Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Back to reality

Having cancer, as it turns out, is weird.  Especially when statistically you shouldn't have it.  When I was first diagnosed I just assumed I would take a leave of absence from work and it would consume the next few months of my life.  But I've learned that life goes on: I'm going to continue working as much as possible (my goal is to still make my billable hours requirement for the year!), cancer doesn't dominate most of my conversations, I still (am supposed) to work out, etc.  In a lot of ways it's easy to feel like life is totally normal, but going back to work this week has made me realize that in some ways my life is quite different.  I worked 6 hours yesterday instead of 12.  Today I was a nervous wreck in a deposition because I had to "ignore" a call from a number that I could only assume was from a hospital (it seems that all of the 312 numbers I don't recognize are all from hospitals these days).  I also got the receptor test results back today, so I was distracted all day thinking about the consequences.  The adjustment back to work has been tougher than I thought it would be, mostly because it never occurred to me there would be a transition back. 

So the test results ... from what I understand, whatever the tumor tests positive for is basically what is fueling the growth of the tumor.  They test for estrogen, progesterone, and something call Her2.  Mine tested positive for estrogen and progesterone and negative for Her2.  It turns out this is both good and bad; good because it means that there are well-established treatments for my particular type of tumor that are extremely effective and make recurrence/new cancer much less likely.  BUT those same treatments equal bad news for having a family.

I think I've handled this whole thing pretty well, in no small part because of my amazing supportive family and friends, but the prospect of possibly not having kids of my own is a scary one.  I likely won't meet with my oncologist until mid-August, but I'm looking forward to having a better understanding of what in the world all of this means!

Late night working/blogging in these cute socks I forgot I had :)

This is one of the favorite cards I've received ... I have a very crafty sister!

This is another favorite.  It recounted a very funny lunch involving a law school professor and a squirrel.  Laughing ensued.

Also, thanks to James Dougherty, computer extraordinaire, I think I've fixed the commenting problem.  Let me know if you still having problems.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Irish Wisdom

I noticed a plaque with this good ol' Irish wisdom while we were out with our friends Mike and Carolyn at our favorite Irish pub, O'Shaughnessy's on Friday.  I tend to be a worrier, so I like it.

There are only two things to worry about:
either you are well or you are sick.
If you are well, then there is nothing to worry about.
If you are sick, there are two things to worry about:
either you will get well or you will die.
If you get well, then there is nothing to worry about.
If you die, then there are two things to worry about:
either you will go to heaven or you will go to hell.
If you go to heaven, then there is nothing to worry about.
But if you go to hell, you'll be so busy shaking hands with your friends,
you won't have time to worry.

This has nothing to do with anything Irish, and but I think it falls within the "wisdom" category -- I've decided to start an anti-cancer diet.  This is still a work in progress, but here is day one:
Red wine!  According to the Mayo Clinic, "Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart."  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/red-wine/HB00089.  If the Mayo Clinic says it, you know it's good ... it may not be cancer-specific, but I'll take it.  I'll keep you posted on how my, and consequently Charlie's, anti-cancer diet is coming as I figure it out. 
Charlie also took me out for a fancy-schmancy dinner to celebrate my birthday a few days early.  It was a delightful evening: a nice long walk to and from dinner, good wine/food/company, and we crossed paths with friends from law school and their brand new baby, Stella, on our way back.  Couldn't have asked for a better night.

Mussels for me

Lamb burger for Charlie (you can see the steam from my mussels!)

I hope you had a great weekend :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

I thought I deserved a sticker

Or at least I did until today.  I met with the genetics counselor yesterday and decided to go ahead with the BCRA screening, which unfortunately requires a vial of blood.  Even more unfortunately, the vial was quite large.  When I was in 7th grade I got mono and had to get regular blood tests, or at least they seemed regular.  They were usually very dramatic and involved more than one puking and/or near-fainting episode.  Needless to say, since then I have avoided blood tests at all costs.  I got the all too familiar rapid heartbeat and clammy hands sitting in that chair and was sure the lightheadedness was right around the corner.  But the nurse took the needle out, put the bandage on, and I felt fine.  And confused about feeling fine.  The lab techs looked at me funny when I said I deserved a sticker for taking it like a champ, but hey -- the last time I was in that situation was in a pediatrician's office, which just so happened to be quite generous with stickers and suckers. 

Today I had my MRI, which I wasn't too worried about -- I've had one before, so I was prepared for the noisy, claustrophobic 30 minutes.  What I wasn't prepared for, or warned about, was another blood sample and IV.  An IV is one thing I've never expericed, and let me tell you, it was awful.  The blood sample was no big deal (I'm like a real grown up!), but the IV nearly killed me.  The nurse gave me cold packs and cold water to keep me from passing out.  I was sweating so profusely I was sure I was going to sweat through both of the 2 gowns I was wearing.  I'm pretty confident in my "mind over matter" abilities, but it took all I had to talk myelf out of passing out and causing a scene.  After I recovered from the IV, the MRI itself was just fine.

Even though I handled the 2 blood samples no problem, the IV was such a close call that I think we'll call it a draw: Kirsten 2, needles 2. 

Post-blood sample #1

Post-blood sample #2

Watch out for the guns, they'll getcha

Me with my homemade sticker since grown-up doctors apparently don't have them

1/2 smiley face (for yesterday), 1/2 frowny face (for today)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

From the bottom of my heart...

