Friday, January 26, 2018

One Year Later/One Day at a Time

Today marks one year free from cancer.

It's funny to think that just one short year ago, I was preparing myself to head into a major surgery to remove both breasts and the cancer that was in one of them.

A year goes by both so fast and so slow.  How does time work like that?  How can it be a whole year since all that happened and it feel like it was a lifetime ago but also feel like it was just yesterday?

I can remember exactly how I felt when I was being wheeled into surgery--scared and crying like a fool from the anesthesia that they had given me.  I remember what it felt like to wake up and how it hurt like a mother but my whole family was there so I wanted to be happy to see them.  How the drains itched and were constantly poking me and keeping me from having a shower.  That feeling when they were finally all removed.  The expanders as hard as rocks and then the implants really not much better.

All of it.  I remember all of it like it was yesterday.  But it was not.  It is a year later and here I am.  Fake tits and all.  Almost like nothing ever happened.

But it did.  And I'm reminded every day about it.  Medication to keep the cancer at bay, which thankfully, gives me little to no side effects that I'm aware of.  I haven't had a period in 13 years and that hasn't changed.  For 12 years it was from the IUD, now I don't know what it's from.  The IUD was removed so the estrogen would not encourage the cancer to grow and I kinda thought I would get it again, but nope.  I have no idea if it's because I'm 47 and have gone through menopause or if it's from the tamoxifen mimicking menopause.  I suppose it really doesn't matter though, does it?  My baby-making days are over.

Never sleeping on my stomach again because it feels like lying on softballs.  That one has been hard.  no pun intended

One stupid pointy nipple all the time because I can't feel a friggin thing there anymore and stupidly did not think to ask the surgeon to remove both to be symmetrical.

Less financial stability than I had just a few years ago.  Not directly due to the cancer, but it certainly played a role.  Rising health insurance costs that I MUST pay for--no way I could consider going without health insurance now.  It's daunting and overwhelming to think about.  Is the cancer going to come back?  How long do I have?  Do I have enough time to create financial stability for my kids?  There are no answers to these questions.

And yet, I really have nothing to complain about in regards to my cancer.  Others have it so much worse than I did/do.  I have my hair (as thin and blah as it is), I did not have to have chemo, and I don't carry the gene that could potentially give it to my kids.  I'm working and will continue to work.  I feel good (although I never felt bad!) and overall I'm not much worse for wear.

My friends (you know who you are!) have been incredibly supportive for everything--from food after surgery, to picking up and dropping off kids, to listening to me cry and complain about whatever is going on in my life that is giving me stress--I don't know what I would do without them.  I have therapists in many forms--running buddies and cancer buddies and the very best sister-in-law ever--they keep me sane.

I was having a particularly bad day one time and was furiously texting my friend a million different what ifs, doing what I do best and overthinking and worrying about what may or may not happen 2-10 years from now.  And she was like Whoa, Michelle.  Slow down.  Just take it one day at a time.  That's all you can do, right?

So that's my mantra now and I'm stealing it from AA.

One Day a at Time.

So cliche but such good advice, really.  But that's all we have really is just today.  No point in worrying about the past because that can't be changed.  Worrying about the future doesn't do any good either because whatever is going to happen is going to happen whether you worry about it or not.  That phrase, as silly as it might seem to others, keeps me going.

So today I'm going to work as usual, watch my kid play some basketball, I'll probably clean my house and play with my dog and hopefully, get a run in.

Just one day at a time.

Monday, August 21, 2017

10 Years Well Spent

Well, hey, it's been awhile since I've posted.  Guess I've been feeling good and getting back to normal.  I did a couple of races, both 10Ks, and although they were much slower than my best time, I was proud to do them and finish them strong.  The Beach to Beacon 10K was a great moral victory for me in that I ran it in 52:14 which is under 9:00/miles.  I wasn't sure that I was physically able to run under 9's anymore.

But I am.  So it's my head (and my weight) that's holding me back and not my lungs or legs.

I got to meet and run with Joan Benoit during a training run and that was pretty cool.  She's a really nice woman and obviously a super fast runner!

I look like a giant.  In my defense, I am on a hill.... but I do have her by probably 50lbs... 

