My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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1, 2, 3, Attack

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It happened at the gym a couple of months ago.  Earlier that day, I read about another young mother who had lost her life to metastatic breast cancer.  I followed her on Facebook and commented on her posts often.  I’m not sure she knew who I was but through her posts I felt I knew a bit about her and her life so the loss hit me hard.  And to see any child left without his or her mother just devastates me.

On that same day, the news was replaying a story of a young woman who lost her life to colon cancer (I think), but not before fulfilling a lifelong dream of being a contestant on Jeopardy.  I saw the headlines on my Facebook feed but didn’t really pay attention to it.

At the gym, I was doing my normal treadmill routine.  Running, walking, sprinting, walking….  I was doing fine, listening to music and watching the news silently on the screen in front of me.  I started one of my final sprints of the workout and on the news was the story of the young woman who died who had appeared on Jeopardy.  Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, I broke down in tears.  I could not stop crying.  I had to hit the emergency stop because I couldn’t run anymore.  I was done.

The next time I went to the gym, the moment my heart rate went up, I started to get short of breath.  My heart began to flutter.  I felt weak and light headed.  It paralyzed me.  I tried to push through and I couldn’t.  I walked away from the workout.

The next few times I went to the gym, the same thing happened.  The moment I increased the difficulty of my workout, my body would shut down.

I mentioned this to my therapist and she said I was having a panic attack.  She advised that I alter my workout, either by going on a different machine or slowly working up to a more vigorous workout on the treadmill.  If I felt the attack coming on, to not stop but to slow down.

Her advice worked the first time.  I haven’t had an attack since.  But it shocked me that this happened.  I thought I was doing so well at managing my anxiety.  I guess the fear and anxiety of cancer is always there.  It might be dormant for a while but the monster could always be woken.

Has anything like this happened to you?

Did you start getting panic attacks after you got cancer?

 

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The Never Enough Doctor

Two days ago I went to see my physiatrist.  He is the doctor who monitors my lymphedema.  When I first went to see him when I developed lymphedema, I liked him a lot.  I liked how he took a whole body and whole mind approach to my care.  He’s the one who helped me start therapy when he could see my distress and depression.  He made it happen.  He talked about helping me get a healthier lifestyle to help with cancer prevention.  But the last few times I saw him, I felt like he had an unrealistic view of my life and how I can fit lymphedema care and a healthy lifestyle into my every day.

To my young or youngish survivor friends, I don’t know if this happens to you as well but I have found that throughout my cancer journey there has been a lack of understanding of what it’s like to have cancer and be a working mother.  I know that the majority of patients that are seen are in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older.  50s and 60s is not old in my mind but these women are often at a different point in their lives.  They don’t (usually) have very young children.  They are not (always) building their careers.  To raise a small child and still try to define myself professionally and creatively while having cancer and lymphedema has been my greatest challenge.  I succeed sometimes but feel that I fail a lot.  That’s because I have way too many priorities.  I’ve written about this before.  What do I prioritize?  My health?  My finances? My career?  My son?  My mental health?  My emotional health?  My relationships?  My free time to be me?  I’m often overwhelmed by these questions.

Nevertheless, because I have gained a considerable amount of weight in the last few months, I have chosen to put my health front and center.  I’m unhappy looking in the mirror and unhappy with the way I feel.  I wrote two blog posts ago that I’m having a lot of difficulty losing the weight despite exercising 4-6 times a week and eating a plant based diet (not vegetarian, not vegan just way more veggies and fruits).

The last time I saw the “never enough doctor,” I was told that I needed to exercise more.  I couldn’t figure out when to find the time, especially with the work schedule my  husband had at the time.  I was only weeks out from my DIEP Flap and feeling like hell physically and emotionally.  He told me to “call on my community” to help me get it done.  What he didn’t understand was that my community is also made up of working mothers who have very little (if any) free time.  This pissed me off.

