Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chicago Part One - Roy the Nurse

Hello Friends and Family,

Sorry I’ve been missing in action. I really love writing this blog, but I just never can find the time. A lot has happened lately so I thought you would appreciate an update on my Breast Cancer journey. 

A little over three weeks ago Romeo and I traveled to Chicago for my third reconstructive surgery. So you’re probably thinking why another surgery and why did you go to Chicago?

As you may remember from this blog, my reconstructive surgeon, Dr. BK was from MD Anderson, which is where I have had all my treatment. When I went in for a checkup in August he informed me he was leaving Houston to move back to his hometown of Chicago. He told me I would be referred to a new MD Anderson surgeon who could finish my lady parts. What? He was leaving me to move closer to his family? How could this be true? I thought I was his favorite patient EVER!

After interviewing several doctors, I came to the conclusion I had to follow Dr. BK to Chicago. Especially after one surgeon told me he wouldn’t feel comfortable revising Dr. BK’s amazing work because he was afraid he would mess it up or even destroy it by severing a blood vessel. Wow… that’s alarming! I guess that’s why he is the Boobie King!

In early November, I called Dr. BK’s new office and explained my situation to the receptionist. To my surprise she immediately transferred me into Dr. BK’s office so I could talk to him personally. It was like talking to an old friend and I instantly knew I had made the right decision. We set the date for December 9 and I began preparing myself for another surgery. You would think after three surgeries I wouldn’t have so much anxiety.

Romeo and I flew into Chicago the weekend before so we could explore the city and have a little mini vacation. We had a wonderful time even though it was snowing and the wind chill was in the single digits. Romeo knew I would be stressing so he had our entire weekend planned with activities to keep my mind off the surgery.

Monday morning we arrived at Dr. BK’s office for my pre-op appointment. I am not sure what I was expecting, but let me tell you, the University of Chicago compared to MD Anderson was very different (and not in a good way). Everyone was really nice and the facility was clean, but this place was not even in the same league as MD Anderson. Does that make me a Cancer Snob?

The people at the University of Chicago were horribly unorganized and used zero technology. But that’s not all… it gets better. After being directed to an examining room, a man wearing a hospital gown appeared in my room. I thought at first he was a confused patient who came into the wrong room until he stated he needed to get my medical history. What? Is this a joke? Okay, where are the cameras?

When I realized “Roy” was not kidding, my mind began to try to validate his authenticity. I remember thinking maybe he is a volunteer? My Dad volunteers at UTMC, but I don’t think he has to wear a hospital gown. Why is Roy wearing a hospital gown?!!

Roy began asking me questions and scribbling my answers down in his notebook. Since he didn’t take my vitals, I convinced myself Roy was some sort of Candy Striper (after all his gown had pink stripes). I was a little alarmed when I realized ROY was the NURSE! He clearly wasn’t playing with a full deck; which explains why none of my drug allergies were documented in their system on surgery day! Red flag, RED FLAG!

A few minutes later Dr. BK knocked on the door and all my anxieties instantly disappeared. It was a wonderful reunion with hugs and catching up on family news. I love this man (in a doctor sort of way). He is truly the most amazing medical professional I have ever known. Besides being one of the most talented plastic surgeons in North America, he is also a wonderful person. Even though his staff was less than impressive, I had total confidence everything was going to be okay.

Stay tuned, soon I will post “Chicago – Part Two” which will explain what happened next.  Don’t worry; it all turns out okay despite a few little hiccups. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Pity Purse

Hello Friends and Family!

Have you scheduled your annual exams?  I went in for my mammogram a few weeks ago  and it was quite an experience that I hope never to go through again.  Of course, most of the stress was self-inflicted but nonetheless it happened and was real at the time.

We arrived at MD Anderson bright and early for my appointment.  Two hours later, they called my name and I was ushered back to have my mammogram.  I had no idea what to expect since this was the first x-rays I’ve had since my mastectomy in November of last year.

To my surprise, they only x-rayed one side because my new lady part didn’t require any testing.  Oh great… I could have worn deodorant on that side and Lord knows I needed it because I was nervous as a cat and sweating like a pig.

The technician took the first round of x-rays and then sent me to the topless waiting room.  You know, the room you wait in until they say you can go home or back for more pictures.  Yes, it’s usually very cold and everyone pretends like it is totally normal.  Just to clarify for all the men, the ladies aren’t really topless (I can just imagine what Romeo is thinking as he reads this), we get to wear those lovely capes that cover our lady parts, but really we feel very naked and vulnerable.

 A few minutes later they called me back again.  When I walked into the room, I saw a couple of my films on the computer screen and there was a large white mass with some arrows and notes on it.  All I could think about was I had cancer again.  Oh my, I think I am going to faint! 

