Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Not Bright-Eyed and Bushy-tailed"

I got up early this morning but not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

I arrived at American Radiology in Timonium about 7:20 a.m. and they promptly began at 7:30. The technician took me back into my own tiny, private getaway, a room equipped with a comfortable recliner, and a little table and lamp and another chair for a guest. There was a television in the corner and remote control close at hand as well as a heater beside me that was set to go off at regular intervals to keep me warm. Of course there was the standard colorful, doctor's office print on the wall to finish off the lovely decor. Really though, it was quite comfy.

The technician handed me my Berry, Berry smoothie (believe me it's not a smoothie - can't fool me), contrasting drink so I could get started sucking that down while she inserted an I.V. in my arm to inject the goobly gop (I think this is the medical term but I'm not sure I spelled it correctly - ha, ha!) into my vein to prepare me for the PET Scan later. As she began to step out, she dimmed the lights and said she'd return in about an hour.

For that hour as the radioactive material is traveling throughout your body, you can't get up and need to be relatively still. So, I propped my feet up, turned on my new iPod, generously donated by my brother and pal, Steve. Thanks Steve, it's great and what a lifesaver! I found myself going away in the spirit as I listened to some of my favorite worship music. That part was actually a very relaxing and peaceful time. I was almost sorry when the technician came back in disturbing my quiet time.

Then they had me get up, drink some more of the smoothie concoction and set me up on the ole scanning machine. They really make you pretty comfortable, with a nice foam wedge under your knees and cover you up warmly with a blanket and you're off for the 21 minute ride as they slowly snap shots head to calf. The worst part of it was having my hands way over my head which only got a bit uncomfortable the last 10 minutes.

Once that was complete they ushered me into the CT scanning room and shot me up with some more radioactive material. This I could feel. It wasn't bad though. It just gives you a very warm feeling throughout your body and it sort of makes you feel like, as they put it, "You're peeing your pants", but you're not, thankfully. The CT was only about five minutes and then I was on my way.

My breast surgeon should have these test results as well as tomorrow's MRI in hand by Friday afternoon. So, lift your glasses of Berry, Berry and have a toast with me and (seriously), pray to our heavenly Father above that this cancer has no traveling or ever!

I have to say, I've now been to three different American Radilogy locations around town in the past couple of weeks and have found everyone to be wonderful. They've always been kind, attentive and efficient. This has meant a lot to me for, "I've always depended upon the kindness of strangers." 

First one who can tell me what movie that line comes from wins a prize. Not really, but guess anyway. Don't forget to put the southern twang to it when you say the line...very important!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Test, Tests and More Tests"

What did I tell you in my last entry about everything moving along so quickly? Well, maybe now it's a bit too quickly.

I just got another call to set up my PET and CT Scan. They want me to be there at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow. I gotta tell you, this is way too early for me but I thought I'd better take the appointment and get it over with. I'm not allowed to eat or drink (except water) four hours before testing.

Drag of it is, my surgeon wants the tests performed differently than any other doctor generally does it. Normally the two tests are combined but not this time. First they'll do the PET Scan, then they'll have me drink some awful contrasting liquid, have me sit around for another one and half hours and then perform the CT Scan.

All told, they said the two tests will have me there about five and a half hours.

My anxiety level is on the rise, then on Thursday MRI.

Lord, help me!

"All About Reconstruction"

My breast surgeon referred me to cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Larry Lickstein, to discuss breast reconstruction after my mastectomy.

I gave the cosmetic surgeon's office a ring first thing Monday morning to schedule an appointment, thinking of course it would be awhile before I'd actually get in. As it turned out, there had been a surgery cancellation and he had an afternoon appointment just for me. What are the odds? I'll tell you, thus far I've been so blessed regarding how well all of this is progressing and so quickly.

Jeff and I spent quite a long time with Dr. Lickstein discussing options, the process of rebuilding, recovery, possible complications, aftercare, etc. He was wonderful and thankfully, once again, a doctor who was patient and willing to address all of our questions and concerns to help bring understanding so we can make the best decision.

After my mastectomy,while still in surgery, immediate breast reconstruction will begin. He'll insert expanders under the breast muscle, insert a port and inject a small amount of saline to begin expansion of the skin. Then every week to ten days for about eight weeks I'll visit him in his office to continue with the saline injections until the desired breast size is achieved.

Then there's about a two to three month wait to let everything "settle", as he put it and then I'll go back into the hospital as an outpatient to have the expanders and port removed and have the permanent silicone implants put in place.

