LIVESTRONG:

And in June 2013 we are back in the revolving door of doctors, this time for my heart. So the focus has shifted, BUT... I continue to THANK YOU for your prayers, love & support. I receive them with open & loving arms. My wish is that I will gain strength from you, will provide strength to others & will help to strip away the fears we each experience.


LIVESTRONG: I am strong. I am loved. I am healthy. WE WILL WIN!

Have you or your loved one had their annual mammogram? PLEASE, don't put it off. Speaking from experience, I highly recommend monthly self exam as well.

WARNING:
Contents may be uplifting, sad, funny, scary, downright depressing ~ THAT IS CANCER .... at it's best, at its worst.

PLEASE ~ Feel free to share this blog with anyone who is interested to learn about my journey. While I welcome their support, I hope that by sharing this experience freely to the universe I may help to support others by breaking down some of the barriers and fear associated with breast cancer and the treatment.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I'm Walking On Sunshine, Whoa.oh....

HOLY MOLEY... 40%!!!  It is so hard to believe it is possible. Am I dreaming?

That is a 40.2% EF (Ejection Fraction)

Which is up from 15-18%!

On Monday I had my routine followup visit at Stanford Medical Center with my Cardiologist, and well known and respected Stanford heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Michael Fowler. Also scheduled was an Echo cardiogram test of my heart, which had not been performed for nearly 18 months, and which previously reported an EF of 18% both in August 2013 and January 2014, not to mention the Echo with my Santa Rosa Cardiologist, Dr. Sanjay Dhar in July and October 2013 which reflected an EF of about 12-15%.

And all of these previous numbers, as well as other exams of me, my heart, and failing condition, made me a sure candidate for a heart transplant; as hard as those words were and still are to say and type. But, you see, I was not a heart transplant candidate because I was not yet 5 years cancer free. So the LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) procedure was being planned, which is considered a Bridge-To-A-Transplant therapy. Mark, Alura & I even went through the LVAD training in April of 2014. Yes, just that short time ago, a little over a year ago. The funny thing was, that from January to April 2014, I had started to feel oh so much better.

As I look back now, from my diagnosis in June 2013, right at the end of a wonderful trip we had taken to celebrate our 40th anniversary, it really wasn't that long of a time. But the way I felt, and how quickly I declined, from that June until January 2014, was something I hope to never EVER experience again. Not being able to walk up a half flight of stairs, or make the short walk out to our alpacas, or do really anything for that matter other than sit around, with terrible edema, bloating and indigestion, hardly any appetite, unable to sleep without several pillows, gasping for air. Oh my, these memories are almost too much. But it is good to remember and reflect, AND be oh so thankful.

At the time, Dr. Dhar immediately referred me to Dr. Fowler at Stanford. And I know why. He too knew that a heart transplant was my only hope. Thankfully, though, the latest technologies and medications helped me so much, and my very strict regime (on doctors orders), of treating sodium as an allergen and keeping it to a very minimum in my diet. Then there was the recommendation to be as active as my heart would allow. All this, and the horrible indigestion, helped me to drop 40 lbs, and I know that was a huge contributing factor in my improvement as well. Less weight, meant less work for my failing heart.

While all this was going on, I went through test, after test; and several changes and increases in medications. Then there was the Holter Monitor, and the three grueling months with the Zoll Lifevest, which is an external defibrillator -- a cumbersome gadget, worn 24/7 like a back pack, with a huge controller over my shoulder and a long "tail-like" cord attached to the vest which hung down off my back. It was uncomfortable to sleep in, and just depressing to wear. But it had a job to do and I was glad to have it there just in case. Finally, after 3 months of the vest, Insurance approved an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator), which is surgically implanted into the chest wall, just above the left breast, and has two leads (wires) that go into the two chambers of the heart. Mine was implanted on October 25, 2013.

The ICD is not a pacemaker. It is a defibrillator calibrated to shock the heart back to life whenever alerted to do so, based on settings individual to the patient. I later learned that this gadget also took all sorts of readings that the technician and doctor would "interrogate" at each appointment, and read to see all the history captured since the last appointment. An ICD will also pace the heart back into rhythm, should that be necessary, trying to avoid the shock if possible. Fortunately, I have never been shocked. I hear it can feel like a horse kicking you in the chest - YIKES!

The ICD surgery went well, with the exception that I caught a very nasty cold right afterwards, fever and all, and my ICD immediately had to pace my heart and I felt absolutely horrible for quite some time. As a matter of fact, I felt very bad for the next 3+ months. It was not until I saw Dr. Fowler in January 2014, when he made adjustments to all my medications, and then talked very seriously that we prepare for transplant or LVAD. The thought on the LVAD is that it would then move me into the transplant wait list, even with the cancer history; and keep me going until transplant, or possibly even without transplant. These were some pretty scary times. The LVAD training alone was enough to scare me out of my skin; not to mention Mark and Alura, who were there with me for the training in April 2014.

