Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Life dishes out a few lemons

I've been postponing this post for a few days now.  I knew I wanted to share this news, yet after finding out only a week ago today that I have breast cancer,  I'm already getting weary of talking about it.  So it looks like, at least for a while, this blog,  like my life,  is going to be headed in a new direction.  

June 17:  After coming home from a fun day spent with Laura on her birthday and a lovely dinner with Lauren, I discover a lump in my left breast.

June 21:  Schedule appointment with the nurse practitioner, Nancy Loomis,  in Dr. Reich's office.

June 25:  After the exam, Nurse Loomis sends me off with a referral for a mammogram and  some encouraging words, "feels like a cyst."

June 28:  The results of the mammogram lead to a sonogram and a short visit with the radiologist who says that there are, "areas of concern" in the images.  I'm to schedule an appointment with the breast surgeon for a biopsy.

July 4th weekend:  Worked on the chicken coop and in the garden, went to Natural Gardener, ran some errands, had Laura and Greg for dinner on the 4th, and had a great weekend despite the looming "areas of concern."

July 6:  My second biopsy--I had one 3 years ago when a routine mammogram revealed some suspicious looking calcifications, all benign--with Dr. Kelly Martinez.  I like Dr. Martinez very much.  Stephanie Reich, my awesome gynecologist, referred me to her.  She's competent, kind, and a straight-shooter.  I trust her.  They give you a local for these things, but they hurt, dammit.  I'm to go back in tomorrow for the pathology report.

July 7:  After I'm escorted into the examining room, I notice that the pathology report is up on the computer screen.  I look.  I see these words, "positive" and  "invasive ductal carcinoma."  It's like a gut punch.  I turn pages rapidly in the "Simple Living" magazine I've carried into the examining room,  my eyes passing over images of  fresh, sunlit rooms, refusing to think, yet turning the phrase, "invasive ductal carcinoma" over and over in my mind.  It seems like an eternity, probably more like 5 minutes, before Dr. Martinez comes into the room.  "I have some bad news," she begins.  Then she repeats the terrifying phrase, "invasive ductal carcinoma."  It's real.  I have cancer.  Invasive means that the cancer has left the duct where it originated and moved into the breast tissue.  It's a little over 1 centimeter.   She says that I'm "an excellent candidate" for a lumpectomy, which must be followed by radiation and chemotherapy.   (We won't know if the cancer has moved into the lymph nodes until the lumpectomy.)  Or, I could have a mastectomy with no radiation, just chemo, but the recovery takes longer and there's no difference in the survival/recovery stats.  She talks to me for several minutes about types of radiation therapy, but really I take very little in.  I'm still stuck on "invasive ductal carcinoma."  As I leave the office, she recommends a couple of books (Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, the bible of breast care gives me a reassuring pat and says, "you'll do just fine."  I'm actually able to take that in.   I'm to schedule an MRI and make an appointment with the radiological oncologist, Dr. Timothy Dziuk, who specializes in a relatively new form of radiation treatment:  mammosite brachytherapy, which I'll talk about later.  I'm numb, but grateful for my husband, friends, and therapist!  I will kick cancer's ass.

July 8:  I schedule the MRI and my appointment with Dr. Dziuk (pronounced "juke," like the box).  I am even more determined to stay positive and kick cancer's ass!   I begin to tell a few of my closest friends. 

July 9:  The MRI.  I requested a sedative because I was afraid being enclosed in a confined space for 45 minutes would make me twitchy, at the least.  The MRI tech, Rusty, was warm, friendly, and laughed at my jokes--which equals "awesome" in my book.  My blood pressure was super high and Rusty said that was par for the course.  He advised me to check it daily for a week and if it continued to be high to make an appointment with my doctor.  In case you don't know, here's what the numbers in blood pressure mean:

  • The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure while the heart contracts to pump blood to the body. 
  • The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.
The systolic pressure is always stated first. For example: 118/76 (118 over 76); systolic = 118, diastolic = 76.Blood pressure below 120 over 80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) is considered optimal for adults. A systolic pressure of 120 to 139 mmHg or a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 mmHg is considered "prehypertension" and needs to be watched carefully. A blood pressure reading of 140 over 90 or higher is considered elevated (high). 
The MRI was fine, the Xanax had kicked in, and I found the super weird, noisy MRI sounds to be really interesting.

July 10-11:  Another lovely weekend: gardening, doing chores, running errands with Morgan, going to the library and checking out a bunch of books on cancer, a book of Wallace Stevens poetry, and East of Eden, so Lauren and I can read it in tandem--although mostly I'm reading the cancer books, which are fascinating.  I am actually in great spirits.  I will be kicking some ass soon. 

