Boob Report – Anxiety and the Fantastic Five-Year Finish Line

When scheduling my six-month cancer checkup, I made the mistake of booking a flight to California right afterward. Talk about anxiety. Nothing like racing against the ticking clock before a blood pressure test. These appointments are stressful enough! I planned to talk to my oncologist about the exact date when I could stop taking the cancer drug, Anastrozole when I hit my five-year finish line. Six more months…

I can see the light fantastic at the end of a long five-year road.

End of the tunnel

As I dressed in a fun traveling outfit, I got the dog ready for the kennel with my fingers crossed. Little did I know how frantic the day would become.

A little backstory:

Since my double boobectomies in May of 2013, I’ve endured many checkups; nine in fact. Afterward, I would freak out when the phone rang, imagining bad results. The check-up itself is always more than pleasant. I’ve been fortunate to have an absolutely wonderful oncologist who gets my sense of humor. That’s hard to find.

Why no chemo or radiation?

Because my doctors caught my breast cancer when I was stage 1 and I got rid of both boobs, my “numbers” came in really low, which is good. It didn’t make sense to have chemo or radiation for an increased result of 3% less chance of recurrence.

A daily dose of Tamoxifen and then Anastrozole became my routine. I would take them for five years. They both dissolved estrogen, which is what my cancer ate. Everyone has estrogen in their bodies. Men have estrogen. Post-menopausal women have estrogen through their adrenal glands and fatty tissues. I don’t have any!

In some ways, these drugs have been worse than the double boobectomies. At least my boobs healed up and I could move on with my life. Because of the drug, I wake up every day with anxiety. Not the freakout kind, but that icky feeling that I’ve done something wrong even though I haven’t. It reminds me of PMS. Ugh.

They also have other “delightful” side effects:

Tamoxifen raises the risk of blood clots and uterine cancer. When I had knee surgery, I had to give myself blood thinner stomach shots. Without the ability to clot, my knee swelled up and didn’t heal. I am still working hard to build strength in my left leg after muscle atrophy. It’s getting a little stronger.

Anastrozole dissolves bone, another reason to hit the gym and lift weights. I’ve been lucky to not have the joint and muscle aches.

Both drugs drained my energy level and enthusiasm. Not cool for a Wild Rider.

When I was between drugs, I didn’t take anything for two weeks. I woke up feeling super happy and energized. I was my old self! I prayed Anastrozole wouldn’t sucker punch me. It did.

Why did I stay on the drugs?

I would do anything to increase my chances of being cancer-free after five years. I never want to go through it again.

As you can imagine, I’ve been counting down the months until August when I can stop taking Anastrozole. With only two appointments to go, I wanted to know the exact date I could throw out my pills.

I scheduled my appointment February 8th, on the dot of six months.

Then I piled on the anxiety with a super tight schedule!

The morning of my appointment, I finished packing for my vacation and then drove the dog to the kennel. I was running a little behind but figured I’d have plenty of time to make my flight after my appointment. I was super organized so I tried to stay calm. I could do this!

I arrived at the kennel with my Bichon, Roxy, with twenty minutes to spare before my checkup. It was a little tighter than I thought, but no one was in line. Easy peasy!

The cute receptionist with curly brown hair greeted me and I handed her my vet’s note about Roxy’s updated kennel cough shot vaccination.

Her smile faded as she handed it back. “We don’t accept handwritten notes.”

Frowning, I took a look at the vets stationary with their letterhead and logo. “How do you take them?”

“With a printout of the shots. Let me ask my manager.”

She left the pet intake room for a couple of minutes while I watched the clock. The minutes ticked away. Oh, God, I didn’t want to miss my cancer checkup. My palms broke out in a sweat as I clung to the strap of my purse.

She returned with a look of concern on her face. “Sorry, but we can’t accept this.”

I looked at the clock. 9:03. My appointment was at 9:15. If I was late, they’d have to work me in. Worse, I may have to reschedule. That might mean being on that horrible pill longer than the six months!

“Call my vet!”

She dialed and got the answering service, then hung up and shrugged.

For God’s sake woman!

“Ask the after-hours receptionist for his cell number!” He’s a country doctor who works from 6:00 until 9:00 AM. If I’d been there at 8:45 like I’d planned, he would still be in his office. I clenched my jaw.

She dialed again and walked into the other room.

My heart pounded and I soaked my cute outfit for California. What if I missed my flight?

A jumble of thoughts raced through my head.

My appointment was only a couple miles away. I could make it, but what if the kennel didn’t accept the note? I would have to cancel my doctor’s appointment. Then I would take Roxy home and still try to make my flight. First, I’d have to get a hold of my daughter to see if she could pick up Roxy after work to take care of her for the weekend.

The young woman came back into the room with a big smile on her face. “You’re all set!”

My body collapsed with relief. “Thank you so much!” I said and sprinted out the door.

I raced to my car and tried to drive the speed limit to my appointment. I didn’t want to get a ticket. As soon as I sat down in the waiting room, my name was called.

After giving a couple of quarts of blood, the nurse took my blood pressure.

“I bet it’s through the roof,” I said.

“It’s 129 over 86,” she said with a smile.

I laughed. “I’m usually under 100 over 76.”

The doctor came in and did his routine exam. While examining my left fake boob, he took a little more time.

My heart began to pound with alarm. “Is everything okay?” Dear, God. I didn’t want any bad news after four and a half years!

“Yes, I’m just being thorough.” He smiled and sat down at his computer to check some of my blood test results.

“How are my results?” I wondered when my heart would stop hammering in my chest.

“Very good. Well within the normal range.”

I let out a held breath. “How long do I have to stay on the Anastrozole. I hate that drug. It flatlines my personality.”

He peered at the computer and said, “Looks like I prescribed it on June 6th in 2013.”

I remembered the old bottle I found at home. It said I filled it in July. “I don’t think I started taking it then.”

“You can stop taking it in June. In fact, take your last pill on May 31st.”

My heart soared! The thought of not having to take it until August thrilled me. But what about my last six-month appointment?

“When should I come in again?”

“A year from now. You’re doing really well!”

I hopped off the table and gave him big hug not thinking about how the gown opens in the front. “Thank you,” I said as tears ran down my cheeks.

Knowing I’ll still have cancer checks once a year for another five was a huge relief. If anything goes south, he’ll catch it. Once I’m off Anastrozole, which annihilates estrogen, I’ll be even more anti-soy, (it raises estrogen levels) and will continue not to drink alcohol. These two lifestyle changes keep me from worrying about cancer recurrence.

Life is for living large not wasted on worrying!

After five years, Stage 1 breast cancer patients have almost a 100% survival rate. That’s a statistic I can get behind!!! I teared up just now while reviewing that research.

I made my flight to California and celebrated. Ninety more days!

Me, Leksy, my son, Kelly, and their roommate, Nick.

The Gang in California

If you’re on Tamoxifen or Anastrozole and you feel blue, meditation helps a ton! It really keeps the low-grade depression in check. Remembering that it’s caused by the drug helps too. It’s been proven to stop cancer recurrence so it was worth the side-effects. Some patients don’t get the “feels,’ the aches, or the pains .

For more of my breast cancer journey in Boob Reports, click here. 

Click here for more inspiration and misadventures on the Wild Ride!

Related Posts:

Be Your Own Badass Hero

The Boob Report – The Dirty Little Secret about Alcohol

American Cancer Society

The Boob Report – The Sun Rises After Cancer Drugs

hSunrise over Breckenridge

Shy of three weeks into 2017, I thought I’d check in and let you know how The Year of the Big Chill is going. It’s all about working hard, but playing harder. Little did I know these lifestyle changes would affect me in a different way. It banished a horrible side effect of my anti-cancer drug.

Two simple changes have made a HUGE impact. So huge, I have to tell you about it.

I meditate for ten minutes a day.

After attending the Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Whistler, I felt super chill and grounded for about a week. Then that fantastic feeling disappeared. I figured I had to go to another festival to regain it.

Meditation clears my mind for new ideas. Practicing ten minutes before I write unlocks my creative flow. It helps me focus. I’m less distracted by sparkly things. I love sparkly things.