But low and behold, the changes in medication, and possibly some new probiotics I began to take, along with the continued lifestyle changes, all took effect and I began to feel better immediately. I began to walk a bit when I could, sometimes only to the mailbox. But heck, that was a huge accomplishment. I had lost some weight. And, I began to sleep better. So even though we had the LVAD training, we all knew, even Dr. Fowler, that the procedure probably would not take place, at least not right away.

So dial ahead about 15 months, and here we are today. Sorry for the long recount of things, but it just seemed important to tell this story and share with you how instrumental this new EF number is in the scheme of things.

The left ventricle is the heart's main pumping chamber, so ejection fraction is usually measured only in the left ventricle (LV). An LV ejection fraction of 55 percent or higher is considered normal. An LV ejection fraction of 50 percent or lower is considered reduced. Experts vary in their opinion about an ejection fraction between 50 and 55 percent, and some would consider this a "borderline" range.
Keep in mind that ejection fraction is just one measure of heart function. Even with a normal ejection fraction, overall heart function may not be normal.

So you can imagine that my previous EF of 18% was quite low and very serious. But an increase to 40% is HUGE, and makes my heart sing. AND, so much more closer to the normal range.

So I'll take it, and be very grateful for all that I have -- a loving husband and best friend, amazing daughters and SIL's along with the three most adorable grandchildren in the world. And oh, did I mention the most supportive sisters and brothers, and all their families. And then there are amazing cousins and friends galore. You are all so wonderful and have supported us both during the last five years of cancer and heart disease. We love you all and thank you for standing with us through thick and thin.

 Mark and I doing the Happy Dance at Stanford Medical Center.


 Celebrating Madeleine's 1st birthday this past weekend. 
There will be many more for me to share in!




Life is Good...

Debbie... aka the cancer SURVIVOR, 
AND now the Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
• I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •

THANKS for visiting! I look forward to your comments.



Sunday, July 26, 2015

It's That Time Again

Relay for Life Sonoma time, that is! 7/31 - 8/1/15

The event is changed up a bit this year. There will be a "soft opening" Friday night with movie & smores. Sat, August 1,  is the opening ceremony at 9 am, then survivor lap. Relay for Life will then go all day Saturday from 9am-10pm. Luminaries begin at 8pm.

I'll be going to the Survivor Dinner on July 30th with my group of "cancer girls". Wish I could say that means my girlfriends with the Cancer Moon Sign, but no it means "girlfriends" who have, or have had, cancer -- and the group has grown -- DAMNIT! (Yes, you can swear freely when it comes to cancer).

The Relay is always an uplifting, and somewhat tearful, event. But there is lots of fun, food, and camaraderie. And the whole of Sonoma, practically, comes out. Come out and walk with me. I plan to do the survivor walk with our cancer community and several cancer friends, which should be around 9:30am or so; then walk with my family as caregivers in the caregiver lap, which is next. Then anyone can jump in and walk to their hearts content.

Come on out! It's a great day with a great cause. And if you do, or even if you don't, go to the Relay for Life website and make a donation. I don't have a team, but you can donate in my name, or anyone else's name. Thanks so very much!

While on the subject, won't you please Vote today, vote tomorrow, VOTE EVERYDAY - My friend, Dr. Kate Farrell, and her partners at Paradigm Shift Therapeutics, have a novel idea -- affordable breast cancer therapy for one and all. Kate is quite an amazing woman and has entered a contest to win a commercial for their company at the Superbowl 2016.  

The contest is for small business owners and the winner is the business that gets the most votes.  Please forward this to friends, family, coworkers, people you know, people you don't know, anyone with a computer for that matter!  This will help support their mission. You do not have to register or sign up for anything - just click the link "VOTE" and pass it on.  

As Kate says, and I agree, "Thank you from the bottom of my heart"!

Paradigm Shift Therapeutics, LLC could win a commercial that millions of people will see. And you can vote every 24 hours. I already did, and will again, and again, and again. Won't you too?


This business is all about affordable care for cancer treatment!
 



Vote for Paradigm Shift Therapeutics, LLC



Life is Good...

Debbie... aka the cancer SURVIVOR, 
AND now the Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
• I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •

THANKS for visiting! I look forward to your comments.



Thursday, June 11, 2015

Affordable Breast Cancer Treatment -- What A Thought!

Hey everyone,

My dear friend, Kate Farrell, PhD, started a new business, Paradigm Shift Therapeutics. Their mission is to develop an affordable breast cancer therapy. She is quite an amazing woman and has entered a contest to win a commercial for their company at the Superbowl 2016.  

