A Nipple For Everyone

80’s CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

I’m always on the lookout for helpful tips and tricks to get through this breast cancer journey with a little more grace and dignity. And since we’re all in this leaky boat together, I’m happy to share my discoveries with you.

I’m a few months out from any talk of breast reconstruction, but I’m still curious about the process. I don’t yet know whether I’ll be able to have implants. If I go ahead with radiation, the skin may be too badly damaged for a traditional “boob job”. I might have to have a DIEP procedure, where they would take excess skin from my abdomen and create-a-boob. Having a free tummy tuck wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world!

English: Skin sparing mastectomy and implant r...

English: Skin sparing mastectomy and implant reconstruction. Right skin sparing mastectomy and implant reconstruction. 

The problem with reconstruction is that it must be done in stages, which can take months. Once the actual breast is rebuilt, women often go “nippleless” for a while. Then they can opt for 3D nipple tattoos or have an actual raised nipple created with skin.

I’ve seen some pictures of the nipple-free mounds, and I must admit that they look a little “unfinished”. I’m sure it’s a great relief to look normal under clothes after being flat-chested for so long, but wouldn’t it be nice to have an option for at least creating the illusion of a complete breast while you wait?

No worries! Apparently there is a solution for everything if you just know where to look. Enter the “rub on nipple”. There is a company dedicated to making these for women undergoing breast reconstruction. They come in a variety of shades and last 1-2 weeks. Check out the “areola pallette” from the company website:

nips

 

I can’t vouch for the company since I’ve never ordered from them, but they have testimonials on their website. If any of you are farther along on your cancer adventure than I am and decide to give these nipples a try, I’d love to hear what you think. What will they think of next? 3D penis-enhancing tattoos, perhaps. 🙂

Estrogen Replacement To Prevent Breast Cancer Recurrence?

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

 

For women with estrogen positive breast cancers, or any breast cancer for that matter, it’s a given that hormone replacement therapy is off the table forever. Or is it….? Surely if the cancer is driven by estrogen and/or progesterone, it would be a suicide mission to even contemplate this possibility. Yet I’ve often wondered if the link is really this simple.

I actually asked my oncologist about the link between hormones and breast cancer at our last visit. Intuitively, it makes sense to me that if cancers are hormonally driven, then the greatest incidence of cancers should appear at the time in a woman’s life when her estrogen and progesterone levels peak, namely pregnancy. Yet, it is extremely rare to hear of a pregnant woman diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead, the odds seem to increase as we age, with the great majority of women being diagnosed after menopause, when hormones should be in decline.

According to the latest  “Cancer Statistics Review” or “SEER” report put out by the National Cancer Institute, you have the following odds of being diagnosed with breast cancer per decade of life:

  • Age 30 . . . . . . 0.44 percent (or 1 in 227)
  • Age 40 . . . . . . 1.47 percent (or 1 in 68)
  • Age 50 . . . . . . 2.38 percent (or 1 in 42)
  • Age 60 . . . . . . 3.56 percent (or 1 in 28)
  • Age 70 . . . . . . 3.82 percent (or 1 in 26)

Although I love my new doctor, I didn’t feel like he adequately answered my question. He said something about a woman still being able to produce a little bit of estrogen via her adrenals and her fat cells (particularly if she is overweight) after menopause. True. But this amount would still pale in comparison to the amount produced by a woman in the height of her reproductive years. In light of the above statistics, it would almost make more sense that a lack of adequate hormones increases the risk of breast cancer.

DSCN1875As some of you know, I’ve been reading a really fascinating book by Suzanne Somers about alternative doctors who are curing cancer with mostly non-toxic methods. Some of them do use low-dose chemo, but the low doses are made possible by the combination with the natural treatments. Even if you choose not to step off the mainstream path, I highly recommend reading this just to increase your awareness of what’s out there.

 

DSCN1876One of the doctors interviewed for Somers’ book is Jonathan Wright, who is one of the pioneers of hormone replacement in the U.S. His interview captivated me so much that I just bought his book, which is pictured here. He talks about using Estriol, which is the estrogen most abundant in pregnancy, as a kind of “natural Tamoxifen”.