About two months after that he'll do nipple reconstruction and a couple after that tattooing of a new areola will be done. It's quite the process and hopefully it will turn out looking good, although it's never like your own.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Time to Travel a New Path"

As I stood in the courtyard on October 30, 2009 and took this picture I heard in my heart, "You are about to travel along a new path". I had no idea where it may lead.

It was my last day as Program Director in a beautiful assisted living community in Baltimore County. I had submitted my 30-day resignation letter a month earlier due to the rigorous and oftentimes overwhelming demands that only continued to increase, leaving me no room to breathe or to have any kind of a personal life; I was completely exhausted. All that said, it was still one of the hardest decisions of my life to make, yet I knew it was time for me to leave. My heart was so tied to the residents and tears seemed to flow without end as I said my good-byes to the friends I had made and grown to love so much, who had become my family.

I had visited the community periodically with my Pets on Wheels therapy dog, Gideon, for a couple of years prior to employment here and had gotten to know some of the residents. But I never could have imagined the sweetness and depth of relationship that would grow with these precious souls once I was hired on and interacting with them on a daily basis. Gideon began to accompany me everyday to work and quickly became the community mascot. Oh, the joy and smiles he brought to faces each day was such a blessing to watch.

Well, here I am, now looking down this new path which initially has led me to the road of battling breast cancer. I felt like I was getting myself together a bit after recovering from the grueling workload of my previous job and was just about ready to venture out into new territory to see what might await me...then I got the "news" and was stopped dead in my tracks. Honestly, it felt as if I'd been punched in the stomach and I couldn't catch my breath.

It's only been six days since I've been diagnosed and I'm trying to teach myself to breathe and to maintain my focus, keeping my eyes fixed on my sweet Savior and not on the storm that rages all around me. For He truly is the One who speaks peace to the wind and the waves and settles our souls even in the midst of such life altering events.

I get the sense that all along this path will be things for me to lay down and those things to pick up, but also most certainly, a place to continue to learn and grow in God's great grace. Life certainly is a journey. Although I'm sure I wouldn't have chosen this direction, I trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God to lead me and continually guide me into His chosen destiny for my life, all the while undergirding me with His strength and holding me upright.

I don't know all that awaits, though for now suffering surely has been dealt to me. I pray I may recognize and take every opportunity the Lord might place before me and learn from every lesson presented. I ask Him for the wisdom, courage and faith to continue to move forward in His direction, close to Him, remaining in His will, allowing His transforming power to draw me ever deeper into the knowledge and ways of the Lord.

Scripture reminds me I've been bought with a price through the blood of Jesus Christ and I am no longer my own but my life is hidden with Him in God. So with His help I rest in the arms of my everlasting Father, focused on the prize of the upward call that is found through the Lord Jesus Christ, running to Him that I may obtain His mercy and grace to help in my time of need.

Isaiah 43:18-19 - Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

"March 27, 2011 Update"

I can't believe it's been a week since my breast biopsy on March 22nd. It's been quite a whirlwind so far. The pathology report came back two days later conclusively for invasive ductal carcinoma. The other thing that's going on is lobular carcinoma in Situ, which is contained and in fact not cancer at this point but is a marker for potential bilateral disease and puts me at a higher risk for recurrence. It may mean it will show up in the right breast as well at some point or it may already be there and light up upon MRI. We'll see, but either way we may need to make some additional decisions.

Smaller sites were detected in other areas of the breast as well that look questionable. So, all this together confirmed what the radiologist performing the biopsy already suspected, that the results would come back indicating a stage II cancer. She was right on and I appreciated her candor and preparation ahead of time of what I'd be facing.

I saw a breast surgeon Friday, March 26th at St. Joseph's Hospital. His name is Dr. Michael Schultz who helped build the St. Joseph's Cancer Institute and heads up the cancer/breast cancer center. We LOVED him and saw no need to consult another breast surgeon. Jeff and I have total trust in him and have never felt so wonderful about any doctor!

The 25th was the first time I'd called his office and his Administrative Assistant unexpectedly called early the very next morning saying the surgeon wanted to get me in as soon as possible. Goodness, I was just diagnosed Wednesday and Friday afternoon he's seeing me...Wow! He really wasn't supposed to be there that day but he stayed late to see me after doing surgery. Dr. Schultz's policy is to especially see just diagnosed breast cancer patients ASAP, understanding all of the fear and emotions that are involved throughout this journey. I was so impressed.

He's expert in his field, focusing completely on the breast and comes with a ton of experience... 30+ years. He comes very highly regarded. He's thoughtful, compassionate, funny and as sharp as they come. He patiently took the time we needed, thoroughly covering all we needed to know for now, addressing all of our questions and concerns. We just really hit it off...whew, what a relief! I felt so comfortable with him and KNEW he was the one. He makes himself available to you pretty much 24/7, enabling his patients to contact him personally either by phone or email anytime.

