What started as IDC (Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma) in 2011, then turned into CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) in 2013, probably partially caused by chemotherapy along with a genetic pre-disposition. Here we are now in March 2016 and I am newly diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the left breast and liver (LMBC - liver metastasized breast cancer).

So the focus has shifted yet again, 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 helpful information and strength to others & will help to strip away the fears we each experience.

I am strong. I am loved. I am healthy. I WILL SURVIVE!

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. And if you are now cancer free of breast cancer, do everything you can to insist that your doctors follow up with an occasional PET Scan and labs for tumor markers.

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.


Monday, September 26, 2011

First Party of the Year

Its hard to believe that we have not hosted one family party all year long. And consequentially, I've really missed everyone alot.

Yes, I've not been up to it with all the fatigue, doctor appointments, treatment, etc. Neither has Mark. Then there were all those months when it was risky for me to be around anyone who might be sick so I missed out being with my nieces and nephews, which was also very difficult. But I'm feeling really good now, and have so much to celebrate and be thankful for.

Most important is my family and friends and end to treatment. Well, does it ever end? At least an end to the major treatment where I am going in daily or weekly, having surgery, feeling yucky, looking yucky... There will be followup appointments, I am sure, and the daily hormone therapy will most likely start soon. But I'm feeling really good now (did I already say that), and will do my best to get back to some sort of normal life now.

The appointment with my oncologist last week went well. He reassured me with all my questions about Femara and Aromatase Inhibitors. What is happening next is that he will schedule a bone density test for me to see how strong my bones are, since this is one of the major risks of Aromatase Inhibitors. If my bones and good and strong, we will begin the Femara. If not, I'll start on Tamoxifen along with a bone strengthener drug for a couple of years. Once the bones are strong enough, I'll be switched to Femara for another couple of years. Two of my biggest concerns over the Femara was the bone fracture incidence in some and heart risk. My grandmother was plagued with Osteoporosis in later years and experience lots of fractures. Then there are some heart issues on my side of the family. So the bone density test sounds like a good idea to me. And the heart risk is greater on Tamoxifen so Femara is a better choice for me for now. At least these were the two biggest concerns for me. 

The other concern with Femara is some of the awful other side effects I've read about. Of course those experiencing difficulty are the ones to tell about their woes. Those feeling good often don't comment at all. My oncologist confirmed that only about 20% of those using the drug experience significant issues, such as what I described above and arthritis type symptoms. And if I am one of that 20%, then we will stop the drug, or try another one to see if I do better on it. So I think I am comfortable with this plan of attack for now.

So now...

After all, that is how I started this post. :-)

The newest member of the family, 6 week old Nicolas Barsun, aka Nico (our first grandchild), had his first sleep over here at Brookfarm this weekend to celebrate his welcome to the family, his mom and dad's recent birthdays this past week, and my end to radiation. We hosted 20 family members and close friends to celebrate. Little Mr. Nico was the hit of the party, being passed around to all the Aunties and getting his cheeks pinched by his cousins. It was a lovely Fall day and I soaked in every moment of it. Cousin Terry jumped up to help get all the food ready at the last moment, as Mark was running the barbecue, and I was enveloping Nico in my arms with a grand smile glued to my face. Below is the moment capturing me and Nico in our glory, and here is a link to more photos of the day.

In my glory with Nico at 6 weeks old


Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Buh Bye, Radiation. Hope to never see ya again!

That's it -- 33 radiation treatments complete. And not only did I get to ring the bell, just like when I completed chemo, but...

I also received a certificate of Merit and Appreciation.

So that's the last of radiation I will need to endure, hopefully forever and ever. And, it was not all that bad, other than the inconvenience of the every day treatments, some skin breakdown and mild fatigue. That is all behind me now.  :-)

Besides, I have learned about a new study on the use of Tamoxifen and Aromatase Inhibitors so now I have some good talking points for my Oncologist when I see him later this week and discuss the prescribed Femara (Letrozole), which is an Aromatase Inhibitor. Thanks to my pharmacist niece, Sharleen, for alerting me to this new information. It sure is nice to have nurses and pharmacists in the family.


Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cancer is so limited -

Thank you, Rob and Ruthie, for this beautiful weaving I will hang on my wall.

Friday, September 16, 2011

One Rad To Go

Yep, that's correct. One radiation treatment left on Monday. It is still so vivid in my mind that phone call that came in the early morning hours of January 10, 2011, and still feels like yesterday. Until.... I realize that I have been through months of treatment, chemotherapy, surgery and the perplexity of deciding what was best for me, weeks of radiation. And we aren't over yet, but we have traveled oh so very far already. It feels good right now.

