Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The continued prayer is, “Lord keep me focused. Keep my mind stayed on You. Help me to bring You praise. I know You believe in me. Please help me in my unbelief. Amen.”
It has been quite awhile since I’ve posted. In fact, I’ve never gone this long without posting. I’ve thought about it many times but…… *sigh*
Let’s just get started.
Many things have happened since my last post. First of all, I was diagnosed with early stages of Breast Cancer, Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ (DCIS). Fortunately, it was caught very early. Still, I underwent a Double Mastectomy and had immediate reconstruction.
This was quite a blow for me. I am still dealing with it. There are times when I still can’t believe this is actually happening to me. I’m not sure how long denial is supposed to go on but I seem to have frequent recurrences.
Everything happened really quickly and really slowly. Once I was diagnosed, surgery was scheduled and both my breasts were taken. Then it was the long slog of recovery (which is still in progress).
That’s the story in a nutshell. The whole story is following:
Your life changes completely for a time, when a doctor tells you that you have cancer. It gets better after a while, but for a time CANCER is all you hear. Everything else just sounds like white noise. It’s a scary time.
You are faced with your own mortality and until you get more information, you don’t know how things will play out and the worst options present themselves with startling regularity. If like me, you are one who prays, you’ll find yourself praying the panic away constantly.
However, if you’re lucky like me, you have an army of friends who will be there to fight beside you. The pic at the top of this post is me with my good friend Christine, who upon learning of my condition, scooped me up for a Birthday Brunch in beautiful Westlake Village. While we were out, she set up a page on Sign-Up Genius so friends and family could sign up to drop off meals and even clean my house! It was wonderful!!! My family and I ate so well during my recovery that it’s a miracle I only gained 5 lbs (plus the weight of the new boobs).
The Muddy Dragons sent a beautiful card. I love those girls and I can’t wait to get out there and get dirty with them again!!!
They also sent these super awesome Under Armor running shoes! Pink, in support of Breast Cancer Awareness!! Cool!
My BIG Brother Frank, also came to be with me for my surgery. This is us, the night before surgery. I couldn’t eat anything after midnight that day, so we had a late dinner at TGIFriday’s. Frank and I also went running the night before surgery. It was just what I needed.
The next day was the BIG Day!!!
First I met with my Surgical Oncologist, Dr. Leslie Memsic. She is GREAT!!! I was referred to her by my gynecologist, where all this started.
Then I conferred with the medical staff at TOSH (Thousand Oaks Surgical Hospital). They are also great. TOSH is a wonderful facility.
I was to undergo a Double Mastectomy and immediate Reconstruction. I was scared to death!! The hope was that surgery would be 100% curative for me and I wouldn’t have to undergo radiation or chemo. I prayed with my family for a successful surgery, no surprises and clean margins.
A kiss from my best guy before I went in.
Long Story Short, the surgery was reasonably successful! We would learn later that we didn’t get clean margins and would have to go back in, but at the time, all was good! This is me at the hospital. Christine was one of the many many people who was with me while I walked through the Valley of the Shadow.
I had visitors galore!! Runner friends, Sarah & Kathy. High school friends, Rena & Sherri. My family: My Dad, Miss Monica, My Mom, My Brother. Of course Chris and the kids were there. Work friends, Paul & Lily came by too. Paul stayed and read the poetry of Maya Angelou to me while I was under heavy anesthesia (that’s a tall order for a White guy! Just sayin’.)
The girls from work had flowers sent to the hospital. My brother-in-law & his girlfriend also sent flowers. So did Kathleen from church. I was showered with love.
But it was time to leave the comfort, support and drugs of the hospital and start my recovery process.
Many things happened during this time. You’d get bored if I named them all so, I’ll just hit the highlights.
First of all, meals came from all over the place! My friends really stepped up in this area. Food started arriving on the day of surgery (September 9th) and didn’t stop for 4 weeks!! It was great!!
Shortly after I got home, after surgery and days on end of heavy painkillers, my body reacted as most bodies do and locked up!!! For 6 days, NO bowel movements! That might be fine for a day or two, maybe even 3 or 4. After 6 days, I was in considerable discomfort. After a brief Internet search, I discovered that the best natural laxatives are (1) Raw Organic, Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar and (2) Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
I responded like most runners do. Balls out! I figured if one is good, both must be better! So having the ingredients on hand, I concocted this Vinegar and Olive Oil potion, poured it into a shot glass and threw it back!!
