Thursday, July 25, 2013

Your mammogram

Earlier this spring, I threw something of a tantrum on facebook.  Someone out in cyperspace conceived this "game" in which they email or message a letter explaining the "rules" to the game.  Then people start posting answers on facebook.  The game they claim will raise breast cancer that's why you should do it.

While I was going through chemo a facebook meme "what color is your bra?" started circulating.  Of course those not privy to the rules were questioning "Why all the posts on colors?"  Eventually it was said to promote breast cancer awareness.

But only to those who knew the rules of the game.

The next year we began to see things like..."on the floor next to the sofa" or "on the counter"  Again, supposedly promoting breast cancer awareness...but only to those who knew the rules.  

In 2012, it was a "going to China for 16 months" another supposed awareness game.  The single flaw in all of this nonsense had to be aware of the game.  If you were were left scratching your head, and aware of nothing.

They call it a game.  I called it an insult.  

They say they're raising beast cancer awareness.  I say, enough with the awareness and DO something.  It's not enough to be aware, if all you do is giggle and type in what color your underwear is.  IF you call that "awareness" then sister, you've been ignoring the facts.  Everyone should be aware of breast cancer symptoms because frankly, cancer doesn't play by the rules.

Me on chemo day with a burning steroid rash September 2010

  • About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
  • An estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 57,650 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
  • A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
  • From 1999 to 2005, breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. decreased by about 2% per year. The decrease was seen only in women aged 50 and older. One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by women after the results of a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative were published in 2002. These results suggested a connection between HRT and increased breast cancer risk.
  • About 39,520 women in the U.S. were expected to die from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1990 — especially in women under 50. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.
  • For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.
  • Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. Just under 30% of cancers in women are breast cancers.
  • White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American women. However, in women under 45, breast cancer is more common in African-American women than white women. Overall, African-American women are more llkely to die of breast cancer. Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women have a lower risk of developing and dying from breast cancer.
  • In 2011, there were more than 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the US.
  • A woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. About 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.
  • About 5-10% of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations (abnormal changes) inherited from one’s mother or father. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common. Women with these mutations have up to an 80% risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime, and they are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age (before menopause). An increased ovarian cancer risk is also associated with these genetic mutations.
  • In men, about 1 in 10 breast cancers are believed to be due to BRCA2 mutations, and even fewer cases to BRCA1 mutations.
  • About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations. NO FAMILY HISTORY!
  • As of Jan. 1, 2009, there were about 2,747,459 women alive in the United States with a history of breast cancer. This includes women being treated and women who are disease-free.
Beautiful young woman with reconstructed breasts

These games are demeaning to us who have battled through the disease.  To have you diminish our experience to the color of your bra or the location of your purse, does nothing to raise awareness.  WE raise your awareness.  The Pink Warriors who walked through the fire to emerge as the Phoenix, WE are awareness.  A woman told me "If this so called demeaning game encourages just one to get her mammogram, then it's worth it."  Sadly, the game doesn't encourage you to get a mammogram.  It asks for the color of your underwear...and they say it raises awareness.  But only if you know the rules.

This is how you raise awareness.

  • Speak to your doctor about the signs of breast cancer.  Do your own research.
  • Do self exams and get information on how to do them.
  • The next time you are at a gathering of women you care about...pass out the self exam information.  Poll who is eligible to get a mammogram and remind them to do it.  Check up on people who care about...HAVE you gotten YOUR mammogram?  Schedule your exams together.  One can wait in the waiting room while the other one is done.  Should one of you hear scary have a buddy out there to come in and hold your hand through ultrasounds and biopsies.
  • Keep talking about it!  Have YOU gotten YOUR mammogram?

