Tuesday, 21 November 2017

 

 "The Road Back to Hell"

 This is the bittersweet story of growing up in an extremely dysfunctional home in the 1950's and 1960's. As the oldest child of my biological mother, Bonnie, and my adoptive father, Stew, I was the only daughter who benefited from the strong love my parents shared during the early years of their marriage. Shortly after the birth of my first sibling, Judy, their marriage started to crumble.  

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Thursday, 19 October 2017 17:19

Facing the Truth by Heather Baughman

Knowing that my friend, Heather was recently diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer I decided to call and ask her if she would allow me to feature her story in this month's blogs. After a few moments hesitation, she agreed. We both felt that sharing her experiences with others might be helpful.  I asked her to write down everything that has happened to her over the past six-months. Although it might be painful to do this, I also knew it could be very therapeutic. Two days later, she sent me her eight-page story. She started writing after my call, and did not stop until the wee hours of the morning. And yes, she said it did help her release a lot of pent-up anger and fear.

When I read what she had sent me, I cried. She is a good writer and an honestly frank person. Or as she put it- "A no BS kind of gal'. She has done an amazing amount of research about her cancer and is fully prepared to face what lies ahead.  She is a fighter!  She has become a strong supporter of the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation and encourages anyone who would like to know more about this disease or wants to make a donation to go to TNBCfoundation.org .

We did not get permission to print the names of the doctors who are involved with her care, so we are using fictitious names.

Part 1 of Heather's Story-

The year 2017 stared out pretty well. I had sold my cafe business the year before and had decided to take a year off so I could enjoy my son, Jimmy's senior year and spend time with my family. I was very proud when Jimmy was selected for the Homecoming Court and looked forward to his basketball games, senior prom and graduation. I knew I had a big graduation to plan for in June. My daughter Myranda is fourteen, and had been asking to go to Universal Studios in Florida for years. My husband, Kevin and I decided with all that was going on with Jimmy, this summer would be the perfect time to surprise Myranda with a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.

Having no idea what was in my future, I foolishly cashed out my 401K from my previous employment to make sure I had enough to pay for everything. We used part of the money to help Jimmy get a car and to cover the expenses of his graduation party. We also used it to take Myranda and her friend, Samantha to Universal Studios for five days. If I would have had any idea at the time what I would be facing, I may have saved some of the money. But I didn't. Instead, I spent it on gifts for my children, creating memories with my family that I will never forget.  All in all, my life was great!  Jimmy was graduating on June 1st and his party was set for June 10th. We were preparing to take Myranda to Florida before Jimmy's party when our world came crashing down and everything changed in an instant!

It was May 2nd and I was taking a shower before bed. While washing myself, I felt a huge lump in my right breast!  I knew in my heart, as soon as I felt it, it was breast cancer! I do not know how I knew this, but I did. Since I had turned thirty, I had been getting mammograms every six months due to the pain in my breasts. During that time, they had found several cysts that they were keeping an eye on.  As soon as I got out of the shower, I told Kevin about the lump and he agreed I should get into the doctor ASAP. The first thing in the morning, I called Dr. Jones, my family doctor, and got an appointment for the next day. She had also scheduled an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound on the following day, May 4th.  As soon as I returned from my tests at the hospital, Dr. Jones called and said, " Heather, we don't like what we saw and want you to have three biopsies."  My recent mammogram and ultrasound detected that one of the cysts on my left breast had doubled in size; there was also a 1.5cm mass in my right breast, and they were checking the auxiliary lymph node measuring 2cm under my right arm. My heart instantly sank.  Dr. Jones then told me they had scheduled appointment for me with Dr. Black, a surgeon in DuBois. I was to meet with her in a week to discuss the biopsies.

 My heart instantly sank, and fear instantly set-in.  I didn't sleep that entire week.  I couldn't eat and I was very short with everyone around me. Not knowing what was actually happening was killing me. My mood was further darkened when I spent every waking moment on Web MD trying to learn everything I could about breast cancer and breast cancer treatments.  When it was time for my appointment in DuBois, my best friend Wendy, went with me. Dr. Black was very kind as she explained exactly what she was going to do.  When she told me I needed to come back after lunch so she could perform the procedures, I panicked. I explained that I have severe anxiety and asked to be put under for the procedures.  When she suggested I come back on Friday and she would give me something to keep me calm, I agreed.  That Friday, my husband Kevin came with me. He is my rock and the only one who keeps me calm. His presence, and the fifteen mg of Valium that Dr. Black gave me before the procedure, calmed me down. They would not let Kevin go in with me during the biopsies, and the meds did not completely kick in until the doctor was almost done. I can vividly remember the look on her face as she was doing the ultrasound. I knew then, it was cancerous.  When I asked how we would know if the cancer had spread anywhere else, Dr. Black bluntly replied, "We won't know until we do more tests."

When Dr. Black finished taking the last sample, the Valium really kicked-in. The nurse helped me get dressed and walked me into the office where Kevin was waiting for me.  She gave Kevin all of the instructions and told him he could not leave my side for the next eight hours.  Due to the medication, he literally had to be in the same room with me and watch me sleep. He brought me home, tucked me into bed and did just that!  He worked from home in the bedroom as he watched me sleep.

The following week, Dr. Black called and told me to come to her office on May 18th for the test results. Kevin went with me. As I have already said, I knew in my gut it that it was breast cancer. When the doctor walked into the room, she instantly confirmed our fears. When she handed me a copy of "Everything You Need to Know about Breast Cancer", I went numb. It was a good thing Kevin was with me to take notes and ask questions because I couldn't hear a word she was saying. Dr. Black explained that she had set up an appointment for me with the local oncologist, as well as an appointment with a surgeon at Magee Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh. She had also set me up for genetic testing to determine if it was a genetic mutation, which could increase the possibility of recurrence even if I had surgery to remove the cancer. Two weeks later when the biopsy results came in, it showed that my left breast tested negative for cancer. However, my right breast tested positive for cancer with a 1.3 cm tumor and my right auxiliary lymph node showed atypical cells.  Although the cells did not appear to be cancerous, it was still suspicious.  Dr. Black said it would take another week before we found out exactly what type of cancer I had and promised to call as soon as those results came in. 

The next few days I was a wreck! I was trying to figure out how to tell my children I had breast cancer, and that I would be going through a year of chemotherapy, surgery and possibly radiation therapy. When I finally found the courage to tell them, they were both supportive. Jimmy tried to keep me thinking positively by saying, "Mom, you will get through this. You always get through everything that has been thrown at you. It will be okay."  Myranda started to tear-up and said, "I'm just going to act like everything is fine because then it will be fine."  After that, I had to break the news to my family. Telling my mom was particularly hard because she is battling Stage 4 Lung Cancer.  Then I broke the news to my closest friends. During the stress of all of this, we also had to deal with Jimmy's upcoming prom and graduation along with my meeting in DuBois with the oncologist and more testing. Kevin moved our trip to Universal Studios from July to June so we could go before I started treatments.

Over that next week, I researched everything I could about breast cancer. Like many people, I always thought breast cancer was breast cancer. It was not until I started my research that I found there are so many different types. The following week, I received a call from Dr. Black informing me the good news was that my genetic test came back negative. Then she gave me the bad news―I have Invasive Ductile Carcinoma, which means the cancer is active.  She went on to explain it is Nuclear Grade 3, which means the tumor is highly aggressive. Then came the worst blow of them all.  I have Triple Negative Breast Cancer!

As I mentioned before, until I started researching cancer, I had no idea there were so many different types of breast cancer. However, I specifically remembered reading about this one. Triple Negative Breast Cancer means your tumor tested negative for Estrogen Receptor- ER; Progesterone Receptors PR; and HER2-. About 10% to 20% of women diagnosed with Triple Negative will test positive for the BRAC 1 or 2 genetic mutations, and others will have mutations in related breast cancer gene risks. Triple Negative has a poorer prognosis than other breast cancers. On a positive note, Triple Negative typically responds best to chemotherapy. Triple Negative tumors do not traditionally respond to receptor-targeted therapies. It is a breast cancer that is more likely to reoccur or spread to other organs, especially during the first one to five years of diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for early stage Triple Negative Breast Cancer is 77% versus 95% of women with other forms of breast cancer. Triple Negative usually effects women under the age of forty― women who are just starting their lives. Some of these women are in their early twenties and pregnant at the time of diagnosis. I knew it was bad as soon as I heard those words! Dr. Black wanted me to have a PET scan later that week, so I would have the results to take to my appointment with my oncologist.  

I was devastated by this diagnosis, and literally could not get out of bed for the next four days. Breast cancer was honestly not something I ever worried about getting. I dreaded my upcoming PET scan and oncology appointments. At 7:00am on May 25th, I went for my PET scan. Fearing the worst, I sat in the chair and hysterically cried. After the test, I drove home. Within an hour, Dr. Black called with the results.  I finally got some good news! The PET scan showed cancer was only in my right breast.  My lymph nodes, bones and other organs all looked clear. Next to hearing my doctor say, "Hey, we screwed up and you don't have cancer at all, this was about the best news I could get!

That weekend, I snapped out of my funk just in time for Jimmy's Senior Prom. It was beautiful and I was very grateful to be there with him on that very special night. I cried while watching Kevin button his tuxedo shirt and pin the boutonniere on his lapel. The last time he helped Jimmy dress in a tuxedo, was ten years earlier at our wedding. The next weekend we were able to watch him receive his high-school diploma. It was a day I will always remember.

On May 31st, I went to DuBois for my first oncology appointment with Dr. Brown. The doctor was very kind and got right to the point. Although he was a positive thinker, he did not sugar coat anything. I liked that about him because I am a 'No BS' kind of gal! Dr. Brown ordered a breast and brain MRI on June 12th. He stated that because the tumor was still small, the surgery would be done first. Because of some other medical issues I was having, Dr. Brown was concerned that my liver would not be able to handle the chemotherapy drugs. He thought it was best to remove the tumor in my right breast before the cancer spread to my lymph nodes. Typically, with Triple Negative, chemo is given first so they know how your body is responding to the chemo treatment.  I understood and agreed with his decision to do the surgery first. He scheduled an appointment with the surgeon at Magee Women's Hospital for July 14th. He told me to go and enjoy my son's graduation and my vacation with my family and we would take care of all this when I returned. So that's what we did!

Jimmy graduated on Friday night, June 2nd and I tried very hard not to cry the entire time. I was very happy to be able to watch my 'baby' boy walk down the aisle of the auditorium and stand on that stage proudly receiving his diploma with friends he had been going to school with since Kindergarten. My little boy had grown into a fine, young man! At the time, I remember hoping I would be here in four years to watch Myranda receive her diploma. I just kept pushing those dark thoughts to the back of my mind. I took about two hundred pictures that evening to capture those precious moments. When the graduation ceremony was finished, I rushed home so I could start packing. We were leaving for Florida on Monday!

We flew to Orlando on Monday and spent the next five days at Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter with Myranda and Samantha. We had a great time that week, and I was able to make the most of the trip without worrying about my upcoming tests and treatments. I was extremely happy that I was able to take my daughter on her dream vacation before starting my treatments. When we arrived home, I had two days to get the house and yard ready for Jimmy's graduation party. It was a very stressful time, but with the help of my amazing friends and some of my family members, we pulled it off! Everyone had a great time at the party. My only rule for the day was that nobody was to mention the "C" word. This was Jimmy's day. Although the last twelve days had been a whirlwind of activity, they were also some of the most memorable days of my life and I will remember them forever.

