June 23, 2017

Detour Ahead



I contemplated for quite a long time whether or not I wanted to publish (or even write) this post.  It is quite personal and may hit home with some readers.

We all go through "detours" in our lives.  This one just happened to come upon and hit us from nowhere.  Literally.

Friday, March 3, 2017
It isn't unusual that I have to make a second visit to the radiology department for more mammogram images, so I wasn't too concerned.  I'm one of the 50% of women who have dense breast tissue.  What was unusual was when the technician came back in the room and said, "The doctor wants to talk with you".  I have no idea how far my heart sank at that moment.  I never expected to hear those seven words today.  The doctor said he saw a formation of calcium deposits which can be indicative of breast cancer.  My mom is a breast cancer survivor.  She turns 80 this year.  She's still quite active and healthy.  She had a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy at the young age of 49.  I'm 53.   

I was asked if I could come back later in the afternoon for a needle biopsy.  Um, sure?  I was given an informational sheet and told to come back at 1:30.

If you've ever had a mammogram, a needle biopsy isn't too dissimilar.  Except that you're laying on a table instead of standing in front of the compression machine.  The two nurses were very good at keeping me calm by talking about my upcoming trip to Japan.  I'm sure they see a lot of first time patients in there.  I was given a localized shot of a numbing solution.  The biopsy went smooth.  I was out of there within 90 minutes.  Good thing it was a Friday because I was told to go home and take it easy for a couple of days.

They sent me home with this booklet.  Something I hope you never have to read!!



Now the hard part.  Waiting for the results.

Monday, March 6, 2017
My phone rang around 5:00 in the afternoon.  Dr. Khine was on the other end.  He told me I have Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, DCIS for short.  He talked with me for a few minutes and said I would be hearing from the cancer department about setting an appointment with a surgeon.  I reread the section in my booklet about DCIS.  It's Stage 0 Breast Cancer.  This form of breast cancer is localized in a milk duct and has not spread to other areas outside of the duct.    

Monday, March 20, 2017
Ron and I walk into the surgeon's office with optimistic thoughts and open minds.  Dr. Foster explains to us what DCIS is.  She shows us photos from another booklet.  I know most of this from reading my informational booklet.  Ron is hearing most of it for the first time.

She explains our next step will be a lumpectomy.  She also says that I will have a team of doctors working on my case.  They'll be meeting to discuss my case in a couple of days.

She encourages us to go to Japan and she is excited for us to be able to go abroad.  Such a nice and caring doctor!

more reading material

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Dr. Foster called.  I wasn't expecting her call.  My team wants me to go in for another biopsy.  There are two additional areas that they're concerned may be DCIS.  If the areas test positive Dr. Foster said she would likely recommend a mastectomy.  This news totally shocked me.  Thankfully she said I can wait until after our trip for the second biopsy.

Monday, April 17, 2017
We really enjoyed our vacation!!  Back to reality...  Today is my second biopsy.  Unfortunately this time it didn't go quite as smoothly as the first one.  It was likely the dose of Aleve I had taken that morning that caused my excessive bleeding from the biopsy site.  I was in compression for awhile until the bleeding stopped.  Even then, one of the nurses had to practically put all of her weight on my breast once I was turned onto my back to keep the bleeding from starting all over again.  She was worried that too much bleeding could cause complications which may prevent my surgery from taking place in a timely manner.  Good thing is I didn't develop a blood clot and I healed fine.

Thursday, April 20, 2017
I answer the phone as usual.  Dr. Foster is on the other end.  She has good news for me.  The lab results are negative.  I do not have more DCIS!!   I do not need a mastectomy.  I am elated!  Surgery is scheduled for May 17th. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017
We arrive at the hospital at 7:30am.  I couldn't eat because of surgery.  Ron didn't eat because it's simply too early in the day.  Even though I am pre-admitted, I still have some paperwork to deal with.

Once that's taken care of it's off to the radiology department.  There's nothing for Ron to do but wait, so when Stacy takes me to the back room he goes home to eat.  This first procedure is a combination of a mammogram and a biopsy.  I'm seated in a chair, a pillow is placed behind me to make it a little more comfortable.  But really, how comfortable is it to have your boob squished and held in place?!  Got to add a little humor in right :-)  I'm numbed, then a needle is inserted to the point where the marker is located.  A marker was left at each biopsy site so they can find the exact spot again.  Next some blue dye and a very thin wire are inserted through the needle, then the needle is removed leaving the dye and wire behind.  Stacy puts a big clear bandage over the wire to keep it clean.  She then walks me over to the main surgery center building.

