Zoe's Story: All You Need is Love (Week 5)
October has arrived and normally the Addison is abuzz with Halloween preparations as we see our vision finally come to life before our eyes. This year there are no squeals of delight and frantic laughter as we lug enormous corpses and props around the building.
The pandemic did however NOT win because the office is abuzz with a more notable cause this year. The team has thrown themselves into the launch of The Pink Fight Club in honor of breast cancer awareness month. The Halloween gore has been replaced by pink roses and ribbons. Laughter is still a plenty and Helene certainly delivered roars of laughter when she arrived to work on October 1st in silk pajamas covered in pink ribbons. I will add it was her scheduled day off, but she is never one to miss out on the excitement. The day was simply uplifting in so many ways.
When I relocated to Boca Raton in 2006, I could not believe how beautiful this town was. Manicured and elegant, full of beautiful people. I remember wondering back then if I would ever truly call this town home; the majestic countryside and rolling hills of Kent, England did summon me back for many years. The outpouring of love and support from near and afar was overwhelming and uplifting. When the Boca Raton Historical Society posted The Pink Fight Club logo on their home page, in support of our cause, I could not have been more honored to call Boca Raton home. I cannot thank each and every one of you that dressed in pink, donated to the American Cancer Society, or simply sent a message of support enough for the encouragement. The support gave me the strength I needed to take on the week with a happy and grateful heart.
I had a meeting with my reconstructive surgeon. Dr Oeltjen who is based at the Miami Hospital. Firstly, I had to brave the Miami traffic (which is like driving in Europe blindfolded)! He confirmed I could have reconstruction at the same time as my mastectomy and discussed the various reconstruction options.
The first was a tissue flap procedure (also known as autologous tissue reconstruction). This is one way to rebuild the shape of your breast after surgery, to remove the cancer. The surgeon would perform a tummy tuck and use that tissue. Basically, it is a tissue transplant - but because it is your own tissue, your body does not reject it. I cannot have this done as I do not have enough available tummy skin. He could use skin from my inside thighs or buttocks, but I do not think I could put myself through those procedures when having my mastectomy, especially as I must start chemotherapy within four weeks of surgery. Additionally, as I may require radiation therapy this may not be the best option for me. It may be something I could revisit when I have recovered from chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
The other option is implants either silicone or saline. This is the best option for me, and he will make decisions on sizing during surgery. Saline vs Silicone, that is the big question. Each has pros and cons, and I am sure there are many diverse opinions out there. Currently, I am undecided. Note to woman going to these kinds of medical appointments: do not wear dresses. Trousers and tops are much more practical and allows you to keep the bottom half covered, and so ensuring some of your dignity remains intact!
When I returned to work, the office had been filled with pink roses hand delivered by Benny from Daniel Events which certainly was heartwarming and so appreciated. Today was a good day, I am so grateful to have such amazing people in my corner.
My bone scan day arrived, with much anxiety. I started my day at work with a meeting with the American Cancer Society. I had the pleasure of meeting with two inspirational woman: Linda (a fellow Brit who is a breast cancer survivor) and Arleen (Executive Director, American Cancer Society). We discussed an exciting future to raise awareness and funding. Melanie and I cannot wait to share this with you in the future!
Soon after my meeting I headed out for my PET/CT - Positron Emission Tomography and Computed Tomography (PET-CT). PET scans are most commonly used to detect cancer. Cancer cells have a higher metabolic rate than non-cancerous cells. Because of this high level of chemical activity, cancer cells show up as bright spots on PET scans.
The day prior to the procedure you must eat a high protein, low carbohydrate meal - and thereafter, drink only water. As I sat in reception the medication arrived in a sealed metal box with a hazard warning sign on it! Scary to think they are injecting radioactive materials straight into your veins. The IV was inserted and soon after, the technologist came into the waiting room with a metal box containing my syringe. He administered the medication and then left me to relax in a dark room for one hour. I asked him if I could continue to work, and he stated adamantly "no!" Complete relaxation was needed so the medication could gather in the proper locations. I found this hard, but managed the hour. I was then taken to a room where there was a machine with a plank-like bed and a donut tunnel. I was required to lay on my back, with arms above my head. He placed a blanket over me. He was so sweet; he even tucked my toes in.
The test was divided into three phases. The first phase was called a scout. The scout takes you through the tunnel to check positioning, ensure there is no metal on you, and ensures all is good to go. The second phase is the CT section to show anatomy, and the next phase is the PET section. The PET section is divided into eight sections of the body, and each section takes about three minutes. When all is complete, the images can be overlaid to provide a 3-D image of your body. It was a lengthy test but relaxing.
Friday eventually arrived and I had the long-awaited meeting with my chemotherapy doctor. Dr. Vogul was delightful, kind, and informative. He started by telling me that my genetic tests had come back negative. I do not have genes that cause breast cancer. This was wonderful news, knowing the woman in my family do not have genetic programing. He agreed with Dr. Avisar that trying to reduce the size of the masses with chemotherapy before surgery would be wasted time. Lobular Carcinoma, he explained, does not have many clinical studies and so it is harder to treat. They simply do not know how it will respond to treatment.
He did tell me that the kind of chemotherapy drug that he will be using on me is the oldest, but also the strongest. There are side effects, which include nausea and hair loss. He assured me that there are medications available to alleviate some of the side effects. Other more concerning side effect are that it can damage the heart and bone health. To monitor my health throughout the chemo (every two weeks for 12 weeks initially).
He ordered an echocardiogram and a bone density exam. This will give him a baseline. He also discussed that he would like to place a port in my chest so that they can administer the drugs in this way. The drugs can burn and or damage the veins; so by having a port in my chest, these two side effects can be avoided.
He also confirmed I would probably need radiation and referred me to Dr. Laura Freedman to finalize this plan. It was a hard conversation. In fact, the hardest to date. I always said, if I ever got cancer, I would not put myself through all this. However, faced with the choice at 49-years of age, I am embracing the treatment. Leaving the hospital, I found myself tearing up.
Only this morning I awoke to heavy rain. Sonja and I had decided to take the dogs out in the teeming rain anyway. We walk them in a park not far from our home, which is a real ramble - but the dogs love it. Because of rainy season, the marshes are overflowing. The dogs love to run through them; it brings them so much joy (and me to watch them). As we walked around the field, the rain against my face and skin, it was invigorating. It made me feel so alive, and I never wanted that feeling to end. Getting in the car at the hospital to head back to work, that feeling hit me profoundly. I felt so sad at the prospect of missing those moments. Not being part of life’s treasured moments, as tomorrow is not promised, makes me so sad! I called Sonja, who reassured me that everything was going to be okay. I would see her graduate with her Master’s, walk her down the aisle, read bedtime stories to my perfect grandbabies, and walk into the Addison’s magnificent courtyard and laugh with my team for years to come.
Patrick, our Executive Chef REALLY bear hugged me (against our COVID policy I must add) when I needed a hug (I did not know I did), and driving back to work talking to Sonja and remembering that hug reminded me that love is so powerful. What we all need to do is tell our loved ones how much they mean to us and how much we love them. This week was all about love for me. The outpouring of love was overwhelming and invigorating just like the rain on my skin.
Next week should conclude the copious amounts of tests in this diagnosis journey and allow me to finally start treatment that COVID-19 has delayed for so long. Whilst I am scared and anxious, I am ready because I have so much love in my life and support in my life.