Friday, January 31, 2014

One Year Later... Happy Previvor Birthday!




I have two birthdays!  What is better than having two birthdays?  I can’t think of much!  I have my real birthday, November 24th, when the world was graced with my presence.  Then I have my “Previvor Birthday”, January 31st, when I received a new lease on life.  One year ago today I had my prophylactic mastectomy, and I officially became a previvor.

2013 was an awful year.  Surgery and reconstruction are not easy, but I made it through.  Jason, Charlie and I moved in June.  In August, we said goodbye to a friend’s sweet little baby boy.  In September, Charlie was in the hospital with pneumonia.  I spent most of October in Pennsylvania saying goodbye to my Mom-mom.  She became an angel on October 19th.  She was 91 and lived a very long life, but that still doesn’t make it any easier.  In November I turned 3-0!  There was a bunch of other annoyances/stresses in between all of those events.  But there was a silver lining.  Becoming a previvor has helped me help others.  I became a FORCE coordinator (for more information on FORCE, check out their website www.facingourrisk.org).  I admin a facebook support group for previvors, and I’ve made so many wonderful friends along the way.  But I’m still so happy that 2013 is behind me.

Two very important pieces of advice I can offer to anyone going through this journey is to know that you are not alone.  There is a lot of support out there and a lot of other women who have already walked along this journey, and you do not need to do it alone.  Also, remember that this is just a moment in time.  Soon you will look back and be so proud that you made it through and you don’t need to worry about breast cancer anymore.

If you or someone you know is high risk for breast and ovarian cancer, please feel free to e-mail me at terric@facingourrisk.org

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Post Mastectomy Recovery Advice


The months leading up to my prophylactic mastectomy were fill with anxiety, worry and stress over whether or not I was making the “right” decision.  Of course now I can say with absolute confidence that it was the “right” decision for me, but during the ten months between receiving my BRCA results and having my surgery I feared the unknown.  Questions like “will I regret my decision,” “what if I am unhappy with the results,” “what if something goes wrong,” “what if I don’t wake up from surgery” flooded my mind almost constantly.  The FORCE message boards and facebook groups such as “Prophylactic Mastectomy” helped answer most of my questions and ease my mind.  I began to grow more and more comfortable with my decision as my surgery date approached.

I tried to be as prepared as possible for my recovery.  My mom came to Florida for two weeks, I turned our recliner into my new bed, all of my antibiotics and pain medications were filled, the pantry was stocked with healthy food and my spirometer was always handy.  Still, there were factors that I hadn’t considered.  How was this surgery going to affect my body image or my physical and emotion strength?

My friend Vikkie and I put together a list of pieces of advices we wish we had received prior to our surgeries.  In no way would this have changed my mind on having a mastectomy, but it may have helped ease the struggles post-mastectomy.  (Please note, this is not medical advice.  These are a few tips that will help you through your recovery.)

Body Image
If you’re having a mastectomy, whether it’s prophylactic or medically necessary and whether you choose to have reconstruction or not, your body is going to change and with that your body image may change as well. 

I wish I had lost a few extra pounds and exercised more before my surgery.  It wasn’t medically necessary, but I think it could have helped me heal faster.  A few days ago I was trying on bathing suits in the dressing room of a local department store.  I could only guess what size top would fit me since I hadn’t been officially measured yet.  I grabbed a medium, large and (gasp) extra large top and headed to the dressing room with confidence that I would look fabulous.  I struggled to squeeze into the medium, but quickly gave up with that size after a few seconds.  The large didn’t sit right over my belly.  As for the EXTRA large… it fit me, but my new chest that used to be a measly b cup was popping out of the top putting Pamela Anderson to shame (not in a good way).  I quickly changed back into my tee shirt and ran out of that department store certain I would never step foot on a beach again.

