Monday, June 29, 2009

How Did I Get Breast Cancer?

I think all of us who have been diagnosed wonder what triggered it and when it started. They say that DCIS takes 5-10, 10-15 or 15-20 years to develop to the point where it can be diagnosed. That's a wide range of years and who knows which one is right, but I can pinpoint events during each of those time frames that may have created enough stress to affect my immune system enough to make it incapable of fighting the cancer cells.

Fifteen to twenty years ago, my mother had 2 strokes and died of recurrent metastatic breast cancer. She had been sick since I was 15 years old with a multitude of health issues, mostly centered around her circulatory system. My role changed from daughter to pseudo-caretaker. My mother really took her sick role seriously. She stopped working. She was afraid to do anything that may stress her. However, the stress was redirected to everyone else. My father, in turn, was not used to not having his wife do everything he wanted when we wanted it. It's like taking a stable table with four legs and moving the legs around so that it wasn't quite as stable, nor did it stand up as straight anymore. The outcome of living in that environment over a period of time resulted in an uncomfortable level of anxiety and some hypochondria based out of fear of becoming sick like my mother.

Twenty years ago, my children were also in elementary school. I was working in a job I wasn't crazy about, but it afforded me a schedule that would permit me to be home with my children whenever they were out of school.

Fifteen years ago, I found a job where I could work from home. I decided to go to graduate school full-time during that period, and while the children were a little older, my role as a mom was more important than ever. The children were the easiest part of my life at that time. The overload of school and the job caused my hair to fall out of my head in clumps, resulting in 6 months of cortisone treatments to my scalp to prevent further damage. Lessons learned: I reduced the school schedule and still graduated within the time frame I had orginally planned. I also went back to work in a structured environment where I could separate home and work responsibilities when the home job contract ended.

Ten to fifteen years ago, my daughters were getting ready for college. It was a tough financial hit, but not unexpected. It was during this time that I also experienced a bad business relationship that really stressed me out.

Five to ten years ago, I was in another job where the workload was totally overwhelming, and most of us in the department were treated badly. I was the first of 23 people who left that department over the next five years to find peaceful employment elsewhere.

Add it up, and any of these events could have thrown my body over the edge. Include a dash of family genetics, bad eating habits, and erratic exercise. Is it any wonder that I developed breast cancer? How many times do you have to get hit on the head to know that you have made bad choices?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Looking Back - 9 Months Later

Most of the past nine months has been a whir of activity, primarily focusing on breast cancer - diagnosis, treatment, side effects, and survivorship. Only now am I starting to see the forest through the trees, but there are certainly many lessons I have learned along the way.

My daughter commented recently that my point of view on what is important in life has definitely changed since my diagnosis. She is pleased to see that I am focusing less on work, and more on taking care of myself. That I am focusing less on taking care of everyone else, and treating myself better in the process. These are things that I have always strived for, but could never justify in the past. Why does a cancer diagnosis finally justify it? Why did I ever have to justify focusing on myself?

Here I am, the nurse, the caregiver, the family anchor, the daughter who looks after her ailing father taking care of his bills, his medications, and listening to his daily "organ" recital, the daughter-in-law, who worries as her aging deaf 95 year old father-in-law lives day-to-day in an assisted living facility, the wife who worries that her husband's 4 hour commute each day is too stressful, making him tired and unable to do the things he used to do, the mother who worries that her daughters, now in the work force, are spending way too much working and not enough time playing. How can I blame them, they learned from the best ;->.

My daughter also commented that my life history has been filled with little "bumps" that have made me stop for moment and take notice of my choices. So that while cancer is not something I would have ever wished for, it did make me stop, take notice, and make decisions to change the course of my life in a positive way. I have learned to take the lemons and make lemonade.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Back to the Breast Surgeon

After two bouts of antibiotics which helped to reduce the inflammation, heat, skin redness, and pain in the radiated breast, the symptoms are back. The radiation oncologist sent me back to the breast surgeon, whom I really trust. After careful review of the history and extensive palpation and questioning, she advised me to use "tincture of time" to let nature move forward to try to resolve the ongoing problem.

She wasn't blowing the situation off, but felt a very conservative approach is the way to go for now. Unless of course...I develop more inflammation and pain. Then, I'm to call her back.

I feel comfortable with this decision, because she took the time to review the situation, the past treatment, and synthesize it all to make a decision about the best way to move forward for the time being. Works for me!

Stay tuned...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Infection is Back Again... I'm 10 days out from the finishing the 2nd antibiotic, Cipro, which I was on for 10 days and the symptoms of breast infection are back again - itching, inflammation, and swelling under my armpit. It's getting REALLY old. The Radiation Oncologist wants me to go back to the breast surgeon. He is not convinced it is all from the radiation at this point. What we do know is that it is likely an infection since it has responded to the antibiotics. Here we go again...sigh