language. There were so many terms, acronyms, and abbreviations to learn.

Some things that now seem obvious to understand weren’t while dealing with a brain processing the new trauma of my cancer diagnosis.

If you’re wondering what in the world a red devil, foob, expander, and ooph is, I’ve got you.

Here’s Why Exercise Is Crucial in Preventing, Treating Cancer

I struggle with getting exercise into my daily routine not because I am too busy, but because I am still dealing with fatigue from over a year of fighting breast cancer. Everything about my journey has been exhausting both physically and mentally. Luckily I am on the other side of treatments and endless doctors appointments so my energy level is slowly improving. Most days I try to get some form of activity in, even if it is just cleaning part of the house or playing with my dog….it all counts and I make sure to remind myself of that.

Written by Matt Berger on October 20, 2019

Strength training two to three times a week along with aerobic exercise three times a week is recommended for cancer prevention.
  • A panel of experts has released guidelines stating that regular exercise can help prevent cancer as well as help people undergoing cancer treatment.
  • The experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times a week and strength training 2 to 3 times a week.
  • Experts say exercise can help prevent cancer by reducing inflammation, keeping weight under control, and boosting the immune system.

Kathryn Schmitz is seeking a paradigm shift.

Schmitz, a professor of public health specializing in cancer at Penn State University, thinks the perception of the ties between exercise and cancer is where the perception of the ties between exercise and heart health was decades ago.

Back then, she said, getting a patient out of bed and moving after a heart attack would be criticized. Today, the benefits of exercise to heart health and recovery are well known.

A similar consensus is emerging in the way the medical field thinks about cancer.

The latest sign in that shift came this week, with the publication of new guidelines that recommend physicians “prescribe” exercise in efforts to reduce the risk of certain cancers and improve the treatment outcomes and quality of life of those with the disease.

“Today if you asked someone with a dad with colon cancer if he should be exercising they’d probably either say no or they don’t know,” Schmitz told Healthline.

Schmitz co-chaired the roundtable — which included experts from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Cancer Society, and 15 other groups — that put together the new guidance.

The gist of the guidance, published in three papers this week, is that exercise can contribute to the prevention of bladder, breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and uterine cancer.

The guidelines also state exercise can help improve survival rates for people with breast, colon, and prostate cancer — as well as the quality of life of those people in terms of reducing side effects of cancer treatment.

How much exercise?

The researchers recommend that people with cancer do 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 3 times a week and strength training such as weights 2 to 3 times a week.

Schmitz said originally the researchers looking into that question sought to find out if there were specific “doses” of exercise that could be tailored to different people with cancer.

But the 30 minutes 3 times a week recommendation seemed to work pretty universally.

They still ended up with their goal of being able to “prescribe exercise like a drug,” Schmitz said. “Just turns out that it’s, say, 600 milligrams for everybody, if you will.”

In terms of cancer prevention, the recommended general physical activity guidelines are at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.

Schmitz says getting more tailored recommendations for cancer prevention is one of the remaining open questions that ongoing research hopes to help answer.

“We don’t know the exact, optimal dose of exercise needed for cancer prevention,” Alpa Patel, the American Cancer Society’s senior scientific director for epidemiology research, told Healthline. “But we know from the evidence to date that the more you do the better.”

Why exercise works

Patel, lead author of the paper that covered the prevention aspects of the new guidance, said how exactly exercise affects cancer prevention is severalfold.

That includes exercise’s effects on reducing inflammation, helping regulate blood sugar and sex hormones, and improving metabolism and immune function.

“Depending on the specific cancer, one or more of those mechanisms may be more important than the others,” he said. “So, for breast cancer, the benefits of exercise are really driven through the impact on sex hormones.”

“It can also affect cancer development or risk through reducing obesity, a risk factor for many cancers,” said Dr. Crystal Denlinger, an oncologist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s panel on survivorship guidelines.

She told Healthline that the exact reasons why exercise affects certain cancers in different ways still needs additional research.

The current recommendations do vary a bit based on personal history, Denlinger noted. But, she said, “at this time, there is no one ‘best’ exercise — anything that gets you moving and active is good.”

She said further trials are under way to evaluate how and when exercise can affect cancer treatment.

The effort underway for Schmitz — through an initiative she started at the American College of Sports Medicine — is pushing to get oncologists to assess and advise cancer patients’ physical activity.

“This is an easy, cheap way to give patients less fatigue and a better quality of life,” she said.

Final Follow-up with My Surgeon

Mood: Accomplished 😊

I had my final follow-up appointment with my surgeon earlier this week. Both sides of my chest look good. During my surgery he stitched up my breasts from underneath a little bit so the implants would drop and settle without making my entire chest drop too much. During the first reconstruction surgery I had a breast lift so it was important that during the second reconstruction surgery, when he inserted my implants, that all the work he had done with my lift would not be ruined.

It has been 9 weeks since my surgery and my breasts are almost completely done dropping into a natural position. I am completely healed from surgery and cleared, no restrictions! It was important for me to get to the place where I am cleared with no restrictions because I have been having issues with a bulge on the side of my left breast, the side where the cancer was, that has been causing me some pain and discomfort since my first surgery over a year ago. The pain isn’t constant, but it is enough to bother me. I am feeling pain and pressure both when my arm is resting against the side of my breast and if I wear a bra for more than a few hours. With most of my clothes I don’t have to wear a bra anymore thanks to my reconstruction surgeries, but now I feel like I don’t have an option concerning wearing a bra or not due to the pain and discomfort.

During my last follow-up appointment with him we discussed this problem and it seemed like it might go away with time. He also stressed that it is difficult to operate due to pain, as he would be blind going in, not being able to actually see what is causing the problem. But since that appointment the pain and discomfort has only gotten worse so I mentioned it to him again this week during my appointment and we talked about it in more detail.

I asked him if he thought that the bulge was fat or tissue and he said that fat is tissue. So I asked if getting back to working out and maybe even lifting weights, now that I am cleared, would help give me some relief or even possibly get rid of the problem altogether. He said that it possibly could help and it was worth a try before falling back on having  another surgery that could fix the problem or not, no guarantees. So, we agreed to wait and see what happens once I am working out again and instead of making an appointment for three months out, the normal amount of time, we will see how I am doing in 7 weeks when I go back to see him after my mammogram in mid-August for my results.

In other news….here is a picture of what my hair looks like now! After 8 months of growth, I am a blonde again! 😁 I couldn’t deal with the dark/gray hair anymore…it was seriously depressing me!

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.