And the skin breakdown is healing very well right now. The underarm is no longer red and fiery. The only issue seems to be under my breast in the area where the boost is still hitting. But it is a small area and I hope that only one more treatment won't cause further breakdown.

I talked to my Radiation Oncologist about what it is that causes the breakdown. And apparently the easier you tan, the better off you are, which is what I thought would happen. But, you also need to tan well, and be rail thin, or close to it. Because you see, the larger your breasts are, or bigger you are, the more radiation is required to treat the entire area in question. So the woman I met the other day who thinks because she is fair skinned she will do well with radiation, isn't correct. Although she was pretty thin, so she has that part going for her. 

Yesterday I delivered five plates of cookies to each of the different departments at Redwood Regional Cancer Center; one for the front desk and scheduling, one for the Oncology doctor and nurses area, one for the Radiation treatment team, one for the Radiation Oncologist doc and nurses, and lastly one to the infusion room for the Oncology nurses and team. I attached a Thank You card to each, which also included the photo of Mark and I with Nico. The Infusion team knew I was to become a grandma but hadn't seen me since May, so I wanted to brag a bit to them. Mark and I made two batches. He made his favorite of oatmeal cranberry, and I made the Kayak cookies, which are so yummy and have oatmeal, coconut, choc chips, and nuts. The Rad Techs (is that what they are called???) were very thankful today. But it is I who is very thankful for them. My card read, "Thank you for all the tender loving care this year."

And once treatment and the Radiation Oncologist followup was complete yesterday, I headed to Davis to be with Alura and Nico. I was so very tired, but we had a great visit. I helped her with some decisions on their birth announcement, and we made a trip to downtown Davis to have her borrowed breast pump serviced, get a gelato, and just browse around town for a bit. We returned to her home and I fixed dinner, and joined them and Stephan for dinner, before heading home. It was a lovely visit and I am so very proud of her and the mother that she is becoming. Even when little Nico was screaming around 7pm, which apparently is what he tends to do about then, she was so patient and gentle with him; trying to figure out what he needed and soothe him as best she could. This sure makes a mom very proud.

So now I am off for a weekend with girlfriends. My sweetheart of a husband once again is holding down "the fort" of Brookfarm for us so I can galavant around for 2 days and nights. He is loving me through it, FOR SURE!


Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm Gonna Love You Through It

No explanation is necessary. The lyrics of this song by Martina McBride, and the music video, say it all. Thank You, Debbi, for sharing this with me.


I'm gonna love you through it!

Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

One Week of Radiation Left

After yesterday's radiation appointment, there is one week to go. I finish up next Monday. And while my skin is still red and sensitive in spots, it is starting to heal and feel better. You see, these last 10 treatments are "the boost" which focuses only on the tumor site, rather than the entire half of my chest. That means that much of my skin is getting a break from the radiation treatment.

Now I'm headed off to start the first rad appt of the last week of that chapter in my book of cancer treatment.

So all is well for the time being. Hugs,

Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!


Friday, September 9, 2011

Putting it All In Perspective

I like the social part of radiation better than chemo. Not that people weren't friendly at chemo, but I was usually there with a support "team" and so we visited among ourselves more than with other patients. And chemo patients are often times napping through the several hour treatment due to fatigue from the treatment or just the length of the treatment.

But at radiation... there seems to be much more communication and comparing. For one thing, the waiting room is separate from other patients waiting for chemo and such. When I arrive, I walk directly back to the radiation treatment department without checking in at the front reception area. Then I go directly to the ladies changing room and get into my gown. That is when we then wait in chairs to be called for our treatment.

I met a very nice older gentleman who finished up his treatment last week. His name is Paul. Funny how we all just have first names. You hear it each day as we are called in for radiation, whether we do introductions or not. He was in for prostate cancer. When he learned I was from Glen Ellen and attended Sonoma Unified School District, he asked about an old childhood friend from Southern California who was also a college buddy. It happens that this gentleman, Thomas Seal, was Mark's drafting teacher. Paul and Tom had lost touch after college. Since my reunion happened while Paul was getting treatment, I was able to do some research about Tom and share it with Paul. It is a small world sometimes, isn't it?

It is interesting how most men seem to be treated on the lower extremities, and women on the upper. You can tell by the way they have left some street clothing on and which gown they choose for treatment. I usually wear one of the capelets. 

So Paul is no longer in the mix, but now I am getting to know Kathy. Kathy is also in for breast cancer. She had another type of cancer 30 years ago at age 28, and now this. She did not have chemo this go round, but did have surgery. Now she is in for radiation and is a few treatments behind me. So she asks me how I am doing to get a feeling of how she might do. The other day I showed her the skin breakdown in the ladies changing room. 

Often times we barely get a sentence out with another patient in the waiting room before they are called back for treatment. That's just how it is in the radiation waiting room.

So today I met two new women in the waiting room. Well, we didn't actually introduce ourselves, and I forget the one's name who was called ahead of me, but perhaps we will run into each other again next week. One woman I saw as I walked into the facility and her hair was shorter than mine, which gave me a clue as to where she might be in her treatment. Turns out she was there today for her radiation setup/tattoo appointment. I told her how I was having more skin breakdown than I expected. She asked if I normally tanned easily, which I do. I thought this might protect my skin better. She had learned just the opposite... that fairer skinned people have less skin breakdown. She is fair skinned so I do hope that is true and she has less skin breakdown than I am experiencing. 

The other woman in rads waiting room is an African American woman I've seen there once before. Apparently she is back for a recurrence of cancer treatment and chemo from a year ago. She has triple negative breast cancer and told me that her chemo did little to shrink her tumor. So she had surgery, and now the cancer is back only a year after treatment. I will learn more about her situation when I see her next, but this really puts it all in perspective when I am apprehensive about taking Femara for the next five years, once radiation is over.  

Femara is a form of continued chemo. Although I was found to not be triple negative, which is why Femara has been prescribed (my cancer is estrogen receptive after all), this just puts things in perspective for me. It reminds me that cancer is now a part of my life. It won't just go away because I have finished chemo, surgery, and radiation. There will be continued tests and worries. But I will not focus on this "c" word. Instead, I will live my life knowing that I need to be careful about how I treat my body, and be on top of any symptom that may be of concern. And I will follow my doctors prescribed protocol but will ask all the appropriate questions so I am well informed. After all, they are the experts. Who am I to question their years of training and expertise. Ask me about alpacas and I know a lot. Ask me about medicine, and... :-)

So for now I will meet with Dr. Anderson in a couple of weeks to learn more about Femara and better understand why it is being prescribed. And I will ask him about this prickly pins-and-needles feeling I have experienced a few times just recently in my upper body and limbs, which may be a form of neuropathy from the chemo.


Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Spoke Too Soon ~ Rads Suck!!!

Did I really say radiation was a "piece of cake compared to chemotherapy"? If not here, I have said it to friends when they ask how I am. Haven't I learned to zip it when I think things are going just too well to be true? I take it all back now.

While radiation may not be as long as, or as debilitating as, chemo; right now, at this place in time, it is definitely challenging.

It is the skin breakdown that is getting me down. I sort of thought that because I rarely burn from the sun, have that Italian/Portuguese olive-toned skin; that I might escape some of the side effects I've read about. NOT! Considering about half of my left breast has lost the top layer of skin, and that doesn't even include the 4" area under my arm that is also raw, tender, itchy and painful; I'd say I'm experiencing some of the worst side effects of breast radiation. My entire nipple and areola are raw and void of skin layer #1. And each time I apply neosporin to prevent infection, or one of my other soothing healing creams, more skin rubs off. Sadly to say, I am now like those I've read about, almost unable to wear much on my skin because even the slightest rubbing of cloth is very irritating. I have found that those soft cotton tanks with the bra shelf, worn inside out so the elastic isn't right against my skin, helps only minimally. Best is a soft cotton sports bra, since then my other clothes aren't moving right over my breast and irritating it. This sure makes the statement Save the Ta-Tas a reality to me.

So far some Tylenol is giving me some relief, and I still have a good supply of hydrochodone as backup, if needed.

A 3-day weekend planned working on projects ended up being one mostly on the couch watching 911 memorials and a movie or two. But as I have surprised my family many previous times, like the Vermont Inn to Inn trip Mark took me on only after I had been cycling for 3 weeks,  and the wonderful REI kayak trip in Ucluelet BC when a storm rolled in and we had to hurry and kayak back to our camp with our guide ahead of us as Mark and I paddled our hearts out to keep inching forward. All this in 3-4' swells -- all the while Mark watching me and my boat dip out of site in the swells and white caps, and worrying about me being able to paddle against the current and make it back. Our guide nicknamed me rowing machine after that journey. And did I tell you that the guide was towing in the other couple during this ordeal. I am stronger than some realize, both in strength and determination -- especially when put to the test... even stronger than I realize. So cancer doesn't have a chance with me.

Radiation scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday did not take place. The equipment could not be adjusted exactly as they wanted. So modifications were made each day to the piece they cut specifically for my boost sessions, and radiation finally took place today, Thursday. My skin appreciated the break in treatment, as did I. So we will add these two days on to the end of the treatment. So I got a 5-day weekend instead of three. Although I made the trip there expecting treatment. Lord knows my skin is very appreciative!  :-)

The comical part of the delay was the emergency evacuation that took place yesterday while I was on the table and the doctor and technicians were making adjustments and trying to figure out how best to get me set up for the following day. I was laying there on the table while they were all out of the room consulting on the situation when I heard an alarm. It was a loud alarm, much like a fire alarm, or so I thought. I'd say it went off for a minute or more, but felt like much longer. I was talking softly out loud to myself saying, "Hello, would someone please come in and let me know what is going on." Finally, the doc and a technician came in and told me they needed to get me off the table (or couch as one technician calls it) because a fire alarm was sounding. The doc reassured me that there was no fire and that I could put something more on than the skimpy cape before evacuating the building with everyone else. As we were leaving the radiation room, she changed her mind and said "they" wanted us to exit immediately. I am familiar with these things. After all, I was in charge of safety at my last two jobs and coordinated the evacuation drills and such. I was more than happy to exit the building. Thankfully one of the nurses brought out blankets for us to throw over our shoulders because it was a cool foggy morning.

Only after a few minutes of waiting two fire engines and their crews arrived to do a quick check and determine that the construction crew working on the remodel had set off the alarm. Thankfully this all did not take too long because this was the day Mark and I were going to Davis to visit the kids and Nicolas. Nicolas is growing like a weed and eating to match that growth.


Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!


Saturday, September 3, 2011

2011 Relay For Life of Sonoma Totals!

Hip, Hip, Horray!

Relay for Life was a huge success this year
Debbie's Blasting Crew was one of the top teams!!

Thank you, team, for all of your fundraising efforts—you helped to make this year an incredible success!

Now, what you have all been waiting for… the top teams and totals!

  • Relay Sonoma had 58 Teams and honored 211 Survivors!
  • And here’s the big one…  the 2011 Relay For Life Sonoma Raised… $153,549.37!
  • Together, we raised $143,530.92 in profits for The American Cancer Society!

Top 10 Teams:
Native Sons of the Golden West Parlor #111- $11,690.00
Willie’s Warriors- $9,554.00
Sonoma Valley Hospital Vital Signs- $9,837.00
Team Red Grape- $8,526.00
Team Michael Miller- $8,010.00
The Kidney Kids- $7,473.00
Sonoma Valley Mother’s Club- $7,019
Debbie’s Blasting Crew- $5,969.00  (WAY TO GO TEAM ~ Not bad for a first-time team)
Felice’s Friends Win- $5,871.00
Pay It Forward- $5,114.51

Top 10 Individuals:
Kathy Miller- $8,010.00
Bill Montini- $3,825.00
Rick Maffioli- $3,760.00
Felice Torri- $3,647.00
Pat Poncia- $3,582.00
Lori Bremner- $3,500.00
Jill Whitham- $3,387.76
Kathleen Amormino-Herrera- $3,333.00
Megan Moll- $2,510
Debbie Emery- $2,309.00 (This included $200+ from XMan's gig in the plaza!)

Great Job, Debbie's Blasting Crew team members. I'm looking forward to 2012.

And if anyone is interested in helping in a bigger way for 2012, note that this event would not be possible without the work of our amazing committee members. Next year there are several committee openings, and it could be YOU that helps to fill those spaces for next year! The following positions are open, and Relay Sonoma is always looking for sub-committee members for all positions:

  • Event chair
  • Logistics Chair
  • Registration chair
  • Kid Zone Chair
  • Team Recruitment Chair
  • Fight Back Chair
  • Survivorship Chair
  • Sponsorship Recruitment
  • Marketing Chair
  • Volunteer Coordinator
  • Offline Verifier
Please contact Sarah Van Guilder at 707.373.9922 or  if you are interested!


Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!


Friday, September 2, 2011

25 Down; 8 To Go ~ Skin Breakdown Has Begun

I'm at the end of week five of radiation treatments. Today was the last of the regular treatments, and then we will begin the "boost" on Tuesday. The boost is a more concentrated dose of radiation that is administered to just the tumor site, rather than the whole breast, chest, and underarm. So hopefully it will avoid the areas where I am already having the skin problem, so it will be easier on my skin. 

