Healthy bones, even with a broken arm!

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Broken arm, January 30. Adrenaline makes me smile I guess

Part of my preventative treatment is induced menopause, which increases my risk of bone loss. So each year I get a bone density scan to monitor my bone health.

I just finished my scan and the results were good! Average annual decline in my situation is 8% and the tech said mine was lower than that — hooray!

I was eager to hear these results because one month ago I fell off my horse when he tripped before a jump. The wintery ground was super hard and I fractured my arm. I was pretty sure that bone loss wasn’t a culprit here but it sure was nice to have that confirmed my this scan! While this injury has kept me out of the saddle, I’m honestly just grateful to have been healthy enough to be jumping — I’ll take a broken arm over chemo any day.

Anyway, I’m cruising along cancer-free. At my 1-year anniversary of finishing chemo, I celebrated by buying a second horse. He is my symbol of the future — he is a young horse in training and will be my next show horse in a couple of years. His name is Sinatra, and when I look at him, I think how bright the future is and it helps me chase away the dark fears that my cancer could return.

Whatever your own personal fears, dear readers, I hope you each have your own personal Sinatra to help you look eagerly toward the horizon.

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Sinatra. My future show horse!

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After a surgery to put in a plate, I’m now in a brace and doing physical therapy!

 

Clear MRI & Injection #10 of 60

In August, I had my first scans since my diagnosis. Instead of a mammogram, I had a breast MRI since last time the mammogram missed my secondary tumors. Results of the breast MRI this time: completely cancer free! Hooray!

Granted, we thought this MRI was pre-approved by insurance but now they say they don’t want to pay for it so we are appealing. “We” being me and Duke, because they are so awesome that they do the insurance appeal for me!

That was the end of August. Now I’m sitting in the treatment room at Wake Forest Cancer Center. I am having blood work done to ensure I’m still in menopause and I think to check my tumor markers (just regular monitoring).

As I wait here to get my injection, I realized for the first time that the chairs here have massage and heat! Kind of like at the nail salons. Kind of.

  
I sure am grateful to my colleagues at work who tolerate me having to slip out once a month or more for all these medical appointments.

Injection #8 of 60: Just cruisin’

Here I am in the chemo chair — at my local cancer center you go to the chemo bays to get your injection — and I’m just icing my belly in preparation for my Zoladex injection that, in partnership with daily medication, keeps my body in deep, zero-estrogen menopause.

When I first started this regimen, I experienced intense:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain
  • Numbness in my fingertips
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue

I even took one month off the daily medication (called exemestane) to see if the numbness would subside (it didn’t). However, I am happy to report that my side effects have either (1) diminished somewhat, or (2) I’ve just gotten used to them. 

I plan to jump my horse in a riding lesson after this. My fatigue, joint pain and insomnia are still significantly affecting my quality of life, but I am coping. Sitting here seeing the chemo patients every 28 days definitely helps orient me to gratefulness for my current condition.

  

Injection #7 of 60, with a dose of survivor’s guilt and a pinch of PTSD

Here I sit in the parking deck at the cancer center, about to get my monthly injection that will hopefully keep my cancer from returning.

I am overwhelmed by a bewildering swirl of emotions. 

My cousin and childhood playmate lost her husband to colon cancer last night. He was diagnosed 1.5 months ago and they are both in their 30s. She and I are the same age.

I spent a good 20 minutes of my day curled on the floor of my office sobbing, for a combination of pain for her, for him, for myself, for everyone who has been impacted by this fucking disease, and even at life itself for being so damn sweet.

We all cope in our own ways. Here is one of mine:

  
May we all find a little bit of peace today wherever we can. Please.

No news is good news

Sorry I have not posted in a while! Just got Zoladex injection #4. Only 56 more monthly injections to go as I endure 5 years of induced menopause to reduce the risk of my cancer recurring. 

  

I am feeling so much restored since chemo. However, I do have hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia. After implementing all kinds of good “sleep hygiene,” including blackout shades, hot bath before bed, etc., I begged for a sleep medicine from my oncologist. I’m on 1mg of Lunesta, which is basically a baby dose. And I’m still a total insomniac.

For my birthday, my husband got me the S+ ResMed sleep monitor, which has confirmed that I wake up about 10-12 times every night and shows I’m rarely getting to the deep slee phase. I love having this monitor as I try different things to improve my sleep.

  

A medicine I take called Aromasin as part of my induced menopause has also been known to cause joint pain, which I had a good bit of before this whole cancer business. I have been doing electro-acupuncture recently and am absolutely amazed at the results. If you have any questions about electro-acupuncture, I would be happy to answer them!  

I shaved my legs this morning

For the first time since October 2014, I shaved my legs.

And because, dear readers, you have not seen any photos of either my bald head or my amazing horse in a while, I give you the photo essay “From Bald to Not Bald” …

November 24

November 24

February 6

February 6

February 12

February 12

February 13. My friend Sarah trimmed it for me later in the afternoon because I wanted it to grow in more evenly.