The role of Tamoxifen in breast cancer therapy is to act as an estrogen receptor blocker to prevent the more potent and agressive estradiol from taking this spot and potentially causing cell proliferation. Tamoxifen is the “goalie”, so to speak. This works well in breast tissue; the problem comes in other parts of the body, where Tamoxifen acts more like estrogen. We see this mainly in the uterine lining, where a dangerous proliferation of tissue can occur, leading to uterine cancer.

Dr. Wright describes three types of estrogen: Estradiol (E2), Estriol (E3), and Estrone (E1). E2 and E1 are the more agressive forms, while Estriol or E3 has been shown to be cancer-protective. According to Wright, Estriol will block the estogen receptors in our cells like Tamoxifen, without the other side effects that we see so often. But, it will also help ease quality of life issues caused by menopause, which is a subject currently only addressed with anti-depressants or blank stares.

In addition to reading these books, I have been doing random PubMed searches entering “hormone replacement therapy breast cancer” . Surprisingly, most of the studies that I looked at found no increase in breast cancer recurrence or mortality in women using hormones following a breast cancer diagnosis. Granted, many of the studies did not specify whether the women were estrogen receptor positive or not, but this is the most common diagnosis.

Why do we care about all this? I can tell you from a personal standpoint that Tamoxifen scares the hell out of me. I’m not even talking about the prospect of getting uterine cancer here. I have serious concerns about my mental health if my hormones decline any further. Just the beating that they have taken during chemotherapy has reduced my quality of life. Estrogen stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain, and serotonin is responsible for feelings of happiness and self-esteem. I like those feelings.

This is a very controversial debate, but one that is deserving of attention. It’s just a shame that women who don’t fall obediently into the “medical model” have to search so hard to find alternatives. And it’s unethical that there is no funding to do the kinds of studies that would truly ease our minds about taking a different path. It’s not easy being a rebel!

Taxol #5 And Dinner’s On Me

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

 

***RECIPE IS AT END OF POST***

Today was chemo day; the 5th overall and the 3rd of my weekly treatments. Always being the rebellious child, I started out with 2 dose dense treatments and decided really fast that those were for the birds. So, I switched to a weekly regime with a lower dose and caused my new doctor to have to do math and stuff. He sentenced me to six more weeks with no chance of parole. Fast forward to today, and I have 3 weeks left!

Last week was sooo nice, as chemotherapy goes. My white blood cell count was low, so my dose was reduced even further. That was the best I have felt after any treatment, ever. My mom came to stay for a few days because my husband had knee surgery on top of everything else. You know, chemo just doesn’t present enough of a challenge sometimes. I went for the lightning bonus round! We were able to shop all weekend, and I actually felt pretty decent in spite of having a Neupogen shot on Friday and another on Monday. Let me tell you, Claritin is the ticket if you have to get cell booster shots. No bone pain whatsoever.

burka

Unfortunately, I gallivanted around so much that I caught a nasty cold Monday. So here I am, this pitiful creature with a bandana and a snuffy nose. Quite a lovely sight! I should probably wear one on my head and one over my nose and mouth so I don’t get germs. Too bad I’m not Muslim; a burka would be perfect for someone in my situation.

I find that I’m able to do a lot more of my usual activities with weekly Taxol. I just get a little tired two days after infusion, and my hemoglobin is going down again, uggh! Today it was 10.6, which isn’t terrible, but normal for me is 14, so I’m really feeling the effects when I try to run. There’s just not enough oxygen to do any sustained exercise. But I’m still getting out there at least twice a week to keep some level of fitness. I’m not expecting to be in top shape. (Ok, I do get a little frustrated, but I’m trying…) 🙂

Today I’m going to share a recipe that requires a little more prep than the others you’ve seen, but it’s very healthy and tastes delicious! So the extra effort is worth it. A food processor would be a Godsend for recipes like this. I don’t have one, so it takes a long time to dice all the veggies. I’ll be getting one soon.

