My final surgery to remove even more
tissue from the where the lumpectomy site and the excisional lymph node
biopsy was done 1 week after the original lumpectomy. My mom flew in for
It was a very long day as prior to
surgery a radiologist injected the area where the tumor was with a
radioactive tracer that is drawn up by the lymph nodes and causes them to
glow blue for easier identification. For 2 hours after the injections I sat
with a heating pad on my breast to speed up the absorption process.
During those two hours, another guardian
angel entered our life. A beautiful woman reading the paper was waiting for
her husband to come out of recovery from a routine colonoscopy. She saw me
crying in Husband’s arms and asked me why I was there. This dialog was one
of the most powerful moments for me to face my fears. You see she was a
breast cancer survivor.
Mary said she had just read in the paper
that Padre Pio was canonized as a saint that day. He was an ordained priest
in 1910 and in 1918 the five wounds of Christ’s crucifixion appeared on his
body. Padre Pio is remembered for enduring tremendous physical and
spiritual suffering and he unwavering commitment to God. Countless people
received help from him through his correspondence.
In my purse was a picture of Padre Pio
and a few threads from his robe that had been given to me by a friend.
Coincidence? Who knows? I believe it was certainly a message from God that
I’d be okay.
Mary shared her story with me and even
showed me her reconstructed breast. There was absolutely no difference
between her remaining breast and the reconstruction. Unbelievable!
Dr. Triana prepared us that the probable outcome would be
mastectomy, especially if he suspected significant lymph node involvement.
Meeting Mary in the waiting room only hours before surgery was like a
The nursing staff pinned my Padre Pio relic on
my gown and off to surgery I went. Forty-five minutes later, Dr. Triana
gave Mom and Husband the good news… the lymph nodes appeared to have no
involvement and my breast and implant were in tact. We went home, I took a
nap and the three of us went to my Rotary club’s installation dinner that
night! (We had to eat somewhere and it was important that the club see that
I was really okay and up for the tough ride ahead!)
Mom was still in town for my post surgery
appointment. For the first times in weeks, I felt upbeat and optimistic.
When Dr. Triana came into the room I hugged him, told him how terrific I
felt and how grateful I was to be intact! I chattered on excitedly about
how beautifully the incisions were healing, blah, blah, blah…
Then the other shoe dropped. Of the nine
nodes he removed pathology found the sentinel node and 2 others showed
“microscopic traces” of disease. What does that mean? When the nodes were
sliced up, frozen and stained it appeared that some tiny specks of cancer
appeared to be present. Hmmm. Okay, now what? According to Dr. Triana,
protocol says more surgery. Radical mastectomy and more lymph nodes
removed. Come on, this can’t be real. I felt kicked in the gut.
We had our follow up visit with the
oncologist, Dr. Andrew Schneider right after we were done at Triana’s
office. The two doctors spoke on the phone at length as we sat in
Schneider’s office. Bottom line, the oncologist felt further surgery
wouldn’t be necessary as his treatment plan would be the same regardless.
Four adriamycin treatments 3 weeks apart then 8 of Taxol, 3 weeks apart. We
would begin treatment that following Wednesday.
Focus on the outcome then, live your life
as if that outcome has already happened.
There is power in focus, tremendous
power. Eliminating distractions or situations that do not support your
envisioned outcome is key. Even well meaning people can easily cause you to
slip into negative thought patterns that are hard to pull out of.
Each of us has a different way of dealing
with a cancer diagnosis. All we have is our own life experience to draw
from. My dear mother for example, the 7th of 15 children has
become the family caregiver for her sisters and brother stricken by cancer
in Illinois. Her life experience over the last 20 years has been watching 2
sisters and 1 brother suffer unimaginable (to me) side effects from surgery,
chemotherapy and radiation. She was very close to all of them right up till
I had to make the decision that Mom could
not be around me during chemotherapy. This was a painful conversation to
have with her, as I love her very much and would never hurt her. I just
could not deal with the look of grief on her face or hear one more word
about how Aunt Ella suffered, how bloated her abdomen was or that her ankles
swelled up to the size of God only knows what. Just because that happened
to Aunt Ella, and just because all 3 of her siblings did not survive does
not mean that my experience has to be like theirs. No doubt, if I were in
her shoes it would be difficult at best to not show my concern to my child
or share with her my first hand experience. I was certainly not angry with
her. She was doing her best to let me know that she knew what chemotherapy
THE GREEN MILE
That first treatment was by far the
toughest emotionally. The last few nights prior I had to take ambient (a
prescription sleeping pill) or else I’d have never gone to sleep. Husband
held my hand the whole drive to Schneider’s office. We were both still
shell shocked. It was surreal.