The nice technician (Kari) explained they need to take a few more shots so the radiologist can get a better look at a several areas.  By this time, I was shaking all over and praying that everything would be okay.  I posed for a few more pictures and then Kari sent me back to the topless room.

About 10 minutes later, Kari informed me I can put my clothes on and someone would be calling me to discuss my results.  Darn it, I knew I should have had a double mastectomy!

I walked out to the main waiting room where Romeo greeted me with a big smile and hug.  Poor guy, he had been patiently waiting for me three hours.    He instantly knew something was horribly wrong before I even said a word.  I had convinced myself the cancer has spread to my healthy breast and this time it’s much worse because the tumor is huge.  I am devastated.   

The rest of the day was a blur as I started mentally preparing myself for what was to come.  However, I do recall going to the outlet mall for a little retail therapy.  Yes, I felt much better after purchasing a Kate Spade purse otherwise known as my “pity purse.”   Romeo didn’t say a word and I totally took advantage of the opportunity!
I was hoping to get a call that day so at least I would know what I was facing.  But no one called until the next evening around 6:00 PM.

A sweet nurse informed me my tests had come back normal and we didn’t need to come back for another year!  I was shocked.  I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry.  I had just spent the last 18 hours thinking my cancer was back, but in reality everything was OK.  Oh thank you sweet Jesus!

My Daddy sent me an email today that said … If you are depressed, you are living in the past.  If you are anxious, you are living in the future.  If you are at peace, you are living in the present. 

These words rang so true to me.   I totally had myself (and Romeo) worked up for nothing.  The large white mass I saw on the x-ray was not what I thought.  I am STILL cancer-free and so thankful for this wonderful news.    

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month so I hope all of you have reminded your lady friends and relatives to make their appointments.  And, of course, if you are a woman, I assume you have taken that initiative yourself!  Don’t mess around, time does matter and you don’t want to go undiagnosed.

Friday, August 30, 2013

One Year Later

It’s almost been a year ago when my life changed forever. I was having my annual mammogram performed when I suspected something was wrong when the technician acted a little nervous. Then I knew there was a problem when she escorted me to an office to talk to the radiologist.

I didn’t know it then, but it was the first day of my journey to survive breast cancer. A month later, on October 4, 2012 I wrote my first blog, “What? I have Cancer?” My daughter, Brittney is a blogger at Brittney’s Orr-dinary Life and encouraged me to start writing about my experience to keep my friends and family updated on my progress. I never dreamed writing about my diagnosis would be so therapeutic. Today as I read through my posts, it brings many emotions to the surface. But mostly it makes me happy and thankful for the journey.

Some of my favorite stories are:

Dr. Shorty Pants
Angel of Healing
Rudolph the Blue Nose Reindeer
Finally... the Cancer Free Boo-Bee Day!
Does my Belly Button look too high?
Good-Bye Big Boobies!

Cancer sucks, don’t get me wrong. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. But my experience made me trust God more and love deeper. It made me realize I had a lot of family and friends that cared about me. I heard from people I hadn’t talked to in years. The outpour of love and support was wonderful and much appreciated! Thank you to everyone who came along for the ride and prayed for me daily.  

Remember, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. You can be assured I will be getting my annual exam and scans on 10/1! Don’t put it off, call your doctor now to get it scheduled. Time does matter! My cancer was discovered in my annual visit and it was only a Stage 1. If I had waited six months or a year later, my prognosis might not have been as positive. Go ahead, call now!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Time Matters

Hello Friends and Family!

I know I have been missing in action since my last surgery and I apologize! It’s been six weeks ago today and I feel almost back to normal. In fact, I am counting the days until I can start working out. After all, I have a new belly button as I described in this blog and need to get everything else shaped up before summer!

Romeo and I are taking a long vacation this summer to our favorite resort, Couples Negril in Jamaica. We were supposed to go over Thanksgiving, but the whole cancer thing sort of fouled up our plans. So, we are REALLY looking forward to relaxing in the sun under the palm trees.

I love this view of the beach at Couples Negril!

I have to admit I have been a little worried that everything might not look “normal” in my swimsuit. Romeo keeps reassuring everything looks fine, but you know, he is a MAN and most males believe all boobs look great. But, in the last couple weeks I have had two doctors tell me they were VERY impressed with Dr. BK’s work. In fact, my Oncologist said it was one of the best reconstructions he has ever seen. Wow – I was really happy to hear that and surprised since he probably sees hundreds!

Now don’t worry, I’m not planning to go crazy and layout on the nude beach while we are in Jamaica. They don’t look THAT good, even though Romeo tries to convince me otherwise. But I am relieved someone outside of my family has given me confidence they look “normal.”