STUFFED PORTABELLA MUSHROOMS

Ingredients:

1 diced yellow squash

1 diced zucchini squash

1/2 diced sweet onion

1 cup diced mushrooms (can dice portabella stems)

6 large portabella mushrooms

organic canned diced tomatoes

4 servings basmati or wild brown pecan rice

1/2 pound browned meat (I used mild Italian sausage)- optional

shredded mozzarella cheese to taste

Directions:

Cook rice according to package directions. Dice all vegetables. Wash mushrooms thoroughly and pat dry. Scrape ribs out of mushroom caps gently with a spoon to make room for filling. Brown Meat; drain and set aside. Hover over pics below to see captions:

Bake at 400° for 8-10 minutes. Serves 4-6, depending on appetite.

Well, I’m off to dice veggies…enjoy.

Breast Cancer Is All In My Head

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

As I did my 2 mile walk-run last Sunday at the park, I felt the breeze on my face and watched the river flow by next to the trail. It felt good to be there again. I tried to remember back to last summer when my world was intact and everything chimed along without the constant interruption of doctor’s visits, tests, and statistics. What a different time that was. I was training for my half marathon, and I had almost gotten to the point where I could do 10 miles with just a few minutes rest. It seems like a million miles away….before my body betrayed me.

looking at my phone

I’m not going to lie to you. I’m a positive person, and I love to laugh and make fun of myself, but this crap is starting to wear me down. It’s getting in my head. This odyssey began in March like an atomic bomb, and then it was off to the races. CT scans, bone scans, surgery, endless combinations of pharmaceuticals, blah, blah, blah…..

I know that a lot of my current mindset has to do with the medically induced menopause that may or may not be permanent. I’m now 3 months into chemo with one more month to go, and the drugs are slowly but surely killing my ovaries.  I have hot flashes at night that interrupt my sleep and dark thoughts that creep into my days, and I don’t like that.

Today I was looking at Naturopath programs online. This is an area that really fascinates me, and I think it would be very fulfilling to help people heal with natural methods and nutrition. I was excited for about 10 minutes when I caught myself thinking “I don’t know if I have time for that. It’s a 4 year program.”  Low estrogen does not create a happy place for me. I knew this before I was ever aware of “the cancer”. That’s why I was taking bioidentical hormones. They just made life better all around. It seems cruel that just when I found a good balance, it was pulled out from under me with no alternative.

Aside from the hormonal roller coaster, cancer just plain messes with your head. I don’t think I ever realized how powerful knowledge is. The knowledge that you have a potential death sentence hanging over your head. Last summer, I was blissfully ignorant. I had this time bomb ticking inside of me, but I went about my business, and I ran, and I feared nothing. I remember thinking that they must have the wrong chart when they told me I had breast cancer. I felt so alive and healthy. I wondered on the way home today if I would still be going full steam without the limits my mind has imposed.

They say that my 10 year survival rate is 82%, which is much higher than the statistics I saw on the internet when I was first diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I should be happy with the news, yet I still question all the time whether I’m doing the right thing in following the “standard of care”. It just never quite made sense to me that I could heal my body by destroying my immune system with poison and radiation. This is a daily struggle in my mind. Sure, I’m doing a lot of alternative things to minimize the damage, but can my body overcome it? It’s a gamble at best and a very difficult road to travel.

I guess the bottom line is that I’m tired. I’m just tired. And there’s a lot more of this journey left to endure. In less than a month, I’ll face a whole new set of decisions surrounding radiation therapy and Tamoxifen. Some women do fine with both. Some suffer miserable, long-term side effects. I’ll face this with the same rebellious determination that I’ve relied on to this point. The doctors are going to have to prove to me why I should inflict more trauma on my body and my psyche. 82%. Those are my odds with just surgery and chemotherapy; I think it will be hard to improve much on that.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back in the cancer saddle, making a morbidly twisted joke. But sometimes even a funny girl has to let her guard down.

