By Tanya Dodd-Hise
Chemotherapy finally ended in mid-October, and soon plans were being discussed about starting radiation. I had another surgery that I was waiting to have approved, one that would, for all intents and purposes, be my version of reconstruction. The surgeon needed to go back in and remove more skin and fat, as I remained a bit deformed and misshapen after the double mastectomy in April. Once the second surgery was approved, I spoke with my Oncologist, and he said to proceed with it before starting radiation – otherwise I would have to wait a while, until my skin had completely healed from treatments. And I did NOT want to wait any longer.
Surgery was performed December 2nd, with an overnight stay at the hospital, and then it was back home and back to doctor appointments, follow-up appointments, lab work, and consultations to plan for the next round of treatments. Once I consulted with Dr. Ilahi, my Radiation Oncologist, it was decided that I could get through the holidays and begin radiation on January 7th. I was beyond thrilled! During the interim, I had gotten a follow-up PET scan, and on November 14th was given the report that there was no evidence of previous tumors in any of the areas where it had been given. In other words – the chemo had worked and I was cancer free! This made me really question why I absolutely needed to continue on and put myself through radiation; but Dr. Ilahi said that it was an extra measure to help prevent it from coming back – like, by a large percentage. So with that information, I knew that it was something that I needed to do, as much as I did not want to do it. For myself. For my wife. For my children. If it increased my odds of STAYING cancer free, then hell yes I would be doing it.
Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went, and I began to slowly start feeling better after chemo life. Dragging my feet, I went in and started the routine:
Treatments would be every day, Monday through Friday, at 3:30 PM, for six and a half weeks
Dr. Ilahi would see me every Wednesday to check my skin
There would be 33 treatments, of a particular dose, and none could be skipped
Since it is like sun damage, the negative effects would build, each week getting a little worse (and would end up like a bad sunburn…so they said)
Fatigue would be a side effect, but it wouldn’t get too noticeable until around week four
Anna (one of my radiation techs) showing the machine of my torture…LOL
Me, on the table, about to begin treatment
By week three, my skin was already a ruddy red color, all across my chest on the left side (where they were radiating). I battled with nausea, which boggled the doctor and techs’ minds, because supposedly nausea is not a common side effect when getting radiation in the chest area. But then again, EVERYTHING makes me nauseous. By week four, I started getting tired. And I started noticing, for the first time, that my left armpit was getting really dark. They were blasting me in the armpit, too?? I had no idea. By week five, I was getting really tired, really easily. My chest became blistered, but no skin had opened up. I developed itchy, little, red bumps on my upper back from exit radiation. My armpit got darker red, and started to hurt. By week six, I was tired. Like, bone dragging, dawg ass TIRED. I was using up to four lotions/creams at a time, multiple times per day, on my chest and armpit areas. They both hurt and itched all the time. By the final week, which would only be three days, I was beyond ready to be finished. I could barely stay awake during the day or evenings, and couldn’t wait until kids went to bed at night so that I could retire to our bed as well. I had prescription hydrocortisone for the itchiness, and was using it rapidly. And with three days left, my second degree burns under my arm had opened up, now requiring Silvadene cream twice a day.
It got to the point that I was in tears.
Shot of part of the chest burn, just a few days from the end
Three days from the end, and it finally got the best of me.
The 2nd degree burns under my arm (and yes, they got worse than this)
But the end was in sight…
For more on Tanya Dodd-Hise you can visit her blog
Photo Credit: Richard Bonser
So chemo is all done now, just over two months now actually, but I’m going to back track a little since I slacked off in my writing and updating.
Once I got done with the first four rounds, I was halfway done, and oh so glad to be done with the Red Devil that made me sick for what seemed like an eternity. Starting with round 5, I was supposed to finish out the last four rounds with one drug instead of two: Taxol. Several people, both medical professionals as well as former chemo patients, had told me that Taxol would be much easier to deal with, as it didn’t have the nausea side effects of my first two drugs. Well, good! Thank God, I said. All I have to say is….LIARS!
I had my first round of Taxol, and thought to myself, “Hey yeah! This Is easier on me and I don’t feel sick. Yay!” Within two days, my feet started to ache. Then it got worse, moving up my legs, making me wonder what I had done to cause the soreness, not taking I to account that it was chemo week and DUH, this could be a side effect. By day four, I could barely walk, and nothing I could take was easing the pain – and then it hit me that perhaps I should look up some of the side effects for this new drug. Ah. Bone pain is a common side effect. Lovely. And then, to top it off as the pain got more intense, I had an allergic reaction to the Taxol. On the evening of the fourth day, as I lay in bed in the dark, I started to itch. This led to scratching that accompanied the already annoying tossing and turning, writhing in pain. Erikka said, in the dark, “Honey….why are you scratching so much?” I didn’t know, so I turned on a lamp. Picture in your head a duet of gasps – as we saw the rash and inflammation that was taking over my body. Earlier in the day, the oncologist had called in a steroid prescription for me to help with the bone pain, hopefully. So when we saw the rash, we immediately thought that it was a reaction to THAT. We looked it up online, and it said that if you have a reaction like I was having, to go to the ER immediately. So I loaded up myself and drove to the ER, calling the answering service as I went. Once there, I was loaded up with IV meds of Benadryl, some other allergy meds, and Morphine. It took about an hour for the rash to go away and for me to get some rest, and then they released me. That was probably the worst reaction I had, since it was coupled with the bone pain; but little did I know just how bad the remaining treatments were going to get.
The second Taxol treatment had no skin or allergic reaction, so I thought I would be okay. I was wrong. The bone pain came back within a day, and was so strong that I had to purchase a cane to help walk even the shortest of distances for the week after treatment. I felt like an eighty year old! I remember lying in bed, crying and saying that I had NEVER felt this kind of pain, and that I didn’t think it was worth it. During the first four treatments, while my hair had all fallen out, I had managed to keep my eyelashes and eyebrows – well that was all over, and out they came. That was when I really started looking as sick as I felt. I walked into the bathroom one day, and was so shocked at what I saw…it made me cry. I exited the bathroom and came into our bedroom, crying that I finally looked like a cancer patient. It was a sobering moment.
After that second treatment on the Taxol, my doc decided it was too strong, so I would need to start going weekly for lower dose treatments – this did NOT make me happy. I just wanted to serve my time, get my sentence over with, and go on with my life. However, while it didn’t take away the pain, the smaller doses did make it more bearable. Weekly trips to the Oncologist for labs, doc visits, and treatments became my new routine. While he was giving me steroids with my treatments and for pain, I was blowing up, gaining almost 15 pounds, eating really crappy, and looking like a swollen excuse for a woman. I know it had to be hard on my wife and our kids to see me that way….hell, it was hard on ME! But eventually I got through it, and soon, it was October 14th and I was taking my final chemo treatment, thrilled out of my mind!
For more about Tanya you can visit Domestic Dyke
By: Tanya Dodd-Hise
It’s Monday, and as I type this, I am hooked up to an IV line that goes to my chest, pumping in the chemo drugs that had better be annihilating this stupid cancer. I am confidant that when I am done, the scans will show no traces of cancer, and then I can get on with radiation and finish out this year cancer-free. As I sit here, sweatshirt on, blanket on my legs, headphones in my ears and relaxing music piped in… I reflect on this past weekend.
While we were at camp – yeah, it felt kind of like cancer camp for grownups – we had sessions with counselors, art therapy, and some group sessions, to name a few things. One of the things that we did was make a list of things that cancer has taught us. We drew a circle in the middle of a page and wrote those words – “What Cancer Has Taught Me” – and branched things off of it. After we got done, I was pretty amazed at some of the answers – even my own – and thought about what a great blog it would make…so here we are. I decided that I wanted to write and share about what cancer has taught ME, so here are my top 10, done Jay Leno style.
10. Life is Precious. Now we ALL know this, or at least we all SHOULD know this. Our lives are ours, and we are the ones who have been commissioned to protect our lives, even when we don’t think we should. Each and every one of us matters, are important, and have value; and each and every one of us should always remember that.
9. Laughter is Healing. Something that I have always tried to do is keep a sense of humor, no matter what the situation. Yes, some might find it to be inappropriate at times, but sometimes you just have to lighten up a dark or grim situation – like cancer – by inserting some funny into it. The few times that I have cracked and fallen apart, there is almost always a laugh coming at the end of the tears. My friends – my good, true friends – are equally important and talented at knowing when to lighten things up, thus redirecting my focus OFF of myself and my situation and back to the business of being ME.
8. I am STRONG. This one took me a while to figure out. Many people say, when facing a difficult situation, that they don’t know how they will ever do it, or that they just know that they cannot do it. But you know what? We can do pretty much anything we put our mind to! I didn’t think that I could endure all of the loss, years ago, of family and friends who did not “approve” of my relationship with Erikka; but I did. I didn’t think that I could endure anymore hate and ignorance in this world that has been directed at my family, or other families like ours; but together, we have. I didn’t think that I could endure my oldest son’s teenage years and a custody suit that almost broke me down to my core; but I did and came through to the other side. I didn’t think that I could ever endure breast cancer and all of the procedures and treatments that I watched my mother go through seven years ago; but I did. I have. And I AM. I have discovered that I am way stronger than I ever gave myself credit for, and it is still amazing to discover it!
7. Our bodies CAN turn on us. The year before my surgery, I had started walking, then running, for exercise. I had lost 32 pounds before my diagnosis, and I was going to the gym at least three days per week for Aqua Cardio, as well as regular cardio and weight work. I was in better shape than I had been my entire adult life, eating better and taking care of my body, when I found a lump and was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. We have no way of knowing how much of my diagnosis was due to things that I had done in my unhealthy past (smoking, overeating, etc.), how much was environmental, how much was familial, or how much was just sorry luck of the draw. But it was eye-opening to know that cancer has no agenda, and will pick and choose whomever it wants to be its victim.
6. Our health is one of the most important things that we can control. Yes, we have control over our health. Many of us choose not to, until it’s too late and we are trying to control disease in order to extend our life. Had we taken control earlier, then we may not need to try to do damage control later on. But truly, knowing what I know now, if I could go back, I would totally change how I ate and took care of my body in order to not go through this. I will also say that while having cancer totally sucks and makes me feel miserable, I don’t think that I would give it back because of all that I have seen, done, and learned through this process. So take back your health, if it has gone askew; be the one to make healthy lifestyle choices and decisions – trust me, it makes a difference!
5. Love is stronger than fear. There is a LOT of fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis. While a doctor typically won’t tell you, “Hey you have cancer. You’re going to die,” it is still very scary to hear those words and resist the panic that comes with it. All of the “what ifs” creep in and can become overwhelming. What if I DO die? Who will take care of my kids? Who will close out all of my accounts? Who will make sure to clean out my nightstands before my mother decides that she wants to pack up my things? Who will take care of my wife? Who will take Noah to camp, and make sure that Harrison and Zoe remember me somehow? But somehow, someway, every time those thoughts sneak in, someone comes along and replaces them with love and assurance, and those fearful thoughts are banished from my mind.
4. Support can come from the most unexpected places. I was really, really worried when I got diagnosed about a multitude of things. I had no insurance, so how in the world would I get through treatment? Would the doctors recognize my wife as such and allow her to accompany me, for big things as well as little ones? What was I going to do about money, without me working and bringing in money for the majority of the year? What will I do about money now that the money raised for us is running out? But yet, my worries have all been answered by amazing people who have come out of the woodwork to offer love, support, and financial assistance when needed. We have gotten money sent to us from the most unsuspecting people, and have been eternally grateful for the kindness of both strangers and friends. And support hasn’t always been financial stuff at all. We have a multitude of friends who we consider family that have helped with both of the kids (mostly the baby), and without them, I don’t know how I would have gotten through some of the rough days.
3. There is a LOT of good in a LOT of people. I will never have an opportunity to thank and hug all of the people who have helped us get through this ordeal, especially in the beginning when it was all new and very scary. People that we didn’t know sent meals and filled our freezer. Other people that we don’t know, as well as those that we do, raised money and had benefits in my honor, and provided us with much needed financial help to get the bills paid during these months that I would not be working. I have had prayers and well-wishes sent to me via ecards, cards in the mail, and even cookies, by folks that I have never met and might not ever. Still others have cleaned our house for free, and taken care of our rambunctious toddler on days that I just don’t feel good enough to do so. Because of social networking, we are constantly bombarded and blasted with ignorance and hatefulness going on in the world around us, and it becomes difficult to see that there is still any good left anywhere other than mankind’s own agendas. But cancer has shown me that despite all of that ignorance and hate, there is so much good in our fellow mankind – friends, family, strangers alike. We just have to really, really look for it, listen for it….and it will present itself. It actually renews my faith in humanity, and because I’ve seen it and know that it’s there, it can’t be taken away from me.
2. Body image is a constantly evolving thing. Boy ain’t THIS the truth!? Just when I thought that I was actually getting happier with the body I was seeing when I got dressed, I got knocked down a peg or two! After surgery, it took weeks before I could look in the mirror when undressing and not want to cry. I still have my moments, too. But as the swelling has gone down only somewhat, I am learning to accept the new image that I see when I look in the mirror. And as I continue to take chemo – weekly now – I have noticed that my face has gotten more round and circular looking (like a plate head). I hate the way that I look! It has been very distressing to look in a mirror and know that this person looking back is not me – ohmygawd there is a SICK person looking back at me! I look like a cancer patient! Well holy hell….that sucks. So I now have to get used to a new normal, and hopefully when I am done with treatment.
And the #1 lesson that cancer has taught me….
1. Boobs aren’t all THAT important. Now don’t take this the wrong way, because I know how important it is to many mothers to nurse their babies and give them awesome milk to grow and become strong little people. But I had already used mine to nurse two babies, and before surgery, all I did was complain about their size and heaviness. I was constantly trying to find a bra that didn’t roll up underneath, or a sports bra that didn’t create a uniboob. I complained about their size, and was jealous of trans friends who got “top surgery” to take them off and not worry about them anymore. In the grand scheme of things? Mine tried to kill me, so I had them lobbed off, with no reconstruction planned or discusses. They were just big lumps of fat on my chest, and I do not want to die just to have them. Now that I am several months out from surgery, I have my moments where I miss them, and wish that my body was whole. I still struggle with how mangled and deformed I feel, and know that there is nothing that I can do to change it. I know this though – my breasts did not define me before, so they won’t define me now. I can exercise and work out again and build up my chest to not look so flat; and eventually have some badass tattoos done to cover my scars. But most importantly, cancer has taught me that no set of boobs are ever worth dying over….I’m just sayin.’
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
Friday. Another day with yet another appointment. My biggest meltdowns so far have been over the abundance of appointments. There have been SO many.
Today’s appointment is just a consultation with Dr. Ilahi – the Radiation Oncologist who will administer what will hopefully the final phase of treatment, at the end of the year. She is in the same practice as my oncologist, Dr. Perez, but she is in another office in another neighboring city. It is MUCH bigger and MUCH busier than my small office nearby, but hey, I gotta do what I gotta do.