As for Vikkie, she says, I went smaller in breast size, but for someone who has been overweight for a few years one of the first things I thought was, ‘my stomach looks huge.’  It’s not huge, but now that my boobs are smaller everything else feels bigger. Do not put yourself under any pressure to quickly lose weight after a PBM because your body is still healing. If anything, take up small doses of exercise which can aid in your recovery after your surgery Depending on the outcome of your surgery you may gain body confidence, but for others they may lose it. My implants have not settled right so a lot of my tops look odd, any horizontal striped tops look very strange on me, but then I have a top I brought some years back that fits great.  You need to be prepared that your favourite top that was always your fall back may now be the top you look worst in.”

So what can you do if you feel your body image has changed?  First and foremost, remember why you chose to have this surgery.  You chose life.  You chose not to let cancer beat you down.  You are not alone in these thoughts, and there are other women who have walked in your shoes and swam in your bathing suits.  It’s also important to note that your new “girls” may be more visible to you than they are to others.  If you’ve just had your surgery it will take time for the swelling to go down and for everything to “settle”.  Retail therapy may be the best medicine!  Have fun shopping for your new wardrobe.  You’ve been through hell and back, so rock your new look with all the confidence you can find.

Sleeping like a baby, or sleeping like you just had a baby?
Mommies out there can relate.  Remember when you brought that precious bundle of joy home from the hospital and your world is perfect and you could stay up all night watching him sleep and everything was so peaceful?  No?  Me neither.  I remember late night feedings and diaper changes, smelling of baby vomit and not remembering if I took a shower that day.  That’s kind of how it was when I came home from the hospital after my mastectomy, except the bundle of “joy” was my expanders, my world was perfect when it was time for pain meds, and I stayed up all night watching Jimmy Kimmel.  The late night feedings turned into late night medicating, the diaper changes turned to drain stripping, and forgetting to shower became not being able to shower.
 
Vikkie remembers her stay in the hospital as a struggle.  Staying in ward as opposed to a private or semi-private room can make it difficult to catch up on those much needed zz’s.  She says, “Be prepared not to get much sleep, but don’t be scared to ask the nurses for something to help you sleep at 2am when ‘that woman’ is screaming in bed 92 again.”

I spent much of my first week home from the hospital sleeping in my recliner after my morning, afternoon and evening meds.  My nights were restless, especially once I began weaning off of the pain medication (more on that later).  I couldn’t sleep on my belly or side for a few months, and the rock hard expanders made sleeping on my back difficult.

I suggest having a recliner handy to sleep in for the first few weeks.  Have you ever tried getting in and out of bed without using your arms for support?  It’s not easy.  Stock up on comfy pillows like body pillows or backrest pillows.  Always have your favorite blanket or stuffed animal available for cuddles (admit it, you have one too).  You can always try chamomile tea, lavender, baths (once you’ve received the OK from your doc) or massage (again, get your doctor’s approval first), but what works one night may not work the next.  It could take a few weeks to return to your old sleep patterns, but in the meantime read some books, watch movies or post some crazy facebook statuses (um, definitely never did the last one).

All I Need is Love, Pain Meds and... I love unicorns!
I hate medicine.  I hate everything about it.  I can’t swallow pills without fear that I will choke and die.  I didn’t have to worry about choking and dying in the hospital because I had an IV that was pumping morphine through my veins every time I hit the magical little button.  With each press the pain would go away, and the itching would begin.  The doctor switched me to another type of medicine, but I can’t remember which.  When I left the hospital I was prescribed with an antibiotic (big pill), a muscle relaxer (bigger pill) and percoset (I had a love/hate relationship with this one).  Whether you are comfortable taking medication or hate taking medication, it’s very important to stay on top of the pain meds when you leave the hospital.  I alternated the muscle relaxers with the Percocet every three hours for the first few days.  My mom created a schedule so we wouldn’t miss a dose.  After a few days I slowly began pushing back the times for my medication, but if I missed a dose I felt like I was run over by ten busses and a stampede of moose.

