A view from the valley

red ink . . .

So really, if my girl could manage to post today, I thought I could give you a view from where I sit — right here in the valley, with Barb. My conversation with Barb today was the first time (believe it or not) that we both literally broke down together. Now we’ve had other moments but not like today. We cried about the uncertainty ahead because at the end of the day we are chicks who like to have a plan and to know what’s coming next . . . We cried because we felt like our prayers were somehow not being heard . . . We cried because we are both scared . . . and we cried big tears about the loves of her life and how they would handle this latest devastating twist. Finally, she cried for herself and I cried for me. We both admitted that we just didn’t know what to do next and it occurred to me that we weren’t “supposed” to know what to do – neither she, the patient, or me, the friend. This should NOT be happening. We should NOT be here. But after lingering in the valley for a good little while, guess what? – we went about the business of formulating a plan that was about looking up. She asked me to call a few people to update them because she, understandably, wasn’t up to repeating things over and over again. I encouraged her to just go outside and let the sun shine on her face and then to see about getting a counselor for herself to pour out all of the things that she might not want to say to anyone else at this point, including me.

It strikes me that you learn a lot about who you are and about who your friends are when you experience a valley together. This is probably why the expression “we were in the trenches together” brings to mind people who are forever connected by a challenging common experience. Well, I’ll tell you, my girl, actually had the presence of mind in the midst of all of this to ask about me. She genuinely wanted to hear about my weekend away with my daughter and remembered to ask about each of my children. She also told me all about the breast cancer PSAs that she recorded with her friends in Phoenix and all about little B’s upcoming big “audition.” Believe it or not, we got off the phone laughing. . .about how crazy I looked (after our cry fest) as I was going to meet a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while for lunch . . . laughing about how relieved we will be to get to the Vineyard this summer . . . I told her that I might just jump ship and swim to shore when I see her waving!

While I know that there are many things that we didn’t talk about today, the things that we did talk about, really mattered, and helped us both look up just a little.

Fight to the finish

pink ink…

Big B has given me a 15-minute reprieve to get this post in! So buckle your seat belts! It’s a bumpy ride!

Sunday was a great and uplifting day! My Cancer Mentors and I spent several hours taping PSAs about Life in the Cancer Lane. (Shout out to up and coming Director Ms. Crystal) We covered make up during chemo, how to tie scarves, and how to choose and style a wig, to name a few topics. The best part of the afternoon was when we discussed why one needs a Cancer Mentor in the Cancer Lane, and what it has meant to each of us. It was also interesting to just reflect on the fact that we were 3 black women all diagnosed in our early 40s. While our stories are similar, they are also vastly different. But the experiences provide a plethora of information. I went to bed on the eve of my surgery feeling good.

Fast forward. Surgery scheduled for early afternoon was delayed 2 hours. Mind you, I hadn’t eaten in about 15 hours. They gave me a mouth swab to “wet” my mouth. Didn’t work! Cancer Mentor Tracey and Big B tried to keep me calm! I was delirious by the time I was wheeled into the operating room. So here we go…

I was deflated even more while in surgery. Now my breast is 70% smaller than it was just 2 days ago. I already miss my DDs. Alas, it was not meant to be. I was deflated, b/c the surgeon needed to cut out a large swatch of skin. In addition, while “in there”, she found even more cancer. Again, you read correctly. MORE cancer. We have come to learn that in the 20 years of my doctor performing surgery, she has seen this kind of re-appearance of cancer cells after a mastectomy only 2 other times.

One person lived.

I am number 3….with a Frankenstein looking scar above my mastectomy scar.

We are numb. Plain and simple, just numb. Big B had to have the “timeline for survival” talk with my doctor. The “are we on a countdown to the end?” conversation. The “will she live?” conversation. When he told me that, I was devastated. It was the 1st time we spoke of mortality, in real terms. My husband needs a wife! My daughter needs a mom! I need a vacation with my husband and daughter and no pain! The fact is, we just don’t know where the finish line is anymore. But we will fight, as long as we can! That said, we need a few days to get our heads back in the game. I need time to physically heal from all of the cutting. I am only posting now b/c we have received so many emails and calls, that I felt an obligation to answer the questions all at once. No funny anecdote today. Not sure when radiation will start. Probably in a week, because they want to try and stop any other cells from developing.

