Time Warp

Today marks two weeks, two weeks since the diagnosis came back cancerous.  I feel like I’ve been dealing with this for three years.  Two weeks.  Shit.

And it has been one week since I retired from work, one week since surgery.

So much has happened in such a short time that it really does feel like a lot more time has passed.  This situation feels like a time warp.  Everyone else is continuing on with the usual but things for me have slowed to molasses.  All of my high speed energy channeled into work and puppy raising and household life and adventuring in Maui has come to a very slow lava flow.  Every day feels longer than before but it’s because I have been forced to slow down and look at it.  Admittedly, sometimes I take my meds just for the sheer fun feeling of mellowness (I never did enough drugs growing up, I really missed the boat on that, too good of a kid I guess!).  Technically, I could just not take them and deal with the post-surgery discomfort, but when in Rome…

If I had tried to juggle work and dealing with my health issues, I know I would just be trying to do too much.  I need to be completely available to kicking this thing’s ass (a phrase which many of you have embraced, you little potty mouths!), which means I need to make phone calls and take phone calls, and tell everyone that yes that appointment works for me (what else do I have to do?!).  I’ve had time to spoil my dog, read, open a lot of cards and write a lot of thank you notes.  I’ve been reading a book that I had picked up before this whole debacle as something Sean and I might like and many of you have heard of (since I first heard about this from Greg Hermann at Ocean Institute) about a man who is going to die from cancer and wants to give his last lecture…

He has this lecture and a book I’m almost done with (no, I can’t send it to you; I think mom has dibs).  I’ve been spending a lot of time with family, mom and dad for now and brothers coming on pre-planned vacations in April.  Time is all we have, right?

I’ve been spending time with friends and a very active social calendar, something I’m usually too exhausted from working to engage in.  The only unfortunate thing is that I can’t go in the ocean.  Irony of ironies: I have free time in a beautiful tropical environment but I can’t go in the ocean!  Boo.

And to the news we’ve all been waiting for: the fate of the evil right boob.  I have opted for….

Option D (but not size D): Mastectomy with reconstructive surgery.  Get ’em out, get ’em in.  That’s right, I’m getting a new boob!

I had told Sean when we went to the Doctor for my very first decision–lumpectomy or mastectomy–that I wanted to try a lumpectomy to be as sparing of my body as possible.  The warning had been that they may not get a clean margin and my rationale was, let’s try it, I don’t have a lot to give up and if they don’t get it all, then I will be ready to give up righty.  And well, righty came back with dirty margins (that must be the scientific term if clean margins is the opposite); so it’s time for righty to vacate the premises.  She’s holding on to precancerous cells and we all know what the enemy can do.  We’ll cut losses and get a new boob out of the deal.

Having options is very important to me especially as it relates to options in creating a family.  Lefty gets to stay, as is, for now.  And maybe post a few children, years down the road, when it’s headed south anyway, lefty will probably get refitted and revamped.  It didn’t do anything wrong yet, so it can stay.  Even if I have to face the vanity factor again, but this time of having boobs of differing materials.

I was excited about cancer not spreading but I was so consumed by the fact that I had to make another decision that inevitably would lead to another, more scarring surgery, that it was all I could think of.  Now that the decision has been made, I feel less stagnant and that the train is moving forward again.  Because, frankly, I don’t have time for this shit.  I have all the actual time in the world but I don’t have the patience for stagnation.  I like to be moving, doing, thinking, planning, working, planning on working?, but always living!  If I sit back and face the time warp, yeah, we’ve done a lot with this beast called cancer in two weeks but it’s still two weeks plus that the worry and thinking has aged me more than two weeks and its two weeks of inconvenience.

Don’t worry, I’m still learning through all of this and I recognize that it’s not all evil but has a lot of good hidden in it.  The best good has been the yous out there, so thank you for that.

The Results are In

Short and sweet…

No cancer cells detected in my lymph nodes (beyond the sentinel lymph node).  The bastards didn’t break outta boob jail.  Victory!

We didn’t get a clean margin via surgery/lumpectomy.  More decisions must occur.

I either need:

A) Another lumpectomy with fingers crossed for a clean margin, and then radiation.

B) A mastectomy of my right breast; probably no radiation needed.

C) A mastectomy of the right with reconstructive surgery later; no radiation.