Cure. A bold word for an oncologist and a
word that I certainly needed to hear. As I sat across from his desk in
tears he said, “Roxanna, my office is filled with many people that I can’t
help. You I can cure.”
Still, the walk down the pale green
hallway reminded Husband and I both of the movie “The Green Mile.” The only
difference was my hallway ended with lethal injection, I half heartedly
Pat, the chemo nurse with a ready smile
and hearty laugh was fantastic. She answered every question with honesty
and a commitment that we fully understood what was going on. When she
handed me the pamphlet describing all possible side effects of the ‘red
devil’ adriamycin, I simply handed it to Husband. I have way too vivid an
imagination to read about side effects. Know thyself a wise man once said.
We made a deal that if I experienced any of the possible side effects, he’d
let me know.
Adriamycin according to Pat is the most
toxic and nastiest of chemotherapies. It was coined the red devil because
in the syringe it is the color or cherry jello. She warned me that I would
urinate red for the next day or so. (If she hadn’t warned me, I’d have
thought I was bleeding to death!)
The chemo room left a lot to be desired.
Recliner chairs lined up in a row, the room devoid of pictures or
paintings. So many patients with different treatment plans some 1 hour
infusions, some 5 hours, 8 hours and so on. I was horrified and humbled at
the same time by the courageous souls that sat in those recliners sharing
chemo cocktails. They all had their stories and had no problem sharing them
to benefit a newcomer to their bizarre happy hour.
Thank God for my wonderful husband. He
never left my side. He held me up, cried with me, whispered encouragement
and supported me like no one else could have. First came the I.V. with
saline and the pre-medications for managing side effects. Then came the red
devil. With every passing moment I waited for some dreaded reaction. Would
I just suddenly explode? Was it possible that my vein would be chemically
destroyed by the caustic chemo? Pat said she would infuse it with as much
saline as possible to prevent that from happening. I was so very
frightened. So was Husband, but the entire treatment went without a
Round 1 down and 11 to go. “I can do
this,” I told Husband. “How about steak and eggs for breakfast? I’m
After breakfast it dawned on me that I
really did feel fine. Pat and the other adorable little chemo nurse, Kim
both told me that any side effects I would have if they didn’t occur right
away would most likely happen a few days later and would be mostly digestive
related. I decided that since I had no side effects yet, the only logical
thing to do was resume my normal life. If I’m busy there’s no time to feel
I went back to my office and worked the
rest of the day, met my “Drill Sergeant” Michelle Frazier at the gym and
told her, “Look, I don’t care if all I’m capable of is walking in circles
for an hour… I’m showing up for every session come hell or high water and
need you to help me build muscle and stay fit.” She’s been extraordinary
and I am indebted to her for her commitment to me thriving! I love her
business card, Body Image, Inc. ‘Look Good Naked.’
After my workout, I felt as though I had
burned off a bunch of the toxic chemo. I imagined the stuff exiting my
pores in the sweat on my skin, carrying any random cancer cells still
lurking in my body. This really was a battle plan.
Once I showered and was still feeling
great, we went out for dinner and didn’t get home until nearly midnight.
The following morning I followed Pat’s instructions and took the Anzemet
before lifting my head off the pillow to prevent nausea. I laid there in
bed about a half hour before getting up and felt absolutely fine. Back to
the gym for another workout then we rode our Harleys for the rest of the
afternoon. We had dinner with friends that night and again didn’t get home
until almost midnight.