Here's a couple of pics from the Beach to Beacon

 so photogenic

the camera loves me

Back to the comment above regarding being heavier--over the past year, I have gained about 10lbs.  I'm not sure if it was happening before the cancer debacle or just after because I never weigh myself but it was certainly more apparent to me after surgery.  Clothes weren't fitting, running slower etc.  I tried a few things on my own and nothing was working.  I was sure it was the tamoxifen because I was doing all the same things as before.

Last ditch effort before talking with the doctor about stopping the tamoxifen, I decided to try a program that was recommended to me by a friend. Stronger U.  You can google it if you want, but basically, it's a food tracking program where you are allowed a certain amount of macros each day.  Macros are carbs, fat and protein.  You weigh your food, track it all and eat whatever fits into your macros for the day.

Turns out I was eating WAY too many carbs and fat and not nearly enough protein.   Huh.  That could explain the weight gain.....

Anyway, at the start of week 4, I'm down 6 lbs and 1 inch off my waist.  8 more weeks to go so we'll see where that leads.  I have a series of pictures I've taken before and at the end of each week, but I'm not ready to share those just yet.  Stay tuned.

Also related to the weight gain and my considering going off the tamoxifen--I'm glad I did this program and now have an alternative that doesn't involve stopping the tamoxifen.  I haven't really thought about how having had cancer might affect me in the future--I kinda felt like having the mastectomy was the end.  It wasn't in my lymph nodes and that's that.  But the other day I was talking with someone who lost his wife to breast cancer.  We talked about how I was doing and he was glad I was doing well.  He spoke of his wife and how she had breast cancer too and when it came back 10 years later, it came back with a vengeance and meant business.  I never knew her story and I was glad he shared it with me.

But later on it struck me, that could be me in 10 years.  Maybe I only have 10 more cancer free years before this bitch comes back to get me for real this time.

She probably thought she was cured.

Only to find 10 years later, she wasn't.

That, folks, is some hard medicine to swallow.  What if I only have 10 more years?  What if?  What do I want to do with those 10 years?

Well, I'm gonna make them count.  These next 10 years are going to be the best years of my life.  If I want to do something, I'm going to do it.  I'm going to see every one of my kids' games and go to every one of their events at school.  I'll never regret saying that I was there.  If that means driving hours on end, then I'll do it.  If I want to run a race, I'm going to do it.  You better believe there's going to be an Ironman in there somewhere (Stacey, you'd better be all in for this!) and probably another marathon and maybe races in other states and hopefully a trip to Australia.

If I only have 10 years left of this life, then they are going to be 10 years well spent and hopefully, with no regrets.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Post-Reconstruction Surgery

It's been just about 3 weeks now since I've had my final reconstruction surgery where the expanders were removed and the implants were put in.  It was pretty simple and pain-free for me.  I took some time to recover from the anesthesia but not nearly as long as last time and I had no pain right from the get go.  In fact, I even went to my daughter's lacrosse game that afternoon!  The recovery has been pretty easy as well.  I didn't need to use any of the oxycodone that was prescribed to me and only used tylenol for the first 3 days after surgery.


The first surgery was pretty rugged now that I can look back on it.  I just plodded through at the time, because really, what else are you gonna do?  But it was rough compared to this second surgery.

The implants feel a little softer than the expanders but not much.  Everything is still pretty hard.  But overall, I'm satisfied with the results.  They aren't giant tits (which I never wanted anyway) but they sure are high and tight!  No bra needed other than to calm the one nipple I have left.

Fun Fact:  When I touch the top part of my breast where the edge of the implant is, I feel it in my arm.  Not sure what that's all about, but it's pretty weird.  Only on the right side though.

I've not had any pain and it's been really difficult to follow the "no exercise" rule.  I think I may have broken that rule a few times.....

light spin and some weights

 3 mile run 

23 mile bike at Acadia National Park!