I was ushered to the back within a few minutes of arriving and checking in, and soon was waiting in an exam room with Harrison sitting in her stroller – NOT being quiet, by the way. I finally got The Lorax rolling on Netflix on my phone (God I love technology), and soon she was quietly watching when the doctor came in. After introductions were made, she began asking my history: discovery of the lump, time frame of mammogram to surgery, when was chemo to start, etc. She then asked about my PET scans and realized that while she and Dr. Perez had conferred over the phone on the day of my last appointment with HIM, she did not have the scan results right in front of her to refresh her memory. She excused herself for a few minutes and went to print it out from my record, and returned to discuss. Dr. Perez had not been too specific when he told me that the cancer had spread, but rather just told me that it was in several of the intramammary lymph nodes (that can’t be taken out) and that I would need radiation. I appreciated that over the next several minutes, she took the time to explain that the PET scan results don’t specify how many nodes, but just whether or not it lights up on the scan in small or large amounts. I guess on mine, it lit up in several nodes, in small amounts. She also told me that it lit up in one node in my left collarbone area, in a tiny spot of an area. What??? I know that this may not seem like a big deal to most, considering that it had spread, so what’s one more node, right? Well, it was a big deal to ME. I had a minor little freak out there, spouting off that Dr. Perez had failed to share with me the fact that it was up near my collarbone as well. Dr. Ilahi was very understanding and told me that it should make me feel better that it was only a tiny spot in that location. Yeah, great. She then went on to explain to me that after I finish chemo, we will wait a couple of weeks, get me fitted for my radiation stuff, and then start 6 ½ weeks of daily (Monday through Friday) radiation treatments. Um, what??? I know that THIS may not seem like a big deal to most, but it was a big deal to ME. Dr. Perez had told me that it would be “about four weeks” of radiation at the end of chemo, but here I was, hearing that it would be 6 ½ weeks – 32 or so treatments. I was already upset enough that I was having to even do radiation, and now I am hearing that it is longer than I was initially told. I know that she, the radiation oncologist, ultimately made the call on the length of treatment and NOT Dr. Perez, I was still stunned to hear it. Fortunately for me, Dr. Ilahi was very calming and reassuring, and somehow made me feel okay about venturing down the radiation road eventually, even if it DOES totally freak me out.
She then asked if she could examine me, and she went over my scars and all of the edema that I have. She was very personable, asking about my family and my life. Once she was done and I was dressed again, she asked if I had any questions. My last question was about staging. I told her that after surgery, the surgeon had told me that I was officially a Stage 2b. I knew that the discovery of cancer that had spread had surely changed my staging, but when I had asked Dr. Perez about it, I wasn’t really given a direct answer. It seemed that nobody wanted to answer me, and while it may not be a big deal to some, for some reason, it was a big deal to ME. She responded so sweetly, saying that no, she understood me wanting to know, and that this raises my stage to a 3. OK. That was all I wanted. I had been afraid that it raised me to a stage 4, and that nobody had wanted to tell me. It was actually a relief to hear that it was a 3! I asked what that meant for my odds, and she said that with medicine and technology now, there was no reason for me NOT to beat this and live a long life. Will I see her grow up, I asked, as I pointed to Harrison? She smiled and said, “I don’t see why not.” She then walked with us back up to the front, chatting in the hallway, and hugging me goodbye at the door. I left feeling good, rather than scared of the next step, and super confident that I had been given the perfect match of a radiation oncologist for me. And while that may not be a big deal to some, it was a super huge, big deal for ME.
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
It is Wednesday morning, May 1st. I am scheduled to have a PET scan this morning. Nothing to eat since midnight the night before. They are going to see if the cancer has spread.
I arrive at Texas Oncology in Plano, which is HUGE compared to the office that I go to in Carrollton. There were SO many people of all ages, and it made me very sad as I sat among them in the waiting area. Cancer is absolutely a demon of a beast, and it is random, nor is it discriminate in whom it chooses to challenge. Soon, a sweet tech by the name of James came out to get me, using humor to ease my anxiety. I spent an hour in a quiet room, sipping clear contrast liquids and reading Facebook on my phone. Then James gathered me up again and moved me into the room with the giant, intimidating scan machine. He basically strapped me to the table, and explained that it would take a while, but he would be coming in to check on me several times. While listening to all of the whirring noises of the massive machine, I tried to think about anything else – my wife, my babies, upcoming chemo, my friends, any plans that we have. I almost thought that I might possibly be able to take a little nap, if I meditated myself into a relaxed enough state, but then James came in and said that I was all done. Within minutes I was on my way out the door and in search of food, with promises that the results would be in Dr. Perez’s hands before my appointment two days later.
It’s Friday now. I have an appointment this afternoon with Dr. Perez, my Oncologist, to go over my PET scan results and plan for chemo. Erikka leaves work early to meet me for lunch before my appointment, and then we are on our way over to the hospital. We are taken back almost immediately, and put into a room to wait for the doc. When he walks in, with papers in his hand, he shakes mine and asks how I am. “Well,” I respond, “I guess that will depend on those test results in your hand.” He laughs and gives me a warm grin and says, “We need to talk.” Well SHIT. That is NOT what I want to hear, obviously. He sits down, Erikka reaches over and takes my hand, and tells me that the cancer has spread. There are lymph nodes all over our bodies, as we all know; and under the chest wall in the middle of our chests are intramammary lymph nodes. It is here that the PET scan lit up with spots of cancer cells. Just before I was going to ask if that meant more surgery, for Dr. Garner to remove these lymph nodes as well, the doctor proceeded to explain that these lymph nodes are NOT usually removed in surgery, as they are difficult to reach. Well SHIT. So what does this mean? He tells me that it means that they will need to add radiation on to my cancer-fighting regimen. THIS is what makes me cry. Having chemo didn’t make me cry, but radiation? Now THAT was what upset me! I was thrilled when I was told initially that I wouldn’t have to do radiation, so it was a huge disappointment that I was now going to be facing that as well. But I have to see the good in the situation – there always has to be something good to focus on, right?
