Saturday, March 28, 2015

One year blogversary

I've been on a team training trip for Spring Break the last two weeks. Sometimes, it is better than it sounds, but most of the time it's pretty great in that we a) get to be out of the cold, and b) focus on only rowing without the distraction of having to work around classes. In general, everyone is more relaxed, coaches and athletes alike, and we can really get down to rowing.

On a trip like this, there is some forced downtime between practices, and the days tend to run into and over one another. Saturdays and Sundays are just like any weekday, and none of the weekdays are distinguishable from one another either.  With as much internal focus as I could muster, I forced myself to remember my sister's birthday as well as the anniversary of Max acquiring us as his humans. I thought I had all the major dates covered, so I was a little surprised to see a Happy Anniversary cupcake in my inbox one day. "We hope it was a great year and look forward to sharing many more." It turns out, I hadn't really missed anything - it was congratulations on the one year anniversary of my first attempt at this blog. Although my first post here wasn't until March 30, I had set up another account before that. 

Confirming that date for myself meant going back to read that first post. I had to stop before the first paragraph. Having just made it through all the one-year-ago-todays - that week of appointments finding and biopsying the lump, the confirmation of cancer, and the medical team meeting during spring break 2014, and all overlapping with the one year out follow up appointments left me a little more worn thin than I expected. 

As squirmy as it made me to reread part of it, I'm still glad I did it, and I'm even more impressed that others followed so closely. For me, keeping this journal has been a tremendous help and source of control. (Thank you GM for the recommendation!) The amount of introspection required to write a post keeps me centered and on track. I highly recommend some similar form of a journal of what's going on should you find yourself in similar shoes. Aside from keeping folks up to date, it allows me to get things off my chest, and to clear my brain of dwelling on the negatives as much. 

So happy anniversary to the blog. Happy anniversary to me! I am looking forward to sharing a good year ahead!


Friday, March 6, 2015

Kicking cancer's behind

Today is my first check up with imaging since the end of treatment. My mammogram is in the morning and I'll meet with my surgeon this afternoon. In between, I have lunch planned with a friend. It's a great day to confirm the kicking if cancer's behind. 

Surprisingly, I slept well last night likely due to the pleasant distraction of the Dartmouth Friends meeting in New York City which had me traveling the last two days. It was good to be tired and to be able to sleep! And, to keep busy or at least occupied. 

On a day like today and the days leading up to it, I find myself reflecting on where I am now. We just adopted a rescue which falls squarely into my thinking now - why wait. Is there ever a perfect time and who knows what tomorrow will bring. (It brought us Brady, a wriggly 6 month old french bulldog.)

I also think about my friend who goes in today, too, for an 18 month check up, my friend who confided in me over the weekend about his newly diagnosed cancer and when he will tell his children, and my friend who has more testing the end of the month before starting a clinical trial. I'm thankful for all my friends who are survivors. 

And, I am still feeling pretty lucky. I got this message from one of my athletes this morning, "GOOD LUCK LINDA!!!!!!!!!!! I hope you indeed have kicked cancer's behind!!!!" That's the plan, H, that's the plan. 

A quick reminder about my "on the bike" effort to kick cancer's behind more broadly. I'll be riding in the PMC to support research and finding a cure. You can help too by visiting my donor page at http://www2.pmc.org/profile/LM0272
Thank you!

OK, off to confirm the demise. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

PMC - take one

I was gently reminded that it is time for a post - thank you B & K.

Cutting to the chase, I am doing well. By mid-January, not only did I really and truly have a full head of hair, I finally actually felt good. Finally and for a change, if I felt tired or worn out, it was more likely due to not getting enough sleep (staying up too late and/or getting up very early) or doing a full-throttle work out. What really clued me in, though, was an impromptu session of "Hit the racket ball and run," an energy and frustration burning game of distraction my assistant coach and I have taken up on occasion. I could run and sprint and swing for the ball and not feel like I was in cement without enough oxygen. It was a very happy moment!

Workouts are going well. Physically, the power came back fairly quickly. It was also the last aspect of training to diminish even if I can only measure it anecdotally. At this point, I feel like my endurance is still improving, and I'm up to that uncomfortable and unfortunate point where any extra gains really start to take a lot more effort and time. NOT that I am complaining.