Side note, I also had my other breast reduced by 70%, so at least I am symmetrical again! They did this so the left breast wouldn’t get in the way of the radiation of the right breast. I must be honest and say that I am sad about the smaller size. In my crazed emotional state, I gave my Radio-oncologist, who is also my girl, the business about requiring my boobs to stay smaller during radiation! That was before I knew how serious this new detour is. (Sorry Dr. Michele!) I must tell you, I miss my new breasts already, even more than I miss my God given breasts!! I got used to my new girls after only 6 weeks! LOL! Oh well. I know that we prefer health to humps! Lol. My Cancer Mentor Tracey has a shirt that says, “These are fake! The real ones tried to kill me”. Clearly, a shirt meant for me!

I keep asking myself what is my message in all this. That answer changes at every turn. For a long time, I have been saying it’s “know your body”.

But today, I think it’s…fight to the finish.

Additional Footage

pink ink…

Sooo…I finished chemo! “Hope” was floating everywhere! I was coming out of the darkness. I was looking forward to 3 weeks of relative quiet! A local celebrity suggested that we do a few “Ask the Chicks” postings where we answer readers’ questions. Great idea! I reached out to a few ardent followers for questions. Most were quick to respond. But before we got a chance to post, I had a radiation consult. Nothing to be worried about, right?

I met with my friend/Radio-oncologist, who walked me through everything. It will be everyday for 6 weeks, it’s micro attacking of cancer cells, 4 small “tattoos” where the radiation will hit. Yada yada. (Side note/medical minute: radiation doesn’t hurt initially. I could have some skin “burning” later. I am NOT radioactive! It takes all of 15 minutes each time) Half way through the visit, I showed her a knot that popped up in the last 2 weeks. It was about 2 inches from my scar, in the same breast where I had the tumor. Looked like a big black head. It didn’t hurt, or itch. It was just…there. I noticed it while loob-ing my boobs (preventing stretch marks!!). To me it was yet another annoying scar! Next thing I know, my doctor is calling my mastectomy surgeon…not to be confused with my plastic surgeon. Twenty minutes later, I am having a consult with the surgeon. Ten minutes after that, they are cutting the knot out. Minor surgery right there on the examining table! Big and Lil B, 10 feet away! Six stitches later, I was back downstairs finishing my radiation consult.

Later that night, we got the call…and missed it!

The message said it was urgent. The Doc wanted me to call back…the next day! Mild panic set in. But a Percocet later, and I was sleep for the night.

8:00am, Big B gets the news. It is…CANCER. Yes, you read correctly. More cancer in the breast. Shock and awe! More Shock!

To answer the obvious questions, the chemo didn’t kill it because it was too close to the skin. Chemo attacks cancer cells through the blood. These were cancer cells growing right under the skin. This isn’t totally unheard of, but it is not normal. So my friends, I will be having surgery in 3 days to excise the skin around the area where the knot was. “Just to make sure”.

Now I think I have officially passed Giuliana of E! News with this additional footage! In fact, I think she should now sign on as an Executive Producer of my story! More cancer?? Really?! Again, if this was on TV, you would be switching the channel because it wouldn’t seem real!

No tears. Even though we are shocked, we are resigned. If something crazy is going to happen, it will! The upside is, I told my doctor! It is just one more example of women needing to pay attention to our bodies! Had I not told my doctor, I don’t know what would have happened.

So today, in preparation for surgery, I had ONE breast deflated. Now picture that! One side is a DD and the other is a large C! FUNNY! (Don’t gasp at the size! Remember they are OVER stretching the skin) The breast had to be deflated so that they will have enough skin to cut out. After the surgery, I will have to heal for 3 weeks before they re-inflate me. Only then will I start radiation. But it gives me an idea of how the breasts will feel once I get the real implants. Soft! Once again, that finish line is just out of reach. I keep telling myself, “it’s a marathon”! Can you imagine the scars I am going to have??

In addition to all this, my blood work shows I am anemic and have low blood counts. Hopefully, I will not need a transfusion or another Neulasta shot. Keep hope alive!

Rest assured, eventually, we will host an “Ask the Chicks” post or 3! So think of the questions that you may have. We promise to answer them honestly!

See you after surgery! It’s number 4, if you are keeping count!

Until then, keep checking your bodies, and check back here for my…Additional Footage!