The contest is for small business owners and the winner is the business that gets the most votes.  Please forward this to friends, family, coworkers, people you know, people you don't know, anyone with a computer for that matter!  This will help support their mission.  You do not have to register or sign up for anything-just click the link and pass it on.  

As Kate says, and I agree, "Thank you from the bottom of my heart"
Vote for Paradigm Shift Therapeutics at:


Paradigm Shift Therapeutics, LLC could win a commercial that millions of people will see.And you can vote every 24 hours. I already did, and will again, and again, and again. Won't you too?



This business is all about affordable care for cancer treatment!
 




Vote for Paradigm Shift Therapeutics, LLC


Life is Good...

Debbie... aka the cancer SURVIVOR, 
AND now the Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
• I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •

THANKS for visiting! I look forward to your comments.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Four Years Ago

It was a mere four years ago today that I went through my final chemotherapy treatment, May 17th, 2011. 

Wow, when I glance back at that post, I look better than I remember, and probably better than I am feeling then.

So that well known fifth year mark is within my grasp and feeling good. That's not to say I will be out of the woods, or that I can rest on my laurels. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for these past four years, and any more that I am blessed with. It is the little things that give me joy, and frighten me. But it will be a feeling of accomplishment to get to the five year mark.

The frightening things, like in the breast biopsy I went through recently after a bit of precaution on my surgeon's and radiologists part, and mine as well. They do want to do another ultrasound in four months; and hopefully all is well when that time comes.

The joy in spending time with family and friends; especially my three adorable grandchildren. We've started having Gaige over for sleepovers and the most recent was two nights ago. A fun time shopping, making pizza, sleeping on the airbed and helping with chores was had by all. It was the first time it was just he and Grammie, which made it even more special. He gave me one of his special Lego Chimas to keep me company until Papa returned home today. 

Shaping the pizza dough can be lots of fun. Did you know it is real "squishy",  according to Gaige.
 
And recently I took Nico to the Tractor Museum in Woodland to check out all the tractors. It was me who did the sleep over there in Davis to give me some time to also hold little sweet Madeleine. Not to mention a fun morning with my daughter and both the grankids at the Davis Farmer's Market and the Whole Earth Festival at UC Davis campus. It was another fun and rewarding weekend with my grandkids.
Nico loved the big tractors & the little ones, too.

Maddie, at 9 months, already has six teeth and is walking across the room.


But cancer brings much sadness from time to time, as well. And those sad moments when we lose such a precious person to this terrible disease, as has happened again just recently, reminds us all of our mortality, and just how precious life is. And I believe that it resonates even stronger in those of us who have had cancer, or are currently fighting the disease with all their might. I know a lot of people who have first hand experience with this disease; either they themselves, or a loved one. The ups and downs are monstrous and really take a toll on self and loved ones. 

I try to follow the latest research and findings in this arena. But often it is hard to do, and sometimes I want to be the ostrich with my head in the sand. But then I remind myself of these three loves in my life, not to mention the rest of my family, and some very dear friends, and I do as I've mentioned over and over again -- take it one day at a time.

Here's to living life to the fullest.

Life is Good...

Debbie... aka the cancer SURVIVOR, 
AND now the Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
• I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •

THANKS for visiting! I look forward to your comments.




Monday, May 11, 2015

Mammograms are Not the End All, Be All

I came across the reminder notice from my oncology center that my Mammogram was due in January. Been there, done that. So that was good. Results great! Time to shred the document.

But as I scanned it quickly to determine shredding was warranted, I realized just how appropriate the words were. The words that said Mammography was not "everything" (my words), that annual exam, monthly self exam, were also very important. Oh how true this all is. Especially in light of a week ago.

I went in for my scheduled annual gynecological exam. During the breast exam, the Nurse Practitioner commented about one of the scar areas from my lumpectomy. This area always feels very lumpy bumpy to me and there isn't much breast tissue there anymore from the surgery. So it is very hard for me to know what to look for in that spot, or worry that something doesn't feel right. None of it feels right. The NP thought one of the spots seemed a little larger, and I agreed. So she recommended I see my surgeon for a second look, as her notes from last year gave her reason for concern. Of course my first thought, was, "Oh shit, here it comes!!! I'm nearly 5 years clean, and my world is gonna be turned upside down again." I mean, how can one not go there in their head after cancer. Even the most positive person gives pause to moments like these. Trust me, I am speaking from the heart here.

