Sunday, July 31, 2011

It is now August 2011

and it has been seven months since I have posted  -  I stopped posting mostly because it was too hard. Too hard to remember all that was going on, too hard to write it when I did remember. Shortly before I finished radiation my job at Boeing was threatened (and so was my health insurance) so I had to make a rapid decision to take a Boeing job 70 miles away from my home. That involved getting up at 3:45 am five days a week, catching a van pool to work, then leaving at 2:30 to make it back to the park and ride about 3:45 each afternoon. I was exhausted. I was angry at the business decision made by Boeing that affected me so drastically - couldn't they wait until I was at least through with radiation? But it was not about me, it was all about the business.

It took me eight weeks to realize I couldn't sustain this pattern - I wasn't doing a good job, I was angry and tired all of the time. Although I made sure I was eating well ( I have been on a blending diet for a while)  I couldn't find the energy to train for an upcoming half marathon. Big company that it is, Boeing provides counseling for all manner of issues as well as something called 'reasonable accommodations'. That phrase means if your doctor says you have a medical issue that needs 'accommodating', Boeing will do it.

The counselor told me the steps, and I went to my onocologist with the forms. He filled them out and told Boeing I needed to either work virtual or closer to home since I was suffering from fatigue and stress and those were unacceptable for recovery from breast cancer treatment. My manager was not happy, and I understood his unhappiness - I had only been at the job two months and he gets this information. Unlike my previous Boeing job, this new group did not work virtual and to do so was a learning curve he didn't want to embark upon. But there was nothing he could do since it was a medical condition. I hated having to tell him this, because I didn't want anyone on my new job to know about the breast cancer, but I, too, didn't have a choice if I wanted to stay employed.  I offered to come to the office two days a week and I kept detailed records of my activities when I was working virtual. My manager never did get happy about it but I was.

The turnaround in my attitude was rapid. I finally was able to get sleep and start training again. My productivity in my job climbed and I was no longer angry. I had some breathing room to reflect.

I felt guilty about pulling out the 'breast cancer card,' as I put it. After all, I am strong and I have conquered this with as little fanfare as possible - mostly because becoming a victim of breast cancer has scared me away from recognizing that getting this medical dispensation is legitimate and valid and necessary. My oncologist had no problem filling out the paperwork, and the Boeing counselor encouraged me to take this route. I want to put it behind me so badly that I don't want to admit that my body is taking time to heal, and getting up at 3:45 each morning is not the quickest path toward that end.

And then last week I got a new Boeing job closer to home - fifty miles closer! Although I will have to be in the office regularly for a while, it will allow me to stay on my path of discovery. I could have stayed at the other job and worked virtually instead, but I think this new job is better for me even though I will have to be present more often!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Started radiation yesterday

The first 7 sessions are a concentrated radiation dose with a machine called "AccuBoost" - your breast is squished in like a mammogram and the boost lasts 1/2 hour. I read a book. Because my surgeon did such a fantastic job and left markers in my breast, I was eligible for this process that focuses just on the cavity. This is like what I originally wanted, the partial breast irradiation, only this is from the outside while the PBI is from the inside.

Then the next 26 sessions are the whole breast radiation. I have had thoughts of not going back after the first 7 are completed - what are they going to do to me if I just don't come back? But I bought myself a ticket to see Cher in Las Vegas after the completion of the whole treatment session, sort of as a present for completing the whole damn thing. A Good For Me! As my neighbor across the street who is also dealing with BC said, radiation is just an insurance policy. Oh, and another neighbor was diagnosed last week. That makes four women in eight houses.

There is a lot of money in the cancer industry - the AccuBoost people give you a plushy pink bathrobe that you wear every day you go to treatment. I may hate the color pink when this blip in my life is done. But I also may love it even more!

And then Elizabeth Edwards died today and I felt sorrow. And then I looked up what kind of breast cancer she had. I bet I'm not the only person who did that.

But I'm happy and working and going swimming in the morning.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Update on this trip!

Well, I had it all worked out - get a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction and be done with it. No radiation needed. But the Universe keeps talking to me and I hope I have finally heard the right words.