With that being said, in recent months my husband and I have discussed the importance of my health and what sacrifices we could make to help get my health back on track.  This means that my husband is not running as much (he loves to run) so that I have time to work out.  He has also put on weight because he is not running as much as he did previously.  I am also rarely putting my son to bed at night.  When he was in preschool only 2 days a week and I spent more time with him, this wasn’t a big deal.  But now he is in summer camp 5 days a week and will be starting full day pre-k in the fall.  My time with him is getting less and less.  With having to exercise at night, I’m sacrificing some of that time.  But I’m doing it not so that I have more minutes with him but more years.

I’m also sacrificing some major sleep so I can go out, get my work done, do the dishes, pump my arm and wrap it at night.  It’s a lot!

I’m also now seeing a nutritionist.  She agreed that my eating habits are healthy and we are monitoring my progress.

I have to say, I think I’m doing a hell of a lot here.  But according to the “never enough” doctor, I’m…well…not doing enough.

“How long are you exercising,” he asked me?

“35-40 minutes, 4-6 times a week,” I said,

“What exercise are you doing?”

“I’m run/walking and when I can’t get out, I’m doing a kickboxing video.”

He stopped, turned to me, looked me in the eyes.  “You really need to do more.”

“More?  More than 4-6 times a week,” I asked?

“No, not more times a week.  You really need to do 60 minutes.”

What???!!!!????

“You need to do more land based activities. Are you exercising in the gym?”

“No, I run outside.  I go to the park.”

“You really need to join a gym so that you can monitor your heart rate.  It’s more disciplined that way.”

“But,” I said, “I’m having a hard enough time finding the time to do the exercise I’m doing.  Back and forth to a gym is 45-1 hour plus an hour of working out, not to mention waiting on line for a machine…we’re talking at least 2 hours 4-6 times a week!  When am I going to do that?”

“Well, you do what you want to do but, if you really want to lose weight, this is the way you are going to do it.”

Fucking Asshole!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, I’m finally figuring out a way to get exercise into my life, which is what he asked me to do last time.  I’m pumping my arm every night.  I’m wrapping most nights.  “You’re not wrapping during the day as well?”  WTF!!!!!!??????!!!!!!!  But instead of trying to find ways to get more exercise into my life (a pedometer to watch my heart rate and this thing called youtube which, I’m sure, has a lot of videos on how to do more effective work outs at home or outside), he just said I need to do the thing I can’t feasibly find the time to do.

It’s not enough.  It’s never, ever, ever enough.

His message: You can’t have cancer and lymphedema and still have a life.

What I say: There has to be a balance.  I can’t do it all and I can’t live for my condition.  What kind of existence is that?

He said that he doesn’t need to see me anymore but I can come back if I ever need anything.  I don’t think I would go back anyway.  I need to surround myself with people who will help me live with lymphedema and the side effects of cancer treatment, not for it.

 


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15 Random Facts + WTF!!!????? (a new blog post)

Hello fellow bloggers.  It’s been a lazy summer, at least for blogging.  I haven’t been around much to write or read.  I’m hoping to change that soon.  I’m not working too much but with the work I do have, I’m pretty busy with prep so, by the time I’m done, I still have all of my home stuff and exercise to do.  It’s not leaving room for other things like writing.  But I’m making time now.

I’d like to start with the blogging challenge from Nancy’s Point, one of my favorite breast cancer blogs.  Last year I wrote random facts about myself so I will try to be innovative.  I’m pretty much an open book.  But, here it goes.

