Scanxiety, Mammograms, and Cancerversaries

This week was my yearly mammogram and also my 6 month checkup with my Oncologist.   This week marks my THREE YEAR cancerversary from diagnosis of Stage 3, Her 2 Positive Breast Cancer, very large tumor with 9 positive nodes.  So often I hear from women who wonder if there is something wrong with them that they have so much anxiety before scans, mammograms and tests!  Absolutely not!  It is all NORMAL!!

As I was driving the 70 minute drive to get the mammogram this morning, I once again realized just how normal it was. .  That anxiety never gets better, but at least it is more familiar as the years go by.  Like an old acquaintance that you have a meeting with and walk away thinking, “Oh, that’s why we were never friends!”   Today when the anxiety arrived, right on schedule, I thought, “Well, here you are again.  Okay, what if it is breast cancer?  You know what to do, you know what to expect, and you know you will either get through it or die.”  And the other thoughts also arrived on time:  “Why didn’t you just get that breast cut off – no breast is worth this much anxiety, just turn around and go home, call the Breast Cancer Center and tell them you had a flat tire, and then finally as you get closer, the hell with it, I’ll just get it over with today!”

My nerves were kind of under control as I put on the oh-so-familiar teal gown (why haven’t they gotten new gowns here yet?!?) after I stripped to the waist.  I’m much more vocal now in the waiting room than the previous years.  I start asking who the survivors are, and they are eager to talk!  It is 90% of the waiting room because we are in a Cancer Center.  It makes the reality of what we are waiting for seem less frightening and there is an instant bond without too many words.

When my name was called, the nice technician talked to me and then told me her best friend was just diagnosed.  She began asking questions, and I began giving her tips to tell her friend as she plops my breast on the machine.  Silly thoughts go through my head — like after the first squeeze I remembered to lift my breast up rather than pull it off the platform because the skin sticks!  I’m applauding myself for remembering from last year!   Soon it is over, and I try to read the tech’s face.  But all I remember is the face of the technician from 3 years ago whose mouth literally dropped when she looked at those cancer-ridden pictures, and though she tried to recover in a professional manner, her face is still is embedded in my head.

Back to the waiting room…I start talking to myself and bargaining. This time without quotation marks!  Okay, I won’t worry for 10 minutes.  They usually have the results in 10 minutes.  If it is longer than 10 minutes, then I will worry.

Kelly Ripa is on the television in the waiting room doing something ridiculous, and I wonder why anyone really likes her.  Then I chastise myself because my old and dear friend, Cathy, loves her, but I think: how can she watch this TV show?  The 10 minutes are up.  OH Lord, please help me, and His peace descends upon me.  Really.  I felt it.  The door opens and a solemn-faced woman about my age calls my name.  In my head I think, gosh, I need to smile more so I don’t get like that and then she says, “I can’t tell you the results in the hallway because of HIPPA” and I’m thinking it is BAD news because last year the woman blurted it out in the hallway.  But we get to the room and her face broke into a smile and she said, “All is well” as she handed me the “ALL CLEAR” letter signed by a real doctor.   I always grab the letter and look at the signature to make sure it says “MD” after the signature! I immediately just grabbed and hugged her and hugged everyone coming down the hallway.  Then I think, Denise, you do that every year, you need a new routine, then I think, who the heck cares – I can’t help it.  Then I tell the techs gathered in the hallway that this is the worst day and the best day of the year all before 9:45 am.

When that paper is handed to you and you hear those words, it is like God is handing you a beautifully wrapped present and in it is your life for another year as you hear a choir of angels in the background.  You think of the magnitude of that gift, look at that package, and tell God, “Thank you for my life.  I don’t want to screw it up.  Tell me what you want me to do this year, and I will do it.”

And I enter back into the waiting room.  Kelly Ripa is still on the television and this time I think:  Kelly is friendly, cute and she is kind of zany.  I understand why people watch her.

