Tag Archives: Herceptin

Life After Treatment

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Life after treatment is all about being a survivor.  Just recently I was able to embrace being a survivor.  I guess it was easier to pretend things didn’t happen but I’m reminded every day when I look in the mirror.  I have 11 physical scars that I have learned to embrace.  My scars do not define me but I have used them to refine me.  Almost every day I am asked, ” How did you do it?”  The honest answer to that is…I have a strong faith in God and I refused to become a victim.  Does that mean I was never sad or never had a bad day? Oh no! I had my moments but then I focused my attention on the fact that I was still standing. My girls were at pivotal transitions in their lives and I was at an important place in my career.  I had goals to attain and I certainly wasn’t going to let cancer keep me from achieving my goals.

Even today, there are difficult moments.  One is during the week before my mammogram and even while I’m sitting in the Woman’s Center. I’m fidgety like a race horse about to be put in the starting gate.  There are so many memories associated with the Women’s Center, surgical center, hospital and chemo lab.

Since my initial treatment, I’ve had a couple of biopsies that thankfully have been benign. I had a tricky lymph node in the left axilla, which was not the original area, that kept lighting up on the PET Scan.  So, I had a partial lymph node dissection on the left axilla as a precaution.

The most important message I want to tell you is that life is a gift.  Am I breathing? Yes! Then, I have a purpose and responsibility to go on.  Life goes on!  I have a responsibility to live every day with a smile on my face because I am a survivor.  Generations before me went through clinical trials so that I could benefit from Red Devil Chemo, Taxol, Herceptin, Arimidex and Femara.

Life goes on and I choose to be happy and …LIVE!

I invite you to follow me @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope.

Be Blessed.

Laura

 

July 2009…A Wonderful Time

Surgical Drains Removed

The surgical drains were finally removed on July 1, 2009.  To put it in perspective, my first surgery was June 3, 2009 and my second surgery, margin revision, was June 16, 2009. So for almost a full month, I had surgical drains.  I was so glad to be done with the drains! Goodbye drains…Hello radiation!  During July 2009, I continued Herceptin weekly and asked to be changed to a treatment plan of once every three weeks because I would return to school at the end of July. As an Assistant Principal, I had to report to work a couple of weeks before the teachers.

Wedding Plans Continued

Wedding plans continued during July.  I was trying to get all of the details together such as: programs, invitations, wedding favors and menu cards created or ordered because my eldest daughter was going to be married the following January.

 Kelsey Goes to UF

July 2009 was also full of preparation to send Kelsey, my youngest daughter, off to college. She was preparing to join the Gator Nation at The University of Florida (UF) in August, 2009.  In retrospect, July 2009 was the last month that we were all in the same house as a family unit and yet excitement for the girls future was the focus.

Kelsey at UF Orientation...Go Gators!
Kelsey at UF Orientation…Go Gators!

Radiation

I met with the radiologist who was also a female doctor along with all the doctors on my team. As she reviewed my chart, she said something along the lines of…you should do well. You had a ‘complete response to chemo’ to which I replied, “I call it my miracle”.  She smiled politely and went on to tell me that’s when the chemotherapy completely attacks the cancer cells.  Then we discussed the radiation plan.  I would have 35 rounds of radiation. That ends up to be 7 weeks, 5 times a week, give or take a holiday with the center closed.

I was scheduled for radiotherapy.  At that appointment I got two small pencil dot tatoos.  Those markings would be used to line me up under the machine so that the radiation would most effectively target the right area. The next day, I came back for a walk-through so that the technicians could set the machines and the following day radiation began.  I will admit that I was scared but as I drove there and laid there, I prayed continuously that it would work.

Once the preliminary visits were completed, it took me longer to drive there than it did to receive the treatment.  I was back at work and the Cancer Center scheduled me at 6 AM or 6 PM. I drove myself to and from radiation.  If it was the early morning appointment, I went straight to work from radiation.  I would joke every now and then that I was ‘glowing’ to ease the awkwardness in the office. When I was about 3/4 into treatment, I started to get sensitive skin but they gave me some cream and it was not a significant problem. I was a little tired but as a school administrator in August and September, it is expected.  I could not differentiate if it was caused by radiation.  I just kept going…one day at a time.

