Marked

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So I misunderstood somewhere along the way. I thought after being marked up today for radiation, I would then actually start radiation if I felt up to it. Not quite. Joe had the same understanding as me though, so I’m not entirely crazy.

Today was my setup, or mapping, appointment at the radiation oncology office. First step, the nurses had me lay down to get ready for the CT scan, with a nice view of the beach to look at above me. There was a pillow lying flat under my head that was filled similar to the way a bean bag would be. My arms were raised above my head and my head was turned to my right. The radiation oncologist, along with the help of the nurses, increased and decreased the air inside of the pillow while moving me around a bit. The air was then removed and the beans inside the pillow formed a mold of my head and arms. This will help ensure that I sit still throughout the treatment.

Next was the scan, which was done in a number of different ways. I had a regular scan done initially, where I sat inside the machine while it scanned and was then pulled back out. Next I had to hold my breath for 30 seconds while they marked certain areas of my chest. I had to hold my breath for another 30 seconds to verify whether or not I am consistent in the way I move when I hold my breath.   Then I had to hold my breath for 30 seconds while inside the machine. Thankfully, the doctor had told me this ahead of time so that I could practice holding my breath prior to today. It was challenging to expand my chest fully after surgery and after each expansion so I’m glad that I had the weeks to practice. When I have the actual radiation, part of my treatment will require that I hold my breath for 20 – 25 seconds at a time. This helps to lift my chest and lower my heart so that it is not touched by the beams.

After the scans, I was pulled back out and they made some additional markings on my chest and then placed waterproof clear tape over the areas they marked and took pictures. Three down the center of my chest and one on each side, for a total of 5 marks. If the tape falls off or starts to peel, I need to contact the doctor and have them align the tape again. Lastly, the doctor confirmed that the scans were sufficient for her planning.

Next, the doctor will review the scans and determine exactly where the radiation needs to be directed. The markings will be used as the initial roadmap for my next appointment. I will eventually have small tattoos, each about the size of a freckle, which will help guide the radiation beams as well. As you can imagine, their allotted margin of error is miniscule so many precautions are taken to ensure accuracy.

So, that’s that for today. Once the doctor has put together the final plan, and my insurance approves the treatment, the office will call me to schedule the radiation. I should start within 7 – 10 days. I’m hoping for sooner rather than later, since it will be Monday through Friday for 6 weeks.

Side note, why are my glasses always crooked in the pictures that I post here?!  Are they always crooked?!  Eek!

Dolphin view

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Their jumps appeared random, tossing them out of the water for just an instant before they plunged back down into the blue surf. The waves were light that day, though they swam so close to shore that they seemed caught at the sand bar, between the sets of waves breaking. They didn’t seem to notice the current though, as they swam about freely; their dorsal fins bobbing up and down sporadically.

The swimmers didn’t seem to notice how close the creatures were, despite how many were just over the water’s crest. She imagined herself swimming amongst them, splashing throughout the ocean in search of food. The speed in which they traveled today, slow and circular, was nowhere near the speed of which she knew they were capable.

She wondered what dolphins think about. Do they have dreams, goals, ambitions? Or do they live for the moment, relying on instinct that has been perfected? Do they wander freely throughout the ocean, without care or concern?

A movement to the right caught her eye and she looked in time to see a small figure jump completely out of the water, causing her breath to catch at the magnificence of its leap. Glancing up, she peered at the sky above where the dolphins played. Though it was clear now, she could see the clouds rolling; their darkness casting a shadow across the sand behind her.

Sitting for another moment, she then waved good bye to the dolphins and the seagulls that fly overhead. Holding her sandals in her hand, she began walking away from the peaceful sound of the waves rolling up the shore. Unsure of how severe it will be, she braced herself against the storm, ready to take on whatever came her way.

Breaking down goals

Yesterday I asked what keeps you all motivated to meet a goal. I received a bunch of great suggestions and advice to help with achieving goals, ranging from different apps that help to changing how you view your goals.

One of the responses that I received was in regards to having enough discipline to continue working towards your goal. For me, motivation itself is not always enough. Sometimes the goal can be slightly overwhelming because of the level of effort that is needed to achieve that particular goal. The thought is that when you demonstrate good discipline towards your goal and subsequently make it a routine, you then generate good (or happy) feelings as a part of the process versus relying solely on your initial motivations or feelings to continue forward. Eventually, your discipline turns into habit and it is simply second nature to work towards your goals regularly (21 days, right?).