I was also told by a friend that she hadn't gotten her exams done because they were "uncomforable".  Sadly, breast cancer is not comfortable either.  I had exams done every calendar year and my cancer was caught by mammogram.  Unfortunately, my cancer was a sneaky attack kind, deep in the breast tissue.  Doctors tell me it was probably there for 2 years before it was large enough to be seen on mammogram.  It was already in nearby lymph nodes.  It would never have been felt.  The uncomfortable mammogram may have saved my life.  By the time I could have felt this tumor, it would have spread beyond nearby lymph nodes into distant nodes and organs...Metastatic breast cancer.  Stage IV.  Incurable.

THESE Women are raising breast cancer awareness.
Photo courtesy of The Scar Project

It's not enough to BE aware of breast cancer if you aren't prepared to DO anything about it.  Educate yourself, encourage everyone around and then DO something...donate, support and serve.  

* Breast cancer statistics courtesy of

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pink Ribbons ~ The First Visit with a Plastic Surgeon

Tuesday morning, my birthday - was difficult.  I was getting dressed, putting on makeup to give me the confidence to speak to a plastic surgeon. Let me tell you that is intimidating...knowing how often they look at perfect bodies. In the process I found that sometime between Sunday and Tuesday I had lost nearly all the eyelashes on my right eye. It stinks! I can draw a fake eyebrow but I still have eyebrows. They are lighter but quite adequate. 

photo courtesy Chemo Biyatch of
But the lashes...I have like 10 lashes total left. The left eye has lashes missing in spots.  There are blank spots but when I add mascara you see the blank areas very clearly. Ever tried to put mascara on one eyelash? It doesn't happen. It was deflating. I felt like everyone at the hospital was looking at me and wondering “what is wrong with her eye!”

We loved Dr. Puckett.  I had been told by some of his patients they loved him.  Then others told me was kind of serious and reserved.  Totally not that way with me.  The resident noted it was my birthday and told me it was also Dr. Puckett’s birthday.  He came in and I sang Happy Birthday to him, and told him it was mine too.  In seconds, we were laughing, joking with each other and I thought he was pretty spectacular. 

C. Linwood Puckett
His resident was very good too, so cute and that was awful. Picture the cute man picking up your boob cupping it and lifting it up to wherever it should sit. (Apparently laying across the tummy isn't the desired position.) lmbo But it was uncomfortable to have a Matthew McConaughey lookalike playing with your boobs with icy hands. Of course the girls perked up...the betrayers. I told him his hands were freezing – like this was the reason! He agreed it was cold.. thank goodness.

He was clear. He explained Dr. Pickett does the surgery I want - implants. He went over the other options tummy flaps, back flaps...I told him I wasn't interested for a couple reasons. It was a much more painful recovery and longer. You have to be in ICU for 2 days to make sure the flaps blood supply stay intact.  But also I said I have to lose weight again to lose more estrogen in my belly. And I lost boob bulk from losing 70 lbs. I don’t want to do those surgeries and lose my new boobs in fat loss. He agreed that could certainly happen.

The other reason...I have gone through pain, nausea, vomiting and the two - three surgeries.  I want, no I DESERVE perky boobs as my reward for getting through this.  The resident’s name was Dr. Daniel. He tried to not chuckle but I told him he could. So he did and he told me that it was just as valid as any other reasons

So what happens is during the reconstruction, they place the spacers behind the muscle walls. Then they inflate the spacer with a small port (I will have so many freaking ports in my body.) using saline at that point.

I want a c cup at finish. So every week they will pump up the saline a bit more until I get to a c cup. Then we wait for 4 months… FOUR months. You decide in that time if you like the size...are they placed well. Are they symetrical? And your body takes the time to adapt to the change in anatomy. After the FOUR months, you go in an outpatient surgery to have the spacers pulled out and silicon implants are replaced. Then after you recover it sounds like you are done. That was the good.

Now the not so good.

I had one lymph node biopsied and it was positive. I don’t understand the role of chemo if not to kill cancer cells. So isn't it feasible that since it was only a few cells that chemo could have eaten the whole cluster? I know you aren't qualified to answer.

So I learned that at my surgery they will most likely do an axillary dissection and send the whole section of lymph nodes off to be checked. It will take 5 days to get the results from the pathology. What the plastic surgeon prefers to do is to NOT to do immediate reconstruction at that time. 

