Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Day 1138 of 1825 - Three Years Down, Two To Go

I had my six month check up with my oncologist today and thought it was about time to update my blog. I just looked at the date of my last post. It's been exactly one year since I last posted anything here. I guess this update is long overdue.

First things first... I'm feeling good and got another "all clear" from my doctor today. Of course, there's really note much she can tell just by talking to me. She asks me all the usual questions related to possible metastasis:

  • Any shortness of breath or trouble breathing?
  • Any bone pain that you can't explain?
  • Any headaches?

No, no and no. So I am given an all clear. The really stress-filled appointment comes in January with my annual mammogram. Until then, I do my best to put cancer in the rearview mirror for another six months.

A few things have changed since my blog post from last year. First, I was promoted and my company relocated us to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It's a great opportunity for me, and my husband and I are both looking forward to starting a new chapter of our lives in a new city. I am hoping I won't need to get to know any of the oncologists in the area!

Last winter I decided to close my yoga studio. It was just too much work and stress to run a business while working in a demanding career. So I closed the doors on March 31, 2015 and never looked back. It was definitely the right decision for me. My spirit feels so much lighter, and I have much less stress now that I only need to focus on one job - the one that pays the bills!

I have lost a little weight. I'm down 15 lbs. since this time last year. It's not a great change, but it is trending in the right direction. I think changing from tamoxifen to letrozole definitely helped. I went on the Ideal Protein diet last fall and was able to take off 15 lbs. during the holidays. I was thrilled because when I was on tamoxifen, it didn't matter what I tried, I could not lose 1 stinkin' pound.

I still have a long way to go. You might be wondering why I didn't stick with Ideal Protein. The truth is, I was not losing weight as quickly as they would have liked. I was losing about 1/2 - 1 lb. per week, and I was happy with that rate. But they wanted me to lose 3 lbs. per week and were getting a little irritated that I kept coming in every week and wasn't making more progress.

So, I stopped going for weigh ins (which always made me feel horrible), and I stopped buying their food. I've been "winging it" since the first of the year. I haven't gained any more weight and my doctor said I was down 3 lbs. since my last checkup in December.

And basically, that's where I am today. I am still miserable being this overweight. And I feel lousy reading that post from last year knowing I haven't made any significant changes or progress toward my goal weight.

It's really time for me to step up and make some changes. I can no longer use menopause or my cancer treatments as an excuse to live a healthy lifestyle.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Day 773 - The Person I Used To Be

Several people have asked me if life returns to "normal" after breast cancer treatment. I wish I could say "yes" but I would be lying. When I was going through chemo, radiation and recovering from my surgeries, I used to get really down and exclaim: I JUST WANT MY LIFE BACK!

It's so hard to go from being an active, healthy person to someone with cancer. It sucks. Big time. Now that most of my treatment is over, I have gotten my life back but it's very different.

I remember telling a friend about my diagnosis and what lay ahead. She was very encouraging and upbeat. She did her best to bolster my spirits but I distinctly remember saying: "I sure hope I recognize myself by the time all these doctors get done with me."

Life before cancer - active, healthy, 130 lbs.
Fast forward two years later and I do not recognize myself. I went from being fit and active to being this big, lethargic blob. I went from being able to wear cute clothes to having to buy plus-size, elastic waist everything. I used to wear high heels. Now I can barely walk without tripping, teetering or stumbling. I used to work out, lift weights, climb mountains and run. Now it's all I can do to walk around the neighborhood once a day trying desperately to get in 10,000 steps (I'm not even close).

Don't get me wrong - I am grateful to be alive and done with treatment. But this journey has definitely taken its toll on me. Weight gain, lethargy, brain fog, instant menopause, irritability, neuropathy in my feet... All these things have turned me into someone I do not recognize. And I miss the person I used to be. I want my life back!