D) A mastectomy of the right with immediate reconstructive surgery all at once; no radiation.

(Future new left boob recommended later in time dependent on other decisions).

We’ll chat soon.  Mull it over.  There might be a poll coming at you!

 

Killing Cancer with Kale

Today, we go back to the Doctor to have the surgery site checked out and cleaned up and hopefully have my drainage bag removed.  Nothing is so demeaning as carrying an external drainage bag around as an extra obvious bulge under my shirt in lieu of some lost boobage coupled with not being allowed to shower.  Gross!  I am so excited to be able to shower soon.  Ah, the little things in life.  Don’t take showering for granted, people!

My mom has been a saint as have dad and Sean.  But mom has pulled bathing Serena duty for the last few days.  I cannot lift my left arm, in fact, it is STILL numb in the armpit area.  Therefore, I cannot reach my back or wash my hair without help.  My dad pulled hair braiding duty; he did well.  It was a very military-esque braid but it was a braid!  My dad knows how to braid!  Sean has been on clothing selection duty, which, really, I have four button down shirts and that’s all I can wear.  But he did donate his selection of button-downs for sleepwear; I have a nice huge hawaiian shirt on right now in fact, great PJs.  I have to be able to pin my drainage bag into my shirt (did I mention there is grossness attached to having lymph nodes removed?  My body cannot clean the system internally so it happens into a plastic container, and you know how I hate plastics) and I have to be able to get my shirt on without lifting my arm.

We also hope for some results.  We know that my sentinel lymph node (the first node attached to my breast region, the first line of defense and protection) came back positive for evil cancer cells.  The next three or four nodes in line were tested and sent off to the lab.  I’ve been peeing green still from the blue dye test on surgery day that helped find the sentinel node and conga line friends of nodes.  Results may be in today or maybe not but you know I will tell you when we find out info.

I think when you get cancer, you never believe you’re clean.  Because I never knew I had it to begin with until enough cells got together and formed a mass.  I would guess that I will always have cancer cells floating around, it’s just a question of whether they will be ballsy enough to form a party in some organ sanctuary or other.  If I was a cancer cell, I’d go for a tour of the body seeking new landscapes and property for settlement; then when the owner of said body wasn’t looking, I’d call in for reinforcement cause who likes to party alone?  I hope cancer isn’t as smart as me but we all know there is no clear understanding of how cancer forms and how it functions.

But, cancer, I’ve got a plan to kill you.  Slowly, probably, but you wont win this battle.  I will eventually be killing you with site specific (boob-specific) radiation and a healthy diet.  Yes, I will be killing you with kale.  Scientifically, my doctors cannot support or suggest a healthy diet kicking cancer’s ass but we all know that it will help.  Informal research suggests, that protein (chicken, fish, turkey, eggs) and dairy (milk but no soy) and vegetables (GO KALE!) will form a healthy environment to prevent cancer cells from thriving.

What cancer wants–and I have to agree with it here–is donuts.  Yes, that’s right.  The only thing my Doctor did admit, to some degree, is that cancer loves greasy delicious sugary baked goods.  Man, I love donuts.  The ones with chocolate and sprinkles on top.  Mmmmm.  And cancer and I were in agreement on this for about two months before my diagnosis.  Once I discovered that Safeway makes donuts early early, I was going there on my way to work for a sugary treat.  Cancer is so persuasive (and the greatest scapegoat!  “Sorry I flipped you off, the cancer made me do it,” “Sorry I forgot to print that for you, it’s the cancer.”).  Geez, cancer, if you’re going to be evil you sure picked an unfair food to do it on!

Now, I have sworn off donuts and most processed foods, most baked goods, most candy.  For those of you that know me, this is my greatest challenge.  Eating healthy is hard for me.  I like junk food.  I have an excellent metabolism and I had plans to exploit that until it ran out.  Damn you cancer for forcing healthy habits on me early!  Alright, I do eat fairly healthy already.  But now it has become a game where I imagine the cancer cells putting up shields as bright green kale cells glide in with jousting sticks and their haughty green egos to kick the slow fatty donut cancer cell’s butts.  I think we’ll be working on a cancer Wii game for it!  Or maybe Playstation, they get better graphics.