Another idea that I learned about was breaking your goals down into smaller sub-goals. These sub-goals can be broken down into daily, weekly or monthly targets that you want to reach, which eventually add up to your larger, or end, goal. If you are a visual person, as I am, then you can put together a goal board for each step of the process. It’ll help you stay on track by reminding you of the goals that you have committed yourself to, but it will also allow you to see your progress along the way.

I find both of these thoughts intriguing and quite doable as well. There are a handful of goals that I want to work towards but the end result of what I am trying to accomplish seems daunting. Though it may seem obvious to some, the tips that I’ve received for how to attack these goals has helped me to break them down into more manageable tasks that will quickly add up. Writing it all down will also help me to see the progress that I have made over the weeks.

I wanted to share, in the hopes that some of you may be able to utilize some of these ideas. I’m off to create my goal board. Thanks to everyone who commented!

Goal planning

When Joe & I were engaged, I knew that I wanted to lose weight prior to our wedding. According to the BMI calculator at my doctor’s office, I was considered obese and my blood work was beginning to show areas of concern. A lifestyle change was needed and I knew I needed to fully commit to those changes in order to be successful. I talked it over with Joe and we decided to make the change together.

We started by setting a date that we would begin making these changes. We became engaged in October and the holidays were right around the corner so we opted to start after the New Year. That particular year, New Year’s Day fell on a Friday. Knowing that we would need time to prep for the changes, we opted to begin the first Monday of that year.

Every Monday after that became our “weigh in day”, where we would track our progress. Using excel, we inputted what our healthy goal weight was and the timeline that we wanted to reach it by. In addition to holding ourselves accountable, I asked one of my best friends to hold me accountable also. Having her cheer me on was a huge help.

Joe & I decided to track our food intake in order to help hold us see the food choices that we made each day. Every weekend, we researched recipes, grocery shopped and prepped meals for the entire week. We used a notebook to write down everything that we ate.

We also began walking. After work each night, we would go for a short walk around our neighborhood and talk about how our days went or what our weekend plans were.

By the time our wedding date arrived, we both had reached our goal weight and were happy with it. We had each lost the weight equivalent of a young child and were now within the normal healthy weight range for our heights. Our blood work was even showing drastic improvements and we were able to shop for new clothes to take with us on our honeymoon. I even wore a bikini, something that I had not done since I was a teenager.

For me, this was successful because I was able to see the progress week over week. Prepping ahead of time, setting realistic expectations and tracking progress along the way helped me to fully engage in the changes and better understand what worked and what didn’t. Writing everything down forced me to acknowledge what I was eating and how much (or how little) I was exercising.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about goals that I want to set for myself and I’m curious what other people do in order to help them achieve their goals (they don’t have to be weight related). How do you hold yourselves accountable? What keeps you motivated? Do you use a reward of some sort as the prize for achieving your goals?

Comment below and share with me! I’m anxious to learn the tips and tricks that others use to reach for the stars. Hopefully your tips will help me to achieve my goals too. 🙂

Growth

Though I often post pictures without a hat or a scarf, it’s rare that I leave the house without one. When I first shaved my head, I wore something on it constantly because I was afraid of the looks that I would receive. I didn’t want to be looked at with sad eyes and I didn’t want to be self-conscious. I became accustomed to wearing them and it became a second nature to put something on my head, similar to the way I grab my glasses in the morning.

The challenge with wearing a hat regularly, is that it’s hard to dress up. Scarves help this some, but I worry about them coming undone, especially if I am spending a few hours out and about. In the winter months, I wore a sparkly warm gray hat or a knitted had that matched my clothes. Now that the days are getting warmer and I’m no longer restricted to just button ups, it’s become challenging to match my clothes with a hat. I often want to dress up when I go out of the house (even just to the doctor) but end up not doing so because I feel limited.

At home I typically go bald and most of the times when I am over someone’s house, with the exception of when my head was cold or if we were outside (I don’t want to burn my head!). Now that I have some hair growth though, I’ve been excited for the moment that I start to go hatless.

Well, I did it for the first time last week when we went to Disney Live. Being there with close friends and surrounded by strangers focusing on the show, I felt brave. Plus, it was incredibly warm in the building so it was too hot to keep the hat on. No one seemed to care and I let out a breath that I didn’t realize I had been holding.