In the last couple weeks I have learned of two ladies (who are friends of my friends in Tulsa) have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Unfortunately, their cancer is more complicated than mine, but thankfully they are both seeking treatment at MD Anderson. Please keep these ladies in your prayers. Melissa is in her late twenties and is 32 weeks pregnant. Vicky is around my age and has a very aggressive stage IV cancer.

Please be aware of your breast health and don’t miss your annual mammogram. Delaying this exam just a couple months could make a huge difference. I was very lucky my cancer was caught early and treated easily, but it could have been a very different story if I had waited. So don’t wait one minute longer, call now if it’s time for your annual exam and remind all your lady friends to do the same!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Good-Bye Big Boobies!

My surgery went well last week but it took a lot more out of me than I was expecting. I am not sure what I was expecting but I assumed it wouldn't hurt and I would just wake up and everything would be back to normal.  Silly, silly me! 
My surgical and recovery room experience was much more pleasant than the first time.  As you may (or may not) recall, My Cancer Free Boo-bee Day Part One blog explained the horrendous events of this experience and then My Cancer Free Boo-bee Day, the rest of the story.... summarized what happened after surgery in the recovery room.  I was very happy Nurse Barbie was not waiting by my side when I opened my eyes last Tuesday. 
Thankfully, this surgery only lasted a couple hours and then I was in recovery for an hour or so.  As soon as I was awake, they allowed Romeo to come sit by my side until I was ready to go.  When I say "go" I mean stand up, put on my clothes, walk to the bathroom and then get in a wheelchair.  Sounds easy, but it took Romeo coaxing me the whole way.
As I have said before, surgery drugs are really good. My favorite part is the stuff they shoot into your IV before they take you into the operating room. It's the "I don't care what you do to me" drug. I really don't remember all the events that took place after I received this attitude alternating serum, but Romeo says I got all mushy, kept wanting to kiss him and hold his hand. I certainly don't doubt I became lovey-dovey because I do tend to be a touchy/feely type of girl.   But I DO deny announcing (according to Romeo) to the entire surgical holding area (in my outside voice), "Good-Bye Big Boobies" as they were whisking me away to the Operating Room.

My first impression post-surgery to my new lady alterations was negative. I was really, really mad at Dr. BK. First, I was in pain. In the last three months, no one ever mentioned anything about this procedure being painful and I asked! In fact, Dr. BK sent me home with ZERO drugs because it wasn't going to hurt. Second, the new lady parts looked just like the old lady parts except NOW I had a bunch of new incisions and they HURT like the devil!

So after Romeo wheeled me back to our hotel room, I had a meltdown. Mid-afternoon I convinced him to take me back to MD Anderson to see a pain specialist. These are the people you see when you can't take pain medications. Have I mentioned I am allergic to a ton of drugs so I just can't take anything? Anyway, they prescribed a drug called Nucynta which worked but it made me a little nauseous, but compared to the side effects of other pain meds (not being able to breathe), I'll take a little queasiness.

Today I am six days post-op and still have a little pain if I move around too much. My energy level is lower than I was expecting, but I feel like I am getting stronger each day.  I am happy to say my new and improved lady parts look pretty good considering what they've been through in the last six months.  I am not mad at Dr. BK anymore because after the swelling went down they were smaller and surprisingly took at least 15 years off their age.

Next steps are in a couple months when I go back to Dr. BK to decide if I want high, low, or no beams on my new hardware. I bet you never thought there were so many options to breast reconstruction? It's kind of like redecorating your house, except you can't take the new pillows back if they don't look good on the couch.     

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Back to Houston

The time has finally come to go back to MD Anderson for my second reconstruction surgery which will be March 5.  That means Romeo and I will be heading to Houston on Sunday for my pre-op appointments on Monday and then surgery on Tuesday.   This surgery is to “fine tune” the new hardware, or as Romeo says, I’m getting my tires balanced. But I liked to think of it as a redesign.
This surgery won’t be nearly as major as my mastectomy and if all goes well, it will be out-patient.  Recovery should be about a week and then I should be good as new.  I am really looking forward to getting through this part of the process because I am so ready to feel normal again.  Of course, I still have to go visit my Oncologist every three months, but hopefully all the major surgery and treatment is OVER!  Yahoo!!

The bad news is Dr. BK says there is no way I can run in the St. Patrick's 5K, but I still plan to participate with my Tulsa running buddies by walking the race.  But as soon as I can, I'll be back on the road training to get ready for the Susan Koman races coming up in the Fall.

When I look back and think about everything that has happened since my diagnosis in September, I am so thankful for all the new people I have met during my treatment, friends and family who I have reconnected with, and all experiences (good and bad) that occurred.  All of these people and events have altered my perspective of life and I wouldn't change a thing, even if God let me have a do-over.  My Momma use to say there is a silver lining to every dark cloud and she was right! 