There is a movie on its way from Amazon that my friend Kari suggested–and I saw part of years ago on HBO–that talks about a healthy diet as a means to beat cancer or at least slow it.  It’s called Crazy Sexy Cancer.  When you are given something that is completely out of your control, you want to find any way of controlling it.  We are a species of action.  We don’t want to be told, here’s this thing now sit and watch it ruin your day and your life.  My greatest concern with breast cancer is that I haven’t had the chance to have a family yet and I don’t want anything getting in the way of how I choose to have a family.  I want all of my options open and keeping the terrible c-cells at bay is my current focus to ensure that.  Don’t worry, reproduction and family is a whole other blog post to come!

Doctor appointment in two hours.  Fingers crossed.  Prayers running.  And love back to you for all that you have shared with me!

Who ARE you?

My armpit is numb; I think the new Aluminum-free deodorant made it on but I can’t really feel it.  I don’t stink, so that’s a plus.  And these pain killers make me loopy and relaxed, it’s great.

In these days post-surgery, of waiting for results, managing pain and focusing on simply eating, resting and reading, it has occurred to me that many of you may not know who I am and what I’ve been up to in life. Some of you left off with me in high school or college, some of you have relied on updates from Mama Neff over the years, some of you may know nothing about me, except that big glaring c-word that sits on my chest.

Let’s cover some highlights…

June 30, 1983: Welcome to the world.  9 pounds and 3 ounces, and the youngest of three (we were all fat babies, which is surprising since we’re all tall and skinny!).  I’ve got a big brother six years older than me–Erik–and another middle big brother three years older than me–Ethan.  My mom, Sandy, is/was a nurse practitioner in Dorchester, MA and my dad, Bruce, is/was a director of materials at Data General in Westboro and Southboro, MA.  The parentals are retired now; they have become my personal care system… good thing I ended up in Maui and not Minnesota!

We spent summers and ski weekends on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.  I picked blueberries and lived in my swimsuit, staring eye to eye with inch long baby fish for hours on end.  My career was set before I even knew what career meant (or job for that matter, though my first job was selling blueberries and big thanks to the neighbors, my only customers).

I was a quiet and curious baby (yeah, like I remember, it just sounds good).  Growing up, I was always shy and observant, watching my big brothers do boy stuff and remembering how not to get caught for things.  By the time, I came of age and was interested in parties, the reigns of parenting had lightened anyway.  Plus, let’s be honest, I was never really the badass rule breaker.  I did well in school, I worked hard, took AP classes, I always did my homework; I was an obedient rule follower (most of the time).  I had a great circle of friends at school and was focused on academics.

I did figure skating and gymnastics as a kid but never really stuck it with organized sports through high school.  I got into kickboxing for a while with my friend Maris but that was about it from the sports side; I left that to the bros.  I was a very emotional teenager and have continued such as an adult.  When I was young, I couldn’t understand it but as I’ve matured I’ve learned that I am very susceptible to the expectations of others and that my ability to empathize with others is overwhelming: I take on other people’s emotions in certain situations but then need extra time alone to process those out and then process mine out.  It can be exhausting!  But it led me to my interest in psychology, customer service, and management.

Junior year of high school I decided I wasn’t going to college.  Wrong!  Not an option!  You’re going!  Ok, mom and dad.  I dragged my feet a little but figured it out.  I decided I wanted to study nothing…….. except marine biology.  One foot on Roger Williams University campus and I knew I would be applying early and only there: right size (small undergrad community), right place (Rhode Island, far enough from home but not too far, on the water), right feel.  I met another group of amazing people who grew into life with me.  It is my strong belief that college isn’t just for academics, but more for learning how to be an adult, how to F up (how to fail your first class because when the hell am I going to use calculus in my real life?  Stupid calculus), how to make good and bad decisions; oh, and how to do all that while on scholarship.  And while doing two years of early morning crew (rowing long boats while watching harbor seals) club sport.

During my senior year, I lived out a lifelong dream: I studied abroad in Australia and SCUBA dove the Great Barrier Reef.  In retrospect, it didn’t live up to the hype.  The reef was trashed where I went but I imagined that that the rest of the reef, where people don’t usually go, was pristine.  It’s an unrealistic hope in this day and age but it’s a driving force in me wanting to tell people to protect the ocean.  Kim, Jo, remember the creepy diver man with the belly button ring?!  Note to men: don’t get a belly button ring!  Gross.  I thought that was a given.

