Tuesday, December 31, 2013

P.S. . . . .She Has Two First Names!

I had my first meeting with the plastic surgeon today.  She is responsible for the reconstruction phase of my mastectomy.

I'm very thankful to have found a Facebook support group for women who are going through this same experience.  In hearing their stories, problems, issues, and complications, it gave me a good set of questions going into today's appointment.

The PA (physician's assistant) met with me first.  She was very friendly and helpful in explaining the various methods of reconstruction.  She used a ladder analogy, with the most complicated reconstruction options at the top of the ladder.  She explained that if you start at the bottom of the ladder (no reconstruction at all), you can always move up the ladder later on.  She was able to answer many of the questions I had.  

The PS joined us, and we discussed the various types of implants and the look each would give.  They had samples for me to see and feel.  Luckily, I am a candidate for direct-to-implant which means that if there are no complications, I only need one surgery.  I was happy to hear their infection rate at Mayo Clinic is very low.

After discussing all the various choices of implants, I have decided on the Natrelle 410 silicone gel breast implants.  These are sometimes called gummy bear implants because of their consistency.  Choosing an implant type is the first decision (saline, silicone, gummy bear).  Then the profile is selected which determines how much projection is given with the implant.  The implant also has a shell option of being smooth or textured.  And last there is the volume, or fill amount.  The volume won't be determined until after my breast tissue is removed and weighed.  Then the PS will try to closely match the same size.  My head was spinning thinking about all the boob choices!

I had heard many women having pain from muscle spasms, as the implants and/or expanders are put behind the pectoral muscle.  I was relieved to find out that my PS uses botox in the muscle during surgery.  This helps the muscle to relax, and it lasts for a few weeks.

Another thing that made me happy was to find out that I can shower a couple of days after surgery.  There will be two drains, one on each side, that will stay in for a week to ten days.  I've heard this is the worst part of the surgery - dealing with the uncomfortable drains.  Some doctors don't want you showering until after the drains are removed.  I think I would die having to go 10 days without getting in the shower!

Ted was my note taker for the appointment, and I recommend having someone with you when you go to important appointments like this.  It is so easy to forget what was said, and he did a great job keeping track of all the information.

I will have one more meeting with the PS a week before the surgery.  The surgery is scheduled for February 18th.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tassels Not Included!

As part of the prep for my surgery, the surgeon wanted me to have a breast MRI.  I had a mammogram earlier this year that showed no problems, but an MRI shows a better picture of the breast tissue.

I've only had one previous MRI, and while it was not a terrible experience, it can freak you out if you have your eyes open.  So, today I was armed with my sleep mask, and a breathing technique given to me by a friend which helps you stay calm.  She told me to breathe in flowers and blow out the birthday candles.  It was a great way to focus and stay calm.  I imagined a flower for every letter of the alphabet!

To my surprise, a breast MRI is done laying face down.  So, I didn't need the sleep mask, and instead I pretended to be getting a back massage.  The little ditties in the picture were put in place as was an IV.    Part of the MRI includes getting a contrast put through the IV in order to show a better image.  I'm glad this ordeal didn't involve drinking nasty stuff!

As I went into the tunnel of doom, the tech told me to go to my happy place and to take her with me.  I told her we were going to Hawaii, and she said, Aloha, see you in about 35 minutes.

Thirty-five minutes is a long time to be laying on your stomach, arms over your head, and trying not to move.  I kept thinking that this procedure is so much easier than going to the dentist, so the time went by quickly.

They would like you to think that MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, but the real meaning is:

Machine Really Irritating

It's difficult to go to my happy place when it sounds like they are jack hammering on the beach! Earplugs helped somewhat, but it is a very noisy procedure!

Next up?  I see the plastic surgeon the end of December.  I was hoping the surgery could take place in January, but the two surgeons' schedules had to be coordinated, so it is scheduled for February.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Journey Begins . . . . .

Well, the journey actually started a few months ago when I decided to get genetic counseling and testing done.  Being told you have tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation now begins a new journey of thinking, analyzing, and taking steps to reduce the risk of breast cancer. 

Today I met with a surgeon at the Breast Center of Mayo Clinic.  I liked her, and I liked what she had to say.  It helped put my mind at ease about this decision.

She is only part of the team.  The next step is meeting with one of the plastic surgeons that she works with - they have a team approach at the Mayo Clinic.  They have worked together on many surgeries, and while most of my questions involve the reconstruction options, I was able to get some of the questions answered today.

The date has not been set yet, but it looks like the start of the new year will be the start of a new me!  There are many aspects of this journey that scare me, but after seeing everything my Mom went through over the years, I truly believe a good attitude and Ted's support will get me through any rough times.  I'm going into this with the attitude that I'm going to beat breast cancer before it comes knocking at the door.  And with an 87% chance of getting breast cancer because of the BRCA2+ diagnosis, it will come knocking. 

An MRI will be scheduled soon to be sure that there is nothing lurking around in the breasts before surgery.  And, of course, they will do other pre-op blood work, EKG, etc.

I also agreed to be part of a study that this breast surgeon is doing.  It involves letting them keep some of the breast tissue in their lab (on a slide) for future study (as well as some blood).  In addition to studying breast tissue that has cancer, they are interested in non-cancerous breast tissue from people who test positive for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation.   So, as a bonus, I'm contributing to future research in this study!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today would have been my Mom's and Aunt Phyllis' 82nd birthdays.  This picture is from my birthday back in June of 2007, the last photo of us together.  Little did we know that two months later, my Mom would die at age 75 after complications from a simple hernia repair surgery.

