I Have My Fighting Face On | Battling Bertha 8

It’s been a couple of weeks since I laid my heart on the table and exposed my apprehension and vulnerability regarding surgery. Much has happened. I’ve been quiet on social media and haven’t felt like talking on the phone. The easiest way to discuss the past two weeks is chronologically, so here goes:

The Greatest Gift

A housekeeper is the greatest gift you can give to a chemo patient. Seriously.

August 7th, spectacular Sue arranged to have my home cleaned. Shane and Dorothy are tidy, but they do not “clean” well, so the dust and pet fur had settled comfortably in like they owned the place, and it was really starting to irritate me. Sue could not have offered the gift of a clean home at a better time! Chemo patients have a compromised immune system and are cautioned against too much housework to minimize exposure to germs.

Sue is not the first friend to give this amazing gift to me. Judy and Donna had arranged cleanings in the past few months. For which I am beyond grateful!

Charlie’s Angels

My sisters visited the weekend of August 8th. We spent all day Saturday at The Woodlands Mall with Dorothy, back to school shopping. Luckily, there are plenty of places to sit in the mall, so I was able to rest any time I needed. After shopapalooza we walked over to the movie theater to catch Guardians of the Galaxy.

In the lobby of the theater,  Tiger-Rock Martial Arts and Leonardo, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, were offering publicity shots.  My sisters and I are never too shy to strike a pose and quickly offered up our best Charlie’s Angels moves.  Leonardo looks a little confused, eh?

My sisters and I strike a Charlie's Angel pose with Leonardo

My sisters and I strike a Charlie’s Angel pose with Leonardo

By the way, Guardians of the Galaxy was hilarious.

Bertha Butt Boogie

Keep Calm and Chemo On with Nurse Kim

Keep Calm and Chemo On with Nurse Kim

First off, a nod and chagrin to Peggy Vincent for exposing me to the Bertha Butt Boogie song.  Wow.  How I lived 44 years without ever hearing that tune, I do not know!

After my sisters left, the boogie began.

Monday, August 11th was my PET/CT Scan.   This was my second scan, so I knew the routine, brought a book and dressed warmly.

Tuesday, August 12th I went to my weekly lab appointment.  The nurse had trouble accessing my port and had to poke me twice.  The first time I think she missed the port because I could feel fluids flowing into my chest.  It was rather creepy.

Wednesday, August 13th I went in for the first day of my new chemo protocol, Herceptin only.  The lab results showed my white blood cell count was a little low, so the nurses had to have a doctor sign off before they administered the meds.

My port site was still a little sore from being double poked the day before, and I was uncomfortable for the entire infusion.

Nurse Kim was wearing a “Keep Calm and Chemo On” t-shirt which I felt was appropriate.

I will be on this protocol every three weeks for the next year.  Herceptin is a biologic which means my hair will start to grow back soon.  It is designed to inhibit the Her2 protein that is produced by Bertha’s type breast cancers.

Wednesday night Bertha reared that ugly butt.  I hadn’t felt it in a couple of months and I “knew” it was gone.   It is pecan sized when it used to be apricot sized.  So smaller is better but gone is best.  Needless to say the wind was knocked out of my sails and surgery suddenly became urgent.

Thursday, August 14th the clinic scheduled the appointment with the surgeon I found a couple of weeks ago; The only surgeon on my health insurance plan who does breast surgery.  It took a couple of phone calls to get the referrals approved.  I am grateful to the staff at the oncology clinic, as I did not have to be involved.

Friday, August 15th Shane, Dorothy and I met with the surgeon.  Refreshingly, he spent a long time reviewing my test results, explaining things, sharing options and reassuring us.  I think it was the longest doctors appointment I’ve ever had.  Seriously, he spent a good 45 minutes with us, if not longer.  He is a cardiologist and thoracic surgeon by trade but continues to do general surgery, as well.

We scheduled a partial mastectomy for Friday, August 22nd.

Random Musings

Can Guanabana Juice Cure Cancer?