Post graduation, it was the big “now what” question.  Well, shit, I’ve always wanted to live in California (I strongly disagree with cold weather and humans subjecting themselves to it all the time), time to apply for big girl jobs there.  Thirty applications later, I ended up with a job at Inside the Outdoors as a naturalist for fourth graders in Newport Beach, California.  I drove cross county with my future roommate Veronica and we met Laura as we were signing the lease: all new imports to CA.  Big scary steps taken for the sake of adulthood.

Within two months I was at a preferred job, instructor at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, CA.  I was taking my marine biology degree, throwing in my psych minor and teaching all age groups about science and California state history.  I was working on boats and watching whales and dolphins and encouraging understanding and conservation.  I was living more dreams out.  I was meeting like-minded people.  Over time, I became a coordinator in the Outdoor Education department, then a co-Director with my friend Sara.  Finally, I jumped into my favorite role as Assistant Director to the At Sea department.  Basically, you add a lot of budgeting and big kid stuff to the fun teaching and program development stuff and stir it up with some fishermen hating Marine Protected Areas and we call it my job.  And I will still call some fishermen from there ignorant to their impacts on the ocean.  Those jerks.

Three years with the company and it was time for something, somewhere new.  My friend Ash had moved to Maui and started working for Pacific Whale Foundation.  She said apply and I did.  Time to jump farther from home, cross the Pacific and start staring at 45-foot long humpback whales.  Endangered species in paradise and a full platform to encourage conservation through education?  YES, please!  I work on boats and take people snorkeling and whale watching.  Yes, I also clean up a lot of vomit (A LOT) and assure people that yes, the waves normally get this big and no, you wont die.  That may not be my favorite part but the opportunities to learn and love the ocean out here are limitless.  Learning (not in a forced classroom setting) is still a passion of mine.  Smart and a smart ass, right?!  Plus the people I work with are incredible.

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”  ~Native American Proverb

Currently, I also work as a naturalist at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua.  It is refreshing to work for my first FOR-profit.  There is definitely a difference but customer service (there’s that psych degree again) is what it always comes back to.

After being in Maui for six months, I met this man.  You know his name, Sean.  I had planned on giving Maui six months and then maybe moving on and back to the mainland but he threw a wrench in there and I decided to stay.  He’s not at all the person I thought I would be with–tattoos everywhere–but that’s not all he is.  I’m gonna tell them, Sean, who you are.  And you can’t stop me cause it’s my blog!  But I wont tell them every mushy detail.  Sean is the kind that looks badass (and he can be) on the exterior but he’s all sweetness on the inside.  He has a heart of gold and is the most caring person I know.  He’s also the best gift buyer too because he gets people; he’s interested in psychology more than I am and he’s a natural at reading people.  He loves the ocean and snorkeling and diving (he just passed his dive master test yesterday!).  He is kind and patient (I started this blog on his birthday, he is very patient).  And I know that Sean will be here with me through it all.  Plus, we have a dog child (Scupper, black lab/ridgeback mix, 5 months, perfect) together and our dog child doesn’t know us as Serena and Sean but as mommy and daddy.  Yeah, we’re set for life 🙂  I love him and our little Maui family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only thing I can’t get to fit in here (dinner is almost ready and my parents have been interrupting me every five minutes, I think they are checking me for signs of life) is every person in my life that has touched my life and made me who I am.  Last I checked, this thing had 1,300 views.  So all of you, every one of you would be in here but I just can’t start typing all of that!  Here, let’s do this.  Just write your name here: I love _______________ and I think that covers most of it!

I’m sure I’ve left out some details but that’s where you come it.  Your homework (aha, you thought I was done assigning boob checks and the like!) is to remember a good story and reminisce and then go on with your day.  Something that makes you smile, preferably.

Post-surgery Update

“Those who preserve their integrity remain unshaken by the storms of daily life.  They do not stir like leaves on a tree or follow the herd where it runs.  In their mind remains the ideal attitude and conduct of living.  This is not something given to them by others… it is a strength that exists deep within in them.”  ~Anonymous Native American

*We do all have this strength and can share it.  I’ve felt it from you and it has made all the difference as I and we travel though this.

Greetings loved ones.