Pinked for a Day – Komen style

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure of NW Ohio was held September 27-28, 2014 in Toledo, and Findlay, Ohio.  As many of you know, I was chosen as the “In Celebration of” honoree for the Toledo race.  What a day it was!   The excitement was mounting as people begin descending upon Downtown Toledo.  Although we are a mid-size city, the Komen race draws more people here than Chicago!  Attendance was over 27,000 people!

The day began early at 6:45 am as I arrived at Fifth Third Field, our beautiful stadium, home of the Toledo Mud Hens.  My picture, in banner form, was up on the stadium fence for the Walk of Survivors!

Komen2014WalkofSurvivorsbillboard After mingling with family, friends, and strangers, and walking through the multitude of tents for an hour, I was called onto the field by Chrys Peterson, our local celebrity newsperson and a woman who gives tirelessly to the Breast Cancer community.  Chrys and I had some “live” conversation on WTOL, our local news channel and CBS affiliate.  Channel 11 broadcasts the entire morning of the Race!!  It was time for them to play the video Chrys and Channel 11 had done about my journey.  It is surreal to see yourself and your story unfold on the Megatron Screens at the stadium which was full of family, friends, survivors, and supporters!  http://www.toledonewsnow.com/clip/10585775/toledo-race-for-the-cure-in-celebration-of-denise-mccroskey#.VCmCpemr4BY.wordpress

Hundreds of Survivors clothed in their pink shirts then pour onto the field for a photo in the shape of a pink ribbon   This is the most touching moment for me every year.  Knowing that these women understand, reaches into your soul and brings more healing.  There are always many tears, hugs, and wonderful reunions.  Dawn Roberts,

Cloud formation at the Finish Line at Findlay Race!!!!

Cloud formation at the Finish Line at Findlay Race!!!!

who attended the Findlay Race just days after her first round of chemotherapy said: “I went there feeling like an outsider to a club and left the day feeling inspired!”  Check out the cloud formation in this picture of Dawn as she finished the race!!

The young woman next to me, bald with her Komen cap on, had recently had a double mastectomy and had her second A/C chemo treatment last week.  A wheelchair was waiting for her so she could make it through the day.  After the photo, the Survivors all sing the emotional song, “I Run for Life” as tears pour down most of our cheeks.  Then it was time for me to lead the parade of Survivors from the stadium to the start of the race.  As I got into that decorated golf cart, all I could keep thinking was “How the heck did I get here?”

Tears just come out of my eyes as onlookers cheered and more golf carts followed behind with women unable to walk the race, followed by the sea of pink survivors walking toward the start of the Race.  You see many tissues during this time.  All I kept thinking about was my first Komen Race in 2012 when I was barely able to walk after just finishing treatment.

Leading the Parade in my Decorated Golf Cart!

Leading the Parade in my Decorated Golf Cart!

An old friend from the church of my youth came running up beside the golf cart to tell me her early 40s daughter just had her first chemo last week because of a recent breast cancer diagnosis.  Sadness came upon me and the reality of breast cancer hit home once more.  More friends and family lined the parade route as I waved and gave the thumbs up sign to the cheering crowds.

The parade ended at the starting line where the large stage is present.  Once again, Chrys Peterson called me to the stage to speak on live television and in front of 27,000 people.  My niece, Danelle, and nephews, David and Tyler accompanied me  where they gave me a bouquet of two dozen pink roses!  After a lovely introduction, I attempted to say something inspirational to the tens of thousands gathered.  People told me it was.  I can’t really remember as it is a blur!   Komen2014onstage1A very touching and surprising moment happened when I was given a gorgeous  heart and ribbon necklace designed by a local jeweler, Harold Jaffe Jewelers.  Their lives were touched by breast cancer.  They were in tears as they presented me with the gift, as they lost their mother to this terrible disease.