February 13. My friend Sarah trimmed it for me later in the afternoon because I wanted it to grow in more evenly.

February 19. Shorter. But thicker.

February 19. Shorter. But thicker.

February 22. Winner's hair.

February 22. Winner’s hair.

February 25

February 25

In other news:

  • The chemo-induced neuropthy (nerve pain) in my feet and ankles is finally starting to subside. It was basically my longest lasting side effect, other than I guess chemo brain, which I will claim to still have whenever I find it convenient, haha.
  • Menopause is not soooo horrible. I have fewer hot flashes this month than last month. However, I used to sleep like a champ. Now, I am lucky to get 3 uninterrupted hours.
  • When I read the “side effects” drug information on my chemotherapies last fall, it said it would make you feel “generally unwell.” Understatement! Hindsight is a real eye opener, as I continue to feel better and better and better. Like, I am a totally new person. I simply cannot fully articulate what a nightmare chemo is for your body, mind and spirit. And the better I feel, the more horrified I am to realize just how “generally unwell” I felt.

And because this is just the most beautiful photo I have seen in a long, long time and I can hardly believe I am in it (although how can you really look at anything other than the gorgeous Lucky Alex):

luckyduckbeauty

February 22, 2015 – Aiken, South Carolina
Photo credit: The incredibly talented G. Plumb (1 million thanks GP!)

Back to the O.R.

Oh, you know, I haven’t been in the operating room yet for 2015 and January is almost over. So I’m going to get a move on and have a small outpatient procedure done this afternoon. It will basically be Step 1 in a 2-step process to prevent any future stupid abscesses. So I can return to my life of glamour.

Things were going well earlier this month. I got my shot to stop my ovaries from making estrogen. I get another shot the first week of February. And another shot the first week of March. I was supposed to get my rather large benign adrenal adenoma examined in February, but I got a call the other day and now that is all being pushed back until March. And in February or March I’ll start a medication that makes sure there is absolutely ZERO estrogen in my body (called an aromatase inhibitor). And in April, I’ll get another shot. And in May, I’ll get another shot. And and and … for five years.

I have started to really get my energy back this past 10 days or so. I felt like my family was starting to notice me being back to normal, too. Unfortunately, I started to feel pressured to be back to my old self, and either the pressure alone or in combination with my new rapid menopause irritability has made me really feel like I can’t handle everything very well. There is this Surgery #1 of 2 for the abscess/fistula situation, and trying to arrange all the medical appointments and somehow not have to dip into my vacation time (I NEED a vacation this year), and truly the chemo is still at work in my body because let’s face it, my hair is not growing. And there are some changes afoot at my sanctuary — where my horse is stabled — and although I am SO HAPPY for those who are going to benefit from the changes, well, I just can’t handle change right now. It makes me feel out of control after living the past 6 months so out of control. Like having to go under the knife again today (which, by the way, is partly exploratory according to my surgeon and there are several different scenarios of what they could find which means I really don’t know which of many potential procedures I will be getting).

ANYWAY, my dear Lucky Alex will be moving to a new home just a mile down the road. And I hope to somehow find a way to be a part of both the old and the new. Meanwhile, I see now why the transition out of “active treatment” is touted as such a big — and dififcult — deal. I feel a lot of pressure from some people in my circle, and I just am not ready for any pressure whatsoever.

Readers, if you have dealt with transitioning out of the chemo phase, I would really be interested in hearing your stories about how you handled it and how your support system handled it — did they want you to transition right back to “normal” life? Did the hormone-treatment phase and early menopause adjustment get you some grace?

 

 

 

UPDATE: A friend who also is going through BC shared my blog and these are some of the responses …

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Bye, bye, functioning ovaries. Hello, menopause.

I’m off to Duke (driving myself there, for once!) to get my first Zoladex injection to begin shutting down my ovaries. My type of breast cancer fed off of estrogen in my body, so we are moving on to the final phase of my treatment: 5 years of making sure there is zero estrogen in my body. Basically, we are inducing menopause. This will be different than regular menopause, though, because instead of taking estrogen replacement therapy to minimize the uncomfortable side effects (irritability, weight gain, hot flashes), I will instead take a drug type called an aromotase inhibitor to make sure I have absolutely NO estrogen in my body. Everyone is impacted by side effects of this treatment in different ways, so hopefully I will have minimal irritability, minimal hot flashes, and minimal weight gain. If not, well, I hope you can just remember the good ol’ days when I was a nice person.

I am also having a bone density scan today, too. Early menopause is associated with premature bone loss, so we have to monitor for that. There are drugs that can stop the bone loss, but they only give you that once you begin to show signs of bone loss. I think this is stupid and I keep arguing that I want to take these meds preventatively, and the doctors keep saying no. I will keep arguing today. 🙂

I will get an ovary-shutdown injection every month for 5 years. Yep. That’s 60 injections.