After my Thursday interview with the nurse on my medical history while at my unique “office” of the boat Ocean Discovery crossing from Manele, Lanai back to Maui (not easy to have a serious chat on the phone with diesel engines running in my ear!), I proceeded with the semi-normal life of grocery shopping in anticipation of parental arrival, walking the puppy, cake for dinner (why not) and picking up the parents from the airport.  No food or drink after midnight so I ate and drank until midnight.

Let’s go through this together…

Friday morning, up and showered, no breakfast allowed, load up the caravans with Ash, Mom, Dad, Sean, a cancer patient.

8:00AM – Valet parking at Maui Memorial, check in at registration, ID me, more paperwork and signatures, up to my private room.  Take away all my stuff and wash down with warm scented cleansing cloths that smell, taste (yeah, somehow I licked it, I’m a very sensory and sensitive person) and feel sticky, into the gown, into the bed, wait.

8:30AM – More questions, yes, I’m still Serena Neff born 6/30/83.  Time for my first jabbing needle: an IV.  Now, I am skinny and I have small veins.  I gave blood last week for my pre-op shenanigans and they jabbed me twice before getting a smaller needle.  This time, the nurse couldn’t find an obvious vein in my hand, so she went to the elbow and poked unsuccessfully (but made a good bleeding wound).  She called in the RN who seems to be the take-no-prisoners get-er-done kind; she tied off my arm, lidocained my hand, found a vein and stuck the IV needle right in there.  I hate the bee sting feeling of needles.  Let the fluids flow!

9:00AM – My posse huddled into the room.  They ate delicious breakfast foods in front of me (those jerks), we watched some depressing murderous missing people mass murdering news (did I mention they talked about murder in most of the stories?  Ah, CNN, so uplifting) and then switched over to Family Feud.  What job should a dude have to ensure a saucy encounter with a housewife?  I guessed plumber (#2 answer); the best answer came from Sean: Pool cleaner (#7, what?!); Ash guessed Gardener (#4 I think) but the #1 answer was mail man.  What?  Does no one watch Glee?!  Pool cleaner.  Should be top choice.

10:00AM – Wheeled to x-ray.  Dude, I gotta pee.  Moved into a new bed, warm blankets, time for my radioactive dye injection.  Boob warmed, and numbed, and warmed and shot with yet another needle, and warmed again with the heating pad.  Then…….. I get to pee!  Ahhh.  The small things that let me feel human.

11:00AM – Back in bed and to my room?  No!  Straight to surgery.  I have a brief moment of dread and panic and sadness.  My boob will never be the same, my body will never be the same.  This shit is scary.  What if they find something else?  What if something goes wrong?  WHERE’S MY ANESTHESIOLOGIST?!  Shh, brain, shh.  Meet a bunch of nurses and, at last, my anesthesiologist, my saint.  See I’ve got this pounding headache from pressure or stress or lights, that feels better when my eyes close but would feel a whole lot better if I could just stop being conscious for every step of this whole process and just go to sleep and wake up with things done.  Dr. Baker seems to agree and gives me my first shot: the sweet icy nectar of Valium.  Ah, felt like ice cubes to the vein. and after being wheeled into the OR, scooting to the table, getting vitals hooked up and leg massagers wrapped on, I was out in 5 minutes.

Fast forward to about 1:30PM, I think…

I don’t even know where I woke up or what I said first but I was wrapped in bandages and on lots of drugs.  And pretty happy and comfortable.  My doctor said something about everything going well.  I somehow ended up back in my room.  My personal support team came in.  I got juice and crackers (food, finally!) and then I had to pass my test: drink something, stand up, walk to the potty, and pee.  God, can’t the rest of life’s tests be so easy!  For the record, my pee was green from the blue dye.  Cool.  Very St. Pats Day.  And I did pass all my tests even though I walked like a drunkard.  I would fit in at Lahaina harbor real well.

So, what happened while I was out in la-la land?  My lumpectomy procedure removed more tissue surrounding my original tumor in an attempt to get all the cancer cells that were associated with the lump; they took a gold ball size amount.  A GOLF BALL?  Well, shit, I don’t have that much to spare!  Sean said maybe they could put a squeaker from the dog’s toy in there to both fill some space and entertain Scupper man.  Kinda funny, huh?  Kinda gross too!  We’ll see how it all looks after and go from there.  I still have my vanity to protect.  The radioactive blue dye indicated that my sentinel lymph node had potential for present invasive cancer cells.  Yikes.  That lymph node was removed and is being biopsied.  Results to come.  I currently wear a drainage ball.  It’s gross.  There’s no way to sugarcoat or beautify that one.  Use your imagination and then block it out.  Ear muff it; brain muff it.