I write for three hours (or more, depending on my groove) and then shut my laptop to go on an adventure. That may be anything from skiing to taking a hike to going to the grocery store. It doesn’t matter, as long as I get out of the house to do something.

The isolation of writing books and screenplays was a downer for me last year. I’m an adventure junkie. It’s my rocket fuel. Now I get out every day. Ideas pop into my tiny cranium out of nowhere.

The combination of both of these changes resulted in the coolest thing ever.

After my double boobectomities, my radiologist prescribed Tamoxifen. I felt a low grade sluggish, PMS, blues. It would clench my gut with anxiety upon waking and follow me like a shadow during the day. I attributed it to normal worry any cancer patient goes through. Nope. It’s a side-effect of anti-estrogen drugs. I had to keep taking it. My cancer ate estrogen like a starved pig at a Las Vegas buffet.

the-sun-rises-after-cancer-drugsWhen my doctor took me off Tamoxifen over a year ago, I went pill-free for two weeks. I was so excited!! I felt super charged upon waking!! My Susie Sunshine self was BACK!! Yes, this warrants lots of exclamation points. (My baseline normal is like other people’s most optimistic and best days.) But after two weeks on Anastrozole, that same guilty, worried, clench my gut feeling returned. GAH. 

By the way, my diet hasn’t changed, except for one thing. I stopped eating pizza. Once a month or so, I’d indulge in a pan style veggie lovers, then I would crash the next day. I mentioned it to my daughter, Courtney, who is a personal trainer. She said that pizza is the worst. With so much cheese and carbs, it becomes greasy glop in our stomachs and sends our bodies into detox overload.

I haven’t drank alcohol for two and a half years after finding out the correlation between it and seven different cancers. (Check out this post about that dirty little secret. Alcohol means any kind of alcohol, including wine.) It also causes osteoporosis. Bummer.

Here’s the good news:

After meditating and going outside every day for about ten days, I noticed that same grounded, peaceful feeling in my gut had reappeared. The anxiety from Anastrozole had VANISHED! Ten minutes to zen. How cool is that?

Okay, so the super-hopped up, excited me may have to wait another eighteen months when I’ll be off the drugs forever. But, that low grade, I must have done something wrong feeling, is history! Who knows? Maybe my over-endorphined self will return with a couple more weeks of this new lifestyle. People who know me will read this and say, “You will be even more manic?”

I wonder if Danny will hide my yoga mat?

This could help you too!

Ever feel a little down? I would think this combination of getting outside to do something away from the computer and ten minute meditation would work for others, especially mid-winter when lack of Vitamin D slows us down and causes the blues. You should try it. It truly works! If nothing else, life is a lot more fun.

What do you think? What lifestyle changes have you made over the years? How are the sunrises in your neighborhood?

The Boob Report – Three Years Cancer-Free

The first Sunday in June is National Cancer Survivor Day. I first heard about it through Facebook when Lynn Kelley posted a photo from a get-together in California. August McLaughlin “embellished” this photo when I had a double boobectomy (mastectomies) in 2013.

Breast cancer boob support friends

Lynn Kelley, me, Debra Eve, August McLaughlin, and Debra Kristi.

Four thoughts hit me in this order:
1. Hello fabulous California friends! I hope to see you soon.

This photo was taken when I met up with these amazing writers and blogger friends on a California trip back in 2012. It brought back very fond memories. They, along with many others, gave me tremendous boob support while going through my surgeries. My son, Kelly, is moving out to attend music production school, so I ‘ll be spending a lot more time in Los Angeles. Sorry Kelly, but Dad and I plan to couch surf at your place. Kidding! I’m looking forward all kinds of adventures this year.

2. I’ve been cancer-free for three years. Wow.

Every six months I check in with the nicest oncologist for blood tests. He puts me at ease, but it’s still nerve-wracking. He reads one of the results while I’m in the office. The second batch of tests take a few days. I would only be notified if those come back positive. For five days afterward, I freak out every time the phone rings. I only have four more blood draws, the next one in August. I’m counting down.

3. I don’t think about cancer very often these days. The first two years, I thought about it A LOT.

It really bothered me that I had lived a really healthy, green, organic life and still got the stinkin’ disease. That was so not fair. I was angry. But sometime during the last two years, I stopped obsessing. I let it go. Now I live my life, make plans for the future, and rarely look back.

Part of that transformation occurred because of even more healthy choices. I gave up alcohol linked to breast cancer and osteoporosis, even though I only drank a few glasses of wine per week. I try to avoid eating food that could increase estrogen since that’s what my cancer ate. It must have raised my metabolism with all that munching. I was so thin!

These lifestyle changes have given me confidence in my health, so I don’t worry about recurrence.

Instead of thinking about cancer crapola, I’m focused on writing books, screenplays and getting back into shape after knee surgery and a broken wrist. Yep. Normal stuff. I’m looking ahead, way ahead.

4. Being called a survivor is not an accurate portrayal of my cancer journey.

Sure I survived cancer, but haven’t a lot of us survived something? I never told you about the time U-Haul saved my life or when my family was stuck in snowstorm and divine intervention came knocking. I’ll have to post those stories sometime. Okay, so those stories are close calls not stories of survival. But many have survived other horrific diseases or catastrophic events.

So what makes me different than a lot of other people?

It’s not that I’m a cancer survivor,
I’m a thriver.

I will continue to step onto the ledge and jump. I plan to live large, and will enjoy my Wild Life.

What have you survived? Are you a thriver? What are you doing today?

Follow @susielindau on Twitter and Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride on Facebook.

The Boob Report – A Comedy of Terrors

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, all doctor appointments become a big deal especially since the drugs I’ve been on have side effects. It can be terrifying.

hot as hellLast week, I went to an OB/GYN appointment and a wrist and knee follow-up. I worried they all could go south, like in the Deep South of hell where it is as hot as hell since that’s what it is. After having several surgeries, I want to avoid any more of them at all cost. I scheduled a facial afterward, my first in years, as a reward.

OB?? Yeah. I got my period for the first time in three years on December 29th. My OB/GYN had told me to come right in if I had ANY kind of bleeding after ONE year. Full on sad, depressing PMS for two days should have been my first clue.

I’d been on Tamoxifen which can mess with hormones and is why my period probably stopped in the first place. I switched to Anastrozole this August since my oncologist believed I was post-menopausal and Tamoxifen has some cancer-causing side-affects. It caused night sweats and hot flashes.

After being off Tamoxifen for a week, the pit in my anxiety-filled stomach disappeared along with the other symptoms. To say I was stoked was an understatement. Anastrozole can cause osteoporosis. Not as bad, but still bad. Did you hear I broke my wrist?

The whoosh of bleeding and my “Oh, shit!” moment happened at night while binge-watching Homeland. I wasn’t about to go anywhere. Instead I did what anyone would do to calm her nerves.

I Googled it.

OH, MY GOD. WHAT A MISTAKE! I freaked and thought I would bleed out while sleeping that night. I almost called my family to say my goodbyes, but figured that would be way too dramatic and they would be annoyed if they worried all night and I survived.

When I was still alive the next day, I called my doctor. He and the phone nurse assured me as long as the bleeding wasn’t uncontrollable, I was probably okay.

It turned out to be a period, complete with a trip to the grocery where I was tempted to proudly tell people, “This box of tampons isn’t for my daughter. It’s for me. Haha!”

Humorous breast cancer storiesYeah, I know the bleeding could indicate a lot of bad things. But I had an endometrial biopsy last September. Don’t worry. It came back negative. Last week’s appointment was scheduled back then. My doctor was taking precautions. According to him, a biopsy is usually good for one year.

Doctors don’t fool around if cancer is on your permanent record. That is a very good thing. I like the pro-active approach.

During my follow up appointment, my doctor said he would be amazed if I started getting regular periods after all I’ve been through. You should have seen his face when I said, “I hope I’m getting my periods again. My wrinkles won’t come in as fast.” I must be in the minority…of one.

Did I mention that he rescued me during last summer’s biopsy?