By week three I was only taking a muscle relaxer in the morning and a Percocet at night.  As I began cutting back the Percocet I found myself with a new friend to keep me company at night... restless leg syndrome.  My pain level throughout the day was bearable, but as soon as I climbed into bed RLS decided to pay me a visit.  I would lie in bed for hours at a time trying to get comfortable and fight the urge to get up and run a marathon at 2am.  One night I found myself doing lunges across the house to tire out my legs.  I tried just about every technique imaginable to stop my restless legs.  I kicked them around like I was playing in the World Cup while lying in bed.  I put a bar of soap under my sheets (old wives tale).  I drank a glass of wine (prescribed to me by my doctor).  I drank sleepy time tea and tonic water, took a warm bath, did yoga, rubbed bengay all over my legs until I smelled like an old man in a nursing home.  Nothing helped, except... Percocet.  It wasn’t my go-to remedy every night, but there were nights that I would scream in frustration and want to rip my legs off just to get an hour of sleep.  After a few weeks of torture, my loyal pal restless legs agreed it was time to part ways.

Remember, you do not want to become dependent on your medications, so it is very important to take them responsibly.  If you feel your medications aren’t working or if you need help weaning off your medication, speak with your doctor.

Food Glorious Food!
Nothing is more important to your recovery than making sure you are getting enough protein and healthy foods.  Thank goodness my mama is a good cook.  I drank a lot of green tea and ate fresh fruits and veggies during my recovery. 

If you’re having late night cravings during your restless, such as Vikkie had, don’t panic.  You won’t find yourself turning into a gremlin if you eat at 3am, but depending on what you snack on it’s not going to help any bloated feelings you may have after the surgery.  Try to avoid foods that will make you feel bloated such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and fried, greasy food.  Your body is recovering and needs the handful of blueberries more than it needs the handful of chocolate chips (did I really just say that?).

Vikkie says, I found myself with a sudden love/hate relationship with croissants. It happens and it eventually passes. But if you find yourself sitting at a McDonalds drivethru at 4am ordering 3 big macs and 4 large fries and there’s only you in the car then you may want to get someone to hide the car keys at night.”

Potty Talk
Potty talk is an everyday conversation in my house with my three year, but I didn’t expect to have to bring up this topic to my doctor about me.  Being loaded with anaesthesia for hours and taking pain medication multiple times a day can cause some issues when it’s time to go potty.  Have some stool softeners and food loaded with fiber readily available when you come home from the hospital.  Oatmeal with blueberries and flax seed was my go-to breakfast after surgery.

Walking up a flight of stairs may feel like you’ve climbed the Empire State Building
You may feel exhausted for a few weeks or even months following your surgery.  What used to be a simple task may now wear you out.  Take each day one step at a time.  If making dinner or grocery shopping tires you, take a step back and relax.  Remember, you had major surgery.  Don’t expect to be in the gym at full force right after having a mastectomy, but each day you will gradually begin to get your strength back.

Reach high in the air!
There is a good chance that you will have very limited range of motion in your arms.  If you had expanders or direct-to-implant with your mastectomy they put the expanders or implants behind your chest muscle.  So when you think about it, as that muscle is being stretched you will feel it in your back, neck, arms, etc. 

The first week and a half after surgery I could not lift my arms to brush or wash my hair.  I had to rely on my husband to wash and style my hair.  I have to give him credit because he tried to put my hair in a pony tail, but it felt like he was ripping my hair out every time he brushed. I wore a hat most days until I was able to style my own hair!

Check with your doctor about what exercises you can do to help gain back your range of motion.  I would stand facing a wall and walk my hands up the wall in front of me as high as I could go.  Then I would raise my arms out to the sides as high as I could go.  I would also roll my shoulders to the back and front.  As long as I had those pesky expanders I didn’t have full range of motion, but I’m happy to say that now I do have complete range of motion back.

Please check out foobie fitness for post-mastectomy exercises.

Drains, ew.
Drains are gross.  They are plastic tubes that protrude out of your sides with little bulbs at the end to catch your nasty, gooey, bloody fluid.  You need to empty them every day, sometimes multiple times each day, and measure how much nasty gooey, bloody fluid you are draining out of your body.  Some people have two drains, some have four, some have ten (just kidding, I don’t know anybody who had ten drains).  It’s important to keep your drains clean and keep a log of how much you are draining.  You will need to provide this information to your doctor.
 