I cannot sit still when I feel good, making it very hard to listen to doctor's orders.  I'm looking forward to Friday when I get my full clearance to exercise and I won't have to feel guilty about it.  Still gonna run tonight shhhhh

Which brings me to the latest joy that breast cancer has brought me.  I'm hoving near/over 150lbs. (I don't even know exactly because I can't bear to step on the scale and see that number.)  Which is 8-10lbs over my regular weight.   I have never ever in my life weighed more than 150 lbs except when I was pregnant with my kids.  And then, the highest I got was 160.   I realize that I'm not exercising like I used to because of surgeries and restrictions from the surgeries so I hope that is the reason.  I'm gaining weight around my belly (which is highly unusual for me) and I'm just plain ole bigger than I was.  Pants don't fit.  Pants and shorts that I have worn every single summer for 8 years.  It's depressing af.  But I as read about the side effects of the tamoxifen, it appears as though taking the tamoxifen is at least partly to blame.  

Since it blocks the estrogen (which is what feeds my cancer), it causes my body to act like it's going through menopause.  Isn't that just great.  I honestly don't know if taking the medication is worth it if I'm going to gain 20 lbs.  I might just take my chances with the 15% recurrence rate vs. 20 lbs overweight and 7.5% recurrence rate.  

So anyway, I've chosen to clean up my diet--shooting for no sugar, very little wheat and dairy, and no alcohol (pretty simple since I don't drink anyway).  I'm gonna give this a month or two and combine that with getting back to regular exercise and hope that that gets my back to my happy weight and back into my clothes.  If not, Ms. Dr. Oncologist and I are gonna have a chit-chat to figure out how the hell we are going to manage this without me losing my shit over being heavy.  

So if you see me and think my ass looks bigger, it is.  Don't mention it unless you want a throat punch.  It's a bit of a touchy subject.  

Oh and PS--if you want to see or touch them, just ask!  Just don't be a friggin weirdo about it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mother's Day Madness

So Sunday was Mother's Day and I had made plans to run with my best running buddy for a section of the Maine Coast Marathon while she makes an attempt to qualify for Boston.  The heat got the best of her at the Boston Marathon and she missed her qualifying time and she was pissed.  So she promptly signed up for the Maine Coast and asked me to join her.

I was planning to run with her for the last 9-10 miles of the race and so I signed up to volunteer on the course at the beginning.  I found a slot that lasted from 7:30-8:30 and would give me enough time to drive to mile 19 and wait for her to arrive.

Rewind to Saturday, the day before Mother's Day.  This was the forecast:

in case you can't tell, that is garbage.  A shit ton of rain right smack where the race is.  Boo.

But being the good friend that I am and the fact that I had actually signed up to volunteer, I decided to go ahead and go down anyway.  Race direct from 7:30-8:30, then find Stacey at Mile 19 and pace her to the finish.

It was a lovely day for a marathon--pouring and 43*.  I was stationed at mile 4 and would be directing runners to stay to the right.  Easy peasy.  Actually, the hardest part was finding where I was supposed to be.  I am directionally challenged you might say.  And thankfully, I had nothing to do with the extra mileage that most of the runners ran due to a directional error.  Not me! lol

I was pretty prepared though.  #allthegear

thermal, lined running pants, sports bra tank, lined running top and rain pants and jacket

I hate being cold and wet and I was prepared to be neither.  Although Mother Nature had different ideas as I ended up being both cold and wet.  C'est la vie.

Directing folks to "bear right up ahead" was pretty simple and I really enjoyed it.  So many runners took the time to thank me for volunteering and that was awesome.  I mean, it was shit weather out there, they were at mile 4 of what would turn out to be a 26.8 mile run and they were still nice enough to thank the volunteers.  I love runners. <3  Volunteering at a race will definitely be on my list of things to do in the future.

After my hour at my station, I returned my flag and vest (sadly) and went out to find a good spot around Mile 19 to meet Stacey and get her to the finish.  I met my friend Sarah (who is also battling breast cancer and just had chemo on Friday!) and Lesley and we yelled and cheered for the runners as they passed us.

Maybe I should add that I had my tits cut off 4 months ago!  Running in the rain is a piece of cake!

I met my friend, Stacey, and off we went.  First thing she said is "the course is long".  We were at Mile marker 19 and her watch said 19.5.  It had been off for awhile she said.  I told her maybe she didn't do her tangents properly.  Turns out she was right.  After the race we found out that at Mile 12, a volunteer/course marshall had directed runners down a dead end for an out and back that wasn't actually part of the course.  There was an actual out and back at Mile 20/21?, but not at 12.

