Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sad News

We learned today that the world has lost a beautiful woman. You may remember me talking about Susan. We both attended the wedding of our friends Meridith and Doug this past summer. Susan and I sported matching chemo ports and spent much time together talking about cancer, our challenges and our triumphs. Susan was dealing with a recurrence of a brain tumor. Me, I was going through my first round of chemo. We compared stories of pursuing adoption and how our diagnosis impacted the dream of motherhood. She was attentive and positive; graceful and striking. And now she is gone. She passed away Monday. Both Greg and I have been shaken to the core by this news - this is not supposed to happen to people in our "circle".

I struggle daily to check the fear I have about my cancer coming back. Every twinge, pain, discomfort sends a spike of terror through me as the thought of "It's back" or "It's spread" invades my mind. I ran the Poland Spring 5 mile marathon kick-off this past Sunday in NYC. It felt so good to move. It felt even better to cross the finish in under an hour - THANK YOU DENISE for running by my side and talking to me, pulling me through. As I crossed that line I admit it was tough, almost painful and I was quickly reminded of what I had been through over the past six months. Yet there was a brief moment when that fear - "oh, no it must be in my lungs" was there. I quickly brushed it aside and continued my day. I have spoken to other survivors who tell me this is normal, who tell me this will fade.

So the days pass and I feel different. I started radiation Monday and that has been quite the trip. I am tired but think it is attributable to my early morning commute into the city. The plus side is I get to select the music they play while I get zapped, so I have been listening to the Psychedelic Furs and The Smiths. It makes the fact that I am lying there half naked and alone with my arms restrained above my head a bit more tolerable! Truly, it isn't bad - the actual treatment is very fast and the staff at the NYU Cancer Center is incredibly nice - I just need to get past the fact I am being radiated. It is so weird! 3 treatments down 13 to go - I hope the days continue to fly by.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Scanned, Mapped and Ready to Go!

This week was another interesting one - they all are these days but I am thankful for each one that goes by! I am starting to feel better everyday. (When I say better, I mean less "chemicalized!) Coffee and chocolate taste okay again - not sure if that is a good thing though! I was able to run twice this week (THANKS AMY & JESS) - it felt so good to move even if it was pitch black and cold out and my eyes and nose kept running down my face - I felt a sense of plain giddiness that I was able to run three miles! How did I ever do 26.2? My hair is coming back and that too has been interesting. I'll post photos soon. May need to hold onto my wig longer than originally planned...

On Tuesday my friend Erin (THANK YOU!) accompanied me to the city to be my "sanity check" as I met with the radiology group who will become my newest friends as I begin to see them daily starting this coming Monday for my radiation treatments. I have found it is always good to have someone else with you to hear those things a nurse may say that you may not. Erin had questions for the nurse I didn't think of: what fabrics should I avoid? Is deodorant okay? In case you are wondering, cotton against the skin is best and deodorant is fine!

The nurse marked my skin with a sharpie marker and I had two CAT scans - one laying on my stomach, the other on my back. They would be comparing the percentage of heart and lung tissue that would be exposed to radiation and selecting the pose in which the least amount would be. Seems reasonable right? This is the clinical study I am in! This is not what they normally do! It will soon become the norm as the doctors evaluate the impact of three weeks of treatment as opposed to six which is currently the standard. I am so amazed by the research aspect being done about breast cancer. I am so grateful for all of those women who volunteered to be study subjects in the past - they allowed me to benefit by having only a lumpectomy; by only having 6 lymph nodes removed; and by changing the chemo protocol I was on. I hope that one day when three weeks of radiation is the norm someone is just as thankful for those of us who helped them get there!

The sharpie marks were covered with clear adhesive bandages and I was told they needed to remain there until Friday. Uh, okay - that was three days away but they stayed there! So, Friday morning I returned to the NYU Cancer Center to be tattooed and found out my treatments would be given while I lay face up, not what I expected but I'll get more detail Monday when I go for my first zapping. I was told I could expect some fatigue and possible reddening /thickening of the skin in the radiated area but that will all go away. I think the hardest part will be the commute to and from NYC!

Last, I do need to give a huge shout out to my sister-in-law Christine for an amazing Mexican meal that Greg and I so greatly enjoyed!!! THANK YOU!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Autumn on Lake Edenwald

I had to post some photos of our pond and our cabin. This time of year it is so beautiful here!

Making Strides

The Park Awash in Pink

My Walking Attire!

What a weekend! I spent Friday afternoon recovering from my port removal. We had a wonderful dinner courtesy of my mom but I spent the evening on the couch. I awoke feeling pretty good on Saturday. It was a beautiful day! We drove up to the lake had dinner with Greg and Jean. We retired somewhat early as we had joined my oncologist's team to walk in the American Cancer Society's "Making Strides for Breast Cancer" in Central Park.