Post cancer - fat and unhappy
The first step toward getting my life back - or at least some part of it - is to lose this damn weight. I have never really been an overweight person so the 50 lbs. I have gained over the last two years has thrown me for a loop. I don't know how heavy people can be happy. My hat is off to them. I can't do it. I know that everyone says you have to be kind to yourself and accept yourself. I can't. I know what it's like to be thin and active. There is absolutely nothing acceptable about this fat life. Nothing at all.

I can't do much about cancer. It's either coming back or it's not. But I can do something about this weight. I know that if I can get control of my eating and drinking, if I can lose these 50 lbs. - I will have a BIG part of my life back.

And that would make me VERY happy.

So my blog is going to take a turn in a different direction. It's going to look more like a weight loss journal and less like a cancer survivor blog. I'll still talk about cancer survivorship and things that I'm experiencing. But starting this week - it's all about my weight loss and getting my life back.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Day 747 of 1825 - Two Years Done!

This month marks two years post-treatment for me. Two years on tamoxifen with three more years of hormonal therapy.

The plan has always been to start on tamoxifen and then switch to an aromatase inhibitor. During my six-month checkup with my oncologist today, she did just that. I start letrozole (brand name Femara) tomorrow. All the research indicates better survival rates on letrozole than tamoxifen. Some research is now suggesting women should take hormonal therapy for 10 years instead of 5. I'm not ready to contemplate that just yet. Let me make it five years cancer-free and then we'll talk.

If you've ever wondered what 24 months of tamoxifen looks like, here are 24 bottles of tamoxifen lined up on my dresser - stretching from one end to the other. Yes, I've saved them all. Every empty bottle has felt like a feather in my cap. Why do I suddenly feel the urge to sing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?" haha!

I guess the most difficult part of these past two years has been the weight gain - 40 lbs. in two years. That's a lot of extra weight especially since I was already carrying an extra 10 lbs. when I started treatment.

But I'm not going to worry about the weight gain today. As a matter of fact, I am not going to worry about ANYTHING today. I just hit my two year mark and I feel pretty good.

Obviously, letrozole has it's side effects - mainly bone and joint pain. I have friends who have taken it and said the pain wasn't that bad. They said it was more of a nuisance than anything and they took Advil to control it. I have also had friends who simply couldn't tolerate it. I'm hoping I can deal with it and just move on.

On to Year Three!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day 691 of 1825 - Two Years Post Hysterectomy

This was me two years ago today. Well... not me exactly. But this is what I was having done - a total hysterectomy via DaVinci Robotic Device as the last step in my treatment protocol.

Of all the procedures I went through - core needle biopsies, lumpectomy, sentinel node biopsy, chemo and radiation - my hysterectomy was the hardest. To this day I am still feeling the effects.

And I don't like it.

I realize that menopause is a natural state for women as we age. It's not a disease and it's certainly nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of. But when you hit menopause instantly rather than letting your body transition in its own good time, the changes can be very hard to handle. At least, that has been my experience.

I don't want to sound like a complainer here. Menopause is better than cancer any day! But I will be 50 years old in just five days and I feel terrible. I feel like an old woman. An old, FAT woman.

I have neglected this blog for a variety of reasons. Mainly, I am very dissatisfied with my new "normal." I am out of shape, forgetful and more nervous about a cancer recurrence than I was about my initial diagnosis.

I wish I could report that my life returned to normal and everything is wonderful but that would be a lie. There are many wonderful things about my life, and I am very grateful! But my life is not what it was. And it is still not what I hoped it would be once I finished my treatments.

I continue to take tamoxifen every morning. As you can see from my countdown, I am about 38% through my 5 years of hormonal therapy. My next appointment with my oncologist is in June - two years after starting tamoxifen. We'll evaluate how I'm doing and decide whether or not to switch to an aromatase inhibitor. I know these drugs are not a walk in the park either.

So I have decided that during this 50th year of my life, I need to really take some serious action to get myself to a place where I am happy, healthy and less anxious. I've read my previous posts and they all say the same thing but I've done nothing about it. I am definitely in a rut and I want OUT!