Anyway, the last 7.2 miles were a bunch of suckage.  It was rainy, cold (although I did warm up!) and windy af.  The stretch of beach that was such a relief 2 years ago when the weather was 90* was just a nightmare this year.  The wind was so bad and rain was pelting in your face.  I tried to run in front of Stacey so she could draft behind me.  I'm not sure how much it helped, but I'm sure it didn't hurt.  I wore exactly what you saw in the picture above.  Rain gear and all.  haha

may as well have worn grundens... trying to block the wind for Stacey behind me

I turned off just before the finish and let Stacey finish on her own.  I also didn't take anything at any of the aid stations or use any of the services.  I didn't take or try to take a finisher's medal, t-shirt or any other such thing.  I did change in the locker room afterward, but I would imagine that was ok.

For the record, she fell (literally. and broke her pinky) at the finish line at exactly 4:00.  So she squeaked in under her qualifying time.  YAY!  Mission accomplished.  Her husband and daughter had our dry clothes all ready for us and we found a locker room to change in.

The locker room experience ended up being a little weird for me actually.  I have no problem changing in a big locker room in front of a lot of people so I went about my business and started stripping down.  When I got to my sports bra, it kinda stuck on my hard ass boobs and I struggled to get it off.  And then all I could think about was my nipple-less breast, my scars and all that went with having the mastectomy.  I hesitated for a moment, feeling self-conscious for probably the first time ever.  I wasn't embarrassed for me, I was just worried about making someone else feel uncomfortable.    Then I said fuck it, and if they are uncomfortable that is their own problem and not mine.  I'm not sure anyone even noticed, but it was just a weird moment because it was the first time I'd ever been embarrassed or even conscious of what someone might think of my body.  We all have lumps and bumps and rolls that we don't like, but not everyone has one nipple and scars all over.

So to sum up my Mother's Day:

1.  Running with friends is the best.  Even in shit ass weather.
2.  Pay attention to directions so you don't fuck up 30+ people's BQ time.
3.  I am capable of running 7+ miles in full on rain gear in a hurricaine.
4.  I don't want you to feel bad for me or pity my boobs in any way.  I quite like them, scars and all, but I don't want you to feel uncomfortable around me.  I'm not uncomfortable.  I'm quite comfortable with my new parts.
5.  My friends are all badass.  All of them.  The BQ ones and the fuck you cancer ones.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Monthly Update

I'm not sure how I used to be able to blog 3 x week because I can't seem to come up with much to say more than monthly lately.  I think part of it is that I used to write about my kids a lot and now that they are older and teenagers, I'm not allowed to write anything that might be even remotely embarrassing to them.  Obviously, that takes away a lot of blogging material. haha  Oh well, soon enough they will be out of the house and I will be missing their bitchy faces.   So on to things I can talk about.....

I have my final surgery planned for 5/24!  Expanders are coming out and implants are going in.  Woot!  I'm not super excited about having another surgery, but I am super excited about getting through the recovery and going back to a normal life.  I'll need general anesthesia again (ugh) but this one is a much shorter and easier surgery.  I don't have to stay overnight and I should be able to go back to work on Monday.

Back before all the cancer business, I had signed up to run the Sugarloaf Marathon and make a BQ attempt.  That is clearly not happening this May, either the BQ or even running a marathon, so I opted to drop into the 15K race instead.  So many of my friends are going to be there and running that I didn't want to miss out.  So I planned to have my surgery directly after the Sugarloaf weekend so I could still participate, but have my 3 weeks of no exercise recovery not mess up my entire summer.

I'm imagining that this surgery will not be nearly as involved as the first one.  The plastic surgeon said he planned to use the existing incision sites so I won't have any new scars.  It sounds like it's just a matter of removing the expanders and placing the implants.  We had some discussion about what type of implants and of course, I have no idea now what we decided on other than I know it's not the "rough" ones that have some incidents of a secondary blood cancer (no thanks) and it's a type that isn't completely round--more teardrop shaped?  I think?  But not super tear drop shaped because those ones needed drainage tubes and no way, no how, did I want those again.  They said I'm scheduled for 75 minutes (which is literally nothing compared to the first!) and a couple of hours in recovery and I'll be able to go home for lunch! woo!  My daughter has a lacrosse game that night I was hoping to be able to see so it looks like that will probably happen!