Can Guanabana Juice Cure Cancer?

I had my first taste of Soursop Juice last week.  It was surprisingly sweet for a fruit with the word sour in its’ name.

Soursop, also known as guanabana, is said to be a powerful cancer fighting fruit.  I don’t know if it is true, or not.  But I do believe in yin and yang, positive and negative, black and white, matter and anti-matter.  If there is a natural cause for Bertha, then there is a natural cure for Bertha.  So why not research natural cures?

According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of American, Soursop has not been tested on humans thus humans are cautioned against relying on it as a cure.

Tuesday, August 19th I got to have a little fun!   Wealthy Sisters Network Conroe hosted a Back to School Brunch at The Toasted Yolk in Conroe.   The food was yummy and the fellowship was much needed after the previous week.

After brunch, I went to my weekly lab appointment.  Again, a little trouble accessing the port.  I’ll worry about it after surgery.

Written on the wall of the St. Luke's Medical Center Pre-Op Hallway

Written on the wall of the St. Luke’s Medical Center Pre-Op Hallway

Yesterday, Wednesday, August 20th, Shane and I ventured down to the medical center for my Pre-Op appointment at St. Lukes Medical Center Houston.

The nurses took my history, vitals and did an EKG.  My blood pressure was a little high, as to be expected considering the upcoming surgery.  The rest of my vitals are fine, and my heart is pumping correctly.

The lab sent over the results from yesterday and my white blood cell count is normal, again, so my immune system is ready to fight, fight, fight!

Written on the way of the Pre-Op hallway are the immortal words of Thomas Edison:

“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this:  you haven’t.” – Thomas Edison

I have found my new mantra.

The view from pre-op was lovely.  My surgery will take place in the brown building on the right.  Send me some positive mojo, healing energy and prayers tomorrow between 11 and 1:30 pm Central time.

There will be a little less of me when it is over but my spirit will remain intact.

I have my fighting face on.

Stl Luke's Medical Center Houston

Stl Luke’s Medical Center Houston

Pick Another Fortune Cookie | Battling Bertha 7

Christie, Renee and Kim, my chemo nurses

My Final Mega Chemo Cocktail, July 21, 2014

The last few weeks have been tough, to say the least.

The great news is, as of  July 21, I have completed the TCH chemo protocol for HER2 positive neoplasms.   TCH stands for Taxotere, Carboplatin and Herceptin. I discuss these drugs in the Battling Bertha 2 post.

That last round of chemo was a doozy.  I ended up with a terrible infection and spent the better part of 2 weeks in bed.  I also required IV fluids twice.

I was prescribed the antibiotic Levaquin for the infection.  Turns out, they use this drug to treat Anthrax.  It’s some powerful stuff. One of the possible side effects is that it may cause you to snap a tendon!  The pharmacist passed along this tidbit, not the doctor.   I read on the package, not to take the drug with magnesium.  Magnesium is in every electrolyte beverage, including Smart Water, which I was drinking because I was dehydrated.   This is why you must ALWAYS research any medications you are prescribed!!

I survived the Levaquin with no incidences, the infection is gone, and I am feeling much better!

Pick Another Fortune Cookie

Shane and I met with my oncologist on the 28th and I was blind-sided when he told us I had to have surgery right away.

My follow up PET scan is scheduled for August 11th.  In my mind, I thought that the next treatment step would be determined after the results of the PET.

My Chemo Nurses

“The Gals” Pencil Sketch by Shane Rodarte

I know that the neoplasm I call Bertha is gone and that the PET scan is only a formality to prove that I am right.

Surgery was not even a slight consideration in my mind because if Bertha is gone, what’s to remove?

Turns out, the boob has to go.

According to the oncologist, I have two choices: a lumpectomy followed 6 to 8 weeks of radiation, or a mastectomy.   Opting out of surgery is not an option in his mind.

Shane asks questions about radiation, how it works and its’ side effects.  Twelve lasers will be pointed at the site of the former neoplasm, 5 days a week for 6 to 8 weeks.  Possible side effects include third degree burns and damage to the esophagus if the lasers are not positioned correctly.