For now, the fun times were over, and I needed to prepare for the treatments and surgery that lie ahead.

Knowing that my friend, Heather was recently diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer I decided to call and ask her if she would allow me to feature her story in this month's blogs. After a few moments hesitation, she agreed. We both felt that sharing her experiences with others might be helpful.  I asked her to write down everything that has happened to her over the past six-months. Although it might be painful to do this, I also knew it could be very therapeutic. Two days later, she sent me her eight-page story. She started writing after my call, and did not stop until the wee hours of the morning. And yes, she said it did help her release a lot of pent-up anger and fear.

When I read what she had sent me, I cried. She is a good writer and an honestly frank person. Or as she put it- "A no BS kind of gal'. She has done an amazing amount of research about her cancer and is fully prepared to face what lies ahead.  She is a fighter!  She has become a strong supporter of the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation and encourages anyone who would like to know about this disease or wants to make a donation to go to TNBCfoundation.org .

We did not get permission to print the names of the doctors who are involved with her care, so we are using fictitious names.

Part 1 of Heather's Story-

The year 2017 stared out pretty well. I had sold my cafe business the year before and had decided to take a year off so I could enjoy my son, Jimmy's senior year and spend time with my family. I was very proud when Jimmy was selected for the Homecoming Court and looked forward to his basketball games, senior prom and graduation. I knew I had a big graduation to plan for in June. My daughter Myranda is fourteen, and had been asking to go to Universal Studios in Florida for years. My husband, Kevin and I decided with all that was going on with Jimmy, this summer would be the perfect time to surprise Myranda with a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.

Having no idea what was in my future, I foolishly cashed out my 401K from my previous employment to make sure I had enough to pay for everything. We used part of the money to help Jimmy get a car and to cover the expenses of his graduation party. We also used it to take Myranda and her friend, Samantha to Universal Studios for five days. If I would have had any idea at the time what I would be facing, I may have saved some of the money. But I didn't. Instead, I spent it on gifts for my children, creating memories with my family that I will never forget.  All in all, my life was great!  Jimmy was graduating on June 1st and his party was set for June 10th. We were preparing to take Myranda to Florida before Jimmy's party when our world came crashing down and everything changed in an instant!

It was May 2nd and I was taking a shower before bed. While washing myself, I felt a huge lump in my right breast!  I knew in my heart, as soon as I felt it, it was breast cancer! I do not know how I knew this, but I did. Since I had turned thirty, I had been getting mammograms every six months due to the pain in my breasts. During that time, they had found several cysts that they were keeping an eye on.  As soon as I got out of the shower, I told Kevin about the lump and he agreed I should get into the doctor ASAP. The first thing in the morning, I called Dr. Jones, my family doctor, and got an appointment for the next day. She had also scheduled an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound on the following day, May 4th.  As soon as I returned from my tests at the hospital, Dr. Jones called and said, " Heather, we don't like what we saw and want you to have three biopsies."  My recent mammogram and ultrasound detected that one of the cysts on my left breast had doubled in size; there was also a 1.5cm mass in my right breast, and they were checking the auxiliary lymph node measuring 2cm under my right arm. My heart instantly sank.  Dr. Jones then told me they had scheduled appointment for me with Dr. Black, a surgeon in DuBois. I was to meet with her in a week to discuss the biopsies.