July 13:  
Met the radiation oncologist today,  and really liked him.  A lot.  He explained the mammocite procedure in detail.  He has more experience performing mammocite brachytherapy than anyone in the area. When I left his office I felt more informed and reassured that I was on the right path.

   I'm scheduled for the lumpectomy on Monday.   I'm not sure what time yet.  My pre-op appointment is tomorrow and I'll find out then.   They'll also be removing the sentinal lymph node (the closest one to the breast mass) and will be able to tell, while I'm on the table, if it's positive for cancer, although they won't know for sure until the pathology report comes back if it's negative.  If it's positive they'll remove more lymph nodes for testing.  If, as both the surgeon and the radiation oncologist now think (and the MRI seems to indicate), the cancer has not gone elsewhere then I'll start the radiation treatments around mid-week.  I'll be going to those every day (I think twice a day) for a week and then I'll be through with radiation therapy.  

I have a pre-op appointment on Thursday morning and I'll get all the info then about what time the surgery is scheduled, etc.   Apparently the kind of cancer I have is positive for a protein called HER-2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) which promotes growth of cancer cells.  HER-2 cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancers.  There's a drug called Herceptin that specifically targets and kills HER-2 cells while reducing the risk of the recurrence of cancer.  It's my understanding that I'll be taking this while I'm on chemo and I'll be on chemo for about a year.  Herceptin has some pretty scary side effects, but supposedly the doctors moniter the Herceptin patient closely for adverse effects.    It just gets more real every day.   I still plan to kick some cancer ass.

Morgan is setting up a support network website for me that will include progress reports and information, things we'll need help with if and when the going gets rough (like grocery shopping, light housework, and meals, errands, etc.) so friends who've asked how they can help out can sign on for whatever they feel like doing in a particular week.   This seemed like a handy thing to have and it's just so like Morgan to want me to have a "Lynell Kicks Cancer" website. Don't imagine I'll really need this before I start chemo, but it will keep the man busy.  He's pretty adorable. 

A couple of our kind and generous friends, who are professionals in the fields of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, have offered free acupuncture and herbal prescriptions (all I have to do is pay for the herbs!) to help offset the effects of radiation and chemo.  I'm really thrilled, since I was thinking about going for acupuncture for help with side effects.  People have just been amazing these last couple of weeks.  We have so many amazing, generous, loving friends.  If you're reading this, I love you all.  And that means YOU!  

July 14:  So this brings us up to date.   I am determined to be present, be real, take good care of myself,  stay positive, retain my sense of humor, and kick cancer's ass!  Today, I'm going to do some grocery shopping, some housework, and do some reading--maybe something that's not about cancer!  


  1. right on sister! You are doing untold good for womankind by blogging your "adventure." I hope it is positve for you too to do so. You will kick cancer's ass.
    xoxoxox,your "anonymous" pal Ellen

  2. Christ, Lynell. What a random hit. Please, please let me know if I can do anything.

    Love and strength - you have both.


  3. Hi Lynell. I'm glad about your vow to stay present--you're in your wise woman mode. It bodes well. I'm available for anything you need. Say hi to Morgan. Incidentally, I have a chicken coop too.

  4. Bleh. Both my cousin and a close friend at work have recently gone through the breast cancer gauntlet and it is an exhausting and confusing ride, but easier with good friends and family. Put your mental receiving dish out for lots of good thoughts coming your way from my direction, and let us know what you need. I'll be keeping an eye out for the "Lynell Kicks Cancer" site! xoxoxoxo

  5. Sweetie this post is awesome. I also like being adorable.

    Folks if you want to know about Lynell's treatment, visit her or help in some way sign up at


  6. Brant, I would love to see your chickens (and their coop) sometime!

  7. That website is a great idea. Lynell, I hope you know how much you make other people feel happy and valued and inspired because then you will know just how much good stuff is coming back your way.

  8. way to go Morgan. I'm all signed up now. And tired of being anonymous here.

  9. I think that I probably have the most awesome friends EVER.

  10. Hugs and much love, Lynell! Morgan: you're an impressive dude.



  11. Hey, which oncology center are you going to? If your doctor hasn't already referred you to someone, my mom's oncologist and surgeon were absolutely wonderful and literally saved her life.


  12. Corie, I'm going to Texas Oncology. My oncologist is Beth Hellerstedt, who specializes in breast cancer. She was recommended by a friend who recently finished chemo for breast cancer.

  13. Lynell,

    As I said on Fb posts and to echo Joolie's words, 'you are so loved and this much to do with the love you've given." Now, all of this love is going to help you beat the holy crap out of cancer. I am going to sign up on the address posted by your totally awesome husband whom I have not met YET.
    with love and 'evil-killin,'