My vitals are taken and I'm shown to my gurney.  As expected, everything comes off and I slide under the sheet.  There is a space blanket over the sheet and surprisingly I don't get too cold.  I take out my Kindle and begin reading.  At some point, my curtains are opened.  Time for my IV.  Robert does an excellent job and I don't even feel it.  I can see the bed across from me.  It's a 2-3 month old baby.  He's getting circumcised.  Not sure why the parents decided not to do it at birth.  I continue reading.  Then I hear a familiar voice.  Ron has come back to keep me company for a bit before I head into surgery, which is scheduled for noon. 

Nurses come to ask me questions.  The anesthesiologist stops by to ask me questions too.  Dr. Foster comes to chat for a bit.  She asks us about Japan.  She's so glad that we went.  Ron gave her a great compliment.  He said if he ever needed surgery that she could perform, he would ask for her.

Noon time came fairly quickly.  The operating nurse releases the brake from the gurney and wheels me to another room.  I remember people coming in and saying how cold the room is.  I remember someone placing my arms in position.  Then I went out.

Surgery lasted about an hour or so.  I was awakened around 1:20.  I was in the recovery room.  Ron had gone to do errands while I was in surgery.  He was on his way back to the hospital when the nurse called his cell phone.  He had already talked with Dr. Foster and knew my surgery was successful.

More waiting time to make sure the sample taken is "clean".

Thursday, May 25, 2017
Dr. Foster calls with the most excellent news I've heard in awhile:

I'm Cancer FREE!!!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017
I have two appointments today.

I meet with Dr. Foster first.  We talk for about 25 minutes about all that's happened.  When the lumpectomy sample was segmented and examined by the pathologists they did not find any cancer.  So apparently the earlier biopsy took all of the cancer out.  She is optimistic about not needing any additional treatments but she does want to see me again in six months.   The stitches are healing well and I am released for light duty (I've already been doing that for the past few days because it's quite boring just sitting around) and can resume normal duties in another couple of weeks. 

My second appointment is with Dr Sidhu, my oncologist.  She tells me that I do not need chemotherapy!  What a relief to hear that news!!  She tells me about a drug called Tamoxifen.  It is prescribed to patients for five years.  She advises me that the benefits versus the side effects do not make me a good candidate for the drug.  More good news!  She can't advise me about radiation.  She makes me an appointment with a radiation oncologist.

My hopes for an easy treatment plan after a cancer diagnosis are rising!!   

Monday, June 12, 2017
My appointment today is with the radiation oncologist, Dr. Peng.  The radiation department is located 'off-campus'.  The lobby seems inviting.  The receptionist offers me coffee or cocoa.  I have a seat in the comfy lounge chair while I wait for the doctor.  One of the patients says "see you tomorrow" to another patient.  I hope I won't become too familiar with her or this building...

Dr. Peng's first question to me kind of shocks me a bit.  She asks me if I'm thinking about radiation.  I firmly exclaim NO.  She proceeds to explain there are four categories which she uses to determine if a patient need radiation.  Each category gets a score of 1-3 with 1 being the lowest.  She added that patients with a score between 4 and 6 are given the option of receiving radiation or not.  Those who choose not to have radiation are encouraged to get future exams every 6 months.  My score was 5.  I opt for the 6 month mammogram option.

So that's it!  No chemo, no drugs, no radiation!!

Emotional Ups & Downs
Yes, there were definitely some ups and downs during the past couple of months.  I remember one of the low times.  It was when I was told about the possibility of having a mastectomy.  It was our son who brought it into perspective for me.  His wise words: "A lot of the trauma of having some skin and fatty tissue removed was unfairly placed on you as a little girl growing up in the modern world. Once you realize the public perception and the perceived loss in stature are both meaningless and nonexistent, you are free to understand that you are much better off, even if worst case you have to cut it all off."  Damn, how did he get to be so smart?! 

There were several moments of relief also.  Those moments occurred when doctors told me something positive: you're cancer free, no chemo, no drugs, no radiation!   