People always ask me…How did you do it…work through chemo, port complications and radiation?  My answer is…I was not alone.  I have a personal relationship with the ‘Great Physician’ who is God.  I trusted God to direct my doctors and to give me strength. Long before cancer my life verse was Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you…

I invite you to follow me on Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope.

Be Blessed.

Laura

Just One More Surgery

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About the time I hoped to return to work part time, I was scheduled for a surgery known as a margin revision. In my post-op visit, the breast surgeon explained that there was one cancerous spot on the border of the clean tissue.  The goal of the surgery is to leave a margin of at least 1mm of normal, cancer free tissue.

I arrived that the Surgery Center at 7:00 AM on June 16, 2009.  I went through the usual details: financial responsibilities, Nurse #1 and then back to the holding pen where I changed my clothes and got ready.  I asked the nurse to pull the curtain so everybody couldn’t stare at me.  I was hoping that the surgeon would take the drains out during the surgery.  The breast surgeon stopped by to see me and reassured me that she was going to get clear margins.  She previously asked me if a pathologist could attend the surgery.  She confirmed that the pathologist would be attending the surgery and would be able to examine the tissue immediately.  The breast surgeon would gain access through the 3 incisions in the right breast from the surgery on June 3, 2009.  She explained that the plastic surgeon could not be here and she would do her best to put me back together.  The anesthesiologist also stopped by and I told him that I had past issues with nausea after surgery and he assured me that he would give me something to prevent unnecessary nausea.

I was ready to go back.  Doug kissed me goodbye.  This time it was just Doug in the lobby because this was supposed to be a shorter, uncomplicated surgery.  The nurse took me back to the operating room where everyone greeted me and introduced themselves.  The surgeon came in and I told her, “Let’s do this”.

The next thing I remember was that I was in the recovery area.  I was trying to wake up but it wasn’t working.  I could hear the nurse asking Doug if I opened my eyes yet. The nurse kept saying, “Okay Laura.  It’s done.” The nurse told the doctor as she came by that I wasn’t awake yet. They were standing at my bed and I could hear them but my eyes would not open.   I could hear her talking to me but I couldn’t move. I wasn’t scared, though.  I did tell God that if this was my time to go that I would be okay with it as long as I was going to heaven.  (Obviously, I didn’t speak that but I was praying silently.)

After another surgery, the doctor came by again.  I heard the nurse and doctor talking about my vital signs.  They looked good so the doctor said to give me time.  I was trying to open my eyes and they all told me to relax and take my time.  They assured me that I was okay.  The doctor completed another surgery and came by to check on me and this time I opened my eyes a little and gave her a half smile.

How ironic! After the 6 hour surgery, I was in recovery 30-40 minutes and this surgery was supposed to be so easy (1 hour) and I was in recovery 2-3 hours. Eventually, I walked out of the surgical center and went home to go to bed.

At the post-op visit, the surgeon gave me great news that the pathology report was clear.   the surgical drains had to stay in place until the drainage slowed down.  I started Herceptin, the good chemo, one week later.  Plans for Paige’s wedding would begin soon.

My Miracle Report

On 12/26/14, I will be a 6 year breast cancer survivor.  Thank God!
On 12/26/14, I will be a 6 year breast cancer survivor. Thank God!

My first week of recovery went well.  Victory church, my home church, provided meals the week after surgery and that was a great blessing.  Doug, my girls and my mom took turns checking on me.

Post-Op Visit

My post-op visit was scheduled approximately one week after my surgery.  During that visit, I saw the plastic surgeon and the breast surgeon.  First, the plastic surgeon’s nurse removed the gauze, mummy bandages.  Then, the plastic surgeon examined 8 of the 10 incisions.  Everything looked good so the nurse removed a few stitches which wasn’t the most pleasant experience but all in all, I was making great progress. Then the pain pump was removed.

Next, the breast surgeon came in to examine me.  She looked at the incisions and focused on the right axilla, underarm.  She asked me to lift my arm as high as I could so I hesitantly lifted my arm about half way in the air.  Then she took my arm and pulled it straight up.  I just knew my stitches were going to burst but they didn’t.  She gave me some exercises to do every day to help me regain full range of motion.

