The radiation phase of my treatment is now complete. Yeah!!! I have been celebrating for days.
My skin looks great despite some tanning with minor reddening in the boost area and a now brown “splotch” caused by my negligence in hiking all day without proper protection over a portion of the site. Although I was not as disciplined as I could have been, I applied lanolin twice per day as per the suggestion of the radiation oncology staff at the Center. I also used a burn cream that I got from Pine Street Clinic that they miraculously obtain from Chinese hospitals (apparently difficult to get).
Radiation Therapy was a positive experience and I absolutely loved my team led by Doctor Francine Halberg. I cried in my car reading their well wishes on my diploma after my last visit to the Center. The people are exceptional. Kind, genuine, diligent, precise, and even fun are but a few words to describe my team. It seems like ages ago when Dr. Halberg told me that she wished I could have been a fly on the wall during the afternoon planning session when my surgeon, Dr. Leah Kelley assisted in the planning in order to pinpoint the location in my arm pit area where, despite her diligent scraping, there may have been some microscopic cancer cells remaining. I think my favorite day was in preparation for the boost (the area that would receive extra radiation since microscopic disease may have remained), the team left me lying on the table with my arm above my head for so long that the only response I could muster (since I could not move a millimeter) was to start giggling uncontrollably. I had to think about despicable things in order to stop myself from laughing. What I loved about the day so much was getting to meet and witness in action some of the players in the “behind the scenes” planning and laying out of my plan. They are a brilliant, focused, creative and “top in their field” bunch and all of their busy-ness and adjustments, surrounding my corpse pose and the monstrous machine, gave me confidence that I was in the best hands possible. So……
A Year in Review:
December 29, 2011: Nicole discovers odd lump on her right breast.
March 20, 2012: After misdiagnosis by primary care doctor and ultrasound radiologists’ interpretation, the tumor was finally classified as cancerous by Dr. Ellen Mahoney. Late March and early April filled with phone calls, appointments, and diagnostic testing including mammogram, MRI and PET CT scan.
April 20, 2012: With skillful mapping and meticulous mastering of scalpels and clamps, Dr. Leah Kelley of Marin Cancer Institute removed the insanely large (~5 inch diameter!) tumor.
May – September 2012: Adjuvant chemotherapy program overseen by the experienced, wise and loving Doctor David Gullion. 4 cycles of Adriamycin and Cytoxin (every other week) followed by weekly administration of Taxol and Herceptin. (Herceptin is through the clinical trial, and will continue every three weeks through July 2013). Riding my bike 300 miles in six days to my first appointment was definitely a highlight of this whole experience. I will never forget the doctors and gang from the Center that joined me for the final 50 miles from Bodega to Fairfax!
October 15-November: Daily Radiation (Monday through Friday) administered by the dream team described above – 30 doses.
November 2012 – November 2017: Hormone Therapy is an important part of my adjuvant treatments, and at five years is longest lasting of my treatment protocols. Tamoxifen is the pill I will take daily (at least I can be home for this one!!) Tamoxifen is a drug that blocks estrogen from binding to breast cancer cells (not all tumors are driven by estrogen, but mine was ER+ which stands for estrogen receptor positive and it just means that the receptors are present on the surface of cancer cells).
Which brings me to today! Feeling so grateful to all involved on my multidisciplinary medical team. These doctors in addition to the other doctors at the Center (they work much of the time as a team with a “tumor board conference” every Tuesday and in the hallways of the center) have left me feeling like I have done everything possible from a medical standpoint to remove and destroy the cancerous cells in my body. Trust in this team has never once wavered and has made all of the difference in my attitude and positivity all the while.
And in an effort to not be on the computer all day, in a future post I will write about all of the OTHER things and people I am grateful for, namely my supportive husband, kids, extended family, so many friends, a broad community, including the Breast Health Project, my chinese medicine practitioners and teachers, and qi gong.
I will spend today enjoying the beautiful and bountiful rainfall, organizing my stuff, packing, and cooking a big celebration meal (Indian food I think!). Tonight I see Tosca (SF Opera) with my sister and tomorrow morning early I will brave the storm, driving home to my beloved family in time for Nutcracker rehearsal and cookie baking. Not to sound cliché, but LIFE IS GOOD (for me, right now). There has been so much suffering in my community as of late and it reminds me that suffering is universal and also a part of this thing we call life —these instances can’t really be compared, they all suck (for lack of trying for a better word). Cancer, severe injury, disability, depression, unfathomable loss, and even more global issues and concerns like famine, habitat loss, war, the list goes on.
For some reason it reminds me of the Good Luck Bad Luck story that I love so I will post it here.
I wish all of you good luck and many blessings today!
Good Luck Bad Luck!
There is a Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”
Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”
Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck?