This Phoenix Will Rise Again

This Phoenix Will Rise Again

The fire and ashes are building all around me. I’ve been through this cycle of burning down and rising up from the ashes before, and I will do it again. Metastatic Breast Cancer. My current set-back.  As a breast cancer survivor, it’s not an unexpected hurdle. Sadly, I’ve witnessed my peers going through similar difficulties. All I can do is take it day by day, trust my treatment plan, and do my best to redefine myself once more.

I haven’t been feeling well for some time. I wrote it off to my slow recovery from the knee injury, and the fact that I have not been able to get back into a regular exercise routine. This spring, I generally felt weak and out of shape. About a month ago, my symptoms were getting noticeably worse. I had shortness of breath, and I developed wheezing and a cough. I have to say, this is the worst cough I’ve ever had. And I’ve had all forms of bronchitis, pneumonia, etc. This is definitely worse.

On July 23rd, I went to the ER with sharp pain in my ribs along with the severe cough and shortness of breath. I knew something was not right with my lungs. After a number of tests, I ended up being hospitalized overnight. They found that I have pleural effusion (fluid in the lining around both my lungs). They did a thoracentesis (stuck a catheter into the pleural cavity via my back- yes, I was awake…) on the right side to drain the fluid and sent it for analysis. The left side was more complicated. The fluid was loculated, hardened into multiple, fibrotic pockets, therefore, not free flowing nor able to drain. I was told at this time that surgery would be the only way to clear the gunk from my left side.

Over the next week or so, I did several other tests, X-rays, CT scan and blood work. And coughed and coughed. 

On August 1st, I saw my oncologist to try to make sense of the results and develop a treatment plan. The fluid in my pleural cavity (space around my lungs) contains cancer cells that had spread from my original breast tumor. All of the other scans are clear, though, and the cells have not formed any tumors that could be detected. Of course, ILC, Invasive Lobular Carcinoma is known for being extremely difficult to detect via scan, so there’s that grain of salt. 

The cells have changed slightly from the original tumor (ER/PR+HER2- to ER+PR/HER2-), but not enough for me to need to go through chemo again. My doctor will put me on hormone therapies (Ibrance and Faslodex) which attack the cells directly. In her experience with other patients, the cells are quite responsive to this therapy. 

Originally, my oncologist felt that the surgery would be too invasive, and that the treatment would clear up the fluid. However, at my next appointment, on August 9th, when I told her that the cough was becoming unbearable, she called the lung specialist. He advised that since the left side is loculated, it will be difficult for the hormones to get into the fluid to do their thing, and he recommended the surgery. With that, he and my oncologist called a lung surgeon immediately and I got in for an appointment the next day. Yay, the perks of having a dream team of connected super-doctors.

Yesterday, August 10th, I met with the lung surgeon to discuss a robotic surgery, called thorascopy (no, I will NOT be awake this time). He will make a small incision and insert a camera, and several other incisions for the surgical instruments that will be used to “break up” the pockets and scrape out the goo. After that, there are two possible outcomes. Either my lung will re-inflate and he will put talc in the cavity to make the lung stick to the pleural lining so that fluid can’t re-fill the cavity. Or, my lung won’t re-inflate, due to damage or tumors or other bad stuff, and he will need to leave a catheter (chest tube) in so that the fluid can continue to drain. This could be for a matter of weeks or months. I’m pulling for option one! But, at this point, I’ll do whatever it takes to relieve the cough and get the cancer cells out. If that means a chest tube, then that means a chest tube. Depending on the outcome, I could be in the hospital for one night or for several nights.

Wasting no time, surgery is scheduled for this Monday, August 13th. This is the least amount of time I’ve ever had to prepare for surgery. My pre-surgery nesting mode is kicking in to high gear, but I don’t really have the energy to do the things on my “to-do” list, so I’m just going to have to accept that stuff isn’t going to get done before surgery. Surgery and healing are my number one priority right now.

This is not a hurdle I wanted to face, but it is the hurdle in front of me, so I have no choice but to charge at it and jump it. Overall, I am very positive about fully recovering from this. Right now, I am laying low and resting as much as I can (and did I mention, coughing…). I look forward to getting some relief soon with the surgery. I will keep everyone updated as new info comes in. 

Friday, the 15th – Setback Number X

All of a sudden, I was on the ground, a stream of curses flowing as fast as the tears. I was yelling at the white Jeep that just hit me, throwing me off my bike. I hollered at the driver “what the f#@&*^%! are you doing?” I paused for a moment when I realized my phone was still within reach on my bike’s handlebar mount. I wanted to call Andy. Crying and cursing, I dialed and said, “I just got hit by a car.” I wanted him there.

I couldn’t believe what just happened. I’ve been riding my bike all my life, in all sorts of conditions, including chaotic, urban streets. I’m a safe and defensive rider and have always felt confident that I would stay safe. I’ve had a few close calls before, and even a couple of wipe-outs, but I never imagined that I’d get hit by a car. It didn’t feel real.

People started to gather around me. One man wanted to help me in the worst way, but there wasn’t much for him to do. He wanted to make sure I was okay. He wanted to move me off the street. I wanted to wait for Andy. Oddly, he wanted to keep pouring water on my skinned and rapidly swelling knee. I asked him to stop because he was using up my drinking water! Another woman stopped and called 911. An impatient commuter started beeping at the Jeep so she could get out of the parking lot. I wanted to tell her, “Calm down! I just got hit by a car-my day is not going as planned either! Why can’t you take a minute out of your routine to wait and make sure all is well instead of impatiently blasting your horn?” All I could think was don’t disturb the “crime scene”. Don’t let the Jeep drive away. Get a picture. Get his license plate. It was a jumble of thoughts and tears. But the guy who was pouring water on my knee (still…), moved my bike and let the Jeep move out of the way for the impatient commuter. Luckily, Jeep guy did not leave the scene. He stayed over by his Jeep, making calls on his cell phone. He never said one word to me. He never apologized for running me and my bike over. He never gave any indication that he was sorry.

Quickly, the police and paramedics started arriving. I repeated my story over and over to each person. I was riding northbound on the bike path. The Jeep was stopped at the stop sign, I attempted to make eye contact, and then proceeded. The jeep hit the gas just when I got in front of it. It seemed to happen in slow motion, but I could not prevent it. I watched as the Jeep mangled my bike while I was tangled underneath it, my legs getting contorted and banged up as it twisted under the force of the Jeep. My elbow, hip and knee hit the concrete with a hard impact.

That split second changed my day. I had just been feeling invincible-on top of the world. In the next minute, I was sitting in the street, in tears, in pain and unable to move my knee.

The paramedics were asking me questions and checking me over while the policeman was assuring me that cases don’t get any more clearcut than this scenario. I was in a marked crosswalk. The Jeep had a stop sign. He reassured me that it would be clear in his report that the driver was 100% at fault. That’s great. Except that I was lying in the street, broken, next to my Team Phoenix bike, which was mangled on the side of the road. (Andy’s line is, “how does it feel to be right?) I was watching my goals for 2018 slip to the back burner for yet one more setback in a long string of setbacks. I couldn’t bend my left knee. Damn. Honestly, my left knee is (was) the one part of me that isn’t damaged…

Andy arrived and I started to feel a little less hysterical. He had called his employer, Bell Ambulance, and they soon arrived on scene, too. The second cop was a little cranky about it when I told him that I would be using Bell if I decided to be transported. He said that’s not how it works. Cudahy rescue was here, and if I wanted transport, I’d have to go with Cudahy rescue. I told him that was not my understanding of how it worked. I looked at the paramedic, and asked, “in your opinion, would you even suggest ambulance transport for these injuries?” He was noncommittal, but told me that I could sign to refuse transport. So I did that and then started talking to Bell’s paramedics. Being full of grit and determination, I really didn’t think I needed to go by ambulance. I just wanted Andy to drive me to the hospital. It was less than a mile away. It was a struggle to get in the car, because I couldn’t bend my knee much, but I got in and then the policeman came over to finalize his report and wish me luck. The Jeep guy’s friend also came over to apologize, but the man who hit me still never said a single word. He altered the trajectory of my life. I wonder if there was any consequence to his.

In the meantime, Andy loaded my bike onto the car while I sat in the passenger seat. Usually, I lock my bike to the rack, but something told me that nobody would steal a mangled bike off a car that was parked at the emergency room.
On to the ER. I did promise Andy that I would take him to a doctor to get his foot checked and we were on the way to see a doctor. Maybe we could get a two-fer. The nurse just laughed. Why is it that they always think I’m joking? Honestly, I wasn’t trying to get out of taking care of Andy.

He insisted on getting a wheelchair to get me into the ER. I didn’t object. Much… We spent the next three hours getting my injuries checked out. There was a physical exam, and x-rays of my knee and femurs. My knee was becoming increasingly swollen and the bruises started to appear on both thighs and right shin, where the bike frame struck me. My left hip had huge bruises, too, from hitting the concrete. The X-ray tech kept asking me to position myself in various ways on the table, each position hurting more than the previous one. The last one was extremely awkward. At least they got good images.

Luckily, nothing was broken according to the x-ray. They gave me pain pills, a knee brace, and asked if we wanted to watch a video on “how to use crutches”. I said no. How hard could it be? But Andy thought a little entertainment was a great idea, so we agreed to watch the video. I’m glad we did, because it put me in a better mood. The nurse literally wheeled in an AV cart set-up straight out of my 80s high school days. A CRT TV sat on the top of the cart and a VCR on the bottom. She popped in the VHS tape (I am not kidding!) and the ensuing video took my mind off my pain. It was hilarious-so hilarious that I did not pay any attention to the tips on using crutches. I think I figured it out pretty fast, and I made my way out to the car to get home to start recovering and re-calculating my plans for the year. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to work around a set back.

Photo Sep 15, 11 06 17 AM