My doctor removed my surgical bra four days after my mastectomy.  The surgical bra had been holding the drains close to my body and preventing them from pulling.  After my doctor removed the bra I had nothing holding the drains still.  The tension of the drains pulling at the incision site was very painful.  I found that wrapping gauze around me to hold them in place helped.  I put the drain bulbs in a fanny pack so they wouldn’t be just hanging there.

My drains were removed six days after my surgery, however the amount of time needed to keep the drains in varies from person to person.  Some women have drains for a week, others can have them three weeks.

Complications
Complications, though rare, can occur to any of us.  Signs and symptoms to watch out for are fever, swelling, and redness, pain or hot spots around the incision area.  If you have any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately.

Ask for help!!
The most important piece of advice I can offer to any woman undergoing a prophylactic mastectomy is to not be afraid to ask for help.  My mom flew to Florida for two weeks to help me after my surgery.  Things I couldn’t do myself included cooking, bathing, driving and taking care of my son.  Don’t put too much stress on your body during your recovery.  You may feel well enough to do something as simple as making dinner one night, but find yourself exhausted afterward.  Take the time to allow your body to heal.      
 
Special thanks to Vikkie on the other side of the pond for helping me put this information together!         
 
XoXo,
Terri

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Happy Anniversary, My Love

Four years ago today I married the love of my life.  We had only met five months prior, but the connection between us was there from the beginning.  I took on a part time job as a hostess at the restaurant where Jason worked.  I was recovering from my annual case of bronchitis, but went to work anyway because I needed to make extra money to cover the $300 cost of the doctor bill and prescriptions.  I decided to have some French onion soup to soothe my sore throat before my shift started (this vegetarian didn’t realize it was made with beef broth).  I chatted with a few coworkers as I enjoyed my beefy “vegetarian” soup.  Jason came over to join us, and we engaged in casual conversation.

 

To this day, Jason insists this was the first time we met.  However, we actually met a few weeks prior around my second week.  He came up to the hostess stand and introduced himself.  “I’m JC… or you can call me Jason.  It doesn’t matter.”  Later on that evening he helped me rearrange tables for a large party coming in.  He doesn’t remember this though.

 

A few weeks later we had our first date.  Two months later we moved in together.  Three months later we were married.  We didn’t have a big wedding.  It was just the two of us.  Plain and simple.  That was all we needed. 

 

There are people who say that everything happens for a reason.  You find love when you aren’t looking.  Sometimes God sends a person into your life when you least expect it, but need it the most.  They may stay in your life for a few days, months, a lifetime or a just a few short moments.  Jason came into my life during a time when I was doubting whether or not there were any decent men left in the world, or if I would ever find someone who would respect me and love me and complete me.  All of my struggles prior to meeting Jason suddenly made sense because each decision I ever made, whether it be good or bad, ultimately led me to him and our happiness.

 

Jason and I balance each other.  In situations where I become the control freak and worry, he remains calm, laid back and reminds me that everything will be okay (which it usually is).  From the moment I received my BRCA test results he was by my side assuring me that everything will be alright (which it is).  He was by my side at every doctor appointment he could be at holding my hand.  He stayed with me during my two night hospital stay after my mastectomy sleeping on a reclining chair that made sleeping on a rock look more comfortable.

 

These past four years have been the best years of my life.  I have an amazing husband, a sweet little boy and I no longer have the fear of breast cancer looming over my head.  Life is good.

 

~Terri

 

 

mer

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Scoop On Lymphedema


Lymph nodes are immune cells that filter out harmful substances in our lymphatic systems.  When a woman undergoes a mastectomy or lumpectomy a doctor may decide to remove lymph nodes that drain from the breasts to help determine the extent of the cancer.  Cancer found in the lymph nodes tends to lead to poorer prognoses.  When lymph nodes are damaged or removed as a result of surgery, radiation, infection or trauma, lymphedema can occur  Lymphedema is the swelling of the arms or legs due to an accumulation of lymphatic fluid.