Dr. Perez told me that it had NOT spread to any organs, or to my bones – a HUGE good. He takes a moment and goes to call Dr. Ilahi – one of his colleagues who is the Radiation Oncologist that I will consult with regarding my radiation. When he returns, he says that they consulted on my case, and they believe the best results would be to start chemo right away and do four weeks of radiation after chemo was finished. I felt stupid that this made me cry, but it is what it is.
A few minutes later, we were all done, with plans for chemo to begin on Monday, May 13th. We were originally going to schedule the first treatment for Friday, May 10th, but decided against it so that I could have the weekend enjoying my family and Mother’s Day.
Cancer may be taking some things away from me, but it can’t take everything. I’m not willing to let it have any more than it has already taken. I can kick chemo AND radiation in the ass, no matter what.
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
One week out from surgery. The pain is intense; the drains are annoying as hell. My post-op appointment with my surgeon is today, and I am SO hoping that she will remove at least one of the drains today.
We get to my appointment right on time, and are taken back right away, as usual. She starts off by telling me that I am actually and officially only a stage 2 with my cancer; and based on the number of lymph nodes affected (9 out of 15), I was actually a 2a. Initially, just after surgery, she had thought that based on the size of the tumor that she took out, I would for sure be a stage 3, which is what she told me in the hospital – thus upsetting me greatly before I was ready to go home. But when I went in for this appointment, she told me right off that she had been mistaken, and I was truly only a stage 2. She said that her first statement was based on the size of the tumor, and that it appeared to be 4 cm upon initial examination in the operating room. The lab returned a result that it was actually 3.5 cm, and therefore only a stage 2. I was VERY grateful for her error in judgment! But this also told us that it had grown quite a bit, in quite a short period of time. When I found it, my doctor estimated its size to be 2-2.5 cm. The mammograms and ultrasounds measured it at 2.76 cm, just two weeks later. The biopsies measured this tumor at 2.8 cm, and the final lab results after removal show 3.5 cm. This is at least a full centimeter growth in less than six weeks! She then went on to tell me that she got all of the cancer, to the best of her knowledge, but she suspected that the oncologist would want further body scans and brain scans, to make sure it hadn’t spread to other parts of my body (since it was so aggressive and fast growing). I pray that the fact that it was fast growing says that it had not been there long when I found it. I then got her to take out the right drain, which was heavenly; but she said I would have to wait a few days longer for the left drain.
While on our way to my post-op appointment with the surgeon, I got a call from Texas Oncology – Carrollton. I made an appointment for my consultation with Dr. Enrique Perez for Friday, April 19th. The very nice lady, Roxann, emailed me new patient paperwork so I could be efficient and ready upon arrival. When Friday arrived, we went to lunch beforehand at one of favorite restaurants – Misto Bistro – run by one of my favorite friends, Janet. We have been friends for a while now, and I have worked with her doing catering (which I love); but our friendship has gone to a whole other level in the past several months, and she is even more special to me than before. After lunch, we headed to Texas Oncology of Carrollton, where I met the chick who will be my supercool nurse, Amy. I was ushered into a room, where I was asked a series of questions that I had already answered on all of the forms that I had previously filled out. Soon, we were being introduced to Dr. Perez – a very nice and very tall man with a wonderful disposition and bedside manner. He was able to put me to ease by anticipating my questions and answering them before I even got a chance to ask them. I told him that my genetics testing came back negative, and my hormone receptor testing came back as a triple negative – triple negative for estrogen, progesterone, and HER2. So now what? I am negative for everything. “What does that mean for me??” I asked the doctor. It basically means that it is harder to treat; but we are going to fight and we are going to do everything that we need to do to keep me alive. Well alright. That’s what I need to hear.
Dr. Perez went on to tell me that he wants me to have a PET scan, a CT scan, and an echocardiogram before starting chemo. He also said for me to go ahead and have the port put in, while I am waiting to start and waiting for my scars to heal. He explained that based on all of my negative results, he was going to do a certain course of drugs (which I can’t remember the names – except that one is the evil red one that I have read about) for four rounds, three weeks apart. The first four rounds will be two drugs together. After that I will do another four rounds, three weeks apart, of a third drug. He said that I WILL lose my hair, and other side effects could include diarrhea. Yay.
Three days later I was back in Dr. Garner’s office to get my left drain out (FINALLY, thank God!). I went over my oncologist visit with her, and we scheduled my outpatient surgery for the port placement. It would be a couple of days later, on Wednesday morning, and she assured me that it was nothing…a breeze. This procedure would be a walk in the park compared to the mastectomies.
So I guess here we go. No looking back. Part one is done. And as hard as it has been in the two weeks post surgery, I don’t think it will be anything compared to what is coming with six months of chemotherapy.
Guess we will see.
