Friday, December 12, 2014

What Does Breast Cancer Actually Look Like? IMAGES

When I found the lump in my breast and my armpit, I knew I had found something bad.  You'll remember I talked about that last year in this post.  I called Susan G Komen and got my diagnostic testing done.  Once the doctor confirmed that I had a lump, she scheduled me for a mammogram, even though she said it wasn't breast cancer.

Anyway, I talked about the mammogram, but couldn't explain very well what I saw at the time.  Now I have the actual images from my own mammogram and ultrasound.  What you will see is very dense breast tissue, which is all the white streaky area within the breast.  Second, what you may see is the indented area below the nipple.  That happened just in the time from finding the lump until seeing the doctor, which was approximately a week to ten days.  You'll also see tiny white micro-calcifications within the breast.  This was an indication that there may be a problem.

What you will NOT see on the mammogram are the SIX tumors I had in my breast.  Why?  Dense breast tissue. Remember that 59% of breast cancer is missed on mammogram because of dense breast tissue.

Easy to see the density of the breast and the indentation

Scattered white calcifications

Questionable density and at the top right are enlarged lymph nodes

Following this mammogram, I was immediately sent to another room for an ultrasound.  In that original post, I joked about this being the technician's lucky day, as she was training someone, and I was providing an excellent study.  The following images show what cancer looks like on an ultrasound.  The first is in my breast, and the second is in the lymph node in my armpit.   You can tell they are solid due to their grey color.  Fluid is black on an ultrasound.

This has an odd shape and grey color.
A cyst would be black and round in shape

Enlarged grey colored lymph node in axillary

That's a lot of cancer going on right there.
And several only formed in the prior week.
It was extremely aggressive and fast growing

As I talked about in the original blog post, they found a total of six tumors in my right breast that day.  And several enlarged and grey lymph nodes.  They knew at that point it was cancer, but still had to do a biopsy to determine the type, grade, proliferation rate, hormone receptor and Her2 status.

One thing I did learn is that you are given a BIRAD number when you have a mammogram.  This tells you what you are dealing with.  Many women have a mammogram and wonder how it went.  Look at the bottom of your sheet when you leave, and you will see your BIRAD number.

BIRAD 3 means that the mammogram was normal
BIRAD 4 means that there is something suspicious, but not sure
BIRAD 5 means there it is 95% likely to be cancer
BIRAD 6 means confirmed malignancy/cancer

When I left that day, I already knew it was cancer.

When I went home, I looked everywhere on the internet, and there are only a couple images of mammograms or ultrasounds with breast cancer.  I don't know why they all want it to be a secret.  I find it helpful to see what it looks like and to know what was going on in my body.  I hope you do too.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The FUNDRAISER with Prizes!!

When you're enjoying your Thanksgiving meals with your families, please remember that there are some of us that don't have that option. Even though I won't see my children for this holiday, I am beyond thankful for my life, my family, and all of you that have cared so deeply about my ongoing mission to survive and be reunited with my kids. Thank you all for everything you've done.  

And please remember that there's something in this for you too! Donate, share, spread the word, and know that you're making a difference. It's not just talk, it's an actual difference in somebody's life.

Share your stories of gratitude and share the link at the bottom. Happy Thanksgiving to you all! 

Thank you so much for the great start to this fund!!  Remember, for each $10 you donate to the fundraiser, your name is entered into a drawing to win a prize.  We have over $5,000 in prizes!!

These are just SOME of the amazing prizes you could win.... 
The full prize list and rules/disclaimers can be found here.

The goal is raise enough to get my kids home.  That's the most important thing.  If you can, donate.  If you can, share the link.  Spread the word.  And have a Happy Thanksgiving!!

Click here to donate or share!

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Year of Enlightenment

This is it! Today was my very last treatment for breast cancer.  Since September of 2013, I have been making regular trips to the hospital's infusion lab to get treatments.  Initially it was for chemotherapy only.  And then in November of last year, alongside another four rounds of chemo, I began a year of Herceptin treatments, a specific protein blocker. Every three weeks I spent a couple hours hooked up to an IV that pumped this chemical into my body.    

The experience was more than just sitting there with an IV in my arm though.  I've come to know the wonderful nurses and staff that see patients day in and day out.  I love that they remember me and we can all laugh together, hoping to lift others around the room that are suffering through their own trials. Sometimes I see friends I've made, sometimes I see others nearing the end of their life, and sometimes I see the scared new faces of those just diagnosed.  I respect and acknowledge this dose of harsh reality that the world is not always kind or just.  And there are moments that I feel completely guilty for doing so well when others suffer.  I feel guilty for sitting there with my hair, my strength, and now having my health.

But here is what I remind myself.  I too suffered.  I fought an enormous battle for my life.  Not one single day of it was easy. That is not to be ignored, overlooked or diminished. Yesterday, I went back and read some of my posts from the thick of the storm, and I cried for what I suffered.  I never pitied myself while I was going through treatments.  However, to see now, to read my words with this new perspective, I am overcome with grief and sympathy for that woman.

Reading my words from my days of chemotherapy,  "... there were moments this day that I have never experienced in my life. And I actually wondered at the time if I was dying. I kept saying to myself, "Is this what dying feels like?", and I have to admit I was panicking a little. ", makes my stomach turn, because I remember the feeling.  I remember being so scared and feeling so alone in that moment.  Laying on my bathroom floor shaking, asking God if this was it, was utterly terrifying.

And then I looked back at my New Year's post, and how I said, "I know this is the beginning of a new year full of possibilities. Without this struggle, I would lose sight of all the small intricacies that make my life beautiful. I think this cancer is God's way of double-checking to make sure I want to be here, like a parent threatening to take back a gift from an ungrateful child. I get it. And I will fight every single day with all that I have, to prove that I want to be here. 