THANK GOODNESS!!! Because the skin began to breakdown earlier this week and it is not fun for sure. I've been using all the prescribed creams and even some I've learned about from other breast cancer treatments, but alas I'm still having some issues. It all started last week with some itchy areas and aches. At that time my radiation oncologist prescribed a steroid cream. I didn't use the cream much because I was not scratching my skin, and that was its primary purpose. I wanted to continue the calendula and aloe to promote healing and soothing my poor leathery-like skin. Sure enough, on Sunday there were three tiny dots on my areola where the darkened skin had pulled away and exposed a tiny wound. The doc indicated that the other dark areas, areas that to me looked like I had burned my skin with a curling iron (we know what that looks like, don't we ladies?), would most likely break down as well. It's as if the skin has blistered, even though it has not, and then the skin breaks open. There is no oozing or anything, at least not yet.

The area of breakdown is larger yet today, but hopefully this three-day-weekend off radiation will give my skin a rest and the chance to heal. My expert burn consultant, Alura, has given me wonderful advice on how to treat the wounds so I am sure everything will be fine. And it really isn't too uncomfortable so far.

So I'm glad it is all winding down and looking forward to two weeks down the road when radiation is over and everything will have a chance to heal.

Happy Labor Day Weekend! Enjoy and be safe,

Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Breast Cancer Stage

Something I don't think I've shared since I learned it about a month ago is the stage of my cancer. For patients who start out with surgery, their cancer is staged at that time due to several things that take place along with breast surgery. Because I went through chemotherapy before surgery, my cancer was not staged until seven months after diagnosis. So during my post-surgery appointment this is what I learned that the chemo had shrunk the tumors significantly, which was very good. But now I'm not quite sure how the staging relates to me, since it is now based on that smaller tumor size. I guess I still have some questions to be answered. But this is what I do know.

My stage is 1A, more accurately described as: Yp, T1a, NO, MX, Group 1A 
Yp: signifies staging after chemotherapy, which is considered post neoadjuvant therapy

T represents the size of the tumor. A T1a means Tumor is larger than 1 mm but smaller than 5 mm in greatest dimension
     For me, the residual tumor invasive component measures 1.5 mm

N signifies the nodes. NO is node negative, which means there is no cancer in my lymph nodes.
M refers to metastases. MX tells that my cancer has not metastasized and is contained within the breast.

The SBR histologic grade is still III/III.   

Based on the microscopic appearance of cancer cells, pathologists commonly describe tumor grade by four degrees of severity: Grades 1, 2, 3, and 4. The cells of Grade 1 tumors resemble normal cells, and tend to grow and multiply slowly. Grade 1 tumors are generally considered the least aggressive in behavior. Conversely, the cells of Grade 3 or Grade 4 tumors do not look like normal cells of the same type. Grade 3 and 4 tumors tend to grow rapidly and spread faster than tumors with a lower grade. The American Joint Committee on Cancer recommends the following guidelines for grading tumors:
GXGrade cannot be assessed (Undetermined grade)
G1Well-differentiated (Low grade)
G2Moderately differentiated (Intermediate grade)
G3Poorly differentiated (High grade)
G4Undifferentiated (High grade)
My cancer was 70% Infiltrating ductal carcinoma (IDC), and 30% in situ carcinoma. The "in situ" is new information as of this report. Ductal carcinoma in situ is the earliest possible and most treatable diagnosis of breast cancer. Sounds like its better to have had only 70% be IDC, rather than 100%, so I'll take it.  :-)

More good news is that I am no longer TNBC as indicated below. Each test after the original biopsy showed a bit more estrogen receptivity until the MRI biopsy I had late May. During my follow up oncology appointment post surgery I received this information. I am estrogen positive, which means my cancer, or some of it, is receptive to estrogen. So I will follow the radiation with five years of a daily pill of an aromatase inhibitor, most likely a drug known as Femara. This is to prevent recurrence and is something I am scheduled to discuss with my oncologist in a couple of weeks to better understand how this might change my risks.

So this is the latest and greatest from My Journey Past Breast Cancer. I hope that by sharing all this detail I have helped someone to better understand their own diagnosis, or someone else's diagnosis. I know that by putting it together here in this post, I better understand what is going on with me.


Debbie... aka the cancer warrior ... AND SURVIVOR!!!