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
The day had finally arrived. I was ready. But I was also a little scared. But I was more ready. Ready to get this thing out of me; this thing that has been growing quickly on its mission to rob me of my life. I knew that this major surgery was the beginning of an uphill climb, but I willingly signed on for it, just like any of the 5Ks that I have done in the past – and will do more of in the future!
We arrived at the hospital just before 10:00 AM, where I checked in and waited to be taken back by a nurse. Holly arrived right behind us, and Lorrie arrived from Oklahoma City shortly after that. I am so blessed that my three best friends in the world were all there beside me – beside US – on this day that would change our lives forever. The only thing I had said that I wanted to wake up to was my wife and these three best friends – and they all made sure that it happened. This meant the world to me. Kim wasn’t there by the time I got called back, but she arrived before I actually went into surgery.
“Fall Risk” – I should have one of these every day of my life
When I got taken back, Erikka went with me and stayed while I changed and went through all of the typical pre-op routine. They made me wear bright yellow socks with rubber grippies on the bottom (like the socks we put on Harrison), as well as a bright yellow bracelet that said, “FALL RISK” on it. I can’t really be offended, because on a good day I am typically a fall risk…hahahaha. The girls all thought it was pretty funny though when they came back….but they know me, too. After the socks and bracelets were on, then the nurse put my IV in. I asked for the “calm down” drugs, but she said that I would get those after I talked to a few more people. Pretty soon, the no-nonsense anesthesiologist came in and went through all of the same questions that the first and second nurses had asked. Lorrie didn’t like him because he didn’t have a sense of humor when she asked if he was going to share the “good stuff” with her. He WAS all business, this Mr. Personality.
Mr. Personality…aka the Anesthesiologist
After he left, then the OR charge nurse, Marti, came in. She was awesome, and had on a cool pink surgical hat – all except for the Texas A&M logos on it. We all loved it, especially since it was Wear Pink for Tanya day, and everyone we knew was wearing pink, including all of the beautiful women that were with me at the hospital.
Pretty soon, all that was left was signing the boobs away and the good drugs. Yes, I said sign away the boobs. Each person that came back asked me all of the same questions: full name, date of birth, allergies, what procedures were we doing. Then they gave me paperwork giving them permission to lob off my left and right breasts. Somewhere in there they gave me a small bit of something in my IV to “relax” me, and I apparently started talking to my boobies – telling the left one that it was rude for trying to kill me, and apologizing to the right one that it had to be put down all because of the left one. This was high comedy I hear! After he gave me that first little bit, I I remember saying, “Oh I don’t feel ANYTHING!” and soon they were kicking the girls out to take me back. I remember hugs and kisses from Holly and Lorrie, and lastly from Erikka – and that’s all I remember. I don’t remember the trip through the halls of the back hallways into the operating room. I went OUT.
Hours later, I am in a private room, being awakened by a sweet nurse in pink scrubs; surrounded by Erikka, Holly, Lorrie, and now Kim, too. I vaguely remember asking what time it was, and it was much later than I thought it should be.
The surgery had gone smoothly and not taken any longer than it should have; I had been hard to wake up (which is typical for me after any surgery). I remember looking at Kim and saying, “Hey! You’re not wearing pink!” It’s funny where the brain goes when it is in an altered state! I was so out of it, but was SO thankful for the nice little anti-nausea patch that they had put behind my ear just before I went into the operating room. I had a drain coming out of each side of my chest, and was wrapped in a compression bra. I remember looking down and putting my hands on my now flat chest, and thinking, “Oh my God, they’re really gone!” Then I was in and out of consciousness for the next few hours, while my wonderful and amazing friends stayed and watched me sleep or hung out in the waiting room.
Soon, Lorrie would need to get back on the road to Oklahoma, and Kim would need to get back on the road for Ft. Worth. Holly was going to stay for a while and keep Erikka company and have something to eat with us. I don’t think that any of them know how grateful I am that they spent the day in hospital waiting rooms for ME, and for my wife. They will never know, and I could never repay, the blessing that they all were for staying with Erikka and making sure that she kept it together instead of being sick with worry and fear. After Kim and Lorrie left, I slept for a while more while Erikka and Holly went and found some decent dinner – Subway. It was so nice to finally be able to eat! And something that I LIKE! Shortly after we ate, Erikka needed to leave and go pickup our little Peanut from my mom; and Holly decided that she would stay for a while and keep me company. I kept dozing off, in and out of sleepiness, so I finally told her to go ahead and get home and rest. I was good for the night, as long as I had my anti-nausea patch and sweet little pain med button that I could push every six minutes.
The night was uneventful, and Erikka was back mid-morning that next day. Over the course of the morning and early afternoon, I had lots of visits from nurses, as well as a Breast Cancer support staff person, who brought me some things to take home. I also had a visit from an occupational therapist, who came and showed me some arm exercises to do three or four times per day when I got home – those were tough that first time! The last visit that I was waiting for was Dr. Garner, after she got done with her surgeries for the day. I didn’t think that I was ready yet to go home, but rumor was that she would probably send me home if she thought I was doing well.
Late in the afternoon, Dr. Garner and her P.A. stopped by to check on me. After she checked my sutures and drains, she deemed me to be doing great and said she was sending me home. She did sit down and tell me that there were at least seven lymph nodes that had been cancerous, and they were still analyzing them all. She said that based on that and the size of my tumor, I would likely be categorized as a stage 3 – which upset me quite a bit for the rest of the afternoon. This was not the news that I had been hoping to hear.