30 Minutes later, I was on the toilet weeping and moaning, but very much cleared up. It blew right through me. Awesome!
As I started to feel a little better, the first thing I wanted to do was get out of the house and get some exercise. I’d been told that running was out of the question for several weeks, but I’d been cleared to walk short distances as long as I didn’t move my arms too much.
At this time, I was still hooked up to a catheter with anesthesia pumping directly to the major incision sites and 4 drains, Two on each breast. I’d post a pic, but you *really* don’t want to see that. Instead, I’ll post this pic of me and Jayda, walking home from After Care. It’s about a half mile walk and was just enough at the time, as I tired quickly and extra movement generated more fluid. You can’t see all of my tubes & bulbs, but they’re there. The pouch at my waist is holding it all.
As I mentioned before, 3 days after surgery, I got the call from my doctor that we didn’t get clean margins. I would be given 2 weeks from surgery to recover and I’d have to go back in. This was a quick procedure and I was back at home on the same day, very tired and discouraged. This set my recovery back a few weeks.
But it was worth it! Three days after that surgery, we got the word that the margins were clean and I was completely cancer free!!!!
My father and Miss Monica happened to be visiting that day so we went out and I raised a glass with my Old Man! It was great!!!
Two Cancer Survivors! Praise GOD!!!
Now it was time for me to start recovering with a little exercise and my own brand of Physical Therapy.
First, and most horribly, I learned that a dear friend of mine had also been diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt just as helpless as anyone else might feel when they learn that a loved one has cancer. All I could do, especially in my current state, was be there for her. She is super strong and has an amazing support system, so she will come through this with flying, beautiful colors. Her name is Cynthia and she is undergoing chemo-therapy right now. Prayers for her would be greatly appreciated.
I think an essential part of healing is loving and helping other people. Paying it Forward is easy with people as wonderful as Cynthia.
Secondly, I had to start learning how to function while on heavy painkillers. I was scheduled to return to work in about a week and I hadn't managed to stay conscious for more than about 4 hours straight. Also, my brain was so fuzzy, I was barely able to hold a conversation. If I was going to go back to work and be useful, I was going to have to train myself to employ high levels of concentration for long periods of time, while sitting and using my arms as I would on a computer keyboard.
To me, that sounded like….. A puzzle! And if I’m doing a puzzle, you can bet your last money, Michael Jackson’s gonna be the subject of it!!!
As I was getting stronger, I was able to go out a little more and actually dress like a girl. This is a pic of me, starting to bounce back a little. I still had drains attached. As you can see, I still have my pouch around my neck, holding the bulbs. But I’m starting to look like my old self!
I was blessed by a visit from my Dad and Miss Monica. This time, they brought my Grandmother!!! She is my hero and my mentor. She had been praying for me the entire time. She has a special relationship with God and her prayers get answered. With her on my side, I knew all would be OK. She’s wonderful!!!
In mid October, I got my drains out! That was a wonderful day! It had been 5 weeks. They are awkward and cumbersome and nearly impossible to dress or sleep in. It was so nice to be free of them. Deny it if you want, but you know you’re curious!!! Here they are.
My doctors did a fine job. As I’m sure you can tell, they were able to spare the nipples, which is unusual for a breast cancer patient. Normally, they have to take all the breast tissue, which includes the nipples and often have to take quite a lot of skin. I was able to keep my skin envelope as well as both nipples. I was grateful for that.
These are Expanders, temporary medical devices, used after a mastectomy to stretch the skin and keep it from contracting, as it would instinctively do after large portions of tissue are removed. These will stay in until late December, then be replaced by the permanent silicone implants.
After the drains were gone, I had to wait a few days for the entry sites to close up. Then I was ready to start rebuilding my fitness. I wasn’t quite ready, but the Relay for Life walk was in town. I *had* to go! I was humbled and honored to be counted among the Survivors and wear a sash for the day. It was great!
I was still working toward getting back to work and training myself to do concentration exercises. Puzzle #2. Done!
After my first week back at work full time, I was ready to see if I could get a maintenance run in. At my last visit, 3 days before, I asked my doctor if I could go running. She finally cleared me to go. She said to take it very easily and to start out slowly. I was so glad to be geared up again and ready for my first run in MONTHS!!!
It was slow and clunky, of course. I could certainly feel the 5 lbs I’d gained while I was recovering. My legs felt heavy, as I knew they would. But it felt *great*!!! Wonderful to be back out there.
The weather had turned cold and the days had gotten shorter. All evidence that life goes on and time still passes, no matter what is going on in our lives.
I got another run in today. I may not be completely back to my old self, I still have a few more hoops to jump through, but I’m close…. And it’s nice to have come full circle.
Thank you to Everyone to who helped, served and prayed.