For the BEST results he wants to wait and get the axillary lymph results. If I don’t need radiation then we would schedule a new surgery about 8 weeks later to start the reconstruction. :( 

However under that same plan...with no tissue stretcher in place, if I do need radiation, he will not touch me until I am a YEAR post radiation!!!!! I held it together there but I was dying inside. They don’t have experience with my oncologist or surgery doctors.  Dr Puckett is an University physician so he’s only used to University doctors.

I asked about going ahead and placing the expanders.  Going ahead and doing a little expansion to give me Something for my clothes. He said we could do that. But he said often the radiologist will request they be removed for radiation. :(( sigh He said there was also the concern of how my skin would react to radiation. It could get hard and encapsulate the expander, making further expansion difficult.

If he places the expander, he can pump me up a bit, let me do radiation. But I would still have to wait an entire YEAR for the final expansions and implant surgery AFTER the four month settling time. He said there was the risk I could wind up with a hard knarly boob...not the best results.

So I talked it over with Kel. He is the only one besides doctors and nurses who see my boobs..altho right now that seems like a few hundred people. My final desire is to wear pretty bras and look normal in clothes. If I have a hard gnarly boob...undressed won’t bother me.  So K and I decided that we were okay with the less than the plastic surgeon’s ideal results.

I called Dr. Bryer, the radiation oncologist. HE said he has never had to ask for a spacer to be removed to complete radiation. He's never asked someone to go for wait for reconstruction. I asked about encapsulation. (An inflexible pocket around the expander or implant). He told me there is the occasional issue but to keep in mind women who do not have radiation also have had the complication. It was up to DNA and skin type. IF I had to have radiation it would be the arm pit and skin, not deep into tissue like with a lumpectomy.

So it is crucial that I not have radiation. Please pray with me it will not be needed. However we have decided that I have will have the reconstruction and expanders placed. I will believe in faith that radiation won't be required. If it’s God's plan to me to have it anyway...well I will have a little boobies made of saline for an entire freakin’ year before I get the real thing. But it will be something!

I read a case of a woman who had not done a reconstruction. I don't know why. But she was extremely anal about being seen without her "boobs" on. One night while on a business trip the fire alarm went off at her motel. She threw on her clothes and ran out to the parking lot. She looked around and everyone else was in pjs and robes. She realized it had been more important to be seen with her boobs than dying in a fire. She got a reconstruction.

I told K I didn't need perfect looking boobs. I just needed to feel womanly in a bra and in a dress. Mom goes without her boobs at home. But if she knows company is coming she’s hitting the bedroom to put them on. I don't want to have to think about them that much.  

So I have all that to think about. 

The day got worse when we got home.  Our sweet, old Pomeranian Bandit, was in respiratory distress.  He had been struggling for 2 years, having the occasional seizure that was awful to see.  He had been on prednisone for serious skin allergies over the years and we knew that would shorten his life.  He was a pretty special, our old pomeranian we had him since he was 8 weeks old. He died that very night.  Yes, the night of my birthday.  I don’t know if we will ever celebrate anything again. That was wretched.  He died in KJ's arms.  We didn't know he was that close to death, but knew he was not doing well.  We made arrangements for the vet to put him down and then Bandit acted a little perkier so we thought maybe we made a hasty decision.  But he quickly decompensated and died before the vet could arrive.  It was awful to watch, and Bandit was more KJ's personal companion than mine....KJ sobbed.  I cried and I'm sad, but KJ's heart broke.

It’s been such an awful week. I'm weepy and sad. It doesn't take much to get me crying. Becky sent me a picture mail of mom sitting up in her hospital bed and grinning. Yep I lost it!

Sally - well that's really crappy about the lymph nodes....that’s scary.   Praying you don't need radiation.    I saw this today and thought this might give you a laugh.  Boob hats for breast cancer awareness.