Pathology Report

Then she began to explain the pathology report. In the right axilla. she removed all lymph nodes that she could see and she dug around in there to get as many lymph nodes as she could reach. Below is a summary of the conversation:

  • Dr. “I didn’t find anything.”
  • Me “You didn’t get the cancer?”
  • Dr. “It was gone.”
  • Me “What do you mean?”
  • Dr. “I removed 20+ lymph nodes and there were two that were necrotic.”  “They were the size of a regular lymph node.”
  • Me “I don’t understand.”
  • Dr. “I found the two lymph nodes that were tagged during the biopsy but the cancer cells were dead and the lymph nodes were the size of a normal lymph node.”

(First, in case someone has not followed the entire blog, when I was diagnosed there were two tumors in the right axilla.  One was the size of a AA battery and the other one was the size of 1/2 of a AA battery. Now, they not only contained dead cells but they were the size of a normal lymph node, which was a significant change.)

The news really didn’t register with me at that time.  My Hematologist-Oncologist (Dr. Wonderful), refers to it as a ‘complete response to chemo‘. Every time a doctor says that   I say, “…or a miracle.” Some doctors give me a smile and other remain stoic.

One More Surgery

Next, the breast surgeon explained the results from the lumpectomy/reduction of the right breast.  The tumor in the right breast was busted into small pieces.  The pathology report reflected that it looked like buckshot in the tissue, scattered everywhere. They were just the size of little pencil dots.  So there was no lump to remove.  I am still amazed at the outcome.  However, the pathology report did not confirm that there was a clear margin of healthy tissue so I needed an additional surgery known as a ‘margin revision’.

The surgical drains remained in place and the nurse wrapped me in a garment similar to a tube top except it had to be very snug to hold the drains in place. Doug and I went home and processed all of that information.  Now I realize why the ultrasound technician was shocked with my progress.  It was a truly unbelievable response.  It was MY MIRACLE.

I invite you to follow me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope.

Be Blessed!

Graduation Celebration Week

My last Taxol/Herceptin chemo was May 5, 2009.  I was going to the chemo lab for weekly Herceptin infusions but at least I could drive myself and schedule those after work. I had three weeks to regain my strength before Kelsey’s graduation week.

The week of May 25th was very busy:

  • Tuesday, May 26th  – Baccalaureate Service
  • Wednesday, May 27th – Cheri, sister-in-law, arrived from New Mexico
  • Thursday, May 28th – Senior Awards
  • Friday, May 29th – Graduation
  • Sunday, May 31st – Kelsey’s Graduation Party

At the Senior Awards, Kelsey received multiple honors:

  • Polk  Education Foundation Scholarship
  • National Honor Society Achievement Award
  • Certificate of Academic Excellence from the Science Department
  • The American Legion Award

WOW! We were all very surprised.  The Science Award was a unanimous vote by all of the teachers in the Science department which was a major accomplishment. Also, she was chosen for the American Legion Award because she possessed high qualities of courage, honor, leadership, patriotism, scholarship and service.  She was having a great culmination to her senior year.  She was on her way to the college of her dreams: The University of Florida. We were so very proud of her and happy for her.

Graduation L to R Me, Paige, Kelsey, Doug
Graduation
L to R
Me, Paige, Kelsey, Doug
Graduation Kelsey with Meme
Graduation
Kelsey with Meme
Graduation Kelsey with Aunt Cheryll
Graduation
Kelsey with Aunt Cheryll
Graduation L to R Nanny, Kelsey, Aunt Cheri
Graduation
L to R
Nanny, Kelsey, Aunt Cheri

On Sunday afternoon, friends and family gathered at our house to celebrate Kelsey.  Friends, former teachers and family cam from near and far.  She was overwhelmed by the show of support.  the house was full of friends, family, laughter and support.  It had been a long time since we had anyone over.  the party would not have been a success without help from my sister-in-law, Cheri.  She is the ultimate party planner and she worked her magic to make it a special day for all of us.

Kelsey From a Brave to a Gator cake decorated in high school colors and college colors
Kelsey
From a Brave to a Gator
cake decorated in high school colors and college colors

Now the focus would turn to my surgery, which was scheduled for Wednesday, June 3, 2009.