For now, we’re in sigh-surgery-is-done-now-wait-and-see mode.  We’ll be hearing from Dr. Gambhir in the next 3-6 days and I have a follow up appointment next Wednesday.  I feel pretty good, just sore and tight.  My mom threw away my deodorants that have Aluminum in them and I can’t shower for 48 hours so who wants a hug?!  Don’t worry, I have a sponge bath and new good smelling hippie deodorant in my future.  Big plans for our day, eh?

I hope to make it to Mikey’s benefit tonight so watch where you’re walkin!  Don’t bump me too hard.  We’ll see how I’m feeling later.  No drinking either, just drugs!

Boob-gate 2012

What a whirlwind!

First of all: mahalo nui loa, thank you big time.

You have all followed the rules and found your own way to get through this with me.  I have received countless texts, emails, phone calls, Facebook posts, tags, blog posts and even a few hints at snail mail to come.  Wow.  Just wow.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, you don’t know how much it means to me.  I didn’t realize how far and wide the circle and waves reached.

I am not at all the person that puts myself out there.  I prefer to be private.  If I was a celebrity, you would see more pictures of my hand in OK magazine than my face, and the paparazzi would be trying to dig dirt on me but I would be changing my cell phone number and posting only pictures of my dog.  I’d also be the one with the dirty mouth and lawsuits against Star mag.

But in this situation, I had to get a lot of intense information out fast, far and correctly so I decided to do a personality u-turn, rip off the band-aid and blog it.  Everyone has a blog these days anyway!  Word spreads like wildfire with technology; and between the combination of technology and this generation of “experience everything everywhere with every person you can find,” my circle of friends and family is big and international (hey you Aussies and Canucks out there!).

I wanted this to be my words, and not so much the grapevine and the “hey, did you hear?”

And mostly, I wanted Sean, my parents and my brothers to have a way to share the burden.  Really, we’re all sharing the burden.  And I feel lighter by it!  This is the place we go when even words are too difficult to speak.  When you don’t know what’s going on and you’re not sure if you should ask.  When I cannot vocalize all the shit that goes through my head and all the emotions that go through my heart, we come here.  You read it, hopefully laugh, sometimes you cry, you share; you keep living.

When the blog idea became part of the cancer plan, I googled (where else would we start our research in this day and age?!) where I would start my site (WordPress came up first and I liked that it didn’t use the word blog in it’s site address), and signed up and stared at–duh–the start page.

Big problem.  What the hell was I gonna call it?  “Serena’s cancer”?  Boring.  “Cancer journey from Maui?”  Ooh, tropical but boring.  “My boob harbors a fugitive”?  Haha, but not appropriate.  This was not an easy task to come up with a title (or a TIT-le if you’re feeling the need for corny).

And it finally hit me.  I’m 28.  Cancer has been in my reality, my non-ignorant world for six days.  Six days of 28 years.  F that!  That C word ain’t touching my title, because I don’t plan on keeping it or ruling my life by it.  It is what made me start writing but it’s not going to be the only thing I have to say.

But what would I rule my life by?  What have I ruled my life by?  What will I always tell you to rule your life by?

Obviously, read the title, people.  Pursue with Courage!

Are you going to read this blog with courage because you might throw up at the thought of someone you know, someone my age, someone your child knows, etc having breast cancer?  Are you closing your computer and contemplating your life and morality with a little courage?  Are you calling your parents/siblings/friends from long ago and putting aside old issues with a little courage because your perspective on what’s really important just changed?  Will you realize that time is precious, and that relationships and being our best selves are all we have and that waiting on that job to come to you, or the other person to start the conversation is a waste of your innate courage?  You damn well better!  Get of your butt, put on your big person pants, go to your dirty laundry basket and dig around for your ball of courage, dust it off, shine it and hackey sack that thing around!

