Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lights for ourselves

I had a series of excellent doctor appointments in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.  Dr. Oncologist said that everything looks and sounds good.  She is sending me to get an echo cardiogram of my heart, just to see how it's doing.  I haven't had one since June 2011, so it's time to give my heart a full check-up and see how it has recovered from chemotherapy and radiation.  That is scheduled for December 28.  I still have to see Dr. O every three months, probably for the next year.  But that's okay.  I enjoy catching up with her.

My appointment with Dr. Surgical Oncologist was also excellent.  My mammogram showed no change from the previous mammogram, meaning that the area of abnormality is almost certainly scar tissue and is remaining stable.  Also, my mastectomy site has healed very well and remains recurrence-free.  Dr. S.O. has loosened my leash, saying she doesn't need to see me or have me get a mammogram of me for a whole year!  Huzzah!

With both of these great appointments behind me, I was poised to have the greatest Thanksgiving ever.  And  I did.  I spent tons of time with my wonderful family, including an extended family sleepover at my dad's place.  This might not be everyone's idea of a good time, but I assure you, it was.  I have some FUN people in my family, and mixing fun people with Catch Phrase, Just Dance 4 on the Wii, and a hot tub yields a very good time.  

My little family then continued our tradition of getting a Christmas tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Below is our tradition in photos.        

It was nearly dark at 4:30 when we struck out to find the perfect tree.

Our journey led us, as usual, to our neighborhood grocery store, Fareway.  "This is the one, dad."

We waited patiently for Ian to strap the tree in the wagon. 

Everyone took a turn pulling the tree home.  

We put the tree in a new spot this year in our den/toy room.  Ian put the lights on it and us girls took charge of hanging ornaments.  

This is the look on the girls' faces when Ian first plugged in the finished tree.  Azalea's face:  pure joy.  Eleanor's face: what's going on?  Behind us note that we also decorated the sh!t out of our dining room.  All illumination in the photo is coming from Christmas lights.  

This is the view of our dining room plus den/toy room from outside.   You can see the tree in the back.  Also note that we failed to remove our Halloween decorations before applying the Christmas decorations.  That is a witch on a broom flying on the picture window.  

Our Christmas tree 2012, complete with the first present underneath.
We decided to put up more lights inside our house than outside because, well, we wanted to enjoy them ourselves.  We have eaten dinner by Christmas light almost every night since we put them up.  It's quite lovely.  I recommend putting up up some lights for yourself this year.  You deserve it.    

Monday, November 19, 2012

I'm a flattie, and proud of it

I have previously written about my choice not to reconstruct after my mastectomy.  I continue to be interested in this choice, and my interest is rooted in the fact that there must be hoards of other women out there who choose not to reconstruct.  They seem to be hard to find and I rarely encounter them in person, but now some have been found electronically thanks to some recent online publications!  

My friend S. and I have continued to research the variables that lead to and outcomes of the choice to be flat-chested after a mastectomy.  Recently she interviewed me for articles on the websites Flyover Feminism    and to align with IBC awareness week.  Great job, S., and thank you for your efforts to raise the awareness of this important issue!  

One of the articles received a comment from Melly with a link to another article.  It's a great article.  But even greater are the comments.  Check out all of the positive feedback from other women who have chosen not to reconstruct.  Of particular interest are the occasional insights into spousal support.  Considering that women often feel pressured to reconstruct in order to remain attractive to their spouse, I think that some of the feedback here is particularly informative.  

Happy reading!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Calm and smiling

I had a great day today.  I established a new collaboration that I hope will yield very interesting results.  I taught a student a new protocol.  I reviewed a manuscript that was actually quite good.  I attended a cartwheel recital right here in my own living room.  I had a good laugh while winning (and losing) at Twister with some young people who might not always know their left and right, but yes they can stretch all the way from red to green.

What made today truly remarkable was the absence of something.  Based on the schedule I have maintained for the past two years, today should have been PET scan day.  I should have fasted for 4 hours, rested for 1 hour while radioactive glucose did some reconnaissance in my body, and held my arms above my head in the cylindrical scanner.  However, since my past two scans have yielded no signs of cancer, my oncologist has released me from prophylactic PET scans.  !  !  !

The best part of PET scan freedom is PET scan RESULTS freedom.  Ordinarily I would be too nervous to sleep on the night before PET scan results.  But tonight I feel calm, relaxed, healthy, and normal.