Last summer I had a routine pap and pelvic. My OB-GYN Physician’s Assistant thought my uterus seemed larger when examining my womanly innard skinnards. She ordered a pelvic ultrasound.

Well, how do I describe this? Hmm. They put a condom on it.

Yep. It was interesting. I cracked jokes with the male nurse the whole time.

Did you know that medical professionals (and probably some horrified amateurs) have found hair and teeth growing in organs? I told him to swear not to tell me if I had anything weird in my uterus. I’d have nightmares that some kind of alien would gnaw through my gut.

I found out later, there was something growing in there. I had to come back in for a biopsy.

My calcified fibroids used walkers and seeing eye dogs and my uterus was three times the normal size. Fibroids are no big deal, but I saw red flags pop out of the physician assistant’s head at the thickened lining. She would perform my first endometrial biopsy. Knowing I have a tipped uterus, she said she’d be careful.

OH, MY GOD! IT HURT LIKE HELL! The PA thought that giving me shots to numb it up would be worse than the biopsy. WHY???? It felt like someone cut my cervix with a hedge trimmer. After squirming and crying while she stabbed me with the straw-like stabber thingy a zillion times, I told her, “I can’t take anymore of this. I’ve had my boobs cut off and some of my knee bone and cartilage amputated and they were less painful. I am out of here!” I shouted.

She begged me to stay and retrieved a doctor and a nurse. At first I thought the nurse came to put me in restraints, but she held my hand. I was surprised they didn’t give me a bullet to bite down on. The doctor shot me with Novocain or whatever miracle drug that numbed it up. I didn’t even feel the shots and didn’t know he had performed the biopsy until it was over.

By that point I was in shock and the terminology jetted its way from some other galaxy. “So I heard I have some asteroids in my universe,” I said, once it was over.

They cracked up laughing. “Yes,” he said, “You have two of them, but we are more concerned with your lining thickness.”

He asked me, “So what happened? Why wasn’t she (the PA) able to do the biopsy?”

“She really sucks at it.” I meant it.

They laughed. Later, I cared about hurting her feelings, but I was really pissed at the time.

After all that, you can imagine how I felt about having another biopsy. C’mon guys. It’s a biopsy, which had all its own connotations. I really just cared about the pain. This time, I booked the doctor with the gentle hands.

While driving to the appointment, I felt like a dog going to the vet. Not my dog. Roxy only remembers the biscuits and can’t wait to go inside for her shots. My legs shook while they were in the stirrups. I broke out in a cold sweat. But just like last time, I didn’t feel a thing.

I’m not really worried about the results. If they come back positive, it is just the start of something since I tested negative a few months ago. I can get rid of my uterus. I don’t need it for anything.

The good news? He said my uterus hadn’t grown and may have shrunk a little and my lining seemed a lot thinner.

“Yeah, because I got my period,” I said in a sassy tone.

He was skeptical, but ordered a menopause test even though my blood chemistry may be screwed up from the anti-cancer drug.

I told my husband, Danny, that if I keep getting my period, I might end up in medical journals. I imagined buying tampons for myself in my nineties and bragging at the check stand.

“They would want to impregnate you, so you can be the oldest woman to give birth,” said Danny. “I would have to reverse my vasectomy.”

I groaned. “I have nightmares all the time about being pregnant. That is never going to happen again.”

 

My broken wrist and knee follow-up was the next day. Being on a drug that is supposed to mess with my bones made me nervous. My orthopedic surgeon had mentioned the worst-case scenario where the bone floats and doesn’t heal. Danny and many of my friends had wrist surgery. It’s funny how all the horror stories arise when the possibility exists.

During the appointment, the radiologist interrupted and wanted a word outside. *gulp* She was concerned about the “dissolved bone” at the fracture line, but my orthopod assured me it was healing well. Three more weeks and I am free to be WILD. The exact day of wildness? February 17th!

My surgeon gave me a shot of steroids hoping my knee’s tissue would calm down and stop squeaking and grinding. I’m still waiting for it to shut up.

 

Then I went to my facial at Alchemy Face Bar. After all of the stressing out, I looked forward to regaining the same youthful appearance I had in my twenties.