The next day, Sunday I awoke feeling a
bit “hung over.” It wasn’t from alcohol but the chemo. I was afraid it was
going to get worse and felt if it didn’t that maybe it wasn’t working to
kill any cancer cells lurking somewhere in my body. Six hours later, I was
fine once again. Okay, I can do this…
Whether it was from stress, pre-menopause
or just genetics, my hair had been thinning for a couple of years prior to
breast cancer. Even so, I wasn’t prepared to hear that on about day 14
after my first treatment, my hair would come out by the handful.
Sure enough on the 14th day,
I’m at the gym with Drill Sergeant and a lovely big lock of my hair had
slipped from my hair clip. I reached up to put it back into the clip and
the entire chunk – about the size of a half dollar came off in my hand! The
look on both of our faces I’m sure you can imagine.
We finished the workout, I went home and
convinced Husband that it was time for the “Schnauzer Cut.” He cried. He
also understood that I was not willing to go to bed that night and wake up
to my hair on the pillow when I got out of bed. We decided to make a party
out of it. We took pictures laughed and cried and drank. A lot. (No
Husband said to me when I was completely
bald, “Hey, you look kinda cute!” I could have hugged him to death. It
meant everything in the world to me that he said that.
When my baby sister became pregnant with
her first child at age 32 the whole family was ecstatic. The baby shower
was in August, 2 months after I began chemotherapy. I got on the phone and
set the rules… The shower is Melissa and Steve’s celebration. All attention
and focus (key word) belongs there. Not everybody that has a cancer
diagnosis dies from it. Besides, I look great in hats. No need to make any
scene about hair loss at the shower! I had a fabulous ‘hair system’ made
for me by J.C. Willard, a salon in town that does without a doubt the most
realistic hair replacement I’ve ever seen. I can part it, do ‘pig tails’
and the membrane the hair is attached to is so thin it looks like my scalp!
Roxanna and Dad, Don Johnson, retired homicide detective (no kidding!) Xmas
Wearing artificial hair in Florida
in the summer leaves more than a lot to be desired. Wigs are hot, itchy and
take the desire to be hugged away from fear of it being pulled off by
accident. There is nothing to be ashamed of being hairless. Aside from
many very sexy hairless men out there, women have their share of hairless
beauties, too! Sinead O'Connor (pretty but a bit controversial and Susan
Powter the fitness guru just to name a couple.
My obsession with my hair was one of the
many things I have had the opportunity to "get over." There is nothing like
a really powerful experience to teach us what is important and what isn't.
For me, breast cancer was the really powerful experience. There is a
liberation of the soul or the exposure of who a person really is when the
trappings of decorations are removed. For some, that feels confrontational
and vulnerable for a few weeks and for others it feels that way until the
hair grows back. Honestly the only thing I miss are my nose hairs (air
filtration system and odor management), my eyelashes (boy, do they trap a
lot of dirt and dust!) and my eyebrows. Learning alternative techniques for
make-up application have been challenging! Eyebrows are the toughest, but
certainly doable. I'll be posting some tips I've learned at a future time.
A dear friend suggested that this site is
for anyone dealing with a hardship, not just breast cancer patients, family
and friends. With that in mind, I'd like to offer the following things I
have discovered very beneficial to "get over."
1. Saying "I could never live with (fill
in the blank; being bald, losing my dog, cancer, etc.)
2. Saying "I could never deal with
(again, fill in the blank; fear of dying, losing a family member, etc.)
3. Saying "I could never go through
(here's that blank again; chemo, radiation, surgery, etc.)
Now replaced with my new favorites... I
CAN! I AM! I WILL! I DID! Thank God for the lesson.
I am working on a list of resources,
supplements and other things that have supported me so far and made this
journey easier. Look for that segment in the next week or two. I'll sign
off with one recommendation of a book I recently purchased that so inspired
me called "Surviving Cancer" by Margie Levine. It's available at Borders or
Amazon.com you can even preview 10 pages to get a feel for the book
online. It's upbeat, informative and a very easy read. I'll have the
pleasure of meeting her next month. Check out her website
Roxanna bald, and Husband, bald faced for the first time...