This reminds me to say that I am continuing to gain control of the anxiety that has been plaguing my heart since my last PET scan in August.  I don't think I've experienced a heart flutter since before my birthday three weeks ago.  A few things to attribute this success to:  huzzah for breathing, yoga, and knitting!  And no, I don't have to live every day like it is my last!  (Whoever came up with that saying clearly didn't have a life-threatening illness.  Seriously.  Talk about piling on the anxiety in a situation that truly doesn't need it!)      

I do indeed  have an appointment with Dr. Oncologist tomorrow to check on my blood (white blood cell counts, magnesium, etc.).  I will continue to see her every three months, but I'll report back if tomorrow my leash gets loosened.  My understanding is that as a person who had IBC I will remain on high alert until 2 years after my last treatment, and my last treatment was a year ago (November 8th or so).   FYI I  have a mammogram and surgical follow-up with Dr. Surgical Oncologist on Tuesday.  I love my visits to Dr. Surgical Oncologist because I get a day to myself in the car and I take myself out to lunch.  Fun times!

Speaking of my last treatment, the clock to calculate cancer survivorship starts 1 year after the patient's last treatment.  I just passed the one year mark cancer-free!  Happy one year survivorversary to me!!!   

I'm grateful for the good times.  So good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


In terms of birthday excitement, not much has changed since I was a kid.  I still suggest desired presents months in advance.  I still like to be excited by the potential presents lurking in the house prior to my birthday.  I intentionally avert my eyes when I open the closet door, just in case a present is peeking out from behind the coats.  How old am I going to be, anyway?  That's right, 32.  Well, I am currently baking my own treats to bring to school work tomorrow, and only big kids grown ups can do that.  So there.

It is also an exciting birthday because, well, it marks another year that I have survived on this earth.  One never know which year will be the last, but since facing a breast cancer diagnosis four days before my thirtieth birthday, making it to 32 seems monumental.  I had a terribly aggressive cancer that has a high chance of recurrence (less than 50% 5-year survival rate, with the highest chance of recurrence in the first 1-2 years!!!!).  Knowing these statistics made it hard at times to visualize my 32 birthday.

But what is a 32nd birthday, anyway, compared to something like high school prom.  Prom is often a one-time event, in addition to being an important event at an age in which you are perhaps just beginning to have diverse important events.  Youth brings further significance to milestones.  So at some point during treatment I quit trying to visualize my 32nd birthday and instead started visualizing myself helping my youngest daughter prepare for her high school prom.  Surviving until your 32nd birthday is a lot less stressful when you set your goals for somewhere around your 46th.  And I am in no way capable of picturing myself at 46, so I have the distinct pleasure of assuming my continued existence until then.

IBC statistics, come and get me.    

My transition from concern that I'd make it to 32 to the assumption that I'd still be here doesn't make the birthday any less special.  What it does is allows me to enjoy a normal birthday like I always have.

The girls each got to choose and wrap a present for me.  The gifts are perched on the buffet, awaiting tomorrow with more patience than I have.  Ian said he took them to a craft store and that they wanted to buy me everything, including an entire row of fuzzy fabric bolts arranged by ROYGBIV.  It will be so cute to see what they chose in the end, but I actually don't need any presents at all.  I already have everything I need.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Going the distance

Saturday marks my two-year anniversary from my inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis at age 29.  It has been almost one year since my last treatment.  It has been five months since my last mammogram on my remaining breast.  It has been two months since my last and final PET scan.  And here I am.  Cancer-free.  Just another standard-issue vegetarian midwesterner once again.

Ever since my last PET scan I have been suffering from unexplained bouts of anxiety.  All sorts of normal things cause these flutters of anxiety:  picking up the kids from pre-school, grocery shopping, checking work email.  This has been very strange for me because I am usually a relaxed person with a good grip on stress control.  I figured the anxiety originated in my last appointment with Dr. Oncologist because she said I no longer had to have more PET scans.  This is of course glorious news because I hate PET scans (false positives are my nemesis), but also scary news because no one will be watching what's going on inside my body.  My rational self is not afraid at all, but I think my heart flutters mean that I have a subconscious, irrational self who harbors fear.

