Radiation was so much worse than I had expected.
The last 10 months have been a daily reminder of just how much I took for granted prior to getting my cancer diagnosis. I miss my health and I grieve the body that I had always taken for granted. I totally underestimated the effects of radiation on my body and mind. With chemotherapy, it was an ache I cannot explain. A pain and nausea so consuming, I had no idea where it was coming from. Radiation was different; I knew exactly where the pain was coming from. I had burns, blisters and swelling covering my back, abdomen, and chest - and there was simply nothing I could do about it.
The radiation was accumulative and whilst the side effects in the the weeks passed, the symptoms were severely debilitating. The redness, pain, and irritation that comes with radiation are excruciating. Even the fatigue was comparable to my hardest days on chemotherapy. I honestly had to remind myself that I was not going to die because of these treatments, and this is all saving my life, but I had to dig very deep to get through the pain and exhaustion day-after-day.
I was jubilant when I finally walked into the treatment room for my last session on June 15. As always, I was greeted by the incredible team of women that have taken such great care of me and lifted my spirits everyday throughout the last eight weeks. I will be eternally grateful for their compassion and most importantly their passion to heal me.
I am so proud of this body of mine and I have developed an entirely newfound love and respect for myself, having successfully completed months of treatment including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I have never been prouder of my strength, determination, and perseverance.
It has however become evident that the last 10 months are by no means the end of my cancer journey. It has also become evident that the next phase in my treatment is perhaps the most important. Without endocrine therapy, I will almost certainly be dealing with a reoccurrence. Endocrine therapy slows or stops the growth of hormone-sensitive tumors by blocking the body's ability to produce hormones or by interfering with effects of hormones on the breast cancer cells. As I have HR+ (hormone receptor positive) cancer, endocrine therapy is imperative to my longevity. I will for the very first time in my life be taking a cocktail of life-saving drugs. In July, I will start taking Letrozole (hormone-based chemotherapy) thereafter Zometa (Zoledronic Acid) used to treat bone damage. The last drug is Abemaciclib (Verzenio). You will remember me talking about the CDK 4/6 inhibitors the new drug that many believe to be a game changer in the treatment of advanced cancer. In fact, Abemaciclib was designated as a breakthrough therapy for breast cancer by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2015. Abemaciclib is used in the treatment of advanced or metastatic breast cancers. It was developed by Eli Lilly and it acts as a CDK inhibitor selective for CDK4 and CDK6. I am hoping this drug gives me another 50 years.
Cancer is a hair-raising, white-knuckle roller-coaster ride. Just as you think you are coming to the end of the ride, you are suddenly jerked sideways around another bend only to find you are once again gripping on for dear life down another unknown path. Just this week I was diagnosed with Lymphedema. It is not uncommon for woman who have had surgery to remove diseased lymph and lymph nodes followed by radiation to develop Lymphedema; I was just hoping that I would not be one of them. The lymph system is a network of lymph vessels, tissues and organs that carry lymph throughout the body. It is the highway of the body. Lymph a colorless watery fluid travels through the lymph vessels and carries T and B Lymphocytes (white blood cells). The network of lymph vessels collects lymph from different parts of the body and return it to the bloodstream. The lymph nodes store white blood cells and helps fight infection. Lymphedema occurs when lymph is not able to flow through the body the way it should. There are many risks associated with Lymphedema including the risk of infection, swelling and potential loss of use of the limb. This diagnosis was not a surprise to me, as my right arm barely fits into long sleeved clothing, but I was completely floored when I was told that I needed surgery. A lymphovenous bypass or lymphaticovenular anastomosis is a new technique. During LVB surgery, the surgeon uses a microscope and small surgical tools to connect the part of my lymphatic vessel that is not blocked to a nearby vein. This allows the lymphatic fluid to get past the blockage and flow away from the affected limb and area.
I am meeting with my surgeon in July to schedule the surgery once all the imaging has been done. Kyle Yikuan Xu, MD is a well-respected specialist in his field, and I am confident he will be the perfect surgeon for me.
So many priceless life lessons come from the deepest fear and pain. I have learned that people are so incredibly beautiful and KIND. I have learned that life is made up of moments that consist of my choices, my words, and the love I give away. The month of May was a month filled with so many of these moments. I cannot let this blog end without mentioning some of these moments as they have brought so much joy to me during some of my darkest days.
Vicki, my childhood friend, walked 100 miles in the month of May in my honor to raise funds for cancer research. For those of you who know Vicki, you also know she is not the outdoorsy walking type. Yet, she walked in rain (a tiny bit of sunshine, but mainly rain) to achieve her goal.
My amazing girlfriends Linda, Olivia, Anthea, and Gloria plotted with Allison and Melanie to kidnap me and take me to a magnificent beachfront restaurant to kick off a month-long celebration in honor of my 50th year. Even though the pain and exhaustion of radiation was set-in, driving along A1A in Linda’s VW Beatle, "Frank" with the roof down and the ocean air blowing on my bald head gave me the push I needed to take on another week of treatment with a smile on my face. I laughed so hard that evening my cheeks ached. I love you ladies.
My girlfriend Marci booked a cabana on my birthday at the Boca Resort and Beach Club so that I could spend the day with the formidable ladies at the Addison, Sonja and Cassie. We relaxed around the pool, drank champagne, and took the day to just enjoy each other’s company. The day was perfection and ended with an intimate birthday dinner hosted by my incredible Addison family.
The love just kept on coming and on Saturday Lauren Munoz organized a Tea Party for me. I was joined by yet another group of incredible women to further celebrate my birthday as we drank English Breakfast Tea, ate scones and tea sandwiches, and laughed together as we took a quiz about 1971!
To end my birthday month, Mark and Conor organized a Bora Bora Cabana and Suite at the new Guitar Hard Rock Hotel. Surrounded by family and beloved friends, I laid on my sunbed fully protected from the sun, sipping champagne and feeling hope wash over me. …hope for recovery and 50 more fantastic years surrounded by the incredible people I am fortunate enough to call my friends and family. I have never felt more loved by you all. Somewhere in between all this love and joy, tiny little blond hairs appeared on my head, eyelashes, and eyebrows. As I write this blog, I am thrilled to say I have a fully-covered head and eyelashes that can wear mascara and full eyebrows. Cancer has made me GRATEFUL for everything. Every tiny thing. I could not be more grateful for the moments you all shared with me.
My body, despite it all, is starting to get stronger and I am ready to give back once again. On July 30, I will be joined by the Magnificent 7 (Olivia, Linda, Arlene, Anthea, Gloria, Melanie and Allison) and a few new inspirational women (Kanwal, Leslie, and Jamie) to host StudioHERS. It is a Studio 54 disco inspired event that will celebrate woman and the power of unity. Join me in disco attire or glam rags to dance the night away on the light up dance floor provided by JR Productions, culinary delights by Chef Patrick, Pink Cocktails and Bubbles by the House of Bodvar and celebrate a moment with me while raising needed funds to find a cure for cancer for our children and grandchildren.