I've been taking the tamoxifen for a bit now and haven't had any side effects that I know of.  Unless weight gain is one of them.  Well, I haven't really gained any weight but I haven't lost any either.  And one would think that I would go back to my normal weight of 143-5ish after I started running and exercising again.  But here I am still at 150.  So maybe I need to monitor my food a little better, I'm not sure.  Or maybe it's because I'm 46 now and getting old. Whatever it is, I don't drop weight as easily as I used to. Also, I have been getting pretty warm at night while sleeping and one of the side effects is hot flashes.  I wouldn't call them hot flashes, but I do wake up and I'm sweating.  But that isn't a big deal. I just throw off a cover and go back to sleep.  So I guess tamoxifen will be in my life for a while.

As I said, I have been running around 5 days a week, always at least 4 miles and sometimes more on the weekend.  The weather is starting to get a little bit warmer--it's kinda spring here in Maine.  Full on summer on Easter and then back to winter two days later.  ugh.

sporting my Boston Marathon visor my friend bought for me.  I LOVE it.

So anyway, that's whats going on in my world right now.  I just want to get back to the business of living my boring, normal life.  And on that thought, I will leave you with this picture of the ugly town I live in.  Poor me.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


So here I am in limbo.  The waiting zone.  The already-started-but-not-quite-finished yet zone.  That time in-between the first surgery and the final surgery.  It's where you feel mostly normal, but not completely because you know you aren't done yet.  There's more fun to be had right around the corner.

I've reached the point where the expanders are filled as much as I want them to be.  And holy hell, I don't understand AT ALL why anyone would want to get implants or really large breasts.  For example, I have a hard time shaving my armpits because the side boob is so round that there's this valley of pit that is hard to reach.  On the plus side, I guess if I ever wear a backless dress, my side boob will be fantastic.  So there's that.

Also, it's impossible to sleep on your stomach.  Even side-stomach is hard.  And perhaps that will be better when the implants are in, but these damn expanders are hard as shit.  (well, actually more like hard as books... shit is kinda soft but you get what I'm saying.)  It's a bit like sleeping with two softballs under your chest.  Like princess and the pea but on steroids.  So that sucks.

And cleavage is overrated.  I've never had it before so I've never had the pleasure (?) of sweating between my boobs while exercising.  I can't say that I care for it.  Also, food drops down in between them now which never happened before.  Snacks for later, I guess.

In other more depressing news, a good friend of mine recently got diagnosed with a similar, but much more aggressive cancer than mine.  She's currently preparing to start chemo this week and then double mastectomy in a few months.  I am forever thankful I don't need chemo but sad beyond belief that she does.

All this cancer showing up everywhere with no rhyme or reason has really got me thinking.  Thinking about the time we have here on this planet and how to make the most impact.  Thinking about the type of person I am and how I want to be remembered.  I think, for the most part, I am a good person and do my best to help others when I can.  But I know I can do better.  I know I fail far more times than I succeed and I often think about things I'd like to do better but then life and work and kids get in the way and I fall back into my old ways and habits.

I'm making a list of the things that I fail at in hopes that I can look at it on occasion to remind myself where to do better.  Here goes....

1.  I fail at calling and visiting my parents.  I need to do better at this.  In my defense, they both did move far away from me but I still need to make more of an effort to visit them.  Calling is easy.  I just need to do it.

2.  I fail at calling and visiting my friends.  I need to take the time to call not just when I have something in MY life that I want to talk about.  It shouldn't always be about me.

3.  I fail at putting the needs of others before my needs.  (Except my kids.  I'm really good at putting their needs first, even in those times when I shouldn't!) Even when I'm struggling, I have so much more than a lot of people and I should be better at sharing--both my time and resources.

4.  I fail at birthdays and Christmas.  I'm horrible.  It doesn't always have to be about buying a gift--in fact, it should be less about the gift buying and more about spending time or calling or sending a card.

