Monday, March 31, 2014

Fueling My Cancer-Fighting Army

As I continue to recover from this latest surgery, I can't help but reflect on all of the components that have been going into my recovery and are continuing to keep cancer away. (Update on the surgery: The great news is I'm healing very well.  While the plastic surgeon needed to remove the expander due to infection, it apparently is pretty common. I'll get a new one in a couple of months and am still on track to have my reconstruction this fall). 

If my amazing cancer-fighting cells are the soldiers and generals waging the ground war, there is an entire arsenal of tools keeping them nourished and motivated in their efforts.

A mess hall filled with nutritionally rich food. In order for the troops to thrive, they've got to eat well, right?  Thanks to the great research and guidelines provided by my Angeles Hospital doctors, I now know exactly what fuel I should give my army.  I know I'm bathing my cells in the nutrients they need to perform their perfect functions. My diet is now rich in the right ratios of organic vegetables, fruits, proteins and healthy fats, without the toxic chemicals, processed ingredients and inflammation-causing foods that can create a domino effect of unhealthy reactions.  It's been surprisingly easy to maintain the diet and I feel vibrant and full of energy.

An arsenal of supplements.  Meet my supplement arsenal.  How's this for an armory of weapons?!

Sadly, that Mr. Beer is not brewing up cerveza.  That's a batch of healthy probiotic kombucha tea. Dave's translating his home brewing talents to create new concoctions that better fit our new lifestyle.

I'll admit this one is creating a little more of a challenge, and it's not the cost of the 17 different supplements I need to take each day, several times a day or knowing what to take on an empty stomach or with food (by the way, please don't be offended if in the middle of a conversation I need to put you on hold to gulp down several horse pills; the system is intricate and precise).  The hardest part has been finding a pill box that can accommodate them all!  I'm officially 36 going on 90, as I take more pills than most nursing home patients.

Logistics aside, if this is the price of admission to a long and healthy life, it is more than worth paying.  I'll just have to find a way to make prescription pill boxes fashionable.

Letters from home.  Much as soldiers need letters of love and hope while they're away on the front, I'm learning that I need to give my own cells positive affirmations and reminders of my confidence that they are succeeding in their efforts. There is so much research on the power of positive thinking in the healing process.  The great news is that I have officially been vindicated for all these years of talking to myself.  I'm fully embracing the power of my personal pep talks, using everything from meditation to visualization to guided imagery to direct and support my cells in their purpose. 

A legion of helpersMr. Rogers has said that in times of crisis, you have to look for the helpers.  No matter how scary things may seem, they'll be right there in the thick of it, offering up their gifts.
As I face my own little crisis, I am constantly reminded of the power of the helpers who are bolstering me and my little army of cancer-fighting cells.  There has been no shortage of them rushing in with their offerings:

  • The scores of amazing friends and family who have shared their love, support and  generous gifts of prayer, flowers, food, babysitting, books, kind words and so much more.  

  • The doctors and nurses who are blessing me with their passion, talents and experience.  

  • The smorgasbord of so-called "alternative therapies" we've been leveraging, delivered by loving healers. This includes our Dr. Beth, who acts as both chiropractor and therapist, and our wonderful neighbors who have been providing regular reiki treatments to the whole family. Through these treatments, we are keeping our minds, bodies and energy fully aligned and focused on healing and light. 

And there are so many more.  I marvel at the fact that no matter where I'm at in my journey on any given day, someone shows up to give me exactly what I need at that very moment, whether it's a revitalizing thought, a fresh perspective, a laugh or a hug.

Plenty of faith  Undoubtedly most important in this journey has been my faith and relationship with God, which has been further strengthened at each step along the way.  I know this is all part of His plan for me and take comfort in knowing He's with me at every turn, gently guiding me down the right path, putting exactly the right people in my life for a reason and giving me comfort when things are overwhelming.  I have no doubt in the power of the prayers I have said and that are being said on my behalf by so many kind souls.  They are at the heart of all of this healing that's going on inside me right now.  

And so as I continue down my path, I'll try to look for ways I can pay forward the love and gifts that have come my way and work to discern the lesson of each step of this journey.

As for this last particular setback, I think the lesson in it (among others, I'm sure) is that I needed to be reminded that there's power in each step of the journey and that it's a marathon and not a sprint.  While I have already seen great results in my healing, this is going to be a process that will take time and I need to fully experience each stage.  There will be highs and lows, progressions and set backs, and I will need to remind myself that each is happening for a reason.  