Arlene Gleichsner was a SURVIVOR!  She survived breast cancer twice - 25 years apart.  She survived ovarian cancer - having two years of monthly chemo treatments to beat the disease.  She survived diabetes.  She survived a hip replacement.  She is my hero.

Phyllis Lanham was her twin sister.  Unfortunately, she also got ovarian cancer and did not survive.  She was only 70 when she died.  She was like a second mother to me - she is my hero too.

They are not the only ones in my family who have battled female cancers - cousins on my Mom's side, and my only Aunt on my Dad's side have fought the breast cancer battle.   The males in my family have seen both pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Recently my gynecologist suggested genetic counseling.  I had been given that suggestion by my doctors in Kentucky too, but I didn't know if I was ready to deal with the knowledge I might gain.

Genetic counseling involves someone looking at your family history and deciding if you are at high risk for developing cancer.  If you fall into the high risk category, a blood test can determine if you have a genetic mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

Everyone carries the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.  They are called "tumor suppressor genes" because they make proteins that help prevent the cells from forming tumors. If one of these genes is changed through a mutation, the protein may not do its job, making it easier for a tumor to develop.

If you have a mutation in either the BRCA1 or 2 gene, your lifetime risk for getting cancer is higher than the general population - breast cancer risk goes to 87%.  Also, you have a higher risk for getting ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer.

So, I had the blood work done.  And then a two week wait to get the results.  Last week, I found out that I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation.

I'm a PREVIVOR (lucky me)!

What is a Previvor?  A previvor is a survivor of a predisposition (or increased risk) for cancer.

There is good news - I don't have cancer.

There is bad news - If I do nothing, there is a very good chance I will get cancer.  Several years ago I took care of the risk for ovarian cancer.  But now there is the breast cancer issue.

I began researching and found that there are many women in this situation - women of all ages deciding how to deal with this knowledge.  I've found a few support groups on Facebook.

There are two options when faced with being a Previvor.

1.  You increase your screenings (every six months), and pray that you don't get cancer.

2.  You have a BPM - bilateral prophylactic mastectomy

Wow, try to wrap your brain around those choices! 

Here is the problem with the first option.  I feel like a ticking time bomb.  Will I get cancer?  A person who tests positive for a gene mutation doesn't automatically get cancer.  And the 87% lifetime risk goes down the older you get.  Since I'm 56 and have never had breast cancer, my risk is still high, but not at 87%.  Factor in my family history, and this "waiting" option scares me.

Here is the problem with the second option.  Major surgery with major reconstruction.  The reconstruction options are not like getting a boob job.  There is a long recovery and lengthy process for reconstruction which involves several operations.  And then there is the risk of infection and complications.  This option scares me too.

But I'm lucky.  I know now.  I can make a decision without the decision being forced on me because I have cancer.  Getting cancer scares me more than any of the above choices!  I've seen two women fight it.  It is not pretty.

So, why do I want to share this very private information?  Knowledge is power, and I hope that my journey will encourage others to do what they need to do to stay healthy.  So many women put off their yearly mammograms and doctor visits.  It might not be the most fun thing to do once a year, but you are worth it.  Your family is worth it.  Not getting cancer is worth it.

I've read blogs where women document their experiences.  Their writings have helped me in making a decision.  Had they not shared, I would feel alone in this journey.

Have I made my final decision yet?  I'm on my way to making it.  I have a consult in a couple of weeks with a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic breast center.  I'll find out all the options that right now scare me.  I'm lucky that I live in Phoenix where the Mayo clinic and hospital is located.  I'm lucky that we have health insurance.  I'm lucky I don't have cancer.

I'm thankful that I took the step to find out.  I'm a previvor!  For more information on how you can become empowered, check out the FORCE website.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I'm In It To End It!

The Trekkin' for Ta-Tas are ready to walk again in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer!  We're heading to San Francisco July 12-13 to climb the hills and journey 39 miles over two days to put an end to breast cancer.

The picture above is from our 2012 Avon Walk in Santa Barbara.  With our cat ears in place, we're always excited to see some fellow Hello Kitty lovers along the route!

Of course, I can't do this walk alone!  I need the help of friends to collect the $1,800 needed in order to participate.  On the right hand side of my blog, you'll see a link that takes you to my personal Avon page where you can make a donation.

I'd love to walk in memory or in honor of someone you know who has been affected by breast cancer.  For me, it is a walk in memory of my Mom, two aunts, a great aunt, and a cousin.  I also walk in honor of two cousins.

Follow me on this journey - encouragement is greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Seattle in 2013!

The Trekkin' for Ta-Tas are getting back together again in September and heading to Seattle for the Komen 3-Day for the Cure.

Three of us will be working on the crew - on the Camp Hydration team, and our team captain will be walking!  I got these neon pink ribbon Asics in the mail yesterday!  As my teammate said, they will serve as our glow-in-the-dark lighting when we're up at 3 a.m.!

Crew members don't have to raise the same amount of money as walkers, but I have set a $500 goal for myself.  If you donate to breast cancer charities, I'd appreciate your support.  As in the past, I'll be crewing in memory of my Mom, three aunts, and a cousin.