And just in case I said that word so many times it has lost its meaning, here’s a little lesson:

cour·age

noun
1. The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
2. Obsolete . the heart as the source of emotion.
Ok, ok, you can keep a little fear.  But only for motivation.  Like when I’m fearful of spiders in my shower, I use it as motivation to wash them down the drain and recognize that it was a courageous effort.  Hey, don’t fault me.  I love nature, I love bugs but if you’re in my shower, you crossed the line.
Tomorrow is surgery day.  I’ve been assured that they will not need to take too much out (I have little 32Bs, there’s not a lot for removal so those cancer cells had better have stayed local and small) and that I will be headed home after.  I’ve got a party bus of four coming for support: Sean, Mom and Dad and Ash.  We’ll be going in at 8am HAWAII time (if you call me at 8am east coast time, we won’t be friends anymore; Sean will tell you how much I AM NOT a morning person, especially a 2am morning person!) but my appointment time is on island time; meaning, whenever.  You can call my mom (Lauren) or look for Ash’s post or wait for mine.  They told me they didn’t want me to stagger out of the hospital so I expect to be walking in full consciousness by the time I leave!  And I can type with my left hand (my right boob is the culprit, there, now you know which boob to blame–and I had a clean mammogram on Wednesday so no other tumors in the boobal region) so I will update when I’m sober (yeah, cancer will lead me to hardcore drug usage of mild pain killers, watch out).
And as I gear up for surgery, Mr. Michael Ray, a friend and coworker is recovering nicely from brain surgery!  He had a cyst that pressed on his cerebellum and built up enough pressure that by the time he had surgery, it burst.  But the outcome is good and healthy!  We’re thinking we may have to blame work for our issues… 🙂

Start Here

each day is ours

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” ~Harriet Beecher Stowe

Aloha friends, family, associates and random souls!

If you’ve found your way here, you have probably heard that I have been diagnosed with breast cancer.  I’m 28, there’s no history in my family (other than my dad’s mom at 62 ish), and there were few symptoms, just a small lump.

This blog is my form of therapy to keep both myself sane and you all informed.  Anyone is welcome, anyone can write anything any time, which means that I myself may not be censored!  And yes, mom, that means that sometimes I might curse like a sailor (because I am a sailor and for the record mom did try to keep my mouth clean growing up–once, even with soap!–but you can’t stifle who you are, at least not all the time).  You’ve all been warned: there’s no holding back here!  And remember, too, folks, we’re not all doom and gloom here.  I’m all sorts of Yankee sarcasm (not those Yankees, they suck; go Red Sox!) and witty commentary so don’t pull out too many tissues.

At times, it’s probably going to suck and be hard for me to write and you to read, other times maybe even gruesome, optimistic, happy, sad, frustrated, pissed as all get out, confused and, largely, hopeful.  I’ve learned in the last few days that those emotions are not just mine but all of yours too.  Go for it.  Emote.  Join in.  I have an amazing network of friends and family and by sharing this with you, I hope to create an open dialogue, stronger relationships and awareness for this issue.  Maybe, just maybe, it will even save a life.

Here are the facts, from the beginning:

~February 21: Lump discovered by me at home at random; surprise, fear, confusion, urgency ensue; call Doctor pronto

~February 22: Doctor checks; probably a cyst, make mammogram and ultrasound appointments and then make an appointment for surgery because I probably want that thing out; slight relief, still restless

~March 6: Ultrasound appointment (oh, both mammogram machines are broken?  Thanks, Kaiser, don’t you think that’s a problem?  Note to self: follow up with Kaiser on their insistence of protocol and saving money by not offering to outsource me to a working mammogram machine across the street at the hospital; also note, ultrasounds are better at imaging for my age group and mammograms are not part of regular screening for women until about age 40).  Ultrasound is inconclusive and cannot tell if it’s fluid-filled (a good thing) or not (bad thing), proceed with surgery and follow up there; still not at ease but hopeful

~March 14: Surgery to remove the lump (or, would I like to make another appointment to biopsy without removal?  Hell no, get that abnormality outta me!); Surgeon, Dr. Gambhir, my favorite person at Kaiser, does local anesthetic and talks to me the whole time with the nurse holding my hand, removes (extra anesthetic needed; I felt it, it sucked) the lump, mentions it looks fibrous, bottles it, bags it and ships it. Oh yeah, I looked at it.  I’m a scientist, I have an overwhelming sense of curiosity, I had to see the invader.  I need to understand this intellectually too.  Lab results in 3-5 days, is it OK to talk over the phone?  YES.