Forty-two friends and family were part of Team Hello Courage.  And many others, including friends I have met through this Blog, made contributions in my team’s name and were with us in spirit!   My heart was overwhelmed with gratitude for these family and friends who had sacrificed money, time and much energy to be there, had gotten up at the crack of dawn, many with little kids.  Some drove many miles like my friend since Kindergarten, Sandy, who came from Detroit.   And since it was Sunday morning, my favorite sign along the Race path was in front of Trinity Episcopal Church which said:  “Pray with your feet!”  It always is such a spiritual day and the memories of this very particular race will continue to inspire me.  A special thank you to the best aunt any woman ever had, Marian Gladieux, and my wonderful and persistent friend, Anita Conley, for nominating me for this great honor!Komen2014HC2

The day after the Race, I suddenly remembered a dream I had shortly after my official diagnosis.  I ran to my computer and found this blog post just a few posts into my very new blog dated October 22, 2011.

“I  had a dream this morning that I owned a Chateau in France.  I got to the house and there were suspended ceiling tile in the living area.  All of them were cracked and kept cracking before my eyes.  I was shocked.  I wondered why I had purchased this house in a foreign country with a cracked and broken ceiling.  So I took a long stick and poked at the ceiling tile.  A whole group of tiles just fell to the ground.  I was terrified I owned this piece of trash.  What had I gotten myself into, I wondered in the dream?  But then I looked up.  Beyond the broken and cracked and ruined ceiling tiles, I had a glimpse, just a glimpse of this gorgeous ceiling.  More beautiful than I could imagine.   A hand-painted vaulted ceiling that was hidden by the hideous ceiling tile.   And then I awakened.”

Three long and grueling years later living through Mastectomy, chemo, radiation, heart attack, lymphedema, my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis, writing 171 blog entries, writing thousands and thousands of emails, and establishing a business at http://www.hellocourage.com for cancer patients, I suddenly realized my life now is what was beyond the cracked and ruined ceiling tile.  I am now living under the hand-painted, magnificent vaulted ceiling that was previously hidden.  Never would I have chosen this path to get to that spectacular ceiling.  But it was the hand dealt to me , and with God’s grace and help, I was able to get there.

Thank you, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for helping reveal the ceiling beyond the cracked and broken tiles. Your continued passion, determination, and raising awareness of breast cancer is amazing as we continue in the pursuit of a cure.  My local representatives for Komen are so dedicated and  passionate which shows in their incredibly hard work.

You can still donate through Team Hello Courage until October 31, 2014.   http://nwohio.info-komen.org/site/TR/RacefortheCure/TOL_NorthwestOhioAffiliate?team_id=304769&pg=team&fr_id=4263

Breast Cancer Myths – do not believe the lies

Before I was a Stage 3 Breast Cancer Patient, I believed all of the following statements.  Many of you do as well.

“I have no family history of breast cancer, so I don’t worry about it.”

“Breast cancer doesn’t hurt, so I know this breast pain isn’t cancer.”

“Very young women and very old women don’t get breast cancer.”

Those are all FALSE statements, and I’m going to briefly go through these widespread fallacies one by one.

I HAVE NO FAMILY HISTORY OF BREAST CANCER, SO I DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT

The facts are that 75% to 80% of all breast cancer is NON-genetic.  So if you DO NOT have a family history, you are far more at risk.  Most of us have been wrongly taught by television, magazine articles and other celebrity gossip that family history is the number one key.   WRONG. 

Certainly, if you have a family history, that is a matter to immediately discuss with your doctor.  But PLEASE do not fall into the thinking that because no family members ever had breast cancer, you will not either.  I will repeat this:  Statistics prove that 75% to 80% of all breast cancer patients have no family history.

I had no relatives for generations and generations with breast cancer.  My mom had no relatives for generations and generations with breast cancer.  A genetic counselor believes it is a “fluke” we both got breast cancer.  Flukes happen.