This latest development showed me that I need to slow down and stop focusing on returning to "normal" or mourning my inability to return to how things were.  The past is past, and while my new normal may look different, I will embrace it because it's going to be beautiful, as it's all part of God's plan for me.

So thank you to the helpers - whether you think of yourself as one or not, trust me: You ARE.  I'm honored to have you on my team and my whole army is immensely grateful for your contributions.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Minor Setback (aka the Night My Boob Deflated)

First off, my apologies, as I've been meaning to provide an update on the great news from our discharge from Angeles Hospital and homecoming.  We received the pathology results before we checked out and they were great: Clear margins with no spread to the surrounding tissue or skin, only one of the five lymph nodes they removed showed cancer cells and THIS...

There was only one tumor present in the tissue they removed.

Yes, you are reading that correctly.  I had TWO tumors when I checked in to Angeles.  After about a week of treatment, I noticed i could no longer feel the smaller of the two tumors, but there was still a nanofraction of a doubt that perhaps it was just wishful thinking. Let's just say we were beyond ecstatic to learn that the tumor had been completely anhiliated during treatment.  The additional peace of mind this provides is priceless.

Hooray for hot cancer-fighting doctors.

So the good news is I've been back home for almost two weeks, recovering well and adjusting to life "on the outside."  Being with Charlie has been amazing, and I'm crazier about him than ever, if that's even possible.  I've even re-learned to cook for myself, though I'll admit I much preferred being served my meals on a regular basis by the friendly kitchen staff at the hospital.

 Snuggles with my little man

Unfortunately, my life is never without a little drama.  I awoke this morning to find my whole right side sopping wet.  First embarrassed that I'd overheated excessively overnight, I soon discovered that it wasn't in fact sweat.  Over the course of the evening, my lovely new boob had wilted like a balloon, flattening itself to resemble more of a pancake than a (small) melon.  

After a few phone calls, we found a great plastic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic who came highly recommended and saw us this morning.  She noted that the 40cc's of fluid with which the original surgeon had filled my expander were not nearly enough to have given me the size of the lovely new boob that I was so enjoying. Apparently expanders take quite some time to fill to the appropriate size over the course of several weeks and it's rare that they leak, so the expander probably wasn't the culprit. I must have been too excited about the new boob to notice it getting slowly bigger.

It turns out it is more likely the size could be attributed to an accumulation of post-op fluid that gathered on the outside of the expander.  My body could no longer contain it, and therefore ejected it like a disorderly drunk at a bar.  I'm glad my body was proactive about the situation and all, but I had gotten kind of attached to my new "melon."

Because the fluid exited stage left (my right side for those of you not familiar with the theatre - affectation implied) through an opening in my incision, to prevent infection or further complications, the surgeon feels it's best to proactively replace the expander and re-suture the wound.  She will be placing the new expander under the muscle (my current one is over the muscle, a decision the original surgeon made to give the plastic surgeon more options), which will make for a slightly more painful recovery experience.

So tomorrow morning I will have another surgery followed by yet two more weeks of discomfort, which is a bummer.  Frankly, I'm just as worried about whether my darling spouse will burn the house down attempting to make meals that adhere to my new diet (he believes all food is best cooked on high heat), but I know he'll step up and do great, as he always does.

In the scheme of things, I know this is a minor setback and that everything happens for a reason.  I had been meaning to make an appointment with the plastic surgeon anyway, and she was very interested in my alternative cancer treatment, as opposed to being condescending or dismissive, so I really like the gal.  And perhaps the fact my breast tissue has already been expanded to close to its final goal size will make the reconstruction process less uncomfortable when I get there.

And of course I don't want to risk the chance of infection in my chest cavity, so there's that.  

I'm also keenly aware that this is the part of the show that caters to my vanity.  The cancer surgery and treatments have been completed, and over the next few months my at-home protocol will continue to facilitate the awesome search and destroy mission started at Angeles Hospital.  What I'm dealing with right now are complications due to my desire to make lemonade out of the lemons (perhaps I should say grapefruit juice since I'm working toward an upgrade?), so I will just have to suck it up.

I do feel bad that I have to take yet more time off work and inconvenience my loving friends and family with this setback in my recovery and ability to care for myself and my family.  I know, however, that you will forgive me, so for now, thanks in advance to each of you impacted by my little boob drama!