We arrived in the city by 9:15, found our group and were off. The day was bright and crisp. We walked the route with 30,000 people - sorry to say we quickly lost our team. Greg and I had fun walking together; we received many comments on my hair (PINK!) and his shirt (F*CK CANCER!). It was a five mile stroll through the park. We left the city en route to my mom's for lunch and met my Aunt Louise and her fiance - they seem very happy! My cousin Ryan was there with his wife Cathy and her daughter Alexis. Alexis is playing field hockey and her team (sixth grade) is undefeated. I played in high school and really loved the sport so figure we should go see a game! My grandfather was also there, Louise flew up from Florida so that she could drive back with him. I think Greg and I need a trip down there. The winter is going to be extra cold without any hair!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Metal Free!

It is official - I no longer have a foreign body embedded under my skin; my port was surgically removed very early this morning! YAHOO!!!!

Both Greg and my mom made the journey to NYU Medical Center with me. We left last night... just kidding. However 4:45am to me is still "last night"! - I was due there by 6:15.

I was awake for the procedure although they draped my body so I could not see anything. It was quick and painless. I wanted to keep my port, heck it has been part of me for about six months, but it needed to be sent to pathology. I can pick it up on a subsequent visit to the city if I so desire.

So, now I feel like chemo is really over! I am feeling a bit better every day. I do have to admit that since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month I am feeling a bit inundated with pink things everywhere (a pink mixer?) - I can't get away from it even when I do not want to think about it - but it is great to see the focus on this disease.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

No Chemo This Week!!!

What a week - and it isn't over yet!

I started the week off by being so sick I could not move. Not quite sure what happened; I was fine Saturday morning (even did a combo 4 mile walk/run with Jess) but started feeling weird as the day wore on. We had dinner plans with Lorna, Steve, Michael, Sarah and Kristen at the new Portobello. The restaurant is beautiful and I wish I could tell you about the food but I ended up having to leave I felt so bad. Greg drove me home and returned to Portobello; I dove into bed. I was so violently ill that poor Greg arrived home to find me in tears along with a mess to deal with. (...for better or worse...) I spent all day Sunday and Monday on the couch. Lorna brought me homemade chicken soup which I was able to keep down by Sunday night. THANK YOU!

I returned to work Tuesday but have not felt quite 100% since. I have been sleeping in (no AM walks or runs) and going to bed early. I keep waiting to feel better - I guess I will keep waiting!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

PHASE 1 - Surgery - done. PHASE 2 - Chemo - DONE!!!

Last Needle

Being Bubbled

Best Nurses - Eileen

Best Nurses - Beth

April 22 seems like a distant memory. 4/22 was the day of my lumpectomy. 4/22 was the day I learned my cancer had spread. 4/22 was the day I found out I needed chemotherapy. I found an oncologist I admired and trusted: Dr. Ruth Oratz. She was open and honest and ended my consultation with me by giving me a hug. I knew I was in the right place.

Since May I have been visiting her office; for past three months I have been there weekly. Each visit as I arrived, I was greeted with a smile from the front desk associates: Nancy and Anna. I was then greeted with another smile by a nurse, either Beth or Eileen. I never felt more cared for. These women pulled me through my treatments, made sure I was feeling okay and not just physically - they could tell when I was down or tired and trying to hide it. I knew I could always call them anytime (and I did!). I never felt like a "patient" - they made me feel like a person.

So it was with mixed emotion that I visited the office for my very last Taxol treatment. Greg was my partner - he was there for the first visit and was with me to celebrate my last. When the needle was withdrawn from my port for the last time, I was elated but at the same time overcome with sadness and fear. This had become routine. I knew I was being treated against further spread of cancer. Now what? How would I know I was really okay? Such a rush of emotions, I was in tears as we sat in Beth's office where I had been directed.

Beth and Eileen soon joined Greg and I and closed the door behind them. Beth told me they had a ritual for those who finished chemo: they got bubbled. And as she and Eileen began to blow bubbles all around me they spoke of the bubbles as each a wish for good health and happiness. They mentioned the optimism and spirit I showed as I underwent treatment and how it was an inspiration for all. They made me even more emotional - what wonderful, kind women they are. Everyone in the office is! I left yesterday a much different person then when I walked in almost six months ago.

I say I am different because I have now endured things I never imagine I would. Chemo - it is not fun, but you can learn to make the best of it. Being bald - well, that has at least been interesting! Breaking down due to fatigue and the low level chemical buzz my body seems to constantly have - I ran marathons, how could I be so tired? Having to ask for help - I am not too good at that but quickly learned it was okay. Being so moved I was/am at a loss for words by the actions of my friends and family who carried me through the past six months on thoughts, prayers, food, laughs, cards, calls, emails, etc. - I am eternally grateful.