Off to home we went. It felt good to be back in our bed. Erikka tucked me in before running Noah to my mom’s for a long weekend, and I fell asleep again, thankful for our amazing family and friends who had gathered around us for this major occurrence in our lives. I go back to the surgeon a week after surgery, and hope that she takes out one of these miserable drains, if not both. Then I will find out more information, and probably find out about the next step: chemotherapy.
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
Well, my old faithful friends, this is it. Our time has come to an end. After years of pretty much detesting you because of your size, I am finding myself saddened that your end is at hand. Let’s think back to our long history that we’ve had…
I was about 9 years old when you decided to make your presence known. I was in the fourth grade, and not too sure about this whole bra thing. I remember being among Kristal Hodge and Alisha Harvey as one who had to endure teasing for having big boobies. Great. See the internal scarring you created in my young, tender psyche??
You did, however, serve my babies fairly well during their first months, by providing them nutrition, despite becoming larger than even I was prepared to deal with – can we say “ouch?”
Over the years, as you have stayed steady between a C-cup and D-cup, depending on my level of fatness at the time, you have been squeezed and smashed into various stages of uni-boob by sports bras galore, while still managing to pound my chest while running or get in the way of my golf swing. Now that you will no longer be with me, I am hoping that my runs will be swifter and my golf game won’t suck near as bad.
But now, our love-hate relationship is going to come to an end. I have no choice. You are sick and trying to kill me, and I can’t have that. But if it makes you feel any better as you face your imminent demise, you can die happy knowing that I have no intentions of replacing you. Tattoos will one day lie where you formerly resided, and nothing else. And while I spent many years trying to figure out how to smash you into a smaller space, wish that you were smaller, and try to workout until you became more muscular than fatty, I face tomorrow with a sadness that you will be gone forever. You have been a part of me for 42 years, and like anything, it will be tough waking up to look down to your absence.
So goodbye Tanya’s Ta-Tas. Thank you for the life we have shared. Damn you for trying to kill me. I didn’t dislike you THAT much!
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
It’s April first. The day after Easter, where we spent a nice weekend out of town visiting with Erikka’s extended family, like we do every year. Like I hope to continue to do for many years to come. Today is April Fool’s Day. I was SO hoping that when I woke up, all of this cancer business would have been a dream or some bad April Fool’s joke. But no. Today brought me no joking or pranks. Today brought me an 11 AM appointment at the surgeon’s office; the one whom I already knew from previous procedures with loved ones.
We loaded up and went to Dr. Carolyn Garner’s office right on time this morning, where I was filled with anxiety, ready to see what was coming up for me next. After the obligatory blood pressure reading, weight report, and listing of meds that I take, we waited a few more minutes for the doc to come get us. Soon she was there at the door, with greetings and catching up, going on about how big the baby has gotten since she had last seen her (Harrison was 4 weeks old when this doctor performed surgery on Erikka). She then ushered us into her office-slash-examining room. This is where she does minimal exams, but mostly consults with patients; we had been in there twice before.
Her first questions were mainly wanting to know how and when I discovered the mass – was it found on a routine mammogram or did I find it myself? So I told her the details of how I found it, and what transpired from there. She said, at that point, that “today, unfortunately, we don’t have anything good to talk about.” Yeah. I know. I handed over the large envelope that had pathology reports from my biopsies, reports from mammograms past and present, and two CDs with mammogram images from 2008 and 2013, for comparison. I told her that I have had the genetics testing done, and that they had put a surgical rush on it, so hopefully the results would be back by the end of the week. I then told her that regardless of the results, I wanted her to take both breasts off. She nodded and said, “Okay. I agree.” I was a little surprised that she was so agreeable so fast! I proceeded to tell her that I understand, being a Medicaid patient, that there are stipulations based on the genetics testing to what will be paid; but I don’t care. I don’t ever want to go through this again. She said that given my family history, it will probably be paid for, but in the case that it isn’t, they will have me sign a form that basically states that IF it isn’t paid by Medicaid, then I will be responsible for the difference. Fine. I will sign it. My next question: When can we do this? She said, “Well, I can’t do it today.” Ha! Funny lady. “I do breast surgeries on Wednesdays, so I can do it this Wednesday, if you want. Or I can do it next Wednesday.” So after a moment of thinking, I said, “Next Wednesday it is.” Within a few minutes, my surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, April 10th at Denton Regional Hospital: a Radical Modified Mastectomy on the left side, and a Simple Mastectomy on the right side.
I then went on to tell her that I do not want reconstruction. I am not interested in having fake breasts, as I am not a girly-girl who really cares about my curves; to which she responded, “I understand.” From there we discussed the details about the surgery: how she will remove the breasts (how the cuts will be done), the fact that she will be removing ALL of the lymph nodes on the right side under my arm, and what the scars should look like, given the fact that I am not doing reconstruction. I will basically have scars across each side of my chest, and no nipples.