  1. I have a dent in my head because of a freak zip lining accident I had in Costa Rica.  The guide forgot to put the brake out for me and I hit a tree.  I needed stitches which I got in a shack in the jungle.  It was the first time I ever tried something adventurous and the last.
  2. My husband and I decided to try to have a baby while folding laundry in a 24 hour laundromat.  I always wanted children when I was young but after grad school, I wasn’t sure.  I’m glad we made the choice to try because 3 months later, I was pregnant with Oliver.
  3. I hoped for a natural birth; no drugs, no IV, with a whirlpool tub and candlelight.  What I got was a completely medicalized birth.  My blood pressure skyrocketed 2 weeks before delivering and my organs started freaking out.  Oliver was 16 days late so I had 5 methods of induction.  The nurses were all over me constantly.  After 23 hours of trying, I finally gave in and got an epidural.  Three hours later, I had a c-section.  Totally not the experience I hoped for.  One of the things that makes me sad is that I’ll never know what it is like to deliver naturally.
  4. I don’t own a home but desperately want to.
  5. I have never lived outside of New York City.  I even went to college here.  If I could move anywhere, I’d love to live in Portland, Oregon.
  6. I hated Lord of the Rings.  The movie.  While beautiful, it bored me to tears.  I think I’m the only one who feels this way.
  7. I love fresh, baked chocolate chip cookies and can eat the whole cookie tray in one sitting.
  8. I’m envious of people who get to travel globally for work and wish I got to travel much more.
  9. I’m like a sponge for other people’s emotions.  If someone is in pain, depressed, excited, I immediately pick up on in and take on that emotion.  I can easily put myself in someone else’s shoes.
  10. I want to be a zombie on The Walking Dead.
  11. If I could have an affair with any star, past or present, it would be Gene Kelly.  I love everything about him.
  12. I get motion sick very easily.  The worst is on boats.  I won’t go on a boat in choppy water.
  13. I’m sickened by the state of the world right now.  I don’t know how humans can treat each other with such disdain and disrespect.  I look at pictures of Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi refugees and I feel so uncontrollably desperate to save them.  I know that is not possible.
  14. When I’m stressed out, I need to cry before I can find a solution.
  15. I can’t dance.  Seriously.  My top half and bottom half won’t coordinate.  But in my mind, I’ve got rhythm and grace.
  16. BONUS:  I love farmer’s markets.  They are my happy place.  I can’t get enough of all the fresh produce.  I think it’s beautiful.

 

Now for some of the stupid, breast cancer related shit I’ve been dealing with.   For the last (almost) 2 years, I’ve heard and read about women complaining about treatment related weight gain, whether it be from chemotherapy or tamoxifen or other drugs.  I’ve considered myself among the lucky.  I managed to lose a little bit of weight during chemo (not much and it was because everything tasted gross) and, even on tamoxifen, I managed to drop one size last summer due to exercise and healthy eating.  After my DIEP Flap reconstruction this year, I decided to be a little lax with my food choices.  That, mixed with not moving around much led to some weight gain.  I knew that was going to happen but I figured I’d deal with it when I recovered.  What I didn’t take into account or realize was that my new medication, Zoladex, could also play a role in weight gain.

When I tried my summer clothes on this spring and realized just how much weight I truly gained, I decided to take  my health very seriously.  I began exercising 4-6 times a week, eating smaller portions and eating more fruits and vegetables.  I figured that, by mid-summer, if I kept this up, I’d be back to my previous weight and down some more.  After 2 months of consistent exercise and healthy eating, I didn’t notice too much change in my body so, I decided to weigh myself again.  Not only had I not lost weight, I had gained 6 pounds.

WTF!!!!!?????!!!!

Let me tell you what upsets me about this.  Aside from my feelings about my physical appearance (which I do not like right now), I’m really pissed about my lack of control.  You see, I hate running.  I hate it!  But it’s all I really have the time and money for.  It’s free and I can be outside.  But I hate doing it.  What I loved about it was that I felt like I was taking control of my health.  When it comes to breast cancer, there is so little we have control over so when I can control something, I feel omnipotent.  So, to find out that I have been working so hard and that it has yielded no results, well, I lost my shit.

As my therapist commented, “it’s a bitch and a half.”  To work at something day after day.  Something that all the books and magazines PROMISE will get you results.  But I am the fucking exception to the rule.  Hard work is not rewarded when you’re on an ovarian suppressor or dealing with other breast cancer treatment.