...THANK YOU!  In the past two days, you have made me laugh, smile, cry and thank God that I have such amazing family and friends.  Seriously.  It has been overwhelming in that "oh my goodness, I don't deserve this, everyone is amazing" kind of way.  I can't even begin to express how much your emails, phone calls, text messages, visits, and surprises (fruit baskets, flowers, hilarious websites) mean to me.  I am touched and humbled and so, so thankful.  Having the love and support of such unbelievable people will make this cancer beatdown a piece of cake.  Ok, maybe not a piece of cake, but much easier.

Words will never be enough to express my gratitude, so on to lighter topics.  Yesterday was my parents 31st anniversary, and since my loverly mums is here with me, they spent it apart.  We picked up a delish red velvet cake to celebrate their anniversary and the good news the surgeon gave us the day before.  Charlie, my mom, and I spent a delightful evening on the front porch until a nasty storm blew in and the lightning encouraged us to head indoors. 

It's ok to eat leftover cake for breakfast, right?  Oh wait, I almost forgot -- I have cancer.  I get to do what I want.



Monday, June 20, 2011

Good news -- whew!

Today was my appointment with my oncological surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Dr. Khan.  The (very!) good news is that from clinical standpoint, my cancer looks like it's Stage One and is completely curable -- hurray!  My surgery will happen 2-3 weeks from now, and I have a few things to take care of between now and then (MRI, blood tests, possibly further biopsies and ultrasounds, more consultations with specialists, choosing an oncologist, etc.).  My mom flew in last night and came to my appointment along with Charlie's mom.  It was such a comfort to have all three of them there with me, 1) for support, and 2) to hear the good news in person and ease their worries, too.  Needless to say this whole thing has been hard on everyone.

It is such an incredible relief to know that, after some treatment, I'm going to be ok.  It's a little daunting to know that I have A LOT of decisions to make in the next few weeks.  Some of the biggest decisions will come after we get the results of the genetic testing, which looks to see if I have a particular gene mutation which would drastically increase my risk of new cancer each year and would require me to have mammograms every six months and MRIs every year absent a bilateral mastectomy.  Another big question is the outcome of surgery -- my cancer is currently considered Stage One, but once they get in and see whether it has spread to my lymph nodes, they may have to adjust the staging (maybe, but probably not).  We also don't know what sort of radiation and chemotherapy I'm facing until surgery and further testing is done to the tumor tissue itself to see what we're dealing with. 

So, long story short, today was as good a day as it could have been.  I'm in the best of hands and have THE most amazing support system.  I'm a lucky girl, that's for sure.
Cancer? Bring it on!

My mom, me, Charlie -- part of Team Fight Like Crazy

My awesome, awesome hubs

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Beginning

June 16, 2011, the day it all started.

I've had a history of benign masses, so I didn't worry too much about one as it got bigger.  I was also busy being a newlywed and seriously busy with work, so having what I assumed was another non-issue checked out was not a big priority.  I finally made an appointment with my new PCP who referred me for an ultrasound to make sure it was nothing.  On Tuesday I went for my ultrasound assuming that it would take 20 minutes and I would be on my way to work.  Unfortunately the ultrasound led to a mammogram which led to a biopsy.  I am very blessed that I was able to have a biopsy that same day because it normally takes about 2 weeks to get in.  Dr. Kovalsky, the radiologist at St. Mary's, was incredibly nice and though me looked concerned the whole time I was getting prodded and poked I assured myself that it was simply a precaution.  The radiology tech, who was also incredibly nice and held my hand through the biopsy, told me that I should get the results back in 2-3 business days.

The next morning at 9am on the dot I got a voicemail from my PCP informing me that she was out of the office that day but asking me to come in on Thursday to discuss my results.  She too sounded concerned, and though I did my best to assure myself that it was, again, precuationary, I was starting to get pretty nervous. Needless to say I didn't get a whole lot of work done that day.  Charlie was in the thick of trial prep and I had a Cubs game with the firm on Thursday night, but we both decided to bail on our plans to spend some time together before going in the discuss my results the next morning.  We've talked several times about what a great decision it was -- it was a great night.  Take-out Thai food, cocktails, and The King's Speech was perfect.

On Thursday we met with my PCP, Dr. Patricio.  She looked like she was about to cry when she said, "I'm so sorry, but it's malignant."  She handed us the pathology report, a list of surgeons and oncologists, and told us a little bit of what to expect in the coming days.  I can't say I remember a lot of what she said.  Thank God Charlie was there because I was definitely in a daze and not absorbing a lot of what was happening.

The rest Thursday Charlie was on the phone with friends, family, doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies.  This allowed me to veg out, look at facebook, and generally not think about the blow I was just dealt.  After a good deal of research and discussion, we scheduled an appointment with an oncological surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago for Monday, June 20.  Friday we picked up records, pathology and radiology from St. Mary's and dropped them off at Northwestern for the doctors to review before my appointment.

At this point ony a few people know about it and honestly it's been nice living in a bubble and having some semblance of "normal."  People at work have been incredibly supportive and understanding, the few family and friends who know have been amazing.  I know life is going to change dramatically once we find out what I'm facing when we meet with the surgeon tomorrow.  I'm nervous about all of the things we don't know at this point, but if there's one thing I DO know now, it's that I'm going to fight like crazy to beat this.
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