Friday, March 29, 2013

Squish it, Squish it real good

Today was my 6 month follow up from surgery mammogram. This means another morning of pink johnnies and no deodorant. They give you a screening checklist; which the last time it was filled out was when I had my diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. Let's just say there was a large amount of revisions and checking of boxes to be done.

Next up game the actual mammogram. This torture device is tall and requires you to use your other arm to pull yourself into the machine while your face is pressed sideways against the plastic, you are relaxing one shoulder, rolling the other to get as much tissue as possible into the the machine and two plastic plates attempt to squish your boob flat. My favorite part is when they tell you not to breathe while they take the images. Done and done. 3 different views and I am not going to lie I am a little sore already. Especially from the view where they needed to get my scar/tumor bed really in the machine. My skin is 99% healed from radiation, but that 1% was noticeable when attempted to squish to 1 cm. However, being told that I'm all set and can follow up in 6 months for imaging totally worth the 15 seconds of discomfort.

Now in order to make this experience more enjoyable in my twisted little head I changed the words of this song to "Squish It"

The mammogram waiting room was very full and had a large range of ages. At one point there were 8 people in there and my inner monologue is shouting "Hey people of the waiting room, not to worry. 1 in 8 get breast cancer and I already took my turn. Your good". Then the waiting room swelled to 11 women and a couple of people were waiting for their turn for ultrasound and further consultation. Then I just wanted to tell everyone it will be ok.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

One Sparkling Soiree

Last night my parents and I attended the best run fundraiser for an organization called Friends Fighting Breast Cancer (FFBC).  The organization raises money for breast cancer research at MGH. At the soiree on the main speaker was Leif Ellisen, MD, PhD and he talked about where the money for research goes, specifically working towards developing more specific tests for high risk patients to be able to work towards prevention. Very interesting stuff. It was amazing to see all the people at the fundraiser all of which knew someone whose life had been affected by breast cancer or were survivors/fighters themselves. The president of FFBC spoke about her mother's 13 year battle with breast cancer, which made me very grateful for all of the developments in treatment and thankful for all those before me who were willing to undergo trials to develop those treatments. This is part of the reason why I have my blood in one study looking at 20 different genes and enrolled in the vaccine study. Using myself to help further the research.

Last night also involved a good helping of fun. One of the FFBC committee members, who is also a good family friend,  and I had some fun in the photobooth (see right). There was also dancing, good food and whoopie pies. You can see the full scalp coverage I now have going (particularly where I am making a monkey face).

I also learned last night that it is physically impossible for me not to hit the dance floor when this song is playing:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Independent Grocery Shopping and Other Victories

Today I went grocery shopping all by myself. Now, this may not seem like an accomplishment, but trust me it is. Once I started having biopsies, surgeries and cancer treatment my mother took me grocery shopping every week. That is every weeks since the first week in August, that's in the range of 32 weeks. Today was another return to normalcy. Me, my backpack and reusable grocery bags rode the bus to and from the grocery story. My eggs made it back in one piece, despite multiple bangs against my shin bone and a misjudgement of the location of a snowbank. However, in my defense it's the end of March and like all New Englanders I don't feel like there should be any snowbanks.

I have a cold. As does everyone else that I know. After neulasta shots, colds are just straight annoying, but NBD. In my inner monologue I now ask myself am I chemo tired or just tired? And the answer is always just tired. It's nice to know that like Dante's levels of hell there are many levels of tired out there. With a cold I still felt good enough to go to the gym and make it to track club workout #2 last night (and type this at 8:40 pm on a Friday!). Moving forward in surviorship. Just fun.

By the way this is how I do my grocery shopping. Don't forget those giant wheels of cheese!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Back on the track

A major win this week. I went back to track practice. It was not pretty, but it was fun just to be back on the oval. 10x200m. So fun! I am not going to lie it wiped me out pretty good and I am pretty sure I did not even roll over during the night. Also, it finally solved the lack of muscle soreness issue. My obliques were sore the next day. Oddly, still can't get myself to be as sore as I was pre-chemo running, but at least had some soreness. Weird.

The next morning I had the day off from work and was trying to catch a bus to get on a commuter rail train (one that only leaves once an hour). I got to the bus stop and realized I had not taken my tamoxifen. I sprinted back to my house took it and ran back to the bus stop, just in time for the bus to pull out of the stop without me. Well let's just say the mixture of being hungry, forgetting to take my anti-cancer medication and the missing the bus unleashed quite the tantrum. I still get a little frustrated sometimes.

I was also able to go out to dinner and a movie with a friend without it having to be lunch and the matinee. Back to being a fully functional human being is nice.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mini Flash

Life post daily cancer treatment has been great. I enjoy being able to keep my shirt on once I get to work. I originally planned on waiting two weeks before starting the tamoxifen, but that failed. After doing something daily to fight cancer for 7 months I was getting a little cukoo pants by just running and eating well. My SERM (selective estrogen receptor modulator, or what I prefer calling tamoxifen) is currently only causing burning in my stomach. I will say my internal thermometer is a couple of degrees warmer. I noticed this weekend at a conference (to lobby for better Federally based nutrition programs-please don't cut SNAP!) of 400 women (mostly) I was one of the few people in short-sleeves at all times. The ages ranged from 20 to 80 years of age.