One thing I did earlier this year was consult with a local cancer survivorship program. They have support group meetings, free yoga classes, all kinds of events and lectures -- everything I need to help me rebuild my life after cancer. They also recommended a licensed clinical therapist who specializes in cancer survivorship.

I made an appointment and will see her on my birthday. Happy Birthday to me! Nothing like seeing a therapist on your 50th birthday. ha!

I will try to do a better job of posting some updates. I realize there are very few of you (if any) who read this blog. That's okay. It's meant to be my own way of documenting my recovery and (hopefully) survival.

Either way, it's time for me to stop ignoring the fact that I had cancer and start reclaiming my life.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 513 of 1825

I received a nice email from someone who had read my blog and thanked me for sharing my experience. She said it made her feel less alone on this journey we call breast cancer treatment. Her email really meant a lot to me and prompted me to update my blog.

So how are YOU doing? I hope all is well on your side of the universe, wherever you happen to be.

As for me, life goes on but certainly not without its challenges. My greatest challenge is trying overcome my fear and anxiety about recurrence. I feel as though I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. That's not a good feeling.

I asked a friend who went through breast cancer treatment before I did how she overcomes this nagging fear. She said that she just reminds herself that she didn't go through the surgery, the chemo and the radiation so that she could live her days in fear. No -- she went through all that CRAP so she wouldn't have to live her days in fear. Makes sense to me. And I continually have to remind myself of this fact all the time.

I also have another friend who said she would repeat to herself: "I don't have cancer today. I don't have cancer today." Because unless you get the diagnosis from your doctor, today is a perfectly HEALTHY day.

Those are two techniques I use quite often. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don't.

I am currently on a schedule of getting my mammogram once a year again like a "normal" woman. haha! And my oncology visits have been cut back from four times a year to twice a year. I was supposed to have my mammogram this month but couldn't get in on time. So it's a little delayed. That has me nervous - of course. Why didn't I do a better job of scheduling it in advance? Geez! My next oncology appointment is in December.

I guess my biggest challenge right now (besides the fear and anxiety), is the toll my treatment has taken on my body. By that I mean weight gain. I gained about 30 lbs. during my treatment and following my hysterectomy in April 2012. I feel like a whale. The hot flashes suck, too. But compared to cancer, I am not complaining.

I have decided that one of the best ways for me to fight my fear and anxiety is to develop some sense of control over my situation. For those of us who have been down this path, we know that we cannot control very much in life. But there are some steps we can take to help us feel more in control and I am referring to lifestyle changes. Mainly diet, exercise and some kind of spiritual or meditative practice.

Here is what I know for sure:

  • I know that eating sugar is bad for me. Cancer loves sugar.
  • I know that drinking alcohol is bad for me. Women have a 35% higher incidence of recurrence when they drink alcohol, even just one glass of wine a day.
  • I know that being overweight is also bad for me. Fat cells produce estrogen and my cancer fed on estrogen. Leaner women have a lower incidence of recurrence.
  • I know that being sedentary is bad for me. Women who regularly work out and get their heart rates up in their target zone have much better survival rates than those who are sedentary.

Armed with all this knowledge, you would think that I would have given up the sugary treats, stopped drinking wine, started eating healthier and smaller portions and started working up a sweat every day.

But I haven't. And I cannot tell you why.

I feel guilty about almost everything I eat or drink. It's too sugary, it's too much, I shouldn't be drinking this glass of wine... blah, blah, blah.

Every time I get on the scale or have to buy a larger size, I chastise myself for not losing the chemo weight. I know that women who are overweight are at risk for recurrence not to mention the fact that my love life is suffering (that's another story!). Just lose this damn weight already!