My CancerMatch.Com: A Dating Story

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

 

Since I’ve been married for over 20 years, I’ve missed the online dating craze. You know, Plenty of Toads, MeatMarket.com, Dis-Harmony. I guess I haven’t really missed much when you peruse the fabulous assortment of maladjusted, sunlight-deprived pedophile rejects that troll these sites. Still, I have a morbid curiosity about this mysterious dating buffet.

Dangers Of Online Dating

(Photo credit: Don Hankins)

I have friends with Master’s degrees in online dating. They’ve been on some of these sites so long that they are earning royalties. They entertain me with war stories from the front lines. For example, my friend Em recently started chatting with a nice-looking, professional man who had all the right stuff in his profile. He was athletic, witty, and charming. After the required e-mail and phone conversations, they decided it was time for a date.

Film poster for Christmas in July - Copyright ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Em and her gentleman friend agreed to meet at a local restaurant for lunch. About an hour before the date the guy called to tell her that he had been helping a friend put an engine in his car and it was taking longer than he expected. He hated to leave his friend in the lurch with no transportation, so he had to stay and finish the job. He apologized up and down and promised they would reschedule for the next day.

Although she was now on creep alert, Em started over the next day with her face primer and spackle and went to the restaurant on time. Twenty minutes later, an old beater of an Impala came backfiring into the parking lot with the vinyl top blowing in the wind. “Please God, don’t let this be him”, she prayed. No such luck. He stepped out of the car in his best Christmas in July attire, a wrinkled red shirt and green shorts with ragged sneakers. She could see the 5-day growth of stubble on his chin from 50 yards away. “At least he dressed up”, she muttered under her breath.

He walked into the restaurant with that lost puppy look in his eyes. She thought about ignoring him and blending into the background, but that damned honesty thing always seemed to vex her. After an awkward greeting, he joined her at a table in the bar. He spoke to her for roughly 2 minutes and then stared intently at the football game on the television. She tried to get his attention.

Em: “Well, why don’t we have a beer?” (Translation: Are you going to even offer to buy me a drink, you disheveled tightwad?)

Loser: “Oh, no thanks, I’ll just have water. I’m not in the mood.” (Translation: I’m saving my money for a new vinyl top.)

Drunk Woman at Pride

(Photo credit: A.Currell)

Deciding quickly that she was going to need a lot of alcohol to get through this date, Em ordered her own beer. After what seemed like an eternity, he motioned for the waitress. “Finally, she thought, he’s going to order us some food. I’m starving!” The waitress appeared, pad in hand. “Are you folks ready to order?” He pointed to the menu. “Oh, nothing heavy for me. Can we just get an order of the onion rings?” Em looked at him in disbelief. This was going downhill fast, if that was possible. The waitress lingered at the table, not quite knowing what to say. Em piped up, “And I’ll have the cheeseburger plate, please.”

The date continued on with sparse snippets of conversation whenever Em could sneak them in between plays in the football game. Loser would look at his watch from time to time, as if he were late for a mismatched clothes convention somewhere. The two beers Em had finished off by now were not even putting a dent in her boredom. Mercifully, loser motioned for the waitress to bring the check. He looked down at his watch and spoke his first complete sentences of the afternoon. “Well, boy, it’s getting late. I promised some friends I’d go fishing with them at 3, and I really have to get going.” Em thought to herself, “How will I live if you go now?”

Lucy surprised

The waitress brought the check over and placed it in front of loser on the table. “I’ll take that whenever you’re ready, Sir.” Without missing a beat, he replied, “Oh, no, I only had the onion rings. The rest of that is hers.” Both Em and the waitress dropped their jaws in unison, and Em almost spewed her last sip of beer. He dropped a $5 bill on the table and stood up. “That should take care of it. I really enjoyed it. Let’s do dinner soon.” And with that, he strolled out of the restaurant and got back in the sloppy jalopy.

It took a while for Em to recover from the loser incident, but I’m happy, or not so happy, to say that she’s back on the horse, dating away.