My new esthetician, Laura, asked if I had any concerns. I told her I had SIS.

She scrutinized my face and asked, “Cysts?”

“No. SIS.”

She looked closer and said, “I don’t see any cysts.”

“SIS,” I said, exaggerating the S’s, hoping I wouldn’t spit on her. “Shitty Irish Skin.”

I couldn’t believe she hadn’t heard that one since she is in the business.

After a very relaxing appointment including a nirvanic facial massage, I held back telling her about the ancient fibroids living inside my youthful uterus or that I was still getting my period and why I want to keep it that way. I didn’t tell her about my squeaky, grinding knee, but I did tell her about the metal plate inside it because she asked.

Laura said my skin was in great shape, so I told her, “Now that I look like I’m in my twenties, I’m heading to downtown Denver to go clubbing.” I danced to my car. Okay. I’m on doctor’s orders to be careful, but I danced in my head.

The weight of hellish worry has lifted. I still haven’t received the results from my tests, but no news is good news. So far, no more surgeries. I survived January with my body and sense of humor in tact. My six-month cancer checkup is coming up in two weeks. Bring it on February.

2016 is looking up!

UPDATE: The biopsy came back negative. YAY! And the drug swap got resulted in a final period. Oh, well. I’m stocked up for everyone else with a younger uterus. HA!

How do you face adversity? Do you hate going to doctor appointments? When was your last facial?

The Boob Report – The Dirty Little Secret about Alcohol

Don’t shoot! I am about to deliver a dirty little secret kept by doctors. Why? I don’t think anyone wants to know. I’ve held this post for a year while waiting to get up the nerve. My hand shook while pressing publish.

I had only heard rumblings about it and that was long ago, after Paul McCartney’s wife, Linda, died of breast cancer. I quickly forgot, until last summer.

The bar

The bomb was dropped into the conversation while enjoying lunch al fresco with a friend who had just finished radiation treatment for stage I breast cancer. Continue reading

An Open Letter From My Boobs

Dear Susie Lindau,

For thirteen months, we’ve hung out in our new residence behind your pectoral muscles. It has taken us a while to get used to the cramped quarters, but we are adjusting. We understand you are trying to make us feel at home. Although, we totally appreciate the effort, sometimes, you freak us out.

First of all, why do you grab us every time you tell someone about your double boobectomy? The shock alone turns our silicone hearts to ice. One minute we’re chillin’ while you’re yammering on with a friend, an acquaintance, or some random person you just met. Then you snatch us in fists so tight, well, it’s disturbing. We understand you like to talk with your hands, but quit feeling us up.

grabbing my boobs

You are pretty insensitive. We are adopted. We know you miss your old boobs. We will never replace them, but we’re doing our best. Could you at least stop complaining about how weird we feel? You’ve been told the odd feeling will go away. We were there. Remember? Continue reading

An Open Letter to My Boobs

Dear Bionic Boobs,

I know you’ve been adjusting to your new digs since the reconstruction surgery seven months ago. I’ve protected you from wild elbows, supported you with a bra, and exercised you by smooshing you girls together. (Doctor’s orders.) You seem happy enough and pretty perky.

I do have some concerns.

One night, I looked down and you had wandered off to the sides of my chest. You left four inches between you two. I almost had a heart attack. I thought I’d torn something while vacuuming.  As you know, I’ve started wearing a sport’s bra to bed to corral you at night, so I don’t wake up and freak out.  I wish you girls would stick together.

Although you’re shaped like hamburger buns and aren’t huge by any means, you weigh more than my old boobs. In fact, you’re a little on the hefty side. The doctor suggested some exercises to build muscles in my back to keep from hunching over.

I thought I’d never need to wear a bra again, but apparently some of your sisters have sagged. I’ve been instructed to wear one when I’m active. Bummer. You’re a little wrinkly when you’re just hanging out, but I refuse to get a fat transfer. You’ll have to get used to that.

You look totally fake and I’m sure some people will stare and roll their eyes this summer. They’ll think I had a boob job. I can always wear this t-shirt. Continue reading