I invite you to follow me on Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope

Be Blessed.

Always Hopeful

Blog pic 1120

My spirit had been renewed by some quiet time with God and the hummingbird visit.  I only saw them one more time after that day and haven’t seen them since.  I was moving on to finish my mean chemo by May 5th and then on to surgery.

Final Two Chemotherapy Treatments

I made it through my seventh chemo, 4/21/09, and my eighth and LAST chemo on 5/5/09. I had the same routine where I saw Dr. Wonderful (Hematologist-Oncologist) first and then off to the chemo lab.  My appointments were still on Tuesdays and I tried to work the rest of the week.  By Friday, I needed my pain medication. By the time I was near the end of my chemo, Doug, my husband, drove me to work most Mondays and Fridays.  I was physically weak and exhausted but I made myself go to work because I wanted to keep the same routine.  My last Taxol/Herceptin chemo was on May 5, 2009.  I still went to the chemo lab weekly for Herceptin.

Preparing For Surgery

At the last two appointments with Dr. Wonderful (Hematologist-Oncologist), I was given specific directions to begin taking B6, B12, Vitamin E w/o Selenium, Calcium and Vitamin D.  My vitamin D levels were very low and they needed to increase before I could start radiation.  Over the next 9 months, I still needed an Echocardiogram every 3 months because Herceptin could damage my heart.

After a final consultation with my team of doctors, Breast Surgeon, Plastic Surgeon and Dr. Wonderful, I decided to have the following procedures:

  • partial bilateral mastectomy, to include lumpectomy
  • lymph node dissection, right side
  • port insertion, at which time the PICC would be removed

The surgery was set for June 3, 2009.  There was no negotiation even though that was the last week of school.  The surgery needed to take place in a timely manner. My health was more important than the job.

Encouragement

My morning devotion on May 8, 2009, three days after my last chemo, was just what I needed to hear at the time.

From My Utmost For His Highest by: Oswald Chambers

“Entrust yourself to God’s hands. Is there something in your life for which you need perseverance right now? Maintain your intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through perseverance of faith. Proclaim as Job did,  ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.’ (Job 13:15) …even when you cannot see Him right now and cannot understand what He is doing, you know Him.”

Those were powerful words of encouragement because I didn’t understand why I was in this situation but I knew God was with me every day.

I invite you to follow me on FB at: http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope

Be Blessed.

He Knows My Name

I was between my sixth and seventh chemo treatment.  Only two more to go.  The last chemo hit me hard.  Every muscle and cell in my body hurt.  At the last appointment, Dr. Wonderful (Hematologist-Oncologist) told me to sit outside in the late afternoon to get some vitamin D and it would be good for me.   So, I decided to sit outside for a while.  It was just me and the squirrels in the backyard.  I was looking at the aloe plants because that was the only place in the backyard that gets the sun.

A Moment of Weakness

It had been a hard weekend and I was home from a long day of work and I just lost it.  I listed everything for God, as if he didn’t know.  It went like this…

  • Cancer, God?
  • Stage 3a
  • Grade III, aggressive
  • chemo
  • I have no hair
  • my eyelashes and eyebrows are gone
  • I hurt all over
  • my port got infected
  • a week in the hospital
  • neupogen shots
  • a PICC line
  • needle after needle
  • I don’t understand why you let this happen to me.  I’m sorry God.  I know I’m not supposed to question you but I’m your child.  Why?  Why did you let this happen to me?

Then I felt bad.  Many people will read this and think that I was wrong to ever talk to God that way.  I would say to them that God already knew what I was thinking. He’s God.  I knew that I couldn’t stay in that state of mind so I started finding the positive things about my situation. I told God…I am thankful:

  • for my team of doctors
  • for the chemo I could receive
  • for Herceptin developed just for the Her 2 positive cancer
  • for the fact I could still work
  • for Kelsey’s successful senior year
  • for Paige because she could give me the Neupogen shots
  • for my caregivers: Doug, Doug’s mom and my mom
  • that I did not get sick (throw up) with any chemo

I knew in my head that God worked all things for my good.  I didn’t feel it at the time.  I felt all alone.