So while I feel a certain sense of accomplishment for having made it through my treatment, I am still not where I want to be. I kept telling myself during my treatment that I just wanted to be healthy. I wanted my life back. I guess I still do.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Day 289 of 1825

I was at my quarterly oncology check up last week and realized that I have reached another milestone toward survival. One year ago on March 5, I completed all my treatments for breast cancer. I remember how excited I was to wrap up treatments last year. How could I possibly let that "anniversary" slip by like any other day this year?

It's easy. I have gotten on with my life. I have been very busy filling my days with things that I love to do, seeing people I love to see and generally just trying to squeeze every drop of goodness out of every single day.

One of my more exciting endeavors started in January. We do not have any yoga studios on my side of town. I decided that I was tired of driving over 15 miles each way to take yoga classes. And yoga is a big part of my life. I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and open my own yoga studio and Avani Yoga Studio was born.

Keep in mind, I have a regular 8 to 5 day job which I love. But I love yoga, too. And I just had this passion to start a yoga community in my neighborhood. We offer three classes a week at a local preschool. I have two great yoga instructors. I am taking 2 or 3 classes each week (yay!) and have met a lot of great people along the way.

The interest level is very good so I have decided to go ahead and set up my business as an LLC and look for a permanent retail space for the studio. My goal is to have a place up and running no later than September 1, 2013. More to come!

As for cancer -- it never leaves my thoughts for very long. How can it when I take a tamoxifen every morning? But I don't worry about cancer like I used to. Of course, as it get closer to my quarterly checkups, I do tend to worry a little depending on how I feel. But generally speaking, I try to keep it in the rearview mirror.

And maybe that's why I haven't been such a great blogger. But I will try to do better!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Let's Catch Up!

My gosh... I cannot believe it has been so long since I last updated this blog. I have been thinking about an update but just haven't made the time to sit down and post. I guess I keep thinking that the busier I get, the less I will think about cancer and the more "normal" my life will become.


As anyone who has received a cancer diagnosis will tell you - the thought of cancer never goes away. But in my case, it is definitely starting to fade. And I like that!

There are so many things I need to report. And it's all good.

In late October I organized a group of co-workers and family members to walk in the American Cancer Society "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" event. We raised almost $3,000 and had a gorgeous fall day for our walk. Here's a picture of our team:

My co-workers and their families at our cancer walk in October
Thanksgiving was quite special because I was not undergoing any cancer treatment, I had hair and I had enough energy and enthusiasm to actually cook a traditional dinner. My BFF Carolyn came up from Florida with her boyfriend Georg. The four of us has a fantastic long weekend playing golf, eating, drinking, laughing and just generally enjoying life. Who could ask for anything more?

Georg, Carolyn, me and Barry after golf
Enjoying the local wine bar
Now that all the debauchery of Thanksgiving is behind me, I have turned my attention toward my eating habits. For months (years) I have thought about my eating habits in connection with my weight. Now I am thinking about my eating habits in connection with my overall health.

Do I want to lose weight? Oh hell yeah. I have gained about 30 lbs. since my diagnosis and it is not coming off easily. It is not coming off at all. I thank my hysterectomy, tamoxifen, instant menopause, overeating and a sedentary lifestyle for my inability to lose weight.

Right now, I am more concerned with eating high quality, nutritionally sound meals. I recently downloaded an app to my iPhone called 21 Day Vegan Kickstart. The recipes are simple and fantastic. I do not miss meat or dairy at all. I will admit that I add one meal a week of fish or shellfish. Other than that, I am going completely vegan. I still weigh the same but I feel SO much better. Check it out their website here.

In medical news, I had a check up with my oncologist in early December. I asked her to run a test to make sure that I am metabolizing tamoxifen correctly. She ran the test and I am considered an "efficient metabolizer." That eased my mind. I really am not having many side effects (if any) from tamoxifen so I was worried that my body wasn't using it correctly.

Now I don't see my oncologist again until March. I have Christmas, New Year's, a trip to Florida to visit my father and sister and a vacation planned to Nag's Head, NC planned. Lots of fun times ahead. No time to worry about cancer!