Turns out it's hard to control the subconscious, irrational self.  (Perhaps you knew that already?)  However, I am pleased to announce that I have gained the upper hand!  I have forced the anxiety to occur much less frequently, like maybe once or twice a week, and it no longer happens around my heart.  Now it is something like butterflies in the stomach, which I find to be much more familiar and manageable.  The mental aspect is not as easy to explain, but it seems to be correlated to the act of surviving.  Since I intend to survive a bit longer, I will continue to work on killing those butterflies.

By the way, happy breast cancer awareness month!  Oddly enough, breast cancer awareness month celebrations have contributed to the butterflies.  Today there was a presentation at work by a local oncology nurse.  I couldn't hardly handle the first few slides about the statistics of breast cancer occurrences and survival rates.  Luckily she didn't go into IBC-specific stats, otherwise I might have left the room.  Soon she got into the importance of self breast exams and my heart slowed back down to a reasonable beat.  Statistics are a bummer unless you're on the good side of them.  You just never know which side you're going to be on.  

This whole month puts survivors on a pedestal, and I am not yet comfortable on that pedestal.  Surviving breast cancer is indeed an amazing achievement.  But it's also a lucky achievement.  Because of this luck I am struggling to be comfortable as a victor of a fight.

Who needs to be a victor, anyway?  I am normal, and my new normal is becoming more and more comfortable.  Life is great.  And I am cancer-free.  Yippee!!  I will work on my pumping up my victor spirit in time for the Race for the Cure next weekend.  The survivor in me will attend in spirit if not in person.        

Monday, September 24, 2012


Azalea has gotten so good at biking with training wheels that we thought she might be ready to try biking in tandem with a grown up.  My stepmom passed down to us a tagalong that has worked its way through her family.  A tagalong is one name for a bike attachment that has handlebars, a seat, pedals, and one wheel that allows a kid to bike with someone else.  It turns a regular bike into a tandem bike.  This tagalong has been hanging out in our yard for a week, teasing Azalea with the possibility of a ride.  But alas it was lacking a critical pin that is required to hold the whole contraption in place.

Tonight while I was at yoga, Ian took the girls to the hardware store to get a pin.  When I got home they were impatiently awaiting my bike (I bike to yoga, you see) to which to hook up the tagalong.  Behind the tagalong, he had hooked up the trailer so that Nori could attend the bike ride as well.  They had their helmets on and were dancing around the yard, chatting about their upcoming biking adventure.   

Azalea was beside herself with excitement.  She could not wait to try "her new bike."  

She stole the camera from me so that she personally could capture her new bike in all of its glory.  

photo credit:  Azalea
Unfortunately I was unable to take any more pictures of the event because chaos ensued.  We tried to help Azalea get comfortable on the tagalong, but it wiggled a bit too much for her taste.  We thought our error might have been starting on the grass, so we moved the operation to the sidewalk, and finally to the street.  I ran alongside the sequential bike contraption holding onto Azalea's seat, as one would to for a kid on a bike that WASN'T tethered to a regular bike.  But the poor dear was screaming and shaking, so we stopped the bike train at our neighbor's driveway.

After she dried her tears she asked for the camera.  She took this self portrait.

("How dare you, new bike.  You were supposed to be AWESOME.")  photo credit:  Azalea
She is definitely my child.  My mantra is often "no need" when it comes to taking risks.  However, this will no longer be a risk issue after she's had the proper training and experience.  See, isn't this me, too?  Seek knowledge and practice knowledge, dispel fear.  Works every time.  

I say good for you, kid, for being so eager to try something new.  We'll try it again soon, and it will be less scary.  Then we'll try it again, and again, and before you know it it'll be as awesome as you thought it'd be with little fear to bear.  I love you, Miss Bud.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Life to the fullest

I sat down tonight to post about all of the awesome things I have done since my PET scan, but I can't find the camera.  Oh, well.  I'll just have to forgo the pics at this time, which is particularly unfortunate because in addition to photos of my cuties, I have a photo of the most powerful man in the world!

(photo added on September 24, 2012)
I saw the President!  In person!  Ian, my sister Holly, and I waited in line for an hour, then stood in the hot sun for an additional two hours, but it was totally worth it.  His words moved me to tears!  It's like he was speaking directly to me and my family:  veterans rights, education, women's rights, education, food safety, education.  His energy and charisma were palpable.  I am not a political person and don't go to rallies or straw polls, but when the President comes to your state four times in a month, it's time to get a little bit political.  Needless to say I am now the proud owner of a Women for Obama button.  Heck yes.  Thanks, Hol.  