BREAST CANCER DOESN’T HURT, SO I KNOW THIS BREAST PAIN  ISN’T CANCER

One of my most popular blog posts is one where I warn women that BREAST PAIN CAN BE CANCER!!   Thousands of women have read this post about breast pain and breast cancer.  I have gotten emails from many, many women thanking me for getting this message out because they had no idea.  Some have been diagnosed with breast cancer as a result of it.

I had horrible breast pain a year before my diagnosis.  Relying on Dr. Google instead of my own instincts and what my body was telling me, cost me my breast.  I do not want that to happen to you. When I was diagnosed, my large tumor was in the exact place where the pain was.  An unscientific study of hundreds of breast cancer patients on a popular breast cancer site discovered that over 50% had some type of breast pain before diagnosis.

Please read this:   http://denise4health.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/breast-pain-can-be-cancer/

VERY YOUNG WOMEN AND VERY OLD WOMEN DON’T GET BREAST CANCER

Certainly, I was under that impression.  Until I met the young woman in the chemo chair next to me who was diagnosed at age 21 with Stage 4 breast cancer that had literally eaten through her spine.  Doctors missed it because they thought she was too young for breast cancer.   Recently, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Lindsay Vanderveen, a young mom diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer at age 28.  Lindsay found her lump 6 months after giving birth to her second baby.  Lindsay’s mission is to teach younger woman that they can be at risk for breast cancer and  to do breast self-exams.

Young moms tell me, “I breastfed so that keeps breast cancer away.”  More wrong information because although there are some studies out there that show it MAY reduce your risk for breast cancer, that does not mean it does.  Plus, I have received hundreds of letters from women diagnosed in their 30s.

Many doctors tell their older patients – age 70 and up – that they don’t need to get their mammograms.   My mom was 80 when she found a lump.  She had not had a mammogram in 10 years.  She was one of the lucky ones that found her small lump that turned out to be Stage 1 – no chemo, no radiation for a woman her age.  Age makes no difference – you can get breast cancer and continue to get those mammograms.

Here are some more FALSE statements I hear quite often:

I am a vegetarian and vegetarians don’t get breast cancer.   WRONG.

I’ve been my same weight since high school.  I’m not a candidate for breast cancer.  Mostly overweight women get breast cancer.   WRONG

If I have breast cancer, I don’t want to know about it.  I don’t go looking for it.  Breast cancer won’t kill me.   WRONG

Mammograms cause breast cancer.  WRONG

Men don’t get breast cancer.  WRONG

Please do not believe the lies.  Get your mammograms and if you have ever been told you have dense breast tissue, make sure you get a 3D or Tomosynthesis mammogram!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asking for Help During Breast Cancer Treatment

Recently, I received a letter from Brenda in North Carolina.  Brenda recently completed chemo, had a double mastectomy less than three weeks ago, and is ready to begin radiation.  She hired a cleaning woman to help her clean because her husband isn’t a detail kind of guy.  Brenda felt guilty she had to hire someone to clean, but had to give in because she was not capable!

Her words made me ponder this.  Why is it so difficult for us to admit we need help even at the most difficult time in our lives, and when we do, we still feel guilty!?!   Most women tell me they lose their “cleaning desire” after cancer because they realize it just isn’t that important, so I told Brenda “Enjoy every moment of that AHHH feeling you get when someone else cleans your home!”

bucketandmopBrenda isn’t the first woman who has written me about those issues.  Many women have written me after cancer treatment ends and tell me that they wish they would not have been so proud during cancer treatment.  They wished they would have asked and received more help when friends and family offered.

Absolutely the toughest lesson I had to learn during treatment was asking for help.  It was not easy, but often I had no choice.    My sister had been telling me for months, “Let me come and clean your house.”   Finally, I had to say yes.  Even then, I helped her.  It made me feel more capable because I had her help and assistance.  I remember that day with so much fondness.  It meant so much to me.

grocerycartMy friend, Judy, called and offered to pick up groceries or take me to the grocery store every week.  I had no choice to take her up on her offers on several occasions.   It was so difficult to say yes, I need help. But I will never forget her kindnesses.