With tears running down my face, I asked God to be with me and wrap His arms around me like he promised that he would do in His word.  I was broken…I sat in silence…

Renewal of the Soul 

hummingbird

Along came a beautiful hummingbird and then his mate a couple of minutes later. They fluttered around the aloe plants and obtained the nectar from the aloe bloom.  Now, we had lived at that house 14 years and I had worked in the yard at all times of the day and I had never seen a hummingbird, much less a pair of hummingbirds.  Then, I remembered a verse in the Bible about God taking care of the birds of the air.

Matthew 6:26 (NIV)

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

I sat in silence once again but it was a good silence.  The kind of silence and time with God that renews your soul.  I knew God had my back in all of this.  I knew God was in control.  I went inside and began to review notes in my devotional book.  I read the notes from the Sunday that I was in the hospital, March 15, 2009.  In those notes was a phrase…“I know God remembers me.”  If fact, that phrase is listed 73 times in the Bible in reference to God taking care of us.  Then,  I listened to my favorite praise and worship song, “He Knows My Name” by Tommy Walker. Here are the words to the first verse/chorus:

I have a maker

He formed my heart,

before even time began

My life was in His hands

He knows my name

He knows my every thought,

He sees each tear that falls

and hears me when I call

He, my God, remembered me all along.  I just needed to go to the source of strength.

I invite you to follow me on FB @ http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope

Be Blessed.

Celebrating Kelsey

Second Taxol/Herceptin Treatment

Spring Break was over and it was back to reality.  The second Taxol and Herceptin was scheduled for Tuesday, April 7th, the first Tuesday back at school.  This time, I was prepared to ask the doctor for pain medication.  I was trying to work through chemo but I remembered what my first chemo nurse told me.  He said, “Laura, you don’t need to try to be a hero.” I didn’t need to prove how brave I was so I got my pain meds.  There was no nausea with Taxol, for me at least, but the body pain was indescribable.  The only way that I can think to explain it is that every cell in my skin hurt and that it felt like someone was peeling my skin off.

I tried to change my chemo treatments to Wednesdays so the side effects wouldn’t kick in until Saturdays but Dr. Wonderful, Hematologist-Oncologist, would only move it from Mondays to Tuesdays because I was already off of the schedule due to the unexpected week in the hospital.

Celebrating Kelsey

After chemo, I went home and got ready to go to the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony where they were honoring the top 20 students for the highest grade point averages (GPA).  My youngest daughter, Kelsey, was being recognized for being fifth in the senior class that had at least 450 students. Super amazing!! She was a Senior that year and was taking five Advanced Placement (AP) classes, helping around the house and dealing with my illness.  She was so brave and never told me all that she was going through until five years later when I asked her to journal how she felt during that period in our lives.  I never realized the toll it took on her. I was so thankful to be able to attend the awards.  Doug and I sat in the back right corner of the high school auditorium.  I couldn’t be more proud.  That night we celebrated Kelsey Brooke Starner.

Kelsey's Senior Picture
Kelsey’s Senior Picture

I invite you to follow my Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope

Be Blessed.

Saving, Making and Leaving Memories

I was feeling great.  It was spring break and I only had two appointments that week.  I went to meet with the plastic surgeon who would eventually collaborate with the breast surgeon. Yes, another female doctor.  My entire team were females. Also, I needed the good chemo, Herceptin (Trastuzumab).  Herceptin targets HER2-positive cancer cells and can stop or slow the growth of those cancer cells. I was so blessed that this chemo was beneficial to my recovery.

Saving memories

I drove myself to chemo and wore my fuzzy hat because I didn’t want to put on a wig that day.  I wanted to be comfortable. After chemo, I went to Michaels looking for an idea to help organize or save all of the cards that I received since my diagnosis.  (I totally forgot about doctor’s orders not to go to the store.  OOPS!)  In January as people began to find out about my diagnosis, I was inundated with cards.  It was such a blessing.   I dated each card and put it in a basket and now the basket was overflowing.  People began sending cards, emails, letters and handwritten notes.  As I walked around Michaels, I found a scrapbook that was perfect.  It was very plain, no plastic sheet covers or leather binders…just basic.  I chose one album and then I went to pick out some background paper. One thing led to another and I ended up with scrap booking paper, prints and solids, cute stickers and jeweled stickers that were words of encouragement.