Next, when Joe & I dropped little man off at daycare last Friday I went hatless. They all know me and the battle that I have been fighting, so knowing that they support me in that manner helped me to feel at ease. I received bright smiles when I walked in, just like I would any other day.

Having a meal out that same day, I whipped my hat off and enjoyed the meal comfortably. The response was comments about how nice my hair looked growing in and how my smile lights up a room. My heart warmed and my anxieties eased each time I went without.

On Sunday, when we went to the bridal shower, I wanted to dress up to celebrate the occasion. Prior to leaving for the long drive (other side of the state), I picked out my dress, my jewelry and my makeup and then stared at my collection of hats. Sure, I have some super cute ones that would look adorable with the outfit but once inside, they would be too big, too much. Besides, it was time to go without. So knowing that we would be nowhere near home, I didn’t pack one. I had resolved myself to not wearing a hat and instead rocking this awesome hair growth that I am incredibly excited about.

Of course, slight panic set in once I arrived at the party all dolled up. I beat cancer, I don’t want to be looked at like a cancer patient anymore. What if people stare? I don’t know most of the people here, what if I make everyone uncomfortable? I know these thoughts aren’t rational but they can’t be helped. Despite how brave I may seem, I was scared and nervous. Knowing it was too late to change my mind, I took a deep breath, walked up to the front door and knocked.

And you know what happened next?

My dear friends greeted me with a huge smile and big hugs. I heard them say repeatedly how happy they were for us to come celebrate and how nice I looked. They introduced me to their friends & family and I shook hands, hugged family members and chatted away instantly with the lovely women who were there.

No one said a word about my hair, with the exception of my friends after the party who commented on how much it had grown since January! There were no stares, no side glances and no one seemed uncomfortable. I focused on enjoying the party and the day with friends. It was wonderful. It felt so good.

This may seem small but it was so important to me. It is yet another part of this battle, one that I didn’t realize was there until it arrived, that I have pushed through and overcome. So now, I am rocking this. I am wearing my new hair like a badge of honor. After all, I am so incredibly proud of how much I have grown.

What a weekend!

I learned from my wig purchases that in order to have certain cancer related purchases covered by insurance, I would need to purchase them through an in-network provider. There are only a handful of providers that are in-network for post-mastectomy supplies, with the closest one being 2 hours away. Saturday morning, we rose early and headed to the other side of Florida to go to one of these stores.

It was an interesting experience and only took about an hour. I was fitted for new bras and a silicone insert to even myself out. I was pleasantly surprised by the overall outcome, though the bras themselves aren’t anything exciting. It’s a little disappointing that the bras available for post-mastectomy surgery aren’t a closer match to what I would find in a department store, though they are quite comfortable. It may be a little challenging when dressing because of the bra styles but I’ll figure it out.

Though the visit ended up costing me some money out of pocket (apparently insurance only covers a certain amount of the bra cost and the consumer pays the difference), I am glad that I went and was able to get fitted properly. I also purchase a post-mastectomy bathing suit that can hold the implant. Now that it’s warming up in Florida, I hope to get good use from this purchase!

Yesterday we spent time celebrating my sweet friend from childhood at her bridal shower! It is always so nice to catch up and spend time with friends.

And today was my last left side expansion – YAY! Though we originally planned on an additional 60 cc, my plastic surgeon wanted to do 80 cc to ensure the skin is stretched enough that we can hopefully perform the less invasive surgery at the end of this year. This gives me a total of 670 cc in my left.

I’m more uncomfortable than the last expansion but it isn’t as painful as the last time that I did 90 cc. I can feel the muscles spasms and the increased pressure in my chest but thankfully that will get better each day until it is barely noticeable again. I’m glad we did the extra in the hopes that I don’t need the more extensive reconstruction surgery. I don’t have to see the plastic surgeon again for about 7 weeks – wahoo! It’ll be a nice break from the every-few-days appointments. Of course, they’ll be replaced with the every-single-day appointments of radiation soon but hopefully that’ll go quickly.

And last but certainly not least – I can lift again!!! I picked Jacob up the moment that he walked through the door. We spent the evening playing outside and reading books while I picked him up & snuggled him constantly in between. I’m extra sore from it but it was totally worth every single moment that I was able to hold him.

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope your weekend – and your day – was filled with happiness.