I'm one of the lucky ones, my cancer was caught early!

What Now?
Now it's time to get back to living!!  

    

Part of life for us is working.  With my recent work limitations our PolyMenders waiting list has grown.  This recent heat wave, 105+ for the past week or so, can't slow us down.  Most of the work are day trips so Roamin has been stationary.  We do have a job coming up in the Tahoe area so maybe we'll get to live in the forest for a few days :-) 

May 18, 2017

Final Thoughts On Japan

What an amazing trip!  We would absolutely love to go back!  Alex and Kana will be in Japan for another 16 months before Alex is stationed back in the US.  So we likely won't be visiting them in Japan again.

Our time there was always different.  I doubt we repeated a meal or an experience twice.

KYOTO:
I told you about Kyoto a few posts ago.  I left out a few places we visited while in the area.

we had a corner room on the 5th floor

the Kyoto rail station is across the street
The room that Kana reserved for us while in Kyoto was perfect.  It was across the street from the train/bus station.  It made it super convenient for us to plan our days travel.  Plus breakfast was included.  So that made it easier to start our day.

Our day trip included a river, cherry blossoms, a bamboo forest and souvenir shopping.

boat rentals are popular at the base of Katsura River

another type of boat rental
Katsura River is a popular destination for many reasons.  For us it was simply so we could do some sight seeing.  The river itself was full of boats.  There were two styles that we saw.  One was row boats.  The other was a skiff of sorts.  Passengers get to sit back and relax while the captain walks along the front section of the boat while propelling it forward with the use of a long pole.  He starts in the center of the boat, plants the pole on the bottom of the river and then walks to the front tip of the boat.  The repeated action must get tiring.






The cherry trees were in near full bloom.  We passed by this particular one and although it doesn't show too well in the photos, the color was quite vivid.

We continued to walk through the park and came upon  Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.  The area is crowded but we get a few good pictures.  The trees are the attraction for us.  There are temples which we don't visit.  I think we've all had our fill of temples.  The grounds of one of the temples has cherry blossom trees.  Kana asks and finds out that the flowers aren't showing much.  There is an entrance fee so we forego the stop and instead visit the nearby shops and eateries.



We bought a pair of handcrafted chopsticks for each of us.  They offer free engraving.  How could we pass that up.  While waiting for the engraving, we venture across the street and pick up some plum jelly.

we'll need to practice our newly acquired skill
To finish out our day we planned to visit the Geisha district.  On the bus ride there is when Ron realizes he isn't feeling so well.  We still walk around for a bit but we're too late for the show.

GEOCACHING:
Geocaching is a world wide activity.  There are several caches hidden near Alex's apartment.  I map them out and the one day when both Alex and Kana had to work, Ron and I ventured out by ourselves in search of a few finds.



The first on our list was magnetic and hidden on the ledge of a large bulletin board.  It was small and only contained a log sheet and a couple tiny trinkets.  We added our signature to the log and a trinket of our own.  Our first foreign cache! :-)





  


The second cache was also magnetic.  This one was called Three-Horned Dinosaur.  It took us on a walk in the nearby neighborhood.  The log and it's contents were hidden on the underside of this soda machine.  Ron was the brave one who stuck his hand under there to retrieve the find.

We continued on our cache hunting trip.  We looked high and low but couldn't find our third attempt.  Oh well, it was fun to get out and go exploring the streets of Okinawa by ourselves.  



ROCKY:
I left the best for last!!  Rocky loves his home in Okinawa.  He is always a fun subject for my camera lens.




he's pooped from all his playtime :-)

May 13, 2017

Fun In Japan, Part 2

An overnight trip up the western coast of Okinawa was another adventure while we were in Japan.  Unfortunately, Ron had picked up some sort of virus and he decided to stay home.  Being sick while on vacation is never fun.  He was a trooper though!

Our first stop is a hidden waterfall.  It's a favorite spot of Alex and Kana's to cool off during the hot and humid summer months.  Alex suggested that I don't bring my phone or camera because we had to walk quite a ways through a creek and scramble on and over rocks boulders just to get to the falls.  But being a smart guy, Alex brought his waterproof GoPro along for the adventure.  The bad thing is that there isn't a view screen so you never know what photos you get until they've been uploaded.  These are some of the better shots he took on our back country adventure.