As for the hair, on my head it is still short, but I've been keeping it that way. Even though it has all come in, it still doesn't quite feel like my hair. I think there's a bit of a wave to it though it's not long enough (less than an inch on top if the clipper measurements are to be trusted) to notice. I've just been enjoying the easy care that comes with super short hair. Pro-tip - no comb necessary, just smooth it down with your palm. By now, all the rest of the follicles all seem to be back on their own rhythm with hair naturally falling out when it is supposed to and being replaced on the same schedule rather than 100% on or off. When my hair started coming in in full force, I felt a bit Yeti-like. It seemed like every hair follicle kicked into action at the same time and I went from being hairless to nearly fuzzy. Thank goodness that phase has gone by.

Day to day, I am taking my tamoxifen without fail. I'm not a fan of the hot flashes, at least not the few that cause me to break out into a full body sweat, but again, I am NOT complaining, at least not too much. This sure beats the chemo!

Burying the lead, the real news is that I have signed up to ride in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, which from their website is an annual bike-a-thon founded in 1980 that crosses the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and channels 100% of rider-raised dollars to the Jimmy Fund supporting treatment and research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Although I received treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, I absolutely benefited from prior and ongoing cancer research. You can follow me and support my ride here on my paceline page as I support the PMC's mission to find a cure. I'll be sure to keep you up to date.

So far, February has been pretty good. The Patriots won the Super Bowl Football emoticon Football emoticon Football emoticon Football emoticon and Hanover has less than two feet of snow while Boston is close to 6 feet ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year, 2015

Just another Thursday, not even a new week, but the turning of the daily calendar today brings in a new year, a powerful symbol for a new beginning, a fresh start, for many. And, with my own reflections I am compelled and honored to offer thanks for the past year. I am thankful for so much and for so may people who helped me get through last year.


A big thank you goes out to my immediate community, Cambridge Boat Club. I can't count the number of emails, cards, meals, rows, and general boosts that I got (and still get) from fellow members.















I ran out of magnets and then fridge space very early on. Outside the club, there are also many non-members and non-rowers keeping me strong. The texts and tweets and retweets and various electronic check ins (ongoing!) mean a lot. Reminding me I'm kicking cancer's ass goes a long way!!!

Thank you, too, to my many far flung friends who, some I see often and others it has been years, sent me messages and even care packages (Seattle and the Pacific Northwest get mad props on care package per capita), across the pond, and in between.

Thank you to my two teams - the lightweight men of Harvard and the women of Dartmouth. You kept things normal and let me focus on being me. My former colleagues at Harvard - other coaches and non-athletic folks as well - were downright amazing through all my treatment, too, making it possible for me to carry on every day.




















The greater rowing community will never cease to amaze me. Forgoing the politics of pink, I, and it seemed the majority of rowers I know, were awash in it. Here are a few of the many highlights. As I've mentioned before, I am happy to let people support me. Thank you for every last bit of it.







Thank you to the survivors and friends & family of survivors for sharing your inspiration, comfort, and, mainly, for having survived. While I wouldn't wish this on anyone, knowing survivors was and continues to be a huge part of my strength.

With respect to treatment, I am lucky to have a truly amazing team of doctors and medical staff beginning with day one and finding the lump to seeing me through all of the treatments at both MGH and Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Within this team, I have to also include all of my friends and friends of friends in the medical profession - I love Boston - who helped me navigate and control this process, right down to setting up this blog. How do I have so many doctors among my friends? #lucky

I thank my husband for having to be tough when neither of us wanted to. Even if he can't handle medical jargon without feeling faint, I know that it means that he cares, and I know I can always count on him for everything else (other than taking notes during medical team meetings).

(notice my full head of hair)
And, Max, our ridiculous French Bulldog. He doesn't know and never could, but he's a good cuddler and a tremendous source of hilarity and entertainment on a daily basis. He also helped us out again with our holiday greetings this year. Fortunately, we were able to keep it at a PG-13 rating.  


Thank you for following me and being part of my Support team. Happy New Year!!!

XO - Linda

Monday, December 22, 2014

Post game (after treatment)

Today was my first post-treatment (survivor) appointment. Going back to November, suffice it to say, I got over not being seen by medical professionals everyday very quickly after my final radiation treatment. Celebrations abounded. Cupcakes were baked (and consumed), my colleagues took me out to lunch, and then on the weekend more cupcakes were produced (by my team). I even got a diploma (really, these are for the kids) for completing my treatment with such a good attitude. Tears were shed frequently, but that seems to be my m.o. these days - emotions are dialed up a bit for both the happy and sad spectrum. 

It took about four and a half weeks for my skin to look normal again. What I hadn't noticed until two weeks post was the small patch of affected skin on my upper back, mirroring the treatment area around my collar bone - that radiation goes right through. The skin looked tan more than anything else, but it was the itchiness that tipped me off that anything was going on. 