It never ceases to amaze me.  That no matter how far I get from my diagnosis date, breast cancer still creeps up in my life to remind me who is boss.  It reminds me that life really isn’t in my control.  It reminds me that my body no longer belongs to me.  That no matter how hard I try, it will never be mine again.

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Getting Into The Spring Of Things

There’s nothing like starting to exercise again after a long hiatus to make you feel like a total and utter failure.  In your mind, you can sprint for miles while in reality, your body will only take you to the next tree, or car, or lamppost.  It’s discouraging to say the very least.

I know that I should be forgiving and kind to myself.  Not that long ago I underwent a huge surgery and this is after 6 months of chemo and radiation.  That’s not a small thing.  And the recovery from this particular surgery, the DIEP Flap, was especially rigorous and intense.  I couldn’t move for weeks.  Exercise was out of the question.  I mostly lay on my couch and binge watched Scandal, The Good Wife and How To Get Away With Murder.

I did all of this without caring much for what I was putting into my body.  I didn’t go crazy or anything but I certainly didn’t measure the amount of ice cream that I was ingesting.  Well, I guess I could measure it but in pints rather than small measuring cups.  I did try to eat a balanced diet with lots of veggies, though.  But when you’re not moving it doesn’t matter so much.  Between being a couch potato and the side effects of the tamoxifen, I have gained a little weight and I’m really unhappy about it.

Getting out and exercising is really hard.  For starters, between work and raising my son, I don’t have a lot of time left over to exercise.  I would love to take a class but my husband works long hours so he’s not home in time for me to get to a class.  I also don’t know what kind of exercise I can do without hurting myself.  The last time I tried to exercise in a slightly vigorous way was during chemo.  I put on The 30 Day Shred on my dvd player and somehow, despite low hemoglobin counts, got through the video.  But it wasn’t long after that my cording and lymphedema developed.  I’m positive that this vigorous exercise is what triggered the issues.  I was told by doctors to exercise.  I was told to take it easy.  So I modified the pushups and did some of the exercises with light or no weights.  But that wasn’t careful enough.

I didn’t have any guidance when it came to how I should exercise.  When I am told to take it slow or easy, what does that look like?  When can I get back to the things I love to do, like boxing?  I love the idea of punching something but I can just imagine swinging my right arm out for a hard jab and feeling that awful pull of the cord that begins in my breast and goes all the way down into the pit of my arm and to the webs of my hands.  I don’t need more cords and I don’t need my lymphedema to worsen.

So, that leaves me with running.  I hate running.  No.  You don’t understand me.  I HATE RUNNING!!!!!  But, my husband loves running.  He loves it so much that he runs half and full marathons.  He makes me come out and watch him.  He talks about running constantly.  CONSTANTLY!!!!!  If you know and love a runner, I know you know what I’m talking about. A runner has a myopic view of life…running is great and everybody should love it.  They can not, in their egocentric state, imagine how one can not love running.  They live for the euphoria that comes from pushing through the pain.

Me?  I never hit that euphoria.  My endorphins don’t kick in.  They never have after a run or workout.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  I get pissed of when I run.  Like, really angry!  I curse, I cry, I hate it.  Does this happen to anyone else?

But here’s what I do love.  I love being outside.  I love watching all of the people in the park with their babies, children, friends….I love seeing the trees bloom in the spring and the leaves turn bright oranges and yellows in the fall.  I love it more than I can express.

Today, I went out and ran for the second time since my surgery.  It was awful.  I barely made it through.  But as I huffed and puffed through Prospect Park, I noticed some of the trees were pink with flowers that must have just bloomed.

It’s spring.  It’s time for a fresh start.  It’s time for things to begin their cycle toward life and beauty again.  Some of the trees are still bare, with not a bud in sight.  They are lagging behind.  I know how they feel.  But inevitably, in their own time, they too will bud and grow leaves.  If all of these things in nature can grow and have their fresh start, why can’t I?  So I will go out again soon.  I will do my best.  I will try to be kind and loving to myself.  Even when I’m running.IMG_5586IMG_5587