In fact, the entire staff was phenomenal and treated us like family. Each one I talked to couldn't say enough about their boss, emphasizing how wonderful he is and how they wouldn't work anywhere else. They all seem so genuinely happy to work here with Dr. Schultz in the St. Joseph's setting. I was more than assured I'd be in good hands. 

He gave me an examination and did another breast ultrasound indicating the tumor to be quite a bit larger than originally anticipated on the other two ultrasounds taken from American Radiology but may still keep me at a stage II cancer. They won't know for certain until surgery. Let's pray. He also biopsied one of the lymph nodes under my arm that he said looked a bit "plump". He'll let me know if anything unusual comes back on that, although biopsying of the lymph nodes will be done at the time of surgery to conclusively determine if cancer has spread there and needs to come out. Prior to that though, my upcoming MRI will give us a pretty darn good idea.

His staff is going to schedule a PET Scan/CT for me and get back to me with that date to see if cancer is detected anywhere else in my body. My MRI is scheduled for 

April 1.

As expected, a mastectomy of my left breast has to be done. We'll of course have to wait until after the MRI to see if anything is going on in the right breast as well. If so, another type of biopsy may be done and then we'll see what that shows.

As soon as all the results are in, a Multi-Disciplinary Conference is called to give a power point presentation of my case to include, Dr. Schultz, oncologists, plastic surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, anesthesiologists, a board of breast cancer survivors, Jeff, me, and honestly I don't remember who else (there are a total of 12 people involved), to meet together to go over all the finding, each giving recommendations to help guide us to our decision.

It's pretty much certain I'll have to go through chemotherapy after surgery. Radiation therapy isn't always necessary after mastectomy but can't be definitively determined until surgery when lymph nodes will be biopsied and tumor size is sure. Since I have tested positive as having a "hormone receptive" breast cancer, for several years following surgery I'll also be placed on some type of hormone therapy medication such as Tamoxifen. Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen from attaching to estrogen receptors on these cells. By blocking the estrogen receptors, it is believed that the growth of the breast cancer cells will be halted, hence a lesser chance of recurrence.

Someone from the St. Joseph's group, "Survivors Offering Support", will contact me in a day or so to help connect me with an individual, a breast cancer survivor, who will also help me through the process. I'm sure that will be invaluable to me and a tremendous blessing.

I've also been given Susan, who is my "nurse navigator" who helps me through this entire process and whom I was told would be my best friend. I'm sure I'll get a better handle on the role she'll play throughout all this as things unfold, but she seems great!

Seems to me like I'm going to be surrounded by a bunch of fantastic, caring compassionate and expert people to help me through. Thank you, Lord! We prayed He would guide us to the right place and people and He has been faithful to do just that. He's so good and I praise Him for who He is and all He does. My eyes are on Him and His joy truly is my strength.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"His Love Remains the Same"

My appointment has been scheduled for my breast biopsy on Monday, March 22nd. I have to be there at 1:30 and the procedure is supposed to start at 2:00.

A very pleasant and kind woman, Donna, called me this morning, listened to my questions and concerns and then took them back to the Dr. for some answers before scheduling my appointment.

Good news is, the type of ultrasound guided needle biopsy that they are performing allows me to lay on my back and not my stomach, with my boob in a vice as I had anticipated and originally been told. This relieves some of my anxiety, that is, until after it's done and the waiting for the results begins. Bad news is, she said it takes about an hour and it's not so much the calcifications they are looking at as it is the mass they discovered encompassing these calcifications.

The Dr. who initially read my mammogram and ultrasound last Friday never said anything about a mass but I was informed by Donna today, and that's why I was referred for a biopsy. Oftentimes she said it's nothing and other times it's cancer, hence, the biopsy to confirm one way or the other.

I was feeling so much better after our first conversation this morning but once I heard the word, "mass", this afternoon, fear rose up in me once again. Good news is, it's a woman Dr. who will be performing the biopsy and that makes me feel better.

As always, I so desperately need the help and strength and amazing grace of the Lord to see me through. Oh, how life can just turn on a dime! Seems like there's been a lot of change thrown at me lately and they're turning up tails! Nothing is certain but the never changing love and tender care of our heavenly Father toward His children. Now, that's Good News! So, I look to and put my trust in Him as we travel this journey together, wherever it may lead. Hold me together, Lord!!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Debbi Lang Hampton, My Dear Sister and Friend

Deborah Lang Hampton
March 3, 1952-March 6, 2010

I left the radiologist's office in a fog after my mammogram and breast ultrasound, feeling like I'd just been punched in the gut. It was Friday, March 12, 2010.