I can either have them tattooed on, or I can have other cool looking tattoos done if I don’t want to leave it plain. We discussed the time frames: length of stay in hospital, recovery time, visit to oncologist, and approximate time for chemo to begin. Radiation will probably not be necessary, unless the cancer has invaded the chest wall. She said I should be in the hospital for one night – what??!! One night?? Her response to my surprise? “Welcome to drive-thru surgery.” I’m not sure if it is a Medicaid thing or just an insurance thing. When my mom had her mastectomy and reconstruction, they tried to send her home after one night; to which I bitched and told them that I REFUSED to take her home that early….so they kept her a second night. So the plan is one night, however, I typically get a fever every time I have surgery, and end up having to stay an extra night. She said that recovery time is about two weeks, but I find that highly optimistic. I’m betting it’s more along the lines of 2-4 weeks. That’s 2-4 weeks of trying to recover a range-of-motion in my arms. That’s 2-4 weeks unable to drive, raise my arms above chest level, pick up my sweet baby girl, work out. She said that after that time, I can go back to cardio activities, but no weights for a while. I will have to find an oncologist and plan to go a week or two after my surgery; and will likely begin chemo 4-6 weeks after surgery, depending on how the healing is going.
After that, she took a few minutes to examine the “affected breast.” She barely touched me and responded, “Oh wow. That really IS big.” Um, yes, I know. After her exam, she told me again that she thought that mastectomy of both sides was definitely the way to go, and she would tell her own sister the very same thing. Soon we were on our way out with paperwork to take when I go to register. By the time we reached the Jeep and got loaded up, we were both in a much more somber place. As I tried to discuss some of the details of surgery day (who can keep kids, etc.), my beautiful and strong wife became a little overcome by emotion. This was the first time that I had seen her show anything but positive words or strength through all of this. But yeah. It hit us both. This was overwhelming for her – for us. And as the day went on, it became way too “real” for me. This is really happening. I REALLY have cancer.
And I’m not going to wake up and it just be a dream.
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
It is very odd to lie flat on my back these days. If I do, and I put my hands behind my head, then it makes the tumor in my breast very prominent and noticeable, even if just to me. It is fairly large in size, so whenever I lay down, it is a constant reminder of what lies just beneath the surface. Do you know how strange it is to walk around knowing that there is this thing with me, all the time, that I can touch and feel…a thing that has the potential to kill me? I will tell you. It is the most peculiar, uncomfortable, uneasy feeling that I have ever had in my life. EVER.
As the days pass by, waiting for things to start moving and happening, it gives me a lot of time to think. I have yet to have the inner dialogue of, “Oh God, why ME?? Woe is me and why would you do this to me, Lord??” No, that hasn’t happened. But I HAVE wondered what I could have done differently over the course of my previous 42 years to prevent this. Did all of those years of smoking contribute to my cancer? Did my miscarriages also raise my risk of developing this particular cancer? I know that both of these things are supposedly risk factors that can increase a woman’s chances – but did they in my case? I will never know that. Did being overweight for so many years increase my chances? Or being sedentary for so long? Or perhaps the deoderant that I use – did using a rollon instead of a spray do it? Yeah, there are all kinds of wacky theories out there. But seriously, I have to sit and wonder what I did to contribute to the development and discovery of cancer in my body – and will I develop it somewhere else, too?
There is also the possibility that I inherited the gene that producees breast cancer. After all, my mother has had it. Her only sister has had it. I think they had maternal aunts with it. One of my father’s sisters has had it. I got whammied on both sides on the gene pool.
Tomorrow (Wednesday), I go back to UT Southwestern to have genetics draw blood and begin the process of testing me for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. My part is simple – they draw a vial of blood and send it off. The hard part is waiting for the results – 14 days. This, however, will help the surgeon determine if she should take just the affected breast, or preventatively take both (which is what I want). Even if I don’t test positive for the gene, I want to have both breasts removed, so that I don’t ever have to go through this again. For those who do not know, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are known as tumor suppressors, and are linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers (according the the National Cancer Instiitute). I read some interesting information regarding the genes and testing, which helped me understand it more.
Both men and women who have harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations may be at increased risk of other cancers – NOT just breast or ovarian. Women who inherit a harmful mutation has an increased risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer at an early age (meaning before menopause). Men who inherit harmful BRCA1, in particular, also have an increased risk of breast cancer, and possibly, pancreatic, testicular, or prostate cancers. Lovely.
I believe that the foundation is covering my genetics testing, or they will bill to Medicaid once I get coverage. I was, however, encouraged to hear that if I am positive for either the BRCA1 or BRCA2, then there is a chance that the foundation will also bring my boys in and perform the test on them. It would be very beneficial to know if either of them are also positive for these genes, so that they can be proactive in their health to do whatever they need to prevent getting an active cancer diagnosis. Plus, Nicholas already has a baby girl, whom can also inherit this gene if her daddy is positive for it; something that I would HATE to see happen!
So I guess that if the tests come back as positive for this, the “breast cancer gene,” then that can pretty much explain the cause of my cancer. If not, I guess I will never know what caused it or how I possibly contributed. All I know is that it is here now, but I want it gone. Soon I will begin the fight for my life, and I am so truly grateful for every well wish, every email or Facebook message, every prayer, every offer for help and/or babysitting, and every dollar that has been donated to help during this time that I won’t be able to work. I truly believe that together we can and will triumph over this horrible mutation, and live to write about it all!