Thank you for joining me in this incredible journey.  I've truly enjoyed your company and have appreciated all of your love, support and prayers.  I'll check in next week to let you know how I'm doing, but don't worry . . . I have complete faith in God I'm going to be just fine.  In fact, I guess I will have to start blogging about normal things since I am almost cured.  Thank goodness my family and coworkers provide me a lot of good material. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Busted Free

Hello Friends and Family!
Yes, I am still alive and everything is going very well!     A big thank you to everyone who has been praying for me as I still haven’t experienced any of the scary side effects from taking the hormone blocker, Tamoxifin; which drastically decreases the chances of my cancer coming back.  This is a big win and such a relief!
I’ve recently started running again and am training for the St Patrick’s Day 5K Run in March.  You may remember in this blog, “The Sunshine Keeps Coming” when my friends Carla, Jessica and Patti made a banner and ran in my honor at the Williams Root 66 Run in Tulsa last fall.   I was very touched by their public display of support and will never forget this moment and how good it made me feel. 

Now that I am cured, thank you Sweet Jesus, and almost back to normal, we are going to run together in the St Patrick’s Day 5K Run supporting Special Olympics.  I will be so honored to be participating with these ladies and each step I will be celebrating our friendship and thanking God for allowing me to be active again.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Big as Texas.. I Think NOT!

I'm sorry I have been absent for the past couple weeks but there really hasn't been much more to report. 

As of today, I am tolerating the Tamoxifn well and have zero side affects!  I keep thinking I'm having a hot flash, but then I realize I'm hot because our heater is running a little high or we are having a heat wave.  Those of you familiar with our crazy Oklahoma weather understand one day it is seventy degrees outside and then the next day it is snowing.  Then the next day we have an earthquake and tornado at the same time.  It makes you wonder why anyone would live here.  I'm still trying to figure that out... 

Anyway, back to my progress..... Romeo and I flew on Wednesday to meet with Dr. BK.   The purpose of this visit was to discuss next steps of my reconstruction process.  In other words, I had a couple important decisions to make to prepare my surgeon for the next operation.
  • Did I want to remove the healthy breast?  Read this blog to understand this question.
  • Was I satisfied with the size and shape of the new breast?
  • If I kept the healthy breast, what type of alternations did I want to make it match the new breast?
I've been thinking about my responses for the past couple weeks and it has really stressed me out.  I had decided early on that I wasn't going to have a bilateral mastectomy so that answer was easy. 

The second question was obviously NO! If you read this blog, you understand I wasn't entirely thrilled with my new lady part.  It was just a bit.... LARGE even though I clearly told Dr. BK before the surgery I did not wish to look like Dolly Pardon.  Okay, that is probably a little exaggerated, but after all the swelling went down it clearly was larger than the other (healthy) one and much bigger than I wanted to be EVER!

The third question was the most controversial.  Dr. BK informed me yesterday that everything is Bigger in Texas, so I should just plump up the healthy one to match the new one.  I look over at Romeo and he is nodding his head yes to agree and smiling.  Hello.... has he forgotten everything we talked about before we got to Houston?    What is it with men and boobs? 

I clearly was not interested in Dr. BK's Texas mentality and was not going to let peer pressure change my mind on this decision.  Did I mention Dr. BK brought two medical students into the room when we were having this discussion?  Yes, I am sure this was providing them both an educational and entertaining experience.  Who says going to medical school can't be fun?

At one point in the discussion, I just had to put my hand up and say "STOP!"  I knew what I wanted and I didn't want to discuss it anymore!  Finally they heard me.... I just want the new one to match the old one and make them both smaller!  End of discussion. Dr. BK and Romeo had sad faces but whatever!

Now we are waiting to hear from the MD Anderson scheduler to provide me a surgery date.  Thankfully the surgery will be out patient and I should only have to be off work a week or so.  Every time the phone rings, I hope it is her or maybe it's a him?  I am just ready to get it done. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The New Normal