Lymphedema can occur at any time after lymph nodes have been compromised.  Symptoms include:  persistent swelling of part or the entire arm, fingers and toes, heaviness and/or tightness  in the arms, limited range of motion, aching or discomfort, and in severe cases hardening or thickening of the skin.  If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately.

There are different stages of lymphedema.  Stage One is known as “Spontaneously Reversible”.  During this stage the skin or tissue indents to the touch.  Stage Two is “Spontaneously Irreversible.”  The tissue in your arms may have a spongy consistency, but does not indent when you touch it.  Stage Three is “Lymphostatic Elephantiasis”.  At this stage the swelling cannot be reversed and limbs will appear large.  The tissue in the arms will become hard.  If left untreated, the swelling will continue to accumulate becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and infections.  Loss of functioning and skin breakdown may occur.  In the most severe cases, a rare lymphatic cancer, known as Lymphangiosarcoma, may develop.

When I underwent my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy I was told by Dr. Campbell that she would remove lymph nodes to make sure there was no cancer.  (Note: It is not common to have lymph nodes removed during a preventative mastectomy, but some doctors prefer to perform the biopsy as a precaution.)  There are two different types of lymph node dissection.  If cancer is thought to have spread to the lymph nodes, the doctor may decide to perform an axillary lymph node dissection.  The number of nodes removed depends on the location of the cancer.  This procedure is the most invasive.  A sentinel lymph node dissection removes the first few nodes that filter the fluid that drains from the breast.  These nodes would most likely be the first to contain cancer if it has spread.  If cancer is not found, then it is unlikely the cancer has spread.

On the day of my mastectomy a nurse came to explain the sentinel lymph node dissection to me as this is the procedure that Dr. Campbell would perform.  The nurse injected each breast with blue radioactive liquid four times.  (It didn’t hurt nearly as bad as the epidural needle they use during labor!  Side note, the blue dye turns your urine blue for a few days.)  The liquid drains towards the lymph nodes and lights up a path for the surgeon to find the sentinel nodes.  My surgeon only took five or six lymph nodes, but the number of nodes taken can be as high as thirty.  The lymph nodes are sent off to a pathology lab for analysis.  I am happy to say that my lymph nodes can back free of cancer!

As mentioned before, if you have lymph nodes removed or receive radiation around your lymph nodes you have a lifetime risk developing lymphedema.  However, there are preventative measures you can take to lower your risk.  After my mastectomy, it was very important to rest my arms and avoid any strenuous activity, but my plastic surgeon told me to begin arm exercises early on.  Raising my arms out in front of me, out to the side, over my head and doing shoulder rolls were great ways to gain my range of motion back.  Not only would it help prevent frozen shoulder, but it also encourages movement of the lymphatic fluid.  I had very limited range of motion in the first few weeks following my surgery, but by continuing with my exercises I now have complete range of motion back.

It’s also important to protect your arms and avoid cuts, burns as scrapes.  Since lymph nodes may have been removed during surgery or damaged during radiation, your lymphatic system may not be as strong as it once was, therefore not able to filter out any harmful bacteria that could lead to infection.

If you’ve had a large number of lymph nodes removed, your doctor may tell you to avoid having a blood pressure reading in that arm.  I always remind doctors that I’ve had lymph nodes removed on both sides.  Some doctors may want to take a blood pressure reading from my leg, however my breast surgeon says that since she only removed a small number of nodes, an occasional reading on my arm won’t do harm.

If you travel by air or are exercising, wear compression arm sleeves.  I received my first pair in the mail last weekend.  The cabin pressure in an airplane can cause increased swelling in your arms.  When exercising, especially in heat, your arms and fingers may begin to swell also.  The idea behind compression arm sleeves is help circulation and prevents swelling.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, please reach out to your doctor.  For more information on lymphedema, please check out the following links:

www.lymphnet.org
www.mayoclinic.com
 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Did you hear about Angelina?


Wake up!  Angelina Jolie had the same surgery as you!” is how I like start off all of my days.   I mean, we have so much in common so it was no surprise to me.  We both have brown hair.  We both have handsome husbands (I love you, Jason!).  She has a daughter named Shiloh and I have a dog named Shiloh.  We both speak English.  Oh yeah, and we both have the BRCA1 mutation and chose to have a mastectomy  to ensure that our children won’t lose their mommy to breast cancer!