~March 16: Results are in.  That was fast.  I did not expect it so fast.  Everything at Kaiser takes so long.  But this was Dr. Gambhir.  She and I think alike in the I-need-to-know-yesterday sense and the let’s-get-a-move-on-now way as well.  No surprise to you at this point: the biopsy came back cancerous.  Of course these results are a surprise to me and the Doctor and everyone else I tell.  As I mentioned, there is no breast cancer on my maternal side; 2/3 of women diagnosed with breast cancer are 55 or older.  Well, I’m the 1/3; and I should probably play the lotto now.  Doom sets in, lots of thoughts of mortality, anger, frustration, shock, sadness, pissedoffedness?  Yes, dictionary.com, that one’s for you: I’d like to enter this new word for consideration.

What is it: a duct that would deliver milk for nursing has cancer cells within, which created the lump.  It’s called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS for you Google-rs) BUT it is WITH invasive cells.  What the invasive cells do is basically jump off the mother ship–the lump–and try to ride my lymph system to bother other organs and body parts.  The current question we now face is: did any cells jump off the mother ship and tour my body, finding a new place to settle and replicate and make friends aka lumps or tumors if you’re feeling strong?

And where do we go from here?

Sean–my boyfriend/partner/roommate and primary support system–and I met with the Dr yesterday (March 19th) to understand the problem and plot the course of attack on it.  I have surgery scheduled for Friday for a lumpectomy to remove breast tissue around the affected area until there is a clean margin (no cancer cells detected on the outer edge).  While sleeping under the aid of drugs, they will also inject me with a dye/material to find invasive cells and see if any made it to my lymph system, then biopsy an armpit lymph node (this is part of staging).

Currently, I am tired of typing and recognize that this is long and just the start of more to come.  It’s enough for you to be informed.  As for me, the last 48 hours have been a lot of phone calls and explanation, tears and emotions, research and understanding, planning and paperwork.  Mom and dad come Thursday.  I work my last day as a naturalist–a “whale girl”–at Pacific Whale Foundation on Thursday and then settle in for a 2 month hiatus from work responsibility as recovery from surgery is 2 weeks and radiation will follow for 4-6 weeks 5 days a week.

Basically, I’m doing OK.  Almost good.  It helps to have a plan and to know that the plan will start soon, that Friday will tell me “how bad it is” to some degree via staging.  I’ve got all of you and my cheer team here in Maui, I’ve got a Doctor who is intelligent, capable and kind, I’ve got a dog to pet and people to bribe me with delicious roast chicken, cooked carrots with mandarin oranges and rice pilaf; dessert of my choosing.

Those who I have opened up to a little and a lot–which is not my character to be open, until now–have been very supportive and encouraging.  Everyone wants to know if I need anything and I realize that we all feel helpless when this kind of shitty (mom, a sailor stole my computer and typed that, not me) news is delivered.  We all want to be in control of our lives in every facet; it’s part of what makes us human.  The reality is that I’ve probably had cancer for a little while–days, weeks, months, who knows–it’s just that I finally discovered it.  When I think about it like that, I feel like a detective; I feel almost in control.  And now we’re going to fix it.  We’re gonna kill it off and throw it out!

But just in case you can’t sit still, here’s your homework:

~CHECK YOUR BOOBS!  Boys, too, you can get cancer of that region.  Or tell your wife or girlfriend or best friend to do it.  This is not just a lady problem; it’s everyone’s problem!

~Do what you need to do to feel better: call me, email me, ask questions, facebook me, research it, tell someone, turn off the computer, spread the word, check in in a week, listen to your favorite song, pray, talk to your family, call my mom (she likes sharing, let me know if you need her number, she’s good at momming so even if you just need to be mommed, she can do it; she might tell you to get a tetanus shot or a flu shot too).  But remember that I’m not a leper!  I still do healthy people things.  I feel great.  I wont on Friday but that’s the nature of surgery.  I am not fragile and I do still need to be treated like a feisty, sassy, capable, living human!  Don’t feel the need to walk on eggshells for me because I will call you out on it!  But don’t hug me without checking first, that one you have to be careful of.

~And most importantly, because I’m still a conservationist, save the planet!  No more plastic bags, people!

I love you!  I have to go read this and fix my typos.  Don’t be shy, now!

Serena

serenaneff@yahoo.com