Today is my 12th day on Tamoxifen and so far I haven’t experienced any side effects.    It’s great news because this drug drastically reduces the chances of my cancer coming back!  Of course, now that I am announcing to the world I am tolerating this drug, I’m may be jinxing my luck.
Thank goodness my life is really getting back to normal.  I am back to work full-time and back in the gym.  Oh my, I have totally forgotten how hard it is to get back into an exercise routine.  I worked out yesterday and now I can hardly move!
Over the last couple weeks I’ve been telling Romeo I am going to start working out THAT day, but every day I came up with some excuse why I didn’t go.  So, yesterday was the day!  It was Friday and a beautiful sunny day,  so it seemed like the right time.  Plus all morning I had been psyching myself up to go, so at lunchtime, I jumped in my car and headed toward my gym.
 I walk in and the girl at the front desk gives me that look like… do we know each other?   After she scanned my badge she notices I haven’t been there since early November.  I can see in her eyes she believes I am a slacker and classifies me as one of those New Year Resolution people who will only workout a couple weeks and quit.
I wanted to scream at her I have been a dedicated gym member for the past FOUR years and the only reason I haven’t been coming is that I had CANCER!  But of course, I just smiled and start walking to my favorite treadmill in the Cinema room.  Yes you heard that right… my gym is really cool and has a room setup like a movie theater except it has workout equipment instead of chairs.  I love to run in that room because I totally lose myself in the movie and forget I am even running.
Okay, so I get to “my” treadmill that I’ve been using FOREVER and some blond, tan, young, fit chick I’ve never seen before is running on it.    AND she has the cutest workout outfit on that I’ve ever seen.  I am totally devastated because (1) I’ve lost my treadmill and (2) my workout outfit has obviously become out of style in the last 60 days (not to mention a little baggy in the waist thanks to Dr. BK).  I guess she picked up on my jealously and just smiles.  So I begrudgingly go to the next treadmill and start setting my things down when she leans over and says, “Ma’am,   I think that treadmill is broken.”  That’s just great because the rest of the treadmills are occupied!
At this moment, I consider just leaving and going home defeated, but I can hear Romeo in my mind asking me why I didn’t work out and reassuring me I will feel better once I get back into my old routine.  So I walked into the main part of the gym and selected a treadmill next to someone who was walking slow and wearing a less cute workout outfit than mine. 
I finished my 5K, but it took a few more minutes than usual.  Okay, it took a LOT more minutes than usual because I was walking most of the time, but, it was a start.  At least I went to the gym instead of going to Chick-Fil-A, right?.    It’s the beginning of my new normal and I was proud even if I was wearing an outdated workout outfit.    Next week I’ll get there earlier to reclaim my treadmill, in an updated outfit, with a spray tan and show that chick who is Boss!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Tamoxifen.. To Take or Not

Today is the last day of 2012 and I’ll have to admit, I’m glad it’s over.  It hasn’t been a bad year or a really good year, but one that has changed my perspective on how I will probably live the rest of my life. 
A couple weeks ago I visited my oncologist and he prescribed a drug called Tamoxifen.   This drug is used to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back.  I will most likely take this drug for the next decade if my body doesn’t rebel against it too much.  Since it is considered a “maintenance” drug, my health insurance encourages me (via lower copayment) to purchase this drug through a mail order pharmacy.  So the day after I received the prescription, I sent it off to be filled. 
For the past two weeks, I have walked to my mailbox watching for my prescription to arrive.  You would think that I would be anxious to begin taking this medication since statistically it has been proven to decrease the chances of getting cancer again, but for some reason every day I was relieved when it wasn’t in the mail.  Today, on the last day of the year, it arrived and all the fears and anxiety I’ve experienced over the last three months came rushing back.
Early in my diagnosis, when I was trying to educate myself on all the possible treatment options of breast cancer, I did quite a bit of research on this drug.    I found it has many negative side effects but every doctor has advised me the “benefits” of Tamoxifen outweigh the risks.  But my natural tendency is to be safety-conscious and doing something that “might” not be good for me is usually avoided.    I opened the package and began reading the three page drug description and risks….
  • Hot flashes
  • Bone pain, joint pain or tumor pain
  • Swelling
  • Weight gain
  • Nausea (maybe this will offset the weight gain)
  • Thinning hair
  • Increase risk of uterine cancer, stroke or blood clot in the lungs (OMG… I’m feeling faint)
  • And about a hundred more things that might be unpleasant or make me sick
I have several friends who have taken or are currently on Tamoxifen.  It seems to affect everyone differently.  When discussing my concerns with my oncologist, he explained there are other drugs that can be prescribed that will reduce some of the side effects that will make Tamoxifen more tolerable.  Therefore, if I start experiencing some of the side effects, to let him know and he will call me in some more drugs.  Oh great… I am going to need one of those weekly drug organizers just to keep everything straight!  But Tamoxifen is my only drug choice until I go through the Big “M” (menopause).  Oh my, I don’t even want to think about that yet! 
I know this is silly, but I’ve decided I am not going to start taking Tamoxifen until tomorrow – January 1, 2013.  You know what they say… Out with the old and in with the new.   So today I am going to enjoy being cold in case I get hot flashes later, ratting up my hair (while I still have some) and dance like no one is watching. 
Happy New Years my friends!  I hope Year 2013 brings you many blessing and good heath.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


We had another wonderful Christmas at the Cordell home this year! 