Dr. Ben Anderson is the first surgeon at Fred Hutch I saw after I was diagnosed in April. Because Fred Hutch is a ways away, I found a surgeon closer and she did an excellent job. But when I decided to have a mastectomy he is the one who works with the reconstructive surgeon at the UW - Dr. Anderson takes them off, the other guy puts them on. Already seen the reconstructive guy, everything is fine. Dr. Anderson is also friends with the doctor in Arizona I wanted to do partial breast radiation.

So my pre-op with Dr. Anderson was last Wednesday. I expected him to be delighted with my decision. I was wrong. He said I was trying to hit a nail with a sledgehammer by having a mastectomy. All I needed to do was whole breast radiation and take drugs and I would be fine. We can cure breast cancer, he said, we cannot cure metastatic cancer. Breast cancer is the most widely studied cancer, and there are many studies that say if I would just do the radiation I would be fine. He even pulled out how serious the surgery was and how one of his patients was in a walker for 2 months afterwards. I got his point.

That sums up the hour in a few lines. I shed a few tears, promised I would consider it. Two hours later he called me and asked if I would be interested in talking with one of his patients who had just finished radation and was doing well.  She was a lovely woman who indeed had no side effects and other than going 33 times she was fine.

So I called the oncologist who scared me away from partial breast radiation and went to see her Friday. She was thrilled to see me. I start the radiation process tomorrow. I'm going to ask her what makes the number 33 magic.

I am sad, I feel like I got beat up to the point of giving in. I just wanted to stand up for myself against the onslaught of fear that the medical community permeates every visit with.

Bu I want to feel joy at this decision.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Facebook September 27

Whoa! So who would have thought I would decide to get a double mastectomy and reconstruction? Not me!! Well, my decision literally happened overnight, but there were hallmarks along the way that guided me.
Happenstance appeared a couple of days before my appeal when I met 3 women who had had mastectomys - and each one of them told me the only regret they had was that they didn't have a double mastectomy. One said each year when she got a mammogram she wondered if this would be the year cancer would be in her remaining breast.
I was expending a lot of energy trying to persuade my insurance to pay for partial breast irradiation (PBI) instead of whole breast radiation. My in-person insurance appeal was set. To bolster my appeal, I saw a new oncologist the day before my appeal - I wanted her notes that she would not do PBI on me. I picked her because she was close to my house - that's it.
She was so earnest and passionate about what she thought I should do - whole breast radiation. She explained how my cancer had learned to travel to my bloodstream in a year and I had the chance now to seriously retard - and maybe prevent -  it coming back. She drew pictures and explained why PBI would not reduce my chances for recurrence below 15%, and because I had two types of cancer she thought the odds were higher. I imagine I had been told this before, but there was something about her earnestness that propelled me to rethink my whole 'less is more' strategy. She offered to get me started on radiation right then and there. I declined.
That evening I made my decision. I called my surgeon. I cancelled the insurance appeal. I will never have to wonder about the cancer coming back.
Today I saw my plastic surgeon and it turns out that the UW performs something called DIEP - basically taking fat from your tummy and making new breasts. The recovery is faster than ever and the results are even better. This is state of the art surgery and not done much outside of the Northwest. She is on the staff there and I will see them this week. She also told me I was a perfect candidate - healthy, strong, with a good amount of tummy fat (well, she didn't quite say it that way, but I knew what she meant!). So not only do I get new breasts, I get a tummy tuck to boot! I could go on about all the good things she told me about this procedure, but suffice that this is really the lemon tree making lemonade ... and I'm joyfully looking forward!
The one thread that has stuck with me through this is how critical your support system is when you are dealing with cancer. Thank you all for being my support system. I save all your notes and have reread them when I feel a bit low. I am fortunate, lucky, blessed and loved to have you. I want to be able to share with and listen to other women over 50 who get breast cancer, and I'm sure the universe will guide me there, too. When I have surgery scheduled I will let you know.
My plan is to run the Tucson Half Marathon on Dec 11.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Radiation problems!!!

Now we come down to it. The industry standard, or current guidelines evidently state that people who have tumors larger than 3 cm are not eligible for PBI. There is no reason given, that was just an arbitrary number that was decided upon during early PBI clinical trials and it stuck.