I am not yet quite "done". My port will soon be removed - YAHOO! I then face three weeks of radiation. After 24 weeks of chemo, it will be a piece of cake. Then the biggest challenge of all - moving on and not letting the fear of recurrence take over my life. I'll be on Tamoxifen for five years to help with that. As, I said, I am a different person then I was six months ago. I am a person who has had cancer. I am a person who has survived the first steps of beating this disease. I am a person who has truly come to appreciate this thing we call life and all of those folks who are in it with me. My journey continues - I just can't wait to see where the road takes me next!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

For Better or Worse

The Normandy Inn

Girls on the Dance Floor

Pregnant Jess

Team Jane Hildebrandt

"Do you remember our wedding vows? About for better or worse?", I asked Greg as we sped down the Garden State Parkway towards Spring Lake - our destination for the weekend. As he said yes but looked at me with questioning eyes... I continued, "Well, I just realized I left my Neupogen in the fridge. At home. And since it is now 4:30pm if we turn around we will never make our dinner reservation." And rather than angrily turning the car around, or berating me for my forgetfulness, he simply said, "Call your nurse and see if it is okay to take it on Sunday rather than Saturday." Which I did and it was. As I sat back I realized just how happy I have been for the past five years married to this man. I figure if we have survived this far through 2008, the future should be a piece of cake!

We were headed to Spring Lake not only to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary, but to celebrate the marriage of our friends Lauren and James, both co-workers of mine. Wonderful people they are and their gathering of friends and family at The Breakers was full of happiness and joy. Greg and I were happy to share "our date" with them! They even played our wedding song for us - it was a nice evening.

We stayed at the Normandy Inn, pictured above. We walked the beach, walked into town and to dinner Friday night. It was a great weekend weather wise at the Jersey shore. I hope to return in May for the 2009 Spring Lake 5, one of the last races I ran this year.

The weekend was a busy one! The baby shower for my sister-in-law Jess was Saturday; I heard from Phil the funky onesies I sent were a hit! It was also the weekend of the Avon Walk to Cure Breast Cancer, and my co-worker Gina Gruhn along with three of her friends walked both Saturday and Sunday all over Manhattan together raising over $8000! Their team name was: Team Jane Hildebrandt! How cool is that? I hope to be able to participate myself next year! Thank you Gina and company!

I sure have a lot of plans for "next year"! However as my treatment draws to a close I cannot help but to think how good I am going to feel once all this is behind me!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

#11 Done - 1 MORE TO GO!!!

Well my 11th Taxol treatment is behind me - I feel pretty lousy but cannot help but be excited about the weeks ahead! Only one more week of Neupogen, two more weeks with my port. THE END IS NEAR!

I started the morning with three wonderful notes from my nephews and niece packaged in Starbucks cups - To quote Aaron, he wished me a "venti,venti good day"! Shelly was my chemo companion today and we had quite a visit. We laughed a lot; Shelly had brought along several pages of photos from our college days - could it have really been 20 years ago???

In the photo above I am holding a "collage" I had given her at graduation. Time flew by as we tried to figure out what the heck we found so funny about the words I had written! We wondered aloud about many of the folks we knew at BU and what may have become of them.

I came home and had to take a nap. I do have that nasty "chemo" feeling again but thankfully I had the distraction of work this week along with actually being able to run two mornings with Jess.

It has been an interesting week. We have watched the turmoil of the financial markets daily. The referendum I voted in favor for to fund upgrades to my town athletic fields passed - hooray! We learned that my Uncle George passed away (my dad's older brother) at age 64 from a heart attack in his sleep. George lived in Florida and was not close to the family. We did get to see him at my cousin Kristen's wedding in NH this past May. I spent a wonderful evening Wednesday with Denise at Admari tea shop in Midland Park learning about the finer points of Oolong. Even though I have felt pretty bad all week, the class was enjoyable and the tea was soothing on my system. Greg and I had two wonderful meals compliments of Lorna and Laurie (THANK YOU!!!) All along I have been struck incredulous that we are in 4thQ 2008 already - time has flown by. The leaves are turning bright colors quickly and Christmas items are starting to appear in the stores. I am trying to be sure to take time to notice the changes; life is such a gift and change is what makes it so exciting!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Early detection is key to surviving breast cancer.

Protect yourself with three easy steps:

Annual mammography (Starting at age 40) – If you have a family history of breast cancer or other concerns, check with your trained medical professional. S/he may advise you to start getting mammograms at an earlier age.

Clinical Breast Exam (Starting at age 20) – You should have a clinical breast exam by a trained medical profession at a minimum of every three years before age 40 and annually thereafter.

Monthly Breast Self Exams (Starting at age 20) – It is important to examine your breasts monthly.