 My heart instantly sank, and fear instantly set-in.  I didn't sleep that entire week.  I couldn't eat and I was very short with everyone around me. Not knowing what was actually happening was killing me. My mood was further darkened when I spent every waking moment on Web MD trying to learn everything I could about breast cancer and breast cancer treatments.  When it was time for my appointment in DuBois, my best friend Wendy, went with me. Dr. Black was very kind as she explained exactly what she was going to do.  When she told me I needed to come back after lunch so she could perform the procedures, I panicked. I explained that I have severe anxiety and asked to be put under for the procedures.  When she suggested I come back on Friday and she would give me something to keep me calm, I agreed.  That Friday, my husband Kevin came with me. He is my rock and the only one who keeps me calm. His presence, and the fifteen mg of Valium that Dr. Black gave me before the procedure, calmed me down. They would not let Kevin go in with me during the biopsies, and the meds did not completely kick in until the doctor was almost done. I can vividly remember the look on her face as she was doing the ultrasound. I knew then, it was cancerous.  When I asked how we would know if the cancer had spread anywhere else, Dr. Black bluntly replied, "We won't know until we do more tests."

When Dr. Black finished taking the last sample, the Valium really kicked-in. The nurse helped me get dressed and walked me into the office where Kevin was waiting for me.  She gave Kevin all of the instructions and told him he could not leave my side for the next eight hours.  Due to the medication, he literally had to be in the same room with me and watch me sleep. He brought me home, tucked me into bed and did just that!  He worked from home in the bedroom as he watched me sleep.

The following week, Dr. Black called and told me to come to her office on May 18th for the test results. Kevin went with me. As I have already said, I knew in my gut it that it was breast cancer. When the doctor walked into the room, she instantly confirmed our fears. When she handed me a copy of "Everything You Need to Know about Breast Cancer", I went numb. It was a good thing Kevin was with me to take notes and ask questions because I couldn't hear a word she was saying. Dr. Black explained that she had set up an appointment for me with the local oncologist, as well as an appointment with a surgeon at Magee Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh. She had also set me up for genetic testing to determine if it was a genetic mutation, which could increase the possibility of recurrence even if I had surgery to remove the cancer. Two weeks later when the biopsy results came in, it showed that my left breast tested negative for cancer. However, my right breast tested positive for cancer with a 1.3 cm tumor and my right auxiliary lymph node showed atypical cells.  Although the cells did not appear to be cancerous, it was still suspicious.  Dr. Black said it would take another week before we found out exactly what type of cancer I had and promised to call as soon as those results came in. 

The next few days I was a wreck! I was trying to figure out how to tell my children I had breast cancer, and that I would be going through a year of chemotherapy, surgery and possibly radiation therapy. When I finally found the courage to tell them, they were both supportive. Jimmy tried to keep me thinking positively by saying, "Mom, you will get through this. You always get through everything that has been thrown at you. It will be okay."  Myranda started to tear-up and said, "I'm just going to act like everything is fine because then it will be fine."  After that, I had to break the news to my family. Telling my mom was particularly hard because she is battling Stage 4 Lung Cancer.  Then I broke the news to my closest friends. During the stress of all of this, we also had to deal with Jimmy's upcoming prom and graduation along with my meeting in DuBois with the oncologist and more testing. Kevin moved our trip to Universal Studios from July to June so we could go before I started treatments.

Over that next week, I researched everything I could about breast cancer. Like many people, I always thought breast cancer was breast cancer. It was not until I started my research that I found there are so many different types. The following week, I received a call from Dr. Black informing me the good news was that my genetic test came back negative. Then she gave me the bad news―I have Invasive Ductile Carcinoma, which means the cancer is active.  She went on to explain it is Nuclear Grade 3, which means the tumor is highly aggressive. Then came the worst blow of them all.  I have Triple Negative Breast Cancer!