I’ve often wondered what my “profile” would say if I were to venture into Em’s world. Especially now. Maybe it would read something like this:

SEEKING AN OPEN-MINDED PRINCE CHARMING WHO ISN’T HUNG UP ON THE SUPERFICIAL THINGS IN LIFE…LIKE BOOBS OR HAIR. I’M DOWN TO EARTH, EASY TO PLEASE, AND I’VE MET MY OUT OF POCKET DEDUCTIBLE FOR THIS YEAR! I ENJOY WALKING IN THE RAIN (WHEN MY BLOOD COUNTS ARE GOOD) AND DAYS WITHOUT NAUSEA. LET’S HAVE COFFEE OVER CHEMO.

See ya on the dating sites.

Adventures Of The Bald And The Breastless, Part 1

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

As promised, today I am bringing you a photo pictorial of my weekend trip to downtown Asheville with the girls. Many pet names have been bestowed upon Asheville by the local residents; “Freakville” and “Ashvegas” come to mind. Many people sport the bumper sticker “Keep Asheville Weird”. We take pride in the fact that we live in a city where you can eat lunch flanked by a lawyer in a business suit on one side and a stoned Reiki master Gypsy named “Flower” on the on the other. And all the magic happens while you are being served by a dreadlock-laden philosophy student who only wears shoes to work.

Enjoy. I promise you’ll want to visit soon. Sure you can sleep on my couch:)

We ran across this jazz ensemble playing ragtime for money on the street. They were trying to make a name for themselves, and they were awesome.

Don’t worry, I have more for you next time! This was only two streets worth of fabulous sights.

A Letter To My 5 Year-Old Daughter

Gracie 4

Dear Little One,

Tonight you broke my heart. You’re so little, so innocent, and yet you amaze me with your wisdom . I never know how much to tell you about my breast cancer. I don’t want to scare you, but I don’t ever want you to feel like I’m lying to you.

I’ve tried really hard to keep this from affecting you, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I’ve kept up with doing all the things Mommies do, even though I’m a little tired from treatment sometimes. I cook your dinner and give you your bath and read your bedtime story. We still play “Just Dance” together and hide-and-go-seek. We paint our nails and shop ’til we drop. And I really try to listen to you and laugh with you and just soak it all in.

Your reactions really surprise me sometimes, like the way you hate my wig. Every time I put it on, you get mad and yell, “Take off that hat!”. I finally asked you the other day why the wig made you so upset. Your answer was beautiful in its simplicity, “Because it’s not you.” Of course not. You could sense that I felt like a fraud with it on; I just needed you to say it out loud.

Your imagination captivates me. I’ll never know where you come up with the things you do, but I envy your unbridled enthusiasm for life. To you, it makes perfect sense to wear a princess dress with clown pants and a tiara while holding a light saber. “Can kill girls wear pink?” you ask . It took me a while to figure out that kill girls are the equivalent of “bad guys”, but we worked it out.

I know that you’ve been acting out a little this summer, understandably. But I thought that it was just your way of dealing with stress that you can’t really put into words. Doctor’s appointments, medicine that makes Mommy sick, hair falling out….it’s a lot to take for a little girl, even though Mommy smiles through it all and says it’s going to be ok. You’re so much smarter than I gave you credit for.

I never realized how smart you are until you turned to me at dinner tonight with a worried look and said, “Mommy, how many more days do you have to be alive?” My heart sank. This has been weighing heavy on your mind, my poor sweet baby girl. You’re worried about losing me. I suddenly wished that your were a little smaller, a little less wise.

You don’t know this, but you saved my life. When I lost your brother four days before you were born, it might have been a very different world for me had you not come along. Holding your chubby pink body and inhaling your sweet smell sustained me and gave me courage. I almost lost you, but you held on. It was as if someone were watching and knew that I was going to need you.

And now you need me. You need things to go back to normal. You need to think about starting Kindergarten and making friends and having wonderful adventures. I want you to know that I’m going to be right here for all of it, holding your hand and watching you grow. And I promise not to wear my wig…too often.

Love,

Mom