Scrapbooks my own way
Scrapbooks my own way
I just glued background paper down and then glued the cards in by month. Nothing fancy.
I just glued background paper down and then glued the cards in by month. Nothing fancy.
From my week in the hospital
From my week in the hospital
This is a page from September when I was driving to radiation every day. Sometimes a devotion page really applied so I included this one from September 10th.
This is a page from September when I was driving to radiation every day. Sometimes a devotion page really applied so I included this one from September 10th.

OOPS! I wore my FUZZY hat to the store

Did I mention that I was in Michaels with my fuzzy hat on?  I surprised myself by wearing it in public.  I got a few looks, a few avoidance moves but I just smiled and walked with confidence.  I was grateful to be feeling so good and driving myself that I didn’t care about my fuzzy hat stares.

How to begin?

When I got home, I began my project.  First, I glued the background paper on the page and then glued the cards down.  All of my January cards filled the first album.  Highly emotional and full of gratefulness, I just cried.  To think that so many people took the time to reach out to me brought me tears of joy.  As I looked at the pages I filled in the empty spots with the stickers I had purchased, words of encouragement.  I went back to Michaels the next day and bought 3 more books so that I would have the same style of book to continue this project.

Leaving memories for my girls

This was a fun way to record my journey and it became very therapeutic as I took time to read each card as I put it in the album.  In addition, I wanted my girls to have something from my journey because I didn’t know what the future would hold.  You can see from the pictures that the January book has a cute ribbon to hold it closed and the other books don’t.  I had to keep it simple.

The main victory in all of this was having the courage to go to the store in my fuzzy hat…even though my doctor wasn’t happy that I exposed myself to all of those germs. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

I invite you to follow my Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/laurasjourneyofhope

Be Blessed.

Good News…At Last

Back To Work

After a week in the hospital and more rest than I had in years, I was back at work on Tuesday, March 17, 2009.  I wanted my next chemo treatment that week but Dr. Wonderful (Hematologist-Oncologist) made me wait until the following week.  By the time Monday, March 23, 2009 arrived, I was ready to get started with the next four treatments.  I still followed the same routine to schedule my appointment late in the day, shower and listen to my praise and worship music. Doug’s mom, Sharon, drove me because I would be given Benadryl with the Taxol chemo. I didn’t know what else to expect from this new chemo: Taxol (Paclitaxel) and Herceptin.

Visit With Dr. Wonderful

Dr. Wonderful was glad to see me doing well. It was during this visit that she told me that she always suspected that my port was infected and she was very thankful we didn’t use the port or else I would have gotten the infection in my blood.  She went on to tell me that I was BRCA negative and that was HUGE news. Therefore, I did not carry or pass the breast cancer gene to my girls.  That was a positive!  My white cell counts were good and I no longer needed the Neupogen shots. YAY! I was thrilled.  After she examined me, she had more good news.  The large tumor in the right axilla (underarm) was probably about half of the original size and the tumor in the right breast was shrinking as well.  From now on, I would need to come to the Chemo Lab weekly.  One week I would receive Taxol and Herceptin and on alternating weeks I would receive only Herceptin and I could drive myself to those appointments. YES!!

Chemo Lab

After the great visit with Dr. Wonderful, I was ready to get this treatment underway. Taxol and Herceptin would take about an hour and a half.  Sometimes Doug’s mom would go to get us a McDonald’s cheeseburgers to eat before the Benadryl kicked in.  Plus, it helped pass the time for her. I would have to update my notebook quickly because the Benadryl would make me go right to sleep so the time passed quickly for me.  We came home and everything was normal. I thought…this one was going to be much easier.  I got up and got dressed for work the next day, Tuesday and Wednesday.  Both of those days were normal work days.  So, I went to work Thursday and that’s when it hit me.  I started to ache/hurt all over around 11 AM and Doug came and picked me up about two hours later.  I went home and went to bed.  I remember my motto…If I was hurting, then the chemo was working.  I tried to find a positive in the journey.

my favorite wig
my favorite wig