As I mentioned before, until I started researching cancer, I had no idea there were so many different types of breast cancer. However, I specifically remembered reading about this one. Triple Negative Breast Cancer means your tumor tested negative for Estrogen Receptor- ER; Progesterone Receptors PR; and HER2-. About 10% to 20% of women diagnosed with Triple Negative will test positive for the BRAC 1 or 2 genetic mutations, and others will have mutations in related breast cancer gene risks. Triple Negative has a poorer prognosis than other breast cancers. On a positive note, Triple Negative typically responds best to chemotherapy. Triple Negative tumors do not traditionally respond to receptor-targeted therapies. It is a breast cancer that is more likely to reoccur or spread to other organs, especially during the first one to five years of diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for early stage Triple Negative Breast Cancer is 77% versus 95% of women with other forms of breast cancer. Triple Negative usually effects women under the age of forty― women who are just starting their lives. Some of these women are in their early twenties and pregnant at the time of diagnosis. I knew it was bad as soon as I heard those words! Dr. Black wanted me to have a PET scan later that week, so I would have the results to take to my appointment with my oncologist.  

I was devastated by this diagnosis, and literally could not get out of bed for the next four days. Breast cancer was honestly not something I ever worried about getting. I dreaded my upcoming PET scan and oncology appointments. At 7:00am on May 25th, I went for my PET scan. Fearing the worst, I sat in the chair and hysterically cried. After the test, I drove home. Within an hour, Dr. Black called with the results.  I finally got some good news! The PET scan showed cancer was only in my right breast.  My lymph nodes, bones and other organs all looked clear. Next to hearing my doctor say, "Hey, we screwed up and you don't have cancer at all, this was about the best news I could get!

That weekend, I snapped out of my funk just in time for Jimmy's Senior Prom. It was beautiful and I was very grateful to be there with him on that very special night. I cried while watching Kevin button his tuxedo shirt and pin the boutonniere on his lapel. The last time he helped Jimmy dress in a tuxedo, was ten years earlier at our wedding. The next weekend we were able to watch him receive his high-school diploma. It was a day I will always remember.

On May 31st, I went to DuBois for my first oncology appointment with Dr. Brown. The doctor was very kind and got right to the point. Although he was a positive thinker, he did not sugar coat anything. I liked that about him because I am a 'No BS' kind of gal! Dr. Brown ordered a breast and brain MRI on June 12th. He stated that because the tumor was still small, the surgery would be done first. Because of some other medical issues I was having, Dr. Brown was concerned that my liver would not be able to handle the chemotherapy drugs. He thought it was best to remove the tumor in my right breast before the cancer spread to my lymph nodes. Typically, with Triple Negative, chemo is given first so they know how your body is responding to the chemo treatment.  I understood and agreed with his decision to do the surgery first. He scheduled an appointment with the surgeon at Magee Women's Hospital for July 14th. He told me to go and enjoy my son's graduation and my vacation with my family and we would take care of all this when I returned. So that's what we did!

Jimmy graduated on Friday night, June 2nd and I tried very hard not to cry the entire time. I was very happy to be able to watch my 'baby' boy walk down the aisle of the auditorium and stand on that stage proudly receiving his diploma with friends he had been going to school with since Kindergarten. My little boy had grown into a fine, young man! At the time, I remember hoping I would be here in four years to watch Myranda receive her diploma. I just kept pushing those dark thoughts to the back of my mind. I took about two hundred pictures that evening to capture those precious moments. When the graduation ceremony was finished, I rushed home so I could start packing. We were leaving for Florida on Monday!

We flew to Orlando on Monday and spent the next five days at Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter with Myranda and Samantha. We had a great time that week, and I was able to make the most of the trip without worrying about my upcoming tests and treatments. I was extremely happy that I was able to take my daughter on her dream vacation before starting my treatments. When we arrived home, I had two days to get the house and yard ready for Jimmy's graduation party. It was a very stressful time, but with the help of my amazing friends and some of my family members, we pulled it off! Everyone had a great time at the party. My only rule for the day was that nobody was to mention the "C" word. This was Jimmy's day. Although the last twelve days had been a whirlwind of activity, they were also some of the most memorable days of my life and I will remember them forever.

For now, the fun times were over, and I needed to prepare for the treatments and surgery that lie ahead.

Part 2 of Heather's story will be in my blog on October 26th.

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