As he was telling us this, all I could process was that my body was fighting a horrible, debilitating infection.  I was dehydrated, weak and very unfocused.  Here he is pushing me to have surgery right away and all I cared about was getting the infection cleared.

In my fog, I heard him say:

“HER2 positive is very aggressive.”

“Before Herceptin the survival rate of HER2 positive was very low.”

“If it was my wife, this is what I’d want her to do.”

“I will do everything I can to save your life.”

The doctor tells me he is sending me to the best breast surgeon in the greater Houston area.  His office assistant tells me the surgeons’ office will call me the following day.

Then, off I go to the infusion room for some IV fluids, where one by one, the nurses come by to reinforce the need for surgery right away.

I waited Tuesday to hear from the surgeon.  Since his office did not phone, Wednesday I called my oncologist and discovered the best surgeon in the greater Houston area does not accept my HMO.  I felt a sense of relief.

Insurance open enrollment is in September.  I figured I could change to the PPO plan and have the surgery in October; give myself some time to process it all.   They are going to remove part or all of my breast.   The breast that fed my baby as we bonded through her infancy will be gone.  This is not an easy thing to process.

August 1, after my weekly lab appointment, Shane and I have lunch at a little Asian bistro near the clinic.  At the end of the meal, I open my fortune cookie and written on the little white rectangle inside is: “Pick another fortune cookie.”

Pick Another Fortune Cookie

Pick Another Fortune Cookie

Rather profound, eh?

I wasn’t ready to understand this message, but I knew it was important, so I tucked it away in my wallet.

Frustration = a form of self pity

August 4th, we met with the oncologist again.  He asks how my appointment with the surgeon went.  I tell him the surgeon does not accept my HMO.  He tells me he had an hour long consult with that surgeon about me.  Then, suggests another surgeon and reiterates I need to see him right away.  I tell him about open enrollment and that I could have the surgery i October.  He says it can’t wait that long.  He is going on vacation and wants me to have the surgery before he gets back.  It’s that urgent, in his mind.

All I can think is, I haven’t even had the follow up PET scan.  We don’t even know what we are removing!

The three of  us walk to the assistant’s desk where the doctor tells her that I need to see the alternate surgeon right away.  She tells him she doesn’t believe the alternate accepts my insurance, either.  The doctor asks to see the list of in-network surgeons.  We scheduled Round 2 of Chemo (Herceptin only, every 3 weeks for one year), plus a follow up appointment with the oncologist, and left expecting to hear back about the surgeon.

The following day, yesterday in fact, I called the office to ask about the surgeon.   The doctor has already left on his 2 week vacation and his assistant was not in the office.

My frustration reached a pinnacle.   I vented to my Bye, Bye Bertha team in our private Facebook chat in a very incoherent, rambling tirade.

Then, Cynthia Powell, an amazing and inspirational work-at-home-mom, posted “frustration = form of self pity” to her Facebook wall.  It was exactly what I needed to read to spur me into action.

Frustration = a form of self-pity

Frustration = a form of self-pity

I called the seven surgeons on my HMO provider list and asked, “Does the surgeon do mastectomies and lumpectomies?”

My heart sunk with each no.  I heard no six times.  On call number seven the answer was yes!  Of course, this particular surgeon is in the Houston medical center about an hour and a half drive from home.  Not convenient, but he accepts my insurance!

I called my oncologists’ assistant and left a voice-mail message with the surgeon’s information and asking for confirmation that the oncologist approves.  I will wait to hear back before scheduling an appointment.

What about the fortune cookie?

We each must make our fortune.  If we don’t like our fortune, we are allowed to pick another.

I don’t like the idea of surgery.  I don’t like this feeling of being rushed into something that I don’t want.

Now, I am not so rushed.  I can walk this path slowly, with clarity, and know that at the end of the journey Bertha will be gone forever, leaving me to live a long, happ, productive life with my beautiful daughter and incredibly supportive spouse.

All is well.