I went camping!  We joined my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins for a cosy group-camp.  We cooked, we hiked, we biked, we threw rocks in the creek.  We ate grandma's zucchini bread, aunt Jacque's taco dip, my fresh golden beet chips, uncle Rod's pancakes, and aunt Lyddia's fried eggplant, picked from grandpa's garden.  It got a bit hot during the day but cooled down enough at night for pleasant sleeping in our eight-person tent.  The girls love playing in that tent.  Oh my goodness, and the highlight of camping was definitely when my girls put on a show for us in the mini-ampitheater (gravel "stage", eight benches for "stadium seating").  They took turns telling stories, jokes, and performing little dances.  Children are so amazing.  

I finished a manuscript (high fives, co-authors)!  I wish I could say I submitted it, but it's a long story and suffice it to say that I don't have the internet link required to submit.  But it's done and I'm not changing another word (so don't read it again, Tom).  

I attended a Kiddical mass!  A friend of mine organized a three-mile bike ride with kids and families (a kiddical mass), and the girls and I thought it would be fun now that the weather has finally cooled down. Since Azalea rides a bike with training wheels and Eleanor is still triking it, I decided to haul both girls in a trailer.  Ugh!  That was a load!  The girls together weigh nearly 70 pounds, so the weight of the trailer is probably negligible.  Needless to say I did not execute the whole route (it began uphill and against the wind, burn!), but it was great to participate.

I went to a barn dance tonight!  We ran into some new friends earlier today, and they invited us to a free barn dance hosted by the Onion Creek Band.  We had a ball!  I wish you could see the look on Azalea's face when the circle closed in an everyone raised their arms with a "woo!"  Her expression was joy and surprise with a touch of intrigue, like she couldn't believe that grown ups could be so much fun.  Eleanor had fun, too, but seemed a bit bewildered.  She broke down when I let go of her hand to step away from her, as prescribed by the dance.  That's when I picked her up and we became Azalea's partner.  We're already looking forward to our next barn dance.  

I still have tiny flights of nerves from time to time, but those are getting to be fewer and farther between. Perhaps they will never go away, but I am learning how to make them pass.  Recently in yoga we learned about addressing our fears.  In meditation you find the place in your body where the fear is physically manifesting (in my case, my heart center).  You simply breath into it.  You slowly take a breath into your lungs and crowd that fear in its location.  Then force that fear out with your exhale.  You do this again and again until you no longer feel the fear.  It's pretty amazing and kinda fun.    

Barbara Kingsolver said, "The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope."  My hope is simple, and by living so very much I am residing within that hope.

Friday, August 24, 2012

No more "Pet scan tomorrow"s

Today couldn't have gone any better, really.  Not only was my PET scan perfectly clean, but also Dr. Oncologist said that I don't need any more PET scans.  I'll repeat that:  clean PET scan and no more PET scans.

Has the goodness of that news sunk in yet?  I don't think it has for me, either.

She said that I will remain under her watchful eye forever but particularly until November 2013, which will mark the two year anniversary of completing all of my treatments for inflammatory breast cancer.  Since the PET scans have been clean twice in a row and they require the injection of radioactive molecules (which as you know cause CANCER), we are going to cease the precautionary PET scans and only use them to confirm suspected new cancers.

But I won't have any recurrences or metastases, so I'm claiming that yesterday was my last PET scan ever.  Huzzah!!!

I will still see Dr. O every three months, and she will check my blood for tumor markers and other signs of cancer.  I will miss her, but like Mary Poppins, she swooped in and performed her job so that I can get back to my happy life.  Right now it is not a kite but me that she has sent soaring.  


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Not used to it yet

I keep thinking that the next PET scan is going to be the one for which my heart neither skips nor pounds out its beats.  And it must always be the next PET scan, because I never have peace with the present PET scan.

I had a clean PET scan in May and felt jubilant.  I felt as though I had conquered the cancer issue at last.  I felt that with one clean PET scan under my belt, I would not suffer the same magnitude of nerves in the future.  Yet the mind is a tricky thing.  I find myself thinking that if we could be certain that the cancer was conquered, I would not be having this PET scan in the first place.  If there were nothing to be worried about, there would be nothing to be looking for.