Rosey - that is crazy. I have thought about baking boob cakes when I can get back to ladies bible study. Wonder how they'd like wearing boob hats too. lol 

Tricia - Continuing to pray about the things you stated...and I just have to tell you, the part about the eyelashes really got to me.  I'm so sorry for you about that.  There are hats and wigs and things for our heads, but eyelashes?  That's just not right. Just my opinion. 

* See the Pink Ribbons post Reconstruction 101 to see details of how it went.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Family Memories ~ Dancing in the Moonlight


A chilly night settled in the Smokey Mountains as the girls prepared to sleep.  They changed their clothes, giggled, rolled their eyes at each other and made an exaggerated effort to secure all the zippers of their tent.  They had witnessed firsthand that skunks could squeeze into small openings in the doorways of a tent, effectively evacuating the human residents in record times.  More than once they had watched panicked occupants shove and trip their way out of the tent where a skunk had entered.  They didn't see reason to risk it.

The chill caused the girls to crawl deeper into their sleeping bags as they arranged their various pillows.  As always there was a pillow to rest the head, and another to hug.  Stuffing the “hugging” pillow into the sleeping bag caused much giggles and grunts from both sides of the tent as they each laughed at the sight of the other. 

They were the two “older girls” of the ripe old ages of 11 and 14.  But their status as elder had earned them a tent of their own, while the younger girls had to sleep in the overhead compartment of the camper atop the back of the truck.  They were grateful for the space to stretch out, even if it did require gymnastics to arrange their bedding “just so.”

They flipped off the flashlight and snuggled deeper as their minds floated into that soft, fluffy state of sleep.  They entertained dreams of being pioneers in a new wilderness; a small wood cabin…with running water, Myrna wanted running water in her cabin.   In a dream you get to choose.


They awoke with a startle!

“Lynne!  Did you hear that?” Myrna whispered to her sister.  A few grunts came from Lynne’s side.

“HA!  Ha!  Go!  Git!” someone was yelling or  trying to be heard over a metallic clanging.  “Ya!  Ga!  Go!  Put that down!”

Lynne was fully awake now, and wiggling out of her sleeping bag.  Myrna was quick behind her.  “What do you think is going on?” Lynne hissed.  For some reason, they both felt their presence should remain unknown for the moment.  They crawled to the door of the tent, and Myrna started to unzip the entry.

Lynne stopped her hand, “Wait!  Check to make sure there’s no skunks’ rolling in the dirt in front of the door!”  Myrna nodded.  Around the mountains camp sites, they had seen the skunks rolling and flopping in the dusty paths.

Slowly they rose up to the screened portion of their tent.  What they saw befuddled them…

courtesy WALLMAY

Their father stood in the shaft of moonlight, naked but for a pair of white bvd’s.  He stood hopping from one foot to the other, a frying pan in one hand with the metal spoon in the other.   He alternately hopped and yelled or stopped to clang the pan.

Myrna looked at Lynne with confusion.  They glanced at their father in the clearing and sank to their heels.  “We must be dreaming Lynne” Myrna said crawling back to her sleeping bag.  Shrugging, they quickly fell back to sleep.

The next morning, Lynne mentioned to mother, “Myrna and I had the weirdest dreams last night of dad dancing around with a frying pan wearing only his underwear.”

Father choked on his pancake and mother laughed aloud, spewing hers back onto her plate.  She continued to laugh as dad explained ruefully, “What you did NOT see what the big brown bear standing on the other side of the camp with our ice chest held high under his arm pit!  He planned to take off with our milk, eggs and meat and I had no intention of letting it go quietly.  I did however keep close to the camper in case he took exception to my noisy dancing.

courtesy 123RF

The girls eyes were wide when they realized that meant there had been a bear just yards from their tent.  They shuddered as they ate breakfast.  Myrna grinned…”This is going to be an awesome story to tell of dad dancing in the moonlight in his underwear!”

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Family Memories ~ The Hoot Owl

The two boys walked home from a friend’s house, hurrying as they tried to beat the setting sun.  They tromped through the underbrush of the back woods, hoping to get into the chicken yard before mom and dad realized they had not started their chores.