It started with a surprise delivery from my cousin, Robbin Beasley Rice who left a very nostalgic gift on our front porch while we were out Christmas shopping one afternoon.  It was very special because it represented a mini-version of my Nanny Beasley's Christmas tree, which we all loved for so many years.

You can see Nanny's tree behind my sister, Karla, Me (I'm the baby), and my cousins Nancy and Robbin!

This is the tree Robbin made, which I will treasure forever!
  Then on 12/14, Romeo treated me with a special date to celebrate my Cancer-Free Status!  First, we went on a sleigh ride (more like a carriage ride with a horse pulling us) to look at the beautiful Christmas lights in downtown OKC.  Followed by a romantic dinner at the Peseo Grill and then concluded with drinks at the top of the Devon Tower!

Saturday night we attended LifeChurch's Christmas Service at the Edmond campus and was pleasantly surprised when one the special effects was it snowed inside the Church.  Very Cool, don't you think?  It was so neat, we decided to attend the Sunday service at the OKC campus to see Craig Groeschel "Live" and also hear their spectacular drummers!   The OKC campus didn't have any snow, but it was still pretty speical. We enjoyed both services equally! 

Brittney and I enjoying the indoor snow!

Christmas Eve was celebrated with a snack buffet followed by opening gifts with my Daddy and Mary Ann.  The crowd favorites were my Poppy Seed Ham Sliders and Brittney's delicious Rum Cake!

Christmas day was more low key as my children went to Tulsa to spend the day with their Dad.  Since I'm usually a little blue when they leave, Romeo and I spent the day at the movie theater to see Silver Linings Playbook and The Life of Pi; which we loved them both!

But the fun is not over yet because we will be having another round of Christmas celebration when Romeo's son, daughter and our precious three-year old grandaughter, Reagan come to Oklahoma next week for a visit!  

This has been the most wonderful holiday I can remember because we have so much to celebrate and rejoice.  We hope you also had a wonderful Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

It Was Just Another Test of Faith

2012 has been quite a year for my family; especially the last couple months.  But in the end, everything turned out just perfect.  Yes, it has been hard and there have been times I questioned why I had to be statistically the ONE in Five women who would get breast cancer.  Yes, I cried myself to sleep many nights because I was scared of what might happen.  Every day when I look in the mirror, I mourn the loss of the breast that was removed.  No, I will never look or feel the same, but I am okay with that because something really great happened from this experience.  It made me realize I had to trust God MORE. 

I have never been overly religious, volunteered at the church, led a bible study or signed up to save people at the Mall, but have professed to be a Christian since I was baptised when I was thirteen. The whole breast cancer experience has opened my eyes to love deeper, value relationships more and don't sweat the small stuff.  Life is too short to be stressed out, be mad over silly things and worry constantly.  If I can't physically control something, I just have to surrender it to God. 

My youngest (and teenage) daughter, Mikayla inspires me daily to be a better Christian and trust the Lord.  She is what some people might label a Jesus Freak or Bible Banger (Please know I am saying this in a loving way).   I am very proud of her and feel very blessed to be her mother.  No offense to Brittney or Brandon, they are good kids too even if they were little hellions as teenagers.  Seriously, I am very thankful to be part of a Christian family who surrounded me with love and prayers, which ultimately provided me the strength to remain positive during the hard days.  I know it's not over yet, but I think the worst is behind us.

I wish you each a very Merry Christmas and thank you for keeping me in your prayers.    Enjoy the holidays and don't stress if everything is not perfect or goes off as planned.  I know I am going to enjoy every single minute with my family even if I burn the Christmas ham (like I did last year)!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Surgical Drains Suck!