The pain will go away. The cancer will go away. And 2014 will forever be known as my Year of Enlightenment. It will be the year I started life over with a more grateful and empathetic soul. For others that have walked a path of turmoil and struggle, and come out the other side as a better person, you have my greatest respect and admiration."

As I read my own words of determination to win against this cancer and make this year something special, I now take a moment to look around at what I have.  First, I have the most amazing support system of friends, family and even strangers that look out for me, help me and guide me.  I value every single interaction, and I know that's what got me through the worst time of my life.  I have my children.  I'm still fighting a battle to get them home again, but when I see their faces, I am filled with so much love and strength.  And that means everything in the world.  It makes me want to fight even harder for their return home.

My perspective has also changed over the course of the past year for what type of energy I allow in my life.  I have defined not only what's important for me now, but what I want my life to become.  I no longer let negativity and stress get to me like it did in years past.  That's not to say it's not still present; it just doesn't affect me in the same way. I have surrounded myself with the people I want to emulate, the people that know that kindness, happiness and success come from helping others and not complaining or tearing others down.   

This shift in attitude, and my own self-esteem being raised by the sheer act of defeating my biggest enemy, cancer, has led me to even more wonderful things in my life this year.  Four months ago, I met a man that embodies all the characteristics I value to be essential in my life going forward.  He's humble, kind, compassionate, intelligent, funny and, like myself, is a jack of all trades....not to mention he's gorgeous. He amazes me every day with his thoughtfulness and unwavering support. I feel beyond lucky to have this man in my life, and know it's because my perspective enables me to recognize and appreciate who he is and what he offers on the inside. And he has the ability to see me in a way that I am now seeing myself, strong and beautiful.

Who would have thought of finding such a special person in the wake of something so horrific?  I think it was because I finally saw my own worth, allowed myself to be vulnerable, and had a little bit of help from some guardian angels.  Whatever it was that led him to me, I'm so very grateful and happy.

This past year of cancer has scarred me, both mentally and physically, in massive ways.  At the same time, it has given me more strength, self-esteem and character than I ever thought possible.  I look in the mirror and see a woman that has conquered and withstood so many trials in her life, and I am still standing. I'm filled with love, compassion, gratitude and yes, even forgiveness.  2014 is not done, and I still have a multitude of things to accomplish before the end of the year.  But so far, I have done almost everything I planned.  I am many steps closer to becoming the person I want to be.  I am surrounded by the people that I want to influence me.  And I feel like things will all soon be in their right place.



So in saying all of this, I am officially done with cancer as of today.  Seven rounds of chemotherapy, five surgeries and twenty-two infusions of Herceptin all in a year's time. Without guilt, I am standing proudly, ringing the bell, and saying, "I DID IT!"  No more treatments. No more cancer. That battle is over and every single one of you helped me win.  Free at last!!! AMEN!    

Hugs and love to everyone at the Infusion Lab!!! 


And as a reminder to you all:  Check yourself!!  Please.  Don't wait until they say you're old enough to do a mammogram.  Don't expect the doctor to find anything for you.  Don't avoid it because you're scared of finding something.  Every day I read story after story of women and men my age and younger finding cancer by self exam.  And there are record numbers of younger people getting diagnosed with breast cancer every single day. When they say early detection is the key, that means one single month or even a week can mean the difference between life and death for you.  Sound scary?  It is!  Cancer can grow as fast as you can breathe.  So please, stop what you are doing and do a self exam right now.... unless you're at work.  That might look weird.

Monday, September 29, 2014

I Came in Last and Still Won

This past weekend was the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure.   It was my very first 5K, and it was a significant experience as this was the completion of my one year of breast cancer.  If it weren't for Susan G. Komen Foundation, I would probably be dead by now.  They literally saved my life.

We showed up before dawn in Downtown Greenville, and it was a sea of brave women dressed in pink.  The survivors stood proudly on the baseball field in their respective sections of how long they have survived their breast cancer.  It was moving to be a part of this army, but also so sad to know that they have all suffered.

Gorgeous sunrise

That's me up there on the billboard

Some of the survivors on the field

Thousands of racers getting ready for the start

My friends and I joined to make it through this 5k together.  My boyfriend walking on a broken ankle, my friend Deana had a pulled glute muscle from a previous 5k, I had a pinched nerve, and my friend Kim's daughters were wearing cowboy boots.  We were all decked out in tutus, wigs and anything obnoxiously pink.  We were loud with laughter and oblivious to the constant passerbys.

By the halfway mark, we realized we were at the end of the pack of racers.  A quick look behind us, we realized that the sweeper ambulance was creeping slowly behind us, pushing us a little faster.   We even paused for a moment, debating the idea of leaving the race route and heading towards the farmers market.  But we stayed course, determined to make it to the end.

Yep, there's the ambulance

Under an hour to hit 2 miles!! 

As we finally approached the finish line, I look up and with complete shock, see my children waiting there for me.  I was immediately overcome with joy.  Previously, I was told that my daughter would not be allowed to walk with me.  And it was such a wonderful and unexpected surprise to see both my children there, homemade sign in hand, waiting to walk the last 50 feet with me.

As a team, we all strode across the finish line, the very last stragglers of the race.  As we were crossing the line, the race officials were behind us tearing down signs and moving tables.  Firemen waited patiently at the end though, just to hand me a pink flower.

I didn't care that we were the last people across that finish line.  We made it together.  And much like this past year of cancer, I couldn't have made it without the help of my family and friends.  I have spent the past three days with the happiest heart I've ever had.  I am a winner in every sense of the word.