Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Breast Cancer Awareness Month - My Walk Through Breast Cancer

Artwife - September 2012

It is here again - October, the month where athletes add pink to their uniforms. I confess I have more awareness of breast cancer than I ever wanted. It dominated the past 16 months of my life! I am not comfortable with the roles of spokesperson, victim, or survivor, but thought in honor of the month, I would share a little of my experience. I have nothing brilliant to add to so many who have boldly shared their information in online chats, blogs and more. Many, many women have given me information, support and encouragement through sharing their experiences either in person or on the internet. Their positive attitudes and strength helped me on many a sleepless night!

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2012. I found a lump through a self-exam. My treatment regimen included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and herceptin. I finished treatment in August 2013, and had my port removed in September. If you are facing treatment and wonder about getting a port, I loved having mine! With 17 treatments and only one arm available for IVs after lymph node removal, having a port was definitely a blessing.

I made the first cut!

My hair loss was predicted to be 100% based on the chemotherapy I was receiving. Sure enough, two weeks after the first treatment, my hair was coming out by the handful. Shaving my hair was not as bad as I feared. It was the one thing I could control. I decided when to shave it, how, who, etc. I made the first cut, and still have my little braid. My husband and son did the rest!

What teenager wouldn't want to cut off mom's hair?

I always wondered how I would look with a mohawk.

Back in the day, we called this "new wave."

It was a LOT of hair!

Me with my husband, and best friend extraordinaire!

I had surgery to remove the cancer at the end of July 2012. Then I started chemotherapy in September. I had 6 cycles of taxotere and carboplatin, and 17 cycles of herceptin.  Chemo is tough--it really is systemic. I had head to toe symptoms, but as a good friend reminded me, that means the drugs are working! Best advice I can give for chemotherapy?  Get through it any way you can! I had people help with cleaning and meals. I used the nausea meds for several days each cycle. I drank flavored water (thanks Mio!) and ate things like rice and Jell-o on the bad days. I slept a lot and tried to get out for a walk once in awhile. I could always taste tomato juice, so I drank that as well. I was happy to leave chemo in the rearview before New Year's.

Lunch at my first chemo, when I still had hair and tastebuds!

My chemo infusions took between four and five hours. I read, slept, watched DVDs, played cards, and ate lunch during my treatments. Getting chemo never particularly bothered me during the infusions, it was the week after that was tough! My treatment regimen was given every three weeks.

Getting my wig cut and styled.

Before I shaved off my hair, I went wig shopping. It was actually fun to try on so many styles! I haven't been to my own hairstylist in over a year, so I felt I could justify spending money on a good wig. Mine was synthetic, which meant it held its style, and I only had to wash it in a sink about once a month. That was a blessing, since I didn't feel very good during chemo. My hair began growing back in January 2013. By May, I was done with the wig...too hot and uncomfortable for summer. My hair is not as curly as everyone promised it would be, but at least it all came back!

Washing my hair in the sink!

I finished chemotherapy December 27, 2012, and started radiation in February 2013. The most difficult part about radiation is the fact that you have to go 5 days a week, so it feels like that is all you are doing. The treatments are short. I had a couple of preparatory appointments that involved getting my tattoos, and getting the machine alignment all set for my treatments. The actual time of receiving radiation is very short. I counted once during the radiation cycles, and the longest "zap" was about 25 seconds, with some lasting only about 10 seconds. I received radiation from a few different angles each treatment.  My radiation team was so much fun...they made it easier to be there. I finished in March after 25 cycles.

Me by the machine that gave me my radiation treatments.

Ringing the bell! It was great to be done with radiation!

I had some skin side effects from radiation including one really huge blister, redness, and some raw skin. A few weeks after treatment, I went through a lot of peeling. To help my skin, I used Aquaphor and Eucerin. I also used Mepilex at the end when my skin was pretty raw. Talk to your nursing team...they are a great resource for getting you through all of your treatments.

An autumn outing during chemotherapy.

Sun feels good on a bald head, and so does the hot water in the shower! No matter what I was going through during my cancer treatments, I could usually find some small thing that was positive!  And I was always grateful that there were treatments available for me.

My family, friends, and my faith were keys to my coping ability during my months of cancer treatments. I can never thank them, or God, enough for all they have done for me.  I believe in the power of prayer to strengthen both emotionally and physically. I have felt it.

For those of you facing cancer, I have this to offer you:  treatments end, hair grows back, bodies heal, and life goes on. Live every only get one shot at life!

For those of you who haven't had this lovely experience in your lives, get your cancer screenings! They may save your life!

My other writing related to my cancer:


  1. I was inspired by your toughness and how you always lived your life in spite of the treatments. "What choice do I have?" you always said, but it was impressive nonetheless. SO glad it's in the rearview and may we never visit there again.

    1. Yeah, let's be done with cancer :) Thanks for always being there for me! Couldn't have done it alone.

  2. Thank you for sharing your cancer experience! I really don't know how to express my feeling for you or cancer or medicine or hair loss :) for that matter. I have thought of you often over the last 16 months.

    1. Thanks so much! I am overwhelmed by how many people kept me in their thoughts through this whole process!

  3. Glad you made it through and are on the other side!! Yay for amazing doctors that helped keep such an amazing person around for years to come. You're awesome... I really admire you for having survived such a rough year last year! Here's hoping every year to follow just keeps getting better and better!

    1. Thanks for being there whenever I needed you! I am hoping every year gets better and better, too.

  4. what an amazing story!!! You are truly amazing. Your gift of finding something positive in every situation has been something I am trying to do in my life. I am glad to have you in my life.

    1. Holly, I am so glad we are friends! I learn so much about gratitude and staying positive from good people like you :)

  5. Thank you for sharing your journey, Amy. Sounds like a touch of humor got you through some of the worse spots. What gratitude you must feel to be alive and your positive attitude is infectious. Here's to a long, happy, healthy life for you and your family.

    1. Thanks so much, Kim! Sometimes humor is the best defense.