Day 6 of taking the SERM I felt the beginning of the heat. I fell asleep very briefly on Monday night and all of a sudden I started to get really warm. It was as if summon had lit the top of my head on fire and the rest of my body was made of paper because wooooooosh all the way through the bottom of my feet went the fire. I shot out of bed to put my bare feet on the ice cold bathroom tile floor. And of course singing the menopausal woman's national anthem:

Luckily it passed and I cooled off enough to go to sleep. Nothing since then. Phew. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

From the Caregiver Prospective

I was contacted by a family member of a cancer survivor about posting his prospective about the journey though cancer and what it was like for him. Please enjoy his post below:

How I Learned to Be a Father, Friend, and a Cancer Caregiver

On November 21, 2005, when I heard my wife’s diagnosis of mesothelioma, I also gained a new job of caregiver. I was unprepared for the role that came three months after my daughter, Lily, was born. Instead of preparing to celebrate the holidays with my daughter for the first time, we were planning for cancer treatments. Our lives were in total chaos.

My job as a caregiver began by speaking with the doctor about our treatment options. Our three choices were a local university hospital, a regional hospital, and a specialist in Boston, Dr. David Sugarbaker. When I looked at my wife, she was silent and in shock, unable to choose. So, I made the choice of the specialist because I thought it was the best choice for her health. I knew that if she had any chance of surviving this, she would need the best care possible.

After the diagnosis, our normal routines changed. We went from working full-time to part-time or not at all. As a part-timer, I spent my time away from work making travel arrangements, traveling to Boston, and taking care of our daughter, Lily.  I was overwhelmed with things to do.

I often had racing thoughts that my wife would die of cancer or that we would lose all our possessions and end up broke and homeless. When I was faced with this fear, I found myself on the kitchen floor crying my eyes out. I felt helpless, but I did my best to keep my feelings private.  I knew that the last thing Heather needed was to see my fears.  

Without the financial assistance and comforting words of friends, family, and complete strangers, we wouldn’t have made it. If someone offers help, accept the help no matter how big or small, because being a caregiver is difficult. You can’t walk away from the job or be overwhelmed by fear or anger. The best advice I can offer is to never give up, remain sane, and use all the resources you have to stay strong in the fight.

It took years for our lives to return to normal after chemotherapy, radiation, and mesothelioma surgery. It’s been seven years, and Heather is still cancer-free.

Through it all, I learned to handle stress, and I learned time management skills.  More than that, I found the courage to pursue my own dreams.  I made the decision to return to school for Information Technology. I graduated with high honors, and I was the graduation speaker of my class. I spoke of hope and how we should never give up, because each of us can accomplish incredible things if we just believe in ourselves. We now hope that by sharing our story, we can help inspire others currently fighting through their own battles with cancer.

To read more from Cameron please go here:

Sunday, March 3, 2013


This weekend and some much needed decompression has allowed me to realize how truly grateful I am for so many things. I know I mentioned many of these things during Thanksgiving, but it demands repeating.

I am grateful for:
  • My amazingly supportive family. I think everyone let out a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday
  • My friends who sent cards, called, texted, sent care packages, sent e-mails, facebook messages and kept themselves updated via this blog. I have heard from people that I haven't seen since high school, their moms, people I worked with for only a couple of months. The outpouring of support is astounding.
How's that for love? These are my walls of encouragement (with Mr. Bear)
  •  My colleagues who took excellent care of me at work. I explained to my boss the other day, the benefit of having been the "bald dietitian" everyone in the hospital knows my first name and what service I am from. They all took some time to celebrate with me on Wednesday.
  • Strangers. No stranger danger here. People I have never met reached out to provide encouragement. Some of the notes in the above photos are from people I would have previously classified as strangers. 
  • Stage IIB IDC ER+/PR+ HER2neg (the fun medical abbreviations of my cancer). If I had to have cancer I am grateful that it is this one. 98% survival rate. Most common form of breast cancer. Most well studied breast cancer. Nothing rare requiring experimental treatments. Nothing late stage. 
  • My medical team. Aside from the original radiologist who didn't understand that I use humor as a defense mechanism, everyone else has seemed to get, if not encourage it. I really appreciated having treatment in the same place I work. Providers would check in with me in the lunch line, in the hallway, and answer any question via phonecall, page, or e-mail.
  • Running. During an injury you remember how much you enjoy running, but now I have a greater appreciation for how much I need it. It really does keep me sane and in shape. I think had I not been as physically fit prior to August 8th my experience may have been different.
  • Potatoes, particularly my Mother's mashed. Kept me from losing to much weight when my appetite was gone. 
  • My sick sense of humor. It might not be appreciated in all situations or socially acceptable in others, but it got me through this. 
  • Everyone who stopped by to read this blog. I am grateful for all of you.