5.  I need to volunteer more.

This list is by no means all inclusive--I'm sure there are plenty more ways I could be a better person, but it's a start anyway!

Have any of you had something happen in your life that makes you think about things differently or try to be a better person?  Let's all pick one thing and try to do better just for today.  I'm going to call my dad tonight on my way home from work.  Share what you did, I'd love to hear. :)

Monday, March 13, 2017

6 week update

Six weeks?  Has it really been six weeks since my surgery?  It's hard to believe because I am in such a different place than I was just three weeks ago.  So here's what's been going on since my last post--about 3 weeks ago.

--I'm back to work.  Thank goodness, because I am seriously broke.  Self-employed and about 5 weeks out of work is not a good combination.  The first week and a half back, I worked mostly half days partly because I wanted to ease back into it, and partly because I still had a shit-ton of doctor appointments. All these specialists are over an hour away so it's really a half day off for one appointment.  It's a full time job to have cancer.  I will say, if I have learned anything from this adventure, is that anyone, I mean ANYONE, is just one medical condition away from being in financial duress.  No one is immune to this. And I even have health insurance!  For me, it's not the medical bills that are the issue (although I haven't seen the brunt of those come in yet), it's the fact that I never counted on me not being able to work.  It never once occurred to me that I could have something happen that prevented me from working.  My financial goal going forward, is to put myself in a better position in case I have a recurrence.

--I'm back to running!  After the 4th week post surgery, the doctor gave me the clearance to exercise again!  It's been so great to be able to move my body and sweat and exercise again, I can't even tell you.  I've probably gained around 5-7 pounds and it will be nice to work that back off.  The area under my breasts hurt the most when I started exercising again--the surgeon tells me that's where they sewed in the alloderm (cadaver tissue used in breast reconstruction).  That pain has since gone away and I really have no pain at all anymore.

--I've had two fills to the expanders and even though my breasts feel bigger than they were, the surgeon tells me they are not.  (Because clearly I know more than he does, right?)  I didn't really believe him until he showed he took out X volume of tissue and we've only put in Y volume of fluid.  Huh.  Well, ok then.  It must just be because they are higher and harder.  But seriously, they are like hard gel-filled mounds.  It's really a weird sensation.  I think I'll probably choose one more fill and call it good.  I want to be at least a little bigger than I was prior to surgery, right?  And I would totally show you a picture but this is a family friendly blog, so sorry!

--I don't need to have chemo.  What a relief that was.  Initially, it wasn't even on my radar since no one had previously suggested that I would need it given that it was not in any lymph tissue on any biopsy.  Then I met the oncologist and she wanted to have the Oncotype Dx test done on my tumor so she could make better decisions about what treatment she would recommend to me.  I WAS NOT happy about hearing that chemo was a possibility.  Fuck that.  Basically, the Oncotype Dx looks at the genetic characteristics of my tumor and then assigns a number on a scale that will tell you if chemo might be beneficial in reducing recurrence rates.  I had already decided that I was going to decline chemo even if the testing showed that it could be helpful.  That was not a road I was prepared to go down.  And we were talking reducing recurrence rates from 15-12% to 8-7%.  I just didn't think it was worth that.  But anyway, my number came in such that chemo would not be beneficial, so Yay.  I started tamoxifen and have been on it for a week and haven't had any side effects yet.  <crossed fingers>

--I did give up the idea of running the Sugarloaf Marathon in May.  I clung on to it for a little thinking that maybe the recovery from surgery wouldn't be that bad.  It wasn't that bad, but I am in no way prepared to run a marathon.  Half marathon, yes.  But full?  No way.  So rather than defer my entry to next year, I decided to switch to the 15K so that I could run with all my Boothbay friends who are signed up this year.  My BQ can wait.  Maybe until the next age bracket.... lol

So basically, things are back to normal ish now.  I'm working every day, I'm running or exercising almost every day, kids and husband are back to letting me do most of the housework <roll eyes>.  I keep trying to play the cancer card, but it doesn't always work.

Everyone keeps asking me when I'm going to have my implants put in which drives me crazy because I don't know.  I literally have no idea.  I guess when the surgeon says it's time, then we decide.  I guess I choose a size and then when I get there, we choose the date.  I'll let you know though! ha