One non-profit organization, Cleaning for a Reason   http://www.cleaningforareason.org takes applications from breast cancer patients who need help cleaning their homes.  I have heard good reports about this organization who provides services in the United States and Canada.

Never will I forget some words my Oncologist spoke to me after my before my first chemo treatment.  He said, “Now is not the time to be a heroine.  There will be plenty of time for that once treatment ends.  Now is the time to ask for help.”

 

 

 

 

 

“In Celebration of” Honoree for Komen – why and how

Several people have asked me to share my Team Hello Courage page for the upcoming September 28th Race for the Cure in NW Ohio.   I would be DEEPLY honored if you would consider contributing any amount however small to Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for my team, Hello Courage, for the race which I am the “In Celebration of” honoree.   Asking for money is one of the things I like to do least.

TEAM PAGE AND DONATE HERE:   http://nwohio.info-komen.org/site/TR/RacefortheCure/TOL_NorthwestOhioAffiliate?team_id=304769&pg=team&fr_id=4263

Here is why I am committed to this cause:

  • I am alive today because of God’s grace and research dollars generated by Komen.
  • My Oncologist, Dr. Daniel Hayes, is a National Komen Scholar along with 59 other of the best and brightest breast cancer experts from around the world.  Dr. Lori Pierce, one of my mom’s physicians for her recent breast cancer diagnosis, is also a National Komen Scholar.  Here is a list of breast experts who are Komen Scholars:  http://ww5.komen.org/ResearchGrants/ScientificAdvisoryCouncil.html
  • Dr. Hayes told me that almost every breakthrough in breast cancer research in the last 20 or more years has Komen stamped all over it.
  • The hospital where I received and continue to receive treatment, the University of Michigan, has been the recipient of millions of dollars from Komen.
  • The hospitals here in Toledo where I live received radiation have received funding to allow thousands of women who have no insurance or who are underinsured to receive mammograms.

When I got that phone call saying I was chosen from a field of very worthy candidates, terror hit me I must admit.  From watching past honorees on the megatron screen on race day, I wanted to say no, to turn it down, but I knew I could not.  I knew this would give me more of a platform to get my message out to women and men I would otherwise not be able to reach who would not read my Blog.  That message is:  do monthly breast exams, get your mammograms and don’t stop until you die, early detection does save lives (a lesson I learned when my mom was diagnosed Stage 1 at age 80) and fight like crazy if you are diagnosed because if I can do it, you can do it as well!!

Some women tell me that they are tired of pinkwashing and pink ribbons.  Sometimes I am too, especially in October when there are even pink eggs at the grocery store.  But as a Stage 3 Breast Cancer Survivor, I would rather live in a world with too many pink ribbons than live in the world my aunt by marriage lived in during the 1960s after an advanced breast cancer diagnosis.  She had absolutely no one to talk to,  she never even talked to my mom about it who was a close friend, people whispered about her, she endured a mutilating surgery, no treatment options were available then, and she raised 4 children while being totally alone with breast cancer–no computer support, no blogs, no breast doctors, NOTHING.  She lived against all odds and died of something else in her mid-70s.  I often “talk” with her now with tears in my eyes and tell her I am so sorry she had to endure such pain and agony alone.

Komen was surrounded by controversy several years ago about the Planned Parenthood situation.  People were angry no matter what side of the issue they were on.   Komen handled the whole controversy poorly.  I understand how that can happen as I’ve received several emails, some telephone calls, and several friends have confronted me to voice their opinions.  I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught.  Neither was Komen. 