First, I want to thank all who have emailed me, left Facebook or blogger comments or just told me in person how much they have enjoyed my blog.  It has been very therapeutic, and hopefully it has informed my readers about what can happen when you’re diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.  This brings me to a topic about which I have not previously written related to the horrid little clear plastic drain tubing placed in surgical incisions during the operation.  I understand this is common in all kinds of surgeries and if you’ve had this experience, you will totally relate to this story.
I woke up with these pesky medical piping devices after my mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in three locations.  As I understand they are placed near the incision sites to prevent blood and other unidentified body fluid (hereafter referred to as “gook”) from building up in the area of the procedures.  The “What to Expect” booklet indicated they may be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but worth the trouble.  Well, let me just say, these words “uncomfortable and inconvenient” are an UNDERSTATEMENT! 
The patient guide should have read, “These little boogers are going to hurt like hell and will probably make you want to throw up anytime someone messes with them.  Furthermore if you get a drain site infected, It's NOT good! ”  You see, the nurse would come in two or three times a day (and night) to measure the gook that is draining into a plastic flask and would record it in my chart.  The way this is done is by sliding several fingers down the tube into something that looks like a small plastic flask (this is called stripping the drain).  Then the gook in the flask is poured into separate little Dixie cups to measure output.  It’s a very high tech process.  The plastic flasks are numbered so when the nurse pours the gook in the associated numbered Dixie cup, it can be documented on the gook sheet.  When the drains stop expelling gook greater than a certain amount, they take out the drains and THEN you can take a shower. 
But let me back up a bit, and give you some background.  In the patient guide it says some patients may have drains two or three weeks.  During this period they should not take a shower or bath (OMG!)  I believe this part of the instructions was written by some paranoid malpractice attorney because that is ridiculous!  No offense to lawyers, but this is a little extreme to minimize the risk of infection, don’t you think?  Seriously, can you imagine the stench of someone who did not take a shower for three weeks – talk about infection and bad hair!  But the good news was the medical people ignore this rule (and I didn’t remind anyone) and was allowed to take a shower on Day 3 (with my flowing gook and drains in place).  Sorry that might have been a little graphic. 
As in many hospitals, nursing staff is minimum and never around when you need them.  After my doctor allowed me to take a shower, I was Gung HO to get it done pronto!   About three or four hours later, two sweet, young, student nurses appear in my room and announce it is bath time!  Apparently their instructions were to keep my IV port, drain sites and incisions dry while assisting me in the shower.  I quickly discovered they had NO experience or training in showering a patient.  Furthermore, no one had given them any instructions than what I mentioned earlier. 
The first thing they did was saran wrap my IV port and taped it up with surgical tape (this should have been my first red flag).  Next they safety pinned the plastic drain flasks to my gown so when I stood up, the weight of these pesky devises would not jerk out of my tender incisions and cause me to have a heart attack.   Actually, this was my idea since it wasn’t my first rodeo getting out of bed.  I hope they took note of this tip for future patients.
Then they stood me up and the three of us headed toward the shower.  Have I mentioned one of the student nurses was VERY pregnant?   Yes, she told me she was due in two or three weeks (Oh great!)  Okay, so they placed me in the shower and told me to sit down on the little bench.  I was relived they were going to let me rest a bit before I had to stand up to undress.  But then Nurse #1 (the non-pregnant one) surprised me when she turns on the water and starts hosing me down (fully clothed).  When I asked why they weren't taking off my gown they both looked at me like I just asked something ridiculous.  Then I suddenly remembered they must think the hospital gown will keep my drains and incisions dry.  It is at this moment I’m mentally debating if I should pull the emergency “help” cord in the shower to get a real nurse to come rescue me.  But in the end, I decided to just go with the flow because I’m thankful to get my hair washed even if I might cause a severe infection around my drains (maybe those attorneys weren’t so paranoid) and I might die of pneumonia from being so cold. 
This experience has certainly given me new insight as to why dogs uncontrollably shake when they get wet.  Do realize how cold it feels to take a shower, in drenched clothing, in an open area with a cold draft rushing in the room?    Yes, if I could have shimmied the water off my gown to make it less wet, I would have, for sure!  With all of you as my witness, I vow never to scold my little dog Kosmo again when he shakes after his bath because I totally understand what he is feeling.    
P.S.  I was able to get my drains out in ONE week.  Not that I am bragging or anything - I just wasn't very gooky.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Almost Back to Normal, Except ONE Thing....

Thankfully, life is getting back to normal.  I went back to work on Monday, cooked dinner a couple times this week and have a lunch date with a couple of my Edmond girlfriends on Friday!  It feels so good not to be constantly worrying about cancer and what comes next. 
I work from home four days a week and drive to Tulsa each Wednesday to check in with my office.  It’s really a sweet deal, but I have to admit I miss the social aspects of not being in the office daily.  This week was really great, because I got to see a lot of coworkers and friends that I haven’t seen in six or seven weeks when I was in the Tulsa.   The days I work from home are filled with conference call meetings, answering emails and making phone calls.  Whether I was visiting with people in person or on the phone, everyone made me feel so special.  I just want to thank everyone at Williams, WPX and IBM for welcoming me back with such love and appreciation. 
I am truly feeling so much better and getting stronger each day.  Thankfully, I don’t need help with anything anymore.  But the only time I have problems is at night when I am sleeping – or rather attempting to sleep.  No one told me my new and altered parts would have a mind of their own.  My new lady part doesn’t like any movement and my new tummy feels like it is going to bust if I stretch or twist, so I am pretty much sleeping on my back, propped up with pillows trying not to move an inch.  This has been a huge adjustment because I previously slept on my side or on my tummy – but never on my back! 
Romeo won’t admit it, but I think I might be snoring (OMG – I know, THIS is mortifying)!  I suspect he is just trying to protect my girly ego.  Sometimes I wake up with a dry mouth and sore throat so I can just imagine the horrible sounds that must be coming from my side of the bed.  I know this is stupid, but just thinking I might be snoring is impacting my sleep quality.  Paranoid or not, if I sense I might be sounding like a bear, I wake myself up before Romeo realizes I am not the sleeping beauty he married five years ago.  I mean seriously, is there anything more unlady-like?   
I remember when my grandparents decided to have separate bedrooms in their new house.  When I asked Grandma Long why she and Papa didn’t sleep in the same room, she told me it was because he snored.  Hmmm… could this explain why I have this unhealthy paranoia?  Maybe that also explains why Romeo slept on the couch the other night when he implied he feared his “coughing” was disturbing my rest.  Note to self:  Go to Walgreen’s tomorrow and buy some “Breath -Easy” strips to silence the bear.   Do ya’ll know if those really work?  Man, I hope so!
Have a good weekend!  We have some holiday festivities and I get to get all dressed up!  So excited!!!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