My sister-in-law, Debbi, had just been buried on Monday after losing her 15 1/2 year battle with metastatic breast cancer on Saturday, March 6, 2010. My heart was filled with overwhelming grief but also awe for the manner in which Debbi faced her struggles and endured more than most ever could with such amazing grace, despite the length of her illness and all she suffered and lost.

Debbi's focus however, was not so much on her losses due to the ravages of this horrific disease and what it seemed to steal but on all she believed she learned and gained. Her pursuit was in being a blessing, how she might encourage and help others through life's challenges and in living a life that counts. Beyond a doubt, Debbi has left quite a legacy, touching the hearts of all she came in contact with, causing us to face the testing and trials of life, and even death with hope, joy, strength and dignity, helping us see from a different perspective.

Always the optimist, with a quick wit and a will as tough as nails, Debbi embraced life and never sat back just waiting for it to happen; she made it happen and lived everyday. She accepted what was dealt her, sought and found meaning, asking how it was she might be used to fulfill her destiny and to walk beside others to help them shape and fulfill their own.

She reminded me in some ways of her mother, my precious and dearly loved mother-in-law, who never complained, and in fact, even in her worst moments, when asked how she was doing, would usually put a positive spin on things, not wanting to burden others. It wasn't until the last few days of Debbi's life that we even knew she was so near the end.

I met Debbi when her brother, Jeff and I began dating in 1972 and from almost that point on had a special connection and counted her my sister. I treasured the times we had together especially as I got a little older. Though Debbi moved to Tennessee in 1978, we always seemed to pick up where we left off when she visited Baltimore or when we went down there. Our relationship was comfortable and rich as sisters and friends.

We oftentimes shared late into the evening and early morning hours the depths of our hearts, our love for the Lord and absolute trust and dependence upon Him in all things. These were some of my favorite times spent with Debbi and some of the most important and meaningful times in my life that I will never forget and for which I will always be grateful.

I can hear Debbi's pure and beautiful voice still, singing my request of, "Amazing Grace" or "Song of Bernadette", which she dubbed, "our song". She said it always made her think of me; very special, indeed, bringing tears to my eyes today, even as it has each time I've heard it over the years and remembered my friend. Please click the link to listen.

Debbi has left behind the love of her life, husband, Steve, who so lovingly cared for her, often putting his own health at risk for the sake of his beloved. What a friendship and love they shared and such a beautiful picture of marriage they painted; unconditional and never-ending love. May God bless him for all the joy and laughter he brought into her life, his selflessness and all he gave to help see Debbi through. He helped preserve as much normalcy to life as was possible, as they relished all the good times and weathered together every storm with hope, all the while remaining steadfast in their commitment to one another and to family.

To Debbi's daughter, Hollin and all of Debbi's extended family and friends who helped and supported her in ways I may never know, I pray blessing, strength and a special nearness to the living God. May you be held close in His comforting and loving arms, lifted up and filled with all hope and joy in Him as you trust and continue to walk in His most perfect will, remembering sweet Debbi and the gift of God that was given us, if only for a brief moment in time.

In these days of grief, Jeff and I are comforted as we remember Debbi and the life and love we were so privileged to share and in the knowledge that she was surrounded and uplifted by so many who loved her as she departed this life. Though oftentimes separated by so many miles, distance could never separate our hearts nor fade the memories we made, which we hold so near and dear.

I now await the doctor's call to schedule my appointment for a breast biopsy and its outcome, recalling Debbi's courage and faith, all the while leaning confidently in the arms of my heavenly Father, finding solace in Him whose intention for each one of us is only good no matter the picture of our circumstances. My hope is in Him through the Lord Jesus Christ, who loves me and gave Himself for me.

The storms of life, especially of late for Jeff and I have seemed to come in like a flood but our eyes are focused heavenward to our Source and Strength, our life and breath and to the One who is our glory and the lifter of our heads.

Psalm 3 -
Lord, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, "There is no help for him in God." But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongs to the Lord. Your blessing is upon Your people.

Thank you, Debbi, for your friendship, love and for sharing your life with us humbly and honestly and freely giving so much. Not all is learned to the fullest extent during the lifetime of those we have known and loved but echoes within even after their passing. I take pleasure in the knowledge that Debbi's life will continue to speak and teach us some of life's most valuable lessons as we join in the melodies she sang, so sweet to the soul. You will live in my heart forever, my dear sister and friend.To visit Debbi's Blog :