Angelina Jolie wrote in the New York Times, “We often speak of Mommy’s mommy, and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us.”  Angelina’s mom died of ovarian cancer after a decade long battle with the disease.

Jason woke me up at 5am to tell me that Angelina Jolie underwent the same prophylactic double mastectomy as me during the same time frame (January-May for me and February-April for her – technically I was first).  I love being woken up early in the morning to hear about celebrity gossip.  I may have muttered something like, “That’s great.  Copycat.” and dozed back off to sleep only to be woken up several more times by facebook notifications (“Did you hear that Angelina Jolie had the same surgery as you??”) and my mother-in-law (“Put on the news!  Angelina Jolie had the same surgery as you!”).  All these interruptions while I was trying to sleep made for a grumpy morning.  I already hadn’t been sleeping well since my exchange surgery on May 7th, but I was still very sore and achy and had to be at Dr. Campbell’s office by 9:45am.

I was being bombarded by Angelina’s mastectomy on every radio station on the way to my doctor’s office.  People debating whether they would remove their breasts if they had a high risk of breast cancer.  Most of the women said they would do the same thing as Angelina and commended her for being “so brave”.  Every radio station was talking about Angelina’s breasts, but all I wanted to listen to was a Bruno Mars or Fun. song!

After a quick stop at the new Wawa for an iced coffee, I arrived at Dr. Campbell’s office.  Unlike other doctor’s offices that are cold and unwelcoming that resemble the hospital in One Flew Over the Cuckcoo’s Nest, Dr. Campbell’s office is very comforting and relaxing.  Classical music plays in each room (I’m not really sure where it’s coming from, it’s like the music is just in the air!) while angels are all around you making you feel safe. Dr. Campbell greeted me with a hug and asked me how I was feeling, and then asked, “Did you hear about Angelina Jolie?”  I may have muttered something ackward like, “Oh yeah, now it’s cool to have a mastectomy!”

My visit with Dr. Campbell went well.  She said that everything is healing wonderfully since my exchange.  I gave her a few FORCE brochures and my cards to hand out in case any women want to reach out for support, and she released me from her care.  It was bittersweet.  Dr. Campbell played such a huge part in my decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy.  Without her warmth and compassion, I don’t know if I could have gotten through my surgery as optimistic as I was.

As I was leaving the office I received a voice message from Linda Hurtado of ABC Action News.  I had interviewed with her before my surgery, and ABC aired my story on April 1st.  The voice message said, “Hey, Terri, it’s Linda Hurtado.  I’m sure you heard the news about Angelina Jolie…” and so began my whirlwind of a day.

Linda Hurtado is a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed with breast cancer almost two years ago.  She had a double mastectomy and has spoken out about her journey many times on the air.  In January I decided to e-mail her to see if she would be interested in sharing my story.

Linda and her cameraman came over to my house around 11:30am to do a follow up interview.  We talked about how I am feeling since my exchange surgery, and of course Angelina Jolie. 

About ten minutes after Linda Hurtado left, I received a call from my genetic counselor at Moffitt.  I haven’t spoken to her since last May when I went in for genetic counseling.  She asked me if I would be interested in talking to a few news stations about my story with BRCA.  I thought it was kind of strange.  Am I the only previvor that Moffitt has on record in Tampa Bay?  I know for a fact that I’m not!  But I agreed to speak with other news stations if it will help spread awareness.  Two minutes after I hung up with my genetic counselor, Patty from Public Relations at Moffitt called me.  She wanted to meet me at Moffitt in an hour to set up the interviews.  Part of me wanted to say no because I was exhausted (I’m still recovering from surgery!), but I’m always saying how I want to help other women in my situation and didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

At Moffitt, I met with Fox news for an interview and Bay News 9.  As I was leaving I received an e-mail from Sue Friedman (founder of FORCE) asking me to speak with the Tampa Bay Times for an interview.  All these interviews, and I actually had to turn two down because I couldn’t make it to their interviews on time!  It felt really good and empowering to spread awareness of my BRCA mutation.  However, I was running here there and everywhere that I overworked myself.  I became very lightheaded and weak.  That is not good for someone who is only a week out of surgery.  I tried to relax when I got home, but I was just too excited!