A few days ago I woke up more sore than the usual which caused me to feel sorry for myself because I am still not "back to normal."  After Romeo left for work, I decided I would just stay in bed a little longer.    While I was lying there, I picked up my iPad and was viewing all the Facebook posts from that morning and the previous evening.   Now don't judge me, I am not typically one of those people who updates my status every hour or post on my friends' pages constantly.  I am more of the passive Facebook user (referred to as a "creeper" by my teenage daughter) who just snoops around to see what everyone else is doing.  However, since my interaction with the outside world has become very limited, it is my main outlet for social stimulation (along with Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest). Okay, so maybe I could be considered a Social Network junkie at this point, but at least I recognize my problem.

Anyway, I ran across a post that included a video link from my high school friend, Jay who commented, "Trust me, you'll like it and have I ever lied to you...?"   So I opened the link and it was a music video made by Megan Kowalewski who is twenty-three years old that has Hodgkin Lymphoma.   The video is of her lip-syncing to Kelly Clarkson's song. "Stronger." This video demonstrates Megan's strong spirit and charming personality while she is making the best out of her chemotherapy experience (as well as entertaining her fellow cancer patients). 

I found the video very inspiring and it reminded me how blessed I am that my cancer was caught early, easily treated and didn't require any horrid treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.  Seriously, I am really fortunate to have only endured a couple unpleasant tests and was basically “cured” by having a mastectomy.  There are so many people who have to go through so much worse to survive cancer.  I am so thankful I am not one of those people.

So after watching the video, I popped out of bed and decided it was stupid to feel sorry for myself.  I know in time I will be back to “normal” and this whole ordeal will just be a “blip” on my life story.  Honestly, there truly have been some good things that have come out of this unexpected journey.  I have met lots of interesting people and learned to trust God more than ever before.  I've also had a lot of time to do things I would normally not bother to do. 

For example, I had plenty of time to work on my Christmas outfit for my company’s Tacky/Obnoxious Sweater Party.  And guess what?  I won the trophy!  Can you believe it?  I am by no means a Holly Homemaker, but since I’ve made a couple Christmas stockings for my kids over the years, I knew how to sew on a couple sequins and use a glue gun.

This picture really doesn’t do the outfit justice.  I found a $3 black cardigan at a used clothing store that already had the white embroidered snowflakes.  I had previously bought the pink sequin skirt during one of my Cancer Retail Therapy days described in this blog even though I had no idea when or where I would ever wear it.  But part of the purchase went toward Breast Cancer Research, so I went ahead and bought it because it was so cute.  And then those lovely pink fishnet tights were borrowed from Mikayla's Halloween costume.  

The shoes were feathered lingerie slides that I purchased at a “going out of business” sale at least 25 years ago for $5.00 I wish I could remember the name of the store located on the Square in Madill, Oklahoma.  It was owned by two sisters and I think I might have been their best customer because anyone who knows me understands my LOVE for shoes!  In all those years, I had never worn them before but knew someday I would have the opportunity!  These feathery friends been moved to at least 10 residences since they were purchased over two decades ago.  Thank goodness I held on to them for this perfect occasion!

I added the pink collar, fuzzy balls, jungle bells and sequin snowflakes at the neckline; in addition to hot gluing a little glitz to an old hair clip and dangling earrings.  I honestly didn't think I was deserving of the award because some of the contestants had some pretty ugly stuff (no offense to my sweet friend Angela).  Seriously, I thought my sweater was really cute and not tacky at all.  Did I mention I also received a $50 Gift Card?  Romeo is convinced I got the sympathy vote; but whatever! I am totally milking this cancer thing as long as possible!