Back to the present, today's visit was with my medical oncologist. The visit included all the standards - vitals, blood draw, physical, exam, and arm measurement. Weight, temp, and BP all normal. Blood draw will show how my liver is doing (should be fine, but confirmation will show nothing has changed with the tamoxifen); it takes a few days for results. After the exam (skin check, palpitating, listen to lungs), my doctor said, "perfect." (yay!) I also had my arm measured, adding to the periodic comparison before and after surgery, looking for lymphedema and any other changes in size (none).

My next visit at MGH is with my surgeon in March and will include imaging. Then, I will be on an every-six-months schedule. Prior to that, I will be enrolled in a follow up survivors group at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. (It would have been at MGH, but that's a little far for a commute.) Looking forward to that, really!

Little by little, and some days more, I am embracing this whole survivor business. From having people think it's a bad-ass hair cut to only feeling tired from a lack of sleep or a hard workout, it's pretty good! And, the extra time each day - remarkable, not to mention the improved availability of mental bandwidth for things other than cancer. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Last 2

Down to the last two treatments. Hard to believe this phase is wrapping up, as well. Once you get to single digits, I was told by a friend who's been on this path (same but different), it would go quickly. That seems to be true.

All in all, I'm still feeling very lucky. I've had a great team here in NH building on my positive experience at MGH. I feel like everyone has been invested in taking very good care of me. Except for a few days, my whole time in Hanover so far has involved the daily Monday through Friday trips to Dartmouth-Hitchcock. It will be quite odd to finish treatment and not see my therapists every day and my doctor and nurse for the weekly check ups. Good for me, but still odd. Already, I have to keep to myself from making the turn into the hospital when I drive by. I will certainly enjoy getting back the time lost each day!

Next up will be coping with the end of treatment. Another friend, also in the club, referenced the PTSD after treatment. He sent me a link to an article, but this PDQ from the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) spells it out simply,

"Some survivors  of cancer experience trauma-related symptoms similar to symptoms experienced by people who have survived highly stressful situations, such as military combat, natural disasters, violent personal attack (such as rape), or other life-threatening events. This group of symptoms is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and includes avoiding situations related to the trauma, continuously thinking of the trauma, and being overexcited."

"People with histories of cancer are considered to be at risk for PTSD. The physical and mental shock of having a life-threatening disease, of receiving treatment for cancer, and living with repeated threats to one's body and life are traumatic experiences for many cancer patients."

"Fear of recurrence and the anxiety of being a survivor" are particularly significant.

However, there is good news for me! Protective factors: "Certain protective factors may decrease a person's chance of developing PTSD. These include increased social support, accurate information about the stage of the cancer, and a satisfactory relationship with the medical staff." Check, check, and check! Thank you, everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Count - Ah, Ah, Ah

I'm in single digits now for the remaining radiation treatments. After this morning's, there will only be 5 more times on the table. As Count von Count would say, "Five, Ah, Ah, Ah."

First of the follow up appointments will be in December with my medical oncologist at MGH (bloodwork, etc), and again in March with my surgical oncologist (more imaging). I'm already slated to start (Nov 1) daily tamoxifen which is a hormone inhibitor, specifically an estrogen agonist, and specifically targeted for me since my cancer is hormone receptor-positive. I'll continue to have 6 months check ups and will probably be on tamoxifen for five years, though that will be under review as well.

More immediately by the end of last week, and more clearly this week, the skin in the treatment area - essentially the upper right quadrant of my torso from my sternum to my side and from just below my breast up to just above my collar bone - looks like I've spent a little too much time in the sun on a topless beach. Two places are a little harder hit. Under my arm, there is a patch of skin that is a darkish not quite purple color and it's also starting to get a little raw. The only other suffering spot is across my color bone which looks like a small rash has developed. Since the friction of clothing doesn't help, and I'm already using special ointments (Jeans Cream and Aquaphor), we've added Mepilex patches to protect those areas. Mepilex is this really cool silicone foam dressing that sticks to my skin but doesn't use an adhesive. I can take it off and put it back on multiple times.

If you want to see a photo of the skin and the patch, you can click here. The uncovered skin looks like a shadow, but that's fairly accurate in terms of color. Just below that, you can see one of my treatment tattoos (slightly enhanced by a sharpie each day by the therapists). And, about halfway up the darkened skin, you can see a small horizontal scar which is where the sentinel lymph node was removed. The second photo shows the Mepilex dressing. This is completely safe to open at work, and I am not exposed, shall we say, at all.