Functions of the heart

The heart is capable of so much. Not only does it allow us to live, it makes that living worthwhile. The way it swells with love, laughs with joy along with us, and has the ability to break with sadness.

Each of these functions, and about a million more, help shape us into the people that we are.  The way we feel, how we react to situations and how we heal from heartbreak all contribute to who we are on the inside.

The heart is amazing.  Remember to use it and spread the love. Hug your loved ones tight and kiss them hard. Show them the love you feel for them in your heart, tonight and always.

The heart

Removing her shirt, she picked up the gown and inserted her arms in the sleeves. Grateful for having done her daily exercises, her range of motion is mostly returned.

She lays on the table as instructed and awaits the return of the technician with the kind eyes. When she enters, the technician lays a blanket over her patient’s legs, warming them quickly with the heat from the blanket.

The technician squeezes Vaseline onto the wand and she braces for the cold chill on her skin as the wand works it’s magic across her chest.  The chill never comes, her nerves not yet renewed.

As the technician moves the wand slowly through the Vaseline, the screen comes to life with movement.  Glancing up, she sees gray matter moving about the screen.  Flashes of blue the color of rain and red like an overripe apple appear sporatically, showing the current of the blood that flows through her veins.  The technician lightly presses a button and suddenly she hears the steady “whoosh, ah, whoosh, ah” that gives her life.

Timing the beats, the technician clicks back and the room is silent again.  She stares up at the movement again, focusing on the valve that opens and closes in a continuous rhythm, letting in and out the rush of blood with each pump.  She asks the nurse if the expanders block her view and the technician smiles, moving her wand to show the expander under her skin. A large oval, the expander shows nothing but grainy blackness on the screen.

Moving the wand down, the technician pushes under her ribcage to gain a view of the bottom of her heart.  She pushes the same button as before and once again the “whoosh, ah, whoosh, ah” fills the room; the wet sound seems loud and powerful in the quiet.  The technician clicks a few more buttons and the echo is over.  She comments on how strong the heart looks and advises that it will be compared to the previous echo, then smiles and leaves the room.

Dressing quickly, she is left in awe of what she saw. Though it was not her first view of her heart, she is mesmerized by the sheer power and ability that it has.  Responsible for ensuring that all of her organs have the blood and oxygen that they need, the heart has one of the hardest jobs and yet it never complains to her. It continues to pump solidly despite the chemicals it is doused in every 3 weeks. “Whoosh, ah, whoosh, ah” it continues steadily, day and night.

A nap a day…

Do you all like naps? Jacob has a tendency to fight them on occasion, especially if there is something much more interesting going on around him. If only he knew how enjoyable a nap actually is! I took a nap today. It wasn’t intentional and I didn’t even realize I needed one. I don’t think I’ve napped since the post-surgery days and that was more of an “I-can’t-keep-my-eyes-open” kinda thing. Today, I sat down in the recliner with the window open to get some things done, notebook by my side and next thing I knew it was hours later. I guess I was tired! It’s been a crazy week filled with appointments and so I guess it finally caught up with me. Dang, it felt good. Daily naps should be required in adulthood too.

Yesterday’s expansion was one of the easier ones that I have experienced. There was a little debate about how much to put in, since I’ve already been expanded to 530 cc. The original intent was at least 600 to allow shrinkage from radiation. I was hesitant to do another 90 cc at one time because of how painful the last increase of 90 cc was. So we decided to do another 60 cc yesterday and I’ll have one final expansion on the left this Monday, where we’ll do another 60 cc. It’ll put me over 600 cc and I should be good for radiation. I’m uncomfortable and a little sore but nothing unbearable. Every day after expansion becomes a little easier.

I chatted a little with the plastic surgeon about reconstruction yesterday. The hope is that my skin will not be affected too badly by radiation and my reconstruction will then be a surgery that involves removing the expanders and inserting implants. This would be the ideal scenario and would have the fastest recovery timeframe. If my skin is damaged by the radiation, then I would likely need a type of flap reconstruction where the skin and tissue from somewhere else on my body would be used in the reconstruction. This would be a more invasive surgery and would be a much longer recovery time.

I’m hoping for the best case scenario but I’m not losing sleep over it. I trust my doctor and know that he will do an incredible job regardless of which surgery is required. Besides, November seems like it’s a long way off…although, I could have said the same thing about March!