I was able to get in the next day, Tuesday; not to the surgeon as he was out at a conference, but to another Oncologist in the office I have seen for other cancer related issues and really like, Dr. Amy Shaw. Dr. Shaw also felt that this was somewhat enlarged from past records but that it was most likely a fatty necrosis and 99% nothing to worry about. This is typically fat tissue that occurs at an injury site or after surgery. She felt an ultrasound would help us to know more and decide for sure. Luckily, I was able to pop downstairs for the ultrasound right then and there. The radiologist concurred that it was most likely a fatty necrosis but sent me back upstairs to consult with Dr. Shaw.

I was having a bit of fun by now. The office normally does tumor boards on that afternoon and since the surgeons were away on conference, it was a quiet day. Dr. Shaw invited me back into her office and showed me several past mammogram films, including the ones with full blown cancer. It was very interesting to view all of these while we waited for the radiologist to consult with her so we could make a plan of attack. I mean... I had nothing better to do and wanted to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.

By the time she had heard from the radiologist, I had decided a biopsy would be my first choice of next steps. And when they said we could wait 3 months and recheck as the chance of cancer was slim, or biopsy it; my reply was a resounding BIOPSY, please. Especially when blood was detected just above the area. Cancer usually has blood feeding to it, and the purpose of the ultrasound would be to check for this.

After a few visits upstairs, downstairs, ultrasound, examinations, we sat down and talked. And then I headed back downstairs to schedule the ultrasound-guided biopsy. You see, the blood near the questionable spot was most likely a nearby vein, but biopsy would rule out cancer for sure, or not.

And low and behold, they had a cancellation the following day, Wednesday at 12:45pm. So now we are 3 days into this saga, but everything is moving quickly and everyone is being very responsive, and assuring me that "this is probably nothing to worry about". Why did it not move like this when I did have cancer? It is all water under the bridge, now; but...

The ultrasound-guided biopsy went well. I'm not very squeamish about these things anymore, and found it all interesting. I did have an ultrasound guided biopsy before cancer was diagnosed, but don't remember it being quite like this. But then a lot of time has passed since then, thank goodness. It was January 2011, so just over 4 years ago. Anyway, all went well! It took about an hour. They located the spot with Ultrasound (US), numbed me and then numbed deeper. Then they did an US picture right before and after each of the 6 samples and placed a tiny metal clip in the sight so it can be identified and found easily in future US and mammos. The actual sample, which is the part that seems a bit different, is taken through a needle, but is almost like a little gun. Not in appearance, but in how it acts. It makes a snap sound as it shoots in and out in nanno seconds all while grabbing a bit of the suspect breast tissue. I went home with an ice pack tucked into my bra, some steri-strips and bandaging. I was able to make a quick Costco trip in prep for a fun girls dyeing weekend (as in dyeing fiber) should all be well in the breast. If not, I guess I would have cancelled and gone home and cried a ton.



So by now you know the good news. Thursday afternoon I got the call and that everything is benign - NO CANCER. I am fine. Doing the happy dance for sure. But that week had been a bit on edge for Mark and I and the girls. I kept it all to myself otherwise, as it all happened so very very fast and they said from the get go 99% no problem. Thank the Lord!

So on Friday morning I headed out for a fun fiber weekend with some girlfriends very relieved.



But the reminder of how it can turn out and how cancer is like Russian Roulette always lurks out there somewhere. Cancer does not discriminate and hits the least suspected. And some close and dear to Mark and I know this all too well as we lost a sweet angel right around this same time to a short 30-month fight against breast cancer. She is a dear friends sister and a local Glen Ellen "boys" wife - Molly Cahill Singleton. A sweet guy that Mark helped to train as a firefighter, and a loving companion to his beautiful young wife. And then a few days later I learned of a sweet friends husband losing his battle to kidney cancer Curtis Mattison - A Veteran serving our country who had been fighting the VA to acknowledge his claim and provide his VA benefits; a father of middle school triplets, another child, and a blended family of other children as well. I mean, how do we make reason of all this. We don't. We offer our help and sympathies, and if you are like me, you cry A LOT! And wonder when and where we will find an end to this evil thing called cancer.

And then a week later, we go one with our lives. We put a big smile on our faces and thank some higher being above for three angelic faces I am blessed to call my grandchildren. So I spent a lovely Mother's Day weekend with some very special little humans, and their parents, of course!

LIFE IS GOOD!

Goofy Grammie with Nico, Madeleine and Gaige -- the loves of my life.



The moral of the story is that you cannot depend on mammograms alone. I just had mine in January. When in question, take it the next step. Better to be safe that sorry. Mind you, I haven't seen the bills for this yet, but I would not have made any other choices along the way regardless.



Life is Good...

Debbie... aka the cancer SURVIVOR, 
AND now the Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
• I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •

THANKS for visiting! I look forward to your comments.