What I found out was there are 117 Komen affiliates in the United States.  Each one is a separate 501C3 organization.  My local affiliate gives 75% of money received for  breast cancer health and treatment programs and 25% to national research.   My local affiliate and the majority of local affiliates around the country, do not fund Planned Parenthood for mammograms as Planned Parenthood in most all or all locations, has no mammography equipment.  My local affiliate funds hospitals to give mammograms to uninsured or underinsured women.  Here is a list of hospitals in the NW Ohio and SE Michigan area that are currently doing free mammography screening to those in need funded by Komen.  http://www.komennwohio.org/about-us/news/upcoming-mammogram-screening.html

National Komen, a separate entity, ONLY gives money to research.  They do not fund local programs or organizations.  National Komen has one objective – money for research to find a cure. 

I would be so appreciative if you would consider a contribution.  If Komen isn’t a charity you can support for whatever reason, please consider giving to another worthy breast charity.

Thanks so much!

Denise

 

 

 

 

 

Do you feel like a Survivor? A poll for cancer survivors!

That “Survivor” word gets tossed around a lot to those of us who are post-cancer treatment.  Do you feel like a Survivor?  Simple question, but for some, not an easy answer.  One gal wrote me and said she fights with that word “Survivor.”  I did not begin to feel like a Survivor until recently when two years after cancer treatment, I am getting more energy back.  The battle wounds remain, but having more energy helps me feel like I am a Survivor.

Please tell me how you relate to being a “SURVIVOR.”    Thanks!

 

 

 

My Mom Had Breast Cancer at age 80

Many of you have been writing to ask how my mom is doing.  Mom, a very active 80-year-old that can run circles around most 50 year olds, found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  Thankfully, she listened to me when I asked her if she was doing breast self-exams, did one, and found it.  The doctors were amazed she found the lump because it was rather small, and they had difficulty finding it.  She said that it wasn’t so much the lump but she noticed a difference in her breast tissue – it felt very hard. Thankfully, she knew her body!

Breast Cancer at age 80 with no family history of any kind of cancer was a shock to my mom and our entire family.   But overall, it has been good news for which we are all grateful.

  • Mom’s breast cancer was estrogen positive, progesterone positive, and Her2 Negative.
  • Her lump was 1.7 centimeters – Stage 1, Grade 2.
  • She had a Lumpectomy on June 26, 2014.  It took about 4 weeks for her to feel really good again and be without pain.
  • The Radiation Oncologist and Oncologist presented the facts to mom and me.  No one recommended chemo.  There was an 8% reduction in chance of recurrence if she did Radiation, but she decided against it.  All the doctors concurred that at her age that was the best decision.
  • She is awaiting results from the Dexi Bone Density Scan to see if she can start Arimidex.  I am hoping she can tolerate it because Arimidex cuts your risk of recurrence by up to 50%.

Breast cancer is still breast cancer at whatever age, whatever stage, and is extremely frightening and devastating.   The fear of recurrence is present no matter what, and it is something you have to learn to coexist with on a daily basis.

My mom’s post-lumpectomy breast looks no different from her before breast cancer breast.   It is not sunk in, has no deformity, and other than the 2.5 inch scar that is already starting to fade, that fact is quite amazing to me.   A surgeon’s experience plays into this greatly.  I am always preaching to women to make sure they go to a BREAST SURGEON that only does breast surgeries.  Dr. Jessica Bensenhaver, the surgeon who did my mom’s Lumpectomy, is at the University of Michigan.  I asked Dr. Bensenhaver how many breast surgeries she did in the past year.  Her response, “I have done over 300 this year and did over 300 the previous year.”    That is a lot of experience.  It is also extremely beneficial to have surgery at a cancer center that has the ability to test the tumor margins while the patient is in surgery.  This greatly lessens the chance of having to have yet another surgery to clear those margins!

Studies show that women who have had surgery by a breast surgeon have less rate of recurrence than those who had a general surgeon.  That is certainly something to consider and take seriously.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for my mom.  We are all grateful.  And make sure you tell the elderly women in your life not to stop getting those mammograms!