I think the media did excellent jobs telling my story and mentioning FORCE.  Jason was so excited that he was mentioned in the same sentence as Brad Pitt!  “In the end, having a preventative mastectomy is a personal and family choice.  One Terri’s husband and Angelina Jolie’s husband supported.”

Before I learned of my BRCA 1 mutation last year I had never heard of having a preventative mastectomy.  At first the idea sounded drastic to me, but I soon realized that dying of breast cancer was more drastic.  I praise Angelina Jolie for coming forward and speaking of her journey.  Choosing to have a preventative mastectomy is a scary decision.  You may feel like you’re mutilating your body and wonder if you will feel less of a woman.  I can speak from experience that you are not mutilating your body, and I feel stronger as a woman who could make this life changing decision.  I hope that Angelina’s message will help inspire women who may be scared and feel alone in their journey, or who may think they are high risk for breast or ovarian cancer to speak with their doctors and know there are great resources out there to help them with their decision.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cancer Doesn't Discriminate - One Family's Battle With Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a cancer caused from being exposed by asbestos.  Often times symptoms do not appear until several years after exposure, which makes it difficult for doctors to make an early diagnosis.

I was contacted recently through my RainyGenes blog by a man named Cameron whose wife was diagnosed with mesothelioma 8 years ago.  He asked if I would share is story on my blog.  I am more than happy to spread awareness of any type of cancer whether it be breast cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer or mesothelioma.  Cancer doesn't discriminate no matter what form it comes in.

Here is Cameron's story...


How My Wife's Cancer Changed Our Lives

My wife Heather and I were an ordinary couple with an infant daughter Lily in November of 2005.  That was when our life took a most unexpected turn after Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma.  It was a frightening time, since neither of us knew how the disease would proceed, but I did my best to stay strong for her and to support her as best I could as she began to undergo the necessary treatments.

A cancer diagnosis throws a monkey wrench into a typical life.  Instead of going to work every day, our hours became consumed with traveling to see doctors and specialists for consultations and treatments.  It was time-consuming and scary, and Heather had to endure the physical challenges of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  Meanwhile, I had to take care of her and Lily and provide her with the emotional strength that she needed in order to get through this difficult period.  My perspective changed, and my ideas about what was important in life altered radically.

Throughout the whole process, I became much more aware of how precious time with our loved ones is.  Now that Heather has miraculously come through her ordeal and is cancer-free, I treasure every moment that we have together.  I also have taken the opportunity to return to school and study Information Technology, a challenge for which Heather's illness equipped me, since I learned so many lessons about time management and dealing with stress during her illness.

I also learned that as much as I wanted to provide everything that Heather needed, I could only do so much.  That is something that every caregiver should keep in mind, especially when an illness comes up unexpectedly as this one did.  I had no qualifications or expectations that I would be assisting my wife in this manner, but it became my daily reality.  While I don't regret that for a minute, I learned that a caregiver has to be willing to count on others for support during these times.  We would have had a hard time managing if it hadn't been for all of the friends and relatives who generously offered their time and resources.  

Allow others to help in a time of crisis is not weakness.  It is merely a part of being human.  As terrible as Heather's cancer was for both of us, it brought us a deeper appreciation for the bonds of friendship and love that exist among us and so many other people.  Despite the terrifying odds that come with a mesothelioma diagnosis, Heather is still here, healthy and cancer-free over seven years later.  She refused to take her diagnosis as a death sentence, and because of that she has been able to see our baby daughter grow into a beautiful little girl.  We are so thankful for everything we’ve been blessed with, and we hope that our story of success over cancer can be a source of hope and inspiration to all those currently fighting cancer today.
 
For more information on mesothelioma:

 
Heather, Lily and Cameron

Cameron, Lily and Heather