I have been plagued by over-thinking my entire life.  (It causes me to perform poorly on muliple-choice tests, particularly in non-science fields where I find that most answers are shades of correct answers and it's impossible to choose only one.)  Now my over-thinking is causing pre-PET scan sleep deprivation and crabbiness.

It doesn't help that there was no yoga class this week.  Attending yoga once per week has been a great outlet for physical activity, maintaining range-of-motion in areas of scar tissue, and meditating.  I can accomplish the first two aspects of yoga at home, but have not yet been successful with home meditations.  Too much commotion, too many obligations, too much to think about.  This week I would have greatly benefited by a meditation session to relax and center myself.  On the bright side, I'll have a silent hour in near darkness tomorrow while the radioactive glucose incubates in my body, searching out cells with high metabolic activity.  Yes, that will be a good meditation time as long as I can keep my mind off of my purpose for being there.  Ha!

Sigh.  I am a healthy person, I just have to remember that.  Another year or so and I will have fewer scans, and in just a few years I won't have to be scanned at all.  I can go back to living in ignorance of the rascally thing my body might be up to.  Go back to being a healthy person living in bliss.      

Monday, August 20, 2012

Family vacation 2012 installment 2

Another one of the Children's Program activities was to do a cooking project with one of the two staff bakers (yes!) in the new $750,000 kitchen (yesss!!!).  They made popovers.
Azalea enjoyed her handiwork.

Eleanor enjoyed her handiwork so much that she wanted seconds.  Sadly, there were insufficient popovers for seconds.  Poor Eleanor!

I have failed to mention that the theme of the week was geology.   Two professors of geology were on the island all week to give mini-lessons on Minnesota geology.  One day one of them came to the Children's Program with a microscope (YESSSS!!!!) and everyone examined salt, sand, and other rocks.  My nephew is pictured here.  

Note the smile of pleasure on Azalea's face.  

Everyone should look through a microscope from time to time!

And now for a few random "around the camp" photos.  In the background you can see the neighbor's cabin, and behind it their neighbor's cabin (there are only 5 cabins; ours is behind the camera).  Pictured are grandma Lori, my nephew, and Azalea doing a watercolor art project.  We enjoyed many art projects that week.  

Children's Program has a room adjacent to the lodge that is filled with books, dress-up, crafts, and Foosball.  We could go in there anytime to play, and the dress-up options were impressive.    

The lodge has tons of games and puzzles, and Aunt Molly especially loved the puzzles.  We helped her from time to time.  

There is a Camp Unistar talent show on the last night, featuring any campers and staff who want to participate.  Ian and the girls sang Golden Slumbers (by the Beatles).  He sings it to them almost every night before they go to sleep, and they have it memorized, too.  It was incredibly precious.  

We're already counting down until we can go back next year. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Family vacation 2012 installment 1

In July we spent a week at Camp Unistar, a week-long family summer camp on Star island in Cass Lake.  We parked the car at the SailStar Marina and took a ferry to the island on a Saturday.  The ferry didn't return for us until the following Saturday.  Delicious food was provided in the mess hall at the blow of a conch.  Paradise?  I think so.
Ian helped Eleanor tie-dye a shirt with the Children's Program.  That's right, there were children's activities scheduled every day from 10-12, and you could drop your kids off or stay with them.  Now do you believe me that it was paradise?

This is Eleanor goofing around with a fish face after tie-dying her shirt.  

Fishing with daddy/Uncle Ian.  Eleanor was the first one to catch a fish.  She was soooo excited until she reeled it up out of the water and could see it flopping around.  Then she screamed, and Azalea screamed, and no one wanted to fish anymore.  "Dad, I want you to take my worm off the hook so that I can still fish."

This is the best picture I got of my honey and I, and it's not so bad except for the angle.  Favors our chins in a less than flattering way.

One of the Children's Program activites was to write letters to the fairies that live on Star Island.  

We then took a hike through the woods with our letters to the fairies (note that Eleanor chose to hike in a princess dress for the occasion).

We found the fairy village on our hike.  We inspected their cool houses and left our letters under a rock.  

The beach was one of our favorite activities!  Cass lake is crystal clear, and the camp's sandy beach goes on and on.  There are two platforms anchored in the water.
My Nori Rose.