The older brother pushed the tree limbs and held them aside as the younger brother followed in his footsteps.  They both watched their footing as they stepped over rotting logs into decaying leaves of the forest.  The air was still and thick with the scent of rotting underbrush.

The setting sun had turned the shade into long fingers of shadows, changing the familiar into frightening.  They were only a half mile from home when they heard the sound.

“Whooooo.  Whoo Whoo”  The younger brother stopped still in his tracks.  “Russ!  What was that?  Who said that?”

The older brother, glanced at his kid brother, his chest puffed with the excess knowledge of a grade school boy…”Aww Ed, it’s just an old hoot owl.  Keep going or mom will tar our pants.”

Russ and Ed kept walking toward the home, but the call of the hoot owl was more than a regular boy’s curiosity could withstand.  They  followed the call until they located the owl sitting about 20 feet above the forest floor in an old withered tree.  They walked with care around the tree, their eyes upon the old owl as they circled.

“Russ.  Do ya see him?  His eyes follow us no matter where we are.”

Young Russell was watching the owl intent with curiosity.  “Yeah Ed, I’m watching him.  His eyes follow us all the way around the tree.”

Ed leaned over to his older brother and hissed, “How does he do that?  It ain’t natural”.

Russell nodded, taking Ed’s arm as they continued to circle around the tree.  “Let’s try to catch him turning his head round.”

In the dusky hour they continued to circle the tree, their eyes straining to watch the owl.

That’s where my grandpa found them a half hour after they were supposed to be home for dinner.  Watching the boys continue to circle around and around the tree, he finally stopped them to ask what in “Sam’s hill” they were doing.

Great seriousness had deepened their voices as Ed explained, “Pa, it’s a hoot owl!”

Russ continued, “So we've been walking around and around trying to catch him spinnin' his head back to the front.  He ain't done it so we've been waitin' for his head to unscrew.  It’s been an hour and that ain’t happened neither!” 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Grossest Story Ever Told

I preface this family story with a warning.  It’s gross.  I mean my dad WON the “gross out” contest with this story of his.  While it made us laugh, the thought still makes me want to gag.


It was a large family reunion.  Uncles, Aunts, cousins they all milled together around the old farmhouse.  It was unusual to have a family gather this large without there being a death and a burial.  But some crazy aunt got a wild hair and thought…Let’s not wait til someone dies ‘afore  we gather to gather.

So it was there, that Russell found great fun playing and chasing after cousins.  They romped and played around the farm, hide and seek, tag, marbles…it was the best fun a 3 year old could have…tagging after his older cousins.

He had to tolerate the tight hugs and squeezes of various aunts as they caught him zipping past the “eatin’ tables”.  One would snag him with the request…”Come ‘ere ya varmint, and give yer aunt Lily  Mae a hug and kiss.”

Russell objected to the wet kisses but one glance at his mom and her frown combined with the eyebrow thing she did told him, he’d best submit to the torture.  Complying shortened the process, and off he was let go to run after another cousin.  Before long he found himself abandoned with only his dog as a companion.  The older kids were tired of “the baby” running behind them.

He was hot, sweaty and reeked of that hot boy in the sun scent.  He was thirsty too, so he wondered up to the eatin’ tables for a cup of the cold well water.

He had climbed up to the bucket, reaching for the ladle when Grandma Ina noticed him and called out…

“Esther, Russ is climbing for some water. “  She called attention to Russell.  “What’s that he’s got dripping off his chin?”

Esther looked over at Russ and saw he indeed had dark juices dripping off his chin.  She grabbed a rag and was proceeding to clean up his face.  “Come here, you scamp!  What’s that you’re chewing on?”

Russell squirmed away from her grasp as he answered “’napes momma”.
Esther glanced around at the women gathered there.  It was early in the summer for grapes to be harvested.  So she asked “Russell, where did you get the grapes.”

Matter of fact, Russell answered, “’Offen da dog”.

Aunt Lily Mae fainted.