So insurance companies won't pay for PBI unless the tumor size is 3cm or less. Mine is 3.3 cm. So screw me, the insurance company says. Too bad for you. You have to have your whole breast radiated every day for 7 weeks, and a corner of your lung will be scarred, and hopefully the radiation won't harm your heart. You will be so tired you can't work full time. And oh, yeah, once you've had your whole breast radiated, if breast cancer comes back in that breast you can't have a lumpectomy, you must have a a mastectomy. All because you are .3 cm over the limit.

But PBI? That only takes 5 days and you won't be so fatigued you can't work. And it is just as effective as WBR, at least that is what the trials say. Statistics can be twisted and misread and even altered to say anything. And they certainly do where breast cancer is concerned. But that is another post.

Oh, you found a doctor who will do PBI on you? Oh, he is a pioneer in the field of PBI and has done clinical trials with women over 3 cm? He says 3 cm is an arbitrary number, but your surgeon did such a great job leaving markers that he has no problem offering you PBI?

But your insurance company says no? They don't care if you don't have any radiation at all, they have to stick to 3 cm? Current guidelines keep changing, and with breast cancer they are changing even more rapidly. My neighbor had breast cancer 20 years ago. She had chemotherapy once a week for a year - and ended up with open heart surgery to repair the damage. That is not a guideline anymore. There are still PBI trials going on - companies are making newer machines - doctors are being educated. This is not experimental, not investigative, not out of the box. PBI is an industry standard! 

So if I found a qualified doctor whose letter says that 3 cm is an arbitrary number and my surgeon wrote a letter supporting PBI for me, why won't you pay? Why are you making my stress level go up? Why don't you see the big picture? If I do radiation now the odds of recurrence go down. PAY NOW, OR REALLY PAY LATER - ALL OF US!!!

Why are you doing this to me????? Why do you make me cry????? God I hate Regence.

My sister called me

I haven't heard from Laurie since July 30. It was a nice surprise when she called. Amazing to me, when she asked how I was doing I got a catch in my throat and what poured out was that my family had abandoned me and that I had finally told Mom and Dad that their job was to call me once a week. She asked if they had done that and I said yes - then she apologized profusely for not staying in touch with me - she said she was sorry a lot of times, had no excuses, and I said it was nice that she called. She said she would call me each week, too. She has been having trouble with plantar fascitis and I told her to find a physical therapist.

I didn't know I would get a catch in my throat. She is hoping I can come to Florida in November, although Ross's job may move to California in January. I told her I am not making any plans right now until I get this radiation thing worked. Forgiveness goes a long way, although not with my other sisters. Laurie had talked to Mom previous day and Mom had not mentioned me at all. Mom is too scared to talk about the sisters with each other, afraid Carla and Marcia and Sherrie will yell at her again and call her a gossip, I think.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor Day Weekend

A lovely girlfriend offered me time at her retreat on Harstine Island, out past Gig Harbor on the peninsula going toward Shelton. Her place is on the point close to the water. So within an hour of arrival I have braved the cold waters of Puget Sound and my whole body is happy. I spent an hour in the water, sorta standing with the water clear up to my neck, just watching the boats and letting time pass. I thought about the insurance issue, and realized there is nothing I can do. They turn me down, they don't, well, I will deal with it next week. Maybe I go Wed and maybe I don't. I was told by Boeing that Regence has declared this radiation a medical necessity, and if they turn me down to go to Arizona they will have to find me someone within 50 miles who will do my size of tumor. That's okay with me. I've done my due diligence and they can, too.

I am really thinking how to make sure this experience helps other women. I don't want to get breast cancer and let the experience go to waste. I want to change my life but I don't know what that looks like. I just know that I am so blessed with the community of friends that I have surrounding me. I ran into Mary this morning out on her run - she was wearing a scarf around her head. I saw her  3 days ago and she showed me her hair was just falling out in handfuls. So yesterday she shaved it all off. She said her head hurt because it wa falling out. She gets her real-hair wit next week. She is another women who will not become a victim of breast cancer. I still wonder how three women who next door neighbors all got breast cancer ... we joke that it must be the water, but I wonder about the environment.