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Good if not thorough news

Today the nurse called from Dr. Dermatologist's office with my biopsy results.

Biopsy #1:  persistent shoulder rash.  The nurse on the phone said that the doctor, "thinks its a rare form of eczema."  He thinks?  We biopsied this baby and someone still lacks confidence with the diagnosis?  This is why it's better to get the results in person and read the pathology report with the doctor.  At any rate, I'll see Dr. Oncologist next week after the PET scan, so I'll ask to access the skin biopsy report then.  In the meantime, Dr. D. prescribed a strong steroid to motivate the rash to go away.  We're to give it 2 weeks to be effective before we try other approaches.

Biopsy #2.  black thigh non-scab.  I was told that this was a benign growth.  I like the word" benign", but not the word "growth".  Again, I am keen to read the pathology report and get some more details on this odd growth that sprang up in the last few weeks.

All in all this is definitely good news, but I am greatly looking forward to learning more details about these conclusions.  

In the meantime I will add more substance to this post with a teaser of our summer vacation photos.  The next post will be the vacation photo essay.

After dinner on a windy evening, the four of us hiked across the island to sunset rock.  Here  you can see me stepping over a log while the girls are ducking under it.  The sun's glare through the trees indicates that we are near our goal.  

We discovered that the lake was calm at sunset rock (part of the rock is captured on the bottom right, with various of our garrments sunning on it) despite the wind on our side of the island.  We stayed for a long time, throwing rocks in the water and running along the beach.    
My Azalea Bud.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In the flesh, out of the flesh

I'll do another post shortly with pictures of our family vacation to northern Minnesota, but first a brief health update.

Let's begin by establishing the fact that I am wonderful.  I am, no, that's not quite it...nearly ecstatic on a daily basis to be enjoying life (specifically summer life) with my daughters, husband, friends, and family.  We have gone on bike rides and had sleepovers and listened to bands and grilled on the patio, and it has all been so wonderful.  I have experienced many thankful moments in which I recalled my previous thoughts of not being alive for summer 2012.  At diagnosis almost 2 years ago I faced the very real potential of not surviving this long.  And here I am, in the flesh, enjoying every minute of it.  My bathtub could use a cleaning, but let's not disrupt the grace of this paragraph with the extended list of neglected chores.

Speaking of flesh, mine has two doctor-made wounds in it.  Last Friday I saw Dr. Dermatologist, on the recommendation of Dr. Oncologist, to check out two unusual areas on my skin.  Near my right shoulder I have small patch of 5 contiguous raised bumps.  They do not itch or hurt.  I first noticed them when I arrived in San Francisco, so I presumed that my backpacked had rubbed during traveling and had caused an irritation.  A week or so later I realized that they were still there, so I put some hydrocortisone on them.  This is the stuff previously prescribed to me for my post-surgery eczema.  But the hydrocortisone made the rash spread in a painful way.  I remembered from a different, post-radiation chest wall rash that hydrocortisone aggravates fungal infections, so I treated my rash with the remaining anti-fungal from that episode.  The hydrocortisone-induced rash disappeared, but the original rash remained.  The I thought that maybe my supposed fungal infection was either resistant or insensitive to this antifungal, so I applied a different antifungal leftover from the childrens' diaper-rash days.  When it was clear that this third attack was being ignored by the rash, it was time to call Dr. O.

You might be wondering why I did not call a doctor sooner.  I elected to try my own treatments based on my own experiences because the first thing that doctors tell you is to watch the (fill-in-the-blank) ailment and look for changes.  I do not as a rule recommend such cavalier patient behavior, but since my rash was not getting bigger or worse (hydrocortisone treatment excepted), I gave it some time to resolve so that I could report all of the data at the time of the appointment.

And that is what I was able to do.  Less than two months after noticing the rash I sat in Dr. Dermatologist's office and recited the history of my rash.  He said that it could be a rare form of eczema that occurs near joints (the name he rattled off completely evades me), but that he'll take a small sample (biopsy) to be sure.

Excellent!  This type of firm decision-making via informed prescription or biopsy is exactly what I was looking for!

That is the story of biopsy number 1.  The cause of biopsy number 2 is actually what motivated me to make an appointment (indeed, a different way to interpret the above story is that I was procrastinating taking action on the innocuous shoulder rash).