    

Once we got to the falls we ventured up and over a very steep hillside.  I'm glad for all of my recent gym visits!  Our hopes were to see the top of the falls.  Unfortunately it isn't a highly traveled area and there were just too many spiders hanging out in the nearby branches for our comfort level.  I wish I had my FitBit so I knew just how far we walked.  If I had to guess, I'd say 5 or so miles round trip and maybe 10 flights of steps.  Quite the workout! 

After the falls, we got back in the car and headed north.  The drive along the coast was gorgeous.  So many lovely beaches.  So many rocks jutting out of the water.  So much to see.  Lucky for me Kana decided to nap in the back so I had the front passenger seat which meant that the ocean was on my side of the car.  The steering wheel is on the right side of the car in Japan.




At the very northern tip of the island is Cape Hedo.  This is where the South China Sea on the west merges with the Pacific Ocean on the east.  Kana was still sleeping (she worked the previous 17 hour night shift without a nap) so Alex and I ventured out to view the rocky cliffs.



can you see the two oceans??



It would have been nice to be able to explore more of the area but we had reservations at the air force Okuma Resort and the check-in desk closes early.  The resort itself was quite nice.  There is a small golf course, nature trails, miles of beaches, a race car track, a restaurant and many more areas we didn't get to see.

The next morning was cool and misty.  Our destination for the day is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.  More gorgeous scenery on the drive.  A stop on the way to get a burger and fries.  It's hard near impossible to find a good burger joint in Japan!  This burger place is always busy.  We were lucky to arrive before the lunch rush.  We were all stuffed after our meal and ready to hit the aquarium.

how cool is this aquarium entrance!?

This aquarium is unlike any I've been to before.  The main difference is that the grounds are open (as in no entrance fee) to the public.  There are several turtle tanks, a manatee tank and a dolphin show included in the free areas.  We take advantage of it all.

escalators down to the dolphins, turtles and manatees

this place is HUGE!

a private beach is included for these guys

there are also underwater viewing areas for these tanks

look at the funny humans over there with their cameras...

I wish he had more room :-(

this building is also free admission with plenty of displays to explore

the smaller dolphin was pushing the larger one
the little guys waving HI

I touched it, now can I have my treat?

the big guy says HI too :-)
What a treat to see the dolphins.  Alex said there is an area where you could feed the dolphins.  It was closed during our visit.  After the show it was time for the main attraction: a walk through the aquarium itself.

The first stop is a hands on tank.  You can touch the starfish and other creatures to your hearts content.  It was a popular stop for the kiddos.  The aquarium is quite busy considering it's a Monday afternoon.

The next tank is much larger and is home to a small coral farm.  I'm not one to read all of the signs and information blurbs.  I simply stroll past and if something catches my eye, I'll snap a photo.


 

The lion fish was right up close.  He's one of my favorites so I definitely catch him on film, err, digital media :-)  A cute story: I have a drawing of a lion fish held on the front of the fridge at work by a magnet.  It has been there for many years.  Alex drew it for me when he was around 10 or 11 years old. 




There are plenty of displays throughout the aquarium for hands on learning.  Near the giant shark tank is a display of shark jars behind a sheet of acrylic.  Some of the jaws have a hole so that visitors can reach inside and touch the teeth.


I wouldn't want to be it's next meal!

dinner time feeding frenzy

Here's a nerdy bit of info about Ron and me.  When we go to a museum, or in this case an aquarium, we're the ones who gravitate toward the case rather than what's inside.  I know it's because we make cases and work with plastic.  So when I saw this, I just couldn't resist the marvelous workmanship it took to make the entire aquarium. 

the words are on the opposite side of the acrylic wall panel



     

         









There are 15 layers of acrylic flawlessly laminated together to create the walls of the gigantic tank shown below.  The sign says it is 603mm thick.  That equates to 23.75". 



Not only does this tank have an enormous viewing window, it has curved and angled viewing areas as well.  You can see them near the bottom left area in the photo above.  Without becoming too nerdy, this was the highlight of the aquarium for me :-)

There was still more to see.  However, the last sections of the aquarium were focused on the deep sea creatures.  The area was too dark to get decent photos.

One more stop on the way back to the apartment to get a quick pineapple ice cream cone at Pineapple Park.  Yes, there really is such a place :-)