Friday, April 27, 2012

When kancer guidelines kollide with experience

My mom mailed me a care package, including the April issue of Alive which is chock-full of articles on the cancer - I highly recommend it. However, one article, "Breast Cancer Screening", left me confused.

New breast kancer screening guidelines

Last year, the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care released new breast cancer screening guidelines. Highlights pertaining to women 40-49 that jumped out at me:

  • Routine screening mammograms: not recommended
  • Regular self breast exam: not recommended
  • Regular breast exam performed by a doctor: not recommended

An unremarkable history

At 39, I'm a year shy of being a member of this age group. I've always been sporadic about performing self exams, because I didn't fit into the high-risk category.

There is no breast cancer in my family, except for my cousin Pam, and we are not related biologically. I'm active on a regular basis. I drink (or rather, drank), but limited it to weekends, generally moderately. I quit smoking several years ago. I breastfed.

In other words, I'm like a lot of women my age.

My kancer diagnosis

Like I said, I was sporadic with the self exams. I noticed some skin that looked off on my left breast. I get eczema, so thought little of it at first. Then I decided to check. Aha! A lump.

I booked an appointment with my family doctor. He checked. "I've felt a lot of cancer, and this doesn't feel like it. But because of the skin discolouration, let's send you for an ultrasound," he told me.

I was referred to Mount Saint Joseph in Vancouver, which I learned is *the* place to go for screening and treatment. They decided to give me a mammogram, then ultrasound.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Where does this leave women

So the new recommendations have me wondering what women are supposed to do. I turn 40 later this year. Friends who have already reached the milestone and have been putting off their first mammogram have told me they'll now get it because of my experience.

I didn't think I had cancer. My doctor didn't think I had cancer. And my surgeon and oncologist agree I didn't fit into the high-risk category. 

That mammogram may have saved my life.

My humble opinion and a pitch

Trust your gut. If you think something is wrong, pursue it. If you don't agree with a doctor, get a second opinion, or a third. Be your own best advocate!

And in honour of Daffodil Day, I plug Mount Saint Joseph's fundraising campaign for a second mammogram machine.

There is a fundraiser on Saturday, May 12 at the Riverside Grand Ballroom. Tickets cost $75 a pop.

If you can't go, want to donate a different amount, or want more info, contact: 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Friends help make kancer be less krappy

So my kid ended up in emergency last weekend, three days after my mom headed back to Ontario. Four stitches later, and not allowed to go to daycare or play like a normal 5-year-old boy made for a stressful week. Without my friends, I would have likely ended up in a padded room.

My new friends

There are the friends I've met at my current job, who I may never have encountered otherwise. Tony is one of them. He told me about the video above, and I told him I needed to see it. Tony knew I had a crappy week, and posted it today. Enjoy!

I came home, and saw Tony's video on my Facebook wall, after having a nice walk with another friend from work, Melissa. Just another reason to be glad I took my job. I'll share more about these fantastic folks in further posts.

My old friends

No, not old, old. I mean friends I've known for several years. Patti, who helped look after the boy the day after his accident. Bret and John, who helped us out the day of an oncologist's appointment by getting up in time to be here at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m., the former to babysit, and the latter to give us a lift. Erica, who gave me a lift to another appointment, and kept the kid entertained.

Then there are the many friends who have been helping to keep my spirits up with e-mails, texts, and phone calls. And my best friend of all, my husband, who is handling an excessive amount of crazy these days.

Play the kancer kard

If you're dealing with an illness, call on your friends. Don't feel guilty. Chances are, they'll go above and beyond the call of duty.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kittelberg's kancer kronicles

As you may have guessed by the headline, yep, I have cancer - breast cancer, to be precise. And yep, I've decided to purposely misspell it in my headlines and related hashtags. If you follow me on twitter (@Lori_writes), the hashtag is #kancerkronicles for the sake of brevity, and for the sake of avoiding the racist-looking triple-k.

I've been reading Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips - which I highly recommend to women living with cancer, particularly young women - and she talks about misspelling cancer as a middle digit to the disease. I figure that's as good a reason as any to misspell something. Normally, I'm a spelling nazi so this is rather liberating too.

Why I'm blogging about kancer
Anyway, I've gone back and forth on the whole idea of publicly blogging about this. Ultimately, I decided that I'm going crazy without writing. All the books tell me to journal, and I figure if my writing can help someone else who is living with breast cancer, then I'd be a jerk not to make my writing accessible. So here goes.

Adios, armpit drain
Today is a rather big day for me. After two weeks and three days, I'm finally having the drain removed.

The drain consists of a tube that is running from an incision in my armpit to the lovely bottle pictured. I had lymph nodes removed, so the drain helps to get rid of fluid that would otherwise build up in my pit, along with some tissue.

You can see some of the aforementioned tissue floating in the bottle. It's been there for a while, as it's too big to fit through the exit when I empty the bottle. Charming, eh?

If I had needed more of my breast removed, I likely would have two drains. So I guess I should consider myself lucky with my only-child drain.

Words open to interpretation
Because I'm an overachiever, I completely believed I would be rid of the drain a maximum of one week post surgery. After all, another book I have been reading said most women have them for "a few days" post surgery.

As a writer who strives to use clear, plain language, I should have known better. My "few days" means three, max. Apparently my body disagrees and thinks it's two weeks and three days. Damn.

Everyone's a snowflake
And that's likely the most difficult part of dealing with this whole breast cancer thing right now. Everyone is different, so there are no definitive answers when it comes to healing.

I might be able to do chemo on my lunch breaks, then merrily skip back to work afterwards. Or I might feel like puking my guts out for a "few" days after each treatment. I might lose my hair. Or I might keep my hair, but get diarrhea or constipated.

Frankly, all this uncertainty is a pain in the ass.