Cause #2 used to reside on the outer flank of my right thigh.  I noticed it nearly three weeks ago when scratching an itch.  It was raised and rough, like a scab, and the size of a pinhead.  For a few days I thought it was a scab.  But then I realized that it wasn't behaving like a scab by, you know, falling off.  Upon closer inspection it was black in color rather than that rusty scab color.  The one thing going in its favor is that it was quite symmetrical, and the ABC's of melanoma start with Asymmetry.  At any rate, Dr. Dermatologist's possible explanation for this non-scab scab was that a cluster of blood vessels burst under my skin awhile ago, and now that the burst had reached the top it appeared black.  But he decided to biopsy it anyway, and unlike the shoulder rash I think that the entire troublemaker was removed.

I'm moderately terrified that I will be embarrassed when I am obligated to post that the results of the biopsy indicate "blackhead", but I suppose it would be Dr. Dermatologist who should be embarrassed for biopsying said blackhead.  

All in all this is excellent timing for my flesh samplings because the dreaded PET scan is next Thursday (8/23).  Rooting for a second clean one, marking two clean ones in a row, which MUST be OUTSTANDING news for ME and my FUTURE after IBC.  I suppose I'm also rooting for good flesh biopsy results, but at present I am (perhaps naively) unconcerned.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June in pictures

Is it obvious that I have completely let my family and professional lives overrun my cancer life?  Well, I have, and it's been wonderful.  There were several days when I thought to myself that I should blog, but I must admit that I enjoyed the "break" from it, as if I were previously under some blogging obligation or something.  Regardless, I'm back now and intend to keep blogging occasionally, although it's possible that I'll never resume my previous productivity.  I do a lot of writing for my scientific career, and I am actively working on turning SGPC into some sort of a book, so the blog is just not going to get the attention it deserves.  

I didn't have a camera by my side for all of the great things I have done this past month, but here are a few highlights that were captured in photos.  First, I held a teacher appreciation party (this may have actually been in May) for my girls' preschool teachers.  I cooked them dinner, gave them a crochet hook and a ball of yarn, and taught them how to crochet.  It was a great time!  My star student had a finished potholder by the end of the week, and even went on to make a second one on her own.  Good job, teachers!

Second, I have so much fun doing my girls' hair.
Here is a fishtail braid on Azalea
Eleanor wanted no part of the braiding process but was nonetheless interested in a photo.
 Also, for Father's day I crocheted Ian his own special blankie.  Love you, you special daddy you.

Finally, I traveled to San Francisco for the 112th American Society for Microbiology conference.  My friend S. also traveled there with baby C. and scientist husband T.  She found an evening yoga session at Grace cathedral.  The sky was clear, the hill was tall, the church was breathtaking, and the yoga put my breath back in place.  Phenomenal evening. 

I spent a few of my conference lunches with some mom friends.  I was the baby social coordinator for a day.  

It's been a wonderful, 100% cancer-free month.  July will be just as glorious.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I heart

a clean PET scan.

I'm walking on sunshine, and the accompanying music video is hilarious.

The glowing colon is gone, the glowing chest wall is gone, only the glowing lung remains and it is stable from the last several scans.  Huzzah huzzah, and again huzzah!

I hope you all have a glorious long weekend! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

50% complete

I am halfway through my week of scans, -grams, and exams.  I should be saying "huzzah", but I'm feeling a little crabby so I'll just say "yay".  I think I'm crabby despite the 50% mark because the most dreaded of the tasks awaits me tomorrow:  the PET scan.  

The mammogram was awesome yesterday.  The technician was talented and inflicted minimal discomfort, and the results could not have been better:  the abnormality first visualized in November has not changed, and so we continue to conclude that it's scar tissue from last April's biopsy.

"No new abnormalities" is worthy of celebration in my world.  To celebrate, I stopped at The Loft Outlet on my way home and bought some clothes for myself.  (Those of you who know me know that I do not enjoy shopping and rarely buy anything for myself, so this truly was a special event.)  Despite my repulsion from shopping, I need some new clothes.  I would like to build up my summer wardrobe with shirts that are more flattering for my asymmetry.  This includes shirts that are a bit loose-fitting with accents on the left breast area or big patterns in the fabric.  My old wardrobe includes very few items that fit this description.  To date, The Loft has been the best store to suit my needs.

Today was my first of two root scaling sessions.  It truly wasn't as bad as it sounds.  I would go so far as to say that it was scarcely unpleasant.  The hygienist squirted a little bit of numbing solution at the gum line before using an ultrasonicating tool (micro-vibrating tool) to scrape my teeth just below the gumline.  Then she went through with a normal tool to double-check her work and manually scrape any places the ultrasonicating tool missed.  Hmm, although it wasn't very uncomfortable at the time, the half of my mouth that was scaled is emanating a mild yet nagging dull pain.  Perhaps I should take some tylenol, thus relieving my crabbiness by eliminating the pain only acknowledged when analyzing myself for the purpose of typing this post.

Tylenol administered.  Thank you for that.    

In a month I'll return to the dentist to scale the other half of my mouth.  After everything is properly scaled, the protocol is to keep up my dental regimen and hope that the problem doesn't get any worse.  Oh yea, and of course I'm to go to the dentist every 6 months for a professional cleaning.

Ugh ugh ugh, PET scan tomorrow, ugh ugh ugh.  I am trying to be so tough and so brave, but the truth might be that I am marginally terrified.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Seeking nothing

This week is going to be a week in doctors' offices unlike any I've had since...early spring.  Tomorrow I'm off to Iowa City for a mammogram and surgical follow-up, Wednesday I'm off to the dentist for a root scaling (more on that in a bit), Thursday is my quarterly PET scan plus blood draw and port flush, and Friday is PET scan results day.  And I suppose if we're true to a 7-day week then I can include my toe follow-up appointment next Tuesday.  I am the least nervous I've ever been for these tests, possibly because I feel so fabulous.  How can I have cancer lurking in my liver when things are going so well?  How could a tumor be growing in my brain while I just co-wrote and submitted a sweet little review article?  How might my lungs be fostering cancerous nodes although I breathed so deeply as I biked to work last week?  These lines of evidence suggest that I am cancer free where it counts.  

I hope I can keep up this positive attitude up throughout the week.  The familiar butterflies in my tummy were just starting to fly away.    

What is this business of root scaling?  A few weeks ago I decided I had enough sick leave built up to tend to routine checkups, including my eyes and teeth.  The results showed that my eyes have not changed, but my teeth are another story.  They are still 100% cavity-free, pearlie-white, and strong, but my gums have receded a bit.  I noticed that they receded during chemotherapy, and I noticed that they did not "grow" back.  But the change was minor, caused me no problems, and ceased to get worse after chemo ended.  Well, my dental x-rays revealed that the problem is much greater than my phenotype suggests.  I have had significant bone loss due to bacterial biofilms that have formed beneath the gum line.  (Shout-out to bacterial biofilms and those of you researching them.  They are the coolest, but not when they are in my mouth.)  My outstanding dental hygiene regimen that has long included daily brushing, flossing, and mouth-washing was not sufficient to prevent these pesky bacteria from digging in in the relative absence of my immune system.  Boo.  

I was diagnosed with early periodontal disease, which can be stopped in its tracks via root scaling.  The hygienist will use a special sonicator tool to disrupt the bacterial biofilms that are thriving below my gumline.  It'll be relatively uncomfortable, and so local anesthetic will be offered.  I will have to go in for two sessions of root scaling, having half of my mouth scaled at a time.  Tomorrow will be the first of the two.  It will be a bummer, but not so bad.  I just harken myself back to the spine biopsy, or the post-mastectomy drainage tubes, or any day during chemotherapy, and I instantly realize that I can handle a couple of sessions of root scaling.  Boo-M.  

One reason I am in such a good mood is that I had a remarkable weekend.  I took the girls to the Twin Cities to see one of my dearest friends from grad school, my amazing college roommate, and one of my favorite former labmates.  We also visited the Minnesota Children's museum and Minnehaha falls.  Nothing like introducing your children to old friends to bridge the gap between life pre- and post-cancer.  Needless to say, it was a most enjoyable and therapeutic weekend.  

Come and get me, scans, -grams, and exams.  You will reveal no cancer in this girl.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It doesn't take much

Isn't it funny how some weekends go by so fast and you can't even remember what you did?  Then other weekends, like when your husband surprises you and your daughters with a weekend getaway at a cabin on the shores of the Mississippi River, are savored for every moment.  We were only there two nights, but it was just